His voice doesn’t sound like he’ll let me ignore him. I stand and turn. There is a place set with tea and cake.
“You think you will make my mood happy with dessert?” I wrinkle my nose, but go to the chair. “Perhaps you are right.” I sit down and drink the tea. Then I take a bite of the soft yellow cake that has crunchy veins of nuts, cinnamon, and brown sugar in it. It’s very good. “Where is your cake?”
“That’s the last of it.”
“Thank you,” I whisper. Then my conscience catches up with me. Alexei is the only reason Egorov doesn’t have me. “Come. I share.”
He takes a bit from the dish and eats it, then pours himself a cup of tea and sits.
I try to think about English words and how to arrange them. “I am not angry that you won me. This makes me glad actually. It had to be someone. Of the men I know in America so far, I hate you the less.”
“Least,” I repeat.
“I’m the one you hate least, huh,” he says thoughtfully. The corners of his mouth twitch, like he’s trying not to smile. In Russian, he says, “Don’t be so affectionate all at once. It might go to my head.”
That eases my tension and makes me laugh. “You say you have struggles. Tell me. Maybe mine will be least, and this will feel good.”
“Maybe yours will be less.”
I curse softly in Russian. “Tell me your troubles.”
“I don’t think that’s a competition I’ll win. We never had our heat turned off in winter. That’s against the law in America.”
“America, so soft.” I poke his bicep. “I think you only have tough muscles because you are part Russian.”
The corners of his mouth tilt up, but only for a moment. Then he’s serious again. “We did have times when there was no food in the fridge for a day. My dad left when I was young. At first, my mom worked two jobs, and she paid neighbors to keep me when she couldn’t be home. It wasn’t great. They weren’t good to me, but I survived it. Later, she got involved with someone who was generous. Our life got easier. And then I started fighting because it paid a lot of money. It led me to other work that also pays a lot.”
“I would like to have job that pays a lot.”
“You do have it. A hundred thousand dollars for thirty days. That’s a good wage.”
“Yes, it is.” I finish my tea and pour myself more. “But this is not nice work. Do you not think I should be sorry and ashamed?”
“Really no? Or American no?”
He flashes me a smile, and I can tell he knows what I mean. Americans tell little lies to be polite. Russians do not. I wasn’t a liar at all in Russia. I lie a lot in America, but only to survive, not to save anyone’s soft feelings.
“I did not strip when they want me to. To dance naked gets more money than cleaning apartments, but to this I say no. I clean instead.”
He studies me silently.
“Being pet is not a job I am able to refuse. It is told to me I will do it or suffer very much.”
“Oh, yes? How?”
“I know how Egorov operates. He takes away people’s choices.”
“Yes, but how do you know this?”
After a brief silence, he shrugs. “One night I was supposed to fight against someone who was a friend. At the last minute, Polasky told me it was a fight to the death. Egorov had promised the spectators. I said no, but armed gunmen blocked the door. I told my friend we would just fight as usual, put on a good show, and drag things out. And if one of us wasn’t knocked out sooner, we’d just stay in our corners after the last round. What could they do? Shoot us both in front of all the witnesses? I told him that when the fight was over, we’d walk out with the crowd.”
I frown. “Is this what happens?”
“No. I knocked him out. But they wouldn’t call the fight over. I refused to kill him or even to touch him while he was down. Eventually while they were talking to me, he woke up. He jumped on me while my back was turned and choked me.”
“He tried to kill you?”
“Did you kill him then?”
“Close. I beat him bad enough that he couldn’t get up again that night or for a long time after.” His right thumb strokes the nail of his left.
“But he lives, so this is all right. You must not feel bad.”
Alexei’s gaze is fixed on the table, and his expression gives nothing away. “He could’ve died. I hit him hard enough. After I beat him like that, his breathing wasn’t good.” Alexei swallows, and I see that something like a ghost lives behind his eyes. “When Egorov’s men dumped him, someone saw and called nine-one-one. At the hospital, he had emergency surgery just in time. He’s not the same. His brain never fully recovered. I think it’s worse than if he’d died.”
“Egorov is evil.”
“When you think of it, do you feel sad?”
“No.” He leans back, his gaze coming to rest on me. “My job is to survive. I tried to stop that fight from becoming a death match. I couldn’t. From then on, my only job was to stay alive.”
Alexei claims he’s not sorry, but I think deep down a part of him is troubled by what happened. Because he’s a good man.
“Yes, you must fight back very hard. It is only decision you can make.” I squeeze his arm. “Bloodsport is bad place. Is this why you come to help me?”
“Partly. I wanted revenge against Egorov. He wants you, and I made sure he can’t have you.”
“This makes me glad. I like being revenge.”
Alexei rises, towering over the table, casting a long shadow over the room.
“The other reason you know.”
“I do?” I ask suspiciously.
“I already told you. I want you for myself.”
“You want my virginity?”
“I want my thirty days, so yes, I’m going to take that.”
His certainty makes me both excited and nervous. “This is not a thing to want, Alexei. Remember you are not like Egorov to barter with a personal body.” I look pointedly at the teacup and the empty cake dish. “Deep down, you are kind, I think.”
His small exhale of breath sounds amused, like I’m naïve to see him in a good light. But I know it’s true. Maybe there is some bad in him, but there’s good, too.
“Come to your master’s bed, kiska. Let’s see how kind I am.”
A little shiver of excitement runs through me at his commanding tone, which makes me annoyed at myself. “What if I don’t want to?” I challenge. “What if I say no?”
He catches my hands in his and looks them over.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking for claws.”
This almost makes me smile, but I suppress the urge. Then he pulls me from the chair, turns me slowly to the side, and smacks my ass. My breath catches and then comes out in a huff. “What are you doing?”
“Showing you what bad kittens get when they don’t behave.” His tone is dark. There’s no trace of teasing now.
For some reason, my nipples tighten and an ache begins between my legs. This is a version of Alexei I don’t know well. The one who told me to be quiet before he lifted my dress and spanked me in front of a room full of men.
My gaze is unblinking. “I am not wanting to go to bed right now. I must be like American and think about my life, my future and such things.” It is meant to be funny, but also to see whether I can change his mind.
He bends closer, and his voice is low. “Are you trying to tease me?”
“No, of course not.” My voice is breathy and sounds sexier than I mean it to.
His knuckles brush over my puckered nipple. “I think you are.”
The light touch sends heat through me. Swallowing, I take a small step back. I don’t get more than centimeters away before his strong hands lift me over his shoulder the way he did in the underground club. This time however his hand slides under the dress and grips my ass to hold me in place.
Without answering, he carries me into his dark, sexy bedroom. When he drops me onto the bed, I scramble backward, my breath whooshing in and out of my lungs.
He pulls his t-shirt over his head, and I go still, staring again at the most magnificent body I’ve ever seen. There are blotches of violent red and purple bruises from his fight with Vlad, his fight for me.
“Take off the dress.”
Shivering, I lick my lips. “I do not—”
“It wasn’t a question. Take off the dress, or I’ll take it off for you.”
“What are you going to do?”
A small sinister smile curves his lips. Then he moves as quick as lightning, grabbing me and dragging me to the end of the bed.
I struggle, sending strands of wild hair over my face as he tips me over his lap. Jerking the dress up, he exposes my naked ass. Before I can escape, he hooks a leg over my thighs. Then a series of slaps heat my skin. I squirm and curse. A much harder spank lands, making me gasp and go rigid.
“Swearing is not allowed here.”
“What are you doing?” I exclaim.
“I’m punishing my kitten. Are you ready to behave?”
I try to look over my shoulder, but it’s difficult. Hair partially covers my face and being facedown over his lap makes it hard to twist enough to look him in the eye. Perhaps that’s part of his strategy.
“By following instructions. When I say take off your dress, you remove it. Immediately.”
“So you can do what?”
“Whatever I decide. I own you.”
Looking away, I stare down at the smoky gray carpet. Is that what I want? I’m not sure. It will depend on what he does.
The hand comes down again against my flesh, causing fresh waves of heat and pain. Why does that feel good? I squeeze my thighs together.
“You should stop this—oh!”
The spanking becomes harder and more steady. The warmth fully encompasses my body. It begins where he’s spanking, but then radiates deep into my core until I don’t care if it ends. In fact, I don’t really want it to.
Soft moans escape my lips, and I twist my hips.
Alexei’s big hand appears before my face. For a moment, I think he’s going to cover my mouth. Instead he pushes his thumb past my lips.
“Wet it,” he orders.
I suck his thumb for a moment, which sends another riot of need through my body.
“Spread your legs.”
My heart hammers in my chest. Is he going to put that thumb inside me? I’m aching for him to do just that. My thighs separate almost on their own. Thick fingers slide between my lower lips, gliding in the juices there. And his big thumb presses against my bottom hole. I open my mouth to protest, but I’m too slow. He’s strong enough to push inside that forbidden space, and the invasion is darkly pleasurable.
“My God,” I murmur.
His fingers stroke me, rubbing my throbbing clit that so wants his attention. His thumb teases too, drawing back and then pressing deeper. I writhe over his erection, pumping my hips, desperate to be filled, desperate for release.
An orgasm explodes through me, causing me to clench on his arm and groan deeply. How can it feel so good?
I don’t like being spanked.
I like nice men who don’t spank.