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Authors: Roxie Rivera

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Table of Contents

Title Page

 

PAPER

© 2015 Roxie Rivera/Night Works Books, LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper

By Roxie Rivera

 

 

 

“Listen, it has to be
perfect
, Sergei.” Nikolai paced his home office with determined strides. “I don’t want to see a speck of dust or smell even a hint of paint fumes when I walk through that door.”

“It’s perfect, boss. I went through the space personally,” Sergei assured him. “When I leave, I’ll wrap the front doors with the red bow Bianca made. It will be exactly what you wanted.”

Certain Sergei wouldn’t let him down, Nikolai relaxed. “I’m sure it will be.”

“Boychenko is waiting for your text. I gave him the key to the back door. He’ll come in, set everything up and get out before Vivian sees him.”

“Thank you, Sergei.” Knowing full well he had asked more of Sergei than he would have any other contractor renovating a space, he added, “I appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into this for me.”

“No problem, boss. I’ll see you around.”

Ending the call, Nikolai picked up the clean suit jacket he had draped over the back of his chair and slipped into it. He tucked his phone into the interior pocket and picked up the jewelry box sitting on his desk. Although he planned to give her the gift after Lev was born, he refused to call the bracelet a push present. The term made his skin crawl.

He never wanted Vee to think that he was rewarding her with trinkets and a pat on the head for all the hard and frankly, dangerous, work of birthing his child. He hoped that when he gave it to her, Vee would understand the reason for it. He wanted her to have something that she could wear every single day to remind her of the family they were building together and how very much he loved her for giving him the chance to have a life he had never dared to dream might one day be his.

After running his fingers across the delicate gold braid and the little lion, starburst and king’s crown charms that Zoya had designed especially for Vivian, he locked it away in the safe. The day for presenting Vee with that gift would come soon enough.

Catching sight of the latest parenting book he had been reading in his free time, he snatched it off his desk and hid it away in the drawer with the rest of the books Dimitri had given him. Considering the totally shit childhood they’d had, these types of books were their best chance at
not
fucking up as fathers, but he didn’t want Ten or Boychenko to see them when they did their security rounds. Boychenko wouldn’t dare say a word, but Ten? Ten would relish the chance to needle him with jokes about Oprah or Dr. Phil.

Speaking of that devil…

Ten knocked on the door frame and poked his head inside the office. “Boss, the boys are ready to ride escort.” The enforcer turned bodyguard glanced at his watch and grimaced. “I have to hit the road if I’m going to get back before curfew. My P.O. has been up my ass lately. I think he still suspects something about all that shit that went down in October. Now he’s got a fucking hard-on for catching me breaking the rules.”

“So don’t break them,” Nikolai warned. “You’re too important to Vee. She counts on you, and she trusts you.” He squeezed Ten’s shoulder. “I know this is hard, but you only have a year and a few months left. We’ve done everything we can to keep you out of trouble. You work here with our guys that have the cleanest records. You don’t carry a weapon. You don’t drink. You’re playing by their rules, and you’re doing well.”

Ten scrubbed his face between his hands. “This is
worse
than prison, boss. At least when I was inside, I didn’t have any of this temptation staring me right in the fucking face. But here? It’s
everywhere
.”

“I know.” Nikolai hated that Ten was still suffering for a crime he hadn’t committed. “I’ve already asked so much of you. First, the six years you went inside for us, to protect the family, and now two more? It’s wrong, and I wish there was some other way—”

Ten exhaled roughly and waved his hand. “It’s fine, boss. We’re good.”

“We’re not even close to good, Ten. I owe you so much. When the time is right? You’ll be repaid.” He gripped Ten’s callused, scarred hand. “I swear that to you.”

“I know you’re good for it.” Ten smiled and whacked him on the back before retreating from the office. “Have fun tonight.”

Nikolai watched Ten head for the door and waited for Boychenko to secure it behind him before climbing the stairs in search of his wife. He ran through his mental checklist for the baby’s impending arrival. The hospital bags were already packed and waiting downstairs. He’d checked and rechecked the car seats in both vehicles. They had already chosen and met with their future pediatrician. He had the routes to the hospital mapped out and contingency plans in place for keeping the city calm and quiet.

Vee’s doctor had said that first babies often went beyond their due dates, and she expected this one to do the same. Although Vivian’s due date was still nine days out, Nikolai had an unshakeable feeling that their son would be here soon.

When he neared the closed door to the nursery, he couldn’t help himself. He opened it, stepped inside, turned on the light and immediately smiled. Vee had outdone herself. He hadn’t been quite sure what to expect when she had mentioned the fairytale theme, but he had known she would create something wonderfully sweet for their son.

The mural featuring on the main wall had taken her nearly three weeks to complete. The little fairytale scenes she had painted on the creamy white dresser and changing table were absolutely perfect. She had chosen soft, lush bedding to complement the soothing colors and had filled the shelves and bins with toys and books.

He had been given the task of choosing the baby furniture. Picking out a crib and comfortable glider had been the easiest part. Dimitri had warned him that baby furniture was infuriatingly difficult to put together—and he hadn’t been wrong. Eventually, he had conceded defeat and called in Ten for backup. Together and with plenty of swearing, they had finally managed to put together the entire room.

Because he was paranoid about accidents, Nikolai had insisted on anchoring every single piece. That had drawn looks of disbelief from Ten who warned him about coddling the boy. He had dismissed those concerns with a wave of his hand. After everything he and Vee had survived as children?
Blyad.
He would wrap Lev in a plastic bubble if it would spare him from experiencing even one second of the pain or trauma his parents had known.

As he turned to leave the room, his gaze landed on the photographs artfully arranged on the wall closest to the door. Vee had been talking about putting up some family photographs this week. It seemed as if she had finally found some time to tackle her final nursery project.

Vee had attached little chalkboard strips to the top and bottom of each frame. In the top strip, she had written the English word for each relation. In the bottom, she had neatly printed the Russian word. Moving along the gallery wall of photographs, he noticed she had labeled their closest friends as aunts and uncles, but she had also put a snapshot from the Samovar Christmas party featuring Boychenko, Ilya, Ten and Danny on the wall and labeled the men as
family
.

What would it be like for Lev to grow up surrounded by so many people who cared about and wanted to protect him? He contrasted that experience with his own bleak and often terrifying childhood and wanted to drop to his knees to thank God for giving his son the chance he had never had.

He lingered in front of Eric Santos’s photograph and frowned. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of the detective eyeballing him every time he walked into his son’s room. But, he silently reminded himself, Eric was blood family and that meant something.

When his gaze landed on the photos of Vivian’s grandparents and mother, he was taken back to his earliest days in Houston. For the Western Christmas they had celebrated in December, he had given Vivian a box of photographs and letters and other bits of her family history that Maksim had cobbled together for him. She had put some of the photographs downstairs on the main wall in the entry, but she had handpicked these for Lev’s room.

Asking the boss—his father—for that favor hadn’t been easy, but Maksim had jumped at the chance to do something nice for Vivian. Maksim’s reaction had unsettled Nikolai. He feared the old man wanted more involvement in Lev’s life than he was willing to grant, but only time would tell.

The picture of Romero took him by surprise. His father-in-law straddled his beloved Dyna street bobber and leaned back on the worn leather seat. Wearing his club colors, he looked every bit as intimidating and dangerous as he had ever been, but he was smiling at the camera. The effect of the smile combined with the black and white tones of the photograph made Romero look almost grandfatherly.
Almost.

To teach Lev the words
mommy
,
daddy
,
parents
and
love
, Vee had chosen photos from their maternity session that had taken place just after Thanksgiving. He had been less than enthusiastic about doing the session, but he couldn’t deny Vee anything she wanted. His only stipulation had been that the session had to take place in their home. Looking at the photos now, he couldn’t believe he had been so stubborn and difficult about sitting down for them. They were stunning and had captured moments that he wanted to remember for the rest of his life.

As he moved back toward the door, he noticed the grandfather position on his side of the family tree had been left empty. Maksim hadn’t made any public moves about recognizing him as his son, and he wasn’t going to push. For now, it was safer to keep that secret. With the added stress of the new baby and the new vulnerability it posed to him, he didn’t need the complications of the world knowing he was Maksim’s son. When the time was right, they could make that move with plenty of advance planning.

Noticing the photo in the paternal grandmother spot, he leaned in for a better look—and froze with shock.

My mother
.

Mama.

Flashes of broken memories, of a childhood so long ago it seemed almost dreamlike, invaded his mind. Suddenly, he was four-years-old and jumping in puddles while his mother playfully scolded him for splashing her dress. He was a little boy curled up next to his mother as they tried to stay warm in their tiny flat during a cold Moscow night. He was a scared little boy watching a nurse drag a blood-stained sheet over his mother’s lifeless body…

Shaking himself from those unwanted memories, he reached out to touch the glazed and slightly distressed frame that held a picture of his mother.
Marina
. She had been so young when he was born, still just a teenager, and so incredibly beautiful with her blonde hair. In the photo, she smiled brightly, her youthful innocence a stark contrast to the haggard, frail woman he barely remembered.

But where the hell had Vee gotten this photograph?

No. Surely not…

But there was no other explanation for her having it, was there? Maksim must have put it in the box he had sent from Russia. For some reason, Maksim had held onto this photo for all these years. He’d held onto it, and he’d wanted them to have it now.

But why?

Not wanting to go there, Nikolai backed away from the wall of photos, switched off the light and left the nursery. He breathed in deeply and tried to clear his mind. Delving into the twisted history his teenaged mother had shared with a man at least twice her age was the very last thing he wanted to do before taking his wife out to celebrate their first anniversary. The last thing Vee deserved tonight was his brooding asshole routine. She had suffered through enough of that during the summer.


Solnyshka
?” he called out to her as he walked into their bedroom. When he spotted the massive dog lounging on their bed, he scowled and snapped his fingers twice. “Stasi! Down!”

The Great Dane yawned dramatically and pushed off the comfy mattress and duvet. He arched his back high, and the overhead lights reflected off the black spots on his sleek gray coat. The dog had been handpicked by Boychenko’s uncle from the small pack that he had bred and raised specifically for security. Barely a year old, the tall, broad dog possessed a bark that rattled the walls.

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