HIS WORDS SOUNDED SINISTER AND SENT A panic crashing through me. I twisted in his arms, using all my strength to throw my body around and jerk free. But the freedom was short lived before a jolt of pain shot through my shoulder and down my body. My feet were off the ground as he lifted my arm behind my back and then dropped me to my knees, my upper arm still firm in his grasp, twisted behind me.
He was speaking in a stream of foreign words I didn’t understand, but he was demanding as he growled them. He tugged on my arm with each syllable, pain shooting from my shoulder, making me yell out but paralyzing my body. His other hand tangled into the top of my hair, pulling strands loose from the bun I had it in as he jerked my head back to look up at him.
“Suka.” Crouching behind me, his breathing was sharp and forceful as he dipped his face closer to mine. “Zatknis bliad.” The painful grip on my arm lessened the closer he got, but it was still firm. “What do you think you can do?” His Russian accent was more pronounced than ever. His eyes softened and lids dropped as he skimmed my face. “Such spirit, but so foolish. I said stay here.”
I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest rose and fell with my gasps, and I strained to look at the boat from the angle he had me twisted in, hoping with everything in me to see Gage walking out. Not to help me, but just to know he was safe. Rusnak’s words tumbled in my brain, making me crazy.
“Please don’t hurt him. Please.” I’d beg for him, I’d do anything for him.
Rusnak’s face glazed over, ice freezing his features as he released me with a shove to the gravel parking lot. “He’ll be fine, as long as he doesn’t fuck up again, and he remembers who he works for.”
I lifted myself up on hands and knees, testing if he’d let me stand without hurting me.
He watched me with a look of disgust as he brushed his hands off on his pants. “You didn’t want to be part of this. He had no business bringing you in.” Then he glanced towards the boat and walked away. “Get up. Go back to your car,” he commanded, not pausing as he moved with purpose towards the docks.
I scrambled to my feet and spotted two figures coming off the boat. I was sure Gage was one of them, and I didn’t care beyond that. But fear at what Rusnak was planning didn’t give much room for relief.
I pulsed with adrenaline, all pain from my scrapes and sore arm vanishing. My pace was quick, but I hesitated since Rusnak said he wasn’t going to hurt Gage. I didn’t want to do anything to change his mind.
I closed in on them, approaching the pier. Viktor was the man with Gage, I could tell now.
Rusnak stopped at the start of the pier and raised one arm out straight, firing a soundless shot that sparked in the night.
I yelled, heart exploding in a painful silence.
Viktor dropped to the wood planks. Gage stood frozen. Or maybe it was only that time had stopped for that moment, until I realized the scene. Gage was standing.
A gun was in Gage’s hand now, raised up, but Rusnak lowered his and strolled down the pier to him. He was saying something, but the chilly night air carried away the words before I could make them out.
Gage put his gun back under his jacket and passed Rusnak on a path to me, and I hurried to meet him.
His strides were long and fast, but it still took too long to reach him. He extended his arm to me, and I wrapped my arms around his waist, crashing into him, squeezing him to me as he engulfed me. His warmth thawed the icy fear that gripped my muscles.
He pulled back in an instant. “Are you okay?” His hands smoothed my hair, running over the loose strands that Rusnak had pulled free. “You said two men, Rusnak and who else?”
I shook my head, gripping his shirt and pressing my hands to his strong body, not wanting to let him go. I had been so scared, twice I thought he might die, I couldn’t stop touching him. But we weren’t free yet. “Two other men went on the boat.”
Gage turned as Rusnak approached and pushed me behind him with one arm.
“You parked here?” Rusnak strolled up to us, pointing at our SUV with a sneer. “Take that car home, and keep your phone on. I’ll call soon so we can meet.” He walked to the side so I would be in his sight, but Gage rotated, keeping me behind him.
“Don’t do that, act like you’re going to protect her. From what? Me?” He was walking a wide arc around us, but I refused to meet his eyes. Instead, I watched his hands for what they may do. “You know I wouldn’t hurt her. I’m the one that protects her where you fail to.”
Gage’s chest vibrated with a growl, but his voice came out low and cold, “I don’t know what the fuck you’ll do after what just happened down there.”
“What just happened is that I eliminated a problem,” Rusnak was matter-of-fact.
“More like you caused one, when the others—”
“They told me to. I haven’t gone rogue, these orders came from the top. And his death is convenient. It will solve several problems, just wait and see.” He gestured down the dock, where the two men were lifting Viktor’s body off the wood and carrying him onto the boat. Anatoli sucked his teeth. “That was supposed to happen on the boat, but oh well, we’ll burn the dock too.” He shrugged, and then pointed back at the car. “Now, leave before your car is seen. And remember, keep the phone on and be prepared to meet tonight.”
Gage pulled me in front of him as we walked to the car, angled so Rusnak was never at our back.
“Wait, Regan,” Rusnak’s voice was smooth but chilly.
I turned to face him, putting my hand out to keep Gage from leading me away.
“I didn’t want you part of this, but you are now. I trust you know better than to talk about what you saw.” He stood still, eyes piercing me through the night and hands clasped in front of him.
“I do,” I reassured, heart pounding like the truth was written on my skin.
“Good.” His lip curled as he inclined his head. “Then I expect to see you at the meeting tonight too.” He turned and walked to the dock.
Gage hooked his arm around me, leading me back to the car. I could feel the tension in him, his muscles vibrating like a live wire. He didn’t give me a chance to do anything. He even pushed my hands away to fasten my seatbelt on me.
I would of complained, but I didn’t want to fight. I wanted to hold him longer, reassure myself that he was all right, that it was going to be all right.
My buckle clicked into place, and his eyes swept to mine. He was leaned across me, eyes level with mine, arms caging me to my seat, but it was his look that pinned me where I was and sucked the air from my lungs. The moment was brief, and then he was gone, hurrying to the drivers seat.
It wasn’t till we were a couple of streets away that my adrenaline receded, leaving me with shaking muscles and a chill to the bone.
“What happened Regan? What did he do to you?” Gage reached across the console to grab my hand, flashing his eyes to me when he could.
“Nothing.” That was the truth. Of all the things that just went down, what happened with Rusnak and me was nothing. It didn’t even take up room in my thoughts.
“Your hair’s a fucking mess, your jeans have a hole, and your hands…” he lifted my palm to his lips and kissed the padded part under my thumb. His warm breath stung the scrapes there. He placed another kiss to the side of my hand, and his voice came out in a soft plea, “Tell me. Everything.”
I nodded, wanting to hear everything that happened to him too. I told him play by play, how I saw the men, Rusnak caught me, the things he said. “And then you came out of the boat with Viktor and you know what happened then.” I cringed as it dawned on me, “Damn, he still has my gun.”
Gage tightened his hold on my hand. “We’ll get it back tonight.” He breathed a few deep breaths, fanning his anger or bringing it down, I couldn’t tell. But his jaw clenched and his teeth grinded. “He knew where you were? He said that? That sick fuck thinks he protects you, all because—”
“Stop, shh.” I brought our joined hands to his chest and my free hand to his face. “It doesn’t matter what he knew, or what he thinks he does. He doesn’t protect me.” I brushed my hand over his soft hair. “Forget about it for one minute, what happened on the boat? You didn’t see those two guys?”
I was trying to make sense of what Rusnak had said, ‘watch this’ what was I supposed to have seen?
He blew out air. “No. I saw your text and we moved. It took a minute to come up with an excuse since I wasn’t sure if the men were Viktor’s or not. I didn’t want to tip him if they were.” He shook his head. “We barely got started, barely worked out details…not that it matters now. Anatoli set it up. He told me to meet him, knowing that he would kill him.” His eyes kept sliding to the rearview mirror. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t texted me. What those men would have done.” He looked over at me, brows furrowed. “Because I can’t figure out why he wanted it to go down while I was there. What did he want me there for?”
A cold chill went down my spine at the thought. “We might find out tonight.” My voice was empty, drained, a ghost. “Or is it time to change our plans and stop going along with them?”
He gripped my thigh, silent for a moment. Then he shook his head, barely. “Not yet. But maybe soon. Let’s see how tonight goes.”
I closed my eyes, building my strength back up and calling on my adrenaline to charge me.
His hand left my thigh, and then his fingers pulled at the elastic of my hair tie, releasing my bun.
I looked towards him as he ran his fingers through my hair, smoothing down the front strands. His touch was so light, a stark contrast to the strain I could see in his muscles and hear in his voice. “Babe, tonight…I think you’ll be safe enough. Whatever his twisted reason, he does think he protects you. But I swear to God if he touches you, if he tries to hurt you—”
“I don’t think he will.” Gage’s eyes flashed to mine and I continued, “He only threw me down because I tried to go on the boat, he didn’t want me there.”
He looked straight out the window at the empty street we drove on. “He thinks he’s your fucking hero, your champion.”
“Don’t let that mess with your head. That’s what he wants—”
“No, what he wants is you. But he can’t have you.”
“That’s right, he can’t.” I wish we weren’t driving because I could tell he wasn’t focusing on my words. I needed him to look at me, touch me, and let me reassure him.
“You don’t get it. You don’t know what he’s done,” he spoke between his teeth with a growl.
“Then tell me, what don’t I know?”
He kept turning his head to me, making eye contact in brief spurts, but each time the pain in them struck me.
“He has protected you in ways I couldn’t. Those men from the wreck, Shadow’s men?”
His words squeezed my heart in a tight, painful hold, draining all the blood from it. And I had no air to breathe, let alone speak.
“He killed them after. I didn’t even get to avenge our baby, he did it first. He was there first, doing what I couldn’t do, what I should have done.”
The cold chill that covered me all night shattered as my blood burned with anger. “Good. I’m glad they’re dead.” And that was the truth. “There’s a lot to be angry at Rusnak about, but not that.”
Gage’s head snapped to mine, eyes narrowed. “Don’t go thanking him just yet. He only knew who they were because he works with Shadow.”
I sat silent for a moment, trying to take in the new information. Trying to fight down the demons rising in me that wanted to light the world on fire for what had happened.
“Why were they after you that night, Gage? Are they still after you?”
He shook his head, and stopped at a light, we were close to home now. “I had protected some girls that didn’t want to work for Alessandra outside the club. And even when they handed over the club to Ian, I kept the same policy that the girls there couldn’t work the streets too. I didn’t know that was tied to Shadow’s business. Viktor may have agreed to it, but Shadow blamed me.”
I hadn’t been able to look at him as he spoke, but glancing at him now, seeing the tears on his cheek blew out my anger, leaving me charred and empty. It all felt useless and pointless. So what if we disappeared now, we weren’t taking down any of them. None of them would pay for what had happened, for the life they took, for the innocent lives they will continue to take and destroy.
He sucked in air, and when I looked back to him his tears were dried up. “Maybe Anatoli had something to do with him backing off me, I don’t know. But I haven’t heard anymore since.”
“But you think Anatoli knows who Shadow is?”
The light turned green and he pulled forward. “I think Anatoli works for him.” His eyes questioned me as he glanced in my direction. “Don’t go there, Regan. We have to stick to our plan.”
“I didn’t say anything.” But I was surprised he had been able to follow my thoughts so well. I did want more. But I knew he was right, our chance at having some sort of life was to stick to the plan.
“You didn’t have to. Believe me, if we switch to the kill everyone plan, Shadow would be at the top of the list, Anatoli next.”
Gage turned into the lit interior of our parking Garage, and the moment we approached the elevator, he pulled out his phone and showed me the screen lit up with a message.
Car’s our front for both of you. Come now.
“We’re going to stick with the original plan?” I wanted to double check.
He looked down on me with a sigh and his hand skimmed my hair. “For now.”
He grasped my hand and we stepped into the elevator together. I took a breath and my finger hovered over the button for the lobby.
“No,” Gage reached in front of me and pressed the button for our floor. “We’ll go to our room first. You need to change and arm yourself before we go anywhere. He can wait.”
It wasn’t Rusnak waiting in the car for us, only a driver. But as the city lights faded and the night grew dark around us, so did my thoughts. We went in the opposite direction of the docks from earlier, but the end spot was a different type of boat slip. Not the personal yachts that Viktor had, but a small business wharf that advertised dinner cruises and rental fishing boats.
The car pulled as close as it could to a dock of one of the largest boats in the wharf. It glowed with inside lights on, but there were several people moving on the deck of the ship. I pushed down the dread in my stomach and steeled myself to face whatever came next because I hadn’t a clue what we were about to walk into. And I could tell from the way Gage pulled me to his side, he wasn’t sure what was going on either.