Luke’s Redemption

Anni Fife

King Security Book One


Floating Pumpkins and Winking Scarecrows

Harrison, Westchester County, New York
It’s the most anticipated day of the year in the small town of Harrison. Crowds of people line Halstead Avenue, undaunted by the unseasonably hot weather as they eagerly wait for the arrival of the colorful Columbus Day Parade. The air is filled with excited chatter and the delicious aromas of local food vendors.
Katya, clutching the string of a yellow balloon, barrels her way to the front. She beams up at her parents and her papa smiles indulgently back at her. “Look, Katya, here comes the school band.”
She spins around, black hair flowing past her shoulders, her pretty, heart-shaped face alight with excitement. For a brief moment she scrunches up her nose, disappointed that she is too young to join the parade. “Next year,” she says fiercely to herself, “then I’ll be six and big enough!”
The parade approaches and she claps wildly. Cheerleaders throw their batons high and shake their pompoms as they pass. The air fills with a cacophony of
blaring trumpets, drums and cheers. Rows of police motorcycles roar past in a deafening wave of sirens, followed by an old fire engine draped in a banner
proclaiming, ‘It’s Great to Live in Harrison.’
Another line of cheerleaders follow, twirling huge flags displaying their school colors. Behind them she sees a giant pumpkin that seems to float through the
air. It gets closer and her eyes widen when she spots a scarecrow crouched behind the pumpkin. Entranced, she stares as the float moves closely by her.
Then the scarecrow catches her eyes and winks!
Surprised laughter bubbles inside her. “It’s Uncle Sam!” She waves enthusiastically and squeals when he waves back. “Uncle Sam, wait!” She runs after him and he smiles down at her again. She runs harder to keep up. But steadily, the pumpkin floats farther and farther away. She stumbles on the roadside curb and loses her balloon when she nearly falls. As it drifts away, she bends over to catch her breath and giggles to herself. “How does such a big pumpkin fit into the oven?”
Straightening, she turns to look up at her mama. A sea of people tower over her, waving flags, shouting and laughing. “Mama! Papa!” Her alarmed call is drowned out by passing bagpipes. Bumping into legs, she shoves her way through. “Mama! Papa!”
“What’s wrong, honey? You lost?” The man bends and his large belly almost knocks her over.
He’s a stranger!
She backs away, shaking her head. Her legs are wobbly and she starts to cry. Desperate, she looks around.
Laughing strangers close in on her. Her heart pounds and she gasps for breath. Lost! She was lost!
“Papa, where are you?” she whispers tearfully.
A hand slides over her shoulder.
Warm. Familiar.
She looks up and her tear-filled eyes meet her father’s. The same violet color as her own, they are filled with concern. “Micuta mea, why are you crying?”
“Papa!” Overwhelming relief sweeps through her and she scrambles up into his embrace. Her tiny arms and legs wrap tightly around him. “Papa, where did
you go?”
“I was right here, micuta mea.”
She burrows into his neck and breathes in his comforting smell. “I was lost,” she hiccups.
He hugs her harder. “No, prinţesa mea, never lost. I was watching over you. I will always watch over you. Papa will never let anything bad happen to you.”
His warmth settles over her like a protective blanket and her heart finally slows. Her small arm stays wrapped around her papa’s neck as she turns back to the passing parade. The booming noise envelops her again and she smiles, rubbing away her tears. But her earlier joy is muted and as the morning passes, no matter several attempts made by her father to put her down, she refuses to leave his safe embrace.

Chapter 1

Sugar Beignets and Deep-fried Po’Boys

The French Quarter, New Orleans
March, Nineteen Years Later
The first time Luke Hunter saw Katya Dalca in the
flesh she was running towards him. Okay, so it wasn’t
really in the flesh, it was through the vertical crosshair
of his scope. And she wasn’t running towards him, she
was jogging back to her hotel. She was a quarter mile
away, but with the jolt he felt deep in his gut, he might
as well have been touching her.
As usual his patience had paid off. He’d been in
position since her arrival the night before, hunkered
down against the balustrade of the balcony. He was in
line with her hotel room on the opposite side of the
road, a budding azalea acting as good camouflage to
create the perfect hide-site for him to track her comings
and goings.
Up to an hour ago, she had not shown herself.
Then, deep shadows still blanketing the street, he
watched as she slipped out of the hotel entrance. He
only caught her dark, flitting shape because he was
looking for it. And the flash he glimpsed of her sleek
Nike outfit told him she was going for a run.
Good. The perfect opportunity for Gray to search
her room.

Now, nearly an hour later, dawn had fully arrived,
the sun rapidly chasing away leftover shadows on the
quiet street. New Orleans was suffering from its annual
Mardi Gras hangover and Luke could sense the lethargy
that blanketed the city. He watched Katya run smoothly
along the sidewalk, and sent Gray a text warning him of
her imminent return. The last thing they needed was to
have Katya catch Gray searching her room.
She ran closer and closer, forcing him to constantly
adjust his lens to keep her in focus. Her intense frown
of concentration seemed to contradict her exotic beauty.
She turned to glance over her shoulder and he saw her
dark hair was pulled tightly back into a long braid that
snaked down her back. Just then, a door opened and a
small boy ran out into her path. She swerved into the
road to avoid tripping over him. The boy froze and
from his expression, Luke thought he was going to cry.
Katya walked over and crouched down to the boy’s
level. He watched her talking to him. And then she
He didn’t know about the boy but that smile
triggered tingles throughout his body and he actually
felt his temperature warm several degrees. What the
hell? The boy’s mother stepped out and called to him.
Katya moved away and shifted back into her easy
jogger’s pace. Her smile faded, leaving behind a
wistfulness that stirred up a matching melancholy in
himself. She arrived back at her small hotel and slipped
quickly inside.
A sense of unease settled over Luke and he
remained where he was, perfectly still. Minutes later he
heard the sliding door open. Gray was back.

Studying Katya’s windows, he made sure there was
no movement before he silently withdrew from the
balcony. He shook the stiffness from his limbs,
determined to set his odd reaction aside and refocus his
mind on the task at hand. Gray was helping himself to a
coffee from the small tray. Luke moved across to claim
a cup for himself. “You find anything in her room?”
“Shit.” He didn’t ask Gray if his search had been
thorough. They had been partners for over eight years
and Luke trusted Gray like the brother he had become.
“She must have it on her person,” he said.
“Yeah. The only way you’re gonna get that
memory stick is to get close to her. Real close.”
He looked sharply at Gray and his jaw tightened in
irritation at the sardonic amusement reflected on his
friend’s face. He turned away, moving back to the
balcony window. Why was he wavering about
approaching her with an undercover persona? It wasn’t
like it was the first time he had got close to somebody
using a fake identity. And it certainly wouldn’t be the
last. He took a deep breath, consciously loosening his
muscles before he turned back to Gray. “Let’s go over
Michael Clark’s legend. The quicker I can get close to
her, the quicker we can be out of here. We need to find
that memory stick, before the rest of the dogs pick up
her trail.”
Gray nodded and moved across to the table where
their files were spread out. A black and white
photograph of Katya caught his attention. He picked it
up and flipped it around to show Luke. “She doesn’t
look like she belongs in the criminal world does she?”
Luke stared at the photograph. She was

extraordinarily beautiful. The still image exuded a
coldness, though. A coldness that wasn’t apparent when
he had studied her through his scope earlier. Then, she
had appeared disturbingly warm and touchable. “She’s
Nicolae Dalca’s daughter. There’s no way she grew up
in his house without being aware of how he earned his
“There’s no record on file of her being involved in
her father’s business as far as I can see,” Gray said.
“Maybe she’s not directly involved, but she’s had
no problem living off dirty money. And picking up a
first class degree from Berkeley off daddy’s ill-gotten
gains screams guilty to me.”
Gray studied the photograph again. “Well, I still
don’t think she looks like a criminal kingpin’s
“Not sure what that’s supposed to look like, but
looking like an angel doesn’t mean she is one.”
“You think she looks like an angel?” Gray mused.
“I’ve never seen an angel with a rack like that! She
looks more like—”
“Shit, brother, give me a break, yeah? I’ve gotta
make good with this girl.”
Gray finished his coffee and seemed about to say
something but the look on Luke’s face appeared to
change his mind. “Right. Any idea why she took that
memory stick and turned herself into a bull’s-eye?”
“Who the fuck knows? My guess, spoiled princess
wanting daddy’s attention.”
“Well, she sure got it. And the DEA’s too.” Gray
tossed her photo on the table and picked up the file
marked Michael Clark. “OK, let’s see what Michael
Clark is all about,” he muttered. “Photojournalist. Just

completed an assignment for American Traveler at this
year’s Mardi Gras…”
Luke shrugged off the last of his disquiet and
concentrated on Gray’s brief. Achieving their mission
objective was dependent on Michael Clark’s successful
seduction of Katya Dalca. Failure was not an option.
I hurried along Chartres Street towards Jackson
Square. There was no need to rush but I was full of
nervous energy, even after my morning run.
The last three days had been hell.
Traveling by bus, I had crisscrossed my way from
New York to New Orleans. After each bus changeover,
I curled up in my seat and tried to sleep. But my
success was sporadic. I was too nervous to settle,
constantly checking I wasn’t being followed. My
situation was made worse by the knowledge that I was
on the run from one of the most dangerous criminal
bosses in New York. And of course, not to mention the
lousy fact that that criminal happened to be my father.
That’s right. My shitty shitty father who thought it
would be good business practice to marry me off to his
partner’s son. His Russian drug-lord partner’s son!
For as long as I cared to remember my father’s idea
of good parenting was locking me in a cage made up of
security alarms, bodyguards and curfews. His work was
dangerous and always had the potential to spill over and
stain me with its filth.
It had once before, with devastating consequences.
And he was determined that it would never happen
again. So determined that when Arkady Boykov
insisted that a marriage between myself and his son was

imperative to cement the trust between our two
families, he succumbed. Instead of throwing that
Russian scumbag out on his ass he traded me to his
degenerate son.
I looked up and saw that I was a block from St.
Louis Cathedral.
I had never been to New Orleans, but even on my
worst day I could not have imagined being here under
such frightening circumstances. I also couldn’t shake
the feeling that I was being watched. My whole body
had tingled with it this morning when I returned to the
hotel. I looked behind me, trying to catch a glimpse of
somebody who didn’t belong, but the street was quiet.
It was nearly eight thirty and the only activity was a
middle-aged woman washing down the pavement
outside a small cafe. Probably spraying away leftover
sins from the night before.
Whoa girl, melodramatic much?
I shook my head in exasperation and made an
effort to appreciate the picturesque buildings that lined
both sides of the street. Their pretty balustrades were
familiar from countless movies I had seen. I was finally
in the French Quarter, the heart and soul of Louisiana!
As I hit Jackson Square, I checked my cell phone.
Still nothing. Not even any messages. Dammit. Where
is Hector? I was undecided—wait for Hector to make
contact or go and get some breakfast? I was hungry but
the thought of food was vaguely nauseating. Until I got
a news update from Hector, I knew I wasn’t going to be
able to swallow a morsel.
Slowing down, I looked up at the architectural
beauty of St. Louis Cathedral. Its three towering spires
had a Disney quality about them, reminding me of the

castle in Magic Kingdom. From the brochure in my
room I knew it was one of the oldest cathedrals in
America. I found the building’s imposing elegance had
a calming effect on my jagged nerves. Noticing a row
of benches that ran along the center of the pedestrian’s
walkway, I walked across and sat down. In front of me,
wrought iron gates opened into Jackson Square Park.
The artists that traditionally lined the black fence were
beginning to arrive and I idly watched them unpack
colorful wares, their Cajun chatter washing gently over
me. I shivered, the sun barely high enough to penetrate
the morning chill. Lifting my face to catch a few rays, I
chanted my new mantra: It’s going to be okay. I’m
going to be safe. I wasn’t yet convinced, but saying it
over and over helped to settle the butterflies building in
my stomach.
“Mm-hmm, cher, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes.”
The distinct bayou drawl drew my attention. I looked
over my shoulder and caught my breath. Crouched
down on one knee was the most beautiful man I had
ever seen. He was smiling at the wizened Cajun flower
seller who was happily sipping her coffee and ogling
him. Part of his face was obscured by a professionallooking
camera that he held aloft, but this didn’t mask
his chiseled good looks. Nor did it hide his powerfully
built body. Oh yes! I could see his defined chest clearly
beneath the white T-Shirt he was wearing, biceps
straining at the sleeves. His hair was dark blond, thick
and probably hung to his shoulders. Right now it was
tied back untidily with a leather cord of sorts.
Distracted, I felt my cell phone vibrate and realized
it was ringing. Dragging my attention away from the
gorgeous man, I fumbled with the answer button.

“Hello. Hector?”
“Hola, Katya.”
“Oh, thank goodness! It’s late, I was getting
“Calm, mi querida. I know you are frightened but
it’s important you keep your head. Sí?”
Hector’s steady voice with its familiar Spanish
intonations settled me like nothing else could. “Yes,
I’m okay now.”
“Good girl.”
“Where are you?”
“Still in Mexico. I’m about to board a flight now.
I’ll be there by midday.”
“Tell me you have my passport?” I pleaded.
“I have everything you need, cariña. Now promise
me that you’ll meet me in Jackson Square at one
o’clock. Can you do that?”
“I’ll be waiting by the statue of the man on a horse.
You know the one?” Hector asked.
“Yes. I ran by it this morning.”
“Bueno. I have to go now, they’re calling my
“Okay. Bye then.”
“Adiós por ahora, Katya.” I heard dead space.
Hector had hung up. I immediately missed his
comforting voice and reached for the memory stick
hanging on a chain around my neck. Even though it was
lying beneath my shirt, I rubbed it like a talisman. It’s
going to be okay. I’m going to be safe.
I slipped my phone into the small, brown leather
bag strapped across my body. The street traffic was
picking up, the day moving comfortably forward,

indifferent to my plight.
It was time for breakfast.
I stood to go and remembered the striking
photographer. Looking over to the cathedral, my
shoulders drooped. Damn. The man hadn’t even
glanced my way but I couldn’t stop the pang of
disappointment that he was gone.
Oh well. I would go to the cafe that I had jogged by
this morning. The mouth-watering aroma of freshly
baked beignets had wafted into the street and it had
taken all my self-control at the time not to stop. I picked
up my pace. Sugar was the perfect antidote to my vague
sense of loss.
I entered Café du Monde through a fine mist of
powdered sugar, and was immediately assaulted by an
aroma of fresh baked patisserie and richly brewed
coffee. It was just past nine, but the traditional French
café was already busy with tourists queuing for tables
so I opted for the takeout counter. Waiting my turn to
place an order, I took in the European-style decor.
Green and white striped awnings, plenty of small round
tables full of people happily devouring beignets, the
famous French-style donut, lavishly covered with
powdered sugar. There was a happy buzz, overlaid with
nondescript jazz piped through the restaurant speakers.
It was impossible to remain tense in such a nonthreatening
I turned back to the small take-out counter as the
couple in front of me moved away. “Single order
beignets and a café au lait please.”

My order was served up less than a minute later.
Grabbing my coffee and packet of three beignets
generously covered in sugar, I turned to leave. And
bumped into a solid wall of muscle. “Oomph!”
A hand shot out and steadied me, making sure I
didn’t spill my coffee. “Careful there, honey,” a deep
voice rumbled.
I felt his hand wrap around my elbow like a hot
brand. I was too close to him, my eyes level with his
powerful chest covered in a thin white T-shirt. I knew it
was him. I just knew it!
“Hey, you okay?” he asked.
I looked up slowly. Oh Lord, he was built!
“Um, y-yes.” I felt the heat move up from my
chest. “Fine. Sorry.” I didn’t have the courage to raise
my eyes further than his full lips which were tipped into
a very sexy smile. I knew my face was glowing red and
I ducked my head to allow my hair to sweep down and
cover my embarrassment. “Excuse me.” I pulled away
from his gentle hold and brushed past him, hurrying
The gorgeous photographer!
Why was I such an idiot? Scampering away like a
scared mouse instead of snatching the opportunity to
chat him up. Where was my normal cool persona? It
had melted to goo in the face of all that testosterone. A
few steps from the cafe entrance, I sagged against a
lamppost and lifted my heated face to the soft breeze.
My blood pressure slowly returned to normal and I
wondered if I should wait for him to come out. Argh!
Why did I feel such a powerful urge to connect with
this man? What was up with that?
The smell of beignets wafted up and distracted, I

lifted the bag and took a deep breath. Whoosh! Fine
sugar blew up out of the bag and coated me.
“Shit, honey, you look sweet all over.”
Oh, just great.
Blinking sugar out of my eyes I looked up. And up.
He was tall, well over six foot. Midnight-blue eyes
rimmed by a deeper blue-black smoldered lazily down
at me. “You’re holding the best beignets in the world.
You gonna stand there or you going to take a bite?”
“Umm.” Jeez, Katya. Say something.
“Here, let me hold that for you.” He took the coffee
from my hand. “Go on, babe. Take a bite. It’ll be the
best thing you’ll ever taste.”
Still struck dumb, I did what he asked and lifted a
beignet out of the bag and took a big bite. Oh! It was
like sinking my teeth into a sweet pillow of ambrosia.
“Good huh?”
I nodded and stared back at him. Then, without
uttering a word, I stuffed the rest of the beignet into my
mouth. He grinned at me, shaking his head. “Want to
wash it down with this?” He held out my coffee.
My fingers brushed against his. Yikes! I couldn’t
stop the slight tremor caused by his touch. I took a gulp
of coffee—half rich chicory, half hot milk—and finally
found my voice. “Would you like one?” I offered the
bag of beignets to him.
“Would be like taking candy from a baby,” he
grinned. “But don’t worry, I’ve got my own.” He
dangled a packet like mine in front of me.
Then we both stood there and smiled at each other
while we gorged on sugary donuts. He would reach for
my coffee to free my hand. Then after I ate some fluffy
yumminess, he’d hand it back to me so I could take a

sip. We swallowed the last of our beignets and licked
our fingers.
I didn’t even know his name, yet I was more turned
on than I had ever been in my life.
“You want to go back for a reload?” He raised an
eyebrow. “We can grab a table if you like? You can
take your time on the second batch, savor them.” His
magnetic gaze caressed my face and his lips quirked.
“You’re still dusted in sugar, it suits you.”
I tried to brush the sugar off. It was everywhere,
even catching on the ends of my hair.
“Come on, beautiful. The place is packed and
there’s sugar floating in the air. Nothing bad can
happen here. Join me.” He reached his hand out and
waited patiently for me to take it.
I don’t know why I did it, but I reached out and
slipped my hand into his. Warmth. It traveled up my
arm and spread through my body. Looking up to meet
his intense blue regard I felt the world as I knew it shift.
Something was happening here. I didn’t know what it
was, but I was ensnared.
I could no more flit away than a fluttering butterfly
could escape a silken web.
It was nearly one o’clock and I was in the middle
of Jackson Square Park by the statue of General
Andrew Jackson, triumphantly astride his horse. I was
impatient to see Hector. Not because I was anxious for
my passport and escape plans. No, I was impatient
because I wanted to go and buy a new outfit. I had a
date with Michael Clark.
How crazy was that? I had a date with Mystery

Man himself. I wanted to be with him so bad that I
refused to pay attention to the niggling doubts lurking
on the edge of my subconscious. I pushed these aside,
together with my exhaustion and panic that my father’s
henchmen would soon catch up to me.
The morning had been a blur.
I’d followed him back inside that sugar palace and
ordered another serving of beignets. Just as he
suggested, I took my time, only it wasn’t to savor the
crispy donuts. It was to savor Michael Clark. That was
his name. It seemed rather a mundane name for such a
striking man, but I brushed this inane thought aside as I
allowed myself to be swept up in his charming banter.
He told me he was a photojournalist, a freelancer
specializing in lifestyle and travel for a range of
magazines. He distracted me with amusing anecdotes
about his week at Mardi Gras, but something about him
was off. His eyes missed nothing, belying the casual,
laid-back appearance he tried to portray. He was alert,
in a state of constant readiness that reminded me of
Hector. Ready for what, I didn’t know.
Then he asked me my name and I just answered
him straight out, “Katya,” I said. “Katya who?” he
asked. “Just Katya.” His questioning eyes held mine.
After a moment he gave me his panty-melting smile.
“Okay, just Katya. I’m going to take a walk along the
river to the French Market. You coming?” Of course, I
said ‘yes’.
We walked down to the flea market and the
morning passed in a jumbled collection of craft stalls,
specialty shops, engaging artisans and food. So much
fresh and delicious food, which Michael took great
delight in eating. He fed me samples of local produce,

refusing to accept my entreaties that I was too full. And
how could I not be seduced when he hand-fed me warm
muffuletta stuffed with salami, mortadella, provolone
and dripping with garlicky olive spread? And how
could I not be mesmerized when he thumbed off the
olive oil that had escaped down my chin. And then
proceeded to lick his thumb clean, never taking those
inky-blue eyes off me.
Clichéd moves? Um, YES! Did they work? Oh yes.
I was totally captivated by him.
It was my father’s fury I had fled, but in a strange
way my decision to cut ties with him had liberated me.
At twenty-three I was finally free of his claustrophobic
protection. Free to engage with a man that completely
enchanted me. I didn’t care that Michael might be
dangerous, I just believed that he wasn’t dangerous to
me. And I desperately wanted to lose myself in him,
even if it was for only one day. Very soon I was going
to disappear. I was going to lose my name and my
identity, fading into the new life that Hector had
arranged for me. Why couldn’t I have just one taste of
Michael before my life ended?
“Hola, Katya.”
“I surprised you?”
I reached up to hug him. “I was day-dreaming.”
“How are you doing, mi querida?” Hector hugged
me back warmly.
Stepping back, I smiled up at him. “All things
considered, I’m doing okay. Better now that you’re
Hector was my best friend Dani’s brother. He was
naturally macho and overprotective, reinforced by his

career in law enforcement. He was very secretive about
which agency he worked for and Dani and I had never
been successful in squeezing him for further
information. When we were at Berkeley, Hector made it
his business to stop by regularly to check on his sister.
As I was often with her, it became his habit to check up
on me too. He became adept at reading us, and right
now his handsome face was full of questions.
“Come on, let’s go sit down over there.” I indicated
a bench nearby. “We have a lot to talk about.” I needed
Hector to stay focused on my escape. He couldn’t find
out about Michael. Not because I didn’t trust him. I
didn’t want to take the chance that he would warn me
off. Even if it delayed my departure from New Orleans,
I wanted to be selfish. Michael was my guilty pleasure
and I wasn’t going to give him up.
“Buena, mi hermana. Now talk to me.” Hector sat
down, one arm stretched along the top of the bench and
one ankle lifted to rest on a knee. He leaned forward
and his dark-brown eyes scrutinized me. “Tell me what
“Where do I start?”
“Tell me what frightened you enough to run. You
have always had a difficult time with your father but I
never understood you to feel unsafe. You told Dani he
had crossed a line, that he was going to force you to
marry some Russian criminal. I need to understand,
“Okay. Well, things between us have been getting
worse over the past year. I got a promotion at the
advertising agency in Chelsea and my work hours were
getting longer. I told Father I wanted to move out and
get an apartment in lower Manhattan, you know,

somewhere closer to work.”
Hector nodded encouragingly.
“He got so angry. Said I was being selfish, that I
knew he couldn’t focus on his work if I was exposed to
his enemies. I told him it was his work that made me
unsafe. If he loved me and wanted me to be safe then
why didn’t he sell Lightning Transport to his
competitors and then he wouldn’t have any enemies.”
I shivered, cold rippling through me at the memory
of his response. “He said I was behaving like a child,
that I was a disgrace to the Dalca name. Then he
walked out and we didn’t speak for over a week.”
“A spat. It is not so unusual for a father and
daughter to butt heads. No?”
“Maybe not for normal families. But you have to
understand, Hector, my father and I are not a normal
family. We do not have spats, we have formal
discussions, usually resulting in my compliance with
his wishes.” I leaned closer to him. “I have never had
the courage to go against my father. I learned at a
young age that rebellion was unhealthy for all
“What do you mean? Nicolae hurt you?”
“No, not how you think. There are more ways to
hurt a young girl than physically.” Sighing, I leaned
back again. I sounded cryptic, but I didn’t want to
rehash my past. “That’s over now. I’m more concerned
with his latest plan for me.”
Hector took his time, studying the constant stream
of tourists passing by. I was suddenly nervous. What if
he changed his mind? What if he sent me home?
“All right, Katya. What made you run?”
I rubbed sweaty palms on my jeans. “It was

Father’s fiftieth birthday. He had a cocktail party at the
house. We had reached a truce of sorts and he asked me
to help host his party. Most of his work friends were
there, including the Boykovs. God, they give me the
creeps, especially Lev.”
“Arkady Boykov’s son. I think Arkady controls the
Russian Mafia in New York, or at least, he’s one of the
big bosses. He’s actually not so bad, always polite and
charming. But his son is a pig. I’ve only met him once
before, but he was at the party. Made a point of
brushing against me.” I got goosebumps remembering
how I had physically recoiled from that disgusting man.
“What does your father have to do with the
“Why are you asking me that?”
“Calm.” Hector covered my fluttering fingers with
his hand. “I’m not accusing you of anything.”
I stared back at him. I had to trust him. There was
nobody else I could go to. I rushed to finish my story.
“Lev kept following me around and I couldn’t see my
father anywhere. I slipped into the library to get away. I
was sitting on a reading chair that was hidden behind a
large shelf. It’s my favorite place to go when I want to
be alone. The door opened and I heard my father
inviting somebody in to join him. It was Arkady
Boykov. Before I could tell them I was there, Arkady
started telling my father that he had a very important
offer to discuss with him. He said it was vital for it to
succeed if they were to continue in business together.”
“They could not see you?”
“No. The room had low light and they moved to
the fireplace. I was hidden by the large bookshelf.”

“Go on, mi querida.”
“He said Lightening Transport was too powerful.
That my father, as sole owner, wielded too much
influence over their business. It made them vulnerable
if he should become difficult. My father asked him why
he was suddenly so concerned. I couldn’t hear Arkady’s
response but then I heard him say that the solution was
for our families to become bonded and the way to
achieve this was by a marriage between his son and me.
I barely stopped myself from making a noise. I couldn’t
believe what I was hearing.” Shaking my head, I forced
myself to tell Hector the worst of it. “My father told
Arkady that if he believed a marriage between our two
families would strengthen loyalties to his satisfaction,
then he would not stand in its way. Arkady asked him
to shake on it and even though I couldn’t see it, I know
the betraying bastard did just that. I heard Arkady say,
‘Good, we are in accord. Now it’s a real party, let us go
and drink vodka to celebrate.”
“I cannot believe that Nicolae would do this. I
know he has been a distant father but I never doubted
he put your happiness and safety above all else.”
“Safety? Yes. Happiness? Never!” I said
“Did you speak to him after the party?” Hector
brushed his fingers through his short dark hair, his brow
creased in agitation.
“No. I went straight to my room. I wanted out of
there.” I looked away to blink back tears. I was not
going to cry again. My father was a bastard and that’s
just how it was. He didn’t deserve my tears. “I packed a
bag. I knew I had to get away.” Angrily pushing my
hair back I turned back to Hector. “Before I left I took

some insurance.”
“A memory stick.”
“What memory stick?”
“A small flash drive. My father normally keeps it
on a chain around his neck but sometimes he leaves it
by his computer in his study. On my way out I looked
to see if it was there and it was. So I grabbed it and just
“Security didn’t follow you?”
“I’m normally very cooperative with my comings
and goings. I caught them by surprise. By the time they
got it together, I was gone. I checked into a motel near
LaGuardia and called Dani. You know the rest.”
Hector nodded. “Tell me more about this drive that
you took.”
“I’m not sure what’s on it but I think it’s
significant. My father’s not IT savvy. He doesn’t
understand about off-site data storage or secure cloud
back-ups. He always has this drive with him or nearby
so I guess he must back up important information to it.”
I couldn’t stop my fingers going instinctively to my
chest to feel the shape of the memory stick hanging
there. “I needed some insurance if he came after me,” I
said defiantly.
“That’s it?” Hector pointed at the chain around my
I nodded.
“Have you looked at what’s on it?”
“Not yet.”
“Do you want me to take it? Keep it safe for you?”
Did I? What if there was really incriminating
information on it—information that could send my

father to jail? I knew that I trusted Hector with my life,
but did I trust him with my father’s? Did I care?
After a moment I said, “No thanks. I think I’m
going to hang on to it for now.”
Hector just nodded.
We sat quietly. It was getting hot and Jackson
Square was teeming with people. Hector stood up and
reached for my hand. “Come. Let’s walk back to your
hotel. I need to give you your passport and familiarize
you with your new legend.”
“Si. The background story for your new identity.
You will only use it to travel to Mexico, but it’s
important you have it all clear in your head.”
Taking his hand I let him help me to my feet. “It all
sounds a little scary.”
“It is scary, Katya, but you’re going to be safe. I’ll
make sure of that. Now let’s go. We have a lot to cover
and I have to be back at the airport by four o’clock.”
Gray was waiting for Luke outside Domilise’s Po-
Boy & Bar in Tchoupitoulas Street, just outside the
French Quarter.
“Find it okay?”
“Sure, after getting directions from two locals,” he
Ignoring his gripe, Gray led him into the small
cafeteria. Luke took in the ramshackle interior and
noted it was filled with what appeared to be regulars.
There was a hodgepodge of tables placed closely
together and crammed full with customers. A nononsense
bar counter stretched the length of one wall

with bar-stools along one side and two cooks manning
the fryer and dressing up po’boys on the other side.
Most of the space was filled with locals eating and
chatting, washing everything down with plenty of beer.
Luke followed Gray to two empty stools at the far end
of the bar. “They keeping these for you?”
“Yeah. I’m a regular here and a definite favorite of
Miss Dot’s.”
Like he conjured her up, a slight woman of
indeterminate age walked through the swing door from
the back kitchen. “Grayson Walker! As I live and
breathe, aren’t you a sight for these tired eyes.”
“Miss Dot.” Gray leaned over the counter to kiss
both her cheeks in greeting.
“It’s been too long, cher.”
“I know.” Sitting down he indicated Luke, “A good
friend, Luke Hunter.”
Giving him the once over, Miss Dot slowly smiled.
“We-ell, aren’t you a good-lookin’ one?” He couldn’t
help smiling back at her blatant flirtatious manner. “Let
me get you both fed and we can talk up a storm after.
Shrimp and oyster po’ boys for you both?”
“That would be great, Dot. And a couple of cold
ones as well,” Gray said.
Luke took a seat and looked around. They were
tucked away in the corner of the bar which offered them
a bit of privacy. “Any more information on the
“What’s she like?”
“She’s fine. The Russians?”
“You got a date with her later?”
“It’s not a fucking date. Shit, I don’t know what it
is. I’m taking her to dinner.”

“Oh yeah, it’s a date.”
“For Chrissakes! You going to tell me about the
Russians or not?”
“Sure, Hunt, whatever you need.” One of the cooks
slid two ice-cold beers across the counter and Gray
contentedly picked his up and took a long swallow.
Luke pressed his lips together to contain his
irritation. He knew Gray enjoyed fucking with him.
He’d relay the relevant information in his own time. He
looked up and read a slogan hanging over the bar—It’s
Good! The way people were happily tucking into their
food, he had no doubt it was very good.
“The latest sit-rep is unchanged,” Gray said, his
tone taking on a serious note. “The Russians still seem
ignorant that Katya has even rabbited. Nicolae Dalca
has gone silent. HQ doesn’t want to overplay their hand
and risk Dalca finding their wire, so they’re keeping it
inactive for now.”
“Where is Grigori Petrov?”
“Off the grid for the last two days. We think Nicu
sent him after Katya. He’s the only one Nicu would
trust to retrieve his daughter and the memory stick
without killing her.”
“Nicu?” Luke raised an eyebrow.
“Short for Nicolae. Seems Dalca’s friends and
enemies alike call him Nicu.”
“Cosy.” He reached for his beer. “Petrov’s smart
and dangerous. He can’t be far behind.”
“Agreed. You need to make your move tonight.
Get that memory stick so we can pull out and get back

“Here you go my lovelies.” Miss Dot pushed plates
in front of them, steaming with freshly fried po’ boys.
“Two shrimp and oyster. Eat up while it’s hot.”
Luke pulled his plate closer. Even though he had
generously sampled the local foods on offer when he
was with Katya, he had no problem digging into the
delicious Cajun-style sandwich. He bit through the
flaky exterior and savored freshly-fried shrimp and
oysters soaked in an unidentifiable sauce. Yeah, as he
had expected, the bar slogan said it all—’It’s Good!’
“Damn. The first mouthful’s always the best,” said
Gray, and washed down the fried goodness with his
They ate, the easy silence between them earned
from hundreds of hours together in hide sites scoping
designated targets. Gray was the finest spotter Luke had
ever worked with. As a marine force recon sniper team,
they were up there with the best. And even now, since
they had opted out on an honorable discharge, they
remained partners.
Pushing his empty plate aside, Gray finished his
beer. “So, do you know where she keeps the memory
“On a chain, around her neck.” Luke swallowed
the last of his food and washed it down with the dregs
of his beer. “She’s not how I thought she’d be,” he said.
“Not as beautiful, you mean?”
“Shit no, she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever
seen.” He remembered her face covered in sugar dust.
So fucking beautiful and so fucking sexy. Dark-violet,
almond-shaped eyes, surrounded by the longest fucking
eyelashes, so long he had thought they were fake until
he looked closer. She had a perfectly symmetrical

heart-shaped face, high cheekbones and her lips, Christ!
Full and pouty and covered in sugar. It had taken
everything he had not to lean down and take a taste.
“What I mean is, she’s not as cold as I thought she’d be.
Not as shallow. She’s funny, quirky. But she’s also a
little fragile, sad—”
“Careful, Hunter. Michael Clark can be as sensitive
as the job demands, but you need to keep focus. Don’t
let this woman take you off your game.”
“I won’t lose focus!” Luke shoved his stool back
and stood up.
“All right then. It just sounds like you’re real taken
with her.”
“She’s the target, that’s all she is. Have you ever
known me to lose focus of the target? Ever?”
Gray stared at Luke and then sighed softly, “No.”

Chapter 2

I Just Want to Make Love To You
By the time Hector left it was late afternoon. I had
three hours to shop for an outfit and get ready before I
was to meet Michael at six-thirty. When he had asked
me for my hotel details, I panicked and insisted on
meeting him outside Harrah’s Casino. He’d raised a
brow but thankfully hadn’t argued.
My hotel concierge understood exactly what I was
looking for. She arranged a taxi to take me to the
Garden District and gave the driver clear directions of
where to find the boutique she recommended—A Girl is
a Gun—Wow, how perfect is that name?
The shop was easy to find. A red sign hung from
chains above the door, just like an old style saloon
would have. The interior was stylish and retro-modern,
the clothing an excellent mix of vintage chic and funky
labels like Bettie Page, Bernie Dexter and Stop Staring.
Hair accessories with feather and jewel appliqués, Lux
D’Ville purses and a range of in-house designed Tshirts
and sweatshirts filled the shelves lining the walls.
Dani would have loved it.
When I arrived at Berkeley University, my
wardrobe had been conservative and unexciting. Dani
was studying Fashion Merchandising and wasted no
time taking me under her fashionista wing. It helped

that her and her posse sub-majored in where to unearth
top brands for a fraction of their retail price. With her
blunt but well-meant advice, we slowly replaced my
prim and boring wardrobe with high-street elegance
mixed with retro pieces that tended towards vintage.
I spent several minutes browsing the labels, but
was irresistibly drawn to the vintage rail. A savvy
looking saleslady approached and introduced herself as
Hazel. I explained I was looking for something special
for my date. While I rambled on about the style I
preferred, she pulled items off the rail and then expertly
maneuvered me into the change room.
The minute I slipped on the violet-purple top I
knew it was perfect. The satin oozed Old Hollywood
glamour and totally matched the color of my eyes. The
lapels hugged my breasts then dipped into a plunging
neckline with a faux wrap front tying on my hip. The
back and long romantic sleeves were transparent
chiffon, the cuffs lined in satin frills.
“Oh, honey, that looks like it was made for you,”
Hazel drawled.
“You don’t think it’s too revealing?” I tugged at
my exposed cleavage.
“You’re young and you’re beautiful. You can
never have too much cleavage!” I gulped at her nononsense
tone. “You got a pair of decent black pants to
go with that?”
“Yes.” And I did. A pair of Armani cigarette
trousers in a stretchy faux leather. I also had the perfect
black Gucci ankle boots that Dani had snatched up for
me when she interned at Marie Claire. They were super
high with steel zip inlays that added a sexy edge. Both
pants and boots were firm favorites of mine, so had

made the cut in my hastily packed bag.
I paid for the top before I could change my mind.
The purchase made a serious dent in my cash reserves,
which wasn’t ideal as I couldn’t use any of my credit or
charge cards. But I shoved this problem aside,
preferring to picture Michael’s reaction when he saw
me. I didn’t want him to just find me hot. I wanted him
to be totally smitten with me like I was with him.
I arrived back at my hotel with less than an hour to
get showered and dressed. I never once considered
taking Hector’s advice that it was best to leave for
Mexico immediately. Kissing my lips with a final touch
of cherry-red lip gloss, the only thing on my mind was
the potent and irresistible package that was Michael
I dashed down to the riverfront where there was an
electric trolley service. The concierge called them
streetcars when she gave me directions. I got lucky and
one pulled up just as I arrived at the station. I jumped
off at Harrah’s Casino and arrived only three minutes
late. Michael was already there, lounging casually
against a pillar. He stepped forward to meet me and his
tall frame filled my vision. He took his time, blatant in
his regard. When his eyes lifted to meet mine they were
midnight ink, burning with his appreciation. He lifted a
hand and boldly stroked one finger down the edge of
my satin lapel, stopping just short of my cleavage. I
held my breath, every hair on my body raised at his
whisper-light caress.
“Breathe, Katya.”
I exhaled noisily and heat flushed through me. His

sensual lips tipped into that lazy smile that I was
already addicted to. Yes! The splash-out on my outfit
was worth every reckless cent.
“I love it when you blush like that.”
“Like what?” I knew exactly what he meant. My
fair skin cursed me with a blush that was easily
triggered and deepened to a crimson-red the more
mortified I became.
He lifted his hand and I watched, mesmerized, as
his finger returned to my cleavage. “It starts at these
gorgeous breasts, then moves up this long, bitable
neck.” His finger brushed lightly along my skin,
stopping briefly at my frenetic pulse and then he lifted
both hands to gently cup my flushed face. “And finally,
it brings an incredibly sexy but innocent glow to this
beautiful face.”
My lips parted. Kiss me, please kiss me.
His thumb caressed my lower lip and then he
stepped back. “Come on, babe. The restaurant’s not far
and we don’t want to lose our reservation.”
My pulse fluttered. I loved it when he called me
“You okay to walk in those heels?”
“Um, yes, it’s fine.”
“Great, ‘cos they’re sexy as all hell.” He took my
hand and urged me along.
We joined the throng along the busy sidewalk, my
hand engulfed by his much larger one, and I
experienced a sense of belonging and safety that had
been missing in my life since I was a child. That awful
feeling I had sensed earlier of being watched was also
gone. It was like his sheer presence kept all the evil in
my life at bay. I was probably being melodramatic.

Dani said I should have studied drama instead of
graphic art, but what she didn’t realize was that I only
ever displayed this behavior with her. Her
unconditional acceptance of me made it safe to be
myself. At home, I learned to hide this side of my
nature and suppress my propensity for over-exuberance.
“I hope you eat pork.”
Michael gestured towards a restaurant where a long
queue of people waited at its corner-street entrance.
“Here we are.” He nudged me in front of him and
guided me through the door.
The inside was buzzing with people too. I looked
up at him “What did you say about pork?”
“This place specializes in pork, hence its name,
Cochon.” He lifted his brow expectantly and grinned
when I didn’t answer. “Cochon, French for pig,” he
I ignored his cockiness. “Is it okay for us to jump
the queue like this?”
“Yeah. I’ve got a mate who runs the bar. He made
a special booking for us.”
Inside, the restaurant looked like a renovated
warehouse with a rustic yet elegant decor. The kitchen
area was mostly open with a wood fire oven. Clever
mood lighting gave the place a chic but casual vibe,
though it was clear to see that jeans or shorts were just
as welcome. My get-up was fairly dressy so I was glad
that Michael had made an effort as well. His dark Levi
jeans were matched with a navy shirt molded to his
beautifully toned body. It wasn’t tucked in and fell just
to his hips, which allowed enticing glimpses of his
black leather belt that had a hammered silver buckle.

Over this, he wore a tailored three-quarter length black
leather jacket. Stylish and crazy sexy.
Michael caught the hostess’s attention and we were
shown to a corner booth with one curved leather seat,
obviously meant for only two people. We sat and the
hostess wasted no time handing over menus. “Jules will
be along in a mo’, he said he’ll take care of your drinks.
And I’ll send your waitress along in five, give you
some time to look over the menu.”
Michael nodded at her then turned to me. “Jules is
a mate of mine, met him when I was doing my service.”
“Yeah, I was in the Marines.”
“Oh. How long for? When did you get out?” He
stiffened and I was surprised to see his face shutter.
“I joined soon after 9/11. Got my discharge about a
year ago.”
His tone didn’t encourage further questions but I
was curious. “For somebody who’s been out of the
military for some time, you still seem super alert.”
“How so?”
“You have this watchful quality, like you’re
expecting danger. You remind me of a cop friend of
He didn’t answer, just flattened his lips and stared
out at the restaurant. His abrupt withdrawal stung and I
was suddenly sorry I had said anything. “I didn’t mean
to upset you or anything—”
“It’s fine,” he said, turning back to me. But it
didn’t feel fine. Something was off, I just couldn’t put
my finger on it.
“Hey, Mikey, good to see you brother.” Michael
stood up to shake his friend’s hand and they did that

backslapping thing that guys always do. “And who is
this gorgeous creature?”
Very pretty gray-blue eyes twinkled down at me
and I spontaneously smiled back.
“This is Katya. Katya, meet Jules.”
“Enchanté.” Jules drew out the French greeting and
placed a bottle he was carrying on the table. Then he
dramatically bowed to take my hand in his and place a
light kiss on my knuckles.
I giggled. His dark good looks and flirtatious
manner was a relief after the intensity that always
seemed to brew between Michael and myself.
“Sit,” Jules said to Michael. “I’ve got a homemade
specialty of the house for you both to try.”
I bit the inside of my lip, uncertain of the unlabeled
bottle he had brought to the table. It was a pale orange
color and was stuffed full of jalapeños! Popping the
cork with a flourish he filled three shot glasses to the
brim. “This is homemade jalapeño tequila, best you’ll
ever taste.” And with that he clinked our glasses and
threw back his shot.
I expected some wincing reaction on his face but
there was none. Licking his lips he drawled, “Nectar of
the gods.”
I turned to Michael and caught my breath. He was
watching me, his glass aloft. “Chicken?” he challenged,
his eyebrow raised wickedly.
Yikes. There was no way I was wimping out.
Mentally crossing my fingers, I tossed back the
concoction in one hit—Yowza! I was on fire. Breathing
out fumes, I eyed both of them through a haze of tears.
They were laughing at me. I pointed at Michael and
gestured at his still full glass but I couldn’t actually

speak. He shook his head at me, then casually lifted his
glass and tossed back the contents. I waited to see his
reaction but I was disappointed as, just like Jules, he
looked blandly back at me.
“What?” I gasped, still trying to catch my breath.
“Do you guys have mouths of steel?”
“You prefer something a little sweeter, darlin’?”
Jules asked facetiously.
“Yes, please,” I answered instantly, deciding it was
best to take him at face value.
Laughing, he turned back to Michael. “I think she’s
a keeper, Mikey. Careful she doesn’t slip through your
Michael leaned back, he seemed oddly irritated by
Jules’ comment.
“All right then. One Ramos Gin Fizz coming up for
the pretty lady and I’ll send you a beer, yeah?”
Michael nodded.
Our waitress came to take our order and thankfully,
by the time our drinks arrived, Michael had returned to
his previous good humor. My Ramos Gin Fizz was
sublime—a combination of gin, lemon and lime juice,
egg white, sugar, cream and surprisingly, orange flower
water. All topped up with soda water to add a sparkle.
Without much delay, our shared starter arrived—fried
alligator bites served with chipotle mayo and a chili
garlic aioli that had a slow, creeping heat. Biting into
the tender alligator and sipping on my delicious Gin
Fizz, I was hyper aware of Michael who was seated
close to me, his knee frequently rubbing against mine.
“Where are you from, Katya?”
“What do you mean?” His question caught me off

“Where are your family from? Katya is an unusual
name, not American.”
“I was born in America. My mother was American
but my father is Romanian.”
“Your mother was American?” he said gently.
“Uh, yes. She died when I was ten.” I looked away,
taking a sip of my drink, which was suddenly tasteless.
I hated talking about my mother.
“I’m sorry, baby. That must have been real tough
on you.”
Baby? I liked that even more than ‘babe’. And the
gentleness in his voice when he said it helped dilute the
painful memories.
“So, you were named for your father?”
“No, after his mother, Ekaterina.”
“Is she as beautiful as you?”
“I never knew her, but then neither did my father.
She died giving birth to him. I’ve seen photos and she
was lovely. But I look more like my mom.”
“Mmm, just like her in fact. But I have my father’s
eyes and hair.” Suddenly uncomfortable, I reached for
the memory stick that normally hung around my neck.
My heart stuttered when I felt nothing, and then I
remembered I tucked it in my purse because it had
ruined the effect of my new top.
“You okay?” Michael leaned closer and his hand
settled on my jaw, turning me to face him.
I didn’t feel okay. Shit! Tears welled up and I tried
to move my head away as they began to overflow.
“Christ, Katya, what’s wrong?”
I shook my head. My father’s betrayal and talking
about my mother had loosened something inside me

and I was suddenly overwhelmed with a deep, clawing
“C’mere, baby.” He reached to wrap me in his
arms. As he nestled me into his chest, his hand stroked
my head and combed through my hair. “Shh, it’s okay,”
he crooned.
“I don’t understand—”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re hurting for whatever
reason but I’ve got you, sweetheart. Just let go, I’ve got
And he did have me. Right in the palm of his hand.
Michael slipped the keycard from my trembling
fingers and inserted it into the slot. The green light lit
and he pushed my hotel door open but didn’t enter.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes.” My voice was husky as I returned his
heated stare.
“Then why are you trembling?”
“Because I’m nervous. And excited.” Jeez girl,
could you sound any more dorky? I didn’t know how to
tell him I ached because I wanted him so bad.
His gorgeous eyes glinted and he gave me that lazy
smile. “Excited’s good. I’ll definitely take excited.”
“Okay, good then. Um, you, uh… Damn.” I
grabbed his hand and pulled him into the room.
I invited Michael into my bedroom with no
misgivings, even though I knew it would most likely
result in losing my virginity to him.
Yes. I was still a virgin at twenty-three. Of course,
he didn’t know this, and I hadn’t yet worked out how to
impart this tiny bit of news to him.

Back at Cochon I was mortified over my crying
jag, but Michael had gently brushed it aside. He made a
point of not asking me any more personal questions,
distracting me instead with innocuous chitchat as we
polished off our mouth-watering main course—roast
pork with crackling and a special of sweet smoked ham
with fresh corn and figs. Yum! He tried to tempt me
with the German chocolate ganache but admitted defeat
when I threatened to sic Jules on him with the Jalapeño
I was tired and Michael urged me to get some
sleep, but I wasn’t ready to call it a night. He must have
seen something in my expression because he suggested
we take in a club in Frenchmen Street that had a
reputation for excellent music, and I gratefully agreed. I
went to the restroom to freshen up, and when I came
out he was by the reception door in an intense
discussion with Jules. It looked like they were arguing
but when they saw me, Jules walked away and Michael
approached me, reaching for my hand. Worried I would
be cold, he’d arranged for a taxi rather than use the
streetcars. I didn’t question him about his argument
with Jules. I didn’t want to risk him shutting me out
again and spoiling the evening.
The club, The Apple Barrel Bar, was really small
and crammed full of people. It was the perfect place to
shake off any lingering doubts. Michael ordered us
bourbon and then pushed his way through the foottapping
crush, with me in tow, to a pillar next to the
small stage. He leaned against it and smoothly turned
me to face the band. My breath hitched as he pulled me
up against his body, one arm wrapped protectively
around me. His move seemed natural as the space was

so tight but it didn’t feel natural. It felt electric. The
heat from his chest easily penetrated my thin top and
with his muscled arm enfolding me, I was immersed in
all that was Michael.
The smoky bourbon went perfectly with the band,
their music a combination of New Orleans Dixieland
mixed with the sound of Muddy Waters. Encased in our
own simmering heat, we listened as they played a mix
of unfamiliar songs, interspersed with some popular
favorites, including Bessie Smith’s famous Baby Please
Come Home. I couldn’t stop myself swaying to the
music and this meant my body was constantly moving
against his. Oh Lord, it was hot.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any hotter,
the opening cords of Muddy Water’s “I Just Want To
Make Love To You” slid over us with all of its sensual
power. Michael turned me to face him and took the
empty bourbon glass from my hand. I didn’t notice
where he put it because both his arms wrapped around
me and pulled me tight up against him. I went up on
tiptoes to meet his descending mouth. And then, with
the classic blues song thick in the air, he claimed me.
And it was a claiming!
His mouth fused with mine and a place deep inside
me unfurled in response. Waves of heat cascaded
through me as his tongue swept into my mouth. It filled
my senses and created a voracious need that I knew,
with absolute certainty, only he could ever fill.
I clung to his shirt when he pulled back slightly,
feeling the warmth of his hand on my jaw. When his
thumb feathered my cheek I forced my eyes open. I
could feel his breath kiss my lips.
“Jesus, babe!” he whispered hoarsely.

I couldn’t speak.
His hand threaded into my hair, pulling my face
impossibly closer and his lips settled back on mine.
This time he went slower, our tongues endlessly
entwining with each other. The people around us faded
away as his kiss consumed me. I couldn’t get enough.
His taste was intoxicating.
Then he caught my lower lip between his teeth and
bit me, gently. My knees sagged and he was forced to
catch my weight, pressing me tightly to his body. His
erection beneath his jeans pressed into me and wetness
surged between my legs.
Oh God! Unable to stop myself I whimpered into
his mouth.
His hand fisted my hair and he pulled my head
back, not so gently. His eyes were liquid ink and he was
breathing so deeply his nostrils were flaring.
Completely ensnared, I was a willing partner to
whatever he wanted to do with me.
“It’s time to go, baby.” His voice was deep and
husky. “Come on.” He pulled me through the crowd
and out on to the street. In the cool air, he removed his
jacket and slipped it over my shoulders. It enveloped
my much smaller frame and I pulled the leather around
me, inhaling his spicy, masculine scent. It settled
around me like a cocoon. And I felt safe. Protected.
In the taxi he asked for the name and location of
my hotel. I gave it to him without hesitation.
As we drove past the lively sidewalks, I turned to
him. “You’ll stay with me tonight?” My voice was
tremulous, but even I heard the bold challenge in my
“Is that what you want?”

He searched my face then leaned over and dragged
me across the seat, tucking me into his side. I rested my
face against his chest and soaked up his addictive heat,
surrounding myself in the heady scent of Michael
And now, here we were, alone in my hotel room.
Thankfully, housekeeping had been in and tidied
up the mini-cyclone I left behind when I dashed out
earlier to meet Michael. It felt like a lifetime ago.
I let go of his hand and moved over to a corner
chair to drop my purse on the seat and lay his leather
jacket over the back. Flipping my hair nervously, I
turned to face him.
He was standing in the middle of the room, hands
resting arrogantly on his belt buckle. “Come here,
Katya,” he drawled.
I wavered. I wanted him so badly, but his
arrogance irked me.
“If I come to you, baby, I’m going to rip that sexy
top in half and I don’t think that’s what you want.”
Yikes! I guess he was a lot tenser than he appeared.
Maybe he wants me as much as I want him?
I slowly approached him, stopping less than a foot
away. Just below his jawline, a muscle jumped and my
pulse picked up speed in response.
“You going to take that top off, baby?”
I didn’t answer. Just reached to undo the tie at my
hip then raised my arms, widening my eyes back at
And then I smiled.

His ragged breath sent a bolt of electricity through
me and I bit my lip. Oh yes! He wants me.
Eyes narrowed, he frowned down at me. “You like
to challenge me, baby?”
He didn’t wait for my answer, just moved to
unceremoniously slip my top up and over my arms. He
tossed it on the chair and brought his hands quickly
back to my body, smoothing them down my waist and
over my ass. Then he tightened his grip and lifted me
up against him until my breasts were within easy reach
of his mouth. My legs automatically moved to wrap
around his hips, my hands braced on his shoulders.
“Gorgeous!” He sighed and dipped his head to run
his lips along the edge of my black lacy bra. My breath
quickened when he used his strength to support me with
one hand and used the other to pull my bra aside and
reveal my hardened nipple. Before I could say anything,
he sucked the peak into his mouth. He didn’t take it
slow. His mouth was wet and demanding. Each pull on
my nipple an electric conductor attached directly to my
throbbing clit.
Swamped with pleasure, I clung to him.
He lifted his head and rasped. “Prepare the other
one for me, Katya.”
“What?” I gasped.
“I want to taste your other tit, baby. Lift it up for
Oh God! My pussy wept as I pulled the lace away
from my swelling breast and lifted it to meet his mouth.
His face was tight with lust as he closed his mouth
hungrily over my offering. A long moan escaped my
throat and my legs started to shake around his hips.
Only his hand under my butt stopped me from sliding

into a puddle at his feet.
I groaned in protest when he lifted his head, both
arms wrapping tightly around me. “Hold on to me,
baby, don’t let go and I’ll give you what you need.”
There was nothing in this world that could make
me want to let go.
I ran my lips along his stubborn jawline and dipped
my tongue into the cleft at his chin. Feeling for the
leather cord holding back his hair, I pulled it out. I
didn’t care if I was a little rough. My fingers luxuriated
in the untamed length, then curled into fists and pulled
his mouth down to mine. I was starved for more of his
I caught his lower lip between mine and sucked on
He jerked his head back and climbed on to the bed
with me still clinging to him.
“Christ! You’re going to be the death of me,” he
growled. He lowered me to the mattress and his lips
covered mine. I arched helplessly into him, desperately
rubbing myself against his rock-hard erection. I
couldn’t get enough, I wanted to be consumed by him.
If I could crawl inside of him I would have.
Easing back, he licked at my lips. “Fuck, if the rest
of you tastes half as good as your mouth—”
My breath caught as he reached up to yank his shirt
over his head and toss it to the floor.
God, he was superb.
I pushed up, greedy to stroke his sculptured chest.
It was smooth, warm to my touch, with only a light
scattering of dark blond hair. Caressing his hot, taut
skin, I thrilled as his muscles contracted in response. He
combed his fingers through my hair as I traced chiseled

abs, absorbed by the darkening trail of hair that tapered
down his flat stomach and disappeared erotically
beneath his jeans.
I pressed closer to inhale his musky scent. Craving
more, my tongue darted out and flicked hungrily over a
flat, hard nipple. He hissed, tightening his hands in my
hair. I was eager for more, but Michael undid my bra
and nudged me back, slipping the straps down my arms.
“You’ve got the most exquisite tits I’ve ever seen,”
he said huskily. He cupped them in both hands, then ran
his thumbs over my nipples.
Fire streaked down to my pussy. I gasped, reaching
up to grip his wrists. “Michael, stop, I need—”
“I know what you need, Katya. And you’ll get it, I
promise.” He pinched my nipples between his finger
and thumb and gently squeezed. “Now let go of my
I instinctively resisted.
He increased the pressure and the pleasure was
indescribable. “Be a good girl for me and lie back
Confused by the pleasure-pain and terrified he
might stop, I slowly released his wrists and lowered
myself back to the pillows.
“Such a good girl,” he drawled, and lowered his
body to cover mine. He deliberately rubbed his chest
against my aching breasts then lowered his mouth to
tease my lips.
Whisper-soft, his lips moved across to my ear.
“Grip the headboard, Katya, and don’t let go.”
Helpless to defy his sensual demand, I did as he
asked. I was completely out of my depth and I didn’t
care. I chose to abandon myself to the spiraling

Resting back on his knees, he undid my faux
leather pants and slid them down my hips. My hands
curled around the wooden headboard as he edged down
the bed. When he reached my boots he cradled the
crazy sexy heels in his hands. “Next time we fuck,
you’re going to be wearing these and nothing else.”
Then he unzipped them and slipped them off,
taking my pants with them.
I was naked except for a pair of tiny black lace
panties. Soaking wet panties!
My heart was beating madly and I knew I was
flushed, probably a combination of excitement and
embarrassment. I had never been naked in front of a
man before. Oh jeez, how am I going to tell him this is
my first time?
Taking an ankle in each hand he moved my legs
apart and then settled between them.
Tell him, Katya, tell him now.
His lips were like hot velvet moving up my thigh.
Oh God. I knew where they were heading.
Before I could say a word, his mouth settled right
over my pussy and he kissed me deeply through my
lacy underwear. I arched up, pushing desperately
against his hot mouth. “Michael, oh Lordy, ple-ease!”
A moment of cooler air as fabric was pushed aside
and then his tongue was on me, branding me. “Oh!
Oooh. Don’t stop.”
His hands cradled my hips and his thumbs spread
me open. Then his hungry tongue began to devour me.
Wild streaks of pleasure pounded through me as he
stabbed his tongue into my pussy. His strong grip held
me down, preventing me from arching into him. I let go

of the headboard and buried my hands into his hair,
trying to pull him ever closer. I didn’t understand but I
knew I needed more.
Lifting his head he casually licked my wet from his
lips. “Hands, Katya.” His voice was rough, his eyes
Then, as if he realized I was about to buck out of
control, he moved his thumb to gently circle the hard
bud of my clit. “Come on, baby, trust me,” he coaxed.
I knew he wouldn’t continue unless I did as he
asked. Oh God, I needed him to continue. So I eased my
hands from his hair and slowly curled them back
around the headboard.
Watching me intently, he moved his hand and I felt
a finger enter me.
“Jesus, you’re tight,”
“Don’t stop,” I begged.
“I promise, babe, I’m not going to stop but if I
don’t ease you I’m gonna hurt you.”
I had to tell him, I knew I had to tell him.
His finger slid in and out of me. As it picked up
speed, he lowered his mouth and circled my clit with
his tongue.
Explosions of light erupted behind my eyelids and
pleasure like I had never known cascaded through me.
The sensations were both terrifying and exhilarating. I
was close to orgasm but I didn’t know how to let go.
It was like he read my mind. He lifted his head.
“Let go, baby. Come for me.”
Oh God, I wanted to.
Then he added a second finger and started to rub at
a point deep inside me. His mouth covered my clit but

instead of tonguing it he started sucking it. Explosions
rippled through me, building quicker that I could
control. My body spasmed. Only his restraining arm
stopped me from lifting off the bed.
“Michael!” My cry was one of desperation and
clawing need.
Then my orgasm burst. It moved through me like
hot lava, burning me up, consuming everything in its
wake. As my body shuddered in ecstasy, I couldn’t stop
my hands moving back to clutch his hair. I needed
something to hold on to, something to anchor me.
Michael continued to lave my pussy, sliding his
tongue gently through my wet heat. His touch no longer
demanding but rather comforting as he helped calm my
quivering limbs.
Luke slowly inhaled Katya’s erotic heat as she
untangled her fingers from his hair and sank back onto
the bed, shudders still shaking her glistening body.
Christ, she was lovely. When she finally let go and
exploded around his tongue, he barely managed to stop
himself from going over the edge with her.
He stood and stripped off his socks and jeans.
Silently swearing, he reached back down for his wallet
and slipped a condom out from the side pocket.
His skin burned under her heated stare as he tore
the packet open and sheathed his cock. He was so
fucking hard. If he didn’t sink himself inside her, the
pressure building inside his balls was going to tear him
He climbed back on the bed and slid between her
sprawled legs. She was flushed, tendrils of hair sticking

to her face and shoulders, and her eyes—damn! Huge
pools of violet, impossibly beautiful.
Supporting most of his weight with his arms, he let
his hips nestle into her. His dick was desperate to feel
her silky heat. “You still with me, baby?”
She nodded, still languorous from coming so
fucking hard.
Unable to resist, he lowered his mouth to her
plump lips. Nibbling on them, he used his tongue to
soothe the sting. Starved for more of her taste, he
slanted his head and kissed her deeply. He took his
time, enjoying her hungry response.
“You taste of innocence and hot sex,” he rasped.
“Christ, Katya, you’re dangerously addictive.”
Sliding his cock between her wet, soft folds, he
coated it in her juices then reached down to position
himself to take her. “Wrap your legs around me, baby.”
“Wait,” she begged, lifting her hands to cup his
What the fuck?
“Please, Michael.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m
“Christ, babe, what’s wrong? Are you hurting?”
“No! It’s just, I meant to tell you earlier but then
you made me feel so good I didn’t want you to stop
“Slow down.” He moved his hand away from his
aching dick and threaded it through her hair, cradling
the side of her face. “Tell me.”
“It’s my first time,” she blurted.
He froze. What did she say?
Rolling her eyes impatiently, she said, “I’m a

Shit! Fuck!
“And you’re only telling me this now?” He knew
he sounded pissed but fuck it, he was pissed.
“I’m sorry, I really am. I know I should have said
something but—” She started struggling, pushing
against his shoulders to move him back.
“Calm down,” he said quietly and lowered his body
to stop her flailing.
She quieted, but the deepening flush on her
flawless skin screamed her embarrassment. Her eyes
flickered away unable to meet his and his gut churned
at her obvious withdrawal.
“Look at me, Katya, please.”
Slowly she lifted those incredibly long lashes and
looked up at him. Her eyes were glistening again.
Christ, she really was like his own brand of kryptonite.
Gray warned him he was in trouble with her. As usual,
he wasn’t wrong.
“You been saving this all up for me?” he asked.
And he couldn’t help smiling when she snapped
back at him.
“No?” he queried mildly.
Taking a deep breath, she blew out her cheeks. She
was so damn cute.
“Well, I wasn’t really saving it, it just worked out
that way.”
His dick jerked at her exasperation and he knew
she felt it when her eyes widened. He deliberately
pressed his hard-on into her and her breath hitched as
she instinctively moved to meet his thrust. The heat

between them was spiraling quickly. He knew it
wouldn’t be long before it ignited into an inferno again.
“I don’t want you to stop,” she whispered.
“You barely know me, Katya.”
“It doesn’t matter. The way you make me feel,
that’s all that matters.”
“Christ, baby, you’re breaking my heart.”
“Don’t stop, Michael, please don’t stop.”
She moved urgently against the thick wedge of his
erection, her eyes begging him to give her what she
ached for.
“All right, baby.” He’d just sealed his place in hell,
but there was no way in this lifetime he had the strength
to refuse her heartfelt pleas. Sliding his body to the
side, he rested his weight on one arm. “Spread your legs
for me and relax.”
“What? But—”
“Do it, Katya, now.”
He held back his smile at her slow compliance,
both amused and turned on by her uncertainty at his
bossy commands.
“Now lie still.” He slid his hand between her legs.
She gasped as he eased a finger into her hot cunt.
Unable to resist, he leaned down and sucked her nipple
into his mouth.
“Yes-ss,” she sighed, pushing her breast up to him
as he increased the pressure.
Luke loved that her breasts were so sensitive, and
hungrily moved from one creamy mound to the other.
He didn’t hesitate to nip down on her pebble-hard
nipples. He knew she enjoyed the bite of pain, because
her cunt clenched around his finger every time he did it.
She was whimpering now. Her head tilted back,

exposing the vulnerable curve of her neck. Moving his
lips to cover her pulse, he gently bit down. He thrust
into her with a second finger and rolled her swollen clit
with his thumb. Her whimpers turned to deep-throated
“That’s it, Katya, burn for me.”
“Oh God, Michael, I need more.”
And so did he.
He rose over her, still keeping most of his weight
on his bent elbows. Reaching down, he lifted one of her
legs to wrap around his hips.
Her hands fluttered over his shoulders.
Gripping his cock, he guided it to her entrance.
“This is going to hurt, baby.”
“It’s okay. Don’t stop, Michael. Please. I want you
so bad.”
Entering her slowly, Luke fought for breath, for
control. It killed him to hurt her but he knew it was
unavoidable. She rose up to meet him and he slid
further into her. Christ! She was so tight and hot around
his cock.
Then he nudged against her barrier. “Hold tight,
baby.” Before she could react he eased back then
surged forward.
Her body went rigid and she clung to him.
“That’s it, beautiful, hold tight.” He gritted his
teeth and stayed perfectly still, waiting for her to ease
around him.
Before long she restlessly nudged against him.
“Move,” she begged, “I can’t stand it. You have to
Sliding his aching cock slowly back, he settled his
body closer then stroked back deep inside her. “Is that

what you want?”
“Y-yes! Oh God, yes.” Her hands curled around his
shoulders, her nails biting into his skin.
Shit yeah. He also liked a touch of pain. It
hardened his cock even further. Feeling how wet her
cunt was, he picked up his pace, fucking her harder.
She was arching beneath him now, her sweat-soaked
body writhing out of control.
Fuck! The friction was unbelievably pleasurable.
Lifting her tits to his hungry mouth, he began to
suck. Her cunt tightened around him with each pull he
took. She was close and he wanted her to come with
him this time. Moving his free hand he slid it between
their slick bodies and then he pinched her engorged clit
between his thumb and finger.
“Michael!” She screamed.
Fuck, he hated that name on her lips!
As she exploded around him he couldn’t hold back
any more. He let her drop back to the bed and
surrendered to the savage need. Thrusting one last time,
he emptied himself deep inside her.
Jesus fuck! This woman had him by the balls and
she didn’t even know his name!