Empire and Kings is the first book in the ‘Mafia’ series by A.C Bextor. It is a ‘mafia’ romance which is a little dark, intense, gritty, and has a bit of a ‘forbidden’ romance feel to the story. This is the first time I have read any of Ms. Bextor’s work and I must say I am really impressed. I don’t know why I haven’t heard of her before, because she writes so well, her story was a real page turner and she has a very bold and captivating style. If this book is anything to go by the rest of the series, and her other works, are bound to be brilliant. I am so glad that I discovered this author- she is definitely someone whose work I will look forward to reading more of. I feel a book binging session coming on! Vlad Zalesky had only just reached manhood when he was forced to take over part of his father’s criminal empire. There is no room for emotion or any kind of weakness in this violent and merciless industry. So, when Vlad discovers a traitor in their midst, he has no choice but to make an example of him and send out a strong message that betrayal will not be tolerated. He also needs to extract information from the traitor, find out who he’s working for or with. This is the night that will be seared into his brain forever. It’s the first time that he’d tortured someone and the first time that he’d ordered a kill. He wasn’t to know that his ‘business meeting’ would be interrupted by the victims 5-year-old daughter, and he can’t help but see his actions and the events of the evening through her wide-eyed innocence- and for one fraction of a second, question the life he’s been born into. But, he still has a job to do and decides to keep the girl, as an extra blow to the traitor. Klara Koslief is twenty-one years old and has grown up in Vlad’s household ever since the night she discovered the monster in their midst. But, even though her father was a bad man and had betrayed the Zalesky family, Vlad had never treated her badly. She had everything she could ever want, lived an enviable lifestyle and was treated like a member of the family- mothered by Vlad’s sister Faina and become a sister-figure to Vlad’s son Veniamin. Vlad went out of his way to try to ignore the stubborn and defiant girl who was staying under his roof. But as the years passed and she blossomed into a beautiful, poised and intelligent young woman, Vlad found it more and more difficult to ignore her. He is captivated by her, but refuses to let himself cross the line and take the one skerrick of innocence that she still holds. Klara, on the other hand, finds her fascination for Vlad only grows stronger over the years- yes, he frightens her but her curiosity to know what makes him tick, overshadows any doubts she may have had. As she matures, she is determined to get through his defences and unravel the puzzle that is Vlad. But, they are like two magnetic forces caught in a powerful vortex, drawn to each other and unable to pull away. When they finally give in to their desire, it’s in an explosion of passion that leaves them both reeling. But a man in his position makes many enemies and when some of these enemies start crawling out of the woodwork, violence and mayhem ensue. Klara finds herself caught in the cross-hairs and her life is put in peril. Will Vlad find a way to eliminate the enemy and save Klara, or will he end up losing a piece of his heart? This is such a complex, multi-layered story which was written and orchestrated so brilliantly by Ms. Bextor. The tension, suspense, sizzling chemistry and intensity was beautifully developed and manipulated by the author. She has a real knack for keeping you on the edge of the seat, and devouring every word just to keep up with her scintillating tale. It has a fast pace and is strewn with surprises and some shocking twists, which only enhance the exciting atmosphere of the whole book. I was hooked from the beginning till the end, and read it all in one sitting. This may have been the first book I read by this author, but it most certainly won’t be the last.