Kir “Master” Vasiliev doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. He’s a burnt-out shell with no one and nothing but his club. Whatever Torpedo Ink needs, Master will put himself in harm’s way time after time. If he doesn’t make it back, he’s certain everyone will move on just fine.
Investment banker Ambrielle Moore knows her own mind, and she’s not willing to settle for anyone. So when a second-rate gangster and his thugs try to coerce her into marriage—and giving up all of her family’s money—she’s having none of it. Until they turn to cold-blooded murder.
Grieving and enraged, Ambrie is ready to go scorched earth on her captors when Master shows up anticipating a damsel in distress. But Ambrie is nothing like he expected, and everything he never knew he desired....
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Everyone had a breaking point. Everyone. Kir "Master" Vasiliev was well aware he had been past that point when he agreed to take the assignment. He never should have done it. Burning out when behind bars with no backup was a bad idea, especially if he didn't give a fuck whether he lived or died-which he didn't.
The only reason he didn't kill the two guards and the four prisoners right then and there was because he had a job to do, and he never let a job go unfinished. That was drilled into him. His club, Torpedo Ink, needed the intelligence, and he had been given the assignment to get the information and then kill the four men who had threatened their president and his family. That meant the two dirty guards who were involved with them had to die as well.
The eighteen charter members of Torpedo Ink had grown up together in a place loosely called a "school" in Russia. Their parents had been murdered by a powerful man named Kostya Sorbacov. He took the children of his political enemies and placed them in one of four schools supposedly to become assets for their country. That was true of three of the four schools, although all of them were brutal.
The fourth school was located far from the city, where the criminally insane prisoners-the ones the government refused to acknowledge existed-were housed. Pedophiles. Rapists. Serial killers. These were men and women Sorbacov utilized as the instructors for the children in the fourth school. Supposedly the children were to become assassins-assets for their country. What they really were, were playthings-toys for Sorbacov and his friends. Over twenty years, two hundred eighty-nine children entered that school. Only nineteen survived.
Destroyer, the nineteenth survivor, had recently found his way to them and joined Torpedo Ink. Like Master, Destroyer knew his way around prisons, but Master had been trained to take these missions from a young age, and Torpedo Ink relied on him. Of all the members, he was the only one with a record in their new country. They all had impeccable paperwork, thanks to Code. Even Master's prison records were mostly manufactured. Still, the fact that he was officially dirty, when the rest of his club was officially clean, set him apart. Only Destroyer would understand that concept.
Torpedo Ink now spent a good deal of their time hunting pedophiles and those running human trafficking rings. None of them could ever live normal lives after what had been done to them as children, teens and young men and women. To survive, they had turned their bodies into weapons and developed what others might refer to as psychic talents. Czar had explained that he believed everyone had talents, they just didn't have to use them so they never worked at making them strong. The members of Torpedo Ink had started as young children to practice in those long, endless days and nights in the basement of their hideous torture school.
Master was positive the cameras in the laundry room where the guards had brought him had been turned off. After all, the guards wouldn't want it to be caught on film if the four prisoners about to beat the shit out of him accidentally killed him. Still, that didn't stop him from making certain the cameras weren't working. He wasn't about to take any chances. He never did. That was what kept him from ever getting caught.
Master had been sure to offend these specific prisoners several times in the yard that afternoon, even after he'd been warned. He'd done it out of anyone's hearing so that when the prisoners and the guards were found dead in the morning, and he was back in his cell, no one would think to connect him with the bodies. That was always key in this kind of mission. As the primary assassin, you were never caught with the target, not by anyone. There was nothing to connect you to the death. If you had to draw attention to yourself to get put into solitary, you picked a fight with some other prisoner, not the target.
It had taken time and expert maneuvering to get locked up near these four men so they would share the same yard and floor. Torpedo Ink had to be certain the intelligence was right about them. Once they'd locked onto them, Master had been put in place. Then it was a matter of finding out who was aiding them-passing on messages to them and allowing them out into the world when they were needed.
Master knew every classic way to hide an assassination team. Master had been placed in several prisons, hidden there, to be used when Sorbacov deemed it necessary. These four men were protected in that prison. They came and went, and they had special perks. Women were brought to them when they asked for them. They had whatever kinds of meals they wanted. Cush rooms. Master recognized it all, because he'd lived that life from the time he was a teen and could pass for an adult. It was a shit life to live. He spent a lot of time fighting, killing, getting beat by guards, pacing in small cages, trying to stay sane.
Master stood against the wall, where the guards had thrown him. Just waiting. This was such a common scenario. He couldn't count the times he'd been in it, the new prisoner, stupid enough to cross those older ones who ran the prison and bribed the guards. It was always the laundry room or some smaller concrete room with a hose to wash down the blood. Sometimes there were small windows where guards watched and bet on the action. He knew this wasn't going to be one of those times because it was probable the intention was to kill him. As if he gave a fuck. He didn't. And that was bad. For him. For them. Mostly for them.
The guards hadn't bothered with cuffs. Why would they? Four big Russians were about to beat the fuck out of him for his "indiscretion." The guards locked the laundry room doors and sat back to watch the show. They parked themselves on the long table that prisoners used to fold the laundry, grinning from ear to ear. This certainly wasn't the first time they'd brought someone for the four Russian assassins to teach a lesson to.
"He's a big fucker, Boris," Shorty, one of the guards, said. "Strong as an ox."
Boris didn't bother to answer the guard or even look at him. "You got something to say to me now, freak?" he hissed.
Master raised an eyebrow. Answering in Russian, he called him several names, including degenerate, a brainless, obnoxious pig who could only hang with monkeys. He indicated the other three men with him. He was fluent in several languages, but like Boris and the other three prisoners, he was born and raised in Russia.
He might look all brawn, but he had a brain. He was born with the odd talent of seeing in numbers. He could compute numbers almost faster than any computer. His brain just worked out any problem and spit out the answer. He had instincts for investments, and when Code, their resident genius hacker, stole money from criminals, he knew how to utilize that money to the fullest. As treasurer of the club, he oversaw the money and made the investments. He also played several instruments, and his main job was construction. He had an affinity for wood. Now, looking passively at Boris, he taunted him in a bored voice, getting creative with his insults, because he was a creative kind of man.
Boris roared and came at Master, his arms spread wide. Master stayed with his back against the wall, on the balls of his feet, shoulders loose, and as the other man came in, he snapped out his hand like a knife, driving it straight into the exposed throat. Boris choked, coughed. His eyes rolled back in his head and he went down to his knees, both hands going up to wrap around his throat. Master followed up with a strike to the back of his skull, driving him hard toward the cement floor. Boris face-planted so hard the sound seemed to reverberate through the entire laundry room.
"Damn!" Shorty laughed. "That was fast. Should have been taking bets on the new guy."
"Too late now," Longfellow, the other guard, said mournfully. He moved a little closer to survey the damage Master had done to Boris.
The Russian assassin was vomiting, but not lifting his head, so he was by turns choking and getting the mess all over his face. He lay gasping for breath, desperate to breathe around the endless retching.
The three other Russians fanned out, coming at Master from three sides. They were silent as they tried to surround him, their faces the masks they'd learned from their teachers in the schools they'd attended, but they couldn't hide the fury-or slight trepidation-in their eyes. In their experience, no one had ever bested Boris in the prison. Most likely they had never dealt with anyone as fast or as calm as Master.
Master didn't move, keeping the wall at his back and Boris on his left. That meant he only had to deal with two of them immediately and the guards. The third had to get around the body of his fallen friend before he could actually be of some help to his friends.
Kir "Master" Vasiliev had been in this scenario too many times. He knew their moves before they made them. They might be faster than any who had come before, but Sorbacov's sick trainers had forced him to learn these tactics in very brutal ways. That fourth school, the one he'd attended, had had its own prison on the grounds. The instructors had plenty of opportunities to teach a young boy how the prison system worked. How corrupt the guards could be. How complicit. How the inmates could be beaten, raped or killed by other stronger, more powerful prisoners in just such setups as this one. He'd learned all of the various setups because he'd lived through them all.
His training hadn't been simulated. Unlike other children who had been sent into the prison to be "trained," he hadn't died. He'd survived. He'd become a warped, scarred, dead soul of a man with a hefty criminal record. He was the only member of Torpedo Ink that still had that record, and it was ongoing. Absinthe could get rid of the charges eventually, but they were still out there, looking as if he had been freed on technicalities.
He waited, knowing what was coming, and there it was, without warning: the familiar adrenaline rushing through his veins like a drug. The need for violence. The only time he felt alive. He wasn't like Reaper and Savage, or even Maestro. He didn't need or want to take an opponent apart. That wasn't his thing and never would be. No, he needed the actual war, the fight, the pounding of fists, the slash of the knife, the precise blow of the foot sending so much power and energy through a human body that the shock shattered internal organs.
He had spent a good portion of his life behind the walls of some kind of prison. That had been his specialty, what Sorbacov had him trained for. He was the chameleon, able to, even as a teen, get into the right block, assassinate the right prisoner and never have an ounce of suspicion directed his way.
In order to gain those skills and accomplish the mission, again and again, he'd been beaten and raped repeatedly from the time he was a toddler. He'd learned to kill. To make weapons out of nothing. To make himself into a weapon. To endure pain and put it to use. Pain kept him sharp when he was completely on his own in those hellholes. Pain fed the anger and craving for violence so that it raged in him and made him stronger mentally and physically. Now that his companion was here, racing through his veins, he moved with blurring speed.
Master kicked Avgust, the largest of the four assassins hiding in prison, so hard in the kneecap they all heard the sickening crunch. Adrenaline-laced joy rushed through his veins. These were the only moments left to him now to actually feel, as disgusting as it might be. The edge of his boot caught the assassin in the side of the head deliberately as he swung around in a flowing motion toward Edik, one of Avgust's partners. The blow snapped Avgust's neck, killing him. He wasn't important to the interrogation anyway.
Master spun away from Edik's homemade knife, catching his wrist as he did so, completely controlling his arm with his superior strength and the momentum of both their bodies. He plunged the razor-sharp blade into Edik's throat, dropping him, and then going straight for Longfellow, who stood just one scant foot away, his mouth gaping open. Slashing the blade across the guard's throat, Master kept moving with blurring speed, having gone over and over the moves in his mind, knowing what he had to do to survive. He slammed his fist into Shorty's throat, putting his body weight behind the blow, going in for the kill.
There was one prisoner left standing, and two alive. Boris was still on the floor, unable to stand. Still coughing. Master had killed four men in under a minute.
The remaining assassin, Ludis, faced him with disbelieving eyes. "Who the fuck are you?" he demanded. He was the acknowledged leader of the group, the one Master needed to answer the questions he'd been sent in to ask.
Master calmly walked over to Boris and snapped a front kick to his left temple with the toe of his boot, again putting his body weight behind it. The angle allowed him to slam Boris' head into the concrete wall so hard they heard the fracturing, as if the skull were an eggshell. Boris tipped over, his breath coming in ragged pants, his eyes wide open in shock.
"Need you to answer a couple of questions for me," Master stated calmly. "You had a nice setup. Hiding in plain sight. Must have been paid a great deal of money to sit in prison though. Fuckin' hate these places."
Ludis was calm. He lit a cigarette and leaned a hip against the long table where the guards had been sitting. "You're the one we've heard rumors about all our lives. You slip in and out of prisons, no matter how high the security. You assassinate your target right under the noses of the guards, and no one ever figures out who you are or how you do it. You've been at it for years. Makes sense that you're Russian. One of us."