For the first time, I glanced around. In addition to the enormous tub there was a glass shower and lots of white and gold marble. Whatever hotel this was, it was swanky. That should definitely raise alarm bells since there was no way in hell my father was paying to put me up in this kind of luxury. Locking that thought in the for later box, I sunk lower in the tub till the bubbles tickled my chin. Reaching for a washcloth, I added even more bath soap and scrubbed every inch of my skin till it glowed.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. I was finally feeling human again.
Unbidden, thoughts of Luka crept into my consciousness.
The sight of him without his shirt on. Holy hell the man was big. Like BIG. Like muscles on top of muscles. His chest was covered in super scary-looking tattoos which only seemed to emphasize his toned abs. And then there was the feel of his c@ck against my foot and his hands on my body.
My palm slid along the top of my thigh. I pretended it was Luka again. Closing my eyes tight, I slipped my hand between my thighs. My fingertip slid between the folds of my p@ssy to find my cl!t. Again, I thought of Luka and the er@tic, terrifying thrill I’d felt the moment he’d reached for his belt. Was he serious? Was he the type of man who would actually whip off his belt and punish a girl for being bad? I bit my lip as I pressed my fingertip to my clit. I bet he was. I bet he was the type to growl at you to get on your knees and crawl to him as he pulled out his c@ck.
I circled the tip of my finger around the tiny bud of nerves, alternating between soft and light pressure.
He practically screamed the dirty sex type. He probably liked to spank his women as he fucked them.
I barely stifled a groan as my back arched.
“Don’t stop,” growled Luka.
My eyes flew open. “Oh my God! What are you doing in here?”
Water splashed over the edge of the tub as I scrambled to cover myself.
He placed the plate of cake he had been holding on the bathroom counter and stalked toward me. His hooded brow was low as his gray wolf eyes pierced me. “I said, don’t stop.”
I hunched lower in the water. Spitting out the taste of soap bubbles as I searched the bottom of the tub for the washcloth to cover my breasts. “I locked the door!”
He reached for his belt buckle. “And I unlocked it. I gave you an order.”
My cheeks burned hot. How long had he been watching me? Did he know what I had been doing under the cover of the sudsy water? Of course he knew, I chastised myself.
He whipped his belt free from his jeans and kicked off his shoes. “I’m not going to tell you again, princess. Keep touching yourself.”
I gathered the fading bubbles closer to cover my chest. “Get out!”
With his jeans half-undone, he sat on the edge of the tub. He reached over and grabbed my face, holding me just beneath my jaw. “Tell me you weren’t just thinking about me as you played with that pretty p@ssy of yours” he snarled. “Tell me you weren’t remembering the feel of my hands on your body.”
I whimpered but couldn’t respond.
He caressed my neck then moved his hand further down. He cupped my right bre@st and squeezed. I cried out.
“Do it now,” he commanded.
My hand trembled as I moved it between my legs.
“That’s it, baby. Do as I tell you.”
My inner thighs clenched, locking around my wrist. This was so wrong and yet so f@cking hot. I rubbed my cl!t, harder this time.
He massaged my bre@st before pinching my nipple. The shock of pain sent a lightning bolt of awareness down my spine. My hips started to move. The bathwater undulated in waves, splashing onto the floor.
“Push a finger inside. I want you to get that p@ssy ready for me.”
My mouth opened on a groan as I pushed a finger inside of myself. Then a second one.
This was going too far. I needed to stop this. Luka thought I was someone I wasn’t.
He moved his hand from my bre@st to between my legs. Pushing my hand aside, he replaced it with his own. His fingers were much larger and thicker than mine as they entered me.
My hips shot up. “Oh God!”
Using his free hand, he placed two fingers against my lower lip. He forced my mouth open, then pushed his fingers inside. “Suck my fingers. Show me how you’ll suck my c@ck.”
I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never even come close to sucking a man’s c@ck in my entire sheltered life.
Luka bared his teeth before pushing a third finger inside my mouth, pushing down on my tongue. “Suck it. Hard.”
His fingers thrust in and out of my p@ssy as I swirled my tongue around his fingers, wetting them, drawing them deeper into my mouth. As he pushed hard on his fingers between my thighs, he pushed deeper into my mouth, gagging me. Still I sucked as my hips started to buck.
“Good girl. Come for me.”
My hands grasped the edge of the tub as my torso shot up the moment wave after wave of pleasure hit my body. I crashed back down into the water as I bent my knees and grabbed his wrist, holding his hand in place as my pussy clenched down on his fingers. “Yes! Yes! F@ck! Yes!”
With what could only be described as a primal roar, Luka pulled his fingers free and lifted me out of the water. A cascade of soapy water flowed over the edge as he carried me to the shower.
All Buy Links here! https://www.zblakebooks.com/russianmafiaseries.html
Meet Luka and Katie
Worthington University, Virginia
If I had known I was going to be kidnapped….
He had looked out of place, that was all I remembered.
I'd passed him on my way to the photography darkroom. On a college campus filled with students wearing shorts and hoodies in the middle of winter, the Japanese man in a long black leather trench coat calmly sitting on a park bench had stood out. He'd had on a pair of reflective sunglasses covering the upper part of his long, pale face and slicked-back, coal-black hair.
It had been the leather gloves that had seemed particularly odd to me.
I couldn’t put my finger on why. They just did.
As I passed him, I had the distinct suspicion he was watching me to the exclusion of all the other students scurrying past, which was crazy. Everyone on campus knew me as Katie Antonova. I’d used my mother’s maiden name on my application. There was no reason why anyone would figure out I was the daughter of the notorious Russian crime boss Egor Novikoff, or the sister of my even more infamous brothers, Lenin and Leonid. I had buried that life in my past and that was where it was going to stay.
Shaking off the odd feeling, I ducked under a low tree branch and headed toward the two-story brick building that housed the art and culture classes on my campus. Stopping at the bulletin board to see if the test scores for my History of Photography Through Art class were posted, I then headed down the linoleum-covered staircase to the basement. While the upper floors housed dance and art studios, the basement was where they kept the pottery wheels, glazing kilns and photography darkrooms.
This late in the day, I would have the place to myself. I clicked the lights on, squinting when the garish fluorescent lights flicked on one by one, until the entire basement was illuminated. I placed my shortylove blue camo crossbody bag on the table and pulled out my favorite manual Pentax K1000 SLR camera and my hot-pink binder of film negatives, leaving my other favorite digital camera tucked inside my bag.
Tonight I was working with black-and-white film, so I was pretty excited to experiment with different exposure times to get just the right effect. After entering the darkroom, I turned on the overhead light and fan, then put on a pair of safety goggles and gloves as I got ready to mix my chemicals. Setting out my three trays, I prepared the developer, stop bath and fixer. I then grabbed my pink binder and selected a row of negative film. Placing it on the lightbox, I tossed off my goggles and gloves and grabbed a loupe. I leaned down to examine each photo in detail.
Using a red grease pencil, I marked which photos I wanted to make into black-and-white prints. I placed the strip into the negative carrier and isolated one of the photos before raising and lowering the enlarger head to get the projected image to just the right size on the paper. I then used the focusing wheel to sharpen the image. After setting the aperture and my filter, I grabbed the timer. My plan for my test print was to divide the photo into three sections and expose each section by an additional five seconds.
Leaning over, I flicked off the white light and turned on the muted red one. I set my timer and began my test strip. After the allotted time, I used the rubber-tipped tongs to remove the paper from the developer and place it in the stop bath, then the fixer.
As I turned to clip the wet paper to the clothesline we had stretched across the darkroom, I heard a sound outside the darkroom door.
I paused to listen.
No out of the ordinary sounds.
A nervous chill ran up my spine.
Still, I tried to concentrate on my test strip. Each section was darker than the last. I decided the ten second exposure was definitely going to be the best for this particular project. I turned to grab a fresh piece of photo paper when I heard it again.
It almost sounded as if someone was opening and closing each of the darkroom doors.
There were ten darkrooms lined up along the right wall of the basement.
Door number five. Click
Door number six. Click.
Door number seven. Click.
Whoever it was, they were getting closer.
I was in the last one, door number ten.
Feeling silly for doing so, I reached over and turned the lock on the doorknob.
It was probably just a security guard checking to see if students were still in the building and nothing more.
Once again, I shook off the strange feeling and focused back on my project. This was due in class tomorrow, so I didn’t have time to be messing around or giving in to nerves. I made a slight adjustment to the enlarger head and set my timer.
That was when the doorknob turned.
The air seized in my lungs as I pivoted my head to stare at it.
I prayed it was my imagination.
Unable to breathe, I waited.
It turned again.
The movement was slight and slow.
If it were just a security guard checking the doors, they would have rattled it more decisively. No, this was the action of someone who didn’t want the person inside to know they were trying to open the door.
There was a long pause.
Then a soft, metallic scrape.
I hadn’t spent my early childhood surrounded by some of the most devious criminal masterminds on the East Coast without learning a thing or two. When I was as young as six, I’d had cousins teaching me how to pick a lock. I knew the sound like I knew my own heartbeat.
Knowing it was pointless, I scanned the small darkroom. There was no other exit. The room was basically a closet with a waist-high counter around its perimeter and a narrow aisle down the center.
I was trapped.
My fingers gripped the edge of the counter as I fixated on the doorknob.
I jumped a foot when my ten-second timer went off.
I slammed my palm down on the timer, shutting it off.
The scraping at the door stopped.
Using the counter because I didn’t trust my quivering legs, I carefully stepped toward the door. Holding my breath, I leaned over and placed my ear against it and listened. There was the sound of fabric rustling.
Then another soft metallic scrape.
I covered my mouth to suppress a scream and backed away from the door.
Please God, let me be overreacting.
Let this be a phantom of my past tainting my new reality.
Just because I had been raised to see demons in the shadows, didn’t make it so.
What was that saying? The sound of horse’s hooves didn’t mean zebras.
Please God, don’t let this be a fucking zebra.
The moment I heard the decisive click my body quaked.
Whoever it was, they had unlocked the door.
Once again, the doorknob slowly turned.
The door opened.
No light poured in.
The person must have turned off the basement fluorescent lights. Another really bad sign.
There was just the dark outline of a tall, slender person, but I knew immediately who it was.
It was the man from the park bench. The one wearing the gloves and leather trench coat.
Trying to throw the intruder off, I called out in French. “Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?”
Maybe I would get lucky, and the person wouldn’t expect a supposed Russian mafia princess to speak French.
The man chuckled. “I know it is you, Katia.”
Katia. Only people who knew the Novikoffs knew my true name was Katia not Katie.
I backed up as far as the counter would allow. “What do you want?”
His voice was smooth and calm as if each word was cautiously spoken. “Why don’t we speak outside?”
I shook my head. “I have nothing to do with my family’s business and I don’t know who you are.”
He bowed his head slightly. “How remiss of me. My name is Kiyoshi Tanaka. I am… a business associate of your family.”
I let out a shaky breath. “Well, as I said, I have nothing to do with my family or their business so you can have nothing to say that would interest me. So get the fuck out of my darkroom.”
He took a step inside the small space. “There is no reason why we cannot be civil to one another. Your family has something I want. You are going to help me get it. I promise, if you cooperate, no harm will come to you.”
I didn’t believe him for a second.
I inched my hand toward the tray of chemical developer. “My bodyguard will be back at any moment. He will break you in half if he finds you here.”
The man shook his head. “Tsk tsk tsk. You are a liar, my dear Katia. We both know your family does not care enough about your well-being to guard you. That is their mistake, and my good fortune.”
The truth of his words stung.
Still, I had to try and talk my way out of this. It was my only defense. “If that is true then I can have no value to you.”
Kiyoshi shrugged. “Sometimes the greatest treasures are the ones we miss only when they are gone.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“I do not wish to make this painful for you… but I will if I have to.”
“I’ll scream. The security guard will hear me.”
Kiyoshi seemed unfazed by my threat. “The security guard is unfortunately no longer in a position to assist you.”
Which meant he had either hurt the poor guard or outright killed him; either way, this had gone from bad to worse.
He took another step closer.
I was out of options.
In one fluid movement, I slipped my fingers under the tray of chemical developer and flipped it over, sending the chemical cascading down the front of Kiyoshi. He screamed as the chemical hit his eyes and mouth. The developer was heavily diluted and more dangerous to inhale than when exposed to the skin, but it would cause a slight chemical burn if got in his eyes. Hopefully it would be enough to slow him down.
Shoving him aside, I raced out of the darkroom. Snatching my bag as I passed the table, I dove up the stairs. I had a lead of only a few strides before I heard Kiyoshi in pursuit.
I burst through the outer door. As I inhaled a deep breath of frigid air, getting ready to scream, a hard weight slammed into my back. I was forced to the ground off to the side by the bushes. A hand wrenched me to my feet by my hair. I clawed and scratched but didn’t hit skin because of his leather gloves and coat.
A sweet-smelling cloth was placed over my nose and mouth.
As my eyelids drooped and my knees buckled, I gave up my fight and scrambled to reach into my crossbody bag. Knowing my attacker’s vision would still be compromised, I grabbed my camera and lifted it over my shoulder and took as many photos as I could. I then tossed the camera into the bushes before everything went black.
If the bastard was going to kill me, at least my final justice would be one of my photos damning him to hell for it.
Krasnoyarsk Prison Camp, Siberia
Thin-soled boots stomped into the muddy ground as the shouts and calls from the prisoners escalated. A sea of gray jumpsuits and shaved heads stretched around the bare exercise yard. Some clanked the tin mugs used for their daily allotment of weak soup and bread against the metal fence as they called out for the fight to begin.
I took it all in calmly through the smudged and barred window of my cell as I sipped my lukewarm tea. The rock walls were covered in a slimy layer of ice and grime which trickled down over my straw mattress. An emaciated rat scrambled from a hole, desperate for food. I tossed him the last piece of crust from my bread before rising. Shrugging out of the top of my jumpsuit, baring my chest, I wrapped the sleeves around my waist and made my way out to the yard.
A cacophony of screams and boot stomping greeted my entrance.
I pumped my fists and jogged in place, warming up my body as I surveyed the crowd, looking for my quarry. In a corner, I zeroed in on my target who was surrounded by prisoners bearing Nazi insignia. At six five and one hundred and fifty kilos I was an impressive size, but my opponent was bigger. Although a few inches shorter, his frame was bulkier with a significant amount of fat.
It would be an even fight.
I was still going to kill him.
Pieces of shit racists got on my nerves. Plus there was very little entertainment in a Siberian prison camp in the middle of winter.
A nearby prisoner placed two fingers in his mouth and a high-pitched whistle pierced the shouts of the crowd.
I slammed a fist into my palm and stalked forward. These were my favorite kinds of fights. Bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred. Winner was the man left breathing.
The man approached and opened his mouth wide to release what I assumed was supposed to be an intimidating roar. His rotted teeth and tobacco-blackened tongue were repugnant. Leaning back, I kicked his jaw shut. The man’s head snapped back as he toppled to the ground. He rolled onto his side and spit out a mouthful of blood and a few teeth. The crowd swelled forward but was held back by several prisoners with their arms outstretched.
First rule of a prison fight. No interfering.
The man hobbled to his feet and raised his fists. “I’m going to kill you for that, Siderov.”
“You can try, Olga,” I said, using the female version of his name, Oleg.
The man cried out and charged. He swung his right arm wide, then the left. As he stretched his arm back for another swing, I kicked him square in the balls.
The man fell to his knees, grabbing his groin.
Second rule of prison fighting. Spare your knuckles.
I kicked him again in the jaw. This time I heard the bone crack as the lower part of his face hung slack.
He fell face-first into the mud.
Two of his compatriots surged forward. A few of the prisoners tried to hold them back, but I gave them a nod. The two men approached me.
Now, I was finally going to have some real fun.
Stretching out my arms, I motioned with my fingers. “Bring it.”
The men attacked.
I pounded the first in the left eye socket and then turned to send the second man flying backward with an uppercut to the jaw. The first approached again. As he swung high, I bent low and nailed him in the kidneys before slamming my open palm just under his ribcage, collapsing his lung. The man’s eyes bulged as he staggered and fell into the waiting arms of the crowd.
The second man had a swastika tattooed on the front of his neck. I saw it as the perfect target. I grabbed him by the shoulder and held him in place as I ruthlessly pounded him in the throat. The man clutched and clawed at my arms as he struggled to breathe. He coughed and a fine mist of blood hit me in the face. Finally, I released him. He clutched at his throat as he fell to his knees.
The other prisoners surged forward. Several of them raised my arms in victory just as the guards’ whistles blew and several shots were fired into the air, breaking up the fight.
I accepted the grimy towel offered and wiped the blood off my face before untying the sleeves of my prison-issued jumpsuit. I was pushing my second arm into a sleeve when one of the guards approached.
The guard motioned over his shoulder with his thumb. “Luka, you have a visitor.”
I nodded as I buttoned the jumpsuit closed. “Where?”
“Boss says you can use his office.”
I nodded again as I followed the guard out of the exercise yard. Prison was no different than regular society, just more violent. Just as in the real world, money bought privileges and obscene amounts of money, as I had, bought access to the Prison Chief’s personal office.
Right before entering the office, I used the guard’s sleeve to wipe the rest of the blood off my face. He sneered but did nothing. I opened the door.
Sitting in the high-backed leather chair of the Prison Chief was Egor Novikoff.
“Out of my chair,” I ordered as I rounded the desk.
The two bodyguards he had brought with him stepped forward. The old man waved them off and dutifully switched to one of the more uncomfortable wooden chairs across from the desk.
I sat in the desk chair and reached across the desk to flip open the polished cigar box which rested on the corner. Selecting one, I bit off the end and reached into my pocket for my solid-silver lighter. Holding the flame just below the tobacco so as not to burn it, I slowly lit the cigar, uncaring of the impatient looks Egor was sending me. When the cigar end glowed a bright orange, I leaned back in the leather chair and placed my muddy boots on the desk.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Egor?”
“I need your help.”
I shrugged. “Not interested.”
“I’ll pay. Big.”
I took a long drag off my cigar. “Doubt you’ll pay more than what this oligarch is paying me to watch over his son while he enjoys our mother country’s hospitality.”
One of the perks of being a mafia mercenary was I owed loyalty only to myself. Each of the syndicates had used my services at one point or another, but I didn’t come cheap. A simple assignment would cost millions of American dollars, and nothing was beyond my skill set: assassinations, theft, arms deals. Hell, I’d even helped train a small military force for one bratva.
Currently, I was acting as a bodyguard for some weak pansy son of an oil oligarch who’d pissed off a Russian general by sleeping with his wife. The boy had been sent to Krasnoyarsk Prison Camp. It had taken me months to track him down since the Russians weren’t exactly known for their spotless record keeping. Especially when a certain General wanted someone to disappear in the system. Now his father was using his influence and several hefty bribes to get his son out. In fact, the boy was due to leave here tonight. Technically, that made me free to take Egor up on his offer. Trouble was, I didn’t like the guy, never had.
I shook my head as I tapped the ash end of my cigar onto a pile of official papers. “Get those useless sons of yours to help you.” I smiled. “Oh, that’s right. They got themselves shot.”
A friend of mine, Mikhail Volkov, had taken them out last year for daring to kidnap the little sister of the powerful Gregor Ivanov.
I shrugged again. “Well, play a stupid game, win a stupid prize, no?”
Egor’s shoulders hunched as he gripped the head of his cane more tightly. The man was broken. The only things keeping him alive among the syndicate families were his money and his connections, but they wouldn’t take you far in the Russian world. Money only counted for so much if it wasn’t backed by brute force and power.
Egor leaned forward, sliding a photograph across the top of the desk. “It’s my daughter, Katia. She’s missing.”
I picked up the photo. The woman was beautiful. Her gaze seemed to pierce the camera lens. Her eyes were definitely her best feature, a stunning bright crystal blue with flecks of dark cobalt blue. They were complimented by her fair skin and glossy, mink-brown hair. I frowned, “What do you mean missing?”
Egor shook his head and waved his hand in the air with frustration. “She takes after her bitch of a mother. Insisted on going off on her own to some college in Virginia. I think she found out I was planning on bringing her to Russia to marry and took off.”
Katia must be the daughter from Egor’s disastrous second marriage. The sons were from the first. His first wife was a sallow, beaten-down woman who died giving birth to the twins. The second had more fire in her belly, if memory served. She ran away from Egor when the daughter was still a child. It was an embarrassment for Egor as the head of the powerful Novikoff family and one of the first knocks that would lead to their current straits. Without his sons as heirs, the Novikoff legacy was in danger. It left Egor and his interests vulnerable. He must be trying to marry off his errant daughter to shore up his power.
I pocketed the photo. “So who’s the lucky groom?”
I grimaced. Pavel Petrov was seventy if he was a day. His sons were a nuisance to friends of mine, Vaska Lukovich and Dimitri Kosgov and their arms operations in Chicago. No wonder the chit ran away. I took out the photo and looked at it a second time. “Five million US dollars. First half wired into my usual account.”
“Five million!” scoffed Egor.
The miserly bastard was worth a hundred times that amount and stood to gain tens of millions from the marriage of his family into the Petrov syndicate. I snuffed out my cigar on the wooden surface of the desk and rose. “Good luck finding her.”
My hand rested on the doorknob to leave.
Egor rose as well, leaning heavily on his cane. “Wait. Fine. Five million.”
I crossed to the desk and grabbed a pen. I wrote down the twenty-one-character alpha-numeric code to my Swiss bank account on the edge of a piece of paper. I tore it off and handed it to him. “Half now. Half when I find her.”
Egor nodded. “Agreed, but you have to bring her back to Moscow.”
I gave him a curt nod and turned to leave.
Egor stopped me. “When do you start? Time and discretion are needed. The Petrovs do not know she is missing yet and I don’t want them to find out.”
“I’ll leave tonight.”
I strolled out of my cell around midnight. None of the cell doors were ever locked. What was the point? Escape was useless. You’d die in the frozen tundra climate only feet away from the gate. My client’s son had already been picked up by his father hours earlier. My departure was a little trickier. It wasn’t like the Russian prison system allowed for guests as bodyguards. I’d had to get myself thrown in here under a pretense.
Boldly walking straight up to the main gate, I stalked forward even as the nervous guard cried out a word of warning and fired several rounds into the dirt at my feet. Reaching him, I grabbed the gun and punched him in the face, knocking him out. As the alarm went out over the guard towers, I fired the semi-automatic rifle at each tower, hitting the support beams. The roofs of the two nearest towers collapsed, trapping the guards.
Tossing the rifle aside, I kicked the gate open and strolled out into the open field just as a helicopter landed.
I pulled open the side door and slid inside.
“Where to?” shouted the pilot over the din of the helicopter engine and rotor blades.
I pulled out the photo of the beautiful Katia and grinned. “America.”
“Please, why won’t you leave?”
Maxim circled around the chair.
I held the selfie stick up. “Stay back.”
He grabbed the stick and tossed it aside. He then wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me flush against his chest. He placed a hand around my neck and pressed up against my jaw, tilting my head back. “I’m not leaving, and if you were honest with yourself, you’d admit you don’t want me to.”
My lower lip trembled. “You frighten me.”
He gently kissed my cheek, then my lips, then the tip of my nose. “Never be frightened of me, babygirl. I would never harm such a beautiful creature as you.” He ran his tongue over my lower lip. “A beauty like yours is to be treasured, worshipped.”
His mouth teased mine. I breathed in his air, falling deeper under his spell. My eyes half-closed as he lowered his head. At the last possible minute, sanity returned. I pushed him away. “No. I can’t. This is too crazy. You have to leave.”
Maxim rubbed his jaw. Then pierced me with a glare. “I knew it.”
I surveyed him suspiciously. “Knew what?”
Without saying another word, he grabbed me by the back of the head and crushed his mouth to mine. He gave no quarter as his tongue speared inside my mouth, taking ownership. As I struggled in his grasp, he pulled up the hoodie from behind. A cool breeze touched my lower back before the first sharp sting of his slap. The impact drove my hips against his, where I felt the hard outline of his c@ck pressing against his jeans.
He sp@nked me again and again. His mouth swallowed my cries. With each heated sl@p, I was pushed against his hips.
He fisted my hair and deepened the kiss before finally breaking free. “This is what you want. Isn’t it, babygirl? Not sweet words of love, but rough and dirty with a hint of p@in.”
The truth of his words struck at my very soul. Oh, God! “No, no! You’re wrong!”
Using his grip on my hair, he pushed me facedown over the edge of the low chair. For the second time that night, he yanked down my leggings, exposing my @ss. I braced, but wasn’t prepared for the intense, humili@ting p@in of his palm striking my bare flesh. He sp@nked me again and again. My p@ssy clenched as the stinging heat pooled between my legs.
He pulled my hair as he pressed his crotch against my @ss. The rough denim sending sparks of p@in across my tortured skin. He rubbed my right b@tt cheek, then squeezed it hard. I squealed in p@in as I rose up on my toes.
“Tell me you like this,” he commanded.
I buried my face in the back upholstery of the chair. The fabric muffled my response. “I don’t. It hurts.”
“That’s the whole point, babygirl.”
It was the never-ending shift from hell.
Usually I didn’t mind bartending for my rent money. It was a decent job with great tips and had a super flexible schedule which fit around my pastry classes.
But not tonight… tonight it was a nightmare.
I was only an hour into my shift, and I’d already cut my finger slicing lemons, and some asshole who tipped his beer over on the bar ruined my favorite pair of black leather leggings. It certainly didn’t help that I was wearing the most uncomfortable and revealing leather corset top ever made. I placed my hands on either side of my boobs and yanked it up. What had I been thinking? I needed tips, but not bad enough to display the girls on a silver platter for the idiots who came to this bar.
I glanced at the cash register clock.
Just six more hours to go.
Thankfully, I wasn’t closing tonight, so I could clock out at midnight.
The moment I got home, I was taking this torture trap of a top off and getting a nice, long, hot shower. The thought of my favorite author’s latest fabulously smutty book uploaded on my Kindle waiting for me made me smile. Yep, a dark and kinky read was the closest I had gotten to having a boyfriend over the last four hundred and thirty-two days, but who was counting? Besides, boyfriends were a nuisance. I was already in my mid-twenties and I’d yet to meet a guy who wasn’t just a glorified man-baby. They usually needed constant attention, not to mention teaching them how to dress and act properly so they didn’t embarrass you in front of your friends. The worst ones barely knew how to feed themselves, let alone enough to appreciate dining in a fine restaurant. Nope, I was better off staying in a committed relationship with my Kindle bad boy toys.
Thinking of bad boys brought to mind Maxim, the man who confronted me and my best friend Dylan outside my apartment earlier today.
The man practically screamed dirty, sexy, hot.
I had opened my apartment door to find a wall of muscle in an Armani suit blocking the way. He’d had the audacity to inform Dylan he had changed the locks without her permission. He’d then had the arrogance to chastise us both for our attire. Dylan for being wrapped in a towel and me for wearing a T-shirt and silk sleep shorts.
He turned to me. “You as well. You should know better than to walk around naked.” He motioned toward my apartment door with his head. “Get back inside and cover yourself.”
Placing my fists on my hips, I fired back, “Who the hell do you think you are? And I am not naked!”
Maxim placed a hand high on the wall and leaned over me. “I’m the man who is going to strip that skimpy piece of fabric you call an outfit off your body and spank your ass red if you don’t obey me this instant.”
Every inch of my skin prickled with awareness. It was as if he were standing behind me, instead of just being a heated memory. His breath on my neck. His fingertips running up and down my exposed arms. His mouth on my— holy hell, I needed to stop thinking about him!
It didn’t take a genius to tell he was the type of man who would bend a girl over a table, flip her skirt up and pound into her till she screamed in ecstasy, giving her the best sex of her life. But fortunately, I could also tell he was the kind of man who would give a girl a quick caress on the cheek and a seductive wink afterward before he casually walked away, forgetting her name. If he had bothered to remember it in the first place.
Yep, there was practically a halo of red flags flapping all around him and I was going to stay far, far away. Not that there was ever a chance in hell I’d see him again.
“Hey! You! Gimme a beer!”
I glanced at the customer who’d just shouted at me. He was poorly dressed in a stained T-shirt and an incorrectly buttoned flannel. I could practically smell the stale beer on his breath. Usually he wouldn’t have gotten past the front door, but our bouncer was out sick tonight. The assistant manager was paying more attention to the blonde with the big rack than he was to who was strolling into the bar. He was useless.
I nodded in Flannel Guy’s direction. “One sec.” Then I motioned with my head for my bar back, Timmy, to come over.
He approached, carrying a trash can full of empty beer bottles and discarded cocktail napkins. “What’s up, Carinna?”
Reaching for a cocktail shaker, I filled it with ice while I kept my gaze straight ahead. “Grab the GM. I think that guy who just arrived has been over-served. There’s no way I’m giving him a beer.”
Timmy handed me a bottle of Belvedere Vodka for the martini I was making as he also kept his gaze averted. We knew better than to alert a customer we were discussing them. “The guy in the flannel?”
I capped the cocktail shaker and held it aloft over my right shoulder as I shook it vigorously while reaching for a martini glass with my left hand. “Yup. That’s the one.”
“On it.” He held the trash can high as he exited the bar area and made his way to the back of the house to find the general manager.
It would be my job to keep Flannel Guy calm and occupied until help arrived.
I placed the martini in front of the woman I was serving and took her credit card to start a tab.
Flannel Guy slammed his flat palm on the bar. “Hey, bitch! I said I want a beer.”
I printed out the receipt for the martini and placed it in a pint glass with the credit card and put it on a shelf over the cash register. Ignoring his slur, I kept my voice calm and upbeat. “Sorry for the wait. I have a few customers ahead of you, sir. It will be just a moment.”
Where the hell was the manager?
I filled a rocks glass with ice and snatched the Tanqueray Gin from the back bar. Picking up the soda gun, I hit the tonic button as I counted out an ounce and a half of gin as I poured. After a quick scan of the bar, I realized my cut limes were in a container by Flannel Guy. Damn.
Dealing with unruly customers was part of the job, but it always made me nervous. Especially when I was dressed like I should be holding a whip and a bottle of lube. Again, I yanked on my leather corset top, pulling it as high over my boobs as I could before I approached that end of the bar. Flannel Guy’s head was turned in the other direction, so the timing was perfect.
I extended my arm and grabbed the small plastic container of limes. Just as I was making a clean getaway, a hard grip wrapped around my wrist. Before I could react, Flannel Guy jerked hard on my arm. My upper body slammed forward as my stomach crashed into the sharp edge of the bar, knocking the breath out of my lungs. I opened my mouth to scream for help, but nothing came out.
Terrified, I looked up to see Flannel Guy raise his arm into the air, fist closed. “Bitch, I’m gonna—”
I squeezed my eyes shut and braced for the punch I knew was coming.
But no punch came.
I opened my eyes in time to see Flannel Guy’s head get slammed down onto the bar by a large hand covered in tattoos. Blood gushed from the guy’s now-broken nose. He cried out in pain as he released my wrist.
I staggered backward to safety. Lifting my head, I opened my mouth to thank my rescuer and froze. For the second time that day, all the breath left my body.
My gaze clashed with a pair of furious emerald eyes.
Maxim had found me.
I sat on the floor of my tiny studio apartment staring at the piles of cash around me.
The boxes arrived a few days ago from Russia, sent by my Uncle Harry. Despite receiving a stern email from him warning me not to open the boxes, I didn’t waste any time tearing into them.
I was the weird one in my family. The only one who had chosen not to pursue a life of crime. I rarely spoke to anyone related to me and hadn’t seen my Uncle Harry since my father’s last parole hearing over ten years ago, when I was still a teenager. So when I received the boxes and a cryptic email from my uncle addressed to his favorite niece I was, of course, suspicious.
And judging from the stacks of cash taking up half my apartment floor, I had every right to be.
Five hundred thousand dollars.
FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!
My uncle had sent me five hundred thousand dollars through the freaking mail.
What was strange was, each box only weighed about six pounds. I totally would have thought thousands of hundred-dollar bills would have weighed more. Although, to be honest, that wasn’t the truly strange part. The truly strange part was that I had freaking FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS strewn about on a ten-dollar, slightly stained throw rug I had purchased from the Salvation Army last month.
Once again, I picked up my cell phone and tried to call my Uncle Harry. I had no idea what time it was in Russia, or even why he was there, and I didn’t care. I wanted an explanation. When he didn’t answer, I tried calling my other uncle, Uncle Frank. If anyone else was involved in this mess along with Uncle Harry, it would be my Uncle Frank. They were two petty criminal peas in a pod. Uncle Frank’s cell number was disconnected. Typical. Tossing the phone aside, I sighed as I surveyed the money.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind this money was dirty, like really, really dirty. Anything anyone in my family touched was always filthy. They wouldn’t know how to make an honest dollar if it slapped them in the face.
What the hell was I going to do?
I glanced at the alarm clock and cried out. Damn, I was late for work. Work, another concept my family was completely unfamiliar with. I was the first in our family to attend community college. Now I was scraping money together for a real estate broker license.
Four thousand three hundred and sixty dollars, that’s how much I was in the hole right now. Between the pre-licensing courses, licensing exam, my basic real estate agent license and now the desk fees at the brokerage where I worked to become a licensed broker, I was in serious credit card debt. It had taken me three years of saving some of my server tips just to scrape enough together to cover costs while I took a huge pay hit launching my new career.
I lifted the edge of my Murphy bed and tucked it back into the wall cabinet so I could open the bathroom door, and turned the knob for my shower. The old pipes rattled and clanked. Rusty water spurted from the faucet. I turned the knob to cold so I wouldn’t be wasting hot water and money as I waited for the water to run clear. I turned on the coffeepot and reached for my toothbrush. One thing about being poor and living in a tiny studio apartment, everything I needed was literally within arm’s reach, especially when the kitchen and bathroom shared the same sink. Swishing the mint foam around my mouth as I brushed, I glanced over my shoulder at the money still lying on the floor.
Forty one-hundred-dollar bills.
Forty out of five thousand one-hundred-dollar bills.
That’s all I would need.
Forty thin pieces of rectangular paper and most of my problems would be gone.
Disgusted at my thoughts, I spit in the sink and shrugged out of my T-shirt before stepping in the shower. My breath seized in my lungs as the icy water hit my chest. I had forgotten to turn the hot water knob. Sidestepping out of the freezing stream, I frantically turned the knob to add warm water, but it broke off in my hand. With a resigned sigh, I inhaled a deep breath and braced myself for the arctic chill as I flipped my long hair over my head and reached for the shampoo.
As I closed my eyes to avoid the suds, all I could see were the neat stacks of cash lying only a few feet away.
Wouldn’t I be doing a good thing by using just a tiny portion of the money for honest purposes? I wanted to have my own brokerage firm one day. A firm where female real estate agents could safely work without having to worry about getting their asses pinched or being told to fetch coffee. It may be the twenty-first century, but in many ways the real estate industry was still living in the 1950s.
In order to do that, I needed money, way more money than I was currently making. It would be at least ten years before I could afford to start my own business, unless — I peeked around the shower curtain at the money.
With a frustrated huff, I finished scrubbing the suds out of my hair and got out of the shower. Wrapping a slightly scratchy towel around my middle, I poured coffee into my favorite chipped mug and added sugar and powdered cream. No daily Starbucks on the way to work for me. I couldn’t afford such tiny luxuries.
I unplugged the coffee maker and plugged in the hair dryer. As I combed through the tangles in my hair with my fingers, I looked in the mirror and once again saw the cash.
It wasn’t like I would use it all, maybe just fifty thousand dollars’ worth. That would be enough to cover rent for a year, office furniture, equipment, and some splashy colorful marketing brochures. If I borrowed just a few thousand more, I could even get a professional website done instead of a basic do-it-yourself WordPress one. The appearance of wealth in this business was essential in getting the higher-end clients. Money attracted money. It was why I spent my rent money on nice dress suits and real-looking pearl necklaces. I would get nowhere in this business showing up in an ill-fitting thrift store outfit.
I leaned over the sink to apply mascara. My gaze traveled again to the cash. Okay, sixty thousand dollars and not a penny more. I would buy myself a decent wardrobe and maybe lease a nice Lincoln Town Car to shuttle my clients around Chicago to different properties for sale.
Sixty thousand dollars wasn’t that much, only six hundred bills out of five thousand. It probably wouldn’t even be missed. I would then donate the rest to charity or maybe play Santa Claus to the other hard-up residents in my building. I could leave little envelopes of cash for each of them to help cover rent and food. I couldn’t go to hell for using dirty money if I used most of it for good, right?
Going to the police was out of the question. I may have distanced myself from my criminal family, but I still shared their aversion to authority. Besides, with my juvenile record, there was no way they would take me at my word that the cash had just arrived on my doorstep and that I had nothing to do with it. And of course there was the bonus that it had arrived in boxes from Russia. Sure, nothing shady about that. My eyes rolled so hard I gave myself a headache.
I tiptoed between the piles of cash as I crossed the room to my bedroom/hall/linen/pantry closet. I selected a deep cranberry red A-line skirt with white flowers and matching white silk blouse that I had gotten a few weeks ago at the Anne Taylor Factory outlet and got dressed. I completed the outfit with a pair of black ballet flats and my favorite fake-but-real-looking pearl necklace.
I would rather wear four-inch platform heels to make up for my five foot six inch frame, but I had an open house today and would be on my feet for hours. It was smarter to wear the flats. It was a shame. My life was a little easier when I was taller than the men around me. Especially when one of those men was Larry, my boss. Middle-aged, balding and with a pooch of a belly, he somehow thought he was God’s gift to women.
I stared down at the cash at my feet. It was nice to dream, but there was no way I was going to touch one lousy bill of it for myself. That’s how it would start. Compromising my principles once would make it that much easier to compromise them again, then again. I had turned away from that life when I was a teenager. It had taken years to clean up my act and break free of my criminal family’s binds, and I wouldn’t turn back now. Even if abandoning those principles now made my dream of owning my own brokerage firm a reality, I would always know I had purchased it with tainted money. It wouldn’t be truly mine. It wouldn’t be something I had earned through hard work and determination.
With a sigh, I bent down to pick up several piles of crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. I turned and surveyed my apartment. Where the hell could I hide all this money until I figured out what to do with it? I had precious few options in my studio apartment. There were no cabinets under the sink, and I'd already stuffed my closet full of clothes and ramen noodles. I surveyed the Murphy bed. It would have to do.
I pulled the bed back down to the floor, piled the cash on top and then quickly raised the bed frame back into its upright position. I snatched several wayward bills as they floated in the air and shoved them between the mattress and wall.
With one last sip of my now lukewarm coffee, I raced out the door. I would figure out what to do about the dirty money later, after I got ahold of one of my uncles. For now the money, and I, were safe enough. Although we weren’t close, there was no way my Uncle Harry would have shipped the cash to me if he thought someone was actively looking for it, or if it would put my life in danger. Family was still family.
So, it wasn’t like I had to worry about some big Russian thug breaking down my door for it.
I had every intention of murdering whoever was on the other side of that door.
Cold-blooded, heartless murder, and I would get away with it too because anyone who pounded on someone’s door at seven o’clock in the morning deserved to get murdered in the worst way possible.
After flicking open the pathetic excuse for a lock, I snatched at the brass chain secured across the door, further loosening the already wobbly screws. Putting the chain across each night really was a useless endeavor. Basically only good for a false sense of security. An asthmatic eighty-year-old man could cough on this ancient door and it would fall open. Such was the life of a penniless graduate student living in a first-floor apartment in a slightly dodgy neighborhood.
With a huff, I threw the door open. “Who the hell do you think you—?”
My mouth fell open.
In a rather ironic twist, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. The man standing on my threshold had come to murder me instead of the other way around.
There really was no other reasonable conclusion. The fact that I had done nothing, at least to my knowledge, to warrant someone wanting to murder me was immaterial. I couldn’t imagine this man being anything other than a murderer or at the very least a violent criminal.
This was all incredibly confusing considering he was also the most devastatingly handsome man I’d ever laid eyes on.
He was insanely tall. I mean, really? Was it absolutely necessary to be that much over six feet tall? All those extra inches did was make a girl feel small and vulnerable, and make her wonder what it would feel like if he crowded her against a wall and did that super sexy lean in move.
The darkly inked tattoos on his hands and neck were in stark contrast to the obviously expensive tailored suit he was wearing. His jet-black hair was wet and slicked back as if he had just showered. I could pick up the hints of musk and jasmine from his aftershave.
Scariest of all were his eyes; they were black and hooded, almost like the demon eyes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His head was slightly down as he stared at me, giving him an even more sinister appearance.
My hands shook as I tightened the belt on my leopard print silk robe with the pink trim . Those same demon eyes flashed down to my waist, then slowly rose to my chest, then back to my face to pierce me with a glare. Thankfully, I'd been so tired last night I fell asleep in my bra and panties instead of naked as I usually did. It wasn’t much but at least they were some protection beyond just my flimsy robe.
He twisted his jaw as he gestured to me with his left hand, which seemed weighed down by a heavy silver signet ring. “Is this how you answer the door? Dressed like a woman begging to be fucked?”
It took a moment for my mind to register what he said because of the heavy Russian accent. My eyes widened the moment it did. With an outraged cry, I tried to slam the door in his face. His flattened palm prevented it. I had no choice but to take a step back as he entered the apartment and closed the door. He reached behind him and twisted the lock just above the doorknob. It slid into place with an ominous click.
The air seized in my lungs. Since they'd painted half the windows shut and the other half were rusted shut, there really was no other way out of the apartment. I could scream but I doubted even my next-door neighbor, old Mrs. York, would hear me. The only good thing about the dilapidated brick building my apartment was in was its crazy-thick walls. Well, usually it was a good thing for when you wanted to play your music loud or have a party. When you were being threatened by a possible homicidal criminal, not so much.
My phone was in my purse on the sofa.
Keeping my gaze trained on him, I took a few steps back. The sofa was in my peripheral vision. I needed to get to the other end to my Loungefly embossed skulls and Hello Kitty black and pink purse. The man surveyed my apartment with a mixture of disgust and shock on his face. As he turned his attention to the locks on the door behind him, I made my move. I lunged over the back of the sofa and stretched out my arms to grab my purse. My hand slipped inside and grasped the rounded edge of my cellphone. Dragging it out of my purse, I swiped the screen with my finger and moved to tap the emergency button on the lower left-hand corner when a pair of warm hands wrapped around my hips.
His legs pressed against the back of mine, making me painfully aware of the short length of my robe. With me bent over like this, it barely covered my ass. His entire body leaned over mine as his right hand slid up my outstretched arm and pulled at the phone in my grasp. I clung to it tightly, as if it were my only lifeline. His other hand tightened on my hip, an unmistakable warning.
His breath teased the skin on my neck as he breathed near my ear, “You won’t be needing this.” With his accent, the you sounded like a low purr, and the won’t sounded more like the scary villain von’t. Instead of putting the inflection at the end of the sentence, he put it in the middle, which strangely emphasized the force of his command.
He pulled the phone free and tossed it out of my reach. Not willing to give up so easily, I started screaming, “Hey Siri! Call the police!”
Don’t Stand So Close to Me by The Police played.
Oh great. Hey Siri, please play my Perfect Songs to Get Murdered To playlist.
Shifting my hips, I placed my weight on my left foot and tried to break free of his grasp. I was spun around and pulled flush against his body by a powerful arm wrapped around my waist. My head tilted back to stare up at his uncompromising face. Caught between him and the back of the sofa, my hips ground against his. Something hard and long, really long, pressed against my abdomen.
Oh. My. God.
The handsome criminal quirked an eyebrow, the right corner of his upper lip rising with a satisfied smirk. He had the audacity to not show the least bit of chagrin. Meanwhile, my cheeks flamed scarlet. Grasping at the open neckline of my robe, I scrunched the fabric near my collarbone in my fist as I lowered my head to avoid his arrogant scrutiny.
Raising my chin with a finger, he asked “Is this the apartment of Emma Doyle?”
Once again, his Russian accent was so thick, I had to focus on the words as he rolled his R’s and made my roommate and best friend’s name sound more like Eeema than Emma.
It finally clicked.
He was a big fucking scary Russian dude and my roommate was dating a big fucking scary Russian dude. This could be bad. Either this man was a friend of Dimitri’s — or an enemy. Until I knew which, I couldn’t possibly endanger my best friend.
Twisting my head to break his grasp on my chin, I dug my fingernails into my palms to keep myself from shaking. Inhaling a hesitant breath I said, “I don’t know who that is.”
The tip of his finger traced over my cheekbone, down the side of my face and under my jaw to stop at the base of my throat. “Your beautiful throat flutters, right here, when you lie.”
I licked my lips and watched as his dark gaze zeroed in on my mouth. “I’m… I’m not lying. I’ve never heard of anyone named Emma Doyle.”
His hand moved quickly to grasp me around the throat just under my jaw. Dropping my grip on my robe, I wrapped my fingers around his wrists and tried to claw at him, but my short red nails did nothing to force him to relent.
He leaned in low, the scent of coffee and peppermint on his breath. “Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Don’t you know it is dangerous to lie to a man like me… Mary?”
My body jerked as if someone had slapped me.
He knew my name.
I swallowed. “What do you want?” I rasped.
He shifted back slightly and looked down. With his free hand, he slipped two fingers inside the neckline of my robe and pulled it open.
I whimpered, but his grip on my throat held me in place.
His hooded gaze flicked up to mine. “Shhh, krasotka. Ne dvigaysya. YA prosto khochu prikosnut'sya.”
I had absolutely no idea what he was saying, but it sounded both scary and sexy as hell, which was so beyond twisted and wrong that it would take half a bottle of tequila for me to even start analyzing what I was thinking right now. There was just something about his heavy Russian accent. It was so deep and low, a somber purr that was hypnotic.
His fingertip traced the red ribbon which ran in and out of the lace outline of my black bra. “It was wrong for you to open the door dressed like this, krasotka. There are many dangerous men out there who would take advantage of a beautiful woman such as yourself… who’s all alone.”
“Dangerous men, like you?”
He rubbed the pad of his thumb over my lower lip. “Exactly like me.”
I rose on my toes to try to loosen his grip. “I’m not alone. My boyfriend will be back any second now.”
He smiled — and it was terrifying. “I hope for his sake you are lying to me again. I hadn’t planned on killing anyone today, but if a man were to walk through that door and try to claim you as his own, I would shoot him between the eyes.”
Claim me? What was I, a piece of luggage on an airport baggage carousel? Who talks like that? Had he really just said he hadn’t planned on killing anyone — today? Meaning on other days that option was up for grabs?
He released his grip and took a step back. He flicked open the button on his suit jacket and opened the flaps to reveal a shoulder holster with a gun in it. Wrapping his fingers around its handle, he pulled the weapon free. It was gold-plated and massive, like something out of an action movie.
He leveled the gun at the door and pulled back the hammer. “So which is it, krasotka? Are you lying or do I shoot the next person who walks through that door?”
My shocked gaze raced between the gun, his thin-lipped, determined expression, and the closed door. This couldn’t be happening. Of course there was no boyfriend. There hadn’t been a boyfriend in ages, but there was my best friend, and she could return home at any moment.
Raising my arms, I waved my palms. “Stop! Stop! There is no boyfriend. Please put the gun down.”
He uncocked the hammer and set the weapon down on the side table. Curling his hands into fists, he leaned in and rested them on the top of the sofa on either side of my hips, caging me in with his body. “So you were lying to me… again.”
What the hell was I supposed to say? My mind went blank. “I… I….”
He shifted and pressed his lower body against mine.
I stilled at the threatening press of his hard shaft, afraid to even breathe. Everything about this man screamed danger, run away, from his demeanor to his intimidating height, from his arm and chest muscles to his tattoos. He wasn’t tall with lean muscle like someone who worked out at the gym or played sports. He had that bulky, brute strength kind of build. The kind that said gyms were for posers, I’d rather just get into bar fights and flip cars to keep in shape. With his dark looks and arrogant smile, he also screamed bad boy trouble. Which is of course why my nipples were hard and pressing against the scratchy cheap lace of my bra, and my thighs were clenched.
My brain was shrieking homicidal criminal psychopath, run! While my body was ready to lay back and scream take me now, make it hurt!
With a single finger he started to circle one erect nipple through the silk of my robe. His voice was deceptively soft and low. “What kind of punishment do you think you deserve for lying to me?”
My cheeks flamed as he continued to caress the curve of my breast. Humiliated he had even noticed my involuntary response to him, I swallowed past the dry fear in my throat. “I know what you are trying to do and you don’t scare me. I’m not telling you anything.”
He ran the back of his knuckles over my stomach. “Your bravado is admirable but unnecessary. Dimitri Kosgov sent me. We are business partners. He is concerned about the lack of security in your apartment. He wants to make sure you and Emma are safe.”
There was absolutely no reason why I should, but I believed him. It sounded like precisely the type of thing Emma’s new overbearing and overprotective boyfriend would do.
Slipping that single finger into the knot at my waist, he tugged, loosening the belt. As my robe fell open completely, exposing my bra and bare midriff, he continued, “And trust me, krasotka, scaring youis the last thing I want to do to you right now.”
My knees buckled. I reached back to grasp the sofa behind me to stay upright. I had to force myself to breathe, feeling every shaky breath that entered and left my lungs as I tried to focus on his intense gaze. “Who are you?”
“My name is Vasili Lukovich Rostov, but you may call me Vaska.”
“Why are you doing this?” I was no longer referring to why he was in my apartment asking about Emma.
He shrugged. “Because I can. In my world, nothing is off-limits. If I see something I want,” he paused and ran his heated gaze over me, “I take it.”
I blinked. I wasn’t expecting such raw honesty. “In my world, a man asks permission first.”
He chuckled and responded in his heavy Russian accent, “Then I guess it is a good thing we are not in your world.”
“We are in my apartment,” I boldly fired back with more moxie than I felt.
“True, but it is still my world, and in my world, I make the rules and decide the punishments for those who break them.” His fingertip traced the top of my panties.
This had gone way, way too far. There was allowing myself to get lost in a dangerous bad boy fantasy for a moment and then there was the reality of a dangerous man with a gun standing in the middle of my living room threatening to punish me.
My shrieking brain finally won out. I ducked under his arm and desperately ran across the living room. Crossing the threshold to my bedroom, I turned and slammed the door shut, locking it. I backed away and frantically scanned the room looking for something to prop against the door. The room was too small for anything more than a double bed and a rickety vanity with two loose table legs.
I could hear his measured footsteps on the other side of the door.
I backed away as I tightened the dangling robe belt around my waist and braced for his angry shouts or pounding fist.
Vaska did neither.
Without warning, he kicked the door open and stalked into my bedroom.
Three years earlier.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
As the sharp edge of my voice cut through the chilly darkness of the bookshelf-lined study, Nadia turned, her bright blue eyes wide with shock. Her arm hung suspended in midair as the silver flask clutched in her hand stopped just before touching her lips.
The soft, blueish white glow from the moonlight streaming through the large windows illuminated her pale face. It gave her an ethereal quality, as if I had startled a beautiful specter during her nightly hauntings. The muted noises of dancing and laughter sounded a world away. Since we were in the far wing of the house, they might as well have been.
From this distance, no one would hear her cries for help.
Just over her shoulder, insolently lounging in her older brother’s ox-blood leather chair with his feet on the desk, was a man I didn’t recognize, but not knowing his name would not prevent me from killing him.
He spread his arms wide, palms out. “Relax!” Foamy spittle fell onto his tie from his lips as he slurred the word. “She can have a swig or two. It’s a party.” He swung his head in Nadia’s direction. The man took a moment to refocus his drunken gaze before giving her an exaggerated wink.
It was all I could do not to seize her in my arms and bodily carry her out of the room.
How dare she put herself in danger like this?
Wandering away from her own party to sneak a drink with some unknown man?
This wasn’t like her.
Most of the guests were assholes in cheap suits and women in tight dresses reeking of even cheaper perfume. In other words, the usual crowd of business associates, political dignitaries and crime bosses that congregate at an Ivanov party. They were all here to celebrate Nadia’s birthday. Well, truthfully, none of them were actually here to celebrate her birthday. Few could even pick her out of a line up.
They were here for one reason, and one reason only: to get close to her brothers.
Each drawn to the unchallenged power the family yielded.
Each coming with a false smile and an open palm, hoping to curry favor and line their pockets.
Each ignoring the guest of honor, the birthday girl.
No wonder she had wandered off unnoticed, but only because I’d been occupied by dragging a drunk who had accosted her friend Yelena out the back.
The moment I returned, I knew she was gone. It had become a habit over the years to always look for her. As the Ivanovs’ head of security, technically it was my job to watch over her, to protect her.
My job and my own private hell.
I wasn’t sure which part angered me more.
That she had wandered off alone when the house was filled with strangers.
Or that she had wandered off with another man.
My fingers curled into a fist at my side.
If I can’t have her, no one can.
It was an irrational and selfish thing to think, especially since I had never even so much as allowed myself to touch her, but then I wasn’t thinking straight in that moment. Something tightened in my chest as I reined in a primal howl of mine.
As she fidgeted under my unrelenting gaze, her two front teeth sunk into the soft plump flesh of her lower lip. An adorable nervous tick of hers. My tongue flicked out over my lip as if I could taste the cherry sweetness of the flavored lip gloss I knew she liked.
Nadia bowed her head and turned. She leaned over, stretching her arm across the wide expanse of the polished oak desk, to hand the man his flask back. As she did so, the ruffled edge of her floral dress rode up the back of her thighs. She had the cutest freckle which peeked out from behind her hem, high on the back of her right thigh, just below the soft curve of her ass. I resisted the urge to tilt my head to the side in a juvenile attempt to catch a glimpse of her panties.
Speaking of hell, that was precisely where I was going. Her two brothers would be the ones to send me there.
This was madness. If her brothers knew what I was thinking, they’d put a bullet in my head. My years of loyalty be damned.
The fact that Nadiam had finally turned eighteen didn’t matter. She may have been legal to touch, but that didn’t make it less wrong. Nadia was the protected baby sister of the Ivanov family, and the very definition of forbidden fruit. I wouldn’t blame Gregor and Damien for taking me to one of our off-grid warehouse locations and beating me bloody to within an inch of my life for even looking at her this way.
As she stood before me, she fidgeted with the charms on her silver bracelet and rambled, “Mikhail, this is Adam. Adam Fischer. He’s Peter’s older brother. You know Peter, right? Samara’s boyfriend? Adam graduated several years ahead of us.”
He wasn’t Russian. Another strike against him. At least now I had a name for his tombstone.
Adam lifted his flask in a mock salute and called out, “Na zdorov’ye!” He then took a long gulp.
I cast an annoyed glance in Nadia’s direction. She at least had the presence of mind to look embarrassed at Adam’s incorrect use of a toast most Americans thought Russians used every time we took a sip of alcohol.
Adam leaned over to hand the flask back to Nadia. “Take another sip, sweet stuff.”
My control snapped. I surged forward.
Nadia sprang out of the way, a small cry of fear on her lips as she raised her arms.
I moved past her and swiped at Adam’s feet, knocking them off the desk. My fists twisted into the extra fabric of his ill-fitting polyester suit blazer, and I wrenched him out of the chair. Even before knowing his name or hearing his voice, I knew he wasn’t Russian. A Russian man would never disgrace his hosts by wearing the same wrinkled suit he had worn into work that day to a celebrated event in someone’s home.
I leaned in close to rasp in his ear. “YA vyrvu tebe glaznyye yabloki i zasunu ikh v tvoye degenerativnoye gorlo.”
Adam’s thin lips stretched wide over small teeth in a crooked smile as he shoved his forearms up, then against my wrists, breaking my grip. “Shove off so Natalia and I can get better acquainted. Don’t worry,” he sneered, “I’ll hand her over to you once I’m done.”
Since I had just told him I was going to rip out his eyeballs and shove them down his degenerate throat, that would not happen. After dragging him from behind the desk, I swung around and shoved him toward the door.
“Her name is Nadia, you piece of shit, and you’ll touch her over my fucking dead body.”
While we were matched in height, each over six feet tall, I had at least thirty pounds of muscle on him, which gave me an advantage. That, and the fact I was raised in the unforgiving icy wilderness of Siberia and not some cushy American suburb. Although I knew Adam didn’t have any political power and wasn’t connected to the Ivanovs’ criminal enterprise, it still would look bad if I hauled him out of the party bloody and bruised. Against my better judgement, I would have to let him go with a warning to never go near Nadia again.
At least that was my plan until he took a swing at me. Then all bets were off.
Adam snatched a brass double-headed eagle figurine from the bookshelf nearby, and swung his arm wide, almost clipping me on the chin.
I took a step back and grinned. I slipped out of my suit jacket and tossed it onto the desk behind me. Slowly circling Adam as he continued to lurch about and swipe his arms at me, I rolled up my shirt sleeves.
Nadia’s plea came from behind me. “Mikhail, don’t. It’s my fault.”
I tossed her a look over my shoulder, and warned, “I will deal with you in a minute.”
This time when Adam swung the brass figurine, it slipped out of his hand and sailed across the room. It almost hit Nadia in the shoulder before shattering the window behind her. With a snarl, I snapped my right arm out, hooking him under the chin with my fist. He staggered back. I hit him again and again. I didn’t give a damn if he was drunk. If he was sober enough to toss a punch, he was sober enough to take one. The final time I swung out, I felt his cheek bone shatter beneath my knuckles. Adam fell to his knees, howling in pain as he clutched his face. A swift kick to the jaw silenced his cries.
As his body fell limply onto the Persian carpet, Ilya, one of my men, appeared in the doorway. “Alarm went off, signaling a breach.”
Lowering onto my haunches, I wiped the blood from my knuckles onto Adam’s shirt. Motioning with my head, I indicted the window. “Broken window.” I rose and pointed to Adam. “Mr. Fischer has overstayed his welcome. Please see him out.”
Ilya snatched Adam up under his arms and walked backwards as he dragged his limp body toward the door. “Consider it done, Boss.”
As I followed him to the threshold, I instructed, “Ubedites', chto gosti nichego ne vidyat.” The last thing I needed was a scene with the party guests.
Ilya nodded, then casually asked, “Should we kill him?”
There was a soft gasp behind me.
Ilya started as he looked past me, deeper into the dark room. “Izvini, Boss. YA yeye tam ne videl.”
Of course he hadn’t seen Nadia. It was a common occurrence. As the quiet little sister of the great Ivanov brothers, everyone often overlooked her.
Everyone but me.
At barely over five feet tall, Nadia didn’t even come up to my shoulder. She was like a living doll. She had a light smattering of freckles over the bridge of her tiny nose, a delicate cupid’s bow of a mouth and an adorable bundle of soft strawberry blonde curls. Each time she nervously bit her lip, I wanted to do dark and dangerous things to her.
Yes, everyone else may see past her, but not me.
She was the first person I looked for when I entered a room and the last one I thought of at night. Every time she left the house, even if it was only to go to school, I was on edge till she was back safely at home, under my control. The Ivanovs led a dangerous life with ruthless enemies who could strike at any moment. Nadia was a vulnerability, a weak point their enemies would think nothing of exploiting, but that would never happen. Not on my watch.
The number one rule in the Ivanov household was no one talked business in front of or within earshot of Nadia. It was the family’s wish she never be aware of the extent of their criminal activities. As far as she was concerned, her father had owned a successful import and export business that he passed on to her brothers at his death. The intense security I and my staff provided were explained away as America being a dangerous country.
I waved off Ilya’s apology. “Nichego, Ilya. Prosto delay, kak ya govoryu.”
As soon as they were both gone, she spoke up, although her voice was barely above a nervous whisper. “I should rejoin the party. My mother will be looking for me.”
With a flat palm, I pushed the door shut. I slid the heavy brass bolt that secured just below the top of the door into place.
Turning, I faced Nadia. “You’re not going anywhere.”
She knew I was watching her.
Like an innocent creature in the woods who sensed danger nearby, her body reacted to the force of my gaze. Only the trained eye of a hunter could pick up the signs. There was the slight tensing of her shoulders. The way her head tilted in my direction but didn’t fully turn. Her hand self-consciously rose to cover her heart as if her palm could smother the sudden rapid beating.
She angled her head a little further as she swept a thick golden curl behind her ear. I could just see the high curve of her flushed cheek as she trained her gaze downward, no doubt trying to catch a secretive glimpse of me from under her soot-black lashes. Her pink tongue flicked out to lick her lips. The champagne light from the chandelier suspended above picked up on the faint shimmer left behind.
Balls of ice clattered then settled in my glass as I tipped the smooth, amber liquid past my lips. The Macallan Rare single-malt scotch might as well have been rotgut whiskey for all I tasted it. The smoky vanilla and clove tones of the liquor did nothing to soothe my anger or cool my rising lust. Placing the now empty glass on the silver tray of a passing catering server, I crossed my arms over my chest as I leaned against the doorjamb.
The little minx was now doing her best to ignore me.
Her head was thrown back, and even over the annoying din of the surrounding party guests, the sound of her laughter reached me. It was too high-pitched and hollow as if she were forcing the sound past stiff, nervous lips. Some asshole in a cheap off-the-rack suit grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the makeshift dance floor set up in my parents’ spacious living room.
I didn’t recognize him but then I didn’t know many of the guests. I suspected neither did my little sister, Nadia, despite it being her eighteenth birthday party. Many would be high-profile businessmen with their wives as well as the occasional politician or policy maker. These were the people my family associated with in the light of day to help keep up the veneer of legitimacy.
My job in the Ivanov family was to associate with the types who only crawled out of their holes in the dead of night. I kept to the corners of fine society. Dark corners for doing dark deeds. It was how I had earned the moniker Demon Damien. If I showed up on someone's doorstep, there were no more second chances. It was game over.
I nodded a greeting to my brother Gregor. He stopped a server and gave them some quick instruction before approaching. Despite being separated by several years, we were thick as thieves, always had been. We stood silently surveying the crowd. The same server approached with an old-fashioned glass filled with clear liquid, only one small cube of ice. No doubt Stoli Elit, his favorite vodka. Although Russian to my very core, I never developed a taste for the stuff, preferring the rich malty flavor of scotch instead.
Gregor nodded toward the server. “You need another?”
I trained my gaze back on her.
The DJ was playing I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen.
Hey little girl is your daddy home; did he go and leave you all alone…
Ignoring her dance partner, her body swayed to the soft, somnolent beat. Each curve hugged by crushed pink velvet, the dress slinking all the way down to her ankles. No doubt a designer dress she’d stolen from some boutique. She turned her back on me and shifted her hips from side to side. The velvet fabric caught snatches of light, illuminating the gentle swell of her ass. Her slender arms rose and slipped under her thick curtain of hair, raising the long length to expose the vulnerable pale skin of her neck. I could just make out the image of a small pink heart tattooed in the center. Irrational anger twisted in my stomach at the thought of another man touching her in such an intimate place, even if it was only with a tattoo needle.
I shifted my stance, trying to ease the increasingly pleasurable pain below my belt.
The little minx was toying with me. Foolishly thinking this crowded house full of guests would protect her.
She played with fire.
Knowing I had better at least be mostly sober for the fight that was brewing between me and her, I shook my head and waved the server away.
The man she was dancing with placed his hand on her hip, and I stiffened. Fortunately — for both of them — she swayed in the opposite direction, dislodging his grasp. She did it so effortlessly there wasn’t a doubt in my mind she had had plenty of practice dodging unwanted grabs. My jaw clenched so hard I swore my back teeth cracked. I took a deep breath through my nose, forcing myself to remain calm.
“His name is Pavel Rasskovich,” offered Gregor. I didn't even bother to pretend to not know what he was talking about. “A low-level thug for the Novikoffs. He’s here as a bodyguard for one of the useless brothers.”
If he touched her again, he was a dead man.
I had no right to feel so possessive toward her. No right at all.
In fact, it was practically criminal. The girl was barely eighteen to my twenty-seven years.
Yelena Nikitina, my little sister’s best friend… and the very definition of trouble.
Stubborn and untamed, her father had let her run wild since her mother’s death with virtually no supervision or discipline.
There was the time eight years ago I’d caught her stealing a few silly makeup items from a local store. I had been home from college for the weekend. Her mother had just died, if I recall. She fought me like a wildcat when I snatched her by the arm after witnessing her pocketing the stolen loot. Her arm was so thin, I was worried I would break a bone if I squeezed too hard. She looked so small and vulnerable, but those big blue eyes still shone bright with defiance. Ignoring her protests, I had dragged her to the McDonald’s next door and bought her a Happy Meal.
She ate every bite as if it were her last meal. Or more accurately… her first.
It had made me sick to think that may have been the only half-way decent meal she had had in days. I'd made a mental note to have my parents speak with her father. He was a low-life hanger-on who occasionally did small jobs for my family. The sort of stuff we wouldn’t dirty our hands with. True to her nature, she’d stared me down the entire time, refusing to utter even a single word. She did, however, slip the small Hello Kitty toy that came with the meal into her pocket when she thought I wasn’t looking.
As I came back to the present, the same sick feeling twisted in my gut, but this time it was guilt. I'd spoken with my mother about Yelena’s welfare but that was as far as I'd taken it. Shortly after, Gregor got into that mess at his college and was shipped off to St. Petersburg. My life became more complicated with him gone. It was no excuse; simply the hard truth.
Still, I should have made sure my parents took an interest and looked after her.
I wasn’t technically responsible for her welfare but that wasn’t how I saw it.
I had let her down, abandoned her to the sloppy care of that piece of shit she called a father.
And now that little girl with the big blue eyes had grown into a woman — a young, still naive one — but nevertheless a woman.
And now she was in trouble — real trouble.
This time, I wouldn’t be able to pay off a simple shopkeeper and threaten him not to call the police.
She had gotten herself in deep with some ruthless people so dirty even my family refused to work with them.
Her only hope was for me to do what I should have done years ago.
I would let it be known she was under my protection.
I wasn’t sure even that would be enough to save her, but I’d be damned if I’d let her down again.
I would get her out of this mess and then send her far away. I’d lock her up in some European college where she would be safe from her own mistakes.
And from me.
There was no denying it. I wanted her, badly. My gaze hardened as I watched her body sway to the next song. Jealous of every undeserving man in the room who was witnessing her display. A display I was certain was done purely to antagonize me. I couldn’t say why. It wasn’t like I had spoken a word to her or even seen her in years. Just somehow, I knew she was as aware of me as I was of her. I could feel it, even across this distracting sea of chattering guests. A primal clash of wills.
Her soft hair fell in waves down her back. I itched to wrap the long locks around my fist as I claimed those full lips. I could practically feel the warmth of her skin and ached to inhale her scent as I crushed her to my chest. I needed to know if her eyes changed color when she was aroused. Would they become a deeper sapphire blue?
Clearing my throat, I forced myself to look away.
She was my little sister’s friend and barely an adult.
This was wrong.
If I was truly going to save her, then it had to also be from myself. While I might be a better man than her father, it was only by a few degrees.
My life revolved around blood money. Selling arms to the highest bidder with no thought to who or what that man or country may be and not having the slightest care regarding their intentions. I wasn’t the one pulling the trigger, so I didn’t give a damn what they did with the guns I sold them. I never had a choice about entering the family business so there was no point in being morally judgmental about it. It was better to accept it and move on; after all, family was family, and they came first.
I didn’t have a choice, but I would make sure Yelena did.
She wasn’t like us. Her family didn’t have an empire to protect. She could escape this life if she chose. And even if she didn’t choose, I was choosing for her. She deserved better. I had the money to buy her a decent life… one away from me and all this violence and bullshit.
Glancing at my brother, I asked, “Have you seen Samara yet?”
He shook his head.
Speaking of family bullshit, my brother was being forced into an arranged marriage with our little sister’s other close friend, Samara Federova. Unlike Yelena, Samara’s family did have an empire. One they sold her to protect. It wasn’t my brother’s idea. It had been our father’s dying wish, one Gregor would see through no matter his feelings on the subject. His unenviable responsibility as the eldest son. Family was family. The millions Samara’s father demanded for her hand in marriage was paltry compared to the business and diplomatic connections we would receive once the Ivanov family was joined in marriage to the Federovs.
Gregor reached into his pocket and pulled out a Regius Double Corona cigar. They were the finest cigars in the world. Like me, he always demanded the best. It was part of the golden handcuffs which kept us tethered to this lifestyle. The luxury our ill-gotten gains afforded us had a rather seductive pull.
“I’m going to escape out the back and have a smoke. You coming?”
I shook my head.
Gregor followed my gaze as I once more watched Yelena on the dance floor. “When are you going to take care of that little situation we learned about today?”
Gregor was of course aware of the trouble Yelena had caused a few days ago. He had planned to handle the situation himself, but I insisted on taking ownership of the problem.
Just because I was forcing myself not to touch her — to claim her for my own — didn’t mean she wasn’t mine. In some strange way, I felt responsible for her. Her problems were my problems. “Soon.”
Gregor nodded as he took another sip of his drink. Laying it on a nearby tray, he nodded to me again and slipped through the crowd.
I returned my attention to Yelena.
Another man in a cheap suit had grabbed her from behind, wrapping his fat arms around her slim middle.
All my previous good intentions were gone.
Fuck my good intentions.
Someone with my black soul had no business having good intentions anyway.
Yelena was mine and right now that asshole was touching her, which meant he had to die.
I stormed toward the dance floor… and her.
“We’re going to get caught!”
Ignoring the warning, my boyfriend tugged harder on my arm.
The clatter of music and laughter from the party faded the farther Peter pulled me down the dark corridor. When I glanced back, I could just make out a shaft of light as it stretched across the marble tiled entrance to the great hall. The servants had moved the ancient furnishings out and rolled the Persian carpets up to make room for the celebration. Hired catering staff dressed in ill-fitting tuxedo jackets passed around silver trays with either caviar canapés or glasses of Veuve Clicquot while everyone smiled and pretended to like one another.
From where it was tucked away on a thickly wooded lot along the Rock Creek Parkway, visitors could be forgiven if they thought they’d arrived at a creepy gothic manor. My friend Nadia’s massive granite house was probably over a hundred years ago.
The estate screamed old money and tradition, even though it was far from the truth.
It was only what they wanted people to think.
Instead, it was all just smoke and mirrors.
But I wasn’t allowed to talk about such things.
Peter’s warm hand was sweaty as it roughly clung to mine. As he dragged me down the shadowed labyrinth of hallways, he stopped before each threshold, twisting one doorknob after another to see if they were locked. Soon, the muted rattle of metal against wood and Peter’s soft curses replaced the music. Before long, he found a door the servants had neglected to secure. We slipped inside, and Peter softly clicked the door shut.
The room was mostly dark, only hints of moonlight filtering through the gauzy silver curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows.
We didn’t dare turn on a light.
I took a few careful steps inside, not wanting to bump into any furniture. Although I had played in my best friend Nadia’s house since I was a child, I hadn’t been paying attention, so I wasn’t sure which room Peter had pulled us into. I knew the first floor on this side of the house mostly contained a mixture of bedrooms, gaming areas, and offices.
A distinct scent clung to the air, the unmistakable mark of the room’s occupant.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled.
It was a warm woodsy scent with a hint of ginger and spice.
My eyes snapped open.
I knew that scent.
“We have to leave.”
Clasping Peter’s forearm in a tight grip, I bent my knees and tugged, throwing my weight backward. “Please, Peter. We can’t stay in this room!”
My slight frame was not enough to budge him.
“No. All the other rooms are locked. Besides…” He snatched me around the waist, then yanked me against his chest. “This one has a bed.”
Peering over Peter’s shoulder, I widened my eyes as I could just make out the ominous outline of the four-poster bed.
That was his bed.
Clawing at Peter’s fingers, I freed myself from his hold.
I had to get out of here!
“No, Peter. You don’t understand!”
I couldn’t be caught in this bedroom.
In his bedroom.
Of course, I should have known he would be here tonight.
It was Nadia’s eighteenth birthday, after all.
It had been five years since I had last seen him, but it didn’t matter.
Ten years… hell, twenty years could pass and it still wouldn’t matter.
I would still be terrified of him.
I wasn’t sure why I was nervous.
It wasn’t like he cared--if he even knew who I was.
I had stopped myself from asking Nadia if he would be attending her birthday party at least a million times.
Because it didn’t matter.
If I kept telling myself that, it might actually be true. It had to be true. Besides, I had my own life now. I even had a boyfriend. I wasn’t that foolish little girl with a crush. Not anymore.
But that scent.
Bleu de Chanel.
The unmistakable scent of him.
Goose bumps rose on my arms.
He was here.
Pivoting on my heel, I clamored in the darkness for the doorknob, desperate to return to the party. Back to the music and light and dancing, to people and laughter… and safety.
As soon as I managed to open the door a sliver, it was wrenched from my hands and slammed shut.
Peter took hold of my shoulders, spun me around, and pushed me against the door.
“You’re such a fucking cock tease.”
The dim lighting threw his face into shadows, contorting his features into harsh lines. His breath had the fetid yeast smell of stale beer from the drink he’d stolen from the bar before the party began.
“What? Why would you—” Confusion scrambled my thoughts.
He clawed at the neckline of my dress, tearing it.
His palmed my breast, ruthlessly squeezing it. My eyes teared at the searing jolt of pain.
“The saintly Federovs and their virginal daughter. Your family thinks they are so much better than everyone else,” he jeered as he forced his knee between my thighs.
Digging my nails into his wrist, I struggled to break free. “Let me go!”
“I’m tired of hand jobs and dry humps. Come on, Samara,” he whined as he down crowded closer and tried to kiss me.
I stretched my head to the side, avoiding his lips. My mind could not keep up with Peter’s crazy display of emotions. Angry one second, but pleading the next. I knew he wasn’t happy with my decision not to go all the way, but he was insane if he thought I was going to have sex with him at my friend’s birthday party with my mother and father just down the hall.
Craning my neck, I kept pulling on his arm, trying to dislodge his painful grip on my breast.
“Peter, get off me!”
His free hand went for the zipper of his jeans. “I’ll be quick. I’ll even pull out, so you won’t get pregnant.”
This isn’t happening.
Although we could never talk about Nadia’s family business, I knew security guards always patrolled the grounds. Maybe if I cried out, I’d get lucky and one would be in earshot and come help me. With the loud music, there was no chance of anyone from the party hearing me. As I opened my mouth to scream, there was the soft shush of a sliding door opening. The cool rush of midnight air brought with it the acrid scent of cigar smoke.
Peter released his grasp, whirling around.
We both stared as the immense dark figure of a man stalked in from the stone patio running along the northside of the bedroom.
It was him.
Nadia’s older brother.
In the barely lit room, he was still deep in shadows, but I knew it was him.
My gaze followed the glowing end of the cigar he must have been smoking outside.
Without saying a word, he stepped inside and leaned against the front of the desk. He took another slow drag from his cigar; the end glowing brightly like an evil, all-seeing eye. When he exhaled, a halo of sweet tobacco smoke encircled him. With slow deliberation, Gregor set the cigar aside, slid open a side drawer… and withdrew a revolver.
My hand flew up to cover my mouth.
Peter shifted behind me.
When Gregor’s chilly voice finally broke the tense silence, my body started at the sound.
“Were you aware that Russians did not invent Russian roulette?”
Flicking the chamber open, he reached into the drawer a second time, then raised his arm. The bright casing of a single bullet caught the moonlight.
“An American author made it up for a short story,” Gregor continued as he slid the bullet into the revolver chamber with a click.
“Who is this guy?” Peter whispered over my shoulder.
“Shut up,” I hissed through clenched teeth, afraid to even move my lips. My body tensed so tightly it felt like brittle glass. I was sure the slightest loud sound or sudden movement would make me shatter.
Gregor straightened to his full height.
Peter and I both gasped, stumbling a few steps backward.
“Still, everyone believes it must be true. Probably because we Russians are so crazy, no?” Gregor said as he took several steps toward us.
Peter’s fingers dug into my shoulders as he pushed me forward.
My fingers turned to ice as all the feeling left my body. My tongue felt heavy when I tried to form my next words. “Gregor, it’s… Samara, I’m Nadia’s—”
“I know who you are, Samara.”
My heart lurched at the sound of my name on his lips—at the seductive way he softly rounded the r.
Despite both of our families living in America now, Gregor had been sent back to Russia just over five years ago because of some hastily covered up scandal at his college. So his accent was thicker, giving his voice a decadent darkness that was almost mesmerizing.
My brow furrowed. How could he know who I was? The last time I’d been around him, I was nothing more than his little sister’s awkward friend, barely thirteen years old. He hadn’t known I was alive.
Without warning, Gregor reached out and snatched Peter by the collar, dragging him out from behind me. Peter’s gangly limbs flailed as Gregor manhandled him across the room. He tossed the man into a chair in front of the cold fireplace.
Placing his hands on the armrests, Peter immediately tried to get up. When Gregor raised the gun, Peter fell back onto the seat. His high-pitched voice broke as he stuttered, “We didn’t mean to come into your room.”
Gregor cut his grey gaze toward me.
I hugged myself around the waist, trying to stop my body from trembling. His steely eyes surveyed me from head to toe.
He took a step forward.
With a gasp, I stumbled backward. I couldn’t help it.
As much as the man enthralled me…
He terrified me more.
Except now, he was even bigger and scarier with way more tattoos. Even in the darkened bedroom, I could make out the outline of an image on his neck and several more on his hands, making the tailored suit he wore a mockery of civility. The man radiated dark energy and barely leashed anger.
His eyes narrowed. I could tell my reaction displeased him.
Switching the gun to his left hand, he kept it trained on Peter. After giving him a warning look, Gregor returned his attention to me. He raised his right arm.
Instinctively, I moved back again. The hard look on his face stilled me. After holding my gaze long enough to freeze the blood in my veins, his eyes lowered to the torn neckline of my dress.
Glancing down, it mortified me to see the top of my pink lace bra exposed. Despite the low lighting, you could already see the beginning of a bruise on my soft flesh from Peter’s rough handling.
Using two fingers, Gregor pulled aside the fabric, exposing more of my skin to his gaze. Using just the tip of his middle finger, he caressed the outline of the bruise. I hissed in air through my teeth when he touched a particularly sensitive spot.
His jaw tightened. The steel of his eyes turned to molten fire.
Turning his head, he looked at Peter as he cocked back the hammer.
Peter’s eyes widened as he threw up his hands in pitiful defense. “No!”
His plea fell on deaf ears.
Without saying a word, Gregor pulled the trigger.
SPECIAL .99C PREORDER PRICE!
💋 𝗕𝗨𝗬 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗕𝗢𝗢𝗞 𝗛𝗘𝗥𝗘! → https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08LCTZTJ3
💋 ADD TO YOUR TBR LIST! → https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55781322-savage-vow
“So you just knocked on a strange man’s door in the middle of the night? Do you have any idea what could have happened to you? A little girl like you all alone? Unprotected!” he raged as he swallowed the contents of his glass before slamming it down onto the counter so hard I heard the crystal crack.
Was he serious?
Forgetting all about my fear, my humiliation and my naked state, I rose onto my knees. “You!” I accused, pointing a finger at him, “You happened to me! And it wasn’t in the middle of the night!” I finished petulantly, my lower lip sticking out as I put my hands on my hips.
He moved so swiftly I didn’t have a chance to escape.
Wrapping his fist in my curls, he wrenched my head back as he pulled me against his warm body. Aware of my naked breasts brushing against the dark hair on his chest, my heart thumped wildly.
His black eyes narrowed as his lips twisted into a sneer. “And what were you going to do, детка? Beg him prettily on your knees for the money?” The angrier he got, the thicker his Russian accent became. His voice was nothing but a low guttural growl to my untrained ears, but I understood enough.
With a cry of rage, my arm flew up, ready to slap him and damn the consequences.
A vice snapped around my thin wrist. In one smooth move, he had my arm locked behind my back.
“Perhaps I should make you beg me for the money?”
My vision blurred.
“Would you do that, детка, my sweet little baby girl. Would you get on your knees and open that beautiful mouth for me?”
My body’s reaction to his dark threat was nothing short of sick and twisted. I felt the rush of heat between my legs. I clenched my thighs at the thought of being submissively prostrate in front of this dangerously powerful man. My mouth open and begging for his… his… oh, God! Heat rose on my cheeks as the wanton image played behind my eyes.
Without thinking, my tongue darted out to wet my lips.
Pressed close to his chest, I felt the vibrations from his growl.
His other arm swept against my upper thighs just under my ass as he lifted me off the bed. Carrying me before him, he strode across the room. Pressing my hands against his shoulders, I squirmed in his embrace. “Where are you taking me?”
Add to your TBR Here! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55009635-sweet-cruelty