Chapter 1

Only in Las Vegas did VIP terminals for private planes have a crowd. Was everybody that damn important? Venedikt Ismailov ignored the purse puppies yipping in their Louis Vuitton bags and the Rolex wrists flicking for valets. If Rand wasn’t outside, he would geld him with slow cuts from a dull, rusty knife. When he’d given Rurik the information on Jessalyn’s family, Rurik insisted on dragging Ven along to confront her. He didn’t have a choice, but then he’d never had a choice. Everything he did was with family in mind. He lived for them, and he’d probably die the same way. Ven wasn’t dead yet, but when you were in their business, you knew that death was the biggest, ugliest monster imaginable. Snarling and sniveling with drool dripping from its hot mouth. Chasing and gaining on you. Constantly gaining on you. You might evade the beast with a zig here and a zag there. Get away for another year or two, but it kept coming. Like a cyborg Terminator, it never gave up.

Most people evaded the monster with distractions that helped them forget. Drugs, booze, women, and gambling. Ven helped them with all those things. Delivering their dirtiest desires in sanitized and pretty packages. In Sin City, all seven deadly and illegal sins were respectable entities. Served up hot and fresh, all day, every day. Had he wanted to spend his life serving up those vices? No. Had he had a choice? No. After an accountant murdered the uncle running their small casino, Ven took his place. It was family. It was duty. Responsibility was the invisible noose around his neck, yanking him in one direction or another. Ten years ago, the rope yanked him out of school and dumped him in Vegas. He was old enough, even though he’d only just turned twenty-one. Hadn’t his father taken on a heavier burden at sixteen? It was time for him to shoulder the responsibility. He’d done his best. Used his brains and tech-savvy to shoulder their operation from a barely profitable run-down gambling hall to another dazzling jewel in the strip’s crown. The Desert Fox towered between the south strip’s upper-class, fun tourist traps filled with movie stars and families, and the north strip’s darker bowels. Fucking families owned the south strip. All because someone decided Las Vegas should be rebranded as a vacation attraction. But the North strip remembered who they were, what Vegas was. At the Desert Fox, no movie stars did photo-ops outside the doors. Instead, they visited through the darkened tunnels of the VIP’s cavernous garage beneath the casino. Whisked by security into parties where they danced and gambled in no-cameras-allowed private rooms. And if the noose jerked him out of his penthouse suite to mingle with them, so be it. The noose had yanked him into worse places and situations. Ven mingled, danced, and sometimes even gambled. Smiling and partying like he had a fucking choice in his life.

* * *

Arand Daniels grinned when Ven threw his bags into the back of the car and jumped in the front seat. “Hey boss, welcome back.”

“Don’t start with your shit today.”

“Rough trip?”

“Both my brothers have lost their fucking minds over their fucking wives.” He glared out the window, watching as the desert flew by and the city’s bright lights came into view. God, he loved Vegas. He wouldn’t live anywhere else. Rurik lived an hour’s drive into the desert, and Sanyet preferred Michigan. He’d frozen his ass off as soon as he stepped onto the tarmac, and it was fucking summer. Thank God he was back in Vegas. He turned to Rand. “If I ever get that crazy over a female, shoot me in the fucking head. Don’t hesitate. Just blow my fucking brains out.”

Rand grinned again. His straight, even teeth took up half his face when he smiled. The white contrasting with the dark hues of his dark ebony skin. Whenever he looked at Rand, he thought about the line from a poem he’d memorized as a kid. “Dark as the night that covers me.” That was Rand. He didn’t smile often. When he worked, his face was statue stiff. A monolith. Giving zero clues to his mood or thoughts. But with his friends, he was an open book. According to Rand, he was: ‘His brother from another mother.’ The strange phrase skipped his Russian ear and landed on his heart. Where it settled, making perfect sense. His brother.

“I take it you didn’t like her?”

“Who, Jessalyn?” Rand nodded. They’d run a deeper background check on the girl who’d witnessed his brother committing murder. And whom he had married to prevent her from ever being able to testify about it.

“She was okay. She surprised me. Not at all what I expected from her profile. But Sanyet surprised me more. I thought she’d shake and cry after we confronted her about the police officer family she’d neglected to tell us about. But she held her own. And even convinced Sanyet that, though she’d called them. She hadn’t meant to betray him.”

“Do you believe her?”

He shrugged. “I only know my brother bought every word. He trusted her, and he doesn’t trust easy. Hell, I don’t even know if he trusts me.”

“So, you’re going to let it go? Give her a pass.”

“Hell no. Jessalyn’s still connected to those fucking cops, and they weren’t too happy about being detained by airport security while we questioned her. And even though she reassured them she wanted to be with Sanyet. I don’t know if they are going to let it go. I hope they let her live her life and go on with theirs.”

Rand arched his brow. The tip of it nearly reached his bald hairline. “Is that what you’re going to do?”

“Hell no. When I returned her phone, I installed another tracker on it. I also set up more monitoring equipment in their suite while the newlyweds… talked.”

“And you wonder why he doesn’t trust you?”

Venedikt’s brows lowered over his eyes, and his nostrils flared. “He may not trust me, but he knows I have his back. Always. And if that means watching him, even when he doesn’t think he needs it. So be it.”

“So, you’re willing to listen to hours of the newlyweds getting it on?”

Ven grimaced and swallowed. “God, I hope not. You think… hours?”

“Trust me, bro. If anybody ever nailed me down. I would take full advantage of the situation. For hours.”

“You take full advantage of any situation.”

“True.” He laughed again. Another reward for their closeness.

“Okay, tell me. How is Yuri today?”

Rand checked the rearview mirror as he merged into the wall of traffic leading to the casino district. “Yuri is spending his last days as if he knows they are his last. A different woman every night, sometimes two or three. No favorites, yet. No confidences spilled. Requesting only the best liquor and gettin’ the bus boy to deliver him cocaine and marijuana, which he alternates.”

“So, Luis is still running his side gig?”

“I told him he could continue. Some customers want it, and since we don’t provide that request, it’s a good side gig for him. He’s got to pay for college somehow.”

“That’s how you did it.”


Tags: Jailaa West Crime
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