Authors: Jacey Conrad,Molly Harper
From Russia with Claws, Copyright © 2015 by Jacey Conrad and Gia Corona
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
1901 Avenue of the Stars, 2nd Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
First Omnific eBook edition, August 2015
First Omnific trade paperback edition, August 2015
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Corona, Gia; Conrad, Jacey.
From Russia with Claws / Jacey Conrad and Gia Corona – 1st ed
1. Paranormal Romance—Fiction. 2. Werewolf—Fiction. 3. Russian Mafia—Fiction. 4. Romance—Fiction. I. Title
Cover Design by Micha Stone and Amy Brokaw
Interior Book Design by Coreen Montagna
You’ve always been our truest love.
Ignore that fling we had with Wine.
He meant nothing.
Say Cheese, Jackass
the sea of vaguely familiar faces. The cream of the crop had turned out in full force at Katya Bulgakov’s Sweet Sixteen party. Some of these people she hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. Her father, Ilya Sudenko, held court at the round tables over by the bar with the rest of the elders of the
, leaving the younger generations to mix and mingle. The DJ spun various abominations of Russian synth pop that made her want to gouge out her eardrums with a spork.
She was deeply bored.
She could feel the appraising looks of the young men in the room, both single and married, each of them eager to please her father and move up within the ranks of the Organization, to make their bones. If they could woo her, their lives would be made. Unfortunately most of them seemed cut from the same cloth as her eldest brother, Alexei, or her embarrassment of a brother-in-law, Sergei—either too hotheaded or too stupid. She wanted none of them.
Wishing her brother Nikolai were here, Galina snagged a glass of cheap sparkling wine from a passing waiter and tried to blend. Nikolai had been called out of town to fix a problem of Alexei’s. It seemed that cleaning up Alexei’s messes was all Nik did with his hard earned law degree, jetting here and there to work his magic and make the problem—or bodies—disappear. It also meant he got to miss out on joyous extended family celebrations like this.
Galina ignored her father’s summoning glare as long as she could, but knew she’d reached the end of his patience when he sent one of his underlings to fetch her to the table where he held court. Her sister, Irina, stood near the bar, wearing red and an expression of happiness so fake it made Justin Bieber’s chest hair seem real. Irina blithely ignored the collection of other pretty
wives around her, choosing to watch the teenaged fits that passed for dancing on the ballroom floor.
“Papa,” she greeted, kissing her father’s cheeks. His face was flushed from all of the vodka he’d already imbibed, and he looked in no danger of slowing down. Galina knew that if her mother were here, she never would have allowed her husband to get so deep in the bottle. But Mama was dead these twenty-five years, from complications in birthing Galina. Papa had never remarried.
“Galya,” he said, voice gruff with alcohol. He took in her short Alexander McQueen dress with a disapproving dip of his mouth.
“Little Galina, is that you?” Uncle Petyr, an old friend of her father’s, pushed past Papa to envelope her in a massive bear hug. “Not so little anymore! I remember when I could pick you up in one arm.”
“Hi, Uncle Petyr,” she said when he returned her to her feet. “It’s good to be home.”
Her attention was drawn from her honorary uncle to an imposing figure crossing the ballroom to join a group of Rom. The man turned and Galina recognized the profile as one of the men in the group from the club she and some friends had visited the night before. It had been Sveta’s idea to go out as a welcome home party for Galina. Their party had met up with a group of young men out for a good time. He’d been among them, keeping mostly to himself, but he’d caught her eye in a way she couldn’t explain. Andrey Lupesco…that had been his name.
Galina stared at him across the room full of family members, hangers on, and business associates, unable to make her mind function properly. She could swear she knew him from somewhere other than the club last night, but it wasn’t coming to her. His friends had bought drinks for her group, had danced with them. Hell, one of them had even given his number to Sveta at the end of the night. But Andrey had hung back, watching, letting his friends make in-roads with her and her friends.
She could feel his eyes on her as she stood at the bar with Uncle Petyr. Andrey’s steely blue gaze bore holes into her as she turned away to give Petyr her attention. She glanced over her shoulder and her eyes met his, sending a shudder of heat through her.
He stared at her like he wanted to remove her panties. With his teeth.
So it was probably good that she wasn’t wearing panties, then.
Galina leaned closer to her uncle. “What’s Andreyev Lupesco doing here?”
Petyr shrugged, signaling for another glass of Stoli. Galina pulled away. “Your father has business to discuss with him.”
“At Katya’s Sweet Sixteen?” she hissed, glancing up at the crowd of people surrounding them. “Last I heard the Rom usually weren’t welcome at family functions.”
Uncle Petyr made a face that told her exactly what he thought of their presence here. “Things change,” he said sadly, following her gaze to the dark haired man that stood easily talking to a group of men only a few years younger than him. “He’s head of them now.”
Galina started, eyes darting away from Andrey. “What? How did that happen?”
Uncle Petyr smiled at her, looking like he wanted to ruffle her hair and send her off to the corner with a sweet. “I forget. You’ve been away at school.”
When Petyr had too much to drink, he loved to gossip like an old woman. It was how, at ten-years-old, Galina found out the details of Irina’s adoption even though she hadn’t asked. She might as well use that to her advantage now. “So what happened?”
He leaned forward conspiratorially. “He staged a coup and took over leadership. Andrey runs all the shifter street drugs now. He’s got more money than God and controls a huge section of the docks. Most anything coming through Seattle goes through him now.”
Galina blinked in surprise. So her assumption last night, that he was just a bodyguard, was woefully incorrect. Most likely, the men her friends had been flirting with had been
“He’s a little young for it,” she said absently. Andrey was only in his early thirties, if that.
“He’s ruthless.” Petyr’s voice held a grudging respect. “He is not a man to be trifled with.”
Papa interrupted their murmured conversation. “Galya, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Uncle Petyr excused himself quickly. Galina gazed at her father, suddenly wary. She knew practically everyone here; hell, she was related to a good number of them. Who on earth could Papa introduce her to?
“Maksim!” He waved over a young man, probably only a year or two older than her own twenty-five.
He was tall in a rawboned way, almost as if he hadn’t finished growing into his limbs. He had light brown hair, a bit too long, brown eyes fringed with thick lashes, the irises so dark they were almost indistinguishable from the pupil. His mouth was firm, with lips almost girlishly full. He was handsome enough, but looked unfinished somehow.
Galina slanted her gaze over to her father, standing beside her as proud as the proverbial peacock. He couldn’t possibly be serious.
“Maksim Federov, this is my youngest daughter, Galina.” Papa took her hand and placed it in Maksim’s.
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Sudenko,” Maksim said, squeezing her fingers in his in a half-hearted shake. “You are lovelier than your father spoke.” His English was passable, but he spoke with a thick Russian accent.
Galina throttled the irritation that rose inside of her chest, clawing its way up her throat. Instead she answered, “Those are kind words, Mr. Federov.”
“Less kind and more true,” Maksim returned, squeezing her fingertips again.
She extracted her hand from his, fighting the need to wipe her fingers on her dress. His hand was clammy, and she could still feel the sensation of damp fingers clutching hers. Her father put a heavy hand on her shoulder, his other clapping down on Maksim’s. Papa’s smile was wide and sloppy.
“The Federov family made a killing in caviar. They are looking to expand their operation. Maksim is here to discuss business.” Papa pushed her closer to the young man. “I told him that you would be able to show him around Seattle—what the young people want to see.”
Sliding out from under her father’s grasp, Galina nodded once, just as her father expected. “I’d be happy to show Mr. Federov around.” She eyed her father carefully, having a good idea of what he was up to with the sightseeing request.
“Please, call me Maksim.” He tried to grab her hand again, but Galina stepped backward. She was not interested in holding hands with Clammy McSweatypalms ever again. Nor did she revel in making small talk with men whose idea of running a business had ossified somewhere around 1975.
“I should offer the Bulgakovs my congratulations,” she told her father and Maksim, latching onto any excuse to escape. “I haven’t gotten to say happy birthday to Katya yet. If you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course,” the younger man said, a note of petulance in his voice. “One’s familial obligations must be attended to.”
Galina said her good-byes, happy to escape Maksim and whatever plan her father had cooked up. She was afraid she knew why Papa introduced her to the Caviar Prince, and it was part of why she dreaded evenings like these. Her father was going to marry her off to someone he approved of, someone who would probably bore her to death.
There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with Maksim. He was handsome, came from a good family, had money, was Russian. A perfect young man for a woman with her pedigree. She should be happy that her father was interested in making her such a good match. She could have wound up with someone like Irina’s husband, Sergei.
She told herself that she was jumping to conclusions, that the introduction wasn’t about finding her a husband, but Galina wasn’t an idiot. She was twenty-five—she should have been married with at least one pup by now, according to the unwritten rules of Russian families anyway. Papa had given her some breathing room while she’d been away at graduate school, but now that she was back, she knew he was not going to be put off for much longer.
Her gaze drifted over to Andrey Lupesco. He was staring at her, unconcerned with who might notice.
,” came a voice from behind and to her left.
. Galina turned and saw her sister Irina’s husband, Sergei. He leaned against the wall, smoking a cigarette, his eyes hooded. He was a total loss, an Omega with dreams of being an Alpha. Strictly small time, he would never rise further in their ranks, even with his marriage to Irina and his constant sucking up to Alexei. Galina noted that Irina had been avoiding her husband since they’d arrived. They’d probably had another argument.
She sneered at Sergei—a waste of werewolf DNA, as far as she was concerned. He knew that she hated being called Ice Queen. Some meant it as a term of endearment: she was statuesque, with white-blond hair, pale skin, and eyes the color of tumbled jade. She was also the only living biological daughter of the head of a powerful Russian crime family, and a werewolf. They were only giving her her due.
But Sergei didn’t mean it that way and they both knew it. He used it as an insult, hurling it at Galina whenever he had the opportunity. To him, she was icy cold, a bitch who didn’t know her place. She bit back a snarl, longing to take Sergei outside and show him what true werewolf royalty could do.
Unfortunately she couldn’t. As Irina’s useless excuse for a husband he was still, technically, family. And he wasn’t alone. His regular group of knuckleheads formed a flotilla of stupid around him. His swagger and loud boasts broadcast exactly how drunk he was. Galina shifted her gaze to Irina, standing at their father’s side, wearing what could only be called a stiff upper lip. Irina watched as her husband laughed and flirted with anything with a pulse, her face devoid of expression.
Galina’s brother-in-law leered at a passing cocktail waitress who smiled widely at him. As he waved for his knot of admirers to continue on without him, Galina gritted her teeth, clutching the stem of the glass flute so hard it snapped. Sergei was an idiot. If he kept flaunting his dalliances under Irina’s nose, he was liable to have parts of him lopped off. She was amazed someone hadn’t done it by now.
Galina would happily volunteer.
Accepting a cloth from a server, she wiped her hands, giving the woman a grateful smile. The server took the broken glass from her, leaving Galina to watch Sergei walk out of the party after the waitress, an unlit cigarette in his hand.
Galina watched him go, torn between staying inside where she knew she should, and going after Sergei to administer a swift kick in his ass. No doubt he would find some place out of the way where he could dip his wick quickly, but maybe she could catch him before anyone noticed she was gone. He may have married Irina because Papa needed Volkov money, thanks to another one of Alexei’s screw-ups, but that didn’t mean he could publicly embarrass her sister with this woman.
Galina was willing to risk it.
She slipped out of the party, following Sergei’s scent out to the loading dock. As she opened the door, the sound of voices stopped her. Removing her heels, she edged through the door, cautious. She recognized one of the voices and scents: Sergei. The second voice was a stranger’s, but oddly familiar.
“Those weren’t my people,” Sergei was saying in a strangled voice. “And I don’t have your shipment. Maybe it got lost in the mail.”
The dull thuds of fists smashing into flesh carried to her sensitive ears. “Do you think I’m fucking stupid?” the strange voice said. “You’re Alexei’s lapdog.”
Galina peeked out around some packing crates—Sergei, pressed up against the wall, being held a good foot or two off of the ground. He gurgled as the strong hand holding him up by the neck tightened. The man’s other hand held Sergei’s crotch in a white-knuckled grip. Those hands were attached to a very attractive, very dangerous looking man.
Galina inched forward for a better look. How did he know Sergei? And why did he look like he might pummel her brother-in-law into paste? She had no interest in stopping him. She just wanted a better view.
Andrey released Sergei’s privates and drew back his free hand, punching Sergei in the gut. Sergei tried to protect his midsection, but Andrey’s hand on his throat kept him upright. Galina heard her brother-in-law cough and moan. Without giving him a chance to recover, Andrey’s fist thudded into him again.