Everything was dark and cold when Dani opened her eyes.
Pitch black darkness. It was useless thrashing her head about, for only nothingness stared back at her from every corner of this frigid space.
Had she gone blind? Everything felt dull and hazy when she tried to recollect her thoughts. Think, Dani. Think. Right, she’d been partying with friends in a club in Melbourne. It had been a warm summer night, far from this dark freezer she was in right now.
Unless she was in some kind of freezer. That was ridiculous of course, because that would mean she was either dead, or soon to be.
Her next instinct was to wrap her arms around herself. Except she couldn’t.
Her hands were bound behind her back, and her fingertips could feel the cable tie around her wrists. Only then did she become fully aware of her position, of how she was seated on some chair—heavy, wooden—and tied down to her ankles.
“What the fuck…?” The words left her cracked lips and grated in her dry throat. At least she wasn’t gagged.
It was no use struggling. The chair was too heavy, with each of her ankles tied to the chair’s legs.
“Help!” she cried. Her eyes were now adjusting, allowing her to see her own foggy breath. The way her voice reverberated off the walls, she had to be in some kind of holding area.
Her heart began to hammer in her chest. How the hell did she end up in this predicament? She was just partying one minute, and the next she was trapped in some twilight zone moment. Even if she was still in Australia, she was much too far from home. She wasn’t set to return to New York till the end of spring break…
Dani took in a deep, shaky breath, both from the cold and to calm herself down. Christ, it had to be below fifty degrees in here. Did anyone even know where she was? Surely her friends must’ve noticed she’d just disappeared off the face of the earth.
“Some friends…” she muttered under her breath. She hadn’t pissed off anyone that badly, did she? Of course, had her memory decided not to fail her entirely, she’d at least have a better idea—
The sound of heels, sharp and strong, resounded in what she could now imagine as one spacious room. The floor sounded like marble or polished concrete. The steps grew louder, closer, yet at a leisurely pace, as if whoever was approaching was taking their sweet time.
“Who’s there…?” Her senses were on overdrive. Her eyes strained to make shapes out of shadows, ears ringing to catch even a single breath. Whoever they were, they clearly weren’t the ones getting her out of here.
A light so sudden and blinding flickered to life above her head. Her retinas almost burned from the brightness of the swinging, overhead lamp, and it took several seconds before her vision could adjust.
A tall man with dark brown hair stood before her in a grey suit and white parka. Thick dark eyebrows; strong, clean-shaven jaw; lean frame. Perfect, coiffed undercut swept to the side. Definitely under thirty. In any other situation she would’ve appreciated such a well-dressed, handsome guy, but not today.
Especially not when the roguish smile on his lips made him look like he was about to eat her alive.
“Hello, Miss De Luca.”
His voice was a rich, deep timbre. No accent. He sounded American, even. Was she back in the States?
“Who are you?” she managed to ask in a steady voice, probably because he was dressed too classy to be an axe murderer. He didn’t seem to be wielding a weapon, though with his hands in his pockets, it was too soon to tell.
“You must be cold,” he deflected, observing her sleeveless crop top and short skirt. With her feet tied to the chair’s legs she was almost exposing herself before him, but that was the least of her concerns.
“Understatement of the year,” she remarked. She tried to wriggle her fingers to keep the blood flowing, but they were already beginning to tense up. “Where the hell am I?”
“Far away from home, I’m afraid.” The sympathy in his tone did not reach his eyes. “Somewhere your father can’t find you.”
A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold ran down her spine. Great, an associate of her father’s. Only people who moved in the same circles knew what her father did for a living. For this man to know about Tommy De Luca…
“I’m not in the family business. You won’t get anything from me,” she said with conviction. True enough, she’d wanted nothing to do with it, but it didn’t matter now. She was in clearly a lot more trouble than she thought.
“Oh, don’t worry. We don’t need anything from you.” The man paced before her with his hands behind his back. “Quite the contrary, it’ll be your father needing something from us. I suspect he’s already out guns blazing looking for his only daughter now.”
A kidnapping, in this day and age? Fantastic. “How much are you asking?”
“Ten million dollars.”
A dry laugh escaped her. “You’re joking.”
“I’m afraid not.” He tutted. “He hasn’t been paying up for quite some time now, so we figured you could be his little… motivation to speed up the process.”
“It’s usually my father who does the collecting,” she scoffed. “Are you sure it’s not him you owe the money to?”
“Just because he’s a money launderer doesn’t make him immune to debt.” He shrugged, idly rocking on his heels. “To be fair, it’s debt he’s accrued for a while now. I suppose he just doesn’t take us seriously enough to pay up on time.”
“Can you at least tell me who you are?” she bit out as her teeth began to clench from the cold. His words were no longer making sense, and if she was going to freeze to death here, she’d at least carry his name with her to hell.
The man looked to his side and gave a brief nod. Soon there were footsteps again, and one of his lackeys appeared to hand him a thick blanket.
“Ah, forgive me for my lack of manners.” He stood unmoving, taunting her with the fabric in his hand. “My name is Alexei Nikolin. You’ll be under my custody until your father manages to pay every last cent.”
The slightest accent showed when he pronounced his name. Her eyebrows met. “You’re Russian.”
He flashed her a perfect set of teeth. “That I am.”
Christ. How could her father owe ten million dollars to a Russian, of all people?
“Well, seeing as I’m about to catch hypothermia, we’re off to a great start,” she snarled. “My father won’t shell out a dime over an icy corpse, just saying.”
The full grin on Alexei’s lips softened to an amused smirk. “Spoken like a true daddy’s girl.”
The blanket unraveled in his hands, and bliss enveloped her the moment he draped the soft, thick wool around her shoulders.
“Am I going to stay here?” She looked around what seemed to be one dark, dingy warehouse. “You could turn down the AC a little bit, you know.”
“AC?” he repeated with a low chuckle. “This is all compliments of the lovely evening weather.”
“Weather? Where the hell…”
Alexei slowly sat on his heels and placed his broad hands on her shoulders. He smiled at her like Christmas had come early.
“Welcome to Moscow, Miss Daniella De Luca. The Russian mafia is looking forward to working with you.”
Comments (1)See all