“You don’t want to do this,” I managed, choking on the words as soon as I’d said them. Of course he wanted to end my life. I’d betrayed him in the worst way possible.
“Moy krasivyy, greshnyy malen’kiy krapivnik.”
My beautiful, sinful little wren.
There was rage as well as sadness in his deep voice, but I sensed he was close to a dangerous edge. I wouldn’t survive.
I’d also stolen from him, a cardinal sin in any language. but in his, punishment was issued by way of death warrant. While nothing of value, at least not in the world of such a powerful, dangerous man, it had been precious to him, to me as well. What I’d taken had been very personal. I’d managed to crawl past his thick armor, gaining his trust.
There was also so much more.
Was it possible the brutal Russian could remember his love for me?
“Why is that, Savannah?”
“Because it’s not you. You’re not a killer.” I shifted in the chair, keeping my eyes on him the entire time. I’d never seen him so angry, the terrifying gleam in his eyes keeping me shivering. I twisted my bound wrists, my skin chafed from the thick rope. The harsh burn was nothing like the terror that had swept through me the moment I realized he’d learned the truth.
The smile on his face had faded, the ice blue of his eyes changing color. And his features had hardened as he’d studied me.
“That’s where you’re wrong. You don’t know me very well at all, my beautiful little bird. I once told you I’m a very bad man,” he said quietly as he turned to face me. “Unfortunately, you’ll soon learn exactly what I meant. You lied to me. You betrayed me. Why?”
I couldn’t tell him the truth. “I had no choice.”
“We always have a choice, my beautiful little wren. Now, your choices belong to me. Whether you live or die, experience pain or pleasure. You are mine from now until the end of time.”
As he yanked me off the chair, wrapping his hand around my throat, I gasped. He pushed me against the wall, holding me in place as he lowered his head. “The things I still want to do to you. Would you like that? Do you crave my rough touch, the way I make your body feel?”
I couldn’t stop shuddering, my mind a blur. I wanted him. I needed him.
He knew it.
As he pushed himself against me, I wanted to shove him away, but even if I weren’t bound, he’d know I wasn’t capable.
“Yes,” I managed.
“Damn you. Damn you for making me do this.” Anger flowed through every syllable, his face twisting in rage, but everything we’d shared hadn’t been a lie and he knew it.
His hot breath tickled my skin, his closeness exciting me as it had always done from the first moment we’d met. I couldn’t stop shaking and as he dragged the tip of his tongue along the line of my ear, sliding it into the shell, I trembled all over. He had no recourse but to kill me, ridding himself of the traitor.
Just like his father had faced, betrayed by someone he’d trusted.
I was sick inside, but as I tried to hate him, both my body and heart had something else in mind.
“Please what? Have mercy? Do you deserve it after what you did?”
He brushed his lips across mine, drinking my essence. I arched my back involuntarily, longing to be closer. As he fisted my hair, pulling me into a kiss, the taste of him had never been sweeter. I was lost in the moment, almost pretending that we weren’t enemies. As he swept his tongue inside, images of what we’d shared rushed into my mind, spilling over into my senses. I could feel every moment of passion we’d shared, every darkness that he’d introduced me to.
Pain so intense that I’d thought I’d lose my mind.
Pleasure so extreme that I finally learned the true meaning of ecstasy.
He controlled me. My wants. My needs. Every emotion.
Yet I’d broken through too many layers, exposing the man underneath, and he hated me for that most of all.
And still, I loved him.
“The things I will do to you,” he added, the gruffness of his voice keeping my pussy aching. He rolled his other hand down my neck, following his dancing fingers with aggressive kisses, finally biting my lower lip until he drew blood. Then he raked his hand down my dress, ripping it into with ease.
I couldn’t make a sound, even if anyone could hear me. As he yanked the two parts aside, my body betrayed me all over again, shoving aside the anger and fear, leaving only desire in its wake. He took a deep breath, issuing a dark, furious growl before twisting his finger around the thin elastic of my panties, snapping his wrist. I defied him as I’d done so many times, refusing to show him any fear.
Maybe that’s because I didn’t believe he wanted to hurt me. There was too much emotion between us. He took a step away, allowing his gaze to fall. “Why?”
I closed my eyes. There wasn’t an answer that would soothe the beast. “Because I had no choice.”
“As I said, we always have a choice.”
He’d continually used the same words I’d thrown at him before, and I cringed inside.
“Do you want me, little wren? Do you hunger to have my cock thrust deep inside?”
“Yes. Yes…” Why lie? He’d only know it like he now knew almost everything else about me.
“Mmmm…” He squeezed my breast, taking his time to pinch my nipple between his thumb and forefinger. “Perhaps I’ll indulge you one more time, but not before you’re punished.” He pulled me away, shoving me onto the bed, shoving the remnants of my dress aside then yanking my arms up over my head.
I didn’t dare move. There was nowhere to go, no place I could run to for safety. I was his prisoner.
And he was mine.
As he pulled the belt from his trousers, his eyes never left me. There was such hunger in them, a brutal fix that only I could fill. My body. My kiss. My touch.
After he rolled me over, I closed my eyes, holding my breath as he snapped the leather strap against the floor. When I sensed him right behind me, I fisted my fingers around the comforter, opening my legs wider without command.
Because of him.
Because of us.
Fear and desire coursed through me and as I looked over my shoulder, I was still captivated by the man who’d driven me away from the light.
And I wanted him. God help me but I did.
As he exhaled, twisting the belt in his hand, his dazzling eyes pierced me once again. There was no anger in them, just resolution.
Without hesitation, he brought the belt down several times in rapid succession, the pain blinding. Within seconds, I was released from a sense of anguish, floating into a sublime state, just as he’d taught me was possible. I sucked back a cry, biting my lip until I tasted the blood he’d drawn. As he took several ragged breaths, I rested my cheek against the covers, finding a way to smile. Maybe this was our destiny after all.
I took several gasping breaths, fighting the tears that threatened to give away my emotions. He was brutal in his actions, adding strike after strike, every action methodical.
I couldn’t stop shaking, the ache in my stomach worse than any round of discipline.
He brought the strap down several more times, the heat and agony building to a precipice. When he stopped, peering down at me, his shifted his eyes back and forth and rolled his fingers from one side to the other. Then he tossed the strap aside, reaching down and fisting my hair. As he yanked my head at an awkward angle, he crawled onto the bed, leaning down.
His whisper was harsh, filled with coldness, but the heat of his body was not to be denied.
“Prepare to give up your old life, Savannah. You belong to me in every way. You always have.”
We’d once shared so much, passion that knew no bounds. But I’d crossed a line, one that I couldn’t recover from even if I was saved.
Now there was nothing left but sorrow for either one of us.
Two weeks earlier
The footage was clear. There was no sense in denying the obvious any longer.
“Fuck, boss. The informant was right,” Ricardo Diaz said from behind me. He was a loyal member of the Bratva, a good friend, but I’d never considered him family and it had nothing to do with the fact he’d been born and raised in Puerto Rico.
The man in the video I’d considered a brother, someone I could look up to and count on as I’d earned my stripes in preparation for taking over from my uncle. I said nothing at first, but my rage increased as the video continued to roll. Watching the man I’d admired for his loyalty to the organization spill his guts to the Feds was enough to turn my stomach.
In the world of the Bratva, there was no right or wrong, just destruction when necessary, bloody violence that painted the streets in crimson.
There was no moral ambiguity, no second-guessing decisions made.
Absolutely no acceptance of betrayal.
And when it was exhibited in one of your own, the consequences necessary were savage.
I moved away from the table, noticing every man in the room was staring at me, waiting to see how I’d react.
“He knows everything,” one of my other soldiers said, although he kept his voice low as if worried he would anger me further.
At this point, nothing could.
I’d almost beat the lowlife informant to death when he’d come to me with his accusations. Then I’d had Sergei trailed. Now I knew the truth, yet it was difficult to swallow. Hell, it had been widely known that if I hadn’t been Vladimir Nikitin’s nephew, Sergei would have been honored by being given the nod for Pakhan when Vladimir retired or perished.
I moved toward the bar, the realization of what was necessary weighing heavily on my mind. The Feds had been breathing down our backs for months, doing everything they could to derail our operations.
The only possible saving grace was that I’d shifted Sergei’s attention in another direction, feeding him false information. However, he knew enough that the men had every right to be concerned. I could only imagine my uncle’s reaction at this point. With an enemy breathing down our necks at the same time, determined to slide into our territory, this was the last thing we needed.
“What are you going to do, boss?” Ricardo moved behind me as I poured a hefty amount of bourbon. “You know this can’t stand.”
“Don’t tell me what can or can’t happen, Ricardo. That won’t bode well for you.” The tension in the room was high. The soldiers were used to my quick reactions, refusing to listen to a single excuse from anyone. Mistakes were handled with extreme punishment, and that’s the reason I’d earned the respect of every soldier who’d pledged their loyalty to me as I began taking over from my uncle.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”
“I know what needs to happen.” I made the statement for all of them to hear. I had a reputation to uphold and if it were any other man, I’d have already left the building, hunting him down. I was a merciless leader, which had earned me the title of the Angel of Death. There would be no mercy for a rat. “He needs to die.”
“Do you want me to handle it?” Ricardo asked, keeping his distance from me.
I took a swig, swirling the liquid in the glass immediately afterwards. “He dies by my hands. No one else. Is that understood?”
I’d been trained from an early age that showing emotion of any kind was a weakness. That had been easy, my entire life stripped away in the blink of an eye long enough ago that I considered myself dead inside.
I considered myself observant, easily able to catch anyone in a lie, but this, this… I couldn’t find the right words but there was no other recourse. I wouldn’t give the man time to defend himself. There was nothing he could say that would counter what he’d done. All that was left was to clean up the mess.
“Shut down all operations until further notice,” I said over my shoulder.
“We have the shipment coming in,” Ricardo reminded me. “Do you want me to back it off?”
The shipment of drugs was large, more so than I typically allowed to come through Miami’s ports. Up until now, I hadn’t worried because we owned a good portion of law enforcement in the city. But the Feds were different. They’d tried placing men in my organization three times before, failing every time.
While I kept to myself, my personal life completely off the grid, Sergei had lived every day of his life as if it was his last. He’d been an easy target to manipulate, but that didn’t matter in the least. Betrayal had an ugly stench just like terror.
“We’re not abandoning the shipment. Period.” Not unless it was absolutely necessary. I’d lose millions if I did. I polished off my drink, the glass thudding against the wood as I sat it down. When I grabbed my jacket, Ricardo seemed surprised.
“Do you want me to go with you?”
I slipped my arms into the sleeves, yanking out my weapon and checking the ammunition. Then I made certain my dagger remained in my pocket as well. “Not necessary. This I’ll handle alone. Make certain every other soldier in the organization knows what sentence was doled out. There are consequences for every action, most punishable by death.”
We were all different as soldiers. Some men had families that they cherished, keeping them far removed from the life. Others preferred to live like playboys, fucking everything in a dress. I chose neither, spending my off time in a house in South Beach, usually very much alone. Tonight, I stood on the deck of Sergei’s house, which was only a few blocks from mine. How many hours had I spent staring at the ocean in hopes of finding some answer or maybe divine intervention?
Enough to know I wouldn’t find any.
I’d made myself at home in Sergei’s absence, pouring another bourbon. He always had a penchant for the best of everything, spending his money on toys and whores. At least he’d enjoyed himself during his nearly forty-three years of life.
I heard movement behind me and unbuttoned my jacket. It wasn’t unusual that I stopped by his house. There’d even been a few times I’d crashed on his couch after a night of drinking and playing pool. Those had been good times. Now they seemed like a distant memory. I didn’t want to think of him as a traitor, but he stopped being my friend a long time ago or he wouldn’t have betrayed the family.
“Hey, Max. What are you doing here?” Sergei thought nothing of my appearance. I sensed he was making himself a drink.
“Just in the neighborhood.” It was the same thing I’d said every time I’d shown up unannounced. It had become a joke between us. Perhaps later I’d remember those times fondly. Not for a long time.
He joined me on the deck, keeping his distance and for a few seconds, remaining quiet.
“What’s up?” he finally asked as he shifted against the railing, studying me intently. “You seem tense.”
“I am.” I took another swig before turning toward him. In my hand was my weapon.
He slowly lowered his eyes then exhaled, returning his gaze toward the ocean waters. “How did you find out?”
“Does it really matter?”
“I guess not.” He stared into his glass then polished it off in one glug. “If it makes you feel any better, I was forced into talking with them.”
“You were forced?” In the waning afternoon light, I noticed his eyes first. They were haunted yet held fear. And the stench of his terror wafted into my nostrils.
He wasn’t the kind of man to beg for his life. He’d made fun of the assholes we’d killed for doing so, mimicking them after the fact. He’d used a line every time he’d pulled the trigger or wielded the knife he always carried.
Time to meet your maker. Have a great time in hell.
I’d heard that first when I was sixteen and he was twenty-two, witnessing my first extermination. I’d admired his coolness, his lack of emotion. I’d wanted to be just like him instead of my uncle.
The betrayal of our friendship was like a dagger shoved through my heart.
“They promised immunity if I provided information. I gave them crap, Max. I promise you that.”
Now he was getting nervous.
“What exactly did you tell them, old friend?”
“Does it matter, Max? You’re going to kill me anyway.”
“Yes, I am. However, I would think you’d prefer clearing your conscience before meeting your maker.” I tossed the glass over the railing, holding the gun casually. By all rights, I should cut out his organs while he was still alive, making him suffer as long as possible.
“Nothing of importance.”
I nodded several times, allowing myself to watch him squirm. He deserved the sickness of anticipation like I’d experienced the horror of his treachery. There was no reason to care why he’d met with a federal agent. None. In my position, I couldn’t afford to be emotional or have any second thoughts. Still, the burn of not knowing had already begun to haunt me.
“Why?” Sergei repeated then laughed.
“You taught me everything I know, Sergei. You sat with the family at Christmas dinner. You protected my cousins for years, ensuring that no monster would hurt them. And you were my friend. Did none of that matter to you?” The anger and hatred in my voice was evident.
The waning light didn’t diminish the single flash of pain and regret in his eyes.
It just didn’t matter.
“I didn’t have a choice, Maxim.”
Chuckling, I took a deep breath. “We all have choices, some more difficult than others. However, when trust and respect are involved, there’s only one choice to make.”
“You just don’t understand.”
Did the traitor actually think I cared at this point?
“Who did you turn over?” When I asked the question, I sensed he had no remorse for what he’d done.
When I realized he was gloating, I raised my weapon, taking two steps forward. Then I smashed the cold steel against his cheek hard enough I heard his bones crunch.
Of all the things he could have done, he had the nerve to laugh.
“Vremya poznakomit’sya s vashim sozdatelem. Priyatnogo vremyapreprovozhdeniya v adu.”
Time to meet your maker. Have a great time in hell.
That’s the moment I pressed the barrel against his forehead, pulling the trigger.
Then I walked out of his house for the last time.
It was rare that my uncle was quiet. He was a brooding man who was either enraged, every word out of his mouth and every action taken brutal, or he was driven by lust and greed. His manic personality was often overbearing. Tonight he was quiet, so much so I wondered whether he’d heard me.
The tension was high.
There was no one else in the room, no one to hear the words stated or the emotions presented. We still had a reputation to uphold. Damage had been done but with my swift and deadly actions, a message had been sent.
We would not tolerate a traitor of any kind.
“Kogda predatel’ ryadom, bol’she nikomu ne doveryay.”
When the traitor is close, trust no one again.
While I understood the sentiments, had questioned every soldier’s loyalty, we had a business to run.
He walked to the bar, pouring a tall glass of vodka, gulping a portion before turning to face me. “The damage?”
“Yet to be determined.”
“You need to assess every aspect of our business. Make certain the collections are handled promptly.”
“That’s already being taken care of as we speak.” I’d sent soldiers out to the various businesses we were protecting for their weekly payment. Once the FBI discovered Sergei’s absence, they’d likely try to use what information they’d already gained for several arrests. My men were prepared to take a fall, knowing our attorney would easily get them off.
Or so I hoped.
“The shipment is the concern.”
Vladimir eyed me carefully. “It’s important we provide to our clients.”
“Understood. Measures are being taken to keep it on track.”
As he walked closer, he continued studying me as he’d done for years. He’d toughened me up, never going easy, beating me for the smallest infraction. As he’d told me more than once, his savage behavior and lack of compassion would help make me a great leader. “You need someone you can count on.”
“I have Ricardo. I trust him.”
“Do you really?”
I had to think about the truthful answer. “Enough to know he can’t hide things from me.”
Snorting, he swirled the liquid in his glass. “Not good enough, Maxim. You know that as well as I do. We have sharks in the water waiting for chum. We’re not going to feed them.”
“Absolutely not.” Once word got out on the street of the betrayal, even our weakest enemies would swarm like locusts, waiting for our complete downfall.
“I’m reassigning Damien to your command.”
“Fuck. Damien? I wouldn’t trust him to make a goddamn collection.” He was a younger soldier my uncle had recruited years before, once a lowlife criminal but he had technical savvy, which had allowed Vladimir to come out of the dark ages. I loathed the man, my gut telling me it was just a matter of time before he did what he could to sell us out.
“He is trustworthy!” Vladimir snapped.
“You’d trust him with your life or those of your daughters?” I could tell the question wasn’t an easy one for him to answer.
“Enough. The decision has been made.”
I gritted my teeth but said nothing. At least with the man under my command, I could keep an eye on him.
And I wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet between his eyes if he crossed me.
“Fine.” There was no reason for any further discussion. I did what I’d come to do. As I turned to leave, Vladimir spoke again.
“Did you know Sergei had a daughter?”
I stopped short, the news hitting me hard. “No.”
“She’s only six. He doted on her. Her mother is very poor and without Sergei’s assistance, they’d be homeless.”
My jaw remained clenched, my heart racing. Fuck. “I’ll have them both taken care of.”
“See that you do. No child should suffer because of the sins of the father.”
I almost laughed at this sentiment. He hadn’t given a shit about my suffering since he was the one responsible for the death of my parents. While it hadn’t been proven, I knew it in my gut.
Sins of the father. I would bring no child into a world of violence and blood. That was the single promise I’d made to myself years ago.
And I planned on keeping it.