“We’re going to get caught!”
Ignoring the warning, my boyfriend tugged harder on my arm.
The clatter of music and laughter from the party faded the farther Peter pulled me down the dark corridor. When I glanced back, I could just make out a shaft of light as it stretched across the marble-tiled entrance to the great hall. The servants had moved the ancient furnishings out and rolled the Persian carpets up to make room for the celebration. Hired catering staff dressed in ill-fitting tuxedo jackets passed around silver trays with either caviar canapés or glasses of Veuve Clicquot while everyone smiled and pretended to like one another.
From where it was tucked away on a thickly wooded lot along the Rock Creek Parkway, visitors could be forgiven if they thought they’d arrived at a creepy gothic manor. My friend Nadia’s massive granite house was probably over a hundred years ago.
The estate screamed old money and tradition, even though it was far from the truth.
It was only what they wanted people to think.
Instead, it was all just smoke and mirrors.
But I wasn’t allowed to talk about such things.
Peter’s warm hand was sweaty as it roughly clung to mine. As he dragged me down the shadowed labyrinth of hallways, he stopped before each threshold, twisting one doorknob after another to see if they were locked. Soon, the muted rattle of metal against wood and Peter’s soft curses replaced the music. Before long, he found a door the servants had neglected to secure. We slipped inside, and Peter softly clicked the door shut.
The room was mostly dark, only hints of moonlight filtering through the gauzy silver curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows.
We didn’t dare turn on a light.
I took a few careful steps inside, not wanting to bump into any furniture. Although I had played in my best friend Nadia’s house since I was a child, I hadn’t been paying attention, so I wasn’t sure which room Peter had pulled us into. I knew the first floor on this side of the house mostly contained a mixture of bedrooms, gaming areas, and offices.
A distinct scent clung to the air, the unmistakable mark of the room’s occupant.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled.
It was a warm woodsy scent with a hint of ginger and spice.
My eyes snapped open.
I knew that scent.
“We have to leave.”
Clasping Peter’s forearm in a tight grip, I bent my knees and tugged, throwing my weight backward. “Please, Peter. We can’t stay in this room!”
My slight frame was not enough to budge him.
“No. All the other rooms are locked. Besides…” He snatched me around the waist, then yanked me against his chest. “This one has a bed.”
Peering over Peter’s shoulder, I widened my eyes as I could just make out the ominous outline of the four-poster bed.
That was his bed.
Clawing at Peter’s fingers, I freed myself from his hold.
I had to get out of here!
“No, Peter. You don’t understand!”
I couldn’t be caught in this bedroom.
In his bedroom.
Of course, I should have known he would be here tonight.
It was Nadia’s eighteenth birthday, after all.
It had been five years since I had last seen him, but it didn’t matter.
Ten years… hell, twenty years could pass and it still wouldn’t matter.
I would still be terrified of him.
I wasn’t sure why I was nervous.
It wasn’t like he cared–if he even knew who I was.
I had stopped myself from asking Nadia if he would be attending her birthday party at least a million times.
Because it didn’t matter.
If I kept telling myself that, it might actually be true. It had to be true. Besides, I had my own life now. I even had a boyfriend. I wasn’t that foolish little girl with a crush. Not anymore.
But that scent.
Bleu de Chanel.
The unmistakable scent of him.
Goose bumps rose on my arms.
He was here.
Pivoting on my heel, I clamored in the darkness for the doorknob, desperate to return to the party. Back to the music and light and dancing, to people and laughter… and safety.
As soon as I managed to open the door a sliver, it was wrenched from my hands and slammed shut.
Peter took hold of my shoulders, spun me around, and pushed me against the door.
“You’re such a fucking cock tease.”
The dim lighting threw his face into shadows, contorting his features into harsh lines. His breath had the fetid yeast smell of stale beer from the drink he’d stolen from the bar before the party began.
“What? Why would you—” Confusion scrambled my thoughts.
He clawed at the neckline of my dress, tearing it.
His palmed my breast, ruthlessly squeezing it. My eyes teared at the searing jolt of pain.
“The saintly Federovs and their virginal daughter. Your family thinks they are so much better than everyone else,” he jeered as he forced his knee between my thighs.
Digging my nails into his wrist, I struggled to break free. “Let me go!”
“I’m tired of hand jobs and dry humps. Come on, Samara,” he whined as he down crowded closer and tried to kiss me.
I stretched my head to the side, avoiding his lips. My mind could not keep up with Peter’s crazy display of emotions. Angry one second, but pleading the next. I knew he wasn’t happy with my decision not to go all the way, but he was insane if he thought I was going to have sex with him at my friend’s birthday party with my mother and father just down the hall.
Craning my neck, I kept pulling on his arm, trying to dislodge his painful grip on my breast.
“Peter, get off me!”
His free hand went for the zipper of his jeans. “I’ll be quick. I’ll even pull out, so you won’t get pregnant.”
This isn’t happening.
Although we could never talk about Nadia’s family business, I knew security guards always patrolled the grounds. Maybe if I cried out, I’d get lucky and one would be in earshot and come help me. With the loud music, there was no chance of anyone from the party hearing me. As I opened my mouth to scream, there was the soft shush of a sliding door opening. The cool rush of midnight air brought with it the acrid scent of cigar smoke.
Peter released his grasp, whirling around.
We both stared as the immense dark figure of a man stalked in from the stone patio running along the northside of the bedroom.
It was him.
Nadia’s older brother.
In the barely lit room, he was still deep in shadows, but I knew it was him.
My gaze followed the glowing end of the cigar he must have been smoking outside.
Without saying a word, he stepped inside and leaned against the front of the desk. He took another slow drag from his cigar; the end glowing brightly like an evil, all-seeing eye. When he exhaled, a halo of sweet tobacco smoke encircled him. With slow deliberation, Gregor set the cigar aside, slid open a side drawer… and withdrew a revolver.
My hand flew up to cover my mouth.
Peter shifted behind me.
When Gregor’s chilly voice finally broke the tense silence, my body started at the sound.
“Were you aware that Russians did not invent Russian roulette?”
Flicking the chamber open, he reached into the drawer a second time, then raised his arm. The bright casing of a single bullet caught the moonlight.
“An American author made it up for a short story,” Gregor continued as he slid the bullet into the revolver chamber with a click.
“Who is this guy?” Peter whispered over my shoulder.
“Shut up,” I hissed through clenched teeth, afraid to even move my lips. My body tensed so tightly it felt like brittle glass. I was sure the slightest loud sound or sudden movement would make me shatter.
Gregor straightened to his full height.
Peter and I both gasped, stumbling a few steps backward.
“Still, everyone believes it must be true. Probably because we Russians are so crazy, no?” Gregor said as he took
several steps toward us.
Peter’s fingers dug into my shoulders as he pushed me forward.
My fingers turned to ice as all the feeling left my body. My tongue felt heavy when I tried to form my next words.
“Gregor, it’s… Samara, I’m Nadia’s—”
“I know who you are, Samara.”
My heart lurched at the sound of my name on his lips—at the seductive way he softly rounded the r.
Despite both of our families living in America now, Gregor had been sent back to Russia just over five years ago because of some hastily covered-up scandal at his college. So his accent was thicker, giving his voice decadent darkness that was almost mesmerizing.
My brow furrowed. How could he know who I was? The last time I’d been around him, I was nothing more than his little sister’s awkward friend, barely thirteen years old. He hadn’t known I was alive.
Without warning, Gregor reached out and snatched Peter by the collar, dragging him out from behind me. Peter’s gangly limbs flailed as Gregor manhandled him across the room. He tossed the man into a chair in front of the cold fireplace.
Placing his hands on the armrests, Peter immediately tried to get up. When Gregor raised the gun, Peter fell back onto the seat. His high-pitched voice broke as he stuttered, “We didn’t mean to come into your room.”
Gregor cut his grey gaze toward me.
I hugged myself around the waist, trying to stop my body from trembling. His steely eyes surveyed me from head to toe.
He took a step forward.
With a gasp, I stumbled backward. I couldn’t help it.
As much as the man enthralled me…
He terrified me more.
Except now, he was even bigger and scarier with way more tattoos. Even in the darkened bedroom, I could make out the outline of an image on his neck and several more on his hands, making the tailored suit he wore a mockery of civility. The man radiated dark energy and barely leashed anger.
His eyes narrowed. I could tell my reaction displeased him.
Switching the gun to his left hand, he kept it trained on Peter. After giving him a warning look, Gregor returned his attention to me. He raised his right arm.
Instinctively, I moved back again. The hard look on his face stilled me. After holding my gaze long enough to freeze the blood in my veins, his eyes lowered to the torn neckline of my dress.
Glancing down, it mortified me to see the top of my pink lace bra exposed. Despite the low lighting, you could already see the beginning of a bruise on my soft flesh from Peter’s rough handling.
Using two fingers, Gregor pulled aside the fabric, exposing more of my skin to his gaze. Using just the tip of his middle finger, he caressed the outline of the bruise. I hissed in air through my teeth when he touched a particularly sensitive spot.
His jaw tightened. The steel of his eyes turned to molten fire.
Turning his head, he looked at Peter as he cocked back the hammer.
Peter’s eyes widened as he threw up his hands in pitiful defense. “No!”
His plea fell on deaf ears.
Without saying a word, Gregor pulled the trigger.