Their laughter rolls over my skin like shards of glass. The clanking of coffee cups and dishes blasts like bombs in my ears.
“Lena, I told you not to drink that last shot,” Marie chides me with a soft laugh. She shifts in her seat to help block some of the sun from pouring through the café window into my face. It doesn’t help.
“I don’t think it’s that,” I say, taking another sip of my coffee. My head hadn’t ached when I woke this morning. It’s only since I sat down with Marie and Tanya that a dull ache took root then bloomed into the thunderous pounding it is now.
“You look sort of pale,” Tanya says, pressing the back of her hand to my cheek. “No fever.”
I roll my eyes. “It’s just a headache. A migraine probably. I haven’t had one in a long time. I’m due.” I brush her hand away. The alarm on my phone dings, and I check the time. “Shit. I’m going to be late.” I down the rest of my latte in one large gulp.
“Off to the suburbs? Can’t you stay a bit longer? We were going to go shopping.” Marie tugs on my hand. A wave of nausea hits me, and I still myself for a moment until it fades. Maybe a trip out to my brother’s house isn’t such a good idea.
“Dom will murder me if I don’t show,” I say when I get moving again. Showing up with a migraine is better than not showing up at all. My oldest brother doesn’t need another reason to lecture me on my perceived irresponsibility.
“Lena, you really look bad.” Tanya stands from her chair. “Maybe I should drive you home.”
“No. I’m fine.” I sling my purse over my shoulder. The café is filled, not an empty seat to be had. I’m going to have to maneuver through the crowd to get to the door and every move I make brings another wave of unsteadiness.
“Are you sure?” Marie asks, concern weighing down the question. She glances over at the counter. “Let Sergio walk you to your car.”
Sergio is her latest fuckbuddy. He’ll do pretty much anything she asks if it means he’ll get into her panties.
“No. No. It’s too busy.” I push her arm down. “It’s just too crowded in here. I’ll be fine once I get outside in the fresh air. Dominik’s waiting and my father too. I’ll be fine,” I assure them, but the dark cloud fogging my head suggests I’m lying.
“What can I get you ladies?” Sergio pops up at our table, his eyes focused on Marie.
“Sergio, Lena’s not feeling well. Will you take her to her car?” Marie lays on the sugar with her question.
“Sure.” He turns to me. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” I roll my eyes, which sends my head into another spin. I grab hold of the back of my chair and take a deep breath. “It’s all right.”
He darts a look at the counter then back to me. “You sure?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
He nods, but his eyes are focused off in the distance, behind me.
“Okay, then. I should get back.”
“I’ll talk to you before I leave.” Marie wiggles her fingers at him. He throws her a wink then hurries back between the tables. Sergio’s family owns the Corner Café, a small café in the center of Chicago’s Little Poland.
“I’ll see you both tomorrow.” I lean over and give Marie a peck to both cheeks then do the same with Tanya. “I need to give you the presents I brought back from Poland for you.”
“Just be careful driving.” Tanya squeezes me when she hugs me. “You really look bad.”
I laugh, sending more pain through my head. “Thanks.” I wave off her apology. I’m late, and my oldest brother will make me sit through a lecture I’m in no condition to sit through if I don’t hurry.
Maneuvering through the café leaves me dizzy, but I don’t stop moving until I’m outside. Taking a few deep breaths helps to settle my head. Maybe I’m nervous. My father has set the bar high for Dominik’s wife, but he’s impressed with her. If she’s been able to tolerate Dominik for this long withing attempting his murder, I’m sure she’s worth my father’s approval. Standing beside her will probably only highlight my shortcomings.
My phone dings again with my notifications. I need to get going. I hurry across Milwaukee Avenue and head down the side street. Parking lots are a luxury this part of town doesn’t have. I was lucky to find a spot on the street not too far from the café.
As I walk, another pair of footsteps falls in behind me. I slip my keys from my purse and tuck a single key between two of my fingers like Dominik taught me when I was in high school. My car is only two spots ahead of me.
My heart hammers into my ribs, falling in line with the heavy throb of my head.
I turn my head enough to see a single man walking. He’s dressed in a pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt. His dark hair is slicked back across his head, and he’s wearing a pair of sunglasses. He’s catching up to me.
There’s a bus stop on this corner. Maybe he’s just trying to get to it before the next pickup.
Once I’m close, I click the unlock button on my fob and hurry to my door. I grab the door handle and look up. The man’s gone.
As I pull the door toward me a hand smashes over my mouth from behind. I’m yanked backward into a hard chest. My mind whirls at the jerky movements. I can’t catch my footing and my balance is gone.
“Keep quiet.” The command is growled into my ear as I’m yanked toward the trunk of my car. I fling my arms, trying to catch him with my fingernails, but I’m losing strength. What was dizziness moments before has turned into a cyclone. My legs are heavy, my hands even more so.
Something’s wrong with me. I’m not even fighting him as he pops the trunk and shoves me inside.
Once inside, I roll to my side, looking up at him. The man walking behind me. His glasses cover his eyes, but I can see the disgust curling his lip.
“Keep still.” He points a finger at me. The sunlight from behind him blurs my vision. I push my hands again the trunk and try to sit, but my body rebels against me. I end up sinking down and laying my head against the pile of dry cleaning I was supposed to drop off yesterday but never did.
I close my eyes, but it’s when the trunk is slammed that the darkness covers me. The car shifts. One door shuts then the other.
Two men speak. I can’t hear them clearly. My head pounds harder, as though my brain wants out of my skull. I should be making the same noise against my trunk. I should be kicking and screaming, but it takes every ounce of energy I have to stay awake.
But even that only lasts another moment. The car’s moving into traffic.
The men are still talking, and I realize why I can’t understand them.
Lord help me.
These men are speaking Russian.
The restaurant is alive. The wait staff gracefully whisks through the tables to the kitchen. Diners laugh and shovel food into their mouths between sips of expensive wine. As opening weekends go, this seems to be a success. I step out of the back office, tugging on my sleeve beneath my suit jacket.
A quick glance around the dining room and I find the reporter from the Sun Times. She’s at a table with three other people, so I’ll leave her alone. An honest review is what I’m after anyway. Getting in the way of her meal might work against me.
“Micah, don’t forget your father,” Niko, one of my most trusted men, tells me.
“I’m headed there now.” I readjust my jacket before I make my way through the dining room to where he’s enjoying his meal.
I stop a waitress, a little blonde thing with a round ass and generous tits. “Bring another bottle of wine to my father’s table, and make sure he doesn’t wait for anything. No delays. Understood?”
She bats her false eyelashes at me. “Of course, Mr. Ivanov.”
I step into the back room where my father sits with my cousin, Dimitri. They’ve already enjoyed several appetizers; the empty platters are scattered around the table.
“Micah.” My father’s lips spread into a grin. He’s been well fed, and the liquor has been pouring. He’s in a good mood.
“Father.” I shake his hand then turn to my cousin who is wiping his mouth with the white linen napkin. “Dimitri.” I take the seat beside my father, pushing the place setting away from me.
“Everything so far is delicious.” Dimitri pats his belly.
“Good to hear.” The blonde waitress stops at the table with my drink—a shot of vodka with carbonated water. Good girl, I didn’t even have to ask for it.
“Profits look good?” Money is my father, Roman Ivanov’s, best friend.
I nod, assuring him the investment he made in the restaurant was a solid decision. “Once the reviews come out, we’ll have a steady stream of customers. I already have the next two months’ weekends booked for reservations,” I explain.
“Good. Good.” He nods. “We’ll wait a few months and then we can talk about other options.”
Laundering, he means.
“Six months at least,” I say. In that time, I should be able to show him the profits that can be made with some legitimacy. Tainting the business with the Ivanov money won’t benefit us, but it will take time to show him. My father is the head of our family, and it’s been generations since we took a legitimate path. He’s still married to the old ways, and it will take time.
“It would be nice if Igor were here, to see what you’ve done.” My father gestures toward the crowded dining room. We’re in a sectioned-off area of the restaurant but we can still see the majority of the restaurant.
“It would,” I agree, averting my gaze to the floral centerpiece on the table. My older brother would have stopped me from even attempting this venture. Being the oldest, and next in line to take over our family line, he would have convinced my father what a foolish investment it was. Igor was powerful, strong, but he lacked vision that would move this family outside of the past.
Sadness flashes in my father’s eyes at the mention of my older brother. Igor’s been gone for two years, but in some ways my father mourns his death as though it happened yesterday.
“We see how well this place is doing, so, Dimitri. Tell me. How are you doing?” My father tears a piece of bread and chews on it. Business is a good cover for grief.
“Everything looks good on my end, Uncle.” Dimitri runs his fingertips along the edge of his glass. “Profits will be up this month.”
I pluck the sliver of lime from the brim of my glass and drop it inside, swishing around the drink. This isn’t the place for a business meeting, not with so many reporters in the restaurant. But telling Roman Ivanov what he can and can’t do isn’t my place.
“We can talk more in my office.” I eye Dimitri then glance at my father. “Or at home.”
“Here is fine.” My father switches from English to Russian. “I have definitive proof of the Staszek family involvement in the lost shipment last month.” My father’s lips pinch together into a straight line.
Before I can question him, his meal arrives, and new plates are distributed. The house special of prime rib is put out before him. Another plate in front of Dimitri.
“Looks good.” Dimitri picks up a fork and knife, ready to dig in. Once the servers are gone, I raise my brow at my father.
“You were saying?”
He leans back in his chair. “They stole the shipment.”
“The entire lot?” I ask. There were over twenty women in the last shipment. I had warned him such a large group was risky, even with the help of the Garska family, but now isn’t the time to remind him.
“What does Garska say about it?” I ask.
“Nothing.” My father shakes his head. “He’s dead. Shot in the head. Suicide.” He wiggles his fingers in the air to project quotation marks.
“And you think Staszek had something to do with it? Wasn’t he in Europe for a while? Legal trouble?” The Staszek family has held a truce with the Ivanov family for two decades. They stay on their side of Chicago and we stay on ours. Everyone plays nice and stays alive. What would make them break the agreement now?
“He was, yes. His son, Dominik, took Garska’s daughter for his wife. They intervened, took our girls.”
My stomach knots at the phrasing. They’re nothing more than product to my father. They were even less than that to my brother. To me, they’re the guilt rotting my stomach. But I don’t express my disgust for this part of his business—our business.
“Is Joseph Staszek home?” Maybe a conversation with the father will make the son fall in line. It’s worked well enough in our family. But the Bratva men aren’t easily swayed by our women. It will take a hell of a lot more than some girl to destroy my family name. If Dominik allowed his wife to get involved. If he did in fact steal my father’s shipment of girls being sent home to Russia, the truce can be voided.
“He is.” My father nods, digging his phone out of the inside of his pocket. He swipes across the screen several times then looks up at me with a severity I haven’t seen since Igor’s car was found wrapped around a traffic light. His eyes darken with a brewing storm, and his eyebrows, laced with traces of gray, knit together.
“This can’t go unanswered, Micah.” His words fall between us like concrete boulders. He considers the truce broken.
I steal a quick glance at my cousin, who salivates for a reason to go to war. He doesn’t care about who, only that he’ll be able to knock in heads, and kill his enemies without question or provocation. He’s as savage as Igor was.
Not as cool-headed as me.
“What do you want done?” I lean one elbow on the table and turn toward him, giving him my full attention.
Plates clank in the dining room. A bubble of laughter bursts from somewhere near the bar. The restaurant can wait. I have managers to deal with the business. My father won’t be placated like a toddler given a lollipop. He requires my utmost attention.
He turns his phone toward me. A photograph—no, a live stream.
“It’s being taken care of.”
It’s dark outside. Inside too.
There’s a lamp on the side table beside the cot in this room I’m locked in, but I leave it off. I’ve seen enough of the white painted walls and cold cement flooring during the daytime. My headache is gone, as well as the nausea, leaving plenty of room for the breath-stealing fear to grow.
Whatever drug they laced my latte with has worked out of my system. Other than a dry mouth and hunger rumbling my stomach, I’m the picture of perfect health. There’s a glass of water perched on the side table, next to the lamp, but I won’t take the chance. Waking up in here was horrific enough the first time. If they drug me again, who knows where I’ll wake up.
I clench my teeth together and wrap my arms around myself. The light sweater I was wearing over the thin cotton sundress when they took me does nothing to ward off the chill in this room.
Where am I?
I take another calm breath. Most of my energy is wasted on keeping calm. No one has spoken to me since I’ve been awake. Other than a small, frail woman rushing in with the water and then running back out, I’ve seen no one.
But they see me.
My attention focuses on the camera fixed to the ceiling in the corner of the room. The red light blinks at me, taunting me. Anyone could have taken me. My father isn’t exactly well loved. A man with his power has enemies. It’s how we ended up hiding out in Poland. Someone tried to have him arrested, put away for years if not the rest of his life. Now that they failed, they’ve taken me.
Crying from the other side of the door snags my attention and I rush to it, pressing my ear to the wood paneling. It’s a thin door, one I could probably kick through. But it’s also bolted.
“No! No!” A woman’s plea scratches against me, sharp as glass. I yank on the handle again, cursing at the stupidity of it. I can’t help that girl any more than I can help myself.
A door slams. More crying. A broken sob fades as the cries soften. She’s been taken somewhere, but where?
The chill of the wood against my forehead as I press against it doesn’t do anything to cool my anger. Or my fear.
I flatten my hands against the door, and count to ten as I drag in a breath. My diaphragm extends. Hold for three seconds, release. Repeat. On my third round, the bolt jiggles from the other side of the door.
Jerking backward, I barely miss being hit by it when it swings open. I trip on my heel, but catch myself before I fall on my ass by grabbing onto the edge of the bed.
The man in the doorway says nothing as he steps inside and shuts the door. What little light pouring in with him is blocked out again. He steps into a beam of moonlight spilling into the room from the small window.
He’s well dressed in a suit. Leather shoes, firmly pressed black slacks. The white button-down shirt beneath his jacket has ivory buttons. He’s missing a tie, and the top two buttons are open.
“Why don’t you have the light on?” He breaks the suffocating silence.
I move around the bed, putting another foot between us. Somehow it matters, even though it doesn’t.
“I don’t need it.” I keep my voice even. If he’s the sort of monster that feeds off fear, he’ll have to get his meal elsewhere.
His steps are quiet along the floor as he moves to the side table. With a click, yellow light floods the room. I close my eyes and look away for a moment, slowly letting them adjust. It’s not bright, just new.
I blink my eyes open, bringing my attention into focus on him. My heart stops. Another second. It flutters to life again, dragging my lungs along with it.
I’ve seen this man before.
His dark hair is combed back, but not slick with gel as some of the other men I’ve seen him with. There’s a shadow of a beard on his jaw, but it’s the scar—jagged and long—that captures my gaze.
“Lena Staszek.” My stomach twists as he says my name. “Your brother and your father have been very, very bad.” He’s taunting me.
“My brother and father are going to kill you when they find out what you’ve done,” I threaten, and it’s true. I’m a possession—their possession and they won’t accept this insult.
He laughs. “Yes. I’m sure they’ll want to.” He scratches his jaw, along the scar. “Do you know where you are?” He levels his eyes on me. Danger. Every second his dark gaze focuses on me, my brain screams the word.
“You’re an Ivanov,” I accuse, not answering his question. I’ve seen the Ivanov family at parties, but I’ve never been so close.
Knowing who he is gives me insight to my location, but I’m not ready to admit it too loudly yet.
“Micah Ivanov.” He slips his hands into his pockets. “I’ll ask again, but this is the last time I’ll be generous enough to repeat my question, do you know where you are?”
There’s a warning underlining his words. My chest tightens. There is nowhere for me to run. If this man wants to do horrible, terrible things to me, I’ll have nowhere to hide.
“I think so.” I step further back until I’m pressed against the wall. It’s not much, but at least it’s some protection.
“Tell me,” he insists, his chin raising a fraction. Is he daring me?
“This is where you hold the women you sell.” My voice cracks on the last word, but I quickly clear my throat to cover it up. I’ve been told horror stories of the Ivanov family. The holding cells, the auctions, the trading of flesh.
“Yes.” He pauses. “This is where my father holds the women he sells,” he clarifies. There’s a distinction he wants me to understand.
“I’m not one of those women,” I tell him. “I’m Lena Staszek. My father, Joseph Staszek, will not stand for this. You should release me now before there’s more trouble.” I point to the door only two feet away to my right. He didn’t lock it when he came in. I could throw it open and run—right into a guard.
“I know who you are.” He smiles, as though this entire conversation is a playful distraction to the rest of his day. “I also know why you’re here, but do you?”
“No.” I drop my hand back to my side, fisting it.
“You’re here because your family stole from mine.” He folds his arms over his chest. “You’re here as retribution for that theft. Though I’m not entirely sure we’ll recoup the loss on your sale alone.”
My throat closes.
“You can’t,” I manage to say, pushing my chin higher. What my voice lacks in strength, I can make up in demeanor. My father always accused me of having a murderous glare when angered. I can only hope he wasn’t exaggerating.
“Oh, I assure you we can.”
“Whatever you think my father took from you, I promise you he didn’t. There’s a truce between our families. He wouldn’t break that.” I have no idea if I’m spewing lies or hope. Other than what I’ve overheard over the years, I know nothing of my father’s true business dealings. As the youngest—and a girl—my father and brothers sheltered me from their work.
“Your father didn’t, you’re right. But your brother, Dominik, did.” He glances at the cot. The sheets are wrinkled but otherwise undisturbed. “You haven’t been sleeping.”
“Let me call Dominik or my father. They’ll sort this out,” I offer.
His left eyebrow arches. “Do you really think that’s going to happen?”
My shoulders drop. Of course it won’t.
“They don’t know where I am.”
I had parked on a street with little pedestrian traffic. The odds that anyone saw what happened are slim. The odds that anyone would tell are even smaller. The Ivanovs aren’t known for their generosity.
“Not yet. The video is being sent to him now.” He points to the camera in the corner. “We’ll see what the next step after that is.”
“He won’t let you sell me,” I insist. He can’t. My father may be many things, but he would never let them do such a thing to me. Not for any reason.
“We’ll see.” Micah shrugs then moves toward me. Already pressed against the wall, I have no escape. He picks up a long lock of my hair and rubs it between his two fingers. “There may be other options.”
“There will be a war between our families. And my father will bring his allies to his aid,” I school him.
His lips twist up into a satanic grin. “How many Polaks do you think he can gather?”
My body stiffens at the insult.
“Enough to end your family,” I say, finding my strength again. I won’t allow this asshole to look down on my family, on my people.
“You think so? You think your father will go to war over one girl?”
“I am his daughter.” I lock gazes with him. He will not own me in this moment. I will not stand down to this Russian prick.
“True. But will the other families care once they find out the truce was broken by your brother and not my family?” He drops my hair and leans toward me. His warm breath rushes over my cheeks. “Do you think they’ll care about poor little Lena wasting away in the Ivanov stable?”
“Fuck you.” My insides rattle.
His eyes narrow, and he shakes his head. “We’ll have to work on your attitude before the auction.”
I clamp my mouth shut. Nothing I say will help my situation. He didn’t come down here to talk with me; he’s here to toy with me.
“I suggest you get some sleep, Lena. While you can.” He runs the back of his knuckles over my cheek. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
An icy tremor skates down my spine when he pulls back.
“I’ll have food sent.” He winks, then leaves me standing against the wall trembling.
Food? I won’t eat it. I won’t drink anything they send. And I won’t sleep to give them an opportunity to mess with me. I will remain vigilant and find a way out of this mess.
I am a Staszek, and we don’t give in to Russian scum.
The girl has more grit to her than I would have given her credit for.
After giving the guards instructions to bring her a real meal, I went home. The stables leave a film on me that will take more than a shower to wash away. Igor built the bunker where the girls are kept. One of my father’s prouder moments of my older brother.
It’s going to be the first thing I destroy when my father hands the family over to me. But until that time, it remains and I do the only option open to me—nothing.
It’s seven o’clock in the morning when my father rings me. “Staszek wants a meeting.”
I stand at my bedroom window, sweat from my run already drying on my skin, and look down at the busy pedestrians rushing to work below. The penthouse condo where I live is far enough off the ground, city sounds don’t rise up to me.
“How did you answer?”
“He’ll be here tonight. Him and that fucking son of his.”
“Do we know Dominik intervened knowing the shipment was on its way to our holdings in Moscow?”
“Does it matter?” he scoffs over the phone. It does to me, but I’m the reasonable one in our family. I’m the one who looks at the entire situation. Unlike him, I don’t chase after immediate gratification with blinders on for the future.
“If we are going to file a grievance, I think we should know everything first.” I dance at the edge of being helpful and lecturing. Igor would jump on this wagon with him, guns blazing ready to fight.
“Either way, the shipment was taken by the Staszek family. And for that, they lose their precious cargo.”
“You’re really going to sell that?” I raise my eyebrows.
“Of course I am. Or I can get rid of it? Which do you think would hurt them more?” He’s like a wolf salivating over a fresh kill.
He doesn’t need to elaborate, and it’s best he not. Our phones are checked constantly, but they can still be tapped. People could be listening.
I shouldn’t be hesitant. I shouldn’t give a shit what happens to the Staszek girl.
“How much do you want to hurt them?” I turn away from my window and the bustle of life happening outside it. In another life I thought I’d be one of them. Running down the street, briefcase in hand, chasing after one deal or another. I’m still a businessman, but there’s not much chasing happening. Deals are brokered differently in my world.
“This is more than a theft,” my father says.
“It’s about disrespect.” I sum up the lecture for him before he can get started. I have shit to do and this call is taking up too much of my morning. “Where’s the meeting?”
“I’ll get the location to you later this morning.”
“If the product is going to be shown, it will need some spit and polish first, I think.”
My father disagrees. “Let them see what becomes of it when it stays in our possession.”
His aim isn’t to simply prance the girl around her family, but to enrage them. A war is going to erupt the moment that girl shows up dirty from the cell we’ve kept her in. I know how my family would react to such a display, and the Staszek family isn’t so different than my own.
“If they see a damaged product, the meeting might turn hostile.”
“Good reason to be well prepared then. I’ll send you the details. I expect you there, Micah.” As his second in command, I would be nowhere else.
“Of course.” I make my way to the bathroom. I need a shower and a change of clothes. “I’ll be there.”
“Good. I can count on you. I know it.” Does he though? There’s a bit of hesitation in his tone, the same he’s had ever since Igor’s death.
“I’ll see you later.” I wait for him to hang up before I drop my phone on the counter and strip out of my clothes.
The house is quiet when I arrive at my father’s house. By the heavy scent in the air, I’ve missed dinner. As I pass the dining room, I peek to be sure. It’s empty, save for the kitchen staff clearing away the leftover food.
“Micah.” Katarina, the housekeeper, smiles warmly when she notices my arrival. “You missed dinner, but I can make you a plate?” she offers.
“No, no, thank you,” I say, glancing down the hall. “Is my father in his office?”
“Yes. He’s expecting you.”
“There are other men coming too.” I glance at the ornamental clock hanging on the wall above the buffet. “Soon.”
“Yes. When they arrive, I’ll bring them straight to the office.” She averts her eyes for a moment. “And then, I’ll be going home for the evening.”
Katarina has worked for my family for as long as I can remember. She has no illusions about her job, about who she works for, but still escorting dangerous men to secret meetings puts her ill at ease. Even so, she’s never hinted at leaving her post.
“Sounds good, Katarina.” I start to walk off then pause. “Do you think you could wrap up a plate for me?”
I haven’t gotten around to hiring a full staff, and whatever my housekeeper has made will most likely be as inedible as the other meals she’s made. Katarina’s cooking is home to me.
She smiles, a light flickers in her eyes. “Of course.”
I give her a curt nod, then leave her to her work and head to my father’s office.
Two soldiers stand outside his office and step aside as I pass them and go inside. Niko paces the room, probably contemplating my father’s rage when he finds out what I’ve done.
“Micah. Good.” My father checks his watch. “They should be here any minute.” He turns to Niko. “I want the girl ready to be brought in, I don’t want to have to wait.”
“She’s ready. Just down the hall. I’ll get her myself when you’re ready.”
He’s satisfied for the moment. “Good.”
“I want to talk to you about this plan before they get here.” I move to the bar in the corner of the room and pour myself a drink.
“What plan? We dangle the bitch in front of their faces.”
Since my back is to him and he can’t see me, I close my eyes and take a moment for my patience to fill. My father has carried the burden of keeping the Ivanov family at the top of the heap for so long, he’s forgotten how hard he had to fight to get us here. Arrogance is a sure way to lose everything. And he’s forgotten.
“And then what?” I turn on my heel and walk back to the desk, cradling the drink in my right hand. “They see her, get pissed, and then we have a pissing contest? What do you want from them? What can they offer that will make the truce valid again?”
His eyes narrow; wrinkles form around his eyes. “Truce? I don’t want a fucking truce. I want their territory. We make good money on the girls, but if we cut into their drug trade, we’d double our money.”
“Those territory lines were drawn long ago,” I remind him.
“And if they want their precious daughter to avoid the auction block, they’ll redraw them,” he spouts at me.
It won’t be hard. From what my sources have told me, Joseph Staszek dotes on his daughter like royalty. She’s been spoiled her entire life, needing to only glance in the direction of a bauble before her father has purchased it and handed it to her with big fucking bow on top. If my father asks for a few more blocks of the city, Joseph Staszek will give it.
“You’ll take more territory and hand the girl back over to them.” I swirl the drink in my glass.
He looks to Niko then back at me. “She’s precious to Joseph. He’ll give up a large portion for her. Or he won’t get her back.” He shrugs like it doesn’t matter to him which way it turns out. Like keeping her won’t cause a war between our families that will drag out and kill our men.
“You kidnapped his daughter.” I emphasize the reality, but he continues to look at me with his eyebrows drawn together. “He will want retribution for that.”
Roman throws his hand in the air. “His fucking son stole my product! And I learned today, the train yard has been taken out of our control. We will need to find another way to move the girls. A more expensive way.”
I sip my drink, letting the burn of the alcohol replace the sense of dread crawling up my chest. If they’ve cut us off from transportation, it’s going to take more than a few blocks of territory to appease Roman.
A knock on the door cuts me off before I can speak. One of the soldiers’ head peeks in.
“Sir. Staszek is here.”
“Did you search him?” my father asks loudly, more for Joseph’s sake than his own.
“Both are clean.” The soldier nods.
“Let them in.” My father gets out of his chair and leans forward with his knuckled fists on the desk.
I place my glass on the desk and move to stand beside my father. Niko rounds the desk and flanks him on the other side. United, we wait for the Staszeks to come claim what they believe to be theirs.
But I know how this will play out.
Lena Staszek won’t be going home with her family tonight.