Russian's Ruthless Demand

By: Michelle Conder
CHAPTER ONE

‘YOU’RE BREAKING UP, PETRA. Who did you say quit?’ Lukas Kuznetskov pressed his mobile phone closer to his ear, straining to hear as his PA explained the latest issue to befall the supposedly creative genius who had been hired to build his ice hotel. Apparently the man had stormed out after Lukas had questioned his latest set of drawings, complaining that Lukas was too controlling and stifled his creativity.

Creativity?

Lukas swore under his breath.

So far he had come up with the overall concept of the hotel himself while the architectural wizard he’d hired had done little more than fill in the technical details and organise the preliminary build. With only a month left until the most anticipated project in Russia was due to open it was fair to say Lukas was a little agitated. ‘Please tell me he at least redesigned the interior of the guest bedrooms like I asked,’ he growled, grinding his teeth when Petra confirmed that no, he had not.

Useless, lazy, good for nothing... Lukas sucked in a sharp breath as he strove for calm and told Petra he’d handle it. As if he wasn’t busy enough.

‘Trouble?’

Having momentarily forgotten his Italian ship engineer was in the room Lukas turned away from the splendour of Italy’s Adriatic coastline and glanced at the plans laid out on a scored wooden table. They had just finished going over Tomaso’s design for a supertanker that could carry twice as much cargo as any other on the market and go at twice the speed. If they could pull it off it would be another feather in Lukas’s already well-plumed cap.

Tomaso Coraletti was as close to a friend as Lukas had ever allowed himself to have and the older man stroked his neat beard as Lukas updated him on his pet project.

‘Biscotti, Lukas?’

Turning, Lukas replaced his scowl with a smile when he saw Tomaso’s sweet wife, Maria, standing before him with a silver tray of freshly made biscotti in her hands. Tomaso reached across and took a piece before Lukas could respond and got his hand swatted for his efforts. ‘Bah!’ she scolded. ‘Lukas is a growing boy. He needs it more than you.’

Tomaso scoffed and Lukas chuckled. He’d stopped growing a long time ago and they both knew it. ‘Grazie mille, Maria.’ He took a slice of the treat even though he didn’t want it and pocketed his phone.

‘It is the best biscotti in the whole of Italy,’ Tomaso boasted. ‘Maybe one day you will be lucky enough to enjoy biscotti like this. If you’re good.’

Lukas chuckled at Tomaso’s pointed comment. He’d known Tomaso ever since he’d joined his first container ship as a deck boy. In fact, it had been Tomaso who had gotten him the job. He had been the ship’s engineer and had convinced his brother, the captain, to give Lukas a trial. Lukas had been sixteen years old and living off the putrid streets of St Petersburg at the time but unlike the other street kids—his fellow troublemakers—he’d had ambition. Something the older man had recognised when Lukas intervened while a group of young thugs tried to fleece Tomaso of his pocket change. And maybe even his life.

Of course, Lukas hadn’t trusted Tomaso’s goodwill straightaway. While most of his peers sought safety in numbers, joining or forming gangs to keep them safe, Lukas kept to himself, learning at a young age that needing others was a one-way street to misery.

His loner days had started at the age of five when his mother had put him on a train from St Petersburg to Moscow and told him she’d meet him there. At the time he’d been terrified and young enough to believe she’d meant it. It had taken him another five years to make his way back to St Petersburg in his search for her. A wasted trip if ever there was one.

Realising he’d entered an almost trance-like state he gave himself a mental shake. Why dwell on all that now? So his architect had quit. It wasn’t the worst that could happen and he’d succeed in the end. He always did. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

‘No doubt you are indeed a lucky man, Tomaso,’ he concurred, patting the old man on the shoulder. But really, Lukas knew that he was the lucky one. He was footloose and fancy-free and if he wanted biscotti he could go down to Harrods when he was in London or Gostiny Dvor in St Petersburg any time he wanted and buy an enormous amount. Not that it would be warm. And maybe not as flavoursome, but he was sure, if he ever wanted it, it would be decent. Biscotti was biscotti no matter how many ways you sliced it.

Maria pushed another three slices into his hand, told him he worked too hard and needed to make babies instead of ships and left. He could have laughed. His last mistress had muttered the same complaint as she’d accepted the diamond necklace and Porsche Carrera on their final night together.

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