Home > Lion's Quest (A Lion's Pride #12)

Lion's Quest (A Lion's Pride #12)
Author: Eve Langlais

 


Prologue

 

 

Peter crept from the guest bed he’d scammed for the night.

Yes, scammed. As part of his plan, he’d ensured his car had broken down outside the door of an old house in Suzdal, Russia. He’d only briefly glanced at the architecture, still gorgeous despite the shabby exterior. Peeling paint, the paneling a fading gray, with the wood rotting in some places. Pity. It was probably a showpiece in its day.

The lady who answered the door appeared younger than expected for a woman approaching eighty. Visible still amidst the few wrinkles was beauty in the fine parchment skin, a long neck, and pure white hair pinned atop her head, a few tendrils curling loose. She wore a white blouse buttoned to her neck and a long, navy-hued skirt.

She greeted him in Russian, her voice holding a slight quaver as she asked him who he was.

“I’m Peter.” He kept his last name to himself.

A torrent of Russian followed. Since his understanding of the language didn’t go much further than asking for booze or food, he spoke in English. “Please. Can you help me? I have a flat tire.” He gestured to his vehicle pulled over the curb. The front wheel was visibly in need of major aid on account he’d nailed a screw into it, pulled it back and forth a few times, then driven on it until it got the point.

The old lady eyed him, his car, and then said in very accented English, “You need a tire. We will call the garage. Come inside.” She welcomed him into her home, hands spatting him over, as if she had to touch him. She offered him a bright smile with many white teeth and said, “I am Irina. Irina Koznetsov.”

He almost thanked her for confirming it. He’d only gotten the briefest of information before coming to Irina’s house. “Hi, Irina.” He held her hand and smiled. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

She patted his hand. “Thank you. I don’t get to enjoy American boys often.”

The odd phrasing threw him, but he chalked it up to a language thing. “Are you married?” he asked.

Irina tittered. “Was. They’re dead.”

“Meaning you’re swinging and single.” He winked, knowing how to pour on the charm.

The old lady grinned even wider. Fuck, she had some big teeth.

“You have girlfriend?” she asked.

“Haven’t been lucky enough to find the one yet.” He waxed eloquent, and Irina ate it up.

She fetched him some cookies and then what he thought was coffee with a bite. Too strong for what he wanted to do.

When she left for a minute, he poured some out.

Irina returned, carrying more food. Pure sugar decadence on a plate. As he orgasmed through whatever the fuck magic she put in it, Irina chattered some more. Told him she had a few children but the only family she saw regularly was her granddaughter, Svetlana.

Single granddaughter.

“I really should be calling the garage,” he said before she tried to talk him into a date with Svetlana.

“The car is already gone.” Irina waved her hand. “I call my friend.

Well, that put a crimp in his plan. “Gone where?”

“To the garage. He fix it. You get in the morning.”

“Morning. Wow.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I don’t suppose you know of a hotel nearby?”

“No.”

“No worries. I’ll find one.” He went to leave, but Irina stopped him.

“You stay. I have bed,” she offered.

“I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“Stay. Stay. Drink. Eat.” She pushed food and that noxious liquid at him.

He couldn’t drink it, so he kept dumping it. Hopefully she wouldn’t notice the wet spot he was creating as it poured it in between the couch cushions.

He fake-yawned before she could give him another glass.

“Bedtime!” she announced, clapping her hands. “Follow.” She went toward the kitchen rather than the second floor where he knew the bedrooms were.

Was there a second staircase?

His phone beeped. He pulled it out to see yet another text from his sister, checking on him. He’d reply when he had time. He had the phone in hand when he entered the kitchen.

Irina stood by a door with stairs going down. “You follow,” she said then frowned. “Who you call?”

He waggled the phone. “It’s my sister. She keeps track of me.”

“She know you here?”

There was something in the way she said that raised the hair on his neck. It gave him the chills. Which was crazy. As if she could hurt him. Still…

“Yeah, my sister and I are close. She knows everything that happens to me. We talk all the time.” Not entirely true. She clung. He strove for space.

The old lady muttered something before shutting the door. She moved past him back out of the kitchen.

“Um, Irina?”

“Bedtime. You tired.”

“Yes, tired.” He was also confused but happy to see them going upstairs instead of down into the basement. Never liked those. Hadn’t for a long time. Cold. Dank. Musty, nasty places.

Irina showed him to a room, masculine in feel with dark furniture and fabrics. She shut the door, still muttering, and he almost fist-pumped. He was in.

So easy. A different man might have felt bad about conning an old lady.

He was not that man. He paced as he waited. Almost nine o’clock. When would she go to sleep?

He heard the most subtle of creaks and moved to the door. Pressed his ear on it. Could have sworn he heard heavy breathing. The skin on his body pimpled.

Then came steps as if someone walked away.

It was then he realized he held his breath. Now, it was just after midnight—more than two hours since he’d last heard a creak—when he emerged from under the sheets, fully dressed. He’d scouted where he needed to go early on in the evening, after the call to the garage but before she brought out like the seventh dessert. All he’d had to say was, “This house is magnificent. I don’t suppose you could give me the tour and history?”

With obvious pride, Irina showed off her home, painting a picture that helped him see past the cracks in the plaster, the worn floors, and the dust in the corners. The grandeur still peeked from rooms with mismatched pieces.

It was Irina who pointed to a clean spot on the floor. “I own big—big—klavesin.” She resorted to Russian.

He didn’t know the word but could guess given the bench with music sheets on it left behind. A piano or harpsichord, he ‘d guess. “What happened to it?”

“Sold to fix roof.” She glared at the ceiling.

He could only hope she’d not sold what he’d come looking for.

But he feared for nothing. He saw the key the moment she opened the door on the second floor to her sewing room, packed into a turret, with a comfortable rocking chair by the window, a basket of yarn beside it. A sewing machine, almost buried by bolts of fabric, some of it sun faded and dusty, sat under a window. The wrought iron key hung from an obviously handmade chandelier, the key just one of many mismatched items dangling, like the ornate fork and an etched goblet.

“What an interesting piece of art.”

She saw him looking. “It’s garbage.”

Had she ever heard the adage one person’s junk was another’s treasure?

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