“I have upset you.” Mikhail stood in the motel room, his hands tucked in the pockets of his sweat pants. He’d just stepped out of the bathroom after showering, and although he was dressed in his Bronco sweatshirt and jeans, his hair was still wet and combed back from his sculptured Nordic face.
Kerry could barely make him out, even though he was only a few feet away. She sat on the middle of her bed, her arms hugging her knees, eyes fixed on the TV screen glimmering in the shadowy room. Her hair, still damp from the shower, hung loose and tucked behind her ears. She wore soft cotton pajamas―a V-neck top and drawstring bottoms ordered from an L.L. Bean catalog years ago. It was the most comfortable article of clothing she owned, and if she never had to put on anything else in her life she'd be perfectly happy. But clothes would be required later for their hike down to the restaurant for dinner.
Too bad there isn't pizza delivery out here. But even if there was, what were the chances they'd deliver in the middle of a snowstorm? Although…last time she'd looked, it had almost stopped snowing. In fact, they probably should go ahead and get on the road tonight. For a moment, she considered suggesting it, but somehow, she just couldn't wrap her tongue around the words.
“I'm not upset,” she said now to Mikhail, looking at the TV instead of at him.
She’d got caught up in some woman-in-jeopardy movie on the Lifetime Channel while Mikhail was in the shower. She was pretty sure she’d seen it before, or one very similar.
Mikhail skirted his bed and sat on the edge of it. Kerry felt his eyes on her and turned to look at him. Her pulse gave a kick at the solemn look on his face. “What's wrong?”
“I was thinking about our talk at restaurant. About losing parents.” His voice softened. “I never knew my father. Not my real father. He was Sami. Do you know of them? The indigenous people of the North? They are sometimes called Laplanders, but I do not think that is…what is word? Politically correct?”
Kerry nodded. “We read about them in school. They live in the northern section of Scandinavia, right?”
“And in Russia. Two months ago, I did not know I was of Sami blood. It was only upon my mother's death that I learned truth. That she loved another man before the one I thought of as my father.”
Kerry gazed at him, now just a shadow in the darkness. “But you had a happy childhood, right? He treated you well?”
Mikhail shrugged. “I did not know him well, since I was taken away from my home so young. For the years I lived with my parents, Stefan was decent man, but he did not know how to show love.” He paused, and then added, “If I ever have children, they will know they are loved.”
Kerry caught her breath at the intensity in his voice. A wave of compassion shot through her. She thought of what it must've been like for him, taken away from the only home he knew at the tender age of six. Poor kid must've been scared to death. “But your mother. She showed her love, didn't she?”
“Yes. And so did Nadya, my coach. She became like second mother.” He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice had thickened with emotion. “I lost them both. Once I became Elena's partner, I rarely saw Nadya. And now…who knows if I ever see her again.” He stared off into space, eyes bleak.
He's homesick, Kerry thought, feeling a pang go through her.
“Oh, Mikhail!” Without thinking about the consequences, she scrambled off the bed and moved over to sit next to him. In the flickering light of the TV, she could see the sadness on his face, and it broke her heart. There had been so many losses for him lately. His parents, Nadya…his homeland. She lifted a hand to his cheek, feeling the hard ridge of his scar under the pads of her fingertips. How many times had she imagined touching him like this? Freshly showered, he smelled like deodorant soap mixed with the musky oak moss scent of the Cool Water cologne he'd bought.
“You still grieve for your father,” Mikhail said softly, turning to her. “Does it ever end? The grieving?”
She cupped his jaw in her hand, tears burning behind her eyelids as she thought of her father's laughing face. “No,” she whispered, shaking her head. “It gets easier as time passes, but I don't think you ever stop missing them. Sometimes…” She dropped her hand to her lap as her voice broke. She swallowed convulsively and lowered her head. He placed an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close to him, his chin anchoring on top of her head. “…sometimes,” she went on. “I wish it had been Jana who died instead of my dad. Isn't that awful? Doesn't that make me a horrible person? But every time I get out on the ice, and I'm standing there waiting for the music to begin, the same thought goes through my mind. Why can't he be in the audience? He would've been so proud to see me skate in the Olympics.” A tear trailed down her cheek. “Jana has never seen me skate live. I don't know if she even watches on TV. But you know what? I don't care. I just don't care!”
Mikhail leaned away from her, and the next thing she knew, he had her face cupped in his hands, his eyes holding hers. “We are very much alike, Kerry Niles,” he said. “We both grieve for lost parents. Even those not of our blood. You have lost two fathers. I have lost two mothers…and two fathers.” His thumbs caressed her tear-stained cheeks, sending an inexplicable feeling of longing through her. Her heartbeat accelerated at the soft expression on his face. “But you still have a mother,” he added. “Perhaps is not too late to start new relationship with her.”
Kerry didn't want to think about Jana right now. She couldn't think about her. Her gaze swept over Mikhail's handsome face, lingering on his molded lips, remembering their taste during that blissful moment out by the creek. She knew he wanted to kiss her again. He was weighing the decision right now. All she had to do was give him some sign that she wanted it, too.
Her gaze moved to his scar. Like a magnet, it drew her fingers. She traced it lightly, and saw his eyes darken with desire. But still, he didn't move. Just watched her. Her tongue moistened her bottom lip. “How did you get this?”
His thumb moved slowly over her cheekbone in a tender caress. “Skate blade,” he murmured. “I was sixteen, training for pairs. My partner came too close during camel spin.”
Kerry's gaze moved from his scar to his eyes. What she saw there caused her to catch her breath. Her heart began to race. “We shouldn't be doing this, should we?” she whispered.
He shook his head, and when he spoke, his voice was husky with longing, “No. Is not good idea.”
But neither of them moved. Her finger brushed the ridge of his scar again and then moved down his bristled jaw. Mikhail's hands smoothed her hair back from her temples. Then, cradling her head, he leaned toward her, his lips inches away from hers.
She caught her breath. “We should probably go ahead and leave,” she murmured. “It's stopped snowing.”
“Yes,” he whispered, a smile in his eyes. “That would be wise thing to do.”
“If we leave now…” she said breathlessly, “…we could be in St. Louis for breakfast.”
His mouth closed over hers in a hot, demanding kiss. Kerry clutched the folds of his sweatshirt in one hand as she opened to him, drinking in the sweetness of his lips. He broke away long enough for each of them to take a gasping breath, then took her mouth again in an increasingly hungry series of slow, burning kisses. Her head swam. Her heart felt as if it were exploding in her rib cage. Under her palm, she could feel his thudding heartbeat. On the TV, a woman screamed and men shouted. There was the sound of gunfire. Too bad, whoever you are. You’re getting shot at, and I'm kissing a hunk. And oh, my, can this hunk kiss.
Mikhail eased her back onto the bed, his mouth still plundering hers. His hand moved down her neck, teasing at the vee of her top, awakening every nerve, every blood vessel along its trail. Finally, with one last soulful kiss, he dragged his mouth from hers and moved to the hollow of her throat, nibbling and tasting. Kerry gasped, lacing her fingers through his damp hair. She closed her eyes, giving herself up to his touch.
“I have wanted to do this since I first saw you,” he murmured, lifting his lips from her neck momentarily. Then he returned to planting kisses along the column of her throat before finally reaching her mouth again, his tongue slipping inside to coax her enthusiastic response.
This is crazy, she thought, eagerly returning his kiss. This is exactly what I've been telling myself I can't do. Get romantically involved with a charismatic Russian on the run. It would just complicate things. It would just…
Still kissing her, his hand moved to the first snap of her top. With a soft pop, it came undone, then the second one. Then the third. He slipped a warm hand inside her top, cupping her bare breast. Her blood went from simmer to boiling. She gave a soft moan, her nails clutching convulsively at his back. In response, his kiss deepened, became urgent. He rolled onto his back, pulling her on top of him, one hand holding her head to maintain contact with her mouth. She could feel the heat of his erection pressing into her belly, and she knew common sense had lost the battle. Damn celibacy! She dragged her mouth from his, and straddling him, straightened so she could gaze down into his eyes. He stared back, his breathing labored.
“Let's get this shirt off you,” she said finally, her hands going to the bottom of his sweatshirt. She helped him pull it off, and then tossed it to the floor. Flattening her hands on his muscled chest, she skimmed down his flat stomach then moved back up to his nipples. He drew in a staggered breath, watching her. Smiling, she bent down and laved the hollow of his throat with her tongue. Oh, yes. This was all coming back to her. A ragged moan splintered his lips.
She drew back and gave him a wicked grin. “I've wanted to do that since I first saw you.”
With a soft growl, his upper half came off the bed, his hands reaching for the opening of her top. With one brisk snap, he wrenched it open, revealing her breasts to his appreciative gaze. “What do they say?” he asked with a delighted grin. “Turn about is fair play?”
Before she could answer, he laughed and rolled her onto her back again. Straddling her, he molded his large hands to her breasts, his eyes dancing. “I am going to drive you crazy, Kerry Niles. I will make love to you all night long. I will make you come over and over.”
Kerry gave him a lazy smile, her tongue wetting her bottom lip. “Sounds like a deal I'd be an idiot to pass up.”
Twin flames ignited in his eyes as he fastened his gaze on her mouth. “You do know that little trick drives me over edge, yes? You do that on purpose? To drive men wild?”
“Not men,” Kerry whispered. “You, Mikhail. To drive you wild.” Her gaze held his as she pressed her hand against his rigid penis, hot and thick beneath his sweatpants. “Come on, Mikhail. It's your turn. Drive me wild.”
Fastening his hands at the sides of her head, his mouth took hers in a plunging kiss. With a moan, she arched against him, the aching need between her legs intensifying. His mouth still locked on hers, he moved his hand down to her pajama bottoms, tugging at the drawstring. Kerry pushed at his sweatpants. She wanted to stroke him, to feel the naked power and pulse of him in her hands.
Suddenly his body tensed. He dragged his mouth from hers and stared down at her, alarm flaring in his eyes.
“What?” Kerry asked, her voice ragged. “What's wrong, Mikhail?”
Regret flickered across his face. He rolled off her and sat up, raking his hands through his hair. “We cannot do this.”
Oh, hell. Now, he decides we can't do this. Every cell in her body shrieked in frustration. It was as if she'd been handed a three-pound box of See's Chocolates and told she was forbidden to taste, but could only look and smell.
She rolled over on her side, propped her head on her hand, and eyed him. “Well, let me just say your timing sucks.”
He lifted his head and gave her a chagrined look. “Sorry. But…” He shrugged. “I just remembered. I have no protection.” An eyebrow rose in question. “Do you?”
“Uh…no.” Kerry flopped onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. Her heart was still thudding with excitement, her limbs weak. “Condoms weren't on my shopping list. And I haven't been on the Pill for four years.” Not since Josh. But she didn't intend to share the particulars. “I'm shocked you don't have any, considering the rumors I've heard about you being such a womanizer.”
Mikhail winced. “Rumors greatly exaggerated.”
Silence fell between them. Kerry stared up at the ceiling. Why is it all motel ceilings look alike? she wondered. That cheesy-looking stucco stuff and a smoke detector blinking its little green light every few seconds. Damn it, Mikhail Kozlof, you've got my body so wired, I feel like my blood could produce enough energy to light up the entire city of Manhattan. And you had to go and remember you don't have any condoms.
She gnawed at her bottom lip. Hell, there was virtually no chance she could get pregnant. She'd just had her period the week before. But then, of course, pregnancy wasn't the only thing they had to worry about. There was, oh, just a little thing like…death from AIDs. She supposed she really should be grateful to Mikhail for keeping a clear head…although that wasn't exactly a compliment to her seductiveness, was it?
Mikhail lifted his head and stared at the TV. Kerry frowned. Okkkaaay. So we’ll forgo the sex and watch a little TV instead. Hey, what about HBO? We can watch people having sex. Oh, happy day!
Mikhail was still gazing glassily at the TV, his brows furrowed. Then he grinned. “I just remembered.” He turned to her, his eyes sweeping over her face and down to her opened top.
Kerry had never been a particularly shy person, and was certainly comfortable with nudity. She felt Mikhail's gaze on her exposed breasts, but didn't bother to cover up. After all, a few minutes ago, he'd had his hands all over them. No point in playing the shy schoolgirl now.
But apparently, Mikhail felt differently. His lips tightened, and he sat up, reached over and covered her up. Then, methodically, he began to re-snap her top. “You make it hard to think,” he said shortly.
Kerry grinned, and rolling over on her side, she allowed her gaze to wander down to his bulging erection. “That's not the only thing I made hard, apparently.”
Mikhail's lips quirked, and she couldn't tell for sure but she thought he might be blushing. “Kerry Niles,” he said slowly, in mock astonishment, “You are bad girl.”
“I know. I am what I am. So, what is it you remembered?”
He nodded, excitement flaring in his eyes. “Yes! Remember when you checked into motel? I went down hall to use men's room. I think I saw sex machine in there.”
Sex machine? Her heart bumped. “You mean a condom machine?” She hoped that was what he was talking about. A friggin' candy machine just wouldn't cut it right now.
He nodded, and scrambled off the bed, grabbing his sweatshirt from the floor. His head disappeared, and then reappeared through the hole, his hair tousled. “Do not move. I will be right back. Oh!” He stopped and looked at her, hesitation written on his face. “Can I borrow dollar?” he asked. “Remember, we still have not found bank to exchange rubles.”
Kerry couldn't help it. She laughed. It just struck her so funny. The horny Russian, desperate for condoms, and with only rubles to buy them. Still snorting with laughter, she moved off the bed and grabbed her purse from the desk, drawing a couple of singles from her wallet. She handed the money to him, giving him a big grin to go with it. “Consider it my contribution to the cause.”
He took the bill, placed a hand on the back of her head and gave her a hot, succulent kiss that immediately sent her head spinning. “I will be back.”
Kerry's fingertips brushed her burning lips as she watched him race to the door. “Oh, I'm counting on that.”
* * * * *
Mikhail hurried through the side entrance of the motel office and down the hall to the men's restroom. From the desk around the corner, he could hear the motel clerk gabbing to someone about the snowy weather. It was the same man who'd checked them in―a long-winded old guy with a shock of white hair. Poor Kerry had stood there for fifteen minutes with the key in her hand, while the garrulous owner talked her ear off about the Olympics and why, in his opinion, the Americans hadn't brought in as many gold medals as they should have. Mikhail hoped whoever it was out front would keep the old guy talking because he sure didn't want to get waylaid by him now. Not with Kerry waiting for him back in the room.
He deposited the money into the vending machine, his heart thudding at the thought of her flushed, sexy face, her beautiful blue-green eyes cloudy with desire. A small voice inside him reminded him that sleeping with her would be a mistake. The double-pack condoms dropped into the tray, and he mentally ordered the voice to be silent. Pocketing the package, he stepped out of the restroom and turned left to head for the exit door.
That's when he heard it. Another male voice coming from the lobby around the corner. Mikhail stopped, listening, and a chill crawled over his skin.
“Have you seen this man? He may be traveling with this young woman.”
The accent was unmistakably Irish.
* * * * *
As soon as Mikhail left the room, Kerry hurried into the bathroom and began to brush her teeth with more energy than she'd had in months. After swishing some minty-tasting mouthwash for a few seconds, she grabbed her travel bag and dabbed a few drops of Michael Kors perfume onto her pulse points, then gazed into the mirror. She grabbed a brush and began to run it through her now dry hair, smiling at the flush on her cheekbones and the bright excitement in her eyes. It had been a long time since she'd felt like this. Since she'd allowed herself to feel like this. So what if it was a mistake? It probably was, but right now, she didn't care. She'd worry about it tomorrow. Right now, she couldn't wait to be back in Mikhail's strong, sexy arms.
A knock came at the door. Kerry put down her brush, smiled into the mirror then flew across the room. “Did you get them?” she asked, flinging open the door. Her smile froze and her heart plunged.
It wasn't Mikhail.