Book one of NOLA Knights, the heart-stoppingly sexy spinoff series by Men of Haven author Rhenna Morgan
His world. His rules. Her love.
Though his methods may be rough, when it comes to protecting what’s his, Russian vor Sergei Petrovyh’s heart is always in the right place. That’s never been more true than when the gorgeous Evette Labadie asks him for a job. He knows enough to keep his hands off someone as beloved by the locals as Evie, but there’s something about her that calls to him—no matter how badly he burns to make her his.
Don’t think Evie hasn’t noticed the powerful Russian mafia boss who makes her favorite diner a regular stop. How can she not? He’s as hot as his reputation is dangerous. But everyone in her struggling New Orleans neighborhood knows he’s the man to turn to. And right now she needs money to get her son out of trouble.
Her other needs—needs she knows damn well Sergei can more than satisfy—will have to wait.
Evie soon finds herself playing Cinderella to a man who, despite what people believe, is definitely more prince than villain. She can’t help falling deeper in love with each passing day. But when a turf war between Sergei and a rival brings violence to her doorstep, Evie must come to grips with loving a man who will do anything to defend her…or walk away from her best chance at a happily-ever-after of her very own.
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NOLA Knights series
Book 1: His to Defend
Book 2: Hers to Tame
Book 3: Mine to Keep
His to Defend is the highly anticipated spinoff of the Men of Haven series. Order your copies of Rough & Tumble, Wild & Sweet, Claim & Protect, Tempted & Taken, Stand & Deliver and Down & Dirty today!
This book is approximately 88,000 words
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Evette pinched the business-size check from her former employer a little tighter and glared at the cleaning company's logo in the top corner. On any other Friday, the money would have meant inching closer to some semblance of security for her and her son, Emerson. A step toward unraveling the mess she'd created for her life. Today, the unexpected termination that had come with her weekly pay felt more like a sucker punch to the gut. Yet another obstacle to overcome after too many damned years running the gauntlet and never even glimpsing the finish line.
Maybe she could get a job cleaning at one of the hotels. God knew the French Quarter was packed with them, and she was pretty sure she could count on regular shift work, like the office cleaning crew she'd been on. Though, how she was going to land one by Monday when it was already close to 4:30 on a Friday afternoon was beyond her. And landing something quick was the only way this latest setback wouldn't force her into dipping into Emerson's school fund. Plus, there was the hurdle of what would happen if they called her old company for references and found out she'd been fired for a security breach.
The commuter bus swung onto Tulane headed toward Mid-City, and Evie's spirits sunk a little lower. If someone had told her when she was growing up that she'd be a single mom living in one of New Orleans's rougher parts of town at twenty-eight years old, she'd have laughed in their face. She was going to be a fashion retail buyer — or at least have some kind of career in fashion. She was going to travel the world. See things. Know people. Adventure her way through life and suck it dry.
Then her mom had died, and she'd gone off the rails.
She sighed and slunk a little farther down onto the hard plastic bench, the run-down stores, bars and restaurants along the roadside passing in a blur while the vibrations from the bus's engine rattled clear to her bones.
Get knocked down seven times, stand up eight.
If she had a dollar for all the times her momma had said it and all the times Evie had echoed it in the last eight years, she'd be driving a Porsche toward the Garden District right now instead of a barely livable apartment.
But her momma had made it.
Raised Evette through her tumultuous preteen years after her daddy's death and made it look easy. It hadn't been until a year after Emerson had been born and Evie had found the courage to read some of her mother's journals that she'd realized just how much of a challenge her mother had really faced. How much she'd given up and how alone she'd felt through every second.
Evie understood it now. Knew to her very marrow the sacrifices that had been made on her behalf.
And she'd thrown it all away nursing her grief.
Resolve and a whole lot of stubbornness revved her energy and forced her taller in her seat. Pity was what had gotten her into this mess to begin with, and she'd be damned if she went that route again. Labadie women didn't quit. Didn't give up. They faced whatever they needed to face, and they smiled doing it. Eventually, she was going to find a way to give her and Emerson the world. She just might have to scrimp a little longer and get more creative to make it happen.
The bus's brakes whined, and the older lady seated next to Evie leaned into her.
Evie braced herself enough to keep them both upright and smiled down at her fellow passenger. "You gettin' off here, Miss Arnold? You know Dorothy's Friday specials are always the best ones of the week."
Miss Arnold beamed a smile at Evie and hugged her grocery bag a little tighter to her chest. Her blue eyes might have turned murky in the last few years and the wrinkles lining her pale skin etched a little deeper, but her kind heart was still as strong as ever. "No, no, Evette. Trips to the grocery aren't as easy as they used to be. Better I get my tired bones on to the home before the sun goes down."
A smart move. Especially in this part of town, because a woman like Miss Arnold after dark was a mugging waiting to happen.
Once certain the older woman had her balance again, Evie stood, shouldered her purse and took another stab at the same argument she'd been having with the neighborhood woman for the past year. "Seems to me, you could use that fancy shuttle van all the other residents use for your errands and not have half the hassle."
Miss Arnold lifted her chin a little higher, the epitome of a Southern woman with an iron core. "Seein' to myself is a privilege. Gonna take advantage of it as long as the good Lord'll let me." She dipped her head toward the door at the front of the bus. "Best get yourself to Dorothy's and that handsome boy of yours."
Damn. Shut down again. "All right, but don't think we're not gonna talk about this next time."
"Lookin' forward to it, beautiful girl."
Evie shook her head and headed to the door.
"Evette." Miss Arnold's sharp voice halted her just before she took the first step down. She waited until Evie met her steady stare before she spoke again. "Gonna be all right. Whatever it is ... it's not gonna beat you. You just keep on remembering that."
A tightness noosed around Evette's throat, and tears tingled along the bridge of her nose. Maybe she wouldn't have another chance to talk Miss Arnold out of taking the bus to the grocery store. Not unless her next job took her to the same part of town she'd been working in. She clenched the handrail beside the steep steps and forced a smile she didn't feel. "Don't you worry, Miss Arnold. Gonna take more than a kick or two to keep me down."
The older woman nodded as if she'd expected such an answer, then went back to staring out the window opposite her seat. "Good girl. Now get on to that boy of yours and tell Dorothy I said hello."
Outside, the temperature still hovered near eighty-five degrees. Not exactly an unbearable number at the tail end of September, but the humidity from the gulf and the subtle stench that last night's rains had stirred from the Quarter didn't exactly make for an ideal stroll on the streets either. She hurried past a cheesy souvenir shop, a convenience store and a pub — the latter leaving the faint scent of cigarette smoke on the sidewalk despite the front door doing its best to trap the conditioned air inside. At the end of the block, Dorothy's Diner sat like a neighborhood beacon. The entrance was right at the corner, two long walls of windows stretching for a good twelve feet on either side so those moseying past could get an easy view of the crowd inside.
And there was always a crowd at Dorothy's. As diners went, it was an institution. A safe haven in the middle of hell and a slice of soul food heaven all rolled into one. Per usual, Emerson was at the soda-shop-style counter perched on the barstool closest to the front door, his shoulders slightly hunched forward and his forearms around his plate like a linebacker braced to protect his food. His dirty blond hair was a nod to her daddy's side of the family and was a tad too long and tousled like any other seven-year-old boy's probably was at the end of the school day, but his expression was far too empty. His hazel eyes too void of emotion for someone so young.
She forced another bogus smile and shoved the glass door open. The bell overhead gave a cheerful jingle, and two or three of the waitresses on the floor called out a greeting.
Evie gave them all a polite wave, but went straight to her kid and added a little extra mess to his hair with a playful ruffle. "Hey, champ. How was school?"
For the briefest of seconds, her little boy stared back at her. Not much more than a hint of a smile, but enough to let her know the kid who had curled so innocently in her lap a few years ago was still in there somewhere. The openness was gone again in a blink, the sullen scowl she'd grown to hate aimed back at a plateful of turkey and dressing. He shrugged and stabbed a bite of turkey. "Just a day."
"Yeah, but it's a Friday and everyone knows Fridays are always better by default." She slid onto the barstool next to Emerson and let her purse drop to the raised step beneath her feet. "Anything big go down at recess?"
Emerson shook his head.
"Any surprise tests?"
"Meet any cute girls?"
To that, he simply lifted his head and looked at her like he was torn between walking home without her and suggesting she have her head examined.
"Well, at least that got your attention," she said. "You know, when I was your age, my momma couldn't get me to shut up."
Emerson pushed a green bean that had strayed too close to his dressing back to the exiled portion of his plate. "No point in talking if there's nothing going on."
"Hmm." She crossed her arms and pretended to check out the rest of the diner's patrons while her brain scrambled for any clue on how to engage with her son. He might be only seven, but he talked with more sophistication than most adults. Barely any slang. No Creole mannerisms and definitely no profanity. More like a gentleman stuck in a child's body. So, why she thought some shocking revelation on how to talk to him at his level was gonna plow its way to the forefront of her thoughts right this second after over a year of searching was beyond her. "Well, if you're not gonna talk to me, maybe Miss Dorothy will. You seen her?"
Emerson politely wiped his mouth with his napkin and dipped his head toward the kitchen. "She disappeared in there right before you came in. Table seven didn't like their special."
Evie glanced at the turkey and dressing on Emerson's plate. "Someone's complaining about the cooking? Are they high?"
Miracle of miracles, Emerson's mouth twitched with a smile that didn't quite break free. "Not everyone has good taste, Mom."
"True dat," she fired back, wishing with everything in her she could get her kid to let go and be a kid again. She swiveled toward the kitchen and waved her hand at her bag. "Watch that for me. Don't want our payday finding legs and running off without us."
Evie meandered toward the kitchen, her son's perfect reply echoing in her head. If she'd been that proper growing up, her momma would have celebrated with street parties and however many charitable contributions for the offering plate their bank account would allow. Instead, she'd been sassy. Never disrespectful, of course. That would have earned her a butt whoopin' or boxed ears. But an okie dokie pokey or a you betcha was way more common than a proper Yes, ma'am.
The scrape of metal chair legs against the black-and-white industrial tile shot through the diner.
Evie paused at the end of the counter and turned toward the sound.
Backing away from the popular round booth in the back corner was a slightly balding fortyish-looking man with a short-sleeve checked button-down barely covering his paunch. His black pants were a tad too short in the length, but they were clean and well-pressed. He clenched some papers in his hand and executed a semi-bow that could have been interpreted as fear or extreme respect. Maybe a little of both.
One glance at who was sitting in the booth and the tense gesture made sense.
She'd missed seeing him on the way in. Which said a lot about how distracted the new twist in her life had left her because just thinking his name made her flush. Actually looking at him made her and three-quarters of the female population too tongue-tied to talk. The other quarter mostly threw themselves at him and prayed to any god who would listen for a chance to hear that deep Russian accent of his up close and personal. Preferably in a situation where no clothes were involved.
Rather than butt into Dorothy's rant with the chef in the kitchen, Evie waited near the register and straightened a stack of menus.
The balding man said something to Sergei, took two more steps backward, then turned and quick-stepped it toward the front door.
Her gaze drifted back to Sergei, though she covered her leisurely perusal by thumbing through an order pad near the register. Dark wavy hair to his shoulders, sharp facial features, one of those sexy-as-hell tightly cropped beards and a deliciously tall and fit body to go with it.
But it wasn't just his looks that left women wanting. It was his power. A charisma burning behind his dark blue eyes and a graceful yet predatory edge behind every movement. In short, Sergei Petrovyh was the kind of man who could make any female forget her problems for at least a few precious moments with a single look.
Actually, if she was honest, Sergei could eradicate her problems completely. It was what he'd done for a long list of people in her neighborhood since he'd moved to New Orleans a little over a year ago — traded fixing untenable situations in exchange for obligations owed.
More to the point ... he was a mobster.
A damned good-looking one, for sure, but a seriously dangerous man all the same.
Footsteps and muffled grumbling registered a few seconds before Dorothy's droll voice cut through Evie's ogling. "Girl, I've seen star-struck groupies act less obvious than you right now."
Evie crushed the urge to flinch like a guilty schoolgirl and gave Sergei another thorough once-over just to prove to both of them she could. Seriously, the man was like a Greek god. Maybe it was all that olive skin. Or the fact that he moved like a panther. The custom-tailored suits he wore definitely made the fashion lover in her want to stretch out and purr.
So, yeah. She was old enough to ogle all she wanted and wasn't about to apologize to anyone for doing it. Especially not after the day she'd had. "Nothing wrong with looking." She faced her momma's lifelong friend, leaned a hip onto the counter and braced one hand on the other. "And lookin' at him is a damn sight better than tryin' to figure out how I'm gonna pull off a major miracle between now and Monday."
Dorothy tucked her order pad inside the pocket of her white apron. Her daddy had named her after Dorothy Dandridge purely because he'd had a crush on the actress when Dorothy had been born, but she'd grown into a woman as beautiful as her namesake. At sixty-eight years old, her skin was wrinkled and her hair a soft gray, but her near-black eyes were still sharp as ever. She eyeballed Evie the way only a mother could. "What kind of miracle are we talking about?"
"The kind where I find a job."
"I thought you were goin' for a supervisor position with the cleaning gig. What happened?"
Evie threw up her hands, then crossed her arms across her chest. "Damned if I know. Something about a security breach and my badge being used to access an attorney's office after hours last weekend. Which is complete crap. Aside from me and Emerson going to the Farmers Market and the church potluck last Saturday, me and my badge were home all weekend. It had to be a mix-up."
"You tell 'em that?"
"'Course I did. But they weren't listening. Said they didn't have a choice but to let me go with their security policy."
Dorothy frowned and ambled behind Evie to the back countertop and the tub of clean silverware waiting to be rolled into napkins. She laid out the first napkin and got to work. "Not sure how that constitutes an emergency. I know you, Evie. You're always bracin' for a storm. Don't tell me you don't have savings."
"All of that's going to Emerson's tuition."
"I thought he was on a wait list. No point in scrimping now if you need it and have time to build it back."
"He's not on a wait list anymore." Evie moved in beside her. She'd been rolling napkins at Dorothy's place for as long as she could remember and had worked through countless crises with the simple task. "The dean called this week and said one of the kids is moving. I can apply for a scholarship, but I have to pony up the tuition to hold the spot while they process it."
"How much is it?"
Dorothy's head snapped her direction and her voice rose enough a good amount of the diner's chatter ceased. "$900? Are you insane?"
"Dorothy!" she whisper-scolded with a pointed look in Emerson's direction. "Emerson needs this. All his teachers say he needs this place. Say he's bored to tears in public schools and that a Montessori school is perfect for a kid like him."
"Pshht." Dorothy shook her head. "That much money just to hold a spot, that school better pave him a gold path to heaven and wipe his ass, too." She paused long enough to let a comfortable silence stretch between them, then aimed a sideways look at Evie. "So? What you gonna do?"
"Well, I was hopin' maybe you could let me work for you a little while I look for something else."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "His To Defend"
Copyright © 2019 Rhenna Morgan.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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