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Will I risk everything I thought I ever wanted to give myself body, soul and all of my heart to an older man? Would I join the Russian Mafia to be with him forever?
*British Bratva is an insta-everything standalone instalove romance with an HEA, no cheating, and no cliffhanger.
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From the moment I opened the encrypted email from the account I used to communicate with my Russian brethren back in Moscow, the reason I wanted Pierce Sutherland dead changed.
In the dark of the supposedly empty apartment I was camped out in, the screen glowed, backlighting the Cyrillic title of the file I decompressed.
Over fifty JPEGs spooled out, and I clicked through them. The majority showed me dark, determined eyes and perfectly fine features, looking out with a grim stoicism that a young woman her age should never have known.
Her name was Elizabeth Harrington and I’d been obsessed with her from the moment I laid eyes on her through the scope of my rifle from the apartment opposite the Chelsea home she shared with her stepfather. My intended target.
It wasn’t her face I was focused on. Each image showed her baring skin I dreamed of seeing someday for myself up close, without the barrier of a lens, but I never wanted to see it like this. In some images the bruises made pebbled patterns along her ribs. Other pictures, I could make out the imprint of an open hand, or the fingers of his fist.
I heard a growl, before I realised the sound had come from my throat.
I already knew the arsehole treated his stepdaughter worse than I’d treat a dog, but the photographs Valentin Rozhkov, my handler and second in command to the current Bratva Autoritat, Yakov Timoshenko, had just sent through were worse than I’d expected.
In that moment, I couldn’t have given fewer fucks about why the Russian President wanted him neutralised, or about the future funds of our organisation that his investigation had hanging in the balance. Pierce Sutherland was going to look me in the eyes and regret every fly he’d ever swatted, every spider he’d ever crushed. And then I was going to carve him up for touching her and relish every scream.
“Our hacker pulled them from her computer, Maxim. I think you have what you need to approach her now.”
The clipped Russian accent came clearly through the speaker without a grain of interference, despite the distance between Moscow and London. Unlike Timoshenko, Valentin understood the importance of investing in good kit. He also knew me well enough to know I wasn’t going to let what this man had been doing pass.
“I’m going to kill him with my bare hands. I’m going to rip his head off, and feed his bloody body to the pigs.”
“I thought you might react that way. Focus. Please. I won’t ask again. We need his investigation taken apart. Nothing to be published. After that, do as you please. We will need him neutralised I don’t care how that happens.”
“When I’m done with him, neutralised won’t be the word.”
“Don’t get sloppy, Maxim. No mistakes.”
“Maxim Toropov doesn’t make mistakes. Goodnight Valentin. I have a dinner to go to.”
I didn’t shock easily. I’d been doing wet work for years, straight out of the army after school. I’d honed my killing skills on the battlefield, and when I came back from the army, it was an easy step to tumble into business with some very serious men. I’d seen and done things that would stain my soul black for the rest of eternity. But Sutherland shocked me.
It took a special kind of bastard to lay a hand on a woman the way he did, for no other reason than his own diminished ego trying for an easy boost. All my kills were necessary, one way or the other, for the good of the Bratva. The world we lived in came with those kind of mortal checks and balances, and I was playing the reaper. It was just a job, but I had no doubt I felt the impact of what I did a thousand times more than Pierce Sutherland.
The contract on Sutherland should have been just another job. It was. Until it wasn’t.
With the line to Valentin dead, I went over the files again.
These pictures changed it all. Stretching back years, they showed Elizabeth’s progression from girl to woman, along with every bruise she had suffered along the way and in each image her face reflected in the long bedroom mirror I’d watch her stand in front of day after day, was a mask of stony defiance. I wanted to crush the bastard. Rip him limb from limb.
Over the past three weeks, I’d seen her take these pictures after he cornered her. Up in her room at the top of the house, she’d take out the camera and the laptop she kept hidden, stashed under the floorboards. Now I knew she documented everything he did, each photograph was date stamped and she made short, factual notes that I didn’t want to read.
Tuesday, 9:30pm. Drunk. Backhand.
It had looked like her escape plan. Something recent. I never dreamt she’d been doing it for years.