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Hidden Truths: Chapter 3

Angelina

Something wet lands on the back of my hand and rolls down between my thumb and forefinger. Panting. Hot breath blows into my face. I open my eyes, blink, and instantly go stone-still. I try to control the rising panic as I stare past a long snout into two dark eyes that watch me with interest. As slowly as possible, I sit up and crawl to the far side of the bed until my back hits the wall, keeping the beast in my sight. I have no issues where dogs are concerned, but the thing looking at me is closer in size to a small pony than to an ordinary dog.
The animal cocks its head, then lays down on the floor and closes its eyes. A few moments later, a sound of deep snoring reaches me. I exhale and look around at my surroundings.
I’m in someone’s massive bedroom. In addition to the bed, there’s a big wooden armoire, and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with two recliners and a standing lamp before it. A leather jacket and motorcycle helmet rest casually on one of the recliners. The room has two doors, probably a bathroom and the exit. And there’s a strange fixture—a thick wooden board with a white stripe painted horizontally. I blink several times and focus on the door next to the weird decoration. I have to get out of here.
I am pretty sure I somehow ended up with one of the Russian Bratva’s soldiers. No one else would have intercepted the drug shipment. Saying that my father wasn’t on the best of terms with the Russians would be an understatement. If anyone here finds out who I am, and that Diego is looking for me, they will probably hand me over to that bastard.
I need to leave. Now.
However, before I can try getting out of here, I need to go to the bathroom, because my bladder feels like it’s going to burst at any second. I scoot toward the edge of the bed, as far as possible from the sleeping Cerberus on the floor. The moment my feet touch the ground, the dog’s head snaps up. I wait for it to attack, but it just keeps watching me from its spot at the side of the bed. Slowly, I stand up, and my vision blurs. When the dizziness passes, I carefully head toward the door on the right, supporting myself on the armoire. My legs are shaking, and the room seems to tilt before me, but I somehow manage to get to the door and grab the handle.
The dog issues a low grumble, not quite a growl, but a warning for sure. I look over my shoulder, and it points its snout to the other door. I inch along the wall to the other door and reach for the doorknob, keeping an eye on the dog. It lays its head down as soon as my hand touches the handle. Strange. I open the door, and sure enough, it’s the bathroom.
After emptying my screaming bladder, I approach the sink and stare at my reflection. The first thing I notice is that I’m clean. There are no dirt splotches on my skin, and my hair looks washed. Someone bathed me. They also put clothes on me. I vaguely noticed it as soon as I woke up, but I didn’t pay attention to what I was wearing then. It’s female clothes, pink shorts and a white T-shirt with a cartoon character on the front. The shorts fit, but the shirt is a little tight over my breasts. Looks like the only fat left in my body is in my boobs.
I splash some water over my face, drink a bit directly from the tap, and start opening the cabinets. I’d kill for a toothbrush because my mouth feels like sandpaper. It must be my lucky day. I find a box with two unused ones under the sink. When I’m done brushing my teeth, I leave the bathroom and head to the other door, but the moment I take a second step in that direction, I hear deep growling. I stop, and the growling ceases. Great. I should have expected that. But now what?
There are a few paces to the exit, but only half that between me and the dog. I wait a couple more minutes, rooted to the spot, then take another step, faster this time. The beast barks and lunges toward me. I cover my face with my hands and scream.
There is a sound of running, and the door opens. I don’t dare remove my hands from my face, still expecting the dog to attack.
“Mimi!” a deep voice from somewhere in front of me commands. “Idi syuda.”
Mimi? Who in their right mind would name that thing Mimi? I separate my fingers and squint through them to take a glimpse at the owner of the booming voice. When I do, I immediately stumble several steps backward.
I’m not easily intimidated by men. Growing up in a drug cartel compound, I had hard-looking men around me since I was a little girl. But this . . . this man would intimidate anyone.
The guy standing at the door is well over six feet tall and heavily muscled. However, he is not bulky like one would get by pumping weights in the gym and taking supplements. His body must have been honed to perfection over years. Every muscle is perfectly defined and fully on display since he’s only wearing faded jeans. And as far as I can tell, he’s also fully covered in ink. Both of his arms up to his wrists, torso—all the way up to his collarbones, and, based on the black shapes I can see on his shoulders, his tattoos must continue over his back as well.
I let my gaze travel upward to his face, which is set in sharp lines. His hair is pale blond, creating such a strange combination with his inked skin. But the most intriguing feature is his eyes—glacier blue, clear and piercing—that watch me without blinking.
The scary Russian takes a step toward me. I yelp and take two backward.
“It’s okay. I am not going to hurt you,” he says in English and raises his hands in front of himself. “What’s your name?”
How much should I tell him? He doesn’t know who I am, thank God. I’ve been pretty low-key in my father’s business, so it’s not like I expected anyone from the Russian Bratva to recognize me. I need to keep it that way. Shit. I should have thought about this and prepared a story.
¿Cómo te llamas?” he asks again, but I keep my lips shut.
I need some time to think, so I look down at the dog he’s holding by the collar and pretend to focus on it.
Comment tu t’appelles?
French? How many languages does this guy speak? I will have to give him an answer soon. Should I give my real name? It’s not rare and rather universal, better to go with the truth than to forget which name I give him.
I decide on English. “It’s Angelina.” Since I finished high school and attended college in the US, I don’t have an accent. And it’s safer.
The trembling in my legs is getting worse, and I’m slightly lightheaded again, so I put my hand on the wall and close my eyes, hoping I won’t faint. The food Nana gave me—some fruit and a few sandwiches—helped me regain some of my strength, but I ate the last of it yesterday morning.
I feel an arm around my waist and my eyes snap open.
“Back to bed,” the Russian says into my ear, places his other arm under my legs and lifts, carrying me toward the bed.
It feels familiar, his closeness. I don’t remember much of what happened in the last twenty-four hours, but I do remember feeling strong arms taking me out of that truck, and again later. I lean my head on his shoulder, closer to his neck. Déjà vu. I close my eyes, and inhale his scent, something woodsy and fresh. Familiar. I know this smell from last night. I was delirious and unaware of what was happening around me, but I remember falling asleep to this. Is he the one who found me?
We reach the bed, but he doesn’t put me down right away. Instead, he just watches me. His face is only a few inches from mine. He doesn’t seem so scary up close without all that ink in view. In fact, he is rather handsome with those sharp cheekbones and pale eyes. The only imperfect thing on his face is his nose, which is slightly crooked as if it had been broken repeatedly. It’s strange how being pressed to his naked chest like this doesn’t bother me.
“Do you know where you are and how you got here, Angelina?” he asks and lowers me down onto the bed.
His question instantly shakes me out of my daydream. I move my gaze to the dog lying in the middle of the room, snoring. No way am I telling him the truth, but I do need a believable story. One which will convince him that I’m a nobody so he will let me go.
“I was traveling,” I say, not removing my gaze from the dog. “Backpacking. I got kidnapped outside of Mexico City last week.” There. That sounds believable. Most of the girls Diego had in the basement came to him that way.
“Alone?”
“Yes.” I nod.
“And what happened then?”
“They put me into that truck. I don’t know where they were taking me before you found me.”
There is a short silence, then he continues, “You’re in Chicago. Where are you from?”
“Atlanta.”
“Do you have family in Atlanta?”
“Yes.” I nod. “My mom and dad live there.”
“Okay. I’m going to bring you something to eat, and then you can call your parents. Sound good?”
I look up and find him watching me with narrowed eyes.
“Yes, please,” I say.
He turns to leave. Just as I thought, his back is also covered in tattoos. He didn’t give me his name. It shouldn’t matter because I will be gone shortly anyway, but I want to know. “What’s your name?”
“Sergei. Sergei Belov.” He throws the words over his shoulder and is gone in the next moment.
I stare at the door he closed while panic starts building in my stomach. Shiiiit. Of all the people that could have found me . . .
The Russians were already doing business with Mendoza and Rivera—the heads of the other two cartels—when they approached my father last year with an offer to collaborate. The Bratva wanted an in with the Sandoval cartel as well. My father turned them down, and then partnered with the Irish, who are the Russians’ main competitors.
I remember that day very well. I had just returned from the US and was waiting for my father to come back from the meeting with the Russians. He barged into the house, yelling and cursing. I had never seen my father yell so much. When I asked what happened, he said that it was no wonder the Russians get along well with Mendoza because they were all deranged. He didn’t elaborate, but later that day, I heard the guards talking about how the Russian who came to a meeting was batshit crazy. The guy sent all four of my father’s bodyguards to the hospital when they tried to disarm him before letting him speak with my father.
That Russian was Sergei Belov.
I have to get out of here as soon as possible.

Sergei

I take the pot of soup Felix prepared, pour a healthy amount into a bowl, and head toward the fridge, dialing Roman along the way.
“The girl woke up.” I reach for the bottle of juice. Doc said she needs to take in some sugar.
“What did she say?”
“Her name is Angelina. Didn’t offer last name. She was traveling when Diego’s men bagged her and put her on that truck. Says she’s from Atlanta and has family there.”
“Sounds like something Rivera would do.”
“Yeah.” I nod and reach for the glass. “Except it’s all bullshit.”
“You think she’s lying?”
“About everything except her name.”
“Why would she lie?”
“Because her name is Angelina Sofia Sandoval,” I say. “She’s Manny Sandoval’s daughter, Roman.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Nope. I have her photo in my folder on Manny from last year. I didn’t recognize her right away. Her hair is shorter now, and the photo was old, but it’s her.”
A stream of curses comes from the other end of the line. “What the fuck was she doing hidden in the Italians’ shipment? Did she know the truck was going to be delivered to the Albanians?”
“No clue.” I shrug, take the platter with the soup and the juice, and head toward the stairs.
“Let her stay there for now, and don’t let her out of your sight until we find out what’s going on. I need to focus on the Italians now. Mikhail should be here any moment. We’ll handle the cartel princess issue after the situation with Bruno Scardoni blows over.”
“Okay.” I head upstairs. “But you should know one thing. I’m keeping her, Roman.”
“What? You are not keeping her. She’s not a fucking stray you can just claim as yours.”
“Of course, I can.”
“Jesus Christ!” There is a labored sigh on the other side. I can imagine his reaction like he’s here in front of me, pressing the bridge of his nose and shaking his head. “You know, I don’t have the energy to deal with your fucked-up view of reality at this moment. Call me if she says anything.”
“Sure,” I lie. I have no intention of sharing anything Angelina-related with him because I plan on dealing with my little liar myself.

Angelina

I take another spoonful of soup and shoot a look at Sergei. He watched me the whole time I ate the first bowl, which took less than two minutes. Then, he went downstairs and brought more. I’m on the third bowl now, and he still hasn’t said a thing. He just sits in the recliner near the bookshelf and keeps his vulture-like gaze on me.
Could he be onto me? If he is, he probably would have confronted me already, so I guess I’m good.
He said he’ll let me call my parents after I finish with the food, and since they are both dead, I plan to call Regina, a friend from college. I have no clothes, no phone, and no documents. I need money so I can buy the essentials and get myself setup in a motel for a few days. From there, I’ll be able to contact O’Neil to help me with the documents, because without those I can’t access my accounts. I don’t plan on going back to Mexico, but I need to get Nana Guadalupe out of there, too.
I put the platter with the empty bowl on the nightstand, drink the juice, then look up at Sergei. He grabbed some clothes from the armoire before he went to get me more soup and put on a white shirt before returning. It looks good on him, and with his tats covered, he looks less harsh.
“Can I borrow your phone to call my parents now?”
“Of course.” He takes the phone from his pocket and throws it to me.
I catch it, type Regina’s number, and pray to God she answers.
“Yes?”
“Hey, Mom. It’s me,” I say, “Angelina.”
“Mom?” She giggles. “Have you been drinking?”
“I’m good,” I say, ignoring her question. “Yes, the trip was great. I’m in Chicago now.”
“Chicago? You said you were staying home for at least two weeks. What are you doing in Chicago?”
“Yeah, I’m with some friends. Listen, I got robbed. They took my money and my documents. I remembered Aunt Liliana lives here, could you send her some money for me?”
“Aunt? You mean my sister?” A few seconds of silence pass on the other side. “What’s happening? Are you in danger?”
“Perfect. I’ll drop by her place later today. Thanks, Mom. Say hi to Dad.”
I cut the call and throw the phone back to Sergei, who is lying back in the recliner, watching me with a barely visible smirk.
“You got robbed?” He raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I . . . well, I couldn’t tell her I’ve been kidnapped. She would die of worry. I’ll tell her everything when I get home.”
“You seem to be very composed for someone who just went through a traumatic experience. Do you get kidnapped often?”
No, I wouldn’t say often. Only twice so far, but I don’t plan on sharing that detail. Maybe I should have cried, but well, that ship has sailed. “I . . . I’m very good at functioning under pressure.”
He smiles. “Indeed.”
“Listen,” I continue, “I’m really grateful for you guys getting me out of that truck and saving me, but I should be on my merry way. My mom will send me some money, so I’ll compensate you for the food and the clothes. I’ll just leave now. Sounds good?”
Sergei stands up from his spot, walks toward the bed where I’m sitting, and crouches in front of me. Cocking his head to the side, he regards me and shakes his head, smiling. “You are a terrible liar.”
My eyes widen. “Excuse me?”
“You’re excused.” He nods, then reaches with his hand over and takes my chin between his fingers. “Now, the truth, please.”
I take a deep breath and stare at those pale blue eyes which are glued to mine, while his thumb moves along the line of my jaw. The skin of his hand is rough but his touch is so light that I barely register it. His finger reaches the side of my jaw, just over the almost-faded bruise and stops there.
“Who hit you, Angelina?”
I blink. It’s hard to focus on anything else when he’s so close, but I somehow manage to collect myself. “I fell.”
“You fell.” He nods and moves his gaze to where his finger is, still next to the bruise. “On someone’s fist, maybe?”
“No. I tripped. Over one of the boxes in the truck.”
His eyes find mine again and I swear my heart skips a beat. “Do you know how much time is needed for a bruise to get that nice yellowish-green color, Angelina?”
“Two days?” I mutter. I never actually thought about that.
“Five to ten days.” He leans forward so that his face is right in front of mine, “Tell me the truth.”
“I just told you.” I whisper “I’m not lying.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Okay then.” His fingers release my chin. Sergei straightens and heads to the door. “The windows are locked and connected to the alarm. Please don’t try breaking them,” he says. “Mimi is a military-trained dog, and she will be in front of the door the whole time, so don’t tire yourself trying to escape, because you’re staying here until you start telling me the truth. I’ll come to take you downstairs for lunch.”
With those words, he leaves the room and closes the door.
Shit.
* * *
I spend almost an hour sitting in bed, trying to understand where I fucked up. Except for the bruise thing, my story was solid. I tried to keep it as close as possible to the truth to make it more realistic. How the hell did he catch me? The bigger problem is, I have no idea how much he knows.
Everybody has heard of Sergei Belov, the Bratva’s negotiator in all drug-related business. He came to Mexico quite often. What if he recognized me from one of his visits? I don’t see how he would, though. I didn’t go to Mexico often enough for our paths to cross. And I would have remembered seeing him.
I’ve always avoided cartel gatherings and parties because those usually ended up devolving into orgies or with someone getting shot. Or both. I preferred reading in the garden or hanging with Nana in the kitchens. Dad liked to say that I was antisocial. I wasn’t. I’m not. I’ve just always been . . . socially awkward.
Maybe Sergei just overheard Regina giggling while we were talking and called me out on pretending to speak with my mom? Still, it would be best to get out of here ASAP. Just in case.
I stand up from the bed, walk across the room and open the door just a crack. Mimi, the Cerberus, is sleeping on the floor just across the threshold, but her head snaps up as soon as she hears the door. Great. I shut it and head toward the windows. Both locked. Now what?
I’m still debating what I should try next when I hear steps approaching, fast. In the next moment, the door to the room bursts open and Sergei barges in. He doesn’t pay attention to me, just grabs the helmet and the leather jacket off the recliner and runs out. Shortly after, I hear an engine roar to life outside. I rush to the window just in time to see him turning his huge sports bike onto the street at an insane speed. Less than five seconds later he’s out of sight. I rush to the door in hopes that the dog left its guard spot, but no. She’s still there. Damn it.
Approximately two hours later, there’s a knock at the door and a gray-haired man with glasses comes in, carrying a platter of food. He’s in his late sixties or early seventies, has a nicely trimmed beard, and wears a pale-blue shirt with navy slacks.
“Change of plans,” he says, approaching the bed. “Sergei had to leave, so you are getting a room service.”
He places the platter on the nightstand, turns, and offers me his hand. “I’m Felix.”
I grab his fingers. “Please, let me get out of here. Please! Just hold the dog and I’ll be gone in a second.”
“I’m sorry.” He places his other hand over mine. “I can’t do that. And even if I could, Mimi wouldn’t let you leave this room. She listens only to Sergei’s commands.”
“Please!”
“You have no money. You don’t even have shoes. And you spent the night in delirium because of starvation,” he says softly. “You’d faint before reaching the next block.”
I let go of his hand and move back. It wasn’t like I expected him to help me escape, but I had to try.
“When is Sergei getting back?” I ask. I will have to reason with him, obviously.
“I don’t know. But I’ll let him know you want to speak with him when he does.” He nods toward the platter. “The doc said you should eat only light food for the first day, so I’ve prepared you risotto with vegetables and some salad. There is also more of the soup. Sergei said you liked it.”
“Are you the cook here?”
He doesn’t look like a cook. He looks like an accountant.
“The cook. Gardener, as well. And as Sergei likes to call it, a butler.” He smiles. “I will leave you to eat now, but I’ll come back later to give you your antibiotics and will bring dinner. If you need anything, just open the door and shout. I’ll be downstairs.”

Sergei

I park the bike in front of the hospital entrance, barge inside, and head toward the information desk.
“Hallway C?” I bark at the guy behind the desk.
“Can you tell me who you are looking for, sir? I need to . . .”
I grab his wrist, pull him toward me, and get in his face. “Hallway. C.”
“First floor,” he chokes out. “Turn left when you exit the elevator.”
I let go of the guy’s hand and dash toward the elevator.
“Where is the grumpy bastard?” I ask the moment I round the corner and find Roman standing there. Mikhail’s wife is sitting in one of the chairs down the hall, with her legs crossed under her and her head leaning against the wall.
“In the OR,” Roman says.
“How bad?”
“Nicked lung.”
I squeeze my teeth. “Will he live?”
“I don’t know, Sergei.” He sighs and passes his hand through his hair. “Go home. I’ll let you know the moment I have any info.”
“Who shot him?”
“Bruno Scardoni.”
“Is the asshole dead?”
“Yes.”
Fuck. “If anyone else was involved, I want the list. I’m free this weekend.”
“Free for what?”
“To behead each and every one of them.” I bite out and turn on my heel, intending to head back home. Instead, I end up riding around the city until well into the night.

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