A Few Minutes Earlier…
Mark lied to me. This week just keeps getting better and better. First, he held me against my will in the apartment. Then, he had a heart attack and died. Now, I'm discovering that he stole money from the company who employed him.
"Mama," Bay says and shoves the play teapot at me to refill. It's pretend tea, make-believe, but my mind is a million miles away, and I'm too distracted to remember how to make fake tea.
Bay climbs into my lap when I'm not doing what she wants quickly.
There's a heavy set of footsteps trailing down the hallway, and I glance at the door as a gentleman I don't recognize steps into the study. "Ma'am, this was found with the laundry. I believe it got mixed up accidentally in the clothes bin." He hands me a red envelope, sealed.
My name is scribbled on the front in Mark's handwriting.
"Where did you get this?" I ask, chasing after the gentleman and sitting Bay on the floor.
"As I said, the laundry. One of the housekeepers found it in with the clothes and thought it should be returned to you."
"Thank you," I say, studying the envelope.
He hurries back to his duties, disappearing down the hallway. I've seen the gentleman once or twice, but I never caught his name.
Exhaling a nervous breath, I'm not sure if I'm ready to read the letter. What if it's an apology?
It's probably a letter Mark wrote me about how I'm a terrible person leaving him and how I'll never be happy without him in my life. I shouldn't open the envelope. Instead, I should shove it into the nearest paper shredder or burn it.
But curiosity gets the best of me, and I tear open the envelope, pulling out a handwritten note from Mark.
I wish I could explain everything in person. But I can't. Not while you're living under the roof of the bratva.
I warned you to stay away from Luka and not to tell him that Bay is his biological kin. I can't protect you if you're with him. And while I wanted to tell you everything, telling you could get you killed.
Luka is not the man he claims to be. He's a liar. Has he told you that he works for Mikhail Barinov, the biggest crime boss on the east coast?
I only know this because I work for him. I never met the man; he is too smart to let his hands get dirty. But there's evidence, a paper trail from his illicit dealings.
Luka is Russian Bratva. They're powerful and dangerous men who would kill me to keep you from discovering the truth.
If I end up dead, you should know that I may not have been innocent, but neither are they. They're murderers, thieves, drug lords, and felons.
My breath catches in my throat, and I read the letter once more, making sure I'm not missing anything. I shove the envelope and the contents into my pocket.
We can't stay here. If Mark was right and Luka is part of a crime organization, Bay isn't safe with Luka.
I grab Bay from the floor.
"Mama, down!" Bay proclaims as I reach for her favorite stuffed rabbit and hand it to her to preoccupy her while I hurry down the hallway past Luka's office.
I can't confront him. He'd only lie to me. A man working for the bratva will not admit to his nefarious acts.
I hurry down the hallway, searching for Madisyn. She's in the kitchen, grabbing a snack from the fridge.
"We have to get out of here," I say, keeping my voice down.
Madisyn opens a Ben & Jerry's ice cream tub and takes a spoonful, shoving the sweet treat into her mouth. She's staring at me like I've gone mad.
I wish that I had. It would be easier to deal with than knowing that the father of my child is a monster.
"Huh?" Madisyn asks, waiting for a further explanation for my outburst.
I show her the envelope and letter, slightly crinkled but still entirely legible. "Mikhail, Luka, they're bratva," I say. I glance behind us at the open entryway to the kitchen. "I'm getting out of here with Bay. You should come with us," I say, glancing her over.
She's not visibly pregnant, at least I can't see it, but she can't want this life for her child.
"I'm not leaving," Madisyn says. "And I think you should talk to Luka before you jet." She takes another bite of ice cream, not upset by the news.
"Did you know they're bratva?" I can't believe that she wouldn't have told me. How is she okay with this for her child?
"I used to work for the FBI," Madisyn says.
She told me that once before, but I didn't believe her. I thought that she was joking about being a federal agent.
I back out of the kitchen. "I can't stay." I hurry down the hallway and for the front door. I don't bother packing anything. There's no time.
I put Bay into the backseat and buckle her into her booster seat before I climb into the front seat, slam the door, and head out. Thankfully, the guard opens the gate without so much as a question.
At least we're not prisoners. I breathe a sigh of relief, but I don't feel calm or comforted. I can't return to work. Luka knows where I used to live, work, and everything about me.
I have to head out of the city, away from New York, to safety. It's the only chance to keep Bay and me safe.