THE FOLLOWING IS THE FIRST CHAPTER OF ALEX AND T’s STORY, Copyright 2009@Gennita Low, all rights reserved. No part of the following excerpt can be reproduced without the author’s permission.
VIRTUALLY YOURS (you guys know this title is tongue-in-cheek, right)
She knew she had to think fast when they brought him into the room, prodding him roughly with their weapons. She recognized him immediately, even under all that dirty snow and unkempt hair. She had thought him very attractive from the computer files but up close, he was magnificent.
They had pulled off his fur coat and cut away his sweater, and he shivered slightly in the cold room, although his expression remained watchful and calm. The thermal shirt he wore clung to his broad chest, outlining the body she had imagined touching when she’d studied his file. It took her a moment to realize that he was looking directly at her. She took a deep breath and calmly returned his gaze. He didn’t know her, after all.
He hadn’t changed much from the file photos, although they were a few years old. His blond hair was longer and blonder than she’d thought, as if he had been staying out in the sun a lot. His blue eyes still captured hers, and she felt a tingle of awareness as he studied her. A hint of a smile ghosted his full, sensual lips, as if he knew exactly how he affected her. Impossible, she thought. She was not that easy to read.
“Talia, love, he’s eyeing you,” the man beside her said mockingly. “Do you know him?”
She couldn’t take her eyes away from the prisoner. There were so many questions she wanted to ask, like what the hell was he doing here? “No, I don’t think so,” she lied, pretending to study the man closely. “You said he’s American, Sasha?”
“That’s what his ID says,” Sasha answered. He flipped open the wallet in his hand. “Robert Alexander Diamond,” he read aloud in thick, accented English. “D. O. B.?”
“Date of birth,” she told him, also in English, with a softer, gentler accent. She didn’t need him to tell her that the prisoner was thirty-seven years old.
“Ah, da. Date of birth.” Sasha paused again, frowning. He was a good-looking man, with a deep scar marring one side of his face, from the corner of one eye down to almost his throat. The puckered skin added menace to a face too pretty to have been in such a vicious knife fight. His lips pursed as he tried to read the information.
She immediately guessed the problem. “Americans, Sasha,” she gently explained, “reverse the month and the date.”
“Bah,” Sasha succinctly gave his opinion about American ways.
She laughed, as was expected of her, then stepped closer to the Russian man. “Let me see this ID, darling.” Nice fake, she noted, and again wondered what he was doing here, in Siberia. He would be another problem tonight, to add to her current one. She couldn’t decide which was the more difficult task—avoiding the amorous advances of Sasha Barinsky without raising his suspicions or saving the ass of Alexander Diamond, COS Commando currently on the lam.
“Well, anything to tell us whether he is really as he said, a lost photographer?” Sasha growled. “Here, look at these papers on him. His formal Russian is quite good, for a dumb American journalist.”
“Ah, da.” She gave the silent prisoner a hard glance. Why did he use that job description? He was just asking for trouble. “Now he does remind me of someone, Sasha. There is an American photo-journalist named Robert Diamond. That middle name threw me off.”
“What do you think he’s doing here in Siberia?”
“There’s a Robert Diamond who writes adventure articles. He’s famous, in a way. Likes to do what they call ‘extreme wilderness photography.’ You know, camp in dangerous places, take photos. Very American.”
Sasha Barinsky took a step toward the American standing there quietly between his two guards. The prisoner was too calm for his liking. “You are in a dangerous place now, Robert Diamond,” he addressed him, in his halting English, “Why are you here?”
These weren’t Russian militia, like he’d first assumed. Alex looked at the man and woman as they discussed him. The man was obviously the leader, standing stiffly in his shiny boots and wearing expensive jewelry and a Rolex watch. But it was the woman who drew his attention; ever since they’d shoved him into this barely furnished room, with its dim lights and dank air, he had felt drawn to her. It was a strange feeling; he had not been drawn to anything for a long time.
Exotic and glamorous, she didn’t fit these surroundings. She was tall, maybe three or four inches under his own six feet two—it was hard to tell with her in heels—and dressed elegantly in cashmere and fur. She wore fur-lined boots that emphasized the shapely length of her endless legs, and like her companion, her fingers were decked with rings. Her black hair gleamed against the white fur of her scarf and her eyes were equally dark as she studied him. She had the exquisite bone structure of an Astrakhan princess, with high cheekbones and a perfect oval face. She could have been a model in a fashion magazine. He’d have liked to photograph her. He frowned. There was something familiar about her face, but he couldn’t discern what it was.
He understood their fast Russian dialect but didn’t show his comprehension, waiting till they spoke to him in English. When they had first stopped him at the road, he had used stilted formal Russian, like a traveler who knew enough to get by. He was lucky he did. Something told him that these men didn’t want him to understand too much. His life was in danger, what with the twenty-odd guards he had counted outside, plus these two beside him. Wherever he was, it was a heavily armed place.
“Why are you here?” the man called Sasha asked him.
“I tried to explain to your men,” Alex replied in a slow drawl. “I have permission, as you can see from my papers, to cross-country ski to get photographs for my next magazine article about this beautiful remote area in Siberia. I must have made a wrong turn because this sure isn’t Slabinja, is it?”
“Slabinja is south of here. You’re fifteen kilometers off,” the woman—Talia, wasn’t it?—told him. He liked her voice, low and lilting, the accent making her English softly attractive.
“Then, if you’ll kindly release me and give me back my equipment, I’ll be on my way,” Alex said. And he would be. He had no interest in finding out what these people were up to. He had an inkling, but he didn’t want to know. Those days were over.
Sasha laughed, a short unpleasant sound. “Robert, it is unfortunate for you but you will have to stay. I cannot trust you not to report to the authorities. I don’t even know that you are not a spy.”
“A spy, darling?” Talia questioned lightly, a mocking smile forming. “You’ve been watching American movies again.”
Her grasp of the English language was very good, Alex noted, as he listened to them.
Sasha nodded. “That’s the only good thing out of that place.” He turned to the guards and reverted back to the native dialect. “Search him for hidden weapons, then lock him up. I will make him talk later.” Then, in that heavy English, he said to Alex, “You will be detained, Robert Diamond, till my business is done, then I’ll free you tomorrow.”
Alex didn’t let them know that he had understood every threatening words Sasha had said to his guards. He only slanted a long look at Talia, whose dark eyes seemed to hold a thousand secrets. He wondered whether she was as cold-hearted as she appeared, accepting the death of an unfortunate stranger without any emotion.
“Let me search him,” she suddenly said, still in that Russian dialect, and the smile she gave him was maddeningly mocking. “It’s his last few hours. He should have a woman’s touch.”
“Ah, Talia, always after…”
“Tsk, Sasha, don’t insult me, please. After all, I got you your firepower very cheaply, no?”
Alex blinked, but didn’t move a muscle. Firepower. That could mean only one thing in this part of the world. These people were dealing with illegal weapons, and right now, the hottest illegal Russian firepower was dismantled nuclear-capable weaponry. Damn. He was knee-deep in trouble. They didn’t intend to have any witnesses. And he wondered whether this Talia knew that he would understand their dialect, if she was deliberately giving him a warning.
Sasha curled an arm across Talia’s shoulders, drawing her close to him. His hand caressed her dark tresses possessively. “Later, my sweet,” he promised her, the leer in his voice obvious, “I shall pay you well.”
Talia made a moue. “Later. Now, I want to search this American.”
Sasha sighed indulgently. “All right, but I’m not going to stay here and watch. I’ll be in my quarters waiting after my meeting with my men. You will come up soon?”
“Of course, darling.”
Sasha nodded at his men. “The cell,” he reminded them, “after Talia Fyodorevna is through with the American.”
“Da,” the two guards said in unison, their faces impassive. Sasha Barinsky left the room.
Alex watched as Talia slowly circled him once. Twice. Her boots clicked on the bare cement floor. He was getting colder by the minute, and knew that the woman had stopped the search by the guards as a favor to him. They would have stripped him and he would probably freeze to death in the hellhole they were planning to throw him. Not that he wouldn’t be dead at the hands of the unpleasant Sasha when he deigned to extricate himself from the delectable Talia’s charms. Again, he wondered what this exotic creature was up to, subtly coming to his rescue twice already.
She was an impressive-looking woman, exuding elegance and enough confidence that told him that she wasn’t what she appeared to be. Her eyes were unrevealingly dark, only the small smile on her shapely lips betrayed her amusement. Her steps around him had insolent pauses, as if she were admiring something about him. She liked to play games, this one.
She finally stopped in front of him again, standing so close her perfume tantalized the air. Her head tilted to one side slightly, as if she was considering how to amuse herself.
“You’ll have to bear my hands on you, darling,” she drawled in that marvelous accent again, and fluttered elegant fingers suggestively a few inches from his chest, “or these guards will report that I didn’t touch you.”
“Rather you, dushka, than their paws,” Alex assured her mildly, still unsure of her motives.
Talia smiled at the endearment, then came forward and ran her hands over the taut, masculine body, pretending to search for hidden weapons. She knew where he would hide them, if he had any. She knew what his specialty was, exactly how he could escape, given the right chance, but she didn’t think he would be able to tonight without her intervention.
Her eyes held Alex’s as her hands moved over him with deliberate insolence. Wide shoulders. Impressive pectorals. He had kept his physical prowess while he’d been gone. That told her a lot. And she went lower still, touching his chest and stomach, then smoothed her hands around his waist to explore his lower back. Her hands moved back to the front, lightly resting above his snow-dampened pants.
“Part your legs, darling,” she murmured, keeping her voice amused. “You know the procedure.”
Alex obliged, standing with his feet apart. Her hands were impersonal, but not exactly leaving him unaffected. She explored him more like someone memorizing his body than a person doing a body search, but she concealed it well. Only he could feel the curious tenderness of her hands as she glided them intimately over his chest, under his arms, down his stomach.
There was something very erotic in the way she went down on her knees in front of him as she continued her sensual search. He refused to let go of her mocking gaze, looking down into the dark depths of those beautiful eyes—searching for that familiar thing that had caught him by surprise—even as her wicked hands traveled up his thighs, her thumbs teasing the inseam of his underpants with delicate pressure, bringing his senses to a keening awareness that had nothing to do with the frigid air. He may only be wearing his thermal clothes, but Alex was suddenly no longer cold. He concentrated on not revealing the effect of her hands on him.
Talia dared not linger, but made sure that the guards saw her thorough search before she left a micro device on his inner thigh. Now she would know exactly where they put him.
“There, painless.” She straightened, still smiling. “And my compliments on such a beautiful body.”
She had been tempted to explore a little more, but some fantasies were best left unfulfilled. And her fantasies of Number One had always been…interesting.
“I’ll return the favor sometime.”
Amused, she tilted her head to acknowledge the unspoken challenge. Even in danger, a COS Commando was cocky as ever. Training was deeply ingrained in all of them, even the reluctant ones. “If you’re freed tomorrow,” she said softly, leaving the rest of the sentence unfinished.
“I’ll certainly work on it,” Alex promised.
“You’re going to need friends,” Talia came back. There, she had given him enough hints. “As they say in the States, darling. Later, alligator.” She stepped back and nodded to the two guards. They started to lead Alex out of the room, shoving him towards the door. He gave her a backward glance. She winked at him, looking absurdly majestic in that danky, badly lit room.
There was a time in his life when he would have been prepared for moments like this, but that was almost two years ago. Twenty two months nineteen days, to be exact. And certainly not in this lifetime.
Alex stared at the ceiling above him, ignoring the growing numbness around his wrists. He was tied spread eagle on some sort of wooden bed and the cold was slowly robbing him of his strength. Soon he would be too weak to even attempt an escape.
Not that he would be successful. He was unprepared for this and his skills were rusty from lack of practice. So if he died, it would be his own fault.
But he didn’t mind dying. He had felt dead inside for a long time now, since….He tried to let his own past sorrow drown out his will to live, but it wasn’t easy when he had been a man driven to enjoy life at the edge. Old habits died hard, and his own mental strength, the very core of him that was indomitable, refused to obey his own demands to let go. To give up.
Robert Alexander Diamond, damn his soul, was still COS Command’s Number One of the VIRUS Unit, no matter how far he ran away from reality. The man with the many accents, who could move like a shadow in and out of any predicament. The one who divert attention from the others—that was his specialty. No matter what, he was still one of the members of the elite team from which he had walked away.
So he lay there, torn between letting fate take its course or to take charge of his own destiny, as he had always done before he had disappeared, before fate took Emma from him.
He exhaled slowly, cursing that he was willing his body to fight the cold.
It was difficult to give up. He could at least have the decency to stop wanting to try, but his punishment was to face the guilt of wanting to live. Even when he really felt dead inside, his will wanted to live. Damn his will. Damn his love of life.
A sound from the only window in his cell broke through his reverie. The cracked and dirty opening was high on the wall across the bed and leaked in the cold, wintry blast like a sieve. Right now, someone was doing something against it, a gentle humming sound that merged with the Siberian wind outside. Imperceptible except to his trained ears, because he’d heard that particular hum before.
His sight had always been excellent in the dark, and he could see the distinctive shape of a hand against one of the square panes. He counted the seconds, knowing exactly how long it would take before a slight push of that hand would loosen the glass. He had done the same thing many times before, in another lifetime. Whoever it was must be freezing because the hand was ungloved. He continued watching calmly, intrigued at the sight of the lone pale hand that slipped in and expertly unlatched the window. It opened without protest, and the room became decidedly chillier by the second. He supposed his captors didn’t care if he would attempt to escape through that opening, considering that he was unlikely to survive long outside in his thermal underclothes.
A duffle bag dropped on the floor with a soft thud. A lean, lithe figure followed, dropping down on all fours like a cat. Turning around with the grace of a dancer, the newcomer closed the window and stuffed something into the hole that had been created a few minutes ago.
The invader was noiseless, efficient, picking up the duffle bag on the floor before advancing towards the bed. The rich midnight hair had disappeared into the inky color of the furry hood, and the pearly paleness of the face emphasized those glittering black eyes.
So what if he was spread-eagled? He had always been polite to visitors. Alex gave the approaching figure a small smile, willing his teeth to stop chattering.
“Welcome to my parlor, dushka,” he murmured.