Miranda and Alexei – A FREE Novella

Enjoy!

Chapter 1

 

The intense feeling of warmth and security woke her up.  Miranda slowly opened her eyes, looking around as she tried to figure out why she felt so…good.

 

It took her several moments to realize that…well, she couldn’t move.

 

It wasn’t the inability to move that bothered her so much.  It was the fact that she didn’t WANT to move.  The strangeness of it all hit her at the same time that the source of her warmth moved.  Jerking backwards, she stared at the tanned chest and realized how sore her muscles were.  Sore in very strange places.  Sore in places she’d never been sore before!

 

Lifting her head, she looked around.  Also, sunshine wasn’t right.  It was filtering through filmy curtains.  And it was on the wrong side of the room!  Her bedroom had a window on the right side.  This window was on the wrong side of her bed.

 

Which meant…

 

Miranda’s heart pounded hard as memories of the previous night came back to her.  Lots of memories!  Oh my…naughty, wicked memories!

 

The coffee shop.  The bar next door.  The MAN!

 

“Okay,” she whispered to herself, then her eyes jerked to the right, praying that the sound hadn’t woken up the man.  Alexei.  Yep, that was his name.  She’d screamed it several times last night.  Over and over again!  Goodness, how many times had he woken her up?  How many…

 

No, she didn’t want to know.  She wasn’t going to count.

 

This wasn’t her, she thought.  She’d never had a one night stand!  Never!

 

Hmmm…so last night sort of contradicted that statement but…

 

Pulling her hand away slowly, she shifted away from the man, trying to figure out how to extricate herself from this embarrassing situation.  She hadn’t ever done a one night stand before last night, and she wasn’t really sure what the correct protocol was.

 

Darn it, how did one…how was she to get away?  Should she wake him up and thank him before running out of the bedroom?

 

Clothes.  She absolutely refused to do any running while naked.  Since she was currently completely naked, not even the sheet covering her…only a very tall, very muscular man was currently covering her…yeah, clothes were her priority.

 

Once she was dressed, then she could…she would…

 

Miranda slipped out from underneath the man, deciding that the priority was to get dressed and then she could debate the merits of sneaking out or waking the man up to say goodbye.

 

Unfortunately, the man was laying on the sheet, so she couldn’t use that to cover herself.  So she slipped out of the bed and frantically searched for her clothes.

 

She found her dress under the bed and her shoes were…one was by a chair, the other was by the dresser.  How in the world had they gotten so far apart?  She couldn’t remember what had happened specifically…another issue she would mentally sift through once she was dressed.

 

Dressing was mandatory before her mind really started working.  But where was her darn underwear?  Why wasn’t it close to her…Oh yeah.  She found the strap of her bra and tugged, finding it tangled among the sheets under his foot.  Darn it, the man’s toes were even sexy!

 

Tugging finally worked and she pulled her bra on quickly…well, as quickly as her shaking fingers would allow.

 

There was movement on the bed and Miranda poked her head up, watching the man with wide, terrified eyes.  “Please stay asleep!  Please stay asleep!” she whispered.

 

Thankfully, he rolled over, his arm reaching out as if trying to find her but he didn’t wake up.

 

Miranda breathed a sigh of relief and continued her search for her underwear.  But it was nowhere to be found and, when the man moved again, she gave up her search.  She stood up on bare feet, grabbed her purse and ran out of the room, her shoes dangling at the ends of her fingers as she promised she would never, ever, do anything so crazy again!

 

Once outside, she looked around, trying to get her bearings.  Shoes on, underwear…somewhere else, hair going every which way but she had her purse.  She had her car keys and she was still alive.

 

Of all the stupid, reckless things to do, what had prompted her to go back to that man’s hotel room?  Yes, he’d been funny.  He’d made her laugh at the coffee shop and again after a glass of wine in the bar next door.  Still, she just didn’t do that kind of thing!  The last man she’d had sex with, she’d been dating for six months before they’d become intimate!  And the guy before that?  Well, she couldn’t really remember him because he was her college boyfriend, but still…it simply proved her point.  She’d had sex with two men before last night, both of them with men who had been in her life for a significant period of time.

 

And neither man had made her feel even a fraction of what last night’s lover had given her.

 

Shivering, she unlocked her car door, her mind thinking back to the things they’d done.  The things he’d done to her and…oh, the way she’d reacted.  She’d loved doing…that, to him!  It hadn’t felt wrong.  It had felt so incredibly, wonderfully right!

 

She drove home, the traffic extremely light at this time of the morning.  Not to mention, most of the traffic at this time of the morning was heading into downtown Seattle while she was heading out.  Her apartment was in the outer suburbs, closer to the airport.  As a pilot for Steele Industries, she was often called in at the last minute for a flight and needed to be close by so she could get her plane inspected and ready to go.

 

The drive was easy.  Her mental ruminations…not so much.

 

Even as she pulled into the underground parking garage of her building, she could feel the blush forming on her cheeks as she thought about all of the different positions she’d enjoyed with that man last night.

 

Parking was a challenge since she was so distracted, but she looked forward to a shower and…“It was just his accent,” she muttered, trying to justify her actions from the previous night.

 

“What was his accent?”

 

Miranda spun around, spying Mindy and Olivia coming out of her apartment building.  “And where were you this morning?”

 

Miranda stared at her friends, not sure what to say.  Her mind was spinning as she tried to come up with an excuse as to why she was coming home at this time of the day.

 

“And why are you wearing a dress?  We don’t usually…” Olivia stopped, her mouth forming an O as she took in the blush forming on Miranda’s cheeks.  “Where. Have. You. Been?” she demanded, grabbing Mindy’s arm as she started to do the math.

 

Miranda’s breath caught in her chest as she struggled, stammering out a few words that didn’t make any sense.

 

Mindy caught on quickly.  “You met someone!”

 

Olivia’s hand smacked over her mouth.  “You met a man!”

 

They were both ecstatic, hurrying over to Miranda to give her a hug.  It was awkward though, because Mindy’s stomach was protruding since she had finally entered the last month of her pregnancy while Olivia was too busy dancing with excitement.

 

Mindy grabbed Miranda’s hand and dragged her to her car.  “Get in, woman!  You have a lot of explaining to do and I need a bathroom.”

 

They all piled into Mindy’s giant SUV, a car that Gus had bought her right after their wedding because Mindy was pregnant and Gus, the overly protective lumberjack husband of Mindy’s, wanted her to be as safe as possible.  It really was a huge vehicle, but Mindy put it to good use, stocking up on supplies for the planes that she was in charge of.

 

Oh, the pilots might think they were in charge, but in reality, Mindy ruled the four private jets maintained by Steele Industries that were used to fly the executives all over the country and, at times, internationally.

 

Olivia was a flight attendant and married to one of the other Steele Industries pilots, Pete.  A great guy and very handsome, Miranda had thought about dating him years ago when they’d both started working for Steele Industries.  But he was just a nice guy and they’d ended up being friends.  That had been awkward when Olivia had started working for the company as well.  And even worse after the two married, since Olivia and Pete had previously hated each other.  Seriously hated each other.

 

Now they were blissfully happy and Miranda was excited for them.  If a bit jealous.

 

She wanted what Olivia and Mindy had.  She wanted their happiness, their blissful exuberance.

 

Alas, she was stuck with the nitwits that entered her life as boring, irritating, tedious dates.

 

Except for Alexei.  There hadn’t been a single moment last night when she’d been bored.  From the moment they’d started talking in the coffee shop, she’d been entranced by the man’s lilting accent, his charm and wit.  Closing her eyes, she forced her mind to toss him out of her memories.  The man was just that.  A memory.  They’d been two strangers passing in the night.

 

That’s it.

 

And he still had her underwear!

 

Miranda shifted uncomfortably on the back seat of the car, trying to figure out what to say.  Unfortunately, by the time Mindy was pulling into a parking space, Miranda still hadn’t come up with a plan.

 

“Okay, spill it,” Olivia said as the three of them sat down at a table in one of their favorite restaurants.

 

“Nothing to spill,” Miranda said, blowing on her herbal tea.

 

Mindy laughed.  “You forgot that we were supposed to meet for breakfast, didn’t you?”

 

Miranda’s hand stilled as her mind frantically tried to catch up.  Saturday.  Breakfast.  Early because… “Oh no!” she gasped.

 

Olivia and Pete were flying out this afternoon, taking Luke Steele to Texas so he could start surveying new sites for a building Steele Industries was commissioned to build.

 

“Yep!” Olivia teased.  “You forgot.”

 

Mindy leaned forward.  “You never forget anything.  So spill it.  What’s going on?  What’s his name?  Where did you meet him?  When are you seeing him again?”

 

“And why didn’t you tell us about him before now?” Olivia added.

 

Miranda pushed her hair off of her forehead, trying to recover from…everything.  Darn it, she’d forgotten breakfast this morning and now, she had no clue what was going on.  “I wish I could tell you,” she admitted.  Looking down at her coffee cup, she wondered what had gotten into her last night.  “I messed up.”

 

Instantly, two hands rested on her forearms and the touch was warm and reassuring.

 

“Honey,” Olivia laughed softly, “you don’t mess up.  You’re one of the most careful, precise and conscientious women I know.”

 

Mindy squeezed Miranda’s arm reassuringly.  “I agree.  So tell us what you think you messed up about, and we’ll let you know if you’re right or not.”

 

Miranda laughed, but it was more of a hiccup than amusement.  These women were amazing, she thought.

 

Taking a deep breath, she looked at the table, unable to meet their eyes because of the shame hitting her hard and deep.  “I slept with a man last night.”  They both continued to look at her, waiting for her to continue.  “A guy I don’t know.”

 

Mindy blinked, but then shook her head.  “Miranda, are you beating yourself up because you had sex?”

 

Miranda looked down.  “I am beating myself up because I had a one night stand.”

 

There was silence and Miranda imagined that her friends were shocked.  But then Olivia leaned in to whisper, “Was it good sex?” Miranda wasn’t sure how to respond, but the blush that crept up her neck spoke volumes and both women smiled.  She thought about it for a long moment, brushing aside the horror she felt at having sex with a stranger.  Slowly, memories of the previous night hit her and…she smiled.  “Oh yeah,” Olivia nodded, “it was good sex.”

 

Mindy whooped and did a fist pump into the air.  “Yes!”

 

Miranda shook her head.  “You don’t understand.  It was a one night stand.  I don’t even know the guy’s last name!”

 

Mindy shrugged.  “So what?”

 

She looked at both of her friends, not sure why they weren’t walking away from her.  “But…”

 

Olivia interrupted her.  “Miranda, you relaxed.  You let yourself have fun.  Men do things like that all the time and it’s okay.”

 

“It isn’t okay.  Not for men or women.  There are diseases and pregnancy and…”

 

“You used protection, right?”

 

“Yes,” Olivia said, confident about that.

 

Mindy laughed and patted her stomach.  “Good.  Because that was my ‘mistake’ and I’m really happy about it, but I understand why an unplanned pregnancy from last night might not be the best future.”

 

Olivia grinned, agreeing with Mindy.  “You’re a healthy, single woman, Miranda.  You had sex.  You didn’t go out and kill someone.  You didn’t snort cocaine or take some other illegal drug.  You didn’t steal, lie or cheat.  You had sex.  It is fine.”  She smiled, her eyes twinkling as she continued.  “And from the blush on your cheeks, again, I’m guessing it was more than just fine.”

 

Mindy laughed again.  “Where did you meet him?”

 

Miranda stared at her friends, feeling the tension leave her shoulders.  They were right.  It was just sex and she didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t do anything illegal.  She didn’t really like the morality of sleeping with a stranger, but…

 

“Tell us about him,” Olivia encouraged.

 

Miranda smiled, thinking back to the coffee shop where she’d first met him. “He’s nice,” she told both of them.  “He’s originally from Moscow and he has this lovely accent.  When he speaks English, it sounds so different.  That’s what initially caught my eye,” she told her friends.  “He was grabbing coffee behind me in the store and asked me a question.  I can’t even remember what it was because I turned around and…” she paused, thinking back to that initial glance.  The way she’s shivered when she’d tilted her head back to look at the man.  “He was just…”

 

“Hot,” Olivia offered, nodding her head.

 

“Amazing,” Mindy added in with a sigh of happiness.

 

Miranda stopped, stunned as she looked at both of her friends’ silly grins.  “Are we still talking about Alexei?” she teased.

 

Both women’s spine straightened and they mentally re-focused on her story.  “Right,” she continued.  “When I ordered my coffee, he just stepped up and paid for mine and his together.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, but then he started talking to me while we waited for our coffee to be prepared.  It seemed completely natural to just…take a table together.”

 

“It was love at first sight, right?” Mindy asked.

 

Miranda shook her head, laughing at her idealistic friend.  “You fell instantly in love with Gus the first time you saw him,” she teased.  “But no.  It wasn’t love for me.”

 

“Instant lust, though,” Olivia stated.

 

Miranda smiled over at her friend.  “It was instant lust for you and Pete as well.  You just decided to fight with each other for months before finally admitting to the sexual tension.”

 

Olivia shrugged one shoulder, but the pink in her own cheeks confirmed Miranda’s version of the story.

 

Mindy twirled her hand in the air.  “So what happened next?”

 

“Nothing really.  We just talked.  Finished our coffee and, by that time, a few hours had passed.”

 

“A few hours?” both of them asked at the same time.

 

Miranda shrugged slightly.  “Well, yeah.  I hadn’t realized the passing of time.  And I don’t think he had either but I stood up and he just…said we should grab dinner at the place next door.”

“Which was a bar.”

 

“And you don’t drink.”

 

“I had seltzer water,” Miranda confirmed.

 

Mindy groaned.  “I’m so glad I don’t fly,” she said, referring to the rule about pilots not drinking at least twelve hours before any flight.

 

Both women looked down at Mindy’s protruding stomach.  “Okay, well, yeah.  But normally, it is really nice to not have to worry about having just a beer.”

 

Miranda laughed.  “You’ve never lifted tons of steel and fiberglass off of the earth and headed into the clouds.”  She smiled.  “Believe me, the thrill of flying, even after all these years, is worth the sacrifice of not drinking.”

 

Mindy waved her hand in the air.  “I have zero desire to fly a plane.  I’ll leave that task to Gus along with mowing the grass.  I can’t handle the stress of either.”

 

Olivia looked at her curiously.  “I thought you mowed the grass for Gus one weekend.”

 

Mindy grinned.  “Yeah.  But I made patterns in the grass.  Gus prefers the lines to be straight and even.”

 

Both women looked at their friend curiously, then burst out laughing.  “You mowed it badly on purpose didn’t you?”

 

Mindy shrugged.  “Of course!  I hate mowing the grass.  I figured if I did it badly enough, Gus wouldn’t let me do it again.  He grumbled about my patterns for three days until the grass was finally long enough for him to mow it and fix the lines.”

 

The three of them continued to laugh, and, thankfully, the conversation moved to other topics and away from Miranda’s one night stand.

 

With a gorgeous man.

 

One incredible, amazing, erotic, wicked man.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

When she pulled into the parking lot of the airport, she smiled as she walked into the building that housed the offices for the companies that used this airstrip.  It was a busy airport, but nothing like the SeaTac International Airport that handled all of the commercial flights in and out of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.  This was used exclusively for private passenger planes and cargo planes.  There were no security lines in this airport.  Passengers on these flights owned their own planes so they generally drove right out onto the tarmac where their plane was parked and walked up a flight of stairs.  Takeoff was easier, the planes were ultra-luxurious and the catering crews, mechanics and other flight support personnel were more obvious and well paid.

 

Pulling her pilot bag behind her, she stopped in at the office and checked in with Mindy.  “Everything set?”

 

“Yep,” she reported and waddled over to grab a clipboard.  “You’re flying Mr. Andropov, a client of Zeke’s, to a private airstrip in Arizona.  Flight plan has already been submitted.  Passenger list is you, Tim, Mr. Andropov and his three body guards.”

 

Tim was the flight attendant that Mindy tried to schedule anytime Miranda flew because they were just a good team.  Tim was about five feet, four inches tall and one of the prettiest men Miranda had ever met.  He was also about as gay as she’d ever met, funny, bawdy at times and overly protective.  Miranda always laughed when Tim tried to step in to protect her since Miranda was about three inches taller than he was.  But he was still a guy and she thought his efforts were charming.

 

“Hello, beautiful!” Tim called out as he walked up to the plane.

 

Miranda was already going through her pre-flight checklist.  She turned and glanced at him, laughing when she caught the strange look in his eye.  “What?”

 

“You look different,” he commented.  Tilting his head, his eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out what was different about her.  “New hairstyle?” he asked.

 

Miranda smoothed her honey-blond hair that she’d styled into an elaborate twist.  “Not really,” she answered and moved on to the next item on her list.

 

His lips pressed together for a moment, then his eyes went wide. “You met someone!” he gasped.  He moved closer, his eyes moving up and down her figure.

 

Huh?  How had he figured that out?!  “I don’t…”

 

“You’re seriously going to deny it when it is written all over your face?” he demanded, then tssked, shaking his head.  “I thought we were friends!  You should have called me.”

 

“Stop, Tim. It isn’t…I met a man, yes.  But there’s absolutely no future with him.  So could we just get to work?”

 

He laughed.  “Oh, there is so much more to this story!  And once we are in the air, I’m definitely going to hear more about whatever man has caught your eye!”

 

He chuckled, but thankfully, he moved up the stairs to the cabin of the plane.  He had things to do before every flight as well and he was extremely good at his job.

 

An hour later, Miranda and Tim were sitting inside the plane’s cabin, relaxing in the luxurious leather chairs when she got a phone call from Mindy who was still in the office. “They’ve arrived?” Miranda asked as soon as she answered her phone.

 

“Yep,” Mindy confirmed.  “Mr. Andropov should be there in a few moments.”

 

“We’re on it,” Miranda replied.

 

Immediately, she and Tim stood up, buttoned their uniforms and descended the stairs.  Standing at the bottom, ready to greet their passengers, she waited with a professional smile.

 

“I dread these non-Steele Industries passengers,” Tim muttered as the black limousine approached.  “Some of them are real jerks.”

 

Miranda agreed, but she didn’t respond, not wanting to encourage Tim’s venting.  He had to deal more closely with the passengers, so he bore the brunt of some of their outrageous demands.  As the pilot, she could sit in the cockpit and just get the plane safely from point A to point B, smile for the passengers before and afterwards.

 

So when the black limousine stopped and several large men got out, shouting orders to each other, Miranda heard Tim’s sigh of resignation without a chuckle.

 

But all of her amusement flitted away when the tall, handsome man with the silver sideburns exited the limousine.  His broad shoulders were covered with an immaculate, tailored jacket and she held her breath as she took in his long legs.

 

Coming closer, she knew the exact instant that he recognized her and every muscle in her body tightened with anticipation, fear, embarrassment and…yeah, a rush of heat that was hard to hide.  Especially since those brown eyes were taking in every inch of her.

 

“Good morning, Mr. Andropov,” she said, her voice breaking and she cleared her throat.  “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

 

She extended her hand to the man, hoping he didn’t notice the trembling.  He did!  His fingers tightening around hers and he even lifted his other hand to cover hers.  “So we meet again, Miranda,” he said softly.

 

Miranda held her breath, not sure what to say under this kind of situation.  Once again, she’d never had to face an ex-lover…could he really be called a lover?  Or did one need to have more than a one night stand for someone to be considered a lover?

 

Oh, the inane thoughts that hit her as she stared up at this man!

 

“Yes.  I suppose we do,” she finally replied.

 

“You mentioned you were a pilot.  I didn’t realize I would have the pleasure of your company so soon,” he told her.

 

She blinked, not sure what to say.  Had he been trying to locate her?  But why?  They’d had sex.  Hadn’t he moved on?  Wasn’t that what people did with one night stands like what they’d shared?

 

Okay, so she hadn’t really moved on.  She’d been thinking about that night ever since she’d walked out of the door to his suite at the hotel.  Miranda had even dreamed about this man, the way he’d touched her, the way he’d encouraged her to do things, the things he’d done to her!

 

She cleared her throat again, looking down slightly.  “We’re ready to take off as soon as you are, sir,” she told him, trying to change the subject.

 

“I know you are,” he said softly.

 

Without another word, he hurried up the stairs of the plane, leaving her standing there, stunned and trembling with reaction.  He was here?  He was in her plane?

 

Dear heaven, how was she going to get through this flight?

 

“That’s him!” Tim hissed once they were alone once again.

 

The limousine drove away, indicating that the luggage had been stowed in the belly of the plane.  Another airport employee jogged over, standing by the stairs, ready to push them out of the way.  All of the pre-flight tasks were taken care of and she was standing at the bottom of the stairs, her mind going crazy as she tried to figure out if this was really happening.  He was really here, she was about to fly him to Arizona and…dear heaven!

 

“Ready?” Tim asked, clapping his hands together.  “This is going to be interesting.  The amazing ice queen and the man who broke through all of your barriers!  Oh, the questions I can have answered!”

 

Miranda stared up at Tim’s retreating back, not sure if he was serious or not.

 

When she stepped onto the plane, she immediately looked towards Tim.  He was serving coffee to the passengers and Miranda breathed a sigh of relief.  Tim wouldn’t do anything unprofessional, she realized.  He’d only been teasing her.

 

Taking her uniform hat off, she hung it and her jacket on the hooks just inside the cockpit.  When she sat down, she wasn’t sure what was going on.  The closing of the cockpit door snapped her back to the present and she looked around.  In front of the plane, the marshaller, the guy on the tarmac with the orange light sticks, was waiting for her attention.  He was the guy who guided her away from the gate and towards the runways.

 

Blinking, she realized that she needed to focus.  No time to let her mind wander.  This was important stuff.  She could figure things out when she was in the air and didn’t have to pay so much attention to the small details.  Take off and landings were much more dangerous than mid-flight periods.

 

As she looked at the controls, she was reminded that this was her thing.  This was what she did extremely well.  She was a great pilot.  So she turned all of her attention towards ensuring a safe and smooth takeoff.

 

Flicking the switches, she reviewed each of the gauges, ensuring the fuel levels were accurate, her meters were working correctly…all of the small things that were so important during a flight.  If a car ran out of gas, the driver could pull over to the side of the road and no one got hurt.  When a plane ran out of gas, it wasn’t as simple.

 

She pressed the button telling Tim that she was ready for takeoff.  Fifteen minutes later, she was screaming down the runway.  Checking her gauges, she then pulled back on the throttle, the jet lifted off.  This was always the most exhilarating moment.  She loved takeoffs.  It was as if she became weightless during those moments as her plane lifted off of the ground.

 

Smoothing out, she listened through her headphones as the tower gave her additional instructions.  Doing ten things at the same time, she followed the instructions, checked her gauges, monitored the LIDAR equipment which constantly checked for clear air turbulence.

 

Wheels up, still ascending, passengers buckled in…everything was perfect.

 

A few minutes later, she popped up above the cloud cover and sighed with happiness.  Sunshine!  Goodness, it was nice to be up above the cloud ceiling!  Which was why pilots ALWAYS had sunglasses available.  It might be raining down on the earth, but most planes flew above the clouds and it was a beautiful day up here.  The sun reflected off of the clouds and it looked like heaven.

 

Her cabin radio beeped and she pressed a button.  “Miranda, one of the passengers wants to come forward.  Okay with that?”

 

Never on commercial flights, but very often on private jets, a passenger wanted to experience the cockpit, ask the pilot questions.  In fact, Teague and Logan always flew up here with her when she shuttled them around the globe so this wasn’t an odd request.

 

So why was she hesitating?

 

Because she wasn’t ready to talk to Alexei again.  She needed to wrap her mind around the fact that he was here.

 

Surely the man didn’t want to come forward though.  It was probably one of his body guards trying to determine her skills as a pilot

 

Knowing that Tim was still waiting, she pressed the button and responded.  “Sure.  Everything is clear up here.  Let him in.”

 

She pressed a few more buttons, checked in with air traffic controllers on the ground to ensure that their path was clear for the duration, then tensed as she heard the door to the cockpit open up.

 

Instantly, she knew that the man stepping forward was not one of the body guards.  It was the one man she’d been hoping to avoid during the flight.

 

Sure enough, his big body folded up into the co-pilots seat and she gave him a tense smile.

 

“So, you are a pilot.”

 

“I thought I’d mentioned that.”

 

He chuckled. “Yes, but I didn’t believe you.”

 

Her eyes flitted over to his, then back forward, over her gauges once again.  “Why didn’t you believe me?”

 

He shrugged slightly.  “Because you are too beautiful.  I thought you were teasing me.”

 

Miranda rolled her eyes, but he couldn’t see that because of her aviator glasses.  “I don’t think that physical appearance has anything to do with one’s job.”

 

He laughed again.  “You would be surprised at the things women tell me in order to entice me.”

 

Miranda gasped.  “I wasn’t trying to entice you!” she retorted quickly.

 

“I know.  You were just…beautiful and I am still very attracted to you.”  There was a long pause and Miranda wasn’t sure what to say.  She felt a strong urge to fill the silence, but words failed her.

 

“Why did you leave that morning?”

 

She looked over at him, then glanced behind her to make sure that the door was closed.  Thankfully, it was and Tim hadn’t heard that his suspicions were confirmed.

 

Facing forward again, she tried to focus on the flight, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do at the moment.  “Buckle your seatbelt,” she told him, thinking that she could only avoid so much turbulence.

 

 

Alexei followed her command, knowing that she was right.  It wasn’t safe to be in a plane, much less the cockpit, and not wear a seatbelt.  In this case, it was more of a harness so that the pilot and co-pilot didn’t go through the windshield during turbulence.

 

He wasn’t even sure why he was sitting up here in this uncomfortable chair when there were wide, leather seats in the plane’s cabin and a flight attendant who seemed fully capable of making the flight more comfortable.

 

Then he looked over at the woman’s profile and knew that he was right where he wanted to be.  He hadn’t been able to get Miranda out of his mind since that night and he wanted to get to know her.  She would probably end up being like all the other women in his past, but for the moment, he was going to enjoy her company.

 

“So which buttons should I avoid touching?” he teased, and laughed when her horrified expression turned his way.  “Just kidding,” he told her, lifting his hands up to show that he wouldn’t touch anything.

 

“Not funny,” she mumbled, but Alexei saw the slight smile she was fighting.

 

“How did you learn to become a pilot?” he asked, relaxing back in the uncomfortable chair.

 

He leaned back and listened, enjoying her lilting voice.  He also heard a slight accent, as if she weren’t originally from Seattle.  It wasn’t there all the time, but when she was nervous, her “I” turned into an “Aye”.

 

“How long have you flown planes?” he asked when she slowed down.  He loved listening to her talk and there was an obvious passion for flying which came out in her voice.  And there was the accent again.  It was beautiful, he thought.  Nothing too strong, but just a soft, drawl with a few words.  More of a softening of the vowels, or maybe it was that she just slowed as she spoke some words, pronouncing them with a bit more emphasis.

 

“You’re not from around Seattle originally, are you?”

 

Those pretty, blue eyes glanced at him.  He couldn’t see them when she looked at him directly, but as she watched the clouds or looked at the gauges in front of her, he could see her eyes, watched her long lashes flutter slightly.

 

“No.  My sister and I grew up in Virginia.”  She glanced at him again, then smiled slightly.  “Real southerners don’t consider Virginia to be a true southern state.  But as long as a person doesn’t live in the Northern Virginia region right outside of Washington, D.C., we all consider ourselves southerners.”

 

He laughed softly, enjoying the conversation more than he’d thought possible.  As she maneuvered the plane through the early afternoon sky, they talked about a variety of subjects.  Just as he had in the coffee shop the other day and over dinner that evening, he was entranced by the wide range of subjects on which she was able to converse.  Miranda Peters was a much more enticing woman than so many others who had come before.

Chapter 3

 

“You will stay with me tonight,” Alexei commanded as they walked down the moveable stairs.

 

Miranda turned to glare up at him.  Remembering that he was a client of her employer, she salvaged a professional expression, even though her insides were quaking with…crazy emotions.

 

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.  We’ll just find a hotel room in town.”

 

The man shook his head even as he put a hand to the small of her back. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

 

Miranda tried to pull back so that she could dislodge his hand, but he wasn’t allowing it. So his hand continued to burn against her skin, making her more painfully aware of the sexual tension that had been simmering between them throughout the flight.  The result was that her tone came out a bit more sharp than she’d anticipated.  “Are you really trying to tell me that there aren’t any hotel rooms in town?” she demanded, not believing him for a moment.

 

He moved forward, forcing her feet to follow.  “Not at all.”

 

“Then Tim and I will stay in town.”

 

He turned and looked at her.  “Miranda, I understand that you are nervous about being around me, after our night together, but there…”

 

“I’m not nervous,” she argued, but her lips were pressed tightly together and her whole body felt as if it might crack.  Yes, she was tense.  But no, she wasn’t going to admit it to this man.  Admitting it would reveal too much about her feelings for him.  Feelings that went well beyond what she should be feeling for a man she’d spent one night with.

 

“Good.  Because there’s no reason to be.”

 

She was furious with him, especially since he was too close to the truth.  “I’m not nervous.  I would simply prefer to stay in town at a hotel room.”

 

He chuckled again.  “It isn’t that I can’t allow you to stay in town.  There just isn’t a town.”

 

She blinked, not really sure what he meant by that.  “No town?”

 

He shrugged, then took her arm again, leading her away from the tarmac where several others were securing the plane for the night.  “Well, of course there’s a town.  But it’s about a hundred and fifty miles away.”

 

“That’s…!” she calculated the driving time.  “That’s more than two hours away!”

 

“Exactly.  My staff have arranged for a fuel truck to arrive in three days’ time.  That’s when we’ll be flying out again.  Zeke will be here in two days, at which time…”

 

She glanced around, noting the harsh mountain and arid desert.  But also a large hangar which obviously was meant to store private planes.  Plural!  “Wait a minute.  You have your own landing strip.  Why don’t you have your own planes?  Why am I flying you out here?”

 

He turned to face his guards, dismissing them with a nod.  One of them touched Tim on the shoulder and the traitor followed the guards.  Miranda had a few choice words for her friend, but she held her tongue for the moment.

 

“I have a fleet of planes, but there was an emergency at one of my oil fields in Alaska.  Since I was in Seattle and had the closest plane, I sent my pilot on to assist with the emergency issue.  The pilot that brought me to Seattle offered to fly up to Alaska and brought a man down to Anchorage for an emergency surgery.”  He paused, letting that news sink in.  “So you see, my dear.  There were no nefarious reasons for you bringing me here.  I often offer my planes to other executives and your employer offered his to me.”

 

Miranda looked away, ashamed.  “I’ve often brought other people from different companies to various places.  I apologize for the distrust.”

 

He took her hand this time.  “It’s okay.  I get that you don’t often sleep with strangers and you’re understandably suspicious of me.”  He led her over to the Land Rover that had been left for their use.  “I think you are an amazing woman, Miranda.  How about if we spend the next few days here relaxing?  You and I can get to know one another and, perhaps you might learn to trust me.”

 

He closed the door to the SUV before she could respond.  She thought about jumping out of the vehicle and finding her own transportation back to…wherever.  But since she had no idea where the nearest town was and, since this was a private landing strip, she doubted that there would be a car rental place anywhere nearby.  And there weren’t any other people in the lone building.  So there wasn’t much of a choice but to go wherever this Land Rover was heading.

 

Before she could figure anything out, he’d walked around the SUV and stepped into the vehicle, starting it up with a press of the button.

 

“Why do I make you so nervous?” he asked, steering towards the mountains.  Now that they were away from the airstrip, she could see a building off in the distance.  It looked large, but from here, she wasn’t sure what it was.

 

She tucked a hair out of her eyes but kept staring straight ahead.  “I’m sure the theory is that my mother was a prostitute and my father an alcoholic that pimped us out to pay for his drug habit.  So I have abandonment issues and don’t want to give my heart away to someone who might not be worthy of that gift.”

 

He smiled slightly, his hands confidently steering the vehicle on the rough road.  “But that’s not the case, is it?”

 

She shook her head.  “Nope.  My mother is a high school English teacher and my father a computer programmer.  He is a project manager for a tech company that produces programming for the government.”

 

“And?”

 

She shrugged, pushing her glasses higher up onto her nose.  “And, I had a very happy childhood.  My parents are sweet and wonderful, caring and pushed me to go after my dreams.  They have a very happy, healthy marriage.”

 

“How does that translate into running away from me the other morning?”

 

She sighed.  “Perhaps I just don’t think that a one night stand could result in a happily ever after.  And I didn’t like who I was when I woke up next to a man I didn’t know.”  Miranda turned to look at him carefully.  “So you’re turn.  Why is a man in his late thirties not married and trying to take over the world, one company at a time?”

 

He smiled, but shook his head.  “Not the world.”  He turned to look at her.  “Just my share of it, perhaps.”

 

“You’re avoiding the question.”

 

His smile widened but he continued to focus on the road ahead of him.  “My mother was a prostitute who sold herself to put me through school and make sure I had enough food.”  He didn’t look over at her.  “I have no idea where my father is.  Or even who my father is.  He was just some guy that paid my mother by the hour for a bit of sexual relief.”  Finally, he looked at her and, even with his sunglasses covering his eyes, she knew that he was telling her the truth. “So I have commitment issues and possibly, I expect every woman I meet to somehow sell herself to me for a night of whatever she can get from me.”

 

Miranda was stunned.  She believed him.  Every word of it.  “So why aren’t you running from me?”

 

She saw one of his dark eyebrows lift over the top of his sunglasses.  “Because you’re beautiful.  Because being with you that night was the most sexually satisfying night of my life.  And because I bought you a cup of coffee.”

 

Miranda waited, trying to figure out what that meant.  “You bought me coffee?  And that’s a reason?”

 

He shrugged and looked forward again.  “I’m most likely focusing on the sex part of that explanation.”

 

She laughed, unable to stop herself.  He was just so deadpan about it.  “That’s a typical guy response.”

 

He chuckled too.  “I would have thought I’d given you ample evidence the other night that I am indeed a guy.”

 

She rolled her eyes, trying very hard not to fall for his charm once again.  Deciding that a change of subject was probably the best defense, she asked him, “What work are you doing with Steele Industries?”

 

“I’ve contracted your company to build my new headquarters in Seattle,” he explained.

 

“Why are you moving?”

 

She looked around, astonished to find that they were approaching a beautiful house.  The rustic house looked perfect amid the mountains and rough buttes in the distance.  Instead of building a house that stood out amid the environment, this house seemed to somehow blend in with it, and yet, still remain separate.

 

“My business interests have shifted over the years.  Most of my business comes out of the Pacific now instead of Europe.  It makes financial sense to move at this point in time.”

 

She absorbed that even as several servants hurried out of the house to grab the suitcases that had been stored in the back of the Land Rover.  “So you’re going to be in Seattle for…?”

 

He smiled as he opened the passenger door.  “Yeah.  I’m going to be around for a while, Miranda.  Better get used to it.”

 

She didn’t comment on that since there were too many servants standing by.  One was ready to take the Land Rover to the garage.  Another was carrying suitcases inside to…who knows were.  And yet another woman was stepping out of the house with what looked to be refreshing lemonade.

 

Her mouth watered at the thought of the tart-sweet drink but she hesitated, staying back slightly. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowing her to stay in the background.  “Ms. Morana, this is a personal guest of mine,” he said to what Miranda suspected was the housekeeper.  “She’ll be staying in the blue room.”  He took two of the tall glasses that already had condensation forming on the sides, handing one to her.  “Careful with this.  Ms. Morana makes a mean lemonade.”

 

She noticed that his glass had a red straw in it and nodded towards it.  “Why is yours different?”

 

He put a hand to the small of her back.  “Because I called ahead and warned Ms. Morana that you don’t drink.  So she put the alcohol only in the different glasses so you wouldn’t accidentally drink something with alcohol in it.”

 

Miranda looked up at him sharply, feeling something odd in the pit of her stomach.  He wasn’t going to encourage her to drink?  To try it “just once” and maybe she would “relax”?

 

Too many men had tried those lines on her in the past.  “Why don’t you drink?” he asked and she smiled at the inevitable question.  They stepped out onto a stone patio that was in the shade.  It was still probably a hundred and something degrees, but here in the shade, it somehow felt cooler.  Perhaps it was the stones that sucked out the heat or just being in the shade.  Or maybe it was just the astonishing view of the mountains.  She wasn’t sure, but instantly, she felt more comfortable.

 

“It isn’t that I have a moral objection to alcohol.  I just…” she shrugged.  “I love to fly.”  She smiled slightly.  “I was probably a bird in another life.  I just feel good when I’m up in the air.  So I told Mindy,” she paused and took a deep breath, “she’s the flight manager, to put me on the schedule as often as possible.  I’m pretty much always on call, and I like it.  I love flying.  I feel so much more at home, more at ease while I’m up in the air.”

 

He nodded as if he could relate somehow.  “I feel a thrill when I find a company to take over.  I love the thrill of researching companies that have fallen into a bad way, the mental challenge to figure out how to pull them out of that slump and the excitement when I sell them after they are more profitable.”

 

She laughed.  “I don’t think it is the same thing,”

 

“Sure it is,” he said, offering her the bowl of olives that had been set out for appetizers.  “Tell me you don’t love the initial takeoff the most.  And when you run into a thunderstorm up in the sky?  The mental excitement is there when you have to work your way around it, find the edges and keep the plane safe.  Right?”

 

He was right, she thought, the olive she’d been about to enjoy still in her fingers, midway to her mouth.  “Yes,” she whispered.  No other man had ever understood.  Her dates in the past had initially thought it was “cool” to date a pilot, assuming it was all glamor and excitement.  But when she was gone for days, sometimes even weeks, they didn’t think it was as glamorous.  Just dull not having their girlfriend close by.

 

This man really understood!

 

Smiling, she nodded.  “Yeah. Something like that,” she finally replied.

 

They discussed more mundane issues until dinner was served, then she looked around, trying to find Tim.  “Where’s my flight attendant?” she asked, wary all of a sudden.  She realized that they’d been talking for hours and she was more relaxed now.  Just like the last time they’d been together.  Why was it that he could distract her so completely?

 

He turned to the housekeeper, asking her something in Russian that she didn’t understand.  The woman immediately responded, shrugging her shoulders slightly.

 

When Alexei turned back to Miranda, he winked.  “Apparently, your co-worker has decided to have dinner with my guards.”

 

Miranda wasn’t sure what to say about that, so she took the seat he was holding out for her.  She wanted to rush away from the patio area where overhead lights were strung along the pergola.  She even realized that soft music was playing in the background.

 

Candles, soft lights, music, mountains in the distance and a gorgeous sunset.  A more romantic setting she’d never encountered.

 

But she dismissed her questions, telling herself that shew as just being silly.

 

For the next two hours, she laughed and argued with him, challenging him on his more outrageous comments and agreeing when he was a bit more moderate.  She didn’t believe him for a second, thinking he was too intelligent to be spouting such nonsense.  But he was still funny and she sipped her lemonade, ate the spicy Mexican food and enjoyed a delicious honey-topped dessert after the meal.

 

When it was all over, she pushed her chair back and stared across the table at him.

 

“Why am I here?” she demanded, needing the truth.

 

He looked like he was going to give her some benign comment.  Then he obviously changed his mind.  “You want to know what makes a woman beautiful?”

 

She held her breath for a moment, then shook her head.  “I read an article that discussed the physical attributes of beauty.  Apparently, there is a mathematical equation that can calculate a woman’s odds of winning a beauty contest.  There’s something about symmetry with facial features and a body mass index that works in her…”

 

“My ideal has nothing to do with physical beauty, although you are undeniably gorgeous,” he told her, his hand reaching out to pull the pins out of her hair.  He then moved his hand through her honey gold hair, spreading it out around her shoulders.  “Real beauty is a woman who walks like a lady, can challenge a man intellectually during a conversation and,” he leaned forward, gently kissing her lips, “become an erotic being when he takes her to bed.”  He took her hand, lifting it to his lips.  His teeth and mouth teased her fingers, the tender skin on her wrist, causing the breath to catch in her throat.

 

“Don’t do that,” she whispered, but didn’t pull her hand away.  She couldn’t, too transfixed by his touch and the way he made her feel.

 

“The stars are beautiful out here,” he said and lifted his eyes up to the heavens.  “You can’t see them this brightly in Seattle.  The clouds and humidity cover the night sky.”

 

She knew that he was right, but the tension, the sexual pull she was trying very hard to resist, was tugging at her.  No words would come out.  Not even a no because…well, she wanted this man.  Once again, the conversation, the laughter and his charm had put her at ease but also sharpened her senses.  It was almost as if she could smell his masculine scent more fully at this particular moment.  It might be only the air, which definitely was clearer here in the desert.  But it could be something more.  Something more powerful than just clean, dry air.

 

When the silence continued, he turned back to look at her.  “You’re nervous.  Why?”

 

Her lips moved but she still struggled to form words.

 

Taking her hand out of his, she took several steps back.  “Alexei, you’re a very powerful man.”  She saw the tightening around his eyes and knew that she hadn’t explained herself properly.  “I don’t mean powerful in the sense that you have a lot of money.”  She looked down at the ground, trying to figure out how to explain.  Turning away so she didn’t have to see him helped.  “I mean that you have a powerful personality.  It is a bit overwhelming.”  She took a deep breath and looked up at the stars.  “I don’t feel manipulated when you touch me,” she said and turned back to him, looking at him through the dim light coming from the candles on the table.  “It’s more of a magnetic pull that keeps dragging me towards you when we’re alone.”

 

“And you don’t like this sensation.”  He understood.  It wasn’t a question, the man was stating his observation as a statement.  He laughed softly, shaking his head.  “I think you’ve described what we feel for each other perfectly.”

 

Her eyes widened as she looked at him, trying to ignore that pull and keep her distance.  But his comment was intriguing.  “You feel it as well?”

 

“Absolutely.  You’re right.  I’m powerful and I have influence.  And yet, when I see you, when I’m close to you, all I want to do is touch you.”  He didn’t come closer, but his eyes compelled her to move to him.  “And when I touch you, it isn’t enough.  I need the feel of your skin, the taste of you.  During the flight, I could smell your perfume and all I wanted to do was bury my nose against your skin and inhale.”

 

She wanted to believe him, but was he telling her the truth or just feeding her a line?  She wasn’t sure and she didn’t know him well enough to determine if he was lying to her.  The solution was exactly what he’d said earlier in the evening.  Get to know him.  Figure out if he is sincere, or just a man on the make.

 

“You suggested earlier that we could spend the next few days getting to know one another.  Did you mean it?” she asked softly.  She was still wary of him, but what he’d said was exactly what she was feeling.  She stepped closer, her eyes watching him carefully.  “Can we still…”

 

“Of course,” he chuckled.  “I never meant to give you the impression that I didn’t want that.”

 

She relaxed slightly.  “Thank you!”

 

He walked over to her and took her hand.  “Your question implies that you are just as attracted to me as I am to you, Miranda.”

 

“I am.  It’s just…”

 

“It’s just that we moved too fast last time.  We will go slower this time.”

 

She smiled up into his eyes, ignoring the tingling sensation in her fingers where hers touched his.  And she ignored the tightening in her stomach when he lowered his head to kiss her.  It was just a gentle kiss, but there was so much longing behind the caress.  When he lifted his head, they stared into each other’s eyes for a long moment.  The tension throbbed, the pull was there.  Miranda fought it but it was like that sticky tape; the more she tried to get away from it, the more she was drawn into it.

 

“We should do something,” she whispered.

 

He laughed softly.  “I think the ‘something’ that pops into my mind and the ‘something’ that is in yours are two completely different activities.”

 

Miranda blushed, lowering her lashes.  “You’re probably right.”

 

Another chuckle and she felt that heat increase inside of her.  It was warm and powerful and she looked back up at him.

 

“How about a game of chess?” he suggested.

 

Her eyes widened, but the smile on her face increased even as she shook her head.  “Absolutely not!” she laughed.  “I suspect that you are an expert at chess.”  She tilted her head slightly, enjoying the way his fingers were sliding along the palm of her hand.  “In fact, I’m guessing that you’re in a constant battle of chess with your competitors every moment of your life.”

 

He shrugged and his long fingers stroked the soft skin of her forearm.  “How about a game of cards?”

 

Miranda laughed.  “What game?”

 

“Strip poker?” he offered, which elicited another laugh.

 

Unconsciously, Miranda moved closer to him.  “How about gin?”

 

He lowered his head slightly.  “Gin it is,” and he took her hand, tucking it onto his arm and led her back into the house.

 

She peered over her shoulder at the dinner dishes.  “Shouldn’t we clear the table?”

 

“No.  Ms. Morana will take care of that.”

 

Miranda frowned, uncomfortable with the idea of leaving a mess for someone else to clean up, but he distracted her by leading her into yet another room of this incredible house.  This one had a long pool table and rich wood paneling, heavy wood tables and yet another bar.

 

“This is beautiful,” she said as she took in all of the details.

 

He led her over to one of the small tables set up by tall windows.  “During the daytime, one can see the mountains all around us.”  He pulled a deck of cards out of a hidden drawer in the table and started shuffling them.  Expertly!

 

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” she said with a chuckle as she sat down across from him.

 

“Never.  You know from experience that I will be very gentle with you,” he replied, which caused her to burst out laughing as he quickly dealt the cards.

 

“You were only gentle at first,” she said as she lifted her cards up, starting to sort them.

 

“Yes, well, you…”

 

“Don’t finish that statement,” she warned, the smile still lighting her eyes as she looked across at him.  “I was a perfect lady!”

 

He stared at her with one of those sexy, dark eyebrows lifted.  “You are always a lady,” he replied and laid down the first card.  “When I’m not touching you.”

 

She gasped, horrified at his teasing comment, but then realized that she needed his card and picked it up, discarding a useless one.  “I beg to differ!”

 

He laughed and she felt that sound way down deep in her belly.  “I recall that you begged quite a bit.”

 

She blushed, but he’d just tossed down another card that she needed.  Back and forth, they bantered as they tossed and picked up cards.  Miranda tried to come up with a strategy, but it was pointless with Alexei sitting across from her.  At some point during their evening together, he’d discarded his jacket and tie, rolled up the sleeves of his tailored shirt and even unbuttoned several of the buttons on his neck and chest.  She was distracted by that tanned skin, wondering if she had only imagined how good it tasted.  She remembered running her lips and teeth along his shoulder, his stomach and…well, lower.

 

Goodness, he’d been one delicious man!

 

They played well into the night and Miranda couldn’t remember a more relaxing evening, and yet, she was still shocked at how that sexual tension continued to spiral higher and higher.

 

“I think I’d better…” she started to say, “go to bed” but saw the heat in his eyes ratchet up a bid and changed her wording to, “turn in for the night.”

 

Once again, she noticed the skin around his eyes crinkling and she knew that he knew what she’d been about to say.  And why she hadn’t said it.  Now he was laughing at her.

 

“I will walk you to your room,” he announced.

 

Miranda opened her mouth to tell him that he didn’t need to do that, but before she could utter the words, she stopped and realized that she really did need his help to find her room.  She had no idea where she was at the moment, nor was she aware of where her room was located.  This house was enormous.  All she knew was that he’d told his housekeeper that she would be sleeping in “the blue room”, whatever that meant.

 

So she allowed him to take her hand once again and lead her out of the game room.  The stairs were to the right and they walked slowly.  “Be sure and let Ms. Morana know if you need anything.  I know that she keeps extra items for guests.”

 

“Thank you,” she replied, the tension amping up as they walked closer to rooms with beds.  If she weren’t so tense, she would have laughed at the idea of becoming more aware of the sexual tension when beds were present.  As if they couldn’t have done…anything on that big pool table downstairs.  Or just about any surface.

 

Silly, but undeniable.

 

When he stopped in front of a set of double doors, he turned her around and before she could argue or object, he was kissing her.  Softly at first, but Miranda didn’t want soft.  She’d been thinking about kissing him, and a whole lot more, all night.  So at his first touch, she moved into his arms, wrapping her arms around his neck immediately, whimpering when he put his arms around her waist and pulled her closer.

 

His hands slid underneath her shirt and she felt the heat of his palms against the skin on her back.  She inhaled sharply, but that was absorbed by his kiss as he tilted his head, deepening the kiss even further.

 

But abruptly, he broke of the caress, lifting his head and staring down at her.  Both of them were struggling for breath and she shivered, completely aware of every inch of his body against hers.  Every enticing, fully aroused inch of him!

 

As she watched, she knew that, if she didn’t leave now, she wouldn’t want to.  No, that wasn’t accurate.  She didn’t want to move away from him right this moment.  She didn’t want to stop.  She wanted to pull him through those doors and continue what they’d been about to do.  Never stopping.

 

“Tell me to stop,” he urged, his hands sliding up and down her back.

 

She hesitated, closing her eyes.  His hands felt so good but…this wasn’t her!  She wasn’t this kind of woman!

 

“Stop,” she whispered, then bit her lip when he pulled his hands away.

 

Closing her eyes, she literally fell against the wall.  He pinned a hand on either side of her head.  “You’ll tell me when you’re ready, right?” he asked, his breathing still rough and his eyes bright with desire.

 

“Yes,” she vowed, then bit her lip again so she didn’t tell him that she was ready right now.  Right this minute!  Something shifted inside of her with his words.  A tightness in her chest eased, her heart fluttered, almost as if…no, she was being silly  She wasn’t…that was just crazy!

 

He hesitated, one hand lifting from the wall to caress her cheek and neck, sending delightful shivers throughout her whole body.  He felt them, knew that she was fighting the need as well and his lips curled up into a slight smile.  “I look forward to that moment, moy dorogoy.

 

A moment later, he was gone, walking down the hallway away from her.  She covered her mouth with one of her hands, refusing to call him back.  With all of her energy, she forced herself to remember how badly she’d felt the other day after waking up in his bed.

 

When he entered the bedroom at the end of the hallway, she sighed with relief as his door closed.  Slowly, she pushed away from the wall and entered her room, not really seeing the beautiful colors and the rich furniture.  She searched and found her clothes which didn’t really amount to much since she hadn’t been aware that she’d be spending several days here.  So she had one change of clothes and another uniform, both of which had been pressed and were now hanging in the closet.  She’d also packed running clothes and something to wear at night, but wasn’t sure if she’d feel comfortable running outside around here.  Were there wild animals in the desert?  Coyotes? Mountain lions?  That was one of the plusses of living in the city.  There might be serial killers and kidnappers, but no wild animals.  Miranda admitted that it was a dubious advantage.

 

She changed into the satin nightshirt she’d brought to sleep in, brushed her teeth, washed her face and looked over at the bed.  With a sigh, she turned back to the bathroom and stripped off the satin nightshirt and her underwear, then stepped into the shower, gritting her teeth as she flipped the dial to turn on the cold water.

 

With a gasp, she jumped back out of the stream of cold water, cursing under her breath.  “Well, that’s not going to help!” she muttered.  But still, she stuck her toes in the water.  Unfortunately, the cold water wasn’t stopping the need.  Even though she was cold and shivering, her mind was still thinking about Alexei and the way he’d touched her.  His hands sliding up her back and memories of the other night filtered into her mind.

 

With a jerk, she turned the dial so luke warm water came out and she pinned her hair up on top of her head, washing her body to try and get rid of the memories.

 

Twenty minutes later, she was still thinking about Alexei when she shut off the water, frustrated, angry and not even slightly tired.

 

Drying off, she pulled on her sleepshirt again, found a clean pair of underwear, slipped between the sheets and turned off the lights.

 

Then stared up at the ceiling.  There were no shadows to distract her.  Not here in the desert.  In fact, there was very little light other than the moon.

 

Rolling over, she stared out the windows, wondering what Alexei was doing.  Probably the same thing she was doing.

 

Why had she denied them the enjoyment of each other?  Why couldn’t she just accept a sexual affair with a handsome, sexually amazing man?  Why was this such a problem?

 

Because of the way she’d felt the last time they’d been together.  It wasn’t worth the pain.

 

But was this worth the pain? Was this tossing and turning, this sleeplessness, worth the frustration?  And would she really feel bad tomorrow if she went to Alexei’s bedroom, climbed into bed with him and…

 

And what?  What would she do?  She wasn’t really the kind of woman to initiate sex with a guy.

 

That begged the question – why wasn’t she that kind of woman?  What was stopping her?  Fear, came the almost immediate answer.  Fear of being labeled a slut and fear of being rejected.

 

When she came to that conclusion, her mind instantly thought through those two issues.  First of all, she knew with absolute certainty that Alexei would not reject her.  Not tonight.  How long their affair might last was a question, but for tonight, they could enjoy each other.

 

Being thought of as a slut was a whole other issue.  Thinking back to that moment this afternoon when Alexei had recognized her, she also knew that he hadn’t been thinking she was a slut.  There had been desire there, but he’d also kept a respectful distance from her, not saying a word to anyone.

 

In fact, she’d been the one to give away their previous relationship to Tim.  If anything, Alexei should be angry with her for revealing something private.  Instinct told her that Alexei would never reveal any of their intimate secrets to anyone else.

 

So why was she laying here?  Why wasn’t she sneaking into his bedroom, waking him up with a kiss and seducing the man?

 

Because she didn’t have that much confidence.

 

With a groan of frustration, she snapped the sheets back and sat up.  Sliding off of the bed, she glanced at the clock.  Sighing, she realized that it was two o’clock in the morning.  She’d been tossing and turning for two hours.

 

Warm milk, she thought.  Slipping out of bed, she padded barefoot over to the doorway.  Should she get dressed?

 

Opening the door as quietly as she could, she peered out into the hallway.  Everything was dark.

 

Stepping outside, she looked down the hallway.  Alexei’s door was still closed, so she guessed he was still in there.

 

She could just sneak downstairs, search out the kitchen, grab a cup of milk and pop it into the microwave to warm it up.  She could be back upstairs in five minutes.  That’s all it would take for her to grab the milk and be back in bed.

 

Making the decision to brave it out, especially since she didn’t want to get dressed and hadn’t packed a robe, she slipped out of the room and tip toed down the stairs, trying to be as quiet as possible so she wouldn’t wake up Alexei.

 

She wandered for ten minutes before she finally found the kitchen.  And even then, there were three massive refrigerators to investigate.  Only one was turned on, the other two empty, and Miranda assumed that they were only used when the house was filled with guests.  She couldn’t imagine how many guests stayed at this house, but obviously enough to need three huge refrigerators filled with food.

 

Thankfully, she found the milk easily and poured some into a plastic container, then set it in the microwave for one minute.  During that time, she looked for the pantry and found some honey.  Perfect, she thought and stepped back out of the large, walk in pantry…and found Alexei standing directly in front of her.

 

Not just standing, but practically naked!  The man had only taken the time to pull on a pair of loose pants and, as her eyes moved from his broad shoulders, down across the expanse of muscled chest and ridged abs, she didn’t see any evidence of the boxers she knew that he preferred.

 

“You sleep in the nude all the time, don’t you?” she asked, then almost choked as she realized what she’d just asked the man.  “I mean…”

 

She wasn’t given a chance to clarify her statement since she was pulled into his arms, his hot mouth kissing her as his hands dove into her hair, pulling it back so that he could deepen the kiss.

 

Her fingers dropped the bottle of honey, unaware of it bouncing slightly on the tile floor and rolling away.  All she was aware of was this man and his arms finally around her, his lips kissing her as if he wanted to eat her up.

 

He lifted her into his arms, swinging around to place her on the metal countertop behind her.  With the cold against her thighs, she jerked backwards with a hiss.

 

“Sorry,” he muttered, but since his hands were smoothing up her legs, pushing the satin material of her sleepshirt out of the way, she doubted that he was truly sorry.  And when his fingers found the edge of her lace underwear, she didn’t care if he was sorry or wrote a sonnet about his abject apology.  If he stopped what he was doing, she might just scream.

 

Instinctively, her legs moved wider, giving his fingers more room to maneuver.

 

“Tell me to stop,” he ordered, but then his fingers slid under the lace, finding warmth and wetness.  “You don’t want me to stop, do you, Miranda?” he asked, his fingers sliding inside of her.

 

“No,” she whispered back to him.  Her legs moved wider and she couldn’t stop the cry of need when his thumb came into play.  “Please don’t stop!” she sobbed, shifting her hips, wanting him to…yeah, do that!  “Don’t you dare stop!” she begged.

 

His finger teased, shifted, tormented and touched her all over.  When he moved his hand away from where she needed it, Miranda grabbed his wrist and held his hand firmly over that spot.  As he figured out what she wanted, her head fell back against her neck, her mouth falling open as she moved against his hand.  He pushed two fingers inside of her, his thumb teasing that nub and…it took less than three minutes before she was splintering apart as a climax hit her hard and fast.

 

Before she had time to pull herself together after that, she felt him pull away from her.  A moment later, he was back and lifting her into his arms.  “No more, Miranda.  We’re changing the rules.”

 

With that, he carried her out of the kitchen.  Miranda had no idea what rules he was changing, but she knew that his neck was close by now and she leaned into him, tasting that spot she’d been looking at earlier in the evening.  Her tongue licked, her teeth nipped and she grinned when he had to stop and pin her against the wall again.

 

“We’re never getting to my bedroom if you keep that up,” he growled and his hands ripped the satin of her sleep shirt.  A moment later, he had his revenge when his mouth covered her nipple, sucking until she screamed at the intense pleasure.

 

She wiggled against him and felt his erection against her core.  “Hurry,” she gasped as she looked down at him.

 

In response, Alexei’s eyes heated up to an inferno as he carried her the rest of the way up the stairs.  As soon as they were behind the doors of his bedroom, he lowered her legs to the floor, but only long enough to rip her panties off, tossing them to the carpet before he pushed the satin sleepshirt over her shoulders, not even waiting for it to hit the ground before he lifted her back up into her arms and carried her over to his bed.

 

She was running her hands over his shoulders, down his stomach when he stepped away.  “What are you…?” He stripped out of the running pants he’d pulled on, his erection jutting out impressively.

 

Miranda blushed when he pulled a box of condoms out of the bedside table, tossing several onto the bed beside her.  A moment later, he was back in her arms, pressing her into the mattress.  “You didn’t say no, Miranda.”

 

She smiled up at him, her legs lifting so that her inner thigh could rub against his hips, loving the way his rough skin felt against the smoothness of her legs.  “I don’t want to say no.”

 

“Then be forewarned, woman.  I’ve been laying here thinking about all the things I wanted to do to you.  Now you’re going to experience each and every one of them.”

 

With that warning given, he tore open the foil package of one of the condoms and rolled it down his shaft before coming back to her.  He lowered his head to tease her nipple once more, his fingers sliding into her heat to ensure that she was still ready for him. But when he felt that slick heat, he groaned and replaced his fingers with his erection, sliding all the way into her body, closing his eyes as she wiggled, adjusting to his invasion.

 

“Now,” he said and started moving, thrusting into her body.  The faster he moved, the more sounds came out of her throat to make him crazy.  And her body’s slickness increased until he was barely able to concentrate on holding back.  Changing angles, he shifted against her, watching her face for a long moment.  As she splintered apart, Alexei finally released his own control and the orgasm rushed at him like a tidal wave.

 

The throbbing seemed to go on forever, but eventually, the intensity subsided.  Breathing returned to normal but not the way he felt towards this woman.  Pulling her against him, he let his fingers trail against her soft skin, thinking about her.  About all of her.  Not just the sex, but the conversation, the sex, the way she’d looked at him throughout the evening.

 

He couldn’t figure it all out, but he’d work through the details in the morning.  As they drifted off to sleep, secure in each other’s arms, he knew that he’d discover what was behind this niggling feeling.

Chapter 4

 

Miranda walked down the stairs and almost groaned.  Just one look at Alexei and all of the desire that she’d thought had burned out overnight, flared right back to life.  Again?!  This had to stop.  But as she turned her head, she looked into his eyes and realized that Alexei already knew what was going through her head.

 

“Trying to sneak away again, aren’t you?”

 

She tugged at the bottom of her running shirt, feeling self-conscious after all she’d begged him to do last night.  “I guess I’m not all that comfortable with the morning after.”

 

He smiled slightly even as his hand slid around her waist.  “I have a proposal for you,” he said but pulled her close, twisting around so that she was hidden in case any of his guards or household staff were to walk down the hallway.

 

“What’s your proposal?” she sked, her mind already thinking of new ways she wanted to touch him, other things she wanted to experience.  She looked up at him, licking her lips as she debated the wisdom of running her fingers across his amazing chest, versus pushing away from him and going for that run she’d planned.

 

When his hands slid lower, resting just above her bottom, the decision was sort of made for her.

 

Or more accurately, her body decided for her.

 

“Stay here, with me, for the next three days and release your issues with having a relationship with someone you don’t thoroughly know.”  He kissed her then, even while his hands cupped her breasts through the material of her running shirt, tweaking the nipples and causing her body to ache with that incredible need.  “If you are still wary of me after three days, we’ll go our separate ways.”

 

She shivered.  “You’re trying to seduce me,” she said, fighting the pull of his charm and the need to feel his body against hers.  She wanted to step away, to be strong.  But deep down inside, she wanted this man in ways that she didn’t quite understand.

 

He smiled slightly even as he moved closer.  “Yes.  Is it working?”

 

Miranda couldn’t help the laughter that burst out of her.  “As if you need confirmation?”

 

He shrugged slightly, moving even closer.  His thighs were pressing against hers now and she held her breath, wondering what his next move would be.  In that same instant, she realized that she didn’t need to wait for his next move.  She wanted this.  There was no reason to hold back.

 

So what was she waiting for?

 

Instead of waiting, she lifted her hands, placing them on his chest.  Her fingers instantly remembered how nice his chest was and smoothed up the soft fabric of his shirt, exploring, wanting the material out of the way.  It was hindering her exploration.

 

She heard a hiss when her fingers moved over one area but continued her exploration.  Leaning forward, she kissed the small spot of skin at the base of his neck.  His skin felt wonderful under her lips and she wanted more.  Again, not waiting for him, she slipped the button free on his shirt, revealing more skin and kissed that newly exposed area.

 

“Who is seducing who?” he growled.  A moment later, he bent down and lifted her into his arms, hurrying through the house until they were in a large room.  Miranda didn’t care what the décor was like in this particular area of the house.  All she wanted was for him to be naked so she could see and feel him once again.  Last night definitely hadn’t been enough.  She wasn’t sure she’d ever get enough of this man.

 

“Three days, right?” she asked, her eyes focused on her fingers as she played with the button.

 

“Three days,” he replied.  Lowering his head, he went on, “And three nights.”

 

Miranda shivered, thinking about those nights.  Yes, the nights were going to be wonderful.  But the days?  She almost laughed when he kissed her again.  “I could get used to the days as well, Alexei,” she told him.

 

For the next seventy-two hours, Miranda was with Alexei almost non-stop.  They talked, ate, hiked up the mountains surrounding his house and bathed in the crystal waters of his pool.  At night, he made love to her as if she were more precious than anything else.

 

When she’d agreed to three days, Miranda had thought it would be mostly about sex.  What she hadn’t considered, and should have because of the way they’d met, was how much she loved just…being with him.  He was a wonderful conversationalist, making her laugh and listening to her opinions on a vast number of subjects.  He seemed to think that she mattered, that she was important.

 

So instead of letting her puritanical upbringing impose any barriers on their time together, she simply enjoyed his company, discovered more about herself and him in those three days than she’d thought possible.

 

When he received a phone call from Zeke Steele that he would be delayed, Miranda almost cried with relief.  She’d get a few more hours with Alexei.  But did he take her up to his bed and make love to her with those additional hours?

 

Nope!  They spent time talking.  Just holding hands as they walked along one of the pathways.  It was the most blissful few days of her life.

Chapter 5

 

It was the worst moment of her life when she rolled over to find Alexei looking at her that last morning.  Because with that look, she realized that she was in love with the man.  Completely, crazy in love with him.  It was over, she knew.  Their days together were done and she’d have to go back to reality pretty soon.  Miranda hated the idea of going back to her tiny apartment where it was gloomy and boring.  Alexei brought sunshine and happiness to her life.  So much happiness, she hadn’t even been living before meeting him!  All of her activities before the past three days felt dim and absurd, pointless.

 

She struggled, but Miranda held back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her that morning.  She had to remind herself that she had only this morning with him and then they would return to reality.  She couldn’t spoil these last few hours crying and being angry.  So instead, she reached out and touched his jaw, her fingers moving slowly over the scruff that had grown up over the past few hours.

 

“You’re so different,” she whispered, amazed by the sight in front of her, letting her fingers move from his jawline down to his chest.  Rippling muscles moved under her palms.  When her fingertips moved over his male nipple, she heard him groan and moved her head towards that goal.  She remembered how he’d teased her nipples the other night and did the same, her teeth nipping, her tongue smoothing over the skin.  She was so turned on, she could barely hold herself back.

 

“Enough!” he growled and lifted her up, almost tossing her onto the bed.  He stood there for a long moment, his hands divesting himself of the remainder of his clothes.  Miranda sat up and watched his hands, unaware of the way her tongue darted out to lick her lips.  She just wanted him naked.  She wanted all of him.

 

“Hurry,” she said and came up onto her knees.  “Please hurry,” she encouraged.  She leaned forward, her hands braced on the bed as she crawled towards him, completely unaware of the sensuality of her approach, the way her shirt gaped open and revealed a small bit of her cleavage.

 

 

Alexei watched, his body growing tighter as his arousal increased.  Miranda looked so prim and proper in the clothes he’d had delivered for her.  But now he could see her, feel the heat of her gaze as she watched him push his clothes off.  Grabbing a condom from the bedside table, he tossed it onto the bed.   “You’ve made me crazy, Miranda.  Now it is time to pay,” he told her as he gently pushed her back against the bed, his fingers deftly siding underneath the stretchy material of her running leggings and pulling them off.

 

His eyes moved down to her long legs, taking in the softness of her thighs, the curve of her calf muscles and delicate arch of her foot.  “You are so beautiful,” he commented, then looked at her features.  “You’re hair.  Take the band out,” he commanded, his accent becoming heavier as his arousal intensified.

 

She shivered and his body throbbed with the increasing need to bury himself in her heat.  He didn’t, wanting to slow things down, to enjoy her body and all of her reactions.  “Chert!” he growled as her fingers deftly plucked the pins out one by one.  “Wait!” he ordered and reached out, releasing the catch on her bra and tossing it away.  “Teper!” he said, but at her blank stare, he reverted back to English.  “Now!” and he couldn’t wait for her to finish releasing her hair.  He reached out and pulled the pins out himself, watching as the honey-blonde tresses fell from her head to softly caress her shoulders and back.  “Krasivaya!” he breathed.  “Beautiful.”

 

Miranda moved closer, needing him to touch and not just look.  “Please, Alexei,” she told him, more turned on by his accent as he looked down at her, saying those strange words that she didn’t understand.  “It’s better if you feel instead of only look,” she said and pulled his hand, placing it on her breast.

 

He watched, fascinated as her eyes closed when his thumb slid across her nipple.  Over and over again, he teased that peak, watching her body shiver, tremble but then she tried to pull away and he laughed.  “Oh no, moya krasota,” and he pushed her back against the mattress once again, following her down this time.  His knee pressed between her legs, spreading them wide, making room for his body.  She shifted her hips, instinctively cradling his erection against her heat and he lowered his head, taking that taut nipple into his mouth.

 

His grip tightened around her when she tried to wiggle away, but he loved the sounds she was making as his tongue lashed at her breast.  “Bol’she,” he commanded and moved to her other nipple.  “More!”

 

“I love it when you speak to me in Russian,” she groaned.  “But I can’t take more.  Please!”

 

In response, he nipped at her nipple and she screamed, her hips lifting up as if searching for his erection.  “Ya tozhe khochu tebya, moya lyubov,” he told her.

 

Her hands were gripping his shoulders even as her legs slid higher, her inner thighs rubbing against his hips.  “What did you say?” she asked breathlessly.

 

He smiled, his teeth nipping against her hip bone.  “I said that I want you too,” he partially translated.

 

“Oh.”  She breathed again, slipping her hands against his shoulders.

 

Alexei couldn’t get enough of her.  His mouth tasted while his hands smoothed along her skin, feeling the incredible softness of her body.  “Otkryto diya menya,” he said, but his hands didn’t wait for her compliance since he wasn’t sure he could translate at the moment.  He could smell her feminine scent and his mind was blanking out, so his hands pushed her legs wider, giving him the space and the view he wanted.

 

Bezumno krasivaya,” he muttered a moment before he lowered his head.

 

Miranda tried to scoot away, not needing this.  “Alexei,” she started out, but then she felt his breath against her heat and moaned.  Barely a moment later, his thumbs teased, spreading her wider and she gasped, feeling exposed and…strange!  “Seriously, you don’t…”

 

His tongue whipped out and teased her, tasted her and the feeling was so erotic, so hot, that she could barely breathe.  Her back arched, her body unconsciously offering herself to him.  And yes, he definitely took advantage of the invitation.  When she pressed upwards, he slid a finger inside of her body, pressing upwards as his mouth covered that sensitive nubbin.  A moment later, she climaxed, her fingernails digging into the skin of his shoulders as her body writhed underneath him.  Miranda was completely unaware of him coming to his own climax.

 

She sighed as he pulled her into his arms.  And she loved the way he smelled, so she buried her nose against his neck, inhaling all of him.

 

As she let her fingers drift through the light coating of hair on his chest, she looked up at him.  “What did you say earlier?”

 

He didn’t even look at her.  “Nothing important,” he replied and shifted so that she was on top of him.  “What do you want to do until your boss arrives?”

 

She laughed, shaking her head.  “Alexei, I know when you’re hiding something.  What did you say?”

 

He jackknifed up but she pulled back, not letting him distract her with sex.  Not this time.  Something in the way he was looking at her told her that this was important.

 

“Nothing, Miranda.  But…” she leaned over, grabbing her phone which she’d laid on the bedside table.

 

“Say it again,” she asked, holding her phone in her hand.

 

“Why?” he asked and tried to take the phone out of her hands.  But she was sitting on his abs now, holding him down.  Not that it would really keep him down if he wanted to sit up.  The man could literally toss her over his shoulder or do just about anything he wanted.  He was just that strong.

 

“Because I want to know what you said,” she replied, smiling at his obstinacy.

 

He repeated the words and she smiled as she pressed a few buttons on her phone.

 

“What did you do?” he demanded, trying to grab her phone.

 

But Miranda had anticipated his actions and held her phone out of his reach.  When she looked at the translation on her phone, her eyes widened and she turned to look at him.  “You love me,” she whispered.

 

Miranda looked down at him, then at her phone, trying to determine if she’d read the words correctly.  But the words on her phone were blurring and she wiped the tears away, irritated that she was becoming emotional at such an important moment.  “Alexei, did you really say this?”

 

She held the phone to him so he could read the words and she trembled with worry and fear.  Fear that the translation app she’d downloaded two days ago wasn’t working correctly or that there were other meanings for his words.

 

He sighed, rubbing a hand over his rough features before putting his hands back on her hips.  “Yes.  That’s what I said.  Are you going to run away now?”

 

She looked down at him, not sure how to interpret his message.  “Did you mean it?” she whispered.

 

Again, he hesitated.  “Yes, Miranda.  I meant what I said.  But…”

 

He couldn’t reply because she’d fallen on top of him, sobbing out something against his chest.  His hands dove into her hair as he tried to understand.  She’d correctly translated “my love”, the endearment he’d meant sincerely, but now he wasn’t sure about her reaction.  Was she angry?  Was she sad?  Her tears didn’t make sense!

 

“Miranda, I know you don’t feel the same way.  And that’s okay.  We can…”

 

Her delicate fingers reached up to cover his mouth, stopping his words.  “Don’t,” she sobbed.  Lifting her head, she scooted forward.  “Don’t take the words away.  Please.  If you didn’t meant them, or if you meant them in a different way, then just…don’t say a word.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

She sniffed and slid off of him, scooting over to the side of the bed and grabbing his shirt which had fallen to the floor.  She’d spent so much of her time with this man naked that she’d grown accustomed to him seeing her without clothes on.  But right now, all she wanted was to hide.  She felt too vulnerable.

 

“Miranda, talk to me.  If you are upset, then don’t worry.  I won’t make any demands on you.  Yes, I love you, but nothing has to change.”

 

She spun around, clasping the edges of his shirt closed to cover up her nakedness since her fingers were trembling so hard, she couldn’t close the buttons.  “You love me!” she sobbed, wiping her tears with the back of her hand.  “You love me and you don’t think anything is going to change?”

 

He sighed and turned to face the windows.  “Miranda, you’re just…”

 

“I love you too,” she blurted out, then waited, wondering if he would take back his words.  Slowly, he turned around, looking over at her, the bed separating the two of them.  “I love you so much, it hurts.  I have loved you since that first morning, Alexei.  I never would have consented to a relationship like this if I didn’t have feelings for you.  I’m just not made that way.  After that first night, the sex was incredible, but I felt horrible the next morning.  So our first night here, when we were talking and you made me laugh and you didn’t pressure me to have sex again…I tumbled head over heels in love with you.”  She hiccupped, shaking her head.  “I know that sounds outrageous, but I do.  I love you.”  She stared at him for a long moment before she continued. “So if you don’t love me, then take back the words now.  Just take them back and we’ll walk away from this.”

 

“I won’t take them back,” he told her fiercely.  “Come here, Miranda.”

 

She hesitated for a moment, but with the look of honesty in his eyes, she didn’t just walk over to him.  She literally ran across the room and threw herself into his arms.  “I love you!  Please don’t tease me!  I love you so much!”

 

“I love you too, Miranda.  You’re more than I ever imagined possible,” he told her.  And with that, he kissed her and held her.  A long time later, there was a knock on the door and one of his guards informed both of them that Zeke Steele had arrived.

 

“We should go downstairs,” she said, sighing against his neck as he cradled her in his arms.

 

“We should stay right here.  I’m not ready to release you just yet,” he told her.

 

Miranda smiled because she wasn’t ready to be released anyway.  “I love you.”

 

His arms tightened as he said, “I love you too, moya lyubov,” he told her.  He nuzzled her neck until she laughed, then translated.  “My love,” he whispered in her ear.

Epilogue

 

It was a miracle the candles didn’t light the sage brush on fire.  But as Miranda walked down the stone pathway towards Alexei, she had eyes only for the man waiting for her.  Nothing else mattered.  The candles would have to handle themselves because today, she was marrying the man of her dreams.

 

Mindy and Olivia wore soft orange bridesmaids dresses while Luke and Logan stood beside Alexei as his groomsmen.  She knew that there were others in the audience, but as she reached the end of the stone pathway, she had eyes only for Alexei.  Not even the rust colored mountains in the distance caught her attention.

 

As the minister went through the traditional ceremony, she smiled as she held Alexei’s hand, remembering the special surprise she had for him.  She felt his fingers tighten on hers and smiled up at him, thinking he was the most amazing man she’d ever met.

 

The minister turned to her, she placed the gold band on Alexei’s finger.  When the minister nodded his head, she took a deep breath and smiled up into his beautiful eyes.  “Ty muzhchina moyey mechty, muzh, kotorogo ya vsegda budu lyubit’, uvazhat’ i uvazhat’. YA klyanus’ svoyey lyubov’yu k tebe v etot den’ i navsegda. YA lyublyu tebya vsem serdtsem.”  Mindy stood beside her with a piece of paper and read the translation.  ”You are the man of my dreams, the husband I will always love, honor and respect.  I vow my love to you on this day and forevermore.  I love you with all my heart.”  With that, the audience laughed, clapping out their appreciation for her gesture.

 

Alexei stood there, stunned for a long moment.  When he finally reacted, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, ignoring the chuckles of the minister and the audience.  He hadn’t yet said his vows.  But he would, he thought as he kissed the woman of his dreams.