Fractured Souls: Chapter 1

Pavel

Two months later

 

Neon lights shine down on people crammed together, moving to the music which is blasting from the overhead speakers. The smell of alcohol and competing fragrances permeate the air, even up here, in my office. I step toward the floor-to-ceiling glass wall and cross my arms over my chest, watching the crowd on the dance floor below. It’s not even midnight, but it’s packed with hardly any breathing space.

A commotion at the far corner of the dance floor attracts my attention. Vladimir, one of the club bouncers, is holding a man by the back of his shirt, dragging him toward the stairs that lead to the upper level. If the man was starting a brawl, security would have thrown him out. This must be something more serious if he is being brought to me.

The door behind me opens five minutes later.

“Mr. Morozov.” Vladimir pushes the man inside the office. “We caught this one dealing in front of the restrooms.”

I walk toward the man sprawled on the floor and put the sole of my right shoe over his hand. “Distributing drugs in my club?”

The man whimpers and tries to remove my foot with his free hand, but I press harder. “Talk.”

“It was just some pills a friend gave me,” he chokes out and looks up at me. “He said it’s some new stuff he swiped from his work.”

I cock my head to the side. “His job? What does he do?”

“I don’t know. He never talks about it.” He tries to free his hand again but fails. “I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.”

I motion for Vladimir to hand me the small plastic bag he’s holding and look it over. There are a dozen white pills inside. “Have you tried this?”

“No . . . I . . . I’m not into drugs,” the man says, then whimpers when I apply more pressure to his hand.

“So you brought them here to sell. Very wise.” I throw the plastic bag back to Vladimir. “Take this to Doc. We need to check what’s in that crap.”

“What should we do with the dealer?” Vladimir nods toward the man on the floor.

Based on the panicked look in the man’s eyes and the shaking of his hand, it wouldn’t take long to break him. I could take him to the storeroom and question him. But we have rules in the Chicago Bratva, and my scope of work doesn’t include information extraction.

“I think he would enjoy a little chat with Mikhail. Get him out of my sight,” I say and turn around to walk back to the glass wall overlooking the dance floor.

I can hear yelling and a lot of kerfuffle behind me as Vladimir drags the man out. The racket ceases when the door closes behind them. My eyes scan the people milling around and dancing, stopping at the booth in the far-left corner. Yuri, the man in charge of the Bratva’s soldiers, is sitting in the middle with a blonde-haired woman by his side. On his other side, laughing about something, are the brothers Kostya and Ivan, who manage the finances in our organization. Seems like some of the guys got a free night.

The phone in my pocket rings. I take it out and see Yuri’s name on the screen.

“Is something wrong?” I ask when I take the call.

“No,” he says, looking up at me from the booth. “Come down and have a drink with us.”

“I’m working.”

“You’re always working, Pasha.” He shakes his head.

He’s right. Unless I’m sleeping or working out, I’m at one of the Bratva’s clubs. Spending time in my empty apartment since I moved out of the Petrov mansion when the pakhan’s wife had a child has always been hard. But in the last few years, it’s gotten even harder. The fact that I’ve been running two nightclubs for the last seven years, spending most of my time surrounded by people, should be enough to make me want to seek solitude. It’s not. It just reminds me that I have no one to go home to.

“Come on, just one drink,” Yuri urges again.

Kostya’s deep laugh comes through the line. Looks like he’s fooling around again. Always a trickster, that one. “Some other time, Yuri,” I say.

I end the call but don’t move away from the glass wall, watching my comrades having a great time. Maybe I should join them. It would be nice to relax and talk about nonsense sometimes, but I never can. The problem is, on the few occasions I have gone out with them, I ended up feeling even more alone.

The Bratva is the closest thing to a family I’ve ever had. I know for sure that each one of them would take a bullet for me. As I would for them. And still, even after ten years in the Bratva, I can’t let myself get too close to my friends. With my past, I guess, this may be expected. When you’re discarded by the people who should have been your safe harbor, it’s hard to allow yourself to get close to anyone because, at some point, they will leave, too.

Sooner or later, everyone leaves.

I stand there for a long time, watching the guys laugh, then turn away and go back to work.

 

Asya

I walk inside the office and come to a stop in the center of the room. Dolly, the woman in charge of the girls, is sitting behind her desk, her attention focused on the small leather-bound notebook in front of her.

“You’ll be entertaining Mr. Miller tonight,” she says as she scribes something in her ledger. “He prefers it slow. Start with a massage and go from there.”

I nod. “Yes, Dolly.”

“Oh, and no blow jobs. Mr. Miller doesn’t like those.” She closes the notebook and walks around the desk, her heels clicking against the linoleum. I bow my head and focus my gaze on the floor so she won’t be able to see my eyes. Her pink shiny heels enter my field of vision as she comes to a stop right in front of me.

“He’s a very important client, so make sure you fulfill his every need. If he likes you, he may request you again. He’s very mild-mannered. He doesn’t hit girls often, which is rare as you already know. And don’t forget the condom. You know the rules.”

I nod again and raise my hand, palm up. Dolly places a single white pill on my palm.

“What about the rest?” I ask. “I need more. Please.”

“Always the same tune with you girls,” she barks. “You get the rest when you’re finished with the client. You know that already.”

“Just one more,” I beg.

“I said after you are done!” she yells and slaps me across the cheek. “Get back to your room and be ready in an hour. You’ve been out of commission for almost a week. We’re losing money.”

“Yes, Dolly,” I say in a small voice and turn toward the door.

“Oh, and don’t forget to take off the glasses. Mr. Miller doesn’t like those.”

“Of course,” I say.

After exiting Dolly’s office, I turn left and hurry down the hallway, passing the doors to other rooms. I’m one of five girls here at the moment. There used to be six of us, but two days ago, one of the girls disappeared. Since I try to keep to myself, I didn’t know her other than seeing her in passing. I remember she had long blonde hair which she wore braided down her back. No one knows what happened, but I heard the other girls gossiping about her meeting with a client who is known to be rough.

I reach the last door at the end of the hallway and walk inside. After a quick look around to make sure my roommate isn’t here, I rush toward the small bathroom on the other side of the room. I lock the door and turn toward the toilet.

Opening my right hand, I stare at the white pill in my palm. Such a small thing. Harmless looking. Who would guess that something so tiny can keep a person willfully enslaved, living in a prison without bars? It would be so easy to put it into my mouth and just . . . let go.

It is always the same setup. One pill before the meeting with the client. Three more after I’m done. The first one is meant to keep me high and, therefore, more obedient. It doesn’t make it hurt less, but it does make me not care. It’s also highly addictive. If I take it, it will ensure I’ll come rushing back for the three pills afterward to satisfy the craving brought on by the first. The cycle would repeat. Again, and again. Keeping my brain in a haze, constantly on some level of high, needing more each time, not capable of thinking about anything else.

An addict, that’s what I’ve become. Just like the rest of the girls here.

I squeeze the pill in my hand, then throw it into the bowl and flush it. The pill makes two circles before disappearing down the drain, but I keep standing there, staring into the toilet.

It’s been six days since I stopped taking the drugs. It happened by accident. I caught stomach flu last week, and for three days, I vomited nonstop. My body wouldn’t keep anything inside, including the pills Dolly continued to shove down my throat. By the time I felt better, my brain was clear of the drug-induced stupor for the first time in two months.

That day was the hardest. Even though I was constantly cold—God, I don’t ever remember being so cold in my life—I was sweating. Everything hurt. My head, my legs, my arms. It was like every single bone in my body had been shattered. And then there were the tremors. I tried to control the shaking for fear my teeth would fracture, but couldn’t. Dolly thought it was the fever finally breaking, but it wasn’t. It was withdrawal. The urge to just swallow the pills she gave me was almost too much to fight, and only pure stubbornness kept me from succumbing.

It got easier after that. I still randomly got the chills, but it was nowhere near what I experienced that first drug-free day, and my limbs and head hurt significantly less. I pretended to swallow the pills and made sure to act the same as I did before, begging for more all the time, while secretly throwing the drugs away. Amazingly, my deception worked. Now it’s just a question of how long I’ll be able to keep the pretense before someone notices.

I take off my glasses and leave them next to the sink. They aren’t even the right prescription, just something Dolly got me so I would stop stumbling and squinting. My own were lost during my last night in New York.

I look away from the reminder, take off my clothes, and step inside the shower stall. Turning the water to scorching hot, I move under the spray and close my eyes. There is a washcloth on the small shelf to my right. I take it and scrub my skin until it’s red, but it doesn’t help. I still feel filthy.

I don’t understand why I haven’t fought harder. Yes, the drugs kept my brain in a haze, but I’ve always been aware of what was happening. Still, I’ve just . . . capitulated. Let them sell me, night after night, to rich men who are willing to pay an enormous amount of money to fuck a pretty, polished doll. Because that’s what we are. They wax us, have our nails and hair done, and make sure we wear expensive clothes. The full face of makeup is mandatory, and it smears quite nicely when a girl cries after the session. So many of the men like to see us break.

I haven’t cried once. Maybe something broke inside me that first night. A million particles of my fractured soul mixed with the snow and blood. I just didn’t care anymore.

The driver comes to pick me up an hour later, and during the drive, I stare blankly through the window at the people rushing along the unfamiliar sidewalks. When I was taken, at first I thought I was being held somewhere on the outskirts of New York, but I now know that I’ve ended up in Chicago. As I watch “normal life” passing me by, for the first time in two months, I’m tempted to grab the handle and try to escape. I’m sickened at the realization that it’s taken me this long to think about running away. But I consider it now. I want to feel clean again. That may never happen, but I want to try.

I’ve heard what they do to girls who try to escape. As long as we are obedient, we get the pills, because high-paying clients don’t like girls with needle marks on their bodies. But the moment a girl creates problems, they switch to the syringe. And it’s over. Was that what happened to the girl who disappeared?

Leaning back in the seat, I close my eyes and exhale. I’ll keep pretending I’m still an obedient little slut, ready to endure everything and wait for my opportunity. I will have only one chance, so I better make sure it counts.

 

* * *

 

They always wear suits.

I regard the man sitting on the edge of the bed in this fancy room where the driver escorted me. Late fifties. Receding hairline. He’s wearing an impeccable gray suit and an expensive watch on his wrist. Two phones on the nightstand. Probably a banker. Again.

The room is as expected for a client like him. Heavy luxury curtains in deep red—the color of blood—and a four-poster bed with black silk sheets to hide the bloodstains. A tall lamp in each corner and a wooden mobile bar stocked with different liquors. Only the best labels, of course. I’ve been in this room once before, but I remember that the bathroom is equally chic, with a large tub and a shower. There’s a first aid kit under the sink there. The driver used it because the client I was with that night left me with a nasty cut on my lip.

Mr. Miller motions for me to approach. I close the distance between us and stand between his legs, trying to detach myself from what will follow. It was much easier with the pills.

“Pretty,” he says and places his palm on my thigh just below the hem of my short white dress. Seems like it’s the favorite color of every client. “How old are you?”

“I’m eighteen, Mr. Miller.”

“So young.” His hand travels upward, pulling my dress. “Call me Jonny.”

“Yes, Jonny,” I mutter.

“Dolly said your name is Daisy. Small and sweet. Fitting.” A shiver passes over my body upon hearing the name they gave me because they found my own too unusual. I despise it. Just hearing it makes me want to throw up.

Mr. Miller lifts my dress over my head and throws it onto the floor. It falls as a small white bundle at my feet. I don’t know why, but clients removing my dress has always hit me harder than them taking off my panties. Each time it happens, it feels like the last layer of my defense is stripped away from me. I shudder.

“Do you find me attractive, little Daisy?” he circles my waist with his hands.

“Of course I do, Jonny,” I say automatically. It had been ingrained in my brain with fists during my first day of training.

“Hmm . . .” His hands squeeze my waist, then pull my lacy thong, white as well, down my legs. “I usually like it slow. But you are too sweet. I don’t think I can wait.”

The moment he has my panties removed, he throws me onto the bed. I lie there, unmoving, and watch him take off his jacket. His tie is next, and my body shakes as he loosens the knot. One of my previous clients wrapped his tie around my neck while he fucked me from behind, pulling on it every time he thrust into me, cutting off my air. I close my eyes in relief when Mr. Miller throws his tie to the floor. He starts on his dress shirt, but only undoes the first two buttons and moves to his pants. My breathing pace picks up. At least he removed the tie. I can handle the shirt.

“Open your legs wide, honeybee,” he says as he puts on the condom. The guy who runs the organization is very strict on protection, but it’s more about making sure the clients are safe than the girls’ safety.

Mr. Miller crawls across the bed until he is looming above me. The vein at the side of his neck pulses. He watches me with wide eyes, then dips his head and licks my naked breast. I grit my teeth together, willing myself not to recoil. It doesn’t end well when I recoil. I hope the music will come, making this a little easier to block out. It doesn’t. The last time I heard the music was that snowy night. Sometimes, when I lie in bed, trying to sleep, I drum my fingers on the bedside as if it’ll help call the melody. But I don’t hear it like I used to.

Mr. Miller’s meaty hands grip the inside of my thighs, spreading my legs apart. The next moment, his cock thrusts inside me all at once.

It hurts. It always hurts, but without the drugs to scramble my mind, it’s a thousand times worse. I tilt my head up and stare at the ceiling as he slams into me again. At times like these, I try to disconnect, to mentally pull away and toward a happy memory, hoping to detach myself from yet another rape.

Thank God, a memory pops into my brain.

It’s the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I’m sitting in the garden, reading, while my twin sister chases her Maltese—Bonbon—across the lawn. Poor animal. She even put a yellow silk bow on his head. When Sienna said she wanted a dog, I was sure Arturo would say no. Our brother is not a fan of keeping animals inside the house. I have no idea how she managed to convince him to let her have one.

“Asya!” Sienna yells. “Come!”

I wave my hand at her and keep reading. The murder mystery is just being unraveled, and I’m eager to see who the culprit is. I’m sure it’s . . .

A spray of cold water splashes my chest. I scream and jump up off the chair, glaring at my sister. She’s holding a watering hose in her hand, laughing like a madwoman.

“You’re dead!” I chuckle and dash toward her. She’s still doubled over from laughter when I reach her. I grab the hose, pull the collar of her top, and send the water stream down her back.

Sienna shrieks and turns, then grabs the hose, trying to direct it at me, but it just ends up spraying her face. I’m still laughing when I lift my free hand to wipe the water from my eyes, but I stop mid-motion. My hand is red. I look at the hose in my grip. It’s pouring red liquid onto the ground around my feet. Blood.

I open my eyes and stare at the white ceiling above me while the smell of sweat infiltrates my nostrils. Yeah . . . the happy memory trick never works that well.

Mr. Miller keeps pounding into me, his labored breaths blowing into my face, and beads of sweat dripping onto me. He groans loudly, the sound reminding me of some huge animal in rage. Abruptly, he stops and pulls out. His weight disappears. I lift my head off the pillow and see him slumped on his knees at the foot of the bed, his hands clawing at his chest. He’s breathing hard. His face is red as he stares at me with wide eyes.

“The . . . pills,” he chokes out. “In . . . the jacket.”

I just gape at him for a few moments before getting up off the bed and running toward his jacket where he had left it on the back of a chair. I find an orange bottle in the left pocket and take it out. Mr. Miller is slumped on all fours, trying to draw breath.

“Give me . . .” he wheezes, raising his arm in my direction.

I look down at the bottle in my hand and back up, taking in his flustered face and rheumy eyes. Slowly, I step further back. Mr. Miller’s enormous eyes glare at me. I retreat a few more steps until I feel the wall behind my back.

And then, I watch.

It lasts less than two minutes. Wheezing. Shallow, labored breaths. And finally, a choking sound. Mr. Miller collapses sideways onto the bed, his head tilted up in my direction, eyes bulging. It looks like he is trying to speak, but the words are jumbled. I can’t make out what he’s saying, but I see it on his face. He is begging. I stay rooted to the spot, clutching the medicine bottle in my hand, and watch a man dying before my eyes. With each breath he takes, I feel the remains of my soul, or whatever is left inside me, die a little more. Until there is nothing, just a black hole.

The door on my left bangs open and my driver barges inside. He runs toward Mr. Miller’s body, which is lying still across the bed, and places his fingers on the man’s neck.

“Fuck!” the driver spits out and turns to me. “What have you done, bitch?”

I ignore him. For some reason, I can’t take my eyes off the body on the bed. The eyes are still open, and even though I can’t see them clearly, it seems like they are still looking directly at me. A slap lands on the side of my face.

“Wake the fuck up! We need to leave,” the driver barks.

When I don’t move, he grabs my arm and starts shaking me. A moment later, I feel the prick of a needle in my arm.

No!

That prick awakens whatever is left of my self-preservation. The pill bottle falls out of my hand. I pull my arm away, turn, and run out into the hallway.

It’s well into the night and the inside of this place seems deserted. The two wide yellow stripes running the length of the carpet help me orient myself, and I follow them, running along several hallways in search of an exit. My vision clouds, and I’m becoming lightheaded. Every step I take is harder than the previous one, and it feels as if my legs are weighed down by concrete blocks. I turn the corner and keep running until I see a door at the end. There is a green-lit sign above it. I can’t read the letters, but there is only one thing it could be. The exit.

As soon as I reach the door, I grab the knob and dash outside. It’s a fire escape. I’m seeing double and my head spins, making me dizzier with each passing second, but I manage to grab the railing on the third try. Clutching the cold iron, I fumble down the steps, miraculously without falling. The moment my bare feet reach the ground, I turn left and run into a dark alley. A car horn blares on my right, and I turn just in time to see blinding lights shining into my face before the darkness swallows me.

 

Pavel

“Shit!”

I open the car door and dash out, running to the front of my vehicle. On the road, barely a foot from the front bumper, lies a completely naked woman. I know I didn’t hit her. I managed to stop the car before I reached her, but it looks like there is something wrong with her. Her body is shaking as if she has a high fever.

I bend and scoop her up into my arms. The smell of rancid male cologne invades my nostrils as I adjust my grip. The woman’s skin is unusually cold and she is trembling so much that, if I wasn’t clutching her to my chest, she’d slip from my grasp. Turning on my heel, I carry her to the car. Shifting her meager weight in my arms, I somehow manage to reach the handle and get the back door open. I don’t have a blanket, so once I gently lower her onto the seat, I remove my jacket and drape it over the girl’s naked body. She immediately curls into a fetal position while tremors continue to shake her slight form. As soon as I’m back behind the wheel, I hit speed dial on my phone, and floor the car.

“Doc!” I bark the moment he takes the call. “I have a girl in my car who seems to be having a seizure, maybe. Should I try to do something or drive straight to a hospital? Or should I bring her to you? I’m five minutes away.”

“Symptoms?”

“She’s shaking really bad, and her arms and hands are twitching.” I throw a look over my shoulder. “Doesn’t seem coherent.”

“Foam at her mouth? Vomiting?”

I look over at the girl again. “No. Not at the moment.”

“Bring her here,” he says. “If she vomits, you need to stop the car and make sure she doesn’t choke. It could be an epileptic seizure or an overdose.”

“Okay.” I toss the phone on the passenger seat.

Luckily, the traffic is light, so it takes me under five minutes to reach the building where the doc has a small clinic on the ground floor, just below his apartment. Since he mostly does house visits for the Bratva, he only uses it when someone needs an ultrasound or an x-ray.

I park at the front and lift the girl from the back seat. Her limbs are still twitching uncontrollably, but she’s not vomiting. Holding her in my arms, still wrapped in my jacket, I run toward the glass door the doc is holding open.

“Put her on the gurney,” he says and rushes toward the medical cabinet. “Why is she naked?”

“No idea. She ran out of a building, disoriented, and collapsed in the middle of the street. I almost hit her with my car.”

The doc comes over carrying a syringe, leans over the girl, and pulls open her eyelid. “Overdose. Move away.”

I take a couple of steps back and watch as he gives her an injection of something, then proceeds with attaching an IV with saline into her arm.

“I’ll take a blood sample so we know what she’s taken. But I won’t have the results before tomorrow. I assume it was one of the common drugs so I’ve given her something to counteract it. It will reverse the effects.” He grabs a blanket and places it over the girl. “Unless she is a heavy user, she should be okay in a couple of hours. Just drive her to a shelter or something and leave her for them to deal with.”

I look down at the girl. Long dark brown strands are falling over her face, hiding it from view. She is still shaking under the blanket, but there is no twitching. Her breathing also sounds slightly better. What the fuck happened to her?

“I’ll take her to my place for tonight,” I say without taking my eyes off the girl. “When she’s better in the morning, I’ll take her home.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.” I look up and find Doc staring at me.

“You can’t take a drug addict to your place.”

“I won’t drop her off at the shelter as if she’s a bag of junk, Doc.” One of the girl’s arms is hanging down. I take her small hand and tuck it under the blanket next to her side. “And it will be just for tonight anyway.”

The doc sighs and shakes his head. “If she is an addict, which I’m pretty sure she is, she will go through withdrawal. With the medicine I gave her, it’ll probably start right away. Depending on what she took and how heavy a user she is, it could take anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks for it to pass.”

“Even though she is naked, her hair is clean, and her nails are manicured. It’s more likely that someone drugged her while trying to sexually assault her, or she escaped an abusive partner.”

The doc watches me, then nods. “All right. I’ll see if I have a rape kit. I’ll also do a basic exam. Wait outside.”

I glance at the girl, who seems to be sleeping, and head toward the exit. It’s started snowing. I lean back against the wall and stare at the street in front of me, wondering what the hell happened to that girl.

Fifteen minutes later, the doc comes out and stands next to me.

“So?” I ask.

He doesn’t say anything at first, just peers into the night.

“Doc?”

“They didn’t ‘try’ to rape her,” he says finally. “They demolished her, Pavel.”

My head snaps to the side. “Explain.”

“Someone tore into her; there is definitely evidence of forced trauma. Looks likes this may not have been the first time, either. She has older scar tissue. I took samples for STD tests and did a pregnancy test.” He sighs and removes his glasses. “I’ve treated her the best I can, but she will need painkillers. I’ll check if I have something nonaddictive she can take that won’t react with the meds I gave her to reverse the overdose. She also has bruises, but they seem several days old. There is only one needle mark on her forearm, and it’s fresh. They probably injected her with whatever she overdosed with.”

“Send me the test results as soon as you get them,” I say through gritted teeth.

“You’re really taking her to your place?”

“Yes.” I head back inside.

“Pavel,” the doc calls after me. “I don’t know what her mental state will be when she wakes up. Don’t ask her what happened, just get her to her family. And tell them she’ll need psychological help.”

“Okay.” I nod.

 

* * *

 

I sit down in the recliner and watch the sleeping girl curled up in the middle of my bed. At first, I thought about placing her in one of the other two bedrooms but decided against it. Better to be close in case her state worsens.

She seems better. Her breathing sounds normal, and the shaking stopped completely. I tilt my head, watching her small frame under the thick duvet. She’s still naked under the covers. I didn’t want to risk maneuvering her arms and legs to get her into one of my pajamas. What if she woke up and thought I was trying to hurt her?

I grip the sides of the recliner and draw a deep breath. What kind of sick bastard would abuse a woman in such a way? Especially someone so tiny. I close my eyes and try to subdue the urge to run to my car, drive back to where I found her, and search for the motherfucker who hurt her. I can’t risk leaving her alone, though. What if she has another seizure? But I will find the man who dared beat and rape her, or whatever other torture the sick fuck subjected her to. And I will make him pay. My hold on the armrests intensifies, and the faint sound of wood squeaking follows. The sleeping girl stirs, and I release the recliner, not wanting to wake her.

I don’t know what came over me and made me decide to bring her to my place. I could have easily left her at a hospital and told them to send me the bill for the services. It doesn’t make sense, but I couldn’t make myself leave her somewhere. It’s been years since I felt any kind of connection with a person, even those closest to me. But seeing this girl, so hurt and unprotected, stirred something deep inside my soul. The need to shield her from anything that may try to hurt her again came viscerally, but with it, I also had the urge to destroy. It’s strange to have this hunger for violence rising inside of me again after so many years.

The girl rolls to her other side, and one of her legs slips out from under the duvet. I get up and tuck it back under the covers.

She seems fine for the moment, sound asleep, so I decide to take a quick shower. Inside the walk-in closet on the other side of the room, I use the flashlight on my phone to find a pair of black pajama bottoms and boxer briefs. I’m already at the bathroom door when a thought surfaces, and I return to the closet to grab a T-shirt, as well. When I’m home, I usually wear just pajama bottoms, but the girl could get scared if she sees all the ink on my torso. She will probably be scared when she wakes up in a strange place, and there is no need to distress her more than necessary.

I turn the water to cold in the shower, hoping it’ll help me shake off the persistent urge to kill someone. It doesn’t help much. Pressing my palms to the tiled wall, I lift my chin and let the cold spray hit me right in the face. As the freezing water runs down my body, I dig inside my brain, pulling out the memory of one of my last fights. The most violent one, since I need some way to deal with this urge to destroy someone. My opponent snuck a knife inside the ring and managed to slice my side twice before I overpowered him. I made sure he knew what I thought about his actions by breaking his back and burying his own blade to the hilt at the base of his skull. Violence isn’t something I enjoy, but when I find myself in a beast’s den, I inevitably become the very beast I’m fighting. It’s nothing more than survival. Reliving that scene helps feed my thirst for destruction. Somewhat, at least.

I take no more than five minutes in the bathroom, so I expect the girl to still be sleeping soundly. Instead, she is tossing and turning in the bed, her body shaking. I rush over and press my palm to her forehead, finding it hot. She is mumbling something I can’t decipher because her teeth are chattering too much. I bend my head trying to catch what she’s saying.

“Cold . . .” her small voice whimpers. “So, so cold.”

I grab the blanket folded at the foot of the bed, throw it over her, then take my phone from the nightstand.

“Doc,” I say the moment he picks up, “the girl has a fever and is shaking like a leaf, saying she’s cold.”

“Withdrawal,” he says. “It’s a normal reaction.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. Her body needs to go through that. She’ll be better in a couple of hours. But it may happen again over the next few days. Make sure you tell the family that tomorrow.”

“Okay. Anything else?”

“She will probably feel sick tomorrow, but she needs to drink liquids. Try giving her water the moment she wakes up,” he says. “Oh, and Pavel, I probably don’t have to tell you this, but it would be best if you don’t touch her or get into her personal space. If she freaks out in the morning, give me a call and I’ll go get Varya. She can stay with the girl until her family comes to pick her up.”

“Thanks.”

I lower the phone and observe the girl again. She is still shaking, but I don’t think I should cover her with anything else. She’ll get too hot. There’s the mumbling again, but she’s turned with her back to me so it’s hard to hear. I put my knee on the bed and lean closer, trying to understand. She’s crying. The whimpers are very low, broken, and that sound is so fucking heartbreaking.

The doc said I shouldn’t try to touch her, but she’s delirious now and probably doesn’t know what’s happening around her. I can’t bear the idea of doing nothing any longer. I reach out and place my palm on her back, over the blanket, and brush it lightly. She doesn’t pull away, so I sprawl down onto the bed behind her, making sure my body doesn’t touch hers, and continue stroking her back. After some time, the crying stops. I pull my hand off, intending to get up when the girl suddenly turns around and buries her face into my chest. I lie there, not moving, not daring to touch her, but also unable to move away. Her hot breath fans my chest as she lies with her hands squeezed into fists and tucked between our bodies. She’s still shaking.

A barely audible whisper reaches my ears. “More.”

I look down at her, having no idea what she meant by that.

“Please.”

The way she says it guts me. It’s like a call for help from a drowning person. Slowly, I place my palm where I think the small of her back may be. I can’t really tell with her bundled under the covers. I move my hand across her back, up then down. The girl sighs, snuggles closer, and buries her nose in the crook of my neck.

It must be dawn already, but I’m not certain because I pulled the heavy drapes over the windows. I should get some sleep. I have a meeting with the pakhan this afternoon, after which I’ll be stuck at the club until at least three in the morning. Instead of doing what I’m sure the doc would advise—going to another room—I stay where I am, with a girl whose name I don’t even know, and stroke her back until her breathing evens out and she falls asleep again.

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