Blood Spatter: Part 2

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.

Another first.

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.

Stern.

“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,

“Which is?”

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.

“I concede.”

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.

Blood Spatter: Part 1

It’s the shrill and frantic screaming of a phone that abruptly interrupts the dreamless dark of my sleep. Thundering jackhammers valiantly try to drown out the sound with blinding pain in my head.

“Fuck, shut the fuck up,” I growl, pawing around wildly for the location of my phone until I somehow coincidentally manage to hit the answer button. “What?”

“Miho?” comes an urgent male voice that makes me cringe for more than one reason.

“Jesus Sebastian, stop yelling,” I hiss, covering my eyes with my forearm though the room is already dark.

“Maybe if you answered your phone when I call you, I wouldn’t have to,” Sebastian argues, his tone a blend of relief, worry and scorn. “Where the hell are you?”

For a moment I ponder this answer – I should be more concerned that I have to think about it.

“Home,” I finally determine.

“Are you sick?” he pursues. “Mieke, Kara and I opened the club without you, but that’s never happened.”

“Oh shit,” I curse, sitting up far too suddenly for the likes of my migraine. “Mmph, um… I’m sorry, I’ll…”

“Are you sick?” he repeats more seriously.

“No, I… um…”

I… um… struggling to answer that question – why am I struggling to answer that question?

“Some guy nearly hit me with his car,” I respond finally, the memory hazy. “I hit my head when I stumbled.”

“I’d ask if you’re all right, but clearly you’re not; I’m coming over,” he states, leaving no room for argument.

“Fine, you can drive me to work,” I conclude, pushing back the duvet and wriggling into a sitting position.

“We can discuss if when I arrive,” he grumbles. “Don’t do anything crazy in the meantime.”

Pfft, like I ever do anything crazy.

 

There is nothing interesting about my getting ready for work routine, except that my headache wanes a little. Still, I’m sloshing some aspirin around in a glass when he buzzes my intercom.

For a few seconds I look at him on the LCD screen, admiring the strong line of his jaw, the faint hint of stubble and the fall of several dark strands of hair that constantly fall across his forehead.

I’d be lying if I didn’t think there might be a better – more fun – way to get rid of my headache’s remnants.

“Are you going to let me in?” I hear his voice through the speaker, and I break from my lascivious reverie.

“Sorry,” I apologise, though he can’t even hear me, and in what seems like a far too short time, he’s travelled up several floors and is knocking on my door.

“I’m angry with you,” are the first words from his mouth, and though he’s frowning, he’s looking me up and down with an analytical eye.

“Thanks, Dad,” I mock, turning to get my handbag, but Sebastian takes my wrist and slowly forces me to straighten.

“I’m not done checking you over yet,” he grumbles, and there’s a pout in his voice though his expression remains stern.

His hands begin on my cheeks, large hands I always feel could crush my head and yet are so incredibly gentle as they graze my skin.

“Sebastian,” I whisper in complaint – but the downward intonation of his name, and the tilt of my head against his palm, betrays my alternate agenda.

“Don’t you Sebastian me,” he huffs, sliding his hands deliberately down my throat as he leans closer to examine a contusion on my left cheek. “You’re never late, never sick, never out of touch, and with… well…”

His sentence trails off, but I know exactly where it was going.

“I was afraid,” he admits, and I actually think he’s being serious.

This guy, who I feel has never been afraid of anything in his life, his brow is now creased, and my reflection in his sometimes-animalistic brown eyes wavers with genuine unease.

“I was afraid something had happened to you too,” he adds, shifting his weight, and when I cannot help but form a slight smile, I think I see him faintly blushing.

“As if,” I snort, slapping his chest with the back of my hand before scooping up my handbag. “I was an assassin in a past life.”

 

It takes a little more convincing to get Sebastian to allow me out of my apartment, but eventually he drives me to the club – on the provision I let him drive me home after closing. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. Though he’s come home with me plenty of times, our relationship has never been more than a mutually agreeable meeting of flesh and pleasure. The depth of his disquiet is surprising, and I’m not sure how to take it.

“Where the hell have you been?” Mieke glares, the moment we enter Pale’s foyer.

“Easy tiger,” Sebastian grunts in Mieke’s direction, then heads off to do the rounds.

“Overslept,” I tell her sheepishly, and it’s not really a lie.

“Oh yeah? Well I didn’t – I got here three hours early because Seb’s losing his shit about you not answering your phone,” she huffs, but I can tell she’s not actually mad at me. “Kara’s already doing rounds in the basement.”

“Sorry, I’ll get to work, Boss,” I smirk.

“You might want to start with Mr. Lambert in the lounge,” she suggests, and I know she sees the way I’m suddenly more focused. “Thought that’d get your attention,” she sniffs. “And tonight, believe it or not, he’s alone.”

“That’s weird,” I agree. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a harem.”

“Right?” Mieke nods. “Go and take advantage.”

No harm in buttering up a VIP.

The man is an immaculate specimen, the kind who conveys so much with his mere presence alone. His suit is easily worth as much as the entire contents of my wardrobe, clearly custom tailored to emphasise his best physical features: and god damn, those features. They’re a sonnet of masculinity, a rousing canticle of sculpted muscle in perfect proportion.

Intimidation is not something I’m used to submitting to, but every time I’ve had cause to interact with Kiril Lambert – billionaire CEO of KeepsGuard Risk Management and Insurance – I’ve had to struggle against a tide of uncertainty and doubt.

He makes me feel small: I hate it, but affix my best smile as I approach, and bury the instinct to act meekly behind a fortified wall of self-confidence.

“With compliments of the house,” I smile, placing the tray down on Kiril’s table, before taking the uncorked bottle of very old and expensive whiskey in hand.

“It’s my understanding, you are the house,” Kiril points out blithely as he adjusts his silk tie slightly, but for a few seconds I find myself enchanted by the nonchalant motion of his hand. “So it’s you I have to thank. Join me.”

It wasn’t a question, it was a statement, but for some reason, I don’t feel offended by his assumption; I am no stranger to this type of attention in my club – without being arrogant – but in this instance, I shock myself by acting completely out of character.

Compliant.

I put it down to my headache and try to cover a grimace with graciousness.

“It’s my policy not to mix business and pleasure, Mr. Lambert,” I tell him casually, but slip into the booth opposite him nonetheless, “but since you’re Pale’s resident celebrity, I’ll make an exception.”

“Is that the only reason?” he enquires, eyes fixed on my fingertips, apparently fascinated by the way they dig into the wax sealing the amber liquid behind crystal and begin to peel it away.

“What would you like me to say?” I ask, pouring carefully into his glass before pushing it toward him.

I sense my quip is a dangerous one, but simply can’t help playing his game.

“That you’ve finally given in to your burning desire for me,” he replies: so blasé, it almost doesn’t sound like the words of a consummate playboy.

Here is a creature blessed – sublimely handsome, connected and wealthy – oh he never wants for companions.

Normally, I would scowl at such a line, but he drops it so effortlessly I actually laugh.

Then regret it.

Grimacing, I resist the urge to rub at my temples and straighten my back.

“Something wrong?” he queries, slowly coiling his fingers around the whisky tumbler.

It’s such a simple gesture and yet I find it so incredibly sexy I nearly forget my pain.

The unusual green of his gaze pierces through my attempts to appear unaffected, and though I have reassurances on my tongue, I find myself barely able to inhale, let alone form words.

“Ah, it’s just a headache,” I finally manage, and frown at how breathless I sound.

“Late night?”

At this I scoff.

“I run a club, I’m practically nocturnal,” I point out, but thinking about the night previous makes the pain increase threefold.

“A woman after my own heart,” he chuckles, “but that doesn’t explain your obvious discomfort.”

“I had a run in with… with a…” I begin, then cringe when it feels as if my brain is expanding, threatening to burst from my eye sockets.

“You look like you’re in need of a medicinal dram,” he declares, turning his glass slowly by the rim, casually observing my growing distress.

“Hm, if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be from the top shelf,” I murmur, trying to blink away the stars sparkling across my field of vision.

“Then please,” he beseeches, though the two words again sound more like an instruction, “allow me to make you feel a little better.”

Men like that don’t beg.

Ever.

Used to being propositioned in my own club by drunken idiots, I totally take it in my stride – though I find my answer uncharacteristically more flirty than is routine.

“And how might you achieve that, Mr. Lambert?” I question, tweaking a crooked smile despite the continuation of heavy drums in my head.

Before his lips even part, his eyes flicker somehow more brightly, and again I find myself transfixed by the way emerald flames seem to dance within their depths.

“Kiril,” he corrects, “and I have myriad ways.”

His voice low – the brush of velvet across my skin, and that alone seems to dull the war raging between my ears.

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me to call one of London’s most successful CEOs by his first name,” I point out, not that I believe in elitism.

“This successful CEO is offering it to you,” he shrugs, it being his first name, not the lewd other it that suddenly invades my mind’s eye. “But for now…”

His fingertips are cool, smooth, as he turns my right wrist over onto his palm, and I flinch at the unexpected contact.

“Close your eyes,” he orders firmly, and before the thought can even register, I’m smothered in the darkness beneath my lids. “Just breathe,” he whispers, a breath I can almost feel against my cheek though I know he is still across the table.

A shudder ripples through me, tingling that begins at the stroke of his thumb against the pale underside of my wrist, and gathers momentum up my arm.

“And that’s just my thumb, Sparrow,” I hear him say, see his lips moving and the hungry blaze of his stare though my own eyes remain closed.

Sparrow? But did he even speak? I can’t tell, but I respond anyway.

“Oh really?” I sniff, wanting to smirk at the boldness of his allusion, but the deepening pressure of his thumb into my skin, the tendons, warns me not to.

“Shh,” he soothes, pressing against one point that for several seconds makes me feel dizzy.

Then the clattering discomfort of the marching band parading through my brain is silenced.

Everything falls silent.

The sweet jazz piano.

The quiet chatter of staff and other nearby patrons.

The clink of glassware.

Until a new rhythm emerges – faster and faster and faster, until the pounding of my heart is almost unbearable.

“How did you…” I exhale, finally opening my eyes.

Pain free, I meet him halfway, though the intensity of those penetrating meres threatens to cause my calm to crumble.

“Magic,” he smiles confidently, continuing to gently caress from my wrist, along the lifeline of my palm.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I struggle to the surface, swimming valiantly out of a verdant ocean to break eye contact and reclaim my hand.

“What the hell is going on?” I wonder, for I can feel him crawling across my skin, sliding to places hidden beneath my clothes.

I have seen him in Pale a hundred times, and while I’ve acknowledged his inexplicable beauty, always pausing in my rounds to perve discretely, I now feel an almost overwhelming magnetism that sticks me to my seat.

But there is someone else observing us; I can feel Sebastian’s scorn as surely as if he was waggling his finger disapprovingly in my face.

“Looks like your boyfriend doesn’t like me touching his property,” Kiril snickers, taking my other hand when I look in Sebastian’s direction. “Not one to share I take it.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, but I should…” I begin, but he cuts me off.

“Stay,” he commands quickly, a word from his mouth before he even thinks it over; he surprises even himself, as much written in the sudden – though fleeting – change in his countenance.

Because that makes it so much better.

“Excuse me?” I snap, and whatever hold he’d had on me shatters. “Pardon me, Mr. Lambert, I should resume my duties. Please enjoy your drink.”

He lets me go, regaining his air of self-importance, but I hear him as I walk away – am sure I am supposed to.

“I think I would, very much.”

“Fraternising with customers now?” Sebastian almost accuses, the moment I am within earshot, and I feel myself souring further.

“Any issues?” I redirect, but Sebastian has me caught in a purposeful gaze.

“Miho,” he levels. “Kiril Lambert is not someone you want to get involved with.”

“Oh yes?” I sniff, undaunted by the seriousness of his expression. “Successful, influential, wealthy, and not shy about spending his money here,” I add.

I leave off how hot Kiril is – no sense in provoking Sebastian.

Working his jaw, Sebastian stares at me, attempting maybe to transmit his disdain via telepathy.

“It’s already not my night,” I sigh, finally heading for the stairs. “Please don’t make it worse.”

Surprisingly he doesn’t follow to my office, which is just as well.

Still, it means I’m alone as I flop down behind my desk, and beyond, Jazz’s empty work station screams out her conspicuous absence.

It just doesn’t feel right without her, and it’s not just about the physical space she should be taking up – she means so much more to me than that. Her absence is like a hole, carved right through my perception of everything; we’re sisters in all but blood, and the only family either of us have left.

“What did he do to you?” I hiss to the room, but further ponderance of Konstantin’s involvement in Jazz’s disappearance is brutally shoved away by the feeling of someone driving an ice-pick through my skull.

But that isn’t the only sensation.

Against the lacquered wood I ball my fists, leaning forward like it might make the pain less severe, but my mind is tugged in the direction of a solid collision.

The ground.

Wet under my body.

In the darkness, afraid, and barely clinging to consciousness.

Vaguely I hear a question and a name.

“Alex?”

Groaning, I blink away the vision, and through clenched teeth I breathe moist patterns against the desktop. The images, the sensations, the emotions all feel so real.

Then it’s Kiril Lambert who floats into my mind; the gentle touch of refreshingly cool skin against the flush of mine lulls some of my present affliction. Desperately I want him to caress me again, and I realise it’s not just because of the way he so easily chased away my resurging migraine.

“And that’s just my thumb, Sparrow,” I hear him purr again, and though I hate the diminutive, I cannot deny the growing knot in my stomach and the tingling warmth in places I’d like to experience his other fingers.

Resisting the urge to allow my own hands to wander, I settle for some more aspirin and paracetamol, before heading back downstairs to work.

 

Adding to my pre-existing irritation, the sensitive throb of my nethers doesn’t fade as the night wears on, any more than my headache. Crossing the basement nightclub dance floor, nodding to Kara as I go, I’m afforded the occasional, incidental bump in the right spot and it sends a shudder of pleasure through my body – and though Sebastian and I have enjoyed each other’s company many times since he came to work at the club, it’s Kiril Lambert who flashes into my mind.

Avoiding him is suddenly not so easy when my feet seem to have a will of their own, but I stop in my tracks on the far side of the lounge, when I find he is now not alone.

“Of course he’s not,” I chide myself. “Come to the club and just sit there for hours alone? Him?”

No indeed. He’ surrounded by his typical entourage of slender beauties, who stroke down his lapel, touch his skin, murmur against it.

Perhaps he feels my gaze as it lingers too long, because he looks through his company at me; they don’t seem to notice he is no longer with them, as surely as if he’d gotten up and walked away.

“Feeling lonely, Sparrow?” he smirks, I see the question alight in those green pools that penetrate me so thoroughly.

And I don’t even think I mind, not that I’d ever admit it aloud.

”Ah, not lonely, something else?”

His smile grows wider with certainly as his gaze wanders down my body.

“Am I actually hearing him in my head?” I scoff at myself. “You have bigger issues to worry about than your libido.”

“Speaking of bigger things…” I hear him grin, as I turn away and force myself to shift toward the lounge bar.

Which is just as well considering the insolent flick of my hair causes a chandelier to drop and brain me: not literally, obviously, but that is certainly how it feels.

Clutching the edge of the bar, I lean against it heavily with my eyes tightly shut, and Morris the bartender is quick to show his concern – and he is not alone.

Faintly, I hear a woman yelp, then the touch of a hand against the small of my back.

“Still broken, Sparrow?” Kiril whispers into my ear, leaning a little over my shoulder.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” I gasp out, trembling and unable to open my eyes.

Though Morris puts a glass of water in front of me, I don’t notice, too busy shaking, too busy glaring into the face of someone I vaguely recognise and the way his teeth are bared threateningly.

“Where is she?” I hiss, losing my legs to slump back into Kiril’s arms, whimpering pathetically.

“What did you do?” Sebastian barks, and his voice rings in my ears as he rushes up to pull Kiril away by the shoulder.

Kiril’s response is to slap Sebastian’s hand away, but he neither confirms or denies his involvement in my debilitated state.

Had I not been just about ready to empty my stomach on any available pair of shoes, I might have wondered at the ferocity of their accusatory glares, that, and the origin of the prevailing notion in my mind – both a source of agony and truth.

“Alex knows where Jazz is!” I exclaim breathlessly, but the moment the sentence is from my mouth I want to curl into a ball. “Fuck me…”

“Another night, perhaps,” I vaguely hear Kiril murmur.

“Back up,” Sebastian commands savagely, and I feel his arms close in around me.

So warm, but there is something I suddenly miss about delightful prickle of cool skin, and from Sebastian’s embrace I blink away tears to fix my watery gaze upon Kiril once more.

“Where’s Alex?” I hiss, but my body is suddenly exhausted, and I collapse against Sebastian’s chest.

To this I get no answer, not that I could actually process it if I had.

All I want is for the evening to swallow me completely, to wrap me in darkness that steals away the terrible vortex of torment tear my brain to shreds.

 

__________

 

 

With refined detachment, Kiril watched Sebastian easily sweep Miho into a princess carry, but he found himself captivated by the limp swing of her arm when the other man stepped away. Crushing a surprisingly tenacious desire to snatch Miho away like a jealous dog over a bone, he instead watched Pale’s head of security disappear with his prize, without stirring further.

He was by no means oblivious to Miho’s amateur – though by no means insignificant – investigation into the disappearance of her business partner; he was aware she’d ruffled many feathers by shouting out the name Konstantin in places she was sure she’d be heard.

Oh, she’d been heard.

Smirking, Kiril didn’t even bid farewell to his vacuous company, and left Pale without a fuss, pressing his phone lightly to his ear.

“Ah cousin dear,” he drawled, his free hand in his pocket as he strolled down the street. “I love what you’ve done with that problem from last night.”

There was a short silence, before a female voice responded.

“Are you following up?” she queried and didn’t sound especially impressed about it. “You?”

“Pure happenstance,” he shrugged, even though his cousin could obviously not see him. “I heard the girl nearly got herself killed by one of Konstantin’s fanboys.”

“What’s your angle, Kiril?” she asked suspiciously. “Why the interest?”

“We both know full well she’s hunting for Konstantin because he’s abducted her friend,” he responded – because abduction was no big deal. “What I don’t know, Narumi, is why you didn’t erase her desire to find him.”

“You don’t think her sudden disinterest in the location of her business partner and best friend would be a little suspicious?” Narumi volleyed, and Kiril could tell she was annoyed – just as she always became annoyed when he challenged her. “Especially to the likes of Sebastian Ross.”

“Oh yes, and he is very interested in her, a real knight in shining armour,” Kiril chuckled, stopping at an intersection to wait for traffic.

“Don’t provoke him, Kiril, I don’t need the headache,” Narumi sighed, and Kiril got the impression of her rubbing her temples. “For once it’s Konstantin causing a stir, and unless you want Konrad on the warpath, just stay out of this and let me handle it.”

The mention of Konrad caused Kiril’s top lip to peel back in a sneer.

“Where is Konstantin and his little friend?” he grated between his teeth, stepping – no, stalking – across the road.

“I haven’t located them yet,” Narumi admitted. “He’s doing a remarkable job of concealing himself.”

“Remarkable, isn’t that him just all over,” Kiril huffed, abruptly taking the hand of a passing woman.

She looked at him quizzically, before smiling and staring wordlessly: starry-eyed.

“If you find him before I do,” he continued into his phone, leading the woman along with him, “tell him I said hi.”

“Just stay out of this,” Narumi warned. “I mean i…”

But Kiril hung up and tucked his phone away, focusing on his present company.

“Hungry?”

 

In the darkness of my apartment, I’m alone again with Sebastian. Murmuring a mixture of concern and how much trouble I am, he helps me to the bedroom and sits me down on the end of the bed.

“I’ll get you some water,” he says in a low voice, his hand still resting on my shoulder. “Think you can get undressed by yourself?”

There is nothing untoward about his question, not even a hinting undercurrent of lust; he could take advantage, but he doesn’t – that’s the kind of man he is.

“It’s not so bad anymore,” I reply, slowly sliding the jacket from my shoulders.

No sudden moves just the same.

“I’d say you’re working too hard, but I know that’s in your nature, so, what’s going on?” he questions, and though it’s dim I can see him frowning. “In the year and a half I’ve known you, you’ve never had so much as a sniffle.”

“There is the whole best friend missing and nearly getting run over thing,” I point out a little snappishly, but it’s a measure of my low tolerance levels rather than any actual anger I have toward him. “I’m sorry, Sebastian, I don’t know – I just have this terrible feeling something horrible has happened Jazz, that I’m so close to finding her but she’s just beyond me reach.”

Blinking, I find my cheeks wet again, and Sebastian gently wipes his thumbs across my cheeks.

“Do you want me to stay?” he asks, and though he’s a seriously impressive looking man, this inquiry leaves his lips unsure, tentative.

If I was able to think more clearly, I would certainly challenge him; though we care for one another as friends, he made it clear very early on our relationship beyond that was just physical: a way for us to relieve some of the tension in our lives without romantic entanglements and all the obligations that come with. He has never stayed and never asked to, always leaving when we’re both satisfied.

Saying yes might lead to something I don’t need, but I know right now I don’t want to be alone.

My chin drops forward before lifting again, and the warmth of his palm cupping one cheek is a reassurance I’m grateful for.

“Okay,” he smiles simply, crouching a moment to unzip my boots and slide them away. “Hop into bed, I’ll get you that water and be right back.”

Sighing, I undress to my panties and slip t-shirt on – normally Sebastian wouldn’t get to see such a thing, the Miho ‘home-body’ in her unflattering night clothes, but it’s not something I worry about.

What I want is to be held, and stroked, and told everything will be okay – that I’ll wake up tomorrow and Jazz will be back, no harm done, and this blasted headache will be long gone.

Wordlessly upon his return, Sebastian strips down to his underwear and joins me beneath the duvet, leaving me no time to appreciate the stirring cut of his physique. Instead, I settle for the strong coil of his arms around me, and snuggle against his firm chest, inhaling slowly.

“Just close your eyes,” he whispers into my hair, but it’s not his voice I hear.

Kiril Lambert.

His are the fingers weaving softly through my hair, his breath against the side of my head, his ankles entwined with mine. Just as it had, sitting across from him in the booth with my wrist in his grip, the pain my skull abates, and I am left with a slowly growing ball on tension in my stomach.

“You okay?” Sebastian queries, leaning his head back.

My answer is to kiss him, a slow and searching notion, probing for interest.

The tense of his body and then the smooth of his hands down to the small of my back is his response, but he ends the dance of our tongues.

“I don’t think this is what you need right now,” he tells me, but his body is already telling me what he needs.

“I don’t want to think,” I hiss, my voice a little hoarse, and his response to the trail of my fingers to the band of his boxer briefs and beneath. “So get naked and fuck me.”

These words are the kind of vulgar imperative I might use in a moment of passion to provoke him, not the kind of thing once says while vulnerable; but I can’t help it, I suddenly need it.

Also surprised he hesitates, but not for long when I palm him firmly and bite into his lower lip, at which point Kiril takes hold of the hem of my t-shirt and tears it all the way to my throat.

Yep.

It’s Kiril Lambert’s weight I feel pressing over me, and into me not long after, his shoulder-blades I’m digging my fingernails into and his hips my legs are wrapped around. Gentle at first, I feel he doesn’t want to hurt me but is definitely holding back – he needs encouragement, and my teeth sinking into the taut flesh of his shoulder and the arch of my body to deepen our contact provides this.

The night is a heavy blanket that hides us from each other’s sight, but through the fierce thrust and grab, and the heady thickness of panting breaths and desirous moans, I can clearly see the ravenous depths of Kiril’s gaze by which I am willingly consumed.