Breathless (Merciless 3) - Page 40

My father hired him to do collections, even though he was only fourteen. He said the boy needed a distraction and I was happy I got to see him every week.

And then my mother died. And I felt the grief, the solitude that begged me to hide away and isolate myself. But Nikolai refused to let me be alone. He promised me he’d stay with me. He was the first person who said it was okay to cry and he held me while I did.

Ever since that day, we were inseparable.

He was my only friend. My only lover. And the only person I ever trusted in this world other than my mother.

The door to the back room of a candy shop three blocks north of the safe house is all that stands between Nikolai and me. My fingers keep pinching and twisting the cuffs of the jean jacket. Deep inside of me, the fear that they’ve hurt Nikolai is very real. That he’s cuffed to a chair and on death’s door is likely. I’ve seen it before. So many times.

“He’s okay, right?” I ask quietly, not hiding my fear as I peek up at Eli. He considers me for a long moment before nodding his head and each fraction of a second that passes ramps up my anxiety.

“Thank you,” I whisper my gratitude, although I’m not sure I entirely believe him and look toward the door with my shoulders squared as if it’ll open any second.

“You can go in now,” Eli tells me from behind and I reach for the knob, but he stops me, gripping my forearm and telling me, “Let me.”

Nodding, I wait with bated breath for the door to open. It’s on rusted hinges and they screech with the motion of the heavy door opening.

“Aria,” Nik breathes my name before I even see him, and his voice is drowned out by the sound of metal chair legs scraping against the concrete floor as he pushes away from a small card table in the center of the barren room. Barely aware that Eli is watching and that there are two other men in the room also watching, I run to him, meeting him halfway and clinging to him.

I don’t care in this moment. They can all watch and judge.

All I can see as I hold him is the gun touching the back of his head and I can’t get it out of my mind. Burying my face into his hard chest, I feel so much relief, unjustified relief, but it’s there.

Nikolai holds me even tighter. Like if he loosens his grip on me, I’ll be gone forever.

I inhale a deep, steadying breath as he whispers, “Thank God.”

“Nik,” I barely breathe his name as try to hold on to my composure. “Nik.” I keep saying his name, but I can’t help it. He’s okay, I tell myself over and over as he pulls back slightly to look at me before hugging me back against his chest.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispers against my hair, and I can feel his warm breath all the way down to my shoulder.

“How did you find me?” I ask him and pull back to look at him. The sight of his face shreds my composure. Faint bruises and a split lip are evidence left behind from days ago.

It’s only then that he releases me, looking between me and Eli and then to the table. “Sit with me?” he asks as if there’s any chance at all I would deny him, and it’s the first time I can smile. It’s a sad smile, the kind that comes with a pain that everyone else can feel.

“Of course,” I barely get the words out and I have to clear my throat. Brushing my hair back and breathing in deeply to steady myself, I tell him, “I’m so happy to see you.” My next words come out rushed. “I’m happy you’re okay.”

“Me too,” he replies, but his voice is cloaked in sadness and he doesn’t stop looking over every inch of me. “Are you okay?” he asks me and then reaches across the table to take my hand. His is large and warm, easily dwarfing my hand. Hands that have held mine for as long as I can remember.

I nod, swallowing the knot in my throat and not wanting to tell him or anyone else everything that’s happened. “How did you find me?” I repeat my question and try to remember everything I wanted to tell him.

“I did what I had to do.” His answer is short, but he doesn’t stop rubbing soothing circles on the palm of my hand. It comforts me like he’ll never know. He’s done the same thing all my life. Every tragedy, every heartache. It’s such a simple thing, but with that gentle touch, I can breathe, feeling as if everything is all right, even when I know it’s not.

Tags: Willow Winters Merciless Erotic
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