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Her Ruthless Russian (Karev Brothers #1)

By:Leslie North

e, Miss O'Connor," he said. "And something tells me you don't serve it the way I like."

"Something tells me you're right." Madison pursed her lips, remembering how the vodka had set a slow-burning fire to her unsuspecting taste buds. It hadn't been unpleasant, just … surprising. "You introduced yourself as Vlad before. Is it all right if I call you that?"

"Please," he invited. She didn't offer him similar permission to use her first name, and he didn't appear to expect it in return.

"Great. Now that we are acquainted, do you mind telling me why you're here?" she asked. "Unless it was to deliver the news about your father, which I'm sorry to hear, by the way."

She wasn't, and she had a feeling Vlad knew as much. She couldn't afford to be tenderhearted where the Russian Mafia was concerned, and she didn't think this man would hold it against her. There was nothing outwardly tender about him.

"I like to keep an eye on the family business," he answered her simply.

"My family's business, you mean," she said. In the next moment, she cursed herself for her impulsive correction. She wasn't going to make the sort of headway she needed if she kept letting any territorial feelings get the better of her.

Vlad arched a brow above his hooded eyes in bland amusement. "As you say," he replied. "But we are partners, and I'm afraid a personal visit from me was long overdue."

From the outside, there had never been any question about what Vlad was-not to Madison. Despite this, she detected no trace of a Russian accent, which only further aroused her interest in the enigmatic man sitting across from her. Was he from overseas originally, and did it serve him to hide the fact? His English was crisp, even elegant, but it was his sophisticated arrangement of words when he spoke that made her curious of his origins. He seemed a walking contradiction like he had only recently strolled out of a time when men bashed women over the head with a club, but then gone on to receive an Ivy League education.

She watched as he drummed his fingers on her desk meditatively. He wore a light jacket over the V-neck, the sleeves of which ended below his wrists, but even this wasn't enough to conceal the presence of what she assumed were mob-related tattoos. They snaked toward his knuckles like the tendrils of some dangerous vine. The ink was faded, and she deduced that he must have had them for a long time but he couldn't have been more than what? Thirty? Why was she thinking about this? Why was she also thinking about how far the tattoos might extend on his body and wondering how many women knew the answer?

Don't be ridiculous, Maddie. Who even had thoughts like that? Certainly not the man sitting across from her. Hell, she hadn't even wanted to let him through the door when she first met him and now she was letting herself imagine him naked?

She absolutely would not blush in his presence. She refused to. With his watchful eyes trained on her, there was no way he would mistake or misinterpret exactly what she was thinking.

But maybe she hadn't lost all reason after all. Maybe there was an opportunity here, and her thoughts were leading her in the right direction.

It was worth a shot.

"If you'd like to take a look at the ledger, its stowed here," Madison offered as she rose. She turned away from her guest and bent over at the waist, pretending to preoccupy herself with the combination on the safe. She understood all too well the view she was providing him. "I keep two of them. One sits on my desk, and the other collects dust inside here. Let's just say there are discrepancies between the two."

She peered around the side of her right hip as she said this. Vlad's eyes were fixed raptly on her rear end, to the point that she wasn't even sure he heard her. It sent an electric thrill racing through her. She had never tried anything like this before. She wasn't used to putting herself on display; she hadn't even been certain it would work. Now, it appeared to be working too well. The intensity of his gaze was doing things to her physically that she was completely unprepared to handle.

///



"I mean the figures, Mr. Karev." She half-heartedly tried to call his attention back to their conversation.

"Vlad." His voice sounded tight as he corrected her. "And I am familiar with … figures, Miss O'Connor."

Madison hid a smile as she turned back to the safe. If she appealed to Vlad as a woman, rather than as a reluctant business partner, maybe she stood a chance of getting close to the man. The Russian Mafia was notoriously insular, but surely they had to date outside the "family" pool? And who said anything about date, anyway?

Her brain worked quickly. If she could get someone at the head of the Karev family to open up to her about things he shouldn't-maybe even unwittingly provide her with some hard evidence concerning what they were really doing-then she could use that as leverage to sever all ties between her family and the mob.

While the idea of blackmailing anyone filled her with a sick dread, she also knew that she was willing to do anything to save her parents from their own mistakes. Her father had been tricked into taking the investment from Sergey before he knew where the money was really coming from, and now Carson O'Connor desperately wanted out. Her mother hadn't taken his decision well and the years under the Mafia's thumb had taken its toll on her-she'd been in and out of the hospital recently. Madison felt certain that the only way to get the Mafia to back off out of their business was to start speaking in a language these criminals understood. Maybe then, her mother would slowly return to her old self.

To do that, she needed to appeal to Vlad, and she needed to start thinking like the vixen her red hair made her out to be. She needed to get back on the subject of figures.

"Really?" she mused aloud. "How familiar with them are you, would you say?"

"I have a Masters in Finance," Vlad replied.

This revelation took Madison by surprise. She rose up in astonishment and wound up banging her head on the underside of one of the taller shelves. Her skull throbbed in the aftermath, and she raised a hand to it with a little moan, clutching the ledger in the other.

"Are you all right?" Vlad asked. If she had been surprised to find the man watching her while she displayed her assets to him, she was even more surprised to find he'd half-risen out of his chair in the aftermath of her clumsy maneuver. Madison waved him off as she rejoined him, blushing crimson and glad that her hair was disheveled enough to hide her cheeks.

"Yeah, happens all the time," she confessed. She slid the ledger across the desk to him and decided that was the end of that. Even if she had been succeeding before in her seduction of Vlad, there was no way the man would be at all aroused by her after her clumsiness. Better to stick with what she knew from now on.

"You seem uncomfortable in your own office," Vlad commented as he flipped the ledger open. She instinctively bristled, but she couldn't deny that what he said was true … and probably obvious. "Then again, maybe it's only my presence making you uncomfortable."

"You don't make me uncomfortable." The protestation escaped her lips before she had time to censor or reflect on it. Madison realized it was the truth. Vlad didn't make her uncomfortable … at least, not in the way she thought he meant. Then again, an amused flash of his steely blue eyes made her second-guess her own assumption. A sexual being like Vlad had to have some idea of what he did to the women in his vicinity.

"Really?" He didn't sound doubtful, but he didn't sound altogether convinced, either. Madison sat back in her desk chair and crossed her arms, pressing her tongue to the inside of her lower lip as she tried to match his unflinching g

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