Home > White Nights (White Nights #1)(4)

White Nights (White Nights #1)(4)
Author: Anna Zaires

“Relationships with boring-as-hell guys? How well has that worked out for you?”

Not that well, I have to admit, since I’m twenty-five and single.

“You see!” Her eyes glitter with triumph. “Something clearly needs to change in your approach. Let loose for a change and stop going for your usual, overly logical choice. A hot Russian billionaire wants to take you to bed? Why not freaking let him?”

 

 

Why not, indeed?

Joanne’s words linger in my mind as I walk down Broadway, heading toward the Staten Island Ferry. Once every couple of weeks, I meet my Manhattan-dwelling friends somewhere downtown and then take the ferry to visit my mom. Today is one of those times, and I’m glad I made the plans earlier in the week. I don’t want to sit home and brood about my strange reaction to a man I’ve known for all of five minutes.

Why had he affected me so strongly? The way all my senses focused on him had been both frightening and exhilarating. Even now, just thinking about him, my heart beats faster and my belly tightens with excitement.

This is ridiculous. I haven’t even kissed the guy. How can he turn me on so much? I have no idea what he’s like in bed. For all I know, he’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am type who just wants to have a quickie with a pretty nurse. Yet I can’t stop thinking about him, imagining all the delicious things he might do to me if I took him up on his offer.

Why am I so drawn to him? Is it the aura of power he projects? I can’t deny I find strong men attractive, even if Alex intimidates me on some level. Something feminine deep within me likes the idea of a bigger, more powerful man, someone who can protect me from dangers both real and imaginary. With his air of calm confidence and male arrogance, Alex definitely gives off that vibe in spades.

Now that I know who he is, I’m not surprised he came across the way he did. Although I’ve never heard of him specifically, I know a bit about Russian oligarchs and the sway they have in Russia. The man is a ruler in his corner of the world. My friend Nadia, a Ukrainian nurse who works in the Pediatric ER Department, told me about the so-called New Russians and their ruthless rise to the top in post-Communist Russia. Their history sounded brutal and mafia-like, and I bet things haven’t changed that much since. No wonder the man had bodyguards. Who knows what he did to piss someone off?

Yes, Alex Volkov is definitely bad news. It would be smart to avoid any involvement with him.

Still, I can’t get him out of my head. I’ve never dated any Russian men, although I’ve been asked out by plenty. Coney Island Hospital is located in an Eastern European area of Brooklyn, and many of my coworkers and patients come from the local Russian or Ukrainian community. For an American, I’m fairly well versed with Alex’s culture and can even speak a few words of his language. Not that I’d need to use my minuscule linguistic skills. Alex is obviously fluent in English.

Ugh, stop it, Kate. You won’t need to use your Russian knowledge because you won’t see the guy again.

That’s what I need to keep in mind. He expressed interest, I refused, and that’s the end of it. A man like him, wealthy and attractive, doesn’t need to chase women. He won’t bother pursuing a nurse he met only once. I have nothing to fear. Even if I were inclined to agree to his rather crude offer, which I’m not, it’s too late.

I’ll never see him again.

It’s for the best… even if, for some odd reason, I find that thought depressing.

 

 

My mom, Laura Morrell, lives in a quiet area of Staten Island near the Ferry, less than two blocks away from the ocean. The neighborhood is a bit rundown, but it makes for a cheap, convenient commute into Manhattan. That feature is less relevant now that my mom can no longer work, but it served her well back when she waitressed at the fancy steakhouses in the Financial District.

Although not glamorous, the job brought in good money, enabling my mom to raise me on her own without help from anyone else. She even managed to save enough money to buy a two-bedroom apartment when I was seven years old. It wasn’t until two years ago that my mom’s rheumatoid arthritis got bad enough that she was forced to file for disability. Now, at only forty-three years of age, my mom lives off disability payments and the money I regularly deposit into her bank account, ignoring her protests.

My own tiny studio is in Brooklyn, in the Park Slope area where I moved three years ago after college graduation. It’s a short commute to the hospital and is, in general, a great neighborhood for a twenty-five-year-old single woman. Although I miss my mom, I don’t regret moving to Brooklyn. I can’t imagine spending two hours a day traveling to and from work, or having to take a ferry or an express bus to go anywhere outside of Staten Island. However, visiting my mom at my childhood home is something I very much enjoy.

“Hi, Mom,” I say with a smile as she opens the door.

Her youthful face lights up. “Katie! Oh, I was just thinking about you. Come in, honey. I made your favorite split-pea soup.”

With her blond hair, blue eyes, and smooth skin, my mom is a remarkably pretty woman. As her disease has progressed, she’s gradually become less active and has slowly gained weight over the years. Now curvy rather than slim, she’s still beautiful and still goes through men like Kleenex, just like she did in her twenties and thirties.

“Thanks, Mom,” I say, grinning.

My mom’s cooking is second to none, and she loves spoiling her only daughter. I’ve always found her mature-and-motherly manner endearing and somewhat surprising. After all, she’s only eighteen years older than I am. Growing up, I often had to explain that the young woman with me was indeed my mother and not my babysitter, and the differences in our appearances didn’t make it easier. While I’ve inherited some features from my mom, my darker coloring is from my father, whoever he may be. My mom has no clue herself, having fallen pregnant by accident after attending one of the frat parties at a nearby college—a development that didn’t exactly please her conservative New England family.

Upon learning of her intent to keep the baby, they disowned their wild, rebellious daughter, forcing her to scrap her college plans and find a job immediately upon high school graduation. It had been a harsh dose of reality, and my mom still hasn’t forgiven them for it. As a result, I’ve never met my grandparents—a situation I’m fine with, given the way they’d treated their only daughter. I hardly ever think about them at all, in fact.

I do, however, wonder about my father. My mom is blond and pale, so my olive-hued skin, wavy brown hair, and hazel eyes must’ve come from his side of the family. I could easily be part Latino, Middle Eastern, Italian, or Greek. One of these days, I’ll do a DNA test and figure it out once and for all.

My mom bustles around the kitchen, moving with unusual ease. “So, tell me, honey, how’s work?”

This is one of her better days. On bad days, her joints ache so much even simple household tasks are painful to perform. I contemplated moving back in, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it. The last thing she needs is an adult daughter underfoot, she said. Mom loves the freedom of having the apartment to herself. My moving out has given her love life a boost.

“Oh, the usual,” I reply. “Lots of flu patients.”

I’m tempted to tell her about the man I met, but for some reason, I decide against it. Although my mom is as much a friend as she’s a parent, something about that encounter makes me hesitant to talk about it.

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