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Her Ruthless Russian (Karev Brothers #1)

By:Leslie North

Her Ruthless Russian (Karev Brothers #1)
Author: Leslie North





1

Vlad Karev sipped his morning coffee as he leaned lazily against the bus stop shelter across from the O'Connor Fine Arts Gallery. He certainly wasn't expecting the first exhibition he saw to be going on outside of the building.

"And I'm telling you I want to speak to your supervisor," a very feminine voice insisted. Even from where he stood, she sounded at the limits of her patience. Vlad guessed the dispute had been going on long before he arrived.

"I am the supervisor!" the man returned vehemently. "I drive, and I supervise! Anything you have to say, you say to me!"

A moving van was parked in the Gallery's loading bay with the ramp down. Two men were in the process of unloading a large, bubble-wrapped frame from the trailer. A third man stood in the alley arguing with the redheaded woman carrying a clipboard. Vlad watched as the woman took a tentative step back when the man arguing waith her leaned toward her.

"I've been saying it all morning! You absolutely cannot ship these frames with one layer of bubble wrap and some packing tape. This is completely unprofessional! I … oh, my God," the woman interrupted herself as one of the two men coming down the platform dropped the end of his frame. It hit the metal ramp with a loud crack of splintering wood. The movers halted to look to their supervisor for instruction. The latter waved them on without a second thought.

"I'm sorry, but are these wood frames?" the woman exclaimed. "Are you trying to ship me broken wood frames?"

"Five percent discount," the supervisor said pulling out a cigarette and popping one end into his mouth.

"Five percent?"

The man reached out to seize her clipboard. The woman cried out, but when she reached to wrestle it back again, the supervisor shoved her roughly away.

Vlad took that as his cue to intervene. He crossed the street without even looking for traffic, his attention solely focused on the scene in the alley. His long strides devolved into a more casual stroll as he came up beside the woman; she turned to regard his arrival with a stricken expression, unwittingly opening up her private exchange with the mover to encompass him as well.

"Fifty percent discount, and she gets to keep the clipboard," Vlad said.

The self-described supervisor looked him up and down. He had to look much more up than down. "Why do I give a fuck what you think?" the man demanded. "Mind your own business and keep walking!"

The look Vlad was getting from the woman wasn't much more encouraging. Up close, she was as beautiful and harassed as he had guessed from across the street. Thick, red hair blazed like a firestorm around her neck and shoulders, giving the impression that she had wrestled with it that morning before ultimately deciding to take it down from its restraints. The color of her mane contrasted with the starched monochrome of her white blouse, which was just translucent enough to betray the dark impression of the brazier she wore beneath it. A smattering of freckles across her high cheeks and button nose filled Vlad with an immediate and unexpected desire to see just how far the constellation extended. Did they cover the rest of her body; her neck, her shoulders … ? Did her lovers count them before going to sleep on them?

Those were the tamest of the thoughts he entertained while looking at her. Even though his eyes were concealed behind his sunglasses, he thought she felt the suggestive weight of his gaze. He watched with interest as a mute flush rose up beneath the freckles whose full territory he was considering.

"Hey! You listening to me, pal?" the driver demanded. The two movers had returned from inside the gallery, their hands freed from carting the broken frame. They flanked their supervisor, although they eyed Vlad with a good deal more wariness.

Vlad turned his attention away from the beautiful woman to eye the three movers with far less interest. The accumulation of their upper body strength was something worth considering, at least. These weren't meatheads who zealously pumped iron at the gym-these were men who made their living hauling heavy objects, and they had the practical strength to show for it.

"Move whatever remains inside," Vlad instructed, "and apply the zero to your offered discount. I won't repeat myself."

"Sir, I can take care of this," the woman said uncertainly. Her tone made it clear she was uncomfortable with his easy command of the proceedings. He thought it likely her discomfort stemmed from the fact that she hadn't been able to tighten the leash on these men herself. "There's no need for you to get involved," she added.

"Why don't you tell the fire-crotch to learn how to handle her own business?" the supervisor demanded.

The woman gasped, as if all the wind had been knocked out of her by the crass insult. A meditative moment passed, and then Vlad put his coffee on a nearby ledge and struck out with the flat of his palm.

His single-handed shove sent the driver flying backward against the truck trailer. The container rang hollowly at the impact, and the man's shoulder gave a sharp crack to rival the shattered wood frame from earlier, although Vlad was confident he hadn't used enough force to break any bones. The two movers sprang out of the way, and the woman's hand flew to her mouth.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I-"

"Get a move on," Vlad advised the three men. "Be glad I didn't spill my coffee."

The threat in his tone was thinly-veiled, and the movers collaborated to unload the items much more expediently after that. A thorough apology from the stricken supervisor preceded a complete refund, and it wasn't long before Vlad and the woman found themselves standing alone in the alley amid a cloud of dispersing exhaust. The truck was gone, carrying with it the three stooges who had given her such a hard time.

"Terminate your contract with them," Vlad advised.

"You don't have to tell me twice," the woman agreed.

Generously, he held out his coffee to her. The woman accepted his offer without a second thought as to what she was doing, exhaling a long sigh, she raised the paper cup to her lips. In the next moment, she spat its contents out onto the ground.

"Does this have … is that vodka?" she exclaimed incredulously.

Vlad shrugged. It was as much a morning staple to him as cream was to professionals who had less vital business to attend to.

"You cannot come into the gallery if you are intoxicated," the woman said, delivering her verdict in a clipped procession of words.

///




Vlad raised an eyebrow. "Can't I?" He didn't bother correcting her assessment of his sobriety.

The woman fisted her knuckles on her diminutive hips. Any pair of hands could get lost in a set of curves like that, he mused privately. "No, you cannot," she emphasized. "This is my family's gallery, and I won't have someone like you … that is to say … there's been enough damage for one day."

There were two details in particular about the woman's comments that Vlad found far more interesting than her refusal to let him enter: one was her personal relationship to the gallery, and the other was her remark concerning someone like him. There was no mistaking the resentment in her tone. It may have been his intention to keep a low profile while visiting the gallery, but this woman saw right through him.

Then again, maybe it was the sharp sting of the vodka on her tongue that clued her in.

"Anyway, we're closed," she continued as she turned to go. His first sight of her had been from a distance, but he had yet to see her from behind. Vlad tipped his sunglasses to take in the view. Long, shapely legs stretched themselves to the limit of her slate-gray pencil skirt, hugging the rolling cleavage of her t

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