Chapter 2


The Past - 18 Years Old.


I’ve been raised in a family of elite protectors. Defenders. Custodians. Guardians. We go by many names, but the official title for the job we do is Custodian.

Watching my older brother, Demitri, graduate from St. Monarch’s Academy as a custodian for Alexei Koslov fills my chest with pride. I use the term graduate loosely. The bidding night is kept secret until twenty-four hours before the ceremony takes place.

The Koslov family placed the highest bid for Demitri, which will serve as my brother’s first payment for his services. It’s the only time we don’t have a choice. We have to be paired with the highest bidder. Not that it’s a problem. Alexei was determined to have Demitri as his custodian, and he paid five million euros to ensure he got him.

Glancing at Alexei’s younger brother, Carson, I mutter, “You better bid double that for me.”

Carson lets out a chuckle. “If you’re better than Demitri, then I will.”

That will happen in five years. We can only attend St.

Monarch’s once we turn twenty-one.

Demitri and Alexei walk to where we’re sitting, and it makes us rise to our feet. I envelop my brother in a hug and murmur, “I’m proud of you.”

Demitri has ranked as the best custodian, setting new records in fighting and weaponry. It’s my goal to beat them. My brother pats my back, and pulling away, his eyes meet mine. “This weekend, we celebrate.”

It will be my last weekend with Demitri as he and Alexei are leaving for New York on Monday. There’s a sad twinge that mixes with the pride I feel for him, but I shove it aside, knowing it has to be done. We’re adults now, which means our lives will take us down different paths.

I shake Alexei’s hand to congratulate him, and then we leave St. Monarch’s. As we reach the armored jeep and Alexei walks to the driver’s side, I ask, “Why doesn’t Demitri drive?”

My brother opens the passenger door, then explains, “I need my hands free, so I can shoot anyone who threatens Alexei.”

“Oh.” Nodding, I climb into the back.

Alexei starts the car, then adds, “You’ll learn everything when you start at the academy.”

I wish I was twenty-one already. I can’t wait to become as good or better than my brother.

Alexei drives us to a gentlemen’s club in Geneva. When we walk into the building, my eyes dart around, drinking in the luxurious interior. Dark wooden furniture is complemented

with chrome furnishings. The smell of cigar smoke hangs thick in the air, sweet and robust.

Uncle Michail and Mr. Koslov took Demitri and Alexei to their first gentlemen’s club when they turned eighteen. It’s a longstanding family tradition.

Until yesterday, I’ve lived a secluded life at my family’s compound situated in Russia. I’ve learned everything there was to learn about all the fighting styles, and handling different weapons. I also had to become well acquainted with other countries’ diverse cultures, especially America, Switzerland, England, and some parts of Africa. I had to learn to speak without a Russian accent as well. It kept me busy, but now I’m ready for more. I hunger for adventure and creating a name for myself as the best custodian.

My gaze goes to Carson. We’ve exchanged text messages, but living in different countries, we haven’t met in person until yesterday. Friends are hard to come by in our world, but like Demitri and Alexei got along right from the start, Carson and I immediately clicked.

Carson’s eyes meet mine, the corner of his mouth lifting. “Hopefully, that will be us in five years,” he mutters as he gestures at our brothers.

“It better be,” I chuckle right before we take a seat at a table.

Alexei places an order for a bottle of vodka with four shot glasses, then he grins at Carson. “Today, I’ll make a man of you.”

Carson lets out a disgruntled sound through his nose. “I’m already a man.”

A server places a bottle of Stoli down in the middle of the table. While Alexei pours us each a glass, he chuckles, “You’re not a man until you’ve gotten drunk and made a woman orgasm.” He places a drink in front of Carson. “Until then, you’re a kid.”

Demitri hands me a shot glass, then asks, “Are you ready to become a man?”

I let out a soft chuckle. “Stupid question.”

My first time having sex, and every time after, was with Irina, one of the maids working at the compound. She’s taught me everything I know about pleasing a woman.

“Na zdoróvʹje,” we toast as we lift the drinks to our mouths. The vodka stings my throat as I swallow it down.

Alexei’s phone beeps, and after he checks the message, he mutters, “Everything is set for New York.”

“The Ruin?” I ask. It’s what the hub for illegal activity in Desolation, New York, is called. Once Carson and I are done with St. Monarch’s, it will probably be our first destination as well.

Alexei nods as he fills our glasses again. “We have a meeting there.”

“Your first contract?” Carson asks as he picks up his drink.

I down mine before settling my eyes on Alexei as he answers, “Yes.”

When he doesn’t say anything else, my gaze flicks to Demitri, who shakes his head at me so I won’t ask more questions regarding their work.

“Drink up,” Alexei grumbles.

After the third shot, I start to feel hot under the collar, and by the fifth, my mind starts to grow cloudy.

“You need to practice shooting every second you can,” Alexei says to Carson, who just nods in response.

“And you,” Demitri says as he locks eyes with me, “you better train every day. Don’t embarrass me when you start at St. Monarch’s.”

“Of course,” I mutter as I bring the tumbler to my lips again.

Alexei gestures around the table with his drink. “Don’t trust anyone but the men seated at this table.”

Both Carson and I nod.

Once we’ve finished the bottle of vodka, Demitri gets up, which has the rest of us rising to our feet. “Now for the test.”

“Test?” I ask, doing my best to not stagger like a drunken fool as we walk deeper into the club.

Demitri and Alexei don’t explain what the test entails, and it has Carson and I exchanging a worried look.

They better not expect us to shoot someone. I won’t be able to aim straight with all the liquor flooding my veins.

We’re led down a hallway, the carpet a deep burgundy beneath our feet. Alexei drags Carson into a room, and I follow Demitri into another room.

A woman stands up from where she was sitting on a bed. Her eyes glide hungrily over me, which makes one of my eyebrows rise.

“Is this the test?” I ask.

“This is Leoni. I picked her myself for you.” Demitri’s eyes lock with mine. “You have to make her come. Don’t leave this room until you’re successful,” Demitri orders, and then he walks out.

I watch my brother shut the door behind himself before I turn back to Leoni.

The smile is still around her lips. I haven’t seen many whores, if that’s what Leoni is. She doesn’t look like one, with her blonde hair, amber eyes, and delicate pale skin.

I have no intention of failing. It will be an embarrassment I’ll never live off.

Determined, I close the distance between us. Leoni tilts her head back as I stop a couple of inches from her. For a moment, our eyes lock, and then I mutter, “Take off your clothes.”

I watch as she undresses, and when she steps out of her panties, I grow hard at the sight of her naked body.

“Lie back on the bed,” I order, which she immediately does.

Still dressed in my three-piece suit, I crawl over her body. When Leoni reaches for my belt, I shake my head. “Don’t move.”

Stilling beneath me, heat warms her eyes, and it makes the corner of my mouth lift.

Irina was right. Women love men who take charge.

It doesn’t take me long to get Leoni ready for me, and after I’ve slipped on a condom, I take her hard and fast, which has her screaming her orgasm for all to hear.

My own pleasure fades as quickly as it came, and after I’ve disposed of the condom, I fix my clothes before leaving Leoni naked and breathless on the bed.

I walk back to the table where Demitri and Alexei are waiting. Not seeing Carson, the corner of my mouth lifts with a victorious feeling.

I take my seat and picking up the shot in front of me, I down it before I lock eyes with my brother.

“Good,” he murmurs, pride shining from his eyes. “What did you learn?”

Shaking my head, I let out a chuckle. “It’s easy to satisfy a woman?”

“What else?” Demitri asks. When I shrug, he leans his elbows on the dark wood, his eyes locking with mine. “That’s the closest you will ever get to a woman. If you marry, it’s to strengthen your footing in The Ruin. There’s no place for love in our world. Your loyalty will always belong to the one you guard, which means he or she will own your heart, your soul, and your body.”

Carson sits down next to me and turning my gaze to him, I grumble, “I understand.”

That person will be Carson Koslov. When my time comes, I’ll be loyal to him, and only him.

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