Authors: Becca Jameson
Tags: #MMA, #Contemporary, #BDSM
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/).
Published by The Hartwood Publishing Group, LLC,
Hartwood Publishing, Phoenix, Arizona
Copyright © 2016 by Becca Jameson
Digital Release: August 2016
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Nikolav Andropov has just joined his friends in Chicago after years of fighting in the underground MMA circuit in Vegas. When he agrees to go babysit a woman with food poisoning in the middle of the night, he isn’t prepared for the punch to the gut the woman delivers. Even in her confused, nauseous state, she sends his libido through the roof.
Belinda Gallo is a reporter for Chicago’s largest multimedia news outlet. All she’s interested in is capturing the biggest story of her career for a one-hour primetime special—the murders of numerous local homeless people. She has no idea one of her good friends was also kidnapped and should have been among the dead. And she certainly isn’t prepared to meet five enormous sexy fighters, one of whom has proclaimed himself to be her protector.
Nikolav has perfected the art of brooding, reminding Belinda of a vampire. He’s nothing like any man she’s dated, but that doesn’t stop her from falling for him. The problem is, no matter how hard she tries to lure him into her bed, he isn’t taking the bait.
What the hell is wrong with him? Or is it her? In any case, while she tries to figure out what game he’s playing, the Russian Mafia is intent on stopping her from capturing her story. And they mean business.
If she wants to keep herself, her family, and her friends alive, she’s going to need to take drastic action. Will her decision destroy the tenuous relationship she’s formed with Nikolav? Or will it make them stronger?
To my family for patiently enduring my absence for long periods of time while I concentrate on getting this series written. I love you guys.
“Oh my God. What are you still doing here?” Belinda leaned against the wall where the hallway entered into her living room. She was still dizzy and had no energy from vomiting more times than she could count. She flattened her hand on the wall to hold herself up and leaned the side of her head against the cool surface when that didn’t prove effective.
A low moan escaped her lips as she internalized Nikolav was still in her apartment. She had hoped his presence had been in her imagination.
Nikolav jumped to his feet, tossing the magazine he’d been flipping through to the coffee table as he turned to face her. He cocked his head to one side, his eyes squinted quizzically. “Of course I’m still here.”
Belinda wanted to die. For more reasons than one. She’d never felt so sick in her entire life. And to top it off, the sexiest man alive had been witness to her compete degradation for hours on end.
Nikolav rounded the couch and rushed toward her.
She hadn’t realized she was sliding down the wall until he grabbed her by the shoulders and righted her. She moaned again.
“You in pain?” he asked as he bent at the knees and lifted her easily into his arms. “Why didn’t you call for me instead of trying to walk?”
She was in pain all right. But not the kind he imagined. She was in distress over finding out she hadn’t imagined him in her apartment. Her eyes fluttered closed as he carried her back to her bedroom and gently set her on the bed. The cool sheet felt amazing against her skin as she rolled to her side and curled her legs up toward her chest.
These were not her normal sheets. “What happened to my bed?” she muttered.
“I changed the sheets. And I’m going to run you a bath now too if you think you’re up to it.” He turned around and stepped into the attached master bath.
Her gaze followed his fantastic ass and the way his arms were so thick they didn’t hang straight down against his body. His polo shirt was green and hugged his chest and abs in all the right places. His jeans were hung low and worn, fitting him like a glove.
She swallowed and glanced down at herself. Her own T-shirt was sweaty and sticking to her chest. It was blue and had sorority letters on it from her college days. Her loose pajama bottoms were pink with white polka dots. When had she put on this ridiculous combination?
Her hand was shaking as she lifted it to her hair to find the thick locks matted and stuck to her head. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming out in frustration.
“Do you think you can tolerate a bath yet? Is your stomach settled?”
She jerked her gaze to the man wandering back toward her. “I’m fine now. Just weak.” The bout of food poisoning that started in the middle of the night had been ferocious, but luckily short-lived. Twelve hours later she had little energy, but at least her stomach was no longer threatening revolt.
Nikolav reached out a hand. “Come on. The water’s warm. You’ll feel so much better. I’ll make you some tea while you soak.”
She ignored his hand and swung her legs around to the side of the bed. Slowly, she lifted herself to sitting and then slid off the mattress again.
He took her elbow and led her to the bathroom. “Think you can manage?” he asked in his deep Russian accent as she entered. The man’s looks alone made her weak in the knees. But his accent… Lordy…
“I’ll be fine.” She didn’t turn around. Instead she shut the door at her back and leaned against the frame. Deep cleansing breaths did nothing to slow her racing heart.
This situation was insane. She’d spent the previous evening catching up with her friend Haley only to wake up in the middle of the night with severe cramps. She’d only meant to warn Haley and her boyfriend, Mikhail, of the food poisoning when she called early that morning.
But Mikhail had taken it upon himself to send his friend Nikolav over to take care of her.
She would kill him the next time she saw him.
Sure, Mikhail was a smoking hot, Russian, mixed martial arts fighter, but when she’d asked him to set her up with one of his friends, she hadn’t meant six hours later while she rested her forehead on the toilet.
The tub was almost full, and she stepped farther into the room and shut off the water before turning toward the mirror. “Shit.” She looked like death. Her normally olive Italian skin was wan and gray. The thick black waves of hair around her face were a rat’s nest. Her dark eyes were sunken.
She peeled her clothes off and dropped them in the hamper, shuddering to think how she’d gotten into them in the first place. They weren’t the clothes she’d been wearing when she went to bed. And she didn’t have on a bra or panties. No amount of digging into the recesses of her mind gave her a definitive answer.
Lowering herself into the hot water made her sigh. It felt that good. She sank all the way under without pausing, holding her breath as her head was submerged. For a few seconds she stayed that way, her eyes closed, her cheeks puffed out. It was peaceful. As if she could escape her current predicament if she didn’t resurface.
But alas, she had no choice. She eased her face out of the water and leaned against the back of the tub, already feeling much better. As she closed her eyes, she pondered her next move.
The first thing she needed to do when she got out of the bathroom was get rid of Nikolav. She was mortified, and never seeing him again in this lifetime would be too soon.
And then she needed food. Maybe crackers. Ginger ale. Did she have any clear soda in the apartment?
. She realized her body wash and shampoo were in the shower, and she started to sit up, thinking to risk standing on wobbly legs to get it. But the items she needed caught her eye on the edge of the tub, and she froze.
Nikolav? He’d thought to move her supplies to the tub?
Her face heated. The man could apparently do no wrong. A fact that would make it harder to get rid of him. She didn’t want to be rude. After all, he’d come in the early morning hours to help, which kept her from either lying in a pool of her own vomit for half the day or resorting to calling her parents.
The last thing she wanted was for her mother to come over and get involved. Marta Gallo was too uptight. She would have called an ambulance and made a bigger deal out of obvious food poisoning than strictly necessary.
Nope. It might be difficult to get rid of Nikolav, but it would be impossible to get rid of her mother.
Belinda reached for the shampoo and closed her eyes as she worked it into her hair for longer than necessary. After dipping her entire head under water again, she added conditioner and let it soak in while she washed her body.
Even after all the exertion, she felt much better just getting clean.
“You okay, Belinda?” Nikolav’s deep voice made her jump, sending water splashing over the side of the tub.
“Yep. Just about to get out.” She released the plug at the bottom of the tub and hauled herself to standing. Her fingers shook as she reached for her towel and quickly dried off. Realizing she had nothing clean in the bathroom to put on, she wrapped her towel around her body and opened the door to her bedroom.
Relief washed over her when she found herself alone, the door closed. She padded to her dresser to grab panties from one drawer and black yoga pants and a dark purple nylon shirt from another drawer.
Hurrying, so she wouldn’t be caught naked, she slid the towel to the floor and put the clean clothes on. Her hair was still dripping wet, but she wrapped it in the towel and twisted it on top of her head. She needed sustenance before she could tackle a brush.
It took several deep breaths to conjure up the nerve to leave her bedroom, knowing the huge sexy Russian with the thick black hair and pale skin was in her kitchen or living room.
Finally, she made her way down the hallway to find him standing at the kitchen counter stirring something in a mug. Steam lifted into the room.
He spun around and smiled. “Made you some tea with sugar. I figured you liked tea since I found several varieties in your pantry. And even if you don’t normally use sugar, you need the calories right now.” He took a few strides to round the kitchen table and headed for the couch. As he set the mug on the end table, he spoke again. “Come over here. I’ll find you a blanket. You’re still shaking.”
She didn’t speak as she followed his orders. He spoke as if everything he said wasn’t up for debate. And she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to argue—plus he was right—so she settled in the corner of the couch with her legs crisscrossed under her and reached for the tea.
It smelled fantastic. Cinnamon and honey. The first sip warmed her.
Nikolav stepped back into the attached kitchen area and returned with a sheath of saltines. “Here. Try to eat a few of these. Slowly. Your stomach might not be settled yet.” More demands.
She wanted to giggle at his high-handedness. But she didn’t have the energy for that, either.
Instead, she took the crackers from him and reached into the package to extract one. The first small bite went down easily, and she finished the first cracker in moments.
“Yeah?” He lifted one eyebrow.
“Mmm. Think I’ll live. Thanks so much for coming over. I don’t think it was completely necessary, but it was kind of Mikhail to send you. I’m sure I’ll manage from here. You don’t need to give up any more of your day.”
He smiled and lowered himself onto the couch next to her. “Mikhail’s a good guy.”
That’s all he had to say?
She drank several more sips of tea and ate three more crackers before feeling slightly more human and setting them both aside. “Really. I’m fine. You can go.” She didn’t know this guy. Hell, she hardly knew his friend, Mikhail. But she’d spent the entire evening with Mikhail, and he’d been nothing but amazing. Plus, Haley had been seeing the man for weeks.
Belinda tried to shake free of any nervousness concerning Nikolav. If Mikhail sent him to her rescue, surely he was a good guy.