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Tarnished Tyrant by Nicole Fox

Tarnished Tyrant by Nicole Fox PDF

Author: Nicole Fox

Publisher: Independently published


Publish Date: September 14, 2022


Pages: 488

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

This airport is an insane asylum. Crazy idiots zooming in every direction with no regard for human life or social decency.

I squeeze my little sister’s wrist even tighter as we navigate around a couple sharing a very public, very graphic goodbye kiss.

“You don’t have to hold onto me,” Elise complains, yanking her arm away.

“I just don’t want us to get separated. Remember Silver Dollar City?”

“I was six,” Elise groans.

“And on a leash,” I remind her. “Yet you still escaped like fricking Houdini. I don’t want a repeat of that. We’re already running late.”

I check the boarding pass for the millionth time. We have less than ninety minutes until our flight boards, and we haven’t even been through security yet.

“We’re not late. It’s the Oklahoma City airport, Belle. Not Atlanta. We’ll be fine.”

“When have you ever been at the Atlanta airport?”

Elise rolls her eyes, the fourteen-year-old’s Bat Signal for even the most minor inconvenience, slight, or annoyance. I’ve seen it countless times since she moved in with me two months ago, but I can’t seem to build up any immunity. It irks me every time.

“You know about the Eiffel Tower and you’ve never been to Paris, right?” she snarks.

I let out an anguished sigh. “Just stick close to me, okay? I don’t have time to look for you. I have to keep an eye out for Roger.”

“Wait. What?”

I keep walking for a few seconds before I glance back and realize Elise isn’t with me anymore. She’s screeched to a halt in the middle of the airport, blocking a businessman in a suit and tie from getting by.

I whirl around and tug her out of the way, apologizing to the man as we go. He grumbles something bitter about “kids these days” and stomps past us.

“Maybe we should rethink that leash,” I mutter. “Come on, Elise. We just talked about—”

“We’re flying with Roger?” she asks, her top lip curling in disgust. “Roger, as in the guy who made you work late and then tried to slide his hand up your skirt?”

I inhale sharply. “How do you know—”

“The walls at your place are thin,” she says dismissively. “I heard you talking to Georgia.”

I drag a hand down my face. “I should have had coffee this morning.”

Flying makes me nervous, so I didn’t figure my body needed the extra caffeine-induced anxiety on top of the flying anxiety. But after a night of shitty sleep and now, the threat that my half-sister will say something damning in front of my admittedly super pervy boss… safe to say I need the world’s largest latte. Or maybe an IV of espresso, I’m not sure.

“I don’t want to travel with that creep,” she says with finality.

“Me neither. That’s why I’m being paid to do it.”

Elise’s eyes bug out of her head. “He’s paying you to travel with him?!”

“Yes. Because it’s my job. He’s my boss.”

“Oh. Right.” Elise frowns and then shakes her head. “Still, I wouldn’t have come with you if I knew he was going to be here. You should really report him to… someone. I don’t know. That’s sexual harassment.”

I gawk at Elise, wondering when she got old enough to say things like “sexual harassment.” When I left home, she was nine years old and into mermaids.

Lots has changed since then.

“You’re coming with me because there’s no way I’m leaving you alone in the apartment for a week,” I tell her. “I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.”

“I can take care of myself!”

“Not according to the law. So you’re coming with me and you’re going to be nice to Roger and you’re going to—”

“You’re not my mom!”

Elise isn’t quite yelling, but her voice is raised and people are taking notice. If I was her mom, I’d grab her hand and drag her after me, kicking and screaming. No one would give us a second look.

But she’s right—I’m not her mom. I’m her sister. Yet I’m the one here dealing with her angst. As if I don’t have enough of my own.

I take a deep breath and open my mouth, a whole host of regrettable things sitting on the tip of my tongue, when my phone rings.

I glance down and see Roger’s stupid face smiling back at me. He looks so professional in his company headshot. Nothing like the red-faced mouth breather with tentacle-like arms that the rest of the women in the office have long since learned to avoid.

“Hey, Roger,” I answer, turning away from Elise. “Sorry we’re late. We aren’t through security yet, but—”

“What?” he yells. There’s aggressive music thumping in the background. It sounds like he’s in some kind of club. “Sorry, I can’t hear you. This club is really loud.”

“Since when does the airport have a club?”

He laughs. “They don’t. I’m not at the airport. I’m in Aruba!”

“Aruba? What are you talking about?” I shake my head, trying to decide if I’m still sleeping. If so, this is a weird anxiety dream. “We’re leaving for New York in eighty minutes. Zhukova Incorporated? The audit?”

“I didn’t forget,” he says, way too cheekily. “You’re going on your own. You don’t need me, right? Isn’t that what you said?”

Memories of that traumatic late night at the office butt their way into my already-panicked thoughts.

“If you want to move up in this company, you’ll need a recommendation,” Roger had told me, his hand sliding up my thigh. “I can be an asset for you.”

I’d swiveled away from his touch. “I don’t need you.”

Those words are coming back to haunt me now.

“I’ve never done an audit on my own before,” I mumble.

I hate how inexperienced I sound. I’ve been a fighter my whole life. God knows I’ve overcome plenty. But this feels cruel and unusual.

Roger laughs cruelly. “First time for everything. Good luck!”

He hangs up. I stare at my phone, trying to decide if I should call back and beg him to come with me.

Then Elise sidles up next to me. “Was that Roger?”

I run through the facts in my head real quick.

I need this job.

I need to watch Elise.

Elise hates Roger.

Roger isn’t coming with us anymore.

In one way—at the very most—this is a blessing. Georgia is always telling me I need to focus more on the positive. Maybe today is the day to start.

“Roger isn’t coming with us anymore. We’re on our own.” I pivot and start walking towards security. “Keep up.”


* * *

Today was the wrong day to start thinking positively. Because now, I’m positive this plane is going to crash.

I was sleeping. Or resting, at least. Trying to close my eyes and calm the twist of anxiety in my gut. It was almost working, too, which is obviously when the turbulence started.

Take-off and landings are always the worst part. Once the plane is in the air, I can usually relax. But now, the screen in front of me is flickering along with the cabin lights as the plane shakes and trembles.

“Of course, the one time I fly first class is the one that crashes,” I mutter to myself. Elise is in the row behind me, so there’s no hand to hold. I just white-knuckle the armrests and squeeze my eyes closed.

When we were boarding, the flight attendant saw Elise and I were about to be seated directly in the middle of a rowdy bachelor party and upgraded us to two empty seats in first class.

“Thanks so much,” I’d said, embarrassingly close to tears of gratitude. “I’m on a work trip and things aren’t going the way I thought they would. I just… I really needed this.”

Elise was so embarrassed by my emotions that she pretended she didn’t know me.

But the flight attendant patted my back and whispered in my ear, “Us ladies have to stick together.”

Everyone around me in first class looks like they belong. The woman next to me has on a velvet sweatsuit with a satin eye mask. Everything from her fur slippers to her noise-canceling headphones screams luxury.

The man sitting diagonally across the aisle is snarling something in Russian in flagrant disregard of the “No cell phones” rule the rest of us peasants have to obey. I don’t see anything beyond a broad shoulder and stubbled square jaw, but I’m glad I’m not in the shoes of whatever poor soul is on the other end of his rebuke.

If the plane splits apart Lost-style and the first two rows are forced to fend for ourselves on some desert island, then it’ll be Elise, me, Velvet Tracksuit Woman, and Russian Guy.

Suddenly, I’m not sure if the attendant did me a favor or not. Russian Guy doesn’t look like he plays well with others.

Just as the seatbelt light dings on, my stomach flips dangerously. I’m immediately positive I’m going to throw up.

My eyes fly open and I reach for a vomit bag, but there is nothing. The seat back in front of me is empty. No in-flight magazine, no blanket wrapped in plastic, and definitely no vomit bag.

Can I hold it in? Mind over matter. Mind over matter.

But then my stomach contracts and my mind is no longer first-in-command. It isn’t even second. My stomach is in charge and my feet are taking orders without question.

Before I can stop myself, I stand up and rush towards the bathroom.

“Miss, you have to sit down,” the flight attendant from before scolds. “The seatbelt light is on and—”

I ignore her and charge ahead. She undoes her seatbelt like she means to stand up and block me from getting into the bathroom.

So much for “us ladies need to stick together.”

I barrel into the bathroom, lock the door behind me, drop to my knees, and rip open the little plastic lid.

And as soon as I do, the feeling in my stomach fades away.

“What the hell?” I gasp, almost annoyed at myself for not throwing up. There’s a first time for everything, I suppose. Roger was right about that much.

There’s a pounding on the bathroom door. “Miss, you cannot be in there. This door should have been locked. You need to come out.”

The plane is still shaking, but not as badly as it was a few moments ago. My heart is pounding and there’s sweat on the back of my neck… but no vomit.

I close the lid and stand up, then wash my hands before I finally open the door. The flight attendant is glaring at me.

“You need to sit down, ma’am. Now.”

I nod pitifully and start picking my way down the aisle towards my seat. “I’m sorry. I’m a nervous flier and the turbulence and… I thought I was going to be sick.”

“When the seatbelt light is on, you need to stay in your seat and—”

Before she can finish her scolding, another burst of turbulence knocks the plane sideways. The flight attendant goes one way, I go the other…

And I land right in the lap of Scary Russian Guy.

I yelp and try to right myself. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean—The turbulence, I just—”

He grips my waist and lifts me up like I weigh nothing. “Breathe. It’s okay.”

His voice is deep and icy. I finally look up at his face and freeze.

Holy shit, this man is hot. Like, cover of a men’s magazine, lead of a superhero movie franchise hot.

His eyes are a molten silver that churns with unreadable emotion. His jaw is clenched tight, hair tousled, fragrance seductive.

The flight attendant comes to try to reel me back to where I belong, but my legs are no longer functioning. I’m stuck, staring at the man, imagining all the dirty things that voice of his could whisper in my ear. Possibly in Russian.

My stomach is fluttering again, but for a very different reason. Then more turbulence shakes the plane, and the flight attendant has had enough.

“Sit!” she commands, pointing at the empty seat next to the man. “Now!”

“But… but that isn’t my—My seat is over—”

She shoves me towards the seat. The man gently grips my waist again, helping me past him and into the seat next to him.

As soon as she’s satisfied I’m strapped in and no longer a nuisance, the attendant huffs away. I’m left to look over at my new seatmate with a nervous smile.

“I’m sorry. I thought I was going to throw up.” My face flames with embarrassment. “I mean, I didn’t. Didn’t get sick, that is. I did think I would, but I didn’t. I’m a nervous flier. In case you couldn’t tell.”

The man watches me, his light gray eyes observant but distant. It’s truly hard to look at him. People shouldn’t be allowed to be this attractive. Or this cool under pressure. I thought I was going to die, and he looks as relaxed as ever. The worst turbulence I’ve ever felt, and yet this man’s heart rate didn’t even approach room temperature.

“Are you going to get sick now?” he asks. There’s no detectable accent. Russian must be his second language.

“No.” I shake my head and then wince. “I don’t think so, anyway.”

He reaches into a small compartment between the seats and removes a hospital blue waterproof bag. “Use this if you need to.”

I wince. “I didn’t even think to look there. I figured the bags would be in the back of the seats.”

“First time in first class?”

I might be offended by his assumption if it wasn’t so incredibly on point. I nod. “Yeah. I got bumped up. I think the attendant took pity on me. She probably won’t make that mistake again.”

“Why would she take pity on you?”

I hitch my thumb towards the back half of the plane. “There’s a bachelor party back there. They were being pretty loud, and I was going to be sitting smack dab in the middle of them.”

“Good call on her part,” he says, sitting back in his seat. “Sitting a pretty woman near a group of horny men is a recipe for disaster.”

He places his arm on the armrest, and even though there’s plenty of space for both of us, his warm skin brushes across mine. Goosebumps race down my spine.

As if his skin on mine isn’t enough to process, my brain snags on “pretty woman.” Like a dumb teenager talking to her crush, I wonder, He thinks I’m pretty?

“Oh, uh, well,” I stutter. My tongue feels like it’s twice the size it normally is. “I don’t know if that’s why. I have been stressed. I’m on a work trip and things have been a mess. I think she noticed that and wanted to help out.”

“Are you saying you don’t think you’re pretty?”

I suck in a surprised breath and turn to him. He’s looking at me again, his face still completely unreadable.

Not sure what to do, I laugh like a loon. “I don’t—I wasn’t saying—You can’t just ask people something like that.”

He shrugs. “Why not?”

“Because it’s… uncomfortable.”

“For who?” he asks. “I’m not uncomfortable. I called you beautiful, and you seemed to disagree. I want to know why.”


He frowns. “Excuse me?”

I swallow. “You said I was pretty, not beautiful.”

“My mistake,” he says coolly. “Beautiful. Final answer.”

My face is bright red now. I could hang over intersections and direct traffic. I’m flaming with embarrassment and nerves. “Got it. Thanks.”

“Am I making you uncomfortable?” he inquires.

“No.” I shake my head. “Maybe… maybe ‘uncomfortable’ was the wrong word. You’re making me nervous.”

His mouth quirks up in a smirk. “Why?”

“As if you don’t know,” I snort.

That’s not an exaggeration—I do actually snort. Like a legit pig. I duck my face, but the man reaches forward to tilt my chin up with one callused finger.

“I want to hear you say it.”

I’m not sure if he actually doesn’t know or if he just wants to hear me say he’s the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.

“Well, for starters, you’re the beautiful one,” I say, gesturing to him with both hands like he’s the grand prize on a game show. “You’re quite handsome and clearly successful and very much in your element. Whereas I was just about to throw up in an airplane bathroom while a flight attendant beat on the door.”

“I’m sure that was an anomaly,” he suggests.

“Unfortunately, no.” I shake my head. “My life is… It’s a mess, to keep a long story short. So being around someone like you is a lot for me to handle. I’m worried I’m going to make a fool of myself. Even though I’m pretty sure I already have. And I still am. Like now. And now. And now.”

He shakes his head. “You haven’t made a fool of yourself.”

“Oh God, you’re nice, too,” I groan. “You’re clearly only saying that to spare my feelings.”

“If you really feel like being down on yourself, I’ll give you one thing: you aren’t a very good judge of character.”

“I’m not?”

“No,” he says, leaning in close. His breath smells like peppermint. “Because I am the farthest fucking thing from nice.”

The image of him barking something cruel in Russian into his phone rises up in my mind. I want to ask him what that was about. Maybe he’s having a bad day at work, too. Maybe we could bond over having shit-for-brain bosses.

But I doubt it.

Something tells me he’s the boss.

“You’ve been nice to me,” I counter lamely.

“Because you’re interesting,” he says. “You were right: I am successful. And I know I’m attractive.”

“Humble, too.”

“I don’t need to be. And neither do you.” He drags his fingers across my knuckles, and I clench my legs together. “I’m surrounded by people who know exactly how to act and always say the right thing. It’s boring. I much prefer a little… spontaneity.”


Not sure I’m his girl in that regard. Sure, I “spontaneously” stole my younger sister from our psycho mother and had her move in with me. But I doubt that “let a fourteen-year-old move into your crappy apartment” is the kind of spontaneity he’s talking about.

He nods. “I like to keep things exciting.”

His words feel like an invitation. One I feel powerless to turn down. I mean, fate got me bumped to first class and then plopped down in this seat next to him. Who am I to refuse destiny, right?

Just as I’m about to fumble my way through something resembling flirting, the plane lurches sideways yet again.

“Shit!” I yelp and clamp my hand down on the armrest.

Correction: arm, not armrest. Russian Guy’s arm, to be specific. There are fingernail indents in his skin by the time I peel my hand off, but I’m too far gone to even apologize. The fear is choking me out and I can’t stop it.

The pilot comes over the speakers to tell everyone to stay calm. But I barely hear him. We’re dying. I’m sure of it. This is the end.

“Hey,” Russian Man says in his unreasonably sexy voice. “Are you okay?”

I should nod or blink or say something. It doesn’t even have to be cute or funny or charming. I should just say a single word, any single word, to let him know I’m not out of my mind.

But I can’t make my body do anything. I’m in fight or flight… while on a flight.

That would be a great thing to say right now! A little quip to impress him. But instead, I shake my head as the plane shakes and rattles again.

Then I stand up and crawl over him. “I’m going to be sick. For sure this time.”

The flight attendant doesn’t even look surprised when she sees me hop up again. She just glares at me and shakes her head.

Once I get close enough, she wags a finger at me. “No, ma’am. You need to sit down right now. If you’re feeling ill, grab the bag between the seats and—”

“I’m going to be sick,” I gasp. It feels like my lungs are going to explode. “I need to—”

Get off this plane, I think. Though that isn’t really an option.

“You need to sit down,” she says again.

She glances down the aisle, and I’m sure she’s looking at an air marshal coming to tie me up in duct tape. I wouldn’t even blame them. I’m being a menace.

But my heart is racing, and—

“Why does this damn plane keep shaking?” I blurt a bit too loud.

The attendant stiffens. “You’re causing a scene. You need to—”

“Let her by,” a deep voice behind me says. I don’t need to turn around to know who it is.

Mortification ripples through me at the knowledge that Handsome Stranger—formerly known as Russian Guy—is witnessing this epic breakdown. But the plane lurches again and I stumble back.

Instantly, one of his strong arms wraps around my middle, holding me steady. I sink into his warmth and sigh without even realizing I’m doing it.

“Open the bathroom,” he orders. “Now.”

The attendant narrows her eyes on me, but even she isn’t immune to Handsome Stranger’s charms and/or implied threats. Her face softens and she spins on her heel, bathroom key in her hand.

She unlocks the door and holds it open. “I don’t want any more trouble. Get her relaxed and find your seats.”

He nods, pushes me into the small space, and pulls the door shut behind us.

I was consumed by fear and anxiety and panic out there, but the moment we’re in the small bathroom together, there is only him. He smells like peppermint and citrus, a bright scent that cuts through the antiseptic haze of the bathroom.

“Are you going to be sick?” he asks.

I blink up at him, shocked by how close he is to my face.

His hands smooth down my arms. “If you’re going to throw up, I’d like to know.”

“No,” I rasp, swallowing audibly. “I’m okay. I’m—”

“You’re having a panic attack,” he says. “You’re not fine.”

I sag in his grasp. “I hate flying.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because I need the money,” I say. “I’m headed to see a big client of my company. My boss abandoned me to handle this trip on my own, and the client is apparently a huge asshole, so I’m stressed and then this goddamn plane keeps hitting goddamn turbulence, and I just need for my goddamn brain to be goddamn quiet. I need to figure out how to turn my thoughts off so I can—”

Suddenly, Handsome Stranger lifts me onto the sink, steps between my legs, and presses his lips to mine.

And my entire brain goes dead silent.

His mouth is soft and his body is hard, and I can’t think about anything except the fact that he is touching me. Kissing me.

Holy. Shit.

His tongue slides along my bottom lip, and I slowly open my mouth. His hands curve up my back, pulling me closer to him as his tongue probes into my mouth. I moan like—shit, what did that one boyfriend of Mom’s used to call it? Oh, yeah—like a bitch in heat.

The self-aware embarrassment cuts through everything and I jerk away from him. I clap my hand over my mouth and stare at him, eyes wide.

His eyes aren’t wide, though. They’re perfectly normal. Perfectly gray.

“What was that?” I gasp.

“Spontaneity,” he says. “Did it work?”

I don’t need to glance down to know my nipples are very much visible through my thin cotton shirt. And there’s moisture between my legs.

Did it work? he asked. Duh, it worked. It worked so well that I’m not sure any other man will ever get me to “work” ever again.

I swallow and nod. “Yeah… Um, thanks for that. I guess. I needed that. And a kiss is better than a slap, so—”

“Why would I slap you?” He tilts his head to the side. I wish I had run my hands through his hair while I had the chance. It’s golden brown and falls over his forehead like silk.

“I don’t know. Like in movies? To break me out of my panic?”

“Is that the only reason you think I kissed you?”

God, I hope not. But I can’t say that. Can’t admit to wanting this stranger. I barely even know him, for crying out loud.

My face is hot and flushed. He reaches out and swipes his thumb over my cheek. “Am I making you nervous again?”

“You can’t just talk to people like that!”

“Like what?”

“Being so… honest.” I realize how ridiculous it sounds as soon as the words are out of my mouth. “I mean, like, asking people these kinds of questions. I don’t even know your name.”


I shift in the sink, desperately aware that he is still standing between my thighs. “Oh. Um. Hi, Nikolai.”

The mysterious Handsome Stranger has a mysterious, handsome name. I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

He lowers his hand from my cheek and drops it on my thigh. His fingers burn my flesh through my jeans. “And yours?”


His eyebrows dance with a subtle smirk. “Then you should be used to people calling you beautiful. It’s your name.”

My heart is thundering again, panic rising up in me. I press my palms to my eyes.

“You don’t have to stay with me. I’ll be fine on my own,” I mumble. “I know you only came in here because you feel responsible for me. Since I accidentally fell on your lap. But I absolve you of your chivalrous responsibilities.” I wave him away without opening my eyes. “You can go on. I won’t bother you anymore.”

He doesn’t say anything.

I crack an eye open. “Well?”

“I told you you were a bad judge of character,” he drawls.

I frown, but before I can ask what he means, Nikolai slides his hand between our bodies, cupping my heat.

“I’m not fucking nice. And I’m definitely not fucking chivalrous,” he growls.

Unable to stop myself, I roll my hips against the heel of his palm. I chase the pleasure that has been building low in my belly since the moment I looked into his eyes.

He slides his hand up and starts unbuttoning my jeans.

“Tell me to stop,” he says. “Tell me you don’t want this.”

I do the exact opposite: I lift my hips and help him peel my jeans down my legs, my body moving like it’s in a trance.

“Why?” I squeak.

Why on earth would I do that? Why would anyone feel this man’s hands on their skin and tell him to stop? I can’t imagine a straight woman alive who’s foolish enough to turn this down.

He grips my panties and yanks them down, leaving me naked from the waist down on the small counter. But I’m so fixated watching him unzip his pants and pull out his gloriously thick cock that I can’t find the energy to be embarrassed.

“Because if you don’t,” he says, gripping his length and pressing himself against my entrance, “I’m going to fuck you until you scream so loud that everyone on this plane can hear you.”

I can’t help gasping and sputtering like a fish on dry land. “I… I… I…”

Distantly, I can feel the plane still trembling. I know that all my problems will still exist when we’re back on the ground.

But right now, I’m flying high.

And I want to make the most of it before I land.

I wrap my arms around his neck. “I want this.”

In one thrust, Nikolai pushes inside of me. I tip my head back against the mirror and moan.

“I knew you’d be tight,” Nikolai grits out.

“I knew you’d be big.”

Nikolai pulls back and smiles down at me. “Maybe you do know all the right things to say, after all.”

I smile, but then he slides out and thrusts back into me, and just like that, I can’t smile anymore. Or talk. Or think.

His massive hands palm my thighs, hooking my legs around his waist as he fills me with one savage thrust after another. Then he slides his hand between us again, his thumb circling over my clit, and a jolt of electricity courses through me.

“Oh my God,” I moan.

“You like that?” he asks, his voice rough.

I don’t say anything. I’m too busy falling to pieces in his hand. So he asks again.

“Do you like that, Belle?”

The way he says my name, his tongue languishing over the double L… It’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard.

“Tell me,” he commands. “Tell me what you like. What you want.”

“Yes,” I gasp. “I like… all of it. You. I like it.”

His thumb is moving over me faster now, flicking and massaging until I’m seeing stars.

“That’s not good enough. You need to tell me exactly what you want.”

The pressure is ratcheting up higher and higher, and all I want is… is…

“I want to come,” I gasp.

He thrusts into me to the hilt. “Then do it. Come for me like a good girl.”

Oh, for the love of God.

I break.

My orgasm is like the sun coming through the clouds after a rainstorm. It happens suddenly and there’s no stopping it, no dimming it.

I moan, my muscles contracting and releasing. Cries of pleasure climb up my throat.

Nikolai clamps his hand over my mouth, swallowing my shouts until I’m limp against him. My body is spent, but when I look down, he’s still hard.

I frown. “It… it didn’t happen for you?”

“Don’t worry.” He brushes his thumb—the same thumb that sent me over the edge—across my lower lip. “It will.”

Then he tears me off the counter and spins me around so I’m facing the mirror, Nikolai floating like a golden angel over my shoulder. He grips my hips and slides into me again.

The angle is different and my mouth falls open. I lean forward, taking him deeper, wanting more and more and all of him.

Distantly, I’m aware of the plane’s vibrations, of the fact that dozens of passengers are sitting mere feet away with just a rickety plastic door between us. But the world has narrowed to encompass only this. Only this room. Only us.

My anxiety and fear are gone, pounded out of me by the man with the silver eyes.

“They’ll hear us,” I whimper.

“Let them.” Nikolai drives into me harder. “I want this whole plane to hear you come again.”

“It’s never happened for me twice.” I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. Then again, I’m bent over a sink in front of a stranger. Maybe nothing is embarrassing anymore.

Nikolai smirks in the mirror. “First time for everything.”

He wraps his hand around my leg and lifts my knee up to the corner of the sink. I’m still trying to get situated when he slides all the way out of me and then slams into the hilt.

“Oh my God,” I moan. “It’s so—”

“Deep,” he breathes.

With every thrust, he’s touching places inside of me that have never been touched. My thighs start to quiver and before I can properly prepare myself, another orgasm is rocketing through me.

This one is even more powerful than the last. My muscles contract, my body clamping down around Nikolai’s length.

And then I feel the handsome stranger pulsing into me.

He grunts as he drives all the way in. His sounds and his thrusts fade little by little until there’s just the white noise of the roaring engines and my own panting breath.

When we’re done, I hurry to put my leg down and stand up. Warning bells are going off in my head.

What have I done? Who have I done?

He could be married. Or a murderer. He could be a married murderer. Nikolai might not even be his real name!

The same panic that was just sexed out of me starts to creep back in, but I swallow it down.

I feel warmth flowing down the inside of my legs, the evidence of what we’ve done painted between my thighs.

Nikolai zips his pants and reaches for the door handle. “Get dressed and we’ll leave together.”

He stares at me while I wipe off my legs and tug on my jeans. Whatever boldness had briefly possessed me, it’s gone now. I’m a walking, talking blush.

“Okay,” I say softly once I’ve fixed my lipstick in the mirror and smoothed down my hair. “I’m ready.”

Nikolai opens the door without looking at me. The flight attendants are moving about the cabin now. At some point while we were in there, the seatbelt light turned off. An older woman with curly gray hair is waiting outside the bathroom door. If she overheard anything that happened inside, she doesn’t make it known.

I follow Nikolai down the center aisle. When he reaches his seat, I nearly follow him, before I remember where I’m supposed to sit.

I hesitate for a second, waiting to see if he’ll look up at me and offer a smile or a wave. Some kind of recognition for what we just did together in the bathroom.

But he doesn’t look up.

And as pathetic as I may be sometimes, I’m not desperate enough to embarrass myself by begging for his attention.

So I keep walking to my seat.

Before I sit, I glance at the row behind me where Elise is sitting. She has her legs curled up underneath her and her head resting on her folded-up sweatshirt. She’s fast asleep. Looks like she has been for a while.

“Figures,” I mumble. I shake my head and drop down into my chair.

I can still see Nikolai’s squared jaw from back here, but he looks farther away than ever. If it wasn’t for the ache between my legs, I could believe it was all a dream.

Maybe it would be better that way. For the Handsome Stranger to fade away like a dream you can barely remember after waking.

Maybe then everything that happened next wouldn’t have hurt so bad.

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