Viktor was stubborn, and there was no getting past his request. Of course, I knew he had the club opening tonight, but I thought there was an understanding between us I wasn’t going. If I was still performing, then I would have been at the theater tonight instead. It never came up before.
Perhaps if I had left his office when that call came in instead of crawling under the desk, he wouldn’t have thought to make me tag along. But here I was…
After Antonio took me to the luxury store to pick up the dress Viktor called in, I found myself back at the house, getting ready. Let’s not even get started on how insane this garment is. It can barely be called a dress.
Even in my early days with the ballet going to after parties and smaller openings, I never wore something so revealing. This little black dress was that exactly. Although I might have compared it more easily to a bikini top and skirt that were connected by a few strings.
The triangular cut top covered my breasts well enough, but that’s all it covered. My entire back and midriff were exposed save for the thin crisscrossing laces that connected the top to the tight skirt. The hem stopped at my mid-thigh, showing off my legs and the black stilettos I wore.
There wasn’t a bruise or scratch left on me from falling down those stairs, and the heels didn’t bother my ankle at all. It was a small consolation knowing that I would back in the theater soon, and wearing these heels was a test I was giving myself.
But this dress, and Viktor’s command to wear it and appear at his side tonight, that was a test from him. And I hated taking tests. Always had and always would.
Despite how ludicrously revealing this dress was, I couldn’t deny the excitement building in my core. Like a little ball of fireworks ready to be set off. With Viktor’s lewd promises and knowing what would come at the end of the night, I had to be honest that I wanted this.
I wanted Viktor to see me in this dress, and then to want me. To want to touch me and hold me anywhere we go. It didn’t matter where we were. I was brimming with energy at the mere idea of him touching me and kissing me in secret through the night, slowly building the tension and turning me on until there was no turning back.
There was already no turning back for me.
Looking at my reflection, I made sure my high ponytail was neat and that my makeup was perfectly set. I hadn’t dressed up since the night of the Gala and it felt good, even with the small number of nerves gnawing at my stomach.
Viktor stepped out while I was getting ready, and with the house empty and the time to leave drawing closer, I went downstairs. Each step down the stairs, I paid attention to my ankle and how it felt. At the first sign of pain, I would take them off, but I reached the first floor with no issue.
The house was still empty, and I could see the sky darkening outside the doors to the patio as the sun gradually went down. My breath fogged on the glass as I peered up at the sky, watching a bluebird flit through the bare branches of a skinny tree.
At the sound of the front door slamming, I jerked away from the backdoors. Listening to Viktor’s quick steps through the foyer and kitchen, I turned in time to see him standing at the entrance to the dining room.
He stopped dead in his tracks, dark eyes roaming over every exposed inch of my skin. Viktor’s throat bobbed as he swallowed hard, and I exhaled at the flush I felt under his gaze.
For the grand opening, Viktor dressed in all black business casual, and he looked devilishly dark and handsome. It felt like all the air left the room when he entered, and your eyes were forced to take in the sight of him.
“Ty byl poslan s nebes, chtoby muchit’ menya.” His voice was deep and even without knowing what he said, I could feel it in my core. His intentions were apparent with that tone and the dark hunger in his eyes.
“Hi.” I was mentally slapping myself, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say to him.
“Yes, hi,” he laughed, shaking his head as he stepped further into the dining room. That’s when I noticed his arms behind his back, and he saw me quirk my brow up in question. “Oh, these are for you.”
With a flourish, Viktor pulled out a vibrant bouquet. And my heart utterly stopped in its tracks. My mind was transported back to our first nights together and the flowers Viktor got me when we met at the hotel.
I knew they meant something different this time.
“Wow, these are gorgeous!” I had to remind myself to breathe, and to steady myself as I reached out. “Blue flowers?”
“Your eyes,” Viktor said. “All I could think about were your eyes when I saw these, and I just had to get them.”
“Thank you.” Taking the bouquet, I cradled it in my arms. We locked eyes. “I love them,” I said, and I wasn’t talking about the flowers.
“I’m glad.” Viktor cleared his throat and took a step to the side, gesturing behind him to the kitchen. “I’m sure I have a vase for these. Let me grab that.”
He turned back into the kitchen, rifling through cabinets to look for a vase. With his back turned, my smile fell. If I didn’t get ahold of the emotions trying to swallow me whole, then I would fall into them. My fingers clutched the flowers and held them to my chest. My breathing was shaky, but I pushed past it and followed him.
“There’s one down here,” I told Viktor, opening a lower cabinet door under the kitchen island.
He whirled around and dropped into a crouch, grabbing the vase and standing up with a victorious smile. “Ah, there it is! See, I knew I had one. Funny that you knew where it was, though. You seem to know my house better than I do these days.”
“For now,” I tossed back without thinking.
The vase slammed down onto the countertop so hard I thought it would shatter in Viktor’s hand. He released the glass and placed both palms on the counter’s edge, knuckles turning white. From the side of his face, I could tell his brow was tense, and he glared at the empty vase.
“Right. For now,” he seethed through clenched teeth. The mood darkened faster than the sky outside. This wasn’t the energy I wanted between us through the night, even if I didn’t understand why he now seemed upset.
One step closer, I placed my hand on Viktor’s back, feeling the strain in his muscles. “I’m sorry. Here, let me put them away.”
Viktor stepped out of the way, leaning back on the opposite counter with his arms across his chest. He said nothing or move as I put the flowers in the vase with fresh water. The pale blue flowers stood out against the dark colors of Viktor’s home, adding a fresh vibrancy to the kitchen.
“The car is still outside waiting for us. We should probably go.” His eyes lingered on the flowers for a second before he finally looked at me again. There was something in his eyes that made my chest feel like it was run through. Only for a second before it was replaced, but I knew I didn’t imagine it.
“I’m ready.” I smiled at him, hoping it would bring him back from whatever darkness Viktor was holding onto. Thankfully, he released the breath he was holding, and his lips twitched like he wanted to smile, but wasn’t there yet.
In the front foyer, we grabbed our coats. This time, it didn’t surprise me when Viktor helped me into mine. I also caught his eyes sneaking a last peek at my skin before the black coat covered me.
There was a stranger waiting for us in the car as we got in, another driver I had seen once or twice when Antonio wasn’t available. He didn’t talk at all, and the silence made the pressure between us feel heavier.
Part of me wished it was Antonio driving us tonight instead, but I knew after seeing him earlier in the day that Viktor secured his driver an invitation to the opening. It was a kind thing for him to do, and it made me like him even more.
I knew the area we were in for the new club. It was incredibly close to my apartment and the theater. Walking distance, even. What I wasn’t expecting were all the cars and lines, the bright lights shining into the sky, and the music I could hear from the street.
In bright purple neon lights, almost blinding me as we pulled up, I read the name of the club.
As Viktor opened my door and helped me from the car, I wondered if he had anything to do with naming the club. It seemed very on par for him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the name was his idea. With the noisy, crowded streets and sidewalks, I didn’t have a chance to ask.
There were people everywhere. Half undressed, some already dancing to the music pumping from inside the exterior black walls. Bright lights shined down, and cameras clicked away at all the VIP Guests on the red carpet we walked. I did my best to hide my face at Viktor’s side, following the crowd inside.
The celebrities in line with us weren’t any I cared for, and with a sudden wave of nerves, I moved blindly to get inside. My vision narrowed on nothing, just a blank spot on the tall front door.
“Are you alright?” Viktor’s voice in my ear, his breath on my face, pulled me from the blank space I went in my head.
“Uh, yeah. Just a bit overwhelmed. This is a lot.” I almost shouted, just to be heard over the commotion.
“I know. It’ll be better once we get inside. Louder, but the crowd will ease up seeing as guests are limited to VIP for now. The club will open to the public after two hours, but I don’t imagine we’ll be here that long.” With his last statement, Viktor slipped his arm around my waist and pulled me closer to his side.
With the chill in the night air, I couldn’t deny myself the pleasure of sinking into his warmth. The heat from his body was always undeniable, and I breathed easier in his hold. Like the crowd melted away, and we were the only two people moving toward the door.
Everything changed the moment we were through the door. Viktor was right that it would be much louder. The music blaring from the dj booth was intense. I could feel each pulse of the heavy dance music within my bones. Colored lights flared through the darkness, and already bodies were writhing in the middle of the dance floor.
I only had a second to take in the open second floor that led to what I assumed were private rooms, for God knew what. My attention went to the massive wall length bar, with a glittering diamond wall behind row after row of expensive alcohol.
Drinks were already flowing at the bar, and woman in tight maroon dresses were serving trays with pitchers of beers to booths, partially hidden by black curtains in the back where VIP Guests were laughing with their companions.
The air felt thin in here, and my skin was vibrating with the intense energy converging on us. All my senses were assaulted with the lights, music, and scent of perfume and alcohol. Only the feeling of Viktor’s arm around my waist kept me steady.
“I have to find the manager and make an appearance, and then I’m all yours. Would you care to join me or stay for a drink at the bar? They’re all on me tonight, of course.” His face was close to me. If I angled my face to look at Viktor now, our faces would be less than an inch apart.
Swallowing, I merely nodded and muttered, “I’ll start with a drink.” As badly as I wanted him to stay by my side, I needed some liquid courage immediately.
The bartender at the end of the long, glassy blacktop bar seemed to recognize Viktor instantly. The young man’s shoulders straightened, and he made a beeline to us before I was fully sitting on the leather barstool.
“She gets anything she wants!” Viktor shouted to the bartender while slipping my coat from my shoulders. I shuddered at the whisper of air on my skin, watching Viktor from the corner of my eye.
“Yes, sir!” The bartender nodded, turning to face me.
“I’ll put our coats up, talk to the manager, and be right back.” The light touch of his heated palm on my lower back made me wish he wasn’t going anywhere.
Instead, I smiled at him. “Of course, I’ll be right here.”
Viktor pressed his lips to mine before, but before I could fully register what happened, the kiss was over, and he was walking away. Leaving me dazed, the taste of him on my lips, and his frame vanishing in the crowd.
“What can I get you?” The bartender’s shout pulled my attention back. I spun the barstool back to the front, tapping my nails on the black bar top and searching for the menu I thought I glanced earlier.
“Can I start with the house cocktail?” Little chalkboard menus along the bar listed off the top ten drinks for the grand event tonight. Cocktails were usually strong, and that’s what I wanted to start with.
The bartender chuckled. “Miss, you came with Mr. Novak. You can have anything I can make.”
I laughed too, but there was no hiding how uneasy it sounded. Thankfully, the music helped cover it up. In no time at all, he was sliding a purple-colored cocktail across the bar and into my hands.
“Wow, that’s good.” It was fruity with hints of coconut rum, and only a hint of alcohol hit the back of the tongue as the drink went down. Definitely one of those dangerously strong drinks.
I had three of them while sitting there alone. With nothing more to do than wait for Viktor wherever he was in this intensely loud and oppressively crowded club. I didn’t know how long it would take him to find the manager and make an appearance, but halfway through my third cocktail, I was regretting staying behind to drink by myself.
The rum in my drink was clouding the edges of my mind, and the deeper I went into that storm of warm, fuzzy alcohol, the more I wanted to get off the barstool. After more songs than I could keep track of, I was feeling the beat moving through me, and as my inhibitions lowered, my anxiety floated into thin air.
And I loved to dance.
Turning the barstool, I looked out over the dancefloor and watched the bodies moving in sync with the steady beating of the dance music. It was your usual club music, and it caused memories of my nights after dance school to come to mind.
Nights dancing with Ricky and the others. Letting ourselves free as we all moved together on the dancefloor. I missed the freedom of those days, and I wanted to feel it again.
So, without a second thought, I slid off the barstool, and headed for the dancefloor.
I was going to dance.
The lights flared in time with the steady rhythm of the heavy beat. The warmth of those crowded bodies welcomed me when I stepped on the dancefloor. As I let the music flow into me, through me, I let go of the thoughts in my head, and just let myself… exist.
In those moments, I did nothing more than live and move and breathe. I was nothing, and no one, and it truly was freeing while it lasted. Closing my eyes and becoming one with the music was something I was used to doing. It was easy, and it made me feel euphoric.
When I felt someone at my backside, I slowed down. Looking over my shoulder, through the haze in my vision and the darkness on the dancefloor, I realized there was a man with shoulder-length blond hair attempting to dance with me. He wasn’t unattractive by any means, and maybe in the past I would have danced with him.
But I didn’t like the feel of him behind me. It was wrong and unfamiliar. It shouldn’t be him there.
His hand landed on my hip, and I shot upright. Twisting around, I put my hands up as a wall between me and the stranger.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart? You looked like you were having a good time.” Something was wrong in his tone when I heard him speak. It made my skin crawl.
“I was having a good time dancing alone.” The slight fog cleared at the edges of my mind, and I felt a sudden chill in the air.
“Come on, no one dressed like that really wants to dance alone.” His eyes were green, and they felt toxic on my skin as he looked over my body. Assessing me like a prize easily won.
“I’m not wearing this for you!” I tried to step away, to get far from him through the crowd, but there were too many bodies moving too close together.
“You’re not fooling anyone.” He followed me, sneering while lifting his hand to reach for me. “Do you even know who I am? You must not. If you knew then you’d be throwing yourself at my feet.”
His hand snatched my wrist, and I tried to pull away. “Not a chance!” The tempo of the song picked up when the beat dropped, and the surrounding bodies converged, pushing us closer together. “Get away from me!”
It was so dark, and the lights were twisting around. I was spiraling and his fingers were digging into my wrist. My heart slowed and felt heavy as claws of dread worked up from my chest to wrap around my throat.
“Come with me, sweetheart, I know you want to.” He pulled at my arm, attempting to jerk me closer.
“No!” My free hand curled into a fist, and I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I couldn’t let him get any closer.
In the blink of an eye, the stranger was lifted by the throat. His eyes crossed, and he gagged before being dumped back onto the floor. The stranger crumpled to his knees, rubbing his neck, but my eyes snapped up.
Viktor was standing where the stranger was a second ago. The rage twisting his features was enough to make my insides go cold, and those dark eyes weren’t directed at me.
“I believe she told you no.” He spat at the man on the ground. Viktor didn’t look at me, but up through the crowd. He curled his fingers at someone, and I looked up in time to see two large bouncers barreling through the crowd in our direction.
“I don’t give a shit who the fuck he is. He’s banned from the club.” Viktor’s accent was growing thicker as he spoke to the bouncers. One of them scooped up the blonde man by the back of his shirt, while the other nodded at Viktor’s command.
“Get him out of here now prezhde chem ya ub’yu yego, chert voz’mi.” The threat was clear, even if I couldn’t understand it. It was that cold, dangerous look in his eyes that gave it away. Something about Viktor suddenly made a lot more sense at that moment.
He was dangerous, and I just never noticed it before. I think because all he ever made me feel was safe and comfortable. How could I have known this side of him when I’d never seen it before?
Viktor would have hurt this man in any other situation. I could feel it, like an instinct I just knew. And when those deep, brown eyes turned on me, I felt the warning in my brain along with the shiver that raced down my spine.
“Come with me.” He didn’t even touch me. Instead, he looked one last time at the bouncers hauling off the blond man, then turned around. As tall and as wide as he was, he pushed through the crowd easily.
And I followed him. Through the club, and then down a hidden back hallway. It worked around to the back of the building, leading to a door to the alley.
Frigid night air blasted over my skin as and the heavy door slammed shut with a loud bang through the narrow alley. I hugged my arms around myself, bracing against the cold in my thin dress that didn’t cover enough. I stood near the door, watching Viktor pace away from me, running his hands through his hair with a groan.
After a few steps away, he took a deep breath and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He lit one up and took a long drag, staring at the shadows along the end of the alley.
I could hear every beat of my heart as it threw itself against my ribs, trying to break free. Viktor was a dangerous man; I saw that now.
But was I afraid of him?
Slowly, he turned around to face me. Finally, looking me in the eye again. He pulled one last drag of the cigarette before flicking it onto the damp concrete that reflected the dim streetlight nearby.
There was still irritation in his eyes, but I didn’t feel it pointed in my direction. Even if he was upset with me at the thought of me dancing with another man, I wouldn’t have been afraid.
Without a doubt, I knew he would never hurt me.
“Fucking hell, Stella,” he huffed, dragging a hand through his hair. “What if I hadn’t made it in time and that son of a bitch had hurt you?”
He roared, suddenly throwing a fist into the black brick wall. Viktor dropped his head, leaning on the wall. His shoulders rose and fell rapidly as he breathed hard, trying to control himself.
“I should have stayed with you. Fuck me, I am so sorry. That man could have hurt you and I should have been there. I am a fucking idiot.” There was so much agony in his voice that it made my chest ache for him.
“Viktor,” I whispered his name. My heels clicked on the concrete as I stepped toward him. Before I could take another step, he pushed away from the wall and engulfed me with his arms.
“Are you alright? Did he hurt you? I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you.” Everything I was holding back hit me when I melted into his warmth. His solid chest and the erratic pounding of his heart swallowed me whole.
“I’m fine, Viktor. Are you okay?” My arms wrapped around his midsection, and I pulled him as close as I could.
There was a part of me that wanted to break down and cry after that stranger accosted me on the dancefloor, but I couldn’t. My heart was soaring too high at the revelation Viktor had been so worried about me.
Because he cared. Not just because I was a possession. No, he really cared about me.
Even if he didn’t love me, I could live with this. It was enough for now.
“Of course, I’m fine! I’m just so pissed off that someone in one of my clubs had the audacity to put his hands on you. You, magnificent angel, don’t deserve the scum of the earth laying a finger on your head.” Viktor reared back to cup my cheek, and I loved the feeling of his thumb caressing my face.
I smiled and pressed my face into his hand. Nothing mattered anymore. Not the stranger or what could have been. All I needed was Viktor with me.
“Come back inside, please.” His eyes widened when I asked. “I want you to dance with me. And you made a lot of promises about tonight if I’m remembering correctly.”
Viktor’s surprise wiped away, and his deep chuckle filled the silence of the alley. “You’re right, baby girl, I did. If you’re feeling alright, we’ll go back in. I’m not leaving your side anymore.”