Friday, July 8, 2011

Tango's Edge, Chapter 14

Chapter Fourteen

In the bright morning sunlight, Kerry squinted at the road map on her lap, tracing her finger along the route they were traveling. Damn! It was time for an eye exam. She couldn’t read worth a darn in her contacts, but she was way too vain to wear glasses while traveling with Mikhail.
He was at the wheel of the Volvo, a pair of dark sunglasses protecting his eyes from the glare of the sun on the vast acres of snow drifts hugging the road. The ice crystals sparkled like thousands of diamonds in the sunlight. Kerry looked up at the endless highway stretching in front of the hood of the car, the mile markers slipping past as they made their dogged way eastward. A sigh escaped her lips. Soon, they'd be in Virginia, and once Roger and the CIA got hold of Mikhail, who knew when she'd see him again?
It was a gorgeous late February morning with cloudless blue skies and calm winds, but bitterly cold with the temperature hovering in the low single digits. Two hours earlier, the car had protested at starting at the motel in Ohio, but had finally rumbled to life. It had made them wary about stopping for breakfast. What if they couldn't get it started again?
Chocolate on a stick, indeed, Mr. Buddy, she thought, as her stomach gave a protesting growl.
Mikhail must've heard it, even over the sound of Mr. Mister, on the CD player singing ‘Broken Wings.’ “Want Ding Dong?” he asked with a smile.
Kerry groaned. “If I ever see a Ding Dong again, it will be too soon. Let's stop for breakfast, Mikhail. The car has been running for two hours. Surely it’ll start again.” As if on cue, she saw a familiar sign up ahead. “Look! There's a Shoney's. They have a really good breakfast buffet.”
Ten minutes later, Kerry sat in a booth opposite Mikhail, a plate in front of her piled high with biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and French toast dripping with maple syrup.
She grinned. “Doesn't this look scrumptious? God! I thought I was going to pass out from hunger.”
Mikhail eyed her food ruefully. His plate was just as full, and beside it, there was another one holding two huge pancakes smothered with strawberries and whipped cream.
“You eat like a man,” Mikhail said as she took a generous bite of French toast. “How do you keep trim figure eating like that?”
Kerry narrowed her eyes at him. She swallowed and said, “That could be construed as a sexist remark, but I'll let it slide. Since you ask, though, I probably won't keep my figure. I haven't eaten like this in years. But now that I'm not skating anymore, I've got to get it out of my system. The freedom is awesome.”
His eyes swept over her, and Kerry felt her cheeks grow warm at his perusal. “Few extra…pounds, is it? Will not hurt. You still have beautiful body.”
Their eyes met, and an awkward silence fell. Mikhail was the first to look away. A waitress stopped by to refill their coffee mugs, and then moved on. The restaurant was packed with customers, and the hum of their conversation ate up the silence. Utensils clattered, the cash register jingled, and over it all, Pam Tillis wailed “Spilled Perfume” on the sound system.
Kerry fastened her eyes on the view outside the restaurant―nothing but a few snow-laden bushes and grimy, salt-coated cars in the parking lot. Things had been tense between her and Mikhail since they'd left the motel in Missouri. They'd driven until after ten that night before stopping at a nondescript motel in a small town southwest of Cleveland. Exhausted, they'd fallen into bed and slept straight through until early this morning. There had been no repeat of the dangerous behavior they'd…or rather, she'd…initiated in the motel in Missouri. God, what had gotten into her? She'd practically demanded that he make love to her. And if he hadn't put on the brakes…
Her cheeks warmed, and to cover it up, she hastily scooped up a forkful of hash browns and popped it into her mouth. She supposed she could blame the whole thing on the fact that she'd awakened just after having an especially steamy dream about being naked in a hot tub with Mikhail. But why lie to herself? She'd known exactly what she was doing when she’d begged him to kiss her. She'd contemplated doing it earlier when she'd seen him stretched out on the bed, covers tossed aside to reveal his lean, bare body clad in red boxer shorts. Only steel resolve had made her crawl into her own bed and force herself to go back to sleep. And she had, only to dream about him―hot, erotic dreams that made her toss and turn in feverish anxiety. Later, when he awakened her, she’d found him sitting on her bed, bare-chested, and still wearing those wicked boxer shorts. Who could blame her? Her id had taken over.
“Let's see if there's anything interesting in the paper.” She took a sip of coffee and opened the newspaper to the sports section. She'd grabbed it on the way inside, wondering if there was any word on Mikhail’s disappearance. “Uh oh.” She glanced up at him. “Looks like we've made the paper. Look at this.” She pointed to an item halfway down the front page. Russian Athlete May Have Defected With Help of American Skater. Alongside the two-paragraph article were two photos―one of Mikhail, and one of Kerry.
“What does it say?” Mikhail asked.
“Give me a minute.” She scanned the article. “Not much. Just that they think we're together, and I'm helping you defect. Well, at least they used good photos of us. But how did they get this information? I mean, seriously! How did they put it together? Just because I disappeared at the same time?”
“Think about it,” Mikhail said. “Who do you know that would jump to conclusion?”
Her gaze met his. “Adam, of course. I wouldn’t put it past him to tell the authorities you kidnapped me. God! You don’t think he’ll do that, do you?”
His eyes flared. “If you get hurt because of him…” He muttered something in Russian, and it didn't sound like a compliment.
“They would've figured it out sooner or later, Mikhail,” Kerry said. “And Adam is only acting from his concern for me. He probably has no idea―”
“He is fool!” Mikhail snapped. “If he truly believes you are involved in helping me defect, he must know that talking to newspaper about it could put you in danger.” His hand tightened on his fork. “Is too bad that accident did not put him in coma for few months.”
“Mikhail!” Kerry stared at him, shocked. “That's an awful thing to say!”
He looked away from her, his face reddening. “I am sorry. You are right. Of course, I do not mean that. But he is very stupid man.” He took a sip of his coffee, and looked out the window, his expression distant.
Kerry watched him a moment. There were so many facets to this man. The funny, boyish side. The sexy, magnetic side. And now, this ruthless, cold side he'd just displayed. Which one was the real Mikhail? Or was he all of them?
She pushed away her plate, realizing if she ate another bite, she'd surely explode. The waitress came by with a pot of coffee and refilled their mugs. After she moved off again, Kerry looked at Mikhail and said, “I have an idea.”
He looked at her, his brow arched. “Yes?”
“I was looking at the map earlier, and I think if the weather holds out…” She glanced out the window at the sunny skies. “And it looks like it will; we should be able to make Gettysburg by evening.”
Mikhail's eyes lit up. “Ah, Gettysburg! I have heard of such place. I saw film about American Civil War. Do you think we might have chance to go to battlefield?”
“Well, that's what I want to talk to you about.” Kerry ran a finger around the rim of her coffee mug, almost afraid to go on.
Would he see through this idea as a ploy to keep him with her for an extra day? And what if he did? It was true, wasn't it? Partially, anyway. She did want to see Dale. It had been years, and with every Christmas card she'd received from the woman who, if life had been fair, would've become her step-mother, Dale had begged Kerry to come to Mount Carmel for a visit.
“My father's former fiancĂ©e lives on a mountain overlooking the battlefield. She runs a bed & breakfast there. The Mount Carmel Inn.” Kerry finally dragged her gaze to Mikhail and found him watching her with interest. “I've always wanted to go visit her, but…” She shrugged. “With my schedule, you know…it just didn't happen. Anyway, we'll be going right by there…”
Mikhail smiled. “I would love to see Gettysburg.” He paused, then, “This woman. Were you close to her?”
Kerry's cheeks warmed, and she looked away from him. “We had our ups and downs. They were going to get married that summer, but then we had to get that last ski trip in, so the three of us went to Whistler. Dale really was a sweetheart, but I guess I was too young―and too jealous of her―to realize it. I suppose I thought once she married my dad, he wouldn't have any time for me. If I'd only known our time was running out anyway…” To her horror, tears blurred her eyes. She blinked quickly. This was too stupid! That had all happened so long ago.
Mikhail reached over and took her hand. His eyes held hers, and her heart jolted at the warmth she saw in them. “I would like to meet this Dale. Perhaps a visit for you is overdue.”
Kerry nodded, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. His hand squeezed hers, and she felt closer than ever to tears as a memory washed over her. Dale's concerned blue eyes gazing down at her as she writhed in pain, the cool palm of her hand against Kerry's sweat-dampened brow. It had been the morning of her father's death, and if not for the sudden arrival of her first period, Kerry would've been with him that afternoon when the avalanche thundered down the mountain, burying him under tons of snow.
“You ready to go?” Mikhail asked.
Kerry looked at him, and a flash of blue beyond his left shoulder caught her attention. Her sharp intake of air alerted him.
Alarm flickered in his eyes. “What is it?”
Kerry looked down at her plate, cradling the side of her mouth against her palm. “Police,” she said under her breath. “Two of them. They're coming this way.”
What if the cops recognized them from the newspaper? And if they'd made the newspaper, their disappearance had probably been covered on the morning news shows, as well. Oh, God. Cops all over the country were probably on the lookout for them.
A hostess was leading the policemen right toward them. Kerry's heart pounded. She grabbed her coffee mug and took a sip of the tepid remains, casually looking out the window. But she felt the gaze of one of the cops as they passed their booth and settled into the one right behind them.
Would it look weird if she and Mikhail got up and left now? Or would it look like they were trying to run?
She met Mikhail's gaze across the table. He was waiting for her cue. Behind her, she could hear the cops ordering coffee from the waitress who'd just appeared. Her heartbeat steadied. Their voices sounded normal.
“And I'll have Adam & Eve on a raft―wreck 'em,” one of the cops said in a grating Midwestern twang. “With a side of bacon cooked crisp. Burn it, if you have to, but don't bring me any limp bacon.”
Relief coursed through her. The cops were obviously more concerned with feeding their faces than looking for Russian defectors and their accomplices. She smiled at Mikhail. “I'm ready. Oh, let me leave a tip.” She drew a couple of dollar bills from her wallet and placed them on the table, then reached for her coat, purse and the newspaper.
She slid out of the booth and turned to follow Mikhail who was heading to the cash register in a casual stride.
“Hey, lady!” A voice boomed from behind her.
Her body stiffened, and she felt the blood drain from her face.
“Yeah, you. In the black leather.”
What to do? Run for it? Try to play it cool? Pretend she didn't hear him?
“You dropped your glove,” the voice said.
Kerry looked down, and saw her black leather glove lying on the floor. She glanced over at the cop who'd spoken. He was a young guy with a crew cut, a prominent Adams' apple and soft brown eyes. She gave him a sheepish smile. “Thanks,” she said, hoping her voice didn't betray her anxiety. “I'm always losing these.”
He grinned at her, his eyes scanning her in admiration. “Don't want to do that on a morning like this. It's a day fit only for penguins out there.”
“Yes, it sure is cold,” she said, trying to keep her voice casual as she snatched up her glove. “Thanks, again.”
“No problem, ma'am.” The cop beamed at her. “Have a good day.”
She smiled and turned away. Mikhail was already at the cash register, paying for their breakfast. She scowled at him as she reached his side.
“Making a run for it?” she asked under her breath.
He smiled at the waitress when she handed back his change, and didn't speak until they stepped outside into the numbing cold.
“He was only flirting with you. This was obvious to me.”
“Well, I'm glad it was to you. It scared the crap out of me!”
His eyes danced in amusement. “You have such way with words,” he said as they headed for the car.
* * * * *
“Where the bloody hell did you say you were?” Sean snarled into the phone. Fury rampaged through his body, and he wished with every sinew that Fagan―the bleedin' idiot―was standing in front of him right now so he could beat the stupid out of him. Sean had heard very well where the man had said he was, but he still couldn't believe it.
Like the moron that he was, Fagan dutifully repeated, “Abilene, Texas.”
Sean closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He counted slowly to ten before speaking in a deceptively soft voice, “And why are you in Abilene bloody Texas?”
“Because that's where that car salesman in Kansas said they were headed, Boss,” Fagan said, his tone millimeters away from a defensive whine. “So, I figured we should go ahead and try and track them down here.”
“Do I pay you for making decisions on your own, Fagan? Or do I pay you for reporting everything…I mean, everything…to me, and then wait for orders?”
Sean gritted his teeth. Was the bloody fool thinking over his answer?
“Fuck,” Sean muttered. “Fagan, you and Shlusvaka get your asses to Occoquan, Virginia. That's their destination. I don't know when they'll get there, but you're going to be waiting for them. Listen closely. Get Kozlof before he makes contact with Roger Ellery. Got that?”
“Yeh, Boss. Uh…what about the girl?”
“Yeah? What about her?”
“What do you want us to do with her? Kill her?”
Sean thought about it. She was a pretty thing. It would be a shame to kill her. Besides, he wasn't a monster. Just a businessman. Still, if Kozlof had told her anything about TNG, she could be a danger to all of them. But would he be that stupid?
“Bring her to me,” Sean said, making up his mind. “I'll find out if she knows anything. And this time, don't fuck up!”
He slammed down the phone and turned to the closed bedroom door. What was Elena doing in there?
Everything had been much better between them since she came out of her funk a couple of days ago. She'd stopped watching the Olympic skating on the bloody telly, so that was a good sign. Even their lack of success in finding Kozlof hadn't seemed to bother her all that much. And since she hadn't been spending any time at the rink, her health appeared to be better than it had been in months.
In fact, there had been no asthma attacks since the one after the original dance. Was that because she hadn't received a TNG injection since leaving Russia? It had been too risky to try to smuggle the drug into North America. And was it his imagination or had Elena's skin lost its pallor, becoming more luminous in the three weeks she'd been off the drug? He really would have to try and talk her into not resuming the shots once they returned to Moscow. Sure, TNG gave her the stamina and strength she needed for competition, but the side effects frightened him. He wasn't a doctor, but even he knew that yellowish tinge to her skin meant liver damage, and it was also clear to him that the drug worsened her asthma. But God! The woman was stubborn. And now that she'd decided to train for next year's Worlds…
Sean shook his head. He should never have agreed to her proposal. But she'd dangled the one carrot in front of him he couldn't resist.
Marriage. And children.
He strode to the door, gave an abrupt knock and walked in. He stopped short, his body stiffening. Elena stood at the foot of the bed, packing a suitcase.
“What are you doing?”
She gave him a cool look. “Are you blind? I'm packing. I'm going back to Russia.”
He scowled. “Since when?”
“Since about an hour ago. Since I decided I'm bored out of my mind. And I need to start training again. I need my shots.”
Christ, Sean thought. He recognized the jut-jawed look of obstinacy on her face, and knew better than to argue with her. So he decided to try a different tactic.
“What about Kozlof? I thought you wanted to wait until we found him.”
She gave a European shrug and folded a silk sweater into a small square. “I have no doubt you will bring him back to me. You promised. But I cannot wait here until it happens. You bring him to me in Russia.” She closed the suitcase, and then looked up to give him a sultry smile. “And I will give you a sample of how I will repay the favor.” She glanced at her slim gold wristwatch. “I have a half-hour before I leave for the airport.”
* * * * *
Welcome to Pennsylvania, the Keystone State.
Kerry saw the sign and felt her heart dip. Another state closer to their destination. She chewed her bottom lip and glanced over at Mikhail. His head was tilted at an angle that looked exceedingly uncomfortable as he dozed against the window. It was almost time to wake him up so he could take his turn at driving again. She'd been at the wheel for almost three hours, and it would probably be a good idea if she could get some sleep, especially since they wanted to make it to Gettysburg by nightfall. But her mind was racing, and she knew it would be impossible to sleep.
She'd felt on edge ever since that morning when they'd left the Shoney's in Ohio. And she knew it wasn't because of the cops. It was Mikhail, and what he'd said about Adam.
It is too bad that accident did not put him in coma for few months.
The CD playing, Matchbox Twenty’s “Mad Season,” came to an end, and Kerry ejected it. She reached for an old favorite, U2's “October,” and slipped it into the CD player. As Bono began to sing “Gloria,” she glanced over at Mikhail again. The afternoon sunlight streamed over him, turning his flaxen hair bright gold. In sleep, his face held a hint of boyish vulnerability that brought out the protective instinct in her. But when he'd made that comment about Adam, there had been nothing boyish or vulnerable about the expression on his face. His eyes had been icy; his lips thin, almost cruel. Or was that her imagination?
No. She didn't think so. She'd seen a new side to Mikhail in that moment, one she'd never suspected. It was almost as if he were glad Adam had been injured―and disappointed that his injuries weren't worse.
“Damn,” she whispered as a thought took shape in her mind. It was so preposterous she almost dismissed it immediately. But once it appeared, there was no shaking it.
Could Mikhail have been responsible for Adam's accident?
Her fingers grew cold on the steering wheel as the question reverberated in her head. After all, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. She'd initially refused to help Mikhail because he'd insisted on leaving before the free dance.
I won't do that to Adam, she'd told him.
And what had happened? A hit-and-run driver had taken Adam out of the equation. It hadn't been Mikhail, of course. He'd been with her in her hotel room when the accident occurred. But suppose he had connections…someone…who had worked with him to remove the problem of Adam?
She shuddered. This was crazy, yet…it fit. Because of Adam's accident, she had agreed to help Mikhail. Wasn't that just too convenient for him?
“Are you cold? I turn heater up?”
She jumped at the sound of his voice, and then turned to see him watching her with amused eyes. He held the golf globe in his hands. How long had he been awake?
“Sorry,” he said. “You were far away with thoughts?”
“Mmmm…yeah, I guess so. What did you say about the heater?”
“You shivered. I wonder if you are cold?”
“No. I mean, yeah, maybe.” No, she wasn't cold. She was sick. Her stomach was churning, and had been for the last few minutes. She recognized it for what it was. Fear. Had she made a horrible mistake? Giving up the life she'd known to help a man who, for all she knew, could be a dangerous spy? It wasn't unheard of, was it? Just because the Cold War was over didn’t mean that Russia wouldn’t use their citizens to conduct clandestine operations. And what better citizen to use than a champion ice skater who traveled freely in the West?
Mikhail had refused to tell her anything about his reasons for defecting. What if it was all a grand ploy to get inside CIA Headquarters? She'd seen plenty of James Bond movies, and sure, they were a little over-the-top, but weren't they somewhat based on reality?
She saw a gas station coming up on the right, and flicked on the turn signal.
“You ready to drive?” She managed to say through the sudden flow of saliva in her mouth. She knew what it meant. She had to find a bathroom―and fast.
“Sure,” Mikhail said.
Kerry pressed on the accelerator, fighting the nausea welling inside her. The car spurted into the parking lot of the Exxon station, tires squealing as she swung it into a parking space. Thank God it wasn't busy.
Cupping her hands over her mouth, Kerry jumped out of the car and ran, coatless, to the outside restroom.
Please don't be locked, she prayed, forcing back a gag.
It wasn't. She burst into the restroom and bent over the toilet, expelling the remains of the Wendy's double cheeseburger she'd so enjoyed a couple of hours before.
Wiping her face with a wet paper towel, she stepped out into the frigid sunlight and headed for the passenger side of the car. Mikhail was at the wheel, waiting. His eyes mirrored concern as he watched her slide into the passenger seat.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded, still dabbing at her forehead with the damp paper towel, avoiding his eyes. “I'll live. I guess that cheeseburger didn't agree with me.”
His lips twitched. “Perhaps you should have ordered single.”
“What are you, my mother?” She slanted him a disgruntled look. “Let's go, okay? I want to try to get to Gettysburg by tonight.”
He looked startled at the curt tone of her voice, and somehow, or so Kerry imagined, hurt. She almost apologized, but then remembered that he might well be a calculating espionage agent who may have put Adam into the hospital, so she remained silent. Let him think what he damn well wanted.
Mikhail didn't speak again until they were back on the highway. On the stereo, Bono was belting out “Stranger in a Strange Land.”
Apt, thought Kerry. That was Mikhail, all right. He was a stranger, and this was for damn sure, a strange land to him. That was something she needed to keep in mind. He was a virtual stranger. What did she know about him, really? Maybe it would be best if she backed away. Things had gotten way too friendly between them. And if he did have something to do with Adam's accident…
“This land,” he said suddenly, making a sweeping gesture toward the snow-covered rolling hills of western Pennsylvania. “…Very beautiful. What is like here in summer?”
She shrugged. “I don't know. I've never been here in summer. But I hear it gets awfully hot and muggy.”
He nodded. “I like hot and muggy. Maybe I will live here after I get asylum. Or perhaps Colorado. I like Colorado, too.”
“Well, if it's hot and muggy you like, you shouldn't choose Colorado. Now if―” She bit back the words she'd started to say. Damn! Why couldn't she keep her mouth shut? Two minutes ago, she'd decided to keep things impersonal between them. But here she was, giving him advice on where to live.
He glanced at her. “Yes? You were saying?”
She shook her head and looked out the window at a raging brook flowing over snow-covered rocks. “Nothing. Never mind.”
She felt his puzzled gaze, but refused to look at him.
“What is wrong, Kerry?” Mikhail asked after a moment. “You are acting strange.”
The stop at the gas station restroom had alleviated her nausea, but her thoughts were still roiling around in her brain like lava threatening to burst from the mouth of a volcano. It was a weakness in her, she knew, but Kerry had never been able to stop an eruption once it had reached the boiling point.
And the boiling point had been reached.
She turned in her seat and fastened a hard gaze upon Mikhail's bewildered face.
“I want the truth, and I want it right now, Mikhail Kozlof, or I swear, I'll dump your ass out onto the side of the road, and leave you to freeze there. I swear it!”
His jaw slackened in shock. “Truth about what?”
Her mouth tightened. “About Adam. Did you arrange his accident?” She stared at him, every muscle in her body vibrating with tension as she waited for his answer.
Slowly, the blood drained from his face as the impact of her words hit him. He looked back at the road, his expression inscrutable. A nerve twitched in his jaw. And still, he didn't answer.
A minute ticked by, keeping time with the savage beat of Larry Mullen's pounding drums in “Is That All?” She felt Mikhail's anger. No, it was fury. It emanated from his body, an electric energy almost as potent as the sexual energy that so captivated her. But this…fury…she sensed now, was so alien coming from him, so intimidating, she didn't dare speak. Not until he responded to her accusation.
He flicked on the turn signal and pulled off the road into the parking lot of an old abandoned grain elevator. His jaw set, he put the Volvo in park, and turned to her, his eyes icy. As if on cue, the U2 song came to an end, and there was a sudden silence in the car.
“Is that what you think?” he asked, his voice barely audible.
Kerry took a deep breath, and defiantly met his gaze. “It doesn't matter what I think. I want the truth.” The CD began to play at the beginning again with Bono enthusiastically belting out “Gloria.” Kerry reached over to turn down the volume. “Did you have anything to do with Adam's accident? You have to admit it was very convenient. It got you what you wanted―my help. And being able to escape before the free dance. I'd be a fool not to wonder.”
“Why did you not wonder before?” He asked tightly. “Why did you not ask me that day at hospital? We took walk outside. If you were suspicious, why did you not ask?”
“I wasn't suspicious then. It never occurred to me you might have…you know…had something to do with it. It wasn't until you…back at the restaurant…when you made that horrible remark about Adam being in a coma. That got me thinking.”
Mikhail swore in Russian. He looked away and shook his head. Then with an unexpected violence, he slammed the palms of his hands against the steering wheel. Kerry flinched.
His fingers curled around the steering wheel. Kerry wondered if he was imagining it was her neck he was gripping with such violence. He turned to her, his eyes blazing. “I am insult! You know, you are no different from Adam. You pretend you are open-minded, yet, you show true colors now. You think all Russians are evil communists. Maybe spy. You think this, no? Tell me. Is that what you think? I am spy?”
“No! I mean, I don't know! How am I supposed to know?” Kerry shot back, her anger matching his. “We've known each other, what? A couple of weeks? How do I know who you are, at all? You won't tell me why you want to defect! And you still haven't answered my question. Did you, or did you not, have something to do with Adam's accident?”
“No!” He turned and grabbed her upper arms, his hands tightening on them with an iron-like grip. His eyes impaled her. “I did not have anything to do with accident. Kerry!” He stopped, staring at her. His voice softened. “Kerry, you almost made love to me. Do you think you would want the kind of man who would do such a monstrous thing? We may not have known each other long, but I believe you know me better than you think you do.”
For a long moment, Kerry stared into his earnest blue eyes. She did believe him, she realized. Or else, she wanted to believe him so desperately that she was convincing herself his story was true. Why? Because she was so over the moon for him that she refused to believe he could be anything but what he said he was? Could he have mesmerized her that much?
Jiminy Freakin' Cricket! What was she thinking? In love? No, impossible! She'd vowed never to fall in love again. Not after Joshua. Falling in love just led to too much trouble. So, why was she thinking “over the moon” in relation to Mikhail?
His gaze swept over her face, lingering on her lips. The anger had completely disappeared, replaced by molten desire. He was like her, in that way. He could no more hide what he was feeling than Britney Spears could sing and dance without grabbing at her crotch.
“Do you still want me, Kerry?” Mikhail asked huskily. “Because I sure as hell want you.”
His hands imprisoned her head, and his mouth claimed hers in a hot, hungry kiss. Kerry sighed against his questing tongue, and gave herself up to it. His fingers threaded through her hair, gathering and releasing as they kissed, breaking for a moment of air, and merging again for more intoxicating sweetness. Over the rapid beat of her heart, she heard the sound of passing traffic on the highway, and on the stereo, Bono, singing about throwing a brick through a window. And Mikhail's staggered breathing. She could feel the thudding of his heart beneath her palm. His scent surrounded her, a combination of rosemary, sage and oak moss from his cologne, and the muskiness of his own unique maleness.
Mikhail's hands slid down her neck, and onto her shoulders as his tongue played with hers, teasingly erotic. He touched her breasts through her cotton sweater, and a furl of heat exploded from her womb. A soft moan escaped her mouth as he released it momentarily to nuzzle at a point on her neck just below her ear. Her hands crept up to tangle in his hair, and she angled his head so that his mouth was once again seeking hers. His fingers latched onto her nipple, stroking, teasing. With a soft moan, she arched her body against his, her knee ramming against the gearshift as she tried to position herself where she needed to be.
“Chert!” Mikhail cursed, breaking the kiss, and shoving his body back in his own seat. He ran trembling hands through his rumpled hair. “I will not fuck you in car like barnyard animal.”
Gasping for breath, Kerry stared at him in astonishment. “You…you…what?”
He slanted her a chagrined look. “You heard me. This…” He gestured to himself and then her. “This thing between us…is more than down-and-dirty sex. I will not fuck you in car like barnyard animal.”
Kerry burst out laughing. Something about the way he said it, the frustrated, yet, embarrassed look on his face, the entire ludicrous situation, struck her as absolutely hilarious. She laughed so hard that tears misted her eyes.
He looked at her, startled. “What is so funny?”
She tried to speak, but couldn't. Every time she tried to get something out, the giggles took over again. He leaned back, folded his arms across his chest and watched her, trying to keep an affronted look on his face. It didn't work. Reluctantly, his lips twitched, and his blue eyes grew amused.
When it seemed like she'd finally regained control, he spoke, “I am happy to be your comic entertainment.”
And that set her off again. He shook his head, a bemused grin spreading over his face. “You are crazy woman, Kerry Niles,” he said.
“I know.” Still snickering, Kerry wiped the tears from her eyes. “It's a bitch, but I've learned to live with it.”
“Are you ready to tell me why you find me so amusing?”
“It's not you, exactly,” she said, grinning. “It's just the way you said that.” She arranged her face in a somber expression and lowered her voice to imitate a macho Russian accent, “’I will not fuck you in car like barnyard animal.’” Another peal of laughter rang out. “First of all, I don't get the analogy. It's not the habit of barnyard animals to fuck in cars. Not to my knowledge, anyway. And also…you just looked so damn cute when you said it.”
His brow arched quizzically. “Like I said, I'm happy to be entertainment.”
“You idiot!” Kerry reached out and imprisoned his head between her hands. She kissed him, a hard, bruising kiss on the mouth, and released him just as he was getting into it. “But you're right. This is not the place to…uh…continue down this path. We should get going.”
Mikhail nodded, and put the gearshift into drive. He glanced over his left shoulder, and pulled out onto the highway. On the stereo, Bono was singing “Fire.” Kerry was sure she'd never be able to listen to this CD again without cracking up…or getting exceedingly horny.
For a few moments, Mikhail drove without speaking. Kerry gazed out the window, twirling a lock of hair around her index finger, and trying to quell the waves of pulsating sensations going on down south. Damn the man! He was getting really good at bringing her to fever pitch then putting on the brakes.
“Fire” ended, and in the momentary silence between tracks, Mikhail cleared his throat. “Kerry, your friend who runs this bed and breakfast…” He stared straight ahead, seemingly concentrating on the road.
“Do you think she would have problem with us sharing room?”
Kerry's jaw dropped. She turned to look at him as her heartbeat picked up. He continued to stare at the road as if it were the most interesting thing he'd seen in years. Kerry coughed, and then said, “I don't think she would have a problem with that.”
He nodded, and then looked at her. The impact of his smoldering blue eyes took her breath away. “This is good,” he said.
Kerry swallowed hard and turned to look out the window. A slow grin crossed her face, and she began to sing along with Bono, “Won't you come back tomorrow?”

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