By: Rachel van Dyken

“It’s… something.” I shivered. “No color?”

“Not here,” he barked, though his eyes seemed to penetrate right through me, like he was waiting for me to run or scream.

I held up my hands, seriously, one minute the guy was calm, not necessarily warm but at least somewhat kind, the next he looked ready to turn a knife on himself—I shivered—or on me.

“Mr. Blazik—“

“Nikolai,” he corrected. “If you don’t mind.”

I ground my teeth together. “Nikolai, is there a reason we’re here?”

“To eat.” He flashed me a white toothy grin that matched perfectly with the décor around us. “And to make sure you get settled in.”

He moved effortlessly through the kitchen and began pulling things from the dinosaur fridge—I couldn’t help thinking of it as T-rex, the thing was so huge—he set some cheese, bread, and grapes on the counter, then pulled out some sliced meat. Everything looked like it had been prepared or catered for a specific event.

I really hoped I wasn’t that special event, but I had a sinking suspicion I was.

I quietly set my purse down on the white couch and made my way over to the kitchen.

Nikolai retrieved a bottle of chilled champagne from T-rex, popped the cork, without injuring me or anything else in the apartment, and poured two glasses.

My hands were still shaking when he gently shoved the glass against my trembling fingers. I hated that I gave myself away so easily—but what woman, I don’t care how strong, wouldn’t be freaking out?

It was all like a bad dream.

Gorgeous billionaire kidnapping me from my drug lord family? Hah, right, I think I read that somewhere in a book.

But this wasn’t a book.

It was as real as death, and something warned me that if I pushed him too far, he’d break—and I’d be caught in the storm, unable to save myself or anything around me.

The terror was coming back full force. I had no idea who this man was—outside of reading magazines and watching interviews on TV. He was brilliant, he was rich, and something about him was clearly… off.

“Let’s make a toast.” Nikolai said, his dark eyes trained on my mouth. “Shall we?” His eyes jerked away from my mouth as if I’d done something offensive like try to breathe or something.

“A toast,” I repeated. “Am I supposed to pretend like this is a happy moment in my life?”

Nikolai set down his flute and pressed his palms flat against the granite, his expression hard, his mouth set in a grim line. “Life doesn’t always go as planned. Think of it this way, you wanted to interview me, and now you have an internship. Make it through the next year, and who knows what doors may open for you?”

“So that’s it…” I held the champagne to my lips. “You want me to pretend I’m okay with this for a year—and when I’m finished being your secretary I get my freedom?”

“Freedom…” He lifted his glass again, his dark gaze finding mine, penetrating to my very soul. “…has to be earned.”

“So,” I said, irritated that my voice came out in a hoarse croak, “how do I earn it?”

He took a long swig of champagne and grinned. “Maybe you should read what’s in that folder… ask and you shall receive, Maya.”

I finished the entire glass of champagne in one gulp.

“Eat.” He tapped his manicured fingertips against the counter. “I’ll be back in three hours to check on you and make sure everything is agreeable.” He started walking toward the door then paused. “Oh, and Maya? I’d really read that folder if I were you.”

“If I read it that means this is really happening.” My voice was shaking, I couldn’t control it anymore than I could control my emotions.

Nikolai hung his head. “Sweetheart, some things have been set into motion for centuries, things you can’t fathom or understand. This moment right here, this is taking place because of things that you have no control over. You coming here today is proof of that. When you sin…” His eyes flashed. “It’s only a matter of time before you’re asked to repent.”

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