Behind the Palace Walls

By: Lynn Raye Harris
 “Put your legs around me.”

Her eyebrows shot toward her hairline. “Let me go! You aren’t trying to help at all—”

“Your choice, maya krasavitsa,” he said, stepping away. “Good luck.”

“No, wait,” she cried out as he started down the sidewalk. When he stopped, she let out a harsh breath. “Okay, I’ll do it your way.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck, obeying without argument this time. Alexei cupped her thighs, pushed into the cradle of her hips. His coat was long and hid their bodies from view. If they did this right, anyone seeing them would think they were having sex.

She was small, soft, and she smelled like summer in the Urals—a hint of flowers, sunshine, and cool water. Anger flashed through him. Her scent made him remember, made him feel. He didn’t like feeling. He had no room for feeling.

Feeling made you weak, had the power to break you.

“Kiss me,” he growled as the footsteps pounded closer. “And make it believable.”

About the Author Lynn Raye Harris read her first Mills & Boon® Romance when her grandmother carted home a box from a yard sale. She didn’t know she wanted to be a writer then, but she definitely knew she wanted to marry a sheikh or a prince and live the glamorous life she read about in the pages. Instead she married a military man, and moved around the world. These days she makes her home in North Alabama, with her handsome husband and two crazy cats. Writing for Harlequin is a dream come true. You can visit her at www.lynnrayeharris.com  To Mom, who took me to St. Petersburg and Moscow many years ago, and who has always been fascinated with all things Russian.



CHAPTER ONE



THE SCREAM THAT SPLIT the night arrowed down Alexei Voronov’s spine like a river of ice water. His senses throttled into high alert. A light snow fell steadily, dusting the cobblestones of Red Square. To the right, the Kremlin wall bordered the square. At the far end, the Spassky Tower, with its giant clock like Big Ben in London, stood out like a beacon, as did the colorful onion domes of St. Basil’s nearby.

But the hour was late, and there was no movement in the square.

Until the scream echoed again.

Alexei swore. He’d been standing in the shadows of the Russian museum, waiting for his contact to arrive, but he couldn’t ignore the cry. Though it was probably a fight in one of the nearby clubs, a woman screaming bloody murder while her man fought for her honor, he had to act. It was going to cost him valuable information since his contact wouldn’t wait around once he discovered Alexei wasn’t there.

Then again, he’d been waiting for the last half hour and the man was already fifteen minutes late. In truth, Alexei had begun to wonder if the other man had changed his mind.

It was possible.

If Alexei’s adversary had got wind of his intentions, he might have paid the informant more. Though Alexei had been about to pay him a fortune. Still, he couldn’t stand around and wait while a woman needed help.

Just his damned luck to be cursed with a nobility gene, even at the expense of his own best interests. He was ruthless in everything he did—except when someone was in physical danger.

Across the square from the Kremlin, the GUM department store shone brightly. Alexei started in that direction but stopped when he heard a noise. Footsteps? The echo in the empty square made it difficult to pinpoint their direction.

Before he could figure it out, a woman bolted out of the darkness. He had no time to step out of her path. She plowed into him, nearly knocking them both to the pavement.

Alexei caught her close, steadied her as he took a step backward to brace himself. It was like trying to hold a jaguar. She made no noise, but she shoved against him with all her strength, her elbow darting up toward his face. Instinctively he deflected the blow, then spun her until her back was to him, clamping a hand tightly over her mouth.

He could feel the scream gathering in her throat as he dragged her hard against him. If he let go, she’d shatter his eardrums.

“If you scream again,” he said very coolly in her ear, “whoever is chasing you will find you. And I won’t get in the middle of your lovers’ quarrel.”

Why couldn’t he, for once, stay out of it? It was later than the appointed time, but his informant could still arrive. A major business deal was at stake, not to mention years of working toward a single goal that was nearly within his grasp. Missing a meeting for the sake of what was most likely a drunken spat was not part of the plan. He could turn around now and be back to the museum in a few strides.

The woman’s voice was muffled as she tried to shake her head. It occurred to him she might be a tourist. There were many tourists in Moscow these days, unlike in the old days when he was growing up. He repeated it in English, just in case.

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