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From Amazon bestselling author Jessica Ruben comes a hot new Romance…
He saved me from war.
Fed me when I was in too much pain to eat.
Smuggled me and my family into America when it became too dangerous to stay.
But, Nico didn’t flee with us.
While I began elementary school in the United States, he was building the greatest and toughest Mafia of the century.
The Mafia Shqiptare.
Nico is now King of all underground trades.
Sexy. Aggressive. Brilliant.
After years of nothing but silence, he’s back in my life,
Ready to do whatever it takes to bring me into his universe.
He isn’t leaving until he takes me with him.
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“It’s your brother,” he says matter-of-factly. “But you probably knew that already.”
My stomach drops. Agron.
“It seems he’s been stealing from some of my associates.” His voice is completely devoid of any feeling. “He was dealing for them and keeping a little bit of product for himself. Sometimes, he used it; other times, he sold it. But after a while, people began to notice. He ran to the Shqipe for help.”
I want to blink, but I cannot move.
“I gave him the money to pay those debts. And now, I’m the one he owes. I figured I could use him to do some small-time work, get my money back that way.” He takes a sip of his wine, completely unfazed. “And then I hear, Agron wants a firm spot in my world. Gave one of my men a whole story that the Mafia Shqiptare is where he’s meant to be.
“As we both know, your brother has always been a loose cannon. Arguably, untrustworthy. I knew him when he was a kid, but I’m a firm believer that people don’t change.” He stops speaking, continuing to dig into his food.
Meanwhile, I’m worried mine is going to come back up. Hearing this about my brother isn’t a surprise, but it’s painful nonetheless.
I take another sip of my wine, hoping it will calm me or at least give the illusion I’m relaxed. Unfortunately, my hand trembles, and the glass shakes, giving me away. Nico notices, of course.
He clears his throat, putting his fork down. “There is something I need from you. And if you give me what I want, I’ll protect your brother from the other gangs by giving him a spot in the Shqipe. You do not have to agree to the arrangement. But if you do, there is no end to it until I decide it’s over.” He settles into a forward-lean position, big arms resting on the glass table and shirtsleeves pulled up to the center of his strong, corded forearms. Everything about him, from his body language to his words, spells dominance.
I open and then shut my mouth.
Nico looks me up and down, his gaze stormy and hot.
Is Nico going to ask me for sex? It wouldn’t be unheard of in these crazy circles. But I have a limit, and whoring myself out for the sake of my brother is a no-go. No. Impossible. Never.
“What I need is simple,” he continues casually, the look in his eyes extinguished. “There is a new family I’m aiming to do business with. They’re the type who like to work with men who are … settled down. I know how loyal you are to your word. We share a language and customs. You will act as my wife when I request it.”
“I have school.” I lick my lips. I can’t let go of my future. Not for Agron and not for anyone. I won’t!
“You can go back for your studies”—he nods—“finish your degree. But when I call, you must come.”
“This arrangement,” I start, pointing between himself and me, “it’s just for public purposes, r-right? Nothing private you’re expecting or illegal?” I can’t help my stutter. I want to stay strong in the face of all of this, but it’s getting difficult.
Nico looks over my shoulder, and I turn my head, finding no one behind me. When I refocus on him, he’s fuming. He knows what I’m insinuating.
He grits his teeth. “You aren’t my whore, Elira. And I’m not going to ask you to do my dirty work either.” His eyes are hard.
Is he offended?
“Take my proposal at face value.” He finishes his drink. His huge hand places the delicate crystal glass on the table. “There is no hidden agenda. You pretend to be my wife, come when I call you, and act as I expect, and in return, I will bring your brother into my fold, making sure that no outsider kills him. If you walk away, he’s on his own.”
“He wants to work for you. He will do a good job for you.” I swallow hard.
He cocks his head to the side, like he’s calling bullshit. “Agron’s best asset is that he is related to you.”
I shift, but the weight of my body feels like it’s doubled. “And if he’s within the Shqipe, the other groups won’t be able to touch him?”
Quiet descends upon our discussion, but my mind shrieks. The skeptical part of me is on questioning overdrive. “What kind of events would be required of me?”
He takes another bite of food. “We’d travel. Dinners. Things like that.”
I wait to hear more, things along the lines of dungeons and sex slave, but thankfully, it doesn’t come. “So, all I have to do is pretend we’re married?”
He nods. “Yes. Exactly.”
“But what about when this business thing you need me for is complete? What will happen to Agron then?”
His lips quirk up. “You’re very loyal, Elira.”
“He’s my brother.” What else can I say? I want and need Agron to stay safe and alive. This is clearly his best shot.
“We’ll cross that bridge when it comes. I would take this offer then if you are so keen on making sure he stays out of trouble.”
“You’ll swear to that?”
“My oath is my bond.”
I know he’s telling the truth. For people like us, honor is everything.
I wait for him to elaborate some more, but he doesn’t. Surprisingly, I feel my nose twitch. I was expecting him to mention something, anything, about before. About what we had. But he doesn’t. And I’m not about to either. I just want to get the hell out of here. I want to go back in time and tell myself not to have that damn cigarette. I wish I’d flagged Jack down when he was circled by those girls and claimed him for myself. Instead, I made one fucking choice, and now, here I am, in front of Nico, my life on crazy ground.
“It’s late.” Nico shifts in his chair. “You’ll stay tonight and think. Tomorrow morning, give me your answer. Regardless of what you choose, I’ll have my car bring you back to school.” He stands up, twisting the fancy gold watch around his wrist. “When you’re finished eating, Maria will bring you back to your room.”
“I want to leave tonight.” Some of my bravado from before is gone. Beneath the strong girl is plain me—a college kid from Tobeho. Here is the last place I want to stay.
“Until I have your answer, you aren’t allowed to take one step out of my sight.” He stands up to his full menacing height, and in this moment, he truly scares me. He doesn’t give a shit about what we had—that much is clear.
I force myself upright, refusing to cower.
Seemingly satisfied, he walks away.
“What an asshole,” I curse under my breath.
He snaps, “What did you call me?” His stubborn jaw gives him a stony expression.
My stomach drops to my knees.
“Something to remember.” He saunters back to where I sit. “I will not be seen with a woman who doesn’t look polished or well-raised. I know who you are and where you come from. Act like the woman you ought to be or forget the deal.” And with those final cutting words, he’s gone.
Jessica is an insatiable reader, and will devour a few books a week without batting an eyelash. Books have always been her drug of choice, and she has no plans on detox anytime soon. She has three wildly delicious children and a husband who, for reasons unimaginable to her, loves her brand of crazy.