For the Bratva, retribution is the law.
An eye for an eye.
A tooth for a tooth.
A life for a life.
But the man who killed my beloved deserves a fate worse than death.
He’ll live knowing his only daughter was captured by a monster...
That he’s utterly powerless to stop me.
Olena Baranov will be my prisoner.
Vengeance will be mine.
Where is my guard? I don't even know his name. My father won't allow me more than necessary information when it comes to the men who work for him. But instead of my guard returning, the door swings open, and a large, burly man, bearded, with dark brown hair steps in. His eyes meet mine and a shiver of fear skates down my back.
I should be afraid. He's so big, so strong, and there's an air of danger about him I can't ignore. But my initial panic gives way when my heart does a crazy little skip in my chest. This man is hot.
And maybe I like that he's a little dangerous.
Since I've lived with my father, I've had to be the good girl who doesn't take risks. But I'm an adult now, and maybe a part of me wants to live a little dangerously.
He takes up the whole door frame with his massive body, and when he enters, he seems to take all the air in the room with him.
He's so stern looking, the breath freezes in my lungs. So large, I feel small and fragile. Easily a decade my senior, I shouldn't even be looking at this man the way I am. One crazy, irrational thought comes to my mind when he approaches the counter: this man could protect you.
Protection, yes. Safety? No. He isn't safe at all.
Customers come in here all day long, and I never let my imagination wander like this, but something... instinct, maybe? Something tells me to pay attention to this man.
"Hello," he greets in Russian. His voice is deep and warm, and the initial apprehension I first felt when I saw him quickly disappears when he gives me a captivating grin, revealing straight white teeth and full lips. "All alone tonight?" My skin warms at his greeting. Hope blossoms in my chest like reluctant daisies peaking heavenward. Fragile but eager.
"Hello," I say shyly, dipping my head. "Yes. It's quiet tonight."
He wears a long-sleeved navy-blue t-shirt that does nothing to hide the breadth of his shoulders and his large, muscled arms. Just the very tip of a tattoo peaks out from his collar, but I can't see much else. His shoulders and chest taper to a narrow waist, and dark, faded jeans hang low on his hips.
I'm not used to being in the presence of men like him. He makes the guys I go to school with look like little boys. I swallow hard, looking down at his hands. I imagine what it would be like to feel those large, powerful, confident hands on my body. I shiver.
Twenty-one years old and still a virgin, I have... issues. Hell, maybe I should consider going to the party with Maiya.
I suddenly realize he's standing at the counter waiting for me while I'm lost in thought. "Can I help you, sir?"
I risk a look back up at him. For one brief second, his gaze darkens, but he quickly schools his features. Leaning across the counter with his large forearms supporting him, he says in a low voice, "Do you call all your male customers sir? Or just me?"
I blink, taken aback by his question. Something hot and thrilling stirs in my chest.
This is no mere boy to spend time with. This is a man who commands respect and obedience. Hell, a crazy, irrational part of my mind feels like he's controlling the very beat of my heart. He raises a brow, like a stern schoolmaster, reminding me that he's asked a question,
A pulse aches low in my belly. He hasn't even touched me, and our exchange is the most sexual thing I've experienced all semester. Okay, ever.
"I don't call the boys who come in here 'sir,'" I whisper. There is something about him that made the word come to me without conscious thought. I clear my throat. "Only the men."
His chocolate-brown eyes, framed with thick black lashes, crinkle a bit around the edges, even as his gaze heats with something dark and possessive. "Good girl," he says approvingly.
I don't know why. I don't know how. But when he says that... when he calls me good girl, a little thrill of pleasure ripples through my body. I swallow hard, unable to mask how this man both intimidates and intrigues me.
"Your name?" he asks softly.
"Olena," I reply. His gaze alights with recognition, a look I should heed, like he's a hunter and I've just stepped into his target zone.
Extending his hand out for me to shake, he waits. I follow his lead and slide my much-smaller hand in his. But when his large, rough hand touches mine, I look at him in confusion when vivid awareness takes hold.
I... I know him. I've met him before. This isn't the first time he's touched me.
I stare at him in bewilderment, trying to place him, but I can't. I am rarely allowed to socialize, so he would have to be a student or professor. He definitely doesn't work for my father, and even if he did that would mean nothing. Only my bodyguards are ever allowed near me, and none are allowed to touch me.
How do I know him?
"And your name?" Maybe knowing something else about him will trigger a memory.
"Maksym," he tells me.
"Pleased to meet you, sir," I respond, this time on purpose. I'm completely swept away by his gaze, his voice, his powerful presence, and ready grin. If he asked me to go to a party tonight, I would ditch my bodyguards so fast it would make my father's head spin, and I'm fairly certain this guy could talk me out of my panties without even trying.
"Have we—have we met before?" I stammer curiously.
He shakes his head. "I don't think so. I would remember meeting a woman as beautiful as you."
Oh, my. It's a classic pick-up line. He's blatantly flirting with me.
I like it.
But even as my body yearns to be touched by him, for our handshake to never end, my mind admonishes me.
There are reasons my father has guards on me.
There are reasons my location detector is always on my phone.
USA Today Bestselling author Jane has been writing since her early teens, dabbling in short stories and poetry. When she married and began having children, her pen was laid to rest for several years, until the National Novel Writing Challenge (NaNoWriMo) in 2010 awakened in her the desire to write again. That year, she wrote her first novel, and has been writing ever since. With a houseful of children, she finds time to write in the early hours of the morning, squirreled away with a laptop, blanket, and cup of hot coffee. Years ago, she heard the wise advice, “Write the book you want to read,” and has taken it to heart. She sincerely hopes you also enjoy the books she likes to read.