I’d been fascinated with hunting predators for a long time, perhaps the majority of my life. The thrill was definitely in the chase; blood pumping through my veins, my heart racing as the poor creature finally realized what fate had in store for him. Even the sharp cries as he begged for his life weren’t nearly as annoying as I’d thought they would be. However, there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the whites of a man’s eyes the split second before I pulled the trigger.
Some would say I lived a glorious life, free from the ramifications of my actions given my penchant for staying under the radar. However, there was always danger lurking in the shadows, someone else trained with the same skills I’d perfected ready to shorten my life.
Chuckling, I adjusted the cuffs on my shirt as I walked into the building.
Having been here twice before, I’d known what to expect, the all glass and marble setting befitting the area of New York City. At least the bastard who was attempting to hire me had good taste, even though his expensive office had been paid for by blood money. Still, I preferred working with someone of wealth given the payment I had no problem demanding.
No matter how they’d earned the cash.
This was the second job for the Ivanov Crime Syndicate I’d performed, the first one going off without a hitch. My reputation was solid in the industry. I was brutal, savage, and unrelenting.
I’d also been booked solid for several months prior, unable to handle Viktor Ivanov’s last request. I often laughed at the thought of a powerful mafia organization being forced to use a hitman to eliminate their enemies instead of tasking someone from within their ranks.
Perhaps they just preferred keeping their streets devoid of bloodshed.
I buttoned my jacket before pressing the button on the elevator. When the doors opened, the stream of lovely ladies likely leaving for lunch was a breath of fresh air. And the way several of them responded to seeing a massive beast standing in wait to catch a ride made my cock twitch. However, I wasn’t here to select a flavor of the day. I’d already moved into business mode, hoping the job in question would only take a few days.
For the first time in well over three years, I was tired of being on the go all the time. Maybe I needed an actual vacation. Sadly, I had no details other than the situation was urgent. As I waited for the ping, I thought about the payment I’d been offered. I would have to see if two point five million was enough to keep me interested. I never knew what to expect until the actual details were laid down.
As I walked down the hallway, I smiled at the one soldier standing guard at the entrance to the bogus company Viktor had established. If I knew all about the fake walls hiding a combination of party favors and money from their drug running activities, the authorities had to know as well.
In my opinion, Viktor was being stupid. Or maybe just arrogant. Oh, hell. Who was I to judge? I was just the hired assassin.
“Sir,” the soldier said then opened the door. Well, at least the bulky mass of a human being had manners.
I was led to Viktor’s office, although I remembered every detail about the building, my photographic memory coming into play more often than I would have thought given my profession.
“Here you are, Mr. Pumpkin. He’s waiting for you.”
“Thank you, Molly,” I said as I offered her a smile and a wink. Real names were never used through correspondences, although I had no issue telling a mark exactly who I was. The asshole should know who was ending their life, sending them to the same place they’d come from.
As I opened the door, I took a deep breath, remaining quiet. There was no need for formalities. We would never be friends. I would never sit down over a blood-rare filet or a glass of scotch.
“You truly are the best, Dominik,” Viktor said after a few seconds.
“That’s what I’ve heard.” He was usually more direct, often barking at me when I refused to accept his generous offer.
“I also know you have no scruples, even for a Russian.” He laughed after saying the words, his accent unusually heavy. I also noticed he held a glass in his hand. It was early in the day for whiskey, even for him.
“I have my limitations, yes.” What was he getting at?
He turned around, moving slowly toward his small bar. “Would you like a drink?”
“Not at this time of day, Viktor. I don’t think I need to remind you that I’m a busy man.”
I was shocked at his reaction, his face turning beet red as he slammed his hand onto the bar, sending two unused glasses over the edge. When they shattered, he snarled, cursing in Russian under his breath. The man was known as the Ice King, almost emotionless. Something had rattled him.
“And I don’t think I need to tell you who is going to pay your exorbitant salary,” he countered.
I walked closer, offering a smile. “Perhaps you need to find someone else.” I turned swiftly, taking long strides toward the door. There was no way I was going to handle his temper tantrums.
“You are the best for a reason, Dominik. I need someone without a soul. You are that man.”
While I suspected the brutal Russian was actually giving me a compliment, I snorted at the thought. Maybe I was soulless. “What is the job, Viktor?” I heard him shifting something across his desk. As with the majority of my clients, there was never any footprint anywhere for the feds to find. Paper was easily destroyed.
I moved closer to his desk, yanking the plain manila file into my hand. When I opened it, I couldn’t have been more surprised. I’d been asked to terminate several scumbags who were nothing more than killers themselves. I hadn’t lost a minute of sleep in doing so. There was good and evil in the world. While the majority of people would consider me one of the latter, there were far worse.
This was something else entirely. “What’s the story?”
“The story is the fucker betrayed my family. Mine. Because of that, I could go to jail. As you might imagine, I have to be extremely careful. The feds are watching every move I make. I believe you can understand why I need you for this job. If the money isn’t enough, we can make arrangements.”
I took a deep breath, studying the paperwork again. Everything appeared in order. “All right, Viktor. You and I have a deal. I will need a fifty percent wire transfer tonight before I begin.”
“You will have it, Dominik, and I appreciate your help on this matter.”
The man was far too edgy, his odd behavior raising a red flag. I would make one last stop before leaving town, the informant likely able to provide additional details. I never liked to walk into any situation blindly. My gut told me Ivanov was hiding something.
After eyeing him carefully, I moved toward the door. As soon as I placed my fingers on the handle, I heard his gruff voice once again.
“If you fuck this up, Dominik, I will cut your balls off myself and shove them down your throat. I hope I make that clear.”
He’d issued a threat. In doing so, he’d just terminated any thought of a future transaction.
No one threatened me, not for any reason.
He’d just played a hand that would come back to haunt him. I’d handle another mark for free before going on vacation.
I grinned as I headed for the elevator. I was nothing more than a brutal savage after all.
I was being hunted.
Like an animal.
There was no doubt that a predator had been let loose, scouring the countryside, searching every dark crevice. He would find me and when he did, I would take my last breath.
However, I wouldn’t go down without a fight.
“Come on. Come on.” My whisper wasn’t meant for anyone else to hear. I hated waiting in line, especially tonight. I shifted my attention to the massive set of all glass in the front of the convenience store, shifting from foot to foot as I stared toward the ugly motel. What little I thought I could purchase seemed heavy in my arms, although there wasn’t enough for any kind of nourishment.
When the customer in front of me finally left, I literally dumped the items on the counter, taking several shallow breaths. I was freezing to death, forgetting to bring a coat with me. As if that would have done any good. Fear was the reason. A cold shiver skated down my spine as the gum-chewing twenty-year-old stared at me like I was an alien with wings.
“If we can hurry it up,” I managed, loathing the attention she was giving me. I bit my lower lip to keep from whimpering, terror never far from the front of my mind. The food would have to do for a little while. Maybe it was enough.
The clerk started to ring up the items, darting glances in my direction every so often. “That’ll be fourteen dollars and fifteen cents.”
“What?” I jerked my head up, glaring at her with what I knew had to be eyes filled with venom. She opened hers wide and took a step back, obviously terrified of the crazy woman standing in front of her. “I thought it was maybe thirteen. That’s all I have.”
“Then you’re going to need to put something back. Sorry.”
Right. The young girl was sorry? She had no idea what that meant or what fear smelled and tasted like. She’d probably never gone hungry a damn day in her life. I almost broke down, hating the fact a single tear had slipped past my lashes. I took a gasping breath, struggling to find the right thing to put back on the shelves. Everything was needed. Milk. Yogurt. Some cheese. I eyed the single request, some potato chips, the price outrageous in my mind. Then I shoved the items in her direction. “Here. That should do it.”
She took her damn sweet time backing off the price of the chips, taking my wad of cash slowly. I stole another look at the door. I’d spent far too much time getting what was needed. Damn it. I heard her grabbing a bag and shoving the items into it.
“There you go.”
I literally yanked it from her hand, fighting to keep myself from racing toward the door. Just before I walked outside, I realized she’d added the bag of chips as well as two precious, amazing, and wonderful candy bars. I gave her a look over my shoulder as well as a respectful nod.
She smiled in return, even lifting her hand to wave at me.
Maybe there were some good people left on this damn planet.
I hurried across the broken pavement toward the motel, taking gasping breaths. Please. Please. Make everything all right. I’ll do anything you ask for the rest of my life.
As I picked up my step, another cold shiver swept through me. I stopped briefly, turning my head toward the darkened street.
The monster remained in the shadows.
I took a deep breath as I watched her in the small store. Even from where I sat in my vehicle, I could tell she was nervous by the way she shifted from one foot to another. I’d spent two days hunting her down, two days too many as far as I was concerned. I had to admit, for a woman of her background, she’d done a damn good job at hiding. She’d left New York within minutes of walking out of the police station, far too quickly for Ivanov’s men to intervene.
Even the informant had been surprised, although he knew nothing else that seemed to matter. I hadn’t been able to take the time to really grill him.
What had surprised me was that the woman hadn’t been protected on any level during the time she’d spent with the authorities, at least not that I’d been able to tell. There’d been no off-duty guards or police assholes following her home either. That’s why she’d been able to vanish without anyone knowing.
Sadly, her days of running had come to an end. I enjoyed doing my job the majority of the time and I was very good at it. However, I hated the mark I’d been given. She was a woman after all. To me, they were precious gifts from God above. While I knew all about her atrocities, I didn’t like the price she would be forced to pay.
But I wasn’t in any kind of position to ask questions or make demands. Besides, I made a damn good living by being an assassin. Still, I’d wanted to carve a knife into Ivanov’s face after he’d given me the assignment, laughing at me when I’d hesitated. The old bastard would have his day with me at some point.
When she came out of the store, I checked the rearview mirror one last time to make certain she hadn’t hooked up with anyone else. I also made certain there wasn’t anyone else with prying eyes. The last thing I needed was a freaking bystander to deal with. I didn’t like when things got messy.
I was surprised when she stopped short, turning her head in my direction. Although I knew I’d positioned my vehicle in the darkest portion of the crappy parking lot, I could swear the woman was staring directly into my eyes. At least since she’d stopped under the light, I was able to see her features clearly.
After she started walking once again, I grabbed the file I’d been given, using a small penlight to study her features on the glossy photo. There was no mistake.
The woman walking away was Hope Gracen, former accountant for the Ivanov Crime Syndicate.
Soon to be a dead woman.
She was even wearing the dress as in the picture, the one she’d worn the last time she’d visited the prosecutor’s office. Interesting.
I eased out of the car, shutting the door with as little noise as possible. There would be no time for her to scream, no ability for her to beg for help. I’d simply put a bullet into her brain, securing my payment. Then I’d get the hell out of the game for a while.
Darkness was my friend, especially when it was after one in the morning. The small town was also helpful in keeping unwanted witnesses from possibly identifying me. To date, not a single person had been able to do so.
Taking long strides, I was almost surprised she was headed for the seedy motel, although very little surprised me any longer. When she was within a few yards of the side of the main building, I attacked, able to wrap a hand around her mouth then jerking her against me.
She instantly dropped the small bag, screaming into my palm. The woman was a fighter. I’d give her that. Without a single second of hesitation, she smashed her elbow into my chest, followed by a hard kick to my shin.
While I’d endured the kind of agony that the majority of people couldn’t tolerate, her actions gave me enough of a jolt that she managed to break away.
But only by two steps before I snapped my arm around her lovely throat, cutting off her air supply as I pulled her against me for the second time. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Hope.”
She continued struggling, although some of the fight had gone out of her. When she grabbed my arm, digging her nails into my jacket, I eased back on my hold.
“Please. Don’t. Do. This.” Her cries had no real effect on me.
I yanked her further into the darkness, toward the bank of trees flanking the entire property. The little vixen did everything in her power to fight me. She’d been given some serious training in protection, her strength and agility more aggressive than the majority of males I’d hunted before. But I wasn’t a man who had any patience. Her antics were already getting on my nerves.
After twisting her body, Hope used her fist, managing to punch me in the throat. That hurt like a son of a bitch. Now I was pissed. By all rights I should simply end the situation, but there was something almost magical about this woman. She had such a will to live that I had to wonder why. She wasn’t hysterical, screaming to the top of her lungs. She’d gotten over the shock factor, determined to save her life.
“Get off me,” she hissed, jerking out of my hold completely.
What the hell? I was losing my touch.
I was too busy admiring her form to notice the fact she’d reared back, cold cocking me with enough force I was pummeled backward by two feet. Jesus Christ.
She wasted no time, taking off and running deeper into the woods. Where the hell did she think she was going? There was nothing but woods and darkness as well as wild animals. I shook my head, the slight ringing in my ears providing the first smile I’d had in one hell of a long time.
Within seconds, I fisted my hand around her hair, the remaining light from the orange and fuchsia blinking neon sign allowing me to catch sight of her with ease. As I pulled her against me for the last time, I was finally able to smell her fear. “You’re one feisty woman and quite difficult to find. That must mean you have a guilty mind.”
“Fuck you. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Such nasty words for such a beautiful woman.”
“Screw you. You’re just another lowlife hired gun, an animal and nothing more.”
The second she elbowed me again, I determined I’d had enough of the bullshit. It was time to finish the job. When she issued a single sob, something odd came over me, a tingling sensation I’d never experienced in my entire professional career. Perhaps that was the reason that I’d let my guard down once again, loosening my hold.
Hope took that to her advantage, breaking free, even though strands of her hair were left on my fingers.
I wanted her down and I needed her to stay down. What I did next was something I would question for some time to come. I pitched her against a tree, placing my hand around her throat.
It was obvious she was floored, a series of ragged breaths escaping her mouth but nothing else. The moment she started screaming, I crushed my mouth over hers. My entire body was ignited by a fire I didn’t know could exist, my cock aching to be inside of her. It made no sense, but as I thrust my tongue inside, all I could think about was my carnal desires.
She wiggled, refusing to give in, slamming her hands against my chest. But as her tongue swept against mine, I sensed her unwanted arousal. Her ragged screams turned into moans, her hips undulating against me. I was a dangerous man, one with no conscience whatsoever. I’d never felt any guilt or second guessed my method of performing my job.
However, this was entirely different. This was personal. I slid my hand down her side, crawling my fingers under her dress. She clawed my shirt, pitching her body but that only fueled the growing fire. When I slipped my fingers under the thin elastic of her panties, her body stiffened.
I was completely aroused, my cock aching to the point I felt actual pain. I found it difficult to breathe as I fingered her clit, swirling the tip around her tender tissue. Her moans increased and I couldn’t stop my actions. The second I thrust a single finger inside, she arched her back, the scent of her feminine wiles filtering into my nostrils. There was no way she could be turned on by a monster. I added a second finger, plunging in and out. I knew I could bring her to an orgasm within seconds.
A part of me wanted to fuck her, but even I wasn’t that kind of man. I concentrated on what I was doing, realizing she was no longer struggling, only sagging against the tree for support, her shoulders heaving, her moans like sweet music.
You’re a killer. That’s all you are. Do your damn job.
The heat and electricity building between us only added fuel to the kind of fire I’d shoved aside for years. When I finally broke the kiss, I took deep breaths. I kept my hand wrapped around her throat, prepared to silence her again if necessary.
“I was forced to do it,” she whispered in the darkness.
The few little words broke me of my spell. “Yeah? Well, I didn’t see anyone putting a gun to your head, Hope.”
“You just don’t understand. I had no choice.”
Backing away, I watched as she pressed her hands down the front of her dress. If I spent any additional time with her, I knew I would find it more difficult to accomplish my task. Huffing, I shook my head to clear it, pulling my weapon into my hand.
She took a step forward, her lower lip quivering, but I could see defiance in her eyes. How the hell was that even possible?
“Turn around,” I commanded, taking several deep breaths as I checked the silencer.
“No.” She stood taller, glaring me in the eyes. “If you’re going to kill me then you’re going to have to look into my eyes.”
“I suggest you follow my orders, Hope. I could make this extremely painful for you.”
“But you won’t. I can tell somewhere deep inside you have some good qualities.”
She had to be kidding me.
I cocked my head, lifting my eyebrows. She really thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I backed away another step, lifting my arm, loathing the fact my cock was still rock hard. When I hesitated, she took that as a sign of weakness, lunging toward me and smacking both hands against my chest before taking off running.
The woman had managed to get under my skin, something that hadn’t occurred in years. While she’d only gotten a few seconds of a head start, by the time I took off running after her, she’d made it to the back edge of the motel. What I couldn’t understand is why the hell she wasn’t sprinting toward the little store for protection as well as to call the police.
When she rounded the corner toward the motel, I realized she had some help. That pissed me off. She’d been playing me. Unfortunately, there was going to be another body to deal with. I’d been forced to do so before. I would do it again.
I made it around the corner, able to see which room she’d gone into. I took my time, scanning the parking lot before approaching. With a single kick of my foot, I easily made it inside.
Hope met me just inside the door, the single light on in the room allowing me to catch a really good look at her face. Now I was able to see the utter terror in her eyes.
There was no concept of second chances in my profession, or with the crime syndicate she’d decided to betray. I closed the door behind me then held my weapon in both hands.
Then everything changed when I heard the sound of his voice.
“Mommy. I’m hungry.”