Ruthless King Extended Excerpt – The Voyeurs

Ruthless King (Mice and Men Book 1)

Blurb:

After a decade spent claiming a throne for himself in the seething violence of the criminal underbelly, all Donatello Vanici craves now is peace.

Only a union forged between his heir and the most powerful mafiya family in existence could ever be strong enough to end the bloodshed for good, but the Stepanov head resists his overtures at every turn… 

Until tragedy strikes, and forces Donatello’s hand.

Haunted by a past that dogs her every thought, Willow Stepanov will do anything for the man who adopted her—until a chance encounter with the enemy lands her right in the middle of a dangerous power struggle and a war that grows more violent and vicious each day.

But it’s not just her future her captor holds hostage.

He is a man with nothing left to lose—while she may just lose everything. 

Her life, her family, and her heart…

Mice and Men is a new standalone series in the War of Roses Universe.

Extended Excerpt – The Voyeurs

Disclaimer: The following is copyrighted material.

“You look so surly tonight,” Ellen scolds, pinching my cheek. “Is it the style? I can try a different look.”

I blink and realize that she’s already arranged my hair. A long plait loops around my skull, forming an elegant coif similar to hers.

It’s perfect, I sign, and her relieved grin only enhances the gentle grace cast by her dress. I don’t resist as she smooths the gown over my waist, adjusting the fit. With an appreciative sigh, she stands back.

“You’re a woman now,” she says wistfully. “It feels like just yesterday when you and Eli would play hide and seek for hours, and when Mischa would braid your hair. Do you remember? With Ivan already in school, the girls will follow before I know it.” She cradles her belly. “At least I have one more to savor. Now shall we?”

I start to follow her, entering the hallway. An admirer is already there, wearing a casual shirt and jeans. “You look nice, Aunt Ellen,” he chirps.

“Thank you, Eli darling.” Ellen ruffles his hair before shooting me a knowing glance. “I’ll see you downstairs.”

As she leaves, Eli steps forward, his lips pursed. “Mama didn’t want me to stay up late,” he says to me with a sigh. “She wanted me to tell you happy birthday, though, and give you this.” He hands me a beautifully wrapped box.

I open it carefully, and my eyes widen at what I discover inside of it—a delicate pair of gold earrings.

They’re beautiful, I sign before placing them on my nightstand.

“They’re okay,” he says with a mischievous grin while taking something from his pocket. “But here is my present. Before you ask, Mischa said I can have it,” he explains, holding a small knife on the flat of his palm. “I carved it myself. Do you like it?”

Recognition runs through me as I take in the dagger’s familiar shape. It’s the same one I used to practice with as a child, running drills to the point of exhaustion under Mischa’s discretion. I rub my finger over the polished leather hilt, feeling my heart swell with emotion. Etched there in gold is a single name—Mouse.

“You can use it to stab those rich guys if they get on your nerves,” Eli suggests with solemn seriousness. “Papa said I can tell you to ‘kick anyone’s ass who doesn’t treat you right.’”

I reach out, placing my hand over his cheek. With his knife in my grasp, that taunting voice in my head vanishes. I can think again, and I feel so childish for letting the negative thoughts take over in the first place.

“Don’t get sappy on me,” he scolds, dodging my touch, but his smile is so infectious I’m grinning back. “Now go to your fancy party. I scoped it out, and I bet you’ll have to use that knife pretty soon.”

I raise an eyebrow, though I doubt he’s exaggerating. Nervous energy rides the air, sending my heartbeat racing. Excited butterflies take flight in my stomach, and I sneak one last look at myself in the mirror.

If I squint, I see less of that stone-faced girl from before. A woman instead takes her place. Willow Stepanova. Who might she meet at her own debutante ball?

I honestly have no idea as to the kind of men Mischa would invite. Rich and bold, as Eli claimed? Or a more dangerous breed?

“We should spy on them from the top,” Eli offers, extending his arm to me. “That way, you can decide who to stab before you go down.”

I gratefully hook my arm around his, letting him guide me down the hall. Even from here, the noise is deafening—murmuring voices and elegant music. Rather than approach the grand staircase, Eli and I creep to a rarely traveled wing that overlooks the grand hall.

The space itself is massive, crowned by an ornate vaulted ceiling. Marble flooring amplifies every sound in the spacious interior. Two hallways on the upper level provide a more private position from which to observe those below.

“Wow,” Eli exclaims, sneaking a look over the wooden railing.

I touch his shoulder in silent agreement, too awed to make my own remarks. The full extent of Mischa’s planning is breathtaking. Garlands of roses hang from the ceiling along with ivory banners and delicate accents.

“Is that a smile?” Eli teases, wrinkling his nose. “You look pretty, by the way.” He tugs on a section of my skirt. “Like a princess. Your knife looks nice too.”

And maybe I should embrace that. I’m no longer the little Mouse Mischa rescued or the naïve child before that. I am Willow Stepanova, beloved member of a powerful family.

Mischa is right. The past has to stay dead and buried. I can move on and keep living. I won’t let it drag me back.

Leaning over the banister, I take in the new world I’m entering. Already, a sizable number of attendees crowd the room, and I feel a burst of pride for Mischa. He’s succeeded where most men fail in forging a new path for himself and for his family. He even stuffed his muscular bulk into a suit, proudly displaying Ellen on his arm.

I grin as I envision him attending one of my musical events in the future. The mafiya leader turned lover of music.

Suddenly, his expression hardens, setting my nerves on alert. Confused, I follow the line of his gaze to a man standing near a corner of the ballroom. An unwanted guest?

His back is to me at first, but then he turns.

And time crawls to a stop. As if in a daze, I vaguely note his strikingly tall figure first, before my eyes drift up to his dark brown hair. The firm line of his jaw next. It’s like my brain knows to do anything it can to stall before I finally register the rest of his face…

That firm, stoic jaw.

Those eyes.

That smile.

After a decade spent claiming a throne for himself in the seething violence of the criminal underbelly, all Donatello Vanici craves now is peace.

Only a union forged between his heir and the most powerful mafiya family in existence could ever be strong enough to end the bloodshed for good, but the Stepanov head resists his overtures at every turn… 

Until tragedy strikes, and forces Donatello’s hand.

Haunted by a past that dogs her every thought, Willow Stepanov will do anything for the man who adopted her—until a chance encounter with the enemy lands her right in the middle of a dangerous power struggle and a war that grows more violent and vicious each day.

But it’s not just her future her captor holds hostage.

He is a man with nothing left to lose—while she may just lose everything. 

Her life, her family, and her heart…

Mice and Men is a new standalone series in the War of Roses Universe.

With all hope of the peace shattered beyond redemption, Donatello Vanici is waging his most violent, bloody war yet. 

And caught in the heart of the carnage is Willow Stepanova, the adopted daughter of his dangerous enemy and the girl who once adored him to the depths of her soul. 

Torn between her loyalty to her family and her volatile connection to Donatello, Willow quickly realizes that it’s not just her life at stake in this vicious battle…

But what will be left of her in the end?

Mice and Men is a new standalone series in the War of Roses Universe.

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