No More Sweet Surrender

By: Caitlin Crews

CHAPTER ONE


ONE moment Professor Miranda Sweet was trying to slip through the scrum of people outside the Georgetown University Conference Center, where she’d just delivered her keynote speech to attendees of the Global Summit to End Violence in Media, and the next, someone was gripping her arms. Hard. Mean. Enough to bruise.

She clenched her hands tight on the handle of her bag as she was swung around, wholly against her will—and then there was a man’s face much too close to hers, invading her space. The warm spring afternoon in Washington, D.C., seemed cold and hostile, suddenly. She had the hectic impression of angry words with a belligerent scowl, and the swift and terrifying understanding that this man wished her ill.

And like that, she was a girl again. Helpless and scared and cowering in the corner while her father raged and smashed things, then turned his furious glare on her. Just like the girl she’d been then, she shook.

“What—” she began, shocked to hear the quaver in her voice that reminded her of that helpless version of herself she’d thought she’d buried almost ten years ago.

“You need to listen instead of talk, for once,” the strange man growled at her, his words heavily accented.

Miranda’s instinct was to apologize, to obey. To cower and agree—anything to deflect his anger, to appease it—

But then there was another hand, this one smooth and gentle against the small of her back, though it was also undeniably strong. It felt almost possessive as it drew her inexorably away from the man who’d grabbed her and brought her up against a broad male chest. Miranda lost her breath. She knew she should have protested—screamed, swung out with her bag, perhaps—but something stopped her. It was the strangest sensation, as if she was safe, despite all evidence to the contrary. The hard fingers around the tender flesh of her upper arms dropped away, at last, and she tilted her head back to blink in astonishment at the man who still held her close to him.

Like some kind of protector. Like a lover. But she knew who he was, she realized in astonishment. And she knew he was neither of those things.

“You have made a mistake,” he told the other man, his Russian-flavored voice cold.

He recognized her, too, Miranda knew when he looked down at her again. She saw the flare of it in his deep black eyes, and despite herself, she felt an echoing chill of that recognition shiver down her spine and shake its way through her. She had studied this man, taught his films and his fights in her classes. She had discussed what she felt he represented, at length, in print and on television. But she had never met him before. She had certainly never touched him.

He was Ivan Korovin. The Ivan Korovin. Former undefeated mixed martial arts champion, current Hollywood action movie darling, famous for being exactly what he was and everything Miranda hated: unapologetically aggressive, casually brutal and celebrated hither and yon for both.

He was the tall, dark and entirely too handsome walking embodiment of everything she’d built her career fighting against.

The angry man barked out something then that she didn’t need to speak Russian to understand was cruel and vicious. She’d heard that tone before, and she felt it like a blow to her stomach just the same.

Miranda felt every famous inch of Ivan Korovin, pressed against her as he was—hot and hard and not, it turned out, air-brushed in any way beneath the luxurious suit he wore—stiffen with tension.

“Be very careful you do not insult what belongs to me,” he warned in that low voice of his that was richer and more stirring in person than on film. It seemed to wash over her like a heat rash, making her skin prickle in reaction. It confused her. It came far too close to scaring her in a wholly different way.

It made her almost miss the impossible, absurd thing he’d just said.

What belongs to him?

“I do not mean to trespass, of course,” the other man said then, his small, mean eyes still fastened on Miranda in a way that made her shift uneasily in what no doubt looked like Ivan’s embrace. Though she did nothing to extricate herself, and on some level she thought less of herself for her own cowardice. “It does me no good to have you as my enemy.”

Ivan’s smile then was like one of the weapons they claimed he didn’t even need, so lethal was he without them. With only his hands and his skill. “Then be certain you never lay hands on her again, Guberev.”

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