We’re once again joined by Sabine Barclay, author of the Dark Mafia Romance series The Ivankov Brotherhood. And this time, she’s sitting down with Niko Kutsenko, protagonist and elusive heartthrob of Bratva Treasure.
Sabine: Hello, Niko. Thanks for sitting down with me today. I’m looking forward to readers getting to know you a little better. You’re one of the four Kutsenko brothers. Where do you fall in the lineup?
Niko: I’m the third brother. I come after Maks and Aleks and before Bogdan.
Sabine: You’re all really close in age. Was that a good thing or a bad thing growing up?
Niko: Both, I suppose. I’m really close to all my brothers and our cousins. There are four of us who are brothers, but we also have four cousins. Anton and Pasha are brothers, and their dad was my dad’s brother. Sergei and Misha are brothers, and our moms are sisters. It meant there was always someone to play with…and someone else to blame. If I didn’t like one brother, I still had two others and four cousins to play with. Some people think that we’re close because we’re bratva or because it’s good for business. We’re close because we genuinely like each other’s company.
Sabine: That sounds mostly good.
Niko: I suppose it is. As not the oldest and not the youngest, you can kind of get lost even just among my brothers. Growing up, Maks and Bogdan had it the hardest while we were—uh—trained to be bratva members. Aleks and I wish we could have done more, shouldered more of what happened to Maks and Bogdan.
Sabine: What’s your position within the Ivankov bratva?
Niko: I advise Maks.
Sabine: That sounds a lot like what Bogdan told me during an interview. Can you be more specific?
Sabine: Are you going to be?
Niko: I can tell you more, but I won’t. Like I tell Stasia, there are some answers better kept quiet.
Sabine: You call your wife Stasia, but it’s really Anastasia. That’s a Russian sounding name.
Niko: It is, and only I call her Stasia. Everyone else calls her Ana. I just never thought of her as that. Stasia came to mind, and it stuck. I suppose it’s like how Christina only goes by a nickname when she’s with Bogdan. No one else ever calls her Tina.
Sabine: Is Anastasia Russian?
Niko: Half. Her father grew up in a neighborhood not far from where I was from. Her mother is American. From California actually. It fascinates me how people from there put the word “the” in front of things, like “the snow” or “the five” for the interstate. I’ve lived here longer than I did Russia, but every once in awhile the language still confuses me.
Sabine: Are you distracting me from talking about Anastasia’s Russian family?
Niko: Is it working? (laughs) It’s not a secret, but family histories are hard, and some things hurt to talk about. Our families are connected, but we didn’t know when we met. If you read our story, you’ll learn.
Sabine: But it was that family connection that led to your adventure in Greece.
Niko: You might call it an adventure, but that was the longest, most terrifying day of my life. Just so the world is clear: Stasia is mine, and I am hers. She’s as loyal and devoted as I am. She can be as ruthless as I am if she’s protecting our family. We’ll burn the world down before anyone separates us again.
Sabine: Intense. I suppose I should backtrack and ask you how you met.
Niko: I came to visit Konstantin and Mila, my nephew and niece. I was there to take them for a walk, so Laura could have a break. I know she and Maks are up around the clock with twins. I heard a voice I didn’t recognize speaking Russian. I went into Maks and Laura’s office and found the most beautiful blonde behind a desk. Stasia was Laura’s new paralegal. I admit, I’m not trusting by nature. Ever. So I wasn’t sure of what to make of her besides the fact that I couldn’t stop staring. She’s not a conventional beauty, I suppose. But she’s perfect to me.
Sabine: Did she think you were perfect too?
Niko: Hardly. We started out well, but we had a rocky patch when she discovered who I am. Our families made it more complicated. She loves me, but she knows I’m not perfect. She loves me because despite—or maybe even because—I’m not. She’s my soulmate. She’s my everything, and she loves me as I am.
Sabine: Switching gears a little. I heard you have a bird. Is that right?
Niko: (Rolls eyes) Who hasn’t heard about Sammy? I’ve had him since I was 14, so half my life. My brothers got him for me because birds fascinate me. Bogdan thought it would be hilarious to teach my bird to swear. He’s worse than a sailor. It’s so bad that my mom threatened to wash both their mouths out with soap when we were younger. Bogdan doesn’t swear around our mom, but Sammy sometimes still does. Then he calls Mom “pretty lady,” and all’s forgiven. I swear, he doesn’t mimic. He really thinks about what he’s saying. He’s smarter than most people I’ve met.
Sabine: I’ve heard you’re the most laidback in the group. Doesn’t having a cussing bird fit?
Niko: I am, even if Bogdan tries to say he is. And it does fit. It’s just Sammy doesn’t always have the best timing.
Niko: I can’t repeat how he greeted me when I brought Stasia to my place for the first time. You’ll have to read to find out, but it was—uh—colorful.
Sabine: What’s next for your family?
Niko: You’ll meet Pasha next month in Bratva Beauty. Aleks is having a hard time waiting until December to tell you about his Bratva Angel. And Misha? Well, I’m sure he’ll find his Bratva Jewel and tell you about how he falls in love in January. And if you missed it, Maks’s Bratva Darling and Bogdan’s Bratva Sweetheart are everything you could want when Mafiosos fall in love.
Sabine Barclay, a nom de plume also writing Historical Romance as Celeste Barclay, lives near the Southern California coast with her husband and sons. Growing up in the Midwest, Sabine enjoyed spending as much time in and on the water as she could. Now she lives near the beach. She’s an avid swimmer, a hopeful future surfer, and a former rower. Before becoming a full-time author, Sabine was a Social Studies and English teacher. She holds degrees in International Affairs (BA), Secondary Social Science (MAT), and Political Management (MPS). She channels that knowledge into creating engrossing contemporary romances that will make your toes curl and your granny blush.