I turn to Bastian. “Ready?”
“I’ve been ready for fifteen years.”
We climb out, ducking our heads and sticking our arms in the air so the soldiers don’t shoot before we even get there. The chopper’s propellors stir up a dust storm, and once we clear it, we walk slowly toward the building, very aware of the machine guns pointing directly at us.
Once we’re near enough that they can hear us, we stop. “Tell Dmitri there’s a convoy coming for him. They’re about twenty minutes out at most. We came to warn him.”
The one looks at the other, who steps toward. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Amadeo Caballero. This is my brother, Bastian. He’ll know our names. Tell him we’re here for my wife. We’ll take him with us if he wants, but we won’t be leaving without her.”
He turns to his companion, who is on the radio with someone. Whoever was on the radio must have heard our conversation because a moment later, two huge men come to the door and look us over.
“Search them,” one says.
Bastian and I stand still and let them take our pistols. We’re then escorted inside one man ahead of us, the other behind. I look into each of the rooms we pass, but the building is empty.
Just as we reach the door at the end of the corridor, I hear a scream, a sound like nothing I’ve heard before.
I thrust the door open, slamming it against the wall, and Bastian and I charge inside, the sound of a fury so hot it carries over that of weapons being drawn, armed, and what I see, fuck. What I see stops us both dead.
Istare into the ice-blue eyes of my mother’s lover, and he stares right back into mine. He walks toward me, stands a few inches from me, and I look down at his arm, at the ink that I recognize, knowing these were the arms my mother took comfort in.
His gaze moves to my brother’s hand. Lucien is still holding on to me. He cocks his head then looks at Lucien.
“Take your hand off her.”
“She’s payment,” Lucien says, thrusting me toward the tattooed man as I study him. This stranger who knew my mother so intimately. The man with whom she looked happy.
“Is she?” he asks, dragging his gaze to my face once more, searching it again before returning his full attention to Lucien. “What are you playing at, boy?” he asks, closing his calloused, scarred hand over Lucien’s wrist and removing it from my arm.
I rub the spot he held me and step away from them both. Just one step. I just need a little space.
“Not playing, Dmitri. She’s payment for the lost soldiers. Thought you’d want that, considering.”
Dmitri. I have no idea who he is. Never heard my mother utter his name. Dmitri’s eyes search my face again as if searching for something. Or more likely, someone, I guess. How could she have been with someone like this? He seems dangerous and cold. Rough. My father was elegant. Subtle. Although was he any less dangerous? Any less rough? What drove my mother into the arms of a stranger?
But one thing at a time. Dmitri will have to wait. I turn back to Lucien, remembering it all, the basement, those men. It’s that nightmare that comes like clockwork in the weeks leading up to my birthday except it’s the real version. The part that happened. It’s the memory Tilbury tried to fucking electrocute out of my brain. But things didn’t go exactly right, I guess. He erased a full year, and now it’s come rushing back.
My dad came for me. I remember that, too. He was too late, though. They’d already broken me. And I’d killed them for it.
I look down at my bruised, scratched hands. My bloody hands.
I can see Dad’s face in my mind’s eye as clear as day. His eyes when he saw me with the gun still in my hand. All that blood on me. All that blood staining every surface. I think seeing that broke him a little too. He carried me out of there. And then came the incident with the bleach and then Dr. Tilbury.
“Considering,” Dmitri says, calling me back into the present. He takes a half step away, one corner of his mouth curved upward but not in any way close to a smile. He’s thinking. Calculating. “It was you, wasn’t it? You were the one who blackmailed her with those photos.”
My mouth falls open. What? Lucien blackmailed my mother?
“What did you do?”I start, making a move toward Lucien. Dmitri effortlessly catches me and keeps me tight to his side, one arm wrapped around me to trap me against him. He barely looks at me. Just studies Lucien closely like he’s putting a puzzle together as I struggle to remove the steel bar that is his arm.
“I tried to get you your daughter, but Sonny’s men screwed that up. You can trade Vittoria for the kid.”