He glared at the door for a moment and then wedged his shoulder under a cross-bar. Sure, there was another exit farther along, but this way was more exciting.
He leaned his weight into the door the way he remembered and heaved.
Well, he thought ruefully, This way would be more exciting… if we could actually get out here.
He slid his eyes sideways towards Irina. There was no saving his dignity after that. He could lounge against the door as nonchalantly as he pleased; she wouldn’t be fooled.
The corner of Irina’s mouth tucked under in a badly concealed grin. “That worked when you were a kid, huh?”
“Every time,” Grant admitted with a grimace. Irina’s eyebrows rose, and he quickly added, “We always put it back afterwards! The trick to open it only works from this side. Or not at all, now.”
Irina examined the door and then ran her eyes up and down Grant’s body. An electric thrill followed her gaze.
Damn it, why did I bring her here? To show off? We could be in bed by now!
A very small, logical part of Grant’s brain protested this—they’d more than likely still be in traffic, and nowhere near bed—but it didn’t help with the heat that burned through him at Irina’s glance. Not even the chilly air blowing through the grille could do that.
Irina leaned forward and prodded him in the chest. “How tall were you when you were a kid?”
“What?” Grant’s mouth moved before his brain had caught up. “....Oh,” he added, understanding dawning. He bent and wedged his shoulder about a foot below where he’d put it before. This time, when he put his weight into it, the whole grille, including the lock, popped off its hinges with a metallic chunk.
He stood and lifted the metal grille out of the way. “Can we pretend that worked properly the first time?”
“And ignore my incredible detective skills? Not on your life.” Irina grinned as she stepped past him, wrapping her coat more closely around her body. Grant hated to see her cover her curves with the shapeless garment, but he hated the thought of her being cold even more.
Frankie always wears fancy clothes, he thought vaguely. I should ask her for advice—something to buy for Irina.
Something to buy for my mate.
Irina had skipped ahead, standing above him on the steps. She looked back at him over her shoulder, dark curls falling over her face.
Grant’s heart twisted in his chest. Earlier today, he’d been a ball of stress, frustrated over his missing friend. He’d never dreamed his return to the city could turn out this—this magical. How could he be this lucky, to find someone he connected with so quickly—and for her to be beautiful, and funny, and adventurous? For her to find this unconventional shortcut exciting, instead of irritating and unpleasant?
And it was unpleasant. Cold, windy and, if he remembered the alleyway above correctly, likely to be crammed with garbage. His eyes dropped down to Irina’s feet. High heels. She’d navigated the underground levels well enough, but an alleyway full of rubbish? He couldn’t ask that of her.
Not when the alternative was so enticing.
“What are you thinking?” Irina demanded, crossing her arms in front of her.
Grant leapt up the stairs to her, landing lightly at her side. “I’m thinking about you,” he said softly. “Of how you’re probably very cold, and your feet are probably beginning to ache. And how I have an excellent solution to both of these problems.”
“Oh, really?” Irina’s dark eyes flashed up at him. “Does it involve standing around chatting in the cold?”
“Only temporarily.” He stepped closer to her and inhaled, her scent filling his nostrils. The strongest smell was that of her clothes, the perfume from the detergent she used and the heavy smell of slightly damp wool from her coat. But under it—Oooh. That was her. And he wanted more of it.
He stepped closer again until he could lean forward and nuzzle his lips against her cheek. He felt her breath on his neck, a sharp gasp of expelled air, and then a softer hum of pleasure as he moved his lips down, brushing lightly against her jaw. He stopped to nibble her ear and her hum turned into a moan.
Grant pressed himself against her, pushing her against the wall of the stairwell as he wound his arms around her. She pressed back, and he went hard so fast it was almost painful. Irina’s mouth found his, and he plunged into the kiss, hot and fierce. Her tongue traced one single, tantalizing line against his lower lip, and then she broke away.
“Is this your plan?” she gasped, breathless.
Grant grinned. He lowered his hands, stroking the generous curve of her ass through her coat, and lifted her up. She squealed and wrapped her legs around him for balance instinctively.
It was all Grant could do not to purr with satisfaction.
He looked into her flushed face, deep into her warm eyes, and pressed his forehead against her.
“You won’t wear out your feet like this,” he said, softly, but unable to keep the rumble from his voice. “And do you feel… warmed up?”
Irina’s eyes widened, but only for a second. She licked her lips, and her thighs tightened deliciously around Grant’s waist. “Warm enough,” she said, then paused. “Though I would prefer to be… warm… indoors.”
“Point taken.” Grant secured his grip and leapt up the stairs three at a time. The alleyway above was as filthy as he had feared, and he moved through it as quickly as he could.
At the other end was another familiar door, wide open as Grant remembered it and spilling bright yellow light and uproarious noise into the night. Irina raised her head as he slipped inside.
“Is this a kitchen?” she whispered into his shoulder as he side-stepped past a gleaming stainless steel bench. “Oh my God…!”
“It is a kitchen,” Grant admitted, speeding up. “Aha—I wonder if the chef remembers me…”
By the roar the chef gave, he did.
Irina was giggling wildly by the time Grant managed to dodge around a sous-chef and stunned server and escape through what he hoped was still the staff exit. The hot, steamy air cleared, and Grant looked around. Irina was collapsed against his shoulder, still laughing weakly.
“Almost there,” he muttered into her wild curls, and made for the elevators.