Light’s Corruption- Chapter V
Pairing: The DarklingxAlina
Summary:With few friends at the Little Palace, Alina must work to win the favour of her fellow grisha and their commander, who makes her feel light headed every time she sees him.
After training in Os Alta for two years, the king grows tired of waiting and demands the Sun Summoner joins a western post near the Fjerdan border along with the rest of The Second Army to test her abilities.
Something happens. Suddenly, Alina wants blood to run down the rivers and those who stand in her and The Darkling’s way will be blinded by her light and swallowed by his shadows.
It won’t be pretty
Click here for chapter 4
As usual, tags are in the comments. If you dont wanna be tagged, dont be afraid to let me know. If you wanna be tagged, let me know too. I dont bite...anymore lmao
Chapter 5: Heartrenders
Days went by, and they turned into weeks. The leaves fell off the trees, a crunchy sea of red, orange, yellow and brown, and Alina wanted to pile them all on and throw herself inside.
She'd do it the first chance she got, but for that she had to beat the gardeners before they took the piles and burnt them to depressing ashes.
She talked to Michail some more during they rounds around the lake and had her rematch with Natasha.
She lost. Again. She laughed it off. Again. Natasha said she hadn't been so easy to defeat that second time, to which Alina smiled almost genuinely. Progress.
Baghra refused to see her still, and Alina was too proud to go back to her, so she tried to practice on her own. She'd hide away on the far sides of the gardens where the other grisha rarely went to and try to gain more control. It was a slow process; the temptation to let her power run free and vast was always there and trying to tame that always left her exhausted. She had no trouble falling asleep, yet each day the bags underneath her eyes seemed to deepen, as did her appetite. Alina was pretty sure that summoning should be for the better, but more than once, she had thoroughly considered laying down on the cold grass and take a nap there instead of walking all the way back to the Little Palace.
The General wasn't back yet, and much to Alina's confusion, frustration and shame, she worried. Maybe that too had something to do with the bags underneath her eyes. She tended to dream of him in all kinds of scenarios, each less pleasant than the last. It made her wake up sweaty and choking for air.
More than once, she almost wrote to him, only if just to make sure he was alright. But he had to be. Otherwise, word would've spread quickly…right?
She always talked herself out of it though. His presence was missed, her mind was making up all kind of tricks to make her reach out to him like a pathetic girl begging for attention.
The thought reminded her of Baghra's opinion of her, which only strengthened her resolve to not write to him.
She had had enough of begging, enough of getting scrapes of affection from a man who hadn't even bother to write once; she wouldn't do it again, no matter how much her heart tried to pull her to him.
But then her eyes would drift back to the black, shadow rose that laid on her nightstand, the little bit of gold on its inside long dead, and her heart would race and some form of reassurance would fall gently over her, like a blanket shielding her body.
She'd reach out and take it in her hands. It had no thorns. Her fingers would run through its petals, as soft as those of a real rose, but with something deeper in there. There was something more alive inside that rose than in any flower in all of Ravka; it was deep, powerful, and dark. It scared and alluded to her in the same measure, and she'd stare at it fascinated for an unfathomable long time.
She wondered if The Darkling could feel her caressing his shadows; and how he'd feel about it.
Besides Michail and Natasha, Alina didn’t seem to be progressing very much. They exchanged niceties and some jokes, even paired up during training, but there was not much more to it.
She told herself to be patient. These things took time.
One early afternoon, Genya showed up on her room unannounced. Alina hurried to hide her rose inside her nightstand; she wasn't sure why, but she wanted it to be her little secret.
"The Queen just left Os Alta." the redhead smiled. "As did the king. They'll be gone for two days on a hunting trip."
"A hunting trip?"
"Yes, where they kill animals for the fun of it. Like one of those brutish size competitions men seem to like so much."
"So…"there was a gleam to her friend's eyes, and the summoner leaned back and frowned slightly, almost scared. "I could sneak you into the Grand Palace and into Her Royal Bitch's wardrobe."
"We'll get in trouble, Gen."
"Oh, please; have some faith in me." she placed her elbows on the desk and her chin atop of her hands, almost looking angelic. "Do you really think I'd get you in trouble?"
"Well, then you're wrong." she straightened up and tugged on Alina's arm. "C'mon; there's so many gowns and habits: she rarely wears them twice. We're not stealing; no one will know."
"How many gowns?" she asked, genuinely curious. She had seen the queen on two official occasions, the first time when she arrived from the camps near Kribirsk, and the second when she was invited to her ridiculous tea parade. Still, she had seen her in passing a few times as she strolled the grounds. A part of Alina felt ashamed of the jealousy she felt upon seeing her beautiful clothes and jewels.
There she was, living in a palace, wearing a kefta and being pampered, yet she dared to want more.
"Hundreds!" the Tailor whispered excitedly. "And they'll look much better on us anyway."
She gave in a little to temptation. They would just try them on and leave them again. No one would know, and maybe she'd be satisfied then.
"Alright, alright. But we better not get caught."
"Don't worry, we won't."
They left the bedroom and ran down the stairs, Genya holding onto the blue sleeve of her friend as she rambled about all the different fabrics and patterns and accessories while Alina tried to keep up with her, listening to every word while watching her step. The last thing she needed was to trip down the stairs.
That'd be a sad way to go for her.
"You'll love it. I promise!" Genya turned to give her a smile, but Alina's eyes drifted to the looming figure appearing in her line of vision.
The Darkling walked into the Little Palace accompanied by Ivan, Fedyor and a third heartrender.
It was a woman, a little bit older than Alina probably, but only for a few years. She was tall, with long, brown hair cascading down her back. Her kefta, which hugged her rounded figure nicely, gave her away as a fellow heartrender.
The Darkling noticed them approaching. Alina tried to search something in his eyes, anything that gave away any sort of emotion that could cause in him to see her again, but she saw nothing but his usual coolness.
The Summoner and the Tailor came to a stop and bowed.
"Moi Soverennyi." they bowed respectfully.
"Miss Starkov, Miss Safin; it has been some time." he looked from one to the other. "May I inquire as to your present activities?"
"Nothing we're not supposed to do." Alina spat out, earning herself a dainty elbow to the ribs.
General Kirigan rose an eyebrow.
"I see. See to it that it stays that way."
"Of course, sir." spoke Genya, serious all of a sudden.
The man turned and contemplated the strange woman for a moment, then gestured at Alina with a gloved hand.
"This is Alina Starkov, our Sun Summoner." he looked at her, those pools of grey catching her breath. "Miss Starkov, may I introduce you to Nina Zenik. She is one of my best agents and has just recently returned from an assignment in Shu Han."
The woman's green eyes settled on Alina, taking her in. Something glittered in there.
"So, she is real after all."
"Would I lie to you?" was The Darkling's reply.
"You forgot to mention how pretty she is." Nina ignored him, taking a long, stealth step towards her and catching a tendril of Alina's dark hair in her fingers.
"Um, it's a pleasure to meet you." The Sun Summoner managed to say, nervous under the woman scrutiny.
"Oh, a pleasure indeed, sun bean." Nina smiled, amusement shining in her eyes as Alina's face heated up. "I can't wait to make your acquaintance."
Before Alina could even think of an answer -for the woman's pretty eyes were too distracting- The Darkling cleared his throat.
"Not for some time, I am afraid." he said. Alina finally turned her gaze to him. There was something dark and intense in the way he was staring at Nina's back, his jaw tense. "Miss Starkov has quite the busy schedule."
Alina felt Genya tensing beside her. Nina's eyes slid momentarily, as if she could see The Darkling behind her, and nodded, winking at her before receding.
"Certainly. I can only imagine." she turned a charming smile on him. "Should we discuss my mission in private?"
"Of course." he answered almost, almost too quickly. He made a gesture for her to go in first.
"See you around, sun bean."
Alina choked on her own saliva as she struggled to say her farewell.
Ivan left with them without even glancing in their direction; Fedyor was kind enough to give them each a courteous smile.
Genya was giggling like an idiot.
Now she was laughing.
During their training one day, Alina decided to pair up with her. Many grisha gave her a myriad of odd looks, and for a moment, Alina feared she might be about to face another Zoya.
Nina seemed to not to notice them and beckoned her forward.
People seemed to like Nina, Alina observed. The woman had charm and wit; the Sun Summoner really had to try to not get jealous of those traits. She reminded herself that Nina had been at the Little Palace for years, not one season and a half.
They circled each other, taking their measures.
Alina didn't want to be the one to strike first. That always had seemed to go wrong thus far, so she waited.
The heartrender went to the left, so Alina turned, only to be tricked as she received a blow on her right. She winced and stood back, more alert. She didn't want to make a ridicule again.
"You're small and skinny." the heartrender whispered. Alina arched an eyebrow. "I'm bigger and stronger, so your best option is to tire me out."
"I'm not exactly the fastest person."
Nina threw a punch and, luckily, Alina blocked it successfully.
She shook her head.
"Speed and resistance don't need to go hand in hand."
Alina didn't dare to look around to see if anyone else could hear them. She hoped not. Botkin would most certainly disapprove of his students giving each other advice on how to defeat them.
So, with Nina's words in mind, Alina did her best to block and recede. She tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to punch and kick, and received a wince and an "ouch" as Nina rubbed her calf.
The Summoner could feel everyone still watching, Marie and Nadia cheering her on; Sergei and Michail more reserved since she was fighting a fellow red sporter.
Then, Alina caught a glimpse. It was a second, and before she even knew it, she was taking a chance.
Nina was placing her foot down, twisting it as if to test it, and the next she was laying on her back, Alina having all but hurled herself at the woman, grabbing her middle section with all her strength and pushing.
They landed on the ground, and in the disbelief, the Summoner almost forgot to fully immobilize her opponent the way Botkin had taught her.
"You know," Nina gasped, the breath having abandoned her lungs. "There's better ways to get on top of me, sun bean, but if you like it rough-"
Alina blushed in embarrassment, both for having potentially hurt her and for the path those words were leading to.
"Are you alright?" she interrupted hurriedly. "Did I hurt you?"
Nina tried to laugh and cried instead.
"Shit, sun bean. You do have some strength in that tiny body after all."
"Alright!" Botkin clapped his hands twice, coming over toward them. "The little girl wins again, …finally."
Alina was almost offended. At least Marie and Nadia were cheering, as were some others Etherealki. She noticed Sergei and Michail exchanging some coins and scowled.
"Healer." she called, and one hurried to Nina's side.
"It's just a broken rib." the woman said, setting herself to work.
Nina raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I'm impressed, sun bean. I didn't actually think you'd win."
Alina found a new hiding spot where to practice her summoning. It was a most secluded corner, surrounded by old trees, an unkept stone bench and a dirty sculpture of a woman.
She really wanted to be offended.
With eyes wide, she forgot all about her practice, raced and jumped in, laughing childishly to herself.
She looked up and took in the warmth of the sun with pleasure, her face basking in it as her hands ran through leaves and sticks. It was actually a little uncomfortable, but fun.
She almost wished she could sink in and stay there forever, with the sun warming her body and the crunchy leaves all around her.
There was a big pile of leaves.
"Did you fall?"
A shadow took the light from her face, and she found The Darkling standing over her, looking down with something akin to curiosity.
"No. I just jumped."
"Into a pile of dirt?"
"It's not dirt. Besides, it's fun!" she extended a hand. "Wanna try?"
He huffed. Her cheeks heated up. She should've known better.
He took her hand and pulled her up, the mere contact making everything about him feel more intense as usual.
She held onto him.
"How did you find me?"
"You are my Sun Summoner; did you really think I would let you wander about the palace grounds unguarded?"
"Do you have me followed?" she had never noticed.
"For your safety."
"I thought this was the safest place in all of Ravka."
"I am not taking any chances with you, Alina." he replied, eyes guarded, face soft.
"Well, I've never noticed them."
"It means they are doing a good job. I would not want you to live scared, looking over your shoulder all the time."
"I might as well start now that I know."
He opened his mouth and then closed it, thumb rubbing the back of her hand. Alina wondered if he noticed what he was doing.
"You are right." he stepped closer, pulling a leaf off her hair. "But you need not fear, especially while I am on the palace grounds."
"Because not even the dumbest drüskelle would dare to cross paths with you?"
"Nor would the boldest noble."
Alina frowned. The nobles of Os Alta?
She nodded slowly.
"I have scared you." he stated, studying her face. "I apologize."
"No, no." she let go of his hand. "You just made me wearier."
"That is just how life at court is." he offered, not unkindly. "This is not just an army sometimes, especially for you and I."
Alina looked at him, questioning.
"There is no one else like us, Alina." he said, approaching her once more. The calmness, the facts were gone, replaced by a fire she wanted to step into. The vehemence in his voice made her shiver and want to take refuge in his cloak. "There never will be."
She thought about it. What exactly did he mean by that?
He reached out again and plucked another leaf from her hair, then took her face in his hands. She tilted her head up, desperate for a look into those eyes.
Her heart drummed on her ribcage, wanting to break free.
"I-" words failed her as he studied her face, like she was something unique he wanted to memorize.
His thumb ran over her lips, and she exhaled heavily at the feel.
"I forgot what I came here to tell you." he whispered in confidence, his eyes on her parted lips.
"I don't care."
One of his hands left her face and wrapped around her waist, pressing her against his hard chest. Alina almost gasped, hands coming up to rest on his shoulders. He pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes, hiding the conflict she had briefly witnessed there.
Alina made a choice.
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.
He reciprocated immediately, holding her tighter and pushing his tongue inside her mouth, demanding a dominance she was more than willing to give him.
She had been kissed, but never like this. It was a first kiss that felt like the last; its intensity so beautifully crushing and chaotic. It was like he was a missing part of her, long searched for and finally found. It was like she was the most precious, addictive treasure, something to be cherished and corrupted at the same time.
Alina was willing to let him do as he wanted with her.
Her hands pulled at his hair, earning a growl. Their eyes met briefly, the desire in them fighting to see whose was grander, before kissing again.
It was like he wanted to pull her closer still, the barrier of clothes too much. Something told Alina that the lack of them wouldn't satisfy either of them anyways.
He kissed her jaw, travelling his way up to her earlobe.
"You make me weak." he whispered harshly, only to proceed to ravish the parts of her neck that were exposed.
"You make me strong." she answered, craning her neck to give him better access.
Growling, he gave her ass a hard squeeze and pushed her back against a tree. She could feel the tug and crunches of the leaves as he buried his hands in her hair but didn't care.
She wanted more.
She drew his lips back to hers. He reached for the belt which held her kefta closed.
The next thing Alina knew was that she was standing against a tree, her back aching and her body cold, yet her face hot.
She looked at The Darkling, who seemed almost unperturbed as he smoothly fixed his hair and clothes, standing at a respectable distance from her.
Ivan appeared, seeming to be in a hurry.
Alina narrowed her eyes at him. As if she didn't dislike him enough already, the little shit.
"Moi Soverennyi, you are needed in the king's counsel immediately."
"Tell that grump I shall be there shortly."
Ivan bowed and left, not even acknowledging Alina's presence.
The Darkling cleared his throat. She turned her dark gaze on him, cheeks burning against the cold air, lips probably bruised.
What had just happened?
She wasn't sure, but she wanted to do it again. The Darkling, on the other hand, remained stoic as he stared into her eyes, as if nothing had occurred between them.
"I understand that you have been training on your own;" he said, as if he were talking to any other grisha, ever polite and smooth, voice reassuring yet commanding." I shall speak to Baghra so you may return to your lessons."
"But I don't wann-"
With him gone, the early winter sun felt cold.
"Miss Starkov." he bowed to her respectfully and marched away, disappearing from view within seconds.
Click here for chapter 6
24 notes · View notes
Mamma Mia! - A Nikolina Fic
Nikolina Appreciation Week 2020 ♛ Day 9: Free Day
Summary: While Alina's travelling through Ireland, she ends up sharing a bedroom with the handsome and charming Nikolai. After a night with the best sex in her life, Alina has a choice to run off or stick with the hazel-eyed charmer for a little longer. Her mind says one thing, her body another.
Eventually, her heart will also have a say in the matter.
Also on AO3
Ireland was a paradise. Green lands as far as the eye could see, beautiful architecture, country side roads to get lost in, rainstorms… But Alina was a bit tired after three long days of hiking through the Irish lands. Resting at a local b&b would be perfect…
“Did you say Starkov?” The teenager at the front desk asked.
Alina looked back at him and felt a little uneasy as she noticed his barely hidden panic. “Yes…?”
He gulped visibly and nodded. “I’ll… There’s a problem with the system. Can you… can you wait in the restaurant area while I talk with my supervisor?”
She nodded slowly, wanting whatever was happening to be taken care of, and fast. She wanted nothing more than to sleep tonight. “All right, I’ll sample the food.”
The boy was off before she had finished her sentence.
The restaurant was small, but cosy. Alina sat by the fire, happily enjoying a cup of hot chocolate as she kept an eye on the door to the front hall. It had been nearly twenty minutes since she’d been practically abandoned by the young teen without as much as a room key. Her body was beginning to grow antsy, the hot chocolate and the fireplace keeping her a little relaxed.
“What the hell is taking them so long?” She mumbled under her breath.
A familiar mop of brown hair walked in and she instantly stood straighter. But the teen didn’t walk towards her. Instead, he made a beeline for a young man sitting at the far corner, his golden hair shinning under the warm lights of the room.
Alina frowned in confusion as the teen whispered something to the stranger before the two walked out of the room.
She was ready to get up and demand her room when the stranger was back. And walking straight towards her. Another stranger walked not too far behind, sporting an expression of panic similar to that of the teenager.
“Miss Starkov, I presume?” The blonde stranger greeted her with a dazzling grin that had Alina momentarily losing her footing.
“Ye-Yes…? And you are?”
The stranger winked as his grin turned mischievous, as though he was privy to Alina’s reaction to his smile. Well, that was enough for her to scoff at him.
“Name’s Nikolai, my lady. And it seems we have a conundrum in regards to our sleeping quarters for the night.”
Alina blinked fast at him, caught by surprise with his elegant but effortless speech. And that’s when the other stranger approached them at last and bowed a little with his head, “A thousand apologies, miss. It seems there was a glitch in our system after last night’s storm.”
“Okay… What does that mean?” She asked, already feeling a knot of dread forming in her stomach. How was that related to her reservation and this Nikolai dude?
The stranger wrung their hands, “I’m the manager of this place and we’ve never had this happening. We pride ourselves in a service of high quality!”
“Please, tell me what’s going on.” Alina said, desperate for any word that made any sense.
“Well…” The manager started.
But Nikolai stepped in when silence began to stretch, “It seems we both got assigned the same room, miss Starkov.” He flashed a sheepish smile, “And the place is entirely booked.”
Her mouth hanged open. This couldn’t be happening. She’d made a reservation especially to avoid this kind of situation! “But… How?”
The manager shook his head, “We don’t know miss. It’s a grave mistake we didn’t notice until you arrived. Since we already had given mister Sturmhond his key… The system…” He trailed off.
“Point is, we got the same room.” Nikolai offered.
“And there’s no spare?” Alina asked, wishing the answer had changed in the last few seconds.
The manager shook his head, “I’m afraid not. And I checked in with the closest b&b and they’re booked too. There’s a festival happening this weekend and many patrons already arrived…”
“Where am I supposed to sleep? But… wait! Who made the reservation first? Shouldn’t they get the room then?” She demanded, hoping she was the winner.
Nikolai shrugged, “They can’t see. The glitch erased some files, including the ones that could tell us that.” He paused, watching the manager for a moment, “Will you give us a moment, please?”
The manager nodded and left with a quick apology and an offer of paying for all of Alina’s expenses.
“I have a suggestion.” Nikolai said without waiting a beat. He touched the chair in front of her and waited until Alina had nodded before sitting down. And snatching a butter cookie from her plate. “Delicious…”
Alina cleared her throat, annoyance rising as the man continued eating the stolen cookie. “You were saying?”
“Ah!” He dusted his hands and leaned forward, “How about we share the room?”
Her stomach somersaulted upon hearing those words. “What?”
Nikolai raised his hands and chuckled, “I have no ulterior motives, Miss Starkov. I swear I am only suggesting us sharing the room for the night. I was told you were planning on staying just one night. Unless that was incorrect?”
Alina huffed a breath, crossed her arms and leaned back, “Yes, one night. And call me… Alina. Miss Starkov is so… formal.” She said with a grimace. Only her teachers had ever called her that.
A pleased grin stretched on his face before Nikolai spoke again, “Alina. A beautiful name…” He paused for a moment, his eyes – hazel, she noticed – watching her for the duration of his silence. Then, “Like I was suggesting, it would be just a platonic share of the bedroom. In fact, I wouldn’t mind sleeping on the floor, so long I’m provided with enough blankets.”
Alina opened her mouth several times to speak, but no words came out. It was a ridiculous situation and it just kept getting crazier and crazier. She stood in a flash and grabbed her phone, “I have to make a call. Excuse me.”
“Of course. I’ll order seconds.”
“So… is he hot?” Genya’s voice came through the phone, metallic and a bit distant with the bad reception.
Alina rolled her eyes, pinched her nose and let out a long, slow sigh. “Genya…”
“Come on. Answer me this. Then I’ll tell you what you should do.”
“I know what you’re going to say.”
“Oh? So does that mean he is hot?”
Alina looked over her shoulder, as though Nikolai could hear her from the other side of the b&b. “Genya, be serious.”
“He’s either drop dead gorgeous to the point your panties are soaked already, or he’s an ugly troll and you don’t want to be rude. Either way, I’ll need your honest opinion ASAP.”
She let out a tired sigh, “Fine. I guess he is… attractive. If you’re into that look.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. What does he look like? Describe like one of your rejected calendar photos. The ones that are too good for the projects.”
“He’s tall. And blonde.”
“Wow, and to think you’ve made a business out of making unique and beautiful calendars…”
“He’s so tall I could rest my head on his chest, ok? His hair is thick and blonde. It looks like liquid gold, I swear.” She finally relented, still keeping her nicest, most poetic words to herself. Her friend didn’t need to know his hair glowed in the firelight.
“Mhmm… I’m liking the view. More. Muscles, voice, eyes. Jaw!”
“I guess he is well defined. Looks like it. A deep voice, could narrate books. Hazel eyes.”
Genya started to hoot from the other side of the line and Alina regretted, for the umpteenth time, having called this best friend. Maybe Zoya would have been a better choice.
“Girl, you better bang that. He sounds like your dream man.”
“He’s not my dream man.” She grumbled through gritted teeth, “He’s insufferable and full of himself.”
“Looking like that? I’d be surprised if he wasn’t. Go on, take the offer and take things to the upper level. Have fun! You did go on that trip to have fun and adventures, and fun adventures fit the bill.”
“I’ll take the room, but everything else isn’t happening. You… Go kiss David.”
“Love you! Bye! And please have hot great sex with your hot stranger!”
Alina sighed and put her phone away, reading herself for this next conversation.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am that you accepted this deal, because if I did it would sound wrong and you would probably kick me between the legs.” Nikolai flashed what Alina was beginning to suspect to be his signature grin, and unlocked their door. He signalled for her to enter, with a little bow and an extended hand, “After you, my lady.”
She rolled her eyes and entered, only to stop short at the sight of the bedroom. The photos didn’t do it justice. Sure, it was a small room, but it was comfortably luxurious. A four-post bed, a small wardrobe and a vanity to one side, a couple of large and comfy looking armchairs to the other side, next to a table. Which sat next to a window and… “A window seat!” She let out in surprise, excited to see one in person.
Nikolai closed the door and smiled at her, “A fan?”
She tried to control her excitement with a roll of her eyes, “I just… Always wanted to see one in person. Movies make them look so… interesting.”
He nodded and took off his coat before moving to the bed. He sat on it and bounced a couple of times, chuckling to himself in delight at a seemingly positive result. “I bet you’ll have a fantastic sleep on this mattress, Alina.”
She narrowed her eyes, “Yes. Me.”
Nikolai feigned a shot to his heart and collapsed onto the bed, “Oh, you wound me!”
“Good. Now get up and find your blankets.”
Nikolai stood with a playful grin and booped her nose on his way to the wardrobe, “Pure sunshine, aren’t you?”
She swatted at him and moved away from his magnetic field. It had… unwanted effects. “I’m not here to be sweet to you.”
“No, and I wouldn’t expect you to. Still, sunshine fits you.” And he left it at that, starting to whistle some off-tune melody as he found thick blankets and stacked them on the floor.
Alina searched for her pyjama and rushed to the bathroom, “I’ll go change, don’t you dare walk in on me or peek through my stuff!”
“I wouldn’t dare doing such a wretched thing.” He called back, his tone serious for a change.
Alina took her time changing, hoping Nikolai would take the hint and get changed in the meantime as well. She brushed her hair and then her teeth, she stared at her reflection and paced around. She peed. She washed her hands. And when she had no more excuses to stay locked in the bathroom, she walked out.
And straight into a hard chest, wrapped in teal.
“Woah there!” Nikolai caught her in his embrace just as she was tilting backwards with the momentum.
She blinked at the threadbare t-shirt that hugged his chest, barely hiding the very well-toned muscles, and realised with a start that he was holding her in his arms.
“Off!” She jumped away and tried to hide the blush on her cheeks, “A bit handsy, no?”
Nikolai chuckled and raked a hand through his hair, the movement drawing Alina’s attention to the sliver of toned muscle that peeked through the crack between his shirt and pants. “I was merely making sure you didn’t hurt yourself, sunshine. I was going to knock to check if you were well when you suddenly barge out and nearly barrel through me.”
Alina shook her head, ignoring the way her body got excited at the sight of Nikolai’s, and climbed onto the large bed, “Whatever, try to keep them to yourself next time.”
“I swear I’ll only touch you with your permission, Alina.” He said, his tone almost reverent. “Goodnight, sunshine.”
She almost demanded he stop using that word, but that would involve a longer conversation. So she just mumbled a reply and laid down, her back turned to him.
Sleeping was impossible.
Genya’s words kept Alina awake. And knowing Nikolai was lying right next to her didn’t help her case at all.
She wasn’t going to sleep with him! She simply wasn’t! That would be… That would… be… Alina tossed and turned, cursing her luck for this position she had been forced into.
All she’d wanted was a nice adventure by herself through the Irish lands. And to sleep in a comfy bed at night, wherever she stopped. None of her plans had involved any sort of sexual endeavours.
Nikolai showed up.
And Genya dropped that bomb of an idea on Alina’s lap.
If only she could put the entire blame on her friend. But if she were being honest with herself, she had… flirted with the idea of having mind-blowing sex with a hot stranger at some point. If only to cleanse herself from her terrible ex. Plus, she often wondered what proper sex would be like.
And Nikolai looked like he knew his stuff.
“Nikolai…” She whispered into the darkness, torn between wishing him asleep, and hoping him to be awake.
A stir, then, “Yes?”
“Are you awake?”
A low chuckle, rough with sleep, “I am now. What is it?”
“I…” She started, only to quiet a moment later. What was she doing? And what was she going to say?!
Fabric rustled as Nikolai sat up, “Alina?”
She took a deep breath and looked his way, finding his hazel eyes even in the darkness of the room. “I don’t know how to do this.” She admitted.
He frowned a little and cocked his head, “Do what?”
A sudden heat took over her body and she bit her lip, wishing this impossible man would make the suggestion first. But silence stretched on, and he kept his distance. She tossed her blankets away and sat on the bed, facing him with a sudden braveness that she hoped would last long enough. “Ask you to sleep with me.” She finally let out in a tiny voice, her heart hammering faster and faster.
Nikolai parted his lips for a moment, eyes wide at her words. Then his face softened a little before a playful grin curved his lips, “I think you just did, sunshine. Although I’m sure you were very against us touching just a couple of hours ago.”
She groaned and looked away, suddenly embarrassed she’d asked at all. “If you’re going to mock me, I’ll have you sleeping in the bathtub. And it’s a tiny one.”
He chuckled, the sound huskier than before and quickly sending her heart into cardiac arrest. “My apologies, sunshine. I was just…” He stood with a grunt and walked towards her. “Lightening the mood. You sounded a little… Nervous.” He looked down at her with a strange look, his eyes taking in her flushed cheeks first, then her parted lips, and lingering there for a long moment. “If you want, I’ll do whatever you wish. But if you’re not sure and you feel like you have to…” He lifted his hand, but it dropped away before touching her, “I don’t want you doing anything you don’t want to do, Alina.”
She straightened and stood as well, her chest grazing his as there was little space left between them. “I want to do this. I just didn’t know how to propose it. It’s not as easy as asking if you want to have a drink. Like, ‘Hey! Want to have sex tonight?’” She tskd and crossed her arms, or tried to, as his proximity made it impossible for Alina to do so.
He touched her chin with his finger and tipped her head a little, his eyes boring into hers with a spark of amusement and… desire. “If you do want this… Then yes, I’d very much like to have sex with you tonight, sunshine.” The words echoed all around them, hanging in the air for one lingering moment.
And then he was kissing her, his lips crashing into hers as the two finally gave in to the mutual attraction that sizzled between them.
Nikolai tasted of stolen goods in the middle of a kitchen raid. Delicious and sinful. His mouth was soft and warm against hers, nipping and pulling and massaging her lips until she was trembling from head to toe and clinging to his shoulders as though her very life depended on it. She kissed him back with as much passion, pouring into him a kind of lust she hadn’t felt until now, her body aching to know his with utter intimacy. Their tongues teased each other, tasted each other, explored each other.
She moaned into the kiss and Nikolai eagerly drunk all the sounds she made, his hands holding her so close she could hardly breathe. Saints above, Alina had never been kissed like this. It was… like heaven. A sinful kind of heaven, if she were being honest.
The kiss was broken into a million of kisses that Nikolai trailed across her jaw and down her neck, peppering her feverish skin with promises of a long, long night. Alina moaned his name as she raked her hands through his hair and his mouth travelled lower, tasting all that he could of her exposed skin.
“I adore your pyjama, sunshine… But…” He rasped against her collarbone, giving it a playful bite as his hands sneaked under her shirt and slowly climbed up, up, up.
“It would look better on the floor?” She replied, eyes rolling in their sockets when he brushed his thumbs over her nipples, instantly making them pinch and ache for more.
He hummed in agreement and quickly freed her of the pesky layer. A bite of cold air teased her skin, only to be quickly smothered when Nikolai leaned down to kiss her breasts.
“God…!” She moaned louder, fingers digging into his scalp, toes curling into the carpet.
His chuckle teased her nipple, “You really think so, sunshine?”
“Oh… shut up.” She managed to let out. Then she was tugging on his shirt, pulling it up in the blind, demanding it to be gone. “I need you to strip. Make this even. Now.”
Nikolai chuckled again and silently answered her request, tossing his shirt away without a glance. “Better?”
Alina took in the sight of his toned torso, lean muscles and softly tanned skin greeting her, making her mouth water. She nodded dumbstruck before leaning in to kiss his chest, and trail down, savouring each bump of soft skin and the way all of this had her panties soaked through and through.
Nikolai let out a surprised gasp when Alina reached his pants and pulled everything down. “Alina…?”
She peeked up and licked her lips, “I want to taste you.” And that was all she said before taking him in her mouth.
She played him at length, licking and sucking until Nikolai was trembling all over and begging for her. His hand was knotted in her hair, carefully guiding her through his wishes as she moved and savoured him until he was close to breaking point. “God… Alina…” He let out, his voice strained, “And you… and you didn’t know how… how… OH!” He let out a loud groan and bucked his hips against her, shuddering hard as Alina finally broke him.
They were breathing heavily by the time Nikolai had pulled Alina back to her feet, his eyes darker than the night sky as he watched her lick her lips clean. “That was amazing.” She said, reaching out to touch him with a finger. She trailed it up and down his length, savouring the way Nikolai shuddered under her touch.
Nikolai cupped her cheek and let his hand wander to the nape of her neck, tilting her head just a little bit, just enough for him to lean down and brush his lips against hers, “You are a wicked vixen, sunshine. I can’t wait to taste you.”
Then he had her on her back, hair splayed all over the sheets as he slowly kissed her torso, sucking on her nipples at length until her voice was nothing but a pained sound. “Please…” She begged only to have him travel lower and lower, freeing her of the rest of her clothes and parting her legs. Oh saints… This was it. He was going for revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge. “Nikolai…” She let out in a gasp when he began kissing her ankle.
“I’ll make you feel so good, sunshine. So incredible… No one else will ever, ever compare…” He breathed against her skin as his mouth travelled up her leg, closer and closer to her pounding centre. “And I bet you taste divinely, don’t you?”
She nodded, even though at that moment she wasn’t sure about what, as her mind was nothing but a puddle, every rational thought destroyed by the simple anticipation of Nikolai’s tongue inside of her.
A gasp escaped her lips at the first touch. It was a soft, playful swirl, just enough to have her heart pounding hard against her chest. She clawed at the sheets when he did it again, this time slower and deeper. A longer taste, a longer tease.
“Nikolai… Please… God…!” Her moans answered each and every lick of his tongue, her hips arching with him, her body begging for release.
But Nikolai wanted to stretch her thin, and so his teasing was slow and torturous, pushing her close enough to the edge, but never over it. Oh, no… Never over it. And Alina hated it. And she loved it. She swore sex had never felt this good, not to her and to no one else.
Then, at last, Nikolai was pushing over the edge, and Alina was crying out for him, coming undone with the force of a thousand stars exploding at once.
“I knew you’d taste divinely, Alina…” Nikolai rasped against her lips once she was rational enough for them to continue their little rendezvous. He pulled her under the sheets and braced himself over her, his hazel eyes shining brighter than ever.
Alina took in the dark swirls of brown and the wisps of green, their shade reminding her of crushed emeralds. God, were his eyes even real? Who had eyes like his?
“Speechless?” He teased her and placed a soft kiss on her cheek, “Already? And here I was hoping…” He kissed her other cheek and reached between her legs, “To hear you call my name again, and again…” He dipped a finger and teased her for a moment, long enough to have her wet and ready.
Her breathing laboured, Alina licked her lips and reached for his hair, fingers playing with the luscious locks, “You wish, Nikolai. I’m just getting ready.”
He hummed and leaned in to kiss her with a long kiss, hot enough to set fire to the sheets around them. Then it was over and he was sinking into her with a satisfied groan, “Saints… You feel… Heavenly.”
Alina bit her lip and wrapped her arms around his neck with a nod, “You too. God… You feel… So good. So… good.” She mumbled compliments after compliments as he adjusted himself, his touch teasing her body in the best of ways. “That better not be your only condom, Nikolai. I want more.”
“Already?” He chuckled, “Then I better make sure you’ll still want it after we’re done.” Then he started to move, and the whole world faded to nothing.
Nikola’s rhythm was slow and steady at first as he drew in and out with painstakingly patient strokes, making Alina feel every little second of it. She held onto him hard with laboured breathing and hooded eyes, gasping and moaning yesses and mores and his name. Oh, his name…! Alina had never experienced sex so good she wanted to say nothing but her partner’s name. But here she was now, being banged so thoroughly by this man that her tongue knew nothing but his name.
“God!” She cried out when he picked up speed, his hips rolling harder with each thrust. He went deep and hard, and Alina swore she saw stars every time. Every. Single. Time.
“Goddess…” Nikolai replied with a chuckle and a kiss to her lips, its softness a paradox to his dirty, dirty moves. “You are… a goddess, Alina… So incredible, I can’t believe you’re real…” He rasped against her cheek, his forehead pressed to hers, effort drawing a deep line between his eyes, “I think I’ll die tonight.” He added just before delivering a stronger and harder thrust.
Alina’s moan was loud and echoed all around them, her blood so close to igniting all it would take was a spark. “Please, Nikolai… Please…!” She begged, wanting him to destroy her. She’d never wanted an orgasm to ruin her existence as much as she wanted one now.
“Your wish is my command, sunshine…” Then he was rocking his hips harder and faster than ever, the bed groaning under their heated encounter, and then… at last…
Alina was crying out a moan, his name, something in between. And Nikolai cried out as well, shuddering hard as the two rode the remnants of their orgasm, their bodies so spent for now that they were mere husks of themselves.
“Well… I guess it was worth it going with your idea.” She said after a while, wrapped in Nikolai’s embrace as they rested before their next round.
He hummed, “I always say that anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea, sunshine.”
“So you agree it was a bad idea?” She asked over her shoulder, arching an eyebrow at the impossible man.
His chuckle was warm and earnest, “You thought it was, Alina.”
She rolled her eyes and settled back, “You’re so cocky.”
“Yes, you complimented me quite a lot just now, thank you once more.”
Alina pushed her elbow back and grinned satisfied as Nikolai let out a grunt. Then, he rolled her over and began kissing her neck with only a wink as a warning, and Alina soon forgot all about his insufferable streak.
“I don’t want tonight to end, sunshine…” He whispered, his breath teasing her pulse as he planted slow and hot kisses up the column of her neck, “I want to stay in this bed forever, with you.”
Her eyes fluttered closed and her hands blindly searched for his hair, her fingers playing with the soft locks as his kisses drew closer to her mouth. “The night is still young…” She whispered back, putting aside any thoughts about the next day. Tonight was about tonight. The future had to wait.
“What do you want me to do now, sunshine? Tell me and I’ll do it.” His breath was on her lips now, warm and teasing, holding a kiss just out of reach.
“I want you to kiss me right now…” She said, “Then I want to be on top. I want to ride you, Nikolai, slow and hard.”
“Hm, slow and hard? And here I thought you’d want it hard and fast…” He chuckled and pecked her lips, “But I’ll grant you your wish, Alina. Anything to hear you make those sweet, sweet sounds.”
Then he was kissing her slowly, his mouth speaking in a language that ignited her blood bit by bit. He massaged moan after moan out of her, their bodies pressed together as lust slowly built up between them. Nikolai broke the kiss just to trail a line straight to the hollow below her jaw, where he grazed her skin with this teeth before pressing a long, slow kiss that had her gasping for air. Saints above, this was pure, delightful sin. And Alina wanted more.
“Nikolai…” She rasped, “Come on, you insufferable man…” His chuckle only made her more eager, “I think it’s time I’m on top.”
Without a word, Nikolai hooked a hand around her knee and flipped them over. Alina let out a yelp before putting her hands against his chest to keep balance. Nikolai flashed a grin at her, “That… Was adorable.”
She slapped him lightly, “Shut up.”
“I’ll sit up instead, hum?”
Alina blinked in surprise but she didn’t stop him as he adjusted himself under her, their bodies barely touching each other. She eyed him, already hard and ready for the taking, and warmth pooled between her legs, her body desperate to ride him.
“You look ravenous, sunshine…” He said, “Ready to risk any… Accidents.”
Alina blushed in spite of herself and awkwardly reached for his pants, from where she’d seen him withdraw his previous condom. “You’re so full of yourself…” She muttered as she offered the item, “Two?”
Nikolai shrugged and readied himself, “I admit I grabbed just one, the second must have tagged along.”
“Haha, yes, of course. They just couldn’t be separated.”
A mischievous glint burned in his eyes. He circled her waist and pulled her closer, his voice dropping to a husky whisper, “Much like us, Alina.” His gaze dropped to her breasts, which were right in front of him, should he just angle his head a little lower, “I wonder what sounds you’ll make when I suck those…”
Alina let out a shuddered breath and watched him lean in, his eyes flicking to hers just before he took one nipple in his mouth. She held onto his shoulders, a moan on her lips, when his tongue circled the tender flesh. Then she clung harder when he gave her a playful bite. And then she let out a shuddered cry when he sucked hard, his mouth playing her like a master musician. “Nikolai…” She let out, “Please…”
“Your call, Alina… When you want…” He rasped, his tongue teasing her nipple endlessly, “But I’ll take my time with this, sunshine. You make the most beautiful sounds.”
Her hand shakier than ever, Alina reached down and sank into him, her body happily taking in his hard length as she slowly adjusted her position. A grateful sound came out and she wasn’t sure just who had it belonged to. Then she started to ride him, rolling her hips slowly, sinking her body deep.
Nikolai kept playing with her breasts, teasing her with his tongue, giving her a rhythm to move to, driving her mad with pure, raw lust.
“Oh…!” She dropped her head back and rode faster when he sucked hard on her other nipple. His hold tightened and he let out a groan. “Yes…!”
“Alina… Oh… Alina…!” His hot breath fanned her skin, goosebumps following suit.
And Alina moved. Going down hard, feeling every second of it, relishing in every touch and sound. Her skin could be glowing for all she knew. This truly was the best sex she’d ever had in her life, and frankly… Nothing would ever surpass it.
“Nikolai…!” She gasped, feeling the edge so close, so close… And then she was falling hard, crying out a wordless sound as she clung hard to him and rode her high to the very last drop, taking extra satisfaction in the way Nikolai fell apart under her, his growl like music to her ears.
Saints be blessed. She would have to be carried out of the bed after this.
Rain fell at a lazy pace all around her. Alina eyed the street, nerves making her foot tap endlessly as she waited for the next bus. It was early in the morning and she’d been told one would arrive in the next half hour. Still, she wanted it here faster.
If not, she might be tempted to go back to that room.
“Damn it!” She cursed under her breath. Last night had been, quite possibly, the best night of her life. Nikolai had put to shame anyone that claimed to be great in bed. Which meant Alina wouldn’t be able to leave his arms if he had woken up before her.
So, when she woke up first… She snuck out.
Better to be the jerk that leaves without a word than be the stupid one that wasted their trip in bed with some guy. Even if that guy had her body singing with great sex.
She eyed her watch and groaned. If that bus didn’t arrive soon…
“You missed breakfast.”
She let out a yelp and whirled on the spot, eyes widening as she came face to face with Nikolai. Who, much to her chagrin, was beginning to be rather soaked. And was here. Before she could leave for good.
She opened her mouth but nothing came out.
A corner of his mouth curled up a little, “I meant actual breakfast, but the other kind could be in the menu as well.” He paused, cocked his head and eyed her bags, “Though I suspect that’s exactly why you’re up so early.”
“I… Look… I have a trip plan.” She explained, as though those few words were enough.
He nodded and passed a hand through his hair, pushing dripping locks away from his face. Alina felt her breath falter at the gesture. God, could this man stop being so attractive?
“Does that mean you don’t want to repeat last night?”
Alina looked away, her cheeks burning hotter than the sun, “We can’t repeat it. We just happened to share a room. You’re going your way and I’m going mine.”
“What if we aligned our trips?” He stepped closer, “We’d have company, we’d save in lodgings, etcetera…”
“And we’d repeat last night over and over again?” She arched an eyebrow, hoping her nonchalance masked the way his words had her body shivering with anticipation.
His voice dropped an octave, “Come back to bed, sunshine. I assure you it’ll be worth it.” He reached for a lock of her hair and took in a slow breath, “We’re both traveling aimlessly through Ireland… Why not share the journey?” He chuckled, “And yes, sex would be included in the package. I’m certain one night wasn’t enough. It wasn’t for me. God… You were…” He trailed off as he finally let go of her hair. “What do you say, sunshine?”
She blinked like a startled deer, “Why do you keep calling me that?”
He shrugged, “It suits you.”
“Oh.” She paused, “That’s it?”
“Well,” He winked, “You were a ray of sunshine from the moment we met, hard to avoid calling you that.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, “Of course.”
“I mean it with all my heart, Alina. Sunshine… Suits you.” It seemed there was no way to have him stop using the nickname.
“How long are you going to be here?”
Nikolai shrugged again, “Don’t know. However long I wish. And you?”
She frowned, who the hell went on a trip without planning an ending date? “I… Well, a month. Give or take.”
“Wonderful!” He smiled a smile brighter than sunlight and Alina found herself struggling for a reason to be angry at his outburst. “So… What do you say, Alina?”
“What if I refuse?”
“I’ll be disappointed, of course. But you are free to go your way. I just… Hoped we could continue what we started.”
Alina looked away and chewed on her lip. She barely knew him. Not that this fact had stopped her from banging him thoroughly. And saints… It was so damn good!
Oh god. She was going to regret this.
“Fine, we can… Stick together.”
Alina chewed on the inside of her cheek as she looked at the packages in front of her. Why the hell were there so many options? She looked at the hasty scribble on her palm and then at the prices. Whatever, she’d pick the averagely priced and leave.
“Hmm… Afraid we’ll run out of condoms, sunshine?” Nikolai’s breath tickled her ear as he wrapped his arms around her waist, and placed a soft kiss on her neck.
Her stomach flipped on its head at the softness of this gesture. Then she took a shaky breath and looked over her shoulder, their noses brushing ever so slightly, “Doesn’t hurt to be prepared, does it? Plus, you…” She dropped her voice to the tiniest of whispers, “Well, we spent a lot of them last night. And this morning. So, unless you have an endless supply in your bags, we’re taking these.”
He arched an eyebrow and a corner of his mouth curled up in a playful grin, “We?”
She pushed him off and then placed the package of condoms and another of pills in his hands and gestured towards the register, “Actually, you pay. I’ll be waiting.”
Nikolai chuckled and, with that insufferable grin of his, leaned down to peck her lips before walking away to pay for their things.
“Ah, I remember when my sweetheart would look at me that way.” An old voice spoke from the entrance to the next aisle.
Alina turned towards it and saw an elderly woman dressed in a classic outfit, the demure aspect of it clashing with the bright blue of her hair. “Huh… Like what?” She asked, her stomach flipping like crazy once more.
“Like I’d put the sun in the sky.” Then she chuckled, “And like I was the sole reason he ever got a boner, the rascal.”
Alina’s eyes widened as those words came out, “I…”
The elderly woman chuckled, “Oh, we did some naughty things…”
“Right…” Alina didn’t know what to say. The lady seemed nice enough, but Alina really didn’t want to stand there, listening to the woman’s sexcapades. “I’ll just…” She gestured to Nikolai, who was walking back.
“Of course, go one and have fun with your man.”
“He’s not…” She started, but then she gave up and shook her head. There was no point in telling the lady she and Nikolai were just sex partners. Nothing more. Even if he was rather… tender and sweet with her. Which wasn’t a thing she’d expect from a colourful friend.
“Ready?” Nikolai arrived and took her hand before turning to the lady and greeting her with a dazzling grin, “Good morning, madam.”
“Madam? Oh, he’s a keeper.” The woman smiled and winked before finally leaving Alina alone.
“Huh?” Alina’s mind had been somewhere far away, distracted with the old lady’s misinformed opinion on her and Nikolai’s relationship.
“That old lady.”
“Ah, yes. She thought we were a couple. Almost told me details of her own sexual life.”
Nikolai shuddered visibly, though rather dramatically for it to be more than him poking fun at Alina’s face. “Wouldn’t want that, would we?”
“Stop! Do you really want to hear about old people’s sexual lives?”
He paused then made a face, “No, you’re right. No one wants that.” Then he looked at her from the corner of his eye and a wolfish grin grew on his lips, “A couple, huh?”
Alina felt a blush heat up her face, “She probably saw what we were buying and you teasing me and made assumptions.”
Nikolai didn’t answer. Instead he brushed his thumb across her knuckles, the soft gesture distracting Alina from literally everything else. He always did this. Somehow, Nikolai knew exactly how to put Alina’s mind at such an ease, the world could collapse on itself and she wouldn’t even notice.
They’d been together for two weeks now, their original travel plans having been aligned so far. And in that time, Nikolai had been an unexpected force of nature in Alina’s life. He wasn’t just really, really good in bed. He was also a great company overall. Talking with him was a paradox of rolling her eyes and feeling like there wasn’t a thing in the world she couldn’t talk about. But it wasn’t just that, it was the comfortable silence they fell into as well. Past relationships… One in particular, had been riddled with heavy silences that threatened to suffocate her.
Nikolai was a breath of fresh air.
And it scared her.
“You’re awfully distracted, sunshine. Something on your mind?” Nikolai’s voice interrupted her wandering thoughts, a tinge of worry underlining is otherwise nonchalant tone.
She shrugged, “Just thinking.”
“Hmm…” He looked at her, “Nothing’s wrong, is it?”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes, “Stop worrying so much, Nikolai. Nothing’s wrong.”
His voice softened, “Can you blame me for worrying?”
No, she couldn’t. The first time he’d caught her this distracted, Alina had accidentally stumbled on a memory post from her old facebook. Somehow, she’d gotten an email and in her early morning drowsiness, Alina hadn’t realised what she was clicking and ended up staring at a post she’d made on the day she’d broken up with her high-school-the-university boyfriend, Mal. It was about her planning a surprise, a very cryptic but excited post about big plans. Plans that never came to happen as she stumbled on him cheating on her in some orgy-like frat party. He wasn’t even sorry. In fact, he’d blamed his cheating on her, for neglecting his needs.
Nikolai had returned from grocery shopping to find her curled up in bed, her phone thrown on the floor, tears dried on her face.
She hadn’t planned on letting him see her like this or letting him know of what had happened, but Nikolai had been so worried about her that Alina couldn’t lie to him.
“Tell you this…” He started, his voice a little more cheery, “How about we have a picnic by that lake we saw over the hill with the ruins? It’s very secluded and rather beautiful. We could spend the rest of the afternoon lost in there.” He added a wink for good measure.
Just like that, Alina’s mood shifted. She rolled her eyes but smiled nevertheless, “Are you really suggesting sex by the lake?”
“Well…” He drawled, “If we get in the mood…” With a tug, Alina was in his embrace and Nikolai was brushing his nose up her neck, his hot breath teasing her skin and blood, “I won’t deny your wishes, sunshine.”
Her eyes rolled in their sockets as a soft moan escaped her mouth, “What if someone sees?”
“That’s the bonus of a secluded spot, it’s not easy to be seen.”
She pondered the idea, her mind fighting her body and heart’s will. Then, “I guess a picnic sounds fun.”
“A calendar maker, huh?” Nikolai asked, his voice riddled with awe and wonder. “Do you just handle the photos or do you do everything?”
Alina rolled onto her side and shrugged a little, “Mostly everything, though I have a friend that helps with the grid designs. But I don’t do just photos for the calendars, sometimes I paint too.”
“Hmm, what a talented woman you are, Alina…” He said with a smile, his hazel eyes locked on the path his hand was drawing up her torso, his fingertips drawing invisible shapes that had goose bumps trailing all over her skin, right through the layers of fabric she was wearing.
Alina felt a shudder break through her control. Nikolai had this effect on her, even when the steamiest thing they had done all afternoon was kissing, he managed to turn her on with just one look.
“Hum…” She cleared her throat, “I just work hard on what I do.”
Nikolai arched an eyebrow and leaned in, close enough for his breath to tickle her lips, “But you can’t cultivate talent with just hard work, sunshine.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, thumb lingering on her skin, “You need…” His thumb moved to her lower lip to trace it, “Passion.”
“I thought…” She let out, feeling a little breathless, “You said you wouldn’t seduce me into sex here…”
“I love it when you quote me…” He brushed his lips over her cheek and pressed a soft kiss, “But I was going to suggest us returning to our room and getting… cosy.”
She took a hold of his collar and pulled him down for a heated kiss, “I like that.”
A few days later, and with most of the trip being divided between exploring the land and sleeping together, Alina and Nikolai were holed up in their room. A blessed storm had given them the perfect excuse to stay in bed all day, and Alina couldn’t have been happier about it.
Although she would rather die before admitting such a thing.
Before admitting she loved being wrapped in Nikolai’s embrace and just stay there. Saints help her, she wasn’t in love but by all the stars… She was growing dangerously fond of him. Maybe even… falling for him.
A soft kiss was pressed to the back of her neck. “Should I order food?” Nikolai asked, his voice groggy from sleep and sex.
She nodded and looked over her shoulder, “Please do. You spent the hell out of me.”
His chuckle was equal parts delight and mischievous, “And we can’t go for the next round if we don’t get some food in your system, can we? And may I add… I love knowing I’m the one responsible for your current state.”
She rolled her eyes and elbowed him lightly, “Of course you do, with that ego…!”
With another chuckle, Nikolai got up and ordered some food. During that time, Alina thought of the impending end of her trip and how it felt too… short. She was terrified of the possibility of falling for his man but… She also wanted to see where it could go. If… If he wanted to see it too.
“You know…” She waited to until he looked over his shoulder, his eyes catching hers in the room’s dim light, “I could extend my trip. You’ve helped with the money part, so my trip budget still has room for extra days…”
Her heart soared as she saw Nikolai’s eyes light up with something akin to pure bliss.
Then it sunk when that bliss shuttered and he looked away, his mouth forming an ominous straight line.
“Alina… There’s…” He cleared his throat and raked a hand through his hair, “I… There’s something I should have told you sooner. About me.”
Dread wrapped a cold hand around her throat, “What are you talking about?”
He set his jaw and looked away before taking a deep breath, “My name isn’t Nikolai Sturmhond. That's an alias I use when I want to go incognito.”
She frowned, “Why? Who are you then?”
His hazel eyes flickered to hers, something akin to pain burning in them, “My name is Nikolai Lantsov, sunshine. I’m the crown prince of Ravka.”
Alina felt the world slow down to a lazy crawl. He was… And she’d been… She’d been having hot, dirty sex with the prince? And in all their conversations to… to get to know each other… He’d never…
She was about to ask him why he’d hidden the truth like that when he spoke again, “And there’s something else, Alina… I’m… Well, this trip… It was sort of my last hurrah.” He focused his gaze on the floor, “As per agreement with my mother.”
“Agreement on what?” She let out in a whisper, anger and pain and confusing dripping from each word.
His gaze flickered to hers again for once brief moment, “On me accepting an engagement to a woman of her choice.”
That meant… That meant he was engaged. To someone else. All this time… All this time he’d been involved with her, he’d also been engaged to marry someone else. She felt sick. And hurt. And betrayed.
“Sunshine…” His voice trembled. But she wasn’t about to let his vulnerability win her over, not anymore.
“And stop calling me that!” She snapped at him and aimed a pillow at his head, “Sleep somewhere else and call pet names to someone else, you bastard!” Her voice broke and she looked away, “Sleep in the bathtub or the floor, for all I care. But I don’t want to see you ever again, Nikolai.”
Silence, heavy and unbreathable, settled between them.
Then Nikolai took a shuddered breath and nodded, “I’ll… I’ll go. I’ll see if I can find another room.
And then he grabbed his clothes and left the room with one final glance that Alina refused to acknowledge. She was too busy trying not to cry.
The sound of the door locking softly behind him felt like a canon going off in her ears. Shattering her to pieces.
And then she cried.
A few days later…
She sat in Genya’s couch, nursing a mug of hot tea as her friend bustled about the kitchen, looking for some special cookies. “I swear I had them here! Bought them just for you! Aha! Here we go.” She sang the last word and sat down next to Alina, offering a box of cinnamon cookies shaped like stars and moons and even foxes.
Alina grabbed one and bit on it half-heartedly, her mind far away from this room.
“Alina… What’s the matter?”
She frowned in feigned confusion, “What are you talking about?”
Genya rolled her eyes and pursed her lips to one side, worry marring her features, “You’re a bit off. You’re not paying attention to much. And you came back from your trip a week earlier. Not to mention this is all such a stark opposite to how you sounded during your calls from Ireland. You seemed so happy you could barely contain it. Like…” Genya gestured at the air, “I could hear the smile in your voice! Then you return early… Like this. Something’s wrong. Tell me, Alina… I can’t help you feel better if you don’t tell me.”
Alina shrugged and looked away, “Turns out the trip wasn’t as fun as I thought.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“That’s it.” She said. And then the TV betrayed her with news on… him.
Alina took in a sharp breath as his smiling face took centre stage with the headline about his...
“The prince is finally getting engaged?” Genya asked aloud, “I honestly thought he’d avoid that for as long as possible… Alina?”
Alina couldn’t take her eyes off of him. Those words. The beautiful woman in his arm. Her eyes grew blurry and she quickly wiped them. She wasn’t going to cry over him again, never again.
“Alina…” Genya touched her arm gently and slowly managed to get her attention back, “Tell me.”
She swallowed down and took in a shuddered breath, “He lied, Genya. He pretended to be just some guy when he was…” A sob surprised her, “When he was the prince! And engaged!” Her voice cut through the air, her heartache too strong for an even voice.
Understanding dawned on Genya. The next moment the TV was off, and she was pulling Alina into a tight hug and whispering comforting words to her friend. It’ll be all right. It would be all alright…
Six months later
Alina’s laptop was rudely snapped closed, and she barely had time to take her hands away or risk losing fingers.
She looked up offended, her eyes turning to slits at her red-headed friend, “Genya! What the hell?”
Genya placed both hands on her hips and shrugged off Alina’s anger, “You need a break, Alina. You’ve been drowning yourself in work, work, work!”
Alina looked away with a huff and crossed her arms, “I’ve been working, that’s all. You know it’s a busy time.”
“Ridiculous excuse that we both know is weak as heck. You’ve been drowning yourself in your work ever since you can back from that trip. And you need a break. A serious one, not just a prolonged lunch with the girls.”
She rolled her eyes and tried to reach for her laptop. But Genya snatched it away in a blink. “Hey! That’s mine! And I don’t need any break, Genya. I’m doing perfectly fine.”
“Yeah right, and I’m the queen of Ravka.” Genya sighed and her eyes saddened a little, “Alina, you’re one of my best friends and I hate seeing you like this.” Then she snapped her fingers and winked at her, “Which is why you’re coming with me, Zoya, Tamar and Nadia to Scotland!”
Alina blinked twice, fast and confused, “Scotland? Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. And you better pack fast and well because we leave tomorrow.”
Alina watched in horror as Genya walked away with her laptop in hand, “Really? And you’re kidnapping my laptop to make sure I go?”
“I’m putting it back in your study and locking the door. You’re not taking it with you. Now go,” She looked over her shoulder with a grin, “Pack your things, we’re going on a trip!”
Alina eyed the cottage Zoya had rented for their trip. It was… fantastic, if she were being honest. It made her want to stay there forever. But for consistency sake, she kept her frown on for a little longer, grumbling at Genya once more on how she didn’t need to be coerced into leaving her home.
“You needed a change of air. Like we all did. And it’s been a while since we’ve had some girl time anyways.” Genya offered with a wink and walked through the front door.
Immediately they were greeted with warmth. The fireplace in the living room was running at a lazy pace and heating up the place quite nicely. To their left an arch in the wall led to the kitchen, where a round dinner table sat. Right in front of the door was a set of stairs that led to the first floor, where the girls found four small rooms. The ideal amount, as Tamar mentioned with a wink in Nadia’s direction.
“Wait until you see the beds, then you can decide if it’s great or not.” Zoya said with an arched eyebrow. She entered through one door and made a non-committal sound, “If they’re all like this one, we’re not bad. I’d prefer a larger bed but…”
“Why? You can’t sleep if it’s not in starfish position?” Genya bumped her shoulder and moved to the next room with a chuckle.
Zoya pursed her lips, “I like to have space, Genya. And I don’t sleep in starfish position.”
“Of course. You sleep in vampire queen position.” Alina let out, finally letting go of her frown as the warmth of the place and the company of her friends finally melted away her mood.
Nadia snorted behind Tamar as Zoya settled her cold blue eyes on Alina. Then, a corner of her mouth tilted up and she nodded once, “Touché.” She paused, “This one’s mine.” Then she was putting her things on the bed.
Before long the girls had all picked their rooms and were settling downstairs with a batch of freshly made coffee.
A bird chirp startled Genya just as she was reaching for a cookie. She reached for her phone and in a blink her face lit up.
“What’s gotten you so happy?” Alina asked.
“I bet it’s David.” Zoya replied with a wicked grin, “Ever since Genya got his number they keep trading actual letter-length messages every day. You know, the whole reason she stops listening to us for five minutes straight during our lunches.”
“I do not!” Genya complained. But Alina grinned nevertheless, very aware of Genya’s new beau and constant distraction. Tamar and Nadia chuckled into their mugs. Genya frowned at everyone’s reaction for a moment before continuing to read her message. Then her bright smile returned, “David invited us to stop by!”
Stop… by? Alina frowned, confused with this statement. Wasn’t David back in Ravka?
“Stop by?” Nadia voiced Alina’s question.
Genya nodded, “Yes! He’s staying in the area with his friends as well. He invited us to stop by this afternoon!”
Alina cut a glare to her friend, “So… Girl time, huh? When were you going to tell us about this?”
Genya flashed a sheepish smile, “I swear I didn’t plan this trip with him in mind. But when I said I was going away for a couple of weeks… Well, he said he too was coming here.” She shrugged, “I swear!”
A long pause followed. And the Zoya put her mug away and sighed, “I guess we’ll be visiting David.” She eyed Genya, “Why on earth did he invite us all if you’re probably looking for some makeout time?”
Genya’s freckled disappeared in the blush that coloured her cheeks, “We’re not, Zoya! And he specifically mention all of us. He wants to show us the place he’s staying in.”
“I take it it’s not a cute cottage like ours.” Tamar offered.
Genya shook her head, “It’s like an old mansion. He says it’s exciting!”
Zoya snorted, “David’s exciting can be very different from my exciting, Gen.”
“Shut up! And go get ready. And bring your boots, I don’t think we’ll need to take the car.”
All right, David had friends in high places.
That was all Alina could conclude upon seeing the ancient house, a mansion that looked more like a castle than anything else. And it was in pristine condition. The gardens were exquisite, not a leaf out of place. The windows looked freshly refurnished and the main door looked like it could handle two wars.
The hall was… breathtaking. Two tall windows from the stairs offered a rainbow of coloured lights as the morning sun filtered through the sainted glass in almost magically places beams of light. The carpet lining the floor and the stairs was old, but it seemed to be in better condition than half of her towels back home.
David took the girls through a quick tour around the ground floor before settling with them in the kitchen, where he started to make tea. His eyes seemed to constantly find Genya, no matter where he stood, and Genya… Well, she couldn’t keep her own eyes off of him. Even if he was having a conversation about types of weapons with Tamar.
“Really, the amount of metal wielding techniques is staggering. I swear…” He chuckled and double checked the water, “It’s an adventure to study them all. At least those that we have information on.”
Tamar nodded, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Those swords…” she let out a breath and laced her fingers through Nadia’s, “I hope you let me take a closer look at them, David. I want to pry them open. Metaphorically speaking.”
“Of course. I’ll just have to ask Nikolai about it.”
In that moment, Alina looked back from the scenery sprawled outside and focused back in the conversation, “Did you say…?”
And just then, another voice carried through the corridor, “David! Can you tell me where you left those reports on…” Hazel eyes. Beautiful as the last day she’d seen them. “Alina…?”
She stood there frozen. “Nikolai…”
“ALINA!! Please stop!” Genya rushed after her, carrying a large, black umbrella after Alina had run off with their own. “Alina!”
Alina stopped and whirled on the spot, clutching her umbrella so hard her knuckles turned white, “Did you plan this?! Did you know he was here?!”
Genya halted, her face distorted with pain and regret, “No! I swear! I told you the truth about David’s trip and invitation, Alina.”
“Then what about Nikolai?! You must have known, since you’ve been dating David for a while now!”
“I…” Genya started and looked away, “I knew of him. But I’d asked David if he’d be around. He said Nikolai was busy in his study and wasn’t about to leave any time soon.”
Alina set her jaw, “Well, he did. And you still kept this fact from me. What were you hoping to achieve, Genya?”
Genya bristled, “Nothing, Alina! I just wanted you to get out of your head and take a breather! When I found out he was here I… I couldn’t just cancel our trip. Not after we were settled in!” She breathed hard, then a spark came to life in her eyes, “But maybe it’s good!”
Alina dropped her voice to a cold whisper, “Good?”
“Yes. Maybe this is the chance you two have to clear the air! You two broke things off so fast, without any closure… Maybe this is your chance to get it, Alina.”
She shook her head and looked away, tired of seeing that place in the backdrop. Tired of that tiny hope that Nikolai would too follow her… “He had his chance, Genya. He ruined it. I… I want to go back to our cottage. Please.”
Genya seemed keen on saying more, but then she nodded, “Ok, let’s go home. I’ll… I’ll plan another visit with David.”
That night Alina barely talked at dinner, letting her friends talk among themselves. Then she left for bed early, hoping a good night sleep would help her feel better.
“So… He’s not as impressive as the magazines make him out to be.” Zoya said after Alina’s door was closed.
“That’s your takeaway from today?” Genya said.
Zoya shrugged, “What? I’m just saying. He’s good looking, but I wouldn’t take him for a spin unless I was desperate.” She paused, “Not that I’m saying Alina made a bad choice. They clearly have sizzling chemistry.”
“Should I let Harshaw know that meeting the prince in person has only strengthened your relationship or…?” Tamar asked as she arrived from the kitchen, a bottle of scotch in her hand, a tray with glasses in the other.
Zoya scoffed and crossed her arms, “We’re just…”
“Sex buddies.” Nadia finished, “Oh Zoya, you know we know that’s not the truth.”
Zoya scoffed again, “We’re not talking about me.”
“No, we’re talking about how Alina and the prince looked as though struck by lightning.” Tamar poured the scotch and passed the glasses around. “I know you didn’t plan this far ahead, Genya, but now that the pieces are in place… What’s your plan?”
Genya chewed on her lip, “I don’t know. I don’t want to force Alina to do anything she doesn’t want to do, but they clearly need to talk it out. We’ll be here for a couple of weeks, maybe we can look for chances and let them happen?”
“You’re not scheming? Are you ill?” Zoya barked a laugh, “Seriously, Genya?”
Genya flinched, “You saw how angry she was when she thought I’d tricked her. I can’t actually do it now.” She sipped on her scotch and made a face, “Eugh, can’t believe you guys like this…” she set it down and looked up with a grin, “But that doesn’t mean I won’t nudge them together if I get the chance.”
“That’s the Genya we know.” Zoya chuckled.
“Let’s just hope things work out, I hate seeing Alina like this.” Nadia said.
The girls agreed and silence settled for a moment. Then conversation started again and they talked until the late evening, about anything and everything.
A couple of days later, the girls were invited for a dinner at the castle. It would have been extremely rude to refuse, so Alina found herself sitting at a long table of dark wood and eating food she suspected had been made by Nikolai himself.
The man that haunted her sleep sat at the head of the table. Alina, thankfully, had people between them at the right angle that she could easily pretend the hazel eyed bastard wasn’t even in that room.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and soon she found herself wandering around the house, doing her best to avoid accidentally mingling with him.
Her wandering feet took her to a study on the first floor. Three walls were covered in shelves, which were full to the brim with books and all kinds of trinkets. She peered at the spines. There were old books, worn out books, barely read books, tiny books and massive books. The collection was a kaleidoscope, a far cry from the kind of shelves Alina would have expected to find in a study like this one. Especially one belonging to a royal.
And then there were the trinkets. Old spyglasses and pocket watches. Hand painted mugs full of cliché tourist souvenirs from around the world. Dried flowers in glass bells. And…
“It can’t be…” She gasped. With a trembling hand, Alina reached for a small pebble sitting in front of an old Irish atlas. Its surface was rough, made of a myriad of colours. But that wasn’t what was so special about it. What was so special were the figures painted on its surface.
One side had a bright yellow sun. The other had a grinning fox.
She’d painted it by the lake that day… Nikolai still had it?
“I was wondering if you’d left early…”
Alina whirled on the spot, her heart jumping through hoops at the sound of Nikolai’s voice. And then at the sight of him.
“I…” She cleared her throat and put away the stone. “I needed a moment alone.”
He nodded and stepped into the study, hands in his pockets, eyes guarded. “I can see that.” A pause. His gaze roamed her face, her body, back to her face. As if he was making sure she was real. “How are you?”
She worked her jaw and looked away, “Fine.”
“Alina… I’m sorry.” His voice broke a little, “I did it all wrong and I hurt you… Please…”
She shook her head, “No. Stop. There’s nothing you can say that will change what happened.” Then she stormed out of the room, making sure to avoid touching or looking at him. She would be a fool to give him a chance, a fool! There was no way she’d let him slither his way into her life again, no matter how hard her heart wanted it.
Their first week of vacations passed in a blur. The girls went hiking and exploring and visiting nearby towns, having all the fun that Genya had promised back in Ravka.
Alina could almost forget Nikolai’s presence so near, her attention distracted with fun adventures spent with her closest friends.
But of course, even her friends had separate plans sometimes.
“Oh, I hope David doesn’t arrive late. I booked us a spot and really don’t want to miss it.” Genya chewed on her thumb, worry all over her face.
Zoya scoffed, “Relax, you have plenty of time to arrive at the museum.” She looked at her phone, “And I have to leave if I want that spa exclusive…”
Tamar and Nadia had left for a romantic date. Which left Alina.
“Are you sure you don’t mind walking back home?” Genya frowned again.
Alina nodded, “I’ll be fine. I have the boots and the umbrella. And Zoya will take the groceries back home with her.”
Zoya nodded, “Yes, I will. Still, I could drop you off…”
Alina shook her head, “I could use the walk. Go on, have fun. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Her friends nodded and hugged her goodbye before Alina set out towards their cottage, a long walk ahead of her. She eyed the stormy clouds rolling in. Maybe a brisk pace would be better than the original idea of a calm stroll…
Maybe running would have been better.
Alina clutched the handle of her umbrella and hopped over a large puddle, skidding on the muddy road for one horrifying moment. Saints, what was she thinking? This was Scotland! It rained like crazy, just like in Ireland. Yet she’d thought she could outrun the storm and get home in one piece.
A car honked, nearly startling her into another puddle. Then it rolled by her. She turned to it, tossing aside any fears of being caught by a mass murderer. Right now, a ride would be wonderful.
“What the hell are you doing here?!” She hissed at the rolled window, staring straight at Nikolai’s beaming face.
“Good morning to you too, sunshine!” He said, his mouth parted in a perfect smile. “Want a ride? It’s a terrible storm out there.”
She ground her teeth for a moment. Was it worth it? No, it wasn’t.
“Fine.” Then she quickly hoped into the car and demanded him to drive. In silence.
“How are you, Alina?” His voice broke the silence after a few minutes.
She looked outside and worked her jaw, “Fine.”
“Is that your favourite word of the moment?” He said, sparing her a quick glance before he turned into a side road.
“I’m doing just fine, Nikolai. Do you want me to whip out a thesaurus to give you a different word with the same meaning?”
He nodded, “All right, I believe you.” Silence settled as Nikolai drove slowly through the storm, the downpour so heavy they could hardly see anything in front of them. “I…” He started but his voice died out. He tried again a couple more times before shaking his head, clearing his throat and tightening his grip on the wheel, “I’m sorry, Alina.”
Her heart stuttered. She swallowed down thickly, but still refused to give him an answer.
It didn’t seem to bother him much, as Nikolai started again after another moment, “I did it all wrong. I should have… I—I shouldn’t have kept the truth from you like that. Yet I did, and I hurt you and I can never forgive myself for hurting you so much.” He shook his head again and passed a wild hand through his hair, “I’d wanted to tell you but how could I? Was there a right time? A right way? And how could I tell you who I was without jeopardizing the little heaven we’d made for each other?”
“I deserved the truth, Nikolai…” She finally replied, her voice little more than a whisper, hoarse with the effort of holding back unexpected tears.
He nodded, “You did, Alina. You did… And I knew that. I just… I didn’t know how to tell you. Everything would change once I did. Every single relationship I’ve had, no matter how short or long it was… It was always ruled by my blood. My heritage. My inheritance. I never knew for certain if the person I was with actually cared for me or for my crown. Then I met you…” His voice gained a lightness that had Alina’s poor heart swelling a little, “You didn’t recognize me. And you had no problem in calling me out whenever and wherever. You…” He chuckled, “You were a force of nature that had waltzed into my life. And you were so brilliant and beautiful and I…” A woosh of air escaped him, “I was dazzled. Stunned beyond words.”
Alina swallowed down slowly and dared a glimpse towards him. Nikolai was staring straight ahead, keeping his eye on the road, but a nostalgic smile tugged on his lips, making her wistful for those days they shared together.
“Of course, I didn’t expect anything to happen that night. Yes, I had hopes we could share a meal the next day, maybe suggest we stay together a little longer but…” he bit his lip, “Well, nevertheless, something did happen. You rocked my world.” A pause, “The next days we spent together were a dream. Though my identity hung over my head I couldn’t… I didn’t want to lose you. What we had. I know it’s silly, but with you I could be myself entirely. No roles, no secrets. Myself.” He took in a breath, “But then that night you said you could stay longer… And I knew I couldn’t keep it up. I had to tell you.”
Finally, Alina looked away, unable to ignore the pain that night still provoked in her. “I get you wanting to be normal for once but… You’re engaged, Nikolai. You shouldn’t have gotten involved with me in the first place!”
He let out a bitter laugh, “It was hardly an engagement, Alina. It was an arrangement my mother had been working on for months. It wasn’t even agreed on officially during my trip. It would become official once I returned. It became official.” He added in a small voice, “I barely knew her, it was barely a relationship what I had with her… But you…” He looked her way, she could feel the weight of his gaze, “What I had with you was something. It was a relationship. It had meaning.”
“Whatever you’re trying to get at… You’re engaged, so stop it.”
“I’m not engaged, Alina.” Her heart stopped beating, “I broke it off over a month ago.”
She looked at him, shock and distrust making it hard to breathe normally, “But just before I left the news were all over it. Some venue or something.”
He shrugged, “It’s not official yet, but we parted ways and I told my mother how I felt. She isn’t happy, but she accepts that I’m my own person and I deserve to choose my wife on my own terms.” He sighed, “This trip was a getaway trip. I wanted time for myself, to plan what to do next. I brought my friends along because I didn’t want to be alone. Then one day you show up…” He stopped the car.
Alina could see the cottage just ahead.
Her heart raced wilder and faster than a tropical storm tearing down the world. Nikolai’s apology and revelation… It was too much. How could she…?
“Alina?” He called after her as she suddenly fled the car, not caring for the storm that hailed down on her. “ALINA!”
Much to her chagrin, Nikolai left the car as well and raced after her, his voice almost drowning in the storm raging around them. He caught her hand and she whirled on him, “I can’t do this! I don’t know how!” She screamed.
Confusion marred his face, “Do what?”
“I can’t…! I don’t know how to hate you anymore! I don’t know how to hate you when you apologised like that, when you said you weren’t engaged anymore!” She punched his chest and let her tears fall freely at last, “You wormed your way into my heart then broke it, you bastard! And I was happy with hating you when you were a lying, cheating royal ass.” A sob shook her body and Nikolai gingerly held her closer, “I liked the way you called me sunshine. The way you made me smile so easily. I liked it so much when you held me close…” She let the words come out after keeping them locked up for so long, “The way you made me feel so good whether we were having mind blowing sex or just hiking through the wilderness. I let myself feel safe with you…” Her voice died a little, “I thought you were different.”
“Alina…” His eyes shinned with a thousand emotions, regret and pain and something warm shining brighter than the rest, “Sunshine…” He added, much to her stupid heart’s delight, “I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to…”
She shook her head and punched him again, with less effort put into the punch, as if her body had already forgotten how to hate him, “I don’t know…” She looked up at him, hardly noticing the downpour drenching her every belonging, “Why didn’t you try to find me?” She finally said, her voice tiny and lost.
Nikolai’s mouth curled up in a sad smile, “You didn’t want me around, Alina. As much as I wanted to fix things, to make it up to you…” He sighed and pushed away the hair that was dripping to his eyes, “I owed you that much. To… To let you go.”
She stared up at him, unable to form any coherent thought. A million things raced through her mind, a million thoughts, a million dreams and wishes and memories. It was a confusing storm raging inside her heart, in sync with the storm raging outside. Yet one thing stood out amidst it all. Nikolai.
The way he made her feel, the way he looked at her… She wished nothing had happened that day. That they were still on that trip, living a dream together.
“What now?” She said.
A hopeful smile danced on Nikolai’s lips as he stepped forward and pulled her closer. “I’d like another chance, sunshine. A chance to make it up to you, to…” He lifted a hand and brushed his knuckles over her cheek, “To have something special with you again. I know it was short lived, but we had something special, Alina. We could… We could try again.”
Maybe it was naïve of her, maybe it was stupid… But maybe it was also the kind of leap of faith one had to take once in a while to live a full life.
She nodded, “I’d like that.”
Nikolai smiled a smile that rivalled the sun. Her heart lurched. And then he was kissing her and her heart forgot how to beat normally.
They stumbled into the cottage amidst kisses and laughter, the two of them drenched to the bones. Nikolai pulled her in for another heart stopping kiss before closing the door behind them and tugging her towards the living room, his hands and lips never straying too far from her body.
“How about I get the fire started?” He said between kisses, a hand releasing Alina from her coat.
“Is that… Oh…” She lost track of her thought when Nikolai kissed her neck, right where her blood pulsed hard. God, he hadn’t forgotten. She let out a breathy moan as he kept teasing the sweet spot, and after a while, she finally managed to finish her sentence, “Right… Was… Was that an innuendo?”
Nikolai’s chuckle warmed her skin before he stood straighter, a smile lingering on his lips. He reached for her hair and pushed it away from her face with a tenderness that stole her breath away. Then he poked her nose and winked, “I meant the fireplace, sunshine. And I certainly hope that other fire is already started, considering the way you just reacted to my kisses.”
She rolled her eyes, “You’re such an idiot.”
He hummed, “Yes, I know. About that fire…” He wiggled his eyebrows and tugged on her sweater, “We need to get rid of these soaking things before you catch a cold.”
She bit on her lip and let him take away another layer of clothes. Then she grabbed his hand and towed him up the stairs, “My room, Nikolai. I don’t know when the girls will come back, but I really don’t want to risk them catching us in inappropriate positions.”
“Inappropriate?” Nikolai gasped, though Alina could hear the grin in his voice, “Everything I do with you and to you is appropriate by miles, sunshine.”
They reached her room and she shut the door quickly before turning back to him, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I missed your ridiculous speech so much.”
Nikolai’s mischievous grin softened as he cupped her face between his hands and leaned in to press a soft, lingering kiss on her lips, “I missed you.”
Her heart threatened to melt at the way his voice softened just then. “I missed you too.” She whispered back, letting out a breath when he trailed a line of hot kisses down her neck.
Then he was gone, making a beeline to the small fireplace that stood at the corner of her room. Within seconds, Nikolai had lit up a fire, a feature that always took Alina at least one minute of several failed smoky attempts.
“How the hell did you get it to start so fast?” She asked dumbly, slightly offended at the wood and kindle.
Nikolai stood with a playful grin, “I’m just that good at starting fires, sunshine.” He leaned in to poke her nose when she rolled her eyes, “Really good. Fantastic, even.” He eyed the rest of their clothes and tsked, “We should take care of these.” Then, before she could say another thing, he was undressing himself.
She watched in lustful awe as he revealed his body bit by bit. Holy saints, he was still a vision. And she had missed it very, very much.
“Need help?” He asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes, as if he knew exactly how dumbstruck his naked self drove Alina. She dumbly nodded, not caring for one moment if he had to do all the work. She loved being undressed by the insufferable idiot. Especially when he was naked already.
Soon Nikolai had left Alina in nothing but her panties, his fingers trailing playfully along their waistband. He’d undressed her clinically, barely teasing her until this point. His hazel eyes were dark with unguarded desire, his luxurious lips flushed with all the times he gnawed them.
Alina felt every single cell in her body shimmer with the way he watched her. The way he took his time observing her body, as if this could be the last time he got to see her. Then he leaned in and kissed her slowly, a hand cupping the nape of her neck while the other pulled her flush against him. “You’re so beautiful, Alina…” He rasped against the kiss and slowly tugged her towards the bed, “So incredible…” He laid her down and slowly trailed along her jaw, each kiss placed with extra care.
All along, Alina fought for breath, her heart hammering so fast and so hard it was a wonder it had even time between beats. “Nikolai… please…” She rasped, eyes shuttered as his hands and mouth took their time mapping her body, touching her, teasing her, tasting her.
She let out a gasp when Nikolai took a nipple between his teeth and sucked on it at length, licking and teasing it until all Alina could let out were moans after moans. Then he did the same to the other, a hand slowly snaking between her thighs to tease her pounding centre. It didn’t take long before Alina was crying out for him, his name holy on her lips as her body combusted with raw pleasure.
“My sunshine…” He said in a whisper as he braced over her and leaned in to kiss her cheek, “My beautiful, wonderful, magnificent sunshine…” He brushed his nose against hers, the touch so soft and tender it had her heart overflowing, “I love you so much, Alina… So much…”
That was… That was almost too much. Almost.
She dragged her hands through his hair and pulled him closer for a kiss, “I… I love you too, Nikolai. I…” she let out a surprised chuckle, “I guess I hadn’t realised it until now.”
He pulled away for a moment, a smile full of wonder lighting up his face, “I cannot put into words how happy that makes me, sunshine. To hear you say those words, to know you feel the same…” He shook his head and kissed her again, a smile on his lips, stuck forever as it seemed. “I want to kiss you forever, sunshine. Forever…” Then, without waiting another second, he sank into her and Alina lost herself in the moment.
They moved together slowly, languidly. Remembering each other’s body, each other’s likes and needs and desires. They kissed at length and whispered little nothings, moving a little faster little by little. Soon their rhythm had gained speed, the two giving in to their mutual desire, to that need to come undone together at last.
Alina moaned loud with each thrust of Nikolai’s, her hands dragging through his hair and down his back, her hips meeting his movements with enthusiasm. It felt so good, to be with him like this. So… good…
“Yes... Yes… Oh… God…!” Alina cried out a wordless sound when at last she rolled over the edge, the orgasm crashing into her in full force as Nikolai thrust hard into her with his own undoing, her name a prayer on his lips.
They rode their high together, holding fast to each other. This was, without a doubt, the best night in Alina’s life.
Later that day, the storm had lost some of its strength, though the wind still howled through the trees and the rain still battered against the windows.
Alina laid in Nikolai’s arms, her heart full to the brim with happiness. She’d just returned from the bathroom to find Nikolai carefully setting their clothes over her chairs so they’d dry a little faster. She didn’t know what about the scene made her so emotional, but something about the way he took extra care with the task had her heart swelling twice its size.
Then there was the sight of him butt naked, of course.
He’d sensed her, flashed his trademark grin and led her back to bed.
“I don’t want to fall asleep yet.” She mumbled, eyes trained on the fireplace, her heart beating happily as Nikolai passed his fingers through her hair, the gesture so soft it took her breath away.
She shrugged, “I don’t know. I’m afraid I’ll wake up and find out this was a dream.”
Nikolai remained silent for a too long moment. Then he kissed her crown and held her closer, “How about a dream come true, sunshine?”
She looked up. Those eyes of his were beautifully illuminated by the firelight, yet there was another fire burning in their depths, adding an extra shine to those unforgettable shades of green and brown and golden. It was though he was daring reality itself to ruin their moment, their happiness. He would fight it barehanded, just to prove Alina this wasn’t a dream. That in fact, it was a dream come to life, at last.
“That sounds… perfect.” She finally said.
A soft smile unfurled on his lips as he leaned in to kiss her forehead first, then her lips, “Indeed.” He kissed her again, “So, now that I’ve thwarted your fears… how about a little nap?”
Just on cue, a yawn broke through. Nikolai chuckled while Alina groaned a little, but still allowed him to tuck her in, “I’ll be needing seconds.” She said.
Nikolai’s eyes earned a lewd sparkle, “And thirds, I bet.” He brushed his thumb over her lower lip and kissed her cheek, “Not to worry, my sunshine, I will satisfy every need of yours. After we rest.”
She nodded. And anything he might have said after was lost, as sleep quickly took over.
The sun had just set by the time Alina emerged from her bedroom, hair in a tangled mess, cheeks permanently blushed. She padded down the stairs and straight to the kitchen where she hear Nikolai buzzing about.
He beamed at her the moment Alina came into view, “Hello, sunshine. Sleep well?”
Alina nodded, “Yeah, like a rock.”
“Guess those seconds and thirds will have to wait a little longer,” He said with a chuckle. Then his eyes travelled down her body and a look of recognition illuminated his face. God, how could someone be this gorgeous? “Is that my old shirt?” He nodded at her outfit of choice.
Alina shifted her feet and played with the hem of her makeshift pyjamas. It was his shirt. That old, threadbare teal t-shirt he’d worn so many times and that Alina had ended up stealing whenever she didn’t feel like looking for anything else. “Yeah,” She said, keeping her eyes down as embarrassment took over, “I found it in my things when I got home and I…” She shrugged, “I couldn’t throw it away.”
Nikolai settled down the spatula he’d been holding and pulled her in with a soft tug. Alina stumbled into his embrace and settled her hands on his chest, feeling his warmth and the way his heart drummed so happily under her touch. “I always thought it looked better on you.” He nuzzled his nose against hers, “I’m glad you kept it.”
“Me too,” she admitted in a soft voice.
He dropped his head to the crook of her neck and pulled her in for a hug, wrapping his arms tightly around her small frame. “I want to ask you something, sunshine…” His voice was muffled against her skin, and he sounded very… nervous.
“Will you go out with me? On a real, official date?”
Saints. He was nervous!
“Didn’t we basically do that back in Ireland?” She said with a chuckle.
“We’re rekindling,” He mumbled, “I have to ask you out like a proper lover.”
Lover… The word send chills up her body, made her heart skitter and her lady bits shiver in excitement. God, she was weak for him, wasn’t she?
“Not boyfriend?” She heard herself say.
Nikolai looked up, eyes wide with surprise, “I was thinking of asking that after a date, sunshine.” His lips trembled with a nervous smile that threatened to burst through, “Unless you want to make that decision already?”
She chewed on her lip, “I…” A pause, and his smile dimmed a little, “It’s such a big decision…”
Confusion replaced his guarded hope, “What do you mean?”
“Well… If we make this official… Everyone will know. Your mother, the kingdom, the media… It’s basically a prelude to marriage.”
Nikolai looked on at her for a moment longer, and then he beamed at her, “Thinking of marriage already, sunshine? Was I that good earlier today?”
Alina smacked him, “You’re so insufferable, Nikolai!”
“Yes, it’s part of my charm.” He winked for good measure.
“I meant…” She fumbled with her words. What did she mean? Her mind was a mess of confusion. “I… Ugh. I meant that… What if we do date? But then it ends? It’s not like an ordinary relationship, Nikolai. Everyone will keep tabs on us. On you. You’re their future ruler. And they’ll be waiting to see if I… if I…” Her voice trailed off as the future towered over her. God. If things worked out perfectly between them… She’d be queen.
Nikolai tilted her chin up and bored his big eyes into hers, “Yes, sunshine. That’s all true. But I don’t want you to worry so much over what ifs and a distant future.” He stroked her cheek and trailed his hand to the nape of her head, “I love you, Alina. I… I hoped we could see where this could go.”
“But what about…”
“I know. It’s all… overwhelming. But what if we think on it together? As a couple? Instead of ending things before they start?” He looked down, deep golden eyelashes fanning over his skin, “I don’t want you to leave my life again, Alina. Call me selfish, but I want to know. I want to be with you, give you the love you deserve or die trying.”
His voice was full of intent. As if he could carve it all into the fabric of time itself.
Alina couldn’t help a chuckle, “Die trying? This isn’t some high fantasy tale, Nikolai. No one has to die for anything.” She leaned in and pressed her forehead to his chest, “You’re right. I’m scared of trying. I’m scared of getting hurt again…”
“I won’t hurt you again, my love. I’d rather…”
“Die?” She finished for him and Nikolai let out a breathy chuckle.
“You’re so dramatic.” She paused, then… “All right. I… We can go on a date. See where this goes.”
She looked up to find Nikolai beaming brighter than the sun. Saints, he was too beautiful! They leaned into a kiss when suddenly the front door burst open.
“We’re home!” Genya yelled into the house, only to stop short upon finding Alina and Nikolai in a tight embrace, both wearing very little. “Oh saints! Forget that! We’ll be in our rooms! Quickly!”
Before Alina could utter a word, her friends rushed up the stairs, with Nadia carefully avoiding looking their way when she closed the door, and just like that they were all alone once more.
Alina blinked twice. Then she hid her face in Nikolai’s chest and groaned, “This is so embarrassing!”
His laughter was light and full of happiness, “For whom?”
“I think your friends were happier to see us together than anything else, sunshine.”
“They still caught us ready to pound!”
“Pound?” Nikolai leaned back and arched an eyebrow, “Were you about to… pound me, Alina?”
She groaned and tried to hide again, “Don’t get any ideas! There’ll be no… such thing now that they’re home.”
Nikolai nodded and placed a chaste kiss on her blazing cheek, “But there’ll be breakfast. Up you go, I’ll follow you with the tray. Go on!”
Another night, another dinner at Nikolai’s.
This time Alina had wandered back to his study not out of a need to get away from his watchful gaze but because she would miss this place.
Her eyes found that painted rock once more and she was reaching for it when a voice sounded from the door.
“Hiding from me, sunshine?”
She could hear the smile in his voice. She rolled her eyes and turned to him, “I was just… reminiscing.”
His gaze fell on the rock and he walked towards her, “I remember that day. You couldn’t get enough of me.”
She scoffed, “You sound as if I was all over you.”
Nikolai poked her nose then kissed its tip, “If I remember it correctly, you were.” He said with a lewd smile. Then he sobered up and laced their hands together, “What’s on your mind? You looked far away just now.”
Alina shrugged, “I was just thinking how we got here.” She chewed on the words, “We were just… just having sex.”
“Surely you remember the rest?” Nikolai added with a dramatic gasp.
“Sure, I mean, yeah there was a little more. But it was mostly just…” Alina trailed off, slightly distracted with the thumb Nikolai kept tracing over her knuckles.
“Sexual activities?” He offered with a grin.
Alina rolled her eyes and pushed him lightly, “Come on, Nikolai. Be serious.”
“I’m always serious.”
She cut him a glare, “Really?”
Nikolai’s grin grew into a small beatific smile.
Alina groaned, “You are, without a doubt, the most insufferable man I’ve ever met.”
His smile lit up.
“What? No more clever replies?”
Nikolai leaned in, “Why? Do you want me to? Because I can easily—”
“No!” She hurried to smother his mouth with her free hand, “I’m good. Just… Let me finish this, ok?”
Nikolai captured her hand and placed a soft kiss on her palm, “Of course, sunshine.”
She shook her head, “You’re really one of a kind…” Before he could say anything else, she added, “I’m just… I can’t believe where we started and where we are now, ok? It all feels… Too fantastic. Like a dream.”
“A good one, I hope?”
She bit her lip and nodded slightly, “A really good one. I…” Oh, words failed her so much right now… Alina took a deep breath, “I loved these last few days. I had fun in our dates. And I love you…” She said, the words coming as easy as air with every ticking second, “I guess… I guess I’m trying to say I want to face it all when we get back. I don’t know how it will go but I don’t want to miss out on us.”
“Oh, Alina…” Nikolai cupped her face and leaned in to press the softest tender kiss on her lips. He leaned back a little, letting her see his eyes, how they shined with love and unshed happy tears, “I love you so much, my sunshine. I promise you I will stand by your side through it all. I will never leave you alone, in a metaphorical way of course.” He added with a wink, to which Alina couldn’t hold back an eye roll of her own. Then Nikolai was wrapping his arms around her and pulling her deeper into his embrace and he added, his voice rough with emotion, “I will fight for us, Alina. For you, always.”
She swallowed down thickly and played with a button of his shirt, “Wow… If this is your ‘Let’s be boyfriend and girlfriend officially’ speech, I think I’ll need a chair if we ever take the next step.”
Nikolai beamed at her, “I’m glad you love my speeches so much, they all come from the heart.”
“You seriously expect me to believe you don’t rehearse them?” She asked with an arched eyebrow.
He winked and hugged her tighter, “Now that’s a secret you’ll have to earn, my beloved Alina. And I have a few ideas on how you can do it.”
She laughed, “We can’t skip dessert!”
“Are you certain?”
She shook her head, “Fine, I guess we can.”
Nikolai flashed his trademark grin and pulled on a book at random, quickly opening a secret passage Alina hadn’t seen yet.
She gaped at it, “Seriously?”
“Come on, sunshine. We can’t miss any second.” He took her hand and led her through the house, her heart stomach doing never-ending somersaults in anticipation of what would come next.
Nikolai looked over his shoulder, a blissful smile on his face, and she couldn’t help but smile back at him. They were doing this. Seriously doing this. Together. Officially.
Saints, she couldn’t wait for this adventure.
29 notes · View notes