Authors: Bella Rose,Leona Lee
Her mother may have trusted her instincts, but Ella didn’t. She wasn’t sure that she trusted much of anything anymore.
Erik had dinner brought up to Ella’s room that night, but when he finally dragged himself up the stairs well past midnight, her tray was still sitting in the hallway, untouched.
He paused on the other side of the door and thought about forcing his way in and making her eat, but the truth was that he didn’t trust himself around her. When he didn’t want to kiss her, he wanted to throttle her.
Earlier, he wanted to do both.
“Stupid woman,” he growled as he walked past her door. Her being here wasn’t supposed to be complicated. She was supposed to just fall into his arms, but now she’d practically been assaulted under his roof. He still saw red with rage when he remembered the look on her face, the fear and panic as she held the gun.
Killing someone had never felt sweeter. Sometimes the dead haunted him at night. The blur of men who had begged for their lives. Ivan would not be one of them.
It was ill-timed. Now wasn’t the time to have rumors of a dead body attached to his name, but there was no way he was going to let that man live after he dared to touch his woman.
Stripping off his clothes, he threw himself on the bed and closed his eyes. It had been a trying day. First he got to taste her, then he killed for her, and finally he all but begged her to stay. And now he wasn’t going to be able to touch her ever again. Needless to say, sleep didn’t come easily.
Spreading his arm out across the bed, he turned his and stared at the wall between their rooms. Silky and rough. Sweet and sassy. Tough and timid. She was a clusterfuck of contradictions, and he couldn’t even begin to figure her out.
His phone lit up, and he growled as he picked it up. Valeria. If there was one person he didn’t ever want to talk to, it was her. Pressing ignore, he dropped the phone and rolled back over. Had he let it go to voicemail on its own, she would have never known the difference, but he wanted her to know that he was ignoring her.
He’d pay the price later, but it felt good for now.
Valeria Yashin. Jostled out of his territory in Russia, Rostilav Yashin moved himself, his family, and his closest men to bully his way into America. Five years ago he was a nobody, but he soon had a ruthless reputation. The smaller dealers and criminals fled, and the bigger ones who stood in his way died violently. When Erik’s father mentioned expanding to America, he contacted Rostilav.
The deal was that Erik would stay out of Rostilav’s territory and agree to marry his daughter. The problem with Valeria was that she was her father’s daughter. Beautiful but cruel. Politically, it was match made in heaven, but personally, it was the nightmare from hell. Erik only agreed to keep it in mind, and Rostilav decided that was good enough. Apparently, he thought that once Erik laid eyes on Valeria, he couldn’t possibly refuse.
But a year had passed, and Erik knew that he was running out of time. If he didn’t give them an answer soon, they would retaliate, and Erik wasn’t ready for the kind of attack that Yashin could launch. If he refused, he was dead before he’d barely even started. Hoping that he could keep his head above the turbulent waters, he finally fell into an uneasy sleep.
This time, when he dreamed of Ella, he saw her lying across his bed. Decorated in her own blood.
When he woke up the next morning, it was well past eight. He was cranky, sleep deprived, and facing the long Friday shift at the club. Once everything was sorted, he’d be hiring more managers to take the load off his shoulders. Luckily, he had no important meetings to deal with. So long as everything went fine at the club, the day should go smoothly.
The blonde lounging at his breakfast table wasn’t the best start. “Valeria,” he said wearily. “What a surprise.”
She inched a red manicured fingernail across his table. “You didn’t take my call last night. I rushed over here this morning to make sure that everything was okay,” she said coyly.
“You called me eight hours ago. If something was wrong, you would probably be much too late now,” he muttered dryly as he sat down. The door opened, and it was everything he could do not to gasp. Instead of Dina bringing him his breakfast, it was Ella.
Her eyes went straight to Valeria, but she didn’t say anything as she set the tray of food down. “Are you suggesting that I should have rushed over right away?” Valeria asked. “I need my beauty sleep. All of this doesn’t happen naturally,” she said as she gestured to her face. Glancing up, she frowned at Ella. “You’re new.”
Uncertain, Ella glanced over at him. “My name is Ella. Dina wasn’t feeling well, so I’m helping her out this morning.”
“An American,” Valeria said with a pointed look. “How interesting. Tell me, Ella, how long have you been working for Mr. Chesnovak?”
“Ella,” Erik interrupted. “Could you please give us some privacy? We have some business to discuss.”
“Sure.” She straightened up and walked stiffly from the dining room. When the door swung shut, Valeria frowned.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to hire outside help? Just because she has a pretty face doesn’t mean that she can be trusted,” Varleria hissed.
Erik sipped his coffee and moved his breakfast from the tray to his place. “Jealous of a maid? That’s unlike you.”
“I’m tired of playing these games, Erik. I want an answer right now.”
“Oh really?” Erik set down his coffee cup—another inheritance from his grandmother—and leaned back in his chair. “Your father agreed that setting up my business was more important. You wouldn’t want to be trapped in a marriage if I wasn’t holding up my end of the bargain, would you? If I don’t make this work, I’ll be back in Russia. And if you’re my wife, you’ll be going with me.”
Valeria rolled her eyes. “Please. You couldn’t fail if you tried. I know exactly what goes on in that basement, so I know exactly who you have in your pocket. Your club is already a success, so I want my answer. Now.”
“Patience, Valeria,” he said softly.
She rose up and smacked the palms of her hand on her table. “You tell me right now or so help me God, I will take your pretty little redhead and slice her throat open.”
Erik gritted his teeth. “No.”
“No, you’re not going to answer my question or no, you’re not going to let me kill your new little sex toy?”
Realization dawned on her, and she stared at him. He could see the rage that simmered just below the surface. “Do you have any idea what’s going to happen next?”
“Hundreds of miles separate my territory from your father’s. He can have all of Vegas. I have no interest in that city of sin. There’s no reason for you to retaliate. The deal was that I would think about it, and I have. Had you given me more time, maybe the answer would have been yes, but since you forced me to answer before I was ready, I’m telling you, unequivocally, no. Absolutely not. I would rather be dead than chained to someone like you.”
Her nostrils flared with anger. “How dare you. I’m offering to double your wealth. I’m offering you this…” She ran her hand down her own body, neck to thigh. “To sleep next to all night long, and you’re turning me down?”
Erik shook his head and clicked his tongue against his teeth. “You act like no one has ever told you no before. I find that highly surprising.”
Valeria inhaled sharply and straightened. “This isn’t over,” she hissed and stomped out of the dining room. Erik basked in the peace and closed his eyes. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“Ella. Please come here,” he said softly. He heard cursing from the other side of the door before it opened.
“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” she said quickly. “I was just coming to see if you needed more coffee.”
“Is Dina really sick?”
Her eyes shifted. “She was fine this morning, but when she saw that woman at the table, she asked me to cover for her. She said she’d do one of my rooms instead. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I can carry a tray to a table.”
Dina obviously wanted Ella to see Valeria, which meant that Dina suspected that Ella had feelings for him. Or vice versa. Only one of those scenarios made him feel good. “What do you think of the woman?”
“I don’t think it’s my place to talk about your guests,” she muttered.
“Do as I ask,” he said softly.
Ella tucked her hair behind her ears. It was a tell for her nervousness. “Fine. She’s obviously accustomed to money. She treats the staff like slaves, and she’s clearly had work done. No one has natural tits that big and that perky. Her blonde hair is so bleached that her hair is probably falling out, and her tan is a little too orange to be real. My opinion is that she’s so fake there probably isn’t a genuine bone in her body. She’s a horrible person. Is she really your fiancée?”
Erik chuckled. “I didn’t expect that much honesty out of you. Are you jealous?”
She slowly pushed her shoulders back and all emotion drained from her face. “You’re my boss. I have absolutely no reason to be jealous. We have a professional relationship.”
“Right,” he muttered. “So do you want me to really tell you if she’s my fiancée?”
“It’s none of my business.” She reached over and grabbed the tray from the table.
He watched, amused, as she jerked his untouched breakfast from the table. “I’m not finished yet.”
“You’re finished now,” she snapped. Without another word, she whirled around and stormed from the dining room.
“Seems like none of my women are happy this morning,” he muttered as he picked up his coffee once again.
“Boss?” The door opened and Matvei stuck his head in. “I heard about what happened yesterday. Was it Dina?”
It was all Erik could do not to roll his eyes. Matvei had been in love with Dina for years, but the man would never actually speak to the young woman. “It was Ella. Dina is fine.”
“Then where is she? The new girl served us breakfast.”
“Dina is just fine,” Erik said calmly. “She’s just meddling in things she should not be meddling in. What’s on the agenda for today?”
Matvei didn’t look completely satisfied with the answer, but he didn’t push the issue. “All the lunch girls are booked. It looks like your clients are trying to get a last roll in the hay before the weekend hits. Leonid is spreading the word about the new product that will be available tonight. There was a request for the VIP room, but we denied it.”
Erik looked up sharply. “Why?”
Matvei looked uneasily at the floor. “The girls might have heard that there was a new player in town. Another Russian. I think Yashin might be showing his face in the city. There’s a good chance that he’s the one who wanted the room tonight, and I didn’t think you’d want to give him a bird’s eye view of the club.”
“You thought right,” Erik said angrily. “How much do you trust this information?”
“It came from more than one source. I think we should pay attention to it.”
Tapping his finger on the mug, Erik tried to think about Yashin’s motive. If he was caught in the city before Erik decided about the marriage proposal, he ran the risk that Erik would reject the proposal out of anger. So why would Yashin risk it?
Only one answer made sense, and it was one that Erik didn’t like very much. “Tell the girls to pry information at lunch. Subtly, of course. I want this verified before I take action. I also want extra eyes on the club tonight. Not only are Valeria and her father not welcome, but I don’t want any independent dealers there. It might take a few weeks to weed them all out, but I want to set the example tonight. Be polite but firm and clear. If they set foot in my club again, I’ll break all ten of their fingers.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else?”
“Get Zoya to make me a new breakfast and have it delivered to my office. And please don’t let the new girl get her hands on it. She’s not exactly pleased with me today.”
Matvei frowned. “I could fire her for you.”
“No,” Erik said with a shake of his head. “I find her rather entertaining.” He dismissed Matvei and rose from the table. Moving to his office, he closed the door and picked up the phone.
“Father,” he said quietly. It would be just around dinner time in Russia, and his father was a punctual man. “I turned down the Yashin deal.”
“I had a feeling,” his father said with a sigh. “Are you worried about repercussions?”
“I’m not worried about repercussions as much as I’m worried about his intentions all along. I rejected Valeria just this morning, but it looks like Yashin has been sniffing around my territory for a few days now. Do you trust him?”
“Erik, what have I taught you? Never trust anyone. If you think Yashin is dirty, he probably is. In Russia, making a move on you is an affront on me, but he feels safe with an ocean separating us. Watch your back, son.”
Erik hung up the phone and breathed in sharply. The question now was what game was Yashin playing, and how many pieces did he already have in play?
Ella finished cleaned up the kitchen just as Dina walked in. There was a satisfied smirk on her face. “Thanks for covering for me,” she said mockingly.
“You did that on purpose,” Ella grumbled. “You wanted that woman to notice me. The question is why.”
“Valeria is going to be the head of this household one day soon. I thought you should know what you were getting into.”
Turning on the small cordless vacuum, Ella ran it over the wood under the table. It gave her a couple of minutes to compose her thoughts. When she turned it off and the sound died down, she faced Dina defiantly. “If you have a problem with me, you can just say it. I thought I was doing you a favor, but you clearly had something else in mind.”
“Please,” Dina snorted. “Mr. Chesnovak hires an American stranger to work in the house? At first I thought you were a spy, but you don’t speak a lick of Russian, and you don’t seem very interested in any of us. You just seem interested in the boss. I didn’t think much of it. Female staff members come and go, and most of them develop a crush on Mr. Chesnovak, but then he had a guard killed on your behalf. That raises some red flags.”