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God has a twisted sense of humor—and for some reason, he seems to enjoy testing my sanity, especially for his amusement. With chaos. With violence. And with scenarios that force me to ask myself questions like—what do you do after a man proposes marriage while towering over a dead, mutilated body, Francesca?
The answer turns out to be relatively simple. You stand rigid in a corner while said murderer makes a single phone call, and then you watch him pace circles around his handiwork.
He can’t seem to stop moving. Raging. Thriving on the stench of blood and the taint of death. He’s like an inferno of brutality, burning so bright it hurts to stare at him for too long.
Ironically, I’m frozen in place, incapable of looking away.
The only part of me seemingly alive is my heart, beating in tune to his every footstep. Thump. Thud. Thump. Amid the ominous soundtrack, I’m riveted. I’m numb.
Though I should be terrified.
In this moment, Maxim Koslov lives up to the worst aspects of his identity I could minimize until now. The criminal who deals in violence and death. The mob boss, dripping blood in his polished suit. The murderer.
As if reading my mind, he inclines his head in my direction, his gaze unreadable. “Leave, if you want. Go.”
But he utters no further instructions. Deep in my soul, I know that his driver isn’t lurking out front either, and he never offers the keys to his car to drive myself.
The command was a test. Namely, of the fragile promise linking us together amid this chaos. One forged in blood and a vow. My finger aches beneath the figurative weight of it—a marble ring with a single name etched into its surface.
It’s so simple in its beauty and so damning in its symbolism.
“I told you to go.” Maxim stands by the wall now with his hands braced before him, his back muscles taut. I could trace the line of his spine even through his clothing; he’s so rigid. Stone. “You won’t want to see what happens next…”
Next. Implying the ultimate fate of the body lying on the floor a few paces away.
I can’t look at it. Or give it its proper name in my head. Nope. It’s just a thing.
“I won’t shield you if you stay, kotyonok. I won’t. If you run now, I will not judge you, either.”
Real urgency laces his words this time. He truly doesn’t want me to see this—the twisted aftermath of his violence. The real Maxim Koslov.
But I can’t run.
And with a sigh, he finally acknowledges that fact, though his muscles bulge against his skin as if threatening to explode from it. He’s angry. And in some ways, I think he’s resigned, too. If I can stomach him at his worst then…
We’re both fucking insane. It’s why I hear footsteps that shouldn’t exist, advancing with confidence in our direction.
Then a voice rings out, far too stern to be a figment of my imagination.
“I’m here.” We both turn to face the figure who appears at the mouth of the hall. I flinch against the nearest wall, but Maxim looks unsurprised.
“Finally.” He nods in welcome. “You came. I was afraid you were away on one of your little trips.”
“You were lucky. I just got back.” Dressed in a black suit, the tall man cuts a startling figure against the bare walls. Dark hair frames a strikingly familiar face as his eyes latch onto mine before settling over the body on the floor.
“Shit,” he says simply. Two bold strides bring him closer, and he nudges Sevastyn with the tip of his boot. I cringe from the sight, slapping my hand over my mouth in grim anticipation. A wave of gagging contorts my throat, but nothing comes up. Yet.
“You could have waited,” the man adds. “I would’ve come sooner if I’d known you were planning this.” Disapproval colors his British accent, and I finally recognize him—the figure I saw in Maxim’s club during one of our first trips there. The same man who also examined me the last time Maxim lost control. “You know this is something I would’ve enjoyed watching…” His eyes narrow, disrupting his composure. Then he shakes his head, and all traces of emotion vanish. “We have to move quickly.”
“How should we dispose of him?” Maxim asks while turning from the wall. His eyes find me again, even as he continues to speak to the man. “It needs to be clean. I suspect we have less than a few hours before his spies come looking for him.”
“You shouldn’t be anywhere near this to be completely honest.” The other man reaches into his pocket and withdraws a cell phone. “Leave. I’ll call one of my men—”
“No.” Maxim steps forward and grabs his wrist before he can raise the phone to his ear. “No one else. Anatoli has spies watching his own fucking spies. We handle this. Alone.”
“Fair enough.” The other man’s eyes narrow, but he slowly returns the device to his pocket. “What do you suggest?”
“I don’t fucking know.” Maxim turns to the table strewn with tools and grabs one item at random, testing its weight over his palm. As the light glints off a sharpened edge, I realize what it is—a knife. “Whatever we do, it needs to be done quickly.”
“And this is a brand-new suit.” The other man must know what he intends without him having to say it out loud. Sighing, he snatches his own makeshift weapon from the table and then crosses over to Sevastyn’s body. “You can replace it.” With clinical detachment, he examines the contorted, battered limbs. Then he looks up. “What about her?”
“Her?” Maxim echoes. He eyes me as well, but his gaze is so distant…
I suck in a breath and press myself against the wall. In the space of a heartbeat, this man becomes as much of a stranger to me as I seem to be to him. His icy glare alone warns me Maxim is gone, replaced by a creature tormented by his past, consumed by the violence of it—all those horrible things his uncle’s return dredged up. My lips part, a plea building between them. Don’t.
But right before I voice it, he blinks…and Maxim reappears, his knuckles stark white over the handle of his blade. Eyes narrowed in concentration, he rips his gaze to the weapon in his hand. “She… She stays.”
Without another word, he crouches beside the battered, bloodied mass that used to be his uncle’s head. Metal flashes as he lowers his hand…
Desperate to escape the image, I squeeze my eyes shut. I can’t watch. I can’t.
“No,” comes a grunted demand, too stern to ignore. “Look. Look at me.”
It’s not an order—his tone wasn’t that whip-like growl. Even more unsettling, I think he meant it as a request, one so dangerous my heart flutters in the face of it.
No, a tiny voice inside me pleads. Don’t. But as if against my will, my eyelids lift anyway. I fixate on the floor first before inching closer toward that gruesome corner…
Until splatters of glistening red are all I see.
Fucking red everywhere.
“Kotyonok.” Blinking, I snap back to awareness as the rest of the room comes into focus. Maxim is still crouched before me. Watching me. Our eyes meet, but something deep inside won’t let me flinch away. Perhaps I’m in shock?
The intensity of his gaze is, in some ways, more alarming than the pool of scarlet congealing at his feet or the mass of flesh just a few feet away. One look conveys more than he could ever say. A promise. A threat. This is what I’d do for you, that expression declares.
Kill. Maim. Cut. For you. Can you handle that, Francesca?
“Maxim?” As if from miles away, a deeper voice intrudes. “Have you thought this through? You know he won’t be missed for very long. I’m sure Anatoli is already calling for his favorite pet,” the British man says. “You do realize what this means?”
“It means war,” Maxim replies to him. “It means I make my claim now or let that motherfucker win. It means I end this now.”
Eyeing his blade, he positions the tip against Sevastyn’s neck, right below his skull. Nausea makes the room spin around me, but I can’t help but register how surely he moves. No hesitation. No queasy unease. Only one explanation makes sense as to why—he’s done this before.
“Though how long was it before Anatoli made the first strike anyway?” he muses. “Sevastyn wouldn’t dare attack me without his master’s permission. He came after me first. He drew first blood. No one can blame me for this.”
“Sevastyn…” The other man frowns. “You think he was behind the attacks on the network?”
“He all but admitted it,” Maxim hisses, his teeth bared. “As for Anatoli, I’m sure the bastard already knows what I’ve done. If I know him—and I do—he has half of the family assembling on the next fucking plane. He’ll see this as an insult.”
“An interesting theory.” The other man raises an eyebrow while adjusting his grip over his blade as he scans Sevastyn’s pale limbs. “But the man isn’t omniscient—”
“He knows.” Maxim shifts to nudge the body with his foot, rolling the corpse onto its back. “He knows the same fucking way that piece of shit knew where to strike to provoke me. The way they all know.”
“Right.” The other man’s eyes cut in my direction. “I can admit that it is…unlike you to keep a companion for so long. But are you sure that they will—”
“Sure?” Maxim laughs, still eyeing the weapon in his fist. “Go on, ask me why Milton. I know you’ve wondered. Why I would risk everything. My business. My standing—”
“Don’t assume. You don’t know what I’ve thought, my friend,” the other man says swiftly. “But I’ll tell you what’s on my mind. We need to get rid of him. Now.”
Maxim grunts in agreement. With surgical precision, he lowers the tip of his blade to Sevastyn’s throat.
And utilizing the palm of his other hand like a hammer, he rams it straight through the flesh and bone.
COMING APRIL 14TH!
In the final round of their twisted game, Francesca and Maxim have the ultimate choice to make: surrender to their dangerous attraction, or succumb to the many dangers driving them apart.
With her heart at stake, Francesca must weigh her family’s safety over her own, and trust that Maxim can truly triumph over his past trauma…
Or it will be game over for them both.
In this dark mafia romance: she assumed he was just another client–but this vicious billionaire doesn’t just play the game.
He makes the rules.
Pain is the most potent drug and Frankie Marconi is addicted to the burning sting of it. Maxim Koslov, a deranged crime lord with a tormented past, is more than willing to deliver the dose she needs.
But when lust becomes obsession, Frankie begins to realize that there is only one way out of this dangerous game of Russian Roulette…
And Maxim never loses.
Under the dangerous Maxim Koslov’s spell, Frankie Marconi finds herself falling deeper and deeper into a world of violence and sin. But the rabbit hole of chaos can only go so far. When cruel reality threatens her cocoon of pain, can she rely on Maxim to help her withstand the onslaught?
Or will she goad him into finally ending their twisted game…