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The moment I finished, Sasha repeated, “Three years.” He stood up from his sitting position. “Two months.” He moved around the desk and sat in front of the short, stocky man. “And four days.” Then he scowled, lowering his voice to a hush. “That’s a long time, Paolo.” He made a show of removing his cufflinks and rolling up his sleeves. “So when I hear my friends are leaving me to work with Laredo, I begin to wonder if my friend was a friend at all.”

Paolo blanched before straightening. “Who told you that?” He tried to scoff, but it came out a wheeze. “That’s bullshit, Sash. I told you I’m taking some time off. My Vera doesn’t like the hours I’m keeping. Keeps saying I don’t spend enough time at home. Missing out on the kids growing up and all that shit.” Then he forced a smile. “You know what they say. Happy wife, happy life.”

Sasha closed his eyes, running his hand, decorated with thick silver rings, through his hair with a sigh. His cheek ticked. “I don’t like liars, Paolo. You know this. You’ve seen what happens to liars.” He squeezed his eyes shut and rolled his neck from side-to-side, working out the kinks. “Why are you lying to me?”

Then he did something stupid. He lied again. “I’m not working with Laredo. I swear to God, I’m not.”

I shook my head. The man was an idiot. You didn’t lie to Sasha. You didn’t lie to any Leokov.

Sasha’s eyes opened with a flash. He took a deep breath before laying it out there. “There was a meet this morning at Aphrodite’s Kiss.” Paolo blanched, but Sasha went on. “It was kind of funny, actually.” The look on Sasha’s face told us there was nothing funny about this situation. “Laredo told the boys that I needed to treat my staff better, or else they’d follow your lead. Said he’d welcome any and all of them with open arms.”

The short man blustered, turning bright red. “W-well, he’s full of shit!”

“You embarrass me,” Sasha said in a calm hush.

Paolo stood when he realized it was over. It was done. He was caught. “I never wanted this, Sash. You forced my hand. I can’t keep working like this. You’re so fucking demanding.” He panted before begging for understanding, “I had a goddamn heart attack last month! I nearly died. This job is killing me!”

Sasha nodded thoughtfully. The near silence in the room felt thick with the soft sounds of Paolo’s wheeze. Finally, Sasha stood, and to the complete disbelief of the short man, he held out his hand. “Good luck.”

Paolo, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, took the outstretched hand and shook it. “I’m sorry, Sash. Really, I am.”

Sasha shook his hand firmly before letting go. “Me too.” He added, “We’ll miss you ‘round here.” He walked back behind his desk. “I’ve got a couple of things to finish up. Go down to the bar and we’ll have a drink before you leave.”

It was clear that Paolo couldn’t believe his ears, or his luck. “Don’t go to any trouble—”

But he was cut off with Sasha’s firm, “I insist.”

Paolo smiled then, the idiot. “Okay. I’ll be there.”

He turned and moved to walk out, but I stood my ground, eyeing him. The little man looked up at me. He seemed afraid.

People didn’t like me.

I didn’t blame them.

We stood there another moment before Sasha spoke again, gently this time. “Let the man pass, Lev.”

I heard my brother, but I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t like Paolo.

Another moment, then again, “Move, Lev.”

I stepped to the side and let the idiot pass. As soon as he was out the door, I closed it behind him and said what needed to be said. “He’s a liability.”

Sasha sighed as he sat. “I know.” He picked up the phone, and after a short while, he spoke into the receiver. “I need you.” Without another word, he hung up.

We waited in silence, and when the knock sounded, I opened the door for the tall, slim man. He wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a short-sleeved blue polo shirt. He wore glasses and looked sophisticated with his blond hair gelled back, but nothing could hide the pock-scars on his cheeks. “What’s up?”

Sasha nodded toward the door, and I closed it behind us, locking it. The tall man smirked playfully. “Should I be worried? I feel like I just got called into the principal’s office.”

Sasha ran a hand down his face, pausing to squeeze the bridge of his nose. “Can you induce a heart attack?”

He leaned against the wall and sighed dramatically. “Well, shit. And today was such a good day.”

Sasha glared at him. “Is it doable, Pox?”

Pox grinned. “Yeah, it is. It might take a while to get the dosage right. It’ll take a bit of this, a bit of that. Most of the shit is illegal or off the market. When do you need it by?”

“Fifteen minutes. At max.”

Pox straightened and sputtered. “You’re out of your fucking mind.” He shook his head in earnest. “No way. I can’t do it.”

I spoke up, “I know a man who deals in pharmaceuticals. The price will be high, but he can get everything you need.” I added, “They deliver.”

Pox turned to me slowly, blinked, and then glanced back at Sasha. “You are some scary motherfuckers.” His voice was full of admiration.

I gave him the phone number and listened as Pox cursed at the absurd prices for the things he needed.

The delivery boy arrived in ten minutes. The concoction was made, dissolved, and slipped into the sixth shooter Paolo drank. The men sputtered and laughed as Paolo coughed before righting himself. Sasha smiled foxlike before calling over some of the girls.

The club turned into roaring chaos when Paolo, in the midst of getting a lap dance, suffered a heart attack. Sasha performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. Witnesses told the police that Sasha did everything he could to save Paolo.

Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.

Chapter Three


I didn’t have much of a plan.

Okay. So I didn’t have a plan at all.

After spending another fruitless night in my alley, my body was cold, chilled to the bone. I just wanted to go somewhere I’d be warm. Unfortunately, it was past midnight, and there weren’t a lot of options as far as I could see.

I could go into the convenience store for a while, but they would expect me to buy something, and seeing as I had no money and looked as though I had no money, they’d turn me on my ass before I could say boo.

There was the fast food restaurant with the bright red and yellow sign, but I didn’t think I could handle being engulfed in the smell of burgers and fries without bursting into tears for want.

I decided to turn and walk the opposite direction, when I noticed a group of men exit a building. They were laughing and looked happily drunk. Drunk was good. People did odd things when they were drinking.

My stomach rumbled loudly and my decision was made. I would find the tipsiest man in the club and seduce him. When he passed out, I’d take his wallet and be on my merry way. I could make a small amount of money go a long way if I had to.

I needed to eat. I felt ashamed that I would resort to low lengths to do that, but I was sick of being me. Mina was friendly, and honest, and kind. Being me got me nowhere. I was floating down shit creek without a paddle.

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