Pretty things aren’t meant to be broken.
But I broke her, and now we both have to pay the price.
I’m her nightmare.
I’m her savior.
And now that I have her signature on an ironclad contract, I own her body and soul.
She doesn’t remember me.
Because as much as I know I need to stay away, for fear of unlocking the memories I helped her father bury–I can’t.
She was the apple in the Garden, dangled in front of me, her core so tempting and sweet. A voice whispered. Just. One. Bite.
Welcome to the world of the Russian mafia, where death, is your only future.
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“YOU’RE NOT WEARING BLACK,” I BLURTED once we were in the parking garage, my eyes scanning over the crisp white button up and the same black slacks he’d worn to our initial meeting.
“How very intuitive of you, Maya.” Nikolai mused placing his hand on my lower back.
His lips twitched.
At least he had somewhat of a sense of humor.
“Get in.” He opened the door to a black Audi A8. I slid in to the leather seat and looked around. The car seemed heavier than normal sedans or sports cars. I’d always loved Audi’s but this one wasn’t like others I’d seen on the road.
Curiosity got the best of me, when Nikolai got in and turned the key I asked. “What kind of Audi is this?”
“A safe one,” he said with a simple shrug, his lips pressing together in a firm line. “Throw a grenade at it and we’d walk away without a scratch.”
“You uh, get grenades thrown at you often?”
“One can never be too careful.”
“Hmm.” I leaned back and crossed my arms as classical music floated through the car. “So, the location of our first appointment.”
“A simple office building—nothing special.”
“Right.” I started nervously cracking my knuckles.
“Don’t.” His teeth clenched as he placed a solid warm hand across mine. “Just… don’t, not now.”
“Um, okay.” His hand hadn’t left mine. “Sorry.”
“You should be,” he snapped then jerked away from me like the feel of my skin somehow offended him.
Right. So I was back at the crazy theory.
We drove the rest of the way in complete silence—except for the violin music in the background. It seemed melodramatic. Driving through downtown Seattle with a billionaire in a car that could withstand World War Three, only to get trained for my new job.
Where I had no rights as a human being.
Yeah I was a bad romance novel waiting to happen.
He stopped the car at Pier 44 and turned off the engine. “Shall we?”
Nikolai didn’t wait for me to answer, simply got out of the car. Dumbly, I followed. What other option did I have?
He was still dressed in his tight white button up and black pants. Why was it that I had to change and he didn’t? The salty wet air stung my nostrils as we walked down the pier and finally stopped in front of a red door.
I looked around while he pulled out a key and shoved it in the lock. What could a man like him possibly be doing on the pier? In the dead of night? And why did he need my help?
“Do not speak.” He hissed before grabbing my elbow and jerking me through the entrance. He kept his arm wrapped around me. I wasn’t sure if it was because he was nervous I’d cut and run, or because it was so freaking cold in that place it could have been a freezer.
“You’ll get used to it,” he whispered across my ear.
“But don’t I want to,” I muttered under my breath.
His teeth flashed in what I assumed was a smile—I didn’t want to think he was gnashing his teeth at me so early on in our working relationship. Maybe I was trying to stay positive.
I shivered again and crossed my arms, trying to keep my body heat from evaporating into whatever hellish nightmare I’d just walked into.
Nikolai walked toward one of the walls and flipped a switch.
The lights flickered on one by one, reminding me of those horror movies where the buzzing of the lights being on is almost as freaky as the lights being off.
Everywhere I looked was white.
White marble floors.
And a white receptionist desk with a red J hanging down the front. If I wasn’t so freaked out, I’d probably think everything looked modern and cool, not exactly inviting but not terrifying either.
Magazines littered the coffee table in the middle of the room, and a large bay window overlooked the Sound.
“Clinical,” I muttered under my breath.
The sound of a phone ringing had me nearly colliding with the nearest couch and toppling over backward.
“Phone,” Nikolai said in an amused voice. “It’s just a phone Maya.”
I managed to croak out a weak, “yeah.” But was anything as it seemed with him? No, not at all, so excuse me for freaking out over the phone ringing.
“Yes.” He answered on the second ring, his gaze trained on the floor. He checked his watch then motioned for me to approach the receptionist desk. “No, no that should work out just fine, I have a new… employee.” His eyes found mine.
I wasn’t so sure I liked the way he said employee, like I was disposable.
He licked his lips, eying me up and down before glancing back at the floor again. “Give me twenty minutes, then the usual.”
He hung up the phone and swore.
“Problem in crazy land?” I asked sweetly.
“I don’t believe the contract you signed this afternoon said anything about sarcasm. Or speaking.”
“Maybe you should have put that in then before I signed on the dotted line… sir.”
His eyes narrowed. “Unfortunate….”
“That you don’t mean that term of respect the way it should be meant… I could get used to it.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“Around.” He placed his hands on my shoulders and twisted my body toward a white door with two windows. “I have exactly eighteen and a half minutes to teach you the basics before we have our first patient.”
“I’m seeing real patients?”
Nikolai didn’t answer. I’d begun to notice that about him. If he didn’t want to answer he simply… refused to speak, as if he didn’t owe me anything.
He opened the door leading to the hallway and ushered me through, the lights flickered on all by themselves, lighting up rooms on either side of me. Each of them looked sterile enough that I could probably lick the floors and still be safer than eating while typing on my laptop.
“And behind door number one,” Nikolai whispered in my ear, causing a chill to run down both my arms.
He pushed the door open it made a suction noise and then closed behind us. He stretched his arms above his head and cracked his neck then pulled out a pair of latex gloves.
I gulped and tried to stop the sudden panic that sliced through me, “Are we, examining someone?”
He paused, his hands hovering over the sink and table facing the corner. “It would be prudent for you to remember the terms of the contract, Maya.”
Right. No questions, or talking.
“Do I need gloves?”
“Is that still a question? Also, if you keep talking, I may remove your tongue, you’ve been given fair warning.”
Did he just say he was going to cut my tongue out? Holy shit, he really was crazy! Did the medical journals know this? Society? People of earth? How did he hide this side of him? I was full on panicking at that moment.
Instead of bossing me around like I figured he’d do, he clapped his hands twice, powder flying off his gloves, more violin music began to come through an unseen sound system.
To be completely honest it was creepy.
Not soothing. Kind of like the music they play in the elevator in hopes to make you forget that you could plummet to your death at any point.
I leaned against the wall and watched him pull out metal instruments. Two scalpels, which made me think surgery. It killed me not asking, and when he pulled out a respirator and grabbed an IV bag, my hands began to shake against my body.
What exactly where we doing? Performing surgery? And in what world was I even close to being adequately capable of doing anything like that? I was studying diseases, but not in the literal sense where I cut up bodies and peered inside—that was a different major, a different type of person.
Books. I liked books.
Hands on experience? No, thank you.
“You will only aid me for a few minutes at a time. When I ask you to leave, you will walk out the door. Shut it behind you and don’t look back. You don’t ask questions. When the phone rings again, answer it and let him know my projected finish time in order to bring in the new patient. You’ll know my projected finish time because I’ll text it to the phone I gave you earlier this afternoon.”
Blood roared in my ears. So much information yet none of it connected or made sense.
“Maya!” he snapped. “Pay attention.”
I swallowed and nodded my head. “Shut the door, don’t look back, don’t ask questions, answer phone, answer your text. Got it?”
His shoulders sagged a bit.
“What if I don’t get your text?”
“Now that…” He smirked. “… is a good question.”
“I’m full of them, just let me ask.”
“I’m sure you are.” His eyebrows drew up in amusement. “If I don’t text, you wait for me. If after two hours you receive nothing. You find the black box located underneath the receptionist desk and follow the instructions. It’s important that you do exactly what those instructions say.”
“Not the right question.” A muscle flexed in his jaw as he looked away and clenched his fists. “Do you think you can handle all of this?”
Nikolai tilted his head and took two steps toward me. Licking his full lips he leaned in and whispered so close to my mouth I could almost taste him. “Lie.”
Afraid to breathe, I answered with a stiff nod and stepped back.
“Now, answer the door.”
“But there’s no—”
A loud knock sounded somewhere in the building.
“End of the hall, open the door, lead our patient in. Again, no questions.”
With more confidence than I felt, since my legs were like rubber as I made my way out of the office, I slowly walked to the end of the hall and opened the door.
I don’t know what I was expecting.
The boogie monster?
A friggin’ zombie from Walking Dead?
But a girl about my age stood on the other side of the door. She was wearing the shortest skirt I’d ever seen in my entire life. It was black and wrapped so tightly around her thighs it looked painted on. Her heels were tall and red, matching her bright red lipstick and bright red nails.
Blond hair was piled high on her head.
She assessed me just like I was assessing her.
Her eyes narrowed.
A man about six foot seven towered behind her. He had dark sunglasses on and was wearing all black just like me. The unmarked Lexus behind them was still running.
“Um…” I found my voice. “Just this way.”
“How long?” The man asked with a thick Russian accent.
“I’m not sure, I’ll just have—”
He held up his hand and sneered, then rubbed his bald head with that same hand. “Never mind.”
I opened the door wider and let the girl through.
She smelled like bubble gum. And she looked like a stripper, walked like a stripper, if I didn’t know any better I’d think Nikolai had some sort of… agreement with his patients or they weren’t patients at all. A sickening feeling started churning in my gut as I led her to the room and opened the door.
“Hey, Doc.” She winked and sat on the table. “This can’t take long because I have like, a few clients I need to get to tonight, big money.”
“Ah, big money?” Nikolai repeated then nodded to me.
I shut the door and waited, my back leaning against the furthest wall just in case he did something that meant I needed to run away—as fast as possible.
Not that there would be anywhere I could disappear to where he or my mafia boss father wouldn’t find me.
Dead if I went.
Tortured if I stayed?
I shook the thought away and watched as he engaged the girl as if she was the cutest thing on the planet.
He smiled, freaking smiled at her, flirted with her, and touched her. I wasn’t jealous, just… irritated, whatever, I was tired and still freaked out.
“So, Natalia,” he purred. “How has business been going? Any complaints?”
“I never get complaints.” She giggled behind her hand then leaned forward, her breasts practically toppling out of her low cut sparkly white shirt. “You should know that by now…”
“Of course I do,” he said in a smooth as sin voice. “Open up for me just a bit.”
She opened her mouth while he looked inside and frowned. “How long have the sores been back?”
“A few days.” She shrugged. “But you know they always go away when you give me medicine.”
“Like all good doctors.” He flashed another grin. “Alright… Maya.”
My head jerked to attention. “Yes?”
“Across the hall is the storage closet. Can you please get me a small vial of JR 88?”
“Sure.” With a gulp, I quickly went across the hall to get the vial. The storage closet was more of a drug addict’s paradise. There were enough pills to get a person high for eons—on top of that he had vials of things I couldn’t even pronounce. I finally located the right one and hurried back into the room.
Just in time to see Nikolai tuck the scalpel into the lapel of his jacket and pull out a needle.
I handed over the vial and waited.
With precision, he dipped the needle into the bottle then pulled a small amount, maybe the size of a pea, into the syringe. “Now, I know you hate needles.”
“Ah but your poking always makes me feel better, doc.” She winked.
And I again fought the urge to puke all over his perfect floors.
“All the girls do.” He winked right back.
Was I the only one not winking? Not flirting?
He licked his lips, stabbing her arm with the needle and slowly injecting whatever the hell he’d told me to grab. He quickly pulled the needle out once the medicine was gone.
She slumped back, her legs and mouth falling open as if she’d just lost the desire to rein it in. Her eyes rolled up and back, and with a snort or maybe a laugh, she lay back.
Nikolai placed the vial onto the table, pulled out an IV and inserted it into her wrist, taping it in place.
I was still trying to figure out what he was doing when his head snapped up. “What are you still doing here?”
“Leave.” He dismissed me with a wave of his hand.
With one final look at the drugged girl, I put my hand on the door knob and twisted.
He told me never to look back.
But I was too curious not to make that attempt.
And my curiosity was only made worse when I saw the reflection of the scalpel in his hand through the window of the door.
“Maya.” His tone was gruff. “Do your job.”
I didn’t look back but the music, the same violin music that had driven me insane, got louder, as if he needed the noise to block out whatever he was doing.
Not my business, not my problem.
I quickly made my way back into the receptionist area and sat down.
The J screen saver was on the computer. I clicked it on.
Almost too easy.
“I wouldn’t,” a chipper female voice said. “Then again, I always liked to push his buttons too.”
I glanced up from the screen and came face to face with the most gorgeous elderly lady I’d ever seen in my entire life.
“Can I, uh, help you?”
“No.” Her smile was warm. “But I think I can help you—you’re my new replacement.”
“One of thirty he’s had over the last two years.” Her shoulders shook with amusement. “Man can’t keep a woman to save his life.” And then she burst out laughing as if it was the funniest thing in the world. “And you’d think with those looks, that brain, that body.” She fanned herself and peeked down the hall. “Still at it, huh?”
“Um, first of the day. Who did you say you were?”
“A friend.” She smiled and held out her hand. “You can call me Jaclyn, or just Jac for short.”
“Jac.” I repeated shaking her soft hand. The woman had more diamonds decorating her fingers than what seemed possible. Each of them sparkled as if telling their own story of love and riches. “So, I’m the thirtieth intern huh?”
“Is that what he told you?”
“Intern.” She chuckled. “Has a nice ring to it. Has he texted you yet?”
“He will, he always does. Only had to use the black box once.” She nodded, and her eyes fell. “But that was a long, long time ago.”
“Oh!” She clapped her hands together, making her entire outfit shake. Wait, was she wearing bells or something? I stood and looked over the counter. The woman couldn’t be any taller than five-foot-one. She had red cowboy boots with bells on the tassels and skinny jeans matched with a white sweater. What should have looked stupid looked classy and stylish, like she’d just walked out of Urban Outfitters. Huh. “Why don’t I show you the schedule?”
“Alright, but Nikolai didn’t say—”
“Nikolai?” Her lips pressed together. “That’s allowed then?”
“His first name.”
“You must be special.” She smiled brighter. “I’m the only one who calls him by that… then again I’m also the only one who’s ever seen the man behind the mask.”
“So there’s two of them?” I joked.
“Oh, yes.” She nodded seriously. “Never forget how important it is to separate the two. Here he’s a god.”
“As opposed to?”
“Anywhere else…” She placed her hand on mine and squeezed. “He’s just a man. Never forget that, sweetheart.”
With that, she released my hand and waved at her eyes as if she was going to burst into tears at any moment.
“Goodness, my emotions get me these days. Now, let’s look at that schedule, and I’ll try to sort out any questions you may have before that elusive text comes through.”
“And then what?”
“After the text?”
“Oh, you bring in the next girl.”
“Are they…” I swallowed. “Prostitutes?”
“Labels really do nothing for me.” She shrugged again and pulled out a chair plopping right next to me. “If you’re really good, tomorrow morning I’ll bring you a latte, what’s your favorite?”
“Anything with caffeine.”
She paused, her eyes getting misty again. “I do hope you last, dear.”
“And the others? They quit?”
Her eyes fell to the keyboard as she pulled a hanky from her purse and blew her nose. “Now, the schedule…”
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Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!
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