Authors: Theodora Taylor
Tags: #General Fiction
Her Russian Surrender
Published by Amorous Publishing
Copyright Ⓒ 2014 Theodora Taylor
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
xcuse me, miss. Sorry to interrupt. Is this your jacket?”
Sam McKinley turned from her conversation with a cater-waiter named Husik to see a young man wearing circular glasses. Like many of the men at the Hockey Ices Cancer Gala, he had on a tux, but unlike those other men, his face still had a bit of pudge to it, the baby fat that dogged some guys into their twenties.
He extended her coat, a banged up, brown leather number she’d scored at a thrift store for thirty bucks back in grad school. It didn’t really go with the emerald floor length gown she was wearing, but hey, at least it did its job. Nearly ten years later and it was still keeping her warm, even here in Indiana with its brutal winters.
“Yes, that’s my jacket,” she answered without embarrassment. “Is there something wrong?”
Sam fully expected to be kicked out of this party. She’d only been here for thirty minutes, but she hadn’t exactly been invited. Unless using the name of your best friend’s husband’s former teammate to get inside could be considered an “invitation”—because in that case, she totally was invited.
But she knew not everyone would consider her presence at the event legit, so she braced herself, hoping the man’s polite tone meant he’d let her go quietly without calling security.
“No, no, not at all,” he answered quickly, his face flushing. “I just wanted to make sure. The woman at coat check assured me this was yours, but I, ah…” He seemed to be searching for a polite way to say that most people didn’t attend galas in beat up jackets that were probably older than he was. “I wasn’t sure,” he finished weakly.
He then rushed in to say, “But there’s nothing to be worried about. I’m actually here to extend an invitation. Nikolai Rustanov would like the pleasure of your company on the balcony. I retrieved your jacket so you’d be warm.”
Sam breathed a mental sigh of relief that she wasn’t getting kicked out but…
“Who’s Nikolai Rustanov?” she asked, scanning the room from side to side.
The man’s eyes widened as if she had asked him who the President of the United States was.
“Nikolai Rustanov? One of the best hockey players the NHL has ever seen? The new owner of the Indiana Polar?”
The young man seemed to be waiting for Sam to make the connection, but she shook her head with an apologetic shrug.
“Sorry. Never heard of him.” She turned to look at Husik, the Armenian cater-waiter she’d spent most of the party talking with so far. “But the Indiana Polar is the state’s hockey team, right?”
Husik winced as if he was just plain embarrassed for her.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. “Nikolai Rustanov--they call him Mount Nik--owns it, and you should probably know… this is his house.”
“Oh!” Sam took a closer look around the large, opulent room. The ceilings were covered with intricately carved crown molding, and the ivory walls were filled with luxurious gilt pieces Sam couldn’t have pegged on a specific era or design, but they put her in mind of words like “baroque” and “rococo.” Every room she’d seen in the place so far was done up in this way, and ever since she’d walked in, she’d felt like she was standing in the middle of a set piece for one of the historical romance novels she used to read back when she was a teenager.
Whoever this hockey player was, his home was beautiful, but way over the top, like Peter the Great and Josephine Bonaparte had hooked up and decided to build a home together in Indiana.
“Wow! Well, thanks for the invitation to join your boss…” Sam smiled at the bespectacled representative of the hockey player with baroque tastes.
“No, need to thank me,” the man assured her, lightly cupping her elbow. “If you’ll just follow me, the balcony is right this way.”
Sam didn’t budge. “As I was saying, thanks for the invitation but…” she carefully removed her elbow from his grasp, “…please tell Mr. Mount Nik the answer is no.”
The young man blinked. “The answer is no?” He was clearly not used to this response.
“Yes, the answer is no.” She held up her coat. “But thanks for the coat! I’ll probably be heading out soon anyway, so you saved me a trip.”
“But… I don’t understand!” the young man’s eyes traveled from her ragged coat to her bare ring finger as if he were trying to piece together the answer to a complex puzzle.
“I don’t really think there’s anything to understand,” she answered. “He invited me, and I’m saying no. It’s really pretty simple. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of a conversation with Husik.”
Having nipped that in the bud, she presented the younger man with her back. But she waited until he’d moved away to say, “Actually, I’m glad that guy brought me my coat because I left my business card holder in it.” She took out the flat metal case and handed Husik one of the small cards tucked inside. “If you think your niece is in trouble, give her my card. It doesn’t have anything but my name and number on it, so even if her boyfriend finds it, it shouldn’t cause her any problems. Sometimes just having my card at the right time is enough to get someone out of a bad situation.”
Husik took her card with the hand that wasn’t holding a tray of appetizers, his eyes running over her name, “Ms. Sam McKinley,” before he pocketed it.
“Thanks, but…” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t believe you just turned down Nikolai Rustanov!”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because he’s Mount Nik!” The man seemed genuinely perplexed.
Sam resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. So yeah, the hockey player with the hyperbolic nickname was probably a big deal in Husik’s mind. And obviously the representative he’d sent over wasn’t used to women turning down his boss’s balcony invitations. But Sam wasn’t here to meet up with hockey players on balconies. She was here to start making contacts, like she promised her partner, Josie, she would. And in her experience, athletes preferred to sponsor splashy causes like cancer and homelessness. Domestic violence, not so much.
Husik was still babbling on. “I mean, he dominates at a face off, and he gets to rebounds faster than anyone you’ve ever seen. Plus, he leads the league in shots on goal. But you turned him down!”
Sam really had no idea what any of that meant, and she was a little dismayed Husik seemed more concerned that she’d rejected some hockey player’s advances than he was about his niece’s relationship, which he’d been telling her he suspected had turned violent before they’d been interrupted.
But keeping judgment on a minimum setting was part of her job, so instead of chastising him, she smiled tightly and replied, “Yes, well, I’m just not interested, even if he’s really good at hitting balls with his stick.”
“Pucks,” a deep, heavily accented voice said behind her. “I’m very good at hitting
with my stick.”
This time when she turned she had to look up, then up some more, to find a pair of cool, green eyes staring down at her from under heavy lids. And suddenly, she understood why the young man he’d sent over had been confused about her response. Nikolai Rustanov was insanely, outrageously gorgeous, with a face and jaw that looked like it had been hand carved by someone with a high appreciation for asymmetry and a body so large, she knew immediately it was muscle and not padding filling out the shoulders of his tuxedo. Suddenly, the nickname “Mount Nik” didn’t seem quite so hyperbolic anymore.
And yes, she admitted to herself, any woman would be happy to receive a balcony invitation from a man who looked like this. At least at first glance. But she wasn’t like most women, and quickly zeroed in on his faults. His eyes, she noticed, where a total blank, and his lips had a hard twist to them, like they we’re in permanent prep mode for sneering.
. The word appeared inside her mind like a poisonous warning label. He had icy eyes and cruel lips. And even though his hair was light brown, falling in tousled strands past his ears—not military short and bleach blond like the only Russian she remembered from her childhood movie days—the
theme song totally went off inside her head
ikolai stared down at the woman who—much to his cousin, Alexei’s, amusement—had spurned his balcony invitation. She was even more beautiful up close than she’d been from across the room where he’d been standing when he first spotted her, dressed in an ethereal, deep green evening gown and talking to one of the cater-waiters. Her hair—which he could see now consisted neither of dreadlocks nor braids but some kind of long twists—was pulled back into a large bun, giving her face perfect visibility. Wide set eyes, shining with good humor, flawless dark brown skin that seemed to glow as if she were lit from the inside, dimpled cheeks, and—his eyes drifted downward—lush curves,
lush curves that were making the dress work hard to keep her contained.
The dimples were a little much, he thought, now that he could see her up close. His usual conquests, who tended to have sharper cheekbones and more skillfully applied makeup, didn’t usually sport indents in their cheeks. But in this case she’d sparked his curiosity enough to overlook them. Also, he wanted to see what was underneath that dress. In fact, he decided then and there, he wanted her. In his bed. Tonight.
“You have something else you should be doing,” he informed the cater-waiter without taking his eyes off the woman.
“Yes, sorry,” the cater-waiter mumbled. “Big fan by the way!”
Nikolai didn’t answer, just waited for the smaller man to go away so he could make his next move on the woman in the green dress. She looked slightly disconcerted as she watched the cater-waiter leave. Like she didn’t know quite what to do with Nikolai. Or herself.
Good, Nikolai thought. It served her right for turning down his balcony invitation. Apparently, even though she was at a hockey fundraiser, she didn’t know enough about the sport to distinguish a ball from a puck. Or him from any of the average, anonymous suitors she might have encountered before.
“Hello,” he said now that he had the woman’s full attention. “I am Nikolai Rustanov, and you are very beautiful.”
He waited for her to preen, but his words only seemed to fluster her more.
“Thanks! So are you… I guess.” She had a soft lilt to her voice that made her words sound almost overly cheery.
“Beautiful?” he said after a moment of confusion. Even after nearly two decades in the States, his English was still not the best. Maybe he was misunderstanding her. “You think I am beautiful?”
“Yes, really beautiful,” she answered with a nod. “Good job on that front!”
Nikolai faltered a bit. Had she just congratulated him on being beautiful? Like a woman? He reset.
“I’m glad you think so. You and I have—how you say—mutual admiration.”
“Oh, well, kind of, but I mean… maybe not really,” she answered. She now looked around the room as if she were desperately searching for someone else to talk to. Anybody other than him. “I’m not really into that kind of stuff.”
English was his second language, true, but every single thing that came out of this woman’s mouth so far had only served to confuse him, making him wonder if it wasn’t her first language either.
“Beauty—you don’t like it? You are not ‘into’ it?” he posed the question very slowly just in case, like him, she was still having trouble with the English language.