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Solemn Vow: A Dark Mafia Romance by Measha Stone – Sample

Chapter One

Marlena

“So, then I decided, fuck it. I chopped off his dick.”

I freeze, bring my gaze down at the heavily outlined brown eyes staring up at me.

Chantelle, my last client of the day, giggles up at me from the sink she’s hanging over while I wash out her hair.

“Oh! You are awake. Good.” She grins. Even upside down, she has a perfect smile. Since she’s heir to a multimillion-dollar company, I wouldn’t expect anything else from her.

“Sorry.” I frown. My mind hasn’t been on my work all day. I can’t wait to get out of here and head over to Izzy’s, my closest friend in the world. An evening of good food and a horrible movie of her choosing sounds like heaven after the last few weeks I’ve had.

I finish rinsing out her long blonde tresses and wind them up in a towel.

“Your mind was definitely somewhere else. What’s going on?” she asks on our journey to my workstation. Not many clients would notice how withdrawn I’ve been, but Chantelle is a regular. Every Friday for the last three months she’s in my chair at Luxe Strands, one of Chicago’s most high-end salons.

After two years, I’ve finally gotten my own chair in the salon. I won’t pretend I didn’t earn it; I climbed my way up from sweeping hair to get this chance.

“Just been a long week.” I smile at her through the mirror as I gather what I need for her weekend blowout. “Are we going hair up or down this weekend?”

She scrunches up her lips while thinking for a moment.

“Tonight, I have a fundraiser thing with my father.” She rolls her eyes. Her dad drags her all over the place showing her off like some prized pony waiting for her turn on the track. “But tomorrow I have a breakfast with the Degrees of Impact foundation.”

“Okay, how about down tonight, that way you can just do a quick refresh in the morning and head to the breakfast. If we put it up, there’s going to be pins to deal with.”

She nods. “Yes. Good idea. Down with big curls?”

I set up the curling iron, then grab the hair dryer and brush to get started.

While I work on getting her long hair dried and ready for the curling iron, she swipes on her phone. Social media and then email. I’m grateful for the moments of quiet.

In the back pocket of my black slacks, my phone vibrates, making my insides chill. It’s Friday and I’m two days late on delivery.

I try to push my mind away from the problem vibrating in my pocket, but another message comes through and then another. I grit my teeth and switch over to the curling iron. Without the noise from the hair dryer, Chantelle starts up a conversation again.

At least I can concentrate on her story instead of desperately trying to figure out where I’m going to get the next payment from. I’ve already blown through what little savings I had, and borrowed as much cash from my credit card as is allowed. I’m trapped.

It’s not going to mean anything to Jimmy Agosti, though.

“Marlena? Marlena?” Chantelle snaps her fingers in front of my face. I guess losing myself in her life isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

“Sorry.” I finish the last curl and go about perfecting the look for her.

“You really need a vacation.” She tries to push levity into her smile, but I see the concern.

“I’m fine. Just really looking forward to this weekend.” Though having hours on Saturday would probably make me the money I desperately need. But my chair is only mine during the week unless someone with more seniority needs the time off.

“Doing something fun, I hope.” She glances back at her phone then swipes it closed.

“No. Just hanging with my friend tonight. Maybe a movie tomorrow night.” Maybe I can find some loose change beneath the recliners at the theater. “Ready for the spray?” I wiggle the hairspray in my hand.

She nods.

“Go for it.” She shuts her eyes, while I finish up her look. By the time I’m done, she looks ready to walk down the runway, or head into the most stylish club in Chicago.

“Perfect.” She grins when I step away from the mirror and let her inspect her final look. “You’re always so spot on with my hair. I love it.” She flicks her hair over her shoulder and pulls off the black robe the salon provides to protect the client’s clothes.

My phone goes off again as she gathers her purse, and I force myself to leave it alone.

“You sure there isn’t some guy just killing himself to get ahold of you?” She winks.

I laugh.

A guy?

Right.

No, thank you.

Life is complicated enough without adding that mess to the mix.

“No. Not a guy. Probably just my friend. It’s her turn to pick dinner, and I’m sure she wants me to try a new place.” I shake my head. Isolde has been diving into all sorts of new restaurants now that she’s married to Andrei Petrov. Apparently having the black credit card in her wallet has changed her palate.

“Ah. Well, she seems to really want to get a hold of you.” She hops off the chair and grabs her purse. “Have a good weekend, Marlena. I’ll see you next Friday.” She gives me a hug then heads to the front of the salon to pay her bill. I know the tip will be generous.

I also know it won’t be enough.

Once my station is cleaned and stocked for Carolina’s shift in the morning, I allow myself to check my phone.

Two messages from Izzy about what restaurant she wants to order from—a Cantonese place I’ve never heard of.

One text from my landlord who has just realized the locks on my apartment have been swapped out with some industrial locks that are impossible to break through. How am I supposed to explain that a large, overprotective, Russian mafia man who works with my best friend’s husband made the change and refuses to take them off? I doubt Mr. Whitkeep will care. So great, I’ll probably lose my deposit now.

My teeth grind just remembering Viktor’s overbearing attitude when I tried to explain that just because Izzy needed safekeeping didn’t mean that my apartment needed a security overhaul. He had felt differently, and while I was at work, he’d helped himself to my apartment to change the locks not only on the door, but the windows too.

Arrogant ass.

The last text message sends a chill through me.

Tomorrow or you can say goodbye to your pretty life.

My breath catches and I sink into the chair, still warm from Chantelle’s appointment.

“Hey, Marlena.” Sara, one of the receptionists, comes around the corner with a weird look on her face. “There’s some guy up front asking for you.”

My heart stops.

“He’s here?”

She raises her pierced eyebrow an inch. “You’re expecting him? That guy?”

No. Jimmy wouldn’t be here.

“What does he look like?” My phone vibrates in my hand.

Should I come back there?

I groan inwardly. I don’t need the description anymore; I can picture exactly what the overgrown security guard looks like.

“Tall. Huge. I mean the man looks like he could rip the door off the place if he wanted.”

I wave my hand. “I know who he is.”

Viktor.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I assure her and text the same message to him.

He won’t leave if I tell her to send him away, and I’m too tired to have an argument with him. This is my job. I can’t have him coming in here scaring people. I’ll make it clear to him.

The next time I see him.

Which is not right now.

I grab my purse and coat and head to the back exit.

I’m not sitting in a car for the next twenty minutes with that man. I have to figure out where I’m going to get another two hundred dollars by tomorrow. There has to be something I can sell. I used to keep an emergency fund in the bottom of my closet in a shoebox. Maybe I still have something in there.

I check the time on my phone. No time to swing by the apartment now. I’ll check first thing when I get home tonight.

The cool air hits me as I step into the back alley. Thankfully, it’s too chilly for the stench of the garbage cans to fill the air.

Just as I walk to the end of the alley, a black car whips around the corner and comes straight at me. It’s coming too fast for me to see the driver, and I scramble to the side of the alley, pressing myself flat against the building. The car comes to an abrupt stop right in front of me.

The side windows are tinted, hiding the driver.

My heart jackhammers my ribs as fear clings to my lungs.

Jimmy said I had until tomorrow.

But since when did criminals have morals?

The door to the car opens and one black boot touches the ground as the mammoth of a man climbs out, slamming the door shut behind him.

If the building wasn’t behind me, I’d run.

His jaw sets.

His fingers flex at his sides, and he takes careful steps toward me until the toes of his boots touch the toes of my black flats.

“Viktor.” I say his name, forcing steel into my voice.

His black eyebrow arches to a perfect peak over his left eye.

“Marlena.” My name slides off his tongue like silk running over itself.

“You didn’t need to come get me.” I clear my throat, trying to make myself stand up straight. It’s nearly impossible with those eyes boring into me.

“We’re going to the same place.” He lifts a hand, presses it to the building on the right side of my head. “Why wouldn’t I drive you?” His palm pushes against the brick on my left side. I’m caged in.

“I…” I have no answer. Other than when he looks at me like this, my insides shiver, and I don’t have time or patience for this mess right now.

“Are you going to get in the car, or are you going to make this harder than it needs to be?” His accent makes the little threat feel so much darker.

Damn Isolde for getting involved with the Petrov family. And damn her husband for having such an overbearing, stubborn, and stomach-droppingly handsome cousin.

“What does the hard way look like?” Why am I asking? Of course it’s going to be something outrageous. Everything this man does and says is insane.

He moves one hand from the wall to his waist, where a thick black leather belt loops through his jeans. I swallow back a moan.

“So, which way, Marlena?” He levels his eyes with mine.

He’s serious.

“The easy way or the hard way?”

Chapter Two

Viktor

“You’re an ass. A whole and complete ass, you know that, right?” Marlena seethes in the elevator with me as it glides up to Andrei’s apartment.

I stare down at the back of her pretty head. She trimmed her hair again; it’s clipped sharp at her chin. It would be so easy to slide my hand up her neck into her hair and fist the short tresses, pulling her back into me so she can feel my body pressed hard against hers.

The elevator comes to a stop, and the doors open. My fantasy crumbles.

“You’re welcome for the ride,” I say as we enter the apartment, and she stalks straight to Izzy standing at the foot of the stairs waiting with a warm smile.

Without looking back, Marlena raises her right hand and lifts her middle finger in my direction.

“I didn’t need or want it,” she says.

“Marlena.” Izzy frowns. “I asked him to pick you up.”

I could have told her that to dampen the fire, but the flames were too beautiful to put out.

Marlena turns halfway to me with her lips thinned. “I didn’t realize that.”

I lift a shoulder, waiting for an apology.

“You should have told me that instead of threatening me.” She continues to confront me.

What fun would there have been in that? Marlena Schmitt has a hard shell covering her entire soul. Spikes cover her armor, but I’m resilient. I’ll break through eventually.

“He threatened you?” Andrei questions, popping up from behind me.

“She made me chase her,” I answer without looking back at him. He’ll understand the frustration of my situation.

“Oh.” He steps forward. “Sergei is here, we need to talk.”

“Yes. Go to your corner of the apartment, and we’ll go to ours.” Marlena smiles, folding her arms over her chest.

“Let me know when you’re ready to go home,” I say.

“I can get there myself,” she sighs.

“Let me know.” I turn on my heel and head to Andrei’s office with him. If Sergei’s here on a Friday night and it’s not to play cards, there’s trouble.

“I see you’ve made no headway in that department.” Andrei slaps my back as he passes me on his way to his desk.

“She hasn’t threatened to call the police today. That’s progress,” I point out, shucking out of my jacket.

“That’s only because Izzy explained the police looking at you means the police looking at us, and it would be a bad look.” Andrei pushes back in his chair.

“If she doesn’t want you, leave her be. Don’t chase a woman.” Sergei points his finger at me from where he’s lounging on the leather couch. “There are plenty of women in this city, and if not here, we try New York, Los Angeles, Miami. Anywhere in the world.” He waggles his dark eyebrows.

“I’m not chasing,” I argue. “I’m patiently waiting for her to come to her senses.”

Andrei laughs. “She’s pretty set on her decision to stay away from any sort of relationship.”

“Not true. She went on a date not long ago.” Some jerkoff from a coffee shop she frequents. Lucky for him, she wasn’t taken by him and only saw him the one night. Even luckier for him, he hadn’t put his hands on her.

“A date and a relationship are two different things. And you don’t want to go on a date with Marlena,” Andrei points out. “You want her. I can see it with the way you look at her, but I’m telling you, Viktor. You can’t force that one. She will only rebel harder.”

“Ah, but her defiance is so pretty.” I can feel the tug on my lips just remembering how red her cheeks bloomed when I threatened to take my belt off in that alley. It wasn’t a bluff, but she wasn’t entirely sure. Thankfully for her, she didn’t test it, and she climbed into the car, cursing me under her breath.

Sergei rolls his eyes and frowns. “Is there something you needed, Andrei? A reason I’m missing out on a night with Naomi?” Sergei swings his legs off the couch and leans his elbows on his knees.

“Ah, at least this one has a name,” I counter him. Sergei buries himself in a new woman each week. Too many times he’s forgotten their names before they leave his apartment.

“They all have names. And I don’t have to chase or threaten any of them into my bed.”

“All right.” Andrei stops the storm before it erupts.

“What is it you needed us for?” I turn my attention to Andrei. Sergei’s in a mood. It’s no fun talking to him when he’s being a grump.

“Last night, two cars were broken into at Kraze,” Andrei tells us.

“So? We don’t offer security to the parking lots around the club. They’re not owned by us,” Sergei points out with a bite. He’s wanted to purchase the surrounding lots, but we’ve not made any moves in that direction. The Agosti family keeps their wallets fat with the parking lots in this part of the city; not touching anything in that realm keeps peace between us.

“They weren’t parked in the lot across the street. They were parked in our VIP garage, beneath the club.” Andrei’s jaw tenses. “Someone broke into the garage and broke into two cars.”

“Only two?” The VIP garage is kept for those that don’t want to chance their luxury cars on the street or in an unarmed lot. They’re usually carrying more than passengers.

“Security got down there within minutes,” Andrei explains.

“Security camera?” Sergei prompts.

“Feed showed nothing at first. They noticed a tremor on the screen, didn’t look right, so they went down there. Whoever it was was gone already, but the two cars had already been wiped. Everything they could take that was worth anything was gone, including a package one of our guests was holding.”

“How much?” Car radios could be replaced. Other things could not.

“Hundred grand.” Andrei presses his forearms into the desk. “I already repaid it and had the cars taken to our guy to be repaired. The guests were well compensated. There shouldn’t be blow back from that end, but it remains. Someone broke into our fucking VIP garage and ripped off people in our club.” His eyes harden. “We need to find out who the fuck is responsible.”

“You think they’ll come back?” Sergei questions, already moving to his feet.

“I don’t think anyone’s dumb enough, but if word gets out that we don’t protect what’s ours, there will be other issues.”

“I’ll ask around,” Sergei promises. “Could be just some asshole kids getting their feet wet in the car game.”

“You think kids could get into our garage?” I ask.

“Like I said, I’ll ask around.” He checks his watch. “Anything else?”

Andrei narrows his eyes. “No.”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Sergei grabs his jacket from the arm of the couch and marches to the door.

“Tell Naomi we said hello!” I yell after him.

“Fuck off, Viktor,” he calls back before shutting the door.

“Why do you mess with him when he’s in a mood?” Andrei shakes his head.

“He’s just being an ass. Leave him be.” I head to the bar in the corner and bring a bottle of vodka back to the desk.

“What did you threaten Marlena with to get her in the car?” he asks.

“Same you threaten Izzy with every time she makes you chase her.” I shrug. “I’m hungry. Let’s find food.”

He laughs. “Izzy wanted Cantonese. The food should be here already in the kitchen.” Andrei leads the way to the kitchen where the aroma from the takeout has already started to fill the air.

“Have you had anyone look at the footage of the security film again?” I ask while I dip some sort of dumpling into the dark sauce next to it.

“I have someone on it. No amateur would know how to cut into our feed,” Andrei answers as the kitchen door swings open, and Marlena swoops in. I catch her eye, and she pauses. A soft smile touches her lips, but in a blink it’s gone.

“Sorry. Didn’t know you were in here.” She rounds the kitchen island and goes to the fridge, grabbing a water and twisting off the cap. “Did you say someone cut into your security feed?”

Andrei quirks an eyebrow. “Something like that, yeah.”

She takes a sip. “Hmm. It’s easy to do if you know what you’re doing. What’d they do it for?” she asks, taking another sip.

“To break into some cars in the garage,” I answer just as she swallows. Her eyes go round, big and round.

“Oh?” Her voice is small. “Did any of the cars get lifted?”

“No.” I exchange a glance with Andrei. “It’s not that easy to steal a car out of our garage. They would have encountered security just outside the doors, and then again at the main alleyway entrance.”

“Did you, uh, catch them?” She plays with the bottle cap.

“Not yet.” I keep my gaze trained on her. A blotch of red blossoms on the side of her neck and grows up toward her cheeks. “But we will.”

She nods, but it’s a nervous nod.

“Right. I’m sure you will.” She twists the cap back on her bottle and heads for the door.

“Did she look nervous to you?” I ask, still watching the door swinging.

“A little. Did you ever find out what her problem was a few weeks ago, when you took her home after the card game?” he asks.

I shake my head. “No. That woman’s lips are a steel trap. Unless she wants to tell, she won’t.”

Andrei hands me a fork. “Maybe it’s time you make her want to tell.”

“I was just thinking the same thing.”

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