More furious than ever, I stormed out of the ballroom and grabbed my velvet cape, just as a liveried lackey opened the front door for me with a formal bow. It was good to breathe in the fresh night air after all that royal stuffiness inside. I decided to take a walk. For about three or four minutes, it felt good. In five minutes, the raging fire inside me was all but extinguished by the cold winds blowing from the Neva River. In ten minutes, I could feel the chill through the thin fabric of my dress and light cape, my feet in high heels ached, I still didn't get a chance to go to the ladies room and was generally starting to feel quite miserable. And in twenty minutes, my body was trembling, like a solitary leaf in the freezing wind.
I should really go back to Vera's place, I thought, my teeth chattering. Must get my stuff and move out of her apartment as soon as possible. I looked around. Not a single taxi. I prepared to walk back to the mansion and ask them to call car service, when a slick, black BMW came to a halt next to me and Alexei, resplendent in his tux, jumped out.
“I am very sorry,” he started. I turned away from him and started walking in the opposite direction.
“Please, get in the car, Jade! You'll catch a cold,” he tried again.
“What do you care!” I snapped back.
“I do care,” he said. I did a double take. Something in his voice wasn't phony, something in it was real. In fact, he sounded quite sincere. “Please, get in the car,” he pleaded. “I'll take you anywhere you want to go. And then I promise, I'll leave, if you want me to.”
I considered my options. Walking all the way back to the mansion – way too far. Waiting for a taxi here, in this cold - that could be a long and fruitless wait and I indeed could catch a cold, or worse, pneumonia. Getting in the car with this guy – probably the only option, but could I trust him? I looked again into those magnificent eyes shimmering, like two blue fires, in the light of the nearby lantern and decided to take my chances.
“All right,” I said sternly. “You can take me home, but no tricks!”
“No tricks, straight home,” he repeated obediently with a relieved smile.
I started melting, despite myself. After all, it was the same smile that greeted me back in Moscow, the one that made me spill the beans about the Gold Train and Svetlana. This sexy smile made me feel warm and secure. Again, I had an inexplicable urge to get close to this guy, to lean on his strong shoulder and to hide behind his broad back. Wake up, Jade, I chided myself mentally. What are you doing?
I gave him Vera's address and relaxed in the warmth of the car, to soft, romantic music. Ten minutes later, we stopped by the Atlases supporting the entrance into Vera's building. No tricks.
Alexei jumped out and gallantly opened the door for me. I got out of the car and immediately froze again. He helped me to the building entrance and that's when I remembered that I didn't have the key. I peered inside the glass door, but the lights were dimmed in the deserted entry hall where due to the late hour there was no guard on duty. I pushed the telecom button - no answer. Clearly, Duchess Vera wasn't back yet. The chill of the night was really getting to me now and my teeth started chattering again.
“She isn't home yet and I don't have the key,” I said miserably.
“These balls usually last till five or six in the morning,” explained Alexei. "And Duchess Golitsina is a well-known socialite. She probably won't be back till then.”
That wasn't good. Not at all! I was bound to turn into an icicle well before morning. It appeared I had no option, but to ask my enemy - the enemy with the sexiest smile I've ever seen - to take me back to that damn mansion. I didn't want to appear as if I depended on him for anything, but... I already started opening my mouth to ask, when he spoke.
“Look, I realize that we've gotten off on the wrong foot. But you are freezing! Let me help!”
“Wh-what d-do yo-ou s-suggest,” I said, moving my tongue with enormous effort.
He took one glance at me and started taking off his tux jacket. “You need to warm up - and immediately,” he said firmly, putting his jacket over my impossibly thin velvet cape.
Actually, what he just said made perfect sense, unless I wanted to freeze to death.
“Please, don't be stubborn. I know just the place. It's warm and there is hot tea or if you wish, something stronger. I am taking you there!”
His jacket warmed by his body heat, was doing its magic, and I was starting to feel better.
"B…but wh…at about you? You'll freeze!" I said, not being able to tear my eyes off the contours of his muscles, visible even through the fabric of his snow-white dress shirt.
"I am hot-blooded," he laughed. "But you need to get out of the cold immediately."
“Okay,” I nodded, “let's go.”
As he drove, I held my hands to the heating vent, trying to defrost. Alexei turned the heat all the way up and I was starting to feel sleepy.
“So, where are we going?” I said as soon as my teeth stopped chattering.
“To my hotel suite,” he responded quietly.
“Hotel suite?” I said. “Wait, I don't know if I...” I started to protest.
“Relax,” he said. “I just want to make sure you are all right. I can even leave, if you like, after I settle you down, of course.”
“Leave?” I said. “But where will you go?”
“That's not important,” he said. “The important thing is to get you comfortable and warm. You really gave me a scare, you know, when you stormed out like that, in these little shoes, hardly wearing anything at all. St. Petersburg climate is very tough.”
I listened to the comforting sound of his voice, as my eyes started closing and thought, why not go to his place - it's warm and comfy... And he'll be there.
Alexei's hotel suite was indeed cozy and luxurious. I took a long, steamy shower, changed into a plush robe and made myself comfortable on his oversized sofa. Alexei was busy opening a bottle of red wine. I drank the dark liquid, enjoying the flow of warmth through my veins. He refilled my glass. I emptied that one too, feeling relaxed and a little tipsy.
Meanwhile, he took out another bottle, this time, Kremlevskaya Vodka and poured some into my glass, as well as his.
“Vodka opens your blood vessels and helps you warm up,” he explained. “Drink it, to make sure you don't get a cold. Then, you can sleep it off.”
I followed his advice and emptied the vodka glass as well. My head was now swimming, but it was a nice, if a bit disorienting, feeling.
“I like your place,” I said with a drunken grin. “It's very cozy.”
“I am glad you approve,” he smiled. “Make yourself comfortable. The bedroom is that way and if you need anything, just call room service and charge it to the room." He opened the wardrobe door and hung his tux jacket. Then, he put on a puffy sports jacket right over his dress shirt and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I told you, you are safe here. You can have a nice sleep and tomorrow morning I'll take you back to Vera's place.”
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“That's not important.”
“No, it is important,” I said - and hiccupped. “T...to me. You've b...been so nice. And this is your suite. Please don't g…go. S...stay!”
“Okay,” he said, and took off his jacket, remaining again just in his white dress shirt and black tie. “If you like.”
“Yes,” I whispered. “I like that very much.”
He reached for my glass, leaning dangerously close to me, and filled it again with red wine. His scent was intoxicating, but also, incredibly fresh and cool. I inhaled and closed my eyes, as he sat next to me on the sofa. The wine and vodka made me feel like I was floating in space - space, filled with soft music and dimmed lights. Alexei emptied his glass and spoke to me, his breath tickling my face.
“Would you like to go to bed?” he said. “I could take the couch.”
“No,” I whispered, shaking my head, which made me even dizzier. But I didn't care. “Let's just sit here together.”
He took my hand into his strong, dependable palm and kissed it.
“It's getting warm in here.” He tried to loosen up his tie, but unsuccessfully.
“Let me help you,” I said, and sat up on my knees on the sofa.
Despite my drunken state, the tie came off easily enough. After that, for some reason, I decided to help him with his shirt. I unbuttoned it, one button after another, slowly revealing his broad, muscular chest. Then, our lips met of their own accord and the next thing I knew, we were locked in one long, succulent kiss. My head spun faster, and my every cell ached in delicious anticipation...
To find out what happens next, read mystery/thriller GOLD TRAIN!
Copyright 2011-2012 Lada Ray. All rights reserved