Not Just the Boss's Plaything

By: Caitlin Crews

CHAPTER ONE

TORTURE WOULD BE preferable to this.

Nikolai Korovin moved through the crowd ruthlessly, with a deep distaste for his surroundings he made no effort to hide. The club was one of London’s sleekest and hottest, according to his assistants, and was therefore teeming with the famous, the trendy and the stylish.

All of whom appeared to have turned up tonight. In their slick, hectic glory, such as it was. It meant Veronika, with all her aspirations to grandeur, couldn’t be far behind.

“Fancy a drink?” a blank-eyed creature with masses of shiny black hair and plumped-up lips lisped at him, slumping against him in a manner he imagined was designed to entice him. It failed. “Or anything else? Anything at all?”

Nikolai waited impatiently for her to stop that insipid giggling, to look away from his chest and find her way to his face—and when she did, as expected, she paled. As if she’d grabbed hold of the devil himself.

She had.

He didn’t have to say a word. She dropped her hold on him immediately, and he forgot her the moment she slunk from his sight.

After a circuit or two around the loud and heaving club, his eyes moving from one person to the next as they propped up the shiny bar or clustered around the leather seating areas, cataloging each and dismissing them, Nikolai stood with his back to one of the giant speakers and simply waited. The music, if it could be called that, blasted out a bass line he could feel reverberate low in his spine as if he was under sustained attack by a series of concussion grenades. He almost wished he was.

He muttered something baleful in his native Russian, but it was swept away in the deep, hard thump and roll of that terrible bass. Torture.

Nikolai hated this place, and all the places like it he’d visited since he’d started this tiresome little quest of his. He hated the spectacle. He hated the waste. Veronika, of course, would love it—that she’d be seen in such a place, in such company.

Veronika. His ex-wife’s name slithered in his head like the snake she’d always been, reminding him why he was subjecting himself to this.

Nikolai wanted the truth, finally. She was the one loose end he had left, and he wanted nothing more than to cut it off, once and for all. Then she could fall from the face of the planet for all he cared.

“I never loved you,” Veronika had said, a long cigarette in her hand, her lips painted red like blood and all of her bags already packed. “I’ve never been faithful to you except by accident.” Then she’d smiled, to remind him that she’d always been the same as him, one way or another: a weapon hidden in plain sight. “Needless to say, Stefan isn’t yours. What sane woman would have your child?”

Nikolai had eventually sobered up and understood that whatever pain he’d felt had come from the surprise of Veronika’s departure, not the content of her farewell speech. Because he knew who he was. He knew what he was.

And he knew her.

These days, his avaricious ex-wife’s tastes ran to lavish Eurotrash parties wherever they were thrown, from Berlin to Mauritius, and the well-manicured, smooth-handed rich men who attended such events in droves—but Nikolai knew she was in London now. His time in the Russian Special Forces had taught him many things, much of which remained etched deep into that cold, hard stone where his heart had never been, and finding a woman with high ambitions and very low standards like Veronika? Child’s play.

It had taken very little effort to discover that she was shacking up with her usual type in what amounted to a fortress in Mayfair: some dissipated son of a too-wealthy sheikh with an extensive and deeply bored security force, the dismantling of which would no doubt be as easy for Nikolai as it was entertaining—but would also, regrettably, cause an international incident.

Because Nikolai wasn’t a soldier any longer. He was no longer the Spetsnaz operative who could do whatever it took to achieve his goals—with a deadly accuracy that had won him a healthy respect that bordered on fear from peers and enemies alike. He’d shed those skins, if not what lay beneath them like sinew fused to steel, seven years ago now.

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