The answer to this question is that Russians have weird nicknames. You might know that the nickname for Alexander is Sasha, and the nickname for Michael is Misha…etc. Zhenya is the nickname for Evgeni, which basically means Eugene, but Eugene is a boring name, so there you go.
The title itself comes from a scene a little ways into the book, where Evgeni instructs Anna on how to control his wolf form for her own protection. The wolf’s response to her assertion of control leads to all kinds of interesting complications down the road.
Here’s the scene:
“First I’ll answer your question about waking me, but not waking the wolf.”
She nodded. It was important she knew this. “All right.”
Evgeni slid the backpack to the ground. It landed silently, and his steps were equally silent when he closed the distance between them. “First,” he said, “you touch me like this.”
His hand rose, and for a split second she thought she’d misjudged him, that she’d followed him out here to the Alaskan bush just so he could kill her where no one would ever find her body. His hand closed around the side of her neck, resting partially on her shoulder, his thumb pressing against her Adam’s apple. She flinched; she couldn’t help it. The movement hadn’t been sudden or violent, and nothing about his touch hurt her, but every cell in her body was suddenly, acutely aware that he could break her neck or crush her windpipe with a single shift of that enormous hand. Was he really answering her question, or was he making a point?
Then his eyes softened again, and the grip shifted. The thumb on her windpipe didn’t relax, because it had never been taut to begin with, but it moved, stroking her skin. And that brought a whole new onslaught of sensation.
“It’s important to touch me here,” he told her and tapped her windpipe lightly. “It doesn’t have to be hard or rough—in fact it’s better if it isn’t. But your thumb here, your fingers behind my ear.”
“What if…” She struggled to regain her composure. “What if your back is to me?”
“Turn around and I’ll show you.” He released her and made a twirling motion with one finger. The size and weight of his hand still lay imprinted on her throat.
Hesitant, she turned her back to him.
The touch came promptly, but she was ready for it this time. He laid his fingers along the line of her windpipe, his thumb pressing against the base of her skull. Still gentle, careful, yet still a placement he could use to kill her if he chose.
“You hold me and speak to me,” he said, and she could feel his warm breath against her ear. “You do not call me Evgeni. You say Zhenya.”
It was a diminutive, she knew, like calling him Sasha if his name were Alexander, or like calling her Annie. “Zhenya,” she repeated.
“Yes.” His hand came free, and she turned back around to face him. “You do it. Show me you understand.”
She stared up at him. She wasn’t sure she could even reach his neck, much less get her hand into the right position. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration, but he was definitely tall enough to make it awkward.
As if reading her dilemma on her face, he dropped to his knees, a smile working his mouth. “Try now.”
God, this was weird. But necessary. He wasn’t playing games with her. In a very real way, he was showing her how to control him. And he didn’t have to do that.
She laid her hand along his neck and shoulder, mimicking the position he’d used on her. Her thumb lay against the hard knob of his Adam’s apple, which was roughened with overnight stubble. So was his cheek, where her index finger brushed it. Her small hand seemed ludicrously inadequate for the task she’d assigned it.
His Adam’s apple bobbed, then vibrated beneath her hand. “If you were a mama wolf,” he told her, “you would take me by my neck and put me where you wanted me. And if you were an alpha, you would take me by my neck and show me I was not the alpha. So this shows control but also protection. If the wolf is waiting there right under the skin, this will make it understand you are a friend.”
Anna nodded, letting her hand drop. Since he was kneeling, she walked around to stand behind him rather than asking him to turn. From behind, she laid her hand again on his neck, thumb against the base of his skull, fingers along the line of his windpipe. “Like this?”
“Yes. Now say my name.”
“Zhenya,” she said obligingly. “Zhenya, wake up and don’t try to eat my face.”
He chuckled. “There, you see? It’s easy enough.”
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