It isn’t often I wake in the morning, even when its Sunday and the club is closed, so it takes a while for sleep to fall away and for me to gather my faculties. The place beside me is empty and cold, and I stare at the impression left on the sheets where the blanket it still a little pulled back.
Torrid recollections flood my mind, awakening the same heat deep within my body – it’s so intense I can feel Kiril’s thumb trailing down my cheek, playing across my lower lip and slipping into my mouth. But I know for a fact it was Sebastian who warmed my bed last night.
There has never been anything remotely unsatisfying about our encounters – when we relent to our need for carnal relief he is all I am able to think about, if I’m able to think at all.
I’m just lucky I didn’t moan Kiril’s name while in the throes of rapture.
I hope I didn’t.
Noises from elsewhere in the apartment draw my attention to the fact Sebastian is still here.
He has never stayed the night, nor have I at his place, and that’s the way we’ve preferred to have it… have each other. Flesh on flesh without the hang-ups.
So what the hell does it mean?
He’s pottering around in my kitchen by the sounds of it, again not something he’s ever done nor am I used to – I am not entirely sure how I feel about this, especially with the memory of Kiril Lambert’s hands gripping my hips still vivid and fresh.
Wrapping myself in my fluffy robe, I take a moment to stretch out the wonderful ache of my body, and marvel at how much better I now feel.
Jazz still weighs on my mind – I will never let it go – but my brain is free of pain.
“Sebastian?” I call tentatively, poking my head out of the bedroom to scan the hall before heading to the kitchen.
“Expecting someone else?” he quips, meeting me under the arch, and if he hadn’t been smiling his usual charming smile, I might have really worried I’d sighed the wrong name in satisfaction.
“No, it’s just… this is different,” I offer, flopping onto a stool.
“Well I had to make sure you’re okay,” he points out. “You were pretty messed up yesterday. How’s the head?”
“Still there,” I quip, rubbing the back of my neck. “Pain free, thanks to you.”
“Luckily for you, that’s the kind of healing I’m good at,” he grins, and with a wink turns to open the fridge.
Luckily he can’t see my expression – a cringy hybrid of guilt and scorching reminiscence.
“Your fridge is a tragedy, it’s no wonder you’re unwell,” he grumbles, removing a bottle of milk well and truly past its used by date.
“I don’t eat here often,” I shrug.
“Often enough to stock up on beer though,” he snorts.
“Beer is an important food group!” I defend sheepishly, and he casts me a reproachful look over his shoulder. “Come on Sebastian, you’re not my nutritionist.”
“Maybe I should be,” he grunts, holding up a jar of… something. “This has been here since you moved in, hasn’t it?” he sighs, and I shrug. “Miho, it’s growing features of its own.”
“I’ll call it Jeff,” I announce proudly, and Sebastian straightens. “Fine, I’ll go shopping today and fill the fridge with vegetables.”
“Which you’ll inevitably not eat,” he huffs.
“Well it’s your fault for letting me have dessert first!” I volley triumphantly, and he narrows his eyes.
“You’re not having dessert for breakfast,” he tells me sternly.
“I’m an adult, I can eat whatever I like,” I proclaim obstinately, and he approaches when I get to my feet.
I feel like I’m playing a dangerous game with him standing here in my kitchen, like we’re about to cross an invisible line that borders fuck-buddy and love interest; not sure how I feel about that.
What I am sure I feel, is the settle of his hand on my hip and the warmth radiating from his chest as he draws closer.
“Eat whatever you like, huh?” he smirks, tapping his fingers.
“And yet I’m very selective about, what I put in my mouth,” I exhale against his lips, tempting him with half lidded bedroom eyes.
“Sadly, I’m not one of the food groups,” he teases, nipping my lips but refusing to allow me to delve much deeper.
“That’s fine,” I grin, pursuing him, wrapping my arms around his neck. “I’ll counteract with some exercise.”
“Mmm,” he murmurs, letting me catch him, delve into him, and get far too aroused before he pulls away. “Wish I could,” he says.
His eyes say yes, but he’s stepped back.
“But I have to get to Heathrow.”
My arms cross sulkily over my chest.
“My sister is coming home for a visit, and I promised to pick her up,” he adds in explanation.
“Fiiiiiiine,” I grump. “Guess I’ll just have to amuse myself.”
“Now there’s a stirring image,” he smiles cheekily.
“Ugh, get out before I jump you,” I growl, taking his arm and swinging him toward the door, and laughing he allow it.
Doing something as normal as supermarket shopping feels for some reason quite strange. It’s not like I’m above the mundane necessities of life, but wandering up and down aisles pushing a cart is so far removed from the doof-doof of the club or the crystal finery of Pale’s lounge.
Hmm, the lounge, my wrist encircled by Kiril’s fingers.
“Are sanitary products truly so fascinating?” a voice queries, a caress down my spine though no contact is made.
“Did I just…” I blink, turning to look into Kiril’s laughing eyes.
“Did you just…?” he prompts, the slow smile creeping into his lips indicative of where he thinks my mind has gone.
He’s a regular customer and a powerful man… a stunning specimen… and so I try my best to hold in the roasting return volley that jumps fist to my mind. Still, he’s the one inexplicably ambushing me in the feminine hygiene section.
“I’m just trying to decide if it’s worth paying extra for the organic product,” I remark casually, “considering its ultimate fate.”
To his credit, he doesn’t flinch at the discussion over tampons.
“One should never compromise on the finer things,” he philosophises, as easily as if we were talking about fine wine. “If you are unable to afford the more pleasant option, however, I would gladly pay the difference.”
There is no way I can’t laugh at this.
“Seriously?” I chuckle. “What on Earth are you doing here Mr. Lambert?”
Shopping for a girlfriend perhaps? I know he doesn’t have a wife – a wedding like that would be spectacular. Kiril Lambert is business royalty after all.
“I’m stalking you,” he declares, his boy-like shrug incongruous with the expensive, clean lines of his charcoal, Savile Row suit.
A thrill shudders through me. It shouldn’t, but it does.
“I read somewhere you’re the CEO of a high-profile insurance company,” I say slowly, trying to measure my breaths. “That doesn’t dominate your time?”
“One should never compromise,” he repeats, reaching to the shelf and picking up a the most expensive box of tampons available, “on the finer things.”
Fighting a blush, I cover the effect of his implication with an incredulous laugh.
“So, let’s finish your shopping so we can talk,” he adds, and I feel my cheeks relax in response to the change in his tone.
“Talk about what?”
“Your missing friend,” he replies, “and what I can do to help you find her.”
This I did not expect, and it slaps me into a bit of a daze.
”Wh… why?” I manage.
“Here is not the place to hold such a discussion,” he tells me, and begins to wheel my trolley.
Together we travel up and down the aisles in silence, and when all is done and paid for, he tells me his limousine driver will deliver them to my apartment when we’re finished with our café date.
Kiril’s words, not mine.
But it’s not just the café around the corner, oh no, we ride in conspicuous luxury to London’s newest exclusive eatery. This isn’t somewhere you can just walk off the street and enter, grab a table and a latte – it’s the kind of exclusive that opens with a month long waiting list, and a menu with pastries costing more than I might spend on food for a week.
As we enter, I’m aware of eyes turning to us: mostly women envious of my company and equally as critical of my ‘day off to slum it’ attire.
“This isn’t awkward at all,” I murmur but Kiril doesn’t break stride on his way through the doors toward a spacious booth at the rear of the café, urging me along with the feathery touch of his fingers in the small of my back.
“Ignore the spiteful stares of the envious, Sparrow,” he tells me softly, adding to the heat in my cheeks. “Unless you’d like to draw their ire a little more with a true spectacle?”
Suddenly, all I can hear, see, smell, taste and feel, is him. The recollection of the previous night, with the sense of him superimposed over Sebastian, hits me with full force and I actually stumble as my legs weaken.
“That’s a yes, is it?” Kiril whispers into my ear, my back against his chest, his arms steadying me. “Hmm? Right here in the middle of the café?”
“Mr. Lambert, welcome back,” a voice welcomes cheerfully, and Kiril shifts his eyes slowly in that direction. “Oh…uh… I apologise for interrupting,” the waiter rushes. “Should I… just…”
“Bring menus,” Kiril snaps, and the waiter scurries away, nearly falling over his own feet.
“Hungry?” I ask gaining control over my senses again, but when I pull away from Kiril’s body I immediately wish I hadn’t.
“Oh, I could eat you up right here,” Kiril rumbles, and I think all my clothes fall off.
“I don’t think you’ll find me on the menu,” I tell him, leaving off the part where I’d happily make the necessary amendments.
“Shame,” he muses, entering the booth and settling.
He watches me do the same, every move I make catalogued by a stare tat misses nothing.
“You said you could help find Jazz,” I say, knotting my fingers in front of me on the table top. “How?”
“I’ll be honest,” he says bluntly, the toe of his perfectly polished shoe bumping into mind, “but my information doesn’t come for free.”
That I will give him anything he asks for without hesitation is on my lips instantly, and I only just manage to keep from voicing it.
Anything is awfully broad.
“What could a man like you possibly want from me?” I ask instead, and his answer comes first as the slow brush of his foot up my calf.
So here is this insanely remarkable man playing footsies with me, and I ask him what he could want?
“Miho, it’s pretty clear what he wants!”
Even though his expression is polite, the amicable look of a man conducting business, he’s nudging me closer and closer toward a reaction. And I should want to demand he stop – hot or not he is all but a stranger and I do have a sense of decency – but I’m paddling against rapids trying ardently to sweep me away completely.
I want it, but I have my pride, and men like him don’t do anything without reason – take the risk?
“Take it,” a voice whispers: silk flowing over my skin.
“I’ve an incredibly boring work event to attend tonight, which would be infinitely more interesting with you at my side.”
“A date?” I chortle, unable to keep in my incredulity trapped. “That’s the best you can manage?”
Then the toe of those perfect shoes are against my thigh, moving closer to somewhere he most certainly shouldn’t be touching – my leg clench together, trapping his foot.
He doesn’t fight, leaving it where it is, and I absolutely should be standing up and stalking about enraged, but a very large part of me want to find out what he intends to do with those mirror-shine shoes.
“Shall I show you the best I can manage?” he grins, an animalistic gleam in his eyes.
“I accept, on one condition,” I manage, my voice thin and dry, and one of his eyebrows lifts in amusement,
I want Jazz back more than my own life is worth, but I’ve never uttered a sentence more difficult.
“You keep your hands – and feet – to yourself.”
Is there disappointment there? Frustration? Anything mirroring the rage of my own flesh? Maybe, but Kiril agrees nonetheless.
“I will hold you to your word,” he tells me seriously: a smouldering promise rather than a threat.
“And I to yours,” I exhale, wanting it to sound a whole lot more self-assured than it actually does. “So…”
Looking satisfied, Kiril leans back and temples his fingers.
“I’ve a business engagement this evening, for which I need an escort,” he declares smugly. “It promises to be tedious – you, will make it less so.”
Not exactly what I was anticipating, and that, along with some measure of disappointment I wish I could have kept to myself, must be written on my face because Kiril’s smile widens knowingly.
“Escort?” I repeat sceptically, hardly oblivious to the connotations.
“Would you feel better if I referred to you as my date?” he offers, challenging me in a different way. “is that what you want it to be?”
A hawk, his gaze sharpens on his prey – me, a pigeon – and he’s about to sweep in for the kill.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter what it’s called,” I finally reply: non-committal. “You want arm candy, it is what it is.”
“Entertaining arm candy,” he adds. “Old men in pressed suits and starched collars are anything but exciting.”
“Surely a man in your position is used to that environment,” I point out.
“My familiarity with it has nothing to do with my lack of enjoyment,” he volleys easily. “And here you are, the perfect candidate to spice up the evening.”
“Because you have something I want,” I frown. “Or so you say.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered by his proposal, and my attraction to him is so powerful, I can barely contain myself.
I cross my legs.
“The moment you concede to my request, is the moment you find out for sure,” Kiril smirks, choosing to emphasise that word specifically, and I scowl.
It’s clear he is used to getting his way, but it’s just as evident he knows I’m not one to roll over, to bow, to surrender – but this is Jazz.
My greatest weakness as well as strength is laid bare before him, and he is taken advantage.
“I already told you,” I sniff, trying not to sneer or pout.
“Use my words, Sparrow,” he insists, burrowing through my sense of self-respect, laying waste to my ego.
Swallowing my pride, I square my shoulders confidently, owning my decision, my commitment to getting back my friend.
This victory doesn’t seem to please him as much as I thought it would, and I capitalise.
“Now tell me what you know.”
Without hesitation he nods, and I’m floored.
“The Konstantin you’re searching for,” he begins, leaning back in a more casual posture, “is my little brother.”
Like I’ve been punched in the gut, all the air leaves me. Gaping like a fish out of water. The song and dance I’ve been making all over London in my attempts to locate Jazz and the one person of interest I have in her disappearance, and his very brother has been in my club every other night.
Suddenly I’m livid.
There’s no way he didn’t hear about my quest; I’ve been shoving my nose into every place I can think Jazz and Konstantin might have gone together, shouting my distress from the rooftops, and received only silence, even from the police.
“You had to have known before now,” I hiss, only just managing to keep the venom behind my teeth.
Leaning forward, I rise up, hands now fists pressed against the tabletop if only to keep them from lashing out at him in anger.
“Calm down, Sparrow,” he instructs, no longer smiling, but he can take his pet name and shove it up his ass.
“Don’t you dare birdie me,” I growl, barring my teeth and pouring out all my potential for intimidation, which isn’t insignificant by any means. “Where is she?”
“That I do not know,” Kiril responds, spreading his hands with perfect calm. “In point of fact, I don’t even know where Konstantin is.”
Quivering with indescribable rage, I rock back and shuffle out of the booth, dead set on marching to the hell out of there and placing a call to Detective Parker about this revelation, but Kiril slaps his hand around my wrist.
“You intend to go back on your word?” he whispers, tugging me against the edge of the table at his side.
“Oh, you set me up!” I exclaim loudly, glaring down at him – stares across the café turn to us.
“Yes, I did,” he admits, ignoring the attention we’ve drawn in favour of attempting to freeze me with those beautifully verdant eyes. “But if I’m not mistaken, you’d do anything for your friend, and agreed to do so.”
“I don’t need you to find her, Mr. Lambert,” I grate, lifting my arm, but Kiril holds firm. “I will take your name to the police and tell them you know something, so get your secretary to leave some time open for your interrogation.”
“Unlikely,” he volleys, stroking the inside of my wrist with his thumb, which only enrages me more.
Against his pale skin, Kiril is suddenly wearing the handprint of my displeasure.
“If you knew anything about, about Jazz, you wouldn’t act like such a smug bastard,” I seethe, and my lips poise to continue when Kiril’s eyes narrow keenly.
The rising crest of my anger and indignation shudders as an opposing force meets it, attempts to push it back.
“Get off,” I snarl, throwing off his grip and stepping out of arm’s reach, allowing the swirl of ire to gather momentum once more. “If your brother has done anything to Jazz, I will burn him, and you also for daring to stand in my way.”
Storm clouds gather in his expression and thunder rumbles through ever word Kiril speaks.
“It is unwise to threaten me, Miho,” he annunciates slowly, and a cold ripples through my body.
“I… I’m leaving,” I stammer around the lump in my throat, but I find it impossible to move.
“If you leave now,” he says, so quietly and yet not whispering, “you will likely never see Miss Mann again.”
“And it’s just as unwise to threaten me,” I exhale thickly, though the heat in my face and the trembling air in my lungs is evidence enough I’m losing control of my composure.
Unaffected, Kiril rises, not once breaking eye contact. He is far taller than he should be, and the darkness at his back, outlining the shape of his imposing figure seems too real.
“Konstantin has an apartment not far from here,” he tells me, ignoring my unimpressive retort. “And I have a key.”
“Give it to me,” I hiss, breathless, too proud to cower, but far too unnerved to raise my voice much more.
“No,” he drops plainly, then his very edges soften. “But, you may join me – assuming of course you can wrestle your ego into submission long enough to reiterate your commitment to our agreement.”
Hubris calls for me to slap him again, to stalk out and ban him from even entering Pale again – by my friendship with Jazz is far stronger than that. Even if he has something to do with Jazz’s disappearance too – and I’d be stupid not to consider this given his manipulation – I have no real choice but to accept.
“I agree,” I tell him frostily, reaffixing my handbag on my shoulder and crossing my arms over my chest.
Kiril watched Miho closely, relentlessly, where she sat beside him in the back of his limousine. She was still, a statue frozen in a moment of wrathful indignation, with her gaze fixed forward; but he knew she had him in her peripheral vision, seeming ready in an instant to defend herself from unwanted contact.
Contact he wanted.
There she was, so close to him, warm, determined and fierce, and desire pulsed through his veins. How easy it would be to drag her into his lap, snake his hands around her and squeeze around her delicious curves, and bury his face against her neck.
But he didn’t, because he suspected something Narumi had missed when she manipulated Miho’s thoughts into forgetting her encounter with Alex – a recollection that had already begun to surface once more. This resistance, the way she fought against his ability to overwhelm her emotions – and won – suggested she was even more than the stunning, confident businesswoman he’d first taken her for.
And he wanted her all the more for it.
As their vehicle pulled into a secured underground car park, Miho’s eyes widened a little.
“He lives here?” she questioned.
One Tower Bridge overlooked the Thames, and the iconic Tower Bridge itself. The complex as a ridiculous piece of real estate someone like Miho would never be able to afford – millions of pounds for luxury she only ever saw in film.
“This is the most recent address of his I know,” Kiril responded, exiting the car himself, though it was the driver who released Miho from its confines.
Unlike the subterranean car parks Miho had experienced across the city, this one was bright and absolutely spotless. There were no petrol fumes, no rubber marks on the sealed concrete ground, and all painted markings were in pristine condition.
Without a word, Kiril began in the direction of the elevator, using the same key-card that had admitted their entry to the car park, to open them.
Dubiously, Miho stared at the confines of the elevator interior, obviously cautious about being trapped in the small space with Kiril without the presence of another person. Pure obstinacy pushed her forward and to the very back, where she leaned against the mirrored wall and glared as Kiril joined her.
“It’s going to be a very long night for you if you keep that up,” he pointed out, smiling like he actually hoped she’d persist.
“I suppose you’ve love me to be compliant and pliable and all over you like the women you bring to Pale,” she snorted, continuing to glower as the doors closed them in.
“Oh no, I quite prefer you combative,” he chuckled, moving closer, and Miho sidestepped to avoid being further boxed in. “Much more entertaining.”
“I’m not here for your amusement,” she huffed, crossing her arms again, but it made balancing a second dodge a little difficult.
She found herself in the corner, Kiril directly before her looking most pleased with himself; and she was infuriated, in part because he insisted on challenging her when she was here only to serve her mission, but more so that the closer he drew, the more her skin eagerly anticipated his touch.
The doors opened on the fourth floor to a clear and pleasant chime, but Kiril continued to smoulder, close enough to Miho for her actually feel the radiant heat from his body – or so it seemed.
“No comeback, Sparrow?” he prompted smugly, leaning his head forward, and Miho turned her cheek.
“My comeback might very well be my knee to your groin if you keep pushing me,” she growled, but Kiril’s smile only widened.
“The lady likes to rough-house,” he noted, and Miho expelled a frustrated breath, using her shoulder to nudge past him and exit to the landing.
Chuckling, Kiril followed – the more she rebuffed him, the greater his desire to her submit to him willingly.
“So you’re a big-wig CEO,” Miho said, approaching one of only two doors on the floor. “What does Konstantin do to be able to afford a place like this?”
“I tend not to involve myself in my brother’s affairs,” Kiril replied, touching the key-card to the electronic lock beside the door. “The origin of his wealth has nothing to do with me.”
“Yet you’ve access to his luxury apartment,” Miho pointed out dryly.
“I never said it was given to me,” he responded, reaching around her to push open the door. “Ladies first.”
Well that obviously changed things a little – card or no card, it was trespass if Kiril didn’t have permission to be there. What if Konstantin was home?
“Even better,” Miho muttered in determination, and stomped into the spacious, dark wood appointed living area.
But it was quiet and clean, and Miho’s call to Jazz went unanswered.
“Refrigerator is empty,” Kiril noted, not that he was especially surprised, but Miho did not respond.
In the master bedroom she’d thrown open the door to the walk-in robe to search for women’s clothing, but finding none, she made her way to the ensuite. There she found no evidence of a woman either, but that only meant Jazz hadn’t made herself at home – or maybe hadn’t been given an opportunity to.
“Damnit,” she cursed, rushing from room to room, scanning, opening, searching every nook and cranny.
Kiril, meanwhile, was far from frantic. He wandered lazily from room to room, but wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. When he finally reached the master bedroom, he stopped in the doorway, staring.
On all fours, with backside in the air and her right cheek pressed against the plush carpet, Miho was peering under the king-sized bed, fishing around for what, Kiril did not know; but he found himself transfixed by the sight. Her posture was not an invitation by any means, and yet the idea of folding himself over her, pulling back on her hair and tasting the skin of her throat, bubbled furiously in his blood. Resisting the urge to follow through, tainted the sound of his voice when he finally spoke.
“What are you expecting to find under there?”
Her body flinched but did not straighten. Instead she reached a little further, grunting as she reached her limit, and only sat back when she’d snared her prize.
“Apartments like this are serviced by professional cleaners,” Kiril pointed out, approaching. “It’s unlikely you’ll find any traces of your friend.”
“And yet…” Miho smiled thinly, staring at the small bead black and white swirled.
To Kiril it meant very little, but obviously Miho knew something.
Inhaling slowly, I close my eyes.
This seemingly generic bead clasped between my fingers is personal to me. The ridiculously overpriced Pandora bracelet I’d given Jazz for her last birthday, comprised elements I had chosen individually.
But there is something much deeper here, and I’m suddenly not me anymore.
The world tilts and my ears are filled with the sound of Jazz laughing, laughter emerging from my lips. She opens her eyes and I’m staring into the face I know as Konstantin’s, and his lips press against my collarbone.
Raggedly, my breath hitches as he holds me firmly against him, my legs, Jazz’s legs against the edge of the bed – and I’m giggling as he kisses up my neck and threatens to topple me backwards. But he has to work for it, I struggle and squirm and try to fend him off, but the way he grips Jazz’s wrist is a grip unbreakable, somehow gentle but commanding against my refusal to submit. Finally, he twists a leg behind mine and shoves us back against the mattress, and as Jazz’s back sinks into the deep softness of the duvet, the Pandora bracelet explodes from my wrist and beads bounce all around us.
A stillness falls as the last glass sphere rolls into hiding beneath the bed, and Konstantin peers at me with an intensity that stokes a dangerous furnace within my belly – and I can feel his desire pressing insistently between my thighs, and as he releases Jazz’s wrist, I fold my arms around his neck and draw him down to meet a fierce passion of my own.
It bounces twice, the black and white, silver swirled bead as it drops from my hold to the sound of a breathy moan. A shudder rips through my body, but as I blink, it’s Kiril’s hand I find against my cheek, his body so close we’re lightly touching. We’re standing in Konstantin’s bedroom of course – I was always there despite what I saw and felt – it doesn’t make sense. And my emotions are muddled, mine and Jazz’s blended together, my flesh singing from Konstantin’s promise of carnal pleasure: suddenly reflected in the coolness of Kiril’s palm brushing against my face.
“What… are you?” I exhale, heat on my breath, a shivering anticipation of his slowly approaching face and a painful conflict between wanting him to take me like his brother had – hadn’t – and knowing I have every reason to shove him away.
I should shove him away.
“That look,” he responds, green fire crackling in the slim space between us, and I tremble as his other hand comes to rest lightly against my hip. “That invitation.”
“It’s not…” I begin, but my body betrays me, shifting with his encouragement to close all distance. “Kiril…” I hiss, desperately fighting to order my thoughts before I’m drowned by this wave of inexplicable need, this ludicrous urge for him to smother me. “I saw… I saw them…”
“I see you,” he states plainly, and his lips tease across mine.
Arching into him flashes an unintentional green light, and our mouths unite with a dizzying lust over which I have very little control.