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Hidden Truths: Chapter 14

Angelina

Words whispered in Russian. A movement next to me. More words, faster and slightly louder. I open my eyes, still a bit groggy as sleep refuses to release its hold, and it takes me a few seconds to register where I am. The morning light bathes the room in a soft glow, and the only thing I hear is Sergei’s mumbling. I turn around and find him lying on his back next to me, jaw set in a hard line and eyes closed tight. I sit up in the bed and press my palm lightly to his cheek.
“Sergei?”
His eyes snap open at the same time as his hand shoots up and wraps around my throat. I gasp, grab his wrist with both hands, and pull, but it doesn’t get me anywhere.
“Dasha!” Sergei sneers, his face an image of hatred.
There’s no time to think about who Dasha is, because even in scarce light, I can see that his eyes are vacant. I suck in my breath and will my body to stay still. He’s not hurting me, but I’d be lying if I said that having his huge hand wrapped around my neck wasn’t slightly alarming.
“Sergei, it’s me. It’s Angelina,” I say in a calm voice.
I let go of his wrist, place my palm on his cheek again, and very slowly start moving my hand to the center of his face.
“Sergei. Please come back, big guy.” I trail a finger down his nose. “I’m fascinated with your nose, you know that?”
He blinks.
“That’s good,” I say, and glide the tip of my finger down his nose again. “Come back, Sergei.”
“Lisichka?” he whispers.
“Yup. Your bed hijacker.”
I watch as he takes a deep breath, moves his gaze to the hand that’s still holding on to my neck, and tenses.
“Jesus fuck.” He lets go of my neck like he’s been burned and jumps up off the bed. He staggers backward until he hits the wall, then lowers himself onto the floor, staring at me the whole time.
“I fell asleep.” The way he says it, it sounds like it’s the most atrocious thing he could have done. “I can’t believe I let myself fall asleep next to you.”
“Sergei . . .”
“I could have killed you.” He buries his hands in his hair, closes his eyes, and bangs the back of his head against the wall. “I’m so sorry, baby.”
I wrap the blanket around me, leave the bed, and come to kneel on the floor in front of him.
“Don’t!” I cup his face with my hands. “It’s my fault. Felix warned me not to touch you when you’re asleep. I forgot.”
“It’s not your fault that I’m fucked up,” he says. “I’m taking you to a hotel today. You’re not safe with me around.”
“I’m not going to a hotel.”
“Okay. Then, I’ll go.”
I press my lips together. “You’re not going anywhere, either.”
“Angelina—”
“No. We’re both staying here. And we will find a way to work around this.”
His head snaps up and he stares at me with his eyes wide. “Are you crazy? I almost choked you to death, for God’s sake.”
“You were just holding me away from you. Next time, I’ll wait until you’re awake before touching you.”
“There won’t be a next time, Angelina. I’m not making the same mistake and endangering you ever again.”
“I woke you up in the middle of a nightmare, Sergei. You thought I was a threat. And still, you didn’t hurt me.”
“I could have.” He shakes his head. “You need to stay away from me.”
I lean forward until my nose touches his. “Not happening. Let’s get back to bed.”
“No. I’m going to the other room. There’s no way I’ll be able to sleep after what happened, but just in case.”
“Okay.” I nod. “I’m taking the pillow and coming with you. And just so you know, I hate sleeping on the floor. I went camping once when I was in third grade. One of the worst experiences of my life, and that’s a very competitive list.”
“You are not sleeping on the floor, Angelina.”
“The bed it is, then. I’m glad we agree on that.” I take his hand and get up. “Come. Please.”
He lets me pull him up, and reluctantly follows across the room. Climbing into bed, I scoot over to make room for him and pat the pillow next to my head. Sergei watches me, his face grim, then sits on the bed with his back to me and hangs his head, staring at the floor between his feet. It’s obvious he isn’t planning to lie down. I shift to sit behind him with my legs on either side of his hips, wrapping my arms around his chest. Resting my left palm just over his heart, I put my cheek on his back.
Sergei takes a deep breath and covers my hand with his. “I’m fucked up, Angelina. Seriously fucked up.”
“That’s okay. I like you just the way you are.” I close my eyes and nuzzle his back with my nose. “Who’s Dasha?”
His body goes still, but the heartbeat under my palm picks up. For a long time, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move a muscle, and I’m certain my question will stay unanswered.
But then, he starts talking. “Dasha was my wife,” he whispers, and my eyes snap open.
“We met by accident,” he continues, “or that’s what I believed at the time. Six years ago. She was a few years older than me, a waitress in a coffee shop I frequented. Shy. Slightly unsure of herself. She was Russian. Here on a work visa, trying to get her papers.” He scoffs. “I was young. Stupid. I believed the farce. And, I liked her. Felix checked her background, of course. It seemed solid. When I told him I was going to marry her so she could get her green card, he went ballistic. At least at first, but then he said it might be good for me to have someone. I wasn’t in a good place then.”
“So, you married her?”
“Yes. She moved in with me. It was nice for the first few months.” He squeezes my fingers. “Then, she started asking me about work. Small things, at first. Where I’ve been. What did I do exactly. I told her that I worked for the government, and I couldn’t share any work-related information. She started pressing more and more, and got frustrated when I didn’t say anything.”
He takes a deep breath. “One night, I came home from a long mission. I was tired and sleep deprived. We were together for six months at that time, but I’d stopped sleeping in our bed two weeks earlier, and I planned on asking her to move out. I crashed on the sofa. Something woke me up later. It wasn’t a noise or anything like that. Dasha was too well trained to let herself get noticed. Maybe it was an instinct. One second, I was deep asleep, and the next, my eyes snapped open to find her looming over me with one of my knives at my throat.”
He raises his hand and places it on the right side of his neck, over the horizontal scar I noticed while we were showering.
“I hesitated only for a moment, enough for her to start slicing my skin, but then my training kicked in. I grabbed her and snapped her neck.” He shakes his head. “The next morning, Felix pulled some strings and managed to run her prints through the international database. She was an operative for the Russian government. We found a secret email account on her phone where she was receiving her orders. The last communication thread showed her reporting that I wouldn’t talk, and asking for permission to pull out. The reply said to kill me so I don’t blow her cover.”
Dear God. “Did you love her?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” He looks up toward the door. He hasn’t looked at me even once since he started telling me about his wife. “Do you understand what could have happened earlier?”
I kiss his back. “Yes.”
“Good.”
He nods and starts getting up, but I squeeze my arms and wrap my legs around him. “It doesn’t mean that you’re going to the other room.”
“Baby . . .”
“You are”—I kiss his left shoulder—“staying here”—another kiss on his arm—“with me.”
I let my hands travel upward, hooking him under the arms, then shift my entire weight to the side. He leans with me until we’re both lying on the bed.
“Your demons don’t scare me,” I whisper in his ear. “You forget, I was raised in a hyena’s den, Sergei. I might be cultured. My father made sure I got the best education, but I still spent most of my life surrounded by men who were either bad or crazy.”
I take his hand and place his palm on the side of my thigh, over the scar he once asked me about. “I didn’t fall off a tree. I was kidnapped when I was seven. A bullet caught me when my father’s man was carrying me out of a shed where my kidnapper kept me for ransom.”
He sucks in a breath, and I place a kiss on his nape. Then, I lift my right hand, spreading my fingers in front of his face to show him the long faded scar across my palm. “One of the men at the compound tried raping me when I was thirteen. I cut my hand as I was trying to take his knife from him.”
“Did he?” Sergei asks, his voice barely audible. “Did he rape you?”
“Nope. He was too drunk. I took his gun, which he left on the nightstand, and shot him in his filthy penis. He screamed like a pig being slaughtered.”
Sergei turns around so he’s facing me, and buries his hand in my hair, amazement evident in his eyes. “You know how to shoot a gun?”
I chuckle. “Everybody at the compound knows how to use a gun.”
“Aren’t you full of surprises, Miss Sandoval?”
“It’s survival, I guess.” I shrug. “Even my nana knows how to shoot.”
I smile, but it’s sad. It hurts to think about her, to wonder if she’s still alive. “Can you remind your pakhan about his promise?”
“What promise?”
“He said he’ll try to get some info about her. I’m not sure if Diego hurt her when he found out she helped me escape.”
“I will, baby.” He leans forward and places a kiss on my forehead. “Go back to sleep.”
“You’ll stay?”
I feel his chest rising under my palm as he takes a deep breath. “I’ll stay.”
Smiling, I bury my face into his neck and, inhaling his wild, familiar, comforting scent, I close my eyes and revel in the feel of his arms enveloping me, and his breath in my hair. He’s scared that he might unintentionally hurt me, but the fact is, I don’t remember the last time I felt as protected as I do in Sergei’s embrace.
“Don’t you dare leave this bed,” I mumble and let myself drift off to sleep.

Sergei

I wait until Angelina falls asleep, then get up, head to my closet to put on some clothes, and rummage through the drawers until I find my stash of cigarettes. Taking the half-full pack and collecting my phone on the way, I leave the room and whistle for Mimi, who rushes up the stairs a couple of seconds later. I point to the bedroom door and give her the order to guard, then descend the stairs and go outside. I fish out the ashtray hidden under the first step, take a seat on the porch, and call Roman.
“How’s the kid?” I ask.
“Christ, Sergei!” he whispers-yells into the phone. “It’s five in the morning.”
There are some rustling sounds, probably him heading into another room, then a door closing. “He’ll be okay. Olga and Valentina have been busy being his nursemaids the whole night.”
“Do they know he’s slept with both of them?”
“Well, based on the scene I walked into when I went to check up on him earlier, they most certainly do. I found him sprawled out in bed, with Valentina on his right and Olga on his left. The three of them snuggled together.”
“Nice.”
“You know, sometimes I wonder if there’s anyone who isn’t crazy under this roof.” He huffs. “How are you?”
“I’m okay.” I light up a cigarette and take a big inhale. “What are we going to do about the Irish?”
“I had Yuri and Dimitri burn down that bar of theirs. And, I sent a message to Patrick, since I assume he’s the one who will take over now.”
“Oh? What was the message?”
“They have two days to leave Chicago. Everyone who stays will end up dead.”
“You think he’ll do it?”
“Fitzgerald is a coward. They will leave.”
“Good.” I lean my back against the railing and take another drag. “Roman?”
“Yes?”
“Thank you,” I say. “For putting up with me.”
There are a few moments of silence from the other side before he answers. “You don’t have to thank me for anything, Sergei. You’re good at what you do for the Bratva.”
“Yeah. When I don’t blow up stuff or kill people I shouldn’t.” I snort.
“Well, there is that.” He yawns. “Varya always puts too much salt in the soup. Kostya crashes cars every month. I guess nobody’s perfect.”
I burst out laughing. Leave it to Roman to pull a parallel between my case and Varya’s cooking. “Phone me tomorrow to let me know how it went with the Irish.”
I cut the call and drop my head back on the post behind me, closing my eyes. I hoped calling Roman would distract me from what happened with Angelina earlier. It didn’t. And I have no idea what to do with her. Even though I know it would be for the best, the mere thought of sending her away makes me want to go on a rampage.
“Sergei?”
I open my eyes and find Angelina standing at the front door, wrapped in a blanket, and watching me with concern. Her feet are bare, her hair is tangled and sticking out in all directions, and she has sleep creases on her left cheek. Mimi is six feet behind her, but when she notices me, she barks and turns away, probably heading to the living room to sleep.
“You’ll catch a cold,” I say.
Angelina shrugs, covers the distance that separates us in a few quick steps, and sits down between my legs, leaning back on my chest.
“That’s an awful habit.” She nods toward my hand holding a cigarette.
“Does it bother you?”
“Nope. I’m just saying.”
I extinguish the cigarette and move the ashtray away.
“Is everything okay?” she asks.
“Yeah.” I wrap my arms around her and bury my nose in her hair, inhaling her flowery scent. “You?”
“I miss my dad,” she whispers, looking at the dawn sky. “It’s strange. We never spent much time together, especially in the last couple of years. I only went to Mexico during summer vacation, and it was usually only for a week or two. I tried to stay away from that madness as much as possible. Still, I miss him.”
“You weren’t close?”
“I wouldn’t say we weren’t close.” She shrugs. “We didn’t see each other often, but he called every Sunday evening like clockwork. He was very proud of me for going to college. No one in my family had higher education.”
“Was it your dad who insisted you move to the US?”
“Yes. His main goal was to get me away from the cartel, and he didn’t want me coming back to Mexico every summer, but I needed to see him and my nana at least once a year. They were my only family.”
I move my head to the side of her neck and nuzzle her with my nose, loving the way she tilts up to give me more access. “And your mom?”
“She died when I was little. Cancer. I don’t even remember her. It was always just my dad and Nana Guadalupe.”
“We’ll get her out,” I say and squeeze my arm around her waist. “I promise.”
Angelina exhales and leans her head back on my shoulder. I don’t think she believes me, but I vow to myself I’ll get her nana here, no matter the consequences.
“Sergei?” she whispers. “Where do you go when you zone out?”
I go still for a moment, caught unprepared by her question, then put my chin on her shoulder and stare at the horizon. “I’m not sure how to explain,” I say. “It’s like I’m here, but only partially. I can hear and see what’s happening around me, but I can’t control my actions. You should stay away from me when I’m in that state. I don’t want to hurt you, even unintentionally.”
Angelina turns to look at me, her eyes finding mine and holding my gaze as she places her hand on the side of my face. “I don’t think you could ever hurt me, Sergei. Intentionally or not.” She tilts her head up until her lips press softly against mine. “I’m not afraid of you, big guy.”
“You should be, Angelina,” I say into her mouth. “You never saw me lose it completely, baby. If you did, you would have run away and never looked back.”
“Is that what other people do when you lose it? Run away?”
“If they’re clever, yes.”
Angelina smiles and places the tip of her finger on my nose, tracing the line down the ridge until she reaches my mouth. “Well, I don’t plan on running, Sergei. In fact, I plan on coming even closer and holding you until you come back from wherever you go.” Her mouth finds mine, and as her lips explore, I forget about the blood and the killings for a moment. The rage I’ve lived with constantly for so long recedes.

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