Authors: Marquita Valentine
The Request, Volume 1
Published by Marquita Valentine, 2014.
Copyright © 2014 by Marquita Valentine
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted downloaded, distributed, stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without express permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or any events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover Design by Q&A Productions
This novel was professionally edited by Cynthia Shepp
Roman Smith ~ Shopkeeper by day. Assassin by night.
he undercover Russian contract killer has never turned down an assignment that rids the world of scum... until his latest job targets an innocent man.
Refusing is not an option.
Everly Andrews, the sexy southern belle who saved him from dying and is completely unaware of his double life, has been marked as next on the kill list should he fail. There’s nothing Roman won’t do to keep Everly safe, even if it means losing her in the process.
very Wednesday, at precisely four o’clock, Everly Andrews enters my bookstore to pick up her latest package of romance novels. We’ve been doing this for over a month now. She gives me a list of five books—sometimes ten if she wants to gift a few to her friends—and then, I give her a future date. Sure, the books come in quite a bit faster than a week, but it’s the shortest amount of time between her visits I can allow.
Any shorter, and I’d put her in danger. And that is not acceptable.
You see, I don’t actually sell romance novels. I don’t sell books at all. My store is a front. I’m a death dealer—an avenging angel to some... while others would pay millions to see me die. I can’t blame them really. An eye for an eye, and all that.
Everly is the only one in this city I talk to on a regular basis, even if she’s the one doing most of the talking while I answer as vaguely as possible without sounding like an arse. In any case, it’s practically four and I’m bound to start pacing if she doesn’t show up soon. Habitual people like Everly are a comfort to me, and yet that source of comfort is their greatest weakness.
A weak spot in their armor, if you will.
The bells on the front door ring, and I let out a breath. I don’t particularly like the sound, but in my line of work, a bloke needs the extra time it affords.
Automatically, my hand goes to the gun strapped under the counter, only relaxing when I catch a glimpse of mahogany waves gleaming.
weak spot. My s
“Hi Roman,” she calls out as she walks to the counter, as if her appearance might possibly spook me. Though she wouldn’t be far off, since I almost shot her the first time she entered my shop.
No one comes to my bookstore, and I make sure it looks as dark and dank as possible to turn away the tourists as well. But none of that, including my scowl, deters Everly. For that, I’m curious, thankful, and terrified, because I only bring death to those who are seen in my company.
“Ms. Andrews,” I say, placing her package on the counter.
She gives me a sunny smile. “You know, we’re the same age, so I think you can call me Everly.”
Ah, solnyshko, that will never happen.
“As you wish,” I say with a shrug, and her beautiful eyes go all soft, like I’ve just spoken the most romantic words into existence romantic words into existence.
Her emerald gaze searches my face. “You still didn’t say it.”
Clever girl. “Shall we open your package?”
Dainty hands, with soft, blue nails trimmed short, tap the box twice before settling on top. She gives me a crooked smile. “You’re allowed to open it before I get here.”
But then how would I prolong her visit? “Duly noted.” I grab a box cutter and motion for her to move her hands. Hands that I want to touch, hands that I want to feel run down my body, or do something as simple as hold mine in return. Quickly, I split open the box and check it before permitting Everly to dig inside.
Always, I’m concerned my enemies will target her, no matter how innocent our contact and how damn reserved I am in her presence.
“Oooh, the latest Zoe Ambrose, or should I say Romanov?” Everly sighs, the expression on her face turning all dreamy. “Can you imagine marrying a Hollywood movie star who’s supposedly the son of the head of a Russian mafia family?”
I don’t have to imagine it. “It’s not something I contemplate on a daily basis.”
Everly snorts, and then winks at me—something I find absolutely charming. “And they say the British have a really strange sense of humor.”
I’m not British, but the accent suits me. As does my name. The location. Everything about Raleigh, North Carolina suits me.
Since I moved here, I trained myself to think like an Englishman, to speak, eat, and make assumptions about Yanks. It easier this way, and I’m less likely to fall into old habits.
“How is business?” I ask, setting the box cutter on the counter. A conversation about the internet-based company she runs seems to be banal enough.
She beams at me. “Two more new clients this week. One makes the most adorable bows for little girls, and the other makes the cutest sweaters for dogs. When I’m seventy-five, I hope to have just a tenth of Ms. Mabel and Mrs. Jemima’s energy.” The way Everly talks about the women she helps makes me inwardly smile. She gushes over their wares, using words like adorable, cutest, fabulous, and super yummy. In reality, theses woman should gush over her. “Sales are already pouring in like crazy, and I was able to give my two-week notice at the YMCA.”
“Congratulations.” I smile a little. This is excellent news. There was many a night I kept my shop open just to make sure she got home okay. Late nights and a shady downtown are not safe for a woman walking alone.
She traces a pattern on the countertop, right beside her box of books, and then peers up at me through lacy, black lashes. “Maybe I could help you, too? I’d be more than happy to set up a site for you on Etsy or EBay.”
“Thank you, but no. Rare books wouldn’t do well.” And there’s no way I’d advertise my business’ location. Might as well as place a neon arrow pointing down over the building.
Everly’s gaze bounces around my shop. I know she wants to say something about my lack of customers, but she doesn’t. She’s too kind. Too soft. Too weak.
, I remind myself,
for some, kindness is a strength
The bells on the door ring, and her eyes widen. “
,” she says in an excited whisper. “You have a customer. I’ll let you wait on them while I read, okay? Just pretend like I’m not even here, unless you want me to talk you up. I can totally do that!”
Without waiting for a response, she picks up her books and dashes to the back of the store to sit the plush club chair I bought just for her. Bemused, I stare after her. She genuinely wants my business to succeed.
With a little wave, she settles in the chair and pulls out a book, pretending to read while eying me over the top of the pages. Just like I pretend to work while keeping an eye on her.
“Roman,” she says, taking my breath away as she wriggles out of her coat. Her book nearly falls out of her lap before she catches it.
For a moment, I can only stare at her, at her lush figure flattered by the simple dress she wears. It’s green like her eyes, with a wide, pink belt around the middle. “Yes?” I manage to get out.
“Did you buy hot chocolate and Granny Smith apple-flavored jelly beans just for me?” She holds up the bag of hot cocoa and jelly beans, clearly delighted at the find. My heart turns in my chest. The feeling is odd. It’s dangerous.
Once, on a particularly blustery morning, she had mentioned liking hot chocolate, and I’d spied the bag of jelly beans in her purse. Naturally, I went out and bought every bag I could find while ordering the best hot cocoa money could buy.
Naturally, I’m a stupid fuck.
A familiar face reflects in the mirror across from me, and I clench my jaw.
Petrov smirks, beady eyes darting to Everly, and then back to me. Two weeks ago, I had dinner with his brother. That night, his body was found floating in the Seine.
“No. Someone left it here. I have no use for it,” I answer evenly. “Once you’re done checking your order, let me know and I’ll get you sorted before you leave.”
Her face falls, and I want to stab myself in the heart. “Oh,” she says in a small voice. “I’m uh, ready now.”
Petrov pretends to peruse my shelves while I force myself not to apologize to Everly. “The total comes to $25.74.”
She hands a credit card over and, in less than a minute, our transaction is completely done, and she’s walking to the door without a backwards glance.
I busy myself with nonexistent paperwork, while watching security monitors concealed under the register. “I’ll be with you momentarily,” I say, as if I have no idea who Petrov is. The bastard disappears from the screen. Damn blind spot.
“Leave the weapon, Nikolai.”
I raise my head, only to come face to face with the barrel of a gun.
y eyes slide to the front door, but I have nothing to worry about, because Everly is long gone.
, I remind myself, even as I want to run after her to make things right.
“I don’t have a problem with you,” I say to Petrov, who is dressed like a conservative businessman. Only I know the jackal underneath. I’ve seen his handiwork, but since I haven’t been contracted to put an end to him, he lives to terrorize.
“Russian, please.” He waves the gun around, his sports jacket creasing with the movement. “Never know who’s listening.”
I’m not about to remind him that the NSA has people who speak every language working for them, and that if they choose to spy on my shop, we’re both fucked.
Carefully take a half step back, I say, “Good to see you, old friend.”
“I have shit older than you,” Petrov says, eying me with disgust.
“If you’ve come here for information about the financier, then I’m very sorry to disappoint you.” I fold my arms over my chest. “Your brother had it coming. Be glad it was me, and not The Skinner.”
Petrov’s nostrils flare. “You expect me to be happy that
executed Daniil instead of Ivan?”
I nod. “At least he didn’t suffer.” Or rather, he didn’t suffer long. Short of falling asleep and never waking up, there’s no such thing as a painless death. “With Ivan...”
Ivan is called The Skinner, because he takes great pleasure in skinning his victims while they’re alive. He loves the screams, the smell, the blood, and the clothes he can make.
Only one time in his presence, while my father
me to watch Ivan perform, had been enough. My only consolation is that I was told the victim was a pedophile, but who knew if that were true or not.
“For that small mercy, I’ll make it quick.” He raises his gun, and I lunge forward, grab the packing razor and throw it at him. It embeds itself in the side of his face, the point sinking into his left eye.
He howls with pain. “
” He doesn’t bother to aim, just starts shooting, as I dive behind the counter. A bullet hits me in the thigh, searing pain ripping through me, and I see stars. Another hits my shoulder, rendering my arm useless.
I lay on my side, panting heavily, and trying to manage the pain as he strides to me. Petrov mutters a curse and kicks me in the ribs.
“I ought to gut you like the pig you are,” he says, pulling the razor from his face. He throws it at me, and it plunges in my hip.
“Fuck,” I growl. My leg throbs. If I don’t get help soon, I’ll bleed out. That is, unless Petrov decides to shoot me once in the heart and three times in the back of the head. It’s his signature. Then again, that might work against him.
“Do it,” I taunt. “Show the world who killed me.”