“It’s gambling debts, isn’t it? Shit, Dad. Why not just be honest with me? You’ve burned through all your money and some rich guy has offered to get you out of the hole you’re in, right?”
“I forgot how astute you could be.”
He walks around the desk and slaps me across the face. Then he walks back to his seat, glancing at his watch as I rub my cheek where the sting burns deep.
“Listen up, Mila, because I will only say this once. You are going to be collected in exactly ten minutes’ time. You will go with the men who come for you. Without fighting, I might add. You will obey the commands of your new husband. I hear he is not as forgiving as me. Either you obey him or you die. Got that?”
“I hate you.”
“Your mother used to say that to me. Remember what happened to her?” He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out a long thin knife, wickedly sharp.
He sets it on the desk and taps the handle with a finger. “You will give your new husband a child or the deal is cancelled and you do not want the deal cancelled.”
He sighs as he picks up the knife, using the tip to dig dirt from under one of his fingernails. “He would not be happy and neither would I. If you end up back here, this knife might cut you like it used to cut her. Got it?”
My eyes fixate on the knife. I remember my mother’s screams on the nights it was used. “So I get no say in this at all?” I askwithout looking up.
“Sure you get a say.” He grins up at Pietro behind me. “She gets to say,I do, right?”
Pietro sniggers. “Right, boss.” His hands fall on me, dragging me out of the study.
“I won’t marry him,” I shout as I’m pulled into the corridor. “You just wait and see.”
I fight to get free but Larry and Ken are joining the assault, lifting me into the air and carrying me through to one of the lounges. I’m dumped in a wooden chair, cable ties wrapped around my wrists and ankles. All the expensive furniture has gone, no doubt sold long ago. There are gaps on the walls where paintings used to be. The whole house has a sense of decay, like it’s died but no one’s had the heart to tell it, or my father.
“Don’t worry,” Pietro says. “I hear it’s a lovely time of year to get married outdoors. All the leaves turning golden. Maybe you’ll have a New England forest thing. All cider apples and haycarts.”
“No,” he says as Larry wraps a gag around my face, the fabric rough against my lips. “It’ll be your new husband fucking you,” he says, giving me a nudge in the back. “And I hear he’s not the type to care about consent.”
Larry and Ken start sniggering, the sound loud in my ear. “Your own fault,” Pietro continues. “Should have hidden better.”
I get the gag out of my mouth. “I’ll bear that in mind for next time.”
“No next time, Toots. Too late for that.” He glances at Ken. “Tie it properly, you dumb fuck.”
Larry glances at his watch. “Let’s get her ready for the pick up. Van’ll be here any moment.”
I’m hoisted into the air, a bag shoved over my head. I squirm uselessly as they carry me out and along the corridor. I try to scream but the sound is nothing but a muffled cry that makes my throat hurt.
I hear a door opening and then I’m shoved into the back of a van. It’s a metal floor, cold underneath me, unforgiving. I can smell gas fumes from the rattling exhaust. The engine revs and I roll around as we set off, the tires crunching over the gravel of my father’s drive.
I fight the bonds holding me but all I succeed in doing is cutting into the flesh of my wrists. I’ve no idea how much time passes while I’m like this, doing my best to get free. I’ll take their advice. I’ll run further. Hide better.
I should have done that last time but I was too scared to go far. Wanted to stay in the one place I knew. Chicago. I’ve never left it in my life. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t leave my mother alone for long. Father was worse with her the few times I went out.
I miss my mother. Despite everything, if she was alive she wouldn’t have let this happen. She loved me, for all her faults. Until Alexsei Volkov killed her for confessing to my father about her affair with the Russian beast. I never met Alexsei but I heard the rumors. A drunk, a playboy, an embarrassment to his father. Always getting in trouble. Dangerous. Short-tempered, quick to anger and to shoot. A man to avoid.
At some point the engine stops. The back door of the van swings open and I’m lifted out by fresh hands. The people carrying me say nothing. I know I’m being taken indoors as the temperature rises, the wind dying at the same time.
No sound of footsteps. The carpet must be thick. A minute later, I’m tipped upright and dumped in a chair. This one is soft, comfortable on the bruises I’ve sustained after rolling around in the back of the van. The people carrying me walk away and again I lose all sense of time.
I jump when a door opens with a creak. A hand takes hold of the top of the bag, lifting it from my head.
“Dobryy vecher, Mila.”
I find myself looking up at the most handsome man I’ve ever seen. Black suit. Scars on his hands, tattoos poking out from the top of his white linen shirt, more on his knuckles.