Prime Target (Target #1)

By: Marquita Valentine

She hands a credit card over and, in less than a minute, our transaction is complete, and she’s walking to the door without a backward glance.

I busy myself with nonexistent paperwork, while watching security monitors concealed under the register. “I’ll be with you momentarily,” I say, as if I have no idea who Petrov is. The bastard disappears from the screen and I start for the gun hidden in the far cabinet.

“Leave the weapon, Nikolai,” he says, walking toward me, and I freeze.

Chapter Two

My eyes slide to the front door, but I have nothing to worry about, because Everly is long gone. She’s safe, I remind myself, even as I want to run after her to make things right.

“I don’t have a problem with you,” I say to Petrov, who is dressed like a conservative businessman. Only I know the jackal underneath. I’ve seen his handiwork, but since I haven’t been contracted to put an end to him, he lives to terrorize.

“Russian, please.” He waves the gun around, his sports jacket creasing with the movement. “Never know who’s listening.”

I’m not about to remind him that the NSA has people who speak every language working for them, and that if they choose to spy on my shop, we’re both fucked.

Carefully taking a half-step back, I say, “Good to see you, old friend.”

“I have shit older than you,” Petrov says, eying me with disgust.

“If you’ve come here for information about the financier, then I’m very sorry to disappoint you.” I fold my arms over my chest. “Your brother had it coming. Be glad it was me, and not the Skinner.”

Petrov’s nostrils flare. “You expect me to be happy that you executed Daniil instead of Ivan?”

I nod. “At least he didn’t suffer.” Or rather, he didn’t suffer long. Short of falling asleep and never waking up, there’s no such thing as a painless death. “With Ivan…”

Ivan is called the Skinner because he takes great pleasure in skinning his victims while they’re alive. He loves the screams, the smell, the blood, and the clothes he can make from his treasures.

Just one time in his presence, while my father forced me to watch Ivan perform, had been enough. My only consolation is that I was told the victim was a pedophile, but who knew if that were true or not.

“For that small mercy, I’ll make it quick.” He raises his gun, and I lunge forward, grabbing the box cutter and throwing it at him. It embeds itself in the side of his face, the point sinking into his left eye.

He howls with pain. “Motherfucker!” He doesn’t bother to aim, just starts shooting, as I dive behind the counter. A bullet hits me in the thigh, searing pain rips through me, and I see stars. Another hits my shoulder, rendering my arm useless.

I lie on my side, panting heavily and trying to manage the pain as he strides to me. Petrov mutters a curse and kicks me in the ribs.

“I ought to gut you like the pig you are,” he says, pulling the razor from his face. He throws it at me, and it plunges into my hip.

“Fuck,” I growl. My leg throbs. If I don’t get help soon, I’ll bleed out. That is, unless Petrov decides to shoot me once in the heart and three times in the back of the head. It’s his signature. Then again, that might work against him.

“Do it,” I taunt. “Show the world who killed me.”

He lifts his gun, blood running down his cheek. “The world will never know.”

There is a pounding on the wall. A wail of sirens.

Petrov scans the room while I grab the gun I’ve hidden under the base of the counter and take aim at his miserable head. When Petrov’s bloody gaze meets mine again, his eyes widen.

“Leave now,” I pant.

With a growl, he pivots and runs out of my store.

I yank the blade from my thigh and yell out another curse. Damn Petrov’s family, my family, and the fucking Bratva.

The sound of sirens is closer. I’m not sure if they are for me, or another crime. I fumble for the hidden latch near where I stored the gun. A small opening appears and I toss the gun in along with the bloody box cutter, then press the latch again.

Waves of darkness wash over me, and I pass out.

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