Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
Mike’s mouth moved as he sang, “Happy Birthday” to Thandie, but he wasn’t looking at the three-tiered cake being placed in front of the birthday girl. His attention was on the man who’d approached Xara in the parking lot. He’d learned the man’s name was Mosvar, which one Yaya Sarayev’s bodyguards had called him as they’d walked over to the massive tent where barbecued chicken, burgers, and hot dogs were served for lunch. The girl’s name, he’d swiped from the guest list.
He wasn’t able to glean much more information. Plus, it wasn’t like he’d thought to bring listening or recording equipment with him. What kinds of problems did one expect to run into at a seven-year old’s birthday party?
Applause thundered, snapping him back to focus. Thandie smiled a wide, gap-toothed grin at her guests, her party hat slightly crooked on top of her kinky, blond curls.
Xara’s warmth enveloped him from behind. “I’m gonna help pass out slices of cake,” she whispered, near his ear.
With all the baby-trying they’d been doing, even thinking of the first letter of her name sometimes made his dick hard. “Keep whispering all sweet in my ear and see what happens to you,” he threatened.
She fingered a few damp strands of his hair from his time in the dunk tank. Josiah’s aim with his hand was as good as his father’s had been with an M40 rifle.
She walked off, and he turned his attention back to Mosvar whose eyes followed Xara around like they were glued to her ass.
It didn’t bother him that the man found her attractive. She was attractive, she had an amazing body, and there were times he wondered what the hell she’d seen in him when they’d first met in high school. His issue was the plan of action the man had taken. It was fine to admire from a distance. It was another thing entirely to essentially be eye-fucking his wife like there was some expectation for the real thing to happen later.
“Who is he?” Dez asked, Larke leaned against him as sleepy as their yawning daughter.
Mike shook his head. “Don’t know.”
Giorgio’s voice grated out a sentence in Russian. One of the bodyguards looked back. When his gaze met Giorgio’s, he immediately turned away.
“So, they’re Russian?” Mike asked.
“Chechnya,” Giorgio said, the word alone an explanation. It was amazing he could still look so deadly while Aleksi sat on his lap, drooling and slapping his palms on the tabletop. They’d all expected getting married and having a child to humanize him, and it had. Somewhat.
From time to time, he smiled.
He’d shown up to the birthday part with less than a dozen blades.
No one had died yet.
That was definitely progress.
“Has he said anything to anyone else?” Mike asked the table.
All shook their heads.
Mo spoke up. “Actually, he came up to me and—“
Giorgio moved to stand, at the same time handing Aleksi over to Mo.
“Gio, stay here with me,” Mo pleaded. “Sit. Please. Hold your son. You’re not going to leave carnage at my niece’s party. Gage? Help.”
Gage smiled. “I’m no longer Pozza’s handler, Mo. That’s your job now, love.”
Tayler chuckled and shook her head, face darkening with a blush when he sent her a sly wink.
Mike watched Xara bend over to place a slice of cake in front of a child and ask them what they wanted to drink. Bending stretched her jeans tight over her already round ass, and Mosvar shifted in his seat. Grabbed his dick.
Mike felt the vein in his neck pop.
That’s strike two, motherfucker.
As if she could hear his thoughts, Xara glanced back his way and pulled out her phone. His buzzed in his pocket with a text.
Xara: Mike, he’s not worth it.
Xara: Mike, I’m serious.
Mike: Me too.
She finished passing out drinks and cake and came back to the table. The minute she sat, he grabbed the back of her head and latched her lips onto his. He kept the kiss chaste, considering their company, but made sure it was enough to demonstrate who she belonged to. Fuck decorum. This was his wife, and he was trying to put a baby inside this woman. He was feeling territorial.
And this man had Put. His. Hands. On. Her.
She leaned back, licking those full, ripe lips. “Boy, when I get you alone…”
“You’ll what?” he pressed.
She peered behind him at the table.
“Don’t worry about them. Worry about me and us and—”
“Mosvar Sarayev?” she finished. “You’re worried about him.”
“You know him?”
“Not entirely.” She released a sigh. “After the parking lot incident, I asked Ari and Julien who he was. That little girl he’s sitting with? Yaya? He’s her uncle. Their family’s Chechen, and apparently, they’re loaded. Old money or something. He’s not a threat, just young, rich, and horny.”
Her words came out of her mouth wrapped in confidence, but not once did she look Mosvar’s way. If she couldn’t even look at the side of the man’s face, their encounter had gotten to her more than she was admitting.
“Okay, Xar.” He hoped his tone sounded more apologetic than placating. Because he was placating.
“Promise me you won’t do anything crazy,” she begged. “I don’t know who their family is, but I heard they’re dangerous.”
Grunts of disapproval went around the table. Dez laughed out loud, chuckling deep.
“Dangerous,” Mike echoed, incredulous. “I’ll ‘make sure’ to stay away.”
She swatted his shoulder. “Asshole. All of you,” she lasered her gaze at the rest of his teammates, his brothers, his best friends and now hers, “assholes. Every last one.”
After cake, Ari and Julien ushered Thandie to the middle of the tent to open the mountain of presents that had been brought by guests. Mike hoped they didn’t plan to open them all; it would take all day to get through the first pile.
“We’re not opening everything right now,” Julien announced via mic. “We don’t want to be here all day.”
Thandie looked up at him.
“Open your first present,” Ari urged.
Thandie reached for a box gift-wrapped in purple paper with pink, purple, and gray polka-dotted ribbon. She barely had a chance to tear the first sheaf from the gift before an annoyed cry rose in the air. All attention turned to the table where the little Sarayev girl sat, her face red and wet with tears.
Mosvar whispered something in their native tongue that made her cry out even louder, legs kicking and arms flailing.
“Little brat want present,” Giorgio translated. “But, is not birthday, so little brat have to wait.”
Thandie studied her schoolmate’s distress and looked up at her mother. Mike noticed Ari and Xara’s eyes connect across the way. Thandie motioned for her mother to bend and whispered something in Ari’s ear. Ari shook her head.
“That little girl is on the wrong path,” Xara said. “Earlier, Thandie told me Yaya Sarayev called her the n-word.”
Choruses of “what the fuck” and “are you serious” wafted around the table. The kids who were at the table were too young to understand, and Theo and Josiah were with Ayesha and Joel helping the caterers. It gave Theo something to do considering it was sometimes difficult for him to sit with large groups, and Ayesha and Joel had grown closer after she started helping him cope with his unexpected bachelorhood.
Giorgio muttered something in Russian.
Mo pretended to bite his bicep. “Gio. God, we’ve gotta talk about discipline, babe. Soon. That…that’s not discipline.”
“I do not like brat, Bez,” he argued.
“And if Aleksi turns out to be a brat?”
“I will leave him in Russian forest.”
Laughing, she lowered her forehead to his shoulder.
Yaya continued to wail.
Eventually, embarrassment paled the bodyguards’ faces. This was an instance where she wanted something she couldn’t get, and it was obvious to Mike that “no” was a word the little girl hadn’t heard quite frequently enough.
Mosvar lifted Yaya into his arms like a newborn and carried her out of the tent, her fists pounding his face and neck as the bodyguards followed.
Thandie resumed her gift opening.
After one section of a pile of the gifts was opened, activities resumed.
A darkening sky and sleepy, foot-dragging children signaled the end of the party. Ari and Julien had hired a clean-up crew, so the only thing they had to do was ensure all the kids found their parents and vice versa, and everyone left with the same amount of fingers, eyeballs, and teeth they’d come with.
“Mike, honey?” Ari walked over to Mike with Ty, asleep, in her arms. “You mind holding Ty while we finish up?”
He took the snoozing toddler and was hit by an unexpected rush of emotion. One day, he’d be holding his own son or daughter like this. They’d feel warm and smell like Ty did of baby lotion and mashed bananas. There’d be no handing them back to their parents at the end of the evening. He’d take them home, tuck them in, and watch over them while they dreamed.
“No problem, Ari.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll go find Xara so we can get some practice in.”
She laughed. “Whatever. You guys are naturals. You’ll be great parents.”
“You think so?”
“Mike,” she smoothed Ty’s hair, “I know so. Thank you.”
She jogged off.
He headed toward the event’s exit in search of Xara and found her leaned against the car they’d come in, his Audi R8 coupe. That was another thing that would change. There was no way he was putting a car seat in a V10 coupe. He wasn’t going to be shopping for minivans or anything like that—ever—but Julien and Ari had a nice Rover. He could get down with a Rover.
Smiling, he approached her. “Hey, Xar.”
She didn’t look up, and he heard her sniffle.
“Xar, what’s wrong?”
She lifted her head. He didn’t look at her, not yet. The red stain on the car’s paint from where her hand had been sitting caught his attention first.
When he finally did look at her, he noticed she had a ball of napkins pressed against her palm, the tissues spotted and soaked in red.
“Xara, what the fuck happened?”
“Sarayev’s men,” she said. “Because I turned him down earlier, I think he was still salty and sent one of the men after me. He tried to slash my face.” She tilted her chin upward, showing the man’s intended target. “I put my hand up at the last minute, punched him in the eye, and crushed his balls with my fist. He stumbled off.”
Mike looked to the darkness, seeing the man’s form in his mind’s eye. “Okay, Xar.”
She opened her mouth to respond, maybe even foolishly try to convince him he shouldn’t do what he was going to do anyhow, but she closed it without a word. They both knew, at this point, any argument was futile. What if she hadn’t raised her hand? What if she had gotten slashed in the face? In the eye?
“It’s not deep.” She held up the bloodied hand. “I don’t think I’ll need surgery or anything.”
Mike blinked, slowly, her face and his mind’s construct of the man’s form converging until it was just her again.
“How are you getting back to Julien’s?” he questioned.
Ty yawned, stretched, and resettled.
“I’ll ride with somebody,” she said, resolute.
“Who? Tell me.”
“I’ll see if Dez and Larke can take me.”
He nodded. “Good. Don’t wait up.”
“Don’t be too late.”
“Homicide has no timeframe.”
She frowned. He frowned right back. What the fuck did she think would happen here? She’d asked him to behave because of the earlier incident, but that was no longer an option. The horny, arrogant motherfucker had sent somebody to slash her face. Just like his bratty ass niece, he wasn’t used hearing the word no and had decided to retaliate on some mafioso type of shit.
Little did they know, he was part of his own mafia, but he wouldn’t need the rest of the team tonight, and he wasn’t looking to slash faces.
“Come here.” He extended his free arm. “I’m sorry this happened to you, Xar. I’m glad you’re okay. I don’t know what I would do with myself if something had happened to you.”
She stepped into his embrace. “You look good with a baby.”
He kissed the side of her head. “I even feel like I know what I’m doing.”
She pressed her cheek into his shoulder. “Be safe, Mike.”
He fastened the button on his jeans, pulled up the zipper, and lifted his head just in time to see something flash across the window.
“What was that?” He ran to the large pane and drew the curtain fully aside.
“What was what?” Argun asked.
“I saw something.”
Now, the only thing that stared back at him through the window was the lights of the city.