Ivan (her russian protec.., p.4
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       Ivan (Her Russian Protector #1), p.4
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         Part #1 of Her Russian Protector series by Roxie Rivera
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  Ivan tried to muscle down his anger and fought the urge to shout at Erin for being so reckless. She'd just survived a shocking experience and still hadn’t located her sister. It was clear she was in a delicate state. The last thing he wanted to do was scare her even more—and he never wanted her to be afraid of him. His size and brute strength had always frightened people, women especially. Somehow the thought of Erin flinching away from him seemed even more agonizing.

  It was stupid, really, his attraction to her. This petite pixie with her short, dark hair and bright green eyes wasn't the kind of woman for a man like him. Nikolai had known of her when they'd had their sit down earlier. She was close friends with the black-haired waitress Nikolai all but considered his ward. If Erin hung out with Vivian, that meant she was intelligent and probably well-educated. In other words, she was much too good for him.

  He tried not to examine his reasons for wanting to protect Erin. It wasn't just that she was innocent and sweet and soft and the perfect prey for a man like Besian and his thugs. No, it was something even more dangerous than that. He'd already let his attraction to her put him in an impossible position.

  "I'm sorry, Ivan."

  Her faint, warbling voice cut him deeply. Was she crying because she was afraid of him? Was she crying because she feared she'd never see her sister again or because the strained meeting with Besian had shaken her? He didn't ask because he wasn’t sure he'd like the answer.

  Still he had to know why she'd done something so incredibly stupid. "What were you thinking coming here? Didn't I tell you to stay home and let me deal with this?"

  The lights from the dashboard and the street lamps illuminated her face. She bravely met his questioning gaze. "I was shopping when Ruby called me. She was scared and alone. I wasn't going to waste time trying to find you." Her shoulders sagged and her head dropped. "But that doesn't matter because I was too late."

  The urge to comfort her gripped him. He wanted nothing more than to pull her onto his lap and kiss away the pain tearing at her—but he didn't. She needed to know how serious the situation had become.

  "Do you know who those men were?"

  She shook her head. "No."

  "Besian and his crew enforce for the Albanian mob. They're some of the most dangerous men you'll ever meet." He didn't mention that she was riding in a vehicle with two men more dangerous than Besian because she wouldn't understand. "You are lucky that I had Kostya following you and he was able to call me. I was only a few minutes away otherwise…"

  "I knew it!" She shouted triumphantly and turned her attention to the driver seat. "I knew someone was following me."

  "You had the sense to know you were being tailed but didn't have the sense to know that you shouldn’t go into a strange house alone?" Ivan marveled at the poor choice she'd made. "I know you love your sister but you'll be no use to her dead."

  "I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me?"

  That was the question of the night, wasn’t it?

  "I want you to be safe. I want you to be smart. Look, you heard Besian. Your sister is in blood—"

  "What does that mean?"

  He frowned at her interruption. "The Albanians live by an honor code. Your sister stole from them. She also got two of their men killed. She's a walking target. If they don’t find her and Andrei…"

  "They'll come for me." She finished his thought with a shaky voice. "I didn't know about her killing anyone."

  "Then I guess you didn't know that Ruby and Andrei were using the money they skimmed from the stolen cargo deliveries to start their own criminal enterprise."

  Erin reeled back as if she'd been slapped. "What?"

  "Yes," he said unhappily. "Ruby and Andrei were using the money to buy product that they sold on the street."

  "Product?"

  "Pills. Cocaine. Meth. They undercut the price of the dealers in the area they targeted and were making money hand over fist. But they made one big mistake."

  "What was that?" Fear colored her voice.

  "They were dealing in Hermanos territory." Ivan knew the Latin street gang by reputation. They weren't people to be fucked with and Ruby and Andrei had been taunting them for weeks now. "The Hermanos assumed the Albanians were trying to move in on their business and shot up one an Albanian captain's house. That's why Ruby and Andrei ran. They've got the Albanians and the Hermanos coming for them now."

  "You're sure?" Ivan shot her a look. "Of course you're sure," she whispered. A second later, she leaned forward and tapped Kostya's arm. "You should probably pull over and let me out now."

  "What?" Ivan carefully grasped her upper arm and forced her to meet his gaze. "What makes you think I'm going to let you out on the street, Erin?"

  "You said I'm as good as dead. I can't put anyone else at risk, Ivan." Her eyes glistened with tears. "Look, you don't even know me. I'm just some stupid girl with a drug addict sister, right? You don't owe me any favors. Just let me out and give me my car back. I'll figure this out on my own."

  "The hell you will," he snapped. The sincerity in her eyes chilled him. She was ready to go out there and face two vicious gangs on her own rather than put another life in the crosshairs. He couldn't allow it. He wouldn't allow it. "I told you I'd find your sister."

  "You didn't make me any promises, Ivan. Remember?"

  Oh, he remembered all right. That was before Erin had wormed her way inside his mind. Visions of her beautiful face had haunted him all afternoon. Finding her facing off with that bastard in the meth house had sent him into a rage. No one was ever going to harm her. Of that, he was absolutely certain.

  "The terms of our agreement have changed." He made his decision unilaterally. "You're coming home with me. I'm going to keep you safe until this thing with your sister reaches a satisfactory end."

  "But—"

  He lifted his hand. "No. You don't know anything about this world you've stumbled into but I'm all too familiar with it. You're coming with me and that's that."

  Her lips parted on a protest but she didn't fight him. She was smart enough to know that she needed him. He wondered what would happen when she was safe again. Would she walk out of his life as easily and quickly as she'd barged into it?

  "Did you mean it?" She asked some time later, her voice gentle and uncertain.

  He glanced at her shadowed face, the dashboard lights and street lamps barely illuminating her now. "Mean what?"

  She hesitated. "That I belong to you."

  He didn't even have to glance at the rearview mirror to know Kostya was watching them with interest. He ignored the driver and focused only on her. He didn't know what she wanted to hear or even what he was comfortable confirming or denying. This whole thing was one complicated mess and he was still searching for sure footing with her.

  Finally, he managed an answer. "For now."

 
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