“Here you are Sir.” Aria set his oysters down her hand trembling slightly. “Your customary dozen bites of sludge. Denver’s finest.”

Sir. That one word sounded so good coming from her. Especially out in public like this. From her, the title wasn’t given out of fear or respect like it was back home. From her, it was merely an innocent flirtation.

“No baby girl, I’m looking at Denver’s finest.” Zeven’s fingers brushed along the front of her thigh. He loved the silkiness of her slacks. “Perhaps I’ll have something off the menu.”

She moistened her lips then nudged his shoulder. “Stop that. You’re going to make me—”

Chiiirp… Chiirp… Chiirp “Attention all passengers, please proceed to baggage claim four. All flights have temporarily been grounded.

What the hell was going on?

The restaurant erupted in chaos; people screamed or shouted obscenities or prayers while others toppled chairs in their panic.

Aria jumped up onto the seat. “Everyone calm down. This is a drill, they warned the staff about it this morning. Come on grab your things and let’s head down to baggage. Stay calm it’s only a drill.”

It wasn’t a drill. He could hear the nerves in her voice, but she was amazing coming up with a lie like that. It worked. Mostly.

Which meant one thing.

He yanked her down by her waist and kissed her cheek. “Good job baby girl. I have to go. He knows I’m here.”

“What?! He who?” Her eyes darted around while she gripped his bicep. “Z what’s going on?”

“No time to explain. Go. I’ll call you when I’m in the air.” He kissed her again then shoved his way through the crowd heading for the kitchen. He could use the staff entrance, slip onto the tarmac, have his jet in the air before anyone had a chance to realize he was gone. He barged into the kitchen, shoving chefs and waiters aside. Adrenaline coursed through him. There were no such things as coincidences, not lately.

He yanked out his phone, dialing up his pilot. “Joey I want to be in the air in three minutes.”

“Boss, we’re grounded. Apparently there’s an active shooter and a bomb in there.”

“I don’t care. Get me in the air. Now Joey.” He didn’t wait for an answer to hang up. Joey would figure it out. That man could smuggle anything in or out of the country. Zeven rushed through the back kitchen exit dashing down one corridor then another. Each high pitched chirp of the alarm ricocheted across his nerves, setting his teeth on edge. It smelled like old cleaners down here. He had to get out of the airport before the feds locked it down entirely or else a fate worse than death awaited him.

His phone buzzed. Text. From Aria.

No time for pleasantries, he’d check it on the plane. He raced down another corridor. How was this possible? No one knew about this trip to Denver. By all accounts he was still in Panama.

His phone rang this time; urgent text ringtone.

It was a photo. His stomach dropped into his shoes. That sociopath had her, his Aria. She was bent over the bar, her face smashed against the top and a gag tied around her mouth. The text with it read: Your plane has been cleared for take off… or will I be taking whore number two from you? Choose wisely.

No one knew about Aria. There was no paper trail connecting her to him… Damn it! He couldn’t leave her in the hands of that monster. There was no telling what sadistic shit he would do to her.

Zeven launched back up the corridors as fast as his legs could carry him. A thousand different scenarios flooded his brain, each one more sinister than the last. He should’ve taken her with him, they could’ve been in the air by now. How was she even a target? She didn’t even know who he really was. To her, he was a divorced stockbroker from Philly. Not the head of the notorious Vasiliev Mafia in New York. She was never supposed to be a part of his world.

The kitchen was now empty. He snatched a chef’s knife—it wasn’t a gun but it would have to do.  He barged through the swing door stopping dead in his tracks. Sweat dripped down his spine, his heart lodged behind his Adam’s apple.

“Move and she dies.”

Her arms were bound behind her back, a black gag wedged between her teeth, her shirt was ripped open and standing behind her was none other than his former delivery man Sergei.

With a blade pressed against her throat!

Sergei. The most ruthless delivery man—assassin—Zeven had ever employed. The man had no conscience whatsoever, wasn’t the least bit squeamish and he never hesitated.

A beautiful set of qualities… when directed at Zeven’s enemies.

Blood rushed in his ears muffling the alarm. He had to get her away from him. Somehow. “Let her go, this is between you and me, she has nothing to do with anything. She’s just a waitress.”

Sergei laughed. “Just a waitress he says. Hear that sweetheart, you’re expendable.” The blade pressed harder into her skin, a bead of blood oozed down her neck.

She whimpered, more tears dropped from her eyes.

“No! She’s an innocent in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He set the chef’s knife on the bar, then held up his hands. “Look let her go and we can work this out.”

“You’re an even bigger idiot than I thought if you think for one second I don’t know that this woman is more than a mere side piece. She’s your goo-goo-eyed-pancakes-on-Sunday-mornings-girlfriend. Which makes her your weak spot. An even bigger one than the Mrs. I think.”

“I should’ve put a bullet through your skull the moment I saw the video of you two,” he muttered.

“But instead you sent three meatheads to do my job. One a rat no less.” Sergei scoffed and rolled his eyes, but held the blade dead steady. “As if anyone else could ever do my job.”

His whole body flushed with heat but he kept his hands up. The minute that blade was away from her he was going to squeeze the life out of that mangy dog. But as long as they were talking she was still breathing.

“You’re right, no one can do what you do Sergei. Let her go. I made a mistake but I can fix it. I’ll double your commission and as long as you keep it private, you can have Devora too. But let this one go. She’s a single mom all the way out in Colorado. She doesn’t even know my—our—real names.”

Sergei chuckled. “How ironic. When you should’ve been a man, you were a coward and I took your wife. Now when you should’ve been a coward and fled you manned up. So… now I get your girl too.”

Time slowed.

The blade dragged across her throat. Deep. She screamed around the gag, blood poured and squirted from her neck. Her eyes rolled, her body pitched forward. Zeven caught her easing her down onto the floor between tables, the light and mischief already gone from her eyes. Hot blood soaked his clothes. How could Sergei kill her?! She was innocent. His one ray of sunshine in a cruel world of crime and strategy.

His eyes bore into the monster before him, an animalistic roar boiled up his throat. He launched, grabbed Sergei’s wrist blocking the knife and slammed his fist into the fucker’s face. Blood spurted across his knuckles. He wanted more. All of it.

Sergei blocked and parried his frenzied blows. Defensive. Slashed, jabbed with the knife where he could but Zeven held tight to his wrist. The sound of grunts and rattling dishes on the tables mixed with blaring alarm. Zeven didn’t stop.

Sergei had to die, had to pay. For murdering Aria, for planting his unholy spawn in Devora’s belly, for all the loyal men he put in the ground.

The blade sliced Zeven’s forearm, fire exploded across his nerves. He yelled, instinctively yanking his hand away. In that instant an elbow smashed into his cheek. Stars burst in his vision. He staggered back colliding with a table. Grabbed a chair and swung it into Sergei using every ounce of adrenaline and rage in his body. The legs broke off, Sergei collapsed onto the floor cradling his head. Zeven bashed the chair into him again, snapping the seat off.

“I gave you everything!” Zeven’s foot launched into Sergei’s stomach. Into his ribs. “I made you then you disrespect me in my own house!” He kicked the fucker again. “Kill my men…” His voice broke. “Destroy the one good thing in my life!”

Sergei groaned but laughed. “Shouldn’t have made her so untouchable. When have I ever walked away from a challenge?”

Another animalistic roar rose from him, his foot launched forward—

Sergei caught it, jammed a steak knife in Zeven’s inner thigh then slammed his fist into his balls.

Zeven dropped to the floor. Rage and adrenaline instantly swapped for pain. Black spots exploded before his eyes, his stomach lurched up in his throat. Pain crashed through him, devoured him. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move.

Sergei crouched in front of him, grabbing his hair with one hand pressing a blade under his chin with the other. Blood ran down the side of his face and jaw. “Not so brutal without your nine millimeter are you?”

“Fuck you!” His vision swam, pulsed in and out of focus. “You think I don’t have friends in high places? You’ll be dead in a week.”

“No I won’t. You said it yourself, no one can do what I do.”

The alarm finally stopped, the silence more deafening. Shouts and orders sounded from the terminal. Feds. Perfect. For the first time in his criminal life, incoming pigs were a welcomed interruption.

“You know you’re nothing if not predictable boss.” Sergei flipped over the blade then shoved the handle into his hand, yanked him up to his knees by his hair. “You followed every single step I laid out for you, practically handed me my revenge on a silver platter. All of this could’ve been nothing more than an evac drill if you’d gotten on the plane. I knew you wouldn’t. Pussy’s always been more important to you than anything else.”

He growled through clenched teeth as fire exploded in his thigh. “Do it then asshole. Kill me. Get it over with, it’s insulting to watch you toy with your prey.”

“I’m not going to kill you.” Still clenching his hair, Sergei brought his mouth to his ear. “Death isn’t your punishment. Life is. I own you now.”

He dashed off towards the kitchen shoving through the door the moment the feds burst through the restaurant doors. They barked orders guns at the ready.

“Officers! Thank God.” He pointed the knife towards the kitchen. “Sergei ran out that way. There’s a staff entrance—”

The butt of a rifle jabbed him in the mouth, filling it with the coppery taste of blood. He spat the blood on one of the pig’s boots glaring at them all. He glanced at the knife in his hand then at Aria. Suddenly it all made sense. How could he have been such a fool? Sergei was an artist painting in tragic accidents and misdirection… Zeven just became the Sistine Chapel to his Michelangelo.

“Zeven Vasiliev you have the right to remain silent…” The fourth SWAT-geared-asshole yanked his arms behind his back and slammed cuffs on him.

His teeth ground together while they helped him up to standing on his uninjured leg, bandaging the other. Rage dulled the pain his leg and balls but sharpened his focus. This was not over. Sergei was going to beg for death by the time he was through with him. Prison was nothing but a recruiting ground.