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Nikolai: Mine to Protect – Chapter 19


The further our SUV travels down the unbeaten path, the thicker the black veins strangling my heart grow. They’re treating me like a fool, like their death will be the first one I’ve orchestrated.

They shouldn’t underestimate me. Nikolai was right: when forced between killing or being killed, you must always chose the former. That’s what I did during our escape. I placed us above anyone. I chose to fight instead of cowering like I did five years ago. I killed a man to save the one I love.

Trey’s eyes shift to me when I sit straighter in my seat. That’s the first memory I’ve had since I was found, and it opens a floodgate for many more. . .

Ahren. . .” Shuffling rings through my ears seconds before wetness hits my cheeks. “Wake up, Ahren. You need to be ready to move. This could be our only chance to escape.”

Worried by the panic in Nikolai’s voice, I flutter open my eyes and rise to a half-seated position. My throat burns like it’s on fire, but it has nothing on the pain spasming in my stomach. I feel like I’ve taken a cannonball to my gut. It is warm to touch and back-bending painful.

“Are you sore?”

Not waiting for me to respond, Nikolai counts my pulse thrumming in my neck.

“Your cheeks aren’t as red as they were earlier, but I’d say you’ve still got a fever.” He snags an untouched bottle of water from his side before rolling it to me. “Drink only a little, okay?”

Nodding, I do as requested. The water is heaven to my parched throat, but it wreaks havoc with my stomach. It makes my cramps so intense, it takes all my effort not to bend in half. After forcefully swallowing the water with a grimace, I lower the bottle from my lips and return it to Nikolai.

“Better?” he asks.

Although I’m unsure what the hell is going on, I nod. “I think so. What’s that smell?”

My eyes snap to Nikolai when he says, “Jet fuel.”

Spotting nothing but honesty in his eyes, I scan our location. We appear to be in a tin box. There’s discarded rope scratching my left thigh, and some blankets that most airlines used in the nineties are spread across the metal floor I’m sitting on.

The knocks keep coming when Nikolai advises, “We’re in the stow of a plane. They started their descent approximately ten minutes ago. I’ve been trying to wake you since.”

My stomach launches into my throat when he gathers a shank-like instrument in his hand. The metal has been sharpened so profoundly, I wouldn’t be shocked to discover he’s been working on it for hours.

“How long have we been in the air?” I choke on the last half of my statement when Nikolai spins around to face me. He’s bleeding—a lot!

“You’re hurt!”

Air whizzes between my teeth when my attempt to assess his wound is thwarted by the clanging of metal. I’m chained to the underbelly of the plane. When my wide eyes return to Nikolai, I notice he too is detained.

“If I weren’t afraid of puncturing the shit-box we’re in, I would have removed them hours ago. Alas, their lack of funds forced me to be more inventive.” His voice is deeper than it usually is, his struggle physically seen on his face. He’s with me, but his mind is in a very dark, tormented place.

The thick material circling my wrist digs into my skin when I stretch with all my might to plant my lips on Nikolai’s. His deep exhalation when my mouth lands on his dries the moisture on my cheeks. It also reveals I made the right choice.

The briefest alignment of our lips brings him back to me. Not wholly, but he’s more recognizable than he was mere seconds ago.

After staring into his eyes so he can see the faith I have in him, I ask, “What do you need me to do?”

“Kiss me again,” he answers without delay.

With a smile, I do precisely that. We’re detained, but nothing can keep us apart. You can’t break two souls destined for one another.

Our kiss is barely a peck, but the emotions it ignites make it seem so much more.

“Now?” I ask after drawing back for the second time.

Nikolai appears as if he wants to kiss me again, but our bumpy return to solid ground keeps his focus on the task at hand. “When they come to collect us, I need you to distract the guard.”

“Okay. . . Why?”

With the grin of an insane man, Nikolai waves his shiv in the air.

His smile sags when I ask, “You’re just going to stun him, right?”

“When forced between being killed or killing, you must always chose the latter, Ahren. These men are going to kill us. Or worse. . .” The panic in his eyes reveals the words his mouth refuses to express: death will be the kindest thing they’ll do to us tonight.

“Okay. I’ll do it.”

I’ve barely talked my heart into my plans when the jingling of keys sounds through my ears. Someone is unlocking the cargo hold of the plane.

Seconds before the hatch opens, a name is called. “Maxsim!”

The door slams shut, partially blocking out the female confronting him. I can’t hear what she is saying, but I’m reasonably sure her accent is French.

Fighting through the cramps shooting across my stomach, I scoot closer to the escape hatch. The chain circling my wrist pinches my skin, but my new position awards me snippets of the couple’s conversation.

“What did you do? This wasn’t our plan. You said no one would get hurt.”

Maxsim mutters something back, but his words are too low for me to hear them. They appear commanding, yet sorrowful. Perhaps even torn.

“No! This isn’t what I wanted. I only ever wanted you, but you’ve let greed get the best of you by becoming someone you swore you’d never be. You are your father!”

My heart shatters when a slap breaks through the shouting. It is so loud, my cheek stings.

Feet shuffling breaks over my raging heart before I hear, “Maya, wait!”

My eyes jackknife back to Nikolai. His ticking jaw and narrowed eyes reveal Maxsim’s scream was loud enough for him to hear. It also reveals the unlikelihood that he’ll believe my claim that there are thousands of Mayas in the world, and that she may not be his half-sister.

That may be true, but one with a French accent in the middle of a mafia war is highly improbable.

Another ten minutes pass before the jingling of keys returns to our ears.

“Convince him to get close enough to us that I can grab him,” Nikolai instructs as he primes himself to appear as if he’s unconscious.

I nod mere seconds before the hatch swings open. The man entering isn’t Maxsim, but I recognize him. He’s the goon who held a gun to Eli’s temple earlier tonight.

“Come on, wake up, pretty boy. It’s time to get the party started.” He tosses a can of beer at Nikolai’s head, too scared to approach him even with him being shackled and injured.

“Argh!” I clutch my stomach, finally acknowledging the pain tearing me in two.

I wish this was part of my ploy. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. I’m in immense pain and suddenly in grave fear for our baby.

My screamed howls gain me the attention of both Nikolai and the guard. Nikolai eyes me cautiously, unsure if I have exemplary acting skills or if I’m in genuine pain. The guard is nowhere near as worried. He saunters my way, his steps as arrogant as the expression on his abhorrent face. He’s relishing my pain, loving it as much as Nikolai despises it.

“Save your tears, Princess. We don’t want them all used up before we’ve had our fun. Some whore’s tears are tastier than their cunts.”

When he leans in to gather a blob of moisture sitting high on my cheek, Nikolai makes his move. He rises for the ground as if he is weightless, his movements so sleek, the guard is none the wiser to the fact he’s about to be struck by a cobra.

It only dawns on him he’s being stalked when the metal knife Nikolai crafted with his bare hand colors the steel walls surrounding us with his blood. He falls to his knees, his hands shooting up to clutch the vibrant red line stretching from one of his ears to the next.

When he continues dropping, I shuffle back. The blood seeping from his wound warrants a frightened response, much less the gargled screams tearing from his throat. Even seconds from death, he hasn’t forgotten his honor. He’s calling out for help, alerting his crew of our plans to escape.

Nikolai attempts to silence his warning with his fists, but with his chain only allowing him to reach his legs, the task is left to me. With our baby’s safety on the forefront of my mind, I curl my hands over the unnamed man’s mouth and nose. He thrashes and kicks against me, but nothing will stop me from silencing him. If I don’t seek medical attention within the hour, I doubt our baby will make it through the night.

Tears roll down my face unchecked when the stranger gives up his will to live. His legs are the first thing to still, closely followed by his chest. By the time his hands flop from his neck, I’ve shed enough tears to fill a river.

I just killed a man.


Nikolai may have slit his throat, but I placed the final nail in his coffin.

Sickened with remorse, I slump against the wall I’m chained to. I can’t breathe through the guilt clutching my throat. I’m seconds from asphyxiation.

Ahren.” Since I’m at the furthest point of my tether, Nikolai can’t reach me. . . but his words can. “You did what needed to be done. There is no shame in that.”

My drenched eyes stray to his. “I-I-I killed him.”

“No,” Nikolai denies, shaking his head. “You saved me. And our baby. You did what needed to be done. You chose right.”

If I had the strength, I’d argue with him, but the cramps that rendered me near unconscious minutes ago haven’t weakened in the slightest. I’m either miscarrying or bleeding internally. I really hope it is the latter.

“What now?” I ask, desperate to get out of here.

Nikolai nudges his head to the frozen goon. “Check his pockets. He came in here to collect us, so he’d have keys for our locks.”

I lick my dry lips before doing as instructed.

Nikolai is right, he has a set of rusted padlock keys in his pocket.

“Toss them to me.”

Not even two seconds later, Nikolai frees himself from his constraints before dropping to his knees next to me. He removes the chains from my right wrist before pulling me into his chest. His familiar scent causes a flurry of new tears to sting my eyes. It hurts knowing I ended the life of another, but in all honesty, I’d do it again if it achieved the same outcome.

Nikolai’s hot breath fans my temple when he murmurs, “Let’s get you out of here.”

He waits for me to nod before gathering my hand in the one not clutching his weapon. He holds it as possessively as he does me. It may only be a shard of metal, but it is the only thing we have standing between us and a dozen men determined to kill us.

While pressing his finger to his lips, Nikolai peers out the partially cracked open door. I hear his teeth grind together when the door gives out a squeak upon opening. It’s loud, but not loud enough to be heard over the jubilant cheers of drunken men celebrating a victory they have not yet won.

After crawling through the tight opening, Nikolai helps me out. In silence, he surveys the area. Since a majority of the noise is coming from our left, we head to our right. Blood is pumping through Nikolai’s veins so hard and fast, I can feel it through our conjoined hands. He wants to go on a rampage, but since getting me to safety is more critical than his need to kill, he’s moving away from the men he wants to maim.

As we weave through the industrial-sized airport hangar, I try to get my footsteps to match Nikolai’s noiseless ones. It’s virtually impossible. I sound like an elephant trampling through Africa. It isn’t because the Popov’s housemaids have added a few pounds to my frame the past twelve months; it’s because every step I take is done in pain.

“Just a little further, Ahren,” Nikolai assures as his hand clutching his shiv darts up to slow the blood oozing from his wound.

I’d caution him to be careful, but I doubt his knife could inflict any more damage to his shoulder. It’s hanging by a thread, the mottling of his skin indicating it’s infected.

Our stomps across the sloshy ground quicken when a Russian curse word shrills through the night. It’s closely followed by the news that we’ve escaped.

We’re about to dart through a stack of old airplane parts when a mouse-like voice says, “This way.”

Maya is standing in the shadows, gesturing with her hand for us to follow her. Her face is marked with tears, but their angry red streaks can’t hide the handprint covering a majority of her left cheek.

With my trust low but my desperation high, I wordlessly suggest for Nikolai to accept Maya’s assistance. We’re already in dire straits, so I can’t see matters getting any worse.

“Quickly,” Maya begs in French while steering us through the dense forest situated next to the hangar.

I understand her urgency. The further we travel, the louder the bark of angry dogs become. My worst nightmare is coming true. I’m running in the dark, striving to outrace the beast who’s already scarred me. And that’s not the worst of it. Nikolai is losing a lot of blood—more than enough to kill him.

“Here. Go.” Maya shoves a set of keys into my hand before nudging her head to an old truck barely visible in the pitch-black sky. “Quickly.”

With Nikolai barely coherent, I clutch the keys, hug Maya for some inane reason, then make my way to the driver’s seat. Nikolai attempts a protest, but a bullet whizzing past his head steals his words. He lurches into the passenger seat before demanding that I floor it.

For an old truck, it’s quick off the mark. We go shooting down a bumpy dirt road within a nanosecond, our tails chased by men on all-terrain vehicles.

“Keep your eyes forward, Ahren,” Nikolai instructs when my constant staring in the rearview mirror nearly makes us crash into a tree.

He yanks on the steering wheel, straightening our tires before he searches the truck for a weapon. His hunt comes up trumps when he finds a Glock in the glove compartment. From a distance, it would be pointless. But for the vehicle approaching on our left, it will come in very handy.

“Lean back.”

I sink into my seat a mere second before Nikolai fires the Glock. Even with his pupils filling his corneas, his aim is perfect. The driver’s slumped frame sees his 4WD veering to the left before it bursts into flames upon impact with a large tree trunk.

The scene continues to unfold like an action-packed blockbuster. Nikolai takes down another three men in a similar fashion, his fight only coming to an end when he runs out of bullets.

“What now?”

“Keep driving.”

Nikolai dumps the empty Glock on the floor of the truck before searching its interior for the second time. I don’t know what he is looking for, but I doubt he’ll find it here. There is nothing but a torn picnic blanket, a pack of half-smoked cigarettes, and a metal gas can.

“Seriously?” I screech when he gathers the three items I mentioned in his hands. You’re not MacGyver.”

Nikolai flashes a grin that shows why I fell for him so quickly. He has a devilish and highly appealing body and face, but his insides reveal nothing but a little boy dying to be loved. “Who do you think I learned the statistics of killing a man with a fork from?”

“Ah. . . your criminally insane father?”

Nikolai’s grin doubles. I really wish he’d stop smiling. I’m already lightheaded from eyeing the copious amount of blood seeping into his shirt. I don’t need more distractions.

Recalling the dangerous situation we are in, I return my eyes front and center. They’ve just adjusted to the darkness when a dog darts across the dirt road we’re traveling on.

With barely a second to spare, I yank my steering wheel to the right.

It isn’t the best decision I’ve ever made.

We’re heading straight toward the edge of a cliff.

Just as I slam on the brakes, we’re bumped from behind by the SUV tailing us. Fear surges through me when they plow into us a second time. I maintain my pressure on the brakes, but my willpower has nothing on the goons’ determination.

They’ve spotted an opening to end us without bullets, and they’re running for it.

I stop clutching the steering wheel the instant the front tires of the truck careen over the gorge. I can’t steer us out of this, but I can protect my stomach from additional impact. It won’t do our baby any good if I’m dead, but at least the baby will know I did everything in my power to protect him or her .

The world slows as we roll to our imminent deaths. Nikolai’s roared shout of my name, his clamber across the cracked vinyl seat separating us, even the weaving of his fingers through my hair occurs in super slow motion. His hold is peaceful—almost surreal.

I’m so out of my mind, I don’t realize what Nikolai is doing until hot Las Vegas air streams through my nostrils from him throwing open the truck’s door to propel us out of the wreckage.

We sail through the air like hang gliders, the brutal impact of Nikolai’s back with a tree trunk the only thing slowing our descent. . .

My thoughts return to the present when my temple collides with the window of the SUV.

“Damn dog. Get out of the fucking way.” Trey corrects the swerve he took to avoid a white dog sitting in the middle of the road before lifting his eyes to the rearview mirror to make sure I’m okay.

The bones in my neck squeal when I crank my head back to the dog. He’s one of those shepherding breeds, bred to protect herds of sheep. He’s big, white and seems oddly familiar.


My scream scares the living daylights out of Trey. He slams on the brakes so fast, the SUV tailing us nearly rear-ends us.

The dust kicking up from Trey’s abrupt stop scratches my eyes when I fling open my door. I dash through the dust cloud so I can scan the area surrounding us. For the most part, it looks like barren land, but there are telltale signs corroborating my belief that this is the land Nikolai and I raced across during our escape. There are small tire marks similar to the ones of the all-terrain vehicles that chased us down. A tree on the horizon has char marks halfway up its trunk and is missing a chunk of bark right at the spot a vehicle may have impacted it. And there are bullet casings glistening in the low-hanging sun.

“There’s a gorge somewhere near here. Nikolai is in that gorge.”

Not having the time or the eagerness to answer the numerous silent questions being slung at me, I return to the SUV to gather the maps inside. The useless ones roll off the SUV’s hood, but I keep a firm grip on the topographic map. It shows the elevations and falls of the land surrounding us, meaning within seconds I have a better idea which direction we should be heading.

“Here. Our truck went over the edge around here.” I circle a section of the map with the biggest change in altitude.

When Trey demands the men reenter the SUVs, a handful of voices grumbles a protest, but one is too loud to ignore. “Are you all fucking clueless? Can’t you see she’s taking us on a wild goose chase, hoping we won’t realize she’s orchestrated all of this?”

“That’s enough, Ethan.”

I swipe my hand through the air, cutting Trey off. “Let him speak.” I step closer to Ethan. The fight I displayed when silencing the guards’ screams is seen all over my face. “Because they may be the last words he ever speaks.”

When Ethan attempts to get up in my face, Trey and Maddox step into his path. Asher doesn’t budge an inch, but he does unholster his gun. Ethan may be a member of Nikolai’s crew, but that won’t stop Asher from taking him down if he steps out of place.

“I get it, alright? You want your king back.” Tears spring in my eyes when a collective hum sounds through the thirty or so men circling me. “So the fuck do I. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since you found me. I don’t want to take Nikolai’s place! I want him to come home! If you don’t want the same thing, then leave, go, but be assured, if you do leave, you’ll never be welcomed back.”

My eyes drift around the men watching me with interest. “The instant I become Nikolai’s, I become a bratva. That means I’m as much your family as I am Nikolai’s. When one of us goes down, we all go down. That’s the bratva way. So you need to make a choice. Either fight alongside me to bring Nikolai home or walk away like a coward. Those are your only two options.”

I dart into the car Trey’s commanding, denying anyone the chance of seeing my tears. I’m not crying because I’m afraid of what state I’ll find Nikolai in. It is the roar of his men as they prepare for battle.

My speech inspired them as much as Nikolai’s honor does. They’re going to bring him home no matter the cost—either dead or alive.

The last part of my statement kills me more than the pain stabbing my stomach.


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