Prisoner (Russian Tattoos Book 2) (10 page)

BOOK: Prisoner (Russian Tattoos Book 2)
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“Don’t put this on me. It’s your job to protect him.”

He tapped his rings on the staircase. “You being here complicates everything. This no drinking bullshit has turned him into a pussy. He needs to fight for his territory to stay alive, and he can’t do that with your pretty little finger wrapped around his neck like a noose. If you want him to live, cut him free. The only way to save Vladimir is to bring back the
pakhan
.”

Even though I didn’t agree with Boris in principle, from the
Bratva
standpoint, his reasoning made sense. Vladimir admitted to me that he had no interest in staying in power and that Maksim was capitalizing on his weakness to take over Ekaterinburg. He would have to fight to reclaim his position and power over his crumbling family.

“Do you love him, Carter?”

I bit my lip and nodded.

“Then stop toying with him. Let him go.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but he raised his hand to shut me up.

“If anything happens to boss, who do you think will be responsible for your keeping?”

“You.”

“That’s right. And what do you think the odds are that I will honor Vladimir’s wishes and send you home, putting my family at risk?”

“Zero to shit.”

Boris nodded. “Zero to shit sounds about right,
lapsha
. But if you cut Vladimir off and let him get back to his business, I give you my word you’ll go back to your family should anything happen to Vladimir. Do we have a deal?” He held out his big, tattooed hand for a binding agreement.

Boris didn’t give a damn about me, but his family meant everything to him. Loving Vladimir was the worst thing I could do in this situation, for both of us. As odd as it seemed, Boris and I had the same objective. We both wanted me to go home, and we both wanted Vladimir to live. I held out my hand, ready to shake, but the screen door squeaked open in the kitchen. I drew my hand back so Vladimir wouldn’t bust me making a deal with his devil.

When he came back inside, he crossed his arms and studied Boris’s repair project. Boris spoke in Russian, pointed to the areas that needed attention, and handed Vladimir a handful of nails. I sat on the couch and watched them work. We all knew why the stairs had come down—Boris was preventing us from sneaking upstairs. Since Vladimir wasn’t mad, I wondered if Boris had lied and told him he didn’t want me up there because the room was a shrine to his late daughter.

“Want me to start dinner?” I asked.

“Thank you, sweetheart.” Vladimir’s complexion was glowing and he appeared more relaxed than I’d ever seen him. It didn’t matter what Boris wanted or what he thought was right or wrong for Vladimir. I could see in his eyes and in his aura, that
I
was best for him. But loving him would only end in disaster. Going forward, I had to do what was right for both of us.

I have to let him go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

Civilized

 

I had strategically kept my distance from Vladimir and involved Boris in everything we did the rest of the evening. Boris was a fantastic cook, and I asked him to teach me how to make
schi
soup using a recipe that had been in his family for generations. The kitchen was compact and everything we needed was an arm’s length away. Pots and pans hung on hooks on the wall and the utensils were tucked into slats of wood above the sink. Boris showed me how to chop onions in a way that didn’t make my eyes water, and how to shred cabbage without losing a finger.

While the soup simmered, Boris and I kneaded bread and cut shortening into pastry flour to make a pie crust, and Vladimir peeled and sliced apples for the filling. I rolled out the dough and cut a circle big enough to cover the pie pan. I shaped it with my fingers to form the bottom crust, and Vladimir dumped in the apple mixture. I cut the remaining dough into strips, laid the pieces over the apples to form a lattice crust, and pressed and pinched the top and bottom layers of dough along the edge to keep it together as it baked.

Once the pie was in the oven, the soup was simmering, and the bread was rising, I set out some
zakuski
on the kitchen table to snack on before dinner. I had whipped up a vegetable salad while the guys were working on the stairs, but the rest of the dishes had already been prepared by someone else, probably Pasha. I made Vladimir a plate of marinated mushrooms, cheese dumplings, and a big scoop of my special salad and set it in front of him. “Here. Tell me which one is your favorite.”

He peeked up at me and grinned. I supposed my stylistic choice of ingredients in the salad tipped him off that I may have been the inexperienced chef behind the chunky vegetable disaster that was oozing watery pink cream sauce across his plate. Russians loved their beets and they put them in every single dish I’d had since my arrival. Cucumbers and onions were also in everything, so I made those three ingredients the base of my salad. I cut up the raw ingredients, but when I tasted the beet it was hard and bitter. I assumed it would soften up when it was cooked and wasn’t meant to be served raw.

No problem. I heated up a cast iron skillet and dumped the beets in the pan to soften them. Nothing much happened except they were sticking to the pan and kind of burning. I turned off the heat, scraped the beets into the salad bowl, and doused them with vinegar—another common ingredient in Russian recipes—and added the cucumbers and onions. To finish it off, I poured in some heavy cream, salt and pepper, and a handful of dried herbs. Once I mixed it all together, I put it in the fridge to chill.

Vladimir stabbed a beet chunk with his fork and held it up for inspection. “What are the little black spots, pepper?”

I leaned in and took a closer look. “Uh, when I cooked the beets they stuck to the skillet. It might be some scrapings from the pan.”

Boris smirked and mumbled something in Russian.

Vladimir forced a smile and slid it in his mouth. He chewed slowly, choked it down, and then chased it with a glass of juice.

“Do you like it?”

An ornery smile crept up on his face and he rattled off something in Russian.

I lifted my gaze to the ceiling as I tried to interpret the words. “
Ya khochu
means ‘I want.’ Say it all again.”

He obliged and I caught a couple more familiar words. “I want you to—something, something, something
.

Boris grew tired of our language lesson and butted in with a harsh interpretation. “Boss says it tastes like sewage. He wants you to dump it in the trash.”

I was sure Vladimir hadn’t said
that
, but there was probably some truth to Boris’s message. I cracked up and dumped my beet fail into the trash receptacle. Even the dacha cats wouldn’t touch those scraps.

Boris set out a round of shot glasses and a bottle of homemade vodka on the table. I knew what he was doing. He wanted me to give Vladimir my blessing and tell him it was okay to drink again. Encourage him to go back to his old ways so he could rise up to his position of power and defeat their rivals.

In a sick and twisted way, I almost agreed with Boris that Vladimir needed to relapse in order to defeat his enemies. The family needed the
pakhan
, but Vladimir ultimately was the one who had to make that decision. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t interfere in his business again.

If Boris wanted to tempt him, fine. If Vladimir decided to drink, also fine. I was going home, and he was staying here. I had no right to judge him or sway him into doing what I thought was best for him. There was no
us
anymore. Maybe going back to the bottle was a necessary evil in his world. Either way, the decision was his.

Boris filled each of the three shot glasses to the rim. He picked up his glass to initiate the toast. I followed his lead and picked up my glass as well. Vladimir drummed his fingers on the table and then flicked his hand at the glass, gesturing that he was not going to drink. Boris was annoyed, but clinked my glass and cheered to our health. We downed our shots.

The acidic burn of the alcohol scorched my throat like I’d just swallowed a flaming sword. I’ve had my share of shitty vodka at frat parties, but battery acid had to be less potent than whatever Boris had served me. “
Blah
. That’s awful.” I chugged a glass of a pale yellow fruit juice to cleanse my palate. “Man, that stuff is rank. What is it made out of, horseradish and plutonium?”

Boris grimaced and popped a couple of pickles in his mouth.
Jeez.
Even he could hardly stomach his heinous concoction. He exhaled and tapped his chest. “Is good for you,
lapsha
. Makes you strong.”

“Makes a hole in my stomach.”

Vladimir slid the relish tray in front of me. I followed Boris’s lead and chomped down some pickles to kill the burn. “When I get home, I am never drinking vodka again. I’m sticking with cheap beer for the rest of my college years.”

“The football team will be devastated when you break the news,” Boris said in his dry tone, insinuating that alcohol made me a little frisky—
which it did
. He had followed me one night and busted me partying with the team after their last game of the season. “Your papa should thank me for keeping you out of trouble with the boys.”

How did he have the gall to mention my dad after all he’d done to me behind his back? My dad would
not
thank him for littering my body with bruises, or threatening to kill our entire family, or kidnapping me and dragging me to godforsaken Russia.

My dad was an emotional wreck thanks to him and Vladimir.
No, Boris. I am positive my dad won’t thank you for screwing me up a hundred times worse than I was before I met you
. Although in fairness, I had made my dad’s life suck pretty much from the day I was born. My biological mother left our family when I was a baby, my sister died in a car wreck because I got in trouble at school, and now
this
.

I got up from my chair to stalk off to my bedroom. I wasn’t looking for attention or to be coddled. I just wanted to be away from Boris, preferably until it was time to go home. Before I could escape, Boris held out his arm and blocked me.

“This is not your papa’s house. You don’t run and hide yourself away like a rodent when you don’t like what I have to say.”

“Don’t talk about my dad.”

“Sit. Down.”

The tone of Boris’s deep, authoritative voice terrified me. I did what I was told and took a seat. “I’m sorry if I came across rude. I just—
miss my family
.” My lips trembled and I tried to shake off another round of tears, which would inevitably provoke Boris even more.

“Can you finish up dinner, Carter? Boris and I are going outside to get some air.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause trouble. I’m just, you know—
me
.”

Vladimir stood and walked to the door. “Check on the pie. Smells like it’s burning.”

The guys went outside and Boris lit a cigar. Their body language appeared relaxed, and whatever it was they were discussing appeared to be a civilized conversation. Everything seemed cool between them. I removed our fresh-baked apple pie from the oven. It was a nice golden brown with a tiny bit of char on one side of the crust. I took a knife and scraped it off to make it perfect.

Outside, the tone of their discussion flipped in an instant and turned into what sounded like an argument. Vladimir stuck his finger in Boris’s face to enforce his authority, apparently giving Boris an order that he was not on board with. When Boris argued back, Vladimir lost it. He grabbed Boris by the shirt collar and got up in his face. If it had been anyone else in the world who had put their hands on him like that, Boris would’ve stomped him to death like a ticked off hippopotamus.

Oh, shit.
If those two hotheads went to blows, there was nothing I could do stop them. Maybe the guards out there would get between them, maybe not. Boris glared at the boss, then he raised his hands in surrender. Vladimir loosened his grip. The Code Red warning level subsided to Orange and the two came to terms about whatever they were arguing over. It was unnerving to witness their disagreements, but the tension in the house was understandably high. The best thing I could do was let them deal with their family business and stay out of the way.

When they came inside, I put dinner on the table. Vladimir tried to lead an amicable dinner conversation, but Boris’s face burned red and his aura oozed with homicidal rage. He stabbed at his dinner and didn’t take his eyes off of his plate. Whatever it was Vladimir had ordered him to do, it was eating him alive from the inside out. I was so terrified Boris was going to lose it, I could barely choke down more than a couple bites of the delicious dinner we spent all evening preparing.

Boris emptied his water glass and slammed it on the table. I refilled it from the pitcher. He finished his bread in one bite. I buttered another slice and set it on his plate. What the hell did Vladimir tell Boris to do that had him this ticked off?

Boris scraped his plate clean and dabbed his mouth with a napkin.

“Can I get you some more potatoes, a couple more kabobs?” I reached for the meat and veggie platter.


Nyet.
I must attend to business. I have orders from the boss that I must
execute
in the morning.” His tone dripped with a seething, disapproving tone with enough torque to kick the moon out of orbit.

Holy, shit. Vladimir has ordered him to kill someone.

 

BOOK: Prisoner (Russian Tattoos Book 2)
7.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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