Friday, April 8, 2011

Tango's Edge, Chapter 2


Sean O'Malley took a healthy gulp of cold Guinness and eased back into the bubbling hot tub with a satisfied sigh. Who would've thought a town like Park City, and a hotel like this one, could provide a good pint? But then, money could get you pretty much anything you wanted these days. A slow grin spread across his face. He glanced over at the sleeping Rottweiler lying on the floor next to the tub. “Life is good, isn’t it, old boy?” Beowulf ignored him, lost in dreamland.
Sean was still thinking about just how good life had been lately when through the opened bathroom door, he heard the door to the suite slam, followed by the thump of angry footsteps. His grin faded. Well, money could buy almost anything. One of the things he wanted had just come into the suite, and no amount of money was going to buy her.
“Hey, love, is that you?” he called out, sitting up in the tub and reaching for his Guinness. Beowulf woke from his sleep and lifted his massive head, his ears twitching as Elena appeared at the bathroom door. The dog lowered his head and closed his eyes.
Elena’s gaze flicked over Sean with cool disdain. “Enjoying your holiday, I see,” she said in Russian.
“Damn right, love.” He tossed her an engaging smile, one that usually mellowed her out. But not this time, apparently. Her expression remained like stone, as if a sculptor had carved it from exquisite rose marble. “Hey, I was in great need of a holiday, love. Ya know how hard I've been workin'.” He purposely thickened his Belfast accent as he replied in English, knowing how it turned her on.
It didn't work this time, though. He could tell that by the wintry look in her big baby blues. Hell! What had happened at the rink? Lately, it took so little to piss her off, and once she fell into one of these foul moods, good Christ! He had to work like the devil to pull her out.
“What would you know about hard work, Sean?” Her voluptuous bottom lip took on that peculiar pouting shape that drove him crazy, and beneath the swirling water, his penis hardened. Not a good time, he reminded himself. When Elena was in one of her moods, there would be no lovin'. Not unless he could find a way to make her forget about whatever hair had crawled up her ass this time.
“Ah, love…” With a sigh, Sean stood up in the bubbling hot tub and reached for the thick, white towel on the ledge. He switched to Russian. “What's wrong, darling?” He purposely moved slowly, allowing Elena to drink her fill of his nude body. Perhaps he could still cajole her out of her nasty disposition. He rubbed the towel over the black mat of glistening hair on his chest, feeling her gaze riveted on him, but the anger still hadn't drained from her eyes. He took his time rubbing the towel over his flat stomach and down his muscular thighs. His penis was still semi-hard, and there was no doubt in his mind that Elena knew it. His body was golden from frequent visits to a tanning salon, and toned from the health club he frequented three times a week. Usually Elena showed her appreciation of the way he kept in shape for her. In fact, any ordinary time, they'd be screwing like bunnies by now. He stepped out of the tub and sighed, knowing that wasn't going to happen.
“Mikhail is what's wrong,” she snarled, and whirled away as he draped the damp towel over his lean hips.
He followed her out of the bathroom, his brow furrowed with irritation. Mikhail, again. Christ, he was getting bloody sick of hearing that man's name. Elena had opened the door of the stocked mini-bar, and was peering in as if it contained the answer to all her troubles. She grabbed a small bottle of vodka, twisted off the cap and took a healthy swallow.
Sean watched her, feeling a vague twinge of alarm. “You know you're not supposed to do that, love,” he said, consciously keeping his tone mild, non-accusing. “It's not good to mix that with the asthma medication.”
“Fuck the asthma medication!” Her eyes blazed into him defiantly. “What does it matter, anyway? Oh, God! Why is everything so difficult for me? You know how hard I work, Sean. Every day for the last nineteen years I've trained on the ice, working for an Olympic gold medal. And now that it's finally in reach, you would think everything would be lovely, wouldn't you? But no!” She lifted the bottle of vodka to her mouth again.
Sean crossed the room and grabbed it just before it reached her lips.
“No, you bastard!” she shrieked, reaching for the bottle of liquor, her eyes shooting blue fire.
He grabbed her hand and held it in an iron grip. “I'm not going to let you kill yourself, Elena,” he said quietly. “You know what Anton said. No liquor while you're taking TNG.”
“I don't care what he says,” Elena cried. “He's a cautious old fool! And I need a drink after the day I've had.”
The battle of wills stretched out for an endless moment, their eyes locked. And finally, Sean saw the resignation cross Elena's face.
“Okay,” she murmured. “You are right, darling.”
And to his shock, her eyes filled with tears. It had been a long time since he'd seen Elena cry―not since her father died of a massive heart attack over two years ago.
His hand gently cupped her jaw. “What is it, love? Talk to me.”
She shook her head, biting her lower lip. “It is Mikhail. Why does he hate me so? I try so hard to be kind to him, and he snubs me at every turn.”
Sean's jaw tensed. Again, this Estonian. He was getting bloody sick and tired of hearing the man's name. It seemed with every passing day Elena was getting more and more obsessed with him. At first, Sean hadn't been concerned. He'd figured it was just her fanatic desire to attain that fucking gold medal, and he'd humored her, and yes, supported her in reaching her goal. Christ, if not for him, she'd still be skating with that party boy, Ivan Rostropovich. When she'd bitched and moaned about how she wanted to dump him, and replace him with Mikhail, he'd taken care of the problem, hadn't he? It had been child's play to tamper with the brakes on Rostropovich's Mercedes, and then have one of his employees make sure the man spent the evening tanking up in a Kiev bar before attempting to drive himself to his mama's house.
Now, Sean was beginning to regret that little endeavor. At the time, it seemed like the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. Elena wanted to discard her partner, and Sean wanted to discard her ex-lover. Now, though, it seemed that her new partner might be even more of a problem. Sean knew Elena, probably better than she knew herself. And there was no doubt in his mind that she wanted Mikhail sexually. It was only a matter of time before the Estonian succumbed. Good Christ, look at her! What man could resist her? But once he did give in to her, he'd have to die.
Because Elena belonged to Sean. And he wouldn't share her. He couldn't.
“What has he done now?” he asked quietly, his thumb tracing a line over Elena's porcelain cheekbone.
She drew away from his caress, a frown marring her pristine golden-brown brow. “Well, for one thing, he can't keep his mind on the training.” She sauntered over to the window and pulled back the drapes to gaze out over the village.
Sean's gaze moved down her ballerina-trim figure clad in a gray leotard and a short wisp of a skirt. He imagined stripping it off and peeling down the leotard, kissing her luscious skin as he removed it. But that wasn't going to happen. Not until he coaxed her out of this frightful mood.
She whirled around and glared at him. “You should have seen him. Flirting with this…American girl!” She spat the words as if they tasted filthy in her mouth. “It was disgusting the way he was fawning over her. Yet, he barely looks at me when he speaks. I deserve more respect than that, do I not? I am his partner. I am the reason he is here in Calgary.”
Sean could no longer hold onto his temper. “Bullshit, Elena,” he said shortly. “He is the reason why you're here. Remember who you're talking to. The guy who knows all your secrets, remember? Lie to yourself if you want, but at least have the decency to be straight with me. You know damn well if it weren't for Mikhail Kozlof, you wouldn’t be the favorite for a gold medal!”
Hot color flooded her face. “Bastard!” she hissed. “That is not true!”
Sean shrugged. “Hey, if you need to believe that, go ahead. But you know what, love? I'm thinking there's a whole other reason why Kozlof has got you so hot under the collar. You want to fuck him, don't you? You're not happy unless you have every man around panting after you. Why am I not enough for you, Elena?”
Her lips tightened. “Oh, please! Let's not start that old argument again. And you are wrong, by the way. I don't want to fuck Mikhail Kozlof. I just want him to treat me with the respect I deserve.” She began to pace back and forth in front of the window. “Who does he think he is, anyway? He is nothing but an Estonian peasant boy. He is lucky cesska allows him to skate. I―” She stopped abruptly, the color fading from her face. Her hand clutched at her chest as a horrible wheezing constricted her throat.
Sean's stomach contracted as he realized what was happening. “Where's your inhaler?”
But even as he snarled the question, he was lunging for the bag on the floor that contained her skates and all the other odds and ends she took to her training. He found the inhaler in the side pocket, and rushed to her side.
Still struggling to draw in a strangled breath, she grabbed the inhaler and stuck it in her mouth, injecting the spray of medicine into her lungs. As soon as she began to breathe easier, Sean took her into his arms, cradling her, his mouth crushed against the silk of her hair.
“Oh, Christ, it scares me so bad when that happens,” he murmured.
He knew that Elena's older brother had died of an asthma attack when she was only ten. One night old man Boiko had described the harrowing incident to him while in one of his “talkative” moods, thanks to the fifth of vodka he'd consumed. He'd been with the seventeen-year-old Yuri during the attack, and nothing, not even an inhaler, had been able to save him. Sean lived in fear that one day the inhaler wouldn't save his precious Elena either.
But this time, it had. She drew the inhaler out of her mouth and leaned into him, still somewhat breathless. But the horrible wheezing had stopped.
“Thank you,” she said softly, her face nestled against his neck.
His hand caressed a slow circle over her back. “This is madness,” he said, knowing his words would do no good, but unable to hold them back. “The skating, the drugs. You're killing yourself. You know that, don't you?”
She didn't respond, but just clung to him.
“Is the gold medal really that important?” His voice was soft, coaxing. “You and I…we could have a good life together. With all the money I've made with the pub in Tallinn and…my other enterprises…we could buy our own island in the South Pacific. Or buy a villa in Rio overlooking the ocean. Staff it with servants who'll answer to our every whim. We could have a houseful of children, Elena. A little girl who looks just like you. A son to carry on the O'Malley name. It would be a grand life, love. All you have to do is give this up, and come away with me.”
She didn't answer right away, and for a moment, a brief second, he felt hope fill his heart. Perhaps this time…
Then she drew away, just far enough to place a lingering kiss on the hollow of his throat, and he felt that glimmer of hope drain away.
“We will have that, Sean,” she said. “But not until I have my gold medal. I'm so close now. I would be a fool to give up my dream.”
Sean bristled, his arms tightening around her. “Even if it kills you? You don't know what TNG is doing to your organs. Especially since you choose to ignore your uncle's warnings, and you continue to drink on the sly. Yes, I know all about the bottles of liquor you hide where you think I can't find them. Not to mention the asthma medication. For all any of us know, the combination of the three could be lethal, yet, you continue to play with fire.”
Elena drew away from him with a sigh. “You were the one who first suggested reviving the TNG project. Why were you not so concerned with my health then?”
He stared at her. “That was before I fell in love with you. But I have changed my mind. I'm scared at what TNG may be doing to you.”
Her expression softened. “It is doing nothing to me except making me stronger.” A smile flickered about her lovely lips, and Sean recognized what it meant. She was putting her bad mood behind her.
Her gaze roved up and down his body, and her smile widened. “Have I told you, Sean O'Malley, how scrumptious you look in that skimpy towel? Maybe now would be a good time to practice on creating those brats you want.”
Her words had an instant effect upon his body. Beneath the damp towel, his cock hardened into a brick. “Only practice?” he said, his voice husky with desire. “I'm thirty-seven. Almost an old man for a father.”
She moved against him, and casually reached down to wrap her cool, slim hand around his erection. He closed his eyes as a wave of pleasure encased him. With her other hand entangled in his hair, she brought her mouth to his, nibbling and tugging at his lower lip before finally allowing him in for a deep, searching kiss.
His senses swam, and as he had so many times in the past, he gave himself up to her exquisite touch, knowing he'd lost the battle yet again. But at the moment, it just didn't matter.
* * * * *
Mikhail opened the folder the Estonian lawyer had sent him after his arrival in Utah. It was postmarked from Denver with a return address of a ski equipment manufacturer, something that wouldn't raise any eyebrows with the Soviet skating authorities if they were inclined to check incoming mail. But with the brochures of ski equipment was a slender folder containing the names and photos of several Americans who, in Immaakin's opinion, might be of help to Mikhail in his attempt to defect.
He'd met two of them this afternoon. Kerry Niles and Adam Cutter―the American ice dancers. And of the two, Kerry had definitely been the more approachable. He'd felt a distinct wave of hostility emanating from Cutter. But maybe that was simply because he'd felt threatened, thinking that Mikhail was moving in on his woman.
His thoughts turned to that woman. Kerry. There was something about her. Those unique blue-green eyes, her open, friendly expression that proclaimed she didn't take herself too seriously. And her smile. Just thinking about her smile made Mikhail feel warm all over. It was dazzling, and it made his heart…well…ache. As corny as that sounded.
He shook his head and frowned. His mind was going down the wrong road. He had to get it back on track. He flipped to another page in the folder and stared at the black and white photo of a stranger's face.
A sober-looking man with dark hair and grim eyes. Roger Ellery, Special Forces Officer with the CIA in Northern Virginia. Kerry Niles's stepbrother. That's what made Kerry so important. If he could convince her to help him get to America, they could go her stepbrother, and once with him, he would be safe.
Adam had been a possibility as well because his father was a powerful congressman in Washington DC. But as soon as Mikhail had looked into his cold brown eyes, he'd dismissed that avenue.
It would have to be Kerry.
He tunneled his hands through his hair and stared bleakly at the TV. Earlier, he'd started watching this thriller called “Fatal Attraction” about a curly-haired blonde who was trying to get a married guy to resume an affair with her by boiling his kid's pet rabbit.
And he thought he had problems. He groaned and turned away from the TV.
How could he approach Kerry? How on earth was he going to be able to get her alone long enough to convince her to help him?
He didn't know. All he knew for sure was that he had to find a way. He couldn't turn back now. He had to avenge his mother's murder. Defection was the only answer.

* * * * *
The exotic strains of a tango filled the Olympic arena as Kerry Niles and Adam Cutter performed the required elements of the Tango Romantica on the ice. The ebony-haired beauty wore flowing ice-pink chiffon, and her partner was in a black tux. Mikhail stood near the boards, watching them with a critical eye. Niles and Cutter were good, but not quite at a top championship level yet. Their timing was just a bit off, their overall skating somewhat wooden. But only a champion, a coach or a judge would see that. To someone who simply enjoyed watching ice dancing, they would look perfect, and the Canadian audience was showing their appreciation of the popular American couple. As they rounded the turn close to Mikhail, he found himself watching Kerry's face. She was smiling, but her eyes seemed strained. She knew they weren't skating their best.
Mikhail wished he were skating with her. He'd love to see that strained look disappear and be replaced by the sheer joy of moving effortlessly over the ice. It wasn't conceit that made him think he could make that happen. It was a certainty. Somehow, he knew he and Kerry would skate perfectly together.
His eyes narrowed as the couple rounded the next turn, their feet turning, gliding, moving constantly. She didn't like his touch. He didn't know how he knew that, but knew it, he did. He frowned. Again, his thoughts were taking him away from the matter at hand. Like how he was going to find the right moment to approach her.
She was never alone in the Olympic Village. That Cutter guy hovered over her like an overprotective papa. And if he happened to take a bathroom break, her coach, a woman with flaming hair and a thick Russian accent, was at Kerry's side. He hoped that wouldn't be a problem. The three of them seemed to have a good relationship. Just yesterday, he'd noticed Kerry giving her coach an enthusiastic hug. Would she be so loyal to the woman that she would refuse to help him? But then, she might refuse, anyway. Face it, he would be asking a lot of her. It wasn't like he was requesting a ride back to the hotel or borrowing a cigarette or something. He was asking her to take him to Washington DC. To get involved in an international incident that could very well destroy her skating career. And if they were caught, who knew what kind of laws she'd be accused of breaking?
The enormity of it all hit him, and he caught his breath. How could he do this? How could he expect this lovely young woman to drop everything―her career, her very life―and help him with something that didn't even concern her? It was insane! Immaakin was insane for even suggesting it.
But then, this whole situation was insane. It was insane that his father had died along with an entire village, and those deaths had been passed off as an influenza attack. And it was insane that that same drug might be poisoning the bloodstreams of Russian athletes even now. For all he knew, he'd been injected with the stuff in place of the routine vitamin shots he'd been getting every week.
That's why he had to ask for her help. That's why he had to convince her to do it. With a start, he realized the music had ended, and Kerry and Adam were skating towards the portal.
“Damn,” he muttered. There were only two couples between Niles and Cutter and he and Elena. His partner would be wondering why he wasn't backstage limbering up.
Wearing his skate guards, he strode back to the tunnel just as Kerry and Adam entered “Kiss and Cry” to wait for their scores. A moment later, the Canadian crowd made known their displeasure with hisses and boos. A low score, apparently. Mikhail wasn't surprised. The judges had most likely seen what he'd noticed. That the couple lacked that intangible chemistry that told the judges they were in sync, a partnership. And that was something no one could learn. It was either there or it wasn't. Odd, then, that he and Elena were favored to win the gold medal. God knows there wasn't an iota of chemistry between them. Maybe they were just good at faking it. Or, more likely, the dislike that simmered between them was mistaken for sexual tension. He shuddered at the thought. As if.
He strode through the tunnel crowded with skaters waiting their turn on the ice. A babble of voices in different languages echoed in the cavernous corridor. His eyes swept the area, and he saw a sleek, blond head above the crowd. He headed toward it. It disappeared as Elena did a sideways bend, stretching her torso, and then appeared again. As if sensing him, she turned, and her smoky blue eyes drilled into him. Surprise, surprise. She was angry. Wondering where he'd gotten off to, he supposed. Christ, why didn't she just put one of those dog leashes on him, like the one they'd seen on a toddler at the mall in Salt Lake City the other day. That way, she'd always know where he was. He could be at her beck and call every single moment.
He gritted his teeth. Just a few more days, and he'd be done with her forever.
“Where were you?” she snapped when he reached her. “We skate soon, you know.”
From the ice, the tango music began to play again.
“I know that, Elena,” he said quietly, trying to hold onto his temper. “I was just checking out the competition.”
“Why?” The anger faded a bit, and her full, sensuous lips quirked in something resembling a smile. “We have nothing to worry about. You know that.”
He shrugged. “Maybe not this year. But there is always the future.”
“Silly boy.” Raising a slender arm over her head, Elena did another side bend. “You'd better start stretching. We don't have much time.”
Mikhail didn't respond. He just turned his back on her, closed his eyes and began to stretch. Sometimes, the simplest thing to do was to just tune her out.

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