I THREW OPEN THE DOOR TO HIS office, and Gage popped to his feet.
“Regan.” He rounded the desk, approaching me fast with concern lining his face. “What’s wrong?”
“You tell me.” The storm that I blew in with was swirling my thoughts, I didn’t know where to start. “I was stopped on my way to class—”
He put a finger to his lips, silencing me. His other hand gripped my elbow, turning me to walk out the empty office. He didn’t let go as we walked through the club already spotted with men in suits coming straight after work to watch the girls dance. Outside, he pressed the starter for his SUV and it came to life, engine humming and lights flipping on.
“We can talk in here.” He opened the passenger side door for me and closed it once I was in.
My heart pounded in my stomach as I waited for him to come around to the driver’s side. His reaction was freaking me out, and I hadn’t even told him anything yet.
Once he was in, he turned up the heat and turned down the music. Then his focus was on me. “They approached you today too? Did you say anything?”
“Who?” Questions exploded in my mind. “Alessandra stopped me at school. Who are you talking about?”
He sunk into his seat as he let out a breath, but the relief was short lived. His shoulders tensed back up in the next second, and he turned to question me, “Alessandra? What did she want? What did she do?”
I watched him. Her words played in my head, making him look different. But I couldn’t repeat them yet. “Who approached you?”
He inhaled, reaching for my hand. “I’ll tell you, but first, tell me what happened.”
“She wanted me to get in the car with her so we could talk.” I spoke fast, more interested in what happened to him now.
He stilled, grip strong on my hand. “Did you?”
“How’d that go over?” He was giving me an odd look, a small smile blending with his worry lines.
“She didn’t like it.” I shrugged, muscles stiff with nerves. “But I couldn’t get in that car. I didn’t trust her motives.”
“Good. You shouldn’t. She’ll say anything to get her way. Did she say anything?”
I nodded, silent.
“Get in.” She smiled a knowing smile and nodded to the seat next to her.
“No.” I took steps back before I could give in to my curiosity. If it weren’t for the life growing in me, I’d be in that car. “We can talk another time. I’ve got to get to class.”
“Stupid girl. My husband will be out soon, and you will do well to remember who you and Gage really work for.”
Her words chained me where I stood, reminding me that there was no escape, no matter where I ran.
“Anatoli may have shown you favor before but prison’s taught him greater control. You don’t want to make me an enemy too.”
“What?” His voice was gentle, coaxing, as he warmed my hand between his. “What did she say?”
“Rusnak will be out soon.” I lifted my eyes from our hands to question him, “Do you work for Viktor or him? What’s going to happen?”
Each second that he stayed silent tightened the chains on me.
“Their Attorney General was elected, and he can sway things, but nothing’s certain yet. There’s no release date, no sign that he’s getting out anytime soon.”
“But if he does?” My fingertips were frozen, even in the warmth of Gage’s hand.
“Him and Viktor will work together. Anatoli will have a lot of baggage getting out of prison. His name is tainted, he won’t be able to fall right back into things.”
“And what about you?” I attempted to pull myself back from thoughts that were headed towards a dark pit I didn’t want to fall in. “What happened to you today? Why are we in the car talking?”
He dropped my hand and wiped his palms on his pants. Gripping his knees, he looked at me with a side eye. “Someone cornered me in the gym this morning. Someone with the FBI.”
He had my full attention now. “What happened?”
He shook his head. “He questioned me about the club, about the girls working here, about who I was working for.” He moved a hand to the back of his neck as he faced me. “He said I could avoid legal trouble if I agreed to become an informant.”
“What did you say?” It was barely a whisper, everything twisted inside me.
“I told him, he needed to either arrest me for something or get the fuck out of my face, that I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”
I released the breath I was holding. The knots in my stomach, loosening. “And he just walked away? So they don’t really have anything on you?”
He shook his head. “No, they have ideas, nothing solid. But…” His finger tapped on his knee. “I’m not sure it wasn’t set up by Viktor to test me. Either way, I have to tell him, but it’s got me paranoid about everything. That’s why we’re not talking in the office.”
“Well, if it was a test, then you passed. If it was for real, you’ll sell the club soon and not be attached to it. What did they have on the club anyways?”
“I think the prostitution. I told Alessandra from the start, the girls shouldn’t do that, we needed to avoid any illegal activity that would draw suspicion and interfere with the main purpose of filtering money. At least it’s separate now, but I’ll have to warn Ian.”
He looked at me then, eyes softening as they ran over me. “How are you doing though? I don’t want this stress to get to you. I’ll take care of it, you just worry about that baby.” His chest rose and fell, and then he leaned over the console to me, hand sliding behind my head. His eyes held mine, close enough that his lips caressed as he spoke, “I’m proud of you for not getting in that car.”
The kiss was soft and warm. His gentle touch on my stomach melted the ice there into a puddle. And for the first time since I heard Anatoli Rusnak’s name, I felt safe. This was Gage, the man who loved me, who would do anything for me. I pushed my doubts down.
The hum of a car pulling up to the back door of the club pulled us apart, and we both looked up. It was Alessandra’s town car.
“Thought she might come here since you wouldn’t talk to her.” He shook his head, tight lipped. “I’ll go deal with her. I want you to go home. And starting tomorrow, you’re getting a driver, I don’t want you alone.”
My mouth went dry at the sight of her and the idea of Gage going to her.
“I can go with you. That way she can tell us both whatever she wanted to say.” I opened the door before Gage could speak and stepped out as Alessandra rose from the back of her car.
She pulled the collar of her fur coat around her, blocking the cold, and smiled when she looked towards me. Her gaze shifted to Gage in the next second, and her lips stretched even further. “I should have known you’d come straight here and talk to him.”
“What do you want?” Gage’s deep voice cut through my response.
She rolled her eyes. “Neither of you. I came to talk with Katya and Ian.”
“Katya?” Gage questioned.
“Cherry.” She smiled at me. “That girl’s got potential to go far.” She turned away from us and walked towards the back door.
I pulled on Gage’s arm to stop him from following her. “Let her go talk with them. There’s something else.”
He ran his hand through his hair as he turned to face me, but his eyes still followed her into the club.
“People at school know I’m pregnant.”
That brought his attention firmly back on me. “That fucking coach. I’ll kill him.”
I squeezed his arm, his words scaring me.
He clenched his jaw, but the fire dropped from his eyes. “Who knows?”
“A few people.” I shrugged. “I’m not sure. Only one said something to me.”
He paused, and then his hands gripped my shoulders with light pressure, meaning to give comfort but falling short. “It’ll be okay, but this is one more reason that you’ll have someone with you from now on. I’ll set it up.” He looked up, back to the closed door of the club. “Go straight home. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He kissed my lips briefly, but he wasn’t present for it. His thoughts were already in that club.
“Wait.” The wind carried away my voice, and he didn’t pause as he jogged to the back door.
The chill of the day was nothing compared to the ice in my bones as he slipped into the club. I tried to block out the rest of Alessandra’s words, and focus on the truth I felt with Gage. But my trust in him had cracks, and she seeped into them.
“I can help you.” Alessandra’s smile didn’t look friendly.
“I’ve got to go.” I looked over my shoulder, across the lawn of the mall, my next class on the opposite side. But my feet still weren’t moving.
She clicked her tongue. “Were done here, Yuri. Get back in.” She stopped the man from closing the door on her as he got back in the passenger seat. She leaned over an empty seat to hiss, “You’re pathetic. Anatoli was wrong about you, you’re not cut out for any of this.”
I must not have been as frozen as I thought because she laughed at whatever reaction crossed my face.
“Yeah, I know about you two. But I don’t care. He knows my value. And besides,” her lip curled, slithering under my skin, “It’s not like I haven’t fucked your husband too.”
She slammed the door shut and the car rolled away.