The weathered stone house nestling in the snow-covered trees at the summit of Mount Carmel looked like a postcard of the ultimate winter getaway. It looked like…
Kerry drew in a sharp breath, braking gently on the snow-packed winding road, as the thought went through her mind. It looked like a honeymooner's paradise. The perfect place for a getaway, a place to while away long, lazy afternoons making slow, sweet love.
Her hand trembled on the steering wheel as she pulled up next to a navy BMW with Maryland tags. There were several other expensive cars in the parking lot, some from as far away as New York. Apparently, Dale was doing well for herself. Kerry glanced at Mikhail, her cheeks still burning from her amorous thoughts.
“Well, this is it. Mount Carmel Inn. What do you think?”
Soft floodlights illuminated the stone house and its protective boundary of snow-powdered trees. The stone walkway leading from the small parking lot to the steps had been cleared and salted. Carriage lights framing the burnished oak door with etched glass sidelights beamed a cheerful wintry welcome as did the flickering candles set in crystal blocks lining the steps to the porch. Frozen luminaries, Kerry recognized. She and Grandma Vive had made similar ice candles in Utah that had lasted all winter long. Dale had certainly used her Finnish heritage to turn this place into a winter wonderland.
“Is very beautiful,” Mikhail said quietly, staring at the inn. “Looks like perfect place to…” He turned his head, his eyes finding hers. “…love you.”
Kerry gasped, her gaze darting away in confusion. Flustered by his directness, she turned off the ignition and reached for her purse on the back seat. She tried to sound casual, but the catch in her voice gave her away. “I haven't seen Dale in years, and I know she'll have a million things to talk about.”
He nodded and reached for the door handle. “I am patient man.”
She got out of the car and pulled on her coat for protection against the biting wind. A few flurries drifted through the night air. The radio station they'd picked up in Harrisburg had called for clear weather through the next few days, but maybe up here in the higher altitude, they would get a little snow.
Good, Kerry thought. Getting snowed in up here with Mikhail wouldn't be a devastating problem. Funny, how a few hours ago, she'd half-convinced herself she was traveling with a desperate Russian spy. What had she been smoking?
The front door of the house opened as they made their way up the walk, and a slim woman with a grayish-blond bob called out an excited welcome. Earlier, Kerry had called Dale from a pay phone in Harrisburg, asking if they could stop by. Her father's former fiancée had been thrilled, exclaiming that by incredible good fortune, she'd had a cancellation just that morning, and a suite was available. Apparently, with nearby Ski Liberty doing a brisk business in an especially snowy winter, the Mount Carmel Inn had been packed to capacity all season long.
An omen, Kerry had thought, as she hung up the phone. She was through fighting her attraction to Mikhail. Obviously, whatever was going to happen between them was meant to be. And now, even the fates were giving their approval.
“Kerry! It's so good to see you!” Beaming, Dale Tuomas stepped gingerly out onto the front porch. “Careful, now, both of you. It's icy.”
Fresh-cut pine boughs carpeted the entrance to the house, a sight familiar to Kerry from her early years in Utah with her father and grandparents―a Finnish tradition that simultaneously welcomed visitors into a home while keeping slush from snowy boots out. Would Dale also have cozy felt boots waiting inside the foyer for guests to change into upon entering? Grandma Vive kept a supply of them handy throughout the winter.
Kerry walked up the steps, past the flickering luminaries, feeling butterflies jumping in her stomach. It was silly, but she couldn't stop thinking about how the pre-teen Kerry had treated this lovely woman. Oh, she hadn't been obnoxious―not the way she'd been with Jana when she'd first moved to San Diego. But she'd never exactly welcomed Dale into their lives. She'd been too threatened by her, and by her father's obvious love for the woman.
“Hi, Dale.” Kerry smiled at her, but made no move to touch her. “Thanks for letting us come by.”
Dale's gentle blue eyes swept over her. “You're all grown up! Come here.” The woman reached out and enveloped Kerry in a warm embrace. “Oh, I'm so glad you're here.”
At first, Kerry was startled, but breathing in her familiar scent of lavender and thyme, she relaxed into Dale's hug as a memory washed over her. Another time when she had been the one embracing Dale. The day of her father's funeral. Kerry had found her sobbing quietly in Grandma Vive's kitchen, and without hesitation, she'd gone to her and wrapped her arms around the woman's willowy waist.
“It's okay,” she'd murmured. “We'll get through this together.”
And that had been her first real overture to the woman who'd wanted to come into her life and be a mother to her. Too late, Kerry thought now as she hugged the older woman tightly, swallowing a marble-sized lump that had formed in her throat. She'd accepted her too late.
Dale finally released her, laughing softly. She turned to Mikhail who stood just behind Kerry, and extended a slim hand adorned with a glittering sapphire ring. “Hello. I'm Dale Tuomas. Welcome to Mount Carmel Inn.”
Kerry cleared her throat. “Dale, this is…my friend, Mikhail. I told you about him on the phone.”
Dale's eyes scanned Mikhail, and Kerry immediately realized they would pull nothing over on her. Not that she'd intended to do that. She'd planned to tell Dale everything, but she could see by the appraising look on the woman's face that it wouldn't be necessary.
Mikhail shook Dale's hand, murmuring a greeting.
“Well, come on.” Dale smiled. “Let's get in out of the cold. Have you two eaten? I just started a pot of homemade potato soup, and I made fresh bread today.”
“Sounds heavenly,” Kerry said, following Dale into a spacious pine-floored foyer.
The interior of the inn looked exactly how Kerry would've expected. It spoke of Dale's Finnish heritage with clean, fresh lines, potted plants and personal touches of elegance and comfort throughout. Colors of cobalt blue and pristine white predominated, accented with natural fabrics and soft sheepskin rugs.
“Oh, but first, let's get you situated in your suite.” Dale took a key from a pine writing desk on one side of the foyer. “You'll probably want to shower before dinner. But…” Her high cheekbones grew rosy as a thought occurred to her. She looked from Kerry to Mikhail. “I told you on the phone there's only one available suite. Ordinarily, I would have a spare bedroom to put you up in, but they've got this special thing going on at Ski Liberty…”
Kerry met her gaze. “No problem, Dale. We'll make do.”
Her smile returned. “Okay, then. Your suite is this way.”
Dale led them down an enclosed glass breezeway that led from the back of the house to a separate building. “I had this built on when business picked up a few years ago,” she said, her voice humming with pride. “I had people on a six month waiting list to get into the inn. Can you believe that?” She glanced over her shoulder and smiled at them. “Word of mouth really got around. I've had a lot of politicians from Washington and…” She winked. “A few celebrities. And now, I have you two. Anyway, I decided to build on this special suite. It's the most luxurious of all of them. Here we are―the Summit Suite.”
She unlocked the door, and stepped aside so Kerry and Mikhail could enter. Kerry stepped into the living room, and caught her breath. A huge stone fireplace immediately drew her gaze, taking up the expanse of one wall, a cheerfully blazing fire in its grate. A cluster of cobalt velour chairs and an L-shaped white sofa were positioned around it for maximum enjoyment. In front of the sofa, a glass coffee table held a beautifully bound book about Gettysburg and a two-pound box of Godiva chocolates. Kerry immediately decided that Mikhail could enjoy the book, and she'd take care of the chocolate. But then remembering his fondness for Ding Dongs, she resigned herself to sharing.
On the other side of the room, a breakfast bar separated the living room from a full-sized kitchen. A basket of fruit and nuts rested on its sea-green marbled counter top.
“I don't expect you'll be cooking,” Dale said, moving into the kitchen and opening cabinets. “But just in case, you'll find the cabinets well stocked with staples. Coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn. Of course, I'll be bringing breakfast to you at whatever time you choose tomorrow morning. Just fill out this little card with what you want, and leave it on the door handle. Now, let me show you the bedrooms.” She headed down a hallway, gesturing for them to follow. “There are three bedrooms in this suite. We often get a lot of families who come for a week of skiing.”
Kerry glanced back at Mikhail, and saw the amused look on his face. She blushed, reading his mind.
We will only be using one bedroom.
“Oh, this is the bathroom.” Dale paused at a door on the left. “We have a Jacuzzi, candles, bath oils, and music is piped in from the stereo in the living room. And we have a separate shower, of course.” She smiled. “I imagine you'll be fighting over that in a few minutes. Car trips are so tiring, aren't they?” She turned and headed back down the hall.
Kerry felt Mikhail's hand on her shoulder, and a second later, the warm air of his breath as his mouth dipped toward her ear. “No need to fight,” he whispered. “We can always shower together.”
A delicious shiver snaked up her back. “Behave yourself,” she said under her breath, flashing him an admonishing frown. He gave her a slow, suggestive smile. The smoldering look in his eyes turned her knees to mush. “I mean it, Mikhail!”
“The master bedroom,” Dale said, standing at the threshold of the room straight ahead.
Kerry stepped inside, her eyes widening. “Oh, Dale! It's gorgeous!”
A Scandinavian pine king-sized bed dominated the room, its iron-framed canopy draped with white lace. Beside the bed on a matching nightstand awaited a chilling bottle of wine in a silver ice bucket. A floor-to-ceiling pine armoire held court adjacent to the bed, and on the other side of the spacious room, two soft chairs cuddled around another stone fireplace, a smaller replica of the one in the family room. A fire was burning in this grate, as well.
Dale saw Kerry looking at the fire, and smiled. “I know. I love the smell of wood fire, too, but it's just too inconvenient for guests. I had the fireplaces changed over to gas after the first year of business. It was an easy decision to make after one of the guests practically burned down the whole place.” She clapped her hands together and grinned. “Well, that's the two-dollar tour. Tell you what, you two get settled in. Shower, take a nap…whatever. And I'll go finish dinner. Eight o'clock, okay? I don't usually serve dinner to my guests, but then, I don't consider you guests, but family. Will that be enough time for you?”
“Sure, that'll be fine.” Kerry didn't have to look at her watch to know it was pretty close to six-thirty. “Thanks, Dale. It's a beautiful place.”
“Yes,” Mikhail said, giving Dale a warm smile. “Is lovely…just like our hostess.”
Dale beamed, and her color heightened. She glanced from Mikhail to Kerry. “I'm beginning to understand how he talked you into helping him.”
A startled look crossed Mikhail's face, and Kerry almost burst out laughing. Apparently, he'd had no idea that Dale had figured out who he was. She looked back at the older woman, her lips twitching. “Yeah, if I didn't know better, I'd swear he was Irish, considering how good he is at talking blarney.”
Dale shook her head wryly. “Reminds me of someone I used to know.” She turned to go, and it wasn't until she’d stepped out of the room that Kerry realized she'd been referring to her father. It had never occurred to her before, but Dad had possessed a charisma very much like Mikhail's. Was that why she felt so close to him?
“See you at eight,” Dale called out as she opened the entry door. It closed behind her.
Kerry stood in the hallway, staring after her, and then she sensed Mikhail's approach. A moment later, his arms curled around her waist. He drew her against his hard, muscled body, and she caught her breath at the swell of his erection against the small of her back. His mouth trailed along the length of her neck. “I vote for…whatever,” he murmured.
Heat pooled deep in her belly at the touch of his tongue against her skin. She closed her eyes and leaned into him. His hands molded against her abdomen, stroking.
“Mmmm…what do you mean…whatever?”
His mouth drew away from her neck momentarily. “Dale’s suggestions.” He paused to nip at her throat. “Shower.” Another soft stroke of his tongue. “Nap.” He lapped again. “Whatever.” The tip of his tongue curled into the shell-like opening of her ear. “I like whatever.”
Liquid fire shot through her bloodstream, and Kerry shivered. With an effort, she drew away from him, and turned around to cup his face in her hands. “Stop this right now!”
His blue eyes gazed back at her, guileless. “Stop?”
“Yes, stop. We have…uh…” She lifted her hand to peer at her watch. “Exactly…an hour and thirty-five minutes before dinner. We need to bring in our stuff, shower…” She sniffed, and made a disgusted face. “God! I can't believe you want to make love to me when I smell like this. Has it been that long, Mikhail?”
“You smell like fresh daisies,” he protested, reaching for her again.
She backed away. “No! Later, Mikhail. Trust me, you'll be glad we waited.”
He looked doubtful, but then sighed. “If you say so. I will get luggage.”
“Good.” She smiled at him. “I'll go ahead and jump in the shower. Can you bring my suitcase into the bathroom? And no peeking, okay?”
He gave her an affronted look. “Do I look like kind of man who would resort to peeking?”
She laughed, and gave his blond head a ruffle with her fingertips. “Yeah, as a matter-of-fact, you do.”
Mikhail's heart dipped as she gave him a saucy smile and disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. For a long moment, he stared at the closed door, his heart bumping. The realization had come out of nowhere, simultaneous with Kerry's come-hither smile, and it had jagged through him like a lightning bolt.
He was in love with her.
* * * * *
Kerry stepped into Dale's kitchen, wearing her oldest pair of faded jeans and a thick off-white turtleneck sweater. Her hair was still damp from the shower, and because she hadn't wanted to take the time to blow-dry it, she'd French-braided it and secured it with an elastic band. She was anxious to talk to Dale one-on-one. There were so many things she wanted to say.
The kitchen smelled heavenly with the aroma of baking bread, brewing coffee and whatever was cooking on the stove. Potato soup, wasn’t it? The slim blond woman stood at the stove, stirring chopped carrots into a cast-iron Dutch oven. She looked good, Kerry thought. Life must've treated her well in the seventeen years since she'd last seen her. She must be, what? Close to fifty now, Kerry guessed, yet her trim, athletic body could pass for a woman of thirty. Oh, how Dad must've loved her. Now that Kerry could look at it without the jealous mind of a twelve-year-old, she realized what a great match Dale had been for her father. Like him, she came from tough Finnish stock, and loved the outdoors, especially when it came to winter and all the snow activities that came with it. She skied, almost as well as Dad had, and like him, loved snow-shoeing and ice fishing. They'd gotten along so well.
A wave of sadness washed over Kerry. Why had she never seen that? Poor Dad. He'd had such a bad marriage with Jana. He'd so deserved a woman like Dale. Why had things turned out the way they had?
Dale looked up and smiled. “Oh, hi. You look nice and fresh.” Her brow furrowed. “What's wrong, Kerry? Why such a sad look on your face?”
Kerry shook her head and spoke candidly. “I was just wishing I'd been nicer to you all those years ago.”
Dale wiped her hands on a towel hanging on the stove, and then shook her head. “Oh, honey. You were just a kid afraid of changes. I knew that.” She closed the distance between them, and took Kerry into her arms. “I had no doubt I'd get you to love me. All I needed was time.”
Tears clogged Kerry's throat as she clung to Dale, remembering that horrible evening the two of them had waited in the Whistler Lodge for news of her father. And then, it had come, and their lives had been shattered. “And time was the one thing we didn't have,” Kerry said, her voice breaking.
Dale stroked her braid a moment, and then released her. Tears shimmered in her blue eyes. “No. But I've never regretted a moment I spent with Kell. He was the love of my life.”
Dale turned back to the counter. “I just made a pot of coffee. You want a cup?”
“That would be awesome.” She took a deep breath, trying to gain control of her tremulous emotions, and slid onto a stool at the breakfast bar. She watched as Dale took two Dutch blue ceramic mugs from the cabinet. “So, Dale, you never got married in all these years?”
Dale glanced over at her and smiled, the laugh lines around her eyes deepening. “I almost did a few years ago.” She poured steaming coffee into the mugs. Its rich, Colombian aroma drifted through the air, causing Kerry's stomach to rumble with anticipation. She was starving! How long had it been since she'd had that Wendy's cheeseburger?
“What happened?” Kerry asked as Dale placed a mug in front of her and pointed out a matching ceramic sugar bowl on a Lazy Susan.
Dale shrugged and took a cream pitcher out of the refrigerator. “Oh, I was dating this guy for a while, and he wanted to get married, but…you want cream?” At Kerry's nod, she placed the creamer on the counter, and went on, “When it came right down to it, I couldn't do it. I had my life, this place, the solitude. And I decided…” She shrugged. “I was happy with the way things were. Why change it?” She gave a sad smile and positioned herself on the stool next to Kerry. “Well, he didn't see things the same way, and eventually, he moved on. I couldn't blame him.” She took a sip of coffee, then met Kerry's gaze. “It's just hard, you know. I kept comparing him to Kell, and he came up wanting.” Her lips twisted in a wry smile. “I guess a psychiatrist would have a field day with that, huh?”
“Oh, I'm thinking they've probably heard it all before,” Kerry said lightly.
Dale set down her coffee mug and turned to her. “So, whatever made you go on the run with your good-looking Russian? It's been all over the news. What are your plans?”
Kerry laughed. “One question at a time. I don't really know why I did it. Let's just say he's very convincing.”
Dale's eyes danced. “I'll bet he is.”
Kerry felt her cheeks warm at the innuendo in Dale's voice. Was it so obvious she was attracted to him? Well, duh! Could it be because she was panting after him like a love-starved puppy?
“As for our plans, we're heading to my step-brother's house in Occoquan, Virginia, and then, I guess he'll take Mikhail into CIA Headquarters for…what is it…debriefing? It's been quite an adventure, I'll say that. We almost got caught in Colorado by a Russian goon and his Irish partner, but managed to get away.”
Dale's gaze sharpened, a glimmer of worry appearing in her eyes. “Just that one close call? People like that don't usually give up.”
Kerry's brow puckered as she stared down into her coffee mug. “I know. I've been thinking about that, too. We haven't seen a sign of anyone tracking us since then. We've been really watchful, too. That is weird, isn't it?”
A buzzer went off on the stove, and Dale slid off the stool. She turned it off, and then opened the refrigerator door to pull out a half-gallon of milk. Frowning, she poured some into the cast-iron pot on the stove, stirring. She covered the pot again and placed the wooden spoon on a plate near the burner.
“My guess is…they're waiting for you in Occoquan,” she said slowly, looking up and meeting her gaze.
Kerry's heart lurched.
“They've probably figured out where you're headed and they plan to get to you before you can get to your step-brother.”
Kerry felt the blood drain from her face. Of course! Dale was right. That was exactly what they were going to do.
“I can't let them get to Mikhail, Dale,” she said quietly. “What are we going to do?”
Dale smiled, and turned back to the refrigerator. She brought out a head of lettuce and fixings for salad. “That's easy enough. We'll simply have your stepbrother come to you. I'm sure he's been alerted to the situation, and is expecting you. We'll simply call him, and have him drive up here and get you.” She rinsed the lettuce under running water and placed it into a spinner. Then she looked up and gave Kerry a radiant smile, her eyes misted with tears. “I'm so glad you found the love of your life, Kerry.”
* * * * *
“After you, angel moy.” Mikhail stepped back from the door of their suite and smiled.
Kerry's heart, which was already beating about a thousand times faster than usual, wrenched up a notch. Great, she thought. She'd have a heart attack at the tender age of twenty-eight, and her plans for a sensuous evening featuring sweet, slow love-making with Mikhail would be ruined.
It had been tough getting through dinner, carrying on polite conversation with Dale while feeling Mikhail's burning gaze upon her, and knowing what they planned to do once they were back in their suite. Hard to concentrate, to say the least. And of course, Dale knew exactly what was going on, except that Kerry had a feeling she thought they'd been sleeping together for some time. If their speed at getting through dinner, and then dessert and coffee, was a puzzlement to her, she didn't let it show.
By the time they excused themselves, it was nine-thirty. Much to Mikhail's frustration, which he tried, and mostly succeeded at hiding, Kerry had insisted on helping Dale with the dishes. Finally, after saying goodnight, she'd followed Mikhail back to their room―at a pace faster than she'd ever seen him move.
She stepped past him into the living room of the suite, and the door closed behind her. Pressing a hand over her pounding heart, she took a deep breath and released it slowly. This was so silly! She felt like a timid virgin in a Victorian novel, about to be ravished by a rakish highwayman. One that was gorgeous, and ultimately heroic, of course. But really! She'd been around the block a few times. Her affair with Joshua had stripped her of all innocence years ago. So, why did she feel something uncomfortably close to…?
She swallowed hard, and clutched a hand to her suddenly unsettled tummy.
No, not fear. Nerves. But sometimes, the two emotions were very close cousins, and damned if they didn't have the same result on her equilibrium.
The skin on her arms tingled as she felt Mikhail's approach behind her. She turned abruptly, and drew in a sharp breath at the smoldering look on his face. His eyes roved over her, bluer than ever, heated to a slow simmer.
He placed his hands on her shoulders and gazed down at her. “Day has been long, yes?”
Kerry tried, but couldn't speak. Her heart was still pounding like a kettledrum, and her stomach felt like it was going to make her the star attraction in a Humiliate Kerry Show. Mikhail's eyes focused on her lips, and as his head lowered for the kiss, she brought her fingers up to cover his mouth.
He paused, eyes questioning.
“Onions,” Kerry said. “Dale had onions in her potato soup.” She breathed air onto her palm, sniffed, and then faked a cringe. “Yep. Onions. I've got to go brush my teeth first…and when I'm done, you might want to do it, too.” She whirled around and hurried down the hall to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
Leaning against it, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Idiot, she thought. He probably thinks you're some kind of freak. And maybe you are. Cradling her tumultuous stomach, she took another deep, cleansing breath. Non-freaky people didn't get queasy at the thought of making love. But why now? This had never happened before. She liked sex. Always had. But this time, oh, God! This time, it was with Mikhail.
Another deep breath, and the butterflies in her tummy began to dissipate. Good. Maybe it was all in her head. She went to the sink and began to brush her teeth. A memory flitted through her mind. That other time they'd almost made love. She'd been brushing her teeth while he went for condoms. Why was it she hadn't had butterflies that night?
Because you weren't in love with him then.
She gasped and stared into the mirror. Her startled eyes stared back. Oh, God! It was true, wasn't it? She'd fallen head over heels for the man. No point in denying it any longer. She spit into the sink, grabbed a glass and rinsed out her mouth, still musing over this revelation.
She'd gone and done it now, hadn't she? Exactly what she'd told herself she couldn't, under any circumstances, do.
What a moron.
Shaking her head, she rinsed off the toothbrush and grabbed a tube of lipstick from her cosmetic bag. Color! That's what she needed. She looked as if she'd spent an afternoon at the blood bank. She smeared the lipstick on, and examined herself in the mirror. Better, but her face still looked only slightly healthier than an anemic albino. Maybe some blush would help.
Fifteen minutes later, she stepped out of the bathroom, her face completely made up―foundation, eye shadow, blush―the works.
“Mikhail?” She glanced around the living room, but it was empty.
“In here,” he called out from the bedroom.
Her brow furrowed. His voice sounded odd. There was an undercurrent of…something…in it. Anxiety? Maybe even fear?
Kerry headed down the hallway. She hoped Mikhail wasn't having an attack of nerves, too, or they'd never get this show on the road.
She stepped into the bedroom and stopped short, eyes widening.
“Please…” Mikhail spoke slowly and carefully. “Get…it…off…me?”
Kerry began to laugh. She couldn't help herself. It was the funniest thing she'd ever seen in her life. Mikhail lay in the bed, bare-chested, his body rigid with fear at the tiger-striped cat lying on his stomach. It, on the other hand, looked perfectly at ease, nonchalantly licking its paws.
Mikhail's eyes darted from the cat to Kerry, still standing in the doorway, giggling helplessly at the sight of a grown man terrorized by an adolescent kitten. “I'm sorry,” she mumbled. “It's just so…so…”
“Go away, cat,” Mikhail said, glaring. “Kerry, please! Take cat away.”
“Okay, okay.” Kerry went to the bed and grabbed the cat, which protested with an annoyed meow. “Ah, it's so cute!” She cradled the animal in her arms, stroking its soft belly. It peered up at her with golden eyes and stretched its mouth in a feline yawn. “How can you be scared of such a sweet little thing?” Kerry asked, scratching the cat's neck. A contented purr rumbled from its throat.
“Long story,” Mikhail said grumpily. “Please, take cat out.”
“Okay. I'll be right back.”
She deposited the cat outside the entry door, and it trotted off toward the main part of the house. She wondered when it had gotten into their suite. Probably when Mikhail had brought in their luggage. Dale had mentioned at dinner that she had a couple of cats, and now that she thought about it, at that very moment, Mikhail had looked as if he'd bit into something hideous. That could be a problem to their budding relationship, Kerry thought, considering that she was most definitely a cat person. She'd grown up with cats at Grandma Vive's, and had planned to get one for herself once she'd established a stable home. Typical. And now, she'd gone and fallen in love with a cat hater.
Oh, well. Too late now. Kerry headed down the hall toward the bedroom. Funny, she didn't feel nervous anymore. Nothing like laughter to drive away the pre-sex butterflies.
As she passed the bathroom, she saw the door was closed, and behind it, she heard the sound of running water. The shower, not the sink. She smiled. Poor Mikhail was trying to shower away cat residue. Somehow, she found that endearing.
In the bedroom, she stripped off her sweater, and then slid her jeans down her hips. She turned to the mirror and gave her body a critical scan. In anticipation of the night, she'd chosen to wear her lacy rose-colored bra and matching panties―attire appropriate for seduction. Reaching up, she released her hair from the French braid, and it tumbled to her shoulders in shining black ripples. She liked the way it gave her a hippie sort of look. But…she frowned…the make-up was all wrong. What had possessed her? She looked like she was auditioning to appear in Christina Aguilera’s “Moulin Rouge” video. With a groan of disgust, she reached for a tissue and began to rub off as much make-up as she could without water or make-up removal, which, of course, was in her toiletry bag in the bathroom with Mikhail. Oh, God! Maybe she should go back to the bathroom and wash her face after Mikhail got out. At this rate, Roger would be here before she and Mikhail made love. Except…
She grinned. She hadn't exactly called him yet. Tomorrow, she'd decided. Tonight would be for her and Mikhail, with no thoughts of anything else.
There. Her face looked almost normal now, except for the unnatural red of her lips. Potent dye, that stuff. Probably saturated with cancer-causing agents. She'd have to change brands. Surely one of those environmentally safe cosmetic companies made a shade similar to Wicked Devil Red. Then, again, maybe she should reconsider the shade, she thought, as she scrubbed at her lips with a tissue. This one definitely screamed out tart.
Kerry whipped around at the sound of the Russian phrase. And her breath left her body.
Mikhail stood in the doorway, totally nude. She stared, her heart tripping into overdrive. Totally unself-conscious, he watched her as she absorbed the beauty of his body―the toned, hair-roughened chest, the muscular biceps, the narrow waist and hips. Legs, strong and corded from years of skating and ballet, carpeted with golden hair. Her cheeks burned hot as her gaze swept over his groin. Natural blond, she saw. And most definitely aroused.
Apparently, that old wives' tale about big feet, big cock, was true.
Her temperature shot up another degree. She quickly averted her eyes, and turned to the mirror to fiddle with her hair.
Like a graceful panther, Mikhail crossed the room and stood behind her, not touching, but so close she could feel his body heat. He gazed over her shoulder into the mirror, his eyes meeting hers.
“You are most beautiful woman I've ever seen,” he said softly.
Still holding her gaze in the mirror, he reached out, and his fingertip skimmed over the freckles that dotted her nose and cheekbones. He smiled, and her heart dipped.
“I love your freckles,” he said, his Russian accent thicker than ever.
“I hated them as a kid,” she spoke breathlessly as his finger traveled down her face to her neck. “But I had a change of heart about them when I got older. I decided they were mine for better or worse, so I might as well accept them.”
He bent his head and planted a gentle kiss against her neck. A tremor ran through her. Her legs suddenly felt so weak, she was sure they were about to give out on her. His lips were the only part of his body making contact with hers, but his heat rolled over her, turning her blood to lava. He looked up, again meeting her eyes in the mirror. Then positioning his hands on her shoulders, he drew her bra straps down, and then followed the movement with his lips, kissing one shoulder along its length, then the other. Kerry's legs began to tremble more violently. Reaching both hands around, he unfastened the front closure of her bra, then parted the lacy material. For a moment, his eyes watched her face, and then moved down to her taut brown nipples. He gently drew the bra off her shoulders and let it drop.
Kerry drew in a ragged breath, watching him. His breathing was irregular, too, his eyes bright with desire. For a moment, he didn't move. Then finally, his big hands came around her and cupped her breasts. Her sharp intake of air broke the silence. She watched his hands, mesmerized by his long, artistic fingers. Silver glinted in the firelight―his pinkie ring she'd noticed that morning when he'd asked her to skate with him. He always wore it. Did it have some special significance for him? There was so much she needed to learn about this man who so captivated her.
His eyes met hers in the mirror. “I love your breasts, as well,” he murmured, his hands stroking her. “Ever since that night in hotel, I have been dreaming about your lovely breasts.”
He nestled against her, still caressing her, and now, she felt his rigid heat against the small of her back. She closed her eyes and arched her body against his. A ragged groan splintered from his throat.
Abruptly, he turned her in his arms, and grabbing a handful of her hair, he angled his mouth over hers. There was nothing subtle about his kiss. Her mouth opened under the onslaught of his tongue, her nails digging into the skin of his back. His erection prodded at her belly, insistent, urgent. Her head swam. She wanted him inside her now. She was frantic for him.
But Mikhail had other ideas. Breaking the kiss, he swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed. His body covered hers, his hands roaming over her, touching her neck, throat, breasts, and tummy. It was as if he wanted to touch her all over, and all at once. Meanwhile, his mouth traveled its own seductive path. His tongue delved into her navel, and she writhed, her fingers entwined in his hair. He reached the lace edge of her bikini panties, and kissed his way along it―tender, wet kisses on her lower belly. His fingers explored the sensitive spot of tender flesh on her inner thighs.
“So sweet,” he murmured, raising his head slightly. “Just like I knew you would be.”
Kerry moaned and arched toward him, begging for him to touch her. She ached for him. Somehow reading her thoughts, he brushed his fingers over the damp crotch of her panties, and she flinched and cried out. Hooking his fingers on each side of the elastic, he drew the wisp of material down over her legs, and tossed it to the floor.
“Mikhail, please…” Kerry cried out, thrashing her head back and forth. She needed…she had to have…
He pulled her down on the bed and parted her legs. She felt his breath upon her swollen heat, and then, finally, his hard, wet tongue took her into the stratosphere.
Still quaking from her intense climax, he gathered her into his arms, and held her. After she was finally still, he cradled her face in his hands, and took her mouth in another long, soul-shattering kiss. Afterwards, she gazed into his eyes, her finger tracing the scar on his face from jaw to cheekbone.
“Oh, Mikhail,” she whispered. “I never dreamed…”
“It is exactly how I dreamed,” he said. He reached over to the bedside table and grabbed a rectangular packet. When had he put the condom there? He deftly opened the foil, and rolled the condom onto his stiff shaft. She caught her breath, her heart hammering. And just like that, her body was at a simmer again.
He moved over her, covering her body with his own, supporting his weight with his hands. His penis pressed against her pubic mound. “I do not want to hurt you,” he said softly. “But I am…so much…want…” He shook his head. “I will try to be gentle.”
Kerry grabbed a handful of his blond hair and nudged his head down so her mouth could take his in a succulent kiss. “I have…want, too,” she said, and smiled. She rotated her hips against him in a saucy invitation. Her smile widened. “Make fuck to me, Mikhail.”
“No,” he said, eyes solemn. “Not make fuck. Make love.”
He slowly entered her, and she gasped, closing her eyes in astonishment at the exquisite sensation that rivered through her. He didn't move for a moment, but just held motionless, allowing her to feel his fullness, his strength.
“Okay?” he asked, watching her.
She chewed her bottom lip, trying to hold back, to hold onto the rightness of the moment. “Yes.”
He began to move. He held her gaze, his hands smoothing back her hair as he loved her. Keeping a steady rhythm―sweet and slow―he dipped down to play with her lips, using his mouth and tongue. In between, he watched her, his eyes riveted on hers as he gauged where she was, what she wanted. And always, that slow, exquisite drive in ever increasing intensity.
Kerry was lost in his blue eyes, in the magic of their union, the rhythm and tempo and primal need. At the moment of her climax, Mikhail called out her name in a hoarse voice, and with one final powerful stroke, he shuddered in release. Kerry clung to him, gasping. Finally, he collapsed against her, his breath hot against her neck. She felt his heartbeat pounding, in synch with hers, and the lyrics from a U2 song swept through her mind. “Two hearts beat as one.” She smiled.
He lifted his head and gazed down at her. Her heart contracted at the tender look on his face. Cradling the sides of her head in his hands, he traced his thumbs over her brows, and then followed the caress with light kisses, first over her brows, down the bridge of her nose to finally settle with sure mastery on her lips. With a soft moan of surrender, she kissed him back. When their lips parted, Kerry gazed up at him, still intensely aware of him inside her.
“I don't want you to go,” she said softly.
His eyes glimmered with sadness. “I do not want to go.”
Her words, she knew, held a deeper meaning, but she wasn't sure what it was. Thoughts skated through her mind like passing clouds. He felt so good inside her, she didn't want him to go, but it was more than that. She didn't want him to go to Langley. Some weird sixth sense inside her warned that if she turned him over to Roger, he'd disappear out of her life, and she'd never see him again.
Slowly, Mikhail withdrew from her, and turning on his side, gathered her up against his heated, damp body. Her lips brushed the hollow of his throat, and she breathed in his spicy male scent. He tightened his arms around her, his hand moving sensuously down the small of her back. His lips brushed over her forehead in a delicate feather-touch. For a long moment, there was silence in the room with only the hiss of the gas fire, and the sound of their soft, mingled breathing.
We're so in tune, Kerry thought.
It was like nothing she'd ever felt before, this feeling of rightness, lying here in Mikhail's arms. She thought back to that first moment in Geneva when she'd watched him doing his stretches before taking to the ice. Even then, he'd captivated her. And now, she'd done what she'd been warning herself not to do from the moment he'd taken her hand and led her into a dance on the ice. She'd fallen in love with him―and even more foolhardy, had made love to him. But God, she didn't regret it! What, now, though? Where would they go from here?
A sigh rumbled from Mikhail's throat, and Kerry's heartbeat faltered. Was he regretting it already?
“My mother was murdered,” he said quietly.
Her pulse jumped. She searched for something to say, but before she could think of anything, he went on. “She was working for an Estonian newspaper, and she discovered that the KGB conducted drug experimentation on a Sami village in the early Seventies.” As he spoke, his voice grew progressively quieter. Kerry lay still in his arms, barely breathing. “Entire village died. My real father was one of victims. This, I found out just few months ago. At first, I wish to ignore this. Go on with my good life as privileged Russian athlete. I say to myself it is old history. That nothing will bring my parents back to life. But then, I realize that if I turn my back on what happened, my parents will have died for nothing, and I am then, no better than their killers. This is why I asked you to help me.”
He rolled her over so he could peer down into her eyes. His face wore a solemnity Kerry had never seen before. “I do not know what will happen tomorrow,” he said. “Your step-brother will probably take me away to safe house. I do not know when I will see you again.”
Kerry's fingertips touched his lips. “It won't be long,” she said quickly. “Once you tell your story to the CIA, they'll put you in protective custody, and yeah, you might have to stay in hiding for a while, but I'm sure Roger will let me visit you. As soon as the danger is over, you'll be free to go anywhere you want.” She almost added, “with me,” but bit back the words at the last second. She didn't want him to think she was putting pressure on him just because they'd slept together.
The somber look remained on Mikhail's face. “Kerry…” He traced the line of her eyebrow with his thumb. She trembled at the gentle caress. “They may send me back to Russia,” he said slowly. “The information I have may not be strong enough to allow me to stay.”
Her heart lurched. She fastened her hands on his jaws and forced him to meet her eyes. “No! I refuse to believe that. Roger won't let you down, Mikhail. I won't let him.”
He stared at her a long moment, then said, “He may not have choice. I want to believe you are right. But I am very much afraid now.” His fingers brushed back the hair from her forehead, and then moved over her cheekbone to gently cup her jaw. His eyes held hers, so tender it made her heart ache. “Especially now. I cannot imagine a life without you.”
Kerry smiled through sudden tears. Her hand curled around his, and she brought it to her lips, brushing his knuckles. His silver pinkie ring glinted in the moonlight streaming through the skylight. “You always wear this. Does it have special meaning?”
He smiled. “Nadya gave to me when I won first medal at fifteen.” He turned his hand in hers to peer at the ring. “It fit ring finger for two years, then I had to move to little finger because of growth spurt. Later, I show you inscription. It says 'To Mikhail, Son of my Heart.' Nadya has always treated me as son.”
Kerry saw the wistful look on his face, and her fingers tightened on his. “You really miss her, don't you?”
He nodded. “I wish I could bring her here. She loves America.”
“Maybe you'll find a way to do that someday. Maybe I can help.”
He drew her close, his lips brushing her forehead. “I can do nothing for Nadya until I know what future holds for me here.”
Kerry drew away just far enough to place her fingers on his lips. “Let's not think about tomorrow,” she said softly. “Let's just make tonight last.”
She drew his head down for a kiss, and as soon as his mouth met hers, she stopped thinking.