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Authors: Lisa Marie Rice

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Dangerous Passion

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Dangerous Passion

Lisa Marie Rice

Dangerous Series – Book 3

This book is dedicated to my best friend, the sister I never had, Lorena Rossi.

Thanks for all the years of friendship. This one’s for you, Lorenchen

 

Manhattan
,
November 12

Feelings kill faster than bullets
.

Former Russian army colonel Dmitri Rutskoi had drummed that saying into his troops’ heads in Chechnya.

It was true.

Stay the finger on the trigger at the sight of that cute dark-haired little boy. Why, he can’t be more than eight years old. And the next thing you know, that cute little boy has pulled out an AK–47 and turned you into human hamburger.

That nice old grandmother in the burqa? She has seven pounds of explosives strapped to her thick waist, just waiting for the moment to go to Allah and take you with her.

And what to say about Africa? Whole armies of cute little twelve-year-olds, carting AK–47s bigger than themselves, wearing amulets they are certain make them bulletproof, willing to cut you down because you looked their way.

The entire world is your enemy.

So Rutskoi taught his men ruthlessness, taught them to switch their feelings right off, because feelings are deadly. Feelings make you vulnerable, make you hesitate when action is called for, make you soft instead of strong.

The deadliest feeling of all is love for a woman. A woman is like a sword aimed straight at the heart.

Rutskoi had never hoped to be able to use that in bringing Drake down. Viktor Drakovich didn’t have human weaknesses, certainly not women. He trusted nobody, he was nobody’s friend, he loved nobody.

No one had ever seen Drake with a woman on his arm.

Of course not.

Drake was smart. He knew a woman would be a chink in his armor, a liability. He’d survived five attempts on his life over the past ten years by presenting no weak spots at all.

Rutskoi was sorry that he would be the one to bring Drake down. It didn’t have to be that way. He’d moved to America to partner up with Drake, not kill him.

He’d been fascinated by Viktor Drakovich since he’d met him, as a young Russian army lieutenant in Chechnya fifteen years ago. He’d heard various versions of Drake’s story. He was Russian, he was Ukrainian, he was Moldovan, he was Uzbekistani, he was Tajikistani. No one really knew. He just rose up out of nowhere in the nineties, an immensely smart and immensely strong young man who built a powerful empire that spanned the globe.

Drake had been supplying arms and ammo both to the
Obshina
, the Chechen mafia, and the Russian army fighting them. When weapons supplies from Moscow ran out, Rutskoi turned to Drake and found him to be utterly reliable. Drake delivered what he said he’d deliver, exactly on time, exactly where he said he would, all in perfect working order. And he had his own fleet of planes and helos and ships to do it with.

Drake was a legend. A man who dealt straight but who made a vicious, deadly enemy if you double-crossed him.

Rutskoi had had no intention of double-crossing him. In fact, he went out of his way to help Drake. When he left the Russian army, Rutskoi headed straight for the United States, where Drake had taken up residence.

Drake was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, now living in the richest, most powerful nation in the world. Rutskoi wanted a piece of that, badly.

And why not? Drake ran a multibillion-dollar enterprise, single-handedly. Like any good general, he needed a lieutenant. And who better than Rutskoi, who knew the business from the ground up and who had deep, long-standing contacts of his own in Africa and the large land mass of splinter countries that used to be known as the Soviet Union?

It was a new world, and in this new world, a man had to dream big and take risks. He was ready.

Rutskoi had brokered a major arms deal and had socked away over a million dollars. He took half out of his Swiss bank account and had landed in New York a month ago. He spent the entire month in a suite in the Waldorf Astoria, familiarizing himself with Drake’s new turf.

America—ah, America. So sweetly, deliciously decadent, yet cleanly and efficiently so. There was no pleasure you couldn’t buy—all wrapped up, clean and sanitized and payable by credit card. Rutskoi wallowed in it. Well, he deserved it, after all. The long, hard years in an impoverished army, the subhuman conditions of the war in Chechnya, the constant danger—all forgotten.

Who could remember hard times on a soft bed with an even softer woman under you? At the end of the month, refreshed and ready to go, Rutskoi contacted Drake. Drake was nothing if not swift and businesslike. The appointment was for the next day.

Wonderful.
Rutskoi could feel the power moving through him. The second half of his life was about to begin. He’d survived the worst that life could throw at him and had come out stronger. Soon, he would be rich and powerful and feared, the second-in-command of an immensely rich, powerful and feared man.

He was going to team up with a master of the universe and live forever. He knew where to buy new hearts and livers and kidneys.

He could still remember the feverish excitement he’d felt as the limo dropped him off in front of Drake’s building. He knew how to school his face to impassivity—God knows he’d had enough experience dealing with drunken, incompetent generals—but inside he was bouncing with elation.

It took Rutskoi half an hour to work his way through Drake’s security, which at the time had pleased him. The man was invincible, impregnable. Each layer of security, executed with perfect, polite professionalism by Drake’s bodyguards, reassured him. This was truly the big time. He imagined that the only other man so well-protected could be the president of the United States, who arguably was less powerful in his world than Drake was in his. Drake’s world was no democracy.

Finally, Rutskoi was led into a room with a door that closed like a steel vault behind him.

Ah. The smell of leather, fine whiskey and excellent cigars. The scent of the big room came to him before his eyes had a chance to adapt to the semidarkness. There were only a few lamps on, but the impression was of a huge room with an immensely tall ceiling. And comfort. Everything was built for the comfort of a man. Big leather armchairs; thick, plush carpets. An array of expensive-looking spirits in cut-crystal decanters. A brass-and-wood humidor.

“Come in,” came a deep voice from within. And there he was. Drake.

Rutskoi wasn’t easily impressed and he wasn’t easily scared, but Drake impressed him and frightened him, at the same time. Of average height, he was immensely strong. His huge hands and feet were stippled with yellow calluses. Rutskoi had seen him punch a man so hard it was as if he had been hit with a bullet. He’d also seen Drake massacre a man with one kick.

He was adept at both SAMBO, the Russian martial art, and savate, French kickboxing. He could not be bested in hand-to-hand combat. He simply took his opponent to the floor and demolished him. And he was frighteningly intelligent. At times it was as if he were plugged into some secret intelligence system only he had access to. He was never caught by surprise, ever.

The story was that the killing of Ahmed Masood on the tenth of September, 2001, was a clear enough signal for him to start immediately dismantling his arms supply chain to the Taliban.

By the twelfth, he had moved his entire business to the States and teamed up with the CIA to funnel in arms to the Northern Alliance. He never sold another weapon to an Islamist or jihadist after that.

Though he was on every international list of outlaws, wanted by the UN and Interpol, he became untouchable, protected by the Americans. His pilots had stones the size of refrigerators. They ferried in arms to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the only pilots brave enough—or crazy enough—to fly into Baghdad International on a daily basis, no matter the danger.

When Drake walked up, every hair on Rutskoi’s body stood up. He swallowed his fear and awe, pushing them away. He had to meet Drake as an equal or this wasn’t going to work.

“Sit down, Dmitri,” Drake said and listened politely. The next thing he said, quietly, was “Get out,” after Rutskoi explained what he wanted.

Without pressing a bell or making any sign, Drake’s bodyguards came and frog-marched him out. He was literally thrown out the door by two huge bodyguards.

Rutskoi vowed revenge, but it was hard to take revenge on a man who didn’t even notice you.

He spread the word that Drake’s head was worth 50K and sat back and waited. And waited. And waited. Drake clearly paid his people so well that 50 grand wasn’t an incentive. Either that or they were shit-scared of him. Probably both.

Rutskoi studied and waited and planned in vain, until he got the call. Not just any call. The Call. The one that was going to change his life.

Finally, a little of the money he was throwing around stuck somewhere. Rutskoi had left a Hotmail address and received an anonymous message.

If you want information on Drake, transfer $50,000 to this bank account.

At the bottom of the email was an IBAN, the first two letters, CH. A Swiss account.

Rutskoi’s bank in the Caymans was efficient and fast. Half an hour later, he had mail.

Drake slips out of his building on the first and third Tuesday afternoon of every month, without bodyguards, and has done so for a year.

There were a number of attachments. Hands trembling, Rutskoi opened them, and—there it was. Information on Drake. Even better—information on a
weakness.

At last! A chink in Drake’s armor, straight through to the heart of the man.

Drake went to a well-known art gallery on Lexington every other Tuesday afternoon from two to three. Of all the things Rutskoi knew about Drake, a passion for art was not one of them. Going to a gallery wasn’t breathtaking news.

No, what was incredible was that, month after month, Drake never entered the gallery. He waited outside, in the darkness of an alley, and observed what went on inside the gallery through a small window, watching from the shadows. What went on every other Tuesday of the month, regular as clockwork, was the arrival of a young artist, Grace Larsen, bringing her new work to show.

The work that was bought punctually by an unknown buyer. Every damned piece. For a year now, a lawyer representing a company incorporated in Aruba purchased by phone all new work by Grace Larsen, price no issue.

Rutskoi recognized the name of the company. It was one of the many shell companies Drake used to run his airlines. Drake was buying the paintings, no doubt about it.

Unsurprisingly, the gallery owner’s prices for Larsen’s work had been hiked 300 percent over the past year. And yet still she sold. To the same single buyer.

Rutskoi clicked his way impatiently through the attachments, trying to figure out how to use this information. Then he stopped. And stared.

Ah.

There were five attachments, JPEGs of the artist. Rutskoi sat back, pleased.

This
was more like it. He was looking at a weakness that was going to finally bring Drake down.

Rutskoi felt adrenaline course through his veins as he leaned closer to the screen to get a good look at the photographs. After examining each one, he hit PRINT and examined the photographs carefully.

Grace Larsen was an unusually attractive woman, of medium height, slender without being bony like so many women in Manhattan. Wavy auburn hair, refined features, pearly white skin. She had an old-fashioned kind of beauty. She was undoubtedly why Drake was buying all her work and why he stood outside a window in a dark alley every other Tuesday afternoon.

To see her.

Though, granted, it was weird to think of Drake…What would be the American word?
Pining
. Drake was not a man to pine, after anything. Whatever he wanted, he obtained, by whatever means necessary. There was nothing he couldn’t have. If he wanted the woman, all he had to do was buy her. Why wait outside in an alley, exposed, for a couple of hours a month just to see her?

She didn’t appear to wear makeup on and her clothes were ordinary, but on such a woman, makeup was almost superfluous and she didn’t need clothes to emphasize her beauty.

She looked utterly natural, quietly beautiful, serious, unpainted and unenhanced. Not Drake’s type at all. Though, come to think of it, who knew what Drake’s type was? Who knew if he even
had
a type?

Drake could afford the best, and though the woman was stunning, she didn’t have “mistress” written all over her, as many women did. Rutskoi had bought enough women to be completely familiar with the type. The kind of woman who looked at a man’s watch and shoes before she looked at his face. The kind of woman who was hooked on Tiffany and Armani the way street thugs were hooked on crack.

This woman didn’t look that way at all. She didn’t look expensive. She didn’t look like she was in the market to be bought.

What was Drake thinking? With his money and power, he could have beautiful women lined up around the block, patiently waiting in line to serve him, in whatever way he wanted. He could have an entire harem, trained to fuck him in every possible position, exactly as he liked. There was nothing sexual he couldn’t have or couldn’t buy.

Standing in the shadows in the cold of a Manhattan winter or the steamy furnace of a Manhattan summer for an hour or two a month, without his bodyguards, without any security whatsoever, for a glimpse of a woman…it was madness.

Everything about the woman was a negative. No known drugs. No sex life that the informant knew of, either with men or women. Was not hooked on clothes or jewelry. There was a one-time credit card payment of three hundred dollars to the GAP, which any elegant Manhattan matron would have laughed at.

Rutskoi opened the attachments again and stared at her.

Why risk it? Drake was the most security-conscious human Rutskoi had ever seen. More than any of the
Mafiya
bosses back in Russia. More than Putin.

Why risk being defenseless for several hours a month? What could possibly be worth it? Drake was vulnerable not only while in the alley, but traveling there and back.

For what?
Why?

It couldn’t be the paintings and watercolors and drawings themselves. He was scooping them up already. Wherever he had them stored, if he wanted them, he had access to them. No, it was more than the artwork. It
must
be for the woman.

Drake wanted to be able to observe the woman, unobserved. To risk so much, he must be obsessed. And he couldn’t afford to let that obsession show to his men. They were loyal, it was true, but loyalty in their world was bought. Drake didn’t have friends, he had employees. And employees could become disloyal. Look at the informant. He had just opened a huge hole in the armor plating surrounding Drake for a miserable fifty thousand dollars.

So here Drake was, obsessed with a beautiful woman who was unaware of his existence, completely defenseless, several hours a month. Grab the woman, force Drake to give up his codes, kill Drake and the woman, become one of the most powerful men on earth, all in one stroke.

This was it.

The decision was made. It was Thursday. He could have everything in place in a few days. This time Tuesday evening, he could be sitting in Drake’s place, king of the world.

Rutskoi picked up his phone. It was time to recruit a partner.

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