That’s what Renata had said to Anya as we drove away from the Vittori mansion. My girl had left no room for doubt when she’d admitted that she’d been the one to pull the trigger on Vigo Vittori.
I would have lied for her.
I would have told them that I’d been the one to kill him.
But Anya—either with bravery and pride or resentment and stupidity—had revealed the truth clearly. The wrath of the four families will fall on us and my only hope is keeping Nikolai alive long enough to…I don’t even know what.
I just know that we need him.
Nikolai’s pilot was on standby because of the quarterly meeting, and with his help, the three of us were able to board a helicopter and take off from the Vittoris’ island in record time.
No one followed us.
They didn’t need to.
They know who killed Vigo, they know where we’ll be, and they will come after us in their own damn time.
That’s what has me wondering about whether we might be able to escape everyone’s grasp when our helicopter lands on the private airstrip in Palermo. When we’d landed there before—on our way to the quarterly meeting—the airstrip had seemed mostly deserted and hidden away. It’s located in a valley beneath a rocky mountain cliffside which conceals it from the populated areas beyond.
“We could run.” Anya leans toward me, raising her voice over the whir of the rotors, though I can hear her fine through the headsets we’re wearing. “When we land at the airstrip, we could run. We don’t have to go back with him to Russia.”
Anya’s thoughts reflect my own. But having her say it out loud forces the deliberation necessary to ensure the best possible outcome for us. It’s the photographs that give me hesitation—the pictures I’d been so carefully studying in the green and pink floral box in Anya’s room at Mikhailov Manor.
Her sister, Lidia.
My ex-girlfriend, Emma.
Would they be killed if we ran?
That was what we’d always been promised.
It was what kept us from running in the first place.
I bend over in my seat and tap the back of my fingers against Nikolai’s cheek. He’s prone on the fuselage floor, lying on his back, his body stretched out sideways in front of our feet. He’s bled quite a bit and he fades in and out of consciousness, but he responds to my touch, turning his head toward us.
I point across the cabin. “Give me that headset.” Anya reaches for it. I put the headset over Nikolai’s ears so I can talk to him. His gray eyes flicker toward mine and I can see the intensity of his stare has lessened considerably. “What happens to Lidia and Emma?” I ask him. “Tell me the truth. Will they die if we run in Palermo?”
I feel Anya eyeing me skeptically. Surely, she’s wondering why I would bother to ask because Nikolai can’t be trusted. We have no allies in this war we’ve created, but Nikolai is the closest thing we can get right now. He stole Anya away from Vigo. He gave me the opportunity to save her life. He had shown something resembling concern, even if he only meant to bring us both back into his servitude.
Perhaps this monster is capable of human emotions, after all.
“If I die…” Nikolai struggles with his breaths. “If I die, they die.”
Anya looks back and forth between us, fear clouding her features. I know she hasn’t seen her sister in years—not since she was taken by Nikolai—and I know how much she loves her. I sense the conflict she feels, knowing that if there were ever an opportunity to run, this would be it. No one would stop us from leaving the airstrip. We could abandon Nikolai and run.
But how far would we get?
Given the reach of the four families—and the fact that they know where to find Emma and Lidia—means that they can find us. And they would find us. It was clear in Renata’s voice on that phone call.
Blood taken requires blood given.
I run a shaking hand through my hair.
Nikolai lifts a hand at us, only just barely able to move it above the floor. “I can keep them safe. I can keep Anya safe. But she must…” he pants, “Anya must come back with me to Mikhailov Manor.”
Anya and I look at each other with strain painting our expressions. We both know our options—and we both know the consequences—but the truth is that there isn’t really a choice.