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Her Ruthless Russian (Karev Brothers #1)

By:Leslie North

ight end. Now his thoughts about what lay beneath this woman's clothes were anything but tame.

He was moving before he even knew he was in pursuit.

Vlad reached out a hand and caught the heavy door, pulling it open with ease as he followed her inside. The woman walked double-time, casting a hasty glance over her shoulder.

"I said we're closed!" she snapped. She was as brave in her dealings with him as she had been with the three movers. The fact that she wasn't afraid of him-especially considering her hint that she knew what he really was-made Vlad much more willing to push the boundaries of their interaction.

"I'm not here to look at art," he replied. He wasn't used to having doors closed on him. He also wasn't used to hearing the word no, especially from a woman. "I'm here to speak to the owner. You just told me you're an O'Connor."

"I know what you're here about, Mr. Mafioso." She stopped and turned sharply on her heel, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. This new view from the front was enough to halt Vlad in his tracks. Luckily, she didn't appear to notice where his eyes were directed. He was certain him appraising her like she was one of the pieces she kept on display would have further hurt his chances of getting answers.

"I highly doubt that." His voice was cold enough to chill the faint wisps of steam still rising from what remained of his coffee. It was a new tone of voice, one the woman hadn't heard before but she didn't shrink from it. If anything, she looked suddenly curious … and curiosity could lead to a potential opening, if gentlemanly manners couldn't.

"I know you're here about money," she stated. "Specifically, you're here about the money that my family was foolish enough to accept from Sergey Karev, who I assume is your boss. How is he, by the way?"

She might as well have fired a bullet pointblank into his chest. If he had not been expecting this reception, then Vlad certainly hadn't expected to be the one to deliver the news.

His lips thinned into a humorless smile. "Dead."

He could see that the revelation stunned the capricious, curvaceous woman. Her steely expression faltered, and she blinked her big brown eyes. The hard front she had been putting up all but disintegrated.

"I … I didn't know," she confessed. "How? When?"

One of these questions Vlad wanted answered himself. Until then … "A month ago," he replied. "I'm surprised the news hasn't reached you."

"No. No, it hadn't." Her breasts swelled as she clenched her arms. "I'm guessing Father knew, but he must have been keeping it from me. Not just to avoid an 'I-told-you-so,' but to protect me. He knows how worried I've been about this whole arrangement."

The woman unlaced her arms only long enough to reach out and straighten a nearby vase. Vlad watched her from behind the dark shield of his sunglasses. Was that a nervous tell, and was this all a show for him? Was it possible this woman was only feigning ignorance, or had she really not known that the Pakhan-and her gallery's primary investor-was murdered?

Was it possible she knew, too, about the folded note secreted inside his pocket that her father had sent to Sergey the day he died?

For now, he avoided giving voice to any of his more private, pressing questions. "What's your name?" he asked.

"Madison O'Connor," she replied almost reluctantly. "What's yours?"

"Vlad Ivankov Karev."

"Karev … wait, Karev?" she echoed. Vlad didn't bat an eye, didn't tip his sunglasses, didn't give away any physical indication that her surprise at his identity was news to him. He had guessed as much from their first meeting and her dismissive treatment of him. He tried not to take it personally, considering he hadn't been aware of her connection to the gallery either. If anything, he found her disrespect refreshing.

"Sergey was my employer. He was also my father."

Madison O'Connor's expression was a shuffling deck of emotions. He thought he saw a look of remorse for his family tragedy flash across her face, before it was replaced in the next instant by a look of intense thoughtfulness. Clearly this woman didn't like that his family business was so deeply entangled with hers. Vlad couldn't tell if she was deciding whether to be cunning, but he was willing to find out.

"Shall we continue this conversation somewhere else?" he suggested.

"Yes … yes, I think that's a good idea," Madison said as she turned away. "This way to my office, Mr. Karev."

Vlad's mouth, the same one that had voiced the idea so swiftly met with Madison O'Connor's stamp of approval, flexed slightly, inching toward a smile. It wasn't the only stamp the woman left him with. As he followed after her, he rotated his coffee cup idly, musing on the light lipstick print leftover from their earlier exchange outside.

His wasn't the only mouth met with approval.

2

Madison O'Connor's office was as neat and orderly as the woman who entered it. At least, the resemblance between worker and workspace would have been apparent on any other morning. Now, with her fox-red hair down and her makeup nonexistent, Madison felt more like a postmodern Expressionist painting splashed across her minimalist office; or given her current company, maybe surrealism was more appropriate.

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Not that she understood any of the movements. She wasn't even sure there was one she preferred over the other, to be honest.

If she didn't fit into the stuffy environment of her office, then Vlad Ivankov Karev was definitely out of place. She turned in time to see the man lightly shoulder-check the doorframe as he entered and keep moving, as if he was beyond noticing how ill-prepared the world at large was to accommodate him. He was one of the tallest men Madison had ever seen up close, at least half a foot taller than her five-foot-seven-inch frame, and his shoulders were sloped and broad. He wasn't bulky, but muscular; so muscular that his attempts to dress inconspicuously fell miserably short. She could clearly see from the thickness of his neck all the way down to his denim-clad thighs that he was strong, and that strength was weaponized.

She doubted the V-neck and jeans were how he usually dressed. She had seen enough of his type to know he probably had a closet full of black suits at home. Half of those were probably steadily revolving between drycleaners in an effort to banish the bloodstains that were the hallmarks of his cruel business. They were all wolves in sheep's clothing, and she was the family bloodhound who could sense them coming from a mile away. Too bad her parents hadn't listened to her when she first barked the warning.

She couldn't deny there was something deeply sensual about this latest visitor. He exuded an effortless sexual charisma that she had never before allowed herself to observe in any of his predecessors. Vlad had an animal magnetism she couldn't ignore. He reminded her of a nocturnal predator she had the good fortune to meet in the daytime, more ready to languish and listen than to give into any darker instincts.

Madison gestured toward the empty chair across from her desk, and Vlad sat down with leonine ease. Beneath the warm light of her office, she could see that his haircut was expensive, and that the blond was natural; he wore it straight and slicked back from his chiseled face. When he removed his sunglasses, his eyes were a startling blue. His unfettered gaze trained on her was like a punch to the stomach. She dropped down into her office chair with a winded exhale that had nothing to do with taking a load off from her troubles. Something told her they were only the beginning.

"Can I offer you a cup of coffee, Mr. Karev?" The gesture came automatically. She watched as he set his paper cup down on the desk and tried not to wince openly at her blunder.

"Vladimir is fin

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