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Sweet Severity: A Dark Mafia Romance by Zoe Blake – Sample

Chapter One

Phoebe

All I wanted that day was coffee and a little freedom—not him. I never would have asked for him to come crashing into my life and take complete control.

Although technically… I crashed into his.

“No! No! No!” The steering wheel rattled so violently I could barely hold on as I desperately tried to turn into the skid.

The back wheels locked as the car fishtailed left then right on the ice.

“Oh, God!”

The car broke through the metal guardrail on Lake Shore Drive and pitched down the snow-covered slope, barely missing a tree before sideswiping a parked car.

“Sorry!” I called out to the car’s absent owner, my voice rising above my continued struggle to regain control.

Just when I thought I had it, the car hit another patch of slick ice and surged forward.

There was no traction. My steering wheel was useless.

The car went into a tailspin.

The horrible screech of metal scraping against metal rent the air when I hit another parked car and kept spinning.

Through the fogged windshield, Belmont Harbor loomed at the end of the tiny parking lot.

My throat closed as the blood left my body.

With numb fingers I clung to the useless steering wheel, already imagining the icy, dark waters closing in around me.

The car spun again as a blur of trees, parked cars, and the harbor with its empty docks whirled past my windshield in a hazy blur.

Another spin and I’d be in the water.

My arms flew up to protect my face as I screamed and squeezed my eyes shut.

My shoulder and head slammed against the driver’s side window.

It took a moment for me to realize the car had stopped.

I kept my eyes closed, afraid to look.

I had seen enough television shows to know it took a few seconds for the windows to crack and shatter from the pressure before the water poured into a car.

Bracing for the sudden freezing deluge of murky Lake Michigan water, every muscle in my body clenched.

One second.

Two seconds.

Three.

Nothing.

I peeked through my eyelashes.

At first, I mistook the gray skies for a wall of water surrounding my car. Then the clouds and trees registered.

I turned my head so quickly, a furious rush of blood and pressure burst in my neck as it cricked.

But I barely felt it… because a fresh fear gripped me.

The driver’s side of my car had crashed into the driver’s side of another car, leaving us smashed together in a twist of metal and glass.

And through the window a pair of piercing emerald-green eyes glared back at me.

Chapter Two

Phoebe

Despite the frigid chill in the air, I could practically feel the heat from the man’s anger.

His car was pinned between mine and a sign pole, effectively trapping him.

“I’m so sorry!” I yelled through my window. “Are you okay?”

This was not good.

On the passenger seat my phone lit up with my brother’s face.

And… it just got worse.

No doubt the stupid car had ratted me out and sent a crash alert to him.

Knowing it would cost me later, I ignored his phone call and focused on helping the furious stranger whose day I had just completely ruined.

Turning back to the window, I shouted, “Don’t worry! I’m going to get you out!”

The handsome man scowled and pointed at me while he mouthed something.

I shook my head. “I can’t understand you. Hold on! I’m coming!”

My attempt to shift forward out of my seat came to an abrupt halt when my body was jerked back. With a glance out of the corner of my eye, I realized the stranger had witnessed my embarrassing gaffe.

And that he was still yelling at me.

The shaking in my hands was so bad, it took several tries to unbuckle my seat belt. When it finally unlatched, it snapped back into place so quickly the buckle slammed against the already cracked window, startling me.

Seriously, Phoebe, get your shit together, I chastised myself. The man could be hurt, and it would be all my fault.

Leaning over, I moved to crawl over the center console to reach the passenger door.

And cried out from the shock and pain of my insanely hot McDonald’s coffee tipping over and spilling right down my thin white T-shirt, the added whipped cream and caramel sauce a sticky bonus to the whole sopping mess.

Holy hell, that was hot.

Wasn’t there some kind of lawsuit that said they weren’t supposed to sell it skin-boiling-hot anymore?

Never mind. Focus.

Breathing through the sharp pain and plucking at the shirt, I pushed the cup down into the footwell and landed face-first into the passenger seat before flipping onto my ass and pulling my legs over.

The maneuver left me out of breath and vowing to start working out. I reached for the door handle and yanked on it.

It wouldn’t budge.

Oh no!

I yanked on it harder. Nothing.

With as much force as I could muster, I slammed my shoulder against the door and wrenched on the handle again.

Still nothing.

My mouth opened on a silent ow as a dull, throbbing ache in my shoulder competed with what I was certain were third-degree burns on my boobs.

The passenger side must have swiped a parked car while I was spinning, damaging it.

Suddenly the entire car pitched sideways and back.

I stretched out my arms to brace myself. What the hell?

My fevered brain instantly imagined my car slowly slipping over the dock’s edge to my doom.

I squeezed my eyes shut and battled a wave of dizziness.

Had I hit my head while the car was spinning out of control? I couldn’t remember. It all happened so fast. Maybe the car wasn’t even moving, and this was a weird hallucination brought on by a concussion.

The car pitched again.

This time I turned to look through the driver’s side window.

The stranger with the disturbingly bright green eyes was rocking his car to push into mine.

I shook my head  and yelled through the closed window. “That will not work. You’re pinned. My car won’t move.” With lots of expressive hand gestures, I tried to pantomime what I was saying in case he couldn’t understand.

With my index finger pointed up, I indicated that he just needed to be patient for another minute or two. “I’m trying to get to you. Hold on!”

His dark scowl deepened.

I leaned into the cushioned seat back, my stomach in knots. If he was this terrifying when I did not know what he was saying, then I couldn’t imagine what he would be like once he was free.

I inwardly sighed.

It wasn’t like I wasn’t used to getting screamed at on a daily basis, but I had been so enjoying my hour of freedom after borrowing my brother’s car for a few quick errands. It had been months since he had let me leave the house for a free afternoon.

And now it was all ruined. Stupid icy roads.

The rest of my afternoon would be spent on the receiving end of a lot of screaming. First by this man, then probably my brother, then my sister-in-law and then probably my brother again.

The stranger bared his teeth, gesturing at me with his finger and then making a violent thrashing symbol.

I swallowed.

His hand gesture either meant he wanted me to stop and sit still or that he was going to kill me when he got out of his car.

There was a tiny bit of comfort in that he had made the thrashing gesture down low and not across his neck. I meant, everyone knew the universal hand gesture for murdering someone was across the neck, right?

After staring at the man through the window, I somehow didn’t think he would get hung up on technicalities. I could just imagine myself saying, oh no, sorry, you’re not allowed to murder me because your hand gesture was six inches too low, rules are rules.

Crap. I probably did hit my head.

With morbid curiosity, I watched the man grip his steering wheel and… holy hell!

His hands jerked as he twisted the wheel counterclockwise and then ripped the whole thing off the steering column.

I didn’t even know that was possible.

What kind of superhuman, steroid-induced, the Hulk is my father, kind of arm strength did you need to freaking rip a steering wheel off a car?

He tossed the wheel into the back before pushing his car seat back at an angle.

His large hand braced against the driver’s side window.

What did they say about men and large hands?

Dammit, focus. I really would have to get my head checked after this.

Massive black combat boots appeared as he raised his legs and kicked at the windshield.

The window cracked into a spidery, cobblestone pattern. After a second kick, it popped free, bending and folding onto itself like an overly starched and stiff blanket.

The man then crawled onto the hood of his formerly expensive-looking car.

The dull, pulsing pain in my shoulder ceased, all the blood seeming to drain from my body.

The man was enormous.

Like, really huge. Like professional football player gigantic.

It didn’t help he was dressed in all black from his heavy wool turtleneck to his black cargo pants which were tucked into his high-laced combat boots.

Leave it to me to slam my car into freaking Rambo.

At least he didn’t look injured. A silver lining to this shit storm.

The super scary with superhuman strength sniper Rambo stranger slid along the hood of the car to land easily on his feet. He then shoved the windshield partially back into place and stormed toward me.

Oh God!

My head pivoted from one side to the other, trying to keep track through the cracked rear windshield of his approach.

Then he was right next to me.

Only his torso and narrow waist were visible through the window.

As he reached for my door handle, I panicked.

I snapped my arm out and locked the door.

His large hand came into view. It was tanned with a spattering of black hair which made the crisscross pattern of whispery, white scars across each of his knuckles stand out that much more.

Closing his hand into a fist, he rapped against the glass. “Open the door.”

I jumped at the muffled sound of his voice.

Although voice was painting it a bit thick. It was more like the dark growl of a snarling beast.

My limbs stiffened. Now I knew what a rabbit felt like when it froze in the middle of a lawn at the sound of a nearby dog.

The man leaned down to peer into the window.

With his salt and pepper black hair, square jaw covered in a day’s worth of scruff, and intense green eyes, he looked like Superman’s rugged, black sheep brother—which would explain the superhuman strength.

Yup. I definitely hit my head.

His gaze locked with mine. “Unlock the door now, or I’ll rip it off.”

He couldn’t really rip a car door off its heavy metal hinges, could he?

Then again, before now I hadn’t known it was possible to rip a steering wheel off its column using only your bare hands.

I guessed there were perks to being Superman’s outcast brother.

My gaze traveled over the door. There was a great deal of light shining through the outer edge, so it was definitely no longer secured to the car. Probably why it was jammed.

Lifting my arm, I gave him a slight wave as if he were a friendly passerby. “That’s okay. I’ll just wait for the police,” I called through the window.

Oh crap! I hadn’t called them.

My torso twisted and I lifted my hips to search for my phone, which I was currently sitting on. As I did so, I debated whether I should call nine-one-one, or just call my brother directly.

Before I could decide, there was a horrendous screeching noise.

To my horror, the stranger made good on his promise.

In one powerful lurch, he tore the car door off.

A blast of cold air hit me as I stared dumbfounded at the gaping hole.

The stranger then reached inside and wrapped his hands around my waist.

I slapped at his forearms, but it was like a mouse swiping at a lion’s paws.

With even less effort, he easily yanked me from the damaged car.

If the stranger had looked scary from my glimpse through the car window, then face to face—or rather face to chest—he was absolutely terrifying.

His hands shifted their grip to my upper arms.

Refusing to look up for fear I’d faint, I focused on the center of his chest. “I’m really sorry. It’s all my fault. I hit a patch of ice and the car just started skidding and—”

“Where the fuck is your coat?” he demanded.

Chapter Three

Macarius

Her bones were as fragile as a bird’s.

She shivered and my anger grew.

“I told you to stay put and not try to move. What if you’re injured?”

“I’m sorry! I couldn’t hear you through the window.”

“You still should have known better than to climb around your car like a fucking monkey so soon after a traumatic accident.”

“You climbed through your windshield.”

I ground my response through clenched teeth. “That’s different.”

Her lower lip protruded in what would have been an adorable pout under other circumstances. “Why?”

“Your American education has failed you if I have to explain the difference in strength between a fully grown man and a little girl with not enough sense to wear a coat in winter.”

“You don’t have a coat on either.”

Just because I found her irate anger endearing, and because I knew that keeping her adrenaline up would help stave off any shock until I could get her medical attention someplace warm, I grinned and said, “That’s different.”

 My adrenaline had pumped furiously through my veins the moment her car spun out of control and headed straight for the harbor.

In a flash, I’d caught sight of her pale, frightened face through the driver’s side window right before she screamed and raised her arms to cover her face.

I didn’t have to actually hear her scream for it to rend my soul.

My sister had probably screamed the same way, seconds before that drunk driver plowed into her car, killing her.

Without thinking twice, I’d slammed my foot on the gas.

My car had sprung forward, directly into her path.

Best-case scenario, my modified Range Rover with its heavier bulletproof side panels would absorb the impact.

Worst-case scenario, my car and not hers would be the one to plunge into the icy waters of the harbor.

Either way, there had been no goddamn scenario where I was going to let this woman die in front of me.

It was only after the initial crash when she ignored my commands to stay still that my fear turned to rage.

Watching her scramble around the inside of her car, clearly unaware of the trickle of blood down her forehead, I realized she was only wearing a thin, long-sleeved T-shirt and those fucking yoga pants American women seemed to live in.

Completely inappropriate attire for the winter weather.

If she hadn’t crashed into me, she would have frozen to death.

With her narrow face and small nose that turned up slightly at the end and her soft, long blonde hair framing her large sapphire blue eyes, she looked the very image of Vasilisa the Beautiful from a colorful book of fairy tales I had as a child.

I remembered well telling my papa as a boy that when I grew up, I wanted to be the one to protect Vasilisa from her evil stepmother and sisters.

“And what the hell is all over your shirt?”

She shivered again and crossed her arms over her chest. “My coffee. I’m fine. I’m so sorry about your car. I’m pretty sure my brother has insurance. Let me check.”

Her slim shoulders twisted as she attempted to break my grasp to look in the glove compartment of her ruined car.

I tightened my grasp. “I don’t give a fuck about your brother’s insurance or my car. Look at me.”

Her head remained lowered.

I placed a hand under her chin and lifted her face to my gaze. “What day is it?”

Her brow furrowed. “Friday, why?”

I studied her pupils for any large dilation or lack of response to light, which would be a sign of brain trauma. “I’ll ask the questions. What is your name?”

She bit her lower lip, clearly nervous about answering.

I raised an eyebrow. “The easy way would be to tell me. You don’t want to know about the hard way.”

Her eyes widened. “Phoebe. My name is Phoebe.”

While it was a pretty name, it was too uptight chic and French for my taste. She was like an adorable little baby doll who needed a cuter name.

Rubbing my thumb just under her full lower lip, I said, “All right, Bebe. Let’s get you inside my car where it’s warm.”

I had shoved the broken windshield back into place so it would provide some protection from the elements.

In the back seat, with the heat on full blast, we wouldn’t even notice the slight draft. Plus at least my engine still hummed. A quick inspection under the car showed there was no gas leak, so it was safe to continue running it for heat.

Hers had stalled out the moment of our impact and it would be too dangerous to start it up again, lest the ignition spark hit an unknown gas leak.

“It’s Phoebe,” she whispered, “and I’m fine waiting in my car until the police come.”

“I disagree and since I’m the man, I win.”

She averted her gaze, another shiver coursing down her body. “That is not how it’s supposed to work.”

While I had to admire that despite her obvious fear she still attempted to stand up against my will, now was not the time to test my authority. I needed to get her out of the cold so I could examine her for more injuries.

I had to bend practically in half to sweep my arm under her knees. Compared to my over six-foot height, she had to be barely five foot four.

Against her cry of protest, I pulled her into my arms and pivoted to storm back to my SUV.

Her head swung from side to side, gazing down at the worn asphalt and gravel, as her small fists gripped my shirt. “You’re going to drop me!”

She couldn’t possibly be serious.

Circling around the front of her car, I made my way to the rear passenger door on the other side of my SUV, since the front one was smashed against a thick metal pole.

With a nod of my head, I ordered, “Pull on the handle for me.”

“Please, won’t you just let me wait in my car?”

“No. Now open the car door.”

Her arm stretched out, but then she snatched it back.

Refusing to meet my gaze, she focused somewhere between my collar bones. “I know you’re just trying to be kind, but I’m really uncomfortable getting into your car.”

“I can understand why.”

She finally met my gaze, her pretty blue eyes lighting up with hope. “You can?”

I tilted my head to the side. “Of course. I’m a stranger and a man. It would be foolish of you to put yourself into such a vulnerable position.”

It was obvious she was afraid of me. As she should be. There were men four times her size who were afraid to stand up to me. Still, I had to admire her courage for trying.

It was precious really. Futile, but still precious.

She glanced behind her at the ground before looking back at me. “So, you’ll put me down?”

“No.”

“But you just said—”

“I said I understood. I didn’t say I agreed. Now open the door.”

She frowned. “I’m confused.”

“It’s probably because you hit your head.”

“I knew it!”

Her left arm flew to her forehead. The moment she saw the small smear of blood on her fingertips, her lips turned ashen. “Oh dear, I think I’m going to… going to…”

Her body went limp in my arms.

With a resigned sigh, I bent my knees and slipped my fingers inside the door handle, just enough to open it.

Kicking it the rest of the way open, I gingerly sat on the edge of the black leather seat and slowly swiveled my hips to bring her into the interior, being careful not to strike her head on the car door frame.

After settling Bebe on my lap and closing the door, I inspected her head wound.

Thankfully, it was just a slight cut.

Head wounds always looked worse than they were because of the disproportionate amount of bleeding. Her cut was not even large enough to need stitches, which meant she probably didn’t have a concussion either, but I would have a doctor examine her all the same.

Using the sleeve of my turtleneck, I gently wiped the blood away. I didn’t want her waking from her faint and seeing it again.

As I ran my hand down her right arm to check for any broken bones, I realized she still had her cell phone clutched in her hand. Prying her fingers open, I tossed it aside, but not before noticing the name Thomas light up as the phone rang.

My anger returned.

I didn’t like the idea of a man calling her.

Was this the brother she mentioned? A husband? Boyfriend? It didn’t matter.

With her torn and stained shirt and pale face, she was like a Russkaya tryapichnaya kukla, a little Russian rag doll I had found discarded and forgotten on the side of the road.

Finders keepers.

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