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Authors: Catherine Gayle

Tags: #Romance

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BOOK: Smoke Signals
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I wanted to believe it was possible. A knot of ache filled my belly. I wished there were truly men who were as good and kind as he seemed. But I’d seen too much of the real world to fall for such a trap. I wasn’t so naïve. Not anymore.

My insides twisted in knots as I waited on the interrogation to begin anew. Razor wanted answers. He wanted to understand why I’d left the wedding. Why I couldn’t sit still while surrounded by Hollywood stars and professional athletes. By families. Children. He wanted to understand
, and there was some small part of me that wanted to try to explain it all.

But he didn’t demand I explain. He sat with his arm draped across my shoulders, and he lifted his hand to smooth it over my hair.

It was such a simple thing, his compassion, but profound at the same time. I tried to swallow hard enough to keep my tears at bay. No use. They spilled down my cheeks, hot and fast, turning the pink satin on my breasts a vibrant red everywhere they landed.

I could feel his eyes burning through me. I could sense the gears turning in his head as he attempted to sort out my secrets. But it was his gentleness that would undo me, a thought that only brought on a fresh torrent of tears.

Razor would break through all my defenses—that much was clear—but he would do it with a deliberate tenderness and determined care I’d never before experienced.

That realization further drove home the fact that no matter what, I would never be free. All that Papa had done to get me away from the Tambovs, away from Russia, to keep me safe…it had been in vain. In this world, a woman like me could never be her own master.




answers out of Tori hadn’t worked once yet, so I had no doubt any such endeavor would be fruitless as all hell. Instead, I decided to wait her out. Let her cry until she was done, and then we could talk.

But I damn sure intended to get her to talk to me. She didn’t have to tell me everything down to who her best friend was when she was seven, but she was my wife. I needed to know more than the bare-bones minimum she’d fed me so far. I intended to do whatever it took to understand her. At the moment, I was clueless beyond realizing she’d been through a lifetime of shit, probably before her fifteenth birthday, not to mention everything that must have happened since. That much was clear in the haunted look in her eyes and the way she was fighting so hard to keep her crying under wraps, despite the fact that there was no point in it at all. Whatever was behind this was going to force its way out, whether she was on board with it or not.

I stroked a hand over her long, dark hair again. It was soft and still smelled like the hotel shampoo she’d used this morning, a fresh combination of orange and ginger that tickled my nostrils. The temptation to bury my nose in her hair and breathe deeply was strong, but that was going to have to wait. This wasn’t about me.

At first, there’d only been a few tears streaming, but it had turned into full-blown sobs before much time had passed, her shoulders heaving from the force of whatever was going on in her head. So I waited, trailing my fingers through the silky tendrils of her hair, for her to make the next move…whatever that move might be.

She kept her spine straight, her neck rigid. She refused to lean in toward me or to seek more comfort. Pride? Maybe. I doubted it. Fear seemed more likely. Or shame. She was carrying around a shit-ton of that.

“You followed me,” she said after a long while, her voice raspy from the effort of crying so hard. “I don’t understand.”

“What’s there to understand? I married you. I promised I would take care of you.”

Even though I tried to brush it off and make it sound simple, I knew it was anything but. I couldn’t explain my reaction to her any more than she could tell me all that she’d been through.

She shook her head, staring down at her knees. “Why? Why leave friends for me?”

“Has no one ever put you first, beautiful?” More and more, it seemed as if she’d never had anyone in her corner. No one fighting for her. She’d had to do it all on her own.

She shrugged, which was no answer.

“What about your parents? Did they look out for you?” I didn’t know how much to push and when to back off with her. Her do-not-cross line was so grayed out and scrubbed over that I couldn’t make out where it fell. I’d gotten her talking, at least for now, but she could close off and run again at any moment.

“Yes. As much as they could.”

That was cryptic. She’d used
, not
. Had they disowned her? Were they dead?

She wasn’t offering up much for free.

“And what about when they couldn’t? Who else did you have?”

“I have me.”

She had me, too, whether she was ready to accept that or not.

“How long has it been just you?”

“Since I came to America. Papa helped me.” She inched closer, just enough to allow me to breathe easier. Because it meant she was letting down her guard a bit. And maybe starting to feel comfortable with me.

I switched from gently brushing my hand over her hair to massaging her scalp with my fingertips. “When’s the last time you saw him?”

She let out the tiniest sound, which might have been a sigh. “Three years. When I got on plane in St. Petersburg.”

“And your mother? Is that the last time you saw her, too?”

Tori shook her head. “Mama was already gone.”

Time to push harder? I wasn’t sure. It was a risk, but one I knew I had to take. “Gone where? Did she leave?” Or was she dead? I didn’t want to give voice to that particular question.

“No, not leave.” Tori didn’t pull away from me, but she went stiff as a board. “I don’t know where she is.”

Didn’t leave but was gone? How did she not know where? I kept tracing circles on her head, hoping she would loosen up for me a bit. “You don’t know?”

Silence. Painful, debilitating, seemingly interminable silence.

But she didn’t run.

“I don’t know,” she finally repeated, a tiny sound. “They took her.”

“They took her?” I didn’t have a clue what else to say. “Who?” And why? The more she told me, the more questions I had.

For the first time in far too long, she moved. She turned her head so she could look straight in my eyes, and she shook her head. “In Russia, sometimes they take people. They almost took me, but Papa saved me. They took Mama. And then…” She shrugged. “I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if she’s alive. Papa tried to find her, get her back, but no good. He sent me away. Tried to save me. Said go to America, be ballerina. Be safe from Tambovs. Said if I stay in Russia, they keep trying to take me. Ballerinas bring lots of money, sell for sex slave. Not safe for me.”

She’d gone from not telling me a damn thing to filling me in on so much my head might explode. “Sex slave? You’re talking about the Russian Mafia? That’s who took your mother?”

“Yes. Mafia. Tambovs took Mama. They wanted me, too. Papa said go to America, be safe.” She blinked back a few tears, never looking away. “There’s Tambov group in Montreal, in Toronto, but not in America.”

Toronto. Exactly where I’d been planning to take her after Babs’s wedding so we could talk to Mom. There wasn’t a chance in hell I would take her there now if there was even a shred of truth to what she was saying. And to be honest, I believed her wholeheartedly. I hadn’t led such a sheltered existence that I could pretend things like human trafficking and sexual slavery didn’t exist.

“And you don’t think they’ll come after you here?” I asked.

She shook her head. “They found me. They will always find me. But didn’t come for me. Killed Papa. Sent pictures. If I ever go back...” She stopped there and shook her head again.

It just kept getting worse. Not that I had a clue how that was even possible. She’d been through too damn much, and it pissed me off.

“Then why the hell are you trying to sell yourself for money to go back?” I practically shouted. She flinched away from me, and I wished I’d kept my temper better in check. “Sorry,” I said. “But it was bad enough that you were going to sell yourself to me when you didn’t think you had any other options. You do now, though. You’re my wife. We’re going to deal with your green card, and you won’t ever have to go back to Russia.” Or to Toronto, or Montreal, or anywhere else that the fucking Russian Mafia had a presence. We could go to Tulsa, and I could arrange for Mom to come for a visit.

“But, Razor…” Tori pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes in thought. “You’re good man.” She said that last part so adamantly it was as if she thought that was enough to explain everything. It didn’t explain a single thing.

“Not that fucking good,” I groused. I was getting really sick and tired of her telling me just how good and nice and kind I was. Because I wasn’t any of those things. Not really. She didn’t need to go around thinking I was some goddamned knight in shining armor racing in to save the day. I just wanted to give her a fair shake, and I had the means to do it.

,” she insisted. “And my life, it’s big mess. You don’t need—”

“How about you let me worry about what I need, all right?” And what I needed right now? I needed to assure myself that Tori was going to be safe.

Which meant she couldn’t go out there and try to sell herself.

And it meant she couldn’t go back to Russia.

Plain and simple.

She let out a sigh, and her whole body deflated.

I wished she’d deflated into me.

“You’re too stubborn,” she said.

“You haven’t even seen my stubborn side yet.” I winked, trying to lighten the mood. “Let me worry about what I need, and let me worry about giving you what you need, too. At least for now. It’s not like you have someone else looking after you. And if it doesn’t work out, if you decide you’re better off on your own after we’ve given this a good go, then we’ll talk to an immigration lawyer and find some other solution. Something that doesn’t end up with you either selling yourself or getting caught up in human trafficking. Okay?”

I could practically see the war being waged in her head, and it felt like an eternity passed before she finally said, “All right. You win.”

You win
. Like it was a game. A struggle for power. I didn’t want any kind of power over her, but it was becoming increasingly clear that she didn’t see the difference between someone wanting to help her and someone wanting to control her.

I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into, but now I had a much better idea of what I needed to get her




BOOK: Smoke Signals
12.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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