Vladislav instantly understood the changed attitude and her defeated air infuriated him. He meant to claim her, not expose her to insult. He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow with old-fashioned courtesy and walked toward the group of formally clad men who watched them with unconcealed interest.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” he greeted them coolly. “I trust you have no problem with clearing your debt to me?”
“Of course not,” the man Cassia had called Mark said with a slight sneer. “We hope you enjoy her … company.”
Vladislav bared his teeth in a frightening facsimile of a smile, leaned forward slightly, and said in a low growl, “Insult her again and I’ll kill you.”
The man’s eyes grew wide, then narrowed, and he replied snidely, “You can’t do that. I’m an American citizen.”
“Citizenship means nothing to a dead man,” he shot back and turned away, pulling Cassia with him. She skipped a few steps to keep up with his long, deliberate stride and then stumbled. Vladislav immediately stopped, murmured an apology, steadied her, and then set off at a more moderate pace.
They crossed the lobby and emerged into the dimming light of early evening. Cassia absently noticed that the sleeve upon which her hand rested covered an arm hard with steely muscle. A long, black limousine purred quietly in front of the hotel. Cassia’s date escorted her directly to the car. The chauffeur, seeing his client on the way, jumped out of the car and hustled around to open the door. He smiled and ushered the tall man and the blonde woman into the vehicle then rushed back to his own air-conditioned seat.
“We’re ready,” Vladislav said as soon as he was sure the woman was settled securely into the seat. The car pulled forward smoothly and soon eased into the city’s congested traffic. The woman sat stiffly beside him.
“Relax,” he coaxed her gently. “I’m not going to attack you.”
“You bit my hand. Twice,” she snapped.