Anastasiya Petrov ran from her fate. The youngest of seven sisters and promised to one of the Princes of a rival pack, she refuses to be a bargaining chip. Instead, she flees to a remote area in the United States, changes her name to Tasia Connor, and settles into her new life.
Alex Chilikov might be an Estonian prince, but he was raised in the United States and loves it here, especially Woodland Creek, Indiana, where he's followed close behind his bride-to-be. She might be able to hide who she is from the others, but he'd recognize her scent anywhere, and he plans to use his trickster abilities to help him obtain what he wants. He wants out from under his own father's heavy thumb, and Tasia is just the one to help him.
However, he's not the only one searching for her. Her father has made some dangerous enemies, and though she continues to attempt to escape Alex's protection, he'll fight to keep her safe. Tasia will risk almost anything to keep her freedom, but only if she can resist one Wicked Jackal.
“Bed’s in the loft. You can have it. I usually sleep on the couch anyway.” He began removing his jacket and shoes. Next thing to go was his shirt. He tugged it from his jeans, exposing hints of his six-pack abs as he went. When he finally pulled it completely off his torso, she couldn’t help but think he had more like a twelve-pack, her own stomach muscles clenching in reaction, and her hands tingled at the thought of running her fingers over his lightly furred chest and all that smooth, muscled skin. She bit her lip as a flutter picked up in her mid-section. Spank you very much! As her gaze traveled up, she locked onto his intelligent, honey-colored eyes before quickly looking away.
Awk…ward. Again, she felt strange about their situation and couldn’t help but ask, “What do we do now? Just hang out in this cabin all day and night? For how long?”
He moved toward the loft and went up the stairs and out of sight. Yet, she could still hear him moving around as he explained, “For a couple of days, we’ll stay put while I set up some travel plans. Then, I’ll head into town to check on our Russian friends. Once I know what we’re up against, we’ll leave.”
“And go where?”
He appeared at the top of the stairs again and began to descend with some articles of clothing in his hands. “Don’t quite know yet, but I’ve got some options. I’ll keep you updated as I figure things out.”
“You will keep me updated?” Why did she suddenly lack confidence in anything he said?
“Would you like to shower?” He paused at the bottom of the stairs and tossed something in her direction. It landed on the couch beside her, and as she picked it up, she realized it was an oversized t-shirt—one of his—and she was afraid she knew why he’d thrown it to her. He wasn’t going to risk getting any of her stuff from her apartment.
“Um…no thanks to the shower.” No way was she putting herself in such a vulnerable position after what had just happened. “Do you have any sweatpants I could borrow?”
“They’d swallow you, but the drawers are upstairs. You’re welcome to anything I have.” He turned away. “If you’re not going to shower, I am.”
She watched him leave, enjoying the bunch and roll of the muscles under the golden skin of his wide back. She likened it to silk pouring down a mountain, and it was scary how much she wished she could rewind it and watch it over and over. Yet, as soon as he closed the door, she shook herself out of her daydreaming and made her way up the stairs to rifle through his drawers. For the briefest of moments, she paused and considered making a run for the door instead. But as soon as the thought occurred, she pushed it away. She really had nowhere else to go tonight that she knew for certain was safe. Considering all her options, she continued up the stairs. At least here, Alex seemed willing to protect her, even if it was just because her father had hired him to do so. And she couldn’t deny the fact he was a fantasy come to life, so how bad could it be to stay for one night?
He hadn’t been lying. All his pants were humongous on her, so she gave up and slipped out of his jacket and laying it over the top of the dresser. She pulled the t-shirt he’d found for her over her head. It fell to mid-thigh and hung a little off her shoulder but was loose enough that she felt well covered, even if her hardened nipples poked at the cotton fabric. Braless and commando wasn’t her first choice. She’d just cross her legs and arms all the time. Awkward much?
Once she’d changed, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. She wasn’t really tired yet but didn’t know if she should stay in the loft or have a seat on the couch. In the end, she decided to go down the stairs, get herself a glass of water, and sit at the kitchen table.
She straightened when she heard the shower cut off, but it was still a few minutes before Alex emerged in a pair of flannel sleeping pants. Her gaze was drawn to his damp, exposed chest once more and the narrowing of his waist where a trail of hair rippled over the undulations of his abs and down into his waistband, but she worked hard to keep it nonchalant, pasting an unemotional smile onto her face.
“Hope you don’t mind I helped myself to something to drink.”
He crossed to an overhead cabinet and pulled out two long-stemmed glasses. “I have something a little stronger if you’d like.” Out of the narrow refrigerator, he pulled a bottle of some kind of white wine.
“I would not say no to a glass.” But only one. She hardly ever drank alcohol, only on holidays and with dinner occasionally. It wouldn’t take much to make her tipsy.
He poured until the glasses were about half full and placed one in front of her on the table. He took the seat across from her, took a sip of his own, and angled his head slightly to the side, as if trying to figure something out about her.
She sipped from her own glass and once it touched her tongue, she tasted a burst of fruit along with the slight burn she’d expected as she swallowed. The second sip was much smoother and by the fourth sip, she felt the tingly warmth of the alcohol going to work on her system. Her nervous energy built up from the attack seemed to be slipping away, and she stared at Alex through her lashes.
“Allergic to shirts?” She probably should’ve eaten something more than a piece of bread for dinner. Her lack of sustenance mixed with alcohol might be making her a little too brave for her own good.
He laughed lightly and readjusted in his chair as he cleared his throat. “Couldn’t find any sweats that fit?”
She looked down at herself. “No, but the t-shirt fits just fine.” At that moment, the collar slid down her arm a little, exposing her shoulder and causing her to giggle slightly as she straightened it back up. “Well, almost, anyway.”
Heat seeped into his eyes, and she felt seared to her soul from his intense gaze. There was a palpable tension between them that, rather than push her away, seemed to draw her closer toward the danger of this man. He took another sip of his wine and sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. The table between them suddenly felt like a ten-foot pole made of braided spaghetti noodles. She needed more than a table to make her body stop the combustible reaction to him currently taking place.
With a slight shake of his head, his gaze slid to the side, like he was sharpening his concentration. He looked up and the desire she’d seen moments before had cleared.
“Why Indiana? I still don’t quite understand how an Estonian princess ended up here?”
“My sister Dasha contacted people she trusted. With their help, I got a student visa to come to the U. S. I stayed with them for a couple months, and they gave me a job at the bakery, I registered for classes, and moved into an apartment close to Beatrice’s.” Tasia’s thoughts returned to her friend. “I hope she is okay.”
“She seemed pretty capable to me. I’d say she’s doing just fine and can take care of herself.”
And she was probably worried about Tasia. “I need to let her know I am okay.”
“Not unless you want to tangle with those Russians again. I guarantee they’re monitoring all her movements and communications, waiting for you to make their job easy and reveal exactly where you are.”
“Will they not figure out who you are and find us here anyway?”
“I know how to disappear. Even if they learned who I was, this cabin isn’t in my name, and it’s why we abandoned the car and walked the rest of the way here. The car wasn’t in my name either.”
What was that supposed to mean? “Did you steal the car? Break into the cabin? Are we going to be arrested?”
“Give me more credit than that. My job requires me to be a ghost most of the time. I just know how to acquire things without revealing who I really am.”
The alarm bells were back. “Do I know who you really are?”
Was it just her or did his eyes suddenly get shifty?
“I haven’t once lied to you, Tasia. Every detail I’ve told you is true.”
His tone of voice rang with truth, and she wanted to believe him, but something about his phrasing bothered her. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but his explanation still made her nervous.
“Your father sent me to protect you, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. But my question for you is, why are you here with me instead of in Estonia with your father?”
She really wasn’t ready to go into the deep, deep details, so she took a long drink and shrugged. “There are very few things I would not do for my father, but he asked me to do something I found beyond appalling. I refused, but it did not matter. He insisted, so I ran away.”
He lowered his eyes to the table and sat in silence for so long she thought he wasn’t going to react. Probably judging her as a spoiled, rich princess who’d acted like a child. Then, he looked up and said, “You shouldn’t have to do something you don’t want to do.” And in that moment, she relaxed a little more. Maybe he was on her side, and his words made her trust him just a bit, made her like him a tad more. But what caused her concern was how it deepened her attraction to him, which was already bordering on infatuation.
It hurt a tiny amount to admit she might have a soft spot for a hero. Truth be told, she had to be careful because she could fall for Alex in a heartbeat. He was her kind of weakness.