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Second Best
Author: Sam Crescent

 

Prologue


Aurora

 

I always knew I was going to die.

My life was destined to end this way right from the start. Staring down the barrel of a gun, pointed at me by my own husband, I was shocked that I was so important that one of the worst men in the Volkov Bratva needed to kill me. The moment I married into this world, my days were numbered. The fact I’d lived this long was a miracle.

Tears filled my eyes, and I hated that they made me look weak.

I wasn’t surprised that I was the one on my knees. It took every ounce of strength not to give anything away. Would he kill me if he knew the truth?

I’d never betrayed my husband or Ivan Volkov, the leader of the Bratva, my husband’s boss. The moment I’d been with him, I’d been loyal to him, to the entire organization, but it meant nothing now.

My husband wasn’t known for his patience, and I was shocked I wasn’t dead already. It wasn’t like he wanted to be married to me. Like so many things in my life, I was the second-best choice. The real woman he probably wanted was my sister, Isabella. The beautiful one. The one my father couldn’t bear to sacrifice to the disgusting Bratva bastards. Me, Aurora Fredo, the second daughter, the ugly one, I was the one he gave up freely. All my life, it had been so easy for everyone around me to pass me by.

I was friends with many but not cared about at all. Kind of crazy. I was the nice one. The one people said was sweet and kind, but didn’t give a shit about. I was the one they didn’t invite to parties, or they spent more time ignoring me. It was something I’d gotten used to.

My family was worse than that. I was the embarrassment. When we went to dinners, I was placed so far away from them, people had no idea who I was.

Passed over, time and time again.

On my wedding day, men gave their condolences to the man who stood before me.

A peace treaty.

Something new and never before heard of. Ivan Volkov was determined to set about a new era, a modern world for the Bratva, but to do that, for one section of the States he controlled, he needed his head man, his brigadier, Slavik Ivanov, to bring a conclusion to all the bloodshed with the mafia family.

I was the sacrifice in that mafia family.

Our marriage drew peace between the Italians and the Russians, supposedly.

The moment my father placed my hand in Slavik’s hand, my fate had been sealed and along with it, this moment.

There were times I thought it would be different. He’d made me believe I meant something, but like always, I was second best.

I wasn’t important.

I wasn’t loved.

I wasn’t worth anything to anyone.

I’d lived with this knowledge for years. Some days, I could pretend it didn’t matter, that I wasn’t hurt by it. Then something would happen, a statement, an action, and it would awaken all the wounds I kept hidden.

Now, it was finally going to be over.

I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable bullet that would finally end my miserable existence and set Slavik free.

 

 

Chapter One


Aurora

 

Ten months earlier

The party was boring.

Women stood in their little groups, gossiping amongst themselves. Some of them glanced in my direction. The Italian mafia-made men mingling with the same version of the Russian ones. I wasn’t exactly sure of the full details as to what they were all called. What I did know was Slavik Ivanov, my husband, was like the Capo in his world. Even though we were parted by twenty-one years. He was forty years old, and I was nineteen, but in this world, age didn’t matter.

Sipping on my champagne, I held the glass in my hand, counting to ten repeatedly to try to calm my nerves.

I’d been married a week. The event had been a huge success. The press had been there to take pictures and to announce it in the paper. My father hadn’t wanted to give my perfect, beautiful sister to such a man, but me, he had no problem. Put my hand in Slavik’s and ignored me for the rest of the day.

Even the following morning, I’d done our family proud by bleeding. On our wedding night, my husband had made me bleed. I was sure a lot of virgins did on their first time.

The night itself was kind of a blur.

Slavik and I didn’t talk.

No words were whispered or spoken out loud. To anyone who’d look at us, we’d been nothing more than perfect strangers. He hadn’t touched me since, which was a blessing. In fact, at night, I slept alone.

The pain had been … well, it wasn’t something I wished to repeat.

When we’d gotten to the room, he’d pulled the covers back, tore my dress off with his knife, and I’d lain down and closed my eyes as he climbed on top.

The only sounds in the room had been his heavy panting.

I’d drawn blood on my lip.

Done.

Finished.

No longer a virgin.

The romance books I read were so far off the mark, it wasn’t even funny.

Glancing at my husband, I saw he stood with his constant scowl, looking out over the room. I didn’t know if he had the first clue of how to smile.

It wasn’t my problem. That was the mantra I kept telling myself.

Every single night this past week, he’d arrived home, and each time I saw him, he’d been covered in blood. In our world, it was best not to ask any questions, so I didn’t.

Some would call me a coward. My mother had once told me it was all about survival. As women, we were so easily replaced.

In fact, as the men were all cheering at Slavik’s virgin, my mother was telling me he’d be bored now and would find other women to deal with his appetites.

What did I have to look forward to? The children he’d grant me unless he killed me first.

It didn’t matter. No one cared. I sipped at my champagne and simply waited. This was an engagement party for one of the other bosses’ brigadiers or whatever it was he called them. I didn’t even know if he kept to these terms as Ivan Volkov was supposed to be taking his Bratva into another era. A modern era of peace, where he set the hierarchy and the new rules and terms for how things were run.

I came from tradition. Where everything was done via the book, including arranged marriages.

Standing at a party, surrounded by a bunch of Russians, well, it was scary. They all spoke English. I knew my husband did speak Russian, or at least I thought he did. Sometimes I’d heard him in hushed tones. I didn’t even dare to learn the language for fear of where that would leave me.

Finishing my champagne, I chanced another glance at my husband, and shame washed over me when I caught sight of a barely dressed woman hanging around him. Her head was tilted back and laughter spilled from her lips. The way she looked so calm and collected around him, I didn’t get it.

He was scary as fuck.

Not that I’d say it aloud. In fact, over the years, I’d learned the fine art of saying stuff in my head. I’d even begun to cuss out my parents and tell the boss to fuck off. It was kind of fun. They controlled everything else around them, but not my thoughts. It was the one sense of freedom I got.

A waiter came by to offer me another flute of champagne, which I ignored. I didn’t know when the polite time would come to make my excuses to leave. Rather than come with my guard and driver, Slavik had brought us. The moment we’d entered the party, he’d left me here all alone.

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