I TURNED UP THE MUSIC AND TURNED down my thoughts. Something that was long overdue. It seemed like forever since I’d embraced my solitude instead of fearing it, but fear kept trying to sneak in, and there was nothing in the sparse gym in our building that could take it all away. The music couldn’t get loud enough, but with enough time, I’d made a dent in my anger and had the bliss of relaxed muscles.
The water hitting my skin almost pounded away the rest of my stress. Our shower had great pressure, massaging my muscles, and I indulged in it until the room was steamy and my skin wrinkly. My cell phone was hooked up to the speakers and music filled the air around me, letting me drown any thoughts that tried to ruin the moment.
I used a buttercream on my skin, taking the time to explore any changes. There was maybe a slight bump, but that could be from my reduced gym time. Somehow this small little thing in me wasn’t even large enough to make a physical bump, but it was wreaking havoc on my emotions, or maybe that was just an excuse.
I wasn’t ready to open myself up to thoughts again, so I changed into my pajamas, the ones I knew Gage loved, thin cotton shorts and tank top. I wouldn’t wait up for him, but I’d let him see what he was missing, what he needed to try harder for. That was easier to say when he wasn’t here making me want to try everything for him.
It was almost 11:30, and even though I didn’t have class to wake up for in the morning, I walked to the kitchen to turn off the music and go to bed. I had to be asleep for my plan to work.
But as I walked down the hall, the front door opened. I couldn’t see the entrance, but the thump of boots dropping to the floor, one and then the other, reassured me that it was Gage. I came around the corner as he hung up his coat.
His lips spread into an easy grin as he looked towards me, eyes burning bright. “You waited up.”
“You came home early.”
“I wanted to come sooner.” He crossed the distance between us, and his hand slid into my hair as he dropped his head, lips on me, taking my breath, taking my resolve. Mint filled my mouth as his tongue slipped in. He kept walking forward, forcing me to walk back, his other hand dragged up and over my shirt to my shoulders.
I had put my arms up between us, hands on his chest to keep him back, but my fingers curled on his shirt now, gripping him to me. This is what I meant, two seconds with him and all walls crumbled. Hell, I’d knock them over to get to him.
He broke away, still close enough that his minty breath fanned over my lips, warming and cooling at the same time. “So you’re not mad?” The combination of his husky voice and fingers on my skin, grazing my neck, sent chills over me.
He could talk me into anything. I couldn’t deny it, but I wanted to know I had the same hold on him, I know I use to. “I don’t know. You need to apologize.”
A sound grew from his chest, erupting in a deep hum. Then his lips were back on me. He pushed me against the wall, and his hands traveled down my body with a pressure that had me on fire, my skin craved that rough touch. His hands slid up my shirt, over and around my breast, weighing them, kneading them.
I rolled my neck back as his tongue slid down me, and he sucked a nipple between his lips. That deep hum of his was back, adding to the sensation. I wrapped my leg around his waist, wanting him pressed between my legs, needing to relieve the throbbing he caused with each swirl of his tongue.
He laughed, low and throaty, as his hands traveled up my thigh and into my shorts. He gripped my ass before reaching around and grazing the front, teasing me with the tip of his fingers.
His lips moved to my ear. “When do I get an apology?”
The challenge in his eye sparked something I hadn’t felt in while. I didn’t want to submit to him; tonight he was going to submit to me.
“You don’t.” I dropped my leg, and his cocky smile disappeared as I pushed him against the hall wall opposite us and covered his mouth with mine. I ran my hands up the inside of his shirt, feeling the ridges of his muscles, and then circled him and dipped down into the back of his jeans. His hands were back at it, running all over me, and I pushed them away. Then I lifted his shirt off of him.
His finger tips went to the bottom of my tank top, trying to remove it the same way, but I grabbed his hands and forced them to the wall. “No. You don’t get to touch. Not yet.”
He didn’t understand, I could tell, but the desire on his face made it clear he was willing to play along.
I wasted no time undoing his belt and tossing it to the side. Then I unsnapped his jeans and pulled them down his legs, my body dropping with them. He stepped out of them, and I gripped the elastic of his boxers, sliding them down slow and licking along the way.
“Regan,” he groaned my name as I took the tip of him in my mouth. The muscles in his stomach clenched as I sucked him in deeper. I slid my hands around his thighs, gripping the strong muscles. When his hips started moving with my rhythm, I stopped and stood up.
He was breathless, chest rising and falling, eyes afire as they landed on me. Then his lips covered mine, and his hands tugged me to him, trying to lift my legs around his waist. But I stayed standing. I gripped his hair and took over the kiss as I pulled him to our bedroom.
I pushed him onto our bed and straddled his hips, grinding against him. His hands slid under my shirt, but I removed it before he could. He lifted himself up, arms circling me as his he tried to suck on my nipple. I pushed him back down, only this time he didn’t fall back. He gripped me tighter and spun us so I was on my back and he was over me.
“It’s my turn,” he demanded, sliding down my body, removing my shorts and underwear. He lifted my leg onto his shoulder as his tongue slid across the slit between them. A searing heat rushed through me, and I quit resisting. I’d let him take over for this, especially since he had my body shaking within moments. Uncontrollable spasms rocked my body as he held my hips and sucked and lapped at me. He stayed at it as I dissolved, riding the wave of an orgasm to completion. Then he was back over me, long length of his body pressing me into the mattress as he slid inside me. Filling me completely.
I was still delirious from the aftermath of what he had done, but I moved my body with each of his thrust. He lifted himself up, arms braced on either side of me so he could get leverage. I wrapped my legs around him, meeting each slam of his hips, twisting when he twisted, slowing when he slowed, following his lead because he knew exactly what I liked, exactly what made me soar.
His lips covered mine as I surged beneath him, his fingers pressing between my legs, hitting the switch that pushed me over the edge in a burst of pleasure, deliciously draining me. It kept coming though, the never-ending release, and I convulsed as he continued his strokes. He eased me down even as he found his release.
I felt him shuddering and opened my eyes, the overpowering sensations finally calming enough to let in other senses. His eyes burned into mine, even in the dark. We held each other’s stare, ragged breaths filling the air around us. Then he collapsed on me, pulling me to him as he rolled to his side.
“Damn.” He was still breathless. “Now that was a damn good apology.”
I rolled onto my back, his arm draped over my stomach. “On your part, but I told you, I’m not apologizing.”
He rose up on one arm and looked at me with a raised brow. “So what was that then?”
I shook my head. “A reminder. This is what you get with me.” I turned to my side, lifting up on one elbow like him. “And if you want me, you need to make sure you put me first.”
His eyes narrowed, but a curious smile played on his lips. He brought his hand up to my cheek, sliding my hair back. His fingers lingered on my neck. “I really don’t understand you sometimes,” it was almost a whisper. His eyes had been following his hand, but he moved them up to meet mine. “But fuck if I don’t love you. You are first, in every way that matters.”
“It needs to show more.”
“Tonight, that meeting I thought I had, it was really a surprise party for me at the club. My goodbye. And all I could think was that I wanted you there. I left as soon as I could.”
I scooted closer to him, placing my hand on his cheek. “Good. I’m glad you’re done with that. I only wish you were done with those people.”
He nodded. “I know you’re still talking about Cherry. And I did apologize to you; I won’t let her talk to you like that anymore. I already told her when I got back.”
“Stop,” I cut off his rambling. It felt good laying here naked with him, but talk of her was already tensing my muscles and burning my heart. “I don’t want to talk about her. I don’t want her to be an issue. Just don’t make her one anymore. Let’s move on.”
“Done.” He pulled me to him, curling around me.
I was relieved to push thoughts of her away. She wasn’t even the most important thing to happen today, but I had mistakenly treated her like she was. I didn’t bring up Anthony though. I let my thoughts melt away in the warmth of Gage’s embrace, and we fell asleep, skin on skin.
“Gage Lawson and Regan Lawson.” Gage handed the guard our ID’s.
“Sign in that book there. Someone will be right out for you.”
He let go of my hand as he moved to the black binder the man gestured to, scribbling our name on the space provided.
I stood, numb, not letting my mind work too far ahead. I had spent most of the week avoiding thinking about this. And Gage had helped me avoid it. After he signed over the club, he did have more time. He had a few meetings, and I had class, but we spent a lot of the week together, mostly in the gym or bed.
It wasn’t till yesterday that he talked to me about Nikolai, preparing me for his direct way of talking. He said it’s only gotten worse in prison, especially since his sentence keeps being increased. He doesn’t have hope of getting out, and he’s accepted that, even made the most of it. There’s an entire network within the prison that he runs. Gage promised he would be with me the entire time, and he’d do most of the talking.
I wanted it. I wanted to find out information about my father, but I couldn’t let myself even imagine how this conversation would go.
Gage was back at my side, and he grabbed my hand in his again. “You okay? You don’t have to do this. You can wait out here.”
I pulled out of his grip, wanting my own confidence, not just his. “I’m here. I’m going in.”
He nodded, still watching me.
The heavy door in front of us buzzed. An armed guard opened it and signaled us to step through. “Nikolai Rusnak has a private room for visitors. You won’t be going to the cafeteria with the others,” the guard explained as the door shut behind us.
“We know,” Gage responded and slid an arm around me, pulling me to walk beside him even though the hallway barely fit us side by side.
My heart echoed in my chest, thumping heavier with each step we took.
The hallway seemed to go on forever, and then we made a turn, and another. We went through several other doors that only opened for the guard’s key. Each hallway cooler and smaller, like we were walking to a basement, or dungeon. So many turns, I felt like a mouse in a maze. I looked towards Gage since he had been here several times before, he didn’t seem phased. This must be typical.
Then the guard stopped at a door with a small viewing window at the top. He unlocked it with his key card and then held it open. “You two can go in. We’ll bring Mr. Rusnak in shortly.”
The moment we stepped through, the door closed behind us with a deafening click.
Gage walked to the table set up in the center of the room and pulled out a chair. “Take a seat. He’ll be here soon, through that door.” He nodded to the door at the opposite side of the room.
I took the chair facing that door and waited.
Gage gripped my thigh under the table. “Let me do most of the talking.”
I nodded. My mouth was dry and sticky.
Gage slid off his wool coat, letting it rest on the back of his chair. I sunk into my puffy jacket, taking comfort in the warmth.
The door opened, and I held my breath. A guard held it open, and Nikolai walked through.
“You have an hour, sir,” the young guard said.
Nikolai turned towards him. “I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”
The man nodded and closed the door.
I don’t know what I had expected—chains, an orange jumper, something that said prison—but this man was in black pants and a white button up shirt, nothing in the way of restraints. His grey streaked dark hair was slicked back from a hard face lined with age, but intimidating all the same. His aura was strong, but nothing about his stature was. He was average height and soft around the middle, soft everywhere really.
“Gage.” He had a smokers voice, and his smile showed yellow teeth. “Boy it’s been a while since you visited. We have much to discuss.”
Gage stood as Nikolai approached and embraced him.
“It’s hard since I’m in New York now.”
He waved him away. “Yeah I know. How’s the cannolis there? Playing nice?”
Gage laughed, light. “They don’t have a choice.”
“That a boy.” He slapped his shoulder, and then his dark eyes lit on me. “And this is the missus?”
I stood since everyone else was, and they were looking at me.
“This is Regan,” Gage gestured to me.
Nikolai reached for my hand and slowly brought it to his lips. “It’s my pleasure to meet you.”
His lips lingered on the back of my hand, his eyes running over my body.
“That’s enough.” Gage patted his shoulder, and Nikolai broke away with a laugh.
“Can’t blame an old man, I barely see pretty girls in here. And she is a looker. You chose well.” He stepped back, not hiding the fact that he was checking me out. “She looks like her mother. Olli warned me as much, but the similarities are striking.” He turned his focus to Gage as he took his seat. “For your sake, let’s hope she’s better behaved.”
I gripped the back of my chair, muscles rigid with anger.
“Sit down, doll.” Nikolai barely glanced to me as he gestured to the seat. Then he spoke directly to Gage, “We’ve got a lot to catch up on. But first, let’s deal with what she came here for.”
Gage pulled out my chair for me, talking me down with his eyes before he took his own seat.
“Regan didn’t grow up with family, and we’re looking for any connection we can find.”
“Well, Angela never talked to me about family. She didn’t talk about her past at all. Hell, I didn’t even know she had a kid till it was too late.”
Too late. I sat up in my chair, fingers digging into the edge of the seat. I wanted to block out that part, but I wanted to ask more, too.
“You didn’t know anyone from her past?” Gage slid his hand to the table, finger tapping slightly as he asked. He didn’t buy it either.
Nikolai leaned back, raising his chin as he spoke. “I did a background check on her. She had a grandmother, but she wasn’t anyone, probably dead now, and Angela never talked about her. I’m sure you could find that information easy enough.” He cleared his throat, looking between the two of us like he said all he could.
I knew about the grandmother, even met her once. But she kicked out Angela when she was young and didn’t want to claim me once Angela killed herself.
“Once you knew there was a child, did you ever find out who the father was?”
He shook his head. “It’s like I said, we never talked about it.”
“Then why did you have me bring her here if you knew you had no information?” Gage leaned forward, a demand in his tone.
Nikolai’s lip curled as he laughed, a sound that grated on my nerves. You could hear the spit gurgling in it. “I wanted to see her. Knew I may not get the opportunity to otherwise.”
“Son of a bitch,” Gage spoke low, but Nikolai laughed louder.
Gage’s shoulder tensed as he sat back. “Well she’s going now. Come on Regan.”
“Wait.” I raised my hand, forearm braced on the table. “Who was Jared?”
Nikolai cocked his head, looking at me. “Jared? Why I don’t know pretty thing, who was he?”
“Regan—” Gage tried to warn me, but I kept going. I wouldn’t mention his mom or say where I got my information.
“I heard you fought with Angela about Jared one night, that she dated Jared before you. Do you know his last name?”
“I don’t even know his first name. Jared? And I fought Angela, your mother, about him? When?”
“At the restaurant she worked at.”
Something passed through his eyes, maybe understanding, maybe a memory. “Ah, before she worked for me. Hmm, maybe I do remember some jerk off hanging around too much. Jared? Maybe.”
“That’s it? You don’t know anything else? Or maybe you can give me another name, someone else I can talk to?” I felt defeated. I had tried not to put too much hope in this, but the little I had was ripped away.
“You think that guy could be your Dad?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know anything.
“Well then, you have my apology. Neither of them fuckers deserved it. Not Angela and not him. But you, I’ll apologize to you. I’m not above that.”
“For what?” It was Gage who spoke my thoughts that couldn’t pass my throat.
“Well, she won’t be able to ask—what’s his name? Jake?” He waved it away. “That man interfered too much. It was a problem. So I solved it.” He leaned back, spreading his hands open, palms up.
Gage gripped my leg. “So that’s a dead end.”
Nikolai really laughed then, loud and throaty, flecks of spit flying on the table. His hand slapped down. “That’s one way to say it, kid.”
Gage sat up, turning to me, shielding me from the man opposite us. “I’m sorry.” His low voice made the other words a reality.
“That’s sweet.” Nikolai nodded to us. “But I’ve only got a little time left, and I need to speak with you alone, Gage. The doll has to go.”
“Okay. One minute.” He stood up, pulling me with him.
The door to the room opened and Gage walked me out side of it. His hands rubbed my upper arms. “Are you Okay? I can talk with him another day. We don’t have to stay?”
“No, it’s fine. Get it over with. I’ll wait in the car.” No emotions reached my voice or me. I extended a steady hand for the keys. I was blank and controlled, but I wanted out of this prison.
He paused for a moment, but I walked off with the guard after I had the keys, and he walked back into that room.
We made a few turns, went through a few doors, and that’s when I finally paused to notice. “This isn’t the way we came in,” I spoke aloud.
“We’re almost there.” The man spoke, slowing his walk beside me. “It’s right up here.”
He stopped at a door similar to the one Nikolai was in, my heart about burst when he slid his key in. I stepped back, but he gripped my arm, pushing me through the now open door. It slammed shut as I spun around to get out. I banged repeatedly on the metal door, arm vibrating as the sound ricocheted around the room.
I froze at the sound of his voice, ice sliding down my spine.
“Calm down, I only want to talk to you.”
I sucked down my fear as I turned to face a man who haunted my dreams.