This was it - The Underground. I was confused by where Val parked the SUV, the street was silent and all of the shops seemed to be closed. If there was a club around, there didn’t seem to be much of a party going on.
The street was also dark, the air cold which made me regret wearing a short dress but it was Val’s request to wear something appropriate for the club.
He was dressed the same as usual. His black suit that was buttoned and his tie peeking out. It made me wonder if he had been to a club before, I’d never before where men were wearing suits.
“Henrik, you know protocol. Contact me if anything seems off,” He told his head of security.
He placed his hand around my waist and led me down the sidewalk, Stefano and Gianna - who had gotten her own way - was following behind us.
“It’s a very quiet area for a club,” I admitted, looking around for any signs of a partiers.
“It’s called the Underground for a reason, sweetheart.”
Actually underground? I glanced at the sewer in the center of the road and silently prayed that we weren’t about to climb down there like the Ninja Turtles.
We walked towards a small café that had a CLOSED sign on the door and when he opened the door, there was a woman at the counter. When she seen that it was Val, she only nodded her head and went about wiping down the counter.
I had expected her to remind us that the café was closed, but she didn’t. She instead acted like we weren’t there, even when Val led us past the counter and into the kitchen.
“Are we allowed back here?” I asked, “Oh my god... Are you robbing her?”
I whispered but my heart was racing. He was in fact someone to fear which would explain why the girl didn’t tell him to leave, perhaps there was money or something back here that he intended to steal.
“What could I possibly want to steal from a café? Doughnuts?” He rolled his eyes at my comment and proceeded to the walk in freezer, pulling it open and letting out the cold air.
I looked at Gianna in the corner of my eye who looked unphased and both she and Stefano followed as Val led me into the freezer. There was a shelf of ice cream cakes and pies on against the wall which Val pulled aside, the wheels making it significantly easier.
My eyes grew wide at the sight of another door. Jesus Christ, how dangerous was this place to be hidden in the freezer of a kitchen of a small, closed café?
As soon as Val opened the second door, music was instantly heard and I lifted my head to look at him. He was too focused on his arrival that he didn’t look back at me, but this entire thing seemed like a little too much work just to get into a nightclub.
Stefano closed the door and when we walked down a long set of stairs, it all appeared before us - a huge night club, and huge was an understatement. I never thought anything this large could be hidden without anyone knowing about it.
There were multiple poles in which half naked and even some naked women were dancing around seductively while men in suits sat around watching them, speaking back and forth to one another.
Alcohol was present along with cigarettes and cigars.
“We’re heading to the blackjack table,” Stefano said to Val, “If you need me, you know how to contact me.”
Val simply nodded while Stefano and Gianna walked away. My eyes stayed on them, wanting to follow, “Are there any other games we can play?”
Val looked at me and narrowed his eyes, “I’m here to make sure business is being taken care of. And blackjack isn’t a game here, love. You piss the wrong person off and they have a gun pointed at you.”
“Sounds like sore losers to me,” I commented.
“People bet money and these are the type of people who don’t like to lose money,” He explained further to me as he held my hand, leading me through the club.
I guess I understand why someone was upset about losing money, but why bid it to begin with?
I kept my eyes away from the stripper poles but one girl in lingerie took it upon herself to approach Val, a huge smile on her face and tilting her head to the side in a flirtatious manner, “Mr. Acerbi, how about a lap dance?”
Perhaps she didn’t see him holding his wife’s hand or maybe she just didn’t give a damn. Either way, the girl had balls to come out and ask him that.
Val simply shook his head and held a hand up, “Thank won’t be necessary this evening, Nina.”
The girl, Nina, looked genuinely disappointed. Poor her, I’m sure she would love her grind her lady parts on a powerful man for money but as she walked away to look for another victim the words Val said settled upon me.
That won’t be necessary this evening.
“She looked awfully upset to not give you a lap dance, it kind of sounded like a tradition,” My voice sounded more bitter than I intended for it to. I could care less what Val did, the last thing I expected from the man was respect.
“Don’t be a child, Elaina. The girl just wants a good tip,” He responded in a casual tone, “Once upon a time I would come down here and get some lap dances, but since you have such insecurities I can assure you that the only girl bouncing on my lap recently has been you.”
I felt sick from embarrassment at his words. His face kept it usual straight emotion and he wasn’t the slightest bit phased by his words, being far too casual.
“Oh my god,” I looked away but wasn’t face with much better when I looked directly towards a stripper at the prime of her dance.
Val stopped walking at a lounging area that was far more quiet than the rest of the area and he sat down, when I looked down at him he was motioning for me to sit down next to him.
Slowly, I sat beside him and crossed one leg over the other, “So, everyone has to go through that little café to get in here?”
“Of course not. There’s another entrance that’s for guest, it’s more accessible for large crowds,” He reached for a bottle of liquor that was set on the table and examined it, making sure it was sealed.
Was he actually going to drink? I never seen him drink. The thought actually made me nervous to see him with alcohol in his system.
As he opened the bottle, Val poured a small glass and passed it to me, “Have a drink, I have some guest coming and you’ll probably be bored.”
“Aren’t you going to have one?” I asked him which earned me a laugh in return.
“The last thing I need is to be intoxicated,” He leaned back on the couch, resting his arm on the back of the couch behind me, “You’re not capable of defending yourself to the full capacity, people take advantage of it and in this business it can get you killed.”
I looked at him, holding the glass of liquor in my hand. He took everything into deep consideration, it all made sense but his life was base around analyzing every single move he made.
“So you’ve never been drunk?”
“False,” His answer surprised me, “However, the last time I was...”
Val’s voice drifted off and he failed to continue, becoming lost in his own thoughts, I rested my hand on his and gave him a comforting smile, “You don’t have to talk about things that upset you. My mom, she always told me to never feel pressured to discuss something that I wasn’t comfortable talking about. Not until I was ready.”
He raised an eyebrow at me and the corner of his my curved upwards as he leaned forwards slightly, “Of course she would say that, she was hiding an entire world of secrets from you.”
The memory pained me of how my mom knew our time together was getting short without even telling me. She knew what my life had to hold but she still threw me into the situation blind and unprepared.
“You can’t care for a person who willingly gives you away like that, can you, Elaina? Your mother, I’ve done my research, she isn’t as innocent as you think. She knew exactly what you were getting involved with and she didn’t stop it,” Val’s expression was serious. He wasn’t messing with me, he was only stating a fact but I was completely unaware of how much my mother knew about this before the night Vadim showed up at my door.
“What do you know about my mom and Vadim?” I asked Val, trying not to sound too desperate but I was completely out of the loop. I knew nothing about my own life.
“I’m afraid that’s a discussion for another time,” He answered.
"Another time,” His eyes met mine, giving me a warning glance just as a small group of people entered the ‘VIP Lounge’ as I like to call it. That explained why Val suddenly turned on his business face and insisted on another time.
“Valentino, good to see that you’re still coming by to check on the business ventures,” A tall man joked but Val didn’t smile, then again, he rarely did smile.
Val stayed seated, “As you know, I come here often to check up on things. I don’t want anything going on that I haven’t approved of, however, I have men here all the time. This is my business, Andrei.”
“I am very much aware,” Andrei responded.
“Is that so? Because I’ve been told that you’ve been bribing the women here for sexual favors,” Val got straight to the point and my eyes widened at his words.
I didn’t want to be a part of this extremely awkward conversation. They were discussing sexual favors like it was a normal, everyday conversation.
Andrei chuckle and poured himself a glass of liquor, smirking at Val, “Don’t be a fool, Valentino. There’s no bribing going on, I simply make an offer and it’s their choice if they want to do anything more than a simple lap dance.”
Val leaned forward and stared directly at Andrei, his eyes not moving for a second as he spoke, “I have contracts with every single person here, unless I update those contracts with the woman being able to have sex with paying man, it just puts more of a target on my business.”
I sat still as Andrei pointed his thumb back towards the stripper poles, “You have girls walking around with their tits hanging out, for Christ’s sake. You have hundreds of men coming in here every night willing to pay, I suggest you get those contracts reevaluated.”
“Patience. Everything takes time,” Val responded in a surprisingly calm tone.
This Andrei guy must be some kind of leader because the other two men weren’t saying a word. It was only Val and Andrei speaking which suddenly came to an abrupt stop.
All men looked to the side as a tall woman approached, as I looked up I realized it was the same woman from the event whom Gianna said was Catherine Morsta.
I remembered her quite clearly, pawing at Val and him holding on to her every movement. What was it about Catherine Morsta that made even Valentino Acerbi look at her with such a captivated stare?
“Valentino, fancy meeting you here,” She smiled at him as she entered the lounge area, taking a seat on the other side of Val.
Her legs seemed to go on for days, even without the heels she seemed tall enough to be a supermodel. Gorgeous. She was absolutely gorgeous, no wonder all the men stared at her.
“Hello, Catherine. You look lovely,” Val commented, not hiding the way his eyes lingered on her body.
She was pleased with herself, though when she leaned forward to look at me, she flashed the best fake smile I’ve ever seen, “You must be Elaina Vasiliev.”
“Elaina Acerbi,” I corrected her before extending my hand, “Pleasure to meet you.”
She had a confidence that I wasn’t extremely fond of, I could already tell that she like to take possession of things that weren’t hers. Val had already made it clear that he’s a supposedly faithful man, if that is true I wouldn’t let this woman act like I was anything less than.
I wasn’t respected in this so called marriage, the least he could do is pretend to respect me in public.
“My apologies, we can’t forget the Acerbi name,” Catherine commented, seething through her teeth as she sat back and placed her hand on Val’s shoulder, looking towards Andrei, “Causing havoc, Andrei?”
I zoned out from the conversation. Val was correct, I was bored and very quickly at that. Did I really have to sit by him the entire time?
Finally taking a sip of the liquor, I noticed Val glance at me in the corner of his eyes as I flinched at the taste - liquor was never my favorite, it was far too strong.
I made a face at the second sip, but by the third I was becoming accustom to the disgusting taste.
After finishing the glass, I turned to Val, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
“Not right now,” He answered instantly, “I’m in the middle of a conversation, tesoro.”
“I don’t need a chaperone to pee.”
He looked over at me and sighed heavily. I could see that he was fighting with his own thoughts, “Don’t talk to anyone. Ask the bartender where the bathroom is, only speak to him and make it clear who you are.”
Yes sir. I said in my mind, because no one in their right mind would say that to Val directly.
I stood up and Catherine looked up at me, grinning mischievously, “It was great meeting, Lena.”
“Elaina,” Val was the one who corrected her, giving her a sharp look and pushing her hand off of his shoulder before looking back at me, “Be quick.”
I nodded my head and left the lounge, eager to get away from the circle of authority.
My eyes scanned the large area for the bar and when I found it, I walked over to the bartender, sitting on stool and waiting to gain his attention while he was getting drinks for other people.
The bartender made his way over to me and nodded his head, “What can I get for you?”
“Hi, I’m just wondering where the bathroom is?” I smiled genuinely at him but all I received in return was a scowl.
“This isn’t a direction center, stop wasting my time.”
I felt embarrassed and nodded slowly, “I sorry, I... My husband told me to come here and ask, I--”
“Yeah?” The bartender rolled his eyes, “You can tell your husband to suck my dick.”
A familiar sound came from next to me, a gun being cocked. Suddenly a gun was aimed directly at the bartender’s head and I nearly jumped out of my seat, startled at the sudden action.
“What was that?” Val asked the bartender, his voice much more harsh than it was just a few moments ago.
The bartender was shaking, his eyes wide with shock and fear, “Mr. Acerbi... This girl, I just - I’m trying to serve customers.”
“This girl is my wife,” Val clarified, “I believe you told her to tell me to suck your dick. How fucking disrespectful.”
The irritation was rolling off of Val and I could see it in his eyes, this wasn’t just a show for him, he was legitimately angry.
“I-I didn’t know that you’re her husband, sir.”
“Apologize,” Val demanded.
The bartender looked at Val with furrowed eyebrows, “What?”
“Say that you’re sorry to my wife,” He wrapped his free arm around my waist and pulled me close to him, “Mrs. Acerbi.”
My heart was pounding, I wasn’t sure who was more terrified in this situation bit when the bartender’s mortified eyes met mine I knew that it was him. He looked scared for his life and this far into my relationship with Val I knew that apologies wouldn’t fix the problem.
“I’m very sorry, Mrs. Acerbi,” He apologized to me, sounding truly sincere, “Please forgive me.”
I nodded my head instantly, “It’s okay, really.” Tugging at Val’s arm, I looked up at him, eager to go, “Let’s go back to the lounge. Please.”
His arm didn’t away, still aiming the gun at the bartender’s head. It was almost as though my words went in one ear and out the other.
Val surprised me by putting his arm down and putting the gun into the holster.
It was completely surprising for me, having expected the man to have a bullet in his head.