"Are we going to talk ex-boyfriends now?" Dimitri asked his gaze on the hole on the window glass.
The office door opened, and Dimitri shifted, placing Talin behind him and their visitor. He pointed Lucian's gun at the scarred man standing at the door.
"That's Himura," Talin said, touching Dimitri's right shoulder. "He's with me."
"With you?" Dimitri asked.
"Yes." Talin squeezed his shoulder. "Himura, who is out there?"
"Three men in suits, Russians," Himura said not moving from the door. His gaze remained on Dimitri who hadn't lowered his gun. "Two more men by the dock, tending to a boat named Anastasia."
"The men in suits must be here with Lucian," Talin sighed and patted Dimitri's shoulder again. "Come on, we don't have time to play turf wars. Himura is on our side. We need to find a place to put Lucian before he wakes up."
Dimitri glared at Himura. He wondered how Talin and Himura had met. The man looked too rough, too wild to be friends with Talin.
"Dimitri." Talin snapped.
Lowering his gun, Dimitri gave Himura a warning glance and turned to find Talin checking Lucian's pockets.
Talin was taking to this life, Dimitri thought. Hardly frightened, Talin was fast in his search.
"You surprise me everyday," Dimitri said when Talin got to his feet and held up a cell phone and three full bullet clips with a grin. "Marry me."
"Stop playing around. One of you has to carry Lucian."
Dimitri moved to grab Lucian's arms, but Himura pushed him aside. Dimitri stepped back and watched Himura swing Lucian over his shoulder fireman style.
"Where to?" Himura asked.
Dimitri led the way to the back of the office, opening a backdoor; they went along a path hidden with flower bushes. The path connected the main house to the office. He opened the side door into the house and stepped aside to allow Himura in, followed by Talin.
"No one's noticed," Talin said, as Dimitri closed the door. "We might have two hours or so."
Dimitri nodded and led the way to the basement.
In minutes, they had Lucian zip-locked to a chair. Himura was left to guard him, while Dimitri and Talin went upstairs.
They found Katerina in the kitchen sipping a cup of coffee alone. She looked like she hadn't slept. She got to her feet when she saw Talin and hurried to him.
"Where did you go last night?" she demanded pinching Talin's cheek. "Dimitri was worried. I almost drove Lukas crazy with worry because I couldn't sleep thinking about you two. Don't ever do that again, Talin. Family sticks together in a crisis."
Talin stared at her, warmth bursting inside him, happy that she'd called him family.
"I'm sorry. I—
"I know, you were scared," Katerina said, pulling him to the dining table to sit. "I understand this. I'm scared too." She looked to Dimitri. "What's the plan?"
"You should ask Talin. He has Lucian tied up in our basement. I don't know what's next."
Katerina turned to Talin, her eyes wide.
"You?" she asked. "Talin, Lucian's men are always calling him. If they find out—
"Then we need to make sure they don't find out. Where's Lukas? Can he distract them?"
Dimitri smiled when Katerina looked at him in question.
"Talin is running this show."
"Lukas is upstairs." Katerina stared at Talin. "I'll go get him."
"Hurry," Talin urged.
Katerina left the kitchen in a run, and Talin turned to Dimitri.
"If nothing else, I'll get you and your family free from Vlad."
"Don't talk like that."
"I made Ilia disappear." Talin closed his eyes. "Because of that—
Dimitri gripped his shoulders and shook him. "Don't do that. Don't blame yourself. It was my choice to go after them. My choice to join—
"If I hadn't made Ilia disappear, your father would still be alive and you wouldn't have needed to make the choice." Talin kissed Dimitri's jaw. "My mess, I'll help clean it up."
Talin let go of Dimitri and reached for his cell phone.
"We'll get it all done in one swift move."
"Who are you calling?"
"Raphael. He has someone who'll help clear all questions in one sweep."
"Wake up," Dimitri said, using his boot to tap Lucian's knee thirty minutes later. "Lucian. We don't have much time."
Lucian woke up with groan, a frown graced his forehead, and Dimitri imagined the man had a roaring headache. Tranquilizers weren't kind to the body. Lucian lifted his head and glared at him.
"This won't go unpunished," Lucian warned.
"I know," Dimitri said with a grin.
"If Talin put you up to this, I'll kill him, Dimitri."
"Stop threatening my boyfriend." Dimitri sat back in his seat and nodded to the man seated in a chair beside him. "You might want to see the gift Talin brought you."
Lucian groaned and shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable. His arms had to be numb.
Lucian scowled at Dimitri then he turned his head with a sigh only to gape at the sight of Ilia Pajari.
"Hello brother," Ilia said in greeting. "I have to say, I don't think I've seen you anything less than elegant."
"Ilia?" Lucian asked.
"I'm your brother. This is no trick."
"You're dead." Lucian frowned. "I saw proof. I saw you shot."
"Body double and creative Photoshop," Ilia said. "I enlisted the help of a family friend. He was quite useful in making the act real."
"Ivan?" Lucian asked in shock. "You asked Ivan to help you escape?"
Dimitri turned to Ilia.
"You knew my father?"
"He was a good man." Ilia crossed his arms against his chest, his wary gaze on Himura who stood behind Lucian. "Ivan worked hard and was loyal to the organization when the real Vlad was alive."
Dimitri shook his head.
"You're lying. My father would never—
"How do you think he was able to keep the marina going even though it is as old as time. Customers are hard to come by in the winter, Dimitri. There's only so much ice fishing one can do." Ilia shrugged. "Ivan and Vlad Petrov were friends, old friends. When Vlad died, your father took a step back, and we didn't bother with the old man. I went to him for help because he understood why I had to leave."
"So you got him murdered," Dimitri said anger boiling. He'd waited ages to find out the reason his father would die so senselessly. Why Ivan chose to put his family in such danger.
"It wasn't my intention to get him killed." Ilia's tone was apologetic. "He understood the risks, but I didn't think Vlad would make a decision to murder someone like Ivan. He was family. Lucian, have we turned to savage behavior?"
"Vlad felt Ivan was flaunting authority." Lucian shook his head. "She killed him to curb a revolt. You should have known better."
"You should have stood up to her. You're Pajari, Lucian. I'm disappointed."
Dimitri turned to Lucian's shocked face.
"All I knew was that Ivan shot you. You were dead. What did you want me to do?" Lucian accused. "You left me with her. You left and I had to survive. Our father's company is in her hands, and there is no one to protect it. What did you expect would happen? Disappointed? I'm the one who can't believe what you've done here."
"Enough Lucian," Ilia sighed. "You must release Sedlackov from his debt. He owes you nothing."
"Too late," Lucian said with a scoff. "Vlad wants him and his family dead."
Dimitri got up then. "What?"
Lucian closed his eyes and looked away from them.
"You know too much. After the shipment, I'm to make sure the marina and the house burn down. Katerina, Lukas and you are to die in the fire."
Dimitri grabbed Lucian's neck, choking him, wanting him dead.
"If you kill me now, you'll make things worse," Lucian chocked out.
"You stay away from my family," Dimitri warned. "I swear to God—
"Dimitri," Talin said, his voice breaking into the murderous haze in his head.
Dimitri turned to see Talin standing at the door.
Letting go of Lucian, Dimitri took a step back and dragged in a deep breath. Talin placed a hand on his left arm.
"What's wrong?" Talin asked.
"Katerina and Lukas," Dimitri said. "We need to get them to safety."
"Vlad will know if they run," Lucian warned. "She has people watching the marina and Katerina's restaurant. They go missing, she'll know right away."
"I'm not losing my family to that bitch," Dimitri cursed under his breath. "I've already lost my father."
"Not my fault," Lucian stated, returning his gaze to Ilia. "You should blame that on Ilia. He knew what Vlad is like. You knew how insane she is."
Talin pushed Dimitri to his chair. "Enough with this revenge, fighting amongst ourselves is wasting precious time."
Lucian scoffed, looking at Talin.
"How do you feel? Has the headache started?"
Talin ignored the question and instead crouched before Lucian.
"Now you know your brother is alive. Give us something in return."
"What makes you think it matters to me whether Ilia is alive or not?" Lucian asked.
"He's your family." Talin stated.
Lucian glanced at Ilia.
"A brother who leaves his family for years without a word, I have no use for such family."
"Does that mean you won't help us?" Talin asked.
"You're going to have to kill me, sweet Talin. Because once you untie me, I'm going to beat the crap out of you, then shoot you dead."
Talin stepped back fast and Dimitri took his left arm to stop him from falling.
"I will help you," Ilia said.
"Ilia," Lucian warned.
"I'm tired, Lucian." Ilia got up from his seat and moved to crouch before his brother. "I'm tired of this bullshit."
Dimitri watched Ilia kiss his brother's jaw, and sweep his fingers through Lucian's hair.
"She's turned you into a monster. She's got to end." Ilia got up and turned to Talin. "You've had the key."
"What key?" Dimitri asked confused.
Ilia held Talin's gaze. "Vlad's weakness is money."
"Ilia," Lucian warned. "You do this; she'll know it's you."
Ilia ignored his brother.
"I gave you a number before I left, Talin. That's your weapon. Use it fast, and kindly make sure she doesn't know I helped. I kinda want to live." Ilia smiled. "Now, leave me and my brother alone for a while."
"What are you going to do?" Dimitri asked.
"Get Lucian to see straight." Ilia gave Talin a wink. "Go on now. Leave Himura outside the door if that makes you happy."
Talin grabbed Dimitri's arm and dragged him to the door. Himura followed though his gaze remained on Ilia who stood before his brother…waiting.
Dimitri closed the basement door.
"Are you sure about this?" Himura asked Talin. "Ilia—
"He's not going anywhere." Talin shrugged.
"I'll wait here just in case," Himura said leaning on the door, his arms crossed against his chest. The grim look on his face told Dimitri they had nothing to worry about.
Dimitri took Talin's arm and led him down the corridor. He felt uneasy…disconnected from Talin all night, the more truths emerged, the obvious it became how different their worlds were.
Dimitri tried for a smile.
"Nothing, are you hungry? I'm sure you're hungry. You didn't eat breakfast."
"Do you know every time I come here, you or Kat try to feed me?" Talin stopped their progress down the hall and caressed his jaw. "Stop worrying. I'm fine."
Dimitri pushed him against the wall, bracing his hands on either side of Talin.
"I want to take you away from here. Go some place we can be us two," Dimitri said.
"Sounds good, but—
"No buts, Talin," Dimitri kissed Talin then, wanting to forget this hell they were living. Wanting to feel only Talin, to keep him safe and know that nothing would ever take him away.
Talin wrapped his arms around Dimitri's waist.
Caressing Talin's jaw, Dimitri sighed and pressed a soft kiss on Talin's forehead.
"Once this is over," Dimitri said. "You and I, we are going to get in a car and drive away from this town."
"And where will we go?"
"I don't care."
Dimitri buried his face into Talin's shoulder and took in a deep breath.
"Alright," Talin rubbed his back. "Okay, we'll go. I'll be the one to drive. I'll take you to my favorite place in this world, just us two, Dimitri."
They stood that way for a few minutes, and then Talin stirred.
"I need to go to the club."
"You promised not to work."
"I'm not going to work." Talin kissed his jaw and pushed him back. "I need to verify what Ilia said. He did give me an account number. I never checked what it was; I was too preoccupied finding the name. I keep all those documents in a safe at the club."
"I'll go with you." Dimitri held on to Talin's hands.
"You're needed here." Talin nodded toward the basement. "Lucian's presence here means Vlad is watching the marina. You have to prepare for this shipment."
"Damn it, Talin," Dimitri shook his head. "Don't ask me to spend the day worrying about you."
"Not for long,' Talin said. "We need to end this. Don't you want to end this?"
Dimitri cursed under his breath and let go of Talin's hands. He continued down the corridor, going into the kitchen. Katerina still sat at the dining table.
"Lukas?" Dimitri asked.
"Talking to Lucian's men," Katerina said. "He has them helping him verify the docked boats. I hope it lasts long enough."
"We're almost done with Lucian," Dimitri said. "Katerina…"
"We're not leaving you," Katerina stated. "I know that is what you're going to suggest. It's not happening."
"Lucian says your lives are in danger.
"I'm sure they are." Katerina glanced at Talin. "His life is in danger too. He's not running. We stay, Dimitri."
Talin kissed Katerina's cheek.
"He's upset because we're all not listening to him."
"It happens," Katerina said with a smile.
"Okay, fine, I'll drop you off," Dimitri said, opening the fridge. He retrieved a bottle of water and uncapped it. "But, you have to promise to call me if something goes wrong, Talin."
"I promise," Talin said. "We should go then. The faster I get to the club the better. I can finish what I'm doing and you'll get to nag me sooner."
Raphael showed up at the loft an hour later with a new doctor in tow. Talin sat on his favorite couch allowing the doctor to inject him with a dose that would decrease how fast the toxin worked on him.
"Can you make an antidote?" Talin asked.
Raphael paced the length of his living room, studying everything on the shelves, as though he were doing an appraisal.
"The cocktail I have given you will slow down the symptoms. However, the toxin is specifically designed to activate after seventy-two hours with devastating precision. We're working on synthesizing an antidote, but we won't make it within the seventy-two hour leeway."
"What happens if I get the antidote after that mark?" Talin asked staring at his hands. "Do I die anyway?"
"The damage will be similar to radiation poisoning," the doctor said. "The pain is excruciating, but we can manage it for a period of time. However the damage to your internal organs might be irreversible—
"Stop," Talin's hands were shaking. He clenched his fingers into tight fists, hoping to hide his fear. "Thank you, doctor."
"The injection I've given you should stop any pain and discomfort. Your headaches will increase as the hours pass. Keep in touch and we can increase the dosage as we go."
Talin nodded pulling the sleeve of his sweater to his wrist. He watched the doctor gather his things and leave the loft. Talin closed his eyes and let out a shaky breath.
"Don't let me watch you die, Talin. Let me call Vlad now…we can always build another company."
"This isn't easy for me," Talin said, opening his eyes to stare at the folder on the coffee table. He had found the paperwork Ilia had given him. "Pan Limited is Gabriel's legacy. His life's work."
"I doubt Gabriel would want to see you die like this."
Talin sighed and picked up the folder.
"We should check out these accounts Ilia gave me when I moved here. Damaging Vlad is our number one priority."
Raphael stalked to where he sat and grabbed the folder out of his hands.
"Saving you is my primary concern. If you don't work with me, Talin, I'm going to get a lawyer involved. With your current medical condition, it's not that hard to get your power of attorney in my control. Don't test me. My moral compass is very iffy."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Try me," Raphael said with a glare. "Now, I'm calling Vlad. You're going to tell her you agree to her terms."
Talin sighed and sat back on the couch.
"I look like an idiot to you, don't I?"
"No, you look like family," Raphael stated. "Family that wants to die senselessly and I'm not having that happen. So buck up, Talin Sato."
"Sorry, l'il brother, you're family."
Family, Talin scoffed. Some family.
His head throbbed, though it was a dim sort of throb in the back of his head. Talin got up and walked to the kitchen. His thoughts on the first time Dimitri had been in his kitchen. The orange juice saga filled his head and he smiled. How easy life had been then.
Talin walked to the sink and filled a mug with water. Taking the mug to the flower pot in the middle of the kitchen table, he watered the rose plant Dimitri had given him. Dimitri's confession at Raphael's house weighed on him.
He'd always thought his luck with love came once. After all, his life with Gabriel had been majestic. It had been so wonderful to have Gabriel as long as he had. Talin touched the leaves on the plant with a sigh.
To get love again…it almost felt like he was being greedy.
Talin leaned closer to the plant and frowned when he saw a small tiny bud starting on one of the branches. Touching it with a finger, he stared at it with wonder.
He looked up to find Raphael standing at the kitchen door.
"Did you say you can get a trusted lawyer?" Talin asked struck by an idea.
"Yes. Are you handing over control?"
"No." Talin picked up the flower pot and took it to the sink where the sunrays were shining through. It was good for the plant to soak in the sun, perhaps that bud would bloom in the coming days. Turning to Raphael, he smiled wide.
"Before you call Vlad, we're going to play an investment game."
Talin headed out of the kitchen, grabbing his jacket from the couch, he started for the front door.
"Come on, Raphael, I don't have time to waste."
Sean and Tomas helped prepare the Anastasia for their late night shipment. Dimitri found he could breathe with them around. Checking the engines, making sure all safety equipment was in place, clearing and washing cargo holds. The activity soothed him.
"Boss, do you know what the cargo is?" Sean asked when they finished. They stood on deck, watching the sun set in the horizon.
Day one over, Dimitri counted. Vlad's shipment was to be picked up tomorrow at midnight.
"No," Dimitri said. "Whatever it is, this should be the last shipment. It ends tomorrow tonight."
Tomas placed a hand on his left shoulder.
"It will get messy. She has something I need," Dimitri said with a sigh. "I can't ask you to—
"We're in this too," Sean said bumping his right shoulder. "We made the choice a while back. Dimitri, don't forget Vlad's taken family from us too."
"Very well, I'll see you at eleven tomorrow night. I'm gonna head out."
"Going to see Talin?" Sean asked.
"Yeah," Dimitri said. "I need to make sure he's alright."
Tomas squeezed his shoulder.
"He's going to make it."
Dimitri swallowed hard as he got off the Anastasia. Worry had been eating at him all day since Talin had gone to the club. He didn't like leaving Talin with Raphael. Reaching for his phone, he dialed Talin's number as he hurried to his car.
There was no response.
His heart dipped in fear, and instead of his car, he chose his motorcycle. Jamming on his helmet, Dimitri raced out of the marina, headed to the Talon.
Talin wasn't at the loft, or at the club.
Dimitri leaned on the counter in the club and stared at the drink Lori had placed before him. There was a new bartender. Dimitri's gaze roamed the main club floor, taking in the new waiters, Talin had hired new staff.
"I'm surprised boss is not with you," Lori said calling out new orders to the bartender. "I haven't seen him since yesterday morning. He was doing paperwork in his office. Is everything okay?"
Dimitri tossed back the shot of vodka.
"I need to find him."
Lori nodded and reached for her cell phone.
"I can call him, find out where he is."
Dimitri started to tell her not to, he'd been calling with no response from Talin. But then she dialed Talin's number and Talin answered on the first ring. Motioning for him to follow, Lori went down the corridor to Talin's office.
"Talin?" Lori was saying.
Dimitri grabbed the phone from her.
"Talin," Dimitri said into Lori's phone.
"Hey," Lori complained as he pushed her out of the way.
Dimitri entered Talin's office and closed the door on her face.
"Where are you? Why aren't you answering my calls? I thought you promised not to do this."
"Dimitri," Talin said, sounding tired.
Visions of Talin laid up in bed filled his head and he wondered if the poison hadn't taken a toll on him.
"Where are you?" Dimitri asked.
"I'm buying a company," Talin answered a smile in his voice. "Don't worry, I'm with Raphael."
"That's not comforting at all."
"I promise I'm safe. Not sick, or anything…it's going to take me a while to get back to the loft."
"I'll come to you."
"I thought you were prepping for a shipment."
"Yeah," Dimitri sat behind Talin's desk. "We're finished. Talin, tell me where you are."
"I'll be home in thirty minutes."
"Why weren't you answering my calls?"
"Because I want to run back to you when I hear your voice," Talin sighed on the other end. "I have to go, Dimitri."
"I love you." Dimitri marveled at how easily those words came.
It hurt when he got silence in answer.
"I'll see you soon, babe," Talin said after a moment.
The call ended as abruptly as it had started. Dimitri stared at Lori's pink phone feeling unfinished. He started to get up from Talin's chair, but a Department of Justice logo caught his eye, and he paused. Reaching for the card left on top of spreadsheets, Dimitri sat back as he read the name on the card.
"Detective James Oman," he said.
The man who'd called on Talin about Dimitri being in the bratva.
Studying the card, Dimitri swept his finger over Lori's phone, thinking…
Talin was bone-tired by the time Raphael pulled into the Talon's parking lot. The time on the dashboard was eleven-thirty, almost midnight.
"I'll pick you up tomorrow evening at eleven," Raphael said. "Vlad doesn't like daytime hours."
"Are you sure we did the right thing?" Talin asked looking at Raphael.
"We won't know until she signs the papers tomorrow."
Raphael sighed and reached out to caress Talin's jaw.
"For what?" Talin asked.
"Everything," Raphael sighed. "Gabriel, lying to you…you'd never have met Vlad if I hadn't mouthed off. Gabriel would still be alive."
"It's done," Talin said, realizing that Raphael's grief might be heavier than his. "No use crying over it."
"But you want to," Raphael said. "You haven't forgiven me."
"That will take time," Talin said, time he didn't have he reminded his wavering heart. He opened the door, and glanced at Raphael. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Talin got out of the car and closed the passenger door. He watched Raphael drive out of the busy parking lot, tugging his jacket closed. A chilly wind swept through and he shivered, rubbing his arms, hoping to feel warm.
He turned to the main club doors and stopped when he saw Dimitri standing at the steps, hands at his hips.
"What other choice did I have?" Dimitri asked.
Talin couldn't help the smile at Dimitri's miffed expression.
"I'm sorry." Talin moved closer to Dimitri, wanting to see those blue eyes up close. "I've been stuck in a bank all afternoon."
"You could have told me where?"
"Raphael thought it would be better if you didn't know," Talin said. "Can I make it up to you?"
"How?" Dimitri demanded. "I was worried sick."
Talin took Dimitri's right hand, closing his fingers over strong warm ones. He led Dimitri around the club building to the back where the exterior staircase to the loft was.
They climbed up in silence.
Talin was glad his mini-stalker hadn't made a visit tonight. There were too many things going on to add on that. He unlocked the door and stepped in, waiting for Dimitri to close the door, before he pulled him into his arms.
Talin kissed Dimitri.
Talin clung to Dimitri's leather jacket, pouring all the emotion he had in him into the kiss. He wanted to absorb all of Dimitri's heat. Memorize the feel of their kisses, their sighs, their moans…
He worried this was all he'd get.
Dimitri held him tight.
Talin broke the kiss and buried his face into Dimitri's shoulder.
"Let's spend the day together tomorrow," Talin whispered. "We can drive out of town."
"Where do you want to go?" Dimitri asked.
"Anywhere," Talin smiled, his arms wrapping around Dimitri's shoulders tight. "A place where we'll be just the two of us."
Dimitri nodded. "Let's do it."
Lori sees Dimitri - 'Oooh, here to see boss?'
Dimitri grins - 'Are you hiding him from me?'
Lori - 'Now, why would I want to poke the lion? I'll help find him.'
Dimitri nods - 'You're a good woman!'
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