Home > Terrible Beauty (Molotov Betrothal #1)

Terrible Beauty (Molotov Betrothal #1)
Author: Anna Zaires

Chapter 1



Present Day, Location Unknown



Cool lips brush my throbbing forehead, bringing with them a faint aroma of pine, ocean, and leather. “Shh… It’s okay. You’re okay. I just gave you something to ease your headache and make this easier.”

The male voice is deep and dark, strangely familiar. The words are spoken in Russian. My fuzzy mind struggles to focus. Why Russian? I’m in America, aren’t I? How do I know this voice? This scent?

I try to pry open my heavy lids, but they refuse to budge. Same goes for my hand when I attempt to lift it. Everything feels impossibly heavy, like my very bones are made of metal, my flesh of concrete. My head lolls to one side, my neck muscles unable to support its weight. It’s as if I were a newborn. I try to speak, but an incoherent noise escapes my throat, blending with a distant roar that my ears can now discern.

Maybe I am a newborn. That would explain why I’m so ridiculously helpless and can’t make sense of anything.

“Here, lie down.” Strong hands guide me onto some soft, flat surface. Well, most of me. My head ends up on something elevated and hard, yet comfortable. Not a pillow, too hard for that, but not a stone either. There isn’t much give in the object, but there is some. It’s oddly warm as well.

The object shifts slightly, and from the foggy recesses of my mind, the answer to the mystery emerges. A lap. My head is lying on someone’s lap. A male someone, judging by the steely, thickly muscled thighs underneath my aching skull.

My pulse accelerates. Even with my thoughts sluggish and tangled, I know this isn’t normal for me. I don’t do laps or men. At least I haven’t thus far in all of my twenty-five years.

Twenty-five. I grab on to that sliver of knowledge. I’m twenty-five, not a newborn. Encouraged, I sift through more of the tangled threads, seeking an answer to what’s happening, but it eludes me, the recollections coming slowly, if at all.

Darkness. Fire. A nightmare demon coming to claim me.

Is that a memory or something I saw in a movie?

A needle biting deep into my neck. Unwelcome lassitude spreading through my body.

That last bit feels real. My mind might not be functioning, but my body knows the truth. It senses the threat. My heart rate intensifies as adrenaline saturates my veins. Yes. Yes, that’s it. I can do it. With strength born of growing terror, I force open my leaden eyelids and look up into a pair of eyes darker than the night surrounding us. Eyes set in a cruelly handsome face that haunts my dreams and nightmares.

“Don’t fight it, Alinyonok,” Alexei Leonov murmurs. His dark voice holds both promise and threat as he gently threads his fingers through my hair, massaging away the throbbing tension in my skull. “You’ll only make it harder on yourself.”

The edges of his calluses catch on the tangles in my long hair, and he pulls his fingers out, only to curve his palm around my jaw. He has big hands, dangerous hands. Hands that have killed dozens today alone. The knowledge roils my stomach even as some knot of tension deep inside me unravels. For ten long years, I’ve dreaded this moment, and finally, it’s here.

He’s here.

He’s come for me.

“Don’t cry,” my husband-to-be says softly, brushing away the wetness on my face with the rough edge of his thumb. “It won’t help. You know that.”

Yes, I do. Nothing and no one can help me now. I recognize that distant roar. It’s the sound of a plane engine. We’re in the air.

I close my eyes and let the hazy darkness take me.



Chapter 2



11 Years and 3 Months Earlier, Moscow



A tentative knock falls on my bedroom door. “Alina, are you in there? Come on, it’s time for our lesson.”

Yeah, fuck that. I pause the game I’m playing on the Wii and thumb up the volume on my iPod until “Get Low” by Lil’ Jon & The East Side Boyz is blasting in my ears, drowning out the annoying voice of my tutor.

Muting the sound on the TV, I resume the game and guide Mario down the road, ignoring the continuous knocking. I don’t know why I have to take English lessons all summer long when I’ve been studying at a boarding school in New Hampshire for the past three years. By now, my English is as good as any of my American classmates’, my Russian accent nonexistent. Sure, my spelling and grammar could be better, but I’m just heading into ninth grade. I’ll learn all the stupid rules eventually.

The knocking stops, and I blow out a relieved breath. With any luck, Dan—God, I hate that name—will spend our allocated hour looking for me in all the nooks and crannies of our two-story Moscow penthouse before calling it quits for the day. He might complain to my father too, but whatever. I’d rather Papa yell at me than deal with Dan always looking at me that way.

I shudder as I recall that look. I see it on male faces all the time now that I’ve sprouted boobs. They’re not big or anything—some of the girls in my class are already a D-cup or above—but boys don’t seem to mind. Neither do grown men, especially when Mama makes me wear makeup. Speaking of which—

Another knock falls on my door, this one much more insistent. I recognize its cadence even through the music blaring in my earbuds. Reluctantly, I pause the game and turn down the volume on my iPod. “Yeah?”

“Alinochka, it’s me. Are you all dressed and ready?”

Ugh, I was hoping she’d forget about me. Pulling out my earbuds, I shut off the TV and jump up. “One sec, Mama!”

Ignoring that, she pushes open the door and steps into my room. Instantly, her eyes widen. “What are you wearing?”

Busted. I glance down at my sweatpants and oversized T-shirt with as much nonchalance as I can muster. “Clothes.”

She narrows her eyes. “Don’t get smart with me. You know what I’m asking.”

“Fine.” I heave an exasperated sigh. “Just give me a minute.”

“You have thirty seconds,” she calls as I run into my closet and throw on the first dress I can find that she’ll likely deem appropriate—a red evening gown that’s as sparkly as it is uncomfortable.

I don’t know why I have to wear this crap every time Papa has guests over, but Mama insists. Something about putting our best foot forward. Except in this dress, it’s more like my best boob forward. Seriously, have they grown bigger since last week? Grimacing, I try to shove the swells of flesh deeper into the corset-like bodice, but the built-in pushup bra does its job too well.

“What are you doing? Stop that. It’s supposed to look like that,” Mama says, entering the closet to swat my hands away. “Now put on some shoes, and we’ll do your hair and makeup.”

Shoot me now. I put on a pair of high-heeled platforms that match the dress and let her shepherd me to the mirror, where she begins brushing my long hair with all the speed and enthusiasm of someone determined to rip it out by the roots.

“Ouch!” I wince as the brush catches on a particularly brutal knot, but she ignores me again. I guess that’s what I get for leaving this until the last minute.

Finally, my hair is smooth and straight. I wish I could pull it into a ponytail, but Mama likes it hanging down my back in a jet-black curtain. I’m not a fan of the color and dream of the day when I’ll be allowed to add some highlights. Next year, hopefully.

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