The feeling of being watched wasn’t new to me. Being my father’s daughter, I always seemed to have eyes on me. Guards followed me at his command, or my brother’s, twenty-four seven. Except for the rare occasions I snuck out of the compound to get away from the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped.
Usually, I had my partner in crime to come with me, but as Scarlett was now on her honeymoon, I didn’t have a choice but to go out on my own if I wanted to leave the suffocating confines of the mansion that I had grown up in.
A drink was placed in front of me, and I gave the bartender a smile in thanks as I lifted the Cosmo to my lips and tossed the entire contents back before placing the empty glass back on the bar top. The hunky man lifted his brows, silently inquiring if I wanted another, and I gave a decisive nod before turning away from him.
“Can I buy your next drink, beautiful?” came a deep voice asked from my left.
“Nope,” I gritted out, not even interested enough to bother looking at the guy.
I wasn’t there for a hookup. I wasn’t there to even dance or have a good time. I didn’t want to make memories or forget the ones that haunted me almost every minute of the day. I only wanted out of the house, to spend a little time with my friend, and drink away my pain in the free booze that Anya’s bartenders so willingly offered.
“Bitch,” I heard him mutter under his breath.
When I flipped him off without lifting my head, he angrily walked away, calling me far worse things under his breath.
His pride was stung, plain and simple. He would no doubt stew over it until he found someone who actually wanted him to buy her a drink. He was already fading from my mind.
That feeling of being watched wasn’t going away, even though I was without the usual guards that my brother and father both insisted I couldn’t leave the compound grounds without. It was growing more intense with each passing second, and deep down, I knew why.
Adrian was there.
My heart gave an excited jump before it clenched painfully. I pressed a hand to my chest, rubbing away the lingering ache that never seemed to go away these days. It, like my diabetes, was something I had to live with now.
I was proud of myself for not immediately looking around, trying to spot Adrian in the masses of people both in the VIP section, as well as below on the dance floor. It would have been fruitless to even try. If he wanted to stay hidden, he would.
I couldn’t help wondering if he was jealous, however; if maybe that was why the feeling of being watched had intensified as the guy had spoken to me, and then twice as much when I had sent the guy away.
My body was reacting to his eyes on me. Goosebumps popped up along my entire body, my nipples pressing painfully against the confines of my bra, my panties becoming more wet with each throbbing heartbeat.
“You shouldn’t be drinking,” a husky feminine voice murmured from my right.
I didn’t bother to turn my head to look at Anya. I had been expecting her for over an hour, but she had been tied up in a meeting with one of her liquor distributors. Which was why I was now into my third Cosmo—make that fourth. I picked up the fresh drink and downed it just as quickly as I had the last.
The Iron Hand wasn’t the best place to go if I wanted to avoid my ex, especially as he was a silent partner in the club. Nevertheless, it was the only place I felt comfortable going alone these days.
After years of sneaking out with my twin, it had finally caught up with us when Scarlett had been snatched by one of our father’s enemies. Thankfully, Ciro had gotten her back, but not before she had been beaten so severely she had still had a few fading bruises on her wedding day.
I knew I was safe in Anya’s club.
Even if she was supposedly some scary assassin.
I wasn’t completely sure if that was true or not. Although, she had given me plenty of reasons to believe it. Still, she was my friend, and I trusted her with my life.
At my continued silence, Anya gave an annoyed sigh. “She’s cut off,” she informed her bartender.
“Yes, ma’am,” the hunky piece of eye candy told her.
I gave him a pout, knowing I could talk him into one more—or six, if I wanted to. As long as Anya wasn’t around.
He gave me a sexy wink while she wasn’t looking before turning to the actual paying customers at the end of the bar.
Anya moved so she was standing in front of my plush-cushioned bar stool, putting herself in my direct line of sight. Every time I saw her, I had to stop and take all of her in. I wasn’t vain, but I knew she was so much more beautiful than me. Her long dark hair, that perfect porcelain skin, and those full lips painted her signature crimson. Next to her, I felt oddly plain.
“How are you feeling?” she asked in a lowered tone.
If I didn’t know she cared so much about me, I might have rolled my eyes. But over the weeks that I had known her, she had become my closest friend; second only to my twin.
“I’m fine,” I told her with a smile that didn’t reach my eyes.
“Do you have your medication with you?” she whispered so no one could overhear her.
“I’m not an idiot, Anya. Of course I have it with me.” I always carried a vial of insulin, along with all the other things I needed to keep my illness in check. Syringes, blood glucose tester and strips, alcohol swabs. They all fit neatly into my clutch, along with my lipstick and credit cards. Handy, but annoying.
Anya touched her fingers to my cheek. “Don’t bite my head off. You have been unwell lately. I worry about you, myshka.”
I bit my lip to keep it from trembling. I knew she was only concerned, but she needn’t have been. I had been dealing with being a type one diabetic since I was three years old. There were times when my blood sugar levels got out of hand, usually when I was under too much stress, but I always dealt with them.
Of course, I usually had Scarlett around to help me manage them better, to remind me to check my glucose levels, to inject me when I was too sick to do it myself. But she was out of the country at the moment, on her honeymoon, enjoying being a new wife and expectant mother with the man who had always owned her heart. So, I was on my own, for the most part.
The feeling of being watched turned into something more. Something even more dangerous than the feel of Adrian’s eyes caressing over me. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself, wishing he would just go away.
Even as I ached to have him hold me.
Seeing my reaction, Anya turned her head, predatorily scanning the many faces in her club. I knew the instant she spotted who she had been looking for. I fought against the urge to follow her gaze, hungry for just a glimpse of the man who I both hated, yet stupidly loved.
Turning back to me, Anya stepped closer, blocking most of me from any onlooker’s sight. It wasn’t an easy feat as she was considerably smaller than me. “How long has he been here?”
I shrugged. “I’ve felt him for about half an hour now, maybe longer.”
Her eyes widened. “And he hasn’t approached you?”
The alcohol was finally starting to loosen me up, and I actually laughed at my friend. “After the last time he tried?”
She grimaced. “I heard that Antony needed both kneecaps replaced. Too bad for him, my brother doesn’t offer health insurance in his line of work.”
“I think Paco fell a little in love with you that day.” A giggle escaped me, and I covered my mouth when Anya only glowered at me. A drunk, giggly me was not something I was ready to deal with, so I knew she wasn’t, either.
“The feeling is not mutual,” she assured me, her accent slipping out ever so slightly. “Come on; I need to get you home.”
“But I’m not ready to leave yet,” I grumbled, realizing my speech was slightly slurred.
The alcohol had hit me quickly and hard. I knew I needed to get home while I could still function enough to get back into the compound without getting caught. I might have been twenty-one, but in my father’s eyes, I was still his little princess who needed protecting every second of every day.
“How did you get here?” Anya asked as we moved through the crowd toward her private entrance.
The feel of Adrian’s eyes on me didn’t stop until we were outside, and when it finally faded, I felt bereft. For a moment, I thought about going back inside, finding him, and just kissing him until neither one of us could breathe. I imagined how his fingers would feel on my throat, how he would brush his thumb back and forth over my carotid, as he tempted me to part my lips for him. His breath would hitch as he pressed his hardness into my softness, and he would call me his kotyonok—his kitten.
“Victoria, how did you get here?” Anya asked again, forcing me out of my drunken fantasy.
“Cab,” I said with a hiccup.
I was thankful for the slightly damp air outside. I inhaled long and deeply, enjoying the freshness of the coming rain. I loved a good rainstorm, especially when there was thunder and lightning. I always sat in the open window of my room and watched the sky during them.
“I don’t know if you are reckless or just plain stupid at times,” Anya groused as she lifted a hand to hail a cab.
“Hey …” I whined, insulted. “I can speak ten languages, including your beloved Russian, and I have a hundred and sixty-two IQ.”
“So, just reckless,” she muttered, rolling her blue eyes at me. “And sheltered.”
“But I came to hang out with you, my friend. I miss you.”
A yellow car pulled up in front of us, and she opened the back door before turning toward me. “I miss you, too. I promise we will hang out soon. I would suggest you come to my place, but I know how much you dislike that idea.”
My heart hurt just thinking about the last time I had been to Anya’s apartment, and the happy feelings the alcohol had given me shattered at my feet, leaving me both slightly drunk and hurting once again.
I closed my eyes, but all I saw were a pair of dark eyes and an adorable smiling face that looked so much like his father it had broken my heart then and there.
“I’m going home now,” I muttered, trying to mask my pain. “Call me tomorrow.”
“You call me when you get home,” Anya commanded then slammed the door shut once my feet were in the cab.
I rolled down the window. “Love you.”
She touched my cheek again. “Love you, too. Be safe, myshka.”
As the driver pulled away and drove through the city, I felt alone once again and fought back tears. Scarlett would be gone for at least a little longer, but she was living in Ciro’s apartment now, so even when she returned, I wouldn’t get to see her as easily as I had been able to our entire lives. Cristiano was busy with work. My cousin Allegra was still visiting, but she was so caught up in Dante that she didn’t really notice anything or anyone else. My house was full of people who I knew loved me, but I felt alone.
The driver started to slow down, pulling me out of my self-pitying. He wasn’t even halfway to the usual spot where I normally got dropped off before sneaking back into the compound.
“Is something wrong?” I asked him.
“Someone is trying to get me to pull over,” he said with a heavy Indian accent. “See there?”
I twisted on the bench seat and looked behind us. A non-descript black car was flashing his lights while riding so close to the cab’s bumper, if the driver were to suddenly slam on his brakes, we would have been rear-ended.
Fear set uneasily in my stomach as I instinctively wrapped my hands around my clutch.
Scarlett had given me the little gun Ciro had once bought for her, the same one she used to keep strapped to the inside of her thigh whenever we would go out together. Anya had been teaching me to shoot recently, but I had never actually had to shoot anything other than targets.
“Don’t pull over,” I instructed the driver.
“I must, Miss. It could be a cop.”
“A cop would have a siren and flashing lights,” I tried to remind him, but he was already pulling onto an empty side street.
“Fuck,” I muttered, ducking down in the seat a little and numbly reaching into the clutch for the tiny gun.
This was how horror movies started. Those freakishly real-feeling ones where the unsuspecting girl got kidnapped and dragged into some serial killer’s basement. Then he would keep her with his horde of other victims who either had to give him a child for his barren wife who lived upstairs with his ten other children, or die.
The flashing headlights were suddenly extinguished, yet I continued to hear the vehicle running. While it might have looked like a typical car, I was sure there was a powerful engine under the hood.
The driver sat nervously in the front seat, his papers already out to show to the cop, if that was really who had pulled us over.
I ducked down a little more, trying to make my long body seem smaller. My ears pricked as I strained to hear the approaching footsteps over the sounds of the city around me. I took a small comfort in the coldness of the metal under my fingers and closed my eyes in a quick, silent prayer seconds before the door was jerked open.
I moved with a mixture of instinct and Anya’s capable training as a big, shadowed figure bent and pushed his upper body into the back seat. I pressed the small barrel of the derringer to his forehead, sucking in a sharp breath as fear and nervousness tried to overtake me.
The inhale only made me gasp because I could smell the ever-familiar scents I had come to associate with Adrian—bergamot, neroli, citrus, and the faintest hint of jasmine. My heart paused for two full heartbeats, only to start racing twice as fast as he reached in and grasped my wrist, ignoring the gun pressed to his forehead as he pulled me forcefully across the bench seat and out of the cab.
At his touch, my entire body became one big blaze of need.
He clasped my waist when I fell against him, and I helplessly looked up at him in the darkness.
“Don’t,” I whispered.
“Don’t what, kotyonok?” His voice was low, gravelly with thick emotions that I wished I could read in his eyes, but the lighting barely let me see the outline of his face. “Don’t take what is mine?”
“Adrian …” I began, but he lifted a hand and pressed his thumb to my lips.
“Hush. Don’t fight me.” He dropped his hand, but before I could think to move back, he caught both of my wrists and held on to them firmly. Then he pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it into the open back door of the cab. Money.
“You saw nothing,” he said with a growl at the poor driver. “Nothing.”
“Nothing,” I heard the man say in a high, nervous voice.
Adrian pulled me over to his car and opened the passenger door. His tight hold loosened, only for him to sweep his arm under my legs and lift me off my feet, placing me in the seat. I fought back a moan at how good it felt to be against him, proud of myself when the helpless noise stayed trapped in my throat.
He leaned in, fastening my seatbelt, and for a split-second, our gazes locked. The overhead light was on, and I could read everything he was feeling. The anger, the hunger, and the need that seemed to be driving him. There was something else deep in his dark eyes, but I refused to let myself put a name to the emotion, even though it matched my own.
No. No, he wasn’t allowed to feel that.
He wasn’t free to feel it.
He then pulled back and shut the door before going around to the driver’s side and climbing behind the wheel. During that time, I could have gotten out and made a run for it, but I knew I wouldn’t have gotten far in my heels.
He put the car in gear and drove around the still parked cab before speeding away.
“Where are we going?” I was finally able to find my voice, proud that it hadn’t sounded neither weak nor husky with the emotions choking me.
“Home,” he gritted out. “Where you should have been all along.”
“No,” I cried. “I won’t go to your apartment. Not when your wife is only a floor away.”
I had been to his apartment on three different occasions, two of which I had left it feeling deliriously happy, while one so devastatingly heartbroken I thought I would actually die from the pain. I couldn’t handle it if I had to step foot back inside. Not now that I knew he was married. Now when I knew Klara, his wife, lived on the floor right below his penthouse.
With their son.
His hands tightened around the wheel. “Not the apartment. Home. My house … Our house.”
“I can’t go home with you!” I exclaimed, panic trying to take me prisoner just as swiftly and easily as Adrian had done. I fought it back, knowing that, while this man held the power to eviscerate my heart, he wouldn’t physically hurt me. “If I don’t get home before morning, my family will think something happened to me.”
And after what had happened to Scarlett, I couldn’t blame them.
“Let me worry about your family.” He shot me a quick look, but I couldn’t see much of his face. I felt his gaze on me, though, tracing over every inch of me. Just as he had done at the club. “Ya skuchayu po tebe.”
I had to wrap my arms around myself as my chest exploded with pain. He missed me. I missed him, too, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Even though I knew it wasn’t right.
I had fallen for him too fast, too hard, and if I thought it was some fleeting infatuation that I could get over just as quickly, I was wrong.
So, so wrong.