Stepbrothers Stepping Out: With His Client
A woman tempts a Russian strongman to save her stepbrother’s company…
Read an Excerpt
Looking through a carved wooden screen at the man my brother sent me to “soften up”, I shivered—but not completely out of fear. A couple of the many bits of information I’d gleaned from my research into this man, the meanings behind his names, popped into my mind as almost everything else I’d learned fled. His first name, Fedor, meant “powerful ruler.” His last name, Medved, meant “bear.” Well, the breadth of his shoulders certainly betrayed an ominous physical power, something required for a man who’d begun his career as “muscle” for a powerful Russian oligarch.
Again, I wondered how on earth my brother thought, even for a second, that this man could be transformed from a minor client, who’d needed our financial services to move money legally when he’d first arrived in New York, into an investor in our strapped firm. But Brian had exhausted his list of more likely “marks”. Internally, I shuddered. This whole business of squeezing our clients for cash left me feeling dirty.
“Lila, is he there?”
My brother’s voice sounded strained. He was driving around the block, taking his time while I was supposed to charm the giant in the expensive suit.
“This isn’t going to work if you don’t get out of my ear,” I grumbled.
“Tell him I’m finding parking.”
Feeling breathless, I swiped the screen of my phone then slid it into my purse. No more distractions. I was already nervous enough. Again, I reminded myself why he’d sent me as his proxy. Fedor hadn’t exactly been impressed with my brother when they’d last met. In fact, he’d been so dismissive that Brian had wondered why Fedor had even bothered accepting the invitation to dinner. The Russian had to know Brian would hit him up again for the loan, which he’d already refused to approve. Why would I throw good money after bad? he’d said, his expression so hard and set, Brian hadn’t been able to get a read on the man.
I drew a deep breath and stepped from behind the screen into the dining room. As soon as he saw me winding through the tables toward him, his dark gaze narrowed.
My heart began to flutter inside my chest. Brian was crazy. No way was Fedor going to be more amenable to me than he’d been with Brian. This man was no one’s fool.
When I drew nearer the table, he stood and pulled out the chair next to him, not across from him. Damn. Placing me so close, he meant to intimidate me.
I lowered myself to the chair and let him slide it the rest of the way forward. When he took his seat, our elbows touched. I ignored the way my heart jumped and set my clutch on the table beside my plate.
“Where is Brian?” he asked in his deeply accented baritone.
I gave him a sideways glance. “Parking the car.”
“He could have used the valet service.”
I blushed, knowing he’d see through any excuse I gave for Brian. “My brother thought we should meet.” Again, I glanced at him, and my gaze stayed. His face was large—yes, in proportion to the rest of his body, but this close, he seemed like a giant.
“Brian is not your brother…” he said, his words slowing.
So, he’d done his own research. I tipped up my chin. “Not by blood.”
“And not raised as siblings.”
What was he getting at? Did he know we were occasional lovers? “No, my mother married his father when Brian and I were both teenagers, nearly out of high school.”
The Russian sat back in his chair. “So, your brother sends his bookkeeper. Why would I want to talk to you? You’re not very good at your job.”
I bristled. I wasn’t just a bookkeeper. I had my masters in accounting from The Wharton School. I was the company’s Chief Financial Officer. But he was right. I hadn’t been very good at my job, since I’d failed to persuade my brother to contain his spending habits. We were drowning in debt. Deciding his question about why I was here had been rhetorical, I remained silent.
“Does he think I can be swayed by a pretty face?” he asked, his voice lowering.
The hard edge told me that if I confirmed his suspicion we were done. “I’m not here to persuade you,” I said softly, knowing my cheeks were nearly as red as my face.
“Then, as a distraction?”
I swallowed and decided to ignore the innuendo, however accurate his assessment of my brother’s ploy. “I know there’s no hope for our company. We’ll go bankrupt and be forced to sell off assets to satisfy the court. However, my brother isn’t there yet.”
“He offered me a third of the company…”
I jerked. Brian hadn’t mentioned that. I owned thirty percent. Even if Fedor had a full third, my brother would still hold onto control. He’d expect me to back him. After all, Burton’s had been built by his family. I’d only been given my shares because his father had been inordinately fond of his fourth wife…
“Tell me why I should consider his offer, and why I shouldn’t insist on more…”
Again, I swallowed and lifted my gaze to meet his. “You shouldn’t,” I whispered, unable to lie. Not when his face was as hard as marble, and his eyes so cold goosebumps prickled across my arms.
He blinked once then sat back again. “We should order.”
I sat nearly gasping at his quick change of subject. I was far from hungry, but I didn’t dare demur. He raised a finger and a server appeared beside his elbow. He ordered for both of us, something that would have irked me with any other man, but when he’d finished, he lifted a brow, likely wondering if I’d protest. I gave him a small smile and looked away.
His large hand reached across me and picked up my purse. Then he handed it to me. “Call your brother.”