The Boss’s Temptation by Jagger Cole

 

Prologue

Ten Years Ago:

All I see is fire.The flames engulf everything I know—my entire reality. Smoke burns my lungs and knocks me to the ground. The wall behind me explodes in a hail of bullets. Glass from the hanging pictures and dust from the sheetrock shower me, cutting me.

I scream, but I can’t even hear myself over the roar of the flames. My voice is drowned out by the booming of gunfire and men yelling. Wetness drips down my face. I taste copper. I reach up and wince in pain. My hand comes away red with blood—a cut from the falling glass near my temple.

Zdes! In here!”

The man’s voice is close. He’s right outside the door to the office I’m hiding in. I scramble, gasping. I manage to lunge under the desk just as he kicks in the door. A piece of burning ceiling crashes to the floor. A shower of sparks explodes through the small room. The man swears in Russian, but I hear him enter anyways.

“Where are you, little girl!” He roars. It’s Russian, but not a voice I know. He’s not one of my uncle’s men, which means he’s from the Abramov family—a rival Bratva faction. I don’t know much about my uncle’s business. But I know he’s been hammering them out of the competition for supremacy. I know his meeting today with the powerful Scaliami mafia family was to solidify his power over the other Russian families.

I’m guessing that’s why during the meeting, the Abramov family set the building on fire and came in shooting.

“Come out, little girl!” The man roars. “Come out so I can make your uncle watch when I cut you into little pieces!”

As terrified as I am, that threat hardens me. My uncle wouldn’t care if I were killed. Except that it would deprive him of a punching bag when he’s had a bad day. But the man stomps closer to the desk I’m hiding under. Fear grips me again.

“She’s in here?” It’s a second man’s voice.

“Ya ne znayu,” the first man grunts. “I don’t know. But if she is…”

More of the ceiling suddenly collapses in flame. Burning embers shower down like flaming hail. A few bounce under the desk and land on my leg. I clamp a hand over my mouth. But it’s not fast enough to cover the scream. Instantly, I hear the men chuckle. I hear the sound of a gun being cocked.

I squeeze my eyes shut. My hand slips into my sweatshirt pocket and grips the locket. My uncle hates when I wear it. But it’s all I have from my parents. I hold it tightly in my fist.

“Come out, little girl!” One of the men sneers. “Come out and play—”

A shot bangs out. I scream and flinch. But it’s not me who’s been shot. I hear the thud of a body hitting the floor. The second man yells, but a second shot bangs. A second body hits the floor on the other side of the desk.

My pulse races. I’m hugging myself, rocking in fear. I hear footsteps approaching. The wall near me begins to burn. The entire ceiling starts to creak and groan. Suddenly, it collapses. Fire rains down over the desk. I scream and lunge from under it.

Suddenly, hands grab me. I scream and thrash. But the hands are so strong. The arms attached to them are even stronger. I’m being lifted from the floor and thrown over a muscled shoulder.

“Let me go!” I scream. I scratch and kick. I hammer my fists down on the man’s back. “Let go of—”

“I’m going to get you out of here,” he growls. His voice is deep and sounds like honey. I raise my head to try and look at his face. But the whole room is full of smoke. Just the same, his firm hands and deep voice seem to burn right into my very soul. I tremble. My heart races.

“Who—”

“We have to go,” he grunts. “Now.”

He starts to stride from the room. But suddenly I panic. “Wait!” I pound on his shoulder. “Wait, please! My locket!”

We shouldn’t wait. I know that. The whole building is on fire. The heat is burning my skin and singeing the ends of my soot-streaked hair. But the man stops.

“Where?” he growls.

I’m panicking. My eyes dart quickly around the room. But suddenly, I see it.

“There!” I point by the burning desk. I twist out of his arms and go to lunge for it. But the man grabs me and yanks me back.

“Don’t you move.”

He bolts across the room. I can barely make him out in the smoke, but I can see he’s huge, and muscled. Fire erupts from one of the walls. He hisses and dives to avoid it. He crashes to the floor, and I scream in terror. But his hand darts out and snatches up the locket. The man roars in agony. His fist clenches tight along with his jaw. But he gets to his feet. The floor begins to sag, and he rushes for me, fast.

He hits me hard, grabbing me in his arms and knocking the wind out of me. I gasp, but he keeps running down the burning hallway. Fire engulfs us. The ceiling is falling. The floor creaks and starts to give way. I start to cry, but the man hugs me tightly as he runs through the fire.

“Close your eyes, sweetheart,” he hisses. He’s panting hard. I glance up and see the window at the end of the hallway quickly approaching.

“Wait…”

“Close your eyes.”

He twists and hits the glass shoulder-first. He groans, and I scream when we drop into thin air. But the drop is short. We land on the roof of a car with a sickening thud. Or he does. I land on him. Above us, flame explodes out of the window we’ve just come through.

The man rolls us and slides off the car. I hear yelling in Russian and English. My uncle is there. He hugs me briefly and then passes me to a more welcoming embrace. Masha, my tutor and babysitter hugs me long and tight. I sob into her arms.

A hand takes mine. I turn just in time to see my savior pressing something into my palm from his. It’s the locket, and it’s still quite warm. I catch sight of his hand and gasp in horror. It’s red, swollen, and bleeding—burned from the scorching hot locket when he picked it up.

It’s dark outside. When I look up at his face, all I see is shadow. But I can see him smile at me briefly. I can’t really see them, but there’s a glinting twinkle in his eyes. The building behind us groans. Fire explodes out of more windows, and he quickly turns away. He shouts something and pulls a gun out.

“Wait…”

But he’s off and running, barking orders at some other men. Masha hugs me again and quickly rushes me to a waiting car. My uncle and his advisor climb in. My uncle barks at the driver in Russian, and the car peels away.

I turn to look out the window. But I don’t see my savior again. All I see is the building collapsing into smoke and fire. My fingers clench tightly around the warm locket in my hand.