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Hidden Truths: Chapter 6

Sergei

I pretend I’m engrossed in my breakfast while secretly watching Angelina on the opposite side of the table. She’s holding a spoon frozen halfway to her mouth, and stares at Mimi who’s nudging Angelina’s side with her snout.
“Relax. She won’t bite you,” I say.
“Are you sure?”
“She only bites people when I tell her to. And you’re too bony for her taste, anyway.”
“Well, that’s a relief, I guess.”
“She wants you to pet her.” I nod toward the dog. “If you don’t, she is going to pester you all day.”
“She doesn’t exactly look like a cuddly type.”
Because she isn’t. Mimi doesn’t like new people. Or people in general, to be more exact.
Angelina reaches out to scratch the top of Mimi’s head, and Mimi licks her palm. The way my dog acts around her is unexpected. She started following Angelina around the house and always keeps her in sight, even without my commands. When Angelina sleeps, Mimi makes sure her head is precisely positioned where she can watch Angelina with one eye, while keeping the other on the door. It’s the norm for protective dogs to place themselves between the person they’re guarding and the source of a possible threat.
Maybe she’s picking up the protective vibes from me. The image of Angelina curled up on the floor of that truck comes to mind, and I close my eyes, squeezing my fork. I will never forget the look in her eyes, like I was some kind of savior instead of a man whose main purpose was to end lives. It’s been years since I felt the compulsion to protect anyone, except myself, and even that’s rare. Most of the time, especially my last few years in the service, I didn’t actually give a damn if I lived or not. But where Angelina is concerned, I have this inexplicable need to grab her and always keep her next to me, so no one can hurt her ever again.
“I played a round of poker with Felix the other night,” she says. “You were right. He cheats.”
“I told you.” I snort. “What did you lose?”
“I have to prepare dinner.”
“You were lucky. The last time I played with him, I lost my car.”
“Seriously?”
“Yup. Then, I had to buy it back from him. He charged me twice the actual price. Asshole.”
“Why didn’t you just buy a new one?” She widens her eyes at me.
“I like that car. And I didn’t want to deal with going to a car dealership.”
“The dynamics between you two are really strange,” she says.
“Yeah, you could say that. I often wonder how come I haven’t strangled him yet. He nags me all the time, can’t cook worth shit, and leaves his stuff all over my place.” I shrug. “He did save my life a couple of times while we worked together, but he’s losing those points rapidly.”
“A couple of times? What were you two working on when he saved your life more than once?”
Oh, we are so not going there. I stand up from the table and whistle for Mimi. “Want to stretch your legs? I have to walk Mimi before I go to work.”
She watches me for a couple of moments, then nods. “Okay.”
“But no running away this time, Angelina.”
She just smiles.
* * *
I throw the stick for Mimi to chase and turn around to find Angelina sprawled on the grass behind me, eyes shut and her face tilted to the sky.
“I feel like I’ve run a mile,” she says.
“Tired?”
“A bit. My legs are shaking.”
“Starving oneself can do that to a person.” I sit down on the grass next to her, lean back on my elbows and look at the setting sun on the horizon. “You still don’t want to tell me why you did it?”
“Nope.”
“Then I guess you’ll be staying with us.”
“Not really. I need a few days to gather more strength, then I’ll try running away again.”
“Thanks for the heads up.” I laugh.
She tilts her head to the side and looks at me with hooded eyes “Or you could just let me go?”
“Not happening. Sorry.”
“Why?”
“I’m rather amused with having you here. Especially your fruitless escape attempts.” I meet her gaze, reaching out with my hand to grab behind her neck, and lean to whisper in her ear, “And I haven’t been amused for a very long time.”
Angelina’s already big, dark eyes grow impossibly round, and I wonder what she’d do if she knew the kind of thoughts running through my mind at this moment. Her. Naked. Pressed under my body as I pound into her with all my might.
I move my gaze from her eyes to the side of her chin. There is no yellowish tint there anymore. The bruise has disappeared, leaving soft healed skin. It doesn’t matter, because I still remember how it looked. Someone had hit her before she came to me, and for it to leave the bruise that size, it had to be a very strong punch. Undoubtedly, it was a male who’d hit her. The familiar feeling of burning starts forming at the pit of my stomach, then spreads to my chest. My vision dims. Mimi starts barking somewhere behind me but the sound seems muted.
“Sergei.”
It feels like I’m in a tunnel, isolated from the rest of the world. My vision dims even more. I can see Angelina’s face in front of mine, she’s saying something and the look in her eyes seems worried. I blink, hoping to clear my head. It works sometimes. Not now.
“Sergei!”
I feel small hands grab at my face, squeezing lightly. My hand is still at the back of Angelina’s neck. I move it until I feel her pulse under my fingers, then press on it, focusing on the rhythm of her heartbeat.
“Are you okay? Sergei!”
My vision clears a little and Angelina’s face comes back into focus. The feeling of isolation dissipates.
“Yes.” I say, “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Angelina tilts her head and looks at me with concern.
“You had that empty look in your eyes. And you weren’t answering when I called your name.”
“I was just deep in thought.” I say and let go of her neck. “We should go back.”
“Sure?”
“Yeah.” I stand up and head in the direction of the house.  For a dozen or so feet Angelina matches my quick pace, but then slows down to a sluggish walk. I stop to wait for her and when she catches up, she’s breathing hard, so I wrap my arm around her waist and lift her in my arms.
“That’s not necessary,” she says, but doesn’t make a move to get free. I ignore her comment, whistle for Mimi, and head down the path.
“Tell me, do all your hostages get the same treatment?” she asks a moment later.
“Me carrying them around when they’re tired?”
“Yup.” She nods.
“You’re my first. I’m still going through a learning curve.” I look down at her. “But you seem to be a pro in the hostage business.”
Her brows shoot up. “How so?”
“I saw you smuggling the steak knife into the bedroom after lunch yesterday,” I say and feel her tense up in my arms. “I also found the cleaver you keep under the mattress. Albert is particular with his favorite kitchen gadget shit. He’ll go ballistic if he sees the cleaver gone. Can you swap it with the santoku knife? He never uses that one.”
“How . . .” She stares at me. “Why . . .”
“Why didn’t I take them away?” I smile. “Why would I? You haven’t tried anything with them so far. And I think it’s cute.”
“Me keeping a meat cleaver under the mattress is . . . cute?”
“Very.”
“You’re weird.”
“I’m not the one keeping a kitchen utensil in bed.”
“It’s a weapon!”
I imagine Angelina trying to attack someone with that thing and try to stifle a laugh, but fail. She would probably need to use both hands to lift it. Apparently, I may have offended her, because she juts her chin and snorts at me.
I enjoy the way Angelina feels in my arms. Having her this close ensures she’s safe from anyone who might want to do her harm. When she tells me who hurt her, and she will eventually, I’ll have such a great time killing them. I won’t use a gun. That’s too quick. A knife won’t do, either. Hmm. Waterboarding? Maybe, if I can find a good place to do it. Strangulation? Yes, that sounds nice. As would cutting off their extremities. I’d need a chainsaw, and damn, that shit is loud. I’ll consider it some more.
“What are you thinking about?” Angelina asks.
“Nothing in particular. Why?”
“Because you have a self-satisfied grin plastered all over the face.”
“Oh, just planning some extracurricular activities, that’s all.”

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