Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I'm borrowing her characters and giving them some guns (again).

Unbeta'd, unedited.


The clock chimes eight by the time I finish my shower and make my way over to Aronov's private apartments.

Surprisingly, the hallways are still empty and quiet, but the shadows from last night are long gone, chased away by the morning sun streaming through the rows of open doors and the towering set of windows at the end. Like the rest of Aronov's home, the space is beautiful, an eclectic yet cultured blend of incredible wealth and comfort. Warm, handwoven rugs muffle my footfalls. Stone statuettes, finely crafted lamps, and centuries-old collectibles top an array of antique tables and cabinets. A fortune's worth of artwork hangs from the stone and plaster walls.

I'll give the guy credit. Aronov knows his fine art.

Or… he knows the fine art of laundering money.

Either way, I hesitate outside his door, and for a second, I just stand there, studying the ornate floral designs carved into the wood. My fists ball by my sides as I suck in a deep, steadying breath, trying my damnedest to ignore the heavy ball of nerves sitting in the pit of my gut. It's not exactly easy, seeing as how I have no fucking clue how well those little yellow pills worked.

Inside, metal clinks against porcelain and halts my internal debate. In the background, I catch the low drone of voices coming from a television.

Well, at least I know he's awake.

Wiping my palms on my jeans, I will my heart rate to slow, inhale one last shaky breath, and rap my knuckles against the doorframe.

The clinking ceases immediately. There's a pause, and then a clipped baritone answers. "Vkhodi."

The second I slip through the door, I spot him. Seated at an elegantly appointed breakfast table by the opposite window, Aronov sips his morning tea while watching stock prices speed across the bottom of a wide, high-end, razor-thin television. Freshly showered, manicured, and decked out in his version of at-home casual – fine, midnight cashmere over his usual starched white oxford – the man's refinement personified.

Noticing my silence, he looks away from the screen, and I give him a beaming grin as I swing the door shut.

"Dobroye utro," I say, absolutely butchering the pronunciation.

Aronov's eyes glitter in instant, undisguised delight. Without hesitation, he sets his tea down and blindly taps a small LED panel beside his plate. The television and its lines of scrolling tickers blink off, and the screen glides back into a hidden slot in the wall without even a whisper of sound.

Damn, he has good toys.

"Lyubimaya moya," he murmurs, flashing me a row of pearly teeth as I cross the room in a handful of quick strides. "I see you have been learning more words. Ochen' khorosho."

Like the gentleman he pretends to be, Aronov gestures for me to sit, but instead, I surprise him by wrapping my arms around him from behind. Giving him a little squeeze, I bend down and press my lips to his cheek. He makes a soft, humming sound of contentment as one hand darts up to capture mine. Smiling against short, neatly trimmed beard hair, I kiss him again and whisper in his ear. "Since you keep saying things I don't understand, I figure I should at least try. Don't you think?"

With a final squeeze, I release him and slide into the empty chair to his right. When I peek over, hunger mixed with something deeper bleeds through his expression, and he stares at me like I'm the only thing in the world worth looking at.

Any other day, my skin would crawl at that kind of obsessiveness, especially knowing what he's capable of, but after last night's little adventure, all I feel is relief. The ball of nerves in my gut loosens ever so slightly, and I relax against the cushioned backrest behind me.

"Where did you learn this one?" Aronov asks as he pours me a cup of Maria's finest from a delicate cobalt and gold vermeil carafe. Since he doesn't drink coffee, I have to wonder how many mornings he's had his kitchen prepare it, just in case I showed up.

Again, flattering… were he not a fucking psychopath.

"Google." I laugh and make a show of inhaling the fragrant aroma of hot, bitter perfection. Eying him over the rim of my steaming cup, I ask, "What was it you said when I came in? Lubi maya?"

"Lyubimaya." Lips curving, Aronov props his elbow on the linen-covered table and rests his chin in his palm. "It is just… a small term of endearment." He waves a random hand like it's nothing, even though we both know it's the exact opposite. "Not so different from others I say to you. Dorogaya... Milaya... same sentiment."

"Meaning?"

"My darling. My sweet." His voice drops in both pitch and volume. "My beloved."

All right then, apparently, I was an amazing lay.

And damn it, I'm going to owe Spooky big time for this shit.

My nose scrunches, and Aronov grins like the proverbial cat. "You would prefer me to use other names?" he asks, cocking a brow as he reaches over to loop a stray strand of still-damp hair around his forefinger. "I could call you moye solnyshko – my little sun." Lips twitching, barely holding in his amusement, he tugs the strand before tucking it behind my ear. "Or perhaps you would prefer zayka – my bunny?"

Okay, I legitimately laugh at that. "No, it's fine." Rolling my eyes for good measure, I take a drink of my coffee. "Let's stick with non-animals, shall we?"

Chuckling softly, Aronov tops off his tea from the small, exquisitely enameled samovar in the center of the table. "If that is your preference."

I shake my head when he motions to the ridiculous, perfectly-plated spread of breakfast meats, cheeses, fruits, and pastries. "So," I say, drawing it out. "If I'm darling and beloved… what should I call you?"

Aronov stills, and for a long moment, he watches me with what I can only call rapt fascination. His breathing hitches and his Adam's apple dips below the stiff collar of his shirt. "You may call me anything your heart wishes."

Jesus Christ.

Ducking my chin, I examine my coffee and force my cheeks to warm. When I look up, I give him a small, self-conscious smile before turning mischievous. "Teach me more words."

Those eyes of his glitter again. Aronov thinks for a second but then reaches over and takes my hand. Walking along the inside of my wrist, he traces a slow, purposefully sensual path to the sensitive skin between my fingers.

"This is paletspal'tsy for more than one," he says, drawing the shape of my fingers, one by one, before touching his lips to the tips. When I press them to his lips again, he smiles and then moves to my palm. "And this is ladon'." He lingers there, repeating soft, open-mouth kisses to the center of my hand.

It's a skin-crawling sensation, and it takes everything I have not to pull away and break him right then and there. When I register the bite of teeth, a shiver of anticipation steals through my body, and like always, he mistakes my reaction for that of arousal. His fingertips crawl up my arm to my shoulder and finally, to my neck. "Ruka… Plecho… Sheya."

At that last one, Aronov's fingers spread, bracketing my throat, and his irises abruptly darken. Another frisson of awareness skates through me, and this time, my internal radar sounds off like an air raid siren. When his thumb skims up and down my windpipe, for a split second, I wonder if he's the better actor after all.

My heart hammers against my rib cage, echoing in my ears, and my free hand curls around my cup until my skin stretches white. I don't strike, however. No, playing my part, I let out a soft, breathy little noise, and my teeth clamp down on my lower lip.

Aronov's smile widens, hinting at the savage predator beneath the sophisticated façade.

There you are.

"So very delicate." He says it in a whisper, more to himself than to me, but then he blinks and, just as quickly, releases my throat to caress my cheek. "This is shcheka," he murmurs, stroking my skin like the finest silk as he leans in and slants his lips over mine. "And these… these are guby."

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. This motherfucker is going to give me whiplash.

But I let him kiss me. I allow him to hold my face to his and explore my mouth like the romantic lover he wants to be, and when he finally draws away, I hum my approval. "You know, I think you're flirting with me."

"Konechno." Aronov pulls my hand back to his mouth. "And you enjoy it."

My brows climb, even as I run my nails along his jawline, rasping against the short-cut hairs. "And you're very sure of yourself."

He just shrugs like I'm telling him the sky is blue.

"Do you ever miscalculate?"

A low growl rumbles in the back of his throat. "Never."

Shooting him an amused look, I pluck a small bunch of dark, purple-skinned grapes from one of the platters and pop one in my mouth. It's a sweet, sweet, flavorful variety that runs a solid one hundred and eighty degrees from the bitterness of my coffee, but not kidding, it might as well be a bite of heaven. Aronov's gaze tracks my motions, gleaming as he watches my mouth when I pop a second and then a third. He makes another sound when I swallow, this one a bit less feral, and gives himself a reluctant shake.

"You cannot imagine how it pleases me that you join me this morning," Aronov says, studying me as he leans back in his chair and elegantly crosses one leg over the opposite knee. "I must admit that I was… concerned when I awoke and found you missing."

There's an edge to his tone, both irritation and a warning, but I ignore it and wave at the sunlit window in front of us. "My internal alarm clock is a blessing and a curse."

"You went for running this morning?" His forehead wrinkles. I think he's aiming for incredulity, which I find hilarious because there's no fucking way he hasn't already gotten the report from his gate guards.

Those assholes are all a bunch of tattletales, which works just fine when I need the alibi.

Like today, for example.

"I did," I tell him as I finish my grapes. "Although, my pace was a little… off." I throw him a flirty wink. "For obvious reasons."

Aronov catches on immediately, and his eyes fall below my neckline and trail down to my waist in a slow, repeating circuit. "How do you feel?"

"A little tired."

"And?"

I don't answer for a moment and instead, let the silence swell and do its magic. The steady rise and fall of his chest ceases as he waits for me to speak. "And okay, maybe a little sore."

That's not exactly a lie either, especially after that pre-dawn round two of bedroom gymnastics.

Because holy fuck.

Aronov's chest expands as he sucks in a deep, shaky breath through his nose. "Perhaps," he says, and his voice turns to gravel. "I was a bit too aggressive with you. Perhaps, too… rough."

It's more of a statement than a question, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what kind of fantasies he cooked up for us in that drug-induced stupor. Ignoring the churn in my stomach, I pull a Rosalie and run my fingers down the column of my throat by way of distraction. It works like a charm, too, and Aronov's eyes glue themselves to their path. "Yes, you were aggressive. And maybe a little rough." I pause, watching that hunger roar back to the surface. "But no, not… too rough."

He swallows and then shakes his head, muttering under his breath as he reaches for his tea, "Kak dolgo ya tebya iskal."

I let that go and break the thickening tension with a smirk and a playful sing-song, "And how do you feel?"

Porcelain clatters as he replaces his cup. His cheeks crease and a low chuckle tumbles out. "You would like my honest answer?"

When I grin and nod, he swipes a hand through short-cropped hair, and I automatically catalogue the other, more subtle tells from last night. Faint gray bruises tint the hollows of his eyes. His shoulders, ordinarily as straight as a board, slump.

"Honestly, I have not been this tired in quite some time." Aronov leans forward, again resting his chin on his palm. "And… as much as I despise it, I believe I will have to spend more time in the gym, or you may very well kill me."

Oh, the irony.

My whole body shakes in silent laughter. "Well," I say. "You could always join me on my runs."

Aronov throws his head back and belts out a loud, genuine laugh. "You are a devil of a woman. You would truly kill me if you could."

Pretty much.

We spend the next several minutes in idle chit-chat while Aronov polishes off the remainder of his breakfast. My watch reads nearly nine by the time he drains the last of his tea. Outside, the sky is a vibrant crystal blue, contrasted by a handful of white fluffy clouds hanging over the rows of dormant vines in the distance. I bet this place looks like a dream in the summer.

"How does this work?" I finally ask as I run my thumb around the delicate gold rim of my cup.

"How does what work?" Aronov's expression is a patient, indulgent one, telling me he knows exactly what I'm asking.

"This. You… me." I gesture between us. "I haven't been involved in a situation like this before. I don't know what the expectations are."

Reaching across the table, he covers my hand and gently threads his fingers between mine. "It is very simple."

"How so?"

"You will allow me to care for you, to spoil you and treasure you… as it is your due." His shoulders roll in a loose shrug, but the sharp, unrelenting focus in his gaze gives him away. "I will take you places you have never been, give you experiences you have never imagined. Jewelry, art, rifles…" He pauses on that one, letting out a soft breath of a laugh. "Whatever you wish, you will have it. I will ensure your happiness and that you want for nothing."

"You said something like that before," I reply, tilting my head as if in examination. "But I'll admit, I still don't understand what you get out of all this. It seems uneven if not a little transactional."

He tsks and waves a dismissive hand. "In my mind, there is nothing at all uneven about it. And I have enough years to know that all relationships have some degree of, how to say it, give and take, depending on the attributes of individuals involved."

It's a startlingly similar argument to the one I made to Masen way back in Vienna. "In other words, everyone brings something to the negotiating table."

"Precisely, and as I said before, I get you." When I frown, Aronov pulls my knuckles to his lips. "If I have not made it abundantly clear by now, let me speak plainly. I find you utterly captivating, and I want you. All of you."

"And what does that mean?"

"You will accompany me when I travel and live with me here." He touches his lips to my knuckles once more before lowering our hands back to the table. "You will give me your companionship and your attentions. Your affections… and perhaps, one day, you will give me more than this."

Fuck.

"I will expect discretion, of course," he says, going on while my stomach goes into freefall. "It is inevitable that you will hear, see, and be privy to certain things, some of which may be… unpleasant at times." When I start, his lips twitch, and he gives my hand an encouraging squeeze. "Rest assured that you will be protected at all times, but there are people you will meet, some of whom you have already encountered. Such things I consider to be private matters."

"All right." I give him a slow nod. "What else?"

"I expect your loyalty." Aronov releases my hand only to trail his fingertips down the side of my face. Stopping at my chin, he angles my face left and then right. The slight curve of his lips turns darker, and his skin stretches taut across his cheekbones. The rest comes out more like a growl. "And I demand fidelity."

Crossing my arms over my chest, I lean against the table and stare. "And what about you?"

My question throws him off. "What about me?"

"What about your mistresses? And don't tell me you don't have a few tucked away." My stare morphs into a glare. "You may have more years of experience, but I'm not naïve. I know that's the norm for men in your position."

"Gone." The word punches out before I finish my last statement. "Consider them gone, effective immediately."

I arch an eyebrow. "Just like that? I ask, and it happens?"

"Yes, exactly like that." Unmitigated joy dances across his features, just like in his library when I called him out on his late wife. Spooky would have a fucking field day figuring this guy out. "You have no idea how it pleases me that you would demand this of me, that you would command my respect in this way."

When I open my mouth to reply, he goes on, "Because I say this once… I will indulge your every desire, but, Bella, I will not share you. I will not be made a fool. If I discover you have been with another man, I will bleed him dry and remove the hands that dared to touch what is mine."

There it is. There's that violence and brutality. That's the man who Koshmarin follows.

"That's a little dramatic, don't you think?"

White-hot rage flashes across his face but then disappears just as fast. "Possibly, but on this, I do not speak in hyperbole. I will destroy the man who touches you."

I slide my hand across his, smiling when he flips his over to grasp mine, and we just look at each other for a long moment. "What would you do to me?"

A tremor skates down Aronov's arm, and his hand spasms around mine. "I do not want to consider such things, let alone speak of it." A muscle in his cheek jumps. "But as I have already warned you, I am indeed a ruthless man, and I have very, very few boundaries."

Sliding out of my chair, I step toward him and give his knee a tap. He follows my direction at once, and when he uncrosses his legs, I sit across his lap and snake my arms around his neck. "I can see that."

He concentrates on my mouth. "Can you?"

Aronov once told me that he was drawn to my innate darkness, so I allow a little bit of the real me to rise to the surface. "So, you want my attention and my affection…"

His eyes close as I touch his face, and a tiny, unexpected pang hits me square in the chest.

Aronov's a goddamned monster.

There's no doubt about that, but he's a complicated one – far more than we realized – and even I can recognize and empathize with loneliness when I see it. Despite all the wealth and trappings, and the bevy of staff and associates at his beck and call, Mikhail Aronov is a lonely, touch-starved man, and on some level, I suspect he deeply regrets the murder of the wife he once loved.

Of course, that won't stop me from taking his ass out.

No, he's earned his sentence a hundred-fold, and my conscience won't even blink at being the one to deliver it.

"Guby," I say, this time mimicking his accent perfectly as I trace and plump his lower lip. "I like this word. And I like what they do." Aronov's eyes open, staring into mine with a blend of lust and blind adoration, and his hand knots into my hair to pull my mouth to his. "Tonight, when we go to bed, perhaps you can teach me more words."

.

.

.


Notes:

I've gotten this question frequently enough over the last few months that I thought I'd just answer it here:

Do I speak Russian? A little, yes, although I read/understand much better than I write/speak. Technically, I minored in it back in university. Back then, I had a large friend group from countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, and I was in a long-term relationship with a guy from Belarus. But that was a long time ago, and I've forgotten a lot. As for the Russian in this fic, I've done my best from memory and used a translator to help (which is always risky!). Recently, a lovely reader (anyagal) helped me fix a few phrases in previous chapters – spasibo! :)


Russian (transliterated):

Vkhodi: Enter / come in (imper)

Dobroye utro: Good morning

Ochen' khorosho: Very good

Lyubimaya moya: term of endearment meaning my love, my beloved, etc. It's common between lovers, spouses, etc, and might be viewed as a little more serious than Aronov's prior terms. There are a couple of other phrases that might be considered even more serious. He's not pulled those out… yet, lol.

Dorogaya. Milaya: recall, these are other terms of endearment, meaning roughly, my darling, my sweet, honey, etc

Moye solnyshko… Zayka: as mentioned in the text, my little sun, and bunny, respectively. These are relatively common terms of endearment, as are diminutives of various other animals (little fish, kitten, little bird, little paw, etc).

Palets/Pal'tsy… Ladon'… Ruka… Plecho… Sheya… Shcheka… Guby: Finger/s… Palm… Arm… Shoulder… Neck… Cheek… Lips

Konechno: Of course

Kak dolgo ya tebya iskal: How long have I looked/searched for you


Glossary: