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Authors: Roxie Rivera

Sergei

BOOK: Sergei
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SERGEI

Her Russian Protector, Book 5

By Roxie Rivera

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

Author's Note

About the Author

Backlist

Copyright

Chapter One

I
really
hated weddings.

Sipping my champagne and nibbling on the richly flavored and exquisitely decorated wedding cake, I silently acknowledged the thought was damn near blasphemy in my field. A dress designer and wedding boutique owner who groaned every time an embossed and gilded invitation dropped into her mailbox? It wasn't good for business.

Poking at my cake, I conceded it wasn't the actual wedding ceremony I disliked. Earlier in the evening, I had cried like a baby when Ivan and Erin exchanged vows. Seeing the pair make promises to each other for the life they intended to build together had touched me so very deeply. The tender moments the newly married couple had shared throughout the night left me yearning for the same thing.

It was the receptions that really ruined weddings for me. Now entering my mid-twenties, I seemed to have reached a point where it was no longer acceptable to attend a wedding solo. Without a plus-one on my arm, I suddenly earned
that
pitying look. It made my damn skin crawl.

"You look awfully pensive," Vivian Kalasnikov remarked as she slid into the empty seat next to me. Dressed in one of the strapless, chiffon bridesmaid gowns, my friend looked absolutely stunning. Her dark hair and light eyes popped against the vibrant shade of fuchsia. The diamond accents under the bust glinted in the light cast off from the flameless candles and chandeliers decorating the grand ballroom of the downtown Houston hotel.

With my longtime friend, I dared to be honest. "I'm just thinking that I need to find some more men to add to my dating pool. This business of attending weddings alone is for the birds."

She arched one of those wing-shaped eyebrows. "Maybe it's time to consider doing the opposite."

"How's that?"

"Maybe you should think about whittling down that list of men to two or three that you might get serious with, you know? Or maybe it's time to start all over and find someone new and exciting with real potential."

The mere mention of someone new and exciting filled my head with images of one extremely tempting man. Even now, sitting in this crowded ballroom and surrounded by hundreds of revelers dancing the night away, I innately sensed his presence. He loomed somewhere behind me, near one of the tables where a group of rowdy men had congregated to exchange wild tales. Every now and then a burst of laughter punctuated by a loudly spoken Russian phrase or two would erupt from that general direction. Each time, I buried the intense desire to sneak a glance at
him
.

As if reading my mind, Vivian smiled knowingly. "You know he's dying to ask you to dance, right?"

Even though she'd nailed me, I feigned confusion as I reached for my flute of champagne. "Who?"

She rolled those bright blue eyes at me. "That might work on someone else, Bianca, but it doesn’t work on me. You've had your eye on Sergei since December."

Her comment spurred the memory of the chilly night Vivian and Nikolai had been attacked. Learning my friend had been kidnapped had been such a punch to the gut. The memories of the panic-filled days that followed as I waited for any news on Vivi's return were shoved aside by those of Sergei shadowing us that night during dinner and later at Faze, Houston's hottest nightspot.

The giant Russian with dark hair and dark eyes had taken my breath away from the very first moment I'd spied him. In high school, I had dated a couple of basketball players so I thought I knew tall men but that was before Sergei. With the broadest, sexiest shoulders I had ever seen, he had to be nearly seven feet high. He had a strong aquiline nose and a sinful mouth that tempted me like no other.

And that was bad. Really,
really
bad.

Feeling Vivi's pointed stare, I shrugged and sipped my champagne. "I'll admit to looking at the merchandise, but I'm sure as hell not about to try it on or take it home with me."

"I don't know," she said a bit conspiratorially. "I think my curiosity would get the better of me."

I snorted rather indelicately. "Please! Those moon-eyes of yours for Nikolai have made you blind to every other man in creation!"

Smiling and not even attempting to deny my assertion, she glanced just to her right and easily zeroed in on her husband. As if connected by some sixth sense, the devastatingly handsome Russian cast a smoldering gaze her way before returning to his conversation with two men I didn’t recognize.

A longing pang squeezed my heart. God, I wanted that. I wanted a man to look at me as if I was his entire world, as if he couldn't breathe without me.

Beside me, Vivian took a drink from the glass of clear, fizzy soda she'd brought with her. I'd never known her to be a fan of the lemon-lime flavored drink and ticked another box on the list in my head. Earlier that morning, I had rushed over to her house to let out the bust of her bridesmaid dress. In all the years I had known Vivian, her weight hadn't fluctuated once yet this morning her bosom seemed to have swelled a full cup size.

I'd been taking in and letting out wedding gowns and bridesmaid's dresses since high school so I had easily put two and two together. More than one panicked bride had called either me or my mother into her dressing room on her very special day to make adjustments for a baby belly that just happened to make its debut at the most inopportune moment.

As far as I could tell, Vivian's tummy remained flat and toned but that full C-cup she now sported? Oh, that was an undeniable clue. Add to that the glass of wine she hadn't touched during dinner and the caffeine-free soda in her hand now? There weren't many scenarios other than pregnancy that fit the bill. Even so, I didn't ask her to confirm my suspicion. Certain she had her reasons for keeping the news quiet, I tamped down my curiosity.

The sight of Benny Stepanov waddling toward our table brought a twitch of amusement to my lips. The empire waist of the bridesmaid dress and wispy, light chiffon enhanced her rounded figure. Heavily pregnant and due any day, the petite Latina lowered her body into a chair with a loud sigh and rested a hand on her belly. "My dogs are barking tonight!"

"Well, why are you wearing heels?" Vivi demanded with a humorous glint in her eyes. "Erin told you to wear flats. She wanted you to be comfortable and to take it easy."

"Have you seen how tall my husband is?" She gestured toward the imposing blond. Arms crossed and a grin on his handsome face, Dimitri exuded raw sexuality and power. I wasn't surprised she was already expecting their first baby. With a man like that heating up the sheets, how could any woman resist his charms? "I'd like for us to have a picture or two where both of our heads are in the shot, you know?"

"So sit together," Vivi pointed out the obvious. "I bet Dimitri would love to have you sitting on his lap."

Benny laughed and pointed to her belly. "I'm pretty sure that's how I got into this predicament."

Amid our giggling, excited shouts drew my gaze. Yuri Novakovsky had snatched up Erin right under Ivan's nose. She squealed with laughter as the billionaire magnate rushed off with her and Dimitri, Sergei and Nikolai blocked his path. The custom of stealing away the bride and ransoming her back to the groom made me grin. I had been to so many weddings over the years and had assumed I'd seen it all—but I had to give it to these Russians. Their customs and celebrations were so sweet and lighthearted and they
really
knew how to throw a party.

"Erin looks gorgeous, Bianca. That design is perfect for her." Benny shot me an approving smile. "The lace is amazing."

"Thank you. That touch was one of my mother's suggestions." I considered the gown hugging Erin's willowy frame. The design had been a tricky one because Erin had wanted so many different things—a sweetheart neckline, dropped waist, chapel train that could be bustled, beading and lace. "She wasn't an easy bride to please but I'm so thrilled with the way the gown came together."

"Will this design be available to other brides?"

I shook my head at Benny's question and let my gaze drift to the intimidating, tattooed fighter who had won Erin's heart. "No, I promised Ivan that no other woman would ever wear a dress like hers. He wanted this one to be especially for Erin and always hers."

"Aw," Vivian said with a sappy smile. "Could that guy be any freaking sweeter? I mean, you look at him and he's, like, the scariest man on the planet and then he does something so romantic like that! Erin is so lucky to have him."

"Yes, she is," I murmured a bit enviously.

Out on the dance floor, Ivan gathered Erin's smaller body to his and wrapped those brutally strong arms of his around her in the most protective embrace. I sensed she missed her older sister Ruby something fierce but the incarcerated pill addict and thief had popped positive on a random inmate drug test a few weeks earlier so any chance of her earning early release and probation had been scuttled.

Erin had been at my boutique for an early morning fitting when she'd received the call from her sister's lawyer. Though we were friends, we were nowhere near as close as I was with Vivian, but I hadn't let that stop me from hugging her and letting her sob on my shoulder as the years of pent-up frustration and hurt her older sister had caused rushed to the surface.

I still remembered the pained look on Ivan's face when he had suddenly appeared in the fitting room. Apparently their lawyer had called him with the update on Ruby's situation. He had instinctively known that Erin would need him and come right to her. When he swept her up into his arms and called her his angel in that gruff, accented voice of his, I had understood why Erin loved him so much.

As Ivan's thick, heavily tattooed fingers sifted through her hair while they danced, I decided they were probably the most mismatched couple I'd ever met, but there was no doubting the deep and unshakeable love they shared. Flushed with happiness, Erin burrowed against Ivan's chest and closed her eyes as they swayed together.

While I tried to suppress the sadness that threatened to ruin such a great night, the universe seemed determined to dash a little more salt in that wound. Dimitri and Nikolai strode toward the table and joined their spouses. Nikolai actually slid his arms around Vivi and dragged her onto his lap so he could nuzzle her neck and whisper lovingly to her in their shared language.

Across the table, Dimitri hauled Benny's aching feet onto his lap and removed her high heels while gently scolding her and massaging her calves. Benny smoothed her hand down the curve of her big baby bump and remarked that their little girl was kicking up a storm. When Dimitri reached out to feel his daughter's kicks, the expectant parents shared a look that made my heart freaking ache in my chest.

Deciding I'd had just about enough of the universe rubbing my face in the one thing my otherwise happy life lacked, I reached for my clutch. Before I could even open my mouth to bid everyone goodnight, a shadow fell over me. I didn't have to glance up to know that it was
him
.

All seven feet of Sergei Sakharov dropped into the empty chair next to me. Instantly my traitorous body reacted to the tremendous amount of body heat radiating from his huge frame. The faint smell of eucalyptus tickled my nose, and I had to fight the urge to inhale deeply, to imprint the very scent of him in my lungs and brain.

BOOK: Sergei
9.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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