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Her Ruthless Russian (Karev Brothers #1)

By:Leslie North

aze. "Then why don't you have dinner with me?" He flipped the ledger closed without looking and slid it back to her.

"What, like … tonight?" She felt her eyebrows lift in surprise at his offer.

"I find that business pairs well with food don't you?" Vlad asked. She could detect no deception in his blue eyes, but then again, she couldn't see very far past their stark color to the intentions that might lurk below the surface. "And drink, of course."

"We seem to be all out of those this morning," Madison observed, as she detected a smirk on his lips before it disappeared. "So you're proposing a business meeting with me, Vlad? And where might I expect us to conduct our 'business' this evening?"

"Mari Vanna. Seven o'clock," Vlad said as he rose. "I'll send a dress over."

"That … that won't be necessary!" Madison blustered as she stood up also.

"Not necessary, but a pleasure I trust you won't deny me." The Russian's lips flexed in a grin, revealing perfect ivory teeth. "I'm not used to being refused, Miss O'Connor."

"I can see that," she grumbled as she reached down to straighten her pencil holder. A rebellious part of her wished that she had turned his invitation down flat.

"I will send it to the gallery's address an hour before dinner. Don't be late," Vlad advised as he exited out the office door and out of her life … for now.

Once she had assured herself she was alone, Madison collapsed back into her chair and buried her face in her hands. What was she doing? She should be running for the hills, or at least running to the nearest police station!

But that was the problem. She had no concrete proof that Vlad Ivankov Karev and his family were doing anything illegal by investing in her family's business. She needed to get on the inside track and earn his trust … and trust like that wasn't forged overnight. No, it was forged over a series of nights, by spurious women in crime-financed dresses.

She needed to make a phone call.

"Don't go," Savannah blurted out. "Madison, I'm begging you. You have no idea how in over your head you might be getting with this guy."

"Isn't that the risk you take anytime you go on a date with someone new?" Madison countered as she got into her car. She held her cellphone pinned between her ear and shoulder as she fished for her keys. She tossed the contract paperwork with the gallery's movers into the empty seat beside her.

"I thought this wasn't a date," Savannah mused on the other line. "At least, that's what you told me three times already."

"Well, I lied." Madison's face burned as she stabbed the key into the ignition. Maybe calling her best friend had been a mistake. Then again, who better equipped to handle the details of what she was about to do than Agent Savannah Casillero of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?

///



"You hate lying. And you suck at it," Savannah reminded her. "And let me tell you, you're about to find yourself heaped in lies and deception. So if you insist on seeing this guy tonight, you better get used to it."

"I just feel so … sleazy," Madison confessed as she steered her car out onto the block. "Isn't it possible to go through with my plan and still be me? Can't I be a kickass powerful, warrior woman who fights for her family without lying, cheating and stealing her way to victory?"

"I think you're going to have to find that out for yourself and report back to me," Savannah replied. "Because if there's a way to have it all and win without compromising at least some truth, I sure as hell haven't found it."

It wasn't the first time that Madison had wondered what Savannah went through on a day-to-day basis. She never asked out of respect for her friend's career, and Savannah rarely divulged anything. It was a strange friendship from the outside, she supposed, but Madison wouldn't have traded it for anything.

"Listen," Savannah said suddenly. "No matter how charming or sexy this guy might be, never forget that he's still dangerous. He's probably killed people."

"I know," Madison mumbled. "Believe me. One look at him and it's obvious."

"Your family, and your ties to the gallery, can't protect you from them," her friend pressed. "This is a seriously delicate situation, Maddie. Just … do me a favor, and be careful."

Madison ended their conversation with permission to go forward with the date, which was better than how she began it. Still, she didn't take Savannah's warnings lightly. The woman was a federal agent with the Blood Diamond Task Force. She had practically written the book on danger herself, or at least contributed to a few of the meatier chapters.

Vlad Ivankov Karev was bad news. He wasn't even late-breaking news and Madison knew better than to get caught up with a man like him.

But she couldn't resist the temptation to sample some danger, even if for one night.

3

Vlad was a regular at the bookstore. It wasn't because he was anything resembling a great reader; in fact, he couldn't recall a time outside of college that he had actually finished a book, but his brother, Dmitry, was the proprietor of the store.

Vlad would be the first to admit he looked out of place among the stacks of moldering tomes. As he pretended to browse, sunglasses fixed firmly in place, he tuned a half-hearted ear to what his brother had to say. He would never admit it out loud, but Dmitry Karev was the closest thing Vlad had to a voice of reason most days.

"You going to buy something today?" His brother tipped his reading glasses in Vlad's direction. He was propped up behind the counter, one long leg crossed over the over. Dmitry shared Vlad's chiseled features and blond hair. The two tended to resemble the Karev side of the family more than their older brother, Maxim, but Vlad privately disproved of Dmitry's adherence to hipster fashion trends. He wore his own hair close-cropped along the sides with a longer strip down the middle, culminating in a small topknot that Vlad could not understand the point of. If the bookseller was trying to attract women with his choices, what he might try first was actually stepping outside his store.

"Sorry. All out of money," Vlad replied.

"Bullshit." Dmitry did not sound at all surprised by his brother's response. "At least you better not be, considering you already agreed to buy that O'Connor girl a dress and take her to the God damn Mari Vanna tonight."

Vlad said nothing; instead, he keyed a PIN into his phone and hit send on his order for the dress delivery. A clinging black number was exactly what he wanted to see adorning his adversary when she came to meet him tonight. He intended to know more about her every tight dip and generous curve before their evening together drew to a close. He may as well lay as much groundwork as he could in advance to give himself the advantage.

"You come here looking for me every other week. You should take my advice for once and listen to me. I'm older than you," Dmitry pointed out.

Vlad snorted. "By a year."

"I was also married for five," Dmitry stated, as if either of them needed reminding of the fact. Lily's sudden death had been the catalyst for Dmitry leaving the family business half a decade ago. Vlad still couldn't understand how their father let him go, but he had never been in the habit of questioning Sergey's decisions-not like his brothers were, anyway.

"So I think I speak from a level of experience when I say you need to take a step back and enjoy the finer things," Dmitry continued. "The lone wolf thing looks good on you, Vlad, but it isn't healthy. You're thirty years old. You might want to start thinking seriously about what the next step is. This woman, Madison O'Connor?" Dmitry leaned back in his chair, rotating a pen between his fingers. "Maybe you should, you know, actually go on a date with her."

"What do you

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