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Loathe Me (Touch of Death #1)
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I’m a soldier. A killer. The Russian Elite.
She’s a mafia princess. A job. A runaway bride.
My business is death, however, I find myself manipulated into becoming a glorified babysitter to Adelina Ricci. She’s spoiled, naive, reckless, and yet she see’s parts of me I didn’t know existed. Makes me want things I had never even imagined. I will protect her from everything, but I can’t save her from me— that damage is already done.
A lethal knight. A rebellious pawn. A lie that will ruin them both.
Loathe me or love me?
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The metallic tang of blood explodes on my tongue, and I spit it on the stained concrete. I refuse to acknowledge the ache in my jaw or that my ribs are undoubtedly cracked. I block the pain from my mind, forcing it away until I become invincible. Unrelenting.
Viktor moves across from me, his body twisted into a fighting stance with his feet firmly planted. Blood coats his fists, both his—from split knuckles—and mine. Bruising starts to blossom on his face as his left eye swells shut. Hard breaths slip past torn lips, fogging the icy air.
His weight shifts onto his back foot, the slightest movement, a tell. He kicks out and I grab his leg. I wrench it upward and slam my fist into the side of his knee. Bone cracks and soft tissue tears as joints displace under the force. As soon as I release him, he hits the ground; a low groan is the only indication he’s in any pain. We are Elite. We do not show weakness. Ever.
“Good.” Nicholai claps his hands together, stepping into my line of sight. A smile lights his face, and deep lines sink into the corners of his eyes. Bending down, he grabs my shoulder. Frosty blue eyes—almost the same icy tone as his grey hair—meet mine. “You will be the best, Sasha.”
I want that. To be the best. To make him proud.
“Back in line.” The moment is gone when he barks the order. I scramble to follow orders, clasping my hands behind my back and keeping my chin high, despite the pain that radiates through my entire frame.
“Una. Joshua,”Nicholai calls.
Joshua steps out of line, stretching his hulking frame as he moves under the buzzing fluorescent light hanging above the ring; a patch of rust-colored concrete in the center of the training room. The scent of sweat and blood permanently lingers in the air, and there’s something comforting in that familiarity.
Una joins her opponent in the square, instantly dwarfed by the much bigger boy. I know better than to be deceived by her size though. Something uncomfortable twists in my gut, and I grimace, focusing my gaze on the weapons wall across the room.
The sparring starts, and every muscle in my body tenses. Una springs off the floor with grace more akin to a dancer than a warrior, commanding my attention. I breathe a silent sigh of relief when she lands a solid punch to Joshua’s throat. But it’s short-lived. Joshua is two years older, has a hundred pounds on her, and twice as much experience. He’s been here as long as I have. Eight years of training have made him formidable, and she’s no match for him. She’s been here just a year, and is the only female in the group. Nicholai likes her, though. Una’s uncontrollable and undisciplined. She charges into a fight with zero hesitation when she should stop to think. She’s so feral, she’ll fight to the death.
The fight continues with the two circling each other, taking occasional shots. Just as anticipated, Nicholai soon gets bored, switching from proud father to demanding mentor in a heartbeat.
“Finish it!” he snaps.
Joshua lands a powerful jab to Una’s chin, and she goes down like lead. He lands on top of her with a thud, raining blow after blow to her skull. Blood splatters everywhere, as her body goes limp. Still, Joshua doesn’t relent. My muscles tighten, and I clench my jaw when a blood splatters my boots. Thud, thud, thud.
My own control evades me, and I instinctually step forward. “Stop! She’s down.”
Joshua pauses. His bloodied fist hovers in mid-air as he straightens. His attention snaps from Una to me, and he stalks toward me like a raging bull. He cocks his arm back, swinging for me. I duck easily before I punch him in the throat. Hard. The boy collapses to his knees, choking and coughing. The second I step back, I realize I’ve made a mistake. I could hear a pin drop in the bleak, grey training room.
“Well… Get her up,” Nicholai orders one of the instructors. “Tsk, tsk, Sasha.” He smooth’s a hand down the front of his immaculate suit jacket while shaking his head.
Smelling salts are wafted under Una’s nose, but truthfully, I’m not sure that will be enough. Her face is nothing but blood and damaged flesh, but after a few seconds, she coughs and rolls over. I’ve never seen someone vomit blood until now. Una sucks in a deep, ragged breath that rattles through her lungs, audible from several yards away.
She’s helped to her feet and then left to stand alone. Her tiny frame sways, back and forth. Even at fourteen, she really is tiny for her age.
“Now.” Nicholai goes to the weapons wall and removes a pistol, loading a clip into it before placing it in Una’s trembling hand.