Naomi: When I was kidnapped I thought only of survival. I don’t thrive well in chaos. That’s why I gave my captors exactly what they wanted: my skill with computers. Making millions for a crime lord who kept me imprisoned in his basement compound kept my family safe. When he was taken out, I thought my ticket to freedom had arrived. Wrong. I traded one keeper for another. This time I’m in the hands of a scarred, dark, demanding Russian who happens to be the head of the Bratva, a Russian crime organization. He wants my brain and my body. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued, but I can’t be a prisoner forever...no matter how good he makes me feel.
Vasily: At a young age, I was taught that a man without power is a puppet for all. I’ve clawed—and killed—my way to the top so that it is my heel on their necks. But to unify the fractured organization into an undefeatable machine, I need a technological genius to help me steal one particular artifact. That she is breathtaking, determined, and vulnerable is making her more dangerous than all of my enemies combined. But only I can keep her safe from the world that she now inhabits. Soon, I must choose between Naomi and Bratva law. But with every day that passes, this becomes a more impossible choice.
About the Author
Jen Frederick is the USA Today bestselling author of the Woodlands series as well as co-author of the Hitman series. She lives with her husband, child, and one rambunctious dog. She's been reading stories all her life but never imagined writing one of her own. Jen loves to hear from readers so drop her a line.
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“Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick are a force to be reckoned with!”*
TITLES BY JESSICA CLARE AND JEN FREDERICK
One Month Ago
“You think to lead the Petrovich Bratva?” Georgi Petrovich cries from far down the table. He is so far removed from the main branch of the Petrovich family tree he barely warrants a place here. “You aren’t even blood Petrovich!”
“Am I not?” I ask. There’s no need to raise my voice. Any emotion indicates weakness. I am not a weak man. “What makes a Petrovich?” I stand then and begin to walk around the table. “Is it blood? Then half of you should be executed on the table for failing to have the requisite DNA. Who shall go first?”
I point to Thomas Gregovorich, a loyal member of the Bratva for at least two generations. His father served in the KGB during the Cold War.
He gives a small nod in deference acknowledging that the Bratva was a true brotherhood made up of allegiances rather than blood.
“Or you, Kilment, when we took you and your brother in when you were left orphaned on the street, did you believe you became a true Petrovich when you made your first kill? Conducted your first job? When we speak of the Bratva, we speak as one voice. What is done to one, it is done to all. Or does that maxim no longer hold true, Georgi?”
There are low murmurs of approval and Georgi sits back, folds his arms, and looks petulantly at the table. We are meeting today to discuss the future of the Bratva after the death of Sergei Petrovich. A death I helped orchestrate, and many suspect it, which makes it difficult for me to enact my next step—to kill Elena Petrovich. Two Petrovichs dead so close together smells of a coup. We are an unstable lot, and lopping off the head of this snake would result in chaos. In order to achieve my ends, the Bratva must be stabilized.
However, in this den of iniquity, it is not love that holds the loyalty of each man. It is fear. The Petrovichs have held power over us all by setting us one against the other. To rise above, I have eliminated all weaknesses.
What sets me apart is all that I am willing to do. Each of these men at the table has had limits. I have none.
The men that sit at this table are divided. Some view me with awe and respect, and others with disgust. The latter are the ones I respect, because a man who would kill his own sister, a man such as I, deserves to be in a dungeon, locked away from all of humanity.
Instead I stand here as the potential leader of this room of villains and thieves. And it is a position I seek, not because I lust after power, but because if I control the Bratva, then nothing is out of my reach. I have one goal now.
“Will you kill your mother to save the Bratva, Thomas? And you, Pietr, when your sister whispers to her lover Pavlil Ionov, do you worry that she’s telling secrets? Or Stefan, your son, I saw him the other day holding hands with . . .” I stop behind Stefan’s chair and rest both hands on the back. I can almost feel him inhale the fear. “. . . a smart young thing. They looked to be enjoying themselves.”
Pietr coughs. “So you are willing to kill us all to maintain hold of the Bratva? That is not a good reason to follow you.”
“No, but you all know that I will sacrifice everything and everyone to protect the brotherhood.”
They are all silent because unlike the others, my sister, Katya, is gone. Disposed of by my own hand at the order of Elena Petrovich.
I end my stroll around the room behind my chair. “I am the one who led us away from munitions and dirt to telecom interests. In less than a decade, the Bratva’s primary businesses will be legitimate, which means that you no longer have to hide behind your armored vehicles. You no longer have to rely on bodyguards that could be bought off. You need not fear the KGB or the militsiya. You can invest in your futbol teams and mansions in Londongrad without fear of reprisal.”
Leadership means effective utilization of the carrot and the stick. I lead with the stick. Always. The Petrovichs believe in only the stick. For them the carrot does not exist or is viewed with suspicion.
The boyeviks—the young muscle our old warlord Alexsandr groomed from urchins on the street to protect the brotherhood—grow tired of the constant threat to their homes and family. They sleep with one eye open, their hand over their heart, wondering if the brother next to them will be killing their mother or raping their sister in retribution for some Bratva infraction.
The older generation such as Thomas and Kilment and those who sit on the Petrovich Bratva council are loath to hand over the power of this organization to me, a mere foot soldier sold by his father to repay debts. With Sergei dead and the vicious Elena the only real Petrovich remaining, I am left with a choice. Attempt to wrest control of the brotherhood from the old guard or walk away.
And I would walk away. I have some money stored but I’ve been a Petrovich for a long time and there are many enemies that would crow over my death. No, in order to survive, the Petrovich Bratva must remain strong.
If I have learned anything, it is that people with nothing are victims. It is those with power and money and might who have the ability to protect others.
Thomas rubs a hand across his jaw. “There is one thing you could do.”
“That is a legend, Thomas,” Kilment groans.
“I will do it.” Legends persist because people believe, and if belief means I can bring down Elena Petrovich and secure a peaceful future, then I will pursue this foolishness until the painting is mine. Their desire to recapture the past is absurd and yet another reason the old guard should be replaced. “You wish me to procure the Caravaggio.”
Cries of wonder and confusion fill the room.
“So you know,” Kilment says flatly.
I pretend no ignorance, for it is a story that Alexsandr shared with me long ago. “I know that a famous triptych painted by Caravaggio once hung in the palaces of the Medicis in Florence, perhaps the Careggi Villa. It was commissioned as an altarpiece but considered to be too profane, as many of his pieces were judged. It was gifted by the Medicis to Feodor the First, who then lost it, and Russia entered the Time of Troubles. When the Boyars rose to power in the seventeen hundreds, it is rumored the painting was recovered by Peter the Great. Citizen Petrovich’s grandfather was gifted this set of three paintings and it hung in the great hall of the Petrovichs until it was lost, sold, stolen during Sergei’s time. Many say that he who holds it, holds the world.”
Thomas nods at this recitation, but Kilment looks unconvinced.
“It is known as the Madonna and the Volk,” I conclude. The Petrovichs loved the painting because the woman who sat for Caravaggio was purportedly a true Mary Magdalene—a whore. And the Volk? It is a man-wolf who is eating Mary, and despite the gruesomeness of the depiction, there is an expression of ecstasy on her face. Volk, too, was seen as a play on the old Russian criminal rank of vory. Thieves, wolves at the door. We were the predators. Everyone else is prey. I saw it only once, when I was given to Elena Petrovich like some birthday treat. It seemed fitting that Sergei sold it to fund some sordid perversion of his own. “But why is it that it is of any importance? It is a mere painting.”
Thomas stares at me. “It is a symbol of our wealth and power, and we have lost it. And no Caravaggio, one of the greatest painters of all time, can be dubbed a mere painting. It belonged to Peter the Great. It is priceless, one of a kind. Why would we not want it? That it is in the hands of someone else is shameful, a blot against the Petrovich name. Now more than ever, we must show our enemies we are strong.”
“So you want it, but why is this your loyalty test? Have I not proven myself again and again? Have I not shed the blood of my own family for the brotherhood?” I spread my scarred hands out as if they hold the proof of my allegiance.
“The Caravaggio has been lost to us for years. Many of us have tried to find it but have failed,” Thomas admits. “If you find it, you will show yourself to be a man of resource and cunning, a man who is unafraid. You will restore the pride to the brotherhood and prove your worth as a leader.”
I hold back a lip curl of disgust at this. Leadership is not running around the world seeking one painting. Leadership is moving our assets out of dangerous and risky ventures and into more stable enterprises. Leadership is generating loyalty by providing a way for the members to feed their families and protect their loved ones.
This is a snipe hunt, an impossible task designed to make me fail and appear weak amongst those who would support me. Or worse, in my absence they will eliminate those they deem a threat. To kill me here would generate a revolt.
No, this is not about a painting. This is punishment, revenge, retribution. But I am one step ahead of them. I guessed that this is the task they would set before me. They think I will be gone long, chasing my tail for months. I will be happy to prove how wrong they are.
Thomas sits back and looks around the table. He has been a member of the Bratva for a long time. They respect his voice. “Bring us the Madonna, and the Bratva will be yours.”
I smile and raise my palms in a gesture that says fait accompli. “Then it is done.”
I am not so sanguine two hours later as I sit across the table from Ivan the Terrible. Ivan Dostonev is the leader of the Dostonev Bratva, an organization whose base is in St. Petersburg. The Dostonevs posture that they are descendants of confidantes of the tsars. Perhaps they are, but we are all criminals. We bathe in the blood of our enemies and eat our own young.
“I hear the Petrovich Bratva is troubled, my friend,” he says with studied casualness. Ivan has held power not because he is particularly clever but because he is a man of his word—a rarity in these parts. People trust him—and fear him. He trades in favors and you do not know when your favor will be called in, only that when the time comes you must heed his call or reap terrible consequences.
I owe this man a favor, and I knew from the moment I saw his name on the screen of my phone that my reckoning had arrived.
“When there is a change in leadership, some are disconcerted. That will change,” I reply.
“My people tell me that the council has set a challenge for you. Meet it and the Petrovich brotherhood is yours.”
I meet his boast that he has infiltrated our organization with my own. “And my people tell me that your son has no interest in following in your footsteps. What will happen to the Dostonevs then?”
“Bah! Vladimir is young. He wants to drink and fuck. Let him have his fun.” He swallows his vodka and gestures for me to drink. I do, tipping the glass and allowing the clear liquid to coat my tongue and glide down my throat. “Enough of the niceties. Fifteen years ago, you asked a favor of me. I granted it. Now it is time for you to repay your debt.”
“Of course.” There is relief in finally discharging my debt. For so long I’ve wondered, not what I would be asked to do, but when. The uncertainty will soon be behind me. “What is it?”
“I want you to bring me the Caravaggio.”
His request astonishes me.
“Why does everyone love this painting?” I’m truly bewildered.
He holds out his arms; heavy jewels adorn nearly every finger. Put him on a throne and one would easily mistake him for a prince of old. “I’ve always wanted it. It hung in the palace of Peter the Great. It was commissioned by the great Cosimo de’ Medici.”
“And you thumb your nose at the Petrovichs.”
He grins. “That too.”
“No.” I refuse tersely. “Ask something else.”
“I want nothing else.” He waves his hand. “You know they are setting you up. This painting means nothing to them. They want you out of Moscow so that they can weed out those amongst your young soldiers who look up to you. The old guard will not give up power so easily.”
I stare impassively. The old guard is senile. Their plays are so obvious they are read by outsiders. “I did not know you had interest in the Petrovich holdings. You’ve always said Moscow is full of peasants.”
He flicks his fingers in disgust. “I do not want your precious Bratva. I have no interest in your businesses. And frankly, Vasya, neither should you. Let the Petrovich Bratva burn. Find me the painting and you can bring her home. Fifteen years is a very long time to have not laid eyes on your precious sister. What would you do to have your family restored to you?”
I fight not to bare my teeth at him, to not jump over the table and strangle him until pain replaces his smug smile.
“I know they expect me to fail and be distracted for months, but when I return with the Caravaggio, they will not be able to deny me. They have prepared their own shallow graves.”
“So you have found it?” He quirks his eyebrow.
I shrug but do not answer.
“Well, well. I am impressed, Vasya. It is a shame I did not find you all those years ago. You would have made a marvelous part of the Dostonevs. Still, I want the painting. You will have to find a way to bring me the painting and still gain power within the Bratva. For you see Vasya, if you do not bring the painting to me, I will summon your sister home and she will become exactly what you do not wish—a target for all your enemies. I helped save your sister once. It is easy enough to help kill her, too. Choose your course wisely.”
“They are setting you on a fool’s errand,” Igorek announces as I enter my office. He is standing next to the single window that overlooks a dirty alley and the brick wall of the building next door. Igorek is a young warrior with a brother and a mother to protect. He worries, for good reason, that he and his loved ones would be imperiled if I am gone for a long period of time. He is not the only one who has invaded my sanctum. Aleksei, an enforcer whom I trained with as a boy, is also present.
“Only if I cannot return with the Madonna. When I present the painting to them, they will be forced to back me. I will remove Elena to some dacha in northern Russia, and we will jettison any who would hew to the old ways.”
“Merely remove her?” Igorek raises an eyebrow.
“What else would I do with her?” I meet his inquiry coolly, for speaking out loud of the murder of Elena Petrovich would not be met in all quarters with approval. She needs to die, but I cannot kill her until the Bratva is firmly under my control.
“Mne pofig.” He shrugs. I don’t care.
Of course he cares or he would not suggest it. I, too, care, but it is not the time or place. “Once the Bratva is mine, then we will talk about protecting our own.”
“Fine, so you look for a painting that has been lost for decades?” Igorek is skeptical.
Aleksei, whom I’ve known longer, is much less circumspect. “The Madonna? Holy Mother of Mary, are you crazy? Did killing Sergei cause you to lose your motherfucking mind?” Aleksei kicks at a chair and stomps around the room, looking for more things to break. I pull down a Meissen vase that is part of a set we’d recently discovered being transported inside a large set of ornamental—but very cheap—concrete dogs imported from China. Peddling antiques is more lucrative than I had anticipated. We started just a few years ago, as part of my goal to supplant income from the sale of krokodil and humans.
Sergei had been lured to the easy money, but trafficking in drugs and people is not only dangerous but also short lived. The problem with Sergei was that he lacked vision. Now he’s dead, his body dumped in a hog lot so that the only thing he’s possibly seeing now is the inside of a pig’s belly. An ignominious end to the crime boss of one of the largest brotherhoods in Russia, but a fitting one.
“It’s out there.” I sit at my desk and check my emails. I’ve been searching for the Caravaggio for months now and while I have not found it, I believe I have discovered a person who can.
“You should shoot yourself now and save yourself the misery.” Aleksei exhales grumpily and seats himself in one of the two low-backed leather chairs in front of the desk. I suppose it is my desk now. Once Sergei sat here and before him Roman Petrovich.
I hate the Petrovichs, all of them, both dead and alive. They had promised me safety but delivered only fear and torture. But my revenge will be to rule over this entire Bratva until the Petrovich name will be only known in connection with me, Vasily.
“What is your plan?” Igorek asks.
“There are rumors on the deep web of a collector who has not only the Madonna but the Golden Candelabra as well as a few other holy relics.”
“Wonderful,” Aleksei scoffs. “You know not of but rumors. Even if these rumors are true, one would have to assume that these artifacts are owned by a capitalist and are held in a safe that is virtually impenetrable. Just shoot Elena Petrovich and be done with it.”
“If I kill her, who else will I have to kill? Thomas? Kilment? All of them? How about you, Aleksei? Or Igorek? And do I just kill the male members or every issue to the fifth cousin?” Aleksei pales at his name, at the mention of his family. “While it is better to be feared than loved, each act of ill will toward one’s own people must be done only when there is no other action. If bringing this painting back means new leadership without bloodshed, it is worth the risk.”
He is unconvinced by my speech, but he has a new wife and a child coming. Either of those could be used as bargaining chips against him.
“Igorek, you talk to the others, prepare them for my absence and be on watch.” He nods. “How long will you be gone?”
“Not long.” My inbox dings and I read the email swiftly. Finally. I give the two a ghost of a smile. “There is one person who can find the source of the postings on the dark web. One person who can lead us to the Madonna. And one person, I suspect, no modern security system can withstand. The Emperor.” I lean back in my chair and point to the computer. “The Emperor appeared out of nowhere eighteen months ago and built an untraceable trading network for drugs, guns, flesh. And each of these transactions were paid in digital currency that flowed back to the Emperor in the form of tribute. He has made a fortune. A man who can create that? There is no bit or byte that can hold secrets from him.”
“And you think you’ve found him?” Igorek asks.
“I know I have. He is in Brazil. He is in the employ of the Hudson gang or perhaps another local. But Brazil is the base according to the information we have been able to glean. I have paid for information that should be delivered to an associate of mine. With that, we should be able to locate and extract the Emperor.”
“And how will you get the Emperor to work for you?” Aleksei is still dubious.
“By giving him whatever it is that he wants.”
Everything is so much easier when everyone follows the scientific method. Science doesn’t have emotions. Science doesn’t base findings on anything but science. If you have something you need resolved, you formulate your question, do your research, hypothesize, test, and analyze your data. It’s all very logical and regimented, and it works.
Unfortunately, most “normal” people don’t like the scientific method. They prefer to live through emotion. And by that, I mean they yell.
For example, I’m sitting in the passenger seat in a van, and the driver is yelling at me. He’s shouting something at me in a language I don’t understand. Some Eastern European language. If I had a clear mind, I might try to mentally look for root words to determine the language, but everything is confusion. Five minutes ago, my brother Daniel was in the back of the van, bleeding, but now he’s gone. His girlfriend, too. It’s just me and this stranger who yells and drives very poorly.
This is all very confusing.
He bellows something at me again. I don’t know what he wants, so I scream right back. I’m not sure if we’re all supposed to be screaming, or if I’ve missed a cue somewhere.
The man glares at me, shakes his head, and turns back to driving. “Bozhe moi,” I hear him mutter. He looks angry, but at least he’s not screaming any longer. I’m still not sure why we were screaming in the first place.
An hour ago, I was the Emperor. Captive of Hudson, hacker extraordinaire and cybercriminal misappropriating funds in exchange for the safety of my family. Now, I’m just Naomi Hays again.
My wounded brother appeared with the screamer and a new girlfriend. Together, they busted me out of Hudson’s compound. It was all very A-Team and kind of fun until someone shot a gun and a window shattered near my head. The sound sent me spiraling.
As an Aspie, when I spiral, I get lost in myself. I lose track of what’s going on and turn inward in my mind, where it’s nice and quiet and safe. I’m out of my spiral now, and in the meantime, my brother has disappeared in all this noise and confusion. All that’s left of him is his blood. It’s everywhere, too—on my hands, in my hair, covering my arms. Blood’s so unclean.
Right now, germs and DNA are all over me. I hate germs.
I also hate new places, new people, travel, and loud noises. Considering that I’m in a speeding van covered in someone else’s blood and a stranger is yelling at me, it’s safe to say I’m out of my comfort zone.
So I shut down again. I curl into a ball and rock myself, humming my favorite song—“Itsy Bitsy Spider”—to myself. I need to focus. I can’t function in chaos. I think of the notes of the song and imagine viewing them on a computer synthesizer. I picture them dancing across the screen in waves. I imagine them, each note a flash of color in the melody.
Eventually I’m so wrapped up in the song that I don’t notice anything anymore. My world exists of nothing but a nursery rhyme, and I repeat it over and over again to myself in an endless loop. When the song ends, I start it back up again, my lips moving and mouthing the words. Soon, it becomes a game to see if I can start and stop the song with no breaths in between.
I’m back in my happy place, lost in my mind, utterly content. The only thing that would make me happier is a computer keyboard at my fingertips.
A hand waves in front of my face. “Girl,” a voice says. “Emperor.” Fingers snap at my ear.
This interrupts my soothing melody, and I blink rapidly, coming back to the world again. I’m not the Emperor right now. The Emperor is a powerful hacker, surrounded by computers, mistress of her domain. Right now, I’m just Naomi Hays. And Naomi is pretty powerless.
I’m tempted to fake a seizure. It’s my “go to” when a situation gets too difficult. Hudson and his men never figured out that I was faking. They’d always shoot me full of drugs and leave me alone again for hours, and then they’d be careful not to “antagonize” me again because Hudson didn’t like it when they set me off. My fake seizures kept me safe, and the urge to do one now rises.
The man snaps his fingers in front of my face again.
“You interrupted me,” I tell him, since he seems to want a response from me. “That’s rude.”
The look he gives me is incredulous, and I suppose I’ve misinterpreted his reaction. Maybe he was snapping his fingers in time to my music? I hum a few more bars experimentally, but he only snarls something at me in that strange language.
He doesn’t seem very happy. Maybe he needs a happy place song, too. He’s pissy and insolent, but he’s not hurting me, so I hold off on faking a seizure.
“Get out of van,” he tells me, this time in English. It’s heavily accented English, but it’s clear he’s not from Brazil. He’s too pale all over, and people from Brazil are lovely warm tones in skin and hair and eyes. He opens the door of the van and gestures at the street.
I’m not wearing shoes, and I look at the street, imagining my feet touching it. The broken pavement looks filthy. I don’t approve. The van is dirty, too, but I already have its germs. Walking onto the street would mean an entirely new set of bacteria, and I don’t like the thought. “No.”
The pale man puts a smile on his face that’s supposed to be friendly, I guess, but it looks about as fake as one of my own awkward smiles. “Come,” he tells me. “We abandon van before police arrive. Come.”
The second come is a command. “Are we going home or back to the compound?”
Oh, good. I’m tired of this place with its noise and its blood. The man waves something at me to direct me out of the van again—a gun. Huh. I wonder if he was the one shooting earlier. Who was shooting wasn’t important to me, so I didn’t pay attention.
I can’t tell you why I’m in a van with this stranger. I can’t begin to guess what he wants. I don’t know where he’s from, where we are, or what day of the week it is, but I can tell you pi to the 3,262nd decimal place. I can recite lines of complex computer code from heart. I can pull apart a car’s engine and then put it back together again without a manual.
That’s just how my mind works.
I’m special, people say. That’s one of those “kind but not kind” words people use when they don’t want to say what they mean. I don’t know why they don’t just say it aloud. It doesn’t bother me. I’m autistic. Asperger’s, actually, though I suppose we don’t call it that anymore. But I’ve been Aspie for years now, and still am, in my own mind. It means I function differently than most people. I’m inside my own head more than most, and I don’t know how to deal with people. I’ve been called everything from Rain Man to retard. I’m not, though.
I’m like one of the computers back in my garage apartment at home—wired differently for optimum efficiency. I like to think of myself as a custom build. Different from the basic model, perhaps a little clunky at first glance, but the interior’s so full of bells and whistles that you overlook the quirks. Mostly.
The man snapping his fingers at me is clearly unaware that I’m an optimized computer. He gestures at me with the gun again, then sighs and rubs his neck. He glances down the street, then puts his gun away and holds out his hand. It’s a friendly gesture, but the look on his face is anything but, and I don’t know how to interpret this.
Friendly gesture or not, though, I don’t like touching. “I don’t want your hand,” I tell him. “It’s dirty.”
His scowl darkens. I’ve probably offended him. My fingers move along the brim of my favorite baseball cap, a nervous tic of mine.
His gaze moves to my cap. He reaches forward and snatches it off my head, then tosses it into the nearby street.
I make an outraged noise. How dare he? That’s my baseball cap. I glare at him and then climb out of the van to retrieve it, braving the grimy streets. Now it’ll have to be washed, just like my feet.
“Finally, she moves,” the man mutters, and shuts the van doors behind me. “Come. We get new car. They will be looking for this one. Come.”
I don’t know why anyone would be looking for that van—it’s all shot up and there’s blood on the inside. But he seems to know what he’s talking about. I shrug and follow his lead.
We’re in a dirty street in Brazil, in one of the favelas. It’s filthy-dirty. Perhaps these people don’t realize how much bacteria can breed in just one puddle. I did a science experiment once because my mother hadn’t believed me when I said things were unclean. She believes me now. One sight of the mold that I’d grown in the pantry to show her, and she’d become a believer.
“Come,” he says to me again. “We take that car.” He gestures at a nearby junker.
It looks like it’s filled with germs. I wrinkle my nose, but there aren’t many cars in this area that seem like better choices. And I don’t want to stay in this squalid area for longer than necessary, so I follow along. He says he’s going to take me home, so he has to be better than the guys that kidnapped me.
“Can I drive?” I ask. I’m not a great driver—I tend to stay distracted and in my own mind a bit too much to pay attention to things like street signs. But I do love to drive—I love the speed of it, the feeling of freedom.
“Nyet, I drive. I know area.” He tries the door of the car, but it’s locked.
“Is that your car?”
“Do you always ask so many questions?”
I do, actually. But this seems to be a chastisement, so I quiet and don’t offer to drive again. Strangers are always so prickly and difficult to read.
He looks around again, grabs a nearby rock, and then smashes it through the window. Glass rains down and he sweeps it aside with a sleeve, then unlocks the car door and opens it. More glass is brushed onto the concrete, and then he hunches under the steering column. Long moments pass, and he cusses.
I adjust my cap again and glance around. This man is stealing someone’s car. No one’s coming out to stop us, though, and I wonder if he’s a frightening man. Am I supposed to be frightened? I have a hard time reading emotions, and so I don’t get scared of the same people that most do. But I remember Daniel’s girlfriend looked alarmed when this man glared at her. I study him as he crouches at the floorboard and jerks a panel off of the car.
He’s a large man. Enormous, really. He’s taller than anyone I know, and his arms are as big around as a tree trunk. His blond hair is cut short, and his clothes are crisp. That’s good. I like neat clothing. Messy people have messy minds. He carries a gun, too, I remember. Maybe that’s what makes him scary. I mostly find guns interesting. All those moving parts working in harmony.
After a moment, he swears again and jerks at the wiring. “Are you trying to steal this car?” I ask, since he looks like he needs help.
“You’re not very pleasant.” Even I know that this man’s an ass.
“Unless you want bullet in brain, shut up.”
I don’t want a bullet in my brain, actually, so I quiet. But I continue to watch him fumble with the wiring and fail miserably at hot-wiring the car. It’s obvious this man’s not an Aspie like me. If he were, he’d be able to actually figure out which wires start the ignition.
After a long moment, he swears and emerges from the front seat, a dark scowl on his face. He glances down the street. “Come. We walk.”
“We’re not taking this car?”
“But you just broke the window—”
“Walk,” he snarls.
I consider this for a moment, then climb into the car’s front seat. “Do you have a knife?”
He stares at me. “Come, we go.”
This man’s favorite word is apparently come. Maybe he needs to learn more English. I will suggest a language website for him to visit later, after we’ve figured out the car situation. “Did you want to take this car? I can hot-wire it for you, but I need a knife.”
He stares at me for so long that I wonder if he didn’t hear me. Then, he shifts and takes a pocketknife out of his slacks and flips the blade open, pointing it at my face.
It’s an inch from my eyeball. Not an ideal place to hold a knife, but all I can see is that it’s perfect for what I need. I smile and pluck the blade from him. “Thank you.” I take it and jam it into the ignition, then pound on the end until I’m sure it’s shoved in hard. Then, I give it a twist. I gun the gas pedal, admiring the way it purrs. Oh, I like this car. It’s not pretty on the inside, but the engine is clearly refurbished. “There we go.” I beam at it and pet the steering column. I love cars. Then I look at the stranger to see if he’s as impressed with my handiwork. “On some older models, you can break the locking pins in the ignition. I’ve used a screwdriver in the past, but your knife works just as well.”
He arches an eyebrow at me—it looks like a blond caterpillar. Then he gestures at the passenger seat. Right, I don’t get to drive. I brush a few crumbs of glass off the seat and then slide over. He gets in on the driver’s side and pulls away from the curb.
Not a word of thank you. Hmph. Disgruntled, I buckle in and try not to touch anything that I don’t have to.
Germs, you know.
“You’re not a very good thief,” I point out to him.
“I am not thief,” he says in a rather unpleasant tone. “I am boss.”
When I pull up to Tivoli Mofarrej in São Paulo, the doorman is affronted. It is a testament to the high ethos of service that he opens the door for Naomi to exit the car. I slip him one hundred euros.
“Shall I valet this?” he asks.
I nod as if I did not just bring a vehicle that is barely drivable to the most expensive hotel in Brazil. I’ve long since learned that if you act as if you belong, everyone will treat you accordingly. Naomi is planted in the middle of the portico, looking upward at the glass tiles. Placing my hand on her back, I urge her forward.
She jerks away as if I have burned her. “I don’t like to be touched.”
“It is destiny,” I quip. “I do not enjoy being touched either, but standing out in the portico is not enjoyable, so let us enter.”
Slowly she moves forward, mouthing something that sounds like numbers. She sounds as if she is . . . counting. Counting the glass tiles? The tiles on the floor? I know not and neither do I care. I want to get to our suite, shower off the glass, blood, and scum, and find our target. I pray it is not here, because Brazil is too hot for my blood. I prefer the harsh, bitter winters to the humid air that at times is as thick as a swamp.
The lobby of the Tivoli Mofarrej is blinding in its whiteness from the sheets of polished limestone tile to the white desks and white limestone wall partitions.
Naomi stops short. “I like this.”
“What?” I ask impatiently.
“The white. It’s soothing.”
Images of the black leather sofas populating the suite we’re staying in materialize in my mind. “You’ll like black, too,” I tell her and push her forward.
“I told you I don’t like to be touched. Do you have a hearing deficit?” She frowns. “Because at first I was concerned that perhaps it is your English, but you seem to speak it quite well. Maybe it is your hearing then? You are young to have hearing problems. Is it hereditary? The most common birth defect is diminished hearing. Genetics are responsible for at least sixty percent of hearing deficits in infants so it’s most likely your hearing loss is due to your parents. Were one or more of your parents hearing challenged?”
I look at her blankly.
“Deaf. That’s what I mean by hearing challenged. Challenged is the word you’re supposed to use instead of other things. Like instead of mute, voice challenged. Or instead of handicapped, it’s physically challenged. I learned that in college. I’m socially challenged, but maybe it doesn’t translate into Russian. You’re Russian, right?”
“Yes. What does it matter?”
“It doesn’t. There was a Russian student in my art history course. Your accent was similar. I remember him telling me he was from a certain region—southern maybe? I didn’t much like the course. My advisor forced me to take it, saying that I needed some liberal arts to make my education well rounded, but learning about painting and politics did not assist me in creating better code. I like to write code. Code makes sense. Art does not.”
“No, I suppose it does not. It is meant to make you feel.” She looks disgusted as if feelings are a cursed thing. Naomi Hays is an odd girl, even odder than her fast-talking brother. “You are not much like your brother,” I remark.
This makes her scowl deepen. “Because he is funny. Everyone likes funny people.”
After a deluge of words, she shuts up at this. I make note to avoid comparisons with her brother in the future.
“I do not find Daniel Hays humorous,” I answer. “Rather he is irritating but competent. I suspect that is a trait you both share.”
“Competent.” She considers that word for a moment, possibly running through all the dictionary definitions and permutations before responding. “I’ll accept that. Why are we standing in the lobby?”
I open my mouth to tell her that I have been waiting for her. Instead, I give her a brief smile and, remembering her earlier complaints, I do not touch her but instead gesture for the elevator. “Shall we go up to our room?”
“Do I have my own room? I like quiet. I don’t want to be disturbed. Will we be going home after this?”
“You shall have your own room. There are three bedrooms in the presidential suite. One overlooks Trianon Park.”
When we step into the elevator, I note that she stands in the precise middle and hold her arms close to her sides. She counts again, not the floor numbers that tick by as we speed to the twenty-second floor, but something else.
“What do you count, Naomi?” I ask, curious.
She does not respond or look at me. I realize then that she rarely looks at my face. In the lobby she looked around her and at my chest but hardly ever at my face. At first I thought that she was busy taking in her surroundings, but now I think it is something else. Her fingers brush over the rim of her cap repeatedly. It’s so tattered that the white board of the bill is peeking through the loose threads.
Many women like my face. Too many. I’ve scars but it does little to deter the opposite sex. Yet, she is not interested. I peruse her body as her attention is distracted. She’s voluptuous—large breasted, nipped-in waist, and wide hips. If I were a man who enjoyed sex, I would want her.
When the bell rings signaling our arrival on the floor, she does not immediately step off. Instead she watches as the doors open and then as they begin to close again. Swiftly I extend an arm and press the Door Open button and I wait. My body is close to hers, close but not touching. There’s a hand’s width of space between us. If I leaned forward, we would be flush from groin to ass and chest to back. And still we wait.
Her breathing evens out to match mine. From my much taller vantage point, I watch her large tits rise and fall with each measured intake and exhale. My hands are oversized but I suspect if I palmed her breasts, they would overflow my palms. My heart rate quickens slightly as an image of her tied to my bed while I fuck her generous tits plays out in glorious Technicolor.
“Your breathing is erratic,” she says.
“Yours as well,” I note. Her chest is moving rapidly, the rhythm giving a sprightly bounce to her fleshy mounds. I visualize what they might look like at the moment her bra is loosened, how they’d spill out, bouncing nicely. Insane. I shake myself, for I am not one to be transported by lust. I do not like to be touched. I do not like women. Lust is not in my vocabulary.
“Why is yours getting faster?” Her tone holds genuine curiosity. Could it be this easy? Could I seduce her into complying with my demands? I have fucked women I’ve hated, and I do not hate Naomi. Apparently my body likes her quite well. I glance down at my waist to see if there is visible evidence of arousal. I so rarely feel physical desire that the tightening of my trousers is foreign and almost strange.
“If I share with you, will you return the favor?” I murmur.
“Certainly,” she responds immediately.
“I’m visualizing you on my bed, nude. Your hands are tied above your head. Your back is arched. My hands are pushing your breasts together to form a snug channel for my cock. As I shuttle between your breasts, my cockhead hits your chin. Your tongue darts out to lick it occasionally.” I take an infinitesimal step forward, still not touching her but so close that the slightest movement would have her pressed against my growing erection. Despite my aversion to touching, there is something about her that calls to me. Her lushness, perhaps? Or merely my own inexplicable physical response to her nearness. I dip my head down close to her ear. “What is your excuse?”
She presses a hand to her chest, touching the top of one of those beautiful tits. “I don’t know.” She sounds genuinely bewildered—as am I. She won’t look at me, but she leans closer, as if compelled. Encouraging.
Before I can question her more, the security buzzer sounds on the elevator. The sharp, intrusive sound causes Naomi to yelp and clap her hands over her ears. Dropping to the floor, she begins to rock much like she did in the van when shots were being fired at our backs.
The buzzing of the elevator along with Naomi’s cries fill the room with cacophonous sound and brings Aleksei at a run. Any arousal I felt vanishes. Naomi is my most important weapon in the fight for my sister, my Bratva. If she is not well, my trip is for naught. I must be careful with her.
“What in Christ’s name is wrong?” he bellows.
“Nothing,” I yell back. Disregarding Naomi’s desire to remain untouched, I pick her up and carry her into the living room and deposit her on a black sofa. She remains stiff in her crouched position, hands clapped over her ears. The elevator is still buzzing.
“Go, Aleksei,” I order. “Get rid of the elevator. And the noise.”
Crouching down by Naomi, I ask, “What can I get for you?” Had I shocked her with my words? I curse my low-class upbringing. Naomi, with her tender skin and delicate appearance, is too gentle for my street roughness. No matter that I look like I belong, I do not. I am not born to the Bratva or to some higher family. I am simply a killer with an elevated status, looking for an obscene painting that will cement my position as king of evildoers. It is disgust for me that she is displaying.
I cast around for the right words to say to her. “I should not have talked in that fashion to you,” I say, dropping my head so she need not look at my face. The sound of the elevator ceases, and the footsteps of Aleksei stop directly behind me.
“What are you doing?” He sounds scandalized, likely affronted that I am beneath this woman. For I am Vasily Petrovich, the ostensible leader of the most powerful criminal brotherhood in northern Europe. We Petrovichs bow to no one and most assuredly not in front of a slip of a woman.
“She is the Emperor,” I say simply.
A short silence ensues and then, “I see.”
His footsteps carry him away to the far side. I hear the clink of glass and then he returns. “Here, vodka,” he offers.
Naomi has stopped rocking, but it is as if she is unaware that we are here. I rise from my crouching position and sit beside her on the sofa. I take the vodka and gesture for Aleksei to bring another. “Bring the bottle,” I call when he reaches the bar. Naomi flinches at my loud voice.
I take note of that, too. She does not like to be touched. She does not like loud noises. She likes white. Perhaps I should call the butler assigned to our suite and see if the black furnishings can be traded out for white. I’ll see how long we need to stay here before I do. I take a long sip of my vodka. “Good stuff.” I tip my glass toward Aleksei in a mock salute.
He cocks his head toward Naomi with a wordless question.
“We are in no hurry,” I respond. “Nothing needs to be done today.”
Following my lead, Aleksei drinks his vodka and I pour him another. Stretching one arm across the back of the sofa, I turn my body slightly to form a barrier for Naomi. She may not like to be touched, but I want her to be clear that she is safe here.
“Daniel Hays and I with the help of Senhor Mendoza mounted an offensive against Hudson during his birthday party. Hays discovered his woman and Naomi here in the basement. Naomi is Mr. Hays’s sister.”
“Ahhh.” His eyebrows shoot up. “Mr. Hays allowed you to take his sister.”
I laugh, but cognizant that Naomi is sitting next to me, I give a partial truth. “Mr. Hays and his woman went with Mendoza. We came here.”
He nods, understanding. “Then all is well.”
“Yes, all is well,” I confirm.
“I can call for the jet.”
Looking at Naomi, who has now dropped her hands from her ears and is currently sitting cross-legged with her hands in her lap but still not fully present, I shake my head. “Not yet. We will wait. But do call the concierge and have some clothes delivered. Perhaps from the Miu Miu store on the corner. Shoes, undergarments. All of it.”
With that, Aleksei drains his vodka and then rises. “I will leave you, then. Call if you need more assistance.”
I watch him as he leaves. I’ve brought him along because . . . I do not trust him. Better to keep your enemies closer. When he disappears into one of the bedrooms, I turn my attention back to Naomi.
Setting the glass on the coffee table, I pour another finger. A hand reaches out to stop me from lifting it to my lips.
“Can I try?” Naomi asks.
“Certainly.” I hand her my glass and she turns it all the way around until she finds the place on the rim of the glass where I placed my own mouth. Shockingly, her tongue darts out and runs along the edge. I feel the reverberation of her actions in my groin. The cheap wool of my borrowed pants is once again constricting, and the need to reach down and squeeze my cock to ease the sudden ache seizes me. Her lips open then and cover the exact location where mine touched. I muffle a groan. She turns the glass to the opposite side and takes another sip.
“I think it’s sweeter when I drink where you drink. Will you try again so I can test it?”
What can I do but agree. “Lift it to my lips, then,” I order.
She does and I drink, ensuring a wide placement of my tongue and lips on the glass. The test is run again as she drinks first from my side of the glass and then the opposite.
“Your heart is beating erratically again.”
“So it is,” I say. My blood is pounding in my ears and in my cock, but I don’t make the mistake of telling her this. I do not want to scare her away. Truly, I don’t know what I want. I’ve never sat so close to a woman as fine as Naomi; even with her odd quirks she is lovely to behold and interesting to listen to. I cannot help but move closer.
“Mine too.” She places her hand over her chest again. “You were saying things in the elevator and they made my heart pound faster and I felt warm. Very warm.”
I shutter my eyes to hide my shock. She was aroused by my words, not disgusted. Carefully I test her. “Would you want me to talk to you like that again?”
I watch her think about it. It is as if I can actually see the gears moving inside her brilliant mind as she considers my request.
“Yes. For science, you understand,” she adds quickly.
“For science.” I nod. “Would you like to begin now? Or another time?”
“Can we do it now?”
“Of course. But let us choose your bedroom first.” I do not want Aleksei to walk out into the living room as I am fucking Naomi, because I do not know how it will end. Will I be able to pleasure her? Will this bring me closer to my goals?
She frowns. “Why will we need a bedroom?”
“What do you think will happen after I tell you about what I want to do to your body and what I want you to do to mine?”
“But you said you don’t like to be touched. I don’t like it either. Why would we need a bedroom?” she repeats.
I stare at her and this time it is I who needs time to process her statement. She is absolutely right. I do not like to be touched. When I have sex, which is infrequently, I do not kiss a woman. I do not lick her body. I stick my cock in her hole and rut like an animal to my release, usually from behind. Naomi is an aberration. I wonder what her scientific mind would make of that.
“Even if we do not touch, I think the things we would say are better kept between the two of us unless you would like to be observed.”
“I don’t know if I’d like that. I don’t think so but I’ve never tried it.” She shrugs. “I’m not interested anymore. Why am I here?”
Her quicksilver change of subject takes me by surprise, and I struggle to adjust. “Because I am in need of your services.”
“My computer skills?”
“Yes. I need you to find someone for me. Have you heard of the Madonna and the Volk?”
“I’ve heard of many things referencing the Madonna, otherwise known as Mary, mother of Jesus. Are you religious?”
“No. I do not like the idea that a power higher than me directs my life. But others believe. The Madonna and the Volk is a triptych. In some circles it is much revered but considered blasphemous. It is of the Madonna birthing a volk, a wolf, rather than the Christ child. In the second panel, the two are making love, and in the last the volk is eating the Madonna.”
“That’s kind of gross. It’s a religious painting?” She frowns.
“Yes, by Caravaggio. It is said to either be punishment for Mary having marital relations with Joseph or the act of a jealous, oedipal son.”
She scrunches up her nose, which is surprisingly enticing. “Shouldn’t he be eating Joseph, then?”
I smile wryly. “I believe the eating of Mary by the volk is metaphorical, a sexual interpretation.”
“Oh.” She chews on that for a moment. “But you haven’t said why I’m here. What do you want me to do?”
“The Madonna was once owned by my organization but was sold many years ago. Recently it has surfaced and was resold to another individual. I want you to locate the owner and ideally, the painting itself.”
“Will you not simply accept payment for this project?”
She shakes her head. “I like to know why.”
Naomi had been in captivity for two years serving someone else’s whims. I understand the need for her to know why. I ruminate for a moment. I can lie to her. Tell her that I am interested in retrieving it for a church or higher cause, but I think that she’d deal better in the truth, in absolutes.
“I want the Madonna because it will help me consolidate power. If I have enough power, I can protect the people I care about as you tried to protect your family.”
“Are you a soldier like my brother?” she asks.
“I was but now I have a chance to lead.”
“Are you a competent leader?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Hitman novels
“A phenomenal book that sticks with you.”—New York Times bestselling author Sara Fawkes
“It has verything you could ask for.”—All Romance Reviews
“Sexy, thrilling romantic suspense.”—Smexy Books
“Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick are a force to be reckoned with!”—A Love Affair with Books
“It appears as if there is nothing these ladies can’t write about.”—The Muses’ Circle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In my opinion, the best in the series. And this is not easy accomplishment because I loved the previous books. These two ladies make a fantastic team of writers. Keep the books coming!
OMG - this series is so freaking good. Each one is fantastic in it's own way. I love love loved every single one. I cannot wait to see what you two come up with next!
An amazing read
They were my favorite couple they made so much sense!!!! I loved how they changed for each other even when the other had there own issues. They found love when neither of them thought they needed or wanted it.
I was a bit nervous to read this...not sure if i could connect with the charaters but i was proven wrong. I didnt give it 5 stars because as it was a good read i thought 9.99 for an e- book it just was not worth that. It was good but not fantastic where i would pay that all over again.
Loved each book in this series!Each set of characters has been unique.
3.5 Stars The story line was good but for me, personally, I just couldn't get deep enough into it to really enjoy it. I had a hard time connecting Naomi, the girl with Aspergers, with the same Naomi that Vasily was in love with and had some completely consensual but violent sex with. The connection didn't click for me until chapter 38 when Naomi talks about what it all means to her. Her relationship with her brother was great. Her inability to edit the things she says always has her brother reminding her of her "oversharing". Her brother also has to remind her constantly that his comments are not truth but sarcasm. Theirs is a great relationship. Like I said, the story was good but it just wasn't for me. Received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is a Raw, Sexy, Brilliant Love Story! Last Kiss, the 3rd book in the Hitman series demonstrates that this series just gets better and better! This story swallowed me whole and wouldn't let go even days after I finished reading it. I was enthralled with Vasily and Naomi's sensual tale from the very first word. We had gotten a sneak peak of Vasily throughout the first books and met Naomi in book #2, Last Breath. Vasily is an intelligent and shrewd soldier who was trained from a young age that loyalty to the brotherhood of the Bratva comes before all else. After the death of it's leader, Vasily is poised to take over the Bratva and make it a legitimate and respected organization so the brotherhood can live a safer life. He is given a task to find a legendary painting that represents the organizations wealth and power to prove his ability to become the new leader. Vasily agrees to this foolish task, for more reasons than one. He seeks a mysterious computer expert who he knows can help him find it. That expert turns out to be Naomi. Naomi is being held captive in Brazil for her brilliant computer skills that has made her captor a very rich man. Vasily rescues her but she is only trading one confinement for another. Vasily is impressed by Naomi's cleverness and quick mindedness but feels she is dangerous to his mission because he is so intrigued and consumed with thoughts of her. But she is his most important weapon to get what he wants so he is very careful and attentive to her. Naomi has a very intelligent and scientific mind and likes that Vasily treats her with respect and like a normal person. They are not sure they trust each other but they team up on a crusade to find the painting. So begins their exciting and heart pounding adventure filled with danger, intrigue, and enough twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. I loved all the situations they kept getting involved in on their journey. They were exhilarating, funny at times, emotional in others, and so very sexy. Their conversations and banter were clever and hilarious. Naomi's character twist is refreshing to read about because it is different from most heroines. Vasily is unique in his own way which allows him the ability to anticipate Naomi's needs. They are perfect for each other and it makes them stronger together. I think Ms. Clare and Ms. Frederick did a brilliant job in creating interesting and genuine characters with explosive chemistry. Their love scenes are creative and very sexy. I loved Vasily's dirty talk, it was very poetic and Naomi held her own as well. I adored this story from beginning to end and I look forward to what they create next!
Through every new release in this series my adoration grows, if someone had told me that I would ever enjoy a series that focuses on hitmen and the women that tame them I would have laughed myself silly, but the thing is it works so goddamn well! I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy reading Vasily's story, but being paired up with Naomi made for a story that had me laughing out loud at so many points throughout the book, kudos to Jessica and Jen for giving us a heroine who has Asperger's and highlights not only how their minds work but that they are still normal with just a few idiosyncrasies they have, the bluntness and weird, obscure and funny facts that Naomi rattles off sometimes at the most inoppurtune times made for an enjoyably entertaining read that has made Naomi one of my favorite female leads ever. Vasily is struggling for control of the Russion Petrovich Bratva, for people to accept him as leader he is to hunt down and procure a Carragio painting that went missing from the Bratva many years ago, to do this he needs a hacker someone who is talented when it comes to do with anything and everything to do with computers and technology, so he hunts down the Emperor a well known and genius hacker who just so happens to be Naomi, and so starts the hilarious trek to find the painting, along the way both our protagonists who dislike to be touched Naomi because of her Asperger's and Vasily because of sexual abuse he suffered when he was younger both find that they have no problem with touching one another and so begins their uniquely entertaining relationship. I can't seem to get enough of this series, these books are like drugs, I'm addicted and I don't see that ending anytime soon, A wonderful addition to the Hitman series.
Each new book gets better than the previous, and this book doesn't disappoint
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I will say up front that this series is very dark, maybe too much for me. However, it is always well-written and keeps you reading to find out what happens. While I enjoyed Last Kiss, the subject matter is a bit too dark for me; it’s a personal thing not an issue with the author or the book. So yes, I recommend this book and series if you enjoy this subject. I have to say Ms. Clare dealt with autism in such a wonderful way – and sometimes it was downright funny! That’s a fine line to walk when you aren’t making fun of a disease but highlighting how wonderfully someone looks at the world differently than you. Both the main characters really are meant for one another. So go ahead – read the book if you enjoy the “darker” side of life (and I’m not talking about sexy stories.) This series is well-written.
Last isnt, it is only the beginning . It is the best and the brightest-MUST READ! Emotional & Steamy ***A gifted copy was provided by the author for an honest review**** This is a fantastic series and we have gotten glimpses of this couple in book two of how they end up here in this place. . This books starts with Vasily capturing Naomi because he needs her for something specific and only she can do what he needs. Naomi has a form of Autism/Aspergers and is different from the type of heroine we have seen previously and I think Vasily doesn’t know what to do with her, he just needs her on the computer. The two characters are very different, from different worlds yet they connect and they are drawn together in an unexpected way. Both of them are from different worlds yet, no matter what, they keep coming back to each other. Vasily, who hates clingy women and emotional ties finds that he is becoming attached to fragile yet smart Naomi. Here is what you need to know about Naomi ---she is a hacker- most all know her as the Emperor. Oh my, she is so smart and highly intelligent. Don’t let that she has Asperger’s take you down the wrong road. Now this young lady was kidnapped in Brazil then kidnapped by Vasily after being saved by her brother Daniel,- this is a lot to process but she is doing it. . So this time she ends up in Russia- now im sure I would be freaking out being in a situation like hers , probably scared and out of her mind but Vasily makes her feel safe and secured and when he shows her that he is interested in her as a woman, she realizes this does not make her feel as bothered despite him having “germs”. Vasily needs Naomi to stay on task to find the painting to not only secure his seat as leader but to protect the only person in his life he loves. Vasily continues to fight against the feelings that he feels for her, because all he needs is the painting, because without that, he is nothing and this will all be for naught. As they continue to look for the key to bring Vasily's future to him, the more their future and their deal for it change and soon both can’t imagine being without the other. Just when everything is going the way they had hoped, there is a HUGE downward spiral that sets things in motion that they have to decide what is important for them in the scope of things. This is where it comes down to nitty gritty for the lovers in the span and will they have their HEA. I really enjoyed this story in this series. Yes the hero is some sort of psychotic beast. Yet the way he took care of Naomi and he saved her, cared for her, was Alpha with her. In previous books, he wasn’t good yet in this book, he started off as not good but as we got to know him, we saw him change as he got to know him and saw how he came to love and be loved by Naomi. I loved it, loved how he was the anti-good guy yet became a good guy. He found his true love and he found himself. As for Naomi, she was a terrific heroine; she was strong; although she was different from other heroine, that doesn’t mean I do not like her any less, in face I like her more. Her growth, her zest and zeal was something I really loved to see grow in this book. Both Vasily and Naomi bring so many things to the table in this story and I have to thank the authors for bring another fantastic story to the table. This story is full of excitement, danger, lust, sensual delights, and twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I have to thank the authors for yet again keeping me glued to my couch and my kindle until I finished this book because it is that good. I enjoyed myself again and can’t wait for book 4 Last Hope- which is we were in this story introduced to Mendoza. He is a sexy drink of glass on a hot summer’s day. He is also a mystery that I can’t wait to unlock in book 4. He is the leader of a military like gang in some South American country. We will know more in Last Hope due out in the Fall of 2015. My rating: 4.9 stars *****
i love it it diffrent it good i love this russian are hot there are hard to love some time but when u now were then come from u love them yes it is strong to read about the girl some time but they strong and they are as mess up as the guy so please keep write about this dam russian