I sit on a chair in the middle of the room as two girls fuss with my hair and look down at the white silk dress I’m wearing. Knowing it was Diego who chose it, it’s not that bad. I expected a small piece of material that would barely cover my ass and breasts, but the dress is rather modest, with a high neckline and a skirt that flares from the waist. It’s sleeveless, so I had to cover the cut on my upper arm with foundation. I strapped the gun Nana got me around my right thigh with the elastic band that I extracted from the waistline of my sweatpants. It’s not the best solution, but it works. Thank God the skirt is wide, so the gun is well concealed under the heavy silk material. If Diego had chosen something short or tight, it would have been impossible to hide it from view.
The door behind me opens and Maria walks inside wearing a short red dress with sequins. There’s a fake smile plastered all over her face, and her eyes are watching me with malice.
“You will be late. Diego won’t be pleased,” she says.
I still can’t understand how she can let that pig fuck her every night. Just looking at him makes me want to puke.
“From what I hear, he’s in a good mood,” I comment.
The drinking and singing started hours ago. I can hear the laughter and yelling from here, even though my room is on the opposite side of the house.
“You should add more makeup over the bruises, Angelina. The bluish hue is still noticeable.”
“You, too,” I say and watch her turn toward the mirror, inspecting her face. So, he hits her, as well. Looks like I’m not that special after all. “Leave. I’m coming down in a minute.”
After Maria leaves, I send away the makeup girls. When I’m finally alone, I sit down on the bed and close my eyes, letting my mind drift to that last evening with Sergei. I can’t believe he let me rub the rose oil all over him. He still smelled faintly floral when he went to the meeting the following morning. My lips widen in a smile at the recollection, but a single tear slides down my cheek. God, I miss him so much. I wish we had more time together.
Another round of rowdy laughter reaches me, bringing me back to reality. Reaching up with my hand, I brush away the stray tear, then place my hand on my thigh to feel the gun hidden under the silky material. Time to go. I get up and leave the room.
* * *
“Palomita!” Diego roars from his spot at the head of the table that has been set up the garden. “Come here.”
I squeeze my hands into fists and walk across the wide patch of grass until I reach the cobbled patio where everyone has gathered. There are around forty people, mostly men. Some of them I know because they were my father’s associates and business partners who came to our house quite often. Based on the way they avoid looking at me, they probably know I’m not here voluntarily, but none of them will stand up for me. Business always comes first—morals be damned. The rest watch me pass, spewing dirty jokes, laughing like pigs, and congratulating Diego on his choice.
As I near the head of the table, I notice the priest sitting on Diego’s left, and, for a fleeting second, hope rises in me. I know him. My father regularly donated money for homeless kids his church takes care of. However, when he looks up at me, there’s a look of terror in his eyes, as well as a warning as he cuts a sideways glance at Diego. Hope fades as realization sets in. Father Pedro has been threatened, too. I wonder if my disgusting soon-to-be husband will force the priest to stay and watch when he tries to rape me in front of everyone.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Diego asks as he grabs my wrist and pulls me down onto the chair.
I feel his meaty hand reach for my leg, just above my knee, and go utterly still. If he moves his palm just a few inches up my thigh, he’ll feel the gun I have strapped there.
“Not as plump as I like them, but she’ll do.” Diego laughs, and I exhale when he removes his hand to reach for a wineglass.
He’s already wasted, as is everyone else around the table. The priest will probably have to marry us while we’re seated, because I doubt Diego will be able to stand. I look over at the house and see Nana Guadalupe standing there with her right hand hidden inside her knitted cardigan. She’s staring at me, but then her eyes shift to Diego. Why is she wearing that thing? It’s scorching hot, and I’m already melting in my dress. She looks back at me, then down at the watch on her left wrist, and smiles before heading in our direction. I watch her through narrowed eyes as she walks around the table and stands behind my chair.
“Stay down,” she whispers into my ear, grabs the back of my chair, and pushes it sideways with me still on it. As I topple over, a whooshing sound pierces the air.
I land on my shoulder and yelp, but my cry gets lost in the epic boom that reverberates somewhere near the guard gate. There are a few moments of utter silence, and then three more explosions—one after the other. People start yelling, jumping from their chairs, and reaching for their weapons. I roll until I am under the table and look up to see Nana Guadalupe crouching next to me, clutching a gun in her hand. She’s still smiling.
“What’s going on?” I yell as I pull my skirt up and take out my weapon, but I don’t think she hears me because the explosions continue all around us, each less than a few seconds apart. It sounds like the end of the damn world. I peek around the tablecloth to check out what’s going on just in time to see the auxiliary building where we store vehicles collapse. The guests and security guards run across the lawn with their weapons raised, all looking confused, and I notice one of the men fall to the ground. For a moment, I think he must have tripped, but then my eyes find a big red dot in the center of his forehead.
In the brief interlude between explosions, I hear another whooshing sound, and see another man drop.
“It’s a sniper!” someone shouts, and people start running for cover.
Two security guards turn toward the house only to end up on the ground soon after. The guests run in a wild stampede to their parked vehicles, and one by one, the cars race toward the open gate that’s now hanging off its supports, destroyed in one of the explosions. Most of the people remaining behind are Diego’s soldiers and security.
A hand grabs the edge of the tablecloth in front of me, and the head of one of the guards appears under the table. He grabs me by the hair, dragging me out, just as Nana Guadalupe presses her gun to his temple and fires. Blood and brain matter explode all over my dress, but I don’t have the time to dwell on it because another set of hands seize my ankle and tugs me back. I grab onto the table’s leg and turn to see Diego’s furious face.
“Come here, bitch!” he snarls, pulling on my leg.
I aim the gun at his chest and let the bullet fly, but it hits his shoulder, which only enrages him more. He yanks on my leg again, and the gun slips from my hand.
My heart skips and my breathing stops. Cold sweat breaks across my forehead. My eyes go wide as Diego levels his gun on me.
Suddenly, a huge mass of something black smashes into Diego’s side and the bullet meant for me explodes into the overturned chair, missing me by inches, but raining debris all around. I gape at the beast that holds Diego’s neck in her jaws, listening to the strange gurgling sounds coming from the throat of the soon-to-be-dead man.
The dog turns its head toward me without letting go of its prey, shakes her head, and Diego’s bones break with a crunching sound. A long whistle reaches my ears, and Mimi’s head immediately snaps to the side. She lets out a low growl and dashes after a soldier who’s running away. I watch with wide eyes as she jumps on his back, throwing him to the ground. Blood sprays everywhere as Mimi sinks her canines into the back of the man’s neck.
The whooshing sound keeps piercing the air every couple of seconds. Another explosion booms, followed by one more, and the left side of the house where the kitchen used to be collapses, a cloud of dust envelops everything around.
The cocking of a gun sounds behind me, and I turn to see Nana Guadalupe aiming at another soldier. She fires but misses. The man begins to raise his firearm but stills in mid-motion and falls to his knees, revealing a black-clad figure standing several yards away, holding a gun. I blink, then stare, taking in his tactical pants and the assortment of weapons strapped around his legs. I let my eyes travel up over the bulletproof vest and black shirt to lock on his face, camouflaged with military paint. I can’t see his features clearly, but I’d recognize his pale hair anywhere.
“Sergei,” I whisper, and tears streak down my face. He came for me.
“Your Russian is even more handsome all geared up,” Nana Guadalupe mumbles next to me.
“What?” I ask, not moving my eyes off Sergei as he runs toward a parked car where two more soldiers are hiding.
“Last night, when I was taking dinner to Diego’s soldiers in the barracks, he jumped out of the bushes. I almost had a heart attack.”
“You knew what he was planning? Why didn’t you say anything?”
Sergei stops, shoots one of the soldiers, then continues running while jumping over dead bodies on the ground.
“He said it was a surprise.” She chuckles. “I think it’s romantic.”
“Romantic?” I take in the crumbling walls of my childhood home, then scan the lawn covered with blood and dead bodies, halting at the two outer buildings just off to the side. Or . . . what was left of them.
A loud bark reaches me, and I snap my head back to Sergei, who has almost reached the car where Mimi is attacking the remaining soldier. There’s another man ducked behind the pile of debris, thirty or so feet from Sergei. He’s clutching a rifle in his hand, and as I watch, he raises the weapon. I grab my gun from the ground, aim, and send all the bullets I have left at the soldier. Two hit him in the chest, and he topples over. Nana, too, cocks her gun and fires three more bullets that way.
“Just in case,” she comments.
When I look back at Sergei, he’s standing over the body of the last soldier, blood dripping from a long knife in his hand, talking into his headpiece. He throws a look at the man Nana and I just shot, then turns toward us and raises his thumb. Yeah, he might be a little whacky, but I love him anyway.
The rumble of an engine nears, and a couple of seconds later, a car stops on the driveway, and Felix’s head pokes out of the window.
“Let’s go!” he shouts.
I take Nana’s hand in mine, and we run to the car.
Angelina pushes her nana onto the passenger seat, but I can’t make a move to join them yet. There could still be someone around, and I plan on eliminating them before they even think about becoming a threat to my girl. I’m not sure how many of Diego’s men I killed in the last twenty minutes. Somewhere between thirty and forty based on the rough count.
I wasn’t thinking too clearly, and don’t even recall how I ended half of them. I was scared shitless that someone may hurt Angelina if I wasn’t fast enough. It was adrenaline, instinct, and muscle memory, but I’m fairly certain I got all of the hostiles. Mimi took care of a few. And I think Angelina’s nana offed at least three. It sucks that I didn’t get the opportunity to kill Diego myself, but having his throat torn out must have been an extremely unpleasant way to die. That fact makes me really happy.
Angelina shuts the door after Guadalupe, but instead of getting inside the car, she turns to face me and just stares at me with her hand covering her mouth. Her fancy dress is torn up in a few places, and blood has been splattered over most of it, but it’s nothing compared to what I probably look like. I should have let Guadalupe tell her about my plan and keep Angelina inside. It’s possible she’s even more scared of me now. Quickly, I hide my hand that’s still holding the knife I used to kill the last man behind my back. I don’t dare approach her because I don’t think I could stomach it if she flinches away from me. If there is one thing I can’t bear, it’s Angelina being afraid of me. When she lowers her hand I see she’s crying, and something inside of me falls to pieces.
I step back.
Felix can take them to a safe place and come back for me later. I won’t make her endure my presence or distress her any more than necessary. Maybe I should go around and check if any of the motherfuckers are still alive and correct that mishap. Yes, I’ll do that. I will my eyes away from Angelina and head to the nearest body when I hear her call my name. I turn around, and my eyes widen as she bolts toward me on bare feet, clutching the skirt of her ruined dress in her hands.
“Sergei!” she calls again, jumps over a dead soldier, and leaps into my arms. “You came for me.”
“Of course, I came for you,” I say and kiss her like my life depends on it. “I will always come for you, baby.”
Angelina squeezes her arms around my neck and her legs tighten around my waist. “You owe me a house.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I got a little carried away.”
“A little?” She snorts and buries her face in the crook of my neck. “I thought I would never see you again.”
“Why didn’t you say anything? I would have taken care of Diego for you, baby.”
“He told me he would kill you if I didn’t come back.” She presses her palms on my cheeks and looks into my eyes. “I could never risk your life. I don’t think I would ever forgive myself if something happened to you because of me.”
“Well, I’m sure no one would miss me and my shit.”
“Do not say that!” She squeezes my face. “Don’t you dare say that ever again! Felix would miss you. Mimi. Your brother.”
“Oh, Roman probably would throw a party.”
“That’s not true, and you know it.” She leans forward, pressing her lips to mine, then pulls back to look me in the eyes. “I would miss you.”
My body goes stone-still. “Why?”
“Because I’m in love with you,” she whispers and kisses me again.
When she pulls back, I search her face. “I thought you were scared of me. You said so in the note you left.”
“I’ve never been scared of you, Sergei. What I feared was that you might come after me and end up dead. I’m so sorry for hurting you, baby.”
“So . . . you’re coming back? With me?”
“If you have nothing against that plan, yes.”
I look down into her eyes and crush her to me. “Marry me,” I blurt out.
Angelina blinks, glances around us where at least twenty bodies are scattered, then stares back at me. “You really know how to pick the time and place, big guy.”
“Will you marry me?”
I think my heart stops beating while I watch her with eyes glued to her lips, waiting for her answer.
“Of course, I will.” She grins and kisses me.
Suddenly, a loud honk comes from the direction of the driveway and Angelina tenses in my arms. Grinding my teeth, I look at the car where Felix keeps pressing on the horn.
“I’m going to kill him,” I bite out. The old bat just ruined my marriage proposal.
“Will you two lovesick idiots come here already so we can leave?” Felix yells with his head out the window.
“You’re dead, Albert!” I say as I carry Angelina to the car.
“We’ll all be dead if we don’t leave right now! I’m sure that half of Mexico’s police force and firemen are on their way here. Along with a seismic team, because you decided to rearrange the fucking continent with your explosions!”
“Just shut the fuck up and drive.”
I open the back door and whistle for Mimi to get inside, then sit in the rear, still holding Angelina in my arms. The moment Felix starts the car, I press my face into her hair and inhale her scent.
“I thought I was going to lose my mind when you left,” I mumble next to her ear.
“I’m so sorry. I promise I’m going to make up for it as soon as we get home.”
“Yeah, about that . . . we’ll be staying in a hotel for a week or two,” I say and lightly bite the side of her neck.
“In a hotel?”
“The house is being redecorated.”
“Sergei smashed everything that wasn’t attached to a wall when you left, that’s why,” Felix throws over his shoulder.
“Will you shut up already?” I snap. “She may change her mind and run away if you keep babbling on about how deranged I am.”
Angelina’s hand cups my cheek and turns my head toward her. “What did I tell you? You will stop saying stuff like that. Okay?” She leans in and kisses me. “There’s nothing wrong with you, baby.”
I squeeze her to me and bury my nose in her hair again, and for the first time in years, I feel like I might be okay.