Prime Target (Target #1)

By: Marquita Valentine

“You had nightmares?”

She nods. “I didn’t think I could ever come back here again.”

“Why did you?”

A little shrug and she looks away. I turn her face back to mine with my free hand. Heat arcs between us, my thumb dusts her lower lip, and her mouth parts. I dip my finger in slightly, and her tongue touches the tip before she pulls away.

A groan escapes before I can stop it. My sweet solnyshko. “Love, tell me why you came back.”

“Because my friend, who was shot twice, came back. If you can be strong and brave, Roman, then so can I.” Her hand moves from mine, and she starts to dig around in her purse. “But I don’t want you to be as afraid as I am, so I bought you something.”

There’s nothing I can say in this moment. I’m utterly gutted and transfixed by her, by her words. By her genuine concern.

By her pronouncement. My friend.

“You bought something for me?” I finally manage as her hand reappears, fingers clutching a medium-sized envelope.

Worrying the side of her lip, she says, “Self-defense, gun safety, training, and permit classes—I can’t remember the exact name for it, but the gift certificate covers it all. They teach everything.”

“I can’t—”

“Please take it. We can take the classes together.”

It nearly kills me to hear that sort of invitation from her. Petrov’s revenge has marked her. It has affected Everly in a way that I would have never allowed, given the choice. Only that bloody bastard took it away from me.

“Or not,” she adds.

“I will accompany you, so that we can learn together.”

Beautiful eyes light up, but she’s still a bit wary. “You will?”

He will pay for that wariness, even without a contract. “I promise.” I draw an X over my heart, where it beats for her and only her, then I take the envelope and tuck it into the side pocket of my trousers.

I bring her hand to my lips, pressing upon it a kiss that I long to replicate in far more erotic areas. The side of her neck, the backs of her knees…her inner thighs as they part for me. As she digs her fingers into my shoulders and moans my name while I pleasure her.

I slash the image from my mind, willing my traitorous body to ignore the surge of lust that threatens to overwhelm and break down every last bit of iron will I’ve erected.

Of course, none of this can ever happen, no one can ever know the depths of feeling I have for her—physically or emotionally. Both are dangerous.

Regretfully, my heart feels as though it’s about to burst out of my chest. I pull away, breaking the sweetest of contacts I’ve had with another in a very, very long time.

She brushes my hair back from where it has fallen over my forehead. I want to lean into her touch, to let her linger longer. I can’t remember the last time I was touched like this. Maybe when I was a child, before my mother sent me to live with my grandfather.

“There. Now you look like the Roman I know,” she pronounces. “Seller of rare books and procurer of romance novels.”

You don’t know me at all, I think sadly. I bring death even while I right wrongs. “Thank you.” I rise to my full height and brush at the invisible lint on the cuffs of my sleeves. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with my friend.”

“Oh,” she says, as if remembering we aren’t the only two people in my shop. Her earlier terror is gone, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go easier on Petrov when I find him. Quite the opposite actually. “You go on; I need to leave in a few minutes anyway. I’ll see you Friday night for our first class. It’s at seven, so we can eat before we go or after. Or…you don’t have to eat with me at all.”

Like a date? And what happened to having lunch with her? Stupid man—you can’t have lunch with her. You can’t have anything with her at all, beyond these walls. Meeting with her in the park was fucking madness. “What if we pick the same restaurant? Shall we sit at separate tables and pretend not to know one another?”

She tilts her head to one side again. Adorably, I might add. “Are you flirting with me, Roman?”

I catch sight of my customer leaning against the counter, his inquisitive eyes missing nothing. He’s amused by us, I realize.

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