8: In Which She Puts on a Show for Some Horses
Amazingly, King Mikhail was true to his word and kept his meeting with my father. Bowing out of front row seats of a train wreck in motion, I decided to walk the grounds with my old, battered Nikon in hand. Halfway across the expansive green, my phone rang and I dreaded answering. I’d been ignoring Sav’s relentless calls since she and the rest of the guests departed yesterday but that couldn’t last forever.
So I was grateful to see “Squirt” plastered across my screen.
“What the hell’s up with your phone?” my brother groused into my ear.
I grinned, struck by a strong wave of homesickness. “Hi, Calvin. I’ve missed you, too.”
“You know, if smart phones are a little challenging for you...” His voice trailed off on a cocky laugh.
“I was just ignoring you, squirt,” I told him, already used to his usual ribbing that modern technology was too complicated for me. “What’s up?”
“Hold on a sec.” I heard a scuffle with the phone, followed by the bang of a door. “My roommate’s an ass. I swear, being related to you is like being related to a banana in a world full of apes.” Calvin had the privilege – a privilege I certainly never had – of staying off-campus since rooms at Helen Huber Prep were scarce.
“How sweet. I see English Lit is paying off,” I dryly remarked, collapsing under a forlorn-looking tree facing the north side of the castle. “What’s that little analogy supposed to mean?”
“Uh, your little photos are kind of in this month’s issues of chick shit. More people read that crap than watch your dumb TV show.”
Of course, I didn’t even have my “dumb show” anymore. “Language, Cal,” I said automatically, playing with the loose thread of the hem of my thick sweater dress. “I didn’t know that. They were supposed to come out next month.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sorta on a week’s suspension for getting into a fight because of it,” he murmured nonchalantly. “Mom’s holding off on telling Dad until he gets back. Don’t want him to have a coronary in a foreign country.”
“Suspension?” The idea was ludicrous. Calvin was a good kid. He was the epitome of perfection, which was why my parents could trust a sixteen-year-old to live off-campus. Sure, he lived with one of Rory’s friends, who just happened to be the mother of Calvin’s best friend and “roommate”, Jason, but it was still a privilege. “What the hell, Calvin?”
“One of the guys had your pic, Fee. And when I say had, I mean had. The thing was crusty with jizz and –”
“Stop right there!” I cut in, heat creeping up my neck. OK, so pubescent boys were jerking off to photos of me in Zara Paulsen dresses. It could’ve been worse. I could’ve been in a bikini. “I don’t need to hear that kind of stuff. Thanks for defending my honour but it was pointless. I sincerely hope you haven’t messed up that beautiful face of yours,” I teased, knowing what was coming next.
“Beautiful?” he snarled. “Ophelia, stop it, or I’m hanging up and blocking you on Facebook.”
I let out a laugh. Calvin hated to hear it but he was beautiful. He had been the most gorgeous baby I’d ever seen; so beautiful that I’d asked my parents if there’d been a mistake at the hospital and my baby brother had been switched with a baby girl. He’d been born with a full head of downy, jet-black hair and the longest, thickest lashes ever. He’d been blessed to have our dad’s eyes – golden, instead of coffee-brown like mine, or even Rory’s – and he knew it. Rory could never resist his puppy-dog eyes.
At sixteen, he was still baby-faced, with pouty, dark pink lips and not a hair on his jaw. After trying bottle after bottle of hair-growth creams, he’d finally given up on growing a beard and/or moustache. It didn’t help that he was nearly over six feet and broad-shouldered. It was kind of a contradiction.
“OK, OK,” I conceded, reining in my laughter. “Did you phone me to confess your sins, or just to receive praise for engaging in idiotic, manly activity?”
“No,” he sombrely replied. “Promise you won’t freak out, O.”
“I won’t freak out,” I instantly complied, bracing myself because of his swift change of tone. Calvin was never serious with me.
He sighed heavily, as if he were truly unwilling to spill. “Natalya might have called Mom. From rehab, she says.”
I didn’t know exactly what I was expecting but this wasn’t it. My estranged doped-up, ex-model birth mother coming up in conversation after so very many years was the last thing I expected.
“Fee? You there?” My brother’s voice was heavy with concern.
I nodded, although he couldn’t see me. “How? How do you know?”
“Well, Mom had to fly in to speak to my fucking ass of a principal,” he replied without asking me what I meant. He just knew. “Her phone rang and she answered. She was pissed enough to accidentally let me know who it was. Natalya said some pretty dumb shit.”
“Like what?” I didn’t even bother to scold him for his colourful language. It wasn’t important right then.
“Like how much she wants to see you and tell you how sorry she is for everything,” Calvin said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. “She says she won’t give up until she gets what she wants. What a Looney Toon.”
I couldn’t help the wry smile that tugged at my lips. Calvin had been too young to know much about my birth mother, except for the fact that she had stripped for Playboy, defiled a minor, and given up all rights to be my parent the day she dumped me on my father’s doorstep. Out of solidarity, Calvin hated her almost as much as I once had. I had long ago let go of my eagerness to please her then let go of my resulting hatred of her. Now, I only felt a dull twinge of misery whenever I thought of her and that was only thanks to Rory, who was my mother in every sense of the word. I suddenly felt the strong urge to hear her lilting English accent.
“Ophelia?” There was that tone in Calvin’s voice again; the one that made it clear that he hated being the bearer of bad news.
“I’m good, Cal.” I shook my head. “I don’t want to see her.” Ever, my subconscious mind tacked on. “It won’t be good for me.”
“I know. Mom knows,” Cal said softly, although he absolutely didn’t; they didn’t. He was just saying that because he loved me and he thought that that was what I needed to hear.
No one really understood what kind of a number Natalya had done on me. Hearing my “mother” complain that I’d ruined her body, or that I was dragging her down and screwing her life up, wasn’t something I’d ever really forgotten. Oh, she’d never said those things to my face – intentionally – but she did get shitfaced and spew all kinds of things. Drunken minds speak sober thoughts – wasn’t that the saying?
She’d never really wanted me and had probably tried her hardest to make sure I never found out – but I did, and it stung. It stung so much that, as a kid, I’d tried to do everything possible to make her want me whenever she dared to show up. If it hadn’t been for Rory, I would probably still be waiting by the door for Natalya to take me shopping.
Calvin cleared his throat, tugging me from a walk down memory lane. “I’ve had a little bit too much,” he sang, in a perfect, on-key impression of Gaga. He waited. “Come on, O. You can’t leave me hanging. Do the next part.”
For a moment, I was completely stunned. But then I obliged with a laughing, “All of the people start to rush.”
“Start to rush, babe,” he went on before joining me and bursting into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. “Works like a charm,” he said once he was done barking in my ear.
“Always.” Calvin never failed to remind me of my Lady Gaga phase, especially because I’d forced him to learn all the lyrics and dances to every single one of her songs with me. “Thanks, Squirt.”
“Don’t mention it. Ever.”
I laughed again and our conversation launched in a completely different direction. Calvin was intelligent and I sometimes forgot that he was only sixteen, but boys were boys and things eventually turned to girls, cars and games before we said our goodbyes.
I leaned against the tree trunk and pulled my knees up to my chest, bringing my chin down atop them. Now that my brother’s familiar voice was gone, I was left with the equally familiar feelings of worthlessness that I’d thought I’d buried so long ago. Yet there they were, brought to the fore by the mention of Natalya wanting to reconnect.
The last time I’d spoken to her, my father had had to hold Rory back from ripping her extensions off. It had been embarrassing but not as embarrassing as Natalya gatecrash the screening of my dad’s first documentary at a star-studded theatre. I’d been seventeen and absolutely mortified that the drunken woman wearing tacky make-up and scanty clothing had once been someone I’d idolised. She’d made up some story about wanting to get to know me; that she was my mother, no matter what my parents – Dad and Rory – said. She’d gone on about me making her proud and turning out to be a Mini Natalya. That had gone down well with my dad, who wanted me to be nothing like her.
So now her actually wanting to apologise? Yeah, that was a first.
“Pussycat?” Nikolai’s was the last voice I wanted to hear when I was feeling so low, so of course it made sense that he’d be creeping around.
“Jeez, what are you? A ninja?” I muttered, quickly wiping off the emotion I was sure was plain on my face. I turned to glare up at him from behind the tree trunk.
But my poker face clearly wasn’t as believable as I’d thought it was because Nikolai’s face creased up with worry and he crumpled down beside me, abruptly jerking me into the warm slab of his chest.
“Who made you cry?” he demanded, pulling back and cupping my chin. His piercing blue eyes searched mine for an answer.
Cry? I rubbed at my cheeks, astonished when the pads of my fingers came back glistening with tears.
What a freaking waste of liquids.
“No one,” I offered lamely, forcing a laugh. “Must be the pollen in the air.”
We both glanced at the blossom-less grounds.
“Don’t lie to me,” Nikolai said menacingly, as if I’d personally wronged him.
I was suddenly aware of his scent enfolding me in the same way his arms were. The memory of his body over mine brought a dull throbbing in my groin. I had a one-track mind and the only way to repress that was to spill and tell him exactly why I was sobbing out in a field. Hopefully that would put him off.
But Nikolai was a silent listener, allowing me to press my head against his chest. I had never confided in anyone about my mommy issues; never told anyone how badly she’d scarred me. I didn’t really know this until I said it aloud.
“Pussycat,” Nikolai said quietly, “look at me.”
Don’t, the self-preserving voice in my head warned, but I ignored her and did it anyway.
I instantly wished I’d listened to her.
Nikolai’s jaw was clenched, as if he were controlling the urge to say something he didn’t particularly want to – probably something awful about Natalya – but it was his eyes that completely affected me. The bright aqua pools were filled to the brim with something worse than the pity I’d been afraid to find – genuine affection.
“I can’t pretend to know what you went through – what you’re still going through – but this, I know. You’re incredible,” he murmured, wiping away the moisture on my cheeks. “You could’ve gone through life bitter and full of self-loathing but you stand here beautiful, intelligent and strong. A mother should be the source of a child’s comfort and yours wasn’t. It’s not your fault and God, Ophelia, if I could make it all better, I would.” He gave me a slow smile. “You are Bibi. I hope you know that.”
I wanted to roll my eyes but I was choked up with too much emotion to do even that. Nikolai wasn’t kidding when he said he was a huge fan of Chasing Ghosts and Bree “Bibi” Brady, the badass character I played. We were nothing alike. For starters, she kicked ass.
Had kicked ass, I reminded myself. Bibi and her cohorts were no more, thanks to HBO.
His words were sincere and I squirmed, suddenly wanting to get out of his reach. I was becoming claustrophobic and overwhelmed with feeling and this just wasn’t what a holiday fling was supposed to be about. We were supposed to fuck, not “tell our secrets and braid each other’s hair”.
“Don’t fight me, baby,” Nikolai huskily commanded, slanting his head to do what I hadn’t realised I’d been aching for until it happened.
My lips were parted and just like that, he was making it all better. With his tongue, with the nip of his teeth. With his body. He held the back of my head with one large paw and groaned when I nibbled on his lower lip. That noise sent a shiver of immense pleasure down my spine but it also brought me back down to earth.
I jerked my head back. “Are you following me?” I tried to get out of his reach but it was useless. He only gripped me tighter.
“No, I’m going for a ride,” he breathlessly replied, regarding me with darkened eyes. My head was immediately filled with thoughts of riding him, of discovering just how amazing the reverse cowgirl could be and... “You have a dirty, dirty mind, myshka,” Nikolai smirked, reading my mind. “Not that kind of ride. Horseback.”
“Oh. Of course.” My eyes eventually focused on the white T-shirt straining across his chest and army fatigue pants tucked into black combat boots. So sexy. “Horse riding.”
“You sound disappointed.” And he sounded way too smug for my liking.
“Oh, please,” I countered, although there was no hiding the fact that I did, indeed, have a filthy mind.
“Come with me, kotik,” he startled me by imploring. “I don’t think I can leave you like this.”
“Nikolai, stop this.” I finally, successfully ripped myself away from him and pushed myself up to my feet. “What we had was...un-fucking-believable but it was just sex,” I told his seated form. “Don’t feel like you owe me something when you don’t. I’ll be fine.”
I had to step back when he rose to his impressive six-foot-four height. The glower on his face was intense enough to singe the tiny hairs on my skin.
“Just sex?” he demanded.
“Un-fucking-believable sex,” I amended, looking away. “I’m sorry for over-sharing with you. The last thing you need to hear is a sob story about my mommy issues. I’m going to –”
“I want to know everything about you. Why can’t you fucking get that?” He took a single step towards me and suddenly he was invading my every sense. “I told you my sob story, remember? I’ve never told anyone and something tells me I’m the first person you’ve ever shared yours with. If this is just sex, why do we keep giving pieces of ourselves to each other?”
I stared up at him, shocked. I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. “Nikolai, when my father finishes whatever it is he has to do with your brother, I’m going back to Miami,” I slowly stated, the words of reality cutting into me as the frown on Nikolai’s face deepened. “It’s only been over a week and you’re...you’re scaring me.”
His face immediately softened. “I’m sorry, baby,” he said gently. He ran a hand down his face, as if wiping his scowl away. “I don’t know why I’m like this with you.”
He sounded so dejected that I had to give him something.
“I was jealous,” I offered quietly, receiving a look of total confusion from him in response. “That night, when you had that big-breasted stripper draped all over you? You asked me why I was jealous and I still don’t know why.”
“You weren’t supposed to...see that,” he muttered, frowning.
“Yeah, well, I did,” I retorted, my tone more irritated than I’d intended.
“Hey,” he growled, grabbing me and spinning me around so that my back was pressed against his chest. His thick forearms were banded around my waist. “Every guy there had to take a turn in the Seat of Sin. It was unfortunate that you came in when it was mine. She did nothing for me. She didn’t get me hard; she didn’t turn me on. She wasn’t you.” His final words were breathed into my ear, the heat of his breath warming my entire nervous system. “You know that this is more than just sex, don’t you, pussycat?” His tongue caressed the shell of my ear and I jerked against him, feeling the steel of his erection against my lower back.
I closed my eyes. “I don’t want it to be.”
“Too fucking bad,” he whispered, nibbling at my earlobe. I moaned, leaning further into him. “You don’t have to be scared, kotik. I’ve wanted you since the first moment I saw you. I’ve wanted to fuck and kiss and hold you for so, so long. Tell me you want those things, too, Ophelia.”
I exhaled, my hands finding his arms. “I want them.”
He placed a tender kiss on the top of my head. “Good. Let’s go riding.”
My eyes snapped open when he released me and took my hand instead. “Excuse me?”
I was aroused to the point of freaking discomfort and practically begging him to take me – and he wanted to hop on a horse instead?
“You’ve been on a horse before, correct?” Nikolai asked as he led me down a path that would inevitably lead to the godforsaken stables.
“A few times,” I dazedly replied as the large wooden structure came into view.
He squeezed my hand. “Great.” He slid me a sly smile. “As Bibi, or as Ophelia?”
“You know, I’m starting to think you like this fictional character more than you like me,” I sniffed in response, pretending to be offended.
He stopped, jerking me to him. “I like Ophelia Shaw perfectly fine, thank you very much,” he pronounced, his voice solemn. “Probably because Ophelia Shaw is perfectly fine,” he added, flashing me a panty-dissolving grin.
I slapped his upper arm, rolling my eyes. “Very amusing.”
He laughed, dragging me inside the stables, where the stench of horse crap and hay immediately hit me. The smells were comforting, reminding me of the one visit to Rory’s countryside hometown when I was still young. She’d taken me to the stables and I’d grown thoroughly attached to a pony called Apple (or a different fruit; I couldn’t be too sure). The last time I’d been on a horse was on set and I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.
A quick glance around revealed that the stable-hands were gone and for that I was eternally grateful. I wasn’t totally ready for anyone else to discover that Nikolai and I were fooling around. It was enough that Savita and Inga knew.
Nikolai was already giving his attention to a black thoroughbred, running his hands through the horse’s mane. I had never been envious of an animal in my life but there I was, wishing I were in Animorphs and had the ability to transform into a horse so that I could receive the same administrations as...
“She’s called Agrafena,” Nikolai practically cooed, pronouncing the horse’s name as Ah-grah-fye-nah. “Wild horse. Agra, for short.”
I cleared my throat. “She’s yours?”
“Since she was a foal,” he replied, before murmuring to her in a soft voice. I could see that Agra was a thoroughbred and that Nikolai obviously doted on her. The man was a softie deep down.
Because he was occupied with the horse, he didn’t hear me coming up behind him until my arms were wrapped around his lean waist. I pressed my cheek against the rippling muscles of his back, whispering, “I like you,” so softly I didn’t think he heard. I didn’t know if I wanted him to here because, let’s face it, I sounded so elementary school just then.
“I like you, too,” he whispered back, turning abruptly so that I was now inadvertently squashed against his front. “I like you a lot.” His arms slid around my waist and his hands cupped my ass; there was no distance between us now, even if I wanted it.
“What do you like about me?” The words just spilled out of my mouth like puke. What the hell was happening to me that I needed validation from a man? From this man?
Of course. Natalya.
Nikolai’s eyes seemed to be exploring mine, excavating things I wanted to stay eternally buried. He squeezed my ass in his hands, the act disturbingly comforting. “I like your smile,” he said, gifting me with his. “It’s almost crooked and that, Ophelia, is endearingly perfect.” He leaned in to kiss the corner of my lips. “I also like your nose. Do you put on make-up to hide the freckles?” He kissed the bridge of my nose. “Don’t. They’re cute, pussycat.” His butterfly kisses were doing unholy things to unholy parts of my body. “I like the way you think too much. It’s infuriating as fuck but it means that I’m the shit when I scramble your brain. Breathe, baby,” he commanded, laughing.
How was I supposed to inhale and exhale when he was saying things like this? I didn’t want to want this man so badly but it was becoming way too fucking difficult to remember that he was part of a vacation I would remember for the rest of my life – and nothing more.
“I like how much you adore your father,” Nikolai continued between kisses on my neck. “I like how much you love your entire family. Devin waxed lyrical about that.” He raised his head, fixing those icy blue eyes of his on me. “I like the way you’re so responsive. I like the way you want me so much that the merest touch blows your fucking mind. I like your taste on my tongue. You taste so incredible, pussycat.” He paused, a sly smile spreading across his face. “I definitely liked the sight of you with my cock in your mouth. Your eyes were wide and dark, like you couldn’t believe you could deep-throat me. Fucking gorgeous.” Slowly, he rolled his hips, his erection angled just right. We moaned in unison from the delicious friction. “I like the way you feel when I’m inside you. I want to be inside you right this very moment.”
“Nikolai?” I whimpered, digging my nails into his lower back.
“Get on the fucking hay. Now.”
With no hesitation, he released me, walked over to a low haystack, and dropped.
“This is highly uncomfortable,” he mumbled, looking up at me as I approached.
I knelt between his outstretched legs, crawling up to unzip his fly. His T-shirt was slightly hiked up and I was blessed with a clear view of the tense V dipping into the top of his pants.
“You’re so beautiful, Nikolai,” I murmured, popping the button of his pants and dragging the zip down. “I’ve never wanted anything so much.” He lifted his lower half off the hay, allowing me to simultaneously yank his pants and boxers down. I dragged my eyes from his erect cock and met his. “Nikolai, say my name.” I gripped the base of his shaft.
“Ophelia,” he gasped, his entire body jerking. “Baby, no. I’ll come.”
I quickly released him. “Fair enough.” I lowered my head and licked my way up his shaft, pausing at the winking silver ball when I got to the swollen head.
Nikolai hissed, his back arching off the ground. “Don’t. Your teeth.”
“What? They’ll break?” I held onto him once again and sucked on the tip of his cock.
“Fuck! Stop,” he protested, fighting to keep himself still. “It will hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then I won’t blow. I’ll lick.”
Before he could further object, I licked the weeping eye of his cock, relishing in the painful groan that escaped his lips. His saltiness was familiar, as were the noises he made when I explored every prominent vein that spider-webbed along his hot, pulsing flesh with the tip of my tongue. I weighed the heavy sacs of his balls in my hand as I tasted him, resisting the intense need to get myself off just then.
“Ophelia, Ophelia, Ophelia,” Nikolai was chanting, unconsciously rolling his hips. “Fuck, fuck, fuck...”
I was aching for him to fill me and, freeing a hand, I tugged my panties down, mentally thanking the gods of fashion for giving me the foresight to wear a dress on such a cool day. I lifted my head and manoeuvred myself onto Nikolai’s lap, straddling him. Dazed, he could only stare up at me.
“I’m going to ride you now,” I said breathlessly, shivering in anticipation. The hot steel of his cock was throbbing against the silky flesh of my inner thigh. “You want that, don’t you?”
“Fuck, yes,” he said hoarsely, reaching up to hold my waist. His eyes were midnight blue with pure, unadulterated desire. “Go slow at first, pussycat, or you’ll hurt yourself.”
Reaching between us, I wrapped my fingers around the root of his manhood. Eyes locked on his, I lowered myself onto him, biting my lower lip to smother the cry of pleasure that threatened to erupt when we made contact. For a few unbearable minutes, I slid him along my entrance, just revelling in the feel of his hardness against my sensitive folds. His piercing repeatedly hit my clit and the realisation that I could come like this, without penetration, sank in.
It was with that realisation that I brought myself down completely on Nikolai, my pussy stretching and protesting the invasion of his impressive cock. Nikolai’s entire body was taut as he waited for my body to become used to him, but the soft, tortured groans spilling from his mouth were enough to dim the pain. I placed my hands on his chest, feeling his heart beat a tattoo against my palms, before leaning forward and finding his lips with my own. Lips parted, he allowed me to take, to plunder, to pillage his mouth.
“You feel so good,” he murmured, tugging my lower lip between his teeth before releasing the swollen flesh for me to lick. “You’re so tight around my cock, pussycat. Ride me. I want to feel you come around me.”
“Shit,” I hissed, because his words tore my inner succubus out into the open. I needed to fuck him or I would die.
I went slow at first, like he advised, but pretty soon I couldn’t control my motions. No, not for all the money in the world. Every time I raised myself off his cock, he thrust upward, never giving me a moment away from the fullness of him. Each thrust made me delusional; each perfect circling of his cock inside me made me blind with ecstasy.
“Don’t stop,” I croaked, leaning forward and nuzzling my nose against his. Our breath mixed and our sweaty foreheads rubbed, but the only thing I truly noticed was the way he looked at me, like he couldn’t believe I was there, fucking him. “Oh, God, Kolya!” I yelled, dizzy with sensation when I felt his finger rubbing my erect clit.
“You’re so beautiful, pussycat,” Nikolai rasps, thrusting feverishly now. “Do you know how beautiful you are right now?”
His breathless voice possessed me, owned every fibre of my being as his cock thrust and I retreated. The words he uttered drove me crazy with devastating, feral need. Our bodies were shoving against each other in search of mind-blowing release. I was falling apart and he was putting me back together again...
“Good?” he questioned mid-thrust.
“Nikolai!” I cried out, losing my ability to sit up astride him.
“You feel me stretching you? You feel me fucking your tight little cunt?”
“I... Nikolai, please.” I didn’t know what I was begging for. All I knew was that this was too much, too soon in my life. This kind of feeling was stronger than even my longest relationship. “Please, please, please.”
Please stop doing this to me... Please stop making me feel like this... Please stop screwing up my fucking plans!
“I know, kotik. I know,” he panted, his fingers digging into the bare skin of my hips. “Let me see your eyes.”
I hadn’t realised I’d shut my eyes until he said that. I blinked them open, looking down into his; drowning in them, actually.
“I’m going to come,” he bit out, and I could feel him holding it back inside me; feel him fighting against the explosion. He was pumping into me; slower, gentler. “Join me, baby. Come with me.”
“Yes,” I said on an exhale, locking my eyes with his as I ran into the welcoming arms of my orgasm.
I shattered around Nikolai. The raw passion became too much and both pain and pleasure radiated from my every pore. He pumped into me once more, holding himself steady inside me as he found his own release. I kissed his mouth as his jerking subsided and the only noises in the air were the sound of our heavy breathing and the sporadic neighing of the horses in their stalls. I had to tear my eyes away from Nikolai when it became crystal clear that this was not a casual fling to him. For some strange reason.
“I need to –” I started.
“Run away?” Nikolai interjected, fixing me with a challenging stare.
I met it with one of my own. “No. Take a shower.”
“And wash me away?”
“I was going to ask you to join me but since you're presuming too much...”
Nikolai’s eyes were glittering with mischief. “You need to get off me right now, pussycat,” he growled, slapping my hips.
Hoisting myself off his semi-erect cock proved to be yet another battering of sensation but I eventually did, wincing from the pain and emptiness once he slipped out of me. I discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to feel anything but Nikolai down there for a while. On shaky legs, I leaned against the door of one stall, ignoring the interested nuzzling of the occupying horse as I attempted to collect myself.
“Wow,” I breathed, running my fingers along the inside of my thigh and seeing the crimson dotting my skin. “I guess I had a second hymen I didn’t know about.”
“Fuck,” Nikolai cursed, already on his feet. Ignoring my protests, he hiked up the hem of my dress, peering down at my crotch. “We should’ve gone slow. I hurt you.”
“Stop that,” I said, laughing and slapping his hands away. “You gave me a sonnet-inspiring orgasm, Kolya. Totally worth the pain.”
Movement in the entranceway to the stables caught my attention and I jumped a mile when my father’s tall, imposing frame came into focus. Nikolai turned, obviously wondering what had the blood draining from my face.
“Fuck,” he grunted, sounding like a broken record. With hurried hands, he did up the fly of his pants, cursing again.
I hugged myself, instinctively letting Nikolai shield me with his body.
Please tell me that this is just a wet-dream-turned-nightmare, I thought, absolutely mortified. The ground just had to open up and swallow me whole; it just had to.
“Our meeting finished earlier than expected,” Dad said quietly, his eyes volleying between me and Nikolai, and then back to me. “Someone said they saw you head out to the stables, Ophelia. I thought I’d join you.”
“Your underwear is around your ankles,” he said in a low voice, his blazing eyes focused on Nikolai.
I could not have been more humiliated. Stooping slightly, I tugged them up, grateful that Nikolai was shielding that embarrassing act from my father.
“Mr. Shaw,” Nikolai began, “I know how this must look and I’m sorry you had to witness this but –”
“Oh, I’m Mr. Shaw now?” my father snarled, taking an intimidating step forward. Nikolai didn’t back away like I was doing. “What changed? The fact that I’ve just caught you taking a roll in the hay with my daughter, who is eight years your junior?”
Instead, of fear and mortification, anger was rolling around in my chest. I stepped around Nikolai.
“I’m twenty-four, Dad, and I really am sorry that you had to see it but Nikolai and I are...” I floundered for an applicable description of what we were doing. “We’re having fun, which is something people my age do. And thanks for pointing out our age difference – which is meaningless. You and Rory weren’t born in the same year, either. I don’t see what you have to be so mad about.”
Dad was grinding his molars again, a clear sign that he was angry and agitated at the same time. “You deserve so much better than a quick...tumble in the hay, Ophelia.” He stepped forward again, until he was way too close for comfort; for Nikolai’s comfort. “You even think of hurting my daughter, I will fuck you up so badly, you’ll be moonlighting as a corpse. This girl” – he jabbed a finger in my direction – “isn’t just a girl. She’s my girl; my little girl. She’s a Shaw, so don’t for one fucking second think that bodyguards and whatever James Bond shitheads you have working for you will keep me from castrating you if she so much as sheds one tear over you, Prince Alvonich.”
I gaped at him. This was worse than anything he’d ever thrown at any of my exes and I got the scary feeling that this wasn’t an empty threat...
“I understand completely, Mr. Shaw,” Nikolai calmly reassured him. “Hurting Ophelia is the last thing I’d want to do.”
They faced each other off, until my father broke eye contact and his eyes swivelled to me.
“I still see you as the six-year-old I had no clue how to raise,” he murmured, his face softening. “Tell me you’re okay and I’ll go, sweetheart.”
“I’m okay, Dad,” I told him, and he mouthed an “I love you”, before turning on his heel and leaving. “I love you, too,” I told the air.
It was after midnight and Nikolai was fast asleep. I disentangled myself from his arms and legs, creeping out of his bed and finding my nightgown on the carpet. He made a soft groan of protest in his sleep, reaching out for me and finding air. I grabbed a pillow and slid it into his arms instead, wistful when he immediately hugged it into his chest.
“What the hell are you doing to me?” I whispered, slowly backing away from the bed to ensure that he didn’t stir.
The air was heavy with the pungent smell of our slow, perfect fucking but that wasn’t why I felt so sick. Every limb and muscle ached from too much activity but that wasn’t why I felt like a knife was permanently lodged in my gut.
Why did he have to say it? I thought, a spark of anger igniting inside me.
I flicked the light on in his designated reading corner in front of the flat-screen hanging on the opposite wall. Everything on his bookshelf was neatly filed and stacked and I was surprised to note that we liked the same books. I didn’t want us to like the same things.
Damn him, I thought, irrationality overtaking reason. But I was pissed. I had every right to be pissed. He was screwing everything up.
“Don’t go,” he’d implored, when he was buried inside me to the root in his bed that night.
I’d stared up at him in shock, astonished that he would say the very words that would make it extraordinarily clear that he wanted more. Why? Why did he want that from me?
“Don’t, Nikolai,” I’d whimpered, partly because it hurt me to say no and partly because he plunged into me again at that exact moment.
“Look at me,” he’d demanded, forcing my eyes open with those very words. “Tell me you don’t want to see where this could go and I’ll come inside you for the last time. I’ll forget we ever looked at each other the way we’re looking at each other now. I’ll let you go without a fight.”
I twisted my head away from him. “I have no job. I have nothing. You don’t understand that...that I have rules I need to follow to be a success and you're –”
“I know Chasing Ghosts was cancelled. I wouldn’t ask you to stay if you were working. I’m not a chauvinist.”
I didn’t dare ask how he knew. And I should have.
“Stay with me, Ophelia,” he’d whispered into my ear, circling around inside me. “Let me make you happy.”
It was just too soon and I knew that. I knew that, yet it physically hurt me to refuse him, especially when we came together and he pulled me to him before he drifted to sleep.
And now it was the dead of night and I was overanalysing things. Why couldn’t I be Julia Roberts and treat this as a sexy Eat, Pray, Love experience? Oh, wait. I knew why. That isn’t the plan.
I was OCD about it, as Sav was quick to point out, but if I didn’t structure my life, wouldn’t I end up like my mother, who flitted around like a bird until she broke her wing and checked herself into rehab? I wasn’t going to be a screw-up and Nikolai was definitely going to jeopardise my entire life with his sweet, dirty words and possessive nature. The guy wanted a soccer team of kids. I pitied the woman whose womb would be home to those foetuses.
And what if you’re that woman? a little voice in my head asked.
I shook those dangerous thoughts out of my head. My biological clock hadn’t even been purchased yet, so how could it possibly be ticking? Shaking my head once more, I realised that I was standing in front of a bookshelf filled to the brim with DVDs. Prince Nikolai loved his horror.
“And Dear John?” I couldn’t help the smile on my face. Nikolai definitely wasn’t what he looked like. The smile fled from my face when I noticed The Complete First Season of Chasing Ghosts box-set right beside a Supernatural one. It was taunting me but I found that I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that the show was cancelled. No, I was thinking of Nikolai sitting on his leather couch, watching episode after episode of my show and fantasising about me. I should have found it creepy. But I didn’t.
Well, not until I saw the pictures.
I would have missed them if I hadn’t knocked The Cabin in the Woods off its perch and had to kneel to pick it up. At first, I didn’t recognise myself since I hadn’t seen the photos after the Zara Paulsen shoot but then I remembered the dress, the lighting – everything – and saw my face.
But that wasn’t it.
The photos dated back to when I was younger and had been in the limelight because of my father. There were shots of me on the red carpet, often with Devin, or even Rory. Candids during my short-lived college time. Photo after photo of me laughing, reading; especially on set.
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