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Silent Lies: Chapter 21

Drago

Pumpkin-orange. Of course.

I lean my elbow on the bathroom doorframe and continue towel-drying my hair as I watch my wife. Sitting on the edge of the bed, her right foot propped on the nearby recliner, she’s painting her toenails. The brush in her hand is held by the tips of only two fingers, the other three extended outward, making me think that the polish on her fingernails isn’t yet dry. Her outfit today consists of shiny turquoise leggings paired with an orange sweater. The pants have a pattern of fish scales, making them look like a mermaid tail in a way. I smile and push away from the jamb, heading across the room.

“Hey, what are you doing?” she says as I wrap my hand around her ankle and pull her leg up so I can take a seat on the recliner.

I place her foot on my knee and take the nail polish brush out of her grasp. The confusion on Sienna’s face becomes a surprise when I dip the applicator into the bottle on the nightstand and resume the work she started.

She reaches out and places her finger under my chin, tilting my head up. “What would your men say if they saw you painting my toenails? It’s not a very manly thing, you know?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Should I go kick someone’s ass after I’m done? Would that maintain my alpha male status?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary.” She laughs. “But I’d love to see the look on their faces.”

“No one would ever make a comment on it because if they did, it would mean they were looking at your legs. And it wouldn’t end well for them,” I say and continue with my task. “Stop wriggling your toes.”

“Sorry.” She snorts. “Don’t forget the glitter dust.”

“Should I know what that is?”

“Glitter dust. Here.” She places a small round container in my hand. It’s filled with a shimmering powder of some kind. “Just take a little pinch and sprinkle on the nails. Quickly now, or the nail polish will dry and the glitter won’t stick.”

I scrutinize the tiny thing on my palm. It’s smaller than my thumb, so there’s no way I can “pinch” anything from inside. It takes me a few tries just to open it. I spill a bit of the glitter on my palm, take some between my fingers, and carefully let it fall over Sienna’s toenails.

“Enough?” I ask and look up to find my wife staring at me, her eyes glistening.

“It will never be enough, Drago.”

I don’t hear a sound, so she must have whispered it.

“Of glitter?” I ask.

Sienna’s knuckles gently brush my cheek, her lips spreading into a smile. “Of you.”

The smile is real, and it makes her entire face glow. Her gaze falls to my palm where I’m still holding the rest of that damn glittery powder, and that smile transforms into a mischievous grin.

I frown. “Don’t you dar—”

Her warm breath blows on my hand, sending a cloud of gold particles all over me. A million shimmering specks float through the air like tiny gems while my wife laughs, watching them land on my head, face, and even stick to my chest.

There was a time in my life when I would have found this stunt immature. Silly. But from my wife—the most valuable jewel I’ve ever held in my hands? I’m having a hard time hiding the grin that’s threatening to split across my face. All the pretty rocks on which I built my empire are used to make a person shine on the outside. My Sienna lights up every corner of my soul.

“Remember what I do to people who cross me, mila moya?”

“Gold looks good on you, Drago.” Another fit of giggles. “Something about the wall, wasn’t it?”

“Exactly.” I leap from the recliner, grab her around the waist, and carry her across the room.

 

* * *

 

“I’ll be back in a few hours,” I tell Relja, who’s on guard duty by the front door, and put on my coat. “If anyone allows my wife to set a foot outside the compound walls, I’m going to snap their neck.”

“Sure, boss.” He nods, eyes focused over my head.

“If anyone reports anything even remotely suspicious, contact me immediately.”

“I will.”

I turn to leave when I feel a tap on my shoulder and look back. “What?”

“There’s something on your head,” he mumbles.

I rake my fingers through my hair. My hand comes back with several specks of sparkling gold dust. I squeeze the bridge of my nose and curse.

Heading to a meeting with Boston Cosa Nostra faction. With fucking glitter in my hair. I stride toward the garage, smirking at the absurdity of it all.

We arranged to meet an hour out of the city. I would have preferred for it to happen in my club, but Nera Leone wanted to stay off Ajello’s radar.

I pull up my car next to a black sedan with blacked-out windows, killing the engine, and Filip parks next to me. The only other vehicle in the diner’s parking lot is another pricey car, tinted windows included. Looks like Don Leone’s wife decided to drive up here instead of flying because these don’t look like a rental.

closed sign hangs on the diner’s door, but the lights are on, and even though there are no servers anywhere, a woman is seated at a table on the far right. Two men in black suits are standing behind her, hands clasped behind their backs.

“Only two bodyguards,” I say as I exit my car.

Filip follows my gaze and shrugs. “Maybe she wants to be clear that it’s a peaceful meeting.”

“Or, maybe she wants us to know that she’s not scared of us.” I push open the door and head toward the woman who has been running Boston Cosa Nostra while her husband has been ill.

I’ve never met Nera Leone in person, but I know that she’s much younger than her husband who’s in his late sixties. I expected a woman of around forty, perhaps, not one in her midtwenties. If that. With her dark-blonde hair spilling over her long red coat, I would never have pegged her for the cunning opponent I’d heard much about.

I may not conduct business in the Boston area, but I keep tabs on what’s going on up there. Knowing all the big players in the field, and uncovering whatever secrets they are trying to hide, is a must in my line of work. It’s not common knowledge that Don Leone has been unwell for quite some time, and that his wife has unofficially taken over the Boston Cosa Nostra Family for the time being. Since she is here rather than her husband, it means he’s not getting any better.

“I’m sorry to see that Don Leone is still not feeling well,” I say as I take a seat across from her while Filip comes to stand behind me.

Nera nods in greeting. “He’s recuperating.”

“So, what can I help you with, Mrs. Leone?” I ask and lean back, spreading my right arm over the back of a neighboring chair. “I was rather surprised to get your message.”

“A little birdie told me you’ve recently engaged in a new business venture. I have a proposition for you—a mutually beneficial affiliation.”

One of my eyebrows shoots up. Word travels fast in our circles, but still, it’s concerning that she got wind of such information so soon. “I thought you’re getting your guns from Endri Dushku?”

“Yes. But I’m looking to make new alliances.” Her blood-red lips pull into a smile.

“Endri and I have an understanding. We don’t step on each others’ toes. I’ll think about your offer and let you know my decision.”

Nera Leone rises from her seat. “Thank you. It was nice meeting you, Mr. Popov.”

I follow her with my eyes as she leaves the diner, her two men trailing close behind. They get inside the cars and pull onto the road, raising a cloud of dust from the loose gravel around the potholes marring the lot.

“Boston faction has been working with Dushku for years,” Filip says. “Why the change of heart so suddenly?”

“No idea.”

Across the street, movement within a derelict motel attracts my attention. A man in a black coat steps out from the farthest room on the ground level. He meets my gaze and holds it for a moment. As I reach inside my jacket for the gun in my shoulder holster, the man breaks our eye contact and turns, heading around the building. His steps are sure and steady, so I get a good look at his long jet-black hair, twisted into a thick braid, and a black rectangular case hanging over his left shoulder.

“Is that what I think it is?” Filip asks next to me.

“Yes. The guy is casually strolling around carrying a sniper rifle on his back. And I’m pretty sure he had us in his crosshairs the entire time we were meeting. That room he just left is directly across from the diner; the window has a clear line of sight to the table I was sitting at.”

“You think he’s one of Nera’s goons?”

A black sports car pulls out from behind the motel, then heads the same way as the Italians.

“I’m not sure,” I say. “But I have a feeling that if we had given off the slightest indication of harming that woman, we’d both be lying on the ground. With holes through our heads.”

Filip and I get in our respective vehicles, turning in the opposite direction than Leone’s brigade.

We’re half an hour from the house when my phone goes off on the dashboard. My gaze snaps to the screen showing Relja’s name. The phone rings twice, then stops. A signal for me—something is wrong at the club.

Fuck. I hit the gas pedal. A look at the rearview mirror confirms that Filip is accelerating as well, his phone pressed to his ear and probably getting all the details from one of our men.

Fifteen minutes later, my phone starts to ring and vibrate again, and this time, it keeps going, setting off a clusterfuck of panic in my head.

The house is under attack.

 

Sienna

 

The lights go out.

Did a fuse blow? I move my notebook away and climb off the bed, feeling my way to the balcony door.

The outdoor lights are off as well, and none of the other windows are lit. The grounds around the house are shrouded in absolute darkness, except for the two specks of light beyond the trees at the main gate. What the fuck?

The bedroom door bursts open, making me jump and swivel around.

“Get back from the window.” Adam’s voice booms from the doorway.

A faint yellow glow of the emergency lights from small recessed fixtures low on the walls just barely illuminates the space behind him as it falls onto the hallway floor.

“Adam? What’s going on?”

“We’re under attack.” He ushers Tara inside my room. I haven’t even noticed her standing behind him. “Lock yourselves inside the bathroom. When it’s over, someone will come get you.”

A loud metal bang erupts outside. The next moment, the radio in Adam’s hand cracks, then Relja’s voice fills the room.

“They’ve breached the gate.”

“No time,” Adam barks and takes a flashlight off his belt before placing it in Tara’s hand. “Bathroom. Now. Both of you.”

“Tara? Where’s Drago?” I choke as she pushes me toward the en suite, leading the way with the small flashlight.

“He’s still not back from a meeting. Come on.”

The roar of engines from several approaching cars penetrates the walls. Other than the earlier bang, which I assume was a vehicle ramming the gate, there are no other sounds. No gunfire. No one is shouting. The house is silent. If the mansion is under attack, wouldn’t there be yelling and the hustle of all the people who are currently inside? Why is it so eerily quiet?

“I don’t hear anything,” I say as we stumble inside the bathroom. “What the fuck is going on, Tara?

“The Romanians decided to pay us a visit.” She reaches behind her back and takes out a gun. Placing the end of the flashlight between her teeth, she releases the magazine to check it, then snaps it back. “One of the guys on guard down the road reported multiple vehicles heading toward the compound. They just broke through the gate, so we’re waiting for them to get here.”

“Did they cut the power?” I ask, my eyes fixed on the gun in her hand.

“Nope,” she mumbles around the flashlight. “We did.”

“What? Why?”

“Standard protocol.” She throws me her phone. “You can watch if you want.”

“You have a protocol for an assault?” Shaking my head, I take a seat on the closed toilet lid and stare at the screen showing a dark, grainy video. It’s certainly a feed from the security camera, but I can’t figure out which one. A second later, headlights enter the screen, approaching fast, the glow illuminating the front driveway.

“They can’t drive in the dark with no lights on.” Tara snickers. “They’re sitting ducks now. We can see them, but they can’t see us.”

“Why hasn’t anyone tried to stop them?” I choke out, watching as four black vans stop on the gravel some distance from the house.

“Shooting at moving vehicles is a bitch.” She shoos me to the side, taking half of the toilet seat. “Any moment now.”

I don’t have time to ask her what she means, because a sudden flash fills the screen, lighting the front yard like it’s midday. The men in black clothes, who only moments before poured out of the vans, are now ducking every which way, blinded by the massive floodlights aimed at them. The thirty or so gunmen, each armed with an automatic rifle, momentarily turn into a mindless, murdering horde.

Gunfire explodes into the night.

About a dozen end up sprawled on the ground before the rest scatter around the lawn, shooting at the house.

“Drago is going to be pissed,” Tara mumbles over the sound of gunfire outside.

“Because of the attack?”

“Because he wasn’t here.” She snickers. “I’ll make sure— Fuck!”

She cuts off, staring at the phone, as two more vehicles pull up to the outer limit of light bathing the driveway.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!” Tara barks out and swipes her gun off the bathroom vanity. “Stay here. I’m going downstairs.”

“What?” I grab her forearm.

“There are only eighteen people here. Relja sent the rest as a backup to Naos when Misha called half an hour ago. It seems like the attack there must have been a distraction. We’re stretched too thin, even with the advantage of being fortified inside.”

“I’m coming with you,” I say.

“Not happening.”

“But—”

“You told me you could never shoot at anyone, Sienna.” She fixes me with an unwavering stare. “You can’t help. Stay put.”

With those words, Tara dashes out, closing the bathroom door in her wake.

I take in the gloomy interior around me, the glow of the small flashlight the only source of light. The cacophony outside is still raging, but it seems more controlled now than before. Rather than a string of machine gun fire, the shots now are individual, with stretches of time in between. Precise. The attackers have regained their bearings and stopped the aimless assault.

I grip the edge of the vanity so hard my knuckles hurt. The echo of shots might be the same as at the shooting range, but it’s different knowing that many of the bullets will hit flesh, not cardboard targets. Wounding, maybe even killing Drago’s people. His family. But they don’t feel like just my husband’s family anymore. They feel like mine, too. Fighting off the men who are attacking their home. My home, now. And I’m hiding in a fucking bathroom.

I pick up the flashlight from the counter before dashing into the bedroom. The balcony door is ajar, and the noise outside is deafening. I’m still standing close to the bathroom threshold when a stray bullet hits the balcony railing, sending shards of stone flying in every direction. My eyes fall on my nightstand. The gun Drago gave me is tucked inside the drawer.

My mild-tempered, quiet sister killed the man who kidnapped and violated her. Asya, who never even raised her voice at anyone, pressed the gun to that bastard’s forehead and pulled the trigger. I don’t have the guts to do that. Would never be able to do anything like it no matter the circumstances, but going downstairs without a gun is stupid. I rush across the room and grab the Glock from the bedside table.

 

* * *

 

It’s worse than I thought. Much worse. I stop midway down the stairs and gape at the scene in the hall below.

Heading downstairs, for some reason, I imagined Drago’s men crouching next to the windows and only popping out to return fire from time to time. The entire action movie scene played out in my head. The good guys took quick glances at the enemy, sent a few bullets their way, then pulled back to a covered position. Safe behind thick walls. Unhurt.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The floodlights are spilling through the broken windows and the wide-open front door, creating dark voids and threatening shadows. Just over the threshold, a body of a man I don’t recognize is sprawled on the floor, his vacant eyes staring at the ceiling. Blood pools on the tiles around him, spreading toward another body lying close by. A shaky breath leaves my lungs as I realize that I don’t know either of them. Must be the attackers.

Adam is hunching under the window to the left of the entrance, gun in his hand poised to shoot at any moment. Blood is oozing from the gash on his shoulder, saturating his torn, white T-shirt. He pays it no mind as he suddenly straightens, sending a hail of bullets through the broken pane. The instant he drops back down, a storm of gunfire erupts outside. Glass shards, wood splinters, and drywall fragments rain around him.

On the other side of the door, two of Drago’s men are returning fire. Another, Relja, is collapsed on the floor with his back against a wall. He’s pressing his hand on the wound in his thigh as blood seeps between his fingers. Through the open doors leading to the grand dining room, I notice several other men holding positions by the windows. Some are shooting while others are reloading their guns. Most are bleeding, whether from bullets or shattered glass, but they keep fighting.

I grip my gun harder, but I can’t make myself move. It’s as if my feet are glued to the wooden stair beneath me, and I’ve lost all control of my lower limbs. My chest is rising and falling in quick succession, the sound of my short breaths mixing with the erratic beating of my heart. The thunderous pounding seems somehow louder than all the noise around me. At least Drago isn’t here. He would have been out there, somewhere in the middle of this shitstorm, and I would have fucking lost my mind worrying about him.

Tara bursts through the kitchen door on the far side of the dining room and, keeping low to the ground, rushes into the foyer. She squats next to Relja and tucks her gun into the back of her pants. With quick and sure movements, she grabs him under his arms, heaving him away from the wall. Relja yells at her, but the gunfire is too loud for me to make out what he’s saying. Tara ignores his outburst and starts dragging him away, but barely manages to move him. He’s too heavy.

The sensation returns to my feet. I take one step forward, and then I’m running down the stairs. On my left, something shatters. The crash is loud, and there is a sharp sting as the shards hit my legs. Probably the remnants of one of the enormous floor vases Keva keeps along the walls. The porcelain fragments crunch under my soles as I hurry toward Tara, who is now gripping Relja’s forearm, trying to pull him across the floor.

“Sienna! What the fuck are you doing here?” she snaps when I reach them.

“Helping my family.” Imitating Tara, I stick the gun into the waistband of my turquoise leggings and grab Relja’s other arm. “To the kitchen?”

Tara blinks at me, then quickly nods.

By the time we get Relja to the kitchen, he’s lost consciousness and a lot of blood. The situation here doesn’t seem any better than in the dining room. Three men are by the windows that face the front yard, firing at the assailants. Across the room, Jovan is crouching by the open door to the backyard, gun in hand, and aiming at the absolute darkness on this side of the mansion. I don’t get a chance to contemplate what he’s doing because a low growling sound outside is followed by an earsplitting scream.

“Zeus got him,” Jovan says, then lifts a two-way radio to his mouth.

I miss what he says when I notice Keva kneeling between the kitchen island and the countertop cabinets, finishing wrapping a kitchen towel around a guy’s biceps. She sees us coming and crawls toward us.

“Get behind the island!” she orders. “Now! Both of you!”

“Hurry.” Tara pulls on Relja’s arm again. “The island is bulletproof.”

Someone actually makes armored kitchen cabinetry? I shake my head.

Keva presses her palm over the wound in Relja’s thigh while we drag him the last few feet to a safer spot. Another round of gunfire explodes, bullets hitting appliances and cupboards above us. Something on the counter wobbles and then crashes to the floor.

“If that’s my favorite coffee machine, I’m going to gut someone,” Keva mutters as she reaches for a drawer and takes out a tablecloth. She tears a long stripe and ties it tightly around Relja’s leg. “This one needs a hospital as soon as possible.”

“We can’t take him to a hospital with a gunshot wound!” Tara chokes out. “Drago is going to kill you.”

“Filip called fifteen minutes ago. Her don”—Keva nods toward me as she checks Relja’s pulse—“said we can take the wounded to Cosa Nostra’s clinic if needed.”

“Don Ajello?” I ask, dumbfounded, at the same time as Tara yelps, “How the fuck did he know?”

“Beats me.” Keva shakes her head. “That man knows everything.”

Things seem to be calming down, because now there’s only an occasional shot that disturbs the night. The sound of labored footsteps reaches me, and I peek around the kitchen island to see Beli carrying one of the guys over his shoulder.

“Upper chest,” he barks as he lowers the man next to Relja. “No exit wound. I’ll pull the van to the back door, and we’ll get them both in.”

“There are still gunmen outside!” Keva exclaims.

Beli pulls a shotgun from his back and cocks it. “Concerned about my well-being, sweet pea?”

My jaw hits the floor. Sweet pea? I thought Keva and Beli hated each other. When I look at Tara, she just rolls her eyes and mouths, “Don’t ask.

Keva flips him a bird, then focuses on the new casualty. I help her remove the guy’s shirt, all the while thanking the heavens for that meeting my husband went to. This could have been him. Knowing that Drago wasn’t caught up in this attack is the only thing that kept me from losing my shit the last half an hour.

“Oh, and the boss is back,” Beli says on his way out.

My hands still on the wounded man’s shirt while a sinking feeling forms in the pit of my stomach.

 


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