In years to come, I’ll look back on this moment and wonder what the hell I was thinking when I approached Daniil Lenkov. A woman like me should never have come within a thousand miles of him. Really, it was a pure fluke our lives intersected at all. My days revolve around grad school. My nights are spent either here or at home in front of the TV. It’s a quiet, safe existence where the only danger I face is in crossing the busy road between the bus stop and here.
I give trouble a wide berth and Mr. Lenkov is bad news. By all accounts, he’s a hardened criminal connected to some seriously scary people. Even if he wasn’t a mafia type, he’s a notorious playboy, totally out of my league.
For some unfathomable reason he’s been coming to our little swimming pool these past few weeks. I’ve no idea how he even heard of this place. The New Town Bathhouse is tucked away on a quiet residential street and there’s nothing fancy about it. Sure, it’s of historic interest having been here since the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, but it doesn’t have the amenities to attract a billionaire clientele.
But Daniil Lenkov wants to swim here so we’re stuck with him. He comes each night after hours. Apparently, he made a deal with our manager and I can’t blame Mike for taking a little extra cash on the side. He has a growing family to look after. Besides, I doubt many people say no to Lenkov and live to tell the tale. We’ve all heard rumors about him. There’s nothing concrete, just whispers about him torturing his enemies and sanctioning murder. Whether or not any of it’s true, I know he’s not a man I’d want to get on the wrong side of.
Everything about the dark, mysterious Russian screams danger. Whenever he walks in through the door the atmosphere becomes charged. Although he hasn’t shown any outward signs of aggression, something sinister bubbles away just beneath the surface of his cool exterior. It should serve as a warning to any sensible woman to avoid gaining his attention.
I know I should stay clear of him but desperation overrules common sense. This place is being sold and there’s only one week left for the community to raise the money before developers move in. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and I can’t bear the thought of it being turned into apartments like so many of the other old buildings around here. If I can persuade Lenkov to make a substantial donation, we might reach our fundraising target. As much as I hate to admit it, a reputed Russian mobster’s my last hope.
At eight twenty-seven as usual, said mobster walks in and passes me without so much as a sideways glance. I watch him stride through the reception area like he owns the place. He has the sort of commanding presence that makes women weak at the knees.
A pulse begins to beat at my core as I imagine him grabbing me roughly, throwing me over the desk, and fucking me senseless. Nothing like that’s ever happened to me but I know exactly how good he’d make me feel, his fingers playing with my clit as his huge cock pistoned in and out of me. The very thought of it brings me out in a sweat. I want that man to do things to my body nobody else has done.
As he disappears into the changing rooms, I steel myself.
“I’m going to do it,” I tell my friend, Miranda, who’s preoccupied with slapping on another coat of crimson lipstick.
“You’re going to do what?”
“Speak to Daniil Lenkov.”
She rolls her eyes as though I’m ridiculous. “Why bother? A man like that isn’t going to care what happens to an old, rundown swimming pool.”
“He might. He’s been coming here for weeks. There must be something he likes about the place.”
“He probably lives nearby.” Miranda pours more cold water on my hopes. “I’ll bet he’s got one of those new apartments up by the museum. This place is probably just convenient for him.”
“They have their own pool in that apartment block,” I argue, even though I don’t think he lives there. “But for some reason he comes here.”
“Yeah, well, don’t expect a miracle, Evie. Men like that don’t just hand out cash if there’s nothing in it for them.”
I’d like to tell her she’s being too cynical but the fact is she’s probably right. Daniil Lenkov will not be the first wealthy man I’ve approached for help in saving the pool. I’ve written to loads of businessmen across the city. The response has been the same every time—a polite, but emphatic no.
“It’s a long shot,” I admit, “but I’m going to try anyway. You know what they say—don’t ask, don’t get.”
Miranda shakes her head at me like she thinks I’m a hopeless case. She turns back to the mirror she’s got propped up against the desk and fusses with her makeup once more. I don’t know why she feels the need to plaster the stuff on the way she does. If I had her high cheekbones and pouting lips, I’d let what nature gave me shine through. All I’ve got to work with is a button nose and a mouth that’s a little on the thin side. Admittedly, I do have a pair of impressively big brown eyes, but otherwise I’m unremarkable.
Dismissed to the cute but not fuckable pile by most guys, I’d give anything to have Miranda’s raw sex appeal. Maybe if I had an ounce of her self-confidence, I’d feel less apprehensive about speaking to the intimidating Mr. Lenkov.
Nodding to myself in affirmation that I’m doing the right thing, I go in search of my potential donor. As I walk into the unisex changing area, I stop briefly to help one of our customers who’s struggling to open a bottle of water. She gives me a grateful smile and I feel a pang of sorrow at the thought of this place closing down. For some of the older residents in the neighborhood, coming to this pool is their only social activity. It makes me even more determined to secure Lenkov’s help.
I continue my quest to find him, running through different ways to broach the subject of the fundraising appeal as I go. Would he be persuaded to help us save this place if I point out its unique architectural features? It’s an early Victorian masterpiece with beautifully painted ceilings and recently restored tiles in the main pool. Hell, I sound like a real estate agent. If I go with that spiel, he’ll probably think I’m trying to sell him the place. I wonder if I should play to his vanity instead and offer to have the building renamed in his honor. Rich, important people like that sort of thing, but I’m not sure I have the authority to make any promises. Besides, I don’t know how much attention Lenkov wants to draw to himself.
There isn’t time to rehearse what I’ll say as it takes only a minute to find him. When I turn the corner and see him stuffing his gym bag into a locker, my breath catches. The man is magnificent. There’s no other way to describe him. In tight swim shorts that leave little to the imagination, I get a fair idea of what he’s packing down below and it’s as impressive as the rest of him. Starting to get a bit hot under the collar, I try not to linger on his groin area and check out his other features instead.
His legs are long, his thighs powerful. His torso could have been chiseled out of solid rock. He’s muscular but not bulked up like some of the guys we get in here who obsess over their protein intake and how many pounds they can bench press. This man looks after himself, but doesn’t take it to extremes.
As I approach, he stiffens almost imperceptibly as though sensing my presence, but he doesn’t look my way.
“Mr. Lenkov,” I say tentatively.
He turns and shoots me a look of pure disdain. His gorgeous blue eyes that remind me of a flower I can’t put a name to sweep over me and I feel like something nasty he’s just scraped off the bottom of his shoe. When his gaze finally reaches my eyes, the intensity of his glare startles me. I should back away now, but my feet won’t move. Despite the danger I sense, I’m utterly enthralled.
“Money or sex?” he drawls with the barest hint of a Russian accent.
My eyes almost pop out of my head and my cheeks turn a shade of beetroot. “What?”
“Women usually come to me for one of two things—money or sex. So, which is it, sweetheart?”
I should be outraged by the casual way he writes women off but, holy hell, I think I’m going to combust. There’s something devilishly sexy about his directness. I can just imagine him whispering filthy things in my ear, telling me exactly what he wants to do with my body. As I struggle to formulate a response, his lips curl upward, forming a sardonic grin. My cheeks flame even hotter, the heat of my blush trickling all the way down to my toes.
“I… eh… I’m Evie Jamieson.” I hold my hand out to him and then withdraw it several mortifying seconds later when it becomes clear he’s not going to shake it. “I’m on the committee to raise funds for…”
“Money, then?” he cuts in.
Is it my imagination or does that disappoint him? There’s a weariness in his tone. I don’t ponder it for long. If I don’t get to the point soon, I’ll lose him.
“Well, yes. We’re raising money to buy this building and save the—”
He doesn’t give me a chance to finish the sentence, let alone launch into a fundraising pitch. “Don’t care.”
My mouth falls open. Then I purse my lips in a disapproving pout. Being refused, I can handle. At this point, I’m used to it, but the man is unbelievably rude. Given the arrogance radiating from him, I’m not sure why I expected any different.
“Of course,” he says, stepping dangerously close, “if you were to offer me your delectable body for the night, I might be prepared to listen to what you have to say.”
Delectable body? I’ve never heard my petite frame being described that way before and it would be all too easy to let the jolt it gives my ego take me down a path I really shouldn’t follow. As he waits for a response, he reaches out and trails the back of his hand slowly down my arm. He moves even closer and I feel the heat of his body through my clothes.
Then, suddenly, he pulls me into the nearest changing cubicle and pushes me up against the door. My lips part as I wait for his kiss but it doesn’t come. He pops open the button on my trousers and slips his hand inside to cup my mound. My eyes widen as his fingers part my folds. I should put a stop to this. In fact, I’m about to, when he finds my clit. I gasp in surprise. It took my last boyfriend three weeks to get to this point but Daniil’s already got me panting with desire. His eyes darken with lust as he pushes a finger inside me. Instantly my pussy clenches in response.
“Greedy little thing, aren’t you?” Daniil murmurs as he works his finger in and out of my too-receptive body.
Heat builds, the first fluttering of an orgasm stirring within me. Daniil smiles knowingly and my senses suddenly return. Pushing his hand away, I fasten my jeans and step back outside. He follows.
“You shouldn’t… I shouldn’t…” I have no idea where to place the blame for what just happened. “We can’t.”
“Oh, well,” he says flippantly. “No great loss.”
There’s a taunting gleam in his eyes as he delivers the insult. I don’t like that his barb hits home. It makes me feel worthless but I can’t exactly call him out for being an asshole. He’s too scary for someone like me to take on. “Well, if you decide you want to hear more about the appeal, you can…”
His interruption this time isn’t verbal. It comes in the form of an irritated shake of the head. Recognizing a dismissal when I see one, I smile tightly before turning and walking away. It’s not until I get to the reception desk that I realize I’m shaking. It takes every ounce of strength I can muster not to cry. I feel so stupid. Daniil Lenkov is the most intimidating man I’ve ever encountered and I can’t believe I let him touch me like that. Or, more to the point, that I enjoyed it.
“How did it go, then?” Miranda asks as I grasp the edge of the desk to anchor myself.
I’m amazed she can’t tell the answer just by looking at me.
“He… uhm… he didn’t have time to talk to me right now.”
The told you so expression on her face pisses me off.
“But”—my lips move, apparently working independently of my brain—“he wants me to wait until after he’s had his swim.”
Even if he doesn’t want to donate to the pool fund, I want to set things straight. He needs to know I’m not the sort of woman who fools around like that.
“What about the pub quiz?” Miranda asks irritably. I wince because I’d forgotten all about that. “You organized the bloody thing. You have to be there to tell people what we’re raising money for.”
“I’ll be there,” I assure her. “The quiz doesn’t start until nine-thirty. I should be out of here by nine-fifteen at the latest. I’ll still get there on time.”
I mean, it’s not like it’s going to take me long to humiliate myself again. Miranda drums her French-tipped talons on the desk as she fixes me with a menacing scowl.
“And I suppose you want me to try to get everyone to open their wallets while we’re waiting for you?”
“Well, you are much prettier than me. The guys will fight to donate if you’re the one asking them for money.”
As expected, Miranda nods, taking my obsequious flattery as simply her due. Just as I start to wonder why I’m friends with this obnoxious woman, she flashes me one of her genuinely warm smiles.
“I’ll keep things ticking over until you get there,” she promises. “But be careful with that Lenkov guy. From what I hear, he’s involved with some dangerous people.”
I nod. I’ve heard the same gossip she has, that he’s part of the Russian mafia, the Bratva or whatever they call themselves. I’m not sure it’s true. From what I’ve read, these guys have tattoos chronicling their crimes and that man doesn’t have a spot of ink on his well-toned body. Not unless he’s hiding it under those seriously snug swim shorts he wears. The thought is so ridiculous, I almost laugh out loud at the notion of him having the number of years he’s spent in prison tattooed on his ass. It would hardly function as a badge of honor if nobody can see it. Of course, I have no evidence Russian criminals display details of their misdeeds on their bodies or, for that matter, that Daniil has ever committed a crime. I have to stop letting my imagination run wild.
“So, I’ll see you in what, an hour?” Miranda checks as the last of the customers trickles out.
“Make it an hour and a half.”
From what Mike’s told us, Lenkov likes to swim for precisely forty minutes and I’ll need to let him get dressed before I tackle him again. Perhaps I’ll find him less intimidating with his clothes on, though I doubt it.
“An hour and a half, then, but any longer and I’m sending a search party.”
Miranda leans in to give me a quick hug and heads out, leaving me by myself in reception. Since I’m going to be hanging around anyway, I decide to find Mike and tell him I can lock up tonight. He can get home to his wife and kids early for a change. He’s been complaining for weeks he’s always too late to see the littlest one before he goes to bed. I’m sure he’ll be glad of my offer.
Expecting to find him in his office, I wander through to the back. He isn’t there. As I turn to go to check the staffroom, I notice the monitor from our security cameras has a blank screen.
Strange, it was working earlier.
I try to log into the computer to find out what the problem is and discover the password’s been changed. It makes no sense. Why would anyone have turned off the cameras and made sure no one else can access the system?
Unease crawls up my spine as I walk around the building looking for Mike. It doesn’t take me long to spot him through a window. He’s across the street, near the entrance to the park with a couple of men I don’t recognize. Both tall and muscular in jeans and leather jackets, they look like a pair of thugs. One of them hands Mike what looks like an envelope. He appears to check its contents before getting in his car and driving away.
Quickly, I piece it together. Security camera shut down. Mike taking off without locking up and what looks like an awful lot like a payoff from two strange men. Something isn’t right here and my gut tells me Daniil Lenkov is involved. These men are here for him and I don’t think they want to invite him for tea.
My heart lurches. If I had any sense, I’d barricade myself in the office, call the police, and hide under the desk until they arrive. But that’s not what I do. Fearing a man’s life is at stake, I’m compelled to act. Almost of their own accord, my feet move, carrying me along the corridor and into the entrance lobby. I don’t have time to locate the keys and lock the front door so I head straight through to the pool area.
“Mr. Lenkov!” I yell so hard my throat hurts. Powering through the water like a man possessed, he doesn’t hear me. “Daniil!”
As he gets closer, I take off one of my shoes and hurl it so it lands just in front of him. He rears up out of the water, eyes blazing in fury as he registers my presence. There’s no time for a protracted discussion about my actions so I speak before he can launch into a tirade. “They’re coming for you!”
He doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t pause to ask what I’m talking about. He swims to the edge of the pool and hauls himself out of the water. Grabbing my hand, he heads for the changing room, dragging me along behind him. When he opens his locker and retrieves a handgun from his gym bag, I swear I stop breathing. I’ve never seen a firearm up close. Although I sensed a dangerous situation was unfolding, I didn’t really believe it until now.
I stand there gawking at him as he quickly pulls on his jeans and a white t-shirt that clings to his wet torso like a second skin. Before I can utter a word—to say what, I have no idea—he shoves me into the same changing cubicle he fingered me in earlier. “Stay in here with the door locked. If you move before I return, I will punish you.”
My eyes widen in shock. What the hell does he mean by that? What gives him the right to issue threats? I don’t respond with outraged bluster like I want to. Now is not the time to kick up a fuss. Figuring the only acceptable response is acquiescence, I nod so vigorously my head swims. His pale blue eyes narrow as he gives me one last warning look, shuts the door, and moves away.
Dropping down onto the narrow wooden bench behind me, I pull my knees up to my chest. Although I’m gripped with fear, it takes less than a minute to realize staying in here is a monumentally bad idea. There’s only a flimsy wooden door between me and a would-be assassin. If they find me, they’ll kill me. I’m not naïve enough to imagine these guys will let a witness live.
When I hear a commotion coming from the pool area, I take my chance and slip out of the changing cubicle. I kick off my remaining shoe and run for the door. Blood thunders through my veins. The sound of my own heartbeat is deafening. I almost make it to the exit when someone grabs me. They spin me around and I’m slammed against the wall. Pain explodes in my head as it rebounds off the solid surface. A tall, muscular man with strawberry blond hair grabs me. He’s young and far too pretty to be such a thug. Panic seizes me as he starts to drag me back into the building. I struggle but he tightens his grip, hurting me. Taking it as a warning, I stop resisting and let him pull me along. Tears prick my eyes as I feel something cold and hard pressing against my head. Without looking, I know it’s a gun.
Bizarrely, in this moment when death seems imminent, it’s not a loved one who enters my thoughts but Daniil Lenkov. His words echo in my mind—if you move, I’ll punish you.
It seems he won’t get the chance. A cold shiver skates down my spine. Even if I get out of this alive, my life as I know it is over.