Run for the money. It’s part of the show. If he catches up, he won’t let go.
I’m in trouble—the kind that comes from a mobster and my irresponsible father. He killed himself and left me and my sisters holding the bag. Dmitri Ivanov wants half a million within two weeks, or he’s going to force us into the sex trade and keep my sweet little sister for himself. I’m desperate, so when I see the twisted reality TV show, “The Island,” I decide to compete. It’s only one weekend, and if the hunters don’t catch me, I get a million dollars. If they do, I still get paid—and extra for being a virgin. I just have to avoid getting trapped.
But when I meet Spencer, maybe I don’t mind him catching and claiming me…
My brother tricks me into coming with him for a weekend of hunting. I’m not into the outdoors and have never hunted an animal before. When I find out we’re supposed to hunt women instead, I’m ready to walk out. Until Anya walks in. One look at her, and I know she’s mine. I can’t fight the primal, possessive need to catch and claim her. There’s just one problem.
If I have her for the weekend, how will I ever let her go?
This is a contemporary romance with suspense and dark themes. While consensual, certain fantasy elements acted out between Spencer and Anya can be triggering to sensitive readers.
The atmosphere was somber, and I didn’t even try to maintain a brittle smile as I greeted people arriving in our home. I didn’t care if they thought I was rude, especially since many of them probably came to elicit juicy tidbits to gossip about later.
It was a small gathering, which made sense. My father had lost contact with a lot of his friends after Mom’s death, followed by his decline into alcoholism and worse. Of the faces around me, I recognized a few as true friends or family who’d earned the right to be there, but there were several strangers too. I couldn’t help thinking they were just there to gawk and be on the fringes of our family drama.
I moved through woodenly, occasionally exchanging words with those who offered sympathy or a kind word about my father. Carrie was in the corner, her face buried in her iPad. Those around us probably found it disrespectful, but I understood. She needed to escape and disconnect from the reality.
Who could blame her? I wouldn’t have chastised her for going upstairs and hiding in my room like our younger sister Sasha was at the moment. At fifteen, no one expected her to cope like they did Carrie, who was seventeen, or me. I was just twenty, but suddenly I was head of the family playing hostess at my father’s memorial service.
Tears threatened to break me again, and I hurried down the hall. Somehow, I managed to avoid stopping to talk to anyone as I closed myself in Dad’s study for a moment. I moved across the room and sat down in his broken-down leather chair. I once asked him about replacing it, but he’d claimed he had it just the way he wanted it. I wasn’t certain if he held onto it because it was broken-in, or sentiment prompted him to keep it since it had been a gift from Mom.
The chair creaked as I sat down and leaned forward to put my head on the desk on top of my arms. I just needed a few minutes alone to try to gather my composure before dealing with those people still waiting for me. Most of them probably meant well, but I just wanted them all to go away.
If they were here looking for answers as to why my father had put a gun in his mouth and blown out his brains, I couldn’t give it to them. I had no clue. He’d spent the last year getting sober and seemingly turning things around, so his backslide made no sense. There hadn’t been any alcohol in the house, and when I saw him the night before I found him the next morning, he seemed perfectly sober.
He was certainly upset about something, but refused to discuss it. I wish now I had pressed him on it, and perhaps we could’ve come to a solution together. Even if I just stayed up with him that night, I could have kept him from killing himself. At least that night.
I looked up as the door opened quietly, hoping it would be Carrie or Sasha, but braced myself to face friends or family members. Perhaps someone had seen me slip away and wanted to ensure I was all right. I was pretty far from all right, but was mustering every effort to give an appearance to the contrary when three strangers stepped into the office.
I had no idea who any of them were, but each sent a shiver down my spine. There was something in the way they carried themselves that suggested they were dangerous. Two of the men were hulking monoliths of muscle and aggression, and they stood shoulder to shoulder behind the shorter, fatter, older man. He wasn’t as physically intimidating, but when I looked at him, I found him the most frightening of all.
Perhaps it was because his eyes were cold and flat, bordering on reptilian. They reminded me of the eyes of Carrie’s corn snake she had a few years ago. I trembled as he stepped closer to the desk, clenching the edge and wondering if I should give in to the urge to scream for help.
The sound of my name on his lips was a shock, since I was positive I’d never met him. Eyeing him warily, I didn’t return the greeting. I just sat in silence for a moment as I wondered what to say.
He sat down at the desk, taking the hardback chair that Dad kept there. I remembered sitting in there a few times as I got lectured about my grades and knew for a fact it was uncomfortable. He seemed unbothered by it though, and his beady gaze never wavered from me.
I licked my lips. “Who are you?”
“I’m an…associate of your father’s. My name is Dmitri Ivanov.” He paused for a moment as though he expected his name to mean something to me. Then he continued speaking. “Your father was a regular client of mine.”
I frowned as I sat further upright, hands clenched together on my lap. “I’m not sure what business you’re in, Mr. Ivanov, but my dad owned pawnshops. What kind of service did you provide him?” It was a perfectly reasonable question, but my stomach still tightened with dread as I awaited the answer.
“Money.” The word sounded cold and loathsome on his tongue. “Your father went through a very rough patch following your mother’s death, da?”
He’d spoken without an accent until he said the Russian word, and I could hear it bleeding through. I shrugged. “I’m sure anyone who knows him knows that.”
“Did you know he risked losing the business, Anya?”
I shook my head, having no clue it was that dire. “I can see how it might’ve happened, but he spent the last year pulling everything back from the brink.”
Ivanov surprised me by nodding. “He did, but not without my generosity and continued extensions of credit. The economy is what it is, and though your father did an admirable thing by giving up his addictions, it was too little too late, I’m afraid. It became obvious he was never going to be able to repay us, so I seized his assets. I fear that might’ve been what drove him to such a desperate act.” He said the words with sympathy, but his gaze never wavered, and no hint of any emotion flickered across his face.
I let out a harsh breath. “Which assets?”
“Everything. All four of his shops, the deed to this house, and even the titles for your vehicles. I’m afraid you and your sisters are driving around in your cars and living in this house simply by my generosity now, dear Anya.”
I stared at him for a moment, trying to remain impassive. His skin was pale, his dark hair was oily where it remained in carefully groomed tufts clinging to his skull, and he had far more scalp than hair visible. Still, I couldn’t find a more repulsive feature than his eyes. “I assume you’re here to evict us?”
He tutted his tongue. “Such a delicate matter, and with him exiting the world so unexpectedly, I wish I could afford to give you time to process. As it is, he still owes me five hundred thousand dollars.”
My mouth dropped open, and I swallowed audibly. “On top of the value of the businesses and all the property?” I shook my head, unable to fathom such a thing. “I’m sorry he left you in the lurch like that.”
Dmitri clicked his tongue again in that annoying fashion. “But I’m afraid he’s left you in the lurch, my dear. His debt has transferred to you.”
I collapsed against the chair, staring at him in disbelief for a moment. “I don’t see how. I had nothing to do with loans, and I didn’t sign any paperwork. Perhaps there will be something left from life insurance to settle part of the debt, but you’ll understand why I have to ensure my sisters and I have living expenses first, especially since I now know we have to move out of our house.” It was a modest house by most standards, with only three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
His voice lost any hint of feigned sympathy, going cold and hard. “You will pay the debt. I’m not a bank, and there are rules. Your father was a fool if he thought he could escape his debt by killing himself. All he did was dump it on your lovely lap.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to sue me.” I wasn’t sure from where I summoned the brave words.
Dmitri turned to nod at one of the goons, who pulled back his jacket to show a gun. I gasped at the sight of it and clung to the arms of the old chair. “Who are you?”
“I’m what some would call a bad man, but I wish to allow you to avoid the unpleasantness of dealing with that side. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement that satisfies your debt.”
“It’s not my debt.” I said the words again, but with far less conviction. I had an inkling of exactly what kind of person Dmitri Ivanov was. He was either a loan shark, or something even worse, and my father somehow found his way to him.
I was blisteringly angry with my father for a moment, but had no time to indulge in that emotion. “I don’t have a way to pay that kind of money, Mr. Ivanov. I’m a college student, and my sisters are both in high school. It sounds like we’re all going to have to find somewhere cheaper and smaller. I don’t enough to keep a roof over our heads, let alone pay back a debt I had no responsibility for.”
His expression softened, but his eyes remained dead. “Truly, I do understand the position you’re in, young lady. I find it admirable that you’re willing to look after your sisters and sacrifice for their future. I suggest a simple trade.”
I nodded once. My mouth was too dry to verbalize any response.
“You’re a lovely woman, and I’m certain you could earn a great deal of goodwill by sharing your body with me and my friends. Enough of that, and you’ll be paid off. Perhaps in ten years, the debt would be fulfilled.”
I stared at him, mouth open in shock. “You expect me to whore myself out for the next ten years to pay off my father’s debt?”
He nodded just once. “Da.”
I shook my head. “Absolutely not. There are no circumstances where I agree to that.”
He stiffened and sat up straight before getting to his feet to lean across the desk. He loomed over me, and I leaned back in my chair further, though I didn’t want to show that weakness.
“You have two weeks, kotyonok. In that time, you need to vacate this house, leave behind the vehicles and all your expensive possessions, and come up with five hundred thousand dollars to satisfy the debt. In two weeks and one day, you owe six hundred thousand dollars if you haven’t paid. At that time, I’ll seize the remaining assets.”
My eyes burned with tears, but I didn’t let them fall. “What remaining assets? It sounds like you’ve taken everything already.”
His smile was nothing less than evil. “Lev Russo left three valuable assets behind, and I intend to fully exploit them. You and your sisters will be taken in two weeks to pay the debt if you don’t have the money I require.”
Anger surged, and I leaned forward. “Stay away from my sisters.”
He didn’t back down. Instead he laughed in my face. “Or what, kotyonok? You’ll perhaps kill me? Will you rip me apart with your bare hands while my guards with guns stand by silently and watch?”
I was vibrating with rage, but also impotent with it. I couldn’t do anything, and there was no point making a threat I couldn’t back up. “You can’t do this.”
He shrugged. “I can do what I wish.”
“I’ll go to the police. This is America, and you can’t do this.”
Once more, Ivanov laughed at me. “I own the police, and none of them will lift a hand to help you. You’ll spend the next two weeks scrambling to find a way to pay the debt, but we both know you won’t. In two weeks’ time, we’ll be exactly back at this place, but the difference is you and your sisters will become my property.
“I’ll send you and Carrie to work in the brothels. Some of the clientele will be rough, and you’ll wish you’d accepted my offer to serve myself and my associates instead. However, I will keep Miss Sasha for myself. She’s a tasty little morsel, and I’ll be sure to let her know her older sister could’ve spared her that by accepting my offer.”
I glared at him. “She’s only fifteen. Carrie’s just seventeen. You can’t do this.”
He shrugged. “In my home country, the age of consent is fifteen. She’s an adult, and she shares the burden of paying her father’s debt just like the rest of you. So go to the police, or do what you wish, but know for every step you take, you’ll pay for it ten times over.”
He straightened his jacket and stared at me for another moment. I thought perhaps he was waiting for me to beg him to reconsider, to allow me to whore myself out for him and his friends in the place of my sisters. I was prepared to do a lot to save them, including dropping out of school and finding a full-time job to try to support us and make ends meet, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t surrender to his filthy suggestion without trying to find an alternative first.
After a half-minute of silence, he nodded once more before turning away from me and striding to the door. His goons flanked him, and none of the three of them looked back as they swept through and slammed the door behind them.
I collapsed in the chair as soon as they were gone, losing all ability to stand. Silent tears swept over me, and they became sobs I couldn’t quite stifle. I gave in to the storm of weeping, which wasn’t the first over the last few days since finding my father’s body in the bathtub in the master suite.
This time, the tears were prompted by fear and rage, not just grief and sadness. I’d held low-key anger toward my father since discovering him and realizing he chose such a selfish route to escape whatever his problems were, but now it swelled to outright fury. His body was still at the crematory, preparing to turn to ash, or I would’ve pummeled it with my fists at the moment, I was so angry.
And terrified. I could freely admit that to myself and didn’t have to try to hide it now that Dmitri Ivanov and his goons had left, for at least the time being. I had no idea what I was going to do, and I could empathize for a moment why my father had chosen the route he had. I still didn’t understand why he’d gone through with it, but I could see why suicide was an option he considered viable to escape Ivanov. I doubted he’d even given it a thought that the girls and me would inherit his debt.
I was wrung out and emotionally drained, but forced myself to leave his office after trying to restore some semblance of order. My gaze darted around the room as I rejoined the others in the living room, and I let out a sigh of relief when I didn’t see any sign of Dmitri or his men.
Others had started to leave, so there were only a few sparse hangers-on still mingling. Somehow, I managed to deal with them and get them all out the door within the next twenty minutes.
I went to check on Carrie, and she’d fallen asleep behind her tablet. I laid the iPad on the table and covered her with an afghan from the couch, running my fingers down the intricate threading. My mother had crocheted it when she was pregnant with Sasha. Tears blurred my eyes for a moment, and I wished with all my might to have my mother back, so she could enfold me in her arms and protect me from the horrors awaiting.
Since that wasn’t an option, I straightened my shoulders and went upstairs. Sasha was in my room, having taken refuge there to avoid the gathering downstairs after we attended my father’s service at the funeral home. She was asleep as well, and I left her sprawled on the right side of the queen-size bed, taking just a moment to remove her glasses and lay them on the nightstand.
After that, I moved into the bathroom and quickly shed the black dress and pantyhose worn for the funeral. Once dressed in more comfortable yoga pants and a T-shirt, I left the room and went downstairs again. I returned to my father’s office, this time knowing I needed to investigate to see what kind of money he’d left, if any at all.
I lucked out, and he hadn’t shut down his computer before deciding to kill himself. He used a password management program, and it was still signed in, so I was able to check his account balances and spreadsheets.
It didn’t take long to realize we were fucked. There was eighteen hundred dollars in his checking account, and absolutely nothing in savings. My sisters had personal savings accounts tied to Dad’s, and they had another two thousand dollars between them, but I bet they would’ve expected to have more. I checked the history and discovered he’d been slowly borrowing from their accounts on months when he didn’t have enough to cushion the shortfall. Of course he had. If he would borrow from a loan shark, he wasn’t above emptying his daughters’ savings accounts. I was almost amazed that there was any money left in them at all.
Fortunately, I had my own savings account in another bank, but it was rather anemic too. I’d used a majority of it to pay for my last two semesters of school after Dad cut me off. He claimed it was time for me to stand on my own, but now I realized why he hadn’t paid my tuition. He simply hadn’t been able to afford it.
When he refused to give me his tax returns for grants and loans, I’d had to quit for a semester and work a full-time retail job in order to cover the two semesters myself, putting me off schedule to graduate. I’d been furious at the time, but it seemed inconsequential now.
It got worse as I searched through a drawer full of correspondences. It seemed like he owed everyone. There were multiple collection agencies attempting to get him to honor his debts. I wasn’t so concerned about those, because they weren’t my debts now. Unlike Ivanov, none of those companies could try to force me to pay them off.
My stomach sank when I came across a letter from the insurance company. It was short and terse, reminding him that since he hadn’t paid his premium for the last three months, his life insurance policy of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars had been canceled. The letter alluded to a refund check for the balance he’d paid into the policy that was attached, but all I saw was a stub. Going back to his bank account, I saw he had deposited a check that was for a balance of eighteen thousand dollars, and then transferred it to his business account. Apparently, he’d used it to pay payroll, which was admirable, but left us without any protection at all.
I wasn’t even sure if life insurance would’ve paid out since he committed suicide. With a sigh, I leaned back in his chair, staring at the screen as I tried to think of what I could do. There was literally no way I could think of to get together five hundred thousand dollars in two weeks.
The only other option seemed to be to take my sisters and run, but I was scared to do that. If we were caught, that would bring CPS down on us. I wasn’t officially their guardian, and I wasn’t sure if they would allow me to be since I wasn’t twenty-one yet. I’d planned to keep things discreet and try to stay off the radar of schools or anyone else who might cause us problems until my birthday in a few months.
A pinging sound distracted me, and I looked at the screen in time to see a new screen pop up. I hadn’t touched anything, so it was completely unexpected to see the program loading. A moment later, a logo popped up, along with the words “The Island.”