E L E V E N
Hangover and early morning were a bad combination. I was quite aware of it, but I experienced it first-hand when someone was banging on the door non-stop as if the whole house was on fire. Even if it did, I couldn’t care less right now.
I ignored it once, pressing the pillows against my ears, and then twice, thrice. But it wouldn’t just-fucking-stop!
Groaning, I pushed off from the bed and stormed towards the door.
If it’s a maid, she is getting fired today.
I wrenched opened the door, almost ready to launch the verbal attack but stopped. “Mia? What’s going on?” Behind her was Marco, judging me silently with his grey eyes.
“We need to talk.”
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, but I was too worn out to refuse. And it didn’t look like Mia would take no for an answer.
“Fine, come in,” I said, and both of them stepped inside the room.
“I am sorry about yesterday, Mia,” I told her, once the three of us sat down on the couch.
She gave me one of those sharp looks she probably picked up from my sister. “You are apologizing for what, Dominic? Shooting at my husband or for destroying my Pablo Picasso?”
“For the Pablo Picasso thing,” I admitted truthfully. It’s impolite to lie to your family after all.
She rolled her eyes. “Of course!”
“Your husband is an ass, you know it, right?”
At the precise moment, Marco butted in. “Who gave you that information about Viktor’s whereabouts?”
Here’s the thing about this guy: he was more loyal to Viktor than he was my friend. Three of us grew up together, but Marco and Viktor wouldn’t just stop going big-brother on my ass. So, I equally hated him.
I snickered at him. “You are the idiot who went with Viktor.”
“Aurora, right?” He shook his head and muttered. “I will have to deal with her later.”
“You know what, Marco, for a man who can’t grow a pair to admit your feelings for that girl, you sure as hell exert a lot of control on her. She owes nothing to you. So, threat Aurora all you want—she won’t cave. She has bigger balls than you do.”
His eyes turned ridiculously dark. Marco was otherwise thick-skinned until you mention Aurora in front of him. “For a man who doesn’t even know that a girl duped him, you talk of a lot of game. Get over you teenage crush, Dominic.”
Mia almost jumped in, glaring with her feminine-eyes. “Okay, stop! Before this turns out to be World War III, let’s settle this in a civilized manner.” She turned to Marco and spoke like a secret language. “Tell him.”
“Tell me what?”
Marco straightened and fixed me a weird look. “That girl, Lilliana, she told you that she was passing by in her friend’s car when she spotted you, in an unconscious state, right?”
Hesitantly, I nodded. “So?”
He threw a folder on my lap and continued like some presidential security detail. “Lilliana was on the same spot for more than twenty minutes before she pulled you out of the car. Viktor’s IT boy, James, pulled up her location by hacking into some satellites. Your car blew up around 8:10 a.m., and she was within the radius for about twenty minutes before that.”
Between yesterday’s events, the nasty hangover and this, my brain was spinning, and I was completely unable to process any of this sober. But Marco went on about it.
“And that’s not all. Let’s see from the beginning—none of Lilliana’s official documents have any digital footprints. It’s like she dropped from the sky one fine morning like an alien. And on top of it all—she is a would-be journalist.”
Yeah, my family and journalists didn’t mix well.
“What did Viktor tell her that day?” I asked him slowly, unable to shove aside the incident.
Marco simply shrugged a shoulder. “He thanked her for saving your life.”
I snorted. “Try again; we are talking about Viktor here. My brother doesn’t know how to say sorry or thank you.”
“It sounded more like a threat, but the exact words were thank you. Just think about it, Dominic. She has been pretending ever since you met her. Don’t you think it’s a little fishy—a girl with no family or friends, out of the blue, interested in you?”
I didn’t answer, because I couldn’t. My brain was officially a wreck, and even though I wanted to smash Viktor’s head against the wall—the fucker was right this time. But he had no fucking right to go behind my back.
Gripping my head in my hands, I sat there wishing none of this were true. A moment later, I didn’t know what Mia whispered to Marco, but he got on his feet and left without another word.
“Here, take this.” Mia pushed an Aspirin into my palm and handed me a glass of water.
“Thank you,” I said softly. “Between this girl and my brother—I will go insane, Mia.”
“Dominic, I haven’t met this girl, so I am not going to judge her outright. But her timing seems very fortuitous. She has a lot of hidden skeletons in her closet, and that is why Viktor is worried about you.”
“By going behind my back?” I challenged. “What am I to him, four-year-old? Couldn’t he ask me or talk to me directly?”
“That’s for you and your brother to figure how you both want to play it out—as grown-ups or as children bickering among themselves. My job here—is done.”
She got up to leave when I stopped her midway. “How do you do that, Mia? How do you love a difficult person like Viktor?” I always wondered how she had made it look so easy when all of us knew, in reality, how difficult a person my brother was.
Her face pulled into one of those gentle, sunshine smiles. “Between you and me, Dominic,” she said softly. “I’d agree that Viktor is a difficult man to love. But, honestly, I wouldn’t have him any other way.”
I nodded slowly with a half-smile, like an idiot, because I’d never understood the complexities of these extreme emotions she had for my brother.
“And Dominic?” Mia called out from the doorway.
“You better buy me another original vintage painting.”
To which, I could only smirk. “Yes, ma’am.”
I woke up next, disoriented and heavy-headed, and before I could open my eyes, I realized that I was not in my bedroom. Panic flooded into my system as I twisted my arms, only to realize that they were bound to chains against some filthy fucking wall.
My mouth opened to scream, but my tongue felt so heavy I could only groan. Squinting my eyes, I looked around the sunlit room. It was completely barren except for a couch and a chair across the room. When jerked against the chains unwittingly, it caused nothing but more pain.
Fuck! I tried screaming for help again, but the sound came out hoarsely and hurt my throat like hell. All of a sudden, the door unlocked, and in walked the man I was least expecting to kidnap me.
Why would he even take the pain to kidnap me when I was offering myself to him anyway?
He sauntered closer; his gait measured and calculated, his face stiff and clinical. Without a word, he fished out something, and before I registered the object in his hand—he pushed the contents into my veins.
“What the fuck! Dominic,” I hissed. “You—”
A hand clamped over my mouth, shutting me up, and I felt the tip of the blade against my stomach. “If you utter one word out of turn, I will make you scream, Lilliana. Understood?”
I nodded slowly, fighting the urge not to look scared. The blue fire blazed brighter in those eyes, imploring some deep, psychological ache.
Did he figure out everything? There was no way he could unveil my true identity to warrant a temper like that.
“What’s your real name?”
I studied his face for a moment. “Lilliana Hen—”
The blade was pressed against my throat before I could pronounce Henderson, the fake surname I gave myself.
“Try again!” he gritted out. And I could feel the violent throbbing of my pulse as I eyed the blade. “And the truth this time.”
“Or you won’t?”
I shook my head slowly when the blade was inched away. “Security reasons.”
I had my story mapped out a long time ago because I knew Dominic won’t rest until he digs out everything there was to know about me.
He let out a dark chuckle, the sound rumbling out from the back of his throat. “Bullshit!” he dismissed.
“You don’t want to believe me? Fine, then don’t. Do what you want. It can’t be any worse what they’d do if they ever find me.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“Foster parents,” I lied outright. “I stole their money and fled away.”
“Where are you from?”
He retreated his hands, and I saw the flame of anger burning slight dimly now. “And why did you steal and run away?”
“They were rich and cruel. Something you people have in common,” I sneered. “So, I took their money and fled. I wanted to become something, and if I stayed back, I would have been nothing but a maid.”
“You still haven’t given me a name,” he stated icily.
“And I won’t.”
He regarded me for a moment, his face as hard as a stone. “What were you doing there that day, the day of the accident?”
“I told you, I was passing by and...”
His eyes clenched shut immediately, the vein ticked at his temple. “Lilliana,” he gritted clenched teeth. “My patience is tenuous at best. Don’t push me, because I would really regret hurting you. But that doesn’t mean I won’t.”
And I believed him. “I knew who you were,” I blurted. “We heard the shooting that day, and instinctively, we hid. After the blast, when everything fell silent, we just wanted to run away from there. And then I spotted you. At first, I didn’t know who you were, I really didn’t, but when I realized, I couldn’t get you to the hospital. Your family was influential, and I am technically a criminal. I had no intention of getting caught by cameras. But obviously, I wouldn’t have left you there to die. So I pretended in front of you.”
“A criminal who decided to become a journalist?” His brows arched high. “Nice story.”
“I have no intention to appear on camera,” I clarified. “Or at least until I expose those jerks.”
“Who are they, Lilliana?” he asked again.
“Ask me something else, or carry out your threats of violence. I won’t spill the names.”
He nodded, giving in a little too quickly, for I expected him to counter. “Fair enough. Onto the next subject then: why didn’t you tell me that my brother visited you in my absence?”
So, this is it! I thought. This is the reason he is all riled up.
“I am sorry, I didn’t know I was supposed to inform you about every person who pays me a visit,” I told him coolly.
The fire in those blue orbs turned into an icy glacial now. “What did Viktor tell you?”
“Why don’t you ask your brother instead of torturing me?”
“Answer me!” he bellowed.
I studied the desperation behind his rage, and I precisely knew what to say. For the first time after I regained my consciousness, I was glad that Dominic and I were having this conversation. He was playing right into my hands without even realizing.
Dominic Romano was digging a grave for his brother with the spade I pushed into his hand.
“Apparently, your brother is not very happy with your association with me,” I drawled.
“He did what he thought would keep me away from you. He offered me money,” I told him.
His fingers clenched painfully around the handle of the blade, the knuckles turning white as a ghost. “How much? How much did he offer you?”
That is a trick question.
A man like Viktor Romano, one with an unlimited resource, wouldn’t offer anything less than generous when it comes to his family.
“A blank cheque—that’s what your brother offered me, Dominic. He told me that I could write down any number I wanted to.”
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