Criminal. Spoiled. Entirely out of control.
Roman Avdonin has heard it all. None of it stops him from crossing the line one more time. Sent to Chicago to answer for his wrongs, he’s an outsider beneath the cruel gazes of men who are nothing like his own. He should have minded his business and paid his dues—a better man would.
But then he laid eyes on her.
She’s forbidden—already promised.
Fragile in every way.
And he just can’t help himself.
Agreements like these?
They can’t be undone.
The Agreement is book 1 in The Darkest Lies Trilogy. It is a standalone trilogy; the books should be read in order.
Roman Avdonin had never learned when enough was enough, and he blamed it on the fact that no one thought to step in and teach him. That was undoubtedly why his father’s men didn’t bat an eye at the Bratva Prince of Brighton Beach stepping outside the Pakhan’s three-story colonial estate to nab a baggie of ivory powder from his best friend.
Marky Thompson—the right-hand man to Roman’s car theft and chop shop scheme—held his drug of choice out the driver’s window of his pearl black Ferrari without concern for who watched. All it took was one look at Marky’s shifting gaze for him to know the man’s true feelings on being called in to deliver Roman’s drugs on a day like today.
“I know how you don’t like being told what to do…” Marky started, tilting his head out of the window a little more.
Roman snatched the baggie, encompassing it in his palm and slipping it into the pocket of his grey jeans. He didn’t look over his shoulder or at the bulls walking around the estate. The bratva enforcers had their eye on everything. They saw everything. It wasn’t like he was trying to hide it. They knew who he was. Everyone knew who the fuck he was. Maybe a man different from Roman, would have felt a sense of responsibility given the circumstances of the day. Maybe even some shame.
He didn’t give a single flying fuck, and he was pretty sure his family didn’t, either.
“Well, I’m just trying to make a suggestion, man,” Marky continued.
Roman grinned—it took the edge of the irritation already starting to simmer below the surface of his constantly short fuse—but only because he knew what was coming. This was one of the things he hated most about this place. About his world—this life. Everyone was so damn predictable. He waited a few beats, knowing Marky would continue speaking, but he wasn’t about to jump in and encourage his friend to go ahead and get told to fuck off faster than the guy wanted to.
His prerogative, and all.
“Maybe today is not the day to piss off your papa.”
Was there ever a day for that?
Shit, Roman had been making that a daily occurrence since his ass hit puberty. Here he was, a grown ass man, and not much changed. He’d stopped worrying how Demyan Avdonin would feel when it became apparent that the disappointment of others didn’t do very much to or for him except cause him unneeded shame.
Giving Marky a shrug, Roman said, “Listen, everyone around here is acting like the world is going to crash down on us just because some middle-aged men from Chicago are showing up in town.”
Marky drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He looked past Roman’s shoulder to the bulls leaning against the estate’s gates. “They are more than just some middle-aged men. Even you know better than that, Prince.”
Nice, Roman thought. The emphasis on the prince—as if he needed a reminder about the men he came from when he stood where he did—felt like a joke that didn’t quite land.
“Roll your eyes and you might just start sounding like a fifteen-year-old girl.”
Marky snickered at that, and Roman finally looked back over his shoulder at the men still lingering too near for his tastes. Two of them, the ones standing closest to the gate, looked quickly away when his stare met theirs, and Roman got the feeling that they were talking about him.
Why wouldn’t they?
He had a pretty good idea of what they thought of him. The only son of a formidable, long-standing Bratva Pakhan. A brat from the moment he was born. Destined to have more control and power in their chosen life than them from the second he was conceived. The Prince of Brighton Beach. Little Odessa’s Devil.
He didn’t have to work half as hard as them to get where he was, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t put in the blood, sweat, and tears to still do it. They knew it, too, and he was sure that his privilege alongside the reputation he’d earned—his violence was swift and severe when barely provoked—aided in the silent understanding he had with these men.
They shouldn’t be saying shit about him, not unless they wanted to die for it, too.
“Where is he?” Marky’s question snapped him out of his thoughts, and brought him back to the conversation.
“Probably still in bed with my mother,” Roman muttered, adding lower, “Whispering sweet nothings, or whatever the fuck they do.”
By all appearances, though, his mother enjoyed that from her husband. Loyal to a fault and content in her place as the boss’s wife, why would she complain that she had him eating out of the palm of her hand?
“Why do you shit on your father for being in love with his woman?” Marky asked.
“Being in love—do you even fucking hear yourself?”
Roman laughed. It rose up his throat like a snarl. Sometimes, he didn’t even remember why he was still best friends with Marky—the guy could be dense as fuck when he didn’t feel like putting his brain to good use.
“He’s the only bratva man we know who has one woman. No girls in the city when he wants. Not even a woman on the side. What else would you call that?”
“You’re forgetting about my grandfather,” Roman said dryly.
There were a million other things he would rather do instead of having this conversation, but Marky was determined to see it through. The fucking idiot.
“So it clearly runs in the family.”
Marky got that ridiculous twinkle in his eye, one that made Roman want to punch his friend in the throat. They both knew the entire conversation was a joke. Roman with one woman—tied to her for life? Answering her every beck and call like his father did with his mother, his grandfather with his grandmother? Waking up to see the same face over and over again? It made him laugh. He couldn’t remember the last time he wanted one thing of anything.
Everything tasted better in large quantities.
Most of all: pussy.
“And just like everything else, I’m going to disappoint my father in that regard, too,” Roman replied with a chuckle while Marky shook his head. “Another family tradition gone straight to hell.”
“One of these days you’re going to wish you listened to me.”
He doubted that.
“And one of these days you’re going to wish you didn’t waste my time.”
Marky sighed like he had something more to say, but Roman didn’t want to stand around to listen. It was only because he counted Marky as a friend that he gave the man a pass more often than anyone else—today was one of those days.
“Just get the fuck outta here,” he commanded light-heartedly.
After all, friends did not mean equal. Marky knew it just as well as he did, and while they did well to sometimes pretend like the two of them were squared up in the life they lived, that just wasn’t the case.
Behind him, he heard Marky’s Ferrari roar to life. He wasn’t the type to wave, so he didn’t. He just kept walking. When he passed by one of the bulls, he reached over and drummed his fingers on the man’s shiny bald spot. The man instinctually ducked away but then caught himself and stood still.
Who did he think he was?
Flinching at the Prince.
It was comical.
Roman had grown up around these men. All his life, he treated them exactly the way he wanted to, nobody told him he couldn’t, and he wasn’t about to change that now.
Inside the house, the soles of his shoes squeaked on the polished marble floors. His mother was particular about a lot of things. Whose shoes went where, who could be in the kitchen when she cooked … cleaning.
She liked the house maintained just-so—no fingerprints on any glass, no dust dancing in streams of sunlight, and certainly no dirty shoes on her floor. She dared to tell him that would change only when she was given grandchildren to spoil.
Another thing he doubted.
She just wanted grandbabies.
He glanced at the clock on the wall in the grand foyer, taking note of the time. Hanging down along the massive, winding staircase, the crystal chandelier swung gently like someone had just been dusting it. One of the maids probably did while he was outside, but the staff in the mansion were as smart as the men who watched it outside. They stayed out of the Avdonin family’s way.
Demyan was late to start his day. Still in bed, no doubt. Roman took the spiral stairs up to the second floor with silent steps, two a stride. His father was free to take as much time as he wanted. It allowed him a chance to put the baggie to good use without yet another lecture about his private activities.
In his childhood bedroom, he shut and locked the door. Not that anyone would enter without knocking or asking his permission. Not much had changed about the space that he had officially moved out of ten years ago, shortly after he turned seventeen.
There was a glass-topped night table on the left side of the four-poster, king-size bed, and he was going to put that to good use, too. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he emptied the baggie on the table, and then spent a few seconds looking for the credit card he wanted from his wallet.
What would this day look like if he didn’t do what he was about to?
He really didn’t care to find out.
The author of too many novels to count, Bethany-Kris is a Canadian, lover of much, and mother to four sons, a glaring of cats, and a pack of dogs. A small town in Eastern Canada where she was born and raised is where she has always called home. With her boys under her feet, a snuggling cat, barking dogs, and a spouse calling over his shoulder, she is nearly always writing something … when she can find the time.