Her Russian Surrender

By: Theodora Taylor


Husik took her card with the hand that wasn’t holding a tray of appetizers, his eyes running over her name, “Ms. Sam McKinley,” before he pocketed it.

“Thanks, but…” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t believe you just turned down Nikolai Rustanov!”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because he’s Mount Nik!” The man seemed genuinely perplexed.

Sam resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. So yeah, the hockey player with the hyperbolic nickname was probably a big deal in Husik’s mind. And obviously the representative he’d sent over wasn’t used to women turning down his boss’s balcony invitations. But Sam wasn’t here to meet up with hockey players on balconies. She was here to start making contacts, like she promised her partner, Josie, she would. And in her experience, athletes preferred to sponsor splashy causes like cancer and homelessness. Domestic violence, not so much.

Husik was still babbling on. “I mean, he dominates at a face off, and he gets to rebounds faster than anyone you’ve ever seen. Plus, he leads the league in shots on goal. But you turned him down!”

Sam really had no idea what any of that meant, and she was a little dismayed Husik seemed more concerned that she’d rejected some hockey player’s advances than he was about his niece’s relationship, which he’d been telling her he suspected had turned violent before they’d been interrupted.

But keeping judgment on a minimum setting was part of her job, so instead of chastising him, she smiled tightly and replied, “Yes, well, I’m just not interested, even if he’s really good at hitting balls with his stick.”

“Pucks,” a deep, heavily accented voice said behind her. “I’m very good at hitting pucks with my stick.”

This time when she turned she had to look up, then up some more, to find a pair of cool, green eyes staring down at her from under heavy lids. And suddenly, she understood why the young man he’d sent over had been confused about her response. Nikolai Rustanov was insanely, outrageously gorgeous, with a face and jaw that looked like it had been hand carved by someone with a high appreciation for asymmetry and a body so large, she knew immediately it was muscle and not padding filling out the shoulders of his tuxedo. Suddenly, the nickname “Mount Nik” didn’t seem quite so hyperbolic anymore.

And yes, she admitted to herself, any woman would be happy to receive a balcony invitation from a man who looked like this. At least at first glance. But she wasn’t like most women, and quickly zeroed in on his faults. His eyes, she noticed, where a total blank, and his lips had a hard twist to them, like they we’re in permanent prep mode for sneering.

Cruel. The word appeared inside her mind like a poisonous warning label. He had icy eyes and cruel lips. And even though his hair was light brown, falling in tousled strands past his ears—not military short and bleach blond like the only Russian she remembered from her childhood movie days—the Rocky IV theme song totally went off inside her head





2





NIKOLAI stared down at the woman who—much to his cousin, Alexei’s, amusement—had spurned his balcony invitation. She was even more beautiful up close than she’d been from across the room where he’d been standing when he first spotted her, dressed in an ethereal, deep green evening gown and talking to one of the cater-waiters. Her hair—which he could see now consisted neither of dreadlocks nor braids but some kind of long twists—was pulled back into a large bun, giving her face perfect visibility. Wide set eyes, shining with good humor, flawless dark brown skin that seemed to glow as if she were lit from the inside, dimpled cheeks, and—his eyes drifted downward—lush curves, very lush curves that were making the dress work hard to keep her contained.

The dimples were a little much, he thought, now that he could see her up close. His usual conquests, who tended to have sharper cheekbones and more skillfully applied makeup, didn’t usually sport indents in their cheeks. But in this case she’d sparked his curiosity enough to overlook them. Also, he wanted to see what was underneath that dress. In fact, he decided then and there, he wanted her. In his bed. Tonight.

“You have something else you should be doing,” he informed the cater-waiter without taking his eyes off the woman.

“Yes, sorry,” the cater-waiter mumbled. “Big fan by the way!”

Nikolai didn’t answer, just waited for the smaller man to go away so he could make his next move on the woman in the green dress. She looked slightly disconcerted as she watched the cater-waiter leave. Like she didn’t know quite what to do with Nikolai. Or herself.

Good, Nikolai thought. It served her right for turning down his balcony invitation. Apparently, even though she was at a hockey fundraiser, she didn’t know enough about the sport to distinguish a ball from a puck. Or him from any of the average, anonymous suitors she might have encountered before.

“Hello,” he said now that he had the woman’s full attention. “I am Nikolai Rustanov, and you are very beautiful.”

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