A collar of black velvet ribbon sits snugly at my throat, a silver tag dangling from it, engraved with the name Merry. That’s what he calls me when we’re playing. It frees me from my inhibitions, lets me be someone else for a while. Reaching up to trace the letters with my fingertip, a smile curves my lips. A sense that all is right with the world washes over me. I’m where I’m supposed to be.
If someone had told me six months ago, I’d find fulfillment in kneeling at the feet of a powerful man, waiting for his next command, I’d have laughed. The consummate professional, I’ve focused on my career goals, looking to rise in the ranks. But there’s always been a void—until now. Being Timofey Lenkov’s good little kitty brings me a satisfaction I could never have dreamed of.
It’s not a twenty-four/seven thing but often, when we’re alone, we indulge in a little pet play. I have a range of kitty cat outfits, going from cute and fluffy to sleek and sexy. Tonight, I’m wearing adorable pointed ears to complement my black latex bodysuit and long, slinky tail. The outfit’s a favorite of Timofey’s. It’s hell to squeeze into, even though I’m fairly slender, and I don’t look forward to having to take it off. It clings like a second skin.
Thankfully, when Timofey wants access to my body, there’s no need to remove it. There are discreet panels in the costume that can be peeled back to reveal my breasts and pussy. Dressing in this form-fitting suit is naughty, forbidden, and incredibly arousing.
Despite his reputation as a dangerous mobster, second in command of the notorious Lenkov Brotherhood, Timofey’s been a real sweetheart to me. When we’re together, he’s kind and caring, not at all like his reputation suggests. He’s taken things slow, introducing me to his kinkier side at a pace I can cope with. He’s fucked me in every position he can think of, but he knows I’m not sure about anal. So we haven’t gone there—yet.
I glance over my shoulder when Timofey makes a clicking sound to get my attention. There’s a gleam in his cornflower blue eyes that tells me he’s as happy as I am. He has a treat for me, a sliver of bluefin tuna. It’s ridiculously expensive right now, but he does love to provide his little kotik with the best of everything.
“Open wide,” he commands.
I part my lips and he places the piece of tuna on my tongue. I close my mouth around his fingers, sucking all the juices from them as I draw back. My eyes shut as I savor the delicious, fishy taste.
“Good?” Timofey asks.
“Mmm,” I purr, leaning into his touch as he tickles me behind the ear. He’s incredibly gentle for such a tall, muscular man.
“I have something else for you.”
He gets up and steps around me. He goes to the table on the other side of the bedroom. I noticed a white box sitting there earlier and wondered what it contained. It’s long and narrow with a pretty gold bow on the top. There’s a self-satisfied grin on his pale, thin lips that makes me suspect whatever’s in the box is as much a present for him as it is for me.
“Come here,” he instructs. His voice is deep, authoritative, with a hint of his Russian accent. He has no need to bark out orders. When he speaks, I rush to obey.
On my hands and knees, I crawl to him, my hips swaying seductively. My movements are slow, deliberate, feline. It’s not something that came naturally to me. Tall and gangly, I was the type who constantly tripped over her own feet before I met Timofey. To please him, I’ve put in hours of practice to become more graceful. Over the past few months, I’ve worked so hard to perfect my crawl. The appreciation in Timofey’s eyes makes the effort worthwhile.
When I reach him, I rub my head against his solid, muscular calf the way he likes. I glance up at him as he towers above me. He holds the box out and I hesitate. Unless he gives me explicit permission, I try not to break from my kitty persona. Doing so earns me corner time—and I hate that.
“It’s okay, Merry,” he assures me. Although his sharp jaw and hollowed cheeks make him look hard, unyielding, his expression is soft. “You can have it.”
Sitting back on my heels, I accept the box from him. There’s some weight to it but not much. Already sure I know what it contains, I open the lid and find I was correct. Inside the box is a furry black tail attached to a silver butt plug. I knew this day was coming, and Timofey has been dropping strong hints lately. My heartrate picks up, but not from fear. To my surprise, it’s excitement that courses through my veins.
“Present yourself,” he commands.
Knowing what he likes, I stretch my arms out to the sides as I slowly lower my head to the floor. At the same time, I raise my ass high in the air. Timofey’s murmur of approval tells me I got it right as I bow before him in supplication.
“Good girl,” he praises as he kneels behind me. He detaches the tail from my bodysuit and opens the flap that will give him access to my butt. A whisper of cool air hits my pussy and I realize I’m drenched just thinking about him plugging my ass. Never missing a thing when it comes to my body’s responses, Timofey’s soft chuckle confirms he’s noted how aroused I am. “Eager little kitty, aren’t you?”
I can’t deny it. After all we’ve done, the various pleasures Timofey’s introduced me to, I’m ready for this. It’s the first step toward him claiming the final part of me.
I sigh as he slips his hand between my legs. The merest touch from this man sets my pulse racing. As he pushes two fingers inside me, I moan and rock my hips. He’s rougher than usual, a sign of his eagerness. It hurts as he drives those long, thick fingers inside me but that only heightens my arousal. I’ve come to crave a hint of pain. It makes the moment of ecstasy even sweeter.
His thumb presses on my clit, which instantly starts to throb. My pussy clenches and Timofey curls his fingers, unerringly finding my g-spot. Something detonates inside me as he strokes that special place. My hips buck wildly and I scream out my orgasm as my wetness soaks Timofey’s hand.
There’s no time to recover from the intensity of the climax as he dribbles something cold between my butt cheeks. He smears the liquid over my anus. When the tip of the plug touches me, I flinch. As if afraid I might try to move away, Timofey wraps an arm around my waist to hold me still. I’m grateful he restrains me. At first, my body doesn’t want to let the foreign object in. Or, rather, my mind doesn’t. Panic seizes me and I clench my buttocks.
“It’s okay, kotik,” Timofey murmurs. “I’ve got you.”
His words soothe me and I take a deep breath to release some of the tension. The plug is pushed inside me and I pant as I try to accept the strange penetration. I try to relax but my body doesn’t cooperate.
“Let it in,” Timofey says firmly.
The stern tone of his voice does the trick. It seems no part of me can refuse him when he speaks with that hint of authority. The insistent press of the plug overcomes my lingering resistance and I gasp as he slides it into me.
“How does that feel, kotik?” he asks and I glance back at him, waiting for permission to reply. “You may speak.”
I should have known I wouldn’t get away with such a vague response. The truth is, I have no idea how to describe this alien sensation, but Timofey expects an answer. “It’s like I’m being stretched wide open. It’s jarring my insides. I’m not sure I like it.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
The firmness in his tone tells me I’ll have to. He adjusts the bodysuit so I’m covered once more, leaving a small gap for the tail to hang through.
“Crawl,” Timofey orders.
Pushing up on my palms to straighten my arms, I take a few tentative paces forward. The plug shifts, making its presence felt. It’s uncomfortable, the way it presses deep inside me, but I can cope. The tail swishes between my legs as I move slowly across the room. I make it past the large metal-framed bed. I’m halfway to the battered leather armchair where Timofey sits and enjoys a drink at night, when the door flies open.
Daniil Lenkov, Timofey’s older brother and head of their criminal fraternity, storms in. He doesn’t usually invade this private space, and my anxiety level immediately shoots up.
What the hell does he want?
His eyes, the same gorgeous blue as Timofey’s, narrow as he looks at me on my hands and knees. His lips curl into a sneer. “Ona shpionka.”
My heart stops at the meaning of the words—“She’s a spy.”
In case there was any doubt who he was referring to, Daniil jabs a finger in my direction. Although I’ve been waiting for this moment to come, I’m still caught off guard. A chill runs through me and I shake my head in denial. “No, I’m not.”
I turn to Timofey who’s staring at me, open-mouthed. I’m not supposed to understand his native language.
“A spy?” Timofey asks, his thick eyebrows drawing down as he frowns.
“MI6,” Daniil answers his brother. “She’s been sent here to dig up dirt on us. Haven’t you, Miss Slater?”
An involuntary gasp escapes me as he uses my real name. They know me as Meredith Stratton. Before I can blink, Timofey charges across the room and hauls me to my feet. I wince as the plug shifts in my ass, but it’s the tight grip he has on my arm that causes actual pain.
“A spy?” He gives me a shake that makes my teeth rattle. It reminds me how badly a man like him could hurt me, if I don’t tread carefully.
I, what? I’m sorry. I love you. I’d never hurt you.
None of that’s enough and he wouldn’t want to hear it right now anyway. Not when he’s so angry. I have no idea what to say. It’s true I was sent here by MI6 to find out all I could about the Lenkovs. I was supposed to assess how great a risk their gun-running and extortion rackets pose to our national security. If they have people in government on their payroll, that’s a threat.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned nothing of value. Timofey keeps his business and personal lives separate. I couldn’t access anything my superiors could use. Quite apart from that, from the first time I shared his bed and he was so achingly tender, I knew I couldn’t carry out my mission.
“I do work for the government,” I say carefully. Lying to Timofey is not a good idea. “But I haven’t betrayed you. I wouldn’t.”
Hurt flashes in his eyes, but the anguish is quickly replaced by cold fury. He shoves me, hard, toward his brother. If Daniil hadn’t caught me, I’d have landed on the floor.
“You take care of the treacherous bitch,” he spits out, his accent thicker as anger grabs hold of him.
“Timofey,” I cry out in dismay as he turns his back to me. “Timofey, please! You have to let me explain.”
“Get rid of her,” he tells his brother.
My heart shatters. He’s not going to hear me out. After all we’ve experienced together these last few months, he won’t even give me a chance to defend myself. I try to think of something to say to turn the situation around, but Daniil’s already pulling me from the room. There’s no point trying to appeal to him. Unlike his brother, this hardnosed Russian doesn’t give a single fuck about me.
I try to resist as he drags me through their vast London townhouse, but he’s too big, too strong. He takes me to the basement where his sister, Mila, is waiting. As usual, she’s dressed to the nines, like she’s heading for a club opening, in towering heels and a tight red dress that matches the color of her lips. Her deep brown eyes sparkle with delight as he pushes me and I stumble over the threshold.
As I see the shackles hanging from the ceiling—leather cuffs attached to steel chains—I gasp in horror. The smell of burning coals alerts me to a brazier in the corner of the room.
What the fuck?
My blood chills as I look around for an escape and find none. Mila grins sadistically as I back away… only to collide with Daniil’s muscled frame. My head starts to shake of its own accord. I’m not some hardened undercover agent. I can’t handle this.
Daniil grabs my shoulders and drags me to the center of the room. He lifts my arms, one at a time and binds my wrists, unfazed by my furious struggling. Deep down inside, I know my life is about to end. I’ll never see my family again, won’t get to play with my sister’s kids again. I’ll never have the chance to quit my job and explore what else the world has to offer. My future evaporates before my eyes but, strangely, what pains me most is that I’ll never get the chance to tell Timofey how much I love him.
“Okay, Miss Slater.” Daniil steps back to study me carefully. I flinch as he reaches out to grab my chin. “Let’s make a deal.”
Two and a half years later, Edinburgh
My lip twitches as my older brother’s eyes drift toward the church door for the hundredth time. It’s amusing to see the normally calm and composed Daniil Lenkov so nervous. He switches his weight from one foot to the other, clenching and unclenching his fists by his sides.
“Do you think she changed her mind?” I ask just to wind him up. “Perhaps she’s on a plane to Australia.”
His face whitens as though he imagines that’s a real possibility. It isn’t remotely likely that Evie’s fled though. His bride-to-be is so madly in love with him she’d wade through a pit of scorpions to get to the altar. Besides, our sister, Mila, is accompanying her to the church. She likes Evie, but she’d never let her run out on Daniil. She’d force her down the aisle at gunpoint if she had to. My brother knows this, but it doesn’t stop him grinding his teeth.
I’m about to tell him to calm down when the music starts, signaling the bride’s arrival. They went with Pachelbel’s Canon in D for her to walk down the aisle—not an original choice, but a good one all the same. The haunting sound of the string quartet gives me goosebumps. Whatever romantic inclinations I had were buried long ago, but you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved by a beautiful piece being performed with such flair. Despite what people might think, I’m only human.
Daniil’s tension seems to ease just a bit, but he remains jittery as Mila and the other bridesmaids make their way down the long aisle between rows of wooden pews. Mila has been tasked with guiding the flower girls, two of Evie’s wide-eyed little cousins, to the front of the church. Tall, even without the heels she’s wearing, Mila has to bend to take their hands. It’s odd seeing my sister, who’s committed acts of violence even I would flinch from, shepherding children with such care. Bizarrely, it suits her.
The bride’s attendants, all in elegant lilac-colored dresses with short sleeves, get into position. The blonde with the big tits strips me with her gaze. I prefer less aggressive women, but I fucked Miranda after the rehearsal dinner, and I’ll probably take her back to my hotel room again once the party’s over. She won’t take much persuading. She sees the lifestyle Evie now enjoys and wants some of that wealth and glamor. It won’t be me who gives it to her, but she can have one more night in my bed.
“Fuck, she’s beautiful!” Daniil says as Evie walks through the door of the church, arm linked with her father’s.
I have to agree. Swathed in a cloud of white silk and lace, she looks angelic. Evie is one of the few women I can tolerate these days. I’d even go so far as to say I like her. Trust, however, is not something I can extend to her. Not yet.
I’ve not been able to let my guard down around a woman since Meredith ran a sword through my heart.
I try to tune out thoughts of my treacherous former lover as Evie arrives at the altar. Her father, a short, gray-haired man, who had the balls to warn Daniil not to hurt his daughter, lifts her lacy veil and kisses her cheek before stepping away. Then the ceremony begins.
It’s hard not to think about Meredith. She’s the one woman I could have seen myself going through this wedding nonsense for. I was damned close to asking her to marry me when I learned she worked for MI6. It was a hell of a blow to the ego to realize she’d only pretended to love me so she could spy on our organization. I’ve been surrounding myself with sycophantic bimbos to bolster my masculine pride ever sense.
I’ve never asked my siblings for details of what they did to Meredith. She might have left me wounded, but I can’t bear to think what she might have suffered before she died. It’s why I took no part in her punishment. She’d burrowed so far under my skin, I couldn’t be the one to end her life. A heaviness settles in my chest as I dwell on how much I miss her. Then I remember where I am. This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Daniil will never forgive me if I wreck it with my sour mood.
As the ceremony proceeds, I focus my attention on the bride and groom. Evie gazes at my brother like he’s a god. I try to tamp down the image of Meredith, on her knees, looking at me that same way.
When the time comes for the exchange of rings, I’m glad to have something to do. I take the simple gold bands from my pocket and place them on the open pages of the Bible the minister holds out to me. I half-expect the holy book to burst into flames when I touch it. Considering the combined weight of sin the men under this roof right now carry, I’m amazed the building hasn’t been struck by lightning.
My siblings and I weren’t raised in the church, and from what I can tell, neither was Evie. She wanted this three-ring circus though, and Daniil jumped through hoops to give it to her. I suppose she imagines a church blessing will give their marriage a more auspicious start than her relationship had. My brother abducted her while she was unconscious, thanks to me sedating her. I had no choice, though. She was a witness to our involvement in a double homicide and it was either knock her out or shoot her in the head. When I chose the softer (and far less messy) option, Daniil decided to lay claim to her. He whisked her off to our home in the South of France, where they somehow fell in love. It’s a hell of a story to tell the grandkids.
Daniil’s going to want to start a family. No wonder he’s been handing more control of Bratva business to me while he concentrates on our more legitimate interests. He’s trying to clean up his act before Evie starts popping out babies!
“You may kiss the bride,” the minister says, suddenly cutting through my thoughts.
I blink several times. Either I zoned out, which seems unlikely, or that was a very short ceremony. The only religious weddings I’ve attended were in the Russian Orthodox Church and they lasted almost two hours. Everything about St. Stephen’s is pared back. Apart from the stained-glass windows, which are themselves unremarkable with just the simplest depictions of Biblical stories, there’s no color in the place. It’s all drab brown wood. If it wasn’t for the white floral displays Evie had brought in, it would be pretty gloomy.
As Daniil sweeps his new wife into his arms, Mila and I exchange a glance across the aisle. As cynical as we both are about relationships, neither of us can hide our joy at seeing our brother settling down. He’s looked out for me and Mila for so long, it’s good he finally has someone to take care of his needs.
To raucous whoops and hollers, the kiss goes on and on until even I feel slightly self-conscious at witnessing such an intimate spectacle. I clear my throat loudly and the happy couple finally comes up for air.
As we move through to a small side room to sign the register and make the marriage official, Daniil pulls Mila and me aside.
“I love you both,” he says fiercely.
His words and the vehemence behind them take me by surprise. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was on the verge of tears. There’s a suspicious glistening in his eyes. We aren’t what you’d call an affectionate family, but on the rare occasions when we speak of our feelings, we mean what we say.
“We love you too,” Mila answers for both of us. Her voice cracks as she speaks and I find that more disconcerting than my brother’s emotional declaration. Mila’s not the sentimental type. At all. I’ve only ever seen her cry when overcome with rage. She bites her bottom lip and glances toward the door “Shouldn’t Niamh be here for this?”
Niamh Donnelly is our sister in all but name. Her family took us in when we ran from our father, the notorious Mikhail Lenkov, and his malign influence. Over the years, she’s done more for us than any blood relative ever has.
“I’ll speak to her later,” Daniil says. “I wanted a moment just for us.”
I know where he’s coming from. Any one of us would lay down our lives for Niamh but Mila, Daniil, and I went through hell before we ever met her. The dark events of our childhood created an unbreakable bond.
“I wish Mama was here,” Mila says, voicing what’s going through all our heads. We all miss our beautiful mother with her gentle smile and big brown eyes.
“You think she’d have liked Evie?” Daniil asks.
“Nyet,” I correct him. “She’d love her.”
Our mother would never have experienced anything as insipid as liking someone. She was fiercely passionate, whether in love or hate. She must have adored our father at some point but by the time Mila was born, she loathed him.
“She would have,” Mila confirms.
We share a moment of quiet reflection, all staring off into space. None of us looks at the others for fear of sparking some emotion that will lead to tears. Then Daniil clears his throat. “I’m going to be stepping back from things more and more.” He glances at Evie, who’s twisting a lock of her chestnut-colored hair around her finger as she chats with Miranda. “But I’m not leaving the Brotherhood—and I’m not abandoning you.”
Neither Mila nor I need to point out to him that you don’t simply walk away from the Bratva, since Daniil’s clearly trying to emphasize he’s not choosing Evie over us. His head bows as he struggles with his emotions, a rarity for our typically stoic sibling. A lump forms in my own throat and Mila wrings her hands. Before Daniil’s uncharacteristic display of brotherly love overwhelms us all, I step back and nod toward Evie.
“Your wife is waiting.”
“My wife…” Daniil’s eyes light up. He goes to her and they sign the marriage certificates and add their names to a battered leather-bound book where the church keeps its records of births, deaths, and marriages. Evie’s friend Miranda and I add our signatures as witnesses.
When the formalities are over, the minister ushers us to the door, no doubt anxious to be rid of the unsavory characters who fill the groom’s side of the church. For the sake of maintaining peace we invited a lot of our associates to the wedding, men I wouldn’t normally want to expose an innocent like Evie to.
I wonder what her respectable, middle-class family makes of the brotherhood of thieves that’s gathered alongside them. In their dark suits that barely conceal myriad tattoos, these men don’t exactly blend in, not when they’re gathered en masse. Their women are different, too, flashing more of their tits and their legs than Evie’s guests, who’re almost matronly by comparison.
We file out of the church and into the sunshine. While the photographer snaps a few shots of the wedding party, I cast a wary eye over our surroundings. Two dozen of our best men are on guard duty but it pays to remain alert. A public occasion like this gives our enemies a rare opportunity to take us by surprise.
I scan the quiet suburban street and grin. Several undercover cops mingle with the onlookers who’ve gathered to watch the bride and groom emerge from the church. They’re doing a shit job of trying to blend in, their starched shirts and regulation haircuts clumsy and obvious. Their presence isn’t a concern though. We anticipated the authorities’ interest in us and our guests. But they won’t find anything incriminating here.
Once the photographer has what he wants, Daniil and Evie get into a vintage Rolls Royce and head for the hotel where the reception is being held. Mila slips into the back of a Mercedes limousine along with Niamh; I indicate to Niko, our chief enforcer, that he should go with them. Though the two women can generally handle whatever trouble comes their way, I prefer them to have a bodyguard. At six foot seven and built like a bear, Niko will ensure nobody so much as looks at them the wrong way.
When most of the guests have gone, I head to the silver Range Rover that’s waiting for me. It’s then I notice the blonde bombshell Miranda hovering at the bottom of the church steps. I guess she held back, hoping to get my attention.
I open the back door and wave her over. “Get in,” I command.
She practically springs to me and scrambles into the vehicle, not an easy feat in a tight-fitting, floor-length bridesmaid’s dress. What she lacks in subtlety, she makes up for in enthusiasm. I’ve barely settled into my seat before she’s unzipping my pants. It looks like she doesn’t care if she gives the driver a show. Ivan raises his bushy eyebrows at me in the rearview mirror as Miranda strokes my cock.
A few moments later a breath of frustration huffs out of me. Whatever she’s doing with her hand, it isn’t working. My body’s response is apathetic at best. I bat her hand away and wrap my own fist around the shaft, pumping up and down until I’m sporting an impressive erection.
“Ooh, you’re so big,” she squeals.
No doubt I’m meant to be flattered by that, but the comment’s disingenuous.
“I’m the same size I was last night,” I reply drily. “You know, when I fucked you into oblivion.”
Miranda giggles in what she must imagine is a seductively girly manner but it just pisses me off. She lowers her head and licks the tip of my cock, humming in pleasure. Fuck knows what she’s so satisfied about. She hasn’t done anything for me yet. We had a good time last night but today, she’s irritating the hell out of me. If she wasn’t a friend of Evie’s, I’d probably dump her in the street.
“Get on with it.” I don’t bother to mask my impatience.
She takes an inch of my cock into her mouth, tasting and teasing. It’s okay, I guess, but I’m not in the mood to draw this out. Grabbing a fistful of her hair, I push her head down. She gasps as though startled but quickly recovers to take me deep into her hot, wet mouth.
That’s more like it.
I groan as she slides her lips back and forth, sucking with just the right intensity.
Miranda works my cock like her life depends on it but for some reason she’s just not doing it for me. My mind is on an entirely different blonde, one whose vivid blue eyes had seen beyond the man people think they know, to who I really am.
Dropping my head back against the seat, I stare at the ceiling and imagine it’s Meredith’s soft, sweet lips that are on me. It does the trick. Lust fires through me as I’m transported to another time and place, where my little kotik is down on her knees with me fucking her mouth. Holding onto that memory, I take control, thrusting my hips. She gags but I keep the pressure up until she accustoms herself to it.
As I shove my cock deep, she moans, sending a tantalizing vibration straight to my balls. My cock slides over her tongue as she takes me to the back of her throat.
“Blyad!” Finally, I’m there. My fingers tighten their grip on her as I come, limbs shaking. My seed spurts into her mouth and I ruthlessly hold her in place until she swallows every drop. Then I let go of her head. Breathing heavily, I throw an arm over my face as I recover my senses. “Good girl, Merry.”
When I open my eyes, the wrong blonde is staring at me, scowling fiercely. “Who’s Merry?” she demands.
I don’t know where she gets off questioning me but I’m not going to fight with the chief bridesmaid just before the wedding reception. Daniil will flay me alive if I ruin the day for Evie. “Slip of the tongue,” I lie as I reach out to cup her cheek.
“Hmm.” She narrows her eyes and then apparently thinks better of sulking. She bats her false eyelashes at me. “Will you make me come now?”
The thought of touching her pussy after I got off to the memory of Meredith leaves me cold. I shake my head. “We’re almost at the hotel. When I make you come, I want to take my time.”
It’s bullshit but my response mollifies her. She sits back, drawing a compact from her purse to fix her makeup as we arrive at the venue. I’ve never met a woman so absorbed with her appearance. It’s really off-putting. I’ll have to find a way to ditch her later without causing an international incident.
We head inside with Miranda clinging to my arm and discover everyone’s being seated for the meal. I expected to have a few drinks before we sat down but I guess we’re getting straight to it. Miranda and I aren’t sitting together at the top table.
I take my seat next to Daniil and she goes to sit between Evie’s mother, a pretty brunette who looks too young to have a grownup daughter, and Mila. With several people separating us, I won’t have to talk to Miranda while we eat. I’m being a cunt to the poor woman—I know this—but I can’t help it. Since Meredith, I no longer care about the women I fuck. They serve a purpose and then they’re gone. But Miranda is Evie’s friend. I should have steered clear of her.
“Got your speech ready?” Daniil asks, a note of anxiety in his voice.
“What are you planning to say?” His mouth is twisted in a sign I know all too well. He’s worried about what I’ll say.
I suppose I could tell everyone how the newlyweds’ eyes met over the Irish gangster and fell head over heels in love. There’s some truth to it, but it’s not a story for this audience; Daniil wants to downplay his murky reputation in front of his new bride’s family. They’ve heard enough rumors about guns, drugs, and human trafficking—the one thing we will never get involved in—without me adding to their fears about the man Evie’s married.
Besides, I’m certain some branch of the security services will have planted undercover intelligence agents among the wait staff. I don’t want to give them reason to look at Daniil for that particular murder again. They were unable to pin it on him before but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up the investigation.
“Mila helped me write something,” I tell him.
I’ve no idea why he imagines our troublesome little sister would come up with a more appropriate speech than me, but he’s definitely more relaxed now.
When the moment comes for me to speak, I get to my feet. I take out my cellphone and open the app where I wrote down what I was going to say. My stomach drops as I realize I didn’t save it. The beautiful words Mila came up with are gone. Public speaking isn’t my forte and winging it definitely isn’t a good idea. I’ll have to keep it short.
“As many of you know, my brother is not an easy man to please, but with her beauty, wisdom, and kind, generous nature, Evie has finally brought a smile to his ugly face. May you bear him lots of fat little babies. Za lyubov.”
The Russians in the room repeat my toast to love as I slump back into my seat. Suddenly my tie feels like it’s knotted way too tight.
“What the fuck was that?” Daniil speaks out of the corner of his mouth, keeping the smile on his face so nobody can tell that he’s pissed. “That’s your speech?”
I shrug, relieved when cries of “Gorka!” ring out from the crowd and Daniil turns to kiss his bride. It’s not a quick peck on the cheek. As they did in the church, they kiss so passionately they seem to forget where they are. They only break apart when the first course arrives and a plate clatters down on the table in front of them. I suppose I should commend my brother and his bride for their stamina. They can’t get enough of each other. A pang of jealousy twists inside me.
I had that once. At least, I thought I did.
But the whole thing was a lie.
Aware that I’m scowling, I take a breath and turn my attention to the food before me. It’s shuba, a dish featuring herring, a fish which is common to both Russia and Scotland. Mila helped Evie devise a menu for the day, trying to find a balance between our cultures. While my siblings and I are well versed in Scottish cuisine since we lived here for many years, Evie has yet to learn about traditional Russian foods.
If I’m honest, I don’t really like this dish. Herring is fine but I’m not a fan of beets. To me, they always taste of the earth, like they’re dirty. Regardless, I clear my plate. The next course is more appealing—venison with juniper berries. It’s served bloody, the way I like it. Dessert is a cranachan, a Scottish concoction with raspberries, honey, whisky-drenched cream, and toasted oats.
There’s plenty of alcohol on offer since neither the Scots nor we Russians are shy of partaking. Though they’re serving Stolichnaya Elit, my preferred brand of vodka, I stick to water. Tonight, Daniil can relax but I won’t lower my guard. By the time the coffee arrives with little cubes of Russian fudge on the side, the atmosphere is already becoming raucous. I need to keep a clear head in case trouble breaks out.
Before I finish my coffee, the band starts to play and Daniil leads his wife onto the floor for their first dance as man and wife. ‘Candy’ by Paolo Nutini. I’m glad Evie chose something with a livelier beat. I can’t stand the slow, sentimental drivel most brides seem to favor.
Tradition dictates I partner with the chief bridesmaid for this dance but fuck that. I don’t want Miranda getting ideas. Mila’s already dragging Niko to the floor so I stride across the room and grab Niamh instead, saving her from what would undoubtedly be a dull conversation with Grigori Nikulin. He’s the best bookie on our payroll, an absolute genius with numbers, but he could bore a person to death in five minutes flat.
“Thanks,” a grateful Niamh murmurs, placing her hands on my shoulders as I draw her close. Even in heels, the top of her head only just reaches my chest. I get a whiff of coconut from her strawberry blonde hair. She’s used the same shampoo since we were kids and I find it comforting. “Grigori’s a sweet guy but he’s got two topics—betting and fish.”
“Fish?” That’s a new one on me.
“He keeps koi carp. Knows the length and weight of every one of them,” she tells me in her soft Scots-Irish lilt. “He invited me to go see his pond.”
“He wants you to fly to St. Petersburg to look at some fish?”
“Aye, and I don’t think it’s a ruse to get me into bed. He actually wants to show me his fish.” She shudders dramatically.
“What would Morganti have to say about that?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” It should have occurred to me before now that Niamh came to the wedding without Antonio Morganti, the American mobster she’s been seeing. While others might be reticent about bringing a Mafia prince to a Bratva wedding, Niamh wouldn’t have given a fuck. She’s a natural peacemaker and would have ensured everyone got along, if only for one night. It’s clear she’s upset about something from the way her mouth pinches at the sides.
“Do you need me to put a bullet in him?”
Niamh’s dismissive grunt tells me the answer is a decided “No.”
At the center of the dancefloor, Daniil spins Evie away from him and pulls her back again. Niamh sighs. “She looks like a princess in that dress.”
“Daniil will treat her like one, that’s for sure.”
Niamh murmurs in agreement. “I hope you got them a nice gift to make up for that speech.”
“What was wrong with the speech?” I ask.
“It was three sentences at most. You’re the best man. You’re supposed to be part of the entertainment.”
“Fuck that. I spoke from the heart.”
“Oh, really?” Niamh scoffs. “So you think your brother’s ugly and Evie’s just an incubator for his spawn?”
I frown. “That’s not what I said.”
“It was pretty damn close,” Niamh replies in a censorious tone. “So, anyway, what did you get them? Mila’s gift was pretty hard to beat.”
That’s an understatement. My sister bought the swimming pool where Evie and Daniil met, to save it from closure—and she’s gifted it to the bride.
“I got him a Ducati Superleggera V4.”
“You bought a deathtrap for a newlywed?” Niamh purses her lips in obvious disapproval. She’s never been keen on motorcycles, or sports cars or anything that travels too fast. “And what about Evie?”
“I got her a painting.”
“A painting?” Niamh’s eyebrows lift in surprise. “Be more specific.”
“Of Edinburgh Castle, as seen from Calton Hill.” I shrug as Niamh studies me closely. “In case she misses home.”
Niamh’s lip wobbles and her pretty blue eyes brim with tears. “Oh, Timofey, you do still have a heart…”
Contrary to popular belief, I do, but I guard such knowledge well these days. “Disclose that to anyone, and I’ll disown you.”
As the song comes to an end, Maxim, one of our brigadiers, and a man high in the ranks of our organization, catches my attention. Standing by the doorway leading out onto the terrace, he beckons to me.
Niamh spots him too. “Trouble?”
“It’s probably nothing.” I don’t sound convinced. I warned my men not to interrupt me tonight unless it was absolutely necessary. The sinking feeling in my gut tells me we’ve got trouble. “You stay here, solnyshka. Make sure everyone’s happy, yes?”
Understanding what’s required of her, Niamh nods. She’ll make sure nobody suspects there’s an issue. She plasters a smile on her face and heads off to speak to Daniil and Evie. If he asks where I’ve gone, she’ll make something up to allay his concerns. Hopefully whatever’s going on will be resolved quickly and I can get back before anyone notices I’m missing.
I follow Maxim outside where it’s still bright and quite warm. Several couples are taking advantage of the pleasant evening to explore the gardens. Maxim leads me to a quiet spot where we’re unlikely to be overheard.
“Sorry, boss. There’s been an incident.” He takes a deep breath that deepens the red in his cheeks. His thin lips turn down as though telling me what’s wrong will pain him. “A woman got onto the grounds. She had a Glock 17 in her purse.”
“Fuck!” I knew holding a wedding so publicly could make us vulnerable but I didn’t think anyone would get this close. Of course, she might not have been planning to kill anyone. That particular pistol is a standard issue for the police here. She might be an undercover agent. “Did you shoot her?”
“No need. We were able to detain her without using force.”
“Good.” The last thing we need is a woman being injured or killed in the middle of Daniil’s wedding. Whether she remains unharmed when I’ve finished with her depends on what she was trying to achieve here. “Any idea who she is?”
“Yes, boss. I know her.” Maxim shifts from one foot to the other, his pot belly jiggling as he does an agitated dance, clearly nervous about something. The hairs at the back of my neck prickle and even though it’s impossible, I know who it is before he even speaks the name. “It’s Meredith Slater.”
I try not to show a reaction, but it knocks the wind out of me. “You’re sure?” I manage to ask.
Maxim was often there in the background when Meredith and I went to dinner or a club together. He was a boyevik back then, a foot soldier in our organization, and he was assigned to my security team. If he says the woman is Meredith, then that’s who she is.
Shock and anger war within me as I absorb the news. If Meredith’s alive, the people I trust most in the world have lied to me for more than two years. That will have to be addressed, but it can wait.
For now, I want to know what happened to her—and why the hell she’s been foolish enough to show up at my brother’s wedding.