Selena nodded. Alex did a lot of work in Russia and South America. He also traveled with a bodyguard who carried heavy artillery. All of his cars were custom-made to be bulletproof. She'd always suspected that not everything was on the up and up. He was either a spy or as her sister Lauren believed, "a drug lord." Selena was fine with Alex being a crook. Her father was a crook. Her brothers were crooks. But she always thought that he only committed white collar crimes.
Hell, her father was a career criminal and Alex didn't know that. What could he possibly have in his closet that was worse than hers?
"Where was the dirty money coming from?"
Alex dropped his gaze to their joined hands. "Drugs and human trafficking. Cocaine and heroin. Some arms dealing. He also had some illegal casinos. He'd become a respectable politician in Israel and needed clean money. I began to advise him not just on financial matters, but strategies on how to undercut his rivals or sink them entirely. I helped him execute a plan that derailed a business deal of Kalyagin, which cost him several million dollars and bad faith.
"That was when I truly caught Kalyagin's attention. I tried to reason with him and he agreed to a ceasefire, but things had already been set in motion and neither of us could stop it. Rebecca was targeted because of me. An assassin was sent after her." He covered his face again and cried as though he were right there, witnessing the whole thing happening again. "Joseph got there in time and stopped the assassin before she could kill Rebecca, but she'd already shot her in the stomach, so Rebecca lost our baby…"
Selena wrapped her arms and legs around him and drew his head back down to her shoulder. "God, Alex, that's terrible. I'm so sorry."
He lifted his head to look at her and his eyes bared his raw agony. "Vadim once told me that the only way I could protect my family is to be the one in power and for that to happen, I would have to cut off all ties with them, so that my enemies will never target them. And that's exactly what I did."
Having once been a target of her father's arch enemy, she empathized with him more than he could ever know. "You did it for their protection, Alex."
He cupped her face between his hands. "Selena, I never anticipated meeting you or falling in love with you. And I never expected you'd get pregnant. Before you came along, I only had myself to worry about. Now that I have you and the baby…"
Selena pulled back from him just enough so she could meet his gaze. "Alex, I can take care of myself more than you can possibly imagine."
"What do you me--?"
Selena heard the scratching behind the bedroom door before it burst open, revealing two large men dressed in black from head to toe and wearing ski masks. One of them held a bound and gagged Ingrid around the neck and a gun pointed at her temple.
When Selena heard the scratching noise, her body went on full alert. She rolled off of Alex, reached into her nightstand drawer and pulled out her Hi-Power 9mm Browning in one smooth move despite the bulk of her stomach.
She managed to squeeze off two rounds before the men could even speak, nailing them both on the forehead. They dropped to the ground. So did Ingrid, but from fainting. She was otherwise unharmed.
Alex stared at Selena in shock. "What the hell was that? You were Edwin Baxter's admin assistant. You make me kill cockroaches for you!"
Selena put the gun on safety and returned it to the nightstand. "While you and Joseph were gone, Lyudmilla and I noticed a cable company truck parked half a block from here about a week and a half ago during our morning walk. Well, I thought that was odd because nobody in this neighborhood has cable. Everyone has a satellite dish. The next day, the truck was back. I called the company and they told me they don't service our area.
"So then I called my cousin Ricky in Northridge and told him to bring me my old gun."
"Your old gun?" Alex raised his eyebrows. "Why didn't you call me?"
Selena looked down at her hands. "You gave me the impression that you don't like to be disturbed while you are away on a trip."
Alex put his hands on her shoulders and gave her a light shake. "Selena, is that why I never hear from you? I would welcome your call any time, especially if you think you're in trouble."
"Uh… we should probably have this discussion later. We've got two dead bodies to take care of right now. You wouldn't happen to have rocket fuel, would you?"
Alex was completely befuddled, both horrified and awed. "I have access to jet fuel, but… Selena, we can't just fly the bodies out of here. Besides, the jet is in LAX!"
Selena crinkled her nose. "Who said anything about flying them anywhere? You'd get blood all over your nice plane. Jet fuel wouldn't work anyway. It doesn't contain perchloric acid." She frowned and waved her hand dismissively. "No worries, my cousin Bing used to work for Space X and stole a bunch of shit before he got fired. I bet he has rocket fuel. We'd probably have to give him a lot of money, then I might have to kill him later if he gets greedy. He's from my mother's side of the family and they're all a bunch of no-good moochers. He lives in San Dimas."
Alex opened his mouth, then closed it again. After a deep breath, he tried again. "You mean to dissolve the bodies in rocket fuel?"
Selena nodded. "Yeah, the perchloric acid will make quick work of them. It should only take about ten hours. What you see in the movies about flesh dissolving from bones within seconds? Not true."
Alex could only stare at her in disbelief.
Selena's heart sank. He thought he'd lose her if he told her the truth about what he actually did for a living, so to make him feel better, she showed him her truth. Was she the one who's going to lose Alex, after all?
"Who are you?" he asked after several moments.
"Have you ever heard of a man called Lingshan Lee?"
Alex started to shake his head. "Wait, yes. Some of my clients have been trying to branch out to the Southeast Asian market for a while, but have yet to gain ground."
Selena couldn't help the smirk that crawled across her lips. Amateurs. "And they never will. Not while the Syndicate is around."
"The Syndicate?" Alex repeated. "The supposed network of powerful Chinese businessmen from old families who actually control the major gangs in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan? I thought that was a myth."
"Even 14K answers to the Syndicate," Selena informed her husband. "And you know 14K controls all the drug flow, prostitution, and arms dealing throughout Asia and North American territories. They toppled the Yakuza long ago."
She picked up his hand. "I know the cartels have been having a hard time getting their shipment past the border these days because the DEA is always on their asses."
Alex nodded. "Yes…"
"The Syndicate has a few politicians and friends at the Justice Department deep in their pockets. 14K also has a network of snitches everywhere and they pay them very well."
Alex grabbed her forearms.
"Selena, how can you possibly know all of this?"
She smiled wryly at him. "Because my father is Lingshan Lee, a board member of the Syndicate."
"You're Chinese? You told me you were a Filipina!"
"Oh, Alex." She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. "From now on, I will take care of you, okay? You don't have to worry about me the way you do. I've got your six. Joseph and I will always be here for you."
"Does Joseph know about you?"
Selena laughed softly. "No. But he's taken a bullet for you twice. No one can be more loyal to you, other than me. I love you, Alex, don't you know that? All of you, even the morally bankrupt parts."
His hands slid from her shoulders back to her face and he kissed her briefly on the lips. "I love you, too, Selena. So much. I just wanted to make the world safe for you."
Selena sighed. "And that's what I want for you, Alex, and for our baby." He was still looking a little down, so she thought she'd make a joke. "Won't you sleep better at night now, knowing you have a sharp shooter for a wife?"
Alex chuckled and held her close. "And she knows how to dissolve bodies, too." He guided them back onto the mattress until they were both lying down on their sides, still staring at each other. "We should probably take care of the bodies before their blood permanently stains the carpet. Plus Ingrid is bound to freak out and faint again after she wakes up and finds herself lying next to dead thugs."
Selena grinned. "I'll call my cousin Bing."
Alex kissed her forehead. "And I'll call Joseph."
"Poor Lyudmilla? Do you have any idea how much I pay her husband?"
She touched his face. "You don't have to be afraid anymore, Alex. I can be strong enough for the both of us. You can lean on me. The only thing I'm afraid of in this world is losing you."
He picked up her other hand and brought it to his cheek. "I've done some unforgivable things in the past, Selena. I killed Vadim Kalyagin myself. I shot him in the back of the head."
Selena raised her eyebrows. "Alex, I just killed two men to save your life."
"Have you ever killed before tonight?"
She had to give it to him straight. She couldn't lie to him anymore after tonight "Yes. Alex, in our world, it's kill or be killed. And some people just need killin.'"
He looked into her eyes, the expression in them pleading, as if just for a moment, he wanted things to go back the way they were. "Do they?"
Selena caressed his handsome face. "We're crooks, sweetie. We do crooked things."
He was silent for a moment, then he gave her that smile that made her fall in love with him every day. "I suppose we do."