Home > White Nights (White Nights #1)(5)

White Nights (White Nights #1)(5)
Author: Anna Zaires

She pauses for a second to frown at me. “Are you eating properly? You look thinner than the last time I saw you.”

“It’s an illusion, I promise,” I say with a smile. “The flu season has just begun, so I haven’t had a chance to lose any weight yet.”

“I don’t like it that you skip meals during work.” She looks fretful as she places a bowl of soup on the table in front of me. “You’ve been working way too much.”

I pick up my spoon. “I don’t have any shifts for the next two days. Besides, I don’t work nearly as much as Joanne does.”

“That girl is insane,” Mom says, sitting down across from me. “Does she date at all?”

“Not really. She just got a promotion at work, though. Hopefully, that means she’ll be able to work a little less and have a life.”

My mom sighs and shakes her head, apparently as worried about my friend as she is about me.

Dipping my spoon into the soup, I bring it to my lips and take a sip. As usual, the hearty flavor brings me back to my childhood, when Mom made the healthy dish almost every week. Despite her youth, she’s been a great parent, always putting my needs before her own and ensuring I had the best childhood possible. Even with the constant parade of her ever-changing boyfriends, I grew up feeling secure and loved.

“How’s Martin doing?” I ask between spoonfuls of soup.

Mom’s full lips curve into a happy smile. Martin, a forty-six-year-old lawyer, is her current boyfriend. They’ve been dating for the past four months, a remarkably long stretch for my mom. As a teenager, I often wondered why she couldn’t find someone to settle down with. Finally, I concluded that my mom simply enjoys variety when it comes to relationships. She likes men far too much to choose just one.

“He’s good,” she says. “He invited me to go to Cancun next week.”

“Wow. Are you guys getting serious?”

Her smile grows wider. “Perhaps. I do like him a lot, and he’s been very good to me. He doesn’t even mind this ridiculous disease I’ve got. Plus, he’s really good in the sack.”

I burst out laughing. I can’t imagine other mothers telling their daughters these sorts of tidbits. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become my mom’s closest friend and confidante, and I frequently hear far too many details about her love life. Although it can be weird at times, I appreciate that I know my mother as a real person and not just as the woman who gave birth to me.

For the next couple of hours, we chat about work and her upcoming trip to Mexico. Martin bought a beachfront condo there and can’t wait to show it off to his girlfriend. He’s so eager, in fact, he bought her a plane ticket before she’d even agreed to go there. As I listen to her relay the story, my chest warms with happiness. Good for my mom. She deserves to be spoiled.

The afternoon comes to an end much too soon, and before I know it, it’s time to kiss my mom goodbye and head back home, where no exciting love life or enticing adventures await.

It makes me think as I walk the two blocks to the ferry. Maybe it’s time to throw some of my caution to the wind.

 

 

The next morning, I wake feeling refreshed after going to bed at a reasonable time. Night shifts always mess me up. My body dislikes abrupt changes in sleeping patterns.

Stretching, I yawn and enjoy the luxury of not being rushed. For the first time in weeks, I have no plans or commitments. I can lounge in my pajamas all day, and no one will say boo.

I briefly consider calling some friends and going out for lunch, but I decide against it. Chill days are far too rare. Instead, I get up and make my usual breakfast—a bowl of oatmeal with cranberries and walnuts—and I eat it on the couch while watching an episode of Downton Abbey.

Just as I’m starting on the next episode, my phone rings.

June, my supervisor, sounds harried. “Kate, I’m so sorry. I know you have the day off, but is there any way you could swap shifts with Rose? She’s had a death in the family, and she won’t be able to come in today. She was supposed to start at ten.”

So much for that chill day. “Sure. I’ll be there.”

 

 

The shift is grueling with a never-ending stream of patients. One man is brought in with chest pains, but most of the other cases aren’t true emergencies. Many people go to the ER instead of seeing a regular doctor simply because they lack health insurance.

Feeling unusually tired, I take a quick break to visit the restroom and splash cold water on my face. I have three hours left on my shift, and I’m looking forward to going home and falling straight into bed.

I’m walking back from the restroom when I see him again.

My heart leaps, needles of adrenaline biting into my skin.

Walking toward me is none other than the man who’s been on my mind for the past two days.

Alex Volkov, the Russian oligarch himself.

 

 

3

 

 

Alex is strolling leisurely down the hallway, dressed in a pair of jeans and a gray sweater. The clothes hug his large frame, revealing wide shoulders and a muscular build. A pair of hard-looking men are walking a few yards behind him, their eyes sharp and vigilant. His bodyguards.

He’s looking at the phone in his hand, and I speed up, hoping I’ll be able to walk past him unnoticed.

No such luck.

As though sensing my gaze on him, he looks up, and his blue eyes narrow with recognition. Then a small smile curves his lips, softening them a bit.

A warm shiver snakes down my spine, heating my skin, even as some instinct tells me to run. The urge is so strong my leg muscles tighten with it, the needles of adrenaline sinking deeper into my skin and spiking my heart rate.

Don’t be a coward, Kate.

Steeling my spine, I continue walking toward him, trying not to react to the way his eyes rake over my body and finally linger on my mouth. When he meets my gaze again, there’s so much heat in the look he gives me I may burn on the spot. My core clenches, and liquid warmth dampens my underwear.

Dammit. This is insane.

He stops in front of me. I’m cognizant of his bodyguards a few yards away, but all my attention is focused on him. I’d forgotten how tall he is, how big his body is compared to mine. I have to crane my neck to meet his eyes, and I can’t help but be conscious of his size, his strength, his sheer maleness.

His accented voice is soft and slightly mocking, as if he knows the effect he has on me. “Hello, Katerina.”

I stare up at him, Joanne’s words ringing in my ears. I’ve always approached my relationships the same way as everything else, with a calm, steady rationality. I’ve never been one to leap before I looked. That’s my mom’s way, not mine. I like to think, to apply the same logical reasoning to dating as I do to my career. Casual hookups weren’t my thing in college, and I’ve never had a one-night stand. The risks have never been worth the benefits. Instead, I’ve dated men I’ve liked and respected, with whom I’ve connected on a mental and emotional level. A man’s personality has always been far more important to me than his looks.

I have no idea what Alex’s personality is like. I don’t know him at all. There’s nothing logical in the way he makes me feel, nothing rational in the way my body reacts to his. Something within me responds to him on a subconscious, instinctive level, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

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