“Bloody Christ!” Sean slammed down the phone on the desk and strode over to the liquor cabinet. “I've got nothing but bleedin' idiots working for me, and that's the God's truth.” He splashed a finger of Johnnie Walker Black Label into a glass and downed it, then stared blackly across the room at Elena.
She reclined on the bed, her blond head propped on a pillow, eyes fixed rigidly on the TV where a male figure skater pranced about on the ice. Sean couldn't understand why she was torturing herself like this, especially watching those faggy male skaters. Everybody knew almost all of them were bloody Nancy boys, preferring the taste of dick rather than pussy. Except, damn the luck, Mikhail Kozlof, of course. It bloody figured that the one straight man in figure skating was―or had been―Elena's partner.
She still hadn't responded to his cry of outrage after he'd got off the phone with dickhead Fagan, and her expression was as remote as the peak of Mount Bloody Everest.
“Jesus Christ, Elena!” He snarled. Beowulf lifted his head from between his paws and looked at him solemnly. Sean glared at the pale blonde. “Are you ever going to quit sulking about that fucking gold medal?”
Slowly, she turned her head, and her sapphire eyes impaled him. Emotionless and distant. She looked delectable in a white crocheted pajama top that hugged her firm breasts, and revealed tantalizing glimpses of flesh. It drove him crazy. The bitch hadn't allowed him to touch her since she'd found out about Kozlof's disappearance, and the nights lying beside her in the king-sized bed had been sheer agony.
After a long moment, Elena turned her icy gaze away from him and back to the TV. Rage washed through him. He'd never been a man to be ignored, and he wasn't about to start now.
He set his glass down on the liquor cabinet and moved to the TV. One stab at the power button, and the screen went blank.
“Why did you do that?” Elena asked, still revealing not an iota of emotion in her expression or her voice.
“Because I'm bloody well sick and tired of being treated like a stick of furniture around here. One you're getting ready to throw out on the garbage heap.”
Elena took a deep breath, folded her arms across her luscious chest and looked at him the way a mother looks at an unreasonable child. “All right. Tell me what Fagan said to get you so cranky.”
Sean glared at her. “One would think you didn't give a goddamn about what's happening with Kozlof and his little American slut.” He gauged her reaction to that, and was pleased to see her eyes darken with fury. Good. He was getting just a wee bit worried about her. Once her rage had run its course, she'd almost seemed to lose interest in everything. Perhaps it was just shock. But it was frightening to see Elena defeated. And he knew he had to find a way to arouse her anger again. He thought he just had. Any mention of the American girl, and her eyes ignited.
“So, what did you find out?” she asked, lips tight.
“Those bloody fools I have tracking them almost got them at a motel in Colorado, but they blew it. Believe this if you can, but the American girl practically realigned Shlusvaka's nuts, and they managed to get away. And then, of course, the blithering idiots lost their trail.” Sean shook his head, unable to hide a grin of admiration. “One thing I'll say for Kozlof. He's got good taste in women.”
Elena hissed like a cat, and threw the covers back. “Mikhail Kozlof is a moron, throwing his life away for a bitch like that.” She swung her long, silky legs over the side of the bed and stood.
Sean caught his breath at the sight of her lush body clad only in the skimpiest of satin panties and her little crocheted top. His penis stirred and swelled. She was well aware of her effect upon him, he knew, and took great pleasure in the power her body held over him. That's why she strutted around provocatively in front of him, and simultaneously withheld sex. It drove him mad, and she knew it.
Keenly aware of Sean's impassioned gaze, Elena sauntered over to the desk where a newspaper was opened to the sports page. His perusal gave her flesh a warm, tingling feeling, and she knew she couldn't hold out on him much longer. She'd been punishing him for Mikhail's betrayal despite the fact that, intellectually, she knew he had nothing to do with it. But someone had to be punished. Still, the two days of celibacy was starting to wear on her, as well, and Sean was a hard man to resist. Their sexual appetites were evenly matched, and that's why they'd been together for the past few years. If only he wasn't a traditionalist at heart, wanting marriage and children. So boring!
Her eyes scanned the photo of herself and Mikhail performing the other night's original dance. It was a good photo, especially of Mikhail. He had an expression of passion on his lean, angular face―passion for the sport, of course. But one would think by looking at this picture, that his passion was for her, the gorgeous woman in his arms. She gazed bitterly at the photo. Why couldn't he be like other men, and want her like they all wanted her? What did he see in that skinny freckled-faced Yank? She was nowhere near as beautiful as she was.
She wanted him back. She needed Mikhail back. If Sean could force him to return, what could she do to keep him skating with her? To keep him happy? With an ordinary man, the answer would be obvious. But Mikhail had made it clear he didn't want her. Damn the man!
Pouting, Elena read the headline accompanying the photo. Russian Athlete Missing In Calgary. The article didn't contain much information. Just that Mikhail hadn't shown up at his hotel after drinking the night away, and was still missing when he was due to compete in the final of the ice dance competition. Then it went on to give some background on Mikhail, how he'd trained for years with another coach before being assigned―reportedly, against his will―to partner Elena.
Her mouth tightened. It made it sound like he'd been horribly unhappy with her. And that wasn't true. Oh, sure, maybe he wasn't thrilled, but he'd accepted it. Just like he'd accepted that Nadya would be replaced by Sergey.
Nadya. Elena's frown turned to a musing smile. Perhaps she could use his old coach to get him back. She turned to face Sean. He was sitting in one of the Chippendale chairs, holding another glass of scotch between his hands, his brown eyes fixed moodily upon her. She hid a smile, knowing what was going through his head. He was trying to figure out a way to convince her to make love with him.
All in good time, Sean, darling.
She moved seductively toward him, watching with satisfaction as his eyes lit up with hope. She didn't stop until she reached the apex of his parted legs. He grinned wolfishly up at her, knowing the Cold War had ended. Elena knelt between his knees, hands pressing on his muscular thighs. She gazed into his eyes. “Baby,” she said softly.
Her hands traveled leisurely up his thighs. “Promise me you'll bring him back.”
His muscles tensed, and the sparkle of excitement in his eyes turned to anger. Elena's hand closed over his erection. “No, don't get mad,” she said, expertly massaging his hard-on. “Just promise me.”
“I…already…did,” Sean growled through gritted teeth.
Slowly, Elena unzipped his slacks, her eyes still holding his. “Bring him to me, and give me another year with him.” She deftly unsnapped his boxer shorts, unleashing his rigid cock from its confinement. She ran her hand down to its base and up again, watching the tortured expression on his face. He groaned and closed his eyes. “Give me a year with him to win a gold medal at Worlds next March, and if you do that…” She leaned toward him, her breath fanning his penis. “I will marry you. I'll go with you to South America, and have your little Irish brats.”
He opened his eyes and stared at her, stunned. Her words were so surprising, he forgot about what she was doing to him with her silken hand and the tantalizing promise of her pouty lips.
“You're serious? You'll marry me?”
He'd been pleading with her to marry him for two years. And she'd steadfastly refused.
She smiled, and lowering her head, swirled a hot, hungry tongue over his throbbing tip like it was an ice cream bar she was planning to savor. Sean trembled, and his nails dug into her tender shoulders.
She drew away and peered up at him out of cloudy ocean blue eyes. “Yes, Sean,” she murmured. “You give me Mikhail for a year, and I'll marry you.”
“Okay,” he managed to gasp, as her voracious mouth closed over him. “It's a deal.”
* * * * *
Mikhail knew he was dreaming. Because there were just too many things going on that didn't make sense. Like the Zamboni on the ice while he was dancing the Romantica Tango with Kerry. They had to keep avoiding it as they skated the intricate steps. And it was incredibly hot on the ice. Mikhail felt the sweat oozing out of his pores and seeping through his billowing white shirt as he flew across the rink. Over there in the corner, spinning like a child's top, was Ilka Stanislav, the sixteen-year-old skater whose blade had sliced open his face from cheekbone to chin. And there was Nadya, standing just behind the boards, her small height only a couple of feet higher than the wood structure separating the ice from the stands. She was smiling and gazing with approval at Mikhail and Kerry. But what really convinced him it was a dream was the couple he saw in the audience.
His mother was sitting beside a blue-eyed man dressed in the traditional red and blue costume of a Sami tribesman. Even though he knew it was a dream, Mikhail drew to a stop, and releasing Kerry's hand, skated over to the boards to greet the father he'd never met. The Sami tribesman watched his approach, his blue eyes warm with welcome.
“Father,” Mikhail said, clutching the boards.
The man's eyes crinkled as his lips widened into a tremulous smile. He stretched out a hand toward Mikhail.
Mikhail reached out to grasp his hand, but before he could touch him, his father's image faded away. But his voice, a voice he'd never heard in life lingered in his mind.
You must go now, my son. The bad men are coming.
Mikhail opened his eyes and blinked into the gloom. He knew now that he'd been dreaming, yet, why did he still hear the roar of the Zamboni?
His hand slid over the slick perspiration coating his chest. He'd kicked the covers off sometime in the night, but even so, he felt uncomfortably warm. He turned over on his side to see if Kerry was awake, and felt a peculiar sinking sensation in his stomach at the sight of her spread out on her stomach, her legs splayed, one of them hanging off the bed. She was sleeping in drawstring pajama bottoms and a little spaghetti-strapped tee shirt that exposed her midriff. Her black hair was tangled and hid the side of her face. His eyes centered on her perfectly shaped bottom, and he felt the temperature in the room soar another degree or two.
Christ! This forced intimacy would be the death of him. They'd both agreed in the car that it would be foolhardy to get physically involved during this trip to Virginia. But these shared motel rooms were dangerous. He'd finally been able to exchange some rubles at a bank in Omaha, but his cash flow wasn't limitless, and it seemed ridiculous to spend money on two motel rooms. Besides, when circumstances warranted it, like at the car dealership in Greeley, they were pretending to be married.
Still, for the sake of his sanity, he had to quit thinking such provocative thoughts about Kerry. He had to forget he’d ever sampled the sweet taste of her lips, and felt the welcoming tremble of her body under his touch.
His mind returned to the dream. To his father, and the warning that had come from his lips. “You must go now, my son. The bad men are coming.”
Estonian, he might be, but Mikhail was still Russian enough to be superstitious about dreams like this. He believed in an afterlife, and felt very sure that if situations required it, the dead could contact the living with important messages. Crazy as it sounded, and Mikhail would never admit it to anyone, but what if the dream had been a warning from the other side?
He got out of bed and moved over to the window, drawing aside the curtain to peer out. A light glaze of ice covered the glass, but it was thin enough to make out the snowplow grinding its way down the highway in front of the motel. So, there was his Zamboni.
The snow had stopped falling, and a watery afternoon light washed the west Iowa landscape a dull, dishwater gray.
An ugly winter afternoon. But…the snow had stopped.
Mikhail turned toward the beds and saw the red illuminated numbers on the radio clock on the bedside table. Nine-twenty. They'd been here over seventeen hours.
It was time to move on.
He moved purposely toward Kerry's bed, reached down and touched her shoulder. “Kerry? Wake up, gollupchic. We must get going. It is dangerous to stay here longer.”
Kerry moaned, but didn’t move. Mikhail stared down at a dark shape on the small of her back just above her drawstring pajama bottoms. It looked like the head of a turtle. A tattoo, he realized. His fingers itched to push down the fabric so he could see the rest of it, but that was dangerous thinking. His jaw tightened. He gave her shoulder another shake. “Kerry, wake up!”
Eyes closed, she turned over and stretched her arms over her head. Mikhail felt his stomach spasm at the sight of her flat tummy and luscious navel exposed by the little nothing of a top. Her taut nipples pressed against the soft knit fabric, inviting his touch. He fought back the almost overpowering urge to bend down and dip his tongue into her navel. He imagined running his hands over the velvet of her belly, slipping up under her top and…
“Wake up, Kerry,” he said, more urgently. Eyes closed, she pushed his hand away as if trying to get rid of a pestering fly. He perched on the edge of the bed and shook her shoulder again.
A frown marred her black brows. “No,” she murmured. “Just a little longer.”
“You've slept over seventeen hours. Is enough.”
Finally, Kerry opened her eyes and gazed at him dreamily. Her lips parted in a soft smile. “I was dreaming about you,” she murmured. “It was a…really naughty dream.” She released a soft sigh, her tongue licking at her bottom lip.
A wildfire rush of heat encased his loins. He made a move to stand, but her hand on his arm stilled him.
“Kiss me, Mikhail,” she whispered. “Like you did in my dream…like you did the other night.”
“No.” He shook his head, his heart thrumming. “We cannot…” Staring down at her sleep-warmed face, her cloudy blue eyes soft with arousal, his protest died on his lips.
“Please,” she whispered. “Just one little kiss.”
With a soft groan, Mikhail surrendered. His head lowered, and his mouth captured hers in a burning kiss. Her nails dug into his bare biceps as she opened her mouth to his exploring tongue. Their lips finally parted, but it wasn't enough. He nipped at her mouth, tasting and nibbling, suckling and exploring. His urgency to leave was driven out of his mind by Kerry's intoxicating mouth and yielding body. But when he felt her hand molding against the iron rod of his erection, he pulled away as if her touch had been a flaming torch.
“No! We cannot!”
He stood abruptly and moved away from the bed, tunneling his hands through his tousled hair. He felt her startled gaze, and turned to face her. Steeling himself against the sight of her flushed face and enticing body, he stared at her, his limbs trembling with need.
“I feel we're in danger here,” he said slowly. “I do not know how to explain…but we must go. Now.”
Kerry blinked, and then nodded slowly. She sat up and swung her legs over the bed. “Okay,” she said, in a tremulous voice. “I'll go get ready.”
Mikhail watched as she crossed the room and disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Slowly, he clenched his left hand into a fist, and pounded it against the palm of his right.
“Dear God,” he whispered through gritted teeth. “Give me the strength to get through the next few days with this woman.”
* * * * *
“Okay, Old Man,” the rotten-toothed Irishman said through the cigarette between his lips. “You're sure you've seen this couple? Tell me all about it, and I'll make it worth your while.”
Buddy stared down at the wad of greenbacks thrust in his direction, and felt a wave of distrust flood through him. English to the core, he didn't have much use for liquid-tongued Irishmen, especially ones with bad breath. He also didn't like the looks of the big, flat-nosed guy with him who hadn't spoken a word, but whose brown eyes were cold as the frigid outside temperature. Buddy wished he could take back his admission of a couple of moments ago, but it was too late now.
“Keep your money, mister,” he said with disdain. “The name's Buddy. And I kindly ask you not to refer to me as 'old man,' if you don't mind.”
The Irishman grinned, revealing more stubby brown teeth. “No offense meant, Buddy.” He tucked the money away into his coat pocket. “So, what can you tell me about this couple?”
“Not much,” he said, in a deliberate Colorado drawl. “They drove in here yesterday morning and traded in this Jeep for a…ah…a blue Honda. Yep. One of my favorite cars, it was. Nice young couple. He was sort of quiet, though, but Lord, she made up for it. Just jabbered on and on.”
Buddy wasn't sure why he felt inclined to lie to this rabbit-faced man and his Darth Vader companion. Maybe it was because he'd felt a certain kinship with the young couple that'd traded in the Jeep. The girl, maybe because she was the pants-wearer in the family, reminded him of his own granddaughter, Emily, down in Little Rock, Arkansas. A feisty thing, Emily was, ruling the roost with her string of boyfriends, and just about everybody she met. His own wife, Sarah, God rest her soul, had cracked the whip when she had a mind to, and had kept Buddy on his toes for the fifty-one years they'd been married, and he'd loved pretty much every minute of it. Still missed her like crazy even though she'd passed on four years ago.
“Did the man have a Russian accent?” asked the Irishman.
“Wouldn't know.” Buddy shrugged. “Barely said a word. The pretty gal did all the talking. What are you, some kind of cop?”
“Private investigator. Did they happen to say where they might be headed?”
Private investigator, my eyetooth, Buddy thought. “How about showing me some identification before I answer any more questions, partner?”
The big guy's face grew even grimmer, and Buddy wondered if he'd screwed up. Darth, there, looked like he'd just as soon beat the crap out of him, and be done with it. But the Irishman only shrugged and drew out his wallet. Buddy eyed the Massachusetts driver’s license and the business card that claimed he was a private investigator named Sully Patterson. But the warning bells were still clanging in his head.
He looked the Irishman straight in the eye and said, “She mentioned they was headed for Texas. Fort Worth, she said.”
The Irishman and the big guy exchanged a look. Kind of a baffled look. Good. Buddy didn't know what this was all about, but his sixth sense told him these two jokers were not on the up and up. And the young couple? He didn't know what they'd done to get these two scalawags chasing after them, but he'd bet a dollar to a donut that if they were caught, things wouldn't go well for them.
“Are you sure they said Texas, old ma…I mean, Buddy?” asked the Irishman.
Buddy nodded, his gaze unwavering. “Fort Worth, Texas. Driving a bright blue Honda. I'll get you the license tag if you want.”
Sully Patterson―if that was really his name―gave him an ingratiating smile that looked all the more revolting with his rotten teeth. “Well, that would be grand, indeed.”
Buddy led the two men to his cubicle where he tapped into a computer and brought up the records of a ‘2000 blue Honda parked in the used lot outside. He scribbled down the number and passed it over. The Irishman thanked him. Buddy watched as they left the showroom and got into a black Mercedes with brand new tires. He grinned as they drove right past the blue Honda and pulled out onto Rt. 283, heading south.
After they were gone, Buddy stood, hitched up his pants and ambled out of the showroom toward the snack bar. It was mighty cold outside, and dreary, to boot. A nice cup of hot, black coffee would surely hit the spot―even that swill they made here. Jesus H. Christ, it was so bad, they could probably use it for motor oil in the service area, and nobody would know the difference.
He passed through the customer waiting room, paying only scant attention to the ever-present drone of the TV set anchored on the wall. It was tuned to CNN, and a pretty blond anchorwoman was talking about some Russian Olympic athlete defecting with the help of an American woman.
Buddy shook his head, and stepped into the snack bar.
Another Olympic scandal. Lordy, Lordy, it was always something.