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Enjoy Chapter 1!
I was sixteen when he kissed me. But it wasn’t a sweet, soft romantic kiss. It was a rough, desperate, life affirming kiss. He was being taken away. A murderer at the age of twenty. He was leaving his only surviving family member alone because he had to pay for his crime. But was it really a crime? He had stopped the man who was beating his sister. Stopped him dead in his tracks. But, now, he had to pay. And she would be left alone.
As he dragged his lips against mine, it felt as though his body was trying to consume mine. I’d had a crush on Ivan Romanov since I was twelve. I’d met his sister, Alexis, when I was eight. Ever since that moment, Lexi and I had been best friends. We were in the same homeschool group way back then, but for very different reasons. Lexi was there to stay under the radar. I was there because I was an orphan and my grandfather wanted nothing to do with playing the doting guardian act at a public school.
“Barrett, you have to take care of her, take care of my Lexi.” His Russian accent was stronger than usual, his words thick with emotion. “I don’t know when I will return to her. I’ll send money as I can. She knows about the secret bank account. Don’t leave her. Don’t let her lose her smile.”
My mind was whirling in several directions. The object of my desire of the last four years was kissing me. And I’d never known he was gay. Was he gay? What was the kiss? From where had it come?
My best friend, the daughter of a long dead Russian mobster, had been beaten within an inch of her life. And her brother had killed her abuser.
I knew there’d be no problem with me staying by Lexi’s side. My grandfather could barely stand to look at me when he was having a good day. On his bad days, he didn’t even know I was around. I’d been a thorn in his homophobic, drunk-ass side since my parents died several years ago.
“I’ll take care of her, Ivan, but…,” There was so much I wanted, needed to say, to ask, but he kissed me again, plunging his tongue into my virgin mouth.
The cops who had been patiently waiting to take Ivan away came rushing towards us, obviously not okay with a twenty-year-old kissing a sixteen-year-old right in front of them. Or was it more that a man was kissing a boy, not so concerned about the ages? They certainly hadn’t been too distraught that Ivan had destroyed the scumbag who had beaten Lexi, but the kiss seemed to light a fire under them.
“Barrett, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t kiss you like this. But, I can’t help myself. Take care of her, love her, make her smile, make her forget. Be for her what I can’t be while I’m away.” And with that, he brushed a thumb down my cheek before turning to walk past the approaching officers to the cruiser waiting to take him to prison. I grimaced as the officers roughly cuffed him and all but threw him into the car.
I watched the vehicle drive away, taking with it the answers to so many questions. Later, we would find out he was likely going away for twenty years, but his lawyer would optimistically share that he could get out in ten if he met the requirements of his sentence. Ten years. Ten years to wait until my questions were answered. And would they ever truly be answered?
I turned to walk into the hospital where Lexi lay in a swollen, bruised, and bloody state. She was going to be okay, but she needed to heal, to rest, and recoup. I looked down at the small scrap of paper Ivan had shoved into my hand. It had an address along with the words, “Take her here. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t let anyone follow you. Stay here. I’ll come to you when I get out.”
Memorizing the address on the cryptic message, I shredded it into tiny pieces, depositing a few scraps into multiple trashcans as I walked to Lexi’s room. If there was anything I had learned by being around Lexi and Ivan, it was to make yourself hard to trace.
I sat with her over the next several days, holding her hand, telling her stories, and helping her forget. But the terror of that night still haunted her eyes. Would my love and friendship ever be enough to make her forget?
A week after Lexi was beaten within an inch of her life and Ivan was taken to prison for murdering her boyfriend, I loaded her into my beat up old car and we wove our way through the city until it was safe to hit the winding country roads which took us to the address Ivan had given me.
A huge, run-down, but livable old farmhouse sat at the end of a mile and a half long driveway. I didn’t know how or who had taken care of it, but I was relieved to see there was electricity and running water. Lexi and I looked around the home appreciatively. We’d been on our own for the most part before, we could make a go of it together. As long as we had each other and we knew Ivan was coming back at some point in the distant future.