Part 1 in The Dark Romance Series
A T o p #20 A m a z o n B e s t s e l l i n g S e r i e s
My name is Blaire.
I'm head of security to a man who controls the Russian underworld in Europe. His name is Maksim and he's my master. He bought me ten years ago and conditioned me with brutality to worship and protect him. And I have protected him. I've slain everyone who has tried to do him harm. Everyone but a man he loans me to; a man who threatens to break me and everything I believe in.
You're going to need a strong stomach and a strong heart to follow my story, because take my word for it, it's no fairy tale.
"Compelling Dark Romance."Anna Zaires, New York Times Bestselling Author
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I walk through Maksim's strip club like a ghost, under streaming red lights that flash in tune with the pounding music. The air smells potent with sweaty bodies and cheap perfume, a mixture of men and women.
Just how my master likes it.
Everything I see moves through my mind's eye in slow motion, my brain carefully and collectively scanning for danger. There isn't much out of the ordinary going on tonight. A few regulars line the stage in the center of the club, all unaware of my presence.
I know why.
They're too focused on the strippers, beautiful European girls leisurely peeling off their clothes. I'm wearing the usual: black sports trousers, trainers, and a thin black leather jacket over a long-sleeved sweater. Not exactly arousing attire but this is how I like it, being under the radar.
The strippers are the only people who do notice my presence. As I pass the stage, they each scowl with obvious loathing. I understand their loathing. I'm the only girl in Maksim's inner circle, and this lot—the strippers—hate it. They wonder why. They've always wondered why.
No danger here.
“Is Cэp Maksim back there?” I ask a member of security in Russian, gesturing at the door he's standing in front of like The Great Wall of Man.
“Yes,” he says in Russian, pale eyes empty of emotion. “He's been waiting for you.”
I nod, aware I'm an hour late. I'm never usually late as I know poor punctuality results in a good bloody hiding. But my phone was on silent by accident, so I didn't hear Maksim’s text message.
The security guy pushes open the heavy door and stands aside. I saunter down the red hall, turn left, and knock on Maksim's office door three times. The knocks echo, carrying over the music booming through the walls.
“Come in, My Little Pet,” Maksim says through the intercom system in his thick Russian drawl, making me shiver with awareness.
His voice brings my entire body to attention.
Pushing with both palms, I force the door to creak open and go inside.
Maksim isn't alone.
I don't react—I never react to surprises. I briefly look to see who is accompanying my master, and though it's quite dark in here, I'm very aware of the powerful blue eyes watching me from the leather couch by the left wall; eyes that seem to be all over my body at once.
Sharp little hairs race down my arms and legs.
I haven't seen him before.
The notion that he's a stranger puts me on guard because Maksim rarely allows strange faces in his circle—let alone in his office.
I stop before the wide desk and fold my hands behind my back, feeling sheathed in darkness. Maksim only has the desk lamp on and that isn't exactly bright. It just about illuminates his diamond-shaped, iron face.
“You are late, My. Little. Pet,” he says each word with significant and singular meaning, speaking in Russian.
My blood runs cold when he's like this, mulling over something other than business. Today, it seems it's my timekeeping.
I keep focus, my gaze level and on him slouching back in his chair. He's a striking man with steady, expressionless golden eyes, and shoulder-length dark brown hair that smells like brut from the candles he burns. I remember the scent well.
I remember the feeling of his hair on my face when he cuddles me after a beating.
“My phone was accidentally on silent,” I say, and my voice is low, as per usual. “I’m sorry, Cэp Maksim.” I offer him a little head-bow of respect.
Leaning forward and resting his elbows on the desk, he entwines his fingers together, holding my gaze with soul consuming eyes. “No more keeping your phone on silent, Blaire.”
I flinch subconsciously, stepping back. He only calls me by my given name when I've done something wrong, and that usually means trouble for me is brewing.
Maksim cocks a brow at me. “You got that?”
I nod, taking his warning seriously. I might be in his inner circle, but it takes just one bullet to remove me.
“What have you been doing for the past few days?” he asks in Russian, his tone husky and utterly terrifying.
“Nothing much,” I whisper in our language, squeezing my hands together on the low of my back. “I've been training, of course, went to the salon yesterday, and I went out to a club last night.”
“Yes”—he tips his head—“my men saw you driving through the countryside. Did you have fun?”
I shake my head, being honest. “I was just getting out of the apartment,Cэp Maksim.”
“Of course, My Little Pet. Of course. Though, next time you want to visit a club, you come here.” He taps his desk with one finger. “You do not have to travel to strange places to have fun.”
This is a shame. I like visiting strange places when I’m alone, since everything in my life is a consistent bloodbath with the people and the work I execute. Sometimes, I just like a change of scenery.
I guess, at his command, I don't like visiting strange places anymore.
“Okay.” I lift my lips in a forced, wary smile. “As you wish.”
Maksim acknowledges my obedience with a returned smile. Then he gestures to the right, to the man sitting on the couch, and I know the conversation about my last two days is over.
“My Little Pet,” he's speaking in English now, “meet my old friend, Mr. Decena.”
It takes a lot of effort not to frown.
I've been with Maksim for ten years, and I've never seen or heard of a Mr. Decena.
I look at Maksim's friend with my face blank of sentiment. Above him, a long tube light attached to the wall flickers on, buzzing with electricity, illuminating a tall, muscular frame.
“No matter what happens here tonight,” Maksim says in sly Russian, “you are ordered not to challenge him.”
The back of my neck pricks.
Maksim never orders me to stand down.
Though nervous, I obey without question, nodding to show I understand his command. I then study Mr. Decena, surprised by how relaxed he is in his pose, sitting there in the middle of the couch with one arm draped over the back, long legs stretched out in front of him.
This is bizarre. No one is ever that relaxed in Maksim's company.
I reckon Mr. Decena is in his late twenties. He looks young, wearing fitted jeans, tanned boots, and a black round-neck t-shirt that boasts solid muscles. He's nothing at all like my master who favors suits, but Maksim has a tall, athletic body for them.They are wearing similar watches on their left wrists with thick silver straps, but that's where their similarities end.
“Mr. Decena would like to ask you some questions,” Maksim says.
I nod in response, still studying the relaxed pawn. Unruly, ink black hair curls around his neck and face, abating a strong, square, clean-shaven jawline, and a blade of a nose. His black eyebrows are thick and long, framing prevailing blue eyes that stand against his naturally tan skin. He's a good looking man, and judging by that lazy, narcissistic expression on his face, he’s aware of it. He fancies himself.
He stares me up and down with slow meditation, taking in all my features from head to toe, and I'm suddenly so uncomfortable that my stomach knots.
I can't really explain why, but he makes me feel naked to the bone.
I shift on my feet, trying to iron out my anxiety. That’s when a smirk lifts the side of Mr. Decena's lips; a mischievous smirk full of promise.
“What do I call you, Señorita?” he asks, his voice deep yet calm. He's American but there's a sprinkle of Latin in his accent. “My Little Pet, or Blaire?”
Maksim nods to tell me I can answer.
“Blaire,” I say.
There's a split second of silence before Mr. Decena tells me, “All right, you can call me Charlie.”
Maksim's eyebrows shoot up, but he doesn't say anything.
Another period of silence follows, then Charlie rasps out my name, drumming his fingers against the back of the couch. “Blaire, as in, field of battle?”
I scrunch up my face, unable to stop myself. What's he talking about?
Maksim chuckles under his breath like he's confirming something.
“You never mentioned how bonita she is,” Charlie says softly, causing me to straighten out my features. “Nor did you mention that lovely, whispery voice.”
“Ohhh, my friend”—Maksim smiles cunningly at me, his golden eyes crinkling in the corners—“don't take it personally. I do not boast of her to anyone.”
“Why not? She's a nice looking girl.” Charlie’s voice lowers as he says in Spanish, “Siempre me he preguntado acerca de los pelirrojos.” I’ve always wondered about redheads.
I swallow, hoping I'm not visibly sweating under the pressure of these two.
“I wouldn't want you excited to see her,” Maksim says, “for she is mine and mine alone.”
“Hmm.” Charlie hums, staring right at me with brazen audacity. I get the feeling he isn't a pawn in Maksim's game. He's too confident.“She sounds kinda Russian,”he says after a while, still tapping his fingers against the couch.“Where's she from?”
“She's not Russian,” Maksim says, and I see that he shakes his head at Charlie.
Charlie nods once, understanding the gesture. “How old are you, Blaire?”
I look at Maksim. He nods.
Raising his eyebrows, Charlie seems stunned. I'm not sure why.
“What do you do, exactly?” he asks. “I've heard various stories.”
Maksim gives me the go ahead, so I say, “I deal in technology.”
“She's also on my security detail,” Maksim adds.
“This small girl is part of your security?”Charlie stops tapping the back of the couch, his eyes taut with confusion. A crease forms between his eyebrows, and it makes him look evil.
“She is.” Maksim smiles up at me again, knowingly proud. “She is a beauty in battle. Trained to defend me on instinct unless I say otherwise.”
That’s true. I am trained to defend him however I can. Though, I wouldn't just say I'm trained. I'd say I'm more conditioned. My brain works to please and protect my master without me actually having to think. I used to find it disturbing. Now, I'm used to it.
Charlie doesn't believe Maksim—it's written all over his face—but that's good. This is Maksim's trick with me. I have always been the element of surprise for his enemies.
“And your parents?” Charlie says, still frowning at me.
I don't show my confusion to that question. I just look at him.
“I'm not talking to you, am I?” Charlie cuts Maksim off dead.
My heart drops like a boulder.
“Don't you understand me, girl?” Charlie says. “Where are your parents? I won't repeat myself again.”
I don’t know how to respond, so I keep my mouth shut. But Maksim thumps the desk, snapping, “Answer him, Blaire.”
I cringe as he uses my name, muttering, “I only haveCэpMaksim.”
Charlie's glancing between us, an air of frustration on his face.“Where are her parents?” he demands to know, leveling his attention on Maksim. “Dead? Did they sell her to you? Where are they?”
My eyes flitter between them, and I'm beyond confused. I don't get why he's being so ascetic all of a sudden, or why he'd want to know if I have parents. What does that matter?
Maksim manages to give Charlie another curt head-shake, which Charlie also understands.
The next questions are sharp and snappy, like the tension that's now in the room.Charlie states my address in London, and asks, “Is that where you live?”
I nod again, keeping it brief.
“Is the apartment yours?” He raises his eyebrows at me, making his blue eyes seem wider.
I nod a third time.
“And you drove here tonight on your own?” He gestures at the office door with a large, steady hand. “You have your own car?”
What kind of a question is that? What's it to him if I live alone or if I own my own car?
“Yes, the car is hers,” Maksim answers for me, though he doesn't gain Charlie's attention. He is still looking at me.
“I have her on the payroll,” Maksim explains. “She's not a prisoner like the rest.”
“Is that right?” Charlie sounds like he's stuck in thought, while his eyes flicker all over my deadpan face. “So, you trust her completely?” he breaks eye contact with me to focus on Maksim. “Because if you have any doubts...I can't risk having sloppy workers on the job.”
Maksim doesn't hesitate. He says a powerful, “With my life,” then it's quiet again.
Why do I feel like I'm being interviewed for something?
“Okay,” says Charlie eventually, nodding to himself. He then summons my attention by rasping out my name. “Maksim tells me you can hack into any computer system, no hay problema?”
Bingo. He is interviewing me.
“You can answer him,” Maksim says. So I nod, my hands still firmly folded behind my back.
“How can you do that?” asks Charlie.
“My friend,” Maksim butts-in, clearing his throat, “the details are better left unsaid. Just know that My Little Pet is masterful at—”
“I'll decide what details are better left unsaid,” Charlie says. Sitting forward, he puts his elbows on his knees and narrows his blue eyes at Maksim. “I'll consider pardoning things that might make this girl feel uncomfortable, but you'll tell me the finer details.” His square jaw ticks, though when he stares up at me, that anger in his face vanishes. “How can you do that, Blaire?”
“I spent three years in a room with books, codes, and computers,” I say without thinking, and bizarrely without Maksim's permission. “I taught myself the things I know.”
Charlie gives Maksim a baffled look, wrinkling his nose. “She actually thinks she became a hacker in three years?”
No one answers him, and he runs a hand through his thick black hair, ruffling the strands at the back of his neck. “C'mon, don't try to take the piss outa me.”
Maksim's face tightens with what almost looks like...fear? No. Can't be. He shakes his head at Charlie again.
“All right.” Charlie lifts a hand, understanding Maksim's expression.
Is he hiding something from me? Why won't he just tell Charlie that he bought me from a man in Russia, or insist it's none of his business?
Digging into his jeans back pocket, Charlie pulls out a piece of paper and proffers it to me between scissored fingers. I glance at Maksim. He signals for me to take the paper, so I reach for it. I briefly touch Charlie's fingers in the process and a warm, tingly sensation spreads through my body, causing me to snatch back my hand—and without the paper. Our eyes meet in a moment of dead quietness, with his glowing like he knows what I just felt.
Everything around me becomes nonexistent. Even Maksim fades into the background. And I just look at this man who's invading our personal space with pure perplexity. He doesn't look away or blink, just stares right through my fucking soul.
A pool of anxiety coils inside me, making my toes curl in my trainers.
I have a dark feeling he's going to turn the world as I know it upside down.
“It's the latest in technology for a certain CCTV system,” he says softly, insisting I take the paper from him. “Here you go.”
To break whatever the fuck thisis, I pinch the paper out of his fingers and scan the notes written down, mentally willing my heart rate to calm.
It's the details for London's closed-circuit television system.
“Can you shut that down for fifteen minutes?” Charlie asks, his voice still unexplainably soft.
I've entered this system a few times before, as Maksim likes to know that he can control a city if trouble breaks out.
“Can you shut it down, My Little Pet?” Maksim says.
“I can shut this down for four, maybe five minutes before I get locked out.” I lean over to give Charlie back the piece of paper, avoiding his touch—and his eyes. I have the contents of the note now stored in my memory.
Charlie shakes his head, screwing up the paper in a large hand before tossing it across the office. “I need fifteen minutes.” He exercises his eyes on Maksim, who seems a little uncomfortable, pulling open the top buttons of his shirt. “You said the redhead could get me fifteen minutes. I. Need. My. Fifteen. Minutes.”
His tone makes my hackles come up hard, and my protective instincts kick in. I step closer to Maksim's desk, zoning into myself.
I have to protect Maksim.
I have to ensure nothing happens to him.
Maksim is all that matters.
And above all, no one talks to my master with such contempt. No one.
I center my attention on the enemy. He’s glaring at Maksim with his nostrils flaring, unbothered by my change in persona.
“Can you do it, My Little Pet?” Maksim says in a rush of words, visibly nervous with deep swallows. “Can you get the fifteen minutes?”
“I'll need a few weeks,” I whisper. I actually need more than a few weeks, but I'll tell Maksim that over the phone. At least this way, if he gets mad at me, I have time to mentally prepare.
Mad Maksim doesn't bode well for my ass.
Charlie nods. Then Maksim tells me two weeks is fine, that there is no room for error. “Don't run over schedule, My Little Pet. You know what will happen if you do.”
“I won't,” I say, as I do know what will happen all too well.
Just as quickly as it bloomed, the tension in the room vanishes, though I stay by Maksim’s desk to ensure his safety.
Charlie pulls another piece of paper from his jeans back pocket. “For Maksim. Please, give it to him.”
Maksim gives me the okay, so I take it from Charlie and put it on the desk.
“That's a Dark Web link. Don't lose it.” Charlie gestures out. “To contact me, the password is Guzmán Decena.” He follows with saying out each letter of the password like we're fucking dyslexic or something. “Keep me updated regarding Blaire and the job, comprender? You can e-mail me any time, and I'll get back to you within the hour.”
Regarding Blaire andthe job? Why would he need to be updated about me?
“Of course, my friend.” Maksim touches his chest in a deceivingly composed approach. “Of course.”
I feel Charlie is looking at me again, and my anxiety spikes when he asks,“Will Blaire be attending Rumo's poker game next weekend?”
A few seconds of edgy silence pass through us. Then Maksim says, “She will be.” He smiles at me with an agenda, excitement gleaming in his eyes. “I might even put on a little show for you.”
Charlie doesn't understand, so Maksim explains that he sometimes has me fight for entertainment. “Like I said a moment ago, she's a beauty in battle.”
Chills run down my spine because I know what's going to happen. I know who he'll make me fight.
“You will come to the poker game, won't you, Charlie? You will come watch her fight?”
“Ohhh, I wouldn't miss it.”
My stomach twists.
“Good. Very good, my friend.”
While I stand here staring ahead impassively as not to draw attention to the fact that I'm sweating bullets, they start chatting about what's been going on in London over the past six years, which isn't much short of sex, crime, and murder. Charlie doesn't sound impressed as Maksim blathers on about his power in Western Europe. Seeming to have heard enough, he cuts Maksim off mid-sentence to say he needs to go. “Time’s getting on.”
That’s when Maksim focuses on me. “Do you have any questions before you go, My Little Pet? Is there anything you need?”
“No,” I whisper, devoid of emotion.
“I guess we're all done here then.” He reaches over to shake hands with Charlie, making his chair creak under his weight. “It's good to see you again, my friend.”
Nodding once, Charlie stands and fixes the hem of his t-shirt over his jeans. He's really tall. I'd say at least six foot two, and he's bigger than I thought with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and hard muscles stretching under dark, olive skin. He looks like a Spanish soldier.
“If you’re heading back to London, Blaire”—my name rolls off his tongue like satin—“I'll get a lift with you.”
My heart does this weird doubling over thing. I whip my eyes from Charlie to Maksim, who strangely nods.
“You will have to forgive my little pet's attitude, as I am sure you will learn she has.” Maksim chuckles under his breath. “She's as arrogant as a redhead comes.”
Charlie laughs, too, clearly amused. “I can handle one small girl, no matter how arrogant she might be. Don't worry about that.”
My stomach is sinking, thinking this is a test. It has to be. Maksim would never leave me alone with another man.
Ignorant to my apprehension, Maksim tells me that I must be polite to Charlie, that I'm not allowed to fight him. It isn't a request. It's an order. “You can speak to him, also, just not about me.”
“Of course,” I say, head-bowing to my master, hiding the fact that my anxiety is going through the roof.
From Chapter Eight
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
To steer clear of a conflict, I try to walk past him, but he grabs my wrist in a solid grip. A black switch goes off in my mind and all I can hear are Maksim's words echoing. No one is allowed to touch you, ever. No one but me, My Little Pet. He's told me this for years. He used to play a recorder on repeat while I slept until his words sunk into my subconscious. That's why I live to serve him.
I smirk back at Charlie. “You shouldn't have done that.”
He flicks up his eyebrows to challenge me.
I twist out of his grasp so fast that I land on my knees and elbow him in the nuts. He gasps out, doubling over, and lands on his hands. “Fuck!”
I sprint forward and stand, turning around to face him. He lunges at me before I can register he is on his feet. He grabs my throat, runs back with me while groaning in anger, and slams me against the wall.
“Ah!” I gasp on impact, closing and opening my eyes, gripping his wrist with both hands.
He laughs in my face. “I'm not your little friend, James.”
I choke in his grasp, my head getting dizzy, then I whack the inside of his elbow to buckle his arm.
“Neither am I.” I draw back and punch him in the face, causing his nose to burst open.
He isn't bothered. He tries to grab me again but I fight him off, cross-whacking his hands away, but he keeps coming at me. I've nowhere to go, so I boot him in the stomach with lower body force. He bends over, winded, and I try to dash out of the living room but he fists the back of my hair.
“Aargh!” I spin around and pound at his chest, forcing him to free me. I can't go too crazy. Maksim is going to kill me for this as it is.
When Charlie is a few feet away, forced back by my attack, I jump up on one foot to kick him in the face with my other. He catches my ankle and yanks me forward.
“Awh!” I grimace as my back slams against the hard marble floor.
I don't let my pain take over my process. I bolt upright and snatch for his hand on my ankle but right now, he's quicker than I am. I'm not on par tonight. He catches my wrist, still gripping my ankle in his other hand, and manages to flip me over so my face is sliding against the cold floor.
“That's more like it,” he says in my ear with humor. He battles to get both my arms behind my back and holds them there in one of his hands. He then grabs a fist-full of my hair, hauls me to my feet like this, and turns me around so I'm facing him. I hiss against the discomfort, struggling to free at least one of my hands from his but my efforts are useless.
He bends at the knees, nearly putting us eye to eye. I have no choice but to stand here against him. If I fight while in this position and he pushes my arms up my back, they'll snap.
“You're fast.” He tugs on my hair to make me look at him, bending my neck back. His chest is hard against my breasts, crushing me to him.
I pant angrily, a little out of sorts. If only I had grabbed my gun and shot this bastard.
Through heavy eyes, he glances between my eyes and my mouth. Then smirks like he's won. “Tell me, Señorita Blaire, why shouldn't I have done that?” He's enjoying this. I just now realize.
Is this what he wanted? To fight me?
I glare at him with wrath, at the stark perfection of his face. He's so fucking handsome it's stupid, even with his nose running red, smothering his top lip. His eyes are the most perfect shade of blue, darker under this light. His olive skin is flawless, begging to be marked.
“You really are a bonita little thing,” he whispers, his expression softening as he tips his head.
Are we thinking the same thing, of each other's beauty?
“I've never seen a girl so pale with a million freckles who is so wildly pretty.” He leans down, putting us nose to nose.
“You need to let me go,” I say in a panic, trying to shove away from him because he's going to try and kiss me.
He pushes my arms further up my back. I wince, squeezing my face in agony. My arms feel like they're going to pop out of their sockets.
“Stop fighting,” he says, then his lips seal over mine, catching my pleading, no!
Everything goes blank. I can't see a thing, nor can I breathe. The air is caught in my throat.
Charlie is surprisingly gentle in taking my mouth, humming with pleasure, his lips soft and full. I think about biting his tongue as it probes tenderly at my mouth, but I don't. I just keep my lips together, basking in the sensations of his smooth face on mine, his tongue doing this mind-blowing, slow licking thing across my upper lip.
My veins buzz with unfamiliar sensations, every inch of my body inundated with...I don't fucking know. I'm so—
In my entire life of battle and blood, I've never, ever, felt anything like this before.
“C'mon, Blaire,” he rasps. His breath smells like brandy, spicy and hot. “Let that wrought iron guard down.”
I shake my head, trying to keep my lips shut but it's so hard. My body wants this—everything that can be puckered, is—while my mind is screaming for me to shut down and attack.
“You'll let me kiss you.” His smooth face rubs across mine as he puts his mouth to my ear, breathing heavily, making me quiver from head to toe. “If you don't, I'll bend you over that sofa and fuck you right in the ass.”
Fear belts through me, and my eyes fly open. We look at each other for a split second, like there's nothing else in the world but us. His face is dark with lust. His eyes almost look black because his pupils are dilated.
A luring smile spreads across his face, drawing me into the darkness that is him. I gasp, horrified this is happening. I cannot help my panic. Maksim has never prepared me for anything like this.
Charlie takes the opportunity to invade me as I gasp. Tipping his head to the side, he dips his tongue in my mouth, moaning with satisfaction. He tastes me in endless, leisurely licks, causing something hot and heavy to gather between my legs.
My toes curl in my trainers while my stomach is flipping.
His blood tastes metallic. His lips are softer than I ever could have imagined, but demanding, making mine swell.
“You're sweet,” he says in my mouth, massaging his tongue over mine. “Eso es bueno. So, fucking, sweet.”
“Charlie,” I squeeze out his name, but before I can say anything more, he closes his mouth completely over mine, making us airtight. He groans with such passion. The sound vibrates through his chest and mine.
Now, I'm throbbing between my legs—it's the most confusing feeling—and there's warm liquid in my underwear. I've definitely not felt this before. Yes, Maksim has made me please him. He's made me suck his cock or milk him while he kisses me. And yes, I felt a little warm at times. But this is on another level.
Divorcing everything I know, I find myself melting in Charlie's arms, almost buckling at the knees. I even think I moan. I hate that, but I can't help it.
“That's it,” he rasps out. Letting go of my arms, he holds me around the waist in one arm and yanks me up so my feet aren't touching the floor, making me squeal in shock. He puts us chest to chest. His is pure, solid muscle and his heart is pounding.
So, it's not just me.
He keeps his other hand in my hair at the back of my head, holding us mouth to mouth, but right now, I don't mind. The pinching in my scalp is the only thing telling me that this is real.
I put my tiny hands on his shoulders and kiss him back, just how he's kissing me, carefully and avidly. Our lips mold as one. Our tongues dance over each other’s in a twisted game of seduction.
I could happily get lost in him.