One night changes everything…
Ruthless. Controlled. Masterful.
Aleksandr Shastin is a man who has his every move planned. Both as a chess master, and in his life. Nothing shakes his control. Nothing shocks him. Until, mired in grief over the death of his mentor, he sees a woman who shatters everything he thought he knew about himself.
Passionate. Beautiful. Lost.
Izzy Cornwall is in Thailand to forget. To escape the raw grief left behind by the death of her sister. What she didn’t count on was meeting stranger on a Bangkok rooftop, and for a scorching attraction — fueled by the intensity of their grief — so hot it could consume them both. One night is enough to get lost for a while. But there are darker demons lurking in Alex’s past, and if Izzy wants to help him defeat them, one night will never be enough. But can the master release his grip on his control long enough to take hold of only woman he could ever love?
The man, an Australian tourist, moved his bishop and looked smug. “Check.”
Aleks wasn’t bothered. He’d set up the trap and the Australian had fallen right into it. Reaching out, he moved his knight. “Checkmate.”
The Australian frowned. “Shit. No way.”
Aleks said nothing. There wasn’t anything to say. The evidence was right there on the chessboard.
The guy cursed a bit in the way Australians often did, then reached over the board to shake hands, gracious in defeat.
A few people had gathered around them while they’d been playing, the magnificent view of Bangkok from the hotel’s famous outdoor rooftop bar apparently far less interesting than a chess game. As the Australian vacated his seat, a couple of them looked as though they wanted to play too, but Aleks shook his head and began packing up his board. Playing tourists wasn’t much of a challenge and it did nothing for his game. He’d be playing real opponents in the tournament in a couple of days anyway.
As the crowd drifted away, he gestured to the barman again, and the man poured him another shot of vodka. Good Russian vodka. Viktor’s favourite.
He downed it, but the alcohol did nothing to ease the tightness in his chest at the thought of the old man.
Grief. It’s called grief.
Was it? It had been so long since he’d felt anything he couldn’t be sure. Then again, perhaps it was. Grief was, after all, the usual emotion after someone had died.
Aleks gripped the shot glass then pushed it over the bar for another hit, puzzled with himself.
In order to feel grief one had to care. And Aleks wasn’t sure that he did. After all, Viktor had been just another old man playing chess in Moscow’s Timiryazevsky Park. A man who’d been kind to him on a few occasions when Aleks had been young, but no one that special.
The barman filled up the glass again, and Aleks drank it down, rubbing his chest. But even the third vodka didn’t make a difference to the odd tight feeling. He may as well have been drinking water.
The wind picked up, replacing the scent of exotic flowers, sewage and the hot oil smell of a big city with the heavy, thick scent of rain. Distant thunder rumbled, a warning that perhaps an open-air rooftop bar in the middle of tropical Bangkok was not the best place to be in the rainy season.
Bar staff began to usher people through the tables of the outdoor restaurant situated near the bar, toward the steep, beautifully lit glass staircase that led up from the terrace to the domed elevator entrance.
Aleks pushed away the shot glass and stood.
Lightning crackled across the sky, lighting up the rooftop. This high up, the flash against the clouds was magnificent and prompted a startled gasp from the patrons waiting for the elevators.
Aleks didn’t look. Lightning was lightning. He’d seen it before. Moving toward the staircase, he began threading his way through the now empty tables of the restaurant area.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” a woman said in a husky, awestruck voice. “So beautiful.”
Something in the sound of that voice whispered along his nerve endings like the brush of cat’s tail. It made him stop. Made him look.
She stood near the glass balustrade that bounded the roof, staring up at the clouds as if mesmerised. Lightning flashed again like a magnesium flare, illuminating delicate features and an incredible mass of pale silver-gilt hair held back by a purple scarf. Her eyes were wide and in that flash of light, he saw they were blue. A startling electric blue.
He stared, unable to help himself, slowly taking in the rest of her. She wore typical backpacker gear, blue tie-dyed loose trousers and a tight little black singlet that revealed a slender, womanly figure. Clothes that wouldn’t have passed muster with the hotel’s draconian dress code that was for sure. How did she get up here? She was extraordinary. He’d never seen anything like her.
The first heavy, fat drops of rain began to fall, heralding the start of a tropical downpour.
“You should get undercover,” he said. “You’re going to get wet.”
She turned, those incredible eyes a flash of blue through pale, silvery lashes. “Thanks. But I’m okay.” Her mouth curved and he couldn’t help noticing the shape of it. Full, pouty. Beautiful. “A little rain never hurt anyone.”
There was a warmth to her smile. A warmth he found inexplicably fascinating. “Are you sure? The rain can get heavy here.”
Another lightning flash ripped across the sky. Her eyes glittered like lit sapphires. “Yeah, I know.” Her smile widened, the brilliance of it a burst of sunshine in the midst of the storm around them. “Thanks for the warning, though.”
Heat gathered inside him. A spear of something so intense he almost couldn’t breathe.
He wanted her.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. In two days he had his first game and he’d always been a purist when it came to chess preparation. No sex. No alcohol. Nothing that would take his focus from the game. And he’d already overstepped the mark by having the vodka. Sex would only make it worse.
Aleks nodded to her instead and turned away, walking toward the steps. He found it oddly difficult, as if a part of him was reluctant to leave her behind. Strange. He’d never been so drawn to a woman before, and he couldn’t work out why. Her appearance had caught his attention, no doubt about it, but there’d been something else about her. Her smile. The look in her eyes…
No, best not to think about it. Women were complicated. In fact, people in general were complicated, and he preferred to keep his life free of complications. Chess was the only thing he had room for. Chess was simple. Logical. With clearly defined rules. You always knew where you were on a chessboard. At least he always did.
As he walked up the steps, the rain began to get heavier, and he only just managed to get through the glass doors that led to the elevators before a full-on tropical downpour ensued.
He turned, looking out through the glass across the rooftop to see if the woman had followed him. Apparently not. Her tall figure stood among the wet dining tables and artfully planted rooftop gardens, her face turned toward the sky, eyes closed.
Water streamed over her, soaking her clothes, making them stick to her body, outlining the gentle curve of perfect breasts, narrow waist, slender hips and thighs. Her cloud of hair had become a straight, silver waterfall down her back. Soon she was wet through. But that didn’t seem to bother her.
As he watched, her head tilted farther back, her beautiful mouth turning up in a small, secret smile. Then she stuck out a small, pink tongue, licking the rain from her lips. A childish action but there was nothing childish about the sensuality with which she did it.
Desire kicked hard inside him.
He watched her. Riveted.
She seemed to come to herself after a minute, blinking up into the sky. Then she looked down and shook her head. Her smile turned wistful then faded as an echo of sadness crossed her face. Of regret.
The tightness in his chest twisted in a helpless, inexplicable response.
As if she’d felt him watching her, she turned her head and looked straight at him.
Electric blue hit him full in the chest, crackled through him, ripped him apart like the lightning had ripped apart the sky, lit him up from the inside out.
As if something inside him recognised her. Wanted her. Needed her.
On any other night, at any other time, he would have ignored the feeling. Dismissed it.
But tonight Viktor was dead, and the vodka hadn’t done a thing.