I should have stayed home. When Cathy called at an inappropriately early hour to ask if I’d take her shift, I should have said no. But I didn’t. So instead of spending the day studying for my anatomy test tomorrow, I’m slinging beer and microwaved pretzels.
Loud cheers from the baseball game on the televisions that Kevin had installed last month drown the nearly empty lounge. I’m not going to make enough tips today to cover my bus ride home with this piddly crowd.
“Avery, wipe down those tables over there.” Kevin, the owner of the hole-in-the-wall bar I work at, brings me a damp towel and gestures toward the far corner.
“Sure, Kevin.” I grab the towel. With this lame crowd in here, all of seven people, he doesn’t even need me. But instead of letting me go home early, he’s going to give me bullshit things to do. My base pay is next to nothing, so without healthy tips, my day is wasted here. And it would be better spent memorizing the bones of the skeletal system for tomorrow’s test.
I finish wiping down all of the tables in the place when the door opens. Sunlight pours in from outside, and four men—large men—walk in. I bring the towel back to the bar, sliding it along the counter. They survey the room, and one of their gazes lands on me. My feet glue themselves to the floor. Fuck, he oozes danger and sex.
He’s the only one not wearing a button-down shirt. While the others are dressed like they’re going to a business meeting, he’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a leather jacket.
And he’s headed straight for me.
“Got her.” He sounds like he’s laying a claim, like he’s just called dibs.
I take a protective step back, but before I fully understand his meaning, he has me scooped up in his arms.
“What are you doing?” Fight mode fully activates. He only has me by one arm firmly around my middle; I should be able to get out of this, but he’s built like a hundred-year-old oak tree. I scratch him, but he doesn’t do anything except carry me to the back room of the bar.
“You’ll stay back here with me for a minute,” he says in a thick Russian accent.
The second my feet touch the floor, I lunge for the swinging door he brought me through. He’s quick for such a big guy and snatches me right back up.
“Don’t fight me, Pchelka. Stay back here where it’s safe.”
“Safe?” I shove away from him when he puts me down once more. He has his back to the door, ready to defend it from my invasion. “Why wouldn’t I be safe out there?”
“My friends need to have a conversation with someone. It’s best you stay here. Where I can be sure you’re safe.”
“How am I safe back here with you?” I grab hold of a broom and poke the handle at him. “Let me leave.”
His left eyebrow arches sharply. “What are you going to do with that?”
“Kevin is out there.” I jerk the broom handle at him again.
“He will be fine.”
Voices rise on the other side of the door.
“What’s happening?” I move up to my toes, hoping to catch a glimpse through the scratched glass window of the door.
“Nothing that concerns you. I told you; my friends need to have a conversation.” He folds his arms over his chest. The man is nothing more than a statue of muscle. The sleeves of his leather jacket hug his arms tight with this position. There are tattoos on his hands, Cyrillic lettering on each finger. It would be smart not to provoke him.
And yet, I thrust the broom handle forward, aiming straight at his crotch. If I miss, I’ll probably hit his leg, or maybe his stomach.
With lightening reflexes, he grabs the broom before it touches him, yanking it from my grasp. His jaw clenches, and he flicks the broom aside where it crashes into the counter, knocking over a tray of glasses.
“That was a bad thing to do, Pchelka. You could have hurt me.” He takes a deliberate step toward me, looking like a hunter on the prowl.
I shuffle back and move around the table. He follows, and as soon as there’s an opening, I run for the door. Then a painful bellow escapes from the bar.
“Stay back here!” he demands, but I’m already out the door. Kevin huddles behind the bar, staying clear of the mess happening on the other side.
“What the fuck?”
Mario Bellittini’s hand is pinned to the bar with a knife. The men surrounding him look up at me, their dark expressions reek of violence and death. It’s the shock of the scene that makes me not even hear leather jacket man approach me.
“I said to stay back here.” Once again, I’m lifted off my feet and carried into the back room. He doesn’t put me on my feet this time. Instead he slips me onto the table. Placing his hands flat on the tabletop on either side of me, he has me trapped.
“Do that again, Pchelka, and you’re going to find out what happens to bad girls who disobey me.”
“His hand.” I point to the back of my hand. “There was a knife through it.”
He nods. “There was.”
“Your friends did that.”
“You were told to stay back here.” His voice is gravely, but soft. It’s like he doesn’t want to spook me anymore than I’ve already been.
“You came here for him, for Mario.”
“You know him?” He frowns.
“He’s here a lot.” I nod. If this guy and his friends were here for Mario, the situation just got a lot more dangerous. “Who are you?” I ask, dragging my gaze to meet his.
He runs his tongue over the top of his teeth beneath his lip. “My name is Luka Vladimirovich Romanov.” The name rolls off his tongue as though made of silk. He stands straight, dropping his hands to his sides.
I think for a moment, I’ve heard the name before. “Romanov.” My eyes widen. “You’re a Romanov.”
His eyes narrow a fraction. “How do you know my family?”
“People talk, I hear names.” I take a steadying breath. “I don’t listen though. I mean, not really. I don’t know anything.” I’m rambling. I know enough about Mario to know that the men he works for aren’t going to be happy the Romanov family came in for a talk today. I don’t want to be involved in any of that. I just want my paycheck and tips so I can get my rent paid and scrape together enough money to pay for another two classes next semester.
“You know the name Romanov though.”
“That’s all I know.” I nod fast. “I don’t know you or whoever is out there. I don’t know anything.”
His mouth kicks up on the left in a sarcastic grin. “You’re not in danger, Pchelka. Unless you decide to run off again.”
His words from a few moments ago finally hit me and my face heats. “I’m not going to stay back here forever,” I say.
“Avery! Are you all right?” Kevin bursts through the door. I suppose I should be grateful he finally remembered I’m back here with this Russian hulk.
“Avery.” Luka says my name like he’s testing it, then he grins.
“Hey. Luka.” Another man follows Kevin. He has a weaker accent, but I can tell he’s one of Luka’s friends. “We’re done here.”
“All right,” Luka says, still keeping his piercing gaze on me.
“Shouldn’t you go then?” I question him.
“I’ll meet you later,” he tells his friend without turning away. Maybe he doesn’t trust me. He shouldn’t. Because the moment his attention moves away from me, I’m going to bolt. This time I’ll be smart and run for the back entrance and take my chances outrunning him down the alley. It’s been a while since I ran a sprint, but I’m smaller than him. Surely his bulk will hold him back.
His friend rattles off something in Russian that makes Luka turn his head toward him. Luka fires off a response, but his tone is darker. Harder.
“You should see to your customer out there,” the second Russian man says to Kevin.
“I want to be sure Avery’s all right.” Kevin’s voice rattles, but at least he didn’t just walk back out.
Luka’s eyes narrow, and he twists around to address Kevin. “You wait until the danger is over before being sure she’s safe.” He leaves me, stalking over to Kevin. “How can I be sure she’s going to be safe once we leave?”
“You have this handled.” The other Russian grins and disappears back through the door.
“She’s safe.” Kevin nods frantically, all the color drained from his face.
“Avery. Get your things,” Luka commands me without so much as a glance in my direction. I realize in a heartbeat that this is my chance and I jump off the table. I snatch my purse hanging on a hook in the back and make a run for the back door.
I pump my arms. My lungs burn, but I don’t slow down. I don’t stop. Heavy bootsteps fall behind me. If I look back, I’m sure I’ll faceplant, so I keep my eye on the prize—the main street. Once I get there, I can probably cut through another alley or jump into a store.
When I finally break free of the alley, the heavens have given me a gift. A yellow cab sits idling at a red light.
“Avery! Get back here!” He’s angry now, I can hear it shaking his voice. I’m not taking my chances with him.
I jump into the back of the cab. “Go! Please!” I slap the plastic barrier between me and the driver.
He glances back, sees the large Russian running toward his car and hits the gas. The light turns green, allowing us an escape into traffic. I turn, watching Luka through the back window. He stops running, hooks his hands on his hips, and watches me back.
“I don’t want any trouble,” the driver says.
“No. No trouble. Thank you.” I lean back into the seat and catch my breath. Sweat breaks out along my forehead. I haven’t run like that since high school. “Thank you,” I say again.
I close my eyes. I’m safe now. Right? That big man can’t run down the taxi. I’m safe.
Who felt the need to name every single bone in the hands and feet? Seriously, more than half the bones I have to memorize are in the damn hands and feet.
For the dozenth time, I cover the image in my textbook with my hand and rattle off the names in my mind, blanking out after only twelve bones. That’s fourteen short.
My self-contempt is short lived because there’s a knock at the door. Finally! My pizza has arrived.
It’s been a shit day, so I decided to splurge and spend the last twenty bucks in my rainy-day jar on a double crust, veggie and sausage pizza. I’ll regret my decision in a few days when I’m scraping the bottom of the peanut butter jar, but that’s a problem for future Avery.
After I grab the twenty from the jar on the kitchen counter, I flip open the lock, noting the chain is missing, but I find it on the floor and pick it up. It must have finally lost its will to hold on and fell off the wall. Maybe once I finish school and finally get a medical assistant job, I’ll be able to pay for a better apartment than this three hundred square foot box I live in. But I have a long way to go.
With an annoyed sigh, I open the door. My mouth waters at the idea of pizza.
But there’s no pizza. Only a mammoth of a man wearing a leather coat with an intense expression.
He’s even bigger now than he was at the bar. I bet he has more than twenty-six bones in each of his feet. He’d have to in order to hold up his body. It’s unnecessary, all that muscle he has. And his height doesn’t help matters either. The top of my head barely comes to his pectoral muscles. He could quite easily pick me up and squash me with one hand. Like a bug.
“You don’t even ask who it is before you open the door?” He lowers his chin, making his dark eyes appear even more sinister. His tattooed hand reaches out to me, pulling the short chain from my fingers. “What’s this?”
It takes my brain a beat to catch up to what’s happening. Luka is standing in my hallway, glaring at me, and is now holding the chain to my lock in his hand. Luka Romanov.
“Nothing.” I try to take it back from him, but he raises his hand out of my reach. What the hell is he doing here? Deciding I don’t want to know, I just want him to not be here, I step backward, pushing my door closed.
His massive hand slams against the door, pushing it back at me. I stumble over my feet, and before I can tumble to my ass, he snags my arm and rights my balance for me.
“No. You can’t be here.” I yank free of his grip. “You need to go.”
As casually as if he lives here, he kicks the door shut behind him. Then he turns his back on me and inspects the chain lock. The screw that holds the chain to the faceplate is missing.
“Cheap workmanship,” he grumbles then pockets the chain.
“I want you to leave!” I survey the living room for my phone. Where did I throw it when I got home? It’s a complete time suck, so when I sit down to study, I hide it from myself. Out of sight, out of mind.
He checks the bolt on the door and grumbles more. “You might as well leave your door open with all the protection these locks give you.”
I spot it. It’s tucked beneath my rolled-up yoga mat in the corner by the windows. Maybe I can get out the window and onto the fire escape. I outran him once; I might be able to do it again. Though I have no idea where I’d go this time.
“Pizza!” a voice calls from the other side of the door that Luka is still inspecting. Of course, he’d arrive now.
Luka opens the door and scowls at the delivery man. It’s Joey. He’s a grad student at NYU and works part time at the pizza joint down the street.
“Oh. Uh, is Avery here?” Joey asks, leaning to the side to look around Luka’s hulking form.
“I’m here!” I raise my hand and wave as I hurry to the door. Luka blocks me, shoving me behind him.
“Is that her pizza?” Luka points to the box in Joey’s hands.
“Yeah… Avery, everything okay?” Joey’s not built like Luka, but he’s no shrinking violet.
“Everything is fine.” Luka takes the pizza from Joey’s hands and slides it onto the kitchen counter before grabbing his wallet from his back pocket.
“I have money.” I try to wiggle my arm around Luka to hand Joey the twenty-dollar bill I’ve now squished in my fist.
“Here.” Luka hands over what looks like a fifty. “Keep the change.” Before Joey can even thank him, he shuts the door on him.
“I can pay for my own dinner.” I wave my twenty at Luka when he turns back around.
His darkened eyes wander over me, like he’s really seeing me now. My skin heats beneath his scrutiny, and I wish I’d put on leggings instead of these shorts. Why does it feel like I’m being touched when he stares at me like that?
“How did you even find me?” I pull on my shorts, trying to yank them down another inch. It’s cool outside, but my apartment is always at least fifteen degrees warmer than I want it to be. The thermostat busted a month ago, and the landlord hasn’t gotten around to fixing it yet.
“Your boss.” He looks around my shoebox. “This is where you live?” He sheds his jacket and tosses it on the counter next to the pizza box.
“Yes.” I raise my chin. It’s tiny as fuck, but it’s mine.
“Your bed is in your living room.” He points to the twin bed pushed against the far wall beneath the windows. It looks more like a college dorm than an apartment, but if I sprung for the larger bed, it would have eaten up precious square footage. And I don’t have any to spare.
“Why are you here?” I fist my hands. “And why won’t you leave?”
He walks around the space to the windows and checks the locks on them. The first one fails to hold the window, but at least the second one gives a little resistance before unlatching.
“This isn’t going to do,” he announces.
I’m ready to yank out my hair. Does he even know I’m still in the room?
“What are you talking about? What do you want?” I raise my voice, because so far, he’s completely ignored me.
This gets his attention and he turns back to me, both brows raised. “Are you yelling at me?”
I might die of hysterics before I get a straight answer from this man. “Yes.”
“Yes. Don’t raise your voice.”
My stomach grumbles. The thick aroma of the pizza has alerted my body that there’s food close by, and I haven’t eaten since the pretzel at the bar this afternoon.
“You’re hungry.” Of course he’d heard it.
“Why are you here?” I ask again, fists at my sides.
“You ran away this afternoon,” he says as though it’s the obvious answer.
“Are you here to k-kill me?” I wish I had a stronger voice, but with his dark eyes and all his muscle, I’m not exactly confident I’d survive a fight with him.
“Kill you?” His eyes go wide. “No.”
“Then why are you here?”
“You should eat.” He points to the pizza.
Can you get whiplash from a conversation?
“Not until you fucking tell me what you’re doing here!” I yell, having come to the end of my rope. I want answers, and I’m not doing anything until I have them.
He cocks his head to the side. “I don’t like swearing either.”
He doesn’t like swearing…
“From me or in general?” Apparently, his insanity is contagious.
“From you.” He sits on the edge of the bed, making the frame creak beneath his weight. It’s not built for a man like him. He dwarfs it. Hell, he dwarfs everything in here.
“Luka.” I pause to take a cleansing breath through my nose to keep from screaming at the top of my lungs. Because if I scream, it’s likely one of the other tenants will hear me through these paper-thin walls, and it’s possible one of them might come to find out what’s going on. And if that happens, it’s entirely possible this criminal will hurt them.
“Luka, what do you want? What can I do to make you leave?”
He gets up from the bed and takes purposeful steps in my direction. The look in his eyes is so predatory, and for every step he takes forward, I go backward until my back is up against the door. When he reaches me, he presses his left hand against the door while his right hand trails along my jaw.
“You are an interesting woman, Avery.” He sounds amused. “You ran from me.” He slides his hand up my cheek until he’s holding me firmly. “It was a very naughty thing to do, and I told you if you ran again, you’d find out what I do to bad girls that disobey.”
“You’re here because you think I disobeyed you?” I swallow hard. I’m not sure what dimension this man crawled out of, but it’s not the same one I’m living in. Men don’t talk this way. This isn’t normal.
He runs the pad of his thumb over my cheekbone as he leans in, brushing his lips softly against mine. My stomach trembles at his touch. Then he kisses me again, harder, pressing me against the door as his tongue sweeps past my lips. His pelvis pushes against me, and I feel him.
All of him.
With a small kiss to my cheek, he breaks away but locks onto my eyes. “You were a very naughty girl, making me chase you.” His accent combined with his gravely tone makes me want to run from my apartment screaming, but also grab his beard and drag him down for another breath-stealing kiss. And considering how addle-brained he’s made me since he’s walked into my apartment, I have no idea which path I will choose.
“You shouldn’t say things like that,” I clear my throat, hoping to strengthen my voice. “You can’t just barge into people’s apartments like this.”
He runs the tip of his finger down the length of my nose. “How many things a day do you think I do, that I shouldn’t?”
Is he teasing me right now?
“A lot.” My shoulders slump. I doubt this man has ever thought of what he should or shouldn’t do before acting in his life.
“Should I punish you now for running away, or should I let you have your dinner first?” He tips his head one way, then the other, as though he’s actually considering his options.
“P-punish me?” Why does his accent make everything he say so much sexier than it should be?
“I agree.” He gives a curt nod, then wraps his hand around my arm, dragging me to the back of the couch. “This will work.”
My toes aren’t even touching the floor once he has me bent over the back of the couch. No amount of pushing up is getting me back to my feet either. His bearlike paw presses into my back, keeping me exactly where he put me.
Dangling over the back of my couch like a rag doll.
“Luka. No. Stop.” I push against the couch cushions, but I’m no match for his strength. I’d have more luck stopping a freight train.
“Don’t worry, Pchelka, this is your first punishment. I will not use my belt.”
Am I seriously supposed to be comforted by that concession? “Don’t use anything! Let me up!” I argue, but it’s all muffled between my struggles and the cushions.
“How will you learn to be a good girl if I don’t teach you?”
I think he’s enjoying this too much. “I’m going to scream.” I really am. I don’t care what happens, I’m not letting this insane man spank me!
“I know you will. It’s going to hurt.” He hooks his free hand into the elastic of my shorts and yanks them down, baring my ass because I—like an idiot—have all my panties in the dryer downstairs.
A hush falls over the room now that my ass is hanging out for all to see. Mortification has me frozen.
“No panties, Pchelka?” He takes this opportunity to cup my ass cheeks. “Were you hoping I’d find you?”
“No, you arrogant son of a bitch! It’s laundry day.” Okay, I started out strong there, but lost it with the admission that I have no clean panties in my apartment.
“Ah, swearing and yelling while your ass is upturned, ready for your punishment. Not smart of you, Avery, not smart at all.” He punctuates his statement by bringing his hand down on said upturned ass.
I’m shocked into silence until the second crack of his hand. Now I’m back to yelling.
“Asshole!” I kick and wiggle, but it doesn’t matter. His hand is as infuriating and unrelenting as the rest of him. Again and again he brings it down on me until a fire erupts and spreads through my entire body. Heat crawls up my back and down. Places that shouldn’t be reacting at all have come alive.
“I like the way my handprint looks on your ass, Pchelka.” Another smack lands, and he makes a guttural sound. “Yes, I like it a lot.”
“Well I don’t!” I argue, once more trying to shove my way off the couch, and once more failing as his hand continues to rain down powerful smacks.
“I don’t think you understand your own body, Pchelka,” he says after another dozen or so heated spanks land. His hand slips between my thighs, dragging upward until he reaches my sex. I squeeze my legs tight. I know what he’s going to find, and I can’t let him do it.
Please, I beg in my head, let me have some dignity.
“Open your legs, Pchelka. Don’t fight me. I’m not going to punish your pussy.”
Punish my pussy.
“If you continue to disobey me, Avery, I’ll have to start over again. Your ass is already a bright red. You don’t want me to make it worse, do you?”
I roll my head to the side, resting it against my arm. There’s a hot throb in my ass right now. If he goes another round, there might be some truth to that whole won’t sit for a week threat I’ve read about in my dirty novels.
“Ah, that’s a good girl.” His voice goes silky smooth when I slide my legs open enough for his hand to continue upward unimpeded.
Thick fingertips trail over the seam of my pussy. “Your pussy is wet, Pchelka, so wet you’ve made a mess of your pussy lips.”
I will now die of mortification.
My ass cheeks are pried apart and his warm, wet tongue glides easily through my folds. I clench my eyes and jaw, determined not to give him any idea exactly how good that feels.
It’s because I haven’t been touched in so long. That’s all it is. Why else would my body betray me so easily, just because this man—a sexy beast of a man, I’ll grant—put his hands on me?
“Mmm, you taste as sweet as you look, Pchelka.” He’s kneeling behind me now. If I lift my leg, I can probably kick him hard in the head, knocking him out. Or at least over.
The tip of his tongue flicking over my clit erases all thought of escape.
My shorts are dragged the rest of the way down my legs and discarded so he can move my legs farther apart.
If I bite down on my lip any harder, I’m going to break through skin. His tongue dances around my clit, then slides back through my folds, dipping into my pussy entrance when he gets there.
“Ahhh.” So much for my dignity.
“Mmmmm,” he hums while licking my pussy, making the vibrations travel up through my body. Up and down he drags his tongue, then swishes it over my clit until I’m arching my back, thrusting my hips back at him. I need more.
As though he senses my thoughts, he plunges two fingers into my entrance. “Sweet and tight,” he says just before he bites down on my ass cheek.
I cry out, but the pain soon melts into the puddle of pleasure he’s creating. Bending his fingers, he thrusts into me.
The pressure builds to uncontrollable levels just as his tongue reaches my clit again. One flick and I’m gone. I come so hard, I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. Strong, breath-taking waves of pleasure pummel me until all that’s left of me is a sagging doll hanging over the couch.
He’s removed his fingers, but his tongue continues to move over me with slow, determined licks. Avoiding my now too sensitive clit, he cleans my pussy with his tongue.
“I’ve found how I will keep you from yelling curses at me.” He kisses my inner thighs and raises to his feet. My arms are weak, but I manage to get myself back to standing. The blood rushes down from my head, making my feet unsteady.
He catches me by the arm and leads me to my bed. “Lie on your back, Pchelka. I don’t want the first time I fuck you to be from behind. I want to see your eyes when I make you come again.”
“What?” He has to be joking. “I can’t. I’m too… I can’t again.” Heat floods my cheeks.
He reaches behind his neck and yanks on his t-shirt, pulling it over his head.
Holy tattooed Russian guy, Batman.
I was right about the muscles. There’s nothing but muscles. His arms are ripped, his chest is ripped, his stomach—I didn’t even know there were eight muscles in the abdomen… which means I really should be studying.
“Of course, you can,” he says as he grips his belt buckle, undoing it then moving to the zipper. Through his jeans, I can already make out the steel rod that is his cock. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when he kicks out of his clothes, but when he stands back up, my mouth dries.
And then it waters.
His hand wraps around his thick shaft, sliding it up and down until a generous bead of pre-cum appears. Swiping it up with his thumb, he brings it to my lips.
“Taste me, Pchelka,” he says, pushing his thumb into my mouth, over my tongue.
Instinctively, I close my lips around his finger and suck the salty dollop. He growls, yanking it from my mouth.
“No more of that for now.” He climbs on the bed, his mere presence making me back up. My head hits my pillows.
Whatever I’m trying to say vanishes from my head with the first thrust of his cock inside me.