He gave her a heated look. “The next time I see you, I will be clothed, but you will be completely naked, except for a bow in your hair, which will signify you are a gift, sent to this Russian, courtesy of your beloved town of Drummond. You will open your legs wide to me, and there will be nothing between us when I enter you. After that, I will fuck you and you will welcome every thrust until we both come with me buried deep of inside of you. “

He let his words sink in for a few seconds before saying, “Now you may go.”

She didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until he dismissed her, and even then she didn’t move to leave right away. His words had made her so wet she was half-afraid she’d squish if she dared to stand up. Back when they’d been together, Alexei had often made it hard for her to cover her true feelings with jokes, and it looked like he was still in possession of this particular talent. For several moments, she just sat there feeling rattled to her core, both hot with lust and cold with dread.

But eventually, she managed to pull herself together and rise from her seat. On shaky legs, she picked her way to the door in the ridiculous stilettos. But just as she put her hand on the glass handle, he said, “Eva, one more thing…”

When she turned back to face him, his expression, which had been so heated just a moment ago, visibly cooled. “Say hello to your father for me.”

Chapter Seven

THE only good thing Eva could say about her trip to New York was it really didn’t take that long. Thanks to the convenience of Alexei’s on-call jet, she was back in front of the computer in her den in time to Skype with Aaron in Italy.

His toddler twin girl cousins had been running him ragged all summer, and he looked tired and happy as he described his heroic efforts at keeping the twins out of the kitchen while Steve’s wife, Maria, made pasta from scratch.

“It was really good, Mama. You think we can get Grandma to make it like that?”

“No,” her mother called from the family room, shameless in her eavesdropping. “I’m not going to be fussing around with dough for hours when I can just throw the boxed kind in a pot and call it a day. That’s good enough for this family.”

“Sorry, sweetness.” Eva tossed him an apologetic look through the computer.

“That’s okay,” Aaron said, even though he looked disappointed.

She felt terrible. This was yet another reason she had grown tired of living with her parents. At first it seemed like a great idea, since the house was so big, and she could use the money she saved in rent for Aaron’s college fund and the vacation they took every year. But for Eva, who had learned to enjoy cooking before she moved back in, the culinary situation had grown untenable. Her mother didn’t welcome anything more adventurous than Chinese takeout at their dinner table. Plus, she ruled the house kitchen with an iron fist, so Eva wouldn’t be able to make fresh pasta herself even if they had the right tools.

She would move out, she decided with sudden conviction. After she was done jumping through Alexei’s hoops, they would move somewhere and make a new start. And she’d make him fresh pasta or whatever his little heart desired at least once a week.

On the other side of the computer screen, Aaron yawned. “We’re leaving to go to Disneyland Paris tomorrow. Uncle Steve said I have go to bed early.”

“That’s very practical of your Uncle Steve,” she said. “But before you go, I just wanted you to know I won’t be able to Skype with you when you get back. I’m going on vacation, and I’m not sure how much computer access I’ll have.”

Aaron sat up, his eyes narrowing in that way that made him look so much like his father. “You, Grandpa, and Grandma are going on vacation somewhere?” He sounded suspicious, as he should, since during the course of his young life, his grandfather had never taken a non-working vacation much less one with Eva in tow.

“Auntie Layla’s husband is really busy right now, so we decided to take a vacation to the Bahamas, just the two of us.” She hated to lie to him, but this was the most plausible excuse she could come up with to explain why she wouldn’t be available by computer for the next two weeks.

The suspicious squint disappeared and he nodded. “Okay, that’s good. I like Auntie Layla.”

“I know you do,” she said, laughing. Layla had been Aaron’s go-to babysitter for those first couple of years before her father had forgiven her enough to let her move back home. And after that, she and Aaron had taken trips to visit Layla in Dallas at least three times a year, before she moved to Pittsburgh.

She looked at Aaron’s sweet face now, trying to memorize every aspect of it, since she wouldn’t be able to see it for two more weeks. “I know you’ll be good for Uncle Steve and Aunt Maria, and I’ll try to text with you as much as I can.”

“Okay. Have fun. Love you, Mama.” One of the nicer side effects of their summer apart was Aaron had become much more affectionate. She supposed it was all well and good to say you didn’t need your mama, until you got to missing her.

“Love you, too, sweetness.”

And then he was gone, leaving Eva to feel torn between her son and the man who didn’t even know he existed.

“I don’t know why you look so sad,” her mother said, appearing in the doorway to the den. “Nearly brought this town to ruin, now you’re going to up and take a vacation with your girlfriend like lah-dee-dah. “

Even though her mother, Truelle St. James, was thirty years older than Eva, someone might have mistaken them for sisters, if everyone in their small town didn’t already know them as mother and daughter. They shared the same dark chocolate complexion and even had the same body type, though her mother did a lot more to keep her curves hidden, preferring to wear unassuming grey or black dresses to the bright colors Eva favored. Other than that, at first glance, anybody could tell they were related.

However, when they opened their mouths, you knew within fifteen minutes, despite their genetic bond and similar career paths, they were complete opposites. The only thing Truelle enjoyed more than running an organized and efficient house was telling others exactly how they should be living their lives. And she certainly would’ve given Eva a piece of her mind, if she knew who her daughter would really be spending the next two weeks with.

She had a feeling her father and Berta suspected the truth, but they were both sticking to the cover story. As one of the few non-widowed single mothers in town, her father was already embarrassed enough by her. No need to also let everyone know she would be doing “whatever it takes” for the next two weeks in order to keep the Drummond Oil headquarters in their little town.

Truelle came into the room and started reorganizing the desk, starting with straightening the pile of files Eva had brought home with her from the office. “If you ask me, you should stay here to make sure this mess is truly cleaned up like you say it’s supposed to be now. But then again, you have never been the one to clean up your own mess, have you?” She gave the desk she’d just neatened up a pointed look.

And for a moment Eva was almost grateful Alexei had put her in this position, because it meant she’d finally get a break from her mother’s constant criticisms. When she moved back in five years ago, she’d hoped they’d be able to come to terms and mend the fences that had been broken during their estrangement. But over the course of the next half-decade, she’d come to accept her parents didn’t want to forgive her. They had decided a long time ago to stay mad at her for disobeying them and then having the nerve to get pregnant out of wedlock. And nothing she said or did would ever convince them she had changed from the irresponsible girl they’d pegged her as eight years ago.

“Okay, Mama,” she said. “Well, I’ve had a long day and I have a lot to do before I leave on Sunday, so I’m just going to go up to my room now.”

She felt like a teenager again over the next couple of days as she pointedly ignored her mother’s barbs and disapproving looks while also rushing to pack and get two weeks worth of work off her desk before she left. Despite her constant nagging, she actually managed to get everything done and was packed and ready to go by Sunday morning. The only thing was she had no idea where she was going.

Neither Alexei nor anyone associated with him had been in contact with her since she left New York. She supposed she could have looked up the number for his corporation and tried to get Emilio on the line, but then it didn’t really seem right that the onus of showing up for two-week sex slave duty should be on her. However, when she woke on Sunday morning with still no emails or voicemails about where she was supposed to be and when, she began to wonder if Alexei hadn’t been bluffing. Maybe he had never planned to let the Drummond Oil headquarters stay in Texas. Maybe he had just wanted to see if she’d really agree to his proposal.

She shook her head in disgust with herself. How could she have been so naïve? He was a billionaire who dated modelesque women who were always up for threesomes. Why would he choose to spend his two-week vacation with her? Of course he had been messing with her, she decided.

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