Gasping for air, Victor slid back, scuttling like a crab. Reaching into the fireplace, he picked up the gun with his sleeve and pushed himself up against the wall, panting.
“Now you’re going to die.” Victor shot a crazed look from Nikos to Anna. “And you’re going to watch. After this, only his ghost will haunt us.” He cocked the gun, pointing it at Nikos with triumph.
“No!” Anna screamed, desperately struggling with the cord. By some miracle it snapped open against her wrist. She threw herself from the chair, flinging her body in front of Nikos as Victor squeezed the trigger.
She closed her eyes, waiting to feel the bullet tear through her body.
Instead, she just heard a soft click.
The gun was empty!
Victor shook the gun with impotent fury.
Nikos turned to one side, tucking her protectively behind him as he faced Victor. “Guess I forgot the bullets. Sorry.”
With a scream of frustration Victor threw the gun at him, but Nikos dodged it easily. It clattered to the floor.
Nikos glanced at it with a derisive snort. He raised an eyebrow, giving Victor the darkly arrogant look that Anna had once despised. But she appreciated it now. She knew he used all his arrogance, all his strength and power, to protect the people he loved.
“Fight me, Sinistyn,” Nikos demanded coldly. “Just you and me.”
Victor swore in Russian, shaking his head. He looked straight at Anna, muttering all the sadistic things he’d do to her if Nikos wasn’t there to protect her.
Anna felt her cheeks grow hot with horror. Nikos didn’t speak Russian, but when he saw the effect the man’s words were having on her he strode forward grimly.
With a yelp, Victor turned and ran in the other direction. But Nikos caught up with him, grabbing his shoulder and whirling him around.
“Like scaring women, do you?” He punched Victor in the face—once, twice. “Too much of a coward to fight someone your own size? Fight me, damn you! Or are you going to just let me kill you?” Nikos’s eyes narrowed and he looked dangerous indeed. “Don’t think I won’t.”
Victor started fighting dirty. He tried to knee Nikos in the groin, to trip him. When Nikos blocked him, he stumbled back to the fireplace and grabbed a sharp iron poker.
“I’ll stab you like a pig, you Greek bastard,” he panted, swinging the poker at Nikos’s face.
He blocked it with his right arm, but Anna heard the crunch of bone and saw the way Nikos’s right hand hung at a strange angle.
Victor had broken his wrist. She trembled with fury. She started to run at Victor, to fight him two to one, but Nikos stopped her with a hard glance.
With his left hand he wrenched the poker away and threw Victor to the floor. He held him to the ground with one hand against his neck. Anna watched in horror as he tightened his grip.
“How does it feel to be vulnerable?” Nikos demanded.
“Nikos, let him go,” Anna sobbed.
“Why? Do you think he would have let you go?” he demanded, not looking at her. “Did he ever show mercy to anyone weaker? Why should I let him live after what he’s done to you?”
Slowly she put her hands against his shoulders, feeling the hard tension of his muscles. “Do it for us. Please, my love, let him go so we can go back to our son.”
Abruptly, he released his choke-hold on the other man and rose to his feet. She had one brief vision of his face, and she thought she saw tears in his eyes as, without a word, he took her in his arms and held her tightly.
Nikos looked down at her as he held her tenderly to his chest. His dark eyes were shining.
“Thank you, agape mou,” he whispered, brushing her cheek softly with his hand. “Thank you for trying to take that bullet. There weren’t any bullets, but you didn’t know that. You…you saved me. In so many ways.”
“And you started early,” a man said from the doorway in heavily accented English. Anna looked up to see a man in a Russian police uniform, with half a dozen policemen behind him. “We missed it.”
“I couldn’t wait, Yuri.” Nikos jerked his head toward Victor, still stretched out on the floor. “There he is.”
The man called Yuri smiled. “You said you were calling in a favor. I wish I had to pay more favors like this. We’ve wanted Sinistyn a long time, but he was untouchable. Now, with your testimony and influence, he won’t see the sun again for a long time.” The policeman looked with concern at Nikos’s wrist. “My friend, you are hurt.”
“It’s his wrist. I think it’s broken. We need a doctor right away,” Anna said, then looked up anxiously at the face of the man she loved. “Please, Nikos. I need you to be well.”
“All right,” he muttered. “Get the doctor.”
Turning away from the policeman, he sank into a nearby chair and pulled her into his lap. “Anna, before the doctor starts filling me with drugs, I have to tell you something. I should have told you this a long time ago, but I was too stupid to see it and too stubborn to admit it—even to myself. I really do love you.”
“Nikos, I love—”
“Please let me finish, while I can still get this out.” He took a deep breath. “You saved me. From a life that was empty. I was stupid to prevent you from working, or doing anything else that brings you joy. If it makes you happy, I want you to work. As my secretary, as vice-president, as any damn thing you want.”
Tears filled her eyes even as she gave him a mischievous smile. “I think I’d make a good CEO.”
“Cocky.” He returned her grin. “You always were the only one who could stand up to me. I need that in my life. Someone to keep me in my place.”
As she looked into his handsome face she barely heard the noises of the swarming police, or Victor’s whining complaints as they took him away.
“Your place is with me.” She cupped his jaw, rough with dark stubble, in her hands. “As long as we’re together, anyplace in the world is my home. But there’s something that I have to ask you. Something I’ve never said before to anyone.” He’d called her cocky, but what she wanted to ask him now terrified her. She took a deep breath. “Nikos, will you marry me?”
For answer, his smile lit his face from within, his dark eyes shining at her with hope and love. “I thought you’d never ask.”
“I told you we should have gotten married at the drive-thru chapel in Vegas,” Anna whispered when she reached the end of the aisle.
“And miss all this? Never,” he whispered back with a wink.
As the priest began to speak the words that would bind them together for all time Nikos knew he should pay attention, but all he could do was look at his bride. Beneath the hot Greek sun, on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea, they were surrounded by flowers and a small audience of people who loved them. It was a simple wedding, plain by some standards, but he knew in his heart it was what Anna wanted.
And, looking at her now, he knew he’d never be able to deny her anything. Her turquoise eyes, a mixture of sea and sky, smiled at him as he lifted her veil. She wore a white shift that made her look like a medieval maiden.
Her engagement ring, a four-carat diamond in an antique gold setting, sparkled from her finger. He’d given it to her two nights ago. She’d tried to refuse it until she’d realized that he’d found the original stone from her great-grandmother’s wedding ring. Now it was one of her greatest treasures.
The way she’d thanked him had made him forget all about the cast on his wrist. Remembering that night, and every night since they’d returned from Russia, still made his body feel hot from the inside out. He could hardly wait to give Anna her honeymoon present—Rostov Palace, which he’d bought from Sinistyn’s confiscated estates. Sinistyn didn’t need it anymore, as he’d be living out his days in a Russian prison.
Nikos glanced around him at family and friends and the sea and the bright blue sky. Justice. Another thing he’d thought existed only in fairytales, along with love and happy endings.
He’d not only held his wedding in his parents’ hometown, but, at Anna’s urging, he’d invited his father’s family—Eudocia Dounas and her three daughters—to the wedding. To his surprise they’d all come, bringing their husbands and children. He now had a family. Siblings, nieces, nephews. He didn’t know them yet, but he would.
Near his family sat Anna’s mother who, in another wedding-day miracle, was not only on her best behavior, but had pinched his cheek and declared it was “about time” the two were married. Anna had spent last night talking to her sister, barring Nikos from her bedroom because it was “bad luck” for him to see her. Now, Natalie was bouncing Misha on her knee while she watched the wedding, smiling through her tears. And he could see his son’s two new top teeth in his smile as he watched his parents wed.