Luring A Lady Page 1


The playground was full of noise, drama and politics. Even at eight, Mikhail knew about politics. He had, after all, been in America nearly two full years.

He no longer waited for men to come drag his father away, or to wake up one morning back in the Ukraine and find the escape into Hungary, the travel to Austria and finally to New York had all been a dream.

He lived in Brooklyn, and that was good. He was an American, and that was better. He and his big sister, his little brother went to school—and spoke English. Most of the time. His baby sister had been born here, and would never know what it was to shiver in the cold while hiding in a wagon, waiting, waiting for discovery.

Or freedom.

There were times he didn't think of it at all. He liked getting up in the morning and seeing the little houses that looked so much like their house out his bedroom window. He liked smelling the breakfast his mother cooked in the kitchen, and hearing his mother's voice murmuring, his father's booming as Papa got ready for work.

Papa had to work very hard, and sometimes he came home tired in the evening. But he had a smile in his eyes, and the lines around them were fading.

And at night there was hot food and laughter around the dinner table.

School was not so bad, and he was learning—except his teachers said he daydreamed too much and too often.

"The girls are jumping rope." Alexi, Mikhail's little brother, plopped down beside him.

Both had dark hair and golden brown eyes, and the sharp facial bones that would make women swoon in only a few more years. Now, of course, girls were something to be ignored. Unless they were family.

"Natasha," Alex said with smug pride in his older sister, "is the best."

"She is Stanislaski."

Alex acknowledged this with a shrug. It went without saying. His eyes scanned the playground. He liked to watch how people behaved, what they did—and didn't do. His jacket—just a bit too big as his brother's was a bit too small—was open despite the brisk March wind.

Alex nodded toward two boys on the far end of the blacktop. "After school, we have to beat up Will and Charlie Braunstein."

Mikhail pursed his lips, scratched an itch just under his ribs. "Okay; Why?"

"Because Will said we were Russian spies and Charlie laughed and made noises like a pig. So."

"So," Mikhail agreed. And the brothers looked at each other and grinned.

* * *

They were late getting home from school, which would probably mean a punishment. Mikhail's pants were ripped at the knee and Alexi's lip was split—which would undoubtedly mean a lecture.

But it had been worth it. The Stanislaski brothers had emerged from the battle victorious. They strolled down the sidewalk, arms slung over each other's shoulders, book bags dragging as they recapped the combat.

"Charlie, he has a good punch," Mikhail said. "So if you fight again, you have to be fast. He has longer arms than you have."

"And he has a black eye," Alex noted with satisfaction.

"Yes." Mikhail swelled with pride over his baby brother's exploits. "This is good. When we go to school tomorrow, we… Uh-oh."

He broke off, and the fearless warrior trembled.

Nadia Stanislaski stood on the stoop outside their front door. His mama's hands were fisted on her hips, and even from half a block away he knew her eagle eye had spotted the rip in his trousers.

"Now we're in for it," Alexi muttered.

"We're not in yet."

"No, it means…in trouble." Alexi tried his best smile, even though it caused his lip to throb. But Nadia's eyes narrowed.

She swaggered down the walk like a gunfighter prepared to draw and fire. "You fight again?"

As the eldest, Mikhail stepped in front of his brother. "Just a little."

Her sharp eyes scanned them, top to bottom and judged the damage minor. "You fight each other again?"

"No, Mama." Alex sent her a hopeful look. "Will Braunstein said—"

"I don't want to hear what Will Braunstein said. Am I Will Braunstein's mama?"

At the tone, both boys dropped their chins to their chests and murmured: "No, Mama."

"Whose mama am I?"

Both boys sighed. Heavily. "Our mama."

"So, this is what I do when my boys make me worry and come late from school and fight like hooligans." It was a word she'd learned from her neighbor Grace MacNamara—and one she thought, sentimentally, suited her sons so well. Her boys yelped when she grabbed each one by the earlobe.

Before she could pull them toward the house, she heard the rattle and thump that could only be her husband Yuri's secondhand pickup truck.

He swung to the curb, wiggled his eyebrows when he saw his wife holding each of his sons by the ear. "What have they done?"

"Fighting the Braunsteins. We go inside now to call Mrs. Braunstein and apologize."

"Aw. Ow!" Mikhail's protest turned into a muffled yip as Nadia expertly twisted his earlobe.

"This can wait, yes? I have something." Yuri clambered out of the truck, and held up a little gray pup. "This is Sasha, your new brother."

Both boys shouted with delight and, released, sprang forward. Sasha responded with licks and nips and wriggles until Yuri bundled the pup into Mikhail's arms.

"He is for you and Alexi and Tasha and Rachel to take care. Not for your mama," he said even as Nadia rolled her eyes. "This is understood?"

"We'll take good care of him, Papa. Let me hold him, Mik!" Alex demanded and tried to elbow Mikhail aside.

"I'm the oldest. I hold him first."

"Everybody will hold. Go. Go show your sisters." Yuri waved his hands. Before scrambling away, both boys pressed against him.

"Thank you, Papa." Mikhail turned to kiss his mother's cheek. "We'll call Mrs. Braunstein, Mama."

"Yes, you will." Nadia shook her head as they ran into the house, calling for their sisters. "Hooligans," she said, relishing the word.

"Boys will be what boys will be." Yuri lifted her off her feet, laughed long and deep. "We are an American family." He set her down, but kept his arm around her waist as they started into the house. "What's for dinner?"

Chapter 1

She wasn't a patient woman. Delays and excuses were barely tolerated, and never tolerated well. Waiting—and she was waiting now—had her temper dropping degree by degree toward ice. With Sydney Hayward icy anger was a great deal more dangerous than boiling rage. One frigid glance, one frosty phrase could make the recipient quake. And she knew it.