Keep his head turned. Monitor his actions and his plans. Influence them to our advantage, and weaken his army’s effectiveness. He doesn’t care about his own casualties, so suggest engagements likely to thin his numbers. You’ll know when to strike the final blow.
It was rare for her to lose herself to sexual pleasure, but Lucretia didn’t fight it. She had demanded his worship, so worship was what Sergei gave her, using the clearest form of communication he had. She let his rhythm fill her attention, her hands moving over shifting muscle, the inside of her thighs throbbing with his impact. She knew he’d be good, because she’d had him before, but the speed at which he learned her was far past her expectation.
His breath was hot in her ear, speaking Russian words, encouraging her, or else ordering her body to surrender. It didn’t matter. She would give him everything. She didn’t have to act the part, or falsify her enjoyment, because the mission was designed to include it. Edward expected progress reports on their target, but he also wanted to be sure that Sergei was pleasing her. She and Edward had become accustomed to living and working at some distance from each other, and they managed this by being absolutely frank about their wandering desires. He wanted her to be satisfied, just as she wanted him to enjoy Vikram.
She was close, her breath coming in short, tense pants as he added force, speed to the point of impact. He seized her wrists, pinned them above her head. She made no move to deter him, saturated with that compliant arousal that always took her just before orgasm. She might’ve said anything, allowed him anything in that moment. He showed his teeth in a grin that told her he was completely aware of that fact.
Then he stopped, hips coming to rest between her thighs, his body arched over hers, the sweat of three hours of sex dripping down on her flushed skin. The smile was still in place, visible to her through a haze of lust, but no more comprehensible than his sudden halt.
“Don’t stop,” she murmured.
“Hmm,” he leaned forward, grinding a little against her.“You’re just going to have wait for this one.”
“I want you to answer my questions,” he kissed her parted lips. “You will answer my questions.”
She frowned, still encompassed by fog of need. “Sergei.”
He released her wrists, then lifted himself off her, coming to rest on his side with a heavy thump. She glared at him, the sudden prick of air on her glossy skin causing her to shiver. The moment of surrender was fading into irritation. One look at his laughing eyes, and she knew this was payback for leaving him unsatisfied on the yacht.
“Oh, are you angry with me, princess?” He nuzzled her neck with a rumbling purr, and she almost expected him to start rubbing up against her, marking her with his scent like a tomcat.
She gave him a little nudge with her shoulder. He chuckled and desisted, rising from the bed to get some bottled water from the key-coded mini-fridge. He returned with two, and handed her one. From this she gathered it was not going to be one of his typical interrogations, and decided it was better to play along to his tune than try to demand his submission to her physical desires.
“Was I right about you?” he asked after she’d finished a long drink.
“In what particular?”
She scrutinized him, but he gave nothing away, staring at her with those snow-leopard eyes. Watchful and cold, in spite of his playful smile.
“Yes. Mine was the Morrígan division. Close quarters assassinations. Seduction tactics. Targets were British officers, Dublin police, politicians who were too friendly with the English.”
He licked his lips, his focus narrowing on her, and her sense of being monitored by predatory eyes increased. “How did you get out of Ireland?”
Lucretia sighed, pulled up her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms loosely around them. “On a ferry to the continent. The last mission I did was intended to send a very specific message. It was messy. I knew I was going to have to leg it.”
He evaluated that, seemed to find it an acceptable recounting. “And now? How does the Morrígan operate? You don’t fuck men to death any more, or I would’ve heard about it.”
“Typically not,” she agreed. “It’s a tactic that’s meant to draw attention. We do our killing conventionally now.”
He touched a finger to her chin, turning her face to his, the touch gentle but his expression was deadly earnest. “How did you hide from me for three years?”
“It wasn’t difficult,” she said cooly. “I use layers of secrecy. Code. Disguise. Dead drops. When I get paid, it’s in credit under fake names. I resupply with that credit, without you or anyone else knowing. Most of the people who work for me don’t know who they work for. They just know someone pays them to carry information, or mark a target.”
He smiled. “Why haven’t you killed me yet? Surely any of the guilds could meet your price.”
“None of them could meet my price so well as you,” she reminded him, reaching out to touch his cheek. “It was tempting at one time to accept such a contract, but you’ve expanded so quickly. I knew I’d have to make terms with you one day.”
“You only want me for my resources and power,” he mused, then added a little bit of pout to his expression. “That’s very materialistic of you, Lukretsiya.”
She tilted her head. “Lukretsiya. Is that my Russian name?”
He nodded. “Do you like it?”
She thought about what Vikram had told her, mentioning in passing that his mother used Russian names for himself and his sister growing up. That a young Sergei had heralded his interest in Rachel by adopting Rakhila, her mother’s name for her as a mocking style. A casual detail to Vikram, but to Lucretia, a brilliant dose of slow-acting poison she could use on her victim.
She kissed him. “You should call me that more often.”
The expression on his face brightened a little, making him look momentarily like someone else. Lucretia was satisfied that he wasn’t aware he was being manipulated as she laid her hand on the old wound. Edward had been right. Rachel was more than just a pursuit to him. Somehow, she had managed to leave a hole in this abyss of a man. Had Vikram really missed it?
She reached out and palmed Sergei’s face, drawing her finger over the scar that snaked through his cheek. She leaned in and kissed the knotted twist of flesh just above his mouth. He closed his fingers in her hair and pulled her in for a deep kiss. She slid her arms around him, feeling the powerful muscle that armored him under her greedy hands.
He resumed his position atop her, settling in between her legs, then held back from her. She was about to question him, to urge him on, but there was something in his eyes that startled her. Some vulnerability she hadn’t anticipated.
“I don’t want you to leave me,” he said in a low voice.
She smiled. “Why should I want to?”
He considered his words, something quite strange to watch, then focused on her again. “You know that my women are…”
“Temporary,” she supplied. It was a kind way of putting it. Women favoured by the commander were the ones who did not presume on his time or affection. Certainly they did not make demands the way she had. They were both aware of this.
“You are different.”
“How so different?”
“You know already.”
“Yes, but tell me anyway.”
“The Morrígan, she is a queen, yes?” Sergei smiled. “A queen of carrion crows. Perhaps the vulture is a good consort for her.”
She knew what he meant. In a complementary way they were matched for power. They ruled over others, wielded killing strength. It made sense that would be attractive to him, but she needed to be something more if she was going to keep him diverted.
“Perhaps,” she said with a thin smile. “Perhaps we’ll see.”
She shimmied out from under him before he could say anything more about it, and went to look for her fatigues. He stared after her, his brow knitted in irritation.
“Where are you going?”
“I have an errand.”
His irritation bloomed into fury. “I just said I don’t want you to leave.”
“And I never said I was taking orders from you.” She spared him one arch look before returning to the task of assembling her clothing. “I need to shut down my operations.”
Sergei stood up. “So radio your people and have them take care of it.”
“I don’t use radio to talk to them about something like this.”
He ignored this and went to the dresser where he’d left his deadly accessories — the twin Desert Eagle pistols, the assortment of knives, including the favoured one with the bone handle she’d used to cut through Tomas Arnaud’s femoral artery. He passed over these and picked up a compact little handheld radio, then offered it to her.
She looked disdainfully at it, then at him. “My people would consider me to be under duress if I contacted them that way, and I don’t mean for you to know about my trade craft.”
His face did not change, except to turn a slightly darker shade of pink as he applied his grip strength to the little machine, crushing the plastic casing until it snapped open. He dropped it on the floor in front of her, nostrils flaring.
She stared at him. “I’m coming back. Stop being childish.”
“You said — “
“I was teasing you,” she growled. “But if you really want to get between me and my business, I promise you’ll regret it.”
His muzzle twitched up in a sneer that pulled at against the scar. He seemed like he wanted to lash out, to punish her for exploiting his moment of vulnerability, but was so far holding himself in check. Instead, he elected to sulk, making his way back over to the bed and dropping down on the corner.
“Fine. Go. We have our agreement.”
Lucretia held him with her eyes for a long moment, then finally relented, and picked her way over to him. She fitted her hands around the sharp angles of his jaw, tilted his head back and applied the softest kiss to his cupid’s bow lips. It was a facsimile of a lover’s kiss, the slight parting of lips, just a hint of tongue over the seam of his mouth. She felt his breath catch, felt the tension go out of him, and marvelled that such a superficial trick could be so effective.
He was good at affecting complex emotion, could feel it to some degree, but she’d studied him for years, and she knew that his default was hollow sadism. He was buying into the fantasy now, but tomorrow his pleasure would be reserved for the sheer joy of the slaughter. She’d promised him that too, of course. She’d remind him of it soon enough.
“Tell you what.” She grabbed a handful of his silver blonde hair and pressed her lips to his ear.“You can top me off before I go.”
Sergei licked his lips, then smiled. He seized hold of her waist and tossed her back against the matress. Before she could draw breath, he bent head first between her legs. Then he was kissing her, tonguing her, using his fingers, the bridge of his nose, eating her with his entire face. He wasn’t just good, she realized, but prodigious.
Soon she was gasping, then whimpering, a moment away from release when there was a timid knock on the door. At first Sergei didn’t seem to notice or care, but as the knocking continued in urgency, she felt him growl. His growl turned into a snarl as he shoved himself away from her. He snatched one of the pistols from the dresser and crossed the room in two strides, then cocked the weapon as he ripped open the door, nearly taking it off its hinges.
The young lieutenant was quite surprised to find his komandir fully naked and applying the muzzle of the chrome Desert Eagle .50 directly to his forehead. It was Vasily, the elder of the two Tsarnaevs. His knees looked like they were about to go out from under him.
His voice calm, Sergei said something in Russian to the young man. At first he didn’t answer, still adjusting to the very real possibility that his skull and brains were about to adorn the wall behind him. When he finally did find his voice, Lucretia caught the word amerikantsy, and something she assumed was the approximation of please don’t kill me, sir.
Lip curling to show his teeth, Sergei pressed the gun harder against Vasily’s forehead. Then he relented, un-cocking the pistol and withdrawing it.
“Fuck off,” he snapped. His lieutenant, his face ashen, scrambled to obey.
Lucretia sat up. “What is it?”
Sergei sniffed, his expression now a mask of disdain, lips pressed into a thin line. He set the gun down, but he didn’t look at her.
“Tell me,” she prompted, then rose and went to him, putting her hands on his broad back. She half expected him to shrug her off, but instead he leaned into her touch.
“It’s nothing,” he said with a shrug. “A dead-drop from Vikram. He wants me to refrain from attacking the Americans until his signal.”
“And you’d rather not do that.”
He glared at her in the mirror. “I don’t follow his fucking orders.”
She knew full well that was untrue, but it wouldn’t help matters. Instead of speaking, she stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the back of the neck, then went to get the rest of her clothes. Seeing that their moment had passed, he went to his wardrobe and began to dress in his traditional black commando and fatigues.
“Tell me why this troubles you,” she said as she slid into her fatigue trousers.
“I don’t want to let them to claim positions. I want them to be afraid, disoriented.”
“And what does Vikram want?”
“He says wants them off the water, wants them all trapped on land before any major offensive,” Sergei muttered. “But he promised me he wouldn’t hold me back. He’s got some stupid reason for this.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You sound like him.”
“I’ve done war, remember,” she pointed out with a yawn. “More than any of you lot, I’ll wager.”
“You think so,” he was still in a mood, but there was a hint of smile there.
“I’ll tell you more about it some time,” she belted on her weapons, then went to get his holsters. He held out his arms as she strapped them to his muscled flanks, clearly accustomed to letting others arm and armour him.
“Vikram needs me,” he sneered. “He should show me more respect.”
“If Vikram still needs you, then he needs what you’re doing to reflect well on him,” she observed, stepping back. “So if you just start shooting down Marines the instant they appear, that’s rather undiplomatic, even if it’s more fun.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Now the Morrígan is a diplomat?”
“I’m sharing my opinion about his point of view,” she scolded gently. “So what if your new pals do manage to entrench themselves. It’s far easier to make them appear to be the aggressors. Invaders in your land. Disinclines the common folk from aiding them. They’re not familiar with the ground. They have no significant allies.”
“Politics,” Sergei scoffed. “You win wars by killing your enemy. He wants a war that makes him look good.”
“It’s not surprising.” She kissed him swiftly. “He needs some good will from the people. Especially after the fleecing you gave Miryam’s flock.”
He turned to her, squaring his shoulders. “I don’t want the enemy to create defences. I don’t want the people to think they can help them. I don’t want them to have anywhere to hide from me.”
“You have more fighters,” she said thoughtfully, laying her hands on his chest, feeling the soft texture of broken-in wool, and the stone hard flesh underneath. “Don’t you?”
He nodded, his expression distracted.
“Well, then. We can find something else for them to do, can’t we.”
“You’re making dispositions for my army, now?” His smile didn’t quite make it to his eyes.
“Goddess of war, darling,” she reminded him. “Or you could wait for Vikram to do it for you.“
“Be careful, beautiful one,” he said playfully with just a hint of a sneer. “I have my limits.”
“But you’re more appealing without them,” she mocked, then leaned in to kiss his mouth, nipping at his lower lip.
He shivered, reached for her, but she stepped out of his grasp. Unused to denying himself as he was, she was surprised when he let his hands fall to his sides, and watched her indolently.
“You like risk, don’t you, Lukretsiya.”
“And reward, Sergei,” she reminded him. “You’ll just have to be patient. And remember that name and any other I’m called by are for you only. You understand.”
Not in the mood for more debate, she kissed him swiftly, then left before he could draw her back.