Her eyes barely squinted open as she groaned awake, and every second more into consciousness yielded her more discomfort to the side of her head.
Everything was white. The ceiling above her, the walls and blinds that shielded the room from the sun, and as far as she could see, the gown she wore too.
The bed was surprisingly soft and wide, and as she looked around, Sapphire noticed that the room itself was quite large and unusual. There was a large flat-screen TV on the wall in front of her, and the small table beside her held a bunch of flowers and cards. It didn’t take long for her to realise she was in a hospital, but the memory of how she ended up there was still unclear.
Tubes were attached to her hand, and something was taped under her nose. Sapphire had the urge to rip them away from her, but her limbs were frozen still. She groaned again and lifted her finger that had a pulse oximeter attached to it. With her knowledge of hospitals, she knew what the button on the side of the bed meant, and she desperately needed some water.
The blinds were closed, but it was evident that the sun wasn’t at its peak. It was probably nine in the morning. The last thing Sapphire remembered was going to bed that night she went out with Alexey, and Sophie was there trying to warn her about something. Everything else was blank, but it didn’t take her long to guess what might’ve happened.
If Sophie knew something, perhaps that was the reason why she was so anxious to talk to Sapphire. It puzzled her. What happened that night, and how did she end up here? If it was indeed someone trying to hurt her, was their intention to kill her?
Most likely. She had been a part of this world for only a month, but she knew that any form of hurt would most likely be aimed at killing. Whoever did this didn’t want her to live.
It was only luck that saved her, and probably who found her.
Finally, the door opened, and a woman in a white uniform entered with a clipboard held against her chest. Sapphire was relieved, as she didn’t think she could survive another minute without water.
“Hello there,” the young nurse said with a smile as she adjusted Sapphire’s head on the pillow. Sapphire moaned at the relief of freeing her neck. “Need some water?” she asked, and Sapphire nodded once. A sharp pain struck her head at the simple movement. She noted that she had to stay still from now on.
The nurse, Aleen, as her name tag read, grabbed a glass from the table beside Sapphire and put the straw to her lips. Sapphire gulped it down eagerly as the room temperature liquid moistened her parched throat.
“You’re going to have to take it easy for a while,” Aleen said as she rested the glass down. “You took quite a fall there. You’re lucky you hadn’t broken any bones with that type of fall. It’s almost miraculous.”
“I’m sorry, did you say I fell?” Sapphire asked, confused.
Aleen nodded. “Yes, at least that’s what the gentleman who brought you here said. With a blow like this to your head, we were shocked that you hadn’t broken any bones. You had a hell of a concussion, though, and if he was an hour too late, you’d be dead. You lost a lot of blood and fluid. But you’ll be okay. You just need rest,” she explained as she checked Sapphire’s vitals and reflexes.
“What gentleman brought me here?” she asked as Aleen shone a bright light in both her eyes.
“Um… Mr Domonique, I believe?”
“Valentin Dominik,” Sapphire mumbled, and the nurse’s face lit up.
“Yes, that’s it. Quite an eye-catcher,” she teased. “You are lucky in more than one way that he came home that night. Are you two engaged?”
Sapphire jerked her head towards Aleen too fast, causing another throb in her head. “No, no. We are more like co-workers.” She cleared her throat as she asked her next question. “Is he here?”
Aleen shook her head. “No, he left last night. He said he’d be back in the morning to check on you. I guess I should call and let him know you’re awake.”
It then occurred to Sapphire that Valentin wasn’t even supposed to be home on the night she saw Alexey.
“Um, how long have I been asleep?”
“Four days, sweetie.” The nurse smiled at her sympathetically as Sapphire’s eyes widened.
“Yes. As I said, you took quite a blow to your head. I’m still amazed how the rest of your body is unscratched.” She heaved out a heavy breath as she made a final tick on her clipboard. “Well, some people are luckier than some. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Thank you,” Sapphire said wholeheartedly.
Aleen smiled brightly at her. “Of course. Now, you just rest, and I’ll send your visitors in.”
“Visitors?” Sapphire pulled her eyebrows together as she tried to sit up more on her surprisingly comfy bed. Aleen opened the blind before heading for the door, and Sapphire got a perfect view of the sea from where she sat. No doubt she was on the very top floor of the hospital, which explained why her room was this big. Valentin no doubt got her a first classroom. As if it was necessary.
Soon after Nurse Aleen left, two women entered the room, and Sapphire saw that it was Sophie and Katerina. Sophie’s eyes were red and puffy with dark circles underneath them, and Sapphire instantly felt guilty for worrying Sophie this much.
Katerina was the first to approach her and offered her a small hug, careful not to hurt her any further. Sophie was next, but her hug was far tighter. Sophie hadn’t known Sapphire for long, but Sapphire was by far one of her favourite persons to be around.
She also felt awful that there was more she could’ve done to stop this attack on Sapphire. If only she could’ve done something more. If only she could’ve stopped it.
“How are you?” Katerina asked as she sat on the chair beside Sapphire’s bed.
“I’m alive,” she replied with a chuckle. “Did I really fall down the stairs?” Deep down, Sapphire knew this wasn’t the truth. It simply didn’t make sense. From the urgent warning Sophie was trying to give her before she went to bed, plus the mere fact that her body was without scratches, it didn’t make much sense.
Sophie shook her head and proceeded to tell her what happened, but Katerina had to translate. She disconnected the monitor for the service call system before speaking.
“You didn’t fall down the stairs. You were attacked in your room by Luka on Elisa’s behalf. Sophie overheard the plan and she tried to warn you that night. You were far too tired, and you couldn’t understand each other, so Sophie called Valentin. But he was too late. Sophie had to leave, or else she feared what Elisa would do if she didn’t.” Katerina paused for a while as she listened to something else Sophie said, and her face fell in sympathy as she redirected her gaze to Sapphire. “Sophie is very sorry. She wants you to know that she tried everything to stop them and warn you.”
Sapphire instantly pulled Sophie in a hug again. “I don’t blame you, Sophie. If you were the one who called Valentin, then you still saved my life. The nurse said if he was an hour later, I’d be dead. So, thank you.”
Katerina quickly translated as they pulled apart, and a stray tear rolled down Sophie’s cheek at the great relief that Sapphire didn’t hate her. They were all happy she was alive and okay. Things could’ve gone a lot worse.
As Sapphire thought about what Katerina said, it all felt surreal. She had small fragments of memories from the night, but it all was still a blur. She remembered waking up after hearing her door opening, and she remembered seeing a shadow in the dark. But it was hazy from there.
If this were true, did Valentin tell the doctors that she fell to protect his sister and underboss? The thought made her sick to her stomach, and had anything been in her system, she would’ve surely hurled it all up.
“Why did Valentin tell everyone that I fell down?” the question came out loud. Katerina sighed at the evident hurt in her eyes.
Sapphire must’ve believed that Valentin was protecting them, but if she should just know how much he had been hunting them down for the past four days. Katerina actually feared for anyone who might be caught in the paths of Luka or Elisa, because Valentin’s wrath was uncanny.
It would be better for Luka and Elisa to fall off the face of the earth than come face-to-face with Valentin. Valentin wasn’t hasty to raise a gun at anyone, especially his family or old friends. But he hated that they did something like this out of greed, jealousy and egoistic maliciousness. Yes, Sapphire’s arrival was sudden and annoying for a while, and she changed many things. But killing her and trying to make it look like an accident was far more brutal than anything he had ever done in his life.
Valentin might be cold, but killing without proper motive, and violence against women were two things he didn’t stand for. Especially with his budding feelings for Sapphire, it was just a cherry on top of his already seething wrath.
“Valentin didn’t tell the truth because he didn’t want the police getting involved,” Katerina provided. “And if you would have seen him, you would understand why. At first, I thought he simply didn’t want the police pushing their noses around his business, but I’ve noticed that he simply wanted to issue judgement on his own.”
Katerina shared a look with Sophie. They had seen first-hand how Valentin had been over the past four days. The first day, he stayed all night beside Sapphire, simply watching her sleeping state. He was only there for an hour the second day, but he’d check in every now and then, especially at the nights.
He was an emotional wreck, yet he managed to keep the mafia in order. Everyone was looking for Luka and Elisa.
Sapphire didn’t believe Valentin would kill his own sister. But then again, she hadn’t seen what he’d been like.
“Can… Can you call him?” she heard herself asking. Katerina offered her a small simper as they stood to leave.
“Of course,” she said, but she didn’t have to because at that moment, the door was flung open, and there Valentin stood, gazing at her from across the room.
Katerina and Sophie said their goodbyes, but Sapphire was too busy staring at Valentin to hear. She didn’t know how to explain it, but the immense gratitude she felt for him overflowed right there and then as they stared at each other.
Valentin took slow steps towards her as the women left. He was afraid that if he moved too fast, he would shock her back into another four torturous days of sleep. She was actually awake, sitting up and staring at him with her bright, green orbs.
Her face was pale, and her breathing was slow, but she still looked nothing less than perfect. Soon, he was at the bed. He sat beside her and instantly reached up to cup her cheek in his hand.
“You’re awake,” he mumbled, and Sapphire nodded, involuntarily leaning in to his touch.
“And you’re here,” she said. Her heart had been pounding like crazy from the second he entered. She didn’t understand why, but she knew a big part of it was because of gratitude.
“You’re alive,” he mumbled; his voice was barely a whisper as if it was just becoming real to him.
But Sapphire frowned as she examined his face. “You don’t look happy.”
Valentin hesitated for a while before answering, ensuring that he never held eye contact for more than two seconds. “There is something I have to tell you.”
“Valentin, if it’s about Luka, I already know that he’s still on the run. I already know what happened and why you told the nurses that I fell. It’s okay. Katerina told me everything.”
“I figured she would,” he said, and Sapphire noticed that instead of looking better, he seemed even tenser. “But that’s not what I meant.”
“So, what is it then?” Sapphire waited for him to speak, but when she met his eyes, she could see that this wasn’t something he wanted but was forced to do.
She couldn’t imagine anyone forcing Valentin to do something unless it was himself. Did something happen on his trip to Italy? She had been anxious every second while he was away. Perhaps his mood stemmed from there.
“I have arranged for you to go back home,” he finally said, and Sapphire’s mouth hung open—speechless. “As soon as you are discharged, my pilot will take you to America, where you are safe and where you belong.”
Sapphire couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What? Valentin, no. I won’t go.”
“You have to,” he gritted out. His eyes were now blazing. “Sapphire…” he paused for a while as he composed himself, “When your chef called me, I was miles away from home. I moved as fast as I could, but I was still late.”
“It’s not your fault. And you’re the reason why I’m even alive!” Sapphire sounded as if she was pleading for him to hear her out. She didn’t want to go home. At least not yet. And if she was being genuine and honest with herself, she didn’t want to go ever.
The quick thought that this was all planned surfaced in her mind. From the minute she arrived, Valentin and Luka had been trying to get her to go back home. But the very look of hurt, anger and turmoil swimming around in Valentin’s grey eyes told her that he had nothing to do with this. It was also evident that he didn’t actually want her to go. The way he spoke was strained, as if he was fighting with himself to let the words fall from his lips. He didn’t want to send her home to get rid of her. He wanted to protect her.
Sapphire decided that she didn’t need protection. Luka and Elisa were cowards. They didn’t just wait until Valentin was gone, but they waited until Sapphire was asleep too. If it had been any other way, they wouldn’t have dared.
“But you could’ve been dead!” he returned, just as harshly. “Sapphire, on the flight home, I dreamt that you were safe. My subconscious made up a scenario to keep me relaxed. Do you know how I felt when I woke up? Do you know how hard it was for me to see you lying in the rain with no sign that you were alive?”
He shook his head. “If I had been a little later, you wouldn’t even be alive right now. This world is not for you. I have lived like this all my life, so I know how to handle having targets on my back. When you came into this business, you automatically signed up for being a headshot.”
“I know what I got into, Valentin. And I am not leaving just because of this. I still have—”
“Goddamit, Sapphire!” Valentin cut her off. “This is not the time to be stubborn. Can’t you see that I am just trying to keep you alive? You think I want you to leave?”
Sapphire stayed quiet. She underestimated how hard this was for him. He didn’t just dislike the idea of her leaving. He dreaded it.
“I was wrong when you first arrived. You have been more than helpful in this business, and you probably saved me too by identifying my fake alliances. But look, I know you have a family and friends in America.” He paused as he met her intense gaze again. “I know you have a boyfriend.”
Sapphire’s eyes widened. She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or unhappy that Valentin knew about D’Andre. She also felt guilty. Her boyfriend back home hadn’t crossed her mind since she woke up. It was all Valentin.
Sapphire reached for his cold hands and held onto three of his fingers with her weak, frail ones. “Valentin, you don’t have to be scared for me.”
“This world is too dangerous for you.” Valentin was firm in his decision, and Sapphire saw this. It made her wonder. Did he care for her this much? He evidently wanted her to stay, but his belief in keeping her safe outweighed it.
“I can take care of myself, Valentin. I have no doubt that I can, and you know it too. You know why they attacked me while I was asleep. You know that they wouldn’t have had a fair chance if I was awake. We live, and we learn. At least now, I will be more aware of my surroundings and, as you say, watch my back. We can watch each other’s backs.” Sapphire saw that she was breaking through his shell, but he still needed push.
It warmed her heart that he cared for her this much. Six days ago, she wouldn’t imagine Valentin in front of her looking so hurt and vulnerable on her behalf. Probably he was better at hiding his feelings than she thought.
“It’s still dangerous,” he mumbled. He was still trying to hold onto what he believed was the right thing to do, but Sapphire was winning, and he knew it.
Sapphire shuffled closer to him; this time, she lifted her hand to hold his cheek just like what he did with her earlier.
“What’s dangerous is going home and living a lie, knowing where my heart wants to be,” she whispered. Valentin’s breath hitched as he peered at her, and he found no lie in what she just uttered.
Her lips tilted upwards as she gently caressed the light stubble on his face. Valentin noticed the way her breathing had changed, and it was no secret that his had too.
Without thinking or waiting any longer, he leaned closer to her. Her eyes blazed with desire as her lips parted involuntarily. The last thing she heard was Valentin mumbling something in Russian before he brought his lips to hers, initiating their first kiss.
Been A While...
Happy Sunday! <3
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