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 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!”
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.
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.”