SIX MONTHS LATER
“Stay still,” I chastise, pushing Nikolai’s hand off my waist.
He groans and his palm lands back on my hip like a rubber band. “This is fucking torture.”
I flick my brush over the ridge of his pectoral muscle, careful not to get red paint on the lotus flower.
My thin strokes slowly transform into the image of his necklace, painting the bullet on his skin, then drawing the chain so it’s wrapped around it in the shape of a lotus flower.
And just to mess with him, I make shallow strokes over his nipple. The sexy rumble beneath my fingers has me biting my lower lip to suppress my own noises of pleasure.
He’s effortlessly the most attractive specimen to ever walk the earth, beautiful in his confidence, loud in his assertiveness, and absolutely hotheaded in his loyalty.
Every day, I wake up to his stunning face and thank all gods and religions for putting him in my path. I never believed in fate until this mountain of a man flipped my world upside down and made me love every second of it.
Our journey hasn’t been easy. Far from it. But he’s stood with me every step of the way.
He was there when Dad broke the news that Grace committed suicide in her bath and left a note in which she confessed what she did and asked Mum and me for forgiveness.
My mother replied to that by having her disgraced in the art circuit and permanently removed from the art council’s Hall of Fame. She was also stripped of her peer title.
A part of me was happy for that outcome. At least that meant justice took place without having to drag myself into court.
Though I never really wanted her to die, I’m not mourning her, either. I mourned myself. Which is why the next difficult part was finally getting help.
Therapy is good, but it’s hard. The most important part is that it’s working, but I’m not deluded enough to think I could’ve done this on my own.
I’m lucky to have the most loving and understanding parents, friends who lift me up, an adorably supportive sister, and even Lan. My twin brother is finally my twin again after eight years of playing hide-and-seek with each other.
He’ll never be mushy or emotional, but he’ll always be my brother. A part of him, as he often reminds me. We finally have each other as ‘Other Half’ on our contacts.
However, the process wouldn’t have been possible without the man standing in front of me. The way he held me through it all while dealing with his own issues made the entire thing worth it.
Nikolai lets me see him on his bad days. The days where he can’t stay still, where he paces and chain-smokes and is unable to sleep, but that’s not much different from when he’s on a violent spree. And the best part, he really, really wears me out during those days. Physically, not emotionally. He can’t keep his hands off me and pulls me into dark corners so we can do filthy things to each other.
Not that I’m complaining. I love it when he gets rough.
He says I calm his demons down, and that’s the best compliment he can give me, especially since he’s the main reason I’m able to battle my own demons.
Other times, when he thinks his mind gets too out of control, he takes the pills and they’re…well, I don’t like them. They kill the light in his eyes and turn him into a lethargic zombie who moves like a robot, talks with no intonation, and refuses to leave the house. He doesn’t smile, not even at me, and looks fucking depressed.
I immediately took his dad’s side on that and told him to ditch them. But Nikolai is seriously creeped out about the prospect of hurting me—which has never happened.
“Once is enough, baby,” he told me with that wretched expression. “I’d never be able live with myself if I even accidentally hurt you, touched you too hard, or pushed you too much. I’d rather slash my own soul in half than do that to you.”
The fear in his gaze back then broke my heart. Possibly because that was coming from Nikolai, who, according to his dad, refused the very notion of the pills early on.
But he embraced them for me.
We spoke to his doctor, and he said there’s a possibility of a new medicine that’s able to put the manic episodes under control without murdering his soul in the process. We’re in the testing stage and he’s only used them once, but I like them much better.
At least they enable him to look at me without looking through me. He’s just less playful, which is something I can live with once in a while. And really, in the last six months, he’s had episodes exactly four times. One was a fuck fest, the second and third were zombie-like due to the ludicrous pills, but the fourth was a mixture of both, and I’m good with that. He was also happy about it and came down from his high in the span of two days.
In the beginning, when he felt himself spiraling, he’d send me a text.
My mind is turning up in volume. I’m getting bad. Maybe you should visit your parents for a week or so. Just stay away from me, baby.
No way in hell was I doing that, but he still tried to convince me to stay away the second time. Again, didn’t happen. If anything, I quit everything just to be by his side like he’s always glued to mine. And I told him that. I told him a relationship is being there for each other through the bad and the good. I won’t take while he gives—that’s not how this works.
The third and fourth time, he learned his lesson and his texts changed in tone.
I’m getting bad. I need you, baby.
They were the most endearing texts he’s ever sent and I never felt happier than when he started to depend on me and be openly vulnerable with me. It’s only fair after he saw me at my lowest and picked me up. Literally and figuratively.
He sneakily slides his hand on my waist beneath my shirt. A map of goosebumps erupts where his fingers stroke the skin at a rhythmic pace.
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been together or how often he touches me—which is a lot—whenever I’m with him, my body, heart, and soul hum with uncontainable energy.
The need to touch him is constant, vibrant, and gets more intense with time.
But right now is about the worst circumstance for that.
“Nikolai,” I warn.
“Stop acting like an impatient toddler and remove your hand.”
“But it’s not fair that you’re touching me and I’m not touching you.”
“Behave, or you won’t get your prize.”
“Fuck no. Kolya and I are thirsty for the prize.” He rolls his hips and tugs me against him with a pull on my drawstrings.
My cock bursts to life, standing to attention when it grazes against his. I have to lift the brush in the air so I don’t ruin what I’ve been working on for the past hour.
I slide my palette on his desk and sneak my fingers through his hair. It’s longer now, brushing against his shoulders in a glorious fashion. I’m positively and irrevocably obsessed with it, so I might have forbidden him from cutting it.
He enjoys the attention a bit too much and leans into my palm as he rubs our dicks in a sensual rhythm. Despite my sweatpants and his shorts, I grow hard in an instant.
I tug on his hair. “Who’s the one who asked me to sketch him new tattoos to fill in the gaps?”
“You can do that after you give me my prize.”
“I’ll lose my flow.”
“You can sketch me up while I’m inside you, baby. I’m starving to feel your ass clenching around my cock as you beg me to fuck you harder.”
“Jesus. That mouth of yours requires urgent intervention.”
“You know you’re aching for it. Bran Jr. demands a meeting with Kolya.”
I laugh. “You seriously need to stop giving names to dicks.”
“Not all dicks. Just yours and mine.” He strokes his fingers along my V-line, eliciting a sharp intake of air from deep in my throat. “I can give you a prize first and choke on your cock. You love it when you fuck my mouth while pulling on my hair. You have this look of ownership all over your face when you stare down at me with those fuck-me eyes and fill my throat with your cum.”
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” His breath fans my lips, a mixture of honey and whiskey from the drink he had earlier with his dad.
Speaking of which…
I jerk him back with immeasurable control. “Cut it out. We’re heading down for dinner with your parents.”
“They can wait a bit more.”
“Not a chance. I don’t want to make a bad impression.”
“Uh, baby. Are you kidding? They’re fucking in love with you. More than that tool Lan for sure.”
“Still don’t want to risk it.”
His lips pull in an evil smirk. “You really love being labeled as the one who tamed the wild Niko by my mom and sisters, don’t you?”
“What can I say? I welcome the expression.”
“You’re so full of shit.”
“Kyle, Jeremy, Gareth, your aunt Reina, and even Kill should be added to the list of people who’ve used that expression.”
“You look proud of that.”
“It’s because I am.” I stroke his hair and speak an inch away from his lips. “I love having a special place in your life. It turns me on.”
“I’m so going to fuck you,” he growls and is about to close the barely existent space between us when a knock comes on his bedroom door.
“Niko?” His dad’s voice filters through. “Are you decent or am I going to be exposed to your shenanigans?”
“Go, Dad. I’m more indecent than a hooker on Satan’s lap!” he yells as I push him away with a scowl and go to open the door while adjusting my erection.
With a few breaths, I manage to feel somewhat normal. I smile at Kyle, who’s in the process of shaking his head.
Ever since I graduated from uni, I’ve been working on my paintings while continuing to live at the penthouse with Nikolai. We were practically living together anyway. Soon after, he brought me to meet his parents for the first time, and I came to a very stunning realization.
Nikolai has the most beautiful relationship with his mum and dad. Rai calls him her little miracle. Kyle is more than just his father. He’s his close friend and his confidant, and I often overhear Nikolai talking to him on the phone whenever he’s in or out of his off phase.
Appearance-wise, Kyle is leaner but has a sharper look in his blue eyes. He’s well-built and often wears designer suits that give him a sophisticated edge.
What I love about him, aside from being raised in the UK and, therefore, having a very British sense of humor, is how much he’s one hundred percent behind all his children. In that department, he reminds me a bit of my dad, who’s definitely Team Nikolai now.
He never really hated him, but after he saved me during that black day, Dad gained an immense sense of respect for my man.
At this point, only Killian is falling behind on the popularity vote in the King household.
“Oh.” Kyle looks at us and releases a breath. “I thought I was intruding.”
“You were.” Nikolai appears beside me, pouting like a child. “Cockblocker of the Year Award goes to the almighty Kyle Hunter.”
“Nikolai.” I elbow him.
Kyle, however, doesn’t seem fazed and even raises an eyebrow. “Seems adequate. Finally some revenge for all the cock-blocking you indulged in during your toddler years.”
“I was literally a toddler. Get over it.”
“And your junior years and preteen years,” he counts on one hand. “Teenage years and uni years…should I keep counting?”
“I can’t believe this!” Nikolai throws his hands in the air. “Hello, Petty Police? I’m reporting my dad.”
“Lock me the fuck up.”
“I might withdraw the charges if you just go away. Fucking now, please.”
I smile at their bickering. They have the most comical relationship I’ve ever witnessed, and they’re just great fun to be around.
“Your mom and sisters are waiting for you for dinner. You’ll have to delay your plans for later.” He looks at me with a soft smile. “I apologize for his unruly behavior.”
“What? You’ve had him locked in here for hours.”
“More like he’s had me locked up and I didn’t even get my prize,” he mutters like a kicked puppy.
“I’m really okay,” I tell Kyle.
“Hey, Dad.” He nudges him. “Do it.”
“That thing we talked about.”
I stare between them as Kyle actually rolls his eyes. “Do I have to?”
“Come on, I’ve been asking you for months!”
“Fine.” His eyes meet mine as he exhales. “This is ridiculous.”
My ears prickle and I feel the heat rising to them. “What’s going on?”
“Bran, I need to ask you a very serious question.”
I straighten, all humor disappearing. “Anything.”
“What do you like about my twat of a son?”
“The twat part didn’t need to be there!” Nikolai pushes his dad teasingly.
“I also didn’t need to ask that very silly question when you’re already together.”
“His dad did it. I wanted you to do it as well.”
My chuckle breaks their banter and I clear my throat. “I like that he oozes confidence, too much so sometimes. I like that he’s fiercely loyal, intensely protective, and loves with every fiber of his being. I like that he never fakes his actions or his emotions—what you see is literally what you get. But most of all, I like, no, I love that he loves me.”
A shit-eating grin covers Nikolai’s face and I smile back, not even embarrassed by saying all that out loud.
“That was actually very touching,” Kyle says, then nudges his son with a foot. “Happy now?”
“Very. Now, go away, Dad. Seriously. Or I’ll be sleeping on your goddamn bedroom floor later.”
“Five minutes, Niko,” he says over his shoulder. “And put a shirt on!”
“No way in hell!” he shouts back and leans over for a kiss, but I pull away and his lips land on my throat, trailing kisses and nibbling on my Adam’s apple.
“Baby, please? You can’t say shit like that and expect me not to fuck you.”
“Not happening. Everyone downstairs will know we’re having sex.”
He pulls back with a small pout, muttering, “Fine,” before he trudges to the bathroom, probably to wash his hands.
I know I’m supposed to go downstairs first, but I’m notoriously weak to his adorable pouts.
So I follow after him and stop when I’m behind him as he dries his hands. I meet my reflection in the mirror and swallow past the sensation crawling up my throat.
It’s not nausea. It’s awareness.
I can finally look at myself in the mirror without feeling the need to smash it to pieces. I still haven’t been able to smile at myself like the therapist has been urging me to. It just feels weird.
Tattooed arms wrap around my waist from behind before Nikolai’s chin rests on my shoulder. I didn’t even notice when he changed position and slipped behind me.
“You’re the most beautiful thing on earth,” he whispers against my neck, peppering kisses there as he meets my gaze in the mirror. “I’m lucky you allowed me in your life.” Kiss. “I’m lucky you love me.” Kiss. “I’m lucky you’re letting me fight your demons with you.”
My heart crawls its way to my throat and I have to swallow down the burst of emotions to remain standing. What the hell did I do to deserve this man?
“I’m the one who’s lucky to have you, baby.” I unlock his arms from around me, turn, and face him. “I was supposed to give you this present later tonight, but you’re making it impossible to hold it in.”
I tug my shirt free and his grin returns. “You’re going to give me my prize anyway…?”
His words trail off and his lips part when he sees the actual reason why I removed my T-shirt.
“What do you think?” I ask carefully.
His fingers ghost over the elegant sans serif font I had tattooed on my heart. Like where he got the tattoo for me.
This is the first and last tattoo I’ll ever get, since I’m absolutely not a fan of pricking my skin anymore, but I had to ink him on the heart that beats because he exists.
“You had Niko’s lotus flower tattooed on your chest?”
“Not on my chest.” I take his hand in mine and press it on the skin. “My heart.”
“In a good or bad way?”
“I fucking love you, baby.” He kisses my lips long and hard. “I can’t believe you have a tattoo.”
“For me,” he repeats with raging possessiveness.
“Remember when we met that little girl in the park and you asked me what I whispered back to her?”
“You said it was a secret,” he grumbles.
“I told her I don’t need help because I’m in love with you.”
His lips pull in the most contagious smile. I love being the reason behind his happiness. I love that I’m the only one in the world who has this effect on him.
“Remember when you told me to tell you something in Russian?”
“You said I was cute.”
“No. I said ‘I can’t live without you,’ and we take that quite literally in Russia.”
“Point is, I love the loving fuck out of you, baby.”
“I love the loving fuck out of you, too.”
He wraps his arms around me and lifts me up with sheer force until my feet leave the floor.
I’m laughing and trying to push him away as he spins me around and kisses my chest, my collarbone, my throat. Everywhere.
I continue laughing even as I look in the mirror.
Because for the first time, I don’t see a lonely boy there. I don’t even see the healing twenty-four-year-old version of me.
For the first time, I don’t see the past or the present.
I see my future with the most infuriating enigma.
The most chaotic person on earth.
And the love of my fucking life.