Kholodov's Last Mistress

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‘Do you want me to kiss you?’

Hannah let out a little laugh. ‘You’re a man of some experience, I should think. Can’t you tell?’

He laughed back, softly. ‘Yes, I can tell.’

She was innocent—even naive, yes—but she knew what was going on. Knew what Sergei wanted … and what she wanted. Hannah wanted him too much to care if she seemed transparent, obvious,
eager
. She wanted this, but she still would prefer him to take the lead.

And Sergei did just that, sliding his hands under her hair, drawing her closer. She came willingly, even as her heart thudded hard and her head fell back and she waited for the feel of his mouth on hers …

About the Author

KATE HEWITT
discovered her first Mills & Boon
®
romance on a trip to England when she was thirteen, and she’s continued to read them ever since.

She wrote her first story at the age of five, simply because her older brother had written one and she thought she could do it too. That story was one sentence long—fortunately, they’ve become a bit more detailed as she’s grown older.

She has written plays, short stories, and magazine serials for many years, but writing romance remains her first love. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, travelling, and learning to knit.

After marrying the man of her dreams—her older brother’s childhood friend—she lived in England for six years and now resides in Connecticut, with her husband, her three young children, and the possibility of one day getting a dog.

Kate loves to hear from readers—you can contact her through her website: www.kate-hewitt.com

Recent titles by the same author:

MR AND MISCHIEF
BOUND TO THE GREEK

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

Kholodov’s Last Mistress

Kate Hewitt

www.millsandboon.co.uk

CHAPTER ONE

S
HE
was about to be pickpocketed. Sergei Kholodov watched with an experienced and jaundiced eye as three street urchins thrust a bunch of newspapers into the face of the foreign girl. Or woman rather; he judged her to be in her early twenties. With her straight teeth and hair and bright red parka, she was definitely American.

She’d been standing in front of St Basil’s Cathedral, gazing up at the swirled onion domes with a map forgotten in her hand when they approached her, speaking urgently, pushing the papers. He knew how it went. She obviously didn’t. She laughed a little, took a step back, her hands batting the papers, and smiled.
Smiled.
She had no sense whatsoever.

The kids must have seen that. If it was apparent to him, standing twenty metres away, it had to be utterly obvious to them. She’d been chosen for that reason; she was an easy target. They kept the papers close to her face, surrounding her. He heard her laugh again and say in clumsy Russian, ‘
Spasiba, spasiba, nyet …’

Sergei’s eyes narrowed as one of the urchins darted around and slipped his hand into the pocket of the girl’s parka. He knew how quick and quiet you could be when you slid your hand into someone’s pocket, grasping fingers reaching for the solid leather bulk of a wallet, the comforting crispness
of folded bills. He knew the thrill of danger and the satisfaction—mixed with scorn—of a successful lift.

Suppressing a sigh, Sergei decided he’d better intervene. He had no great love of Americans, but the woman was young and clearly had no idea she was about to be parted from her cash. He strode quickly towards her, the tourists and hucksters parting instinctively for him.

He grabbed the kid who’d had his hand in her pocket by the scruff of his worn and dirty sweatshirt, watched with grim satisfaction as his feet pedalled uselessly through the air. The other kids ran. Sergei felt a stab of pity for the one he’d caught; his friends had been quick to abandon him. He gave him a little shake.

‘Pokazhite mne.’
Give it to me.


Spasiba, spasiba,
’ the boy protested. ‘I don’t have anything.’

Sergei felt a hand, gentle yet surprisingly strong, on his shoulder. ‘Please,’ the woman said in badly accented Russian, ‘leave him alone.’

‘He was stealing from you,’ Sergei replied without turning. He shook the boy again.
‘Pokazhite mne!’
The girl’s grip strengthened, shoving his shoulder. It didn’t hurt, but he was surprised enough that his hold on the boy loosened for a mere second. The street urchin made good use of what he surely knew was his only chance at freedom. He kicked out and connected with Sergei’s groin—causing him to swear—and then ran for it.

Sergei drew in a deep breath, forcing himself to block the pain that was ricocheting through his mid-region. He straightened and turned to the woman who had the gall to stare at him with a particularly annoying brand of self-righteous indignation. ‘Satisfied?’ he queried sardonically, in English, and her eyes—a startling shade of violet—widened in surprise.

‘You speak English.’

‘Better than you speak Russian,’ Sergei informed her. ‘Why did you intervene? You’ll never get your money back now.’

She frowned. ‘My money?’

‘That kid you were so kindly defending was pickpocketing you.’

Her expression cleared and she smiled and shook her head. ‘No, no, you’re mistaken. He was just trying to sell me a newspaper. I would have bought one too, but I can’t read Russian
that
well. They were a little overeager,’ she allowed, clearly trying to sound fair, and Sergei could not keep the incredulity from showing in his face. Could someone really be so naive? She frowned again, noticing his expression. ‘You know that word?’

‘Yes, I know that word, and a few others besides. They weren’t overeager, lady, they were conning you.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘You know
that
word?’

She looked startled, and a little offended, but she let it go, shaking her head wryly. ‘Sorry. I know my Russian’s awful. But I really don’t think those kids were up to any harm.’

Sergei’s mouth thinned. ‘Check, then.’

‘Check …?’

‘Check your pockets.’

She shook her head again, still smiling, still naive. ‘Honestly, they were just trying to—’

‘Check.’

Her eyes flashed indigo and for a moment Sergei saw something under the sweetness, something powerful and raw, and he felt a flicker of interest. Maybe even of lust. She was quite pretty, with those violet eyes and heart-shaped face. With that bulky parka he couldn’t see much else. Then she shrugged, smiling in good-natured defeat, and spread her hands. ‘Fine, if you want me to prove it to …’ Her voice trailed off as she reached into her pockets, and Sergei watched the emotions flash across her face. Confusion, impatience, uncertainty, disbelief,
outrage. He’d seen the progression a thousand times before, usually from afar with a half dozen twenties in his fist.

Except, he realised as he watched her closely, she wasn’t outraged. Hurt, maybe, by the way her eyes darkened to the colour of storm clouds, but then she shook her head again in that accepting way of hers that both annoyed and affected him and shrugged. ‘You’re right. They took my cash.’

Why was she so good-natured? ‘Why,’ Sergei asked in as reasonable a tone as he could manage, ‘did you keep cash in your pocket?’

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, and his narrowed gaze was drawn to that innocent action. Again he felt that flicker. Her lips were full and rosebud-pink, and something about the way she nipped at them with those straight white American teeth made his middle clench. Or maybe lower down. Irritation and interest, annoyance and attraction.

‘I’d just been to the bank,’ she said, her tone one of explanation rather than defence. ‘I hadn’t had time to put it away—’

She’d been standing staring at St Basil’s with a map dangling forgotten from her hand. She’d had plenty of time. But why should he care? Sergei asked himself. Why should he bother even having this conversation? She was just another American tourist. He’d seen plenty of those over the years, from the first ones who goggled at the pathetic obscurity of an actual Russian orphan to the ones who judged with an assessing eye and brought in an army of therapists and psychologists to make sure no child was too
damaged.
As if they had any idea. And then of course tourists like this woman, who swarmed Red Square and gazed at the Kremlin and the GUM department store and all the rest as if everything were no more than a bizarre and rather quaint antiquity, rather than a lasting witness to his country’s heart-wrenching history. He had no time for any of them, and certainly not for her. He’d already half turned away when he heard her soft little exhalation
of dismay, no more than a breath, as if she wouldn’t allow herself any more.

Sergei turned back. ‘What?’

‘My passport …’

‘You kept your passport in your coat
pocket
?’

‘I told you, I’d just been to the bank …’

‘Your passport,’ Sergei repeated, because he honestly couldn’t believe someone would actually keep their cash and passport in an unzipped coat pocket while they walked across Red Square.

She smiled ruefully now, acknowledging his incredulity, accepting it even. ‘I know, I know. But I was cashing my traveller’s cheques and they needed ID—’

‘Traveller’s cheques,’ Sergei repeated. This got better and better. Or worse and worse, depending how you looked at it. He’d thought with the advent of computer banking those cheques had become obsolete. ‘Why on earth were you using traveller’s cheques? Why not an ATM card?’ Much simpler. Less chance of being stolen. Unless, of course, you kept the card in your coat pocket, with the pin number kindly attached with Sellotape to the back, as this woman probably would. Just to help a thief out.

She lifted her chin, and he saw that flare of indigo again. ‘I prefer traveller’s cheques.’

Now he was the one to shrug. ‘Fine.’ And he would have turned away, he would have turned away so quickly and easily, if not for the way her smile faltered, her lips trembling, and he saw desolation cloud her eyes to a grey-violet, the long lashes sweeping downwards to hide the sorrow he’d already seen there. He felt a painful twist in the region of his heart, a kind of raw emotion he didn’t like feeling, hadn’t let himself feel in years. Yet somehow with one sorrowful look she hadn’t even wanted him to see, he felt it. And it made him furious.

Hannah knew it had been rather foolish of her to carry her cash and passport in the front pocket of her coat; she
got
that. She would have put it away in her zipped purse except she’d become distracted by the beauty of St Basil’s, its colourful domes piercing the hard blue of the sky. And, she acknowledged, she’d been thinking about how today was her last day of travel, how tomorrow she’d be back in upstate New York, opening the shop, taking inventory, trying to make things
work.
And while she’d known it shouldn’t have, the thought gave her a little pang of—sorrow? Regret? Something like that. Something she pushed away, didn’t want to feel.

And now this Russian …
assassin
was looking at her with daggers in his ice-blue eyes. Hannah didn’t know what he did for a living, but the man was seriously intimidating. He wore a black leather coat over black jeans, not exactly the friendliest of outfits. His hair was a relatively ordinary brown but it was cut very short and framed a face so coldly arresting that Hannah’s heart had near stopped in her chest when he’d approached her.

And now
this …
the last of her money gone. Her passport gone. And her flight back to New York left in five hours.

‘What?’ the man asked brusquely. He’d turned back to her, impatience and irritation evident in every taut line of his well-muscled body. The man radiated lethal, barely leashed power. Yet still he’d turned back, even it seemed as if he’d done so against his will, or at least his better judgment. ‘You know you’ll need to go to your embassy, don’t you?’

‘Yes …’

‘They’ll help you,’ he explained to her, slowly, as if she had trouble understanding her own language. ‘They can issue you a new passport.’

‘Right.’ She swallowed. ‘How long does that usually take, do you know?’

‘A few hours to fill out the paperwork, I should think.’ He arched an eyebrow. ‘Does that inconvenience you?’

‘It does, actually,’ she informed him, managing a wry smile despite the panic plunging icily in her stomach. She was starting to realise how awful this really was. No passport. No money. Missing her flight. In Moscow.

All bad.

‘Perhaps you should have thought of that when you wandered around Red Square,’ the man returned. ‘You might as well have hung a placard around your neck declaring you were a tourist, ripe for the taking.’

‘I
am
a tourist,’ Hannah pointed out in what she thought was quite a reasonable tone. ‘And I don’t know why it’s got you so worked up. It’s not your money, or your passport.’

The man stared at her, his expression turning from fierce to something close to bewildered. ‘You’re right,’ he said after a moment. ‘There’s no reason for me to be worked up at all.’ Yet he didn’t turn away as she’d half expected him to, just kept staring at her as if she were a puzzle he couldn’t quite solve.

‘In any case,’ Hannah said, ‘I don’t mind that they took my money.’ Well, she wouldn’t have minded, except that it was the only money she’d had left. And as for the passport …

She lifted her chin, staring the man down. Sort of. ‘They need it more than I do, and at least now they can buy food—’

‘You think they’re going to buy food?’

She shook her head. ‘Don’t tell me they must be buying drugs or something awful like that. Even children who live on the street need to eat, and they couldn’t have been more than twelve—’

‘Twelve is plenty old on the street,’ the man informed her. ‘And food is easy enough to score, just steal from a fruit and vegetable stall or wait out in the back of a restaurant. You don’t use
money
to buy food. Not unless you have to.’

Hannah stared at him, surprised by his knowing tone, discomfited by the fierce light in those ice-blue eyes. ‘Sorry,’ she muttered. ‘And thanks for helping me out. If you hadn’t come along—well, if I hadn’t interfered, maybe I’d still have my money.’ And her passport.

The man jerked his head in a semblance of a nod. ‘You’ll go to your embassy?’ he asked, sounding almost as if the words—the concern—were forced from him. ‘You know where it is?’

‘Yes.’ She didn’t, but she wasn’t going to give this man any more reasons to think her an idiot. ‘Thank you for helping me out.’

‘Good luck,’ he said after a moment, and, nodding her own farewell, Hannah turned and started walking across Red Square.

Now that she was no longer dealing with that man and his forceful presence, the panic lodged icily in the pit of her stomach was becoming heavier. Icier. She swallowed, squared her shoulders—just in case he was watching—and strode towards the other side of the square. She’d look at her map then, and figure out where the American Embassy was.

Two hours later she’d finally reached the window in the consular department of the American Embassy, only to be rather flatly told that she had to report the theft to the Moscow Police Department, fill out a form, and bring it back to the embassy before she reapplied for a passport.

‘Reapply,’ Hannah repeated, not liking the word. She’d been hoping—praying—that they could just give her some sort of stamped form, like a get-out-of-jail-free card that would let her on the aeroplane. Get her home.

The woman behind the window looked at her without a flicker of sympathy or interest. To be fair, Hannah told herself, she probably heard this kind of sob story all the time. And it wasn’t her job to help Hannah, just give the information.
Still, Hannah had to swallow past the lump in her throat as she explained, ‘But my flight leaves tonight.’

‘Reschedule,’ the woman said. ‘It will take days to get a passport, and after that you have to reapply for your entry visa.’

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