I SHOULD GIVE HER UP—SET HER FREE.
The Russian army made me a killer, but the brotherhood made me what I am.
Ruthless. Deadly. Irredeemable.
Which is why Kayla should stay away.
The innocent, young actress has a bright future ahead of her,
so long as someone doesn’t break her first. Someone like me.
Every weekend, she gives herself to me fully. Without question. Without hesitation.
She’s mine to command.
In return, I give her what she craves—pain and pleasure.
But it’s a fantasy that can’t ever become reality.
We’re playing with fire,
but I can’t seem to let her go…
I wrap my tattooed fingers under the deadbeat’s jaw and trace a knife blade across his throat. “Don’t make bets you can’t cover,” I tell him. I sharpened the blade before we came, so just the tickle of it cuts his skin and sends a trickle of blood down his fat neck. Enough to scare him if he’s squeamish. We’re not here to maim the guy, just to make him piss his pants.
Nikolai, our bookie, stands close, arms folded over his chest in clear condemnation. Beside him, Oleg, the enormous, silent enforcer, cracks his tattooed knuckles.
He already worked the asshole over pretty well. The guy will be bruised and swollen for a couple weeks, for sure. That’s what happens when you fuck with the Chicago Bratva.
“Please. I’ll get you the money. I swear.” He’s blubbering now. It didn’t take long to break him, but it was still more time than I wanted to waste here.
Not that my job is a waste of my time. I’m damn lucky to be part of Ravil’s bratva cell.
It’s just that I have someone else to torture after this. Someone far more delectable and willing. But unfortunately, she lives in a different city, which means I have a flight to catch.
I meet Nikolai’s eye, and he shrugs, leaving the call up to me.
I clean the blade of my knife on the mudak’s shirt. “You have two weeks. Pay up or we take everything you love. Understand?”
“I understand,” he moans. “I’ll get you the money. I promise.”
“You had the money,” I remind him. “And instead of bringing it to us, you used it to place a new bet with the Tacones.”
The guy hangs his head. “I know,” he moans.
“So I’m telling you—we get paid first.”
“I will—I will pay you first. I promise.”
“Don’t think you’re welcome at my table again,” Nikolai says. He takes it personally when players choose to sit with the Italians instead of us. The Tacones aren’t our enemies; we have a tacit agreement to stick to our own specialties when it comes to organized crime in this city. Which means our poker games shouldn’t overlap.
I lift my chin at Oleg, who takes one last swing at the guy’s face for good measure, and then I cut the ropes tying him to the chair. He starts to scramble up, but I point the blade of my knife at his left eyeball, and he freezes.
“Sit. Count to four hundred. Then you leave.”
“Four hundred. Got it. Four hundred,” the guy babbles.
I pick up my jacket and pull it on as we leave the abandoned warehouse we chose for our little torture session. Pea gravel crunches underfoot as we walk to Oleg’s SUV.
“Not up to your usual quality,” Nikolai remarks as we walk. “You losing your taste for torture?”
“No.” I don’t tell him my tastes have just changed. I’ve found a far healthier outlet for my sadistic urges. I don’t tell him, but he probably already knows. I live with these guys full time. It’s pretty hard to keep secrets although we just found out Oleg kept a huge one about his past from us.
“Seriously, dude. I almost stepped in to throw a couple punches myself.” Nikolai’s still giving me shit.
I glance at Oleg, because the guy communicates more these days, and he shrugs and makes his fist nod, sign language for yes.
“Da poshel ty.” I tell them to go to hell.
We climb into Oleg’s vehicle, and he starts it up to drive us back.
“Ravil’s going to replace you if you don’t start pulling your weight.” Nikolai says it lightly, but a prickle on the back of my neck tells me to pay attention. I’m not sure if he’s just trying to get a rise out of me or if he means it. Ravil is our pakhan, the boss of the Chicago bratva. The idea that he might be dissatisfied with my service puts me on edge. I’m lucky as hell to have this position, and I’m ambitious. I definitely hope to solidify my place for as long as I’m here. That way, hopefully, when I go back to Moscow, I’ll have improved my position in the organization there.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I snap.
Nikolai twists from the front seat to look at me. “He made a comment this morning about you leaving for the weekend again. Something about you not clearing it with him.”
Blyad’. I hadn’t cleared it with him. But I thought everyone knew I was going to L.A. for the weekend. I’ve gone every weekend since Valentine’s, when Ravil sent me to a BDSM club on business, and I ended up claiming my little slave.
Still, assuming everyone knew I was going isn’t the same thing as asking permission from the boss. I should’ve thought to ask for his leave, but we’re not exactly timeclock employees. Our job descriptions are pretty loose. Basically, I do whatever the fuck Ravil tells me to do—legal or not.
Ravil owns me, but I’d do anything for him.
I scrub a hand over my face. “Okay. Thanks for telling me.” Nikolai may come off as a dick, but I know he’s trying to save my ass.
“What is your plan with this girl?” Nikolai asks.
I don’t answer. It’s none of his fucking business.
“You gonna keep this long-distance thing up permanently?”
“Nah,” I say, trying to make it sound casual. Like breaking things off with Kayla is going to be easy for me.
The truth is, it’s not. I know I’m a piece of shit for claiming her and keeping her as mine for the past month. Kayla has a life. A bright future. One that will only be hurt by association with me. And that’s not even taking into consideration the emotional pain I’m going to cause her. Every week I let this go on makes it harder to break things off.
I should rip off the Band-aid now, before she gets even more bonded to me as her master than she already is.
Yeah, I’ll break things off this weekend. Not when I get there but at the end. After we have enjoyed ourselves. I’ll make sure she has the best orgasms of her life, and then I’ll let her down gently. Blame it on the distance.
Oleg parks in the underground lot beneath the building Ravil owns across from Lake Michigan. The neighborhood calls it the Kremlin because he only lets Russians live and work here. Russians and his American bride. Also now Oleg’s new girlfriend, Story. For a brief moment, the thought of demanding my slave move here to Chicago, of installing her in the Kremlin so I can dominate her twenty-four/seven, flashes through my mind.
But of course, I would never do such a thing. She’s an actress trying to make it in Los Angeles. Convincing her to move—and I’m not certain I could, even as willing as she is to do my bidding—would effectively terminate her dreams. I may be a selfish prick, but I’m not that big of an asshole.
I get out and check my phone. My suitcase is already packed and in my car. If I climb in now and drive straight to the airport, I’ll get there in perfect time.
But Ravil. The last thing I need is my ass handed to me by the boss. Not after I’ve worked so hard to make myself indispensable.
Blyad.’ I follow Nikolai and Oleg to the elevator and take it up to the top floor, where we all share the boss’ penthouse. He stands at the giant floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the lake, holding Benjamin, his five-month-old baby against his chest. He’s murmuring softly to the baby in Russian.
Not a good time to interrupt.
But I don’t have time to spare.
I go stand next to him, remaining quiet and looking out at the lake.
“What happened?” Ravil almost always speaks to us in English. When I moved here from Russia to join his cell, I didn’t speak a word. This was how he made sure we learned—by forbidding our mother tongue until we were fluent in English.
“Nothing. We took care of it.”
He slides a speculative look my way, but says nothing. Ravil is mild-mannered. Cool-tempered. Smart as hell. Not a man you should ever underestimate or cross. I’m fortunate he gave me a place here when I had to leave Moscow. I’ve tried to learn everything I can from him, emulate his ways. I’m rough around the edges, but growing more sophisticated every day.
I shove my hands in my pockets. Apologizing doesn’t come easy to me. I can’t think of the last time I did, actually. But I owe Ravil mad respect. “I should have asked your permission to leave town,” I say, my gaze dropping to the face of his cherubic infant as the baby’s eyelids flutter closed.
“Yes,” Ravil agrees.
Fuck. Nikolai was right. I owe him big time for telling me.
“Forgiven.” He says it easily, while still making it clear my transgression required forgiveness.
I take a breath but can’t think what to say next. Do I ask for belated permission? Maybe I should, but I can’t bring myself to even offer the possibility of me not going. I have a slice of pure heaven waiting for me in California, and I intend to suck all the juice out of it before I break things off.
I start to tell him this is my last trip, but I can’t make that promise, either.
“You’re figuring things out.” Ravil speaks for me.
For some inexplicable reason, my heart starts thudding. Ravil just spoke aloud what I’ve been pretending to myself I had already decided.
But what is there to sort out? Kayla is in Los Angeles. I’m here. What’s more, I have plans to go back to Russia when things cool down. I’ve saved my money to start my own enterprise there. Not going back isn’t an option—my mother is all alone there.
But he’s right—I clearly haven’t made my mind up yet, or I wouldn’t be going this weekend. My one-month arrangement with Kayla was over last week.
“Yes,” I agree.
“Let me know when you do.” He turns and walks away, leaving me sweating.
Another reason to conclude my adventure with Kayla this weekend.
And yet as I walk out the door to head for the airport, I’m almost certain I won’t.
I sip champagne in the lobby of the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, positioned just inside the front doors, so I can be seen by everyone who comes in. I’m in character, playing my part, so I ignore the notion that I don’t belong here. That this place is for the rich and famous, and I’m just a wanna-be actress from Wisconsin.
I haven’t seen anyone famous come in yet, but it occurs to me that hanging out here might be a strategy to get “discovered.” You never know, right? That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway. Me and my roommates and the rest of the unemployed actors in L.A.
My phone rings, and I pull it out of my purse, swiping across the screen when I see it’s my agent.
“Kayla, listen, clear your schedule for this weekend. I might be able to get you an audition. I’m working on it.”
This weekend. Fuck.
On weekends, I now belong to Pavel. But this is my career. It has to come first. “Yeah, okay,” I tell her breathlessly. “What’s it for?”
“It’s a new television series directed by Blake Ensign, and I think you’d be perfect for one of the parts. Oh—I have to take this call. I’ll talk to you soon.” Lara ends the call in her typical important-agent fashion, even though she’s not that important. She’s definitely not the agent to the A-listers. Or even the B-listers. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be my agent, would she?
But, whatever. I’m lucky I have an agent. It’s more than most could say.
I sigh and put my phone back in my purse and drink some more champagne to calm my nerves. Pavel, my bad-boy Russian dom, will understand about tomorrow—if the audition even happens.
At least I think he will. The truth is, he may be my dom, we may do the most intimate of things each mind-blowing weekend, but we’re still strangers. I say dom—not boyfriend—because there’s nothing “boy” about Pavel, even though he’s probably the same age I am. And no, I don’t know his real age. There are a million things I don’t know about Pavel. Like what he actually does for a living. Or what made him a sadist—if such things can be defined. They probably can’t. I don’t know what made me a submissive. I just know it turns me on more than all the love-making I experienced before I went to Black Light.
Just the thought of the things he’ll do to me tonight sends a shiver up my spine.
I’m in a black cocktail dress—not as slinky or sexy as I’d like, but it has a built-in collar and an open cutout for my cleavage, which I think is hot. I hope Pavel feels the same way.
I recross my legs. I’m wearing fancy black thigh-highs, the kind with the seam that runs up the back and ends with a tiny satin bow a few inches from my ass. I changed my outfit fifteen times trying to get it right, and I’m still unsure about my choice. I feel slightly like a call-girl waiting for her john. Which is hot in a cosplay kind of way, but it might be a little too close to the truth.
Not that Pavel pays me. The first weekend he flew out to see me—the weekend after we were paired at Black Light, an exclusive BDSM club where we met, he held up a wad of bills before we parted. “This is not payment,” he said in his sexy accent. He manages to be stern and commanding, even when giving me a gift. “Don’t think that for even a second. This is spending money because I won’t be around to take you out the rest of the week.”
I only blinked twice before I took the money, accepting it with Pavel’s kiss to my temple. I’m barely scraping by as a bit-part and commercials actress who does party promotions and light bartending to pay the rent. I’d like to be plucky and proud and tell him I don’t need his money, but I’m really not that person. I’m definitely the “tend and befriend” kind of survivor. Which means I accept help when it comes. When I’d unrolled the bills later at home, I’d been shocked to find it wasn’t a few twenties. It was a wad of hundreds—nine to be exact.
He repeated that the next three weekends we were together, slipping large amounts of money into my purse or pressing them into my hand. “Not payment,” he would say sternly in that sexy Russian accent, daring me to contradict him.
A bolt of excitement strikes like lightning the moment he walks through the glass doors. Power radiates from the man, contradicting his youth and street tattoos. His neatly trimmed beard adorns a square jaw and chin with a dimple in the center. He would be Hollywood handsome except for the distinct air of danger around him. More than one head turns to see who is coming in. It’s L.A., so there are famous people everywhere—especially at the Four Seasons, and Pavel looks like he’s one of them.
Like always, he’s wearing expensive clothes, but his crisp button-down shirt is open at the throat, revealing the tattoos that crawl up his chest to his neck. He is every inch the bratva badass. He carries a small suitcase, which I know from experience contains his implements of torture. Things he will use to master me over and over again, all weekend long.
I slide forward on the modern couch, ready to surge to my feet, but he gives a minuscule shake of his head, his gaze bouncing off me to the line at the front desk.
The explosion of butterflies in my belly makes it hard to think. To decipher. Other than lifting one finger for a half-second, as if to signal me to wait, he doesn’t acknowledge me. He walks past to stand in the line at the front desk. A hot flush floods my cheeks as I sit, my spine straight, tits out, awaiting his command.
I try to push back the pain of his rejection. It’s not rejection. This is a test in obedience. How well do I read his wishes? How good am I at delayed gratification? He’s edging me. That must be it.
Everything the man says or does sends flutters through me. His words are delicious, fantasy-inducing commands. His expressions tend to be dark, bordering on slight disapproval. He’ll give me a flick of his eyebrow, a warning look. He plays the part of my forbidding master to a tee. Except I’m not even sure it’s a part he’s playing. All of our interactions are movie-worthy scenes, but I don’t think this role is very far off from who he really is.
The problem is, I just don’t know. Sometimes I’m not sure I want to know. We’re playing out our fantasies with each other. Why would we want any part of real life in this?
One of the hotel staff brings him a tray with filled champagne glasses. He shakes his head but says something to the man then points in my direction. My hurt fades. He’s still looking out for me, as a good master should. I’m offered more champagne, and I accept, not because I want it but because Pavel had it sent over to me.
He checks in and then strides over. This time I don’t start to get up until I’m sure. Not until he holds out his hand for me. He’s still cool and impassive. No expression whatsoever on the harsh planes of his face. I can’t tell if he’s happy to see me. If he’s pleased or displeased with my outfit or the way I waited obediently. I set the champagne glass down. I don’t need any more—one drink is plenty for a lightweight like me.
My hand is clammy in his as he helps me to my feet. He doesn’t say a word. No kiss. No how are you? Or You look great. Nothing. He’s all business. He drops his suitcase on top of mine, takes my hand again, and leads me to the bank of elevators, rolling both our suitcases with his free hand.
The butterflies become a hurricane, spiraling in frantic flight. I don’t understand him and my need to please—to play this game properly—has me on a knife’s edge.
We step into the elevator, and the doors shut. The moment we’re alone, Pavel turns to me. One hand wraps in my hair, the other on my ass as he pushes me back against the elevator wall. His mouth descends on mine in a demanding kiss. His erection prods my belly, and his tongue sweeps into my mouth. Relief pours through me.
He’s not dissatisfied. He does want me.
I wind my arms around his neck and kiss him back, wrapping one leg around his to draw him closer. We kiss like the world’s about to end. Like if we don’t devour each other’s mouths, we’ll never see the light of day again. It’s only been a week since we’ve seen each other, and it feels like both yesterday and forever ago.
The elevator dings, and Pavel catches my hand, not looking at me as he leads me out, expertly maneuvering our stacked suitcases down the hall to a door, which he opens with his keycard.
He still hasn’t spoken. I guess I haven’t, either, because I’m waiting for him to lead. He’s the master. I’m his slave. At least that’s the game we’ve been playing since we met just over a month ago. He kicks the door shut and resumes our kiss with the same ferocity he left off. My butt hits the wall. The hard lines of his body mold against mine, demanding my yield. I surrender to him. To his skill. His domination, his lead. He catches my thigh and hikes it up, finding the top band of my thigh-highs.
“Hot,” he breathes against my lips. For a first word, it seems appropriate. He strokes my ass, his palm sliding under the hem off the dress. “You look so fucking hot.”
There. That’s what I was hoping for. Why I changed my clothes over a dozen times.
He kisses down my neck as he palms my pussy like he owns it. Which he does. Consensually given, of course. Like always, I’m soft putty in his hands—quivering, ready, awaiting his command.
He doesn’t give one. Instead, he just takes. He slides his fingers inside my panties and strokes over my slit. “Already wet.” His neatly-trimmed beard tickles my ear. His Russian accent is thick—it always grows stronger when he’s turned on. “Such a good girl. Ready to take my cock the moment I want to give it to you.”
A shudder of pleasure goes through me at his dirty talk, and I drink up his praise, even though my state of readiness isn’t something I have control over.
“Yes, sir,” I pant.
“I need to be inside you, blossom,” he says gruffly, rushing to free his erection.
Blossom. I love his pet name. It started because he thought I was too delicate a flower. Too crushable. We were paired by a roll of the roulette wheel at Black Light, and I think he was disappointed to get me. But when he found I took everything he dished—pain and humiliation alike—his disdain for me slowly turned to appreciation. After he broke me, when I humiliatingly lost my shit in a puddle of sub-drop sobs, he declared I belonged to him.
That was five weeks ago.
I don’t help him now because my job is to submit. He drives the train.
He pulls my panties to the side and lines the head of his cock up with my entrance, bending his knees to lower to my height. We don’t use a condom because I’m on the pill, we’re monogamous, and we’ve both been tested and are clean. When he shoves in and up, he lifts me to my toes, sliding my hips up the wall.
I cry out, clutching his bulging biceps for stability.
“Whose pussy is this?” Pavel’s fingers are rough on my ass as he helps lift me to the right height to nail me against the wall.
He thrusts in hard and fast. My back bangs against the wall. It’s rough and frightening and wonderful. I lift my other leg to wrap around his waist, and he grinds into me, shoving in with each powerful snap of his hips. His teeth score my neck, he sucks and nips as he pounds into me.
I listen to the quickening of his breath. I will come the moment he does—if he allows it. I don’t even think or try—it’s like my body knows its master. It wants to join him in the release.
Pavel’s strokes get harder, driving my body further up the wall. I let out a cry of need. His breath catches, and he slams in deep. “Come.” His command is strangled and guttural as he speaks over his own orgasm.
I relinquish all effort to hold back the squeezing of my muscles around his cock. There is nothing but the sound of his rasping breath, and the sensation of his cock pulsing inside me.
Pavel kisses my temple, my cheekbone, the bridge of my nose. These are the moments I savor. When I’m certain I’ve won his approval. When he’s grateful and gentle and generous with the affection he otherwise holds back. “I needed that.” He squeezes my ass and kisses my neck. “I couldn’t even look at you in that dress when I came in; I knew I’d have the world’s most visible boner walking to the front desk.”
“Ah, that’s what it was.” I almost laugh with relief. “I thought you were playing some mindfuck to keep me off balance.”
Pavel pulls back, easing out of me, and studies my face. He tucks his cock away and straightens my dress. “I hurt your feelings.”
I shrug. He’s great at reading me when he seeks an answer but is sometimes clueless about what to ask. My friend Sasha, who hooked us up, thinks I’m the first and only girlfriend he’s ever had.
And I don’t even consider myself his girlfriend.
What we have is something else.
I nod, and he strokes his thumb down my cheek.
“I’m into delivering physical pain not emotional, Kayla. I don’t do mindfucks. I don’t want you off-balance, I want you sure of me. Otherwise, how will you trust me with this fuck-hot body of yours?”
The flutters in my belly tumble once then settle down.
Pavel holds my jaw and hovers his lips above mine. “I’m sorry, blossom. I’m a selfish prick. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He kisses me so softly it almost makes me weep. It’s the opposite of the hard, claiming kisses of the elevator. Something different. “Thank you for telling me. I won’t leave you hanging again.”
Everything in my chest goes warm and gooey. This is how things always are with Pavel. I’m on edge, a shivering, volatile mess, trembling for his attention, dying for affirmation, and then when he gives it to me, I soar like a kite.
My housemates think it’s dysfunctional, but they don’t understand BDSM. I think Pavel’s the most exciting thing to ever happen to me.