In a crowded club, Natalya's eyes meet a mysterious man's captivating gaze. Meanwhile,danger lurks nearby: Andrei, leader of the Russian Mafia. Torn between fear and desire, she must decide whether to embrace the darkness or flee. If she says yes to him, she’s his. Forever.
Age Rating: 18+
King of Ruin
“This is a bad idea,” I mutter, as if it’s not clear enough already. “I should have just stayed home…”
Yet here I am, standing in a seedy alley, waiting to be let into a club I’ve never heard of when I should be literally anywhere else.
Ahead, my friends crowd and giggle around the bouncer. I get a sinking feeling in my gut. They meant well by inviting me out tonight—this is supposed to help me loosen up after a disastrous week—but they don’t know the whole truth.
How could they?
“Come on, Nat, lighten up!”
“Ow!” I yelp, stumbling when my best friend Yelena yanks me forward by the arm. “I’m not going in there!”
“Yes, you are,” she fires back. “This is the last night we’ll all be together for weeks. Maybe even months. So suck it up, buttercup. You’ve been working like a dog for too long. It’s time to let that pretty hair down and party.”
“How long has it been since you took a night off, Natalya?” my other friend Emily asks.
“Yeah,” our friend Julia joins in. “Weeks? Months??”
“Not long enough.”
I try to roll my eyes in pretend annoyance, but Yelena won’t take no for an answer. She tows me over to the giant bouncer standing outside the club door.
“This place looks like a dump,” I mumble, wrinkling my nose at the dingy alley. “Listen, I have to work tomorrow. Can’t we just—”
“No, we can’t just,” Yelena interrupts. “Now quit complaining and don’t let appearances deceive you. Club Silo247 is the biggest, most elite club in town.”
“I doubt that.” The building in front of us looks more like a burned-out homeless shelter than anything else—and I should know, I’ve seen my fair share of shelters.
Shit, I quietly sigh, cranking my neck.
Overhead, the glamorous Chicago skyline glimmers; its tall, dark, sleek buildings reach up to the black sky. Just once, I’d like to be in one of those rooms on the top floors looking down on all this grime instead of up from it.
“Here you are.”
Beside me, Yelena hands the bouncer a crumpled scrap of paper fished from the bottom of her designer handbag. He nods, then starts turning a variety of heavy-duty locks.
Each click is like a light punch to the gut. There’s no going back now. Not unless I turn and run. But when I look down at my heels, I remember how that’s not really an option. These old things would snap in a second. There will be no running tonight. I’m trapped.
“Damn it,” I mumble, staring over at my friends. Their outfits put mine to shame. I bet I could run for miles in Julia’s getup.
And don’t get me started on Yelena—as always, she’s dressed to the nines, wrapped in one of her own couture creations. Despite her shining elegance, she hardly seems bothered by the filthy alleyway.
Emily, meanwhile, actually looks excited by it all. With a tight little smile, she shrugs her shoulders at me and nods towards the door.
I purse my lips.
She was right. I never get a night off. In theory, this should be fun for all of us. But I’m already uncomfortable, and it’s not just because of the dingy alleyway or mean-looking bouncer.
For starters, I’m completely underdressed—not that I had much of a choice. This plain black minidress and these old black shoes are all I own. If this place actually lives up to the hype, then I’ll stand out like a sore thumb.
Hell, just standing next to Yelena makes me feel like a beggar in a potato sack. Though, to be fair, I can’t imagine anyone inside will be able to hold a candle to the sheer sequined dress that’s just barely hanging off her elegant shoulders. Sure, I could hover closer to Emily and Julia, but even they make me look frumpy by comparison.
And that’s just the beginning of my issues. There’s also the matter of how I’m going to afford anything. Places like this don’t hand out free drinks. And if I’m not drinking, what am I doing?
You should be studying or working, a little voice scolds from the back of my mind. ~Not out spending money you don’t have.~
It’s true. I have enough trouble keeping a roof over my head and not passing out at work from lack of food. So, I’ll ask myself one more time. Why am I here again?
You know exactly why, that same voice replies~. It’s the same reason your friends brought you here in the first place. And it’s how you’ll get all your drinks paid for. You just don’t want to admit it to yourself because you think you’re so independent… but how is that working out for you?~
Before I can bite back at my sassy subconscious, the bouncer swings the door aside. A heavy clunk echoes through the alley and deep into my belly. Without a care in the world, Yelena shoots the beefy brute one of her movie-star smiles and slips inside. Emily and Julia follow close behind. I look over my shoulder at the empty alleyway and give in.
“This is a bad idea,” I repeat, scurrying in after them all.
An instant later, some motion-activated LED lights blink on over our heads, bathing us in a downpour of tiny strobe lights. I stay glued to Julia’s back, half-blind, as we start climbing a narrow concrete stairwell. “Does anyone agree?” I sarcastically ask. But a thumping bass already envelops the walls. Nobody hears me. “… Guess not.”
Closing my eyes, I try to picture a page from my “Understanding Architecture” textbook. I come up blank and a knot tightens in my chest. Even with all the studying I’ve done over the past six months, I feel too exhausted to remember anything. And with the entrance exam this summer, that means trouble… and more restless nights.
The knot deepens.
I open my eyes again as Yelena’s rally cry pierces the thumping bass. Emily’s hands fly up into the sky. Julia twirls. I meet them at the top of the stairs and stop.
Alright, maybe Yelena wasn’t lying after all.
The club is bumping.
“Come on,” Julia says, blindly reaching behind her back to grab my hand. She misses, but I tap at the back of her palm and urge her forward.
“Go ahead,” I insist, transfixed by the scene. “I’ll catch up.”
It’s hard to tell whether she hears me or not. Either way, Julia quickly melts into the electric crowd. Emily follows close behind.
A flash of energy tingles through me.
Ahead, loud techno music rocks the walls and vibrates through the floor. Colored spotlights wheel all over the dance floor. Over to the side, a throng of people stand five deep around a giant square-shaped bar. A flurry of bartenders rotate behind the counter trying to serve everyone at once.
The music grips my guts and a lightning bolt of adrenaline races through my veins. The knot in my chest loosens.
Maybe going out wasn’t such a bad idea, after all. Hell, this might be exactly what I needed. The music and the sight of so many people dancing and having fun gives me a sudden surge of hope.
I want to go out there and have fun too. I deserve that much, right?
Suddenly, Julia steps out of the swirling mass of bodies. She’s already dancing, and we only briefly meet eyes before she vanishes again. Still, her hand reaches out through the hazy air and beckons me forward.
My heart rattles with excitement. It begs to feel alive again.
Before I can take my first step forward, though, I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s surprising enough to make me jump, but when I look over, I just see Yelena bobbing her head.
“Don’t worry so much!” she yells, leaning into my ear to make herself heard over the noise. “I’ll pay for you.”
My jaw drops. “Really?”
She shoots me a wild grin. “Yep! You need to let loose, girl. I know things haven’t been so easy for you these last few months, but everyone’s leaving town tomorrow and we won’t be able to party like this until I get back from Milan. Hopefully, I’ll come home richer than I could have ever dreamed. Then I can really treat you.” I blush, but she only grabs my hand and leads me forward. “Now come on! This place will do for now. You have my official permission to enjoy yourself.”
Instinct makes me hesitant to let my guard down, but in the end, I can’t help but laugh and let Yelena pull me onto the floor. “Yes, Sir, Colonel Drill Sergeant, Sir!”
I snap a fake military salute and she laughs too. “Now drop and give me twenty, Private!”
The music grows louder as we venture into the pulsing crowd. I let the beat carry me. Yelena’s smile reaches from ear to ear. I can feel mine stretch too.
Before I know it, we’re at the bar. Somehow, Julia and Emily are already there. Emily is yelling orders to the bartender. He places a tray on the counter and starts pouring vodka into a dozen shot glasses.
Before I can ask who they’re all for, Emily slides the tray over to Julia, Yelena, and me.
“Don’t think about it!” she shouts. “Just drink.”
She doesn’t have to tell me twice. Not anymore. Like old pros, we clank our glasses down then toss them back. A second shot quickly follows. Then we turn our attention to the dance floor.
That’s when Yelena hooks her elbow around my neck. “What do you think?” Her voice is filled with a contagious buzz. It’s hard not to follow as she points up above the dance floor. “Look at the giant gas mask hanging from the ceiling. They really took the whole nuclear-bunker theme to the next level, huh?”
“It’s cool,” I admit, my gaze wandering from the gas mask to the secluded mezzanine behind it. “I like it.”
Something inside of me twitches. An odd sensation follows the sight of the dark balcony. Compared to the rest of the club, it’s so still. So quiet. Part of me wishes I was there instead.
Leaning forward, I feel compelled to get a better look. But it’s hard to see anything as the gas mask swings back and forth like a giant pendulum.
Still, for a split second, I swear I recognize a broad silhouette standing deep within the shadows. Before I can focus on it, though, Yelena twirls me around.
“Maybe you’ll find yourself a rich sugar daddy while you’re here,” Emily teases.
I shake my head and return to the moment.
“As if,” I snort.
“You could use one.” Julia arches one of her penciled eyebrows at my plain black dress and shoots me a mischievous grin. “Maybe he’ll buy you some new clothes too.”
“Go easy on my girl,” Yelena laughs. “I’ve been trying to hook her up with one of my designs for months, but she’s too stubborn. Calls it charity. Well, I call it fashion, baby.”
Yelena twirls and I can’t help but admire her. She’s right. I won’t take one of her dresses, not until I can afford one on my own. If I did, then I wouldn’t be me anymore. I’d just be cosplaying as someone else. One day, though…
“Better take her up on the offer before Milan poaches her from us,” Emily says. “Then we’ll never see her again.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Yelena smiles. “And if I am, you’re all coming with me, capeesh?”
“I’ll drink to that,” Julia says, turning back to the bar. “Another round for us!”
All four of us laugh. Still, when I look toward the dance floor, I can’t help but measure myself against everyone else. Unsurprisingly, every girl here is decked out in the most breathtaking outfits. Hell, some even threaten to rival Yelena’s original design.
The men, on the other hand, are far more subdued, but I still spot several diamond-encrusted watches in the throng. I would bet good money that most of these suits cost more than my monthly rent.
As expected, I’m the most understated person here.
My insecurity returns as my gaze lingers on some of the men. I’m not interested in a sugar daddy—even if it would be nice to have some extra spending money now and then… or really any money at all left after I exhaust my paychecks on necessities—but why would any of them choose me with all the other options here?
They wouldn’t, and that fact both saddens and relaxes me.
I try to hide my inner conflict from my friends as they chat and giggle next to me. There’s one thing I’m good at. Keeping secrets. They don’t even know the full extent of my financial woes, and I’m not about to let them in on my shameful little secret.
Telling them about my broken laptop was enough. They know I had to dip into my savings to fix it. They just don’t know that my savings are now non-existent. And they never will.
Twisting back to the bar, I grab another shot and down it, no chaser. Then I force a smile and try to listen in on the conversation my friends are having. The music is loud, but I can hear bits and pieces.
“… No, wait… him!”
God, are they already trying to find someone to set me up with? I’m not ready. Another shot doesn’t fix my confidence issues, but the bitterness does help wake me up a bit more.
That’s when I feel it. My phone. It buzzes violently in my bag.
“Shit,” I groan, taking it out. “Not again!”
“What’s up?” Yelena asks, sliding over to my side.
“My phone is almost out of juice,” I sulk.
“Why didn’t you charge it up before you came?” Emily asks.
I pretend not to hear. They don’t need to know how I’ve gotten in the habit of charging my phone and laptop at work so I don’t have to use power at home.
I hold out the phone to Yelena. “You have a portable charger in your bag, right? Could you plug it in?”
With a decisive nod, she pulls out a slim power bank and plugs my phone into it. Then she shoves everything back into her bag.
“All good?” she asks.
“Yeah, thank you.”
“My pleasure. Now, you behave. I need to visit the little girl’s room.”
“Me too!” Emily joins in. “I’ll go with you.”
Those two disappear as Julia tries to wave down a bartender. I’m about to join her when someone bumps into me from behind. I stumble before catching myself on the counter.
“Hey, watch out,” I mumble, turning around.
I'm greeted by a small group of guys. They stand too close for comfort. I blink in confusion as the nearest one shoots me a grin and juts his chin out in a suggestive gesture. “Hi there… Wanna dance?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer. Before I can even open my mouth, he grabs my hand and tries to pull me toward the dance floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice his friends smirking and nudging him on. A few of them give me the same sly grin. It immediately rubs me the wrong way.
“No, thank you,” I call back. “Sorry.”
To my surprise, the guy doesn’t push it. “Fine,” he shrugs, laughing as he releases my hand and turns back to his friends. “Have it your way.”
I barely have any time to bask in the relief. A second later, one of his buddies breaks away from their group to come stumbling toward me. “Hey, I know that guy’s a loser. But I’m not,” he drunkenly slurs. “So how about you give me a dance instead, huh? I have a Lamborghini outside. I’ll take you for a ride after. Sound like a fair trade?”
I blush before finding my footing. “I’m not interested in trades,” I say, ready for some banter. But he doesn’t seem interested in talking. His sloppy gaze wanders up and down my body before he twists his lips.
“Your loss.” With that, he spins around and waddles back to his group. They take off, and I turn around, more confused than anything.
“What the hell was that all about?” I ask no one in particular. Only one answer comes from the back of my mind: they thought you looked easy.
Just like that, my insecurities return with a vengeance. I retreat against the bar, feeling more and more claustrophobic.
Then, all of a sudden, something shifts.
A hot streak seems to pierce through the heavy air. My chest thumps. My skin pebbles. I turn around looking for the source.
But before I can figure that out, something else grabs my attention. A commotion up ahead. People stand aside as a drunk guy stumbles down the bar, only stopping to hit on every last girl he comes across.
The heat vanishes. I snap back to reality. My skin crawls and I look around for backup. But Julia has disappeared. Where the hell did she go?
It doesn’t matter. I’m on my own.
I’m just about to make a run for it when the dude looks up and spots me. Our eyes meet and a stone drops in my gut. He must sense my fear, because he makes a beeline for my position.
My heels wobble as I make a move for the relative safety of the dance floor. I don’t get far before the guy darts in front of me, blocking my path.
“Hey there, baby,” he stammers, briefly glancing over his shoulder. “Where ya going? Dance floor? Well, I can dance. Don’t you want to dance with ol’ Mikey? Or are you like all these other bitches.”
His yellow teeth snap shut at that last word and a chill skates down my spine. Still, I’ve dealt with assholes like this before, and I know all the tricks. I just need to put some distance between him and me. Unfortunately, the club only seems to become more packed as I try to inch my way from the bar.
“I’m sorry, but I already have a dancing partner,” I say, scanning the club in a desperate attempt to find my friends. But they’re nowhere to be found.
So, instead, I try to sidestep ol’ Mikey, but he cuts in front of me a second time. “Hold up, baby. Didn’t you hear me? Don’t run off so fast. We were just getting to know each other.”
“Sorry,” I tell him, trying to keep my cool. “I have a boyfriend. No offense, but….”
“A boyfriend,” he scoffs. “I don’t see any boyfriend.”
“He isn’t what?” Mike lashes out. Raising both his arms so that the drink in his hand spills down his wrist, he looks right and left. “He can’t be much of a boyfriend if he leaves you alone like this… or are you lying?” He glares down, daring me to respond. When I don’t, he takes a step closer, his voice lowering. “Come. Dance. I’ll show you what a real man is made of.”
He stinks of booze. His shirt is stained. His sleeve ripped. My hackles start to rise. This dick is trouble. I’m not looking for trouble and I’m definitely not a fighter, but I’ve always done what I’ve had to do to survive…
Without warning, Mikey lunges forward and grabs me. He hooks one arm behind my back and pins me against his body. Then, he shoves his prick into my crotch and grinds me through my dress.
“You’d like some of this, wouldn’t you?” he snarls. “Come on. You don’t have a boyfriend, bitch. You just need to loosen the fuck up.”
“Get off me!” I yell, shoving him away with all my strength. But he barely budges.
“And who’s going to make me?” he says, swaying back into my personal space. “Your fake boyfriend?”
“He’s not fake,” I hiss, lying through my teeth.
The bastard takes a step back and his slimy grin vanishes. “Where is he, then? Who is he?”
Without thinking clearly, I cast a panicked glance across the dance floor, desperately searching for a guy, any guy I can point to as my non-existent boyfriend. But all the guys in sight are busy dancing, drinking, joking with their friends, or getting close to other girls. No one’s looking our way. No one cares that I’m in trouble.
Shit. Where are my friends when I need them?
The situation is starting to feel helpless when, all of a sudden, that strange feeling returns, stronger than before. The hot streak piercing through the heavy air.
It… it feels like someone is watching me.
My gaze immediately rips up, racing in a panic until it lands on the mezzanine that hangs over the dance floor. Colored lights have started to glow above it. They shine down onto a huge solitary figure standing at the railing.
The man towers above everyone else. A dark energy radiates from his broad silhouette. Then, suddenly, the colored lights vanish, leaving him behind. But even in the shadows, I can sense his immense presence.
A moment later, the lights return, and I catch a glimpse of his face. Even from this distance, I can see the striking glint in his strong green eyes. He’s staring at me.
For a split-second, I’m lost to everything but him. Silence envelops the club. The people disappear. I gaze back at the stranger, trapped in his tempting pull.
My heart thumps. My stomach tightens.
Then, without warning, he lifts his hand and folds his fingers toward me.
The gesture is clear.
He wants me to come to him.
A rush of adrenaline sears through my chest.
“You stupid lying bitch! You don’t have any boyfriend.”
Just like that, I’m startled out of my trance. I remember ol’ Mikey. I remember my problems. My loneliness.
A snarl curves my lips.
“He’s right there!” I snap, pointing up at the man on the mezzanine. “And he’s calling me. Gotta go.”
With a burst of energy, I duck under Mikey’s outstretched arm and break into the crowd. He reaches for me, but I manage to slap his hand away and keep going.
“You bitch!” he shouts, his voice quickly fading. “You made me spill my drink! I swear…”
But that asshole is already a thing of the past. All my mind can concentrate on are those piercing green eyes… and that subtle but irresistible command.
Am I really going to listen?