Tears Of Betrayal: Chapter 16

ARIANA

I thought I was ready for whatever Demitri was going to say, but I’m not.

It takes a solid minute for the words to make sense, and then a wave of goosebumps spread from the top of my head to my feet. It’s slow, and even my tongue goes numb. My skin prickles, and my insides tense horribly.

Yuri?

My brother?

No, that can’t be right.

It feels like I’m stuck on repeat. Goosebumps. Numbing tongue. Prickling skin. Questions. Denial.

Repeat.

Breathe.

Repeat.

“Ariana?” Demitri leans closer to me, concern etched on his face. “Did you hear me?”

No.

I’m not sure.

What?

I manage to shake my head.

“Yuri ordered the contract.” Demitri pulls his hand from mine, and my fingers flex, instantly missing his touch, but then he brings both his hands to the sides of my neck.

“But…” Again I shake my head, not able to make sense of what Demitri’s saying, “…What?”

Leaning closer, his eyes bore into mine. “Take a deep breath.”

I do as he says.

Again my tongue goes numb, and the awful prickles rush over my skin. I begin to feel lightheaded and take another deep breath.

No, that can’t be right.

“Yuri wouldn’t. He’s my brother,” I say, my voice filled with a world of doubt.

Demitri’s expression softens, but his eyes remain guarded. “You’re a threat to him. He has no intention of sharing the inheritance with you.”

“But… I haven’t even thought of the inheritance. Our dad just died.”

Nothing makes sense anymore. I’m bombarded with confusion until I don’t know my right from my left.

“I know,” Demitri says, his tone gentle.

“Are you sure? Can I talk to him? There must be some huge misunderstanding.” The words rush from me.

Alexei turns away from the sliding doors and comes to take a seat on the other couch. I watch as he pulls his phone from his pocket, and then he says, “You sure you want to call Yuri?”

Quickly I nod. I need to talk to my brother.

“That’s not a good idea,” Demitri says.

I pull away from his hands. “I need to talk to him.”

Demitri lets out an unhappy sigh and turns his attention to Alexei.

I watch as Alexei dials a number, and then he puts the phone on speaker, and I hear it ringing.

“Alexei,” Yuri answers within seconds.

I shift to the edge of the couch and lean forward.

“Yuri,” Alexei mutters, his tone biting and nothing like when he talks to me.

“Have you come to your senses?” Yuri asks.

“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” Alexei replies with a dark chuckle that sends another wave of shivers rushing through me.

Yuri lets out a sigh. “Because of our past history, I’m willing to give you seventy-two hours to bring her to me.”

“I’ll bring her,” Alexei says. His eyes snap to mine. “But not so you can kill her.”

“Do you really think now’s the time to play games with me?” Yuri threatens.

“Come on, you know how much I love them,” Alexei taunts him.

And then something deep in my chest breaks. “Yuri?” My voice sounds foreign.

“Ariana?” my brother asks.

“What’s…” I shake my head as the confusion in me begins to morph into raw pain. “You want me dead?”

“There isn’t space for the both of us,” Yuri says, his voice calm as if we’re talking about the weather and not my death.

“I never wanted to be a part of any of it!” I shriek, startling myself with the outburst.

Yuri lets out an annoyed sigh. “I don’t have time for this shit. Alexei, bring her to me, or I’ll be forced to retaliate. You have seventy-two hours.”

Yuri hangs up, and in the silence that follows, my breaths slowly begin to speed up.

The realization sinks in so hard that I can’t move a muscle.

My own brother wants me dead.

The betrayal is unlike anything I’ve ever felt.

I knew my dad would die, so it didn’t hit that hard.

I had time to adjust to Mom’s Alzheimer’s, and when she forgot who I am, the blow wasn’t as devastating.

But this… this betrayal from the last family member I had left is crippling. With zero mercy, it shreds through my faith in humanity. It flays me to the bone.

My chest closes up from the destruction whirling around me, slowly creeping closer until it’s all there is.

That something that broke earlier? I physically feel it shatter to pieces.

Placing a hand on my stomach, I press hard as the pain increases.

Betrayal.

In the blink of an eye, it changes who I am. It obscures the girl I used to be.

I lost the last person I had.

Demitri grabs hold of my shoulder and yanks me to his chest, and the moment his arms wrap around me, I come undone. I break into an unrecognizable mess.

“Shh… I’ve got you,” he says, and it’s only then I hear my own strangled breaths. I feel my heart pounding against my ribs, desperate to escape this twisted reality that’s become my life.

“I can’t,” I gasp.

I can’t deal with this.

Demitri pulls me onto his lap, and his arms become steel bands around me, his chest solid, his presence unwavering.

“You can,” he says, his tone firm. “You’re strong, Ariana.”

My body instinctively turns to Demitri’s, and I wrap my arms around his neck, hanging on for dear life. Burying my face in his neck, sobs tear through me, and my chest convulses painfully.

Demitri presses kisses against my hair, his voice an anchor that keeps me from drowning as he murmurs, “I’ve got you, Malyshka. You’re not alone in this.” Another kiss, and his arms clamp tightly around me. “You have me.”

Three words.

It gives me enough strength to fight the turbulent mess within me. After a while, I manage to calm down enough to stop crying and pulling slightly back, I use my shirt to wipe the tears from my face.

Lifting my feverish eyes to Demitri’s, I stare at him, searching for something solid, something I can trust.

I replay everything he’s said to me and how my dad told me I must only trust Alexei and Demitri.

Now I understand why Dad didn’t mention Yuri.

Demitri kidnapped me to save my life. I thought he would kill me, but instead, he’s protecting me. While my whole world crumbles around me, he’s the one holding me.

I’ve never felt as vulnerable as I do at this moment. My entire fate is in Demitri’s hands.

And just like all the other times, he reads my mind and says, “You’re safe with me, Malyshka. I’m not your enemy.”

I let out a sputtering sob and quickly breathe the urge to cry away, and then I squeeze the words out, “Thank God.”

Plastering myself against him, I wrap my arms around his neck again. “Are you really the best?”

There’s no hesitation when he answers, “Yes.”

“Are you really the dangerous one between you and Alexei?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” I choke on the word. A couple of seconds pass, then I whimper, “I don’t know what to do.”

Demitri brushes a hand up and down my back. “We’ll take care of everything.”

I feel a hand on my shoulder, then Alexei says, “Drink this, little one.”

Pulling back, I take a glass of water from him.

“Just down it,” he says.

I do as he says, but instead of water cooling my throat, alcohol burns its way down to my stomach, and I begin to cough. I move off Demitri, focusing on breathing through the heat, then choke, “What… the hell… was that?”

“Vodka. It will help you calm down,” Alexei says.

Through watering eyes, I watch as Alexei crouches down in front of me. There’s a deadly look on his face when he says, “Take a day or two to process everything. As much as I want to leave you here, I can’t. You won’t be safe. You’re coming with us, and I understand it won’t be easy but try to prepare yourself.”

“For what?” I breathe, apprehension slithering through me.

“War.” It almost looks like there’s pity for me in Alexei’s eyes. “You’re going to see people die.”

God, how do I prepare myself for something like that?

Demitri places his arm around my shoulders, then says, “That’s enough.”

Alexei nods, and rising to his feet, he takes a deep breath as he stares down at me. “You’ll be okay, little one.” He walks to the kitchen, and as if my life didn’t just implode, says, “Are you going to make breakfast before I drop dead from hunger?”

Demitri gets up, and taking hold of my hand, he helps me to my feet. When he tugs me toward the kitchen, I pull my hand free. “I… I’m going to my room.”

He turns to look at me, and after a second, he nods. Leaning in, he presses a kiss on my forehead. “I’ll check on you once breakfast is ready.”

“Okay.” Heading to the stairs, my mind is blank, and a deadly stillness has settled over my heart.

I go into my room and close the door behind me, then make my way to the bathroom. Stopping by the shower, I place my hand on the glass door and stare blankly at the tub.

Yuri wants me dead.

There’s no explosion of emotions, and my tears have dried up.

My happy past seems like an impossibly distant dream, and in its place, an unrecognizable future where nothing is familiar.

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