Next To You
Kline Agency, Book 4
by Ana Raine
Ebook ISBN: 07422-02394
[ Contemporary Romance, MMM ]
As his memories slowly return under Kane’s careful guidance, Vasily becomes determined to end their debt to the Noch Gang here and now — a decision that may cost them all more than they’re willing to pay.
For as long as I can remember, it has been me and Alexei, my identical twin. Contrary to popular belief, our resemblance is purely physical. Still, most people can’t tell us apart. In high school, even though we’d explained who was who repeatedly, not even our friends could keep us separate from one another. We decided to add color streaks to our normally blond hair. Blue for Alexei, purple for me.
We kept our streaks, just for the hell of it.
“Which of you is the younger twin? I bet it’s you, Vasily. Your eyes are rounder somehow.”
Our client, Will Varner, was a middle-aged man who owned a high-end hotel located in the Upper East Side. Lance, our boss at the Kline Escort Agency, always screened our clients and made sure we were given any pertinent information before allowing us to go. Because Alexei and I were always a package deal, sometimes the rules fell short and instead of arriving in a limo, we would meet at the location.
“Actually, I’m the older one,” Alexei beamed as he reached for the unopened bottle of whiskey on the coffee table. “By three minutes, Mr. Varner.”
Mr. Varner smiled, exposing his straight white teeth. I held the glass in front of him while Alexei poured before we both settled back into the couch on either side of him. We were at a private party, but most of the guests were on the sky deck near the pool. Apart from a few lingerers by the bar, we were alone in the lounge.
“Feel free to call me Will.”
“Sorry, sir,” Alexei politely declined, smoothing down his pressed collar. “But we make it a habit to not use our client’s first names.”
How many times had we addressed this issue over the five years we’d been working as escorts? “We have a pact, you see.”
In order to not disgruntle our client, we’d devised a way of explaining ourselves while still maintaining the servant aura we worked hard to achieve.
“And what does this pact consist of?” Mr. Varner jumped at the bait before downing the last of his drink.
“We’ve been together forever –” Alexei started.
“– and we aren’t ready to be parted –”
“– so we can’t fall in love.”
“Package deal, you see?” Alexei and I chorused. My brother’s bright blue eyes were shining even in the dark room. I mine were a slightly darker blue. Despite our freckled cheeks, pale Russian skin, and blond hair, if someone really wanted to figure out which one was which, they should have been able to tell.
We didn’t limit our clients to just males, although that was our usual demographic. No matter the gender of our client, Alexei loved to dangle our sex appeal in front of them and then yank it away.
All through high school, we’d attracted the attention of men and women, which was why shortly after turning eighteen we’d started working for Lance. The money came easy and Alexei and I were never parted. But I credited him with our long list of clientele.
Just like people do in Anime during a twincest scene, Mr. Varner’s eyebrows shot up and he inhaled sharply. If I had been standing across the room, I still could’ve seen the lust in his eyes.
Instantly, he lowered his voice as he asked. “And, how much would it be to continue our time together? Say, for another hour or so?”
There was no doubt in my mind he would whip out a couple hundreds if we named that as our price.
“How much do you think we’re worth?” Alexei teased as he unbuttoned the top button of his dress jacket.
My mouth dropped and I shot him a look of fear. Rule number one, we never ever slept with a client.
“For the both of you,” he gazed at Alexei and then to me. “What one of my employees makes in a day.”
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “But we’re going to have to decline.”
Alexei shrugged, “Vasily is right, of course. We can’t allow ourselves to be swept away, as tempting as the offer might be.”
Mr. Varner didn’t admit defeat. “Surely, I can offer a price that will make you change your mind. I can ensure both of you receive the utmost pleasure.”
Like most of the clients Lance threw our way, Mr. Varner was attractive. He had dark green eyes and the body of a thirty-year-old although he was in his late fifties.
“I’m afraid we still have to decline.” Alexei checked his watch, the one I’d gotten him for our twenty-fifth birthday, and then stood up. He reached for my arm and made sure he was the first one Mr. Varner would reach if he decided to get grabby. “I’m the only one who can see Vasily naked.”
When we first started using this line, all I had to do was look at Alexei and we would be thrown into a fit of giggles. Working on not laughing while pretending to be enamored with each other had taken time, but now we had it down to a science.
“Thank you for your time. We hope you will call on us again,” Alexei and I echoed.
Clearly Mr. Varner was used to getting his way and didn’t attempt to hide his displeasure at being refused. Not wanting to waste time in the illustrious lounge, I checked my pockets to make sure I had my wallet and keys before following Alexei to the elevator.
I watched the elevator doors close behind us and counted to ten before clearing my throat. “What was all that about?”
Alexei loosened his tie and leaned against the wall nearest to the buttons as the elevator slowly descended the eighty floors we had to go. “What was what about?”
“How much do you think we’re worth?” I repeated sourly. “I thought we agreed to never become intimate with our clients.”
“And we didn’t,” Alexei said, before shooting me one of those breathtaking smiles that made me incapable of hating my twin. For being identical, how was it we could have such different smiles? “How long have we been doing this?”
“Don’t you ever get tired of refusing every man who comes our way? Seriously, how many guys have we fucked since high school?”
I closed my eyes. “I don’t know about you but I can count them on one hand.”
He pressed his fingers to my cheek, startling me. “What happened five years ago wasn’t your fault.”
I slapped his hand away. “I don’t want to talk about it. You promised we wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, but I worry about you not finding love. And what happened is part of the reason you push everyone away.”
“I will when you do,” I said humorlessly. Only two more floors; I could make it. “And I think we have to wait until we aren’t escorts anymore because that would end a relationship real quick.”
Alexei sighed before leaning his head on my shoulder. As angry as I was, I didn’t shove him off. “When our debt is paid off, we can actually think about college. Won’t that be a nice change?”
I focused on the crease between the elevator doors until they slowly opened. We’d become escorts so we could work together and utilize our naturally good looks, but the money didn’t hurt.
After our older brother Dmitri died, we had been forced to take on his debt. The only way to continue to pay the debt collectors and maintain our lives in New York City was to make serious cash.
So even though the work wasn’t bad, we hadn’t really had a choice in becoming escorts unless we wanted to rob a bank or something. After we’d met with our first client, Alexei stopped worrying, but it took me almost a year to stop obsessing over Dmitri’s debt.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Alexei sighed, tugging the tie from around his neck. “I was just playing around. Want to go get something to eat? I’m starved.”
Now we weren’t trapped in the elevator, I felt like I could actually breathe. “Do we have a client tomorrow?”
Alexei furrowed his brow in concentration. The limo was waiting for us, but because we were no longer with our client, we waved him off and decided to walk. The weather was beautiful and Lance was accustomed to us not coming back to the Kline right after a date.
“Yeah, but I forgot his name. We’re going to a violin concert.”
That was different. “Where?”
“Beacon Theater. Lance said he was an investor in the arts or something.”
“Oh, I remember now. His name was Kane Thatcher.”
I paused at the light and we looked at each other, speaking at the same time. “Kane?”
“Do you remember why Lance said he wanted us?” Alexei asked as he winked at two women dressed in mini-skirts and tank tops. Blushing, they gazed back and forth between us with raw hunger that made me feel naked.
“Not really, but I’d bet he just wants to enact the usual twin fantasy.”
Alexei was a total flirt and managed to make a couple other girls whip their heads back in our direction on the way to the restaurant. So when he spoke, the words seemed like the most natural thing to say. “Who doesn’t?”
* * *
My throat felt like I’d swallowed acid and even looking at water made me feel like retching. Alexei kept prodding me with damp towels and icy glasses of liquid, but I couldn’t swallow a damned thing.
“Just what did you eat last night?” Alexei asked as he sat down next to my bed. We had a one-bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park, but it was more room than we needed considering we slept on twin sized beds pressed close together. If there hadn’t been a small dresser wedged between them, they practically would’ve formed one large bed.
“Same as you,” I groaned. “French fries, pita with hummus and vodka.”
“Well, I feel fine.” Alexei grinned as he took the rag away from my face and then reached into his pocket for his phone. “I should probably call Lance and cancel our date for tonight.”
“What, are you crazy?” I took hold of his arm, but instantly regretted it. The movement alone was enough to make my head swim. “Lance won’t take us canceling very well. Especially not on our first date with a new client.”
Alexei raised his eyebrow. “There’s no way you’re getting out of bed and this guy wanted us specifically because we’re twins. Maybe Lance can find someone else…”
He trailed off, leaving the words unspoken. Other than Crissy and Missy there were no other twins employed at the Kline, which was part of why we were sought after by clients. “Just get me some tea and help me up.”
With the help of my brother, I managed to sit up but the moment I did, I only succeeded in whipping off my shirt because I felt like the material was suffocating me. “How hot is it in here?”
“Um, not hot at all. Lay back down.”
Alexei had been in the process of getting ready for our date when he’d decided I’d slept long enough and tried to wake me up. But after an hour of giving me liquids and cold compresses, I felt worse than ever. His shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his pale, toned body.
We were just alike, except for the thin scars running along my chest and down my right side. They were faint and easily overlooked, but I always knew they were there. And so did Alexei, because it was his fault.
“Let me call Lance.” Slipping from my grasp, he took his phone and left the room. I could hear his voice trailing into the bedroom as he explained the situation. Lance wasn’t known for letting others talk so Alexei actually said very little before trudging back and leaning against the doorframe.
“What a waste of time.”
I coughed. “Lance isn’t having it?”
“Nope. He said he understands you’re sick and so it’s okay if you can’t go, but I need to. All the other male escorts that match our profile are gone.”
Alexei had to go on a date alone? No wonder he looked ready to punch a wall. “Just help me up. Give me some meds or something.”
“I already said no.”
“So you’re, what, planning on going alone?”
Alexei nodded solemnly, his hands fluttering at his throat as he tried to finish the buttons and do his tie. “One night. And it’s at a concert hall. I’ll be fine.”
I could always tell what Alexei was thinking and by the way his jaw was locked, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop him. “Take the limo.”
“Da.” Yes. Because Alexei answered in Russian, I knew he was stressed. I wanted to get out of bed and force myself to go with him, but the drugs he’d given me made it hard for me to keep my focus.
When he’d finished with his buttons, he retreated from the room and I heard glasses clinking against each other. “Take these and get some sleep. I don’t ever want to have to go alone again.”
The pills felt lodged in my throat and I had to empty a whole glass of water before they slid down. The syrup was worse, but hell if I was going to complain. Out of the two of us, I’d rather be sick than going on an escort date alone. At least it was Alexei. He could take care of himself.
I felt his hands on my forehead, checking, and then there was no more light or sound. If I hadn’t been so doped up on medication, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. Even though I told myself Alexei would be fine, his charm and good looks made him too confident and he always went just too far to pull back.
* * *
Drinking the water had been a bad idea, as evidenced by the many times I’d gotten up to vomit. I was finally starting to sleep when the door to the apartment opened and I heard the jangle of keys on our glass table.
“Hey, feeling better?” Alexei asked as he dimmed the bedroom lights and slipped out of his jacket.
“Why are you back already?”
He studied my face, trying to see if I was joking before tapping his watch. “I’ve been gone for about five hours. The concert was amazing, and so was dinner.”
Amazing, huh? “Did he mind you were alone?”
He took off his shoes and quickly undressed with his back to me. “No. Turns out he didn’t even realize he was getting twins. He just wanted someone Russian.”
Something was wrong. I could feel uncertainty rolling off his hunched shoulders and he still hadn’t let me see his face.
“Did he do something to you?” I demanded, sitting up and knocking over a box of tissues in the process.
Alexei didn’t answer me. I saw his long limbs stretch out as he pulled on a T-shirt and boxers. At least he didn’t appear to be hurt. “You’re going to hate me,” Alexei whispered.
“Why? What did you do?”
“Move over and I’ll tell you.”
I looked from him to my bed, “Are you joking?”
“No.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “So move over.”
Curiosity got the better of me so I sidled over until I was pressed flat against the wall. “We haven’t shared a bed since we were like nine.”
He lifted the blanket, admitting the chill air. “That was when mom died. But don’t worry, I’m not going to sleep in here. I just don’t want you to freak out or anything.”
“If you get sick…”
“I liked him.”
We were both sitting in the bed, our legs pressed close together so we didn’t fall off. He had his arms wrapped around his stomach and wouldn’t look at me.
“The client?” My voice was shaking.
Alexei nodded. “I know we promised to not give in, especially to a client, but there was something about him. He was handsome and intelligent and very quiet. I had to keep reminding myself that I was getting paid to be there.”
I pushed my hair from my face and maneuvered so my back was against the wall and my legs were hanging off the bed. At least this way I could see his face and he wouldn’t be able to lie to me. “We’ve been with guys before. And you’ve been with more than I have.”
Alexei shook his head and I caught a scent of cologne. “Sex is different. One-night stands are easy to break off and forget about. I didn’t even sleep with him, I swear, but I really wanted to. I liked him so much.”
For a moment, I felt like I was looking at a stranger. My brother, the guy who flirted with anything over the age of eighteen had actually found someone he liked enough to date? At first, I tried to get over the shock. And then I felt the stabbing pain of being left behind. “You like him? After one night?”
Alexei smiled. “Yes. Not enough to elope, but I want to see him again for sure. Do you hate me?”
I blinked. “I’m jealous.”
My twin took my hand and squeezed before getting out of my bed and releasing me. “Don’t be. You’re still my favorite.” And just like that, Alexei was back to joking and not facing reality.
“So am I.” Alexei turned serious and flopped down on his bed with a groan. “But really, it doesn’t matter. I promised, didn’t I? To stay single until we’re done with this debt business? And by then, he’ll have moved on.” He tried to keep his tone light, but I could tell how much pain was behind his voice — the sheer want.
I couldn’t blame him. Just because I’d been scarred by a man I trusted didn’t mean Alexei was also jaded.
“Maybe he has a twin too,” Alexei joked as he turned off the light, basking us in darkness. “Then I won’t have to worry about you.”
I wish he had stayed silent, because his words hurt. Instead of being worried about me and what would happen to me, he should’ve been worrying about how to make Kane Thatcher his.