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King’s Ransom (Ruthless Doms #3)
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USA Today bestselling author Jane Henry delves deep into the Russian underworld, with a high-stakes, heart-rending story of betrayal, atonement, and a hard-won happily-ever-after.
That is, until the day I see something I shouldn’t.
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It’s been too long since we’ve encountered conflict. Too long since we’ve had a skirmish or a battle. We’ve had nothing but peace, and though I appreciate these moments of quiet, I know Bratva life well. I don’t trust the quiet.
I walk the grounds of our compound observing everything. Everyone. Who’s home for the night, who isn’t, if anything’s out of place. As pakhan, I’m father to all and ever vigilant. Trusting no one, I’m always alert for the hint of anything that might put my men, my brothers, my son in danger.
Something’s wrong. Like the quiet before a storm, the still air tonight holds the promise of uncertainty.
Amaliya called me a pessimist. She said I saw a threat in the very moving of the clouds in the sky. But Amaliya is now dead. I’m arguably more guarded than before she was killed.
There are rhythms and cadences, what others might call ups and downs, in Bratva life. It’s not so much highs and lows, but silences. Any musician will tell you that the quiet places in a composition often have the greatest impact.
So when we hit the lulls, the quiet moments, I’m more alert than ever. I hardly sleep.
For well over thirty years I’ve been Bratva. I was inducted as a full-fledged member before I graduated high school. We don’t induct teenagers into Bratva life anymore, now demanding fluency in Russian, signature ink, and jail time sentences served before we even consider new membership. We’ve upped the stakes. I’m glad we have. Teenaged boys need to earn their spurs before they dedicate themselves to the Bratva.
I’d killed a man before I’d even lost my virginity. And I swore to fucking God that wouldn’t be my son, and it wouldn’t be the boys I brought into Bratva life. And I’ve kept my word. Though I still recruit and welcome younger men into our brotherhood, I demand a high school diploma and life experience before I’ll even consider a new applicant.
Christ. I’m getting too old for this shit. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m barely over fifty, having had Nicolai in my early twenties, but being Bratva since adolescence ages a man.
I sigh, scrub a hand across my brow, and make a mental note to have the landscaping team trim back the bushes by the main entrance. They obscure my vision.
I can’t shake this feeling I have. My instincts say shit’s about to go down, and soon. I think of calling Nicolai to check on him but stop myself when I swipe the phone on. He’s a full-grown adult with a child and a pregnant wife, and I don’t need to be waking him to check ghosts. Soon enough, he’ll be giving me hell about getting old and senile. I don’t need to start now.
So tonight, I make more than one round of our compound. I check every lock, every window. I sweep the beam of my flashlight in every corner of our interrogation room, though we haven’t used it in months. I swear that when I turn away from the ominous darkness, the screams of the men that we’ve interrogated echo behind me.
We should move this room. It’s not hidden well enough.
I even walk back to my office and scan security footage. I see nothing, and almost get up to leave, when a shadow crosses my vision. Someone’s awake, moving. I turn back to the screen. It’s one from my private home.
I squint at the image. It’s a shadow of a woman. I look more closely and breathe out a sigh of relief.
It’s only Taara. Of course.
When Taara’s mother could no longer fill the task as housekeeper and personal assistant, I hired Taara. I like keeping non-Bratva employees within the same family when possible, and Taara is the most attentive assistant one could have.
My worries forgotten momentarily, I sit back in my chair and watch her. It soothes me, and for a moment, I forget my troubles. She’s in the kitchen, wiping down the counters, but she must have some type of music playing in the background, for the girl is dancing like no-one’s watching. She knows I have cameras trained on every inch of our property, but I think she either forgets sometimes or no longer cares.
I watch in rapt fascination as she sways her hips and skips to a beat I can’t hear. And hell, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Born a Russian refugee, Afghani blood runs in her veins. With her exotic dark skin and thick, straight black hair she reminds me of a foreign princess. It’s easy enough to imagine her swathed in magenta, her head covered in a traditional chador.
If she were mine, I’d dress her in a burka. I’d cover every inch of her stunning beauty.
My phone rings, shaking me out of my reverie. I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me, letting my mind wander like that. Taara is young enough to be my daughter, and she’s my employee. I heave a sigh.