Authors: Helena Newbury
Tags: #Russian Mafia Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #new adult romance
I had a new safe place. And his name was Alexei.
I walked for three blocks with Gabriella in my arms and her bag dangling from her back. She wasn’t heavy.
Something had happened to her, when we’d reached the doors. I’d seen similar things in the army—men paralyzed by a sound or a feeling that triggered a memory. I knew some of the horrors that caused those problems in soldiers, because I’d seen some myself.
I had a pretty good idea what caused problems like that in civilians. And the thought of it made my hands tighten into shaking, white-knuckled fists.
I stopped only once, to take out all the cash the ATM would let me. Then I found a street with two cheap motels—down-market places that wouldn’t ask too many questions. I paid cash and didn’t put Gabriella down until we were in the room. When I sat her on the edge of the bed, she refused to stop clinging to me.
“It’s okay,” I said haltingly. The tone and the sensation of comforting someone were unfamiliar...and yet they didn’t feel completely new. They felt as if they came from a place deep down in myself, one I hadn’t visited for a long time.
Very slowly, she started to unwind her arms from my neck. She opened her eyes and glanced fearfully around the room but her breathing was calmer, now, and her tears had stopped.
I reached out and tentatively stroked her hair with my hand. It was just as gloriously soft as I’d imagined it, but now I wasn’t thinking about sex at all. I just wanted to look after her. I wanted to deliver her from everything that was happening to her and everything that was eating away at her from the inside.
She hugged her arms round herself and looked down at her lap, not meeting my eyes, so I took the time to look around the room.
One door, one window. Ambush point there
Bed could be pushed up against the door as a barricade—
“I’m not a complete basket-case,” she blurted. I turned and she was looking at me. “Not all the time. Most of the time I’m fine. As long as I stay in my....”—she flushed and looked at her lap again—“safe place.”
“Your apartment,” I said.
She nodded. She seemed...not back to normal, but better. Back to being
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
I laid my hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to apologize. Not to anyone.” I felt clumsy saying it, but I meant it. The man who I suspected had done this to her...he was the one who should be sorry. My hands tightened again, longing for an arm to break, a neck to snap.
I don’t enjoy killing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people I want to kill.
I indicated the room. “We can stay here for tonight. Until we work out what to do.” My heart dropped down into the pit of my stomach as soon as I’d said it. As if there was
we could do. For the first time in years I had no plan, no strategy.
She shuffled back on the bed and drew her legs up so that she could sit cross-legged. “We’re going to have to run, aren’t we?”
I nodded. “Run and hope they eventually stop looking.”
She bit her lip. “You can’t go back to them, can you? Your people. The Russians.”
“The Bratva. No. Not after letting you go. Not after killing Lev. They could not allow that.” That feeling of belonging to something, of being a part of something bigger than yourself, had been ripped out of me and I couldn’t get used to the void it had left. It ached and burned in my chest.
I nodded. I couldn’t talk about it, not yet. Being cut off from the brotherhood was like being disowned by my family. I tried to change the subject. “We’ll split up. Go far away, new lives.”
I saw her shoulders tense at the thought. “I don’t think I can do that.” She looked right at me. “Not on my own.”
And right in the center of that void inside me, there was a tiny flicker of warmth. The idea of being with her, of running off with her somewhere together...that almost made it all sound bearable.
Then I remembered what I was. Leaving the brotherhood didn’t change that. The brotherhood hadn’t made me what I was, they’d just found a use for my skills. I looked at her as she sat on the bed: so small, so delicate. So innocent—even her hacking had been well-intentioned. I didn’t deserve to stroke her cheek.
Or cup her breasts.
Or slide my hands under that sweet, firm ass and draw her towards me, kick her legs apart and—
I turned away, walked over to the window, and pretended to check outside. Really, I just couldn’t bear the torture of looking at her any longer without being able to have her. “It’s late,” I said. “Try to rest. We’ll talk in the morning.”
And then I stared fixedly out of the window at the darkened parking lot, making sure I looked through the dark glass and not at the reflection in it, where glimpses of long, pale leg and black underwear appeared as she undressed. I stood there and did my best not to watch as she slipped beneath the covers. And then I waited for whatever the night would bring.
I’d stripped down to bra and panties. I hadn’t had space to bring many clothes and I hadn’t thought to bring a nightshirt—besides, the bed had thick blankets and a comforter and looked as if it was going to be pretty warm, even in October. I got in as fast as I could—a bed was familiar enough that, once I’d slid between the sheets, I could almost convince myself I was back home in my apartment. The Dread had subsided once we were inside a small, closed off room. That wasn’t normal for me, especially after a freak-out of that magnitude. I knew some of the artificial calm was because he was there and the implications of that made my head spin. No one had ever been able to help me with it before.
I lay on my side, facing him, eyes half-closed. He stood at the window like a silent sentry, a colossus keeping me safe. God, his head came almost to the top of the door! How had he switched roles so quickly, from attacker to protector? From the first moment he’d realized that it was me he was meant to kill, he’d been reluctant. It felt like he’d already gotten to know me before he ever walked in.
He sat down in the room’s only chair, his gun held across his knees, and switched off the light. Was he going to keep watch all night? Or was he just being a gentleman, since there was only one bed?
Should I offer to share the bed?
I was almost annoyed at the sudden hot rush that thought set off inside me. I was still recovering from my complete meltdown at the doors of my apartment building and I was on the run, fearing for my life...and now suddenly I was getting hot for him?
But deep down, it sort of made sense. Having a huge, strong man look after me—
pick me up and carry me off—was kicking off all my primal, cavewoman instincts. I knew he’d killed—probably many times. He’d even done it right in front of me. But being scared of him didn’t stop the feelings he stirred up. Especially now that it was clear he didn’t want to hurt me.
This is nuts.
The guy was a career criminal. A paid killer, from what he’d said. I should be running as fast as I could in the other direction but….
But I felt that
again, every single time I looked at him.
I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep. But I’d underestimated how much the stress had taken out of me and my eyelids slowly closed.
The room was dark and still. She breathed so quietly that I had to go over to the bed a couple of times, just to check that she was okay. And each time I looked at her, with those soft pink lips slightly parted and her hair spread out across the pillow, it was more difficult to tear myself away.
As the streets outside grew quiet, the scene became familiar. I’d spent many nights sitting in the darkness like this, my gun on my knee, waiting for the owner of the house to come home. It was a good method, because you could get the job done as soon as they walked in the door—two shots and they went down, with nothing to alert the neighbors. Simple.
The opposite of my situation now. On the run, cut off from the brotherhood. They’d hunt me like a dog.
One of the skills they teach you in the army is to improvise. Another is to survive. As midnight came and went and I slid deeper and deeper into a black well of despair, my training began to kick in.
If we ran, what were our chances? Maybe I could slip away, get out of the country, and make it to Venezuela or Colombia, somewhere where the Bratva wouldn’t find me and where they were plenty of jobs for men with my skills. But Gabriella? She’d last a few days, at most. Nikolai wanted her dead….
That thought nagged at me. She’d been convinced that Nikolai was involved in trafficking but I didn’t believe it. No way would the family’s leader, Luka Malakov, allow someone as senior as Nikolai to be involved in trafficking. He’d beaten a man almost to death, once, for running a brothel that used kidnapped and trafficked women.
And Nikolai wasn’t stupid—he’d know he couldn’t get away with doing anything behind Luka’s back.
And yet...Gabriella had sounded so sure. And Nikolai had been so desperate to have her killed and her computer destroyed. He’d surely understand the potential benefits of having a hacker like that on our side. Why kill her, instead of persuading her to work for us? It didn’t make any sense.
I pushed the thought away. Whether Nikolai was up to something or not, the result was the same: the Bratva would already be hunting us. I checked my phone and there were four voicemails from Nikolai, each one more worried and angrier than the last.
I looked over at Gabriella. She was as good as dead, on her own. Or I could stay with her and try to protect her and maybe we’d last a few months before they caught up with us. It would be harder to hide with two of us—I was used to disappearing but she wasn’t. And every day, I’d have to wake up and see her and know that we’d never be together...Jesus, it would be worse than hell.
And when they did eventually catch up with us, it would be a slow, traitor’s death for me. For her? Even worse. My stomach turned. Luka’s people were honorable but, if a price was put on our heads, there was no telling which lowlife scumbags would chase us down. They’d find us in some cheap motel room like this one, throw Gabriella on the bed and—