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Final Note (Adversary Series Book 1)

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HER: One goal. Challenge Morozov, and win. The most dangerous man in the Bratva with far more experience than I had. And a low fail rate, if there even was one. That was the only way to secure my freedom. Fate deemed us rivals, but he saw me as his enemy. HIM: It was long decided that her life was mine. Mine to prolong, and mine to destroy. Alya Karenina lived on borrowed time. And now that she bulldozed her way into my life, I was being rewarded for my patience. It was intriguing that she thought she could win against me. She was born into this world. But, I was revived by it. And it wasn’t big enough for us both. TRIGGER WARNINGS: This book is a dark romance and makes heavy reference to matters of a violent and abusive nature. Your mental health is important, if matters such as murder, sexual assault, body-shaming, torture, mental and physical abuse is triggering for you, please be cautious. All matters of a disturbing nature do not happen between the main characters.

Chapter 1-Salad and Water

“He staggered on the wooden floor. Darkness closed around him as he fought to claw his way up. His arms flayed upwards. He searched for purchase wherever he could; desperate to evade the abyss. His bloody, disfigured hands smashed carelessly on the piano keys. An eerie, disconnected melody harmonised with his pained, sorrow-filled groans. The discordant pulse that sprung in the air would forever haunt him as the final notes to hum beneath his touch.”

-HIM

*~ALYA~*

As far as terrible ideas went, this had a place in my top five. It surpassed that time I played with my father’s loaded gun to mimic one of those cops in a popular crime-fighting show. I had no business lifting and aiming a loaded firearm at a pretend criminal at eight years old.

Especially since it fired off.

The recoil had been an unexpected lesson in firearms for an eight-year-old. It knocked me back onto my father’s shelf of antiques. The clattering was almost soundless compared to the sudden heat and mind-numbing pain that rushed through my veins. My curiosity led to a concussion, a dislocated collarbone, and a lecture from my parents.

It was difficult not to smirk at the memory. It had been a simpler time. One I attributed to the characteristics of a normal, loving family. I happily immersed myself in the memory.

“What can I get you, angel?” I plastered a wide smile on my face for the waitress that materialised before me. I was grateful to be torn away from memories of a past life that barely felt like mine.

I had been waiting a full fifteen minutes to be served. Usually, the wait was a blimp in time, but the nerves in my chest were coiled tight and that rendered me impatient. I stared at my phone as if I’d received a message to pass the time. I didn’t. In reality, I scrolled through my photo glory. I was grateful now to lend my attention to the menu.

My eyes lingered longingly on a spicy chicken burger printed on the menu. I knew it would satisfy my cravings and ease my anxiety, but I couldn’t bring myself to order it. I pinched and played with my stomach under the guise of the table.

“I’ll have the house's special salad.” I swallowed hard as I shoved the menu to the side. Regret rained over me instantly.

You’d regret it more if you ate all those calories. I listened to that tiny voice in my head and made peace with my decision to have the salad.

“Can I get you something to drink with your order?” The waitress leisurely swiped her pen across the notepad in her hand.

“Just some water, please,” I answered, suddenly conscious of my choice. She nodded and promised to have my order ready soon. I forced a smile onto my lips while she addressed me. I don’t know why I was bothered about her perception of me. It wasn’t as if she’d ever be able to recognize me otherwise. The restaurant bar was in Rostova territory, but tonight it was crawling with patrons from different crime families. Once a month, the heads of various groups gathered to fortify their agreements and connections. The venue always changed, and for tonight, Rostova territory was the neutral ground.

I definitely was not supposed to be here. We weren’t allies with the Rostova; they were our rivals, which explained why our invitation to this little gathering was non-existent. If I were to be discovered, the likelihood of dying tonight would be exceptionally high.

I was comforted in knowing there wasn’t anyone present who could recognize me. Hell, I barely recognized anyone! I easily passed as a random girl enjoying the food and festivities.

There were two levels to the flooring. A step elevated the outer layer, while the middle layer was low. The latter was the stage for those willing to dance the night away, while the former housed multiple tables and seating areas. I fitted myself comfortably on the outer layer.

I steeled my spine and fiddled with my salad as I observed the crowd. My head bowed every time I got anxious that someone might inquire about me. A ridiculous fear in such a large crowd.

When the front door was forced open to let a sizable group of men inside, I was startled out of my thoughts. My heart hammered, and I wondered if I should leave. Everywhere my eyes fell, there were firearms and other types of weapons. A sudden and unwelcome bout of self-preservation inked my veins.

Now was not the time to be a coward. I reminded myself why I came here. Trade and distribution for the Karenina’s have been suffering over the past few years. Our allies were scarce because we kept losing to the Rostovas. They had better resources, and the way the story goes, the better sales pitch. We secured not a single new alliance in over a year. None of the men in my father’s arsenal seemed competent enough. If that continued, business would dwindle further. An entire chain reaction that would lead to my marriage being arranged sooner rather than later. I could not let that happen.

Daughters were only good for forging alliances through marriage, but I intended to challenge that draconian rule. If all it took for men to have a voice toward their fate was their contribution to the business, I was determined to prove that I was a greater asset to the business. More than I would be as a trophy wife.

To do that, research was necessary. And I knew just where to start, with the Rostova’s enforcer and the Pakhan’s advisor, the infamous Kirill Morozov. He had many roles in the Bratva; a truth I had no way of confirming. If the rumours were to be believed, he was the man to be studied. The man I had to challenge. Over the years, I have learned that one cannot tackle any adversary in ignorance.

The problem was that I had no clue what this man looked like. My only source of information had been the whispered exchanges I overheard around my father’s compound. None of those titbits of information revealed so much as the man’s eye colour.

It became abundantly clear that my preparation skills needed some work. I might have jumped the gun on this sorry excuse for a stakeout, but this had been my only opportunity on such short notice.

I chewed on the leafy vegetables. My tongue registered zero taste as my eyes roamed over the crowd. Kirill was Rostova’s adviser, and based on that, he had to be at least 35 or older. That alone should have allowed me to narrow down the options.

It wasn’t going well. Boredom laced its way into my veins, and my focus dwindled. I turned my attention to my salad bowl and away from the bustling of the club so that I could think of my next move.

There was a notable shift in the air. The energy in the club pulsed as if under a mesmerizing spell. My body paid heed to the call. I scanned my surroundings, my attention focused on where the crowd parted to make way for the most imposing man I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Completely unaware that I barely chewed what was in my mouth, I grabbed the water from the table and chugged it down as panic set in. I tapped on my chest and forced myself to swallow the food lodged in my throat. Once I accomplished that, I blinked through the liquid that glossed over my eyes before I reverted my attention to the stranger. He had a jaw as sharp as any of my knives, and I would bet money on that. Deep-set grey, sombre eyes, and a firm lip. His hair was dark, but not quite black. He had broad shoulders, but there was a slenderness to his frame that didn’t diminish the power constrained within him.

Whether my breathlessness was a reaction to almost being choked to death by lettuce or this man’s presence, I might never know. It was most likely the former. I wasn’t insane enough to be breathless over a near stranger. A potentially dangerous one, given the greeting the club gave him.

That suit had to be tailored, right? There was no way it just fitted him that well. I would have thought the most striking aspect of this man was his features, but as I unashamedly trailed my eyes over him, I realised how wrong I was. I struggled to make sense of what I saw. On his right hand, the most unusual accessories adorned his index and middle fingers. I squinted. The poor lighting made it difficult for me to conclude, but it looked very much like iron finger claws.

Eccentrics weren’t rare in this world, but that didn’t erase the surprise. Distracted, I hadn’t noticed that the man was pressing forward in my direction. I looked up to meet his gaze. Did I describe those eyes as sombre? God, they were positively feral, and for a second, I thought he was coming for me. He stopped before another man, and they exchanged a few words. The stranger’s companion rotated on his heels, his gaze targeted at me.

F*ck. F*ck. F*ck.

Chapter 2-Something of Yours

“The phantom laughter rang in her ears, and it urged tears from her wide eyes. Despite the shame that sang in her veins, she refused to react. The problem with hurt was that it never disappeared, ready to rise to the surface at the slightest trigger. This trigger stole her appetite for a full week and distorted her view of herself. Her reflection became more difficult to love as time went on.”

-HER

*~ALYA~*

Familiar brown eyes flared as they descended on me. Luca Parisi ate up the distance in three long strides. I squirmed in my seat. It was worse to run in this situation, right?

“What the hell are you doing here?” Luca hissed the words in my ear as I resisted the urge to be visibly defensive against him. I didn’t want to draw attention to us, not when he’d be obligated to sell me out the minute someone inquired.

“Shopping for guns." I rolled my eyes in challenge while I pointed at my salad for his benefit. Luca shook his head, rea

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