LINX CHAPTERS 1-3
The music throbbed out a steady beat, rattling his chest. Linx watched as the woman on the brightly lit stage leapt onto a gold pole, hooking one flawlessly long leg around it. She slowly circled the pole, coming to rest on the floor with her thighs spread wide. Only a thin scrap of material kept him from seeing what the human males called heaven. The woman onstage was almost as perfect as the one currently giving him a lap dance.
Linx was pretty sure that’s what she’d called it. Whatever kind of dance the striking brunette was doing felt good, really good. His body approved.
The brunette swiveled her hips above his lap, brushing her mouthwatering ass over his growing erection. The blonde onstage frowned and slowly slithered toward him on her hands and knees, her pert breasts defying gravity.
Linx smiled, imagining what they’d taste like when he rolled his tongue across her peach-colored nipples.
The topless brunette on his lap scowled at the interloper.
“Don’t worry, pet. I’ll make sure that neither of you leave unsatisfied.” He stroked the side of her face with his fingertips. “I’m famished for feminine company and I always have a ravenous appetite.”
Which was the truth, but not the whole truth. Linx had done very well for himself since he’d arrived on the planet yesterday. He still had a few days left and he intended to enjoy every last minute before he got down to the business of seeking a mate. He didn’t think it would take long once he set his sights on a woman.
The real question was how had Bacchus, Kegar, Talon, and Arctos managed to choose just one?
Linx glanced at the clock on the wall. It was early, not even sundown. Still plenty of time to sample a dozen more.
A man, whose face had encountered a fist or two, sat in the corner with his back against the wall, pretending to watch the show. From that tactical position the man could see the whole club, including all the comings and goings, though he seemed more interested in what Linx was doing than anything else.
Under different circumstances, Linx would’ve chosen the same spot, but he wasn’t here to fight, he was here to fuck. And he wasn’t at all concerned with human males being any kind of threat to him or his current mission.
Linx had noticed the man when he stepped into the club. It had been hard to miss the lithe auburn-haired woman draped on his arm or the sharp smell of gun oil clinging to his pale skin. Like every other human male Linx had encountered in this place, the man was armed.
A waitress rushed over with a drink on her tray. She hadn’t bothered to ask the man what he wanted. She’d simply handed the beverage to him and scurried off.
On this world, Linx had no doubt that the man keeping a careful eye on him and the rest of the club might be dangerous, but in the galaxy he would be considered nothing more than a nuisance. So that’s how Linx chose to view him.
The blonde, who’d been onstage, plopped down beside Linx, taking his attention away from the man in the booth. She began to massage his arms, using over-exaggerated movements that somehow emphasized her bountiful breasts. “Why don’t you come with me, lover. I’ll show you what it’s like to get a lap dance from a pro.” Her accent rolled off her tongue, making each letter vibrate in her mouth, before a word formed.
The sound was in no way displeasing. It reminded Linx of a soft continuous purr. He felt a sense of smugness as the two women continued to argue over him.
“Shove off, Nadia. I saw him first.” The brunette ground her sex onto Linx’s erection.
“Yeah, well, if you hadn’t noticed, Eva, he’s only had eyes for me for the last twenty minutes,” Nadia said.
“If you mean that in between watching my act, he’s glanced at you, then you’re right.” The blonde winked. “Shouldn’t you be going home now that your shift has ended?”
“I could say the same to you,” Eva said.
Linx’s lips twitched. He still couldn’t get over the abundance of women on this planet. Even in this smallsettlement of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania there seemed to be thousands of them. Earth was like a virtual buffet and he intended to gorge himself before he was forced to return to the ship.
He glanced at each woman. Both were beautiful. Stunning in fact. Their breasts were high, firm, and identical. Odd that, but he wasn’t about to complain. Linx inhaled, catching the musk of their arousal. Why should he choose, when they were both so willing to fall into his bed? He leaned forward and whispered into the brunette’s ear.
Eva grinned wickedly. “You are naughty.”
“That’s why you like me.” He skimmed her hips with his nails, taking care not to break her fragile skin.
She glanced down at his burgeoning erection, then raised a brow. “That’s not the only reason, sugar.”
Nadia opened her mouth to protest, but before she could say a word, Linx pulled her into his arms and kissed her. She practically purred as he ran his rough hand down her bare spine.
“You’re coming, too.” He gently moved Eva aside and stood, offering his hands to both women.
They clasped them and rose to their feet like they were royalty.
“Shall we?” Linx started toward the front door.
“Not that way,” Nadia said. “There are rooms out the back.”
Linx shrugged. The closer the better.
Tabby pulled her hat down low on her face and adjusted her sunglasses. She took a deep breath and rubbed her sweaty palms on her pants. The moustache she’d applied tickled. She scratched her nose, then double-checked to make sure the lip hair stayed in place.
“You can do this,” she murmured under her breath.
She pulled her suit jacket down and loosened the knot on her tie. It was now or never. She straightened her padded shoulders and stepped inside the dingy strip club. Smoke assaulted her nose and threatened to trigger her allergies. She choked, but managed to ward off a sneeze.
Like always, Boris Chernov stood at the door, guarding the entrance like a pit-bull promised of a nice, juicy bone. Two other enforcers, Viktor Galdin and Alexei Vazov sat at the bar, sipping vodka, looking for all intents and purposes like regular customers, their bored expressions broken only by their sharp-eyed gazes.
One snap of a finger and they’d jump to do Sergei’s bidding. To Tabby’s horror, she’d found out a month ago that Viktor and Alexei were known in law enforcement circles for their love of wet work. Given their cold, shark-like intensity, it wasn’t hard to imagine them covered in blood.
Boris held his hand out to stop her from proceeding any farther. Tabby’s heart jumped into her throat, making it hard to swallow, impossible to breathe.
He looked her up and down slowly. “That will be twenty dollars,” he said in a thick Russian accent that seemed oddly out of place in this part of Philadelphia.
Tabby pulled out a wallet she’d gotten from a secondhand store and grabbed two tens. Her hands trembled as she waited for him to take the money.
“Have fun, son.” He slapped her on the back. The force sent her forward a few steps.
A bark of laughter came out of the darkness. Tabby’s head shot up. She’d recognize that ‘snort’ anywhere. Taylor was here. She took a hurried step in the direction of the laugh, but was stopped short by a heavy hand on her shoulder.
“One moment.” Boris tipped her chin up and his eyes narrowed. He reached out and snatched the moustache off.
“You should not be here,” he said.
Linx and the two dancers were halfway across the room, when a commotion started at the front entrance. He ignored it and kept walking, tugging the women along with him. In his mind, Linx was already undressing them and laying them on a bed. He couldn’t wait to bury himself in their welcoming sheaths.
The man seated against the wall slowly rose to his feet. His gaze hardened as he stared across the room.
“Sergei, please don’t.” The woman at his side grabbed his arm.
Sergei didn’t look at her. He simply shrugged her off as he faced down the new threat.
Something made Linx want to see what had captured the human male’s attention. It must be a formidable threat if he was willing to discard his lovely companion so easily. Linx turned to see what was happening.
“You’re not allowed.” The beefy bouncer working the door crossed his arms over his wall of a chest. His frame blocked out the person he was talking to. “We warned you that there would be trouble if you came around again.” A heated argument ensued, drowning out the thumping beat.
The bouncer moved, revealing a small man wearing sensible shoes and an oversized suit. Linx frowned. This was the threat?
The man had sunglasses on and a hat pulled down so low over his face that Linx could barely make out his features. His hair had been tucked beneath the brim. If it weren’t for the lone dark red wisp that had fallen out, Linx would have thought the man was hairless.
“Let me see my sister and I’ll leave,” he shrieked, high and shrill.
Linx cringed as the horrific sound grated his sensitive ears. What kind of man sounded like that?
The bouncer stood over him, his broken nose nearly touching the man’s upturned one. “You know that’s not going to happen. Taylor doesn’t want to talk to you.” He pointed to the door. “Now get out of here while you still can.”
“Sergei can go to hell.” The man grabbed onto the bar. “I’m not leaving until I see my twin.”
The bouncer sighed. “Have it your way.” He pried the man’s fingers off the bar and lifted him into the air as if he weighed nothing.
Linx frowned. The man yelped as his hat fell off, revealing strikingly beautiful burgundy hair. Not a man…a woman. The long tresses easily hung past her waist. As a cat-shifter, Linx had always had a thing for nice hair.
The woman struck the bouncer in the back. “Boris, put me down!”
“Stop hitting me, Tabitha, and I’ll think about it,” the bouncer said.
She struggled in his arms. The man’s grip tightened and his massive biceps flexed.
“You’re hurting me.” She gasped. “I can’t breathe.”
“Maybe I teach you lesson,” he said in a thick guttural accent. “That way next time you listen.”
Linx released the women he’d been escorting and moved across the room. He was standing at the front door before he realized what he’d done. “Put her down,” he said, his voice low and exceedingly calm.
Boris squinted at him. “You should stay out of this, friend.” He glanced over Linx’s head at the strippers waiting by the exit. “Get back to your dates. This doesn’t concern you.”
“I said, put her down,” Linx repeated. This time he allowed the threat to hang in the air.
Boris unceremoniously dropped the woman he’d called Tabitha. She landed on her hands and knees with a thud. “You should’ve left it alone. Now I’m going to have to ask you to leave, too.” The bouncer reached out to grab Linx, but he was no longer standing where he’d been only seconds before. “What the?” The bouncer jerked his head around to find him.
Linx leaned against the bar, waiting for the big man to locate him. He felt more than saw the two men at the bar rise from their stools. The gun oil clinging to their skin tickled his nose. He glanced over his shoulder and gave them a warning glare. The men tensed, then looked over at the man who’d been sitting against the wall. Fighting with humans was almost too easy to bother with. Linx knew he could have all of them disarmed in seconds.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Tabitha slowly stand and brush off her hands. She truly did have glorious hair. His fingers itched to touch it, to see if it was as soft as it looked, though he didn’t know why.
Other than her long locks, the woman was utterly unremarkable. He glanced at her, then at Nadia and Eva, whom he’d left standing by the back door. The dancers were definitely more his type, but for some reason he couldn’t abandon her. She neededhim.
Boris’s eyes narrowed, when his gaze landed on Linx. “How did you get over there?”
Linx’s lips quirked. “Given your lack of speed, it wasn’t hard.”
The bouncer’s face flushed with blood and he glanced toward Sergei. He must’ve gotten some kind of cue because the bouncer nodded, then took a swing at Linx’s head.
Linx caught his arm, stopping the motion with one hand. “You really don’t want to fight me.” He could feel the shift burning through him and fought hard to tamp it down. Linx had no doubt his eyes were glowing as his beast peered out at his would be opponent.
“What are you?” Boris strained to break his hold.
“A man,” Linx said.
“You are no man. Release me, Tchort.” Boris spat. Sweat broke out across his brow and he trembled. The rank odor of fear reached Linx’s nostrils. The beast inside of him perked up even more. Instead of giving in to the fear, the bouncer blustered on. “Do you have any idea who owns this bar? You’re bringing a whole lot of trouble down on your head, and for what? Some chick that you don’t even know?”
Linx stilled. He was right. Why was he fighting for a woman he cared nothing about? Perplexed, Linx released him and turned to walk away.
“Watch out!” Tabitha cried, but it was too late.
Boris’s meaty fist caught him upside his temple and spun him around. Linx shook his head and a growl rumbled from his chest. He took a step toward the bouncer, intending to show him how a Phantom Warrior fights, but the woman with the glorious hair stopped him.
“Are you insane? Let’s go!” Tabitha yanked him by the arm. Her warm touch sank into Linx’s muscles and sent an odd shock zinging down his spine.
She looked over his shoulder, fear widening her dark brown eyes. Linx followed her gaze. Sergei now held the weapon he’d smelled earlier and was marching toward them.
Linx wasn’t concerned, but it was more than obvious that Tabitha was, since her scent soured. He wrinkled his nose and let her lead him away. Linx stopped at the door and glanced back wistfully. The two dancers he’d planned to bed didn’t follow. He watched the women hurry out the back door as Sergei approached, their names already fading from his memory.
Tabitha Shelley released the stranger she’d dragged out of the bar, then kept walking. She didn’t check to see if he would follow. Now that he was safe, she didn’t care.
What was he thinking? He could’ve been killed.
She covered two more blocks, listening to the sound of her labored breathing and pounding heart. Tabby turned back to make sure that she wasn’t being followed and was surprised to see the man right behind her. He was so quiet that she’d thought he’d bailed on her.
In the dark, he’d been handsome, but in the fading sunlight the man was positively stunning. His denim blue eyes practically glittered, when they narrowed on her.
“Sorry about that whole mess.” Tabby wasn’t sure what else to say. She’d really botched this one. And she’d been so sure that her ruse would work.
If she hadn’t heard her sister laugh, then she might’ve made it. The sound of Taylor had caused her to raise her head, giving sharp-eyed, dimwitted Boris Chernov enough time to recognize her. All she’d been able to do was catch a glimpse of Taylor sitting next to Sergei Belovich, a brigadierin the Russian mob, before Boris stopped her.
It hadn’t helped that she’d also been distracted by the sudden appearance of the stranger. She stared at him. He had a face worthy of distraction and a body to match. And from that swoon-inducing smile he was giving her, there was no doubt that he knew it.
Yet, he had to be more than a pretty face. Truly shallow people only looked out for themselves. They didn’t jump in to rescue complete strangers. And they certainly couldn’t make it seem like it was something they did every day. Which meant he was either too stupid to live or he had ties to the mob.
Was it possible that he was a Pakhan? He didn’t look like a typical mob boss. She glanced at his forearms. He didn’t appear to have any tattoos. Maybe he was a Brigadierlike Sergei and worked as an intermediary controlling the criminal cells for the boss? But that didn’t seem likely either, since Sergei preferred to take care of business himself. He wouldn’t ask someone to step in for him, would he? Was he a new enforcer?
Tabby felt the blood drain from her face as she took a step back to really look at her rescuer.
His black T-shirt hugged plentiful muscles, leaving little to the imagination. The top had been paired with matching jeans and military grade combat boots. Unless he’d shoved a gun into his snug pants, he wasn’t armed.
Tabby glanced at the front of his pants and suddenly wished that she hadn’t. Her mind flashed to the two strippers he’d been with. That explained his current condition. Or maybe he just got off on fighting. Either way, her gut told her that he was trouble. The sooner she dumped him, the better off she’d be. But before she did that, she needed to know a few things.
“What were you thinking back there?” she asked.
His dark brow arched. “I could ask you the same thing. From what I could tell, you have had zero combat training.” His voice had no discernable accent as he chided her.
Definitely not from around here or Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where the Russian mob made their US home base. Could be that he’d come in from California, but his skin didn’t have the color of someone who’d spent a lot of time in the sun.
Tabby’s face flushed. “I know plenty about fighting.” She’d been fighting to get her twin sister back from Sergei for over six months now. But of course, that wasn’t what he’d meant.
He stepped closer. “Then why didn’t you fight, when he picked you up? There were plenty of moves that could’ve incapacitated him.”
Her hands settled on her hips. “Not sure if you noticed, but Boris is huge. Hulk huge.” Besides whatever maneuver he was referring to hadn’t been covered in the hand-to-hand combat books that she’d read. Of course, Tabby couldn’t exactly tell him that. He could be working for Sergei or one of the other bosses in the area. So she said the first thing that popped into her head. “He caught me off guard.”
The man snorted in disbelief.
“It’s true. I’ll prove it,” she said. “Try to choke me.” Tabby braced herself, then motioned to her throat.
He blinked slowly. “What?”
“I said try to choke me.” She made the universal sign for choking.
His brow furrowed. “I will do no such thing. You are a woman.”
Tabby rolled her eyes. “I’m surprised you noticed given the acute case of silicone boob blindness you seemed to be suffering from when I came into the club.”
Linx didn’t know exactly what she meant, but he could tell from her tone that she’d just insulted him. So this was the thanks he got for saving her. It wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t known she was a woman until her hat fell off. He glared at her. She dressed like a man and screeched like a Harpy.
Until now, he hadn’t encountered any women on Earth like her. And for that he was eternally grateful. Since one of her on the planet was enough.
He allowed his gaze to wander. From what he could tell, she didn’t have large, perfect breasts like the others. Hers were smaller. More compact. A mouthful at most. Her thick waist led to hips that were definitely fuller than the dancers.
Yet, standing here before him with her burgundy hair glistening in the sunset and fire burning in her dark brown eyes, he’d never seen a woman look quite so feminine. How had he missed the fact that she was a woman? Maybe she was right about his temporary blindness.
“Why were you fighting a man three times your size?” he asked.
“I wasn’t fighting. I was trying to sneak into the club.” She looked at him, her gaze far too assessing for his comfort.
“That’s none of your business.”
Linx tilted his head. “You made it my business, when you cried out and I had to step in to save you.”
Her jaw clenched. “I could’ve handled Boris. I just needed more time,” she said. “I never asked for your help. You took it upon yourself to intervene.”
He shook his head in amazement. “I suppose that’s true. But the fact that you didn’t ask for my help either makes you insane or stupid.”
Her nostrils flared. “I am notstupid.”
“So you’re insane.” That made the most sense given what he’d witnessed of her behavior thus far.
“Guess that makes two of us, since you just pissed off an under boss in the Russian mob,” she said, as if that should mean something to him.
Linx couldn’t quite figure her out. Tabitha was full of bluff and bluster, yet he could smell the fear clinging to her pale skin. Like a good soldier, she didn’t allow it to stop her from her mission. He just couldn’t figure out what kind of mission a woman like her could be on.
“What were you doing in there?” he asked, this time using a gentler tone.
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. For several seconds, she didn’t speak.
“The sooner you tell me, the sooner I’ll leave you alone,” Linx said.
That seemed to brighten her mood, which in turn soured his. “I was looking for my sister.”
He stiffened. “Was she one of the women I was with?” The idea left him feeling oddly uncomfortable.
“No.” Tabitha shook her head, sending her hair into her face. She quickly scooped it out of the way. “Taylor is Sergei’s girlfriend. At least that’s what he calls her. She’s more like his sex slave.”
“And you know this how?” His discomfort grew.
“Because she won’t return my phone calls. Won’t answer her email,” she said in frustration.
Linx frowned at her. “That doesn’t mean that he’s holding her against her will. It just means that she doesn’t want to speak to you.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
Tabitha sighed. “Then you wouldn’t understand. Taylor and I are close. We’re twins. We aren’t identical, but I can sense when something is wrong. And something is definitely wrong.”
Her distress bothered Linx. “What is your name?” he asked, though he’d already knew the answer.
“Sorry.” She blushed. “My name is Tabitha. Tabitha Shelley. My friends call me Tabby.”
“Tabitha.” He let her name slide across his tongue. “Tabby…like the cat?”
She rolled her eyes again. “Yes.”
He grinned to himself. “I am called Linx.”
“Like the cat?” she asked teasingly.
His smile widened. “Very much so.”
She held out her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Linx took it, but instead of shaking her outstretched hand, he brought it to his lips and placed a chaste kiss on the back of her knuckles.
“What are you doing?” Tabby snatched her hand back.
His brows rose in surprise. Linx had never had that kind of reaction from a woman before.
Tabby rubbed the back of her hand on her pants’ leg, then scowled at him. “Don’t do that again,” she hissed like an angry kitten. “I’m not one of those bimbos you hooked up with in the club.”
“I—” was all he managed to get out before she backed away.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from the Molotov Club. Sergei won’t forget what you’ve done,” she said. “He’s a vindictive bastard who gets off on hurting people. Kind of comes with the job description.” Tabitha turned to leave, but stopped short. “Why did Boris call you Tchort?”
Linx frowned in confusion. “I know not what that means.”
Her eyes narrowed. “It means ‘Dark God’ or devil. Though I think in this context, Boris was calling you a demon.”
“Perhaps he was referring to my devilish appearance.” He waggled his eyebrows.
Tabby scowled. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”
Linx shrugged. “I do not know him, but Boris struck me as a superstitious man, who’d be afraid of his own shadow if it tapped him on the shoulder.”
She rubbed the back of her neck. “That’s probably it,” she said, but it didn’t sound like she believed him. “See ya.” Tabby walked away.
“Where are you going?” Linx called after her.
“Home,” she said. “You should do the same.”
Tabby left him standing on the sidewalk. Not only had she brushed away his kiss, she’d also dismissed him. Linx had never been dismissed by a woman in his life. Not even when he was young and inexperienced. He watched her fade into the distance. And decided he didn’t like it or her one bit.
Sergei Belovich watched Tabitha Shelley pull the man out the door. He’d had a bad feeling about the guy ever since he’d laid eyes on him. His suspicions rose, when the man intervened on Tabitha’s behalf. Were they working together?
He wouldn’t put anything past her. She was determined to get her beloved sister away from him. She still didn’t understand that once someone was his, they stayed his until he letthem go. The woman was becoming a pain in his ass. Sergei should’ve killed her long ago. It would’ve made controlling Taylor much easier.
The spot between his shoulder blades itched. A sure sign that trouble was on the way. Was it the stranger who’d only moments ago tried to walk out the back door with two of his strippers? Or was something else coming?
Sergei’s mother had always told him that Romanian gypsy blood ran through his veins. He hadn’t believed her until that same itch saved him from a bullet. Now he paid attention.
He didn’t like the man. Sergei could’ve easily chalked the whole thing up to jealousy, given the man’s striking good looks, but that wasn’t it. Something about him seemed off.
A cold breeze brushed past him and Sergei turned, expecting to see someone standing behind him, but no one was there. His eyes narrowed as he carefully scanned the smoky bar to locate the cause of his sudden unease. Other than the regulars, who’d been coming in for years, nobody stood out.
Sergei tried to shake off the feeling of being watched, but it clung to him like a maggot on rotting flesh. He surveyed the room once more, then turned back to the woman he’d been bedding for the last few months. He still enjoyed Taylor’s body, but he didn’t appreciate the baggage she brought with her or her clinginess.
She was getting too attached and that wouldn’t do. He demanded compliance and monogamy from his women, but emotions complicated things. Sergei didn’t do emotions. He’d learned that lesson from his mother early on. And monogamy, well, that was one-sided, too.
Sergei rolled his shoulders as the hair on his neck prickled. His flame-haired pet looked at him expectantly as he returned to his seat. “Your sister is bad for business,” he said softly, but he saw her flinch all the same. “I can’t have her coming in here causing a scene.”
“I’ll talk to her. That’s all she wants.” Taylor petted his arm in a soothing fashion, though the touch did little to douse his temper. “I’m sure once I do, she’ll leave you—leave us—alone.” She scooted closer, allowing her ample bosom to brush against his chest.
Sergei rubbed a knuckle along her soft cheek and felt his cock tighten. She really was beautiful. Fortunately, there were many more like her in the world. “I’ve already given you enough time. You said you’d handle her and you haven’t. Now it’s my turn.”
Tears filled her hazel green eyes. “Please Sergei, give me another chance. I know I can get through to her.” She choked back a sob.
He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled it tight. Taylor whimpered, but did not cry out. He’d taught her not to, no matter how bad the pain got. “For you, pet, I’ll do this one thing, but it will cost you because nothinkin this world is for free.”
“Whatever you want, baby.” She gulped and nodded quickly. “I understand.”
“Do you?” He yanked harder on her hair.
“Yes,” she hissed.
“Good.” Sergei said, but he had no intention of keeping his word. He looked over Taylor’s head at Boris and nodded. Boris’s jaw tightened, but he nodded back, then walked over to the two men seated at the bar.
Linx remained invisible as he listened to the man’s conversation with Tabby’s sister. He had snuck back into the club to see if the furor had died down. He thought it had…until he approached Sergei’s table.
It was uncanny how much Taylor looked like her sister, Tabitha. They weren’t identical, but their mannerisms were similar. But that’s where the resemblance ended. Tabitha was a fighter. Linx couldn’t imagine her putting up with being manhandled like Taylor was doing. She barely whimpered, which meant Sergei had been abusing her for a while. Or maybe, she was the type of woman who liked it rough. He certainly did on occasion.
Linx watched her plead with Sergei to leave Tabitha alone. He’d agreed, but something in that look raised his hackles. Sergei didn’t seem like a man used to keeping his word. Linx left the spot he’d been standing in and walked over to Boris. He didn’t understand the language Boris was speaking, but he caught the words ten minutes. His whole body tensed. Something was very wrong. He could feel it on the air, even without the use of his whiskers.
The two men rose from their bar stools ten minutes later. Tall, heavy and oddly lacking any discernable necks, the men ambled out the door. Linx may not have understood what they were saying, but some things—like danger, were universal. He was determined to follow them.
Linx slipped into the car with the men. The man in the passenger seat kept looking over his shoulder as if he sensed his presence in the back seat.
“What’s wrong, Alexei?” the driver asked.
Alexei rolled his shoulders. “Nothink.” His accent thick with nerves.
“Then why do you keep looking behind us? Are we being tailed?” The man shot a glance into the review mirror. “I don’t see anyone.”
Alexei shook his head. “I told you it was nothink, Viktor. I just want to get this over with.”
“Do you have the address?” Viktor asked.
“Da.” Alexei punched it into the car’s navigation system.
Linx sat quietly, staring out the window as the city rushed by him. The men hadn’t spoken since they put in the address and he preferred it that way. He’d only studied English and had no idea what language they were speaking. He could bring out his translation device, but they didn’t seem the type to spill anything important.
The men drove for thirty minutes. The skyscrapers faded into a quiet neighborhood dotted with small colorful homes. They turned right on Tulip Street, then slowed to a stop.
Linx wasn’t sure what they were waiting for, but like all hunters, he was patient. The men stared at a peach colored house on the left-hand side of the street. When the light in the front of the house switched off, they made their move.
Tabby had been studying her lock picking ‘how to’ books for the past hour and half. The instructions were clear. She was pretty sure she could now pick a basic lock. If today had proven one thing to her, it was that she wasn’t going to get to her sister through a frontal assault. There was no doubt Taylor had seen her. Tabby had noted her twin’s wide panicked eyes a second before Boris blocked her view and lifted her off the ground.
In her heart, she’d begged Taylor to come to her rescue. Instead, her twin had grabbed Sergei’s arm and all but climbed onto his lap, ignoring the chaos happening at the front door of the club.
It had been a slap in the face to Tabby. Made worse when Sergei had shoved her sister aside and started across the room. She shuddered to think what would’ve happened if Linx hadn’t intervened.
Suddenly an image of her dark-haired, blue-eyed savior flashed in her mind. Boris was right to call him Tchort. He was a dark god. A demon in black jeans. Once she’d gotten a good look at Linx, Tabby had been determined to ignore her attraction to him. And it had worked for all of a minute.
She knew she’d done the right thing by sending him away, but for some reason it still bothered her. Not that she would’ve ultimately said or done anything to act upon her attraction. She wasn’t like her sister.
Instead, Tabby used Taylor’s rotten taste in men as a ‘What Not To Do’ guide for her own life. If she found herself really attracted to a man, Tabby considered it an ominous sign and ran the other way.
She didn’t date bad boys. She wasn’t drawn to dangerous men. The fact that Linx tempted her to break her steadfast rules was an anomaly. One she’d just as soon forget. Give her a boring, unattractive man any day of the week and she’d jump at the chance to date him. Unlike Taylor, Tabby prided herself for being in control of her hormones and her personal life.
“What personal life?” Tabby snorted. Ever since her twin had hooked up with the Russian mobster, her life had been in a tailspin. She’d spent the last six months trying to sort through the mess that was Taylor. Six months? More like twenty-six years.
Had it really been that long? Tabby’s shoulders sagged. She was tired. Tired of this dance that she and Taylor had been doing. Tired of always being the responsible twin. Tired of always coming to the rescue, when her sister messed up. When would it be enough? When would she get a chance to have a life?
Like so many relationships before, Taylor had convinced herself that she loved Sergei and that he loved her back. She was the only one who couldn’t see that she was being used. Bad enough that her sister had begun stripping for the mobster.
The Taylor that Tabby knew would never do that, not without being heavily influenced.
Tabby hated that she was beginning to question whether she really knew her twin at all.
Stripping was bad enough, but it was only a matter of time before Sergei talked Taylor into running drugs for him. That’s what he’d done with his last girlfriend and look what had happened to her. Tabby’s mind flashed to the photo of the young woman, who’d been found bludgeoned and tossed into a dumpster. He’d discarded her like garbage because to him, she was trash.
She couldn’t let Sergei do that to her twin. If she couldn’t reach Taylor directly, then Tabby would just have to find proof of Sergei’s illegal activities. Maybe if she had enough proof to take to the police, they’d finally be able to arrest Sergei. She looked at the lock-picking kit next to her instruction book. What was that old adage? It takes a thief to catch a mobster or something like that. There was more than one way to save her sister.
Tabby turned the light off. She had made it halfway down the hall, when something crashed through her front door into her living room. She turned her head to see the unmistakable silhouette of Viktor and Alexei, standing in the darkness.
Tabby’s heart hit her knees, then ricocheted into her throat. She raced back down the hall toward the kitchen, her sock-covered feet silent on the carpet. Her only hope was to reach the back door before the men spotted her.
“I take bedrooms. You search rest of house. She’s here somewhere,” Alexei said in a thick muddled accent.
Tabby felt along the countertop, until she found her kettle. It was still hot from the tea that she’d had earlier. She waited, trying to hear over the blood pounding in her ears. The door to the kitchen slowly opened. Tabby didn’t hesitate. She slammed the kettle against Viktor’s head, sending hot water careening over his face.
He screamed, then let out a flood of Russian curses as he fell to the floor.
She didn’t wait for him to recover. Instead, Tabby ran for the back door and pulled. The door didn’t budge. She’d locked it…and her keys were in the living room. Her gaze darted around the room. Viktor was already beginning to recover. No way would she make it past him before he grabbed her.
She could hear the pounding of heavy boots coming down the hall. Soon there would be two of them and she’d be dead. Tabby scanned the room once more and spotted the window above the kitchen sink. It was small, but she was sure she could fit.
She ran over to it and flipped the latch, unlocking the window, then pushed with all her might. The window frame creaked, then began to rise. Tabby climbed onto the sink and stuck her legs out the window. Viktor struggled to his feet and rushed her.
Tabby screamed, then screamed again, when she felt strong hands clamp down on her hips and pull her outside. Oh my god, Alexei had her! She was as good as dead. Tabby struggled, punching and kicking like a wildcat. His grasp loosened and she nearly fell, but never hit the ground.
Instead, Tabby found herself cradled against a hard chest. She looked up and saw Linx, his expression grim as he ran. A multitude of questions flooded her mind, but they could all wait until they were safe.
“We need to get to my car,” she said.
“Where is it?” he asked.
“On the street.” She pointed to the green Honda.
“Keys,” he gritted out.
Tabby’s heart sank. Like the keys to the backdoor, her car keys were also in the living room, hanging from a set of neat hooks. Then she thought about the other books she’d read. Could she do it? Did she dare try? What if Viktor and Alexei caught them before she could hotwire the car?
What choice did they have? Linx couldn’t run all night, especially carrying her.
“We don’t need the keys,” she said, praying that it was true.
Linx took Tabby to her car. His heart had nearly exploded in his chest, when he’d heard her cry out. If she hadn’t managed to squeeze out the window, he was pretty sure she’d be dead. He didn’t want to think about. If he did, he’d only anger the beast. And he didn’t think Tabby would appreciate that side of him after what she’d just been through.
Every instinct told him to stand and fight. But he wouldn’t. Not if there was a chance that she’d be injured in the process.
She grabbed a rock and busted out the back driver’s side window of her car. Linx frowned as she opened the front door and slid to the floor under the steering mechanism. Tabby reached into a hidden compartment on the passenger side and pulled out a metal instrument, then popped a piece of plastic off the column.
A minute or so later, she’d combined wires and slammed the metal instrument into the slot where the key normally went. She turned it a few times. On the third try, the engine roared to life and her radio blared. Tabby shut the radio off, then turned to look at Linx, her eyes wide with fear.
“Get in. They’re coming.”
Linx jumped in and Tabby sped off, barely giving him time to close the door. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Viktor and Alexei run to their car. Their headlights flashed and a low growling hum filled the air as they started their vehicle. They spun the car around in a perfect three hundred and sixty degree turn, then quickly gained on them.
“Hang on,” Tabby said. “This might get rough.” She cranked the wheel to the right and the car’s back tires spun to get traction.
“Where are you going?” Linx asked. If she just stopped the car, he could take care of the men behind them. He didn’t mind given what they’d intended to do to her.
“The police station. No way will they follow us inside,” she said.
Linx wasn’t convinced. “They seem pretty determined. What have you done to anger them so?” he asked.
“I haven’t done anything other than try to get my sister away from that scumbag, Sergei. What were you doing here?” Her face paled. “Did you come with them?”
Linx wasn’t sure how to answer. Yes, he’d ridden in the vehicle with the men, but no, he wasn’t withthem. At least not in the way that she was implying. He couldn’t exactly tell her the truth. He knew Tabby wouldn’t believe him. Linx needed to find out what was going on. There had to be more to the story than she was telling him.
He pulled out his weapon and pointed it at the car behind them.
“What are you doing?” Her head jerked to the side so she could see him. “You can’t just shoot them. Someone will see you.”
A car honked.
She barely avoided a collision.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” he said.
Tabby did as he asked, though given the covert glances she shot his way she didn’t want to. “We’re almost to the police station. If that’s a gun, you’d better put it away.”
“It’s not a gun. It’s a camera.” Linx aimed his magnetic pulse weapon. Viktor and Alexei’s engine died instantly. The car slowly rolled to a stop. “You can slow down now,” he said. “They are no longer behind us.”
“What did you do?” Her knuckles were white as she slowly eased her grip on the steering wheel and relaxed her foot on the pedal.
“Recorded their license plate,” he said. It was a lie, but a believable one.
“Can I see it?” she asked.
“See what?” He looked at her.
“I’d rather you didn’t. It’s a very sensitive piece of equipment,” he said. “Now let’s go somewhere that we can talk.”
Tabby knew he was lying, but right now she didn’t care because whatever he’d done had gotten Alexei and Viktor off their backs. She tried to slow her breathing. That had been close. Sergei was obviously done messing around. “You really should’ve stayed out of this mess.”
“If I had, you’d be dead.”
She flinched as the truth struck, then slowly met his eyes. “Sergei Belovich is a very bad man. He doesn’t forget, when someone wrongs him. And he never forgives. If Alexei and Viktor saw you…”
“They did. I made sure of it.”
“I’m not.” Linx looked at her, his gaze piercing her soul, then he slowly grinned. Two amazing dimples appeared on his cheeks, making Tabby’s heart flutter and her breath catch, but the warmth of the smile didn’t thaw the chill of his stormy blue eyes. “Sergei and I have one thing in common. I don’t forget either.”
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