Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
Mike opened his eyes. His body hurt, he had a headache the size of a California Redwood, and his surroundings weren’t at all familiar—concrete floors, a cot that belonged in a dorm, iron bars, and a light bulb fitted into an aluminum, triangle fixture that wasn’t nearly enough to illuminate the basement or cellar he appeared to be imprisoned inside. For now.
Someone cleared their throat. “I understand you are called Mike?”
He raised his head. “Where’s Xara?”
“How did I know that would be your first question?” Mosvar asked.
“Do you not want to know how you are still alive?”
Mike rushed the bars and gripped the cold rods until his fingers went white and numb. “Where the fuck is my wife?”
“She did not make it, my friend.”
A mallet struck his chest, but he pushed back at it. Xara wasn’t dead. He’d know it. Feel it, somehow. He’d seen her taken by that two-faced asshole instead of harmed, so until he saw a body, Xara was alive. Xara was fucking alive. He didn’t lose her.
He’d promised her.
He’d promised her.
“You expect me to believe you?” he asked. “You lying, pussy ass motherfucker? You really expect to believe a fucking thing you say?”
Mosvar stepped closer to the bars, but not close enough. “What choice do you have, friend?”
“If she’s dead, then you might as well kill me. Whatever torture you have planned, go ahead and do what the fuck ever. I don’t have shit to say to you if my wife’s not walking around on this earth somewhere. But, and listen to me good, Sarayev. If you open that door, at any point, make sure I’m dead first. Because if I have even five percent consciousness, I’m going to do some fucking damage. If you killed my wife…” Mike shook his head, a grimace on his face. “I am going to fucking murder you.”
Mosvar studied him, hands behind his back.
Still, Mike saw them shake.
“I hired Dom,” Mosvar said. “My father sent an entire army to kill you, and I hired Dom to make it look like you have died. Then, I had your body brought here. Dom was supposed to bring our Xara to me—”
“Our who, motherfucker?” Mike reached through the bars but Mosvar jerked backward, throat quivering. “Don’t let that shit come out of your mouth again. Xara is mine. My woman. In no universe will that ever be any different. Until I have no breath left in this goddamn body, she is mine. In this life and the next, she is mine. So drop that ‘our’ shit.”
Mosvar scanned Mike from head to toe. “You had five bullets in your body when we took you. You nearly died on an operating table. How is it that you do not feel any of that?”
Mike stared at him, unblinking. Maybe he wouldn’t murder Mosvar, not immediately. Maybe he’d stick a blade behind his eyeball, pop it out of its socket, turn it around, and show it to him. Or break his bones so they punctured skin then leave him to die of infection. Crack his femur with a cinderblock. Rupture his spleen. Or maybe he would murder him, quick and simple. Wrap his hands around the asshole’s neck and bash the back of his head against something solid.
He glanced down.
Against the solid concrete floors.
“Dom orchestrated the whole thing,” Mosvar continued. “I need you alive.”
Mike mentally calculated the length of his arm and Mosvar’s distance from the bars. Even if Mosvar was his only way out, he’d still kill him if he got his hands on him. Why the fuck did he need a way out if he could break open this fucker’s skull? And, if Xara truly was…gone…he’d willingly starve to death in this fucking cell because he’d have nothing else to live for.
“Mike, you have been my prisoner for over a week now.”
Mike pushed off the bars and went to the cot.
“Look, do not blame me. You know I would not have killed Xara.”
He sat, leaned his head back against the wall, and closed his eyes.
“I can get her body to you.” For some reason, Mosvar’s mouth was still moving. “If you do something for me.”
“You will not get out of here without my say so.”
“Without my help, you could die in her—”
In a blink, Mike was back on the bars.
Mosvar sucked in a breath and stepped backward, this time stumbling over his feet.
Mike smiled, broad and unhinged like a clown in a sewer drain. “Is my wife dead?”
Mosvar lowered his eyes. “I am s—”
“Is. My. Wife. Dead?”
“I am sorry for your loss.”
“Have it your way, then. But, until you agree to my request, this will be your new home.”
Mike’s smile stretched. “She’s still alive. You need leverage. You might not know where the fuck she is, but she’s still alive. You wouldn’t be that stupid. Dom took her, but if that two-faced motherfucker could betray me the way he did, knowing what’s coming to him, then he played your ass too. My wife is alive, and I’m going to get to her even if I have to sail to where she is on a river of your blood.”
Mosvar snapped his fingers and backed out of the cellar.
Gas poured in from below, but Mike didn’t care. If it killed him, it killed him. If Xara was dead, he might as well die too. He would have found a way to do it himself, but there was still a small possibility she was alive and looking for him. Waiting for him. That hope alone was the only thing that kept him breathing.
If she wasn’t…nothing could stop him. Not the guys, their wives, their kids. No one. He would not exist in a world where Xara didn’t, and especially not a world where she didn’t because of him.
The gas filled the chamber.
His limbs loosened, his lungs filled, and he collapsed onto the cold floor.
* * *
Mary Sarayev, Ramzsyn’s wife, stood over Xara’s bedside, a wide and almost proud smile on the woman’s face. Xara didn’t know how long they’d had her. Some time ago, maybe a month, maybe longer, she woke up on a private jet handcuffed and with ties around her ankles. Ramzsyn brought her to the home he shared with his wife and their shitload of servants. The “home” was an ornate, Mediterranean-style mansion that sat on a section of land the size of Denmark, and it was located in Dubai instead of the Sarayev’s stomping grounds in Chechnya.
He “loved his country,” Ramzsyn had said. But he “could never truly live there.”
They kept her in a small studio off the kitchen as a form of torture, she supposed, but it was virtually the same size of the first apartment she and Mike ever shared after running away from Kentucky.
They brought her five meals a day, but she refused to eat until she passed out. Then, they force-fed her. Once they learned about her diabetes, they tried to use that against her: “You could die, dear.”
It didn’t stop her from refusing to eat, and it didn’t stop them from shoving food down her throat. What they couldn’t feed her, they gave her via an IV she’d ripped out twice before Ramzsyn threatened to cut off her fingers. Then, the threats evolved into if she didn’t behave, her baby would suffer. No prenatal care, no appointments, and no vitamins or ultrasounds until she cooperated.
The joke was on them.
There was no baby.
The “baby” was the only thing keeping her alive, she knew, but there was no longer any reason to live. She’d seen her husband take a bullet to the forehead, and she didn’t understand why they didn’t just do the same for her.
Late last night, Ramzsyn’s wife returned from a trip she’d been on for the last few months, from what the woman had told her. When Mary arrived and found out about what was going on, she’d demanded Xara be moved to a proper room, yelling that she would not be responsible for the mutilation of a woman and her unborn child.
The next morning, this morning, Mary guided her onto a private jet.
They were now at a specialty clinic in Zurich.
Mary had come expecting to see a baby, but today was the day they would find out about Mike’s lie.
The problem was…
“Can you hear that?” the obstetrician asked. “That’s your baby’s heartbeat. I can’t believe this is your first time hearing it.”
“She’s had a rough go of it, Dr. Keller,” Mary explained, giving Xara’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Xara has been through a lot. She recently lost her husband in an unfortunate accident. I was friends with her mother, and I’m here make sure she’s well taken care of henceforth.”
Dr. Keller took her hand. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”
Xara couldn’t look away from the screen. “That’s a baby.”
“Yes, dear.” Dr. Keller’s brows softened. “How sweet you have this piece of your husband with you.”
Mary gave her shoulder another squeeze. “Listen to that heartbeat!”
“Xara, I put you at around sixteen weeks and four days gestation.” Dr. Keller moved the device around on Xara’s stomach. “You are a little malnourished, but that could be due to depression and grief. I’d like to see you get your weight up to at least fifty-six, fifty-seven kilograms before our next appointment. We should be able to see a little bit more belly than this, at this point, even for someone as fit as you are, dear.”
“She will,” Mary promised. “I’ll make sure of it. She’ll have nurses and maids at her disposal.”
This changed everything, Xara realized. Whatever they wanted, she would give it to them. She’d even eat their food. She’d been prepared to die knowing Mike was no longer alive, but now that she had this part of him growing inside her, she had to live.
At all costs.
“W-when am I due?” she asked, her heartbeat speeding up and slowing as though attempting to sync with the other one echoing around the room.
“January. A wonderful blessing for the new year.” Dr. Keller looked up at her. “Excited?”
“Look at you.” Mary hugged her from the side, the woman exuding a warmth that had felt confusingly genuine since the beginning. “You must be so proud. A baby is always joyous news. Hopefully, now that you are with us, we can make up for the time you have lost. Get you and the babe healthy.”
She hoped her stubbornness hadn’t done irrevocable damage.
“Mosvar said I wasn’t.” Xara kept her voice low to hide the tears. Ramzsyn’s “people” had already punished her for crying. For mourning the loss of her husband. “He said he saw the test.”
Mary flicked her wrist. “Almost no one can read those things, least of all my son.”
Hopefully, they would at least let her hold her baby after she delivered. Oh gosh, she couldn’t wait to hold her baby. Their baby.
“More good news.” Dr. Keller studied the monitor. “I’m actually already able tell you what you’re having. If you’d like to know.”
Mary looked at Xara expectantly.
“I do,” she said.
“This January, you’ll be mother to a beautiful little baby boy.”
Michael Jr. and Mikey J for short. They’d talked about using his uncle’s name as one of the middle names, and she’d wanted a second middle name. One that began with an X like her and her brother’s names.
Michael Xavier Jian Huang Jr.
It was a mouthful, but she could already tell it suited him.
“I will take care of you like a daughter,” Mary promised. She lowered her voice. “My husband will not harm you.”
Xara glanced up at her. The woman lowered her chin in a quick nod.
It was real. This was real. This wasn’t how she’d wanted it. Mike was supposed to be the one standing over her head right now. She could even see him, eyes lit up and that gorgeous smile on his face as he cradled her belly. He’d make some joke to hide how nervous he was about being a father, and she’d laugh to hide how nervous she was about becoming a mother. This baby…she had to have this baby. She had to have this baby. There could be no complications. No threats to a full-term pregnancy. This was the last thing she had of the love of her life.
Their son was going to be so beautiful.
“Oh, don’t cry.” Dr. Keller pulled tissues from a box and handed them to her. “Then you will make me cry. Xara, I will do everything in my power to give you a healthy and safe pregnancy and delivery. I swear it. On my life.”
“It’s why I brought her here,” Mary said. “Because I know you will.”
The women exchanged glances.
“I’ll be right back.” Dr. Keller rose. “Take your time, and congratulations.”
Mary placed her hand on Xara’s lower back to help her up. “Before we get back, how would you like to get some things for the baby?”
“Why are you doing this? You know who I am. You know what my husband did.” Xara wiped the ultrasound gel from her stomach then stepped back into her clothes.
“I know my boys,” Mary said, taking her hand. “I know my husband. Your doctor, we know each other from before. She’s been in your situation, but it was Argun’s baby. I helped her get out, and she terminated the pregnancy. Your intuition will tell you why. Ramzsyn has been watching me closely, but even if I can’t get you out, he will not hurt you.”
Xara placed her hand on her stomach. “Mary, you are a blessing.”
“Just a woman, sweetheart. I’m just a woman.”
THE ROOM THEY MOVED HER to was the size of an average home back in the U.S., almost. The wallpaper was hideous, and a large, four-poster bed that looked fastened to the floor sat in the middle of the room, covered in frilly drapery. There was entirely too much gold—it covered all the trim, around the windows, along the ceiling—and even more marble than gold, but at least the chandelier over the bed was modern and actually kind of pretty.
Mary, arm around Xara’s waist, directed her into the room. Behind them, four servants carried bags filled with maternity clothes, vitamins, organic health tonics, and baby things. When the guys found her, she would make sure they knew to spare Mary’s life. In some ways, it was like the woman was a prisoner in her own marriage.
“You rest.” Mary walked her over to the bed. “The first part of pregnancy is the most annoying, the middle is the most joyful, and the end brings the most suffering.”
The servants moved about the room, removing the items from the bags.
“I have to tell you something,” Mary said. “Mosvar hired a man to bring you to him, from what I understand, but the man brought you here instead, for which I am grateful. Mosvar would have taken care of you, yes, but he would have taken other things as well. Sons are often not much different from their fathers. Lie down, dear.”
Xara did as she was told. “Mary, are you the reason I’m alive?”
“Did you know what they were doing to me?”
Mary’s jaw pulsed. “No, and I would not let Ramzsyn rest if he allowed a young woman with child to die in our home. Usually, he does not do much what I say but…” She fussed with the covers. “Now, what would you like to eat?”
“I don’t know.” Xara turned onto her side, falling into the plushness of the mattress. “I don’t have much of an appetite.”
“I will have some dolmnash made. It is like a roll of cabbage with rice, mutton. Do you have allergies, dear?”
“No allergies. Just the diabetes I was born with.”
Mary’s jaw dropped.
“You didn’t know.”
“Not at all.” She looked at her the way a mother might look at her ailing child. “I will review your papers from Dr. Keller. The dolmnash, you can eat. It will be okay for you. There might be a few things to adjust, but it can be done. Settle, dear.”
Xara eased further down into the pillow underneath her head.
The servants continued to bustle about, filling drawers with baby clothing, an assortment of maternity outfits, and whatever else Mary had picked up. Xara hadn’t noticed. She’d been in an entirely different world inside her head as they’d gone from Swiss shoppe to shoppe, and in that world, the only thing she’d heard was that heartbeat. So fast, so steady.
My baby boy.
“While you rest, I will have your lunch prepared. Should you need anything, the phone on your nightstand,” Mary pointed, “pick it up, someone will answer, and I will come.”
Xara nodded. “Okay.”
Mary ushered the servants out of the room and followed. Once the double doors closed, she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She knew what she’d seen, but just like when she’d “lost” Mike the first time, she wasn’t convinced he was gone. She still felt him somewhere.
He was alive.
He had to be.
One of the curtains near the window twitched, and Dom stepped out from behind the satiny fabric.
She pushed up in the bed, back pressed against the soft headboard. “Ramzsyn sent you to kill me?”
“No, Xara.” He walked over and took a seat at the bottom of the mattress. “Mike’s alive.”
She, momentarily, stopped breathing. “What?”
“In Maui, he came to me about taking out Mosvar’s last hit. I told him I was the last ‘assassin’ Mosvar hired, so he gave me his watch and told me, once the plan with Mosvar was set, to trigger a distress notification.” Dom tilted his head back, his eyes searching the gold-plated ceiling tiles. “The plan was to extract you while Mike dealt with Mosvar, but Ramzsyn’s men stormed the villa earlier than anticipated. That’s when I changed the plan. I couldn’t turn you over to Mosvar. God only knows what he’d do to you, and Ramzsyn’s men would have killed Mike. If your guys had shown up a fraction of a second earlier, we wouldn’t even be here right now.”
Xara, shivering, pushed onto her hands and knees and crawled closer to Dom. “Mike’s alive?”
“Yes. Mosvar kept him alive because he thinks Mike will do what he wants, and what he wants is for Mike to kill Ramzsyn.”
“B-but I saw you shot him.”
“None of it was real.” Dom turned his head and his eyes, like two drops of liquid mercury, locked onto hers. “That part, Mike didn’t know about so, as it stands, I betrayed him. But I did what I had to. I shot Mike with a tranq, which is what made him turn around. Then, I ‘shot’ him in the forehead. Mosvar’s men took Mike, and I took you. I didn’t know, at the time, he’d been shot already. Five times.”
“When?” she asked. “Ramzsyn’s men didn’t shoot him in the hallway.”
“It wasn’t me.”
She cradled her stomach. “He got shot in the bedroom and on the balcony? He…why didn’t he…”
Jesus, Mike. You’re a lot stronger than I realized.
Dom nodded toward the door. “I know Mary. Her family is Italian. I’m…betrothed…you could say, to her great niece. It’s why I brought you here, but I didn’t know at the time she was out of town. I’m really sorry about that.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“Still…” He swiped a large hand over his face. “I need to get in contact with the rest of Mike’s team.”
She could tell him where to find them, but she wasn’t sure she trusted him yet. Not completely. This could be his roundabout way of finding out where to locate the rest of the guys to execute them.
“I know where Giorgio Pozza liv—”
“Any-fucking-body but him.” Dom lifted his chin to show off a hell of a scar across his neck. “This is his handiwork and, by now, either word or speculation’s gotten out I had something to do with Mike’s disappearance. Pozza doesn’t ask questions first and shoot later. He doesn’t ask questions at all.”
“You’re right.” She eyed him. “I don’t know if I can trust you.”
“Which is fair.”
“If you can get back into the villa, find my phone and bring it to me.”
He thought for a moment. “The plan is to get you out of here, as soon as I can. I can get us all the way to Switzerland, but I’m working under the radar at the moment, without the full backing of my family, so,” he blew out a breath, “it’s going to be…tricky.”
“You mean your ‘family’ the Russian mafia? Why are you working without them?”
“I’m the prodigal son.” He searched her face. “By the way, how are you? At least, it appears, they’re treating you well?”
“Now that Mary’s here, yes.” She sat back on her legs. “Not so much before.”
Something flashed across his face. “Noted.”
“If you can get my phone, I can help you. However, know that betraying me would be a stupid decision.”
“I won’t.” He flipped his hand, revealing a tattoo of a cross on his wrist. “I promise. My only request is that you be the one to explain why I did what I did to your guys. And Mike, when you see him. Because you will see him.”
Xara closed her hand over the tattoo. “Thank you, Dom.”
Relief brightened his dark features. “You’re welcome, Xara.”
18: Bàba hé Érzi (Papa & Son)
“Fine.” Mike turned his head so he could see his baby again, even if it was from the corner of his eye. He didn’t want to stop looking. “I will kill your father if you promise to keep an eye on Xara. Make sure nothing happens to her. You say you like her, and it appears you and your father aren’t exactly close, so you can do that for me. You can make sure no harm comes to her.”
Four episodes left!