7 years ago
Alexandr Novikov lounged in a not-so-well-lit back corner of a cavernous room, relaxing in the boisterous atmosphere. Rain had dampened the wool of his jacket, releasing the musk of the fabric every time he shifted. A hint of the sweet scent of pipe tobacco had seeped into the bones of the building, which, on damp nights like this, released the ghostly smell of phantom smoke. In a neat twist of fate, the place he found himself in tonight was a high-end working man’s bar that had seen more than its fair share of violence but still managed to retain its weathered glory. One of his favorite places on Earth to visit, even if he was here for Bratva business.
The pub had been around since the 1700s and was controlled by the Irish mafia for almost as long. In spite of the frequent fights and roughhousing, the bar itself was crafted of rock-solid, aged wood that had taken on a rich patina over the years, giving the thick planks an almost silky look. The mullioned windows and stained glass, which looked out into a bleary view of the street, were either original or excellent reproductions. Carefully trimmed ivy grew over portions of the intricate brickwork on the exterior of the building and well maintained flower boxes on the upper level windows allowed the bar to blend in nicely with its upscale neighborhood.
Regardless of the fact that the pub was often filled with clientele of a rougher sort, there were rarely any conflicts. Anyone who came here for a drink knew better than to make any trouble. Peter Cleary, the owner of this establishment and a good portion of Dublin, didn’t suffer fools gladly. Probably one of the reasons Alex got along with him so well, and nothing that was about to happen tonight would endanger their friendship. While he would do everything he could to minimize any disturbance, the man he was hunting was at the top of a long list of assassinations he’d been assigned. As powerful as Peter was, the Novikov Bratva was a deadly leviathan lurking in the criminal depths that sharks like the Cleary mafia could only begin to imagine.
Still, that didn’t mean Alex liked creating problems for one of the few men he considered more than a business acquaintance.
Alex had been coming to this bar for over ten years for work and pleasure, and even though it almost felt like home, he was on high alert. Without being conspicuous, he constantly scanned the crowd while sipping his pint of dark lager, knowing that he blended in perfectly. When he traveled abroad on family business, to dress like a local and not draw attention to himself. And even if he hadn’t, no one would have been stupid enough to try and pick a fight with him. He’d grown up in a landscape saturated with violence and it had marked his soul.
Despite being in a heightened state of readiness, he kept his mask of indifference in place, a carefully nondescript indifference that could be interpreted by people in many ways.
Most of those assumptions would be wrong.
As he scanned over the crowd again, his gaze invariably honed in on the pretty, auburn-haired young woman tending the bar at his end of the long room. She was new. During his frequent visits, Alex had bedded most of the waitstaff who worked here, but he had an unusually powerful desire to be balls-deep in the oddly beguiling young woman. He’d been with some great beauties, females so amazing they’d won prizes for their attractiveness, and none of them had drawn his attention like this. The redhead was attractive, in a sweet way, but she didn’t hold any of the exotic, sultry promise he preferred in his conquests…but he was unable to stop watching her. As he stared at her, he tried to puzzle out why he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her and focus on his hunt.
Being distracted by a female while on assignment never happened. He was calm, cool, analytical, and focused. Even when he was a boy, he could concentrate to the point where he was impossible to distract. Yet here he was, daydreaming about long, dark cherry red hair wrapped around a pale, slender body. She reminded him of a dancer, all grace and flowing motions.
Then she grinned, and his heart gave a hard thud. In that one second, she transformed from merely pretty to stunning. He’d never seen anyone smile with such open happiness before. It lit her from within, making her pale skin seem almost luminescent in the dim golden lighting of the pub. Her teeth revealed by her parted pink lips were perfect, lovely. She must have been some dentist’s pride and joy. Alex imagined her smiling at him, and something funny twisted in his stomach, a craving to know her in a very intimate way that only grew stronger as he observed her.
The first time he’d seen her, three days ago when he arrived in Ireland, he’d made note of her. He’d been fascinated by the tall, graceful woman with the most beautiful hair he’d ever seen. It was natural—her red eyebrows and fair lashes along with freckles attested to that—and when she happened to look his way, he sucked in a breath at the sight of her feline–like, bright blue eyes. Exotic eyes that would haunt the man lucky enough to see them. The dazzling gaze of an enchantress in the face of an innocent.
When she grew into her unusual beauty, she would breathtaking.
He hoped she’d notice him, but she seemed to be ignoring his part of the room. The more he studied her out of the corner of his eye, the more he realized she was avoiding looking at him on purpose, doing everything she could to keep from turning her face in his direction. Right now, she was talking to a customer who was getting a good eyeful of her bare belly while she reached for a glass from the rack above the bar. The skin of her slender torso was pure, creamy perfection, and he wondered where her freckles stopped.
The purple silk blouse she wore with its artful draping complimented her lean form, and he knew her small, firm tits would fill his mouth perfectly. When she bent and reached a certain way, a sliver of the delicate curve of her breast was revealed by the loose armhole of her shirt. Overhead speakers hidden among the scrolling crown molding piped out Sarah McLachlan singing some song about being happy. His breath caught as the slender woman unconsciously danced to the beat, a flowing movement that reminded him of the way the women of the Russian ballet moved. Her breasts swayed while she shifted her arms in time to the music, even her graceful fingers becoming part of the dance. His mind drifted to thoughts of slipping up behind her, of filling his hands with her warmth while he buried his face in all that fabulous hair and ground his erection into her pert bottom.
Shifting uncomfortably as his dick began to harden, he tore his eyes from the new bartender and returned to scanning the crowd while nursing his beer. She distracted him far too easily, and he needed to focus. This was not a vacation. This was work. There was a man here, Jake, who Alex needed to follow home then dispose of. Jake had crossed the wrong people in Russia, and Alex’s unique skill set had been called into action. So far, the man had proven hard to track down, but Alex had cashed in a favor with a female business associate, and she had managed to lure Jake here tonight.
He should be focusing on his hunt, not hoping for another glimpse of the bartender’s bright smile.
Jake’s bellowing laugh rang across the room, drawing Alex’s attention back to his target. He was a red-faced, sweaty, wasted-off-his-middle-aged ass mess, and Alex couldn’t wait to be done with this assignment. Damn that stupid fuck for being so greedy. Jake lived well but, like so many, was never satisfied with what he had. He always wanted more, and he thought he could get it by stealing from Jorg Novikov. Thought that because the head of the Novikov Bratva was old, he was also weak.
Jake was about to find out how wrong he was.
The drugs Alex had slipped into Jake’s drink should have been kicking in so his mark was probably only minimally aware of his surroundings. Alex wished he had more time to make the man pay, but he needed this job to be over with. The disgusting pig of a man was now pawing at the woman he’d come in with, his meaty, sweaty hands leaving invisible trails of slime on her. He could see the disgust on her face from across the room. Alex would have to throw a couple extra thousand Euros her way for enduring the fat man’s touch.
Watching his mark, Alex tried to get the taste of anger out of his mouth by taking a long drink. The fucker had left behind a young son in Russia who was now living with his grandparents, his mother already dead and his father about to be. A child who could have been used to punish Jake, could have been killed for his father’s sins, while this waste of humanity sat in a pub in Ireland, getting drunk with stolen money. Alex curled his lip in disgust and stood, cursing the stupid fuck for making him fly all the way out here to get rid of him. There was nowhere, nowhere on Earth the fat man could run and hide. Nowhere that the Novikov Bratva didn’t have eyes, ears, and friends willing to die for them, and powerful people who owed them favors. Even if Jake went to the Arctic Circle, Alex would be there with a rifle waiting behind a snowdrift to finish his pathetic life.
Then again, Jake fleeing to Ireland did give Alex the excuse to be away from the craziness of Moscow. They’d just taken over another Bratva’s prostitution business, and there had been many…replacements made with management. Meaning he’d had to end the lives of a couple dozen abusive, monstrous pimps. A necessary evil that had been assigned to him, and a task he hadn’t minded doing. A year ago, the old leader of the Sokolov Bratva had been overthrown, and the new man in charge didn’t give a shit about the women working for him. As a result, the prostitutes decided to leave the Sokolov Bratva’s protection for the Novikov Bratva, which took care of those who worked for them. A few of the pimps had tried to reclaim their girls, but Alex had taken great pleasure in helping Dimitri send a brutal message of what would happen if anyone hurt the women. This time, in the form of the tortured body of one of the pimps dumped in the alley behind one of the Sokolov’s brothels.
Thankfully, Dimitri was slipping into his role as head of the prostitution arm of the Novikov Bratva nicely, a heavy responsibility for any twenty-two-year-old, but Dimitri was passionate about the safety of the women working for them and took his job seriously. This allowed Alex to focus on the more legitimate businesses of the Novikov Empire, to be the public face of the organization. An odd job for someone who was also his father’s favorite assassin.
Over on the other side of the lengthy, antique bar, which took up the far wall, two balding old men threw their arms around each other’s shoulders and sang an off-key Celtic song with their eyes closed and faces tipped to the ceiling. Other men laughed and held their drinks up, singing along with gusto. Even the bartenders got into it, and he found himself and the young redhead were the only people in the bar not singing. Their eyes met through the crowd, and he had a moment of feeling a deep connection. Her gaze held his and her lips parted and her hard nipples pressed against her top. He needed to kiss her until the taste of her filled his mouth and suck on those unbelievably puffy, pink lips. She turned away first, her eyes lowered and then looked up and laughed as the old men finished their song, clapping and giving them a smile that put roses in her cheeks.
Irish beauty through and through. Something he’d developed a taste for over the last few years. Not that he didn’t think Russian women weren’t the most stunning women in the world—he did—but he’d been spending more and more time in Western Europe at his father, Jorg’s, command. It was no secret Alex was the favored son for inheriting control of the Novikov Bratva after the old man passed. Jorg wanted Alex to spend time with the various organizations, criminal and otherwise, that supported the Novikovs to remind them that the Novikov Bratva was something to be feared. But Alex spent more time forming bonds of friendship than he did menacing their allies, much to his father’s aggravation and reluctant admiration.
Ruling wasn’t just about violence and intimidation. A wise man valued willing loyalty more than fearful service.
Or, at least, Alex tried to.
Jorg was perfectly fine with being one of the most dreaded men in the deadly world of the Russian mafia, the boogeyman criminals warned each other about. He believed might made right and expected his sons to feel the same way. Unfortunately for Jorg, Alex and his brother Dimitri had been heavily influenced in their upbringing by their Uncle Petrov, a man just as powerful as Jorg but with a devoted following of men and women who would die for the Dubinski Bratva.
Petrov Dubinski was Alex’s mother’s brother, and successfully ran a powerful Bratva of his own. Uncle Petrov offered not only power and money to the people who worked for him, he also offered peace and safety for them and their families, as well as prosperity. Something more valuable than gold and diamonds, something his men would do anything to protect without hesitation.
Alex found his gaze wandering back to the girl smiling at a customer as she filled his mug with dark beer. When her slender, pale fingers gripped the old brass spigot, he couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to have her hand wrapped around his cock. He wanted to fuck that delicate redhead until she turned pink all over. His erection started to get harder, and he tried to calm himself down. This rampant, almost uncontrollable arousal irritated him. He wasn’t ruled by his dick. He had better self-control than this. He could sit in a sniper blind for days without moving more than an inch in any direction, and he’d never lost his head over a female.
Because of who he was, he could have hundreds of the most desirable women in the world on their knees begging for him if he wanted. Back home in Moscow, he had over a dozen women, gorgeous, refined, experienced, and all eagerly waiting for his phone call. Of course, he never seriously dated any of them, but he did shower the one he was currently fucking with expensive gifts before he set her aside. And when he was done, he was done. The women he picked were aware of the reality of their situation and were fine with how things worked. Perhaps he should see if the lovely bartender would be open to such an arrangement.
Across the room, Jake pushed back from his table on unsteady legs and headed in the direction of the bathroom, occasionally bumping into someone with a muttered apology.
With his empty glass in hand, Alex approached the bar, his view of the windowless bathroom and hall perfect, so if his drunk mark tried to leave out the back Alex would know without hovering too close and tipping Jake off.
The redhead behind the bar ignored him until he cleared his throat. Three times. When she finally turned around, it was with a sour twist to her lovely, Cupid’s bow lips. Up this close, he marveled at how ethereal she appeared, how delicate. Like she was a princess out of one of the illustrated fairy tales his mother had read to him when he was young. Her eyes were captivating, the brightest cornflower blue he’d ever seen rimmed in a thin line of navy and framed with long red-gold lashes.
She snapped him out of his silent appreciation when she spoke with a terse American accent. “Can I help you?”
He raised a brow, and a slight blush pinked her cheeks. He enjoyed that color on her. Porcelain skin like hers would show her every emotion and every spank of his hand. He forced his voice to remain calm even though desire tightened his gut. “Another dark lager.”
When he gave her his most charming smile, her frown grew even more pronounced. Either his charisma was gone, or this woman did not like him for some reason. Without another word, she turned and got his drink as quickly as she could. He kept his gaze on the bathroom, which now had a line forming, while waiting for Jake to come out. The slam of his beer on the bar accompanied by a small splash of liquid onto his hand drew his gaze back to her instantly.
Her eyes darted to his wet hand, and she sighed then said in a softer voice, “Sorry about that. Let me get something to clean you up with.”
When she looked up at him through her lashes, the need for her touch overwhelmed him, but he had a feeling she’d bolt if he attempted to so much as caress her cheek. “Is all right.”
She blinked at him, some of her ire melting away as curiosity took its place. He held her gaze and found himself unable to look away, drawn to her obvious inquisitiveness like a moth to the flame. A tingle of electricity moved through him and he rubbed the suddenly sensitive tips of his fingers against the smooth edge of the glass holding his beer. Even though she was pretty with her high cheekbones and pouty, pink lips, it was the spirit shining in her unguarded gaze that captured him. It had been a long, long time since he’d been around a woman who had so few barriers between herself and the world. He wondered who this American girl was and what she was doing here in Peter Cleary’s pub. Usually Peter’s girls were more experienced, many of them happily entertained Peter’s men, but this woman did not strike him as the type to spread her legs for a bunch of thugs.
When she continued to stare at him, he cleared his throat. “Towel?”
“What? Oh, yeah...right.”
He had to hide his smile as she fetched a clean towel and returned to the bar with pink cheeks. Jake had yet to appear, but Alex could care less about the two hundred and fifty thousand dollar hit at the moment. The only thing he could focus on was how soft and good her slender fingers felt against his hand, even if she was wiping him down as quickly as possible. More of that unusual, but not unpleasant, electricity arced between them as she quickly cleaned him. If this rare chemistry between them carried over into the bedroom, fucking her would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Desire clouded his mind, and his accent thickened. “What is your name?”
Her voice came out quiet, but firm. “None of your business.”
“My name is Alex Gorev.” It was actually Alex Novikov, but he strictly went by aliases while in Western Europe and was known in this area of the world as Gorev.
She arched a delicate brow at him then snorted. “I’ve been warned about you.”
She had such an adorable scowl when she said that, and his cock thickened.
If she was his submissive, he’d be fucking her sassy little mouth right now.
“Yep.” She glowered at him, her fingers tapping on her arm, the thick silver ring she wore on her thumb flashing in the warm light.
He wondered if she’d been warned about his darker carnal habits or his being a high-ranking member of the Novikov Bratva. It was hard to contain his anger, something unusual for him, as he spoke louder than he intended, “Who warned you? What did they say?”
She seemed taken aback, her jaded expression slipping, leaving one of alarm as he snarled at her. Evidently, the young woman had not been around many men who raised their voices if her wide eyes were any indication. He would have to keep the fact that she was unused to dealing with a man like him in mind in the future.
Gentling his tone as much as he could, his voice still came out unusually low as he said, “Tell me, what has been said about me? I deserve to know.”
While they were talking, the wait at the bar for a drink had built up, leaving the other bartender giving the beautiful redhead some pointed looks. With a sigh, the woman he was strangely obsessed with crossed her arms beneath her small breasts, pressing the fabric against them, giving Alex a great view of her thick, stiff nipples.
He watched her succulent lips part to speak, and imagined kissing her while she whispered her naughty secrets to him, in the dark, of all the things she wanted him to do with her.
“Look, buddy, you have the reputation of going through women like toilet paper. So please spare me your attempts at being charming. I don’t care to have you wipe your ass with me then toss me away as I’ve been shit on enough by the world in general these last few years. So move along. This”—she waved her hand in his direction—“ain’t happening.”
He inwardly winced at her analogy. Evidently, the women he’d bedded here had been talking, not that he should be surprised. Not many women were happy when they discovered he had no interest in them for anything other than sex and friendly companionship. He’d never dated a woman, never saw a need to. He wasn’t ready to settle down, and no woman had interested him for more than a month or two, at most, unless they were fine with just fucking.
A glance showed the line for the bathroom was longer than ever, but he barely paid attention. His focus was on this mysterious American who was resisting him, not something he was used to with a woman. The situation would be amusing if it wasn’t happening to him.
It only made him want her all the more.
Adding a touch of seduction to his gaze, he watched her closely, now only dimly aware of the line for the bathroom growing. “Do you believe everything that is told to you?”
She laughed, the melody of her joy immediately bringing a smile to his face and everyone’s within hearing distance. She might not physically turn heads, but her merriment made her irresistible. It even made him smile, which he rarely did in public. He was sure he’d smiled more during this conversation at a crowded bar than he had in months. If Dimitri could see him right now, he’d be laughing his ass off at how foolish Alex was behaving as he pursued the bartender.
The Novikov brothers didn’t chase women. Women chased them. Or at least they usually did.
Tossing her hair over her shoulder, the warm red highlights glinting beneath the brighter lights behind the bar, she held up her finger to the other bartender indicating she’d only be a minute then turned back to him with an impatient expression making a furrow between her eyebrows. “I’m sure you know you’re amazingly hot for an old guy—”
If he’d been drinking his lager, he would have choked. “Old guy? I am twenty-nine.”
She held up her hands, silver bangles glinting on her slender arms. “Hey, whatever. To a twenty year old that’s like...ancient.”
Had she just called him ancient?
A growl escaped him, but instead of being scared, she laughed again. “Like I said, as good looking as you are, I bet women are throwing their panties at you everywhere you go. So why don’t you bother one of them? I’m not trying to slut-shame you, you do what you have to do, but I don’t like people who break hearts, and I’m not interested in a one-night-stand.”
Instead of acknowledging that women did indeed throw themselves at him everywhere he went and that he broke hearts, he shrugged, deciding silence was the best option—although he was curious as to what ‘slut shaming’ was.
She smirked when he didn’t say anything. “I’ll let you know right now that I have absolutely no time for players. In fact, they disgust me. You, buddy, are barking up the wrong tree. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a job to do.”
With that, she lifted her pert nose and turned, her waist-length hair swishing behind her in a way that reminded him of how a cat would flick its tail, as she stalked away with an irritated twitch of her hips.
Bemused, he watched her huff around the bar for a moment, her stiff movements making her perfect breasts bounce as she pointedly ignored him. His cock twitched again in interest. She was a sassy little thing and would need a firm hand in bed. Might be fun to spend some time with a woman who had some spirit to her instead of his usual companions who indulged his every whim.
Tearing his gaze from her, he turned his attention back to the bathroom where a long line had formed and a guy was knocking on the door, loudly. Abandoning his beer, he signaled for the bouncer to go get Peter.
Alex’s senses were tingling in a way that let him know something was about to happen. His sixth sense had saved his ass more times than he could count, and he instantly fell back on a lifetime of training. As the son of a powerful Bratva lord, Alex had spent his entire life immersed in a world where men created their own, often violent and bloody rules. His instincts had been honed to such a fine edge that he could often feel trouble before anything actually happened. It had earned him an almost mythical reputation, and he liked it that way.
Still, he didn’t want any unnecessary attention drawn to Peter Cleary’s pub. Not that the local police would ever do anything. They were paid off by Peter and scared of incurring his ire, but Alex did try to not offend his allies. With them as friendly as they could be considering the circumstances, he’d rather not have Peter pissing and moaning at him about a corpse on his property. The bathroom had no windows, only brick walls, and that drunk motherfucker had not come out of the small room. So, unless Fat Fuck Jake had somehow slithered down the drain, something was wrong.
He brushed aside the man knocking on the door. “Move.”
With that, he kicked the door in and it bounced off something on the floor. It took some force, but he nudged the door open enough to stick his head through and stared. For the first time in a long time, he was surprised. There, lying on the floor, was Jake. Dead. Apparently, either from falling down and hitting his head—there was a large pool of blood around his head and some on the edge of the toilet—or passing out and choking on his own vomit.
Laughter threatened, but Alex needed to blend in, not stick out, and he would definitely stick out if he started chuckling at the sight of a corpse. His wry amusement continued to grow, and he really had to struggle to choke back his mirth. Closing his expression down, he rubbed his neatly trimmed goatee and looked at the hulking bouncer hovering nearby. “I need Peter.”
Before the bouncer could move, Peter, along with two of his brawny enforcers, strode down the hall. The burly, middle-aged man was shirtless, his thickly muscled chest covered with hair as red as the hair on his head and as equally smattered with white. Tattoos spread from shoulder to shoulder and across his upper back in a colorful display of Celtic knot work. When his gaze met Alex’s, the head of the Cleary gang’s solid jaw was set at a no-bullshit angle before he barked out, “Get yer arses back. All a’ya.”
The customers left in spite of their blatant, and in some cases, drunken curiosity, the threat of getting beat bloody a good motivator. When Peter Cleary said move, a person moved.
His pale, freckled face was flushed, and he ran an agitated hand through his dark red, curly hair. “What the fuck, Alex? Mary was suckin’ my dick, and I gotta stop that bliss to come out here and see a fuckin’ bathroom? Do y’know how often that woman is in a mood good enough t’give head?”
Laughing, Alex rubbed his face with both hands. “Open the door.”
Of course, the bodyguards held the door open for Peter, and a second after he looked around the corner, he started laughing as well. When he turned back, Peter shook his head with a disbelieving grin twitching his thick lips. “You lucky asshole. Yer fucking mark did himself in. Unbelievable.”
“What can I say? Lady Luck loves me.”
Snorting back a laugh, Peter shut the door then sighed. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Alex merely chuckled while he sent a text to his father that the job had been done.
After ordering his enforcers to clean up the mess, Peter turned to Alex and clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, now that yer finished, I have something I’d like to discuss with you. A business proposition I think will benefit us all.”