Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
“Xara, I’m pretty sure this a step backward.”
Whenever Xara tried to fluff out the sheets for the bed in the suite across from theirs, Mike grabbed the other end. What they weren’t going to do was sleep in separate bedrooms on a fucking vacation, no matter what she thought. Yes, he’d lied up until the point he’d actually told her what was really happening, but at least he’d come clean.
The minute the words left his mouth, she’d walked off and went back to sit with Ayesha as if nothing happened. The rest of the evening went off as if nothing had happened. But as soon as they’d walked into the suite, she let him know that she felt like she needed a little more space than usual to clear her head, and then she’d started preparing the other room.
“Mike, I give you the space you need whenever you need it.”
“That never has anything to do with you, though.”
She bunched the sheets in her hand, drawing the pile up to her chest.
“Ant and Val fly out tomorrow morning,” he said. “Can we at least keep up the pretense until then?”
It would give him time to fix this. All he had to do was find a way to kill this third person without her knowing, without her seeing it in his eyes, and they would be fine. They would vacation, make love, make love again, and again, and several more times and then go home. Even a small separation like this could mean a larger one later. And, after a larger separation came a permanent split up, and he wasn’t going to fucking lose her. Not now, not ever.
She garbled out a groan, head tossed back. Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes, into her ears, but when he started toward her, she put up a hand.
“I am trying.” She tossed the crumpled sheets in the middle of the bed. “I am trying.”
His voice lowered. “I know.”
“At least two people have tried to kill my husband since we arrived.”
“I,” she blinked and swallowed a lump of emotion, “don’t even know what to say to that. What can I say to that? Babe, luck won’t always be on your side. I mean, based on everything up to this point, your luck should have already run out. I don’t want to…I don’t want to mourn you.”
“Can you say something else besides the fact that you know?”
He searched his mind. “I’m sorry.”
“I guess this is probably my fault.” She flopped on the bed, settling along the edge of the mattress. “I know what I signed up for. I knew what being your wife would entail. At least, once you told me everything about what you did. Maybe you were right. Maybe you should have—”
“Stop.” He was in front of her in a few movements, on his knees. “In no version of this world where we both exist was I ever going to stay away from you forever. We both know this. I’m surprised I managed to make it three years.”
A small smile tugged at her mouth. “Three years with me under surveillance.”
“I had to know what you were doing.”
“And what if I’d met somebody?” She looked over his head out toward the view of the ocean. “What if I’d moved on?”
“I don’t know how to answer that without the words ‘kill’ and ‘him’ somewhere in the sentence.”
She laughed, head lowering. It was all he’d wanted, to get her to laugh. To put this episode behind them. This was too close, and he never wanted to get this close again. He didn’t even want figurative walls between them never mind real ones.
“You love me, Xar?” he asked.
She met his eyes. “You know I do.”
“Then let’s not do this.” He was essentially pleading now. “Let’s not make splitting up, even if it’s splitting up a room, ever a solution. Please.”
Her palms, warm, graced the sides of his face. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”
“Three years.” He closed his eyes when her thumb slid along his jaw. “I had to be without you for three years. No walls, please. If we need space during the day, fine, but that’s only if we’re working on the ‘individual’ aspects of being a couple, not because we can’t stand to be around the other person. That’s why, even when I can’t touch you because I feel like I’ve got some motherfucker’s blood and guts on my skin, I’m still near you. I’m still where I can see you, hear you when you call me, and be there when you need me.”
She lowered her forehead to his. “I hate that you can do this to me, melt me and turn me inside out. Still, I can’t help but feel like we’re going in circles.”
“We’re making strides. Circles and strides.”
“By the way, Theo invited us to a carnival that’s a joint event with his school, Josiah’s middle school, and the high school that’s part of their K-12 program. Is it safe to go?”
He brushed his lips across hers, a quick kiss, needing a taste because they were so close. “It’s safe to go.”
“I’m actually glad we had this ‘fight.’” She kissed him hard and leaned back. “Because we have homework from Ayesha.”
His eyes darted to the bed.
“Oh…oh, no.” She rose. “We have to lay off the sex for the next four to five days.”
He shrugged. “That’s your rule, not mine.”
Groaning, she pulled him by the hand back to their suite.
* * *
They spent the rest of the evening with Ant and Val, sitting around the pool reminiscing, eating takeout from a local restaurant, sipping beers and coconut water, and looking at pictures of little Adrian.
After chatting for several hours, stomachs tight from laughing, Xara jumped on Mike’s back and he walked them upstairs. She let him shower first and pulled out her journal with all the other notes she’d made from their meetups with Ayesha.
Did things feel better?
Were things getting better?
There were times where she felt like they were, but then something like this—him letting her know there was a massive hit out on him—would set them back one-hundred paces. He could take care of himself. He’d demonstrated that on multiple occasions, including on their zipline adventure. She couldn’t, and she didn’t think he considered that enough. If someone found out about him enough to come after her and they brought enough power to overwhelm him like this, isolated without any of the other guys, she’d be dead in seconds.
He walked out of the bathroom, a white towel wrapped around his waist and so damn beautiful it wasn’t fair. She’d always known he would grow into this, ever since their high school days. She hadn’t pictured it with facial hair, black strands gracing his shoulders, abs that made her want to bow in worship, and more sex appeal than the earth had water. The man knew he was sexy and wielded it like his most dangerous weapon. Her silly ass had actually thought they were going to really sleep in separate bedrooms tonight.
“What’s funny?” He sat on the edge of the mattress, swiping a smaller towel over his hair.
She tapped her pen against the pages of the journal. “Just thinking.”
“Do you want to work on the homework now or after you take a shower?”
“You’re exhausted, baby. You’ll be asleep before I get out.”
He walked over to the dresser. “I can stay up.”
“It’s not much. We can do it real quick.”
He pulled out a pair of boxer briefs, and she cleared her throat.
“The boys have to breathe, Mike,” she reminded. “For baby-making reasons. After, I promise I’ll stop regulating your drawers.”
“You are aware that I’m an aeronautics and aerodynamics expert, right?” He raised a brow. “I need a little more support for…hanging upside down and shit like that.”
She clasped her hands under her chin. “Please?”
“Don’t do that.”
“Pretty please?” She batted her lashes. “For me?”
With a resolute groan, he pulled on a pair of checkered boxes and tossed the towels. Then, he climbed onto the bed and lay the back of his head against her thigh, dark eyes looking up into hers. They looked so…normal. Despite everything those eyes had seen, they looked clear, shiny, and unbothered. It wasn’t until he detached from the rest of the world that they changed.
“Ayesha said we should come up with relationship ‘agreements,’” she began. “Things we agree on that we can come back to when things get rocky. The caveat is, we can’t use negative words, our words must be definitive so no shoulds or mights, and we have to include words like we and us. You get it.”
He yawned. “That’s easy. Number one: we’ll work things out instead of putting up walls.”
“And we’ll work out or at least table arguments for later before the sun goes down,” she added, scribbling. “That one’s old school but effective.”
“Disagreements. Let’s call them disagreements.”
“Okay.” She nodded. “Another one…let’s keep the lid off the cookie jar.”
He raised a brow. “I’m all for—”
“That’s the best way I could find to say let’s not hide things from each other.” She gently smacked his shoulder. “Nasty.”
He smiled. “That’s a good one. I like the other connotation of cookie jar too.”
“I’m not adding that.”
They went silent, thinking.
“At the end of the day, we’re husband and wife,” he said, “but let’s never forget we’re friends too.”
For some reason, that made her tear up. “Ditto.”
His lids drooped, and she hated how he could be handsome, sexy, and adorable all at the same time. Maybe having a kid was a bad idea. If their child got those eyes, she’d have a hard time with any sort of discipline.
“And we’ll take everything one day at a time,” she whispered, running her fingers through the damp strands on his head. “I think, despite everything, we can do that.”
He yawned again. “Me too.”
She scribbled the last note, closed the journal with the pen in the middle, set it on the nightstand, and leaned down to kiss his forehead. The gesture made him smile, a lazy tug of his mouth, and she lowered to press a kiss against it.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too.” He searched her face. “We’ll make it. We’ll have a family. I won’t lose you, and you won’t lose me.”
She kissed him again, sucking on his lips and tongue in a way that had she been in any mood to make love, they would have ended up tangled in the sheets.
“I’m going to take my shower.”
He lifted his head from her thigh. “Okay. I’ll be waiting.”
“You know what’s funny?” She grabbed a towel from the closet. “Tayler, Larke, and Mo used to say that they thought being abducted was some sort of indoctrination into this ‘family.’ Like we’re some sort of mafia.”
He pushed out a sleepy laugh. “You, Ari, and Ayesha weren’t ever abducted. And, technically, Mo went with that cult but I don’t think she’s capable of being abducted. Not truly.”
“Giorgio went for her anyhow.”
He studied her with one eye. “You don’t think I’d come for you?”
“Oh, I know you would.” She went back to grace him with one more peck. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“It won’t, and let’s hope there aren’t any motherfuckers foolish enough to try.”
* * *
Mosvar flicked his tongue, his fingers embedded in the thick thighs of the woman sitting on his face. Maybe this was what an obsession was like. They all had to look like the dragon tattoo beauty. None of them tasted like her, he knew, but he could always fantasize.
The woman on his face held the hair of their third guest—that woman’s complexion was lighter than he’d wanted, but she would do—as she bobbed on his cock. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel anything. He was human, after all, and there were lips on his cock. Full lips that had the oddest distinction; the top one was the color of the woman’s skin and the bottom was tender and pink.
None of it was enough for him to be satisfied. Entertained, but not sated.
He felt himself grow bored and flaccid, so he brought the dragon tattoo beauty’s face and ass back to mind. He’d tried to get the guest list from the party, but it had been locked up tight. He didn’t even have a name to call her. One of the other women she’d been with had said the name “Mo,” but she’d been standing with the blonde at the time. Still, she could be a Mo. He’d force her to say her own name as she came, and he’d come inside her as her lips rounded in the ending vowel.
Fuck, those lips would look good doing that.
And saying his name.
And swallowing his cock.
Most of the time when a woman said no, she really meant “try harder.” He wouldn’t be surprised if the beauty thought about him as much as he thought about her.
His sac tingled. He pushed his hips faster, enjoying the way the woman gagged and pleaded for him to slow down, but he’d told her upfront she had to take what he gave.
Out of habit, he sprang up when he heard his father’s voice. Argun walking in on him was one thing, but this wasn’t a position he’d ever wanted his father to find him in.
The women gathered up their clothes and hurried out. Despite him being so close to orgasm, his father’s voice had shriveled his cock.
“Here.” Ramzsyn switched to Chechen and tossed a robe at him. “Put this on.”
Mosvar slipped the robe over his shoulders, tied the sash, and licked the sticky moisture from his lips. Ramzsyn flicked his wrist, and the two guards flanking him stepped outside.
His heart kicked in his chest. His father was there to kill him.
“I know what you’ve been doing.” Ramzsyn tossed a folder on the bed. “You’re trying to find Argun’s killer, and these are the best prospects you managed to come up with?”
Mosvar opened the folder and immediately slammed it shut. Inside were deceased photos of assassins he’d sent. At least, two out of three. There was a third one already on the island.
“I wanted to show you I could do this on my own, Father,” he said. “That you could trust me with this.”
“And you’re doing a fuck up of a job.” Ramzsyn looked around the room as if in search of a place to sit, grimaced and remained standing. “I’m going to intervene.”
“I don’t want to hear it. You were in the same room with the man who killed my son and you did nothing.”
Mosvar punched his fist. “Father, I have one more already on the island. He can get the job done. I’m sure of it.”
Ramzsyn raised a silver eyebrow. “You’re dumber than I realized.”
The insult stung, but he pushed away the pain. It wasn’t difficult. He’d had years of practice.
“Give me this last chance.” He clasped his hands. “Please, Father.”
Ramzsyn sighed, rolling his eyes. “After this man kills your piece of shit assassin, I’m taking over.”
“Okay. But he’ll get the job done.”
“He won’t. You are obviously too foolish to understand, so I’ll say it plainly.” Ramzsyn pivoted on his heel and tossed the next words over his shoulder. “The only way to take this man down is by sending an army. I was able to get information on him from a source. A man by the name of Fang, who is now dead, put the information up for sale before his death. Argun’s killer is called ‘Liu Wei’ but, as it stands, Liu Wei is dead as well. You and I know he’s not, but a dead man walking around in the shadows is a dangerous man. Liu Wei ‘was’ married to an award-winning designer named Xara Merritt, who is still living. If a man who doesn’t appear to have a weakness has a family, it’s because he’s funneled all his vulnerabilities into one location. In this case, one person.”
Before Mosvar could even think to respond, his father left the room.
* * *
Mo spun and landed a roundhouse kick against a heavy bag. In one corner of their training room, Aleksi sat behind a baby gate on a padded floor yelling and slapping a mini punching bag Giorgio had made him. In the other, her show-off husband was doing push-ups. Handstand pushups. She’d stopped counting his reps a long time ago, mesmerized by the beads of sweat running down his strong, bare shoulders. Aleksi being awake was the only thing that saved him, but the baby had to sleep sometime.
“Da-da, da-da,” Aleksi sang. “Daaa-daaa.”
“Ya pryamo zdes’, Aleksi,” he answered. “I am here.”
“I told you to stop that,” Mo playfully scolded their son. “Mama. Ma-ma. Try it.”
Aleksi watched her for a moment and then giggled so hard, he fell backward, which only made him giggle more.
Laughing, she went over to the baby pen and stepped inside. “You are such a comedian.”
On this side of the room, she had a direct line of sight to the video monitors around the house, and there was actually a man on their property. A whole ass man. Their cameras were hidden, and no one knew how far off the property they’d been placed, so she caught a glimpse of him tucking away a pistol with a suppressor nozzle.
Giorgio looked up.
“I think somebody’s outside for you.”
He finished his last push-up, lowered his legs to the floor, tossed his hair back out of his face, and there was no way he was keeping her off him tonight.
“Dlya menya?” he asked.
“Yep, for you.” She pointed with her chin at the monitors. “And looks like he’s packing heat. Think it’s one of those mafia guys Mike ran into?”
He stretched the muscles in his neck and headed out of the training room, a smile on his face. “If I am lucky.”
“Make sure you’re done before we have to put the baby to bed!”
Joel paused in the middle of his coffee prep. “I’m all ears. What’s up?”
“There’s this school thing coming up. Like…real soon.” Josiah scratched the back of his head. “It’s like a…carnival, but there’s like, father and son type of events. I don’t know, this might be stupid of me to ask, and I don’t even know how long—”
“Are you asking me to go with you?”
“Yeah. I mean, everyone already knows my Dad’s…you know…but I figured, since you’re here and, if I’m being honest, I think you’d make a great Dad…” He swallowed. “I was wondering if you’d be my ‘Dad’ for the day.”