Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

Misha has been tasked to find the person or persons dealing Nirvana, a new street drug. Not because he’s law enforcement … far from it. Misha is a killer, a monster in human skin who serves the head of his arm of the Russian Mafia, Sergei Sidorov. And Sergi is pissed that someone’s dealing drugs in his territory. Misha’s leads end up dying before they give up any information, or they don’t know anything worth keeping them alive for, and with the pile of corpses getting larger and the number of leads getting smaller, Misha’s not in a good mood.

Today’s lead is a bartender, Marek Sommers, who sells both sex and drugs on the side. The boy is cute, and clever, and he’s the first person in a while that might know something. So Misha decides to play the long game. Instead of torturing the young man to death, Misha’s going to win him over with kindness, something the kid hasn’t seen too much of.

Marek has been hustling since he was 16, kicked out of the house by his drug addict mother. And yet, despite everything — the rapes, the fear, the hunger, the loss of pride and and self-worth —Marek keeps coming back because he has siblings: Axel, Bri, and Ezra. There used to be another, Levi, but he died of an OD, something Marek lives in terror of happening again, as Axel seems to be headed down the same path. Someone has to buy the kids food, pay their hospital bills, and buy them school supplies, and it isn’t going to be their mother. So Marek does what it takes. Whatever it takes.

Misha is a large, angry, dangerous man, and one Marek knows he should be running from. Somehow, though, Misha keeps finding ways to make him stay.

This book is a dark romance in the truest sense of the word. Misha is a killer, and the book is filled with his victims, from the woman whose ear he cuts off as a warning to her husband, to the bartender who didn’t know anything. Women, children, pets, friends … Misha has no compunction about killing any of them, slow or fast, messy or tidy. Misha isn’t a killer with a heart of gold; he’s a killer who happens to find someone to fall in love with. However, none of his darkness, of his methodical cruelty is ever aimed at Marek. For Marek, Misha always asks, from the first kiss to the last. As he tells Marek:

“You are under my protection. You have been since you came to work at Delirium. I would [hurt whoever touched] any of my people. But you? The things I would do for you are unspeakable.”

Misha knows, both because Marek told him and because he’s had his men look into Marek’s past, that Marek has been a sex worker since he was sixteen, and Misha makes a clear line in his own mind about it. If Marek had been willing, or enjoyed it, he would have accepted that and worked on on the relationship with that understanding. But because Marek was forced, because it was often rape, because he did it for survival and not pleasure, Misha is going to kill everyone who hurt Marek. Everyone he can, at least. It may take months, it may take years, but he’s not in a hurry. And he’s not necessarily going to tell Marek, either. Because this is his issue, his anger, and nothing to burden Marek with.

The romance between the two of them is a bit of a slow burn. Misha starts flirting not because he wants to get into Marek’s pants, but because he needs Marek to trust him, and he knows Marek will find it easier to believe he wants the young man for sex than that he wants to gain his trust. So he’ll use Marek’s biases against him. That said, he refuses to use Marek’s past against him:

“I fucking hate how you see yourself! I hate that you’re so convinced you’re not worthy or deserving of anything good. You second-guess everything that brings you one moment of happiness. I wish I could go back in time and save you from all of it but I can’t. I can only be here for you now and in the future, if you would just fucking let me!”

Misha loves Marek so desperately, so deeply, that he’s willing to let him go if Marek truly doesn’t want to stay. He’d even let him go with the knowledge that, should Marek change his mind — today, tomorrow, ten years from now — he’d take him back with open arms. But he won’t hold him, won’t blackmail him, won’t guilt trip him. Because that’s not love, that’s not the way you treat someone you love. It’s sweet, in the middle of all the carnage, and somehow it works for me. Misha wants to keep a part of himself safe, a part of himself clean — not for Marek, but for himself, to separate the monster from the man. But he won’t hide the monster from Marek.

The banter in this book is fun, because both of them are so hurt and so afraid of being hurt again that they lash out … only to come back, unable to apologize but wanting to, and trusting their partner to see that want and to hear the words that might not ever be spoken.

“How can I? I’m so fucking mad at you for everything… but the thought of never seeing you again?” [Marek] averted his gaze, his throat constricting. “It’s like I can’t breathe.”

“I will do whatever you ask. Whatever it takes to earn your trust again.”

“Complete transparency from now on.” His dark gaze cut back to me. “Even the bad shit. No more ‘we’re not talking about this or that.’ It’s all or nothing.”

I didn’t like those terms at all but I nodded anyway. “Agreed.”

“Ok, then. Go murder people.” The corner of his mouth tilted up into a half-smile. “Jesus Christ. I can’t believe I said that and actually meant it.”

The writing is strong, the plot is beautifully woven in between the romance, and the author makes no effort to hide or excuse Misha’s actions. Nor does Marek turn into a weak, fragile victim. Marek has lived a lot of life in the nine years he’s been on his own, and he makes mistakes; sometimes he’s thoughtlessly cruel, sometimes deliberately. He doesn’t trust Misha, doesn’t open up and communicate, sulks and frets and makes assumptions. But for all that, he loves Misha, even as he’s afraid to say those words, afraid to mean them.

This book will not be for everyone. It’s bloody and brutal and terrible things happen to people — and not all of those people deserve it. There are mentions of child death and rape, mentions of overdosing and drive by shooting, as well as a great deal of gun violence and torture. That said, the romance, which is the primary focus of this book, is believable and worked for me on every levels. I very much enjoyed this book.