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I’ll never forgive myself for who I became during my marriage—a doormat. Not only did Jim completely obliterate my self-esteem, but he convinced me during the process that it was entirely my fault. For so long, I believed that lie…
And one of my promises to myself after the divorce was that no one would hurt me and walk away scot-free ever again. Thus, my list was born—the series of goals I’ve managed to uphold despite a lifetime of failed ambition and broken dreams.
And the most important one? No relationships.
Being spurned by someone like Vadim is exactly what I deserve for forgetting that key vow. For ever forgetting that my needs come first now. Always. While the good lord encouraged forgiveness, the Bible did mention that little thing about an eye for an eye.
Therefore, I intend to gouge out Vadim Gorgoshev’s entirely guilt-free. Step one? I wake up alone and enter the closet with only one goal in mind—finding the most revealing, skin-tight, sluttiest ensemble I can without risking the integrity of my piercing. Screw it. I wear a lacey, see-through bustier and short black tweed skirt that rides up my hips, avoiding pressure on my healing flesh.
Later I’ll reflect on the utter stupidity of letting a virtual stranger pierce my nether regions in the first place. At the moment, revenge is a far more appealing animal. To enhance my look, I leave my hair down and skip a bra entirely.
Mr. Billionaire eat your heart out.
No one will ever again make me feel worthless, as if my only value is at their disposal.
I am a queen. So, I do my makeup in the style of one, and when I finally leave the room, I’m ready for war. Irritatingly, I don’t find my opponent when I venture downstairs. In the kitchen, all I discover is a lone croissant resting on a plate beside a bowl of fresh fruit. As subtle a peace offering that a smug bastard could present without eating crow.
Whatever. I ignore it in favor of scouring the rest of the house in search of him.
I toy with the prospect that he didn’t sleep here at all, ceding this battlefield to me—but then I spot him in the study, slumped over his desk. And a teensy, tiny bit of doubt creeps in, poisoning my heart with…concern. Gone is the calculating, smug businessman. This creature, with his eyes closed and features gaunt, is the epitome of exhaustion.
My fingers twitch rebelliously. Anger takes a backseat for a split second, surrendering to the emotion only he can inspire in me. I have a sudden urge to smooth the hair back from his face and encourage him to go to bed.
I take a step forward… And a tendril of light from the window enhances the planes of his face—and how identical they are to his daughter’s. My anger renewed, I loudly storm back into the kitchen and slam my way through cupboards and drawers until he appears in the doorway, his eyes bloodshot. His gaze settles on my face first, his lips parting. “We need to talk—”
“Or not.” I down a glass of orange juice as I snatch up the croissant and head for the stairs.
He doesn’t follow me, and I spend the rest of the day avoiding him, too terrified that the sight of him may make me break.
And after seven years of cowering, I refuse to break.
Sleep provides only a brief reprieve. As soon as dawn creeps over the horizon, I steal a pair of masculine sweats from the closet and a set of tennis shoes for good measure. Desperate for fresh air, I head downstairs, but I barely make it through the front door before I sense him behind me.
“Where are you going?”
Gosh, he sounds more haggard than yesterday. I turn to face him and once again feel my resolve being tested. His dress shirt is rumpled, suspiciously resembling the one he wore two days ago. His pants are a wrinkled mess, and his hair sticks out at odd angles—no doubt assaulted all night by raking fingers. He looks so tired. So worn.
With difficulty, I flick my gaze from him and escape into the chilly, dawn morning.
“I’m going for a walk,” I tell him coldly. A part of me flinches at my tone. Chill out, Tiffy. Again, I can’t understand why I’m so angry. Why a sick part of me thrills at making him flinch. Survival instinct? Maybe. I’ll guard my heart at all costs from him, even if it kills me. “Don’t follow me,” I add as I slam the door.
Driven by nervous energy, I explore his property with a singular focus and find myself surprised by how big it is. And at the same time, just how empty it seems. He must control acres and acres, their boundary defined by wooden posts placed at seemingly random intervals. The house itself overlooks a wide pool set in gray stone as well as a private dock and a vacant boathouse. There’s even an empty, lonely stable at the back overlooking a view of the waterfront.
It’s a home that any little girl would dream of living in, and yet it’s almost entirely devoid of anything she might want to do. There is no playground. No dollhouse. No sea of toys to drown herself in.
It’s as if the man found the perfect blueprint for a family home but had absolutely no clue how to fill it. And now the clinical emptiness of the house makes more sense—he’s stuck, torn between who he is at his core, and the man he seemingly wants to be.
If I weren’t so angry with him, I’d gently suggest he work some color into the décor. Build a swing set and maybe a garden for her to play in. Does he even have a room picked out for her?
Yes, I suspect, recalling the one upstairs that he requested I avoid. But something tells me that even it is empty. Was he expecting his fake wife to lend him expertise in that arena? It sounds so stupid—a man like him with so many resources could easily hire someone to help him design a little girl’s room. At the same time, it fits. Vadim is so cripplingly self-conscious, he wouldn’t trust anyone to help. Not even me, the woman who bared her soul to him. Who claimed to want a relationship with him.
Who now hates him.
I reinforce that last statement as I return to the house dripping sweat, only to find an unfamiliar vehicle in the driveway—a stocky, serviceable minivan. When I ease open the front door, a sharp voice reaches my ears, and I hesitate over the threshold, straining to listen.
“…so, you can see why we were concerned,” a woman says, her tone shrill and haughty. “We love and nurture children of all ages, shapes, and sizes, but I hope you are prepared for that girl.”
“She can be…unusual,” a man interjects, his voice slightly more tolerable, almost apologetic. “That’s what you meant to say, right, honey?”
Rather than sulk upstairs like I should, I follow the conversation into the kitchen, drawn by the tone. It’s far too serious than I figure a typical visit would be—not that Vadim seems like the afternoon brunch type anyway.
I find him seated at the table, impeccably dressed in an ebony suit. Across from him are two strangers—the minivan owners, I assume. The woman wears a hideous sweater ensemble, her blond hair pulled back severely into a bun, while the man wears a faded suit and sports a thinning brown mustache. They certainly don’t look like the type to consort with a billionaire in his private estate.
They’re Magda’s current foster placement.
As I falter near the doorway, the woman looks at me, her gaze honed sharp. “Oh, is this your wife?”
“Tiffany,” Vadim says by way of explanation, though he isn’t looking in my direction. His gaze is solely focused on a pile of documents scattered before him—the supposed topic of this meeting. “These are the Robinsons,” he adds, his tone crisp. “Magdalene’s current foster family.”
Ah. I struggle to resume my fake wife ruse and force a grin, tucking my wild hair behind my ears. In a heartbeat, I channel my mother, my anger pushed aside—for now. “Pleased to meet you,” I say charmingly. “I apologize for my appearance. I must have lost track of the time.”
“Oh, it’s no worry. And I don’t want to be rude…” Mrs. Robinson wrings her hands together, her lips pursed. The judgmental part of me recognizes the expression for what it is—a pent-up busy body about to unload. “It’s just, I have to ask, did Angela tell you everything? I know Magdalene is only a child, but I insisted upon a higher level of care for her. Perhaps…psychiatric in nature. I know it’s not politically correct to insinuate—”
“I am fully prepared to take her,” Vadim says sternly. It’s strange. His entire expression is a carefully constructed mask of utter politeness. But something in his gaze makes me shiver. I step forward, claiming the chair beside him.
“Yes,” I say, squaring my shoulders in a show of solidarity. “We’re ready.”
Poor Mrs. Robinson swallows hard and shifts in her seat, laughing nervously. “Yes, well… Honey, tell them.” She nudges the man beside her. “Tell them about the incidents.”
“Magda has only been with us a year, mind you,” Mr. Robinson admits with a heavy sigh. “And she had already been through so much, what with her health problems. We knew she’d need some time to adjust—”
“She’s terrorized the other children,” Mrs. Robinson blurts out, folding her hands over the table. “She’s damaged property. There’s this teddy bear she came with. Well, recently, we discovered that not only did she rip its head off, she then broke into my embroidery kit and sewed it back together with red thread! It’s ghastly. We think it was a threat intended to frighten the other children.” Horror laces her tone, her voice shaking. “She’s incredibly isolative. She won’t let you help her with anything. Not her hair. Not with bathing—”
“She’s independent,” Mr. Robinson cuts in with another apologetic frown.
His wife scoffs. “She’s stubborn. The teachers at her school say she hasn’t attempted to make any friends—”
“Some children can be shy in social settings,” I interrupt, driven by an instinct I can’t name to defend a child I don’t even know. Internally I scold myself—despite the irritation prickling in my chest, these people can’t be all terrible. Can they?
“That girl isn’t shy,” Mrs. Robinson says with a sniff. “And with the cost of her education, you would think they’d try harder to drill some social skills into her curriculum.”
“Is that so?” A muscle in my jaw jerks, and I feel my smile twitching. “Well, children do learn by example.”
Mrs. Robinson’s brows furrow. “I’m sorry?”
“I…” Thinking fast, I try to smooth out my response. “As a teacher, I learned that it’s unfair to subject everyone to the same standards.”
Somehow, I maintain my polite tone—but it must crack, because both Robinsons flinch. Good. My hands are clenching, I realize, my nails digging into my palms. With difficulty, I flatten them against the table, keeping my grin firmly in place.
“Her grades are exemplary,” the husband admits with genuine awe.
“That’s the thing. She’s intelligent to an uncanny degree,” Mrs. Robinson says, her nostrils flaring. “Toointelligent. She likes to sing creepy little songs in foreign languages—but she refuses to say what they’re about. She carries that terrifying bear everywhere she goes. I assumed it was damaged at first and tossed it into the rubbish bin, and she threw a tantrum so fierce we had to call Angela over just to soothe her. A few weeks ago, Richard noticed that someone had been breaking into his office at night, using his work computer. The other children wouldn’t dare. When we looked at the search history, we noticed that whoever used it had been looking up drug companies. One of them manufactures a medication Richard takes for a heart condition. What if she were trying to find out some way to—”
“Thank you for coming.” Vadim stands and gestures politely toward the foyer, his posture stiff. “I would hate to keep you, given that you are so busy with your other children. I appreciate you stopping by.”
“Yes, thank you,” I snap, matching his tone as I rise to my feet. From the corner of my eye, I see his hand twitch as if aching to take mine. At first, I deliberately flatten my palm against my side—but then something makes me relent, grasping his.
Together, we start for the foyer, leaving the couple to follow.
Stunned, they blink in unison and share a quick glance. Then they hurry past us as Vadim opens the door.
“Angela is a wonderful social worker,” Mrs. Robinson adds as she lingers over the threshold. “I’m sure if you wanted to look into another child…”
That’s it. I feel my mask slipping, my grin flattening. If I didn’t understand Vadim’s determination to gain custody of Magdalene before, I do now. While unsure, he’ll strive to be a better provider to her than these people could ever be.
As if he’s reading my mind, a muscle in his jaw twitches, and Mrs. Robinson promptly scuttles after her husband. I join him in watching them leave, my thoughts swirling. On the one hand, they seem like the breed my mother used to loathe back in Cali—overly conservative busybodies. At the same time…
The child they painted seems well beyond the skill set of an ex-Sunday school teacher and an emotionally withdrawn businessman. Does he have any idea what he might have gotten himself into? I glance at him, surprised to discover that…yes, he does. His jaw is set, more determined than ever.
And in that lone expression, I see a hint of his daughter, and any doubt dies. Two creatures, easily misunderstood, requiring patience to read. Understand. Love. My fury returns, but wavers the longer I watch him, imagining him with Magdalene, unraveling her own guarded layers. The second he catches me staring, his expression softens, his voice rasping, “Tiffany, wait—”
But I don’t. Releasing him, I turn and head straight up to the bedroom, my heart racing.
Damn. Damn. Damn!
A desperate divorcee on the hunt for some no-strings kinky fun.
A brooding, sexy billionaire with a penchant for manipulation and mind games…
What could possibly go wrong?
Brother of the fiercest crime lord in Fair Haven, Vadim Gorgoshev has survived horrors most men couldn’t imagine in their nightmares—and he’s learned to thrive in the chaos.
But the master of control meets his match when a fiery redhead crosses his path.
Will the obsessive Vadim maintain the upper hand or will the reckless Tiffany turn his world upside down?
With Vadim’s control stretched to its breaking point, he aims to turn the tables by enacting Tiffany’s wildest fantasies—whether she wants him to or not.
The harder she finds it to resist him, the more she becomes swept into his growing family, forced to reassess her previous boundaries.
But when Vadim’s past comes back to haunt him, the chaos threatens to ignite their budding relationship…
And destroy it for good.
When a ghost from Vadim’s past returns to haunt him, he resorts to his worst instincts—putting his relationship with Tiffany to the test.
With no end to his paranoia in sight, Tiffany is forced to decide once and for all whether to conquer their shared demons together…
Or protect her heart by walking away for good.
Vadim’s books are a new trilogy in the Club XXX world. Vadim’s trilogy can be enjoyed without first reading Maxim’s trilogy or read as a continuation to Maxim’s series.