Lie to MeBlack Opals, Book 2
They exist only in shadow. An elite team of deadly operatives created to satisfy increasing international
threats. Their world is the dark underground, where sin and pleasure dominate and lies are second nature.
To those who cross them, they are professional killers. Within the CIA, they are the rare Black Opals...
Release Date: July, 2012
Two Years Earlier...
She was moving.
Her eyelids refused to open, but the back-and-forth rocking and the up-and-down motion invaded Sasha Zablosky’s bleary mind. Moving . . .
The monotonous hum of an engine filtered through a dull buzz in her ears. A loud engine. Diesel, and not one built for economy, if she had to take a guess. More like the buzz of the open-top Gaz’s used to transport her and her team to explosion test sites. Only . . . different.
Why in the hell was she moving? What happened to Alexei’s bed, the warm muscular body she’d fallen asleep beside every night for the last week? For that matter, where was he?
Her entire body lurched as the vehicle hit a pothole. The back of her head smacked into something hard, and dizzying nausea rose, threatening to pull her into a dark chasm of nothingness. Distantly, she heard herself moan.
A strong hand latched onto her elbow, grounding her, warm fingertips soaking through her chilled skin. “Easy, Irina. Not much longer now, and it will all be over.”
It took a moment to place the name she’d assumed six months ago when she fled her home, but her native Russian language caressed her ears the same way those warm fingertips stroked the sensitive skin inside her elbow. Sasha focused on the familiar richness, the voice she knew so well. Alexei was here. Relief poured through her.
Grasping at the sound of his voice, she struggled to surface through the fog that clouded her mind. Awareness grew. She was cold and lying on something made of cloth that did little to soften the harsh metallic floor beneath her back. Canvas . . . a tarp. The roar of the engine sharpened; her nose tickled at the faint musty scent.
Memories flashed through her mind. She’d danced for the leering men in her cousin’s nightclub. Stripped for a handful of rubles that wouldn’t feed her through the week. After she exited the ramshackle stage, Alexei had been waiting outside. Long golden-brown hair blew in the wind as he lounged against the brick exterior wall. Her gaze locked with his light green eyes, and all the desire that had flared between them upon her arrival at her cousin’s club three weeks earlier ignited once again. Barely able to keep their hands off each other long enough to make the short ride to his flat, she’d tumbled into his bed. What he’d done to her there . . .
The feel of Alexei’s hands and mouth on her body, the unending ache he created, the way he’d taken her hard and fast, then later slow and torturously—every vivid image burst forth in full color. On her hands and knees begging for release. Spread out beneath him, a slave to the flick of his tongue against her pussy. Astride his firm hips, his thick cock filling her up. She gave herself like she had with no man before. Body, heart, and soul.
It had always been that way between them. Alexei somehow reached inside and touched parts of her she didn’t realize existed. Last night though something drove him as well. When he’d finally had his fill of her, she’d fallen asleep exhausted beyond her means, well used. Significantly appreciated.
Sasha surged through the layered haze clouding her thoughts, and with a startled blink, opened her eyes. Shadows blanketed the small confines, but the hand on her arm kept panic at bay. Slowly, she turned her head. Her gaze registered on Alexei’s unshaven face and his sharp frown.
“Alexei?” She swallowed to moisten her dry throat.
She squeezed her eyes shut tightly to refocus her vision. When she looked again, Alexei’s hand fell away from an overhead lamp. Dim yellow light illuminated the steel gray walls of what had once been a military transport vehicle. He wore the same jeans and loose, long-sleeved black shirt he’d worn earlier. Only he hadn’t fastened his shirt all the way, leaving the first three buttons open to reveal smooth bronzed skin dusted with faint dark hair. The vehicle bounced again as it traveled over uneven terrain.
“Irina, I’m so sorry,” Alexei whispered.
As Sasha settled into her surroundings, she attempted a smile. “Where am I?” She glanced down at her rail-thin body, observing she wore only the bra and panties he’d so easily stripped away earlier. “Where are my clothes?”
The glint of metal caught her attention, and her gaze focused on Alexei. He fiddled with a small leather case in his lap. As his hands paused, a syringe loosely clasped in his fingers, he lifted remorseful green eyes to hers. “You’ll never forgive me, but for what it’s worth, what happened between us wasn’t part of my orders. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but I will never forget.”
Orders. Her thoughts skidded to a stop as Alexei reached for her arm once more. Years spent working in the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation made that word stand out more than anything she’d heard in the last six months on the run. Had someone found her? Discovered what she’d done?
Was this Russia’s way of disposing of a loose cannon?
She jerked free of his grasp. “Wait.”
Anguish passed behind those light green eyes as he winced. He looked away. “You shouldn’t be awake, little one.” Shadows cut harsh lines into his already chiseled features and gave his unshaven face a dangerous appeal. His throat worked as he visibly swallowed.
Struggling to sit upright, she eased away from the enticing pull of his strong upper body. A harsh note crept into her voice. “Where are you taking me?”
“You don’t want to know.”
The nearly inaudible response sent chills skittering across her exposed skin. She crossed her arms over her breasts and rubbed at goose bumps. “I do. Tell me where you’re taking me.”
He didn’t look at her as he murmured, “To Dubai.”
Dubai. Sasha blinked. Last she’d heard, Dubai wasn’t a place to drop off Bratva informants. Dmitri Gavrikov and the rest of the Moscow mafia preferred to dispose of their liabilities in rivers, abandoned plots of lands, snow-covered forests—not metropolises.
“What’s in Dubai?”
“A sheikh.” His gaze slid to hers for the briefest of seconds before it fixed once more on the flat gray wall. Muscles flexed in his cheek, sharpening the angle of his bristly jaw. “You’ve been . . . traded.”
She squinted at his handsome profile. Apprehension bubbled beneath her skin, chasing away the tremendous chill of the late October night. “Traded for what?”
Alexei glanced down at the syringe in his hands, and his hair fell over his shoulders to curtain his expression. His voice was a strained whisper. “There’s an elite hotel. You’ll join . . . the others. For half a million U.S. dollars you’ll entertain businessmen.” He tapped the covered needle. “This will keep you sane.” He looked up, his unsettling gaze locking with hers. “Somewhat.”
Thoughts collided in Sasha’s head. Traded. Entertain businessmen. Sheikh . . .
No. More. Russia.
For six months, she’d been trying to figure out how to get out of the country. Her father’s political power made it impossible to obtain a visa, to even skirt the borders without getting caught. Unwittingly, Alexei was providing that impossible escape.
She held Alexei’s troubled gaze. “I’m to be a whore. A possession and a slave.”
Swallowing again, Alexei answered with a curt nod. “It was why I came to your cousin’s club. You were chosen”—his green eyes flicked over her exposed body, and desire flashed hot before his gaze filled with remorse once again—“before what happened between us.”
“Chosen by whom?” Indignation colored her voice.
“I can’t say. It’s larger than both of us.”
Not the Bratva then. Sasha frowned. Common sense said she should be outraged. Furious with this man who’d taken her to his bed, fucked her until she was nearly delirious, and then betrayed her. But the part of her that had lived so long with guilt, the part that couldn’t forget the deaths she’d caused, whispered that this was fitting punishment.
She had no right to lead a carefree life. Though she’d never intended to harm a single person, let alone kill thirty, she didn’t deserve freedom. Paying that price with her body was insignificant. She’d still be alive—unlike the fate that awaited her in Russia.
Unlike what would happen if her father ever got his hands on her again.
In a strange, perverse way, Dubai offered a freedom that was wholly acceptable.
She gestured at the syringe in Alexei’s hand. She didn’t know what it was, didn’t want to know. But she sensed it would poison her for life, that if she allowed him to stick that needle into her, she’d lose her hold on reality.
“You can put that away.”
Surprise arched his strong brow.
“Take me wherever it is you’re taking me. But don’t put that in my veins.” As she realized what she was agreeing to, a foreboding weight settled on her shoulders and her throat inched closed. A fine sheen of moisture fuzzed her vision. “I won’t fight you. Just don’t give me that.”
For several, never-ending seconds, Alexei studied her. Protest registered in his expression, only to yield to a resignation that came with a heavy sigh. His broad shoulders bowed. Absently, he nodded, placed the syringe back in the leather case, then turned off the overhead light.
Silence spanned between them. The vehicle bounced on, springs rattling, engine cutting through the thick quiet. Cool night air invaded the tiny space, and Sasha clutched at the coarse canvas covering her lower body.
“Are you cold?” Alexei whispered.
Her voice rasped just as softly. “Yes.”
Strong arms wrapped around her waist and hauled her into a cushioning embrace. Alexei reached beneath her calves to drape her knees over his thighs, tucked the canvas tight around her body, and cradled her close. She snuggled into his arms, taking comfort in the warmth of his body, the crisp scent of soap that lingered on his clothing. Beneath her ear, his heart beat steady and strong.
She tipped her gaze to his face, taking in long, lowered eyelashes that dusted over high cheekbones and cloaked his startlingly light green gaze. His features tightened with unspoken pain and grief. The strength of his embrace echoed the same emotions.
She reached unsteady fingertips to his face and flattened her palm against his bristly cheek. Her thumb brushed across the stubble that edged his full, sensual mouth. His gaze held hers for a suspended heartbeat, before he crushed her close and his mouth fluttered through her hair. “I’m so sorry, Irina.”
Despite whatever drove him, whatever obligation he sought to fulfill, in her heart, Sasha knew he was.
Onyx eyes sparkled, silently laughing at Sasha from the plush beige chair beside hers. She stopped, mid-sentence, and pursed her lips, though her own humor threatened to spoil her attempt at annoyance. It occurred to her, even as Saeed’s amusement escaped with a warm smile, she was being ridiculous. Not once in two years had she felt the need to deliver a formal report on the staff she oversaw as his housekeeping manager.
She tossed the papers onto the table in front of her knees with a chuckle. “I’m no good at this.”
His broad shoulders shook with mirth as he reached across and straightened the disheveled report. “No, you are not.” Leaning sideways, closer to her, he brought the back of his hand to her face. Knuckles whispered across her cheek, then slid lower to push a thick lock of her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “You try too hard when your work already pleases me.”
“I just want everything to go well when you meet with the tribal leaders this week. They’ll expect the same meticulous service they received at your father’s home.” Sighing, she flopped into the soft cushions and played with the buttons on the blouse Saeed had given her on her birthday, two months prior. With Sheikh Amir’s suicide six months ago—a death Saeed diligently covered up—and the crimes Amir had been charged with, it was imperative his son make strong impressions to prevent the disgraceful secret from being discovered and his family from falling into shame. Particularly when Sasha was living proof of Sheikh Amir’s dark practices. Saeed and she rarely spoke about his ownership of her, or how she’d been presented as a gift two years previous, but they both understood her driving need to make sure she didn’t jeopardize him, or her own safety.
“Come here, Sasha.” He patted a muscular thigh.
Feeling like she bore the weight of the world on her shoulders, she moved catty-corner to sit in his lap. One arm wound around her waist, holding her protectively—comfortably—close. Sasha tucked her cheek onto his shoulder and breathed in the scent of frankincense that clung to his skin. Another sigh slipped free.
Saeed ran his hand up and down her spine. “You worry overmuch. We have discussed this, habibti, they will not ask questions. You are safe here. They assume I enjoy the pleasures of your body, no more. They will not find it worth their time to consider you, your work, or your origins further.”
A faint smile drifted to her lips despite the thick worry that had plagued her since Saeed had inherited his father’s kingdom. His preference for Western culture and his deviations from Muslim traditions were complication enough. If anyone discovered she was part of the ring of human trafficking his father had begun, one loose end as yet unresolved and one of the few women who hadn’t been returned to their original countries, Saeed’s family would suffer. Talk would begin again about Amir’s supposed meeting with the man who transported the women, and the questionable events that Saeed had managed to spin into a story of assassination, despite knowing his father had taken his own life. Saeed didn’t need her origins threatening him further.
She let out another heavy sigh. “Mellilah knows I was with you when you found Amir, Saeed. She also knows you never visit my bed. She hates me.” Saeed’s first wife despised the close relationship Sasha and Saeed shared. That she couldn’t dismiss Sasha with the simple tag of whore made her somehow feel threatened, and added yet another stressor to the circumstances.
Not that Sasha complained about her unique status and lack of sexual involvement. While Saeed was young and nice-looking, they had their own arrangement. She took care of his household, they’d become close friends, and for his own reasons, he hadn’t used her for the purpose she’d been gifted. Whatever those reasons were, she’d been blessed to be placed in such a position of trust. Blessed by the deep camaraderie they shared.
Though admittedly, it was a bit odd that while he obviously found her desirable, he’d never acted on the urge.
“Mellilah does not cause you trouble, does she?” Wariness gave Saeed’s voice an edge.
“No.” Sasha shook her head and sank deeper into his embrace.
“And she will not.” His hand slipped to her waist, the other coming to join it, and he shifted her so she faced him directly. “She has borne me two sons, my rightful heirs. She will bear me more. She would not jeopardize her security, or theirs.” He paused, then looked Sasha straight in the eye. “Or even those which come from your womb.”
Saeed’s sons. She could give him children—Lord knew he had done more than enough for her. And he was an attentive father to his boys. But to get to that point, something would have to change between them. Drastically.
Sasha laughed. “I think you’d have to do more than come to my room to go over your staffing reports.”
The light in his eyes darkened to a deeper hue of black as a faint smile touched his full mouth again. One corner of his narrow mustache twitched the way it always did when he found something she said satisfying. He cupped her chin in one hand, his hold gentle, his voice intimate. “I have waited two years so you would come to trust me and feel as if you truly belonged in my palace. Do I have that trust now?”
“I trust you with my life, Saeed.” Her secrets too. He was the only person in this world who knew the things she had done, the deaths she’d unwittingly caused, and the absolute hatred she felt for her father.
She ran a fingertip over the line of close-cut dark beard that edged his defined jaw. “You know this.”
“It is time for things to change between us, habibti.” For the first time since she’d known him, he leaned forward and touched soft lips to hers. “Tonight. I have planned a surprise for you. It is my hope you will not take offense.”
Startled by the sudden kiss, Sasha struggled to connect his meaning. “Offense?” This was unexpected. She knew it would come eventually, and she couldn’t say the idea of sleeping with Saeed didn’t appeal—he was handsome, kind, and always considerate. But the last thing she’d been prepared to hear after discussing household reports was that he’d decided to exercise his inherent rights to her body.
He didn’t answer with words. His lips brushed hers again, then lingered, the tip of his tongue teasing the corner of her mouth. Sasha responded naturally, opening to his subtle entreaty and gliding her tongue across his. Confident, yet tender—he kissed the same way he benignly touched her. She closed her eyes and let him take his fill.
The newness of their circumstances held a strange appeal. His previous restraint hadn’t made sense. He was a man. She was a woman. He desired her. He should have acted on it far sooner. Instead, he’d put her on a virtual pedestal, gave her important duties in his household, and treated her like a princess. But the gentle press of his lips didn’t come close to stirring the fire of the last man she had kissed. Alexei still haunted her dreams. Still stoked an ache she couldn’t satisfy.
Saeed eased the kiss to a close, his breathing elevated, his gaze now fathomlessly black. “You must understand it is only your pleasure I wish for, Sasha. Despite how it may sound . . .” His brow furrowed.
“What is it, Saeed?” Smiling, she flattened her palm against his chest.
“I fear you will not like my explanation.” Abruptly, he slid her off his lap into the cushion beside him. “But there are things I must do to protect the secrets of my family. You’re right, in some ways, to worry.”
A spark of apprehension lit, and Sasha’s gaze narrowed. Sheikh Amir had done some terrible things. Buying women for his hotel, trading arms, running drugs—none of those sounded like Saeed. And if he’d suddenly decided black-market bombs were his thing, they were going to have serious problems. He knew how she felt about that.
“I found myself approached by awkward allies,” Saeed began cautiously. “The same tribal leaders you have been so concerned with.”
“Though they have mentioned nothing of you—and they will not— several already question the circumstances of my father’s death. Mahmoud specifically talks of how my father and he were supposed to meet with the agent who arrested him, but my father was coincidentally found dead in the palace garden the morning of. Mahmoud’s sons question the story that my father was killed by the same agent.” Saeed passed a hand through thick, wavy hair. “His sons have insinuated that if I shun the involvement of other tribal leaders, they would make it . . . difficult.”
Sasha cringed. Saeed had worried about Mahmoud, one of the few men who had been captured and taken to America as opposed to being killed in the quiet of night. He hadn’t anticipated Mahmoud would talk, or that the questions Mahmoud posed would travel across an ocean to the homeland that neighbored Saeed’s. The men who were lured by the money to continue in what their fathers began wanted Saeed’s connections with the Western world. Connections they didn’t possess. Evidently now, they sought to press his hand the only way they knew how, by using rumor and suspicion to gain his aid and alliance.
“I had to choose a means of pacifying them, habibti. With the respect I feel for you, I couldn’t agree to the trading of arms. You also know my abhorrence of drugs. Which leaves . . .”
His gaze held hers steadily, speaking what they both knew. What they both despised, but couldn’t escape—the trade of women. Sasha swallowed hard. She’d had it good. Far better than the rest of the women that U.S. Intelligence had taken back, and introduced to rehab programs that would cleanse the heroin from their blood, and hopefully their minds. But they’d never shed the scars.
Still, she had little room to protest. Saeed was caught between two threatening boulders. She couldn’t ask him to endanger his entire family for her peace of mind. Nor would she. He had saved her from that horrific dependence on drugs and an endless stream of sexual degradations. Despite all that, despite all the privileges she knew, she still belonged to him. She was not his equal. Her opinion wouldn’t matter against the current stakes, and while Saeed cared for her, he wouldn’t risk everything to alleviate her disgust.
“What did you plan for tonight?”
“I have met with a man. Vasily. Another of the Bratva who comes highly recommended for duties such as this. He has been trading Russian women to China for several years.”
Like Alexei. Sasha’s heartbeat kicked up a notch, the familiarity uncanny.
“He asked for a token evidencing my trust in him.” His gaze cut to her, sharp and direct. “He heard of your beauty. He heard also, though I am shamed to admit it, that you are my weakness.”
A knot began to form in Sasha’s gut. All the months of being put on a pedestal had come to haunt her in a far larger way than her origins or Mellilah had ever posed. Though she wouldn’t put it past that gloating witch to spread the whispers of Saeed’s supposed weakness. Mellilah would be glad to be free of Sasha.
“You’re not . . . sending me to China . . . are you?” She could hardly get the words out, the thought struck such fear.
Saeed gave her a frown. “Do not be silly. I would never send you from here unless such was your wish.”
Saeed placed two fingertips beneath her chin and lifted her gaze to his. “I offered to share you for one night. We will both come to you tonight. For your sacrifice, habibti, I swear upon my soul, you will know nothing but pleasure.”
Her eyes widened in shock. Not just Saeed, but a stranger? Two men, in her bed. One she trusted. One she didn’t know at all. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew she ought to feel shame. Outrage. Something other than the kernel of excitement that popped inside her soul. That she didn’t made her uncomfortable. She squirmed out of Saeed’s gentle hold.
Saeed clasped her hand, his intense gaze willing her to believe. “I also swear, such will never happen again—unless you request it.” His thumb stroked the back of her knuckles. “As my beloved partner, Sasha, your happiness will know no restrictions.”
Dumbfounded both by what he proposed would happen this evening and the selflessness in his promise of their future, Sasha’s jaw dropped.
Saeed winced. “I have offended you.”
“No . . .” she answered hesitantly, uncertain how to define the emotion skittering through her veins.
Shifting closer, he twisted so one knee touched her thigh. His fingertips grazed up her forearm to her elbow. “You promise I have not?”
“Good then,” he murmured as he dipped his head. His breath danced against her lips. Warm fingers slid higher to the tank-style sleeve of her sheer baby-blue blouse. Then his caress drifted downward, and he trailed the back of his hand over the curve of her breast.
Featherlight, the unexpected touch combined with the whisper of his lips and the shocking idea of what tonight would involve. Her thoughts rioted between surprise, curiosity, anticipation, and shame.
A shiver rolled through her all the way down to her toes. She arched into the press of his palm with a gasp.
“I promise nothing but your pleasure,” Saeed murmured before he took her mouth again.
As a foreign sense of attraction for this man tumbled through her veins, Sasha yielded to his tempered kiss. His fingers stroked the soft flesh of her breast, tightening it until her nipples hardened into tight buds. Funny how he’d never once elicited this sort of response from her. But under the command of his hands, guided by mental images of his promised evening, and tormented by memories of another kiss, another touch, another beard that scratched her cheeks, she yielded to repressed desire. Two years she’d gone without a man’s touch, known only the satisfaction she could give herself.
Saeed might not turn her insides into jelly or make her willing to beg as she had with Alexei, but it had been so long. And in his own way, Saeed was tied into her heart.
Arousal stirred in the depths of her womb, seeping lower to moisten between her legs. But as she squirmed against the building pressure, Saeed abruptly pulled away. A smile settled on his full mouth.
“I must meet with him. Asiya will see to your preparations.”
Before she could blink through the chaos of her thoughts, Saeed strode from Sasha’s sitting room, leaving her to dwell on the lingering magic of his hands and the forbidden promises of the night to come.
* * * *
Saeed stopped in the hall and leaned his forehead against the cool white wall. He felt as if every portion of his being were locked in conflict. The secrets surrounding his father’s death, the weight and undesired responsibility of stepping into leading the family, the deep affection he felt for Sasha—none of this he had wanted. He’d been perfectly content traveling the world, reveling in the Western traditions he enjoyed—along with the freedom of taking the women he desired—until he’d been asked to protect one of his father’s slaves. Saeed had taken one look at her malnourished figure, the emptiness in her blue eyes, and instantly known he’d devote his life to fulfilling his promise.
Now he put her safety in danger to protect the other half of his responsibilities. And he knew that though Sasha had said she understood, in time, when enough women had been trafficked through his hands, this would become a wedge between them.
He took a deep breath as voices drifted from his front hall where his staff was handling Vasily’s arrival. If it weren’t for the man’s years of service in China and his contacts, which Saeed had verified, he would never risk something like this. But even Saeed, who had done all he could to stay away from the corruption of wealth, had recognized Vasily’s name. Men like Vasily had a reputation that rumbled through the quieter circles of the elite who didn’t share Saeed’s moral convictions.
“He will join you in a few moments. Please make yourself comfortable,” Saeed’s man directed.
Footsteps echoed across the marble flooring beyond the door that separated off Saeed’s personal quarters, signaling Vasily had entered the front room.
Just for a moment, Saeed wished the fabricated argument between Alexei and his father had occurred, and that his father had killed the agent. If Amir had, Saeed would be free of the despicable compromises he had been forced to make. But he hadn’t, and though the agent had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth—as would be expected— that man still possessed the ability to destroy Saeed’s family no matter what Saeed agreed to tonight. Alexei Nikanova knew, more than anyone, that he had not assassinated Amir. If he chose to speak of it, if he still monitored the activities here, the resulting nightmare would never end.
Saeed pulled in a deep, fortifying breath and pushed away from the wall. He could not worry about Alexei now, nor the concessions he’d made both to his own beliefs and to Sasha. He must see this through. He knew no other way to protect the ones he loved. Including Sasha, who had entrusted him with her dark past, and who he had sworn to protect with his life.Read Short Excerpt Previous In Series Next In Series