1

Paris is beautiful in February. Everything takes on a romantic, fanciful quality that makes it live up to its hype. Or at least it does when you're there to attend the wedding of your best friend. Leslie and Tristan, looked like what everyone expected a Ballet Dancer couple to look like. She had moderately long chocolate brown hair and dark eyes, and the grace of a feather floating on the breeze. He was slender, with a mop of loose blonde curls and sparkling blue eyes. Standing next to one another they looked like wedding cake toppers, perhaps it even goes without saying that the wedding was picturesque. I was happy for my friend. She got what she wanted. She came, she saw and she conquered. We were both thrust into the world of Vampires at almost the same time. She, however, was able to use her cunning, wit and assertive nature to get everything she wanted. She had an amazing fiancé, immortality without death, and was the only human Principal Dancer to tour with the only Vampire Ballet Company.

So, of course the entire ceremony was tasteful and elegant. Everyone who was anyone showed up in not only Vampire Society but in the Dance world as well. Standing in front of a crowd of gathered Vampires looking out at them from my perch as Bridesmaid made me realize that my passive nature had cost me everything. I couldn't even pay attention to the vows as I was struck by how I allowed my life to be hijacked from me. I wasn't even my best friend's maid of honor. That position went to Colette, who looked stunning in the satin garnet, empire waist evening gown that all four of us bridesmaids wore. I was the only one not a ballet dancer. I was the only one who the dress made look a little pregnant. As the thought crossed my mind I glanced down the grand staircase they had us perched on and stared down at Elizabeta and the six month old child in her arms. Margot still looked nothing like Kendra. The few times I saw the child she acted as sign of everything that was and would never be again.

The string orchestra started again, and the happy couple filed down the stairs to be followed by each bridesmaid paired with a groomsman. Evan was his best man, and I found myself paired with a vampire whom I didn't know, whose seemed terrified every time I looked at him for more than a few seconds. Pictures were handled that morning so once we left the atrium we were allowed to disburse and head to our arranged tables in the ballroom for the reception.

At the reception I felt like a short, wide, little spec of insignificance in a room full of tall graceful males and lithe, waif-like females. I was also overlooked. Leslie was glued to Tristan and I didn't have a date so I spent most of the evening alone watching everyone else on the dancefloor. Compounding things was the simple fact that it was also Valentine's Day and I was still single. Aleksi however was not.

Since our break up he had been seeing the same woman, a pale slender blonde who seemed almost colorless. Her hair was white blonde and her eyes were the palest shade of gray. I knew she was a dancer, or rather had been since hooking up with Aleksi—she never seemed to not be at his side. I had taken up the habit of staring at them when they were together. He really seemed to genuinely care for her, and it broke my heart a little. You've stared longer than is polite, look elsewhere! I obeyed Miss Manners and let my gaze drift away from their domestic bliss to the crowd gathered. We were working on a friendship though, and he was helping me with the powers he helped awaken. We would Skype while I tried to force a vision without an aide or when I tried to use my telekinesis and the disaster that seemed to follow it. That was the extent of our friendship though, random skype calls and broken glasses. My eyes fell on Evan who was actually making his way over to me with a smile on his face. He had avoided me since I overheard Aleksi threaten him. I was starting to think that Aleksi had threatened all of the Vampires away from me. Everyone who once seemed so interested now avoided me like I was Typhoid Mary.

"Happy Valentine's Day!" Evan exclaimed, with a cheerful grin before sitting in the chair next to me.

"Happy Valentine's! You, sir, are the first person to wish me it all day." I smiled at him, looking at Evan just made me smile. There was something about vampirism that brought out the bright copper of his hair and the dusting of freckles on his nose. He was in his thirties when he was turned, but the freckles made him seem so much younger.

"Not even Aleksi?"

"No, but he's been busy with…" I trailed off and let my eyes dance across the room. "Charlotte," I finished when I eyes reached where Aleksi was still sitting with the little blonde slip of a girl in his lap. Those bright, burning electric blue eyes were not focused on her however—they were fixed on me. I closed my eyes and turned my head back towards Evan. "It makes perfect sense that he would… spend time with her. I'm just his servant, and barely a friend." Change the subject. "It was a lovely ceremony wasn't it?"

"It was very romantic, but I hardly expected anything else from them."

"Are you still…" I trailed off I couldn't actually bring myself to say 'sleeping with them', let alone the alternative 'fucking them'. You shouldn't have even insinuated the question! I turn my eyes to the ceiling and stared at the painted fresco there admiring the color and artistry.

"Yes, but…never mind. Yes, both Colette and I are, though…" he trailed off and sighed "She's spent the last two months attempting to get Nikolai Zelenko's petition from Aleksi. So I'm fairly certain I'm going to be replaced the moment he's brought into the company." We both frowned together and then I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up and a shiver run down my spine. I didn't even need to turn around to know who was standing behind me. His hands slid over my shoulders and I fought the urge to lean back against him. I would always be Aleksi's, he would always coax a docile and eager response from my body.

"My ears were burning, so I thought I'd come over and see what the two of you were conspiring," Aleksi snickered darkly tracing his thumbs over my shoulders. That is not how you touch someone who is just supposed to be just your friend.

"We were talking about Nikolai Zelenko," Evan offered.

"Everyone's talking about Nikolai Zelenko," Aleksi's eye roll was audible. With a swallow I opened my eyes and sat up straighter. "Which is why… I need to ask you a favor."

"A favor and not a selfish order? I'm impressed," the acid in Evan's tone could have melted the table and the marble around us. I actually gasped, for the brief time I had known Evan, I knew him to be like me passive and submissive. So the interjection of disapproval of Aleksi was shocking.

"Autumn, I need you to go to Moscow a few days early. Colette just mentioned to me that you were still alone. And I think getting away from Paris, and Me and Colette—I mean Charlotte—would be good for you. Especially with the room mix up." Oh the room mix up. How could I forget that whoever booked the rooms for the company in Paris made sure mine was off suite of Aleksi's. Attempting to go to sleep while the two of them had sex was difficult. Charlotte was a screamer, and even through the ball gag I knew he resorted to I could still hear too much.

"What about the rooms in Moscow? Are they even ready yet?" I asked craning my neck to look up at him. I looked up just in time to see something flicker in his eyes that I missed, desire.

"No, but that's another part of the favor. I want you to do the assessment," his hands stilled on my shoulders and I watched as his eyes closed for a moment. Was he enjoying the heat of my skin? You're reading too much into it.

"I…I don't know how to do that. Wouldn't it be better for you to do it? Or Evan? Actually I think Evan is way better suited to it than I am." I glanced across the table at Evan who was sipping blood out of a wine glass and shaking his head.

"Nikolai and I don't get along," Evan offered with his lips still on the glass.

"I have an envelope full of information on him and how to conduct the interview. You also know me better than anyone, Autumn. You're the only one I'd trust to make the right decision."

"Alright, I'll do it." That's the spirit! No more falling to sleeping listening to the sex you're not having.

"Thank you. This is actually very important to me."

"What are friends for," I smiled up at him. His smile fell with the expression and a sour look slipped over his lips.

"Well…your flight is in a few hours." What?

"It's over a week until you're supposed to be in Moscow! What am I supposed to do for a week?"

"Sight see, get to know Nikolai," Aleksi shrugged and I glanced at Evan who seemed equally as shocked as I was.

"She doesn't speak Russian, Aleksi," Evan chimed in, again with his face buried in the wine glass.

"Autumn," he closed his hands over my shoulders and I shivered remembering being held captive by him so many times before. "If you think you can't do it, just say the word and I'll tell him not to expect you."

"No, I'll be fine."—I smirked—"When I was sixteen my father took my family to Tokyo on vacation. I was fine then, and I'm sure after a few hours with a language book I'll be fine in Moscow." They both stared at me like I had sprouted a second head, or just devoured a small child in front of them. Aleksi leaned in, his breath caressing my ear and neck, making me tilt my head slightly to the side. I practically presented my throat to him as he whispered to me, "There's my Autumn." He quickly pulled away from me and that lack of warmth made me lightheaded. "C'mon, I'll help you get packed and take you to the airport."

"What about Charlotte?" I asked furrowing my brows. My eyes flitted back to Evan who set his glass down.

"Well I think I'm going to head back to the hotel myself. Have a lovely evening, Autumn, and a safe flight," flashing me a smile he stood and walked back into the crowd of people, not giving me a chance to say goodbye. Aleksi stared after Evan for a few moments and then released his hands from my shoulders.

"She knows you're my servant and she understands your place of reverence in my life," he held his hand out to me and I just started at it.

"I have a place of reverence in your life?"

"Mhm, you always will, Autumn. I was very clear with Charlotte in the beginning. You're a part of my life and you will always be a part of my life," That's mightily presumptuous of him.

"Oh," I took his hand and let him lead me through the opera house to the coat check. He draped the faux mink shrug over my shoulders and tied the black ribbon with a pleased smile.

"She understands, I think that's part of why I love her," He smiled softly smoothing the glossy, silken faux fur. My stomach flopped. Change the subject.

"Have you met Zelenko?" I asked as Aleksi hailed a cab.

"No, but I've heard enough that I think it's a bad idea. Regardless of what Colette says his reputation alone makes me doubt he could handle the pressure. But Tristan okayed his application, so thy Master's will be done," He snickered darkly as the cab pulled up to the curb.

"His dancing is probably why Tristan okayed him. They compare him to Baryshnikov and Nureyev and Nijinsky constantly. Leslie used to be obsessed with him before he joined the Bolshoi so I know more about him than most."

"Ah. Do you find him attractive?" he tilted his head to the side and I blinked at him.

"I honestly don't remember what he looks like. Its been…three almost four years since then. I remember he had amazing energy though. He just made everything look so effortless. But he lacks your technical perfection."

"Yes, that's the new comparison I hear. His performances are reminiscent of mine when I was mortal. Elizabeta said he has my wildness without my control," he didn't seem happy. I couldn't help but to shake my head as the cab pulled up to the hotel.

"So everyone is afraid of him replacing them." That's…where did this come from?

"What do you mean?" he asked before he paid and tipped the driver. We slid out of the cab before I answered.

"Evan thinks he'll take Colette from him, and you apparently fear losing your 'world's greatest' title."

"Evan's right to worry, but I'm not exactly worried about that."

"Worried someone else will be the sex symbol of Du Nuit?" I teased as we walked into the bright glossy lobby of the hotel. He smirked at me as we neared the elevator and pressed the button.

"No," he chuckled out as the doors slid open. We stepped on the elevator and he hit the button for our floor. "I know Marla wants you working everyday with your powers, but when you're in Moscow be very careful where and when you use your telekinesis. It's not like the States. There is still a lot of distrust of that sort of psychic ability." I nodded and the doors opened again and we walked along the tastefully decorated corridor. Everything smelled like roses—it was almost like being in a greenhouse. The swish of my dress was the only sound we made heading down the hallway to the suite. With a sigh he unlocked the door and held it open for me.

While I packed he was quiet, I could hear him milling about in the room that shared the wall with mine but no words were said.

Stripping out of the dress I stood in the room in front of my mostly packed bags in my bra and panties. The door opened and I gasped, covering myself with my hands. Aleksi stood in the doorway, backlit by the sitting room. He had changed already, shedding his tuxedo for his usual skinny jeans and a black tank top. I knew that over the tank top would go that black hooded jacket he was so fond of wearing, and since it was winter he'd also wear black leather fingerless gloves. I knew him too well, and it was the familiarity of that figure casting its long shadow that let me drop my hands. No, cover yourself back up right this instant! I hesitated and then obeyed Miss Manners recovering myself. Aleksi let out an exasperated sigh and stormed into the room closing the door behind him.

Growling he seized my mouth in a very unexpected kiss and my body melted. My head swam as I clung to him and kissed him back, my tongue caressing his as he probed my mouth desperately. The contact made me forget everything, Charlotte, the break up, going to Moscow. All I cared about in that moment was feeling more of him, touching more of him and having him touch me more. But as abrupt and unexpected as the kiss began, it ended. He traced his nose over the edge of my jaw and laced his fingers in my hair. I presented my neck to him like we hadn't spent the last almost four months apart.

He was gentle with me, far gentler than he had ever been before and it made me angry. I wasn't who he handled like this when he fed. I got a quick yank on my hair and a viper like strike. This was gentle, and sensual, closer to when Evan fed from me than any contact between me and Aleksi. He pulled me against him as he kept my neck taut and sunk his fangs into the scars which had formed over his favorite feeding spot. My eyes rolled into the back of my head as he broke the skin, and rather loud and sobering moan broke my lips. He held me tighter as he fed, the pain a shadow of what it had been before. This is how he feeds from Charlotte. I couldn't stop myself from frowning as I stared at the tasteful Monet reproduction of Water Lilies opposite us. I trembled against him as he lapped at the wound, tapering off his feeding but I still felt sick to the pit of my stomach. After he stopped he kept his arms around me, holding me hostage as he nuzzled against me.

"I'm sorry," he breathed into my ear before gently releasing me. "I shouldn't have done that," he shook his head. No, he certainly shouldn't have.

"It's okay, I'm still… I'm still your servant after all," I offered him a small smile before running my fingers back through my hair and pulling on my charcoal grey, cashmere, sweater dress. It was almost like my old one, it hugged my drastic curves and hung off my shoulders perfectly. Smoothing the soft knit fabric I sighed and pulled out a pair of knee high brown leather boots, tucked my heels away and then zipped up my suitcase.

"She'll never be what you are to me. You'll always be my other half, Autumn," his voice was heavy with regret. I knew we were apart because he thought it would keep me safe.

"Is there anything I need to know?" I asked sitting down on the bed as I slipped on my boots and zipped them.

"Zelenko will meet you at the airport outside of customs, his number is in the envelope. If he doesn't bring a sign or something call the number. Everything you need is in the envelope. There's even extra money—Moscow can be very expensive and they like cash. Oh, and try to wear something of my color every day, the coat's a good start but you're my representative." I nodded as I pulled on the bright red pea coat and wrapped the long black scarf around my throat. He actually walked back over to me and arranged the scarf to better cover my neck.

Four hours later I was in Moscow attempting to make my way through the airport. Part of me loved the universality of airports, no matter where you were they all seemed to look almost exactly the same. The language on some of the advertisements might have changed but you could tell they all said the same thing. Buy this watch. Buy these headphones. Eat at this restaurant on concourse D. Most people would have been terrified to be in another country where they didn't speak a word of the language but I wasn't. It was somewhat freeing to be blissfully unaware of the foreign chatter around me, when you couldn't pick out words everything blurred into white noise—at least for me. I made my way to baggage claim following the little universal suitcase sign.

It didn't hit me until I reached those massive round conveyer belts that I was going to meet a total stranger. After I snatched my bright red luggage off of the sea of black, fear settled into my stomach as I looked around. I proceeded through customs and the moment they saw my passport I was flagged through. I wasn't even asked to declare anything, the customs official added a page to my passport and stamped it.

"You get in trouble, you show this card," the official declared in heavily accented English as he handed me a bright red plastic card, a card that was Aleksi's color. Without another word I was waved on.

Exit customs I was confused and suddenly very aware that I should have opened the envelope and read what was inside instead of napping. Outside of the customs there were lines of people but no one was standing around with a sign that said Darling. My stomach did a backflip as I rooted around in the envelope for the little piece of paper with Nikolai's number. I dialed and didn't even hear ringing around me—he wasn't there. My hands were shaking while I juggled my purse, the envelope, the handle of my suitcase and my phone. After a few rings it answered.

"Allo?"

"Nikolai Zelenko?"

"Yes."

"This is Autumn Darling… Aleksi's servant. I'm at the airport."

"Oh, hi. Your plane's early, I'm at the Starbucks still," a sweet tenor replied with accented but otherwise perfect English. "I thought I had another forty minutes."

"No… I'm here," I nervously sighed into the phone and looked around.

"I hope this doesn't take points off," he laughed nervously.

"It won't, I've a feeling it's going to be pass fail."

"Well, I'll try hard not to disappoint," he chuckled nervously and I froze—I knew that laugh. That was Aleksi's laugh. And then I saw him as he rounded the corner and my heart stopped in my chest. With the phone pressed to his ear and the Starbucks cup in hand he looked so normal, so utterly completely normal, and so much like Aleksi I actually panicked. The mouth was different but everything else, minus coloring was exactly the same. And I knew that mouth, that adorable, playful kittenish mouth—that was Colette's mouth. What was Colette's mouth, doing on Aleksi's face? Oh you know the answer to that. The coloring was slightly different but I could chalk that up to the fact that he was living still. He was slightly darker than Aleksi, or rather his skin tone seemed more alive. It was a healthy slight tan as opposed to the other's delicate, vampiric pallor. His hair was somewhere between light brown and dark blonde almost that dishwater blonde shade that I could envision as Aleksi's before his hundred year partial moratorium on sunlight.

The only real difference that couldn't be explained away were the eyes. Aleksi and Colette had eyes that were surreal in color. They were electric blue, shockingly vibrantly blue. Nikolai's eyes were so pale blue they almost lacked color. The same color Colette told me her child's eyes had been. But she said he died. No, she didn't. You assumed, and you know what happens when you assume things. Colette's words from four months ago flooded my mind as I watched him approach me. You look frightened, smile. I forced myself to smile as he approached, but that smile stayed clear of my eyes which remained wide and fixed with terror at the quasi-incestuous love child of Aleksi and Colette. Did he know? She certainly knew but did he?

"I think I see you," I mumbled into the phone, there was no saving my tone. I ended the call and quickly switched the phone to camera mode and snapped a photo. While he approached I set it to Leslie.

[I know its your wedding night, but I don't know what to do. Did you notice this?] I quickly texted her as he approached me.

"Autumn?" he asked and I nodded pulling some of my hair behind my ear.

"Yes." Again you sound utterly brilliant. Swallowing I nervously smoothed my coat as silence settled in—we were both nervous.

"Let me help you with your bags," he offered as he reached for the handle of my rolling suitcase and I let him. Honestly, I was in shock. He could have asked me if I was okay with him decapitating me and I would have just nodded and said yes. "It's good your flight came in early. I haven't stayed up this late in years and I was starting to get exhausted," again that nervous laugh sounded as we started our way through the airport. In reality I was just following him, my brain didn't know how to cope with what I was seeing or what I should do in this situation. Did I tell Aleksi? Did he know? You're repeating your thoughts. Thank him for helping you, your mother didn't raise an ingrate

"Thank you, I don't know how I would have juggled everything if you hadn't offered to help."

"It's no problem at all." My phone erupted in my pocket. I took it out and checked my messages.

[no looking Aleksi n Colette now freaky u think he knows] Leslie sent back, she was probably still at the reception. [Keep me posted]

[I don't know if Aleksi knows, I don't think Nikolai does.] I sent back as we reached the doors.

"I'm sorry, its my best friend's wedding tonight. I was actually at the reception when I was told I was coming here," I offered him a small smile as we slipped into the back of a cab.

He spoke to the cab driver in what I assume was Russian and we were zipping along through the streets of Moscow before I could blink.

"What's Aleksi like? I've heard that he's very intense."

"Intense…" I trailed off as I thought of every time Aleksi tied me up and used my body as he pleased. My toes curled in my boots as blush flushed my cheeks. "He is certainly intense," the sadness crept into my voice like a home invader. I sunk back against the leather of the seat as the cab came to a stop.

"We're here," he offered with a playful smirk as he hopped out of the cab with the energy that betrayed his statement about being exhausted. I gathered my things and followed him.

The building was ultra-modern, but a far cry from the large black glass fortress that Aleksi called home. It was a box that had only six floors, the upper floors were a darker colored brick than the base of the building which was a light blue colored sandstone that had a row of about six windows on either side of the door. I was amazed by the universality of the lobby and the elevator. With the tasteful modern art and security desk I could have walked into any high scale apartment building in the world.

The apartment itself was large and laid out similarly to mine, but I knew why that was—there were only so many combinations of boxes you could come up with. Everything was very modern, and it looked as it had been professionally decorated, but the colors were suffocating. It was so dark, everything was black or dark gray, it was what I'd imagined living inside of Aleksi's head was like. It took a moment for it to sink in that this was Nikolai's apartment, I followed him into the bedroom where he took my suitcase and couldn't help but to notice that the room was enormous and continued with the theme of darkened walls.

"You have your own bathroom, and you can put your clothes in the dresser here," he gestured to the dark colored dresser. This was the master suite, I furrowed my brows. Did he move himself out of his room? I walked around the room for a moment, and stared at the bed. It was a king sized bed with charcoal grey bedding with black embroidery on top of it. But the bedding wasn't what caught my attention. The posts of the bed were black wood painted with shiny black lacquer that seemed to form a box around the bed. About a foot above where the post met the platform for the bed was a spot where the lacquer had been worn off, someone had been tied to the bed habitually. I swallowed remembering how Aleksi tied me to the bed at the petite Trianon when he put me en pointe.

"Thank you," I almost whispered as I untied and unbuttoned my coat.

"You're welcome," he flashed me that playful smirk. "If you need anything I'll be in the other room. The coffee wasn't one of my better ideas—I'm probably going to be up all night." Again there was that nervous laughter and I realized that this was going to be difficult. I slipped off my coat and those pale eyes of his turned into all heat. They were laser eyes of a different kind, his eyes traced the path of my hands as I smoothed the soft fabric over my sides. However, that look was brief. He looked away from me and shook his head a little. I walked to the closet and tried to the door, it was locked. "Oh, I…that's the only place in the whole apartment that you shouldn't think of as yours. I'll put your coat on the coat rack," and just like that he was gone in a flash with my coat leaving me in the foreign room.

After tucking away my clothes I sat on the bed with the large envelope Aleksi had given me. I up ended it on the bed, and out fell two packets of paper and six stacks of 5000 ruble notes. He did say Moscow would be expensive. There was also another scrap of paper. It said "You'll do fine." I glanced over the packet, one was information on Nikolai, his supposed parents, his employers, his education, his sexual orientation, list of known sexual partners. Was there a file somewhere like this about me? Probably. The second packet was all of the questions I was supposed to ask him. Just glancing over them I could tell I wasn't going to 'do fine' at all. Rubbing my face I groaned before slipping off of the bed and taking the packet with questions, and my phone with me. I glanced at the time, it was only one thirty in the morning. I needed wine; that was the only way any of the questions were going to get asked or answered.

Outside of the door I got a full view of Nikolai was lounging on the couch watching TV, he glanced up at me when I entered the room and immediately muted the program he was watching.

"Do you need anything?" he asked eagerly.

"I thought we could start on these over a glass of wine," I held up the packet and he slid off of the couch and walked into the kitchen.

"Aleksi said you like blushes, so I got a few different kinds. But I have a very good red. It's a 2002 Bordeaux—I got a case for good luck from a fan last year."

"No, thank you. I'd appreciate a glass of the blush though." I watched as he produced two wineglasses from a rack above the breakfast bar and two bottles from the refrigerator. "What else did Aleksi say?"

"That I'm to treat you with the respect I'd show him, and I'm to answer your questions truthfully. I'm sure it was a standard conversation. He's very cold isn't he?"

"Aleksi is…" I trailed off as he slid the glass of blush in front of me. I ran my fingers through my hair and pursed my lips. "Aleksi is… complex." My fingers slipped over the bite at my neck and my mind slipped back to that hard desperate kiss in my hotel room in Paris. "I'd say mercurial but I doubt that would encompass him. Have you met him?"

He shook his head, "No, but I did meet Colette Deveraux last year when my petition was initially approved. She seemed very sure she'd be the one turning me. We had lunch and she answered some of my questions. By comparison Aleksi seems almost unapproachable," He sipped his wine and took the bottles with him to the living room and set them on the coffee table. I hesitated before joining him, it wasn't that I didn't want to continue the conversation, as much as I wasn't sure where me, plus a bottle of wine and someone who looked like Aleksi would end up.

"I only know him as my Master and he treats me differently than everyone else," I murmured between sips of my wine as I joined him on the couch. "He'll be your sire and…" I trailed off and thought of the way he so casually discarded Kendra and allowed her to be cut to pieces. "That's a different relationship." He nodded slowly to my words and took another sip of his wine. "Speaking of which," I picked the packet of paper back up and reread the first page of questions. "How many tattoos do you have?" the benign question made him suck in a slow breath. He had to think, the fact that he had to think made me pause.

"Twenty…six?" he raised a brow and smirked.

"You don't know?"

"I've lost track," a sheepish grin tugged at his lips and he blushed before snatching up his wine glass again. How do you forget how many tattoos you have?

"Oh…do…do you mind if I…document them?" I asked as I felt my face grow hot from my own blush.

"Not at all," the eagerness in his voice bordered on the obscene. He stood and stripped off his shirt without another word and then started unbuttoning his pants. I wanted to crawl into my skin and hide. The paper said document the tattoos, Aleksi even had an annotation 'email me pictures'. But I was oh so unprepared for Nikolai's mostly nude body. I frantically seized the wine glass and downed the entirety as fast as I possibly could. "Shy?" he asked with a smirk, the heat from his eyes before had reached his voice. I had to force myself to look at him. But I didn't respond I turned the camera mode on my phone on and walked close to him.

His body told a story, just looking at that lithe, defined physique you could read his life. The center of his chest had a serpentine dragon in bold black lines curled around itself, the similarities to the House Dracul crest were disturbing. There was also something else disturbing about the tattoos, there seemed to be no cohesion. His skin was littered with angry dragons, the Russian crest in not one but three incarnations, and various lists and phrases. His tattoos were like what prisoners had done to pass the time while incarcerated. As I documented the numerous markings I also got pictures of the scars, they looked deliberate; some mimicked claw marks, others, like the one on his inner thigh—an elaborate phoenix rising form the flames—were amazingly detailed.

When I finished I sent them to Aleksi and took a step back. His body wasn't cluttered with tattoos and their eclectic placement was intriguing. The placement wasn't because he was trying to hide them. He had a double headed eagle on the back of his right hand, and another smaller bold lined dragon on his wrist.

"Thirty five," I commented sitting back on the couch. He pulled up his pants and joined me.

"Honestly, I was a little afraid it was closer to fifty," he laughed nervously and sipped his wine.

"Well… it's forty eight if you count the scars," I shifted nervously and he nodded.

"Is that bad?"

"I…I don't know," I shrugged and my phone buzzed causing me to jump. My heart started to race like I had been caught doing something wrong. I snatched my phone.

[Masochist.] Aleksi had replied to the pictures. I raised my eyes to Nikolai's, his darted to mine from the phone. He read the text. I swallowed and tucked my phone against my thigh.

"I'm going to get more wine," I stated as I stood and tried to process the text message and the tattoos.

"Do you have any tattoos?" the curiosity in his voice was thick.

"No, I never really thought about getting one," I answered as I retrieved the bottle of wine from the counter and walked back to the couch with it. "I'm not that interesting," I divulged before I started to nurse my wine.

"I find that hard to believe."

"Compared to you, I'm very…average. I'm nonthreatening. I think that's why Aleksi likes me," it was my turn to laugh nervously before I practically guzzled my glass of wine.

"I think Aleksi loves you because he finds it impossible to take his eyes off of you. There's something about you, you have…it. Whatever the hell it is, you have it. I could stare at you all night. And trust me, it takes a lot to hold my attention."

My face burned as I poured myself another glass of wine. I was flattered, no I was beyond flattered, but I was also confused. Aleksi kissed me hours ago. But Aleksi has Charlotte, and put you on a plane to Moscow. I drained my wine and poured another glass. I was too sober to deal with such a blatant compliment.

"I'm sorry, did I cross a line? I know you're his… I was just making an observation," he furrowed his brow and drained his wine before setting the glass down.

"No and… Aleksi and I aren't… involved. I'm his servant, I feed him"—I gestured to the fresh bite on my throat—"nothing more."

"That's not what he told me. He told me that you were completely his and off-limits," he wet his lips and sighed heavily. "Aleksi is going to stay here when he comes to town… in the room with you. He asked me specifically if I had a bed he could share with you." My anger flared.

"Nikolai… I thi—"

"Call me Niki."

"Niki, I need to make a phone call," I finished my fourth glass of wine and walked back into the bedroom with my phone. As soon as the door closed, I dialed Aleksi's number. I was so angry the dresser drawers started rattling.

"Is everything okay?" Aleksi purred into the phone, I could hear that heat in his voice.

"No, no it's not!" I practically screamed into the phone.

"Calm down," he snapped. I had never heard him go from aroused to angry so quickly before.

"No! I'm…I'm your servant, I'm not your… your… we're not sharing a bed!" I yelled into the phone, how was I so drunk off of four glasses of wine? And the four at the reception, and the martini on the plane… oh and you didn't eat anything.

"Autumn!" He snapped again, and I could hear him moving off of the bed and Charlotte groaning in protest in the background.

"I'm completely yours? What the fuck, Aleksi! What the fuck! Didn't we break up? I'm sorry, didn't you break up with me?" I yelled into the phone, utterly fearless with intoxication. The drawers from the dress shook free and hovered in the air as may errant powers sought out any object near enough to me.

"Calm down," were I not made ballsy from the three hour flight between us, I would have been silenced by his frosty tone.

"Calm down? Calm down? Do you even have anything you can fucking say in defense of yourself, and your fucking up my life over, than calm down or some stupid fucking order?" I waited. With my chest heaving I was practically panting with rage, the dresser started vibrating again.

"Autumn," his voice was very quiet, almost a whisper. "We'll talk about this in the morning."

"No! No! We're talking about this now! We're not together, Aleksi. That was your doing not mine. You don't get to…dictate who I date six months after you break up with me. And… and you… you don't get to put me in and take me out of a box whenever you feel like playing with me because fucking ballerina Barbie isn't around for you to stick your dick i—"

"Quiet!" The darkness in the room yowled in a deep dark voice that made me shake. The dresser and drawers fell to the floor, their contents rumbled and messed. "Autumn," he breathed my name in that whisper quiet voice. "They aren't a good fit for you. You'd grow frustrated with Evan because he can't give you what you need. And Nikolai…" he trailed off and took a slow breath. I leaned back against the wall. "That is me being selfish. I'm not happy, Autumn. Ballerina Barbie as you so eloquently called her is a distraction. I don't feel for her a tenth of what I feel for you, so yes I'm being selfish. I'm sorry," He sighed and I could hear him pacing. My eyes closed and I could see him in my mind pacing around the hotel room in those bright red pajama pants, or better yet, nude. We were quiet for a while, fear and the apology had calmed me.

"Aleksi?"

"Mhm."

"I'm…let me send you something,"

"Okay?" he was clearly puzzled but I had to show him the picture of Nikolai. He deserved to know if he didn't already. I lowered the phone and sent him the picture of Nikolai at the airport. "What do you think of him so far?"

"I think you need to see what I sent you. But he's nice, and fairly charming… though I think he needs to be kept at least two continents away from Elizabeta"

"No, he needs someone like Elizabeta. Like you need someone like me," I could almost hear the smile in his voice. "Oh, I got your message," I heard rustling and then silence. There was a lot of silence. "Autumn, check the sheet you have, how old is he?"

"Twenty six," I read the age off, and silence invaded again. There was a knock on the door, I opened it, Nikolai was on the other side.

"I wanted to let you know that I'm heading to bed. I'm sorry about earlier. I'm…awkward sometimes," Nikolai flashed me that lopsided smirk.

"No, no, no, you're fine."

"So, things won't be weird?"

"No, I'm flattered and fairly single," I almost forgot I was still holding the phone in my ear—until I heard Aleksi's breathe catch.

"Being single myself… I'd love to show you around tomorrow," He purred with a smirk.

"No!" Aleksi hastily barked in my ear. "I'll be there tomorrow"

"But don't you have Giselle tomorrow?" I asked as my eyes fell from Nikolai.

"Somethings are more important, this is one of those things. I'll be there when you two wake up." The end call noise beeped in my ear.

"W-we can't tomorrow… maybe Sunday? Aleksi will be here in a few hours apparently."

"Oh."

"Oh…" I trailed off and sighed. "Good night, Niki."

"Goodnight, Autumn," He leaned in and kissed my forehead and I got a whiff of him. His scent left me lightheaded. My brows furrowed as I watched him walk from the door way. It was probably the alcohol. Right?