by Rachel Van Dyken
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2015 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art by P.S. Cover Design
THIS BOOK HAD A LOT OF insane research, completely stretching me out of my comfort zone even though I’ve been writing mafia books for years. For readers who care about facts and small details that pertain to the reality and “realness” of this book, meaning could this actually happen? Are some of the medical terms and psychological traumas possible? The answer is yes. Thank you to Dr. Glena Andrews for answering all of my emails pertaining to brainwashing and hypnotherapy. Dr. Rachel Thomas was the resident doc on scene for this entire book, giving me notes on what different drugs I could use and how to basically get away with murder—all of this took place downtown Boise over a few glasses of wine! So readers, yes, a lot of this can happen but I caution you, it would definitely need to be the perfect storm of physical and psychological trauma, aided only by an expert in their field. Curious yet? Keep an open mind and know I did use creative license for a few situations but that should in no way take away from the reading experience. Once you finish the book keep reading for information on the rest of my mafia series as well as the reading order.
To Rachel…thank you for not being weirded out when I sent you texts like, “If I want someone to drop dead within 24 hours…” you rock!
Death answers before it is asked. —Russian Proverb
SHE WAS IN THE WAITING ROOM… I could see her. Hell, I could smell her. After all, scent was the strongest link to memories. She was nervous, tapping a blue pen against her leg. Tap, tap, tap. I felt each movement, heard each tap in my mind as if it were a clock ticking away, telling me our time was almost up before it had even truly began.
When she stood, her dress hugged every curve of her lush body. I should have sent her away.
An intelligent man would.
But the masochist in me needed her to stay, or maybe it was just the irritating little muscle in the center of my chest, the one that modern medicine claims cannot truly feel emotion.
For the second time in my life, I felt emotion, felt her, right in the center of my chest, as if she’d been placed there, as if it was my job to keep her safe.
I drummed my fingertips on the door, still watching, waiting. She looked irritated and reached for her phone.
With a sigh, I walked over to my intercom and picked up the phone. “Send her away.”
A few months later…
“I don’t care if you have to wipe her entire damn memory, just make her forget. I pay you to make people forget.”
The taste of blood filled my mouth, making me feel dirty. I had no idea why I felt dirty, just that I did, that something was very, very wrong. I blinked, but it did nothing, and my eyelashes got stuck against the blindfold. More metallic-tasting blood teased my tongue as I tried to lick across my dry lips.
I knew one of the voices belonged to my father.
Why he had me tied to a chair, bleeding—I had no idea.
Then again, he was a horrible human being, so there was that. I’d been afraid of him all my life—and now he was just proving to me how deranged he really was.
I was sixteen.
Two more years and I’d run away.
Two more years and I could go to college.
It was the one thing he promised me.
College—as long as I paid for it on my own.
I clung to the thought of escape even as I felt a heaviness descend upon the room.
“Damn it, Petrov, she’s sixteen. Just bribe her with a new car.”
“No.” My father swore in Russian. “She is a liability. Make it go away or she dies, and her death will be on your hands.”
My breath hitched in my chest.
Was my father capable of that? Of killing me?
Yes. I knew in my soul he was.
Because he had no soul.
“Fine,” the smooth voice said in a low whisper, “but I work alone, leave me.”
Shoes clicked against the ground in rapid succession.
A door clicked shut.
And I was alone.
I lifted my chin in defiance. I wasn’t going to give into fear, even though it was a real tangible thing, licking across the back of my neck, causing hair to raise all the way down my arms.
I was a Petrov.
Maybe this was my father’s way of punishing me for sneaking out last week. But I’d wanted freedom.
A freaking date.
Something. Anything to feel alive. To escape the black and white life that had been built around me, the crystal castle that dared me to throw something against the wall just so I could feel the break.
A warm hand cupped my chin. “You’re beautiful. I think that’s the first thing we should establish.”
I refused to respond. He’d have to do better than that.
“Second,” his hand dropped. I hated that my face felt cold without it there. “This is going to hurt, but you won’t remember anything afterward, not even the sound of my voice. Because, Maya, I’m very good at what I do. You could say I’m the best.”
He sounded young.
Almost as young as me but that would be impossible.
His voice was both smooth and gravelly as if when he spoke he had to fight to keep the words from sounding too pretty—maybe it was because what he did was ugly.
“I don’t care,” I whispered. “Do your worst.”
“He said you’d be brave.”
“I’m Russian.” My answer to everything.
“No, actually.” He sighed. “You’re not.”
“What?” The first slice of pain against my arm was like getting a really deep paper cut. I hissed out a breath and tried my best to glare through the blindfold.
“The first cut,” he said smoothly, “Is always the easiest because you don’t expect it. But there’s always a second.” A slow burn trickled down my wrist and then severe pain hit me again, this time on my other forearm. “Even the second isn’t so horrible, because who only makes one cut? It’s almost more expected than the first. But the third…” He made another slice this time on my open palm. “Is the worse because that’s when you realize… it’s only just begun.”
“You can’t break me,” I hissed. “And I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You’re right about one thing… you’ve done nothing wrong. Except, you were born, and that… according to your father… is a problem.”
“And second?” I asked in a calm detached voice, already trying to climb into myself so I wouldn’t feel the stinging sensation or the warm blood trickling down my arms.
“It takes experts seventy-two hours maximum to brainwash a person, to wipe their memory, to make them a whole new individual.”
“So?” I croaked, jerking against the chair.
“Ah, Maya… it rarely takes me twelve hours.”
My heart slammed against my chest.
Warm lips brushed against my ear. “The minute you were brought in… you were already broken.”
I woke up from the dream in a cold sweat. It was always the same. Someone slicing my arm, and a smooth voice taunting me. The message was always the same.
I shivered and looked at my clock.
It was time to call in a favor. I was tired of the nightmares, but more tired of putting my life on hold… I needed to finish my research if it was the last thing I did. So with dread, I picked up my cell and dialed my father’s number.
The Pier killer is at it again, claiming its first victim in two years...—The Seattle Tribune.
THE CLOCK IN THE CORNER CHIMED noon. I waited in anticipation for the doors to open. His secretary had said he’d be out in five minutes. It had been six, not that I was crazy OCD or anything, I was just a bit freaked out that I was about to meet the Nikolai Blazik. He was considered a god in the medical community.
And he was considered royalty if you asked anyone else.
Graduated with honors from Harvard at the ripe old age of fifteen, went on to get a degree in Human Sciences and Technologies, which basically meant he was a certified genius. His research on disease and its effects on the body gave him the freaking Nobel Prize at nineteen.
Which was naturally followed by a cover on Time Magazine, followed by Forbes, I think you get the picture. He was ridiculously smart and extremely hard to pin down for an interview.
The only reason he was even giving me the time of day was because my father had made a call, and my master’s thesis was based on Mr. Blazik’s newest research on STDs.
I exhaled and looked at the clock again.
He was three minutes late.
What if he wasn’t going to do the interview? I needed to finish my thesis in order to graduate—and I had to graduate in order to pay off my student loans. Regardless of how much money and power my father had, he was adamant that I make my own way.
Except in this particular situation.
I’d had to damn near sell him my own kidney in order for him to arrange the meeting. Leaving wasn’t an option. He’d told me no on several occasions and then finally, picked up the phone this morning and said to be at the Blazik offices downtown at noon.
I wasn’t sure why he’d finally given in after all these years of basically ignoring me. My family was dysfunctional. I stopped trying to figure them out years ago. My brother Pike had died a few weeks ago, leaving my mother heartbroken, and it was always rumored that my sister had been killed by another crime family when she was an infant, leaving just me.
I felt like the disappointment of the bunch, not that my father ever said a word about me being a disappointment. His words were always brittle, cold, and indifferent, I would have killed for some sort of emotion from the guy, but I had nothing but empty smiles and arched eyebrows.
With another sigh I tucked my dark brown hair behind my ears and drummed my fingertips along my black skirt.
I’d put on my new Nordstrom business suit, hoping it would give me confidence, and when that failed to work—after I looked in the mirror and saw the petrified look on my face—I put on a red thong and crossed my fingers.
Underwear always did the trick. Like a secret nobody knew about… I could walk in the office confident that although I looked prim and proper on the outside—I was scandalous underneath.
The phone ringing caused me to almost fall out of my chair.
I stood, my knees hitting the glass table in front of me. “Yes?”
Her smile was tight, almost as tight as the bun currently torturing her hair. “He’s waiting.”
He’s waiting? As if I was the one that was late and had been sitting here wasting his time?
“Thank you,” I managed to choke out, making my way toward the large black doors.
She opened both of them, making my entrance look a lot more grand than it really was.
Floor to ceiling windows lined every inch of wall except for the one behind me leading back into the lobby.
A large oak conference table was in the left corner and a desk that looked more like a spaceship about ready to take flight than an actual desk, had been placed in the very middle of the room.
Two black leather couches rested against the right wall with a white fur rug topping off the masculine look.
The office screamed money.
And for some reason that made it seem cold.
The door clicked shut behind me.
I did a circle, my heels clicking against the marble tile. “Um, hello?”
“Um,” came a dark menacing voice from somewhere in the room I couldn’t locate. “Isn’t a word. Try again.”
“My name is—“
“I know who you are,” the voice snapped impatiently. “Now, try again.”
I tried to get my shaking under control, hoping it wouldn’t show through with my next few words. “Where would you like me to sit? For your interview?”
Static filled silence followed for a few seconds before I heard a sharp irritated exhale.
“Are there not enough options, Miss Petrov?”
I licked my lips and glanced quickly around the room trying to decide what would be best, finally I settled on the couch, setting my purse on the floor and pulling out my notebook.
“Interesting.” The voice contained little humor, and I would bet my right eye he found my choice in seating anything but interesting. Whatever, not my problem. I had expected him to be nicer, or at least, you know, present?
Did he get off by acting like the Great and Powerful Oz? I still didn’t know where the heck he was or why he was choosing not to show his face.
First he’s late.
Then it’s somehow my fault.
And now he’s mocking me from afar.
Screw you, Oz. I clicked my pen and waited.
“I would have taken you for a conference table type of girl,” the smooth voice said, this time sounding closer. “Then again, the couches are more comfortable.”
I opened my mouth, but words didn’t come out. Instead, a croak or a crackle or something that sounded a lot like a strangled gasp emerged when Mr. Blazik walked through what I’d thought was a wall but was actually a door leading into another part of the office.
Well not shirtless, I mean he had a shirt on—high-end red silk—but it wasn’t buttoned. He was in the process of doing that, covering taut abs and well-defined pecs.
And I was watching him.
I quickly averted my eyes and stared at the blank notebook in front of me as my cheeks sizzled with awareness.
His approach was silent. I couldn’t hear him, but I felt him, felt his body heat. Still I didn’t look up. I studied his nice Italian shoes, black, shiny, they looked new, expensive.
“Are you planning on interviewing my feet?” A dark chuckle emerged from him. “Or can we get on with it?”
Get on with… yes, the interview. I blinked, then slowly inched my gaze up his body.
Black trousers that were more fitted than should be decent hugged muscular legs, leading up to a broad partially exposed, bare chest, wide shoulders, large biceps, and strong jaw.
I paused at the jaw, almost afraid to finish what my eyes had started, fearful that he really was going to be as good looking in person as he seemed.
His jaw was sharp, defined, shadowed like he’d forgotten to shave or maybe just possessed a crap load of testosterone meaning he had to shave every day.
I took a steadying breath as I finally lifted my gaze to his startling amber eyes. Brown hair curled around the nape of his neck, like a caress. He was dangerous perfection.
And my stomach clenched like I was going to be sick.
I hadn’t planned on him being this gorgeous in real life. Because in real life men had gaps in their teeth and weird body odor, at least in my experience, there were always a few flaws, which made them human.
So my only conclusion after taking in his perfect muscled six-foot frame was that Mr. Blazik was an alien… sent to torture the women of earth with his perfection.
I mean, what else would expl
He was busy buttoning up his perfectly fitted red shirt, my eyes trained on his fingers. I hated to admit that I wondered what else he did with those hands. With a gulp, I suppressed a shiver and tried to regain my focus.
“You’re different than he described you.” Mr. Blazik tilted his head to the side. “More… mousy.” He made a disgusted face that made me want to kick him in the shin.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner! The great flaw has been discovered! He suffered from jackass syndrome. Pity, with that face… I sighed and clicked my pen again.
“I think it’s on.” He chuckled.
I contemplated stabbing him in the thigh, but offered a smile instead. “Do you always make a habit of dressing in front of grad students or is today my lucky day?”
He made a show of slowly licking his lips and sat, his knees touching mine. I quickly pulled away. “That depends. Do you often make a habit of disrespecting your elders before asking them for an interview?”
“You’re thirty-two, hardly my elder.” I said in a sweet voice. Great, now I was arguing with him. So far, the interview? Not going so hot.
“Unfair.” He folded his hands together and leaned in. “You know my birthday and I don’t know yours.”
“Yeah well, I’m not all over the Internet.” In fact, thanks to my father, my virtual thumbprint was nonexistent. I cleared my throat. “So, I just have a few questions about your research regarding the prostitution rings here in Bellevue and your findings.”
His face betrayed nothing, but his eyes? His eyes seemed to darken even more. He clenched his teeth and leaned back, creating much needed space between our bodies. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“To interview you.” I nodded slowly. “For my master’s thesis. Is that your way of making sure I know my place? Or are you really just curious?”
“You are your father’s daughter.” His lips curved into a delicious smile, “You resemble each other, not in looks, but definitely in attitude.” His gaze was unapologetic as he tilted his head and started raking his eyes from my feet up my legs until finally settling on my face. I clenched my legs together tightly and forced a smile.