From Lukov with Love: Chapter 23

“I DON’T USUALLY GIVE Ivan pep talks before he skates, Jasmine, but I can give you one if you need it,” Coach Lee offered as we stood in the tunnel off to the side of the ice, as the team on the ice started their short program.

I didn’t turn to look at her from my spot in front of Ivan and beside her. I was looking around at the crowd in the stands, keeping my breathing steady, my nerves in check. I felt calm. Calmer than I could ever remember. “I’m okay.”

Because everything would be fine one way or the other. Like Ivan had said. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world if things went to shit.

But I still hoped they didn’t.

“Are you sure?” Coach Lee asked.

I didn’t glance at her, knowing she was watching the pair performing too, as I shook my head and said, “Positive. Pep talks just psych me out.” I did glance at her that time. “But thanks for offering.”

The two hands that had been on my shoulders from the moment we’d come to wait for our turn, kneaded my traps loosely. Ivan’s body was so close behind me, I could feel the heat radiating off him. We’d killed the last three hours, stretching and stretching more, then running through the program in the hall with headphones on, only doing a handful of lifts to gain confidence even though we’d done them a thousand times over the last eight months.

We were as good as we could be with everything that had happened before this.

We were going to try our best, and there was nothing more we could ask for.

“Your mom just waved at me,” Ivan whispered into my ear before lifting a hand off my shoulder and more than likely waving it.

I had never looked for my family before I skated. It had always made me feel more pressure knowing they were there. I didn’t even check my phone for hours before a competition. I wanted to be focused.

But the mention of my mom, who I hadn’t seen since she’d arrived to Lake Placid the night before, had me looking up and around.

Ivan’s hand went up beside my head, and he pointed to the right. Sure enough, I recognized the redhead standing, waving her arms over her head like a crazy person. I also recognized the dark-skinned man on one side of her, the other redhead on her other side, Sebastian’s auburn hair, and—

There was a man his exact height standing beside him. Darker-haired, not as light-skinned. On the other side of that man was Jojo’s unmistakable fat head and big ears, James’s medium-brown hair, and a black-haired couple that had to be the Lukovs.

It was my dad.

It was my fucking dad sitting there.

“Your mom and Jonathan tried to talk him out of coming, but he insisted he wouldn’t bother you,” Ivan whispered into my ear.

I swallowed. I swallowed because I had no idea how I felt about seeing him there. It wasn’t excitement like it would have been a decade ago. But it was something. And I didn’t think it was totally dread.

“You good?” he asked in his low voice.

Without realizing it, my hand went to the spot on my forearm where my bracelet was tied. My new bracelet. I touched it and the lacy-stretch material over it.

“I’m good,” I said, as I went back to looking at my mom who had stopped waving her arms around in the middle of another team’s program, finally. She was watching me and Ivan, and I could tell even from the distance that she was grinning.

I lifted my hand, the one with the bracelet, and waved it at her. Just a little, just for a second.

And she opened her mouth like she was screaming. She might have been, knowing her. But she looked so fucking excited—

I had to let my guilt go and try to focus on being better from now on. I had to.

The hand on my shoulder slid down to rest at the tops of my arms, and Ivan began moving his hands up and down my biceps and triceps.

The music ended a minute afterward, and we watched from our spot as the two figure skaters got off the ice, waving all over the arena before getting the hell out of the way while they waited for their scores to be called.

Coach Lee turned to us and raised her eyebrows at both Ivan and me, and said, “You’re ready.”

Not a question, but a statement.

Because we were.

“You’ve both exceeded my expectations for the season already. Ivan, remember to pace yourself after you come out of the triple-triple, and Jasmine…” She gave me a little smile then that I felt down to my bones. “Just be this you, okay?”

This me.

I didn’t know what the hell she meant by that, but I nodded anyway.

This me.

“Let’s get ’em, baby,” Ivan whispered into my ear, with a squeeze to my upper arms.

I gave him a short nod. I zoned out the crowd cheering as the scores were called. Then we made our way toward the opening into the ice. The only person I was competing against that night was… myself. The person I had been with Paul. As long as I could do better than that version of me had… I couldn’t ask for anything more.

It felt like a distant memory I could look back on later, me taking my skate guards off and handing them to Coach Lee before I got on the ice and waited alongside the wall as Ivan came on after me, doing the same. Coach Lee was right though, she wasn’t much for pep talks or last-minute suggestions other than the ones she had just told us and the ones she had beat into us in past practices.

It honestly felt surreal standing out on the ice that night, listening to people cheering at Ivan and chanting his name like we were at a damn basketball game or something.

Ivan! Ivan! Ivan!

Lukov! Lukov! Lukov!

I’d heard it and witnessed it before from a distance—from the sidelines or the audience—but never while I was on the ice beside the man that these people were going fucking nuts for.

But as I stood there and listened, I could hear a small, tiny, itsy-bitsy hum in the crowd.

Jasmine! Jasmine! Jasmine!

And if it sounded exactly like a mash of all of my family members’ voices… it was more than enough for me.

It was so much more than I deserved, but that familiar feeling I’d gotten earlier when Ivan had given me my bracelet and just minutes ago when Coach Lee had told me to be myself, it felt like home. It felt right. It felt an awful fucking lot like love.

Fingers squeezed the back of my neck, and I glanced up to see Ivan grinning down at me.

And I smiled back at him.

We turned around at the same time to face the center of the ice, and just like we had done without a single prompt or word every time before during practice, Ivan held out his hand to the side, between us, watching me. And I looked at him and put my hand in his. And we skated out toward the middle together, holding each other’s hands as the crowd’s chants turned into screams.

“Whatever happens, right?” I asked him as we skated to our starting point and stopped there.

Ivan didn’t let go of my hand as he nodded and took a step back to get into place. Whatever happens, he mouthed to me. But then his lips kept forming words. Three words exactly. I love you.

If I’d had anything other than skates on, I would have tripped or fallen over or some shit like that.

I would have busted my goddamn ass and probably split my chin open.

But luckily, I was in the one thing I had more confidence in than tennis shoes or flip-flops. But that didn’t stop me from having my entire body go tense as I stood there, knowing I needed to get into position but being too fucking dumbstruck to do anything other than hiss, What? Thinking I hadn’t read his lips right.

Ivan stopped in front of me, a small smile on his face as he placed all of his arms and legs and fingers where they needed to be. I love you, he repeated like it was something he’d said a thousand times in the past. Like we weren’t on the ice about to start our first short program in front of an audience that included more people than the other amateur figure skaters at the LC.

I blinked at him, trying to get my hands into position but not able to think about anything else besides the fucking I love you that had just come out of his lips. “Ivan,” I started to say, forgetting that he couldn’t hear me, swallowing hard and looking into his eyes as my hands and knees got into the place we had practiced so many times, getting into position because my mouth had stopped working but my brain hadn’t.

The smile that came over his face was slow… and sweet.

And alarming.

“You suck, Meatball,” he called out a second before I knew the music was about to start. But I love you, his lips formed.

My heart thumped. Thumped. Then thumped some more.

My world didn’t tilt, my legs didn’t give out from under me, but that feeling that had only intensified throughout the day, grew and grew and grew until it seemed to cover every inch of me, inside and out.

Ivan loved me.

Ivan fucking loved me.

And he didn’t care if we won or lost.

And all I could do was get mad that he’d cut me off when I’d been about to tell him the same thing, and now he’d won.

“You couldn’t have chosen a better time to say something?” I asked loudly, trying so hard not to move my lips.

I swore to God, this idiot puckered his lips and blew me a kiss so small there was no way that any of the cameras around the building could have caught it. Nope, he slipped out.

And then the music started.

He was so fucking lucky I could do our short program without thinking, because if we hadn’t done it a thousand and a half times together, and I hadn’t done it another five hundred times by myself, I would have screwed it up big-time.

And luckily for him, he was all business once the music started, and only sent me a wink and a smile once each during the entire two-minutes and forty seconds.

By some miracle, I managed to focus on what we had to do instead of the words that had come out of nowhere… at least until the second we hit our final poses and the music ended.

And then I remembered.

I remembered his I love you, and it pissed me off all over again.

Because. What. The. Fuck?

“You had to tell me right before we started?” I hissed, panting and out of breath.

His chest was puffing in and out as he gasped, “Uh-huh.”


Just uh-huh.


Before I could stop him, before I could realize what the hell he was doing, as we stood there, both panting, our faces inches apart, both high off adrenaline and power and something that I was 99 percent certain was love, he smiled that soft, slow smile.

He leaned forward, quick as lightning, and pecked me on the nose.

Ivan Lukov kissed me on the tip of my nose at the end of our short program.

And the fact that some of the audience made a soft coo, an “aww” that would have made me cringe under most circumstances, didn’t even register to me.

It didn’t register to me because I was too focused on the fact that he’d even done it to begin with. Let alone on television. Let alone three minutes after he told me he loved me.

“What is wrong with you?” I hissed a second before stepping out of our finishing poses to go into a bow.

He didn’t let my tone stop him from flashing me that slow, slick grin as he got into place at my side. “You.”

“Bitch,” I whispered just as I bowed. I’d never liked curtsies. They felt too fake.

“Loser,” he said while we rolled up.

“Why would you do that?” I asked, barely able to get the sentence out as we turned to the other side of the arena to do the same.

His hand slipped into mine, linking our fingers together as we bowed in that direction next. “Because I wanted to, Meatball.” He squeezed my hand as we stood straight up and waved to the people throwing stuffed animals and flowers out onto the ice. I’d never seen so many for me before. Never. “Smile. We did it,” he said, still breathing hard.

I smiled, but because I wanted to.

“Stop looking at me like you want to kill me. We can talk about this later. Don’t be awkward,” he murmured, pulling my hand once we were standing straight up again. “We both know you love me.”

I wanted to deny it. I really did. Mostly because I hated the fact that he sounded so smug.

But we both knew I’d be lying.

Maybe I’d never said the words, but he knew. Like he’d known about my learning disability but never said anything. Like he knew chocolate was my weakness and fed it to me when I needed it most.

It was my turn to pull at his hand as I tried to lead him off the ice, whispering, angrily, “Don’t sound so smug about it.”

“Too bad,” he whispered.


Squirt: Omg! Omg! Omg!

Squirt: You looked like a queen out there.

Squirt: You flew!

Squirt: You were a totally different skater.

Squirt: OMG.

Squirt: I cried.

Squirt: I wish I could have been there.

Squirt: I’m going to nationals. Aaron can stay with the kids. I’m not missing it.

Freshly showered and still on a high even four hours later, I sat there on my bed and looked over the messages my sister had sent. I couldn’t help but smile. Hitting the icon to call her, I leaned back and lay on the bed as I listened to the dial tone.

On the third ring, my sister answered. “JASMINE! YOU WERE THE BEST I’VE EVER SEEN!”

“Thanks, Rubes,” I replied, feeling awkward saying “thank you,” but what else could I say?

“Aaron and I were losing our minds! Even Benny was watching it and asked if that was Aunt Jazzy on the TV,” she went on. “I’m so proud of you, Jas. I’m so freaking proud of you. I don’t know what you did, but I’ve never seen you skate like that. I’m tearing up right now thinking about it.”

Now that had me holding back a groan. “Don’t cry.”

“I’m so happy though,” she squeaked, genuinely sounding like she was on the verge of tears.

“Me too,” I told her, staring up at the ceiling with a smile on my face. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be in second place after the short program.”

Because Ivan and I had gotten second place. And it was only second by less than a point. That was… nothing.

Nothing because our long program was our strongest. At least I thought it was. Going with dark movies as our theme had been the best thing we could have done while most of the other pairs skaters performed to love songs and shit like that. Paul and I had done that back in the day, but I guess it wasn’t believable because I was a shit liar and there had definitely been no love—and in the long run, no respect—in our relationship.

So Ivan and I were more than likely going to surprise the shit out of everyone when we did our exhibition skate to “A Whole New World” from the Aladdin soundtrack because… why not?

It was weird how things like that worked out.

“Well, you looked beautiful, and so did Ivan, and I couldn’t be any happier,” she choked.

“Stop crying,” I told her with a laugh.

“I can’t. I already watched your program five times in a row. We recorded it. Even Aaron’s dad called to tell me you were the best one out there.”

How the hell did Aaron’s dad know to watch? I didn’t ask, but I did wonder.

“Did you get to see the family after?” she asked, going right on into another subject.

And then, I did wince. To myself. “Yeah. We ate at the resort we’re staying at.” All of us had. All of us.

Ruby hesitated and asked the question I knew she had to be wondering about. She had to have known our dad had come. “How did it go with dad?” she asked, and I could hear the tension in her tone.

I closed my eyes and blew out a breath. “Fine.”

“Fine you didn’t fight with him but you wanted to? Or fine as in you hugged and everything was okay?”

Shit. “Fine as in… we gave each other a hug and he sat all the way on the other end of the table and didn’t say anything to me.” And I’d been fine with it. I really had. Relieved, honestly. I’d been so excited about the scores, I hadn’t wanted him to ruin it.

And didn’t that suck fucking ass that I expected my dad to ruin something I’d worked so hard for?

“Oh, Jas,” Ruby sighed softly.

“It was fine.”

“I don’t want to argue with you, okay?”

Oh God. Here we went.

“Dad loves you. He wants the best for you.”

I said nothing.

“He’s… old-fashioned.”

Is that what we were going to call it?

“You should forgive him. He’s trying. He knows he’s messed up, but none of us are perfect,” Ruby kept going, only slightly making me feel guilty.

And I meant slightly. Because how many times had I done something to even Ruby to make her hesitate around me?


“I know that, Rubes. I get it, but do you know how hard it is to listen to him talk about figure skating like it’s some rec sport I do just for fun on the weekends? Do you know what it’s like for him to…. what’s that word?… belittle my dreams? To hear him say I’m better off doing something I hate?” I asked her, not getting at all riled up. Not feeling anything, honestly.

I could hear her breathing on the other line. Then she said, “Yeah, Jas. I do know. I know exactly what that’s like, and I understand. I know it’s not fun.”

My body went instantly on high alert. “Who did that to you?”

“Mom. Dad. Both of them.”

I tried to think but couldn’t come up with any memory of that. “When?”

“After I graduated high school. You were too young to care or remember, but it happened.”

What the hell?

“I wanted to go to school for costume design, and both of them—mom included—pretty much said how pointless that would be. For three months, they were on my case about going to school for something I could have as a backup. As a real job,” she kept going, not sounding insulted or anything, but more resigned.

And that made me sad, because as far as I could remember, Ruby had loved designing and making costumes. Always. It was her passion in life. Her version of me figure skating.

I couldn’t see her doing anything else.

And I’d always wondered why she’d studied accounting, gotten a degree, and then never did anything with it.

“But I’m not you,” she said, still in that resigned voice. “Mom didn’t believe in my dream like she did in yours.”

“Rubes,” I started, suddenly feeling terrible, because how the hell must that have been? Her seeing my mom supporting the shit out of me while telling her she couldn’t do what she loved? I’d had no idea. No clue.

“It’s okay, Jas. It worked out for the best. I’m only telling you because I want you to know that Mom and Dad aren’t perfect. That you aren’t the only one that’s been told your dreams are pointless, but the difference is that you never let anybody talk you out of it. You didn’t let anyone make you do something you didn’t want to do, and I wish I could have done the same,” Ruby finished.

I was stunned. Honestly, surprised out of my mind.

Because that was a load of shit.

“The only reason I even studied accounting was because I wanted to make them happy. Mom was even trying to talk me into taking a job where she works up until a few years ago. Anyway, all I’m trying to tell you is to… be open-minded. To forgive him. You don’t have to do it today or tomorrow, but give him a chance. I don’t think he ever knew what to do with you when you were little. You were so opinionated, and I think you reminded him too much of Mom, but I don’t know.”

“Huh” was the only thing I managed to get out as I thought her words over.

Had I been that much of a shit as a kid that he didn’t know what to do with me? I had a faint memory of telling him that I hated him. Kicking him in the shin. Crying. Not wanting to go spend time with him when he’d come to visit. But I’d had to have been really small. Maybe four. Maybe five at the most. Right after he’d left.


“I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to ruin your high. So, tell me about that cute kiss Ivan gave you. When are you two going to get married, win all the awards ever, and have kids that are prodigies at every sport they ever play?”

I choked. “What the fuck are you talking about, Rubes? Are you drinking while you’re expecting my next niece?

Ruby laughed. “No! I would never do that!”

“It seems like it just now.”

“No! I’m asking you a serious question. You two are so perfect for each other it gave me a toothache. No lie. Ask Aaron.”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head at the ceiling, thinking again, finally, about the words Ivan had said to me while we’d been on the ice. I love you. He loved me. And he knew I loved him back.

And we hadn’t talked about it since we’d gotten off the ice to get hugs and pats on the back from Coach Lee. I’d spotted Galina in the stands as we’d made our way to wait for our scores and had nodded at her, getting a nod in return, which from her was basically an I love you.

Everything after that had been a crazy mess of changing, interviews, and rushing out to have a late dinner because we’d all been starving.

Ivan hadn’t even walked me back to my hotel room. He’d been too busy in the lobby talking to another pairs skater that he seemed to be friendly with from Canada. So….

Darn it! Jessie is crying. I need to go. Good luck tomorrow, but I know you won’t need it! Love you!”

“Love you too,” I said into the phone.

“Bye! You were amazing!” my sister called out before hanging up on me without giving me a chance to say bye in return.

I’d barely dropped my phone on my bed when a knock came from my door.

“Who is it?” I called out, sitting up on the edge.

“Who else would it be?” Ivan’s voice answered on the other side of the door.

I rolled my eyes and got to my feet, heading to the door so I could undo the bolt and the lock. I took my time opening it, to find Ivan standing there, his eyebrows up, still dressed in the clothes we’d gone to eat dinner in. A charcoal gray button-up shirt, black dress pants that he’d confirmed were tailored just for him because his glutes and quads were too big in comparison to his narrow waist, and those black fancy lace-up boots I’d seen him wear a few times by that point.

“You want to let me in?” he asked.

I shook my head and got a smile as I stepped aside, watching him as he came in and immediately went to sit on the edge of my bed, bending over to mess around with the laces of his shoes. I locked the door again and went to take a seat beside him, taking him in as he toed off one boot and then the other with a sigh.

“I’m exhausted,” he admitted as he stretched his legs out.

“Me too,” I replied, taking in his black and purple striped socks. “I just got off the phone with Ruby, and I was deciding if I was tired enough to go to sleep or not. I can’t seem to wind down yet.”

Cocking his chin, he turned to give me a smile right before slipping an arm over my shoulders, pulling me into his side. “How’d that go?”

“Fine. She said that was the best she’s ever seen me skate. Then she gave me a lecture on my dad, but it was fine,” I told him, not in the mood to go over those details again.

Ivan nodded like he understood. “That was the best you’ve ever skated though. I’ve already had at least twenty people come up to me and tell me how good you were.” He blinked. “It didn’t make me jealous. Don’t worry.”

“I wasn’t,” I said, dryly.

He pulled me in even tighter to his side, his hand going to my upper arm and rubbing up and down there. “You were amazing, Meatball. You really were… but don’t expect me to admit that to you again anytime soon.”

I pressed my head into his shoulder and smiled, glad he couldn’t see it. “You were pretty fucking amazing too.”

“I know. But I’m old news. Everyone is used to it.”

I snorted. “You conceited shit.”

His response? “It’s the truth.”

How the hell could I have fallen in love with this arrogant ass? Of all the billions and billions of people on the planet, this was who I fell in love with? This guy?

“But now everyone wants a piece of the Jasmine Pie, and I’ve got to tell them all to turn around and walk away,” he let me know, reminding me again about the one topic we hadn’t talked about in months.

The one I had purposely ignored.


“Ivan,” I started to say, knowing the last thing I wanted to do was ruin this moment, but also wanting an answer. Wanting to know just what the hell was going to happen so I could plan, even if everything hanging in the balance wasn’t for months away. But I didn’t want to run from this anymore. I wasn’t going to be a pussy.

“Hmm?” he asked, still rubbing my arm up and down.

I held my breath and got my words together before spilling them out. “Whenever you and Coach Lee get around to finding me another partner—”

His hand stopped moving, and I felt him turn his upper body to look down at me. “What?”

It made me a coward for sure, but I kept my head on his shoulder, even knowing he had his total attention on me. “When worlds are over and you try to find me someone else to—”


Now that tone had me glancing up at him to give him a crazy look, and the expression I faced was another version of crazy. “What?”

He blinked. “You think I’m going to find you another partner?”

It was my turn to blink. “Well, yeah. That was the deal, wasn’t it?”

One eyebrow went up.

So, I made mine go up too.

I’m not going to find you another partner,” he said, his face and voice both telling me he was insulted. But I didn’t get why. “Why the hell would I do that?”

“Umm, because that was the deal. Because you were the one that said like a hundred times that we were only pairing up for a year.” I almost added “dumbass,” but managed not to.

He blinked. Both of his eyebrows went up. Then he blinked some more. “You’re not dumb, so I know that’s not the problem,” he said, taking his time with his words as his eyes narrowed. “But let’s think about this, genius. Tell me if I’m wrong at any point.”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“You’re the best partner I’ve ever had,” he started. “There’s no comparison. Am I right?”

I nodded because, yeah, I fucking was.

“You’re my best friend.”

He’d never called me that before, but I nodded at that too.

“You’re my sister’s friend.”

I lifted a shoulder because he was right.

“If I had to choose anyone to help me bury a body, eat dinner with, or watch television with, it would be you, every time for everything.”

My heart squeezed, squeezed, squeezed.

“I made up Mindy taking the season off when really our agreement had ended, and I hadn’t planned on going back to skate with her. Because even though you drove me crazy, I wanted to skate with you.”

What? Just… what?

“My family loves you.”

I didn’t know… anything.

I looked at him, watching as he tipped his head closer to mine and said, “And I love you.”

He’d said it again.

“I love you so much I spend all day with you, and it still isn’t enough for me,” he kept going.

I stopped breathing.

“I love you so much, if I can’t skate with you, I don’t want to skate with anyone else.”

Holy. Fuck.

“I love you so fucking much, Jasmine, that if I broke my ankle during a program, I would get up and finish it for you, to get you what you’ve always wanted.”

It was love. All I could feel was love.

I was going to cry. I was going to fucking cry. Right. Then.

“You mean so much to me that that’s why whatever happens doesn’t really matter to me. Not like it used to. Not like it ever will again,” he finished, pressing his forehead against mine, his eyes intense and heartbreaking. “You’re not ever going to be anyone else’s partner. Not while I’m alive, Meatball. I will drag your stubborn, beautiful ass kicking and screaming back to me because nobody else will ever be good enough for you.”

I blinked. I blinked so fast I knew I was about two point five seconds away from losing my shit.

And then Ivan ended me. He ended every worry I’d ever had about there being someone after him. He did it right there with the tip of his nose touching my own and his forehead against mine too.

“Because I’m okay with you having ten other people be your favorite. But you’re always going to be my favorite person,” he finished. “Always. No matter what.”

I blinked so fast, I couldn’t help but let my eyes fill up with tears. “I… I’m not good….”

His smile was so gentle, so sweet, it took half my soul with it. “I know,” he whispered before he wrapped his arms around me and hugged me, the bottom of his chin going to the top of my head.

And he hugged me, and then hugged me for even longer, even as tears slipped out of my eyes and wet his shirt.

And while I was leaning almost all of my weight against him, he lowered us onto our sides and kept on holding me, pulling me so I was halfway on top of him, my head on his chest, one of my hands gripping his ribs, a leg over his own. We stayed like that until the tears stopped leaking out of my eyes, and I could take deep breaths again.

He brushed his hand down my hair, almost absently.

I had thought earlier that night had been one of the best moments of my life, but this was. This was, and I loved Ivan so much, I didn’t think it was possible to love him any more. Everything he had said to me, I felt the exact same way about, except I would have skated with someone else if he’d truly wanted to go back to his old partner, but I would have done it as a tribute to him, for all the ways he had changed me and my life.

I wanted to give him all the shit and all the shit I couldn’t forever and always, because he’d given me everything.

Neither one of us said anything for a long, long time as we lay there.

Not when his hands made longer strokes along my hair, not when his hand drifted to my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Or when his palm moved down my arm, gentle, gentle, gentle, his fingertips almost tickling me as he touched the thigh I had over him.

I wouldn’t have moved away for all the money in the whole world. Not for all the awards and all the medals either. Not for fucking anything.

What Ivan did was move his fingertips across my thigh and then, then to my knee. It took everything in me not to react as all but one of his fingertips disappeared, and that one sole, lonely pad began making circles over my kneecap. So light, so soft, it felt like a feather.

I stayed right there.

His fingertip made wider and wider circles, dipping down to the sensitive skin at the crease behind my knee before making its way back upward again to my quads, making that track-like pattern one more time. Then that fingertip made a trail down my bare shin and calf, making a circle around the muscle I used and overused. Then he made another one.

I’d never been happier that from the moment Mom had given me permission to shave—right after I’d hit puberty and hair had grown in everywhere—that she’d stressed how important it was to do it every day. And moisturize. Because if you asked my mom, moisturizing was one of the most important parts of the day. Just like brushing your teeth. Or wiping your ass after using the bathroom. I was so damn thankful I’d shaved after coming back to my room following dinner.

One fingertip turned into four. Then the length of four fingers. Then an entire palm. All covering my calf. Then my shin. Up and down.

“How’s your skin so smooth?” His question was low, almost distracted if I hadn’t known any better.

“Coconut oil,” I answered, hitching my leg up higher so that it was closer to him.

“Coconut oil?” He spread his fingers wide to wrap around the entire width of my lower leg.

“Uh-huh,” I answered, swallowing hard at the feel of his warm skin on mine.

If he noticed me moving it closer to him, he didn’t comment on it.

“You know, Jasmine,” he said, sounding almost distracted, “these things are so strong—”

“Things?” I almost panted out.

“Legs,” he clarified, still touching my skin. “Legs,” he emphasized. “They’re all muscle. I didn’t think—” He made a noise in the back of his throat as his palm swept up over my knee to land on the top of my thigh. “—they would be so soft.”

“You know how many bruises I get,” I managed to get out, “how many cuts and scars… it helps… heal.”

I swallowed. Gulped.

Ivan dragged his hand higher up my thigh, so high the fingers snuck beneath the hem of my shorts, his hands practically spanning the length of my entire thigh. It wasn’t like I had long legs or anything, and I was grateful. Because he could touch more. Touch everything.

And I wanted him to.

“Jesus,” he almost hissed, moving his hand around, fingertips so deep into my sleep shorts, the tips touched the very top of my ass. He made a little line over the skin there, grazing my crack, and I couldn’t help but flex everything from my ankle up. “Are you not wearing any underwear?”

I didn’t know what it was that had me tipping my head up, my nose touching his throat, when I whispered, “I’m wearing some.”

He hummed, walking his fingers another inch higher into my shorts. God, I’d never been ungrateful for the fact he had such big hands, and I especially wasn’t cursing it right then. Because his fingers kept moving… but instead of going back in the direction of my back, they moved to the side… then back again… lower… reaching another crease… then again to the side…

And I sucked in a breath as those fingers found my underwear.

Specifically, the strip of my underwear that went right up between my ass cheeks.

It was then, as his fingers made contact with my thong, that he slung another arm around my lower back, and with a strength I was totally aware of, that I knew so well, he pulled me over his lap so that I was straddling him. The arm around my back crushed my lower body against his.

And I felt it. All long and thick and hard.



He cut me off with his mouth then. Those pink lips sealed over mine, slanted, wet, taking mine completely and totally. His tongue darted against mine, needy. Thirsty. He pressed our mouths together like they were meant to be like that. His fingers trailed up the sliver of fabric between my ass cheeks, touching over places on my body that I was shy with. That anybody would be shy with.

Most anybody.

Those fingertips went up, up, grazing over the triangle at the top of my thong. I slanted my mouth to the side, touching my tongue against his as he pulled at the triangle and let it go, letting it snap against my skin with a hoarse groan that I felt everywhere. “Only you would wear this fucking underwear under these shorts,” he groaned, grabbing a handful of ass cheek and squeezing it almost hard enough to hurt.


I moved my mouth just enough so that I could aim it toward his neck, biting it instantly.

And Ivan, fucking Ivan, groaned, tipping his head back to give me more room. So I opened my mouth wider and took more of his neck into my mouth, the skin soft and just a little salty and smelling like that clean, expensive cologne I knew he wore on a daily basis.

“Jesus, Jas,” he hissed when my teeth turned into my tongue and lips, sucking on his skin a lot harder than I knew I should.

The hips beneath mine rolled, curled and fucking humped into mine, and they did it twice more when I sucked on the skin even harder, dragging my tongue across his throat.

“You taste so damn good,” I moaned, sucking on him harder.

He let out a wild groan, his hips moving beneath mine, his arms restless, wrapping low around my back, bringing our fronts together, tight. Flush. My breasts smashed against the hard surface of his chest.

“Damn,” Ivan hissed. His chin still tilted up, still giving me access to that beautiful, long throat as his lower body moved, gaining friction between the material of his pants, the anaconda I couldn’t wrap my head around under them, and the thin, stretchy material covering the part of me that wanted him to fill it like I needed painkillers on a regular basis.

A new curse straight out of that wonderful mouth lit up my spine, my fingertips, my knees, and everything in between.

The trail of curse words had me pulling back, sitting my ass against his thighs, right by his knees, settling all my weight there while I sat up straight, and with a talent that would have impressed the best stripper in Vegas, I yanked my shirt over my head, leaving me in one of those lacy bras with no underwires that were one of the only good things about being either the smallest B-cup in the world or the largest A-cup.

Ivan groaned. He groaned. Leaning back against the bed, he let a noise out that I’d never heard before, the arms around my waist loosening until his palms were curled around my ribs, my waist, his thumbs parallel to my belly button. They went up, going over each ridge of every rib, taking his time, until the webbing between his index fingers and thumbs were set beneath the slight curves at the bottom of my breasts.

“Damn,” he murmured, still holding the weight up. “Jasmine.” Leaning forward, quick, quick, quick, he lowered his head. I knew what he was doing before he did it. I could have moved… if I was insane.

So I let him. I let him lean in my direction and suck a nipple and almost all of my breast into his mouth, bra and all.

And then it was me grinding against him. I moved, dragged, and humped against him, letting his hard dick drag across my clit.

One of those big hands slid down my ribcage to my hip and around to my ass again. Palming it, he squeezed the cheek, cupping most of it. Then letting the pressure go and just holding it instead, lightly, more of a caress than anything else. His moan was low, and I had to drag my mouth to his lips and take the top one between mine.

The one hand under my breast moved, and Ivan pulled the material covering it down, jerking it low, exposing it. Me.

I sucked in a breath, remembering… remembering….

“Beautiful, so fucking… beautiful,” he whispered, hoarse, his lips hovering over my chest.

“You used to—”

“Shut up,” he huffed, then latched onto my nipple again. Bare that time.

I let out a cry. A moan. All I could do was arch into his mouth, wanting him to never let go. To never move. To do that forever.

And he did.

Pulling down the other cup, he took that nipple into his mouth too. The hand on my ass cupped all of it, trying to mold it with his fingers but….

“This fucking ass,” he hissed. “I’ve been dreaming of this ass for so long,” he claimed. “Perfect, perfect….”

What I hadn’t gotten uptown, I’d gotten downtown. Exercise on top of it had molded it into something I was pretty proud of. Maybe I wasn’t beautiful. Maybe I wasn’t sexy. I got enough shit about it every time I got online. But this fucking body, I had busted my ass for, and I wasn’t ashamed of it. Not even my unremarkable chest. But at least it was small, and tight and gravity hadn’t gotten to it yet.

Ivan moved his face so that his cheek rested against the top of my breast, and he rubbed his cheek over the skin, then moved his face so that his opposite cheek rested above the other one. He nuzzled. He scraped that bristly cheek from one side of my chest to the other, down the center, and under it, his nose brushing against the lace still over me and around the curve of my breast. His hands guided me backward a little, but held me up so I was arched in midair. Then that cheek went across the center of my stomach, his lips brushing my belly button, his hair grazing my nipples.

Each of them. Over and over again with each of his movements over my skin.

His tongue darted out and dipped into my belly button. And all I could do was give him more.… More, more, more. Please, please.

“Ivan,” I pretty much whimpered.

“Shh,” he whispered back, dragging his lips straight up my sternum as he sat me back down on his lap, his mouth still moving until it reached the notch at my throat. Those long fingers that knew me so well made their way to the middle of my back and then up, pulling my bra along with it.

I kissed him, and he kissed me back. My hands went to his shoulders and gripped them, hard. We moved against each other, his hands going down, pulling my shorts and underwear down my hips until I had to get up to jerk them the rest of the way down and off my ankles.

It wasn’t until then that I realized I was naked. Standing in front of him. Totally, completely naked.

But when I glanced up at his face, those cool blue-gray eyes were slits, and his cheeks were pink, and he looked….

Ivan sat up and undid the buttons on his shirt, shrugging it off with jerky and unsure movements, like he wasn’t used to getting undressed so fast. And then he was up, a foot away from me, and in a move that was familiar, he undid his belt and then jerked his pants and boxer briefs down to his knees and kicked them off.

And goddamn.

Mother of God.

Holy shit.

Jesus H. Christ.

I’d seen Ivan with clothes on before. Not just for a second but for minutes. Hours. I’d seen him.

But nothing could have prepared me for the sight of Ivan naked the way he was without a sock. He was hard. Hard everywhere. From the tendons at his throat to the pectoral muscles that were pretty much rocks, to his eight-pack abs, and those thighs that could have had a song written about them….

But it was the hard, long, fat thing pointing at me that had stopped my breathing.

How the hell was it possible for someone to be that damn perfect? Why? What kind of bullshit was this that someone so long and lean had that monster between his legs?

“I hate you,” I whispered.

And Ivan laughed. Laughed. “You love me.”

I didn’t look at his face. I wouldn’t.

But what I did look at was his hand rising, curling around the shaft trying to point toward his belly button, bobbing. He moved his hand down to the root, flanked by thick, curly black hair, and then up, toward the big, pink and purple mushroom tip that was so wet it dripped….

“I’m on birth control,” I told him with a swallow. “And I’m not ovulating for another week.”

It was only because he tipped his chin down that I knew he heard me, but he was so busy just looking at me, I would have thought he hadn’t.

But he had.

Because in a movement so easy and effortless, he took a step forward toward me and wrapped his hands around my upper thighs, hauling me up. My body went high, my thighs instinctively went around his waist, his hands clutching me perfectly. I licked my hand, reached between us, and wrapped my fingers around the cock that made my mouth water. And I moved my hand up and down, taking in the smooth skin and what might have been the hardest muscle in his whole body. Then I pointed that pink-purple head right between my legs, and in that way that we read each other’s minds, he lowered me down.

Down, down, inch after three inches, five inches, slowly, until I was seated on him. Completely.

Stuffed. Full. I’d never tell Ivan, but it hurt. At first.

I sucked in a breath.

And so did he, following it with a groan.

Then I followed it with a sound I wouldn’t call a whimper but someone else might.

Those big hands slowly moved my body up and down on him. An inch, then down. Two, then back down to the root. Over and over again. Until it wasn’t a fight, but a glide.

“Jesus Christ,” Ivan chanted over and over again. His whole body tight, strained. Shoulders and biceps that could do this movement a hundred times when it wasn’t sexual, tight and shaking. He was trembling. His breathing, the breathing of an athlete, was ragged. His hands moved, and he slipped a forearm under my ass while the other one went around the middle of my back and guided me up and down, my nipples brushing against his chest. “I love you, Jasmine,” he said, the movement going faster. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” he repeated.

And all I could do was close my eyes, close my eyes and wrap my arms around his neck and hold on for dear life, the words there, between us. My mouth found his and we kissed as he kept moving me up and down. Taking more, taking less, taking it all.

“Love you,” I whispered, shaking on his dick as the hint of an orgasm tingled along my lower stomach.

He smiled. More than smiled. He lit up. And his hips powered up into me. Gripping me tighter. Closer. His hand went between us and circled my clit. It didn’t take more than a few circles of his thumb, our bodies covered in sweat, before I came. I cried into his shoulder, coming around him, clinging onto him for dear fucking life.

His moans were so husky and rough, I almost couldn’t hear his choked groan as he came moments later. He pulsed inside of me, gasping. I clung to him and he held me tight to him.

We were both covered in sweat. Out of breath and trying not to be, but failing miserably. I gasped, and then I gasped again, shaking some more.

“God help me,” he moaned.

I trembled. I panted. I could have been dying, but it would have been worth every second.

Holding me, Ivan walked us toward the bed and slowly lowered me onto it. His body came over mine, covering me. With his arms straight, legs bracketing mine, his smile was lopsided as he panted, “Practice makes perfect, Jas.”


I tried breathing out of my nose as I raised my eyebrows at him, his dick resting against my thigh, still half hard. “That wasn’t already perfect?”

“It was,” he said, hovering over me. “But I want to practice anyway.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, loud, so loud it kind of freaked me out.

But what didn’t freak me out was the giant smile that Ivan gave me from above. “Over and over again.”

“Who says I want to do it again?”

His hand went over the side of my head, his fingers brushing my temple. “You came all over me,” he said like I didn’t know that. “We do everything good together. You know that.”

I did know that, but he didn’t need to.

“We’re the best team. We do what we have to do to be the best,” he said as he lowered his weight to really cover me, his thighs were spread wide on top of mine, the tops of his feet touching the inside of my calves, his forearms on either side of my face.

“And this will help our skating?” I asked him.

He kissed my cheek and then the other one. “It’s not going to hurt it.”

I laughed again and curled up to plant a kiss on his chin that made him blink slowly.

“I love the way you smile,” he said with a dreamy, sleepy expression. “I want to tell you to do it more often, but I don’t.”

I took in every inch of that flawless face. “Why?”

He didn’t even have his eyes open as he responded. “Because you don’t give it to everyone.” His cheek rested against mine, that sweaty chest did the same as he said, “And I don’t plan on sharing you.”


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