Thirty minutes later, Jeb and Wade were pulling away from the airport drop-off as Ike grew smaller in the rearview mirror.
Wade took a deep breath, leaned back, and closed his eyes. “That’s better.”
She hated Texas. Yeah, heat was a big part of the reason for her dislike for the place, but it wasn’t the warm weather that really ate at her. It was the inability to wear her normal clothes without sticking out. Blending was something Sasha needed to do.
Wearing a floral print dress she’d burn at the earliest opportunity, she ducked under the wide brim of the hat on her head and scratched the blonde wig covering up her dark hair.
Sasha dropped on one knee behind a tombstone and made as if she were searching her massive bag for a tissue. From the side of the “purse,” she slid aside a hidden cover from the camera inside and looked at the image picked up on the screen. She zoomed in and placed a hand to the side of her head, turning up the volume on her earpiece.
Ruslan stood to the side of Fedor’s grave, hands folded behind his back. His three-piece suit didn’t single him out of a crowd, but his stony disposition while visiting his son’s grave did.
As soon as he blipped on the radar in the States, she’d been close enough to smell the bastard.
She snapped a picture and waited.
Zakhar, his hired thug, stood several paces away. Dark glasses covered his eyes as he scanned the cemetery.
As luck would have it, Texans mourned their dead instead of burying them and forgetting. So the cemetery had several pockets of people milling about, giving her the camouflage she needed.
She glanced at the stone she knelt in front of. Bess Ann Carroll, 1904–1965. Surely the woman had been dead long enough to avoid anyone stopping by and seeing Sasha pretending to grieve over the grave.
The camera caught Ruslan turning his head. With a clear picture, she snapped an image.
“C’mon, say something, you bastard.”
The high-powered microphone pointed in his direction picked up the breeze, or maybe that was Ruslan’s heavy breathing. He knelt down and spoke under his breath.
“Can you hear me, you idiot?” Ruslan spoke in Russian.
Sasha turned up the volume.
“You bring this nothing, your bitch, from nowhere, and fuck all my plans. Now I watch my back like a dog. You should know she will eventually go down for your death. And when no one can reach her but my people, I will see that she is properly taken care of, eh? Even if I never see a penny of what is mine, I will take great pleasure in her sorrow. I hope you can hear me.”
Ruslan stood and made the sign of the cross over his body. The motion alone should have burned his skin, but it didn’t.
He looked up again, as if sensing someone watching him.
With a step back, he signaled to the car waiting, with a man as big as Zakhar standing by. From the trunk, the man removed a floral wreath. Something one saw at the funeral, and not placed on a grave a year later.
The second man leaned it on the gravestone.
“Is the camera working?” Ruslan asked.
The man appeared to play with the flowers and stood back. “All is ready.”
Ruslan turned his back and walked away.
His minions followed.
It started to rain when the sun set, and now there were steady sheets creating puddles on the windowsill’s edge.
Trina studied the moisture that gathered at the top of the window, then dropped as gravity and wind drove it down. Every once in a while, the drop would slow and detour a little to the right or the left. It joined with another drop of rain and grew . . . but it kept going until it hit the bottom and collected in a small pile. She couldn’t help but feel like her life was one of those tiny drops that kept pushing her off course. Like the raindrop at the top of the window, she was all alone, only each time her life went off course, she picked up another person to join her for the ride.
The door to her bedroom opened and one of those drops walked in.
Her stomach fluttered.
“Do you have any idea how much I love that smile?” Wade asked.
She turned back toward the window and traced a drop with her finger.
Wade walked up behind her and slid his arms around her waist, pulled her close, and dropped his chin on her shoulder.
Her heart fluttered along with her stomach.
“What are you thinkin’ about?” he asked.
“About the butterflies kicking around inside of me every time I see you.”
He nuzzled her neck and she leaned into him.
“Today was a hard day for you.”
“Every time I think the answers are just around the corner, I turn to find a labyrinth with dead ends and circles. Today I found more questions. It feels like I’m never going to have all the answers.”
He hugged her harder. “Can I ask you something?”
She turned her head enough to look in his eyes. “Anything.”
“Is it easier or harder to know your husband was murdered?” The soft question in his eyes told her he truly cared about her answer.
“I’ve been blaming myself for Fedor’s suicide for a year. Now I’m kicking myself for not looking harder and seeing the truth. The trail to his murderer grew colder with every day that passed. Now I’ve let him down by not trusting my judgment.”
“If the police didn’t see a reason to investigate, how could you have known?”
“Because he was my friend. We talked every day.”
The answer seemed to appease Wade.
“Can I ask you another question?”
This time, she was fearful of what that would be. “Yes.”
He hesitated . . .
She turned around in his arms and looked him in the eye. “Ask.”
He squeezed her waist with both hands. “Are you still in love with him?”
“Oh, Wade.” The expression on his face told her he was torn up over having to ask, or maybe he was afraid of her answer.
She shook her head quickly. “No.” Before he could ask anything else, she told him what she could. “I was never in love with Fedor. Not the kind of love you’re talking about. He never had that place in my heart.”
Now he looked confused. “But you were married.”
She blinked a few times. “His mother was dying. He would have done anything to make that woman happy in her final days. Alice worried more than any mother on this earth that her son was going to be alone once she was gone. Fedor and I met through mutual friends . . .”
Understanding washed over Wade’s face. “You married a stranger? A man you weren’t in love with?”
She tried to smile. “I cared for him. I did. I sometimes wish I had loved him the way a wife should love her husband. There were times I thought he was falling in love with me, which makes me feel even more remorseful.”
“But you both entered into your marriage as what, an arrangement?”
She shrugged. “I speak Russian. He talked me into it, said I could back out anytime. We both wanted his mother to pass without worry. We drew up a prenuptial, he wanted me to have more, said he would buy me a house after our divorce so I could start a new life without any financial stress.”
“You married him for the money.”
It made her sound like a hooker. “It was a business arrangement. He married me to give his mother peace of mind while cancer ate her away. I married him to make enough money to bankroll my private flight attendant endeavor I wanted to start.”
For the first time since they met, Wade’s eyes showed doubt.
“I know how it sounds, how it looks. It was mutual. I promise you. Ask Lori. She set up the agreement.”
“I don’t need to ask Lori.” His gaze softened.
“I can count on one hand how many times Fedor kissed me, Wade. Three were in front of the cameras at our wedding, the other two were at the hospital in front of his mother.”
Wade looked over her head and around the room. “You had separate bedrooms.”
She nodded. “Of course.”
“You never slept with him.” It wasn’t a question.
She shook her head.
He tilted his head back and closed his eyes and sighed, long and deep.
“Here I thought I was competing with a dead man and wondering how I was going to win.”
Trina rested her hands on his chest. “You’re not competing with anyone. I haven’t had a boyfriend for five years, and the butterflies didn’t last past the first few dates. It’s one of the many reasons I said yes to Fedor’s plan.”
Wade lost his smile, but his eyes twinkled. “Who was this boyfriend?”
His grin made her smile.
He reached up with both hands and captured her head. “I guess I don’t have to feel bad about doing this.” His lips lowered to hers, and she melted into the wings fluttering in her belly. He was so very good at erasing everything in her world but the slow tingling of his lips on hers and the smooth transition of his tongue taking over hers.
Her knees began to buckle, but he simply held her tighter, changed positions, and kept kissing her like he had nothing better to do for the next year.
Wade came up for air and bent enough to lift her into his arms. “I don’t have to feel bad about doing this either.”
She smiled as he walked her into her bathroom and turned on a light.
It was too bright, so she pointed toward the one next to it. The one that left the room in a soft glow.