Her Russian SurrenderBy: Theodora Taylor
The boy opened his mouth, just as a one of the cater-waiters in the kitchen shouted at someone to bring out some more of the garlic roasted shrimp.
Those had been delicious, Sam acknowledged. She’d had a few when she first arrived at the party. But she cursed the unseen waiter when the boy began to back away from her, as if he’d just come out of a spell.
“I’ve gotta go,” he said. “I’ve been in here too long. My papa might be looking for me.”
“Okay,” Sam said, keeping her voice as light as possible under the circumstances. “How about if I go with you? You can introduce me to your dad.”
The boy shook his head, like what she was suggesting was crazy.
“No. I’m sorry, but I’d get in trouble if he knew I got out of the car and was talking to somebody. I’ve got to go.”
He turned to leave, and Sam caught him by the wrist. Time for Plan B. This wasn’t the first time one of her careful interventions had been cut short by the intervenee’s impending sense that they’d get in trouble.
“Please, let me go,” the boy said, his voice urgent and distressed.
“I am going to let you go. I am,” Sam assured him. “Just…”
She pressed her old coat into his hand. “Just take this, please.”
“It’s a girl’s coat,” he answered, his eyes going from scared to indignant.
“It’s totally gender neutral and it will keep you warm,” she answered right back. “The Indiana winter’s nothing to mess with.”
He bunched the jacket in his fist. “Fine, I’ll take it. Let me go now, please.”
“Okay, I’m going to, but first let me tell you about the cards in the pocket. They have my name on them. Just my name and telephone number. If you ever need anything, if there’s anything at all I can do for you, just give me a call, okay?”
The boy didn’t answer, just yanked backwards trying to get away from her.
“Let me go, please. I don’t want to get in trouble. Please, let me go!”
Sam reluctantly released him, knowing that keeping him there against his will wouldn’t make her any more trustworthy in his eyes.
The boy took off, pushing out of the alcove door so fast, it felt to Sam like watching a boy-sized rabbit sprint away from a possible predator—which was obviously what he now considered her, even though she’d only been trying to help.
A wave of exhaustion passed over Sam, so extreme, she knew for sure she wouldn’t be going back to the ballroom for more networking with the Richie Riches as she’d promised Josie she would. Maybe next week or next month or next year… yeah, maybe then she’d feel up to it. But not tonight. No, tonight she was taking her tired butt home.
“WHAT do you mean I can’t go home?” Sam demanded, her teeth chattering. She was standing underneath a covered carport, which extended out from the brick Colonial mansion on white column legs. The structure, like the rest of the house, was extremely stately, but it did nothing to protect her from the cold night wind, thrashing against her bare arms with no mercy whatsoever.
“I’m sorry, miss,” the middle aged valet with the handlebar mustache and a nametag that said “Jose” answered. His expression became apologetic as he took in her shivering form. “We were told to keep you here for a bit when you came for your car. But why don’t you go wait back inside? I’m sure he didn’t know you’d be without a coat.”
“Who didn’t know?” Sam demanded, even though she was already beginning to suspect, even before the hockey player emerged from the house, closing its crimson red door behind him before once again coming to stand in front of her, large and imposing. It was like getting rolled up on by a tank.
“Mr. Rustanov,” Jose said. “She doesn’t have a coat. Can I go get her car?”
“Da, I will talk with her while we wait,” the hockey player answered, like he was doing her and Jose a favor by only holding her up a little bit, when he never should have given the order in the first place.
“Exactly who the h-heck do you t-think you are?” she demanded after Jose had gone. Her words would have sounded a lot more aggressive if her teeth weren’t chattering, she thought.
“Nikolai Rustanov,” he answered. “I already told you this. However, my assistant can’t find for sure who you are. Maybe you weren’t invited to my party? Maybe you, how Americans say, crashed?”
“No, I didn’t c-crash,” Sam answered, knowing it would be too complicated to explain that she came as the plus one of an Indiana football player who couldn’t attend, but used to be on the L.A. Sun’s with Josie’s husband and hadn’t minded letting her use his wife’s name to get into the event.
He regarded her shivering form with thinned lips.
“Where is your coat?” he asked, unbuttoning his tux jacket.
“I g-gave it away,” she answered.
“Why?” He took his jacket off and wrapped it around her shivering shoulders. “It is very cold.”
The large jacket was surprisingly heavy and even though she probably should have told him straight away that she didn’t need it, Sam found herself reflexively pulling its front panels across her chest like a blanket. It was just so warm, radiating heat like it’d just come off a furnace.