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I grit my teeth while listening intently to the wire in my ear, but it’s eerily quiet. I know operators don’t talk unless need be, but still. I feel like I’m alone on the mission, given the radio silence.

Michelle blinks at me, clad once more in her skimpy dress.

“Ben,” she whispers while shooting a look at Vlad. “How long are we staying?”

I clench my jaw.

“I’m not sure,” I tell her.

Her eyes go wide and she stammers.

“You’re not actually picking out a girl to buy, are you?”

“No, of course not,” I say in a smooth tone. “I’ll explain later.”

Suddenly, the door to the viewing room bursts open and we’re swarmed by heavily armored cops. They look like black beetles, between the helmets, chest plates and clear shields they’ve got, not to mention the batons waving in the air.

“Stop!” I shout, my hands up. “NYPD! NYPD!”

But Vladimir has been shaken out of his stupor and he pops up from the armchair.

“You fucking traitor!” he screams, his face going red. “You’ve brought evil to my house!”

Meanwhile, cops begin to swarm him, but he’s like a streak of lightning. One moment, he’s standing by the chair, and then the next, he’s got one hand wrapped around Michelle’s waist while the other points a gun at her temple.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” he screams again. “She dies!”

My fists clench hard at my sides and my heart is pounding so loud I feel like my brain’s going to explode. Oh shit. He’s taken my woman as hostage, and I can’t let him harm her. Yet my only weapon is hidden in my boot, and there’s no way for me to retrieve it without Vladimir getting a shot off.

“Let her go, Vladimir,” I growl. “There’s nowhere for you to go. You’re surrounded.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he snarls in my direction. “You stupid shit! You disgust me, coming here. In Russia, we crush the bones of traitors!” But then the criminal pauses and runs his nose up Michelle’s neck, inhaling deeply as she shakes. Michelle squirms and tries to get away from him, but he merely tightens his grip.

“I have a human shield, can’t you tell?” he rasps with a sneer. “This delectable piece of womanflesh is my ticket out.”

I lose it then.

“Don’t you fucking touch her!” I roar. But Vladimir throws his head back laughing, and for a moment, I’m truly frightened because his eyes are crazy. He resembles an animal infected with rabies, and I wonder if he’s even able to think logically at this point.

“Stop, Vladimir,” I say in a low voice. “Don’t do this. Take me instead of her. She’s nothing to you.”

But the criminal merely shrugs, dropping one hand to squeeze her breast painfully. Michelle cries out in agony, and my pulse jumps.

“She’s everything to me,” he cackles. “This little piece of tits and ass would get a very high price, don’t you think? Especially if we bring her to the bridal market in Moscow. Yes, Moscow, where anything goes. If you think New York is depraved, then you must travel with me to the old country, where truly, girls are sold for parts.”

I shiver because I’ve seen some of the women discarded by the Russian mafia, and let’s just say that they hardly resembled women anymore. They were mangled pieces of flesh, unable to string two words together from the drugs and general abuse.

“Don’t,” I repeat in a low voice. “It’s not worth it.”

Vladimir chuckles, genuinely amused, and for the briefest second, the hand with the gun shakes so it’s no longer pressed against Michelle’s head. I meet her eyes and shout, “Duck.”

My girl is smart. She moves fast, jerking down as low as she can, and I rush forward, grabbing Vladimir’s wrist before twisting and exerting pressure on a specific pain point at his elbow that makes him drop the gun and scream with agony.


“Run sweetheart!”

The beautiful hostess does as told, darting off to the safety of the SWAT team, as I face Vladimir alone. But the mafioso’s since recovered, and he lands a sucker punch to my chin which makes me stagger back, knocking me off balance. But then I straighten, grabbing onto the mantelpiece for balance because this motherfucker is going down. He doesn’t get to hurt my girl, no way, no how. I dodge his next swing, and then rush him head first, landing a blow to his stomach as well as a couple of well-placed jabs to the ribs.

“Gah!” Vladimir screams, bending over while clutching his mid-section. As soon as he straightens, I hit him with a hard right hook, knocking his head back, and then the blonde man stumbles back a couple feet, staggering like a drunkard. At that moment, my buddy Curtis appears and manages to wrest Vladimir’s arms behind his back.

“Give it up, asshole,” Curtis hisses, his handsome features twisted with rage. “You fucking trafficker. I’ll let you get a taste of what your women have suffered all these years.”

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