Stay Close(4)

By: Alexa Riley

“I want to go for a run after,” I tell her.

I’ve been stuck with Pandora and her security guard since I ditched my last one. Dad made me stick with Pandora’s security and got rid of mine for losing me the last time. I should have felt bad, but the guy totally gave me the creeps. He’d always find ways to touch me, and the touches started to linger a little too long.

I love my family, but all of them want to keep me in Bubble Wrap. They aren’t even like this with Pandora. Everyone thinks I’m the soft one, which is probably true. I’m not into self-defense, and I really don’t care about anything pertaining to safety and security. I’m into cooking, dressing up, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs. And probably boys. But after today, I’m crossing boys off that list. Men. One man in particular is climbing to the top of that list.

“Well, you’re in luck. We found you a new bodyguard.” My mom glances over her shoulder at my new obsession, and my heart rate spikes. I could not be this lucky. I glance over and see his eyes are still on me, but I can’t read his face with so little light. “Penelope, this is Ivan. I don’t think you’ll be able to lose this one.”

My mom smirks, and I have to bite my lip to keep from smiling. Ivan is most definitely a man I won’t try to run from.

I hear Pandora mumble “fuck” under her breath as his dark eyes narrow on me.

Chapter Two


I tighten the laces on my shoes and then tuck my knife into the strap at my ankle. I cover it up with the leg of my slacks and then walk over to the closet to grab a shirt.

I’ve moved into the guest house at the Justices’, although it would be hard to consider this anything but a mansion. There are two other personal bodyguards covering the family, but they maintain residence elsewhere and only stay the night out here when necessary.

The guest quarters are within walking distance to the main house but still offer some privacy. Originally I didn’t want to move onto the property, but Paige said I owed her. Which is true.

I was raised in Renza, Russia, just outside Moscow. I did labor on the railways there as a young boy until one of the older guys came around one day looking for runners. I didn’t know at the time what that meant, but he offered up money, and I knew exactly what that was.

My mother died during childbirth, and no one knew who my father was, so I was given to an orphanage. I ran away when I was ten and found work where I could. The place I ran from wasn’t looking to chase down another mouth to feed, so I became a child of the street and did what I could to survive.

I started off taking packages after I finished the rail work for the day, but eventually I was trusted with more deliveries. The money was far more than I could make doing an honest day’s work, and back then I needed to eat. It was all about surviving. I was loyal to those who treated me with even half an ounce of decency, but as time went on, I began to harden my heart. Lines started to cross and I started to lose myself.

Years went on, and I became a part of the Russian underground mafia. The organization was dirty, and as much as I wanted to be loyal, I couldn’t do some of the things they asked me to. I didn’t have another life beyond this makeshift family, and I did what I could to survive.

But as with all men, power and greed began to take over, and the underground changed hands. Dissent simmered in the ranks, and everyone was trying to get off the sinking ship before they got pulled back in. I knew I didn’t want to go down, like I said, everything was about surviving, and members were being killed off one by one. There was nothing in that life worth dying for. I knew I had to get out and did what I had to.

The one thing I did have was information, and it was useful. I got a coded message sent to me at the perfect time, and I was ready for it. The contact wanted information on a deal that was taking place between a corporate giant in America and a country in southern Asia. They were concerned it could have potential ties to the Russian mafia and they wanted the Asian company vetted.

I agreed to turn over what I had in exchange for safe passage out of Russia. I wanted to disappear, and this was the perfect opportunity. I could leave my homeland and have a simple life somewhere far away. I never had dreams of fortune or fame. I was only ever just a boy trying to survive the winter. My choices led me down a dark path, one that at first I had no choice but to take, and I was ready to start over.

I found out my name was on a shortlist of those being terminated from the original underground, so I made my move. My death was staged in an explosion of a warehouse that I was living in at the time. The scene was made to look like I’d been taken out by someone looking to make a name for himself in the ranks. I found out later that the person who claimed responsibility was someone I trusted. He was killed two days later.

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