Authors: Bella Rose
She was back in the hallway just starting to gather up her stuff when she saw the two men come upstairs. Her attention was mostly focused on her bags. She needed to stack them in just the perfect configuration in order to get down the stairs without killing herself in the process.
“Trisha Copeland?” the larger of the two men called out to her.
She barely looked up from her luggage project. The overnight bag and her purse were both slung cross body style over her head. Now it was time for the two bigger pieces. She only glanced up when she answered the man. “Yes, I’m Trisha. Are you lost or something?”
“Nope, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.” The man smiled, the sight almost eerie. “You just stay still and don’t fight us, and this will go a lot easier.”
A prickle of awareness slid down Trisha’s spine. She had only just straightened up when both men started walking toward her with their hands held out.
Stay still? Not likely.
She prepared to give them hell.
ANATOLY COULD NOT shake the feeling that something was wrong. He snatched a pen off his desk and made a comment in the margin of the report he was supposed to be reviewing. This was all pointless. The casinos were doing very well. Yes. That was fabulous. There was apparently a chronic issue with the theft of towels at one of his resorts. Why was this crap his problem? Did he not hire managers to take care of such things?
He had already gained his feet and prepared to leave, when Bianka Sokolov and her father Motya came sailing through. Or rather Bianka sailed, and Motya waddled. The man’s round body resembled one of the Imperial Easter Eggs so famed throughout the world, a fact not aided by his love for ridiculously adorned waistcoats.
“Good morning, Anatoly,” Bianka purred. “My father and I have come to finalize the arrangements for our engagement.”
Of all the things Bianka could have said to piss him off, that was at the top of the list. Anatoly felt his mood plummet. He was
in a humor to entertain this nonsense. “I’m terribly sorry, but I have other appointments to attend to this morning. If you simply speak with Yakov, he will help you make an appointment.”
Motya Sokolov opened his mouth, but no words came out. He sputtered, obviously angry, as his face turned a sick shade of puce. Finally, he sucked in a huge breath that sounded a bit like a jet engine preparing for take off. “You will
disrespect my daughter in such a way, Anatoly Zaretsky!”
“Excuse me?” Anatoly felt his temper rising to meet Motya’s. “I am not disrespecting
or your daughter. In fact, it could be argued that you are disrespecting
by charging into my office and demanding my time! As if I have nothing more important in my day than to entertain the marital delusions of a spoiled mafia princess!”
As soon as the comment was out, Anatoly realized he had essentially thrown a gauntlet. Motya’s beady gaze narrowed. “The Zaretskys have enjoyed a lucrative association with the Sokolovs in the last decade, Anatoly. Do not think to profit from this partnership without paying a price.”
“Do you not mean,” Anatoly said through gritted teeth. “That the Sokolovs have enjoyed a lucrative association with the Zaretskys?”
“Impudent whelp!” Motya snarled.
Anatoly put his hands flat on his desk and leaned forward. “Correct me if I am wrong, but my profits have been easily four times that of any Sokolov operation, and they are increasing at a rate which your enterprise could never hope to match.”
Motya pointed his finger, jabbing it at the air in front of Anatoly’s face. “Only because you do not do business in the traditional way!”
I when I can make so much more money doing things my way?” Anatoly demanded. “It makes no sense to stick to the old ways when they are bogged down by protocol that has no purpose.”
“No purpose?” Motya was glowering now. “Your father understood and respected the traditions that kept our mafia strong throughout the years.”
“My father?” Anatoly shook his head, his irritation rising to dangerous levels. “You dare to use my father to defend your ridiculous argument? First of all, my father would have never entertained the notion of marrying his son to a Sokolov, especially not a useless piece of fluff like your daughter who is incapable of anything but the selfish pursuit of her own interests.”
Bianka stomped her foot with a shriek of outrage. “How
you? How dare you insult me like this? I have done nothing but forgive your rude behavior since the first time you took me out!”
“Yes,” he said witheringly. “Because it suited your purpose at the time, which was to gain access to my financial holdings in order to finance your next spending spree. Tell me, Bianka, how much money did you spend on your wardrobe last year?”
“That isn’t important!” she shouted. “I’m an important person. How I look reflects on those around me. Do you not know
“Apparently not.” Anatoly decided to be done with this. He had a strong urge to find Trisha and engage in another verbal sparring match before trying to coax her back into bed a second time. He picked up a sheet of paper and then reached for his pen. Drawing a number on the paper, he very carefully chose what he wanted to say. “You want a marriage between the Sokolovs and the Zaretskys? Fine. This is my offer. This number will be Bianka’s yearly allowance. I will maintain a house and oversee all of the budgetary concerns for that domicile. I will have a separate dwelling. I will not give her one ruble more than this number, nor will I allow her access to my files, financial holdings, investments, business ventures, or any other part of my businesses past, present, or future. No Sokolovs will receive special treatment because of our association any more than they do now. Nor will I allow a larger discount or bonus to Sokolov enterprises because of the marriage.”
Anatoly spun the sheet of paper and shoved it across the desk so that Motya and Bianka could see it. He rather enjoyed the sickly expression on Bianka’s face. He was fairly certain that she went through more money than that in a week. It was why she was so determined to find a wealthy husband. It wasn’t like she could earn her own way or make her own funds.
She placed her pale delicate hand on the paper and shoved it right back at him. “That is insulting! How dare you make me such an offer?”
“If that’s unsatisfactory, then we have nothing left to discuss.” Anatoly straightened his lapels and then his cuffs. He felt rather satisfied. “I will not negotiate this number.”
The look of defeat on Motya’s face bothered Anatoly for some reason. He squashed down the resulting sense of unease and put a lid on it. He had no time for such things. He needed to call Frederick and find out what was taking so long.
“If you’ll excuse me?” Anatoly dipped his head to a gaping Bianka and her father before leaving his office.
Trisha bit down as hard as she could, feeling the muscle in her captor’s arm flinch beneath her assault. The bigger man cursed and snatched his hand away, which gave Trisha a chance to twist her entire body and kick out with both feet.
“Why are you doing this?” she panted. “Leave me alone! Just go!”
The big man reached for her again. “You have to come with us.”
this was going to be such a pain in the ass?” the skinnier man asked. “I thought she was eager to go home.”
A thought occurred to Trisha as the men attempted to drag her down the stairs to the bottom level of the dormitory. She wrapped her arms around the railing and refused to budge. “Were you guys hired by
to do this?”
“Your parents hired us!” The big man was busy trying to pry her fingers off the ancient metal railing.
“Stop!” Trisha shoved his hand away. “Just
The whole scene seemed to freeze for a moment. Thankfully the men stopped trying to pick her up and drag her down the stairs.
She took a few deep breaths and tried to find her equilibrium. Last night she’d had an opportunity to flee right in front of her. Understanding Anatoly a little better, she could say with an almost implacable sense of certainty that Anatoly would have
let her actually leave. However, the option had been presented, and she hadn’t taken it.
Now she was presented with an even easier solution to her “problem.” “My father hired you guys to bring me home. I don’t even have to do anything. You’ll just pack me up and ship me home. No choices, no decisions to be made, I’ll just get with the program in the same way I’ve been doing for the last several decades.”
The men glanced at each other. Then the skinny one cleared his throat. “That’s right, ma’am. We’re ex pats. We belong to a worldwide network of men and women that work to send Americans home when they’ve been taken hostage, captive, or sucked into some foreign bullshit they know nothing about.”
“Like the Russian mafia,” she supplied.
Skinny Guy nodded. “Exactly.”
“Normally we like to negotiate with money or favors,” the bigger man offered. “And we usually use the local law enforcement to help. But you’re being held by Anatoly Zaretsky. None of that matters here in Moscow. Zaretsky runs the city.”
“I know.” And she did know. Or rather, she had guessed as much over the last twenty-four hours. “My life at home is really boring and sheltered, you know?”
They looked confused. She supposed it wouldn’t make much sense to most people that this recent deviation to life with a Russian mafia king seemed like an improvement to a girl from Cleveland who was in her late twenties and had to lobby her father just to borrow the car to go to the mall by herself. She had had dozens of first dates in the last ten years. Her father chased them all away. He had a list of potential husbands a mile long, each one vetted by him, and to a man they were cops he felt would make an appropriate mate for his only child.
“It’s time to go, Trisha,” the bigger man urged.
“No.” She shook her head. “Go home and tell my father that I want to stay. I’m with Anatoly of my own free will.” Trisha chuckled. “Tell Dad that I am finally making a
without anyone telling me what to do. Or rather, I suppose
is telling me to do something and I’m deciding something for myself. Dad will get it. He won’t like it, but he’ll get it.”
The two men shared a long look of what appeared to be shock. Then Skinny Guy cleared his throat. “Trisha, I’m not sure you understand what you’re doing.”
“Anatoly is a monster, right?” she said. “I’ve noticed he has some personality flaws that are sort of pervasive, but you’re wrong. He’s not a monster.”
The big man shook his head. “You don’t know what he’s done.”
“My dad is a cop.” She thought about some of the stories her father had told over the years. “He’s not exactly a Boy Scout either, you know. People do the things they do for a variety of reasons. Not all of those choices are good, but in the moment they probably seemed like the right thing to do.” Trisha glanced up at the wall clock hanging in the hallway. “You guys had better run. Really. If Anatoly comes looking, I’m not exactly certain how much influence I have.”
“You really won’t come with us?” Skinny Guy looked mystified.
Trisha shook her head. “No. And for future reference, just tell people what you’re up to right away instead of going for the whole abduction scenario. You’ll save yourself a whole lot of trouble that way.”
ANATOLY ATTEMPTED TO wrap his mind around what he was seeing and hearing. With an opportunity to escape sitting right in front of her, Trisha had
not to take it? What sort of insanity was this?
He pressed his back to the wall beside the narrow back stairs. After Frederick had told him how long he’d been waiting for Trisha to reappear with her belongings, Anatoly had assumed the worst. Here he had been expecting her to run at every opportunity. He was holding her hostage, after all. Running would be the natural response, would it not?
Now he could see that she had been otherwise occupied for a good reason. Her father had sent a team of ex pats to reacquire his daughter. Not that Anatoly blamed the man. Trisha was a prize to be protected at all costs. She just happened to be a prize that Anatoly was now claiming for himself.
“Trisha,” Anatoly said, slipping around the corner and sauntering down the hallway. “Go back downstairs and get in the car with Frederick please?”
She whipped around as though she were shocked to see him. He’d wondered at one point if she suspected she was being watched and that was why she had declined the escape. Now he knew better. For some reason—which he was
to figure out—she had decided to stay in captivity.
“Anatoly,” she said tightly. “Please don’t hurt these men. They were only doing the job they were hired to do.”
“I know this.” He still wasn’t used to this concept of someone freely voicing her opinion, much less asking him to do things or respond in a certain way. It was disconcerting, mostly because he did not feel pressured by her. The pressure was an internal thing. He wanted to please her. How odd.
“Thank you, Anatoly.” Trisha gave him a smile that made him feel as though the sun had come out. Then she turned and walked away. He heard her on the steps, and then the exterior door of the building slammed shut.
Now he turned his attention to the two men standing before him. They didn’t look afraid, which was to their credit. In fact, they looked like men facing a snake, knowing that their foe was completely unpredictable, and waiting to see how things would turn out before deciding on a course of action.
“Her father sent you,” Anatoly said silkily. “Is that what I am to understand?”
“Yes.” The larger man nodded.
“You do this for a living?”
The man offered a half shrug. “In a manner of speaking.”
“You will give Mr. Jonathan Copeland a message for me,” Anatoly announced.