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Cruel Paradise (Oryolov Bratva Book 1): Chapter 72


I didn’t just imagine it, did I?

Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we were talking babies? Planning a future together? Merging together two worlds that somehow made sense even though they shouldn’t?

I cry for most of the ride back to Hell’s Kitchen. I figure I might as well get the tears out now, right? I can’t exactly break down in front of the kids.

The kids.

“Oh, God,” I whisper, covering my face with my hands.

I’ve been silently crying this entire time to try to preserve my dignity in Kirill’s presence. But the moment I think about those kids, I think, Fuck it. What dignity do I have left that I need to preserve?

I start ugly crying, loud, snotty sobs breaking through the silence of Kirill’s car. For the most part, he ignores me. Right up until he parks outside the apartment and I realize that he’s got the baby lock on, trapping me inside. I wipe my tears and turn to him. He’s looking at me carefully, like he’s not sure what to make of me.

“Can you let me out or did your boss give you instructions to humiliate me some more?”

His brows arrow downward. “I thought you were better than this.”

I can feel my cheeks burn up. “Excuse me?”

“Selling Ruslan out for money? It’s below you, Emma.”

I bite down on my anger. “You know what? Fuck you. And fuck your boss, too. I didn’t rat him out for money. I would never do that and, one day, Ruslan’s going to figure that out. But it’ll be too late. By the time he realizes it, I’ll be long gone. Now—” I pull at the handle of the car violently. “—let me out of this damn car!”

The locks click open and I practically soar out of the vehicle. I run into the building and watch Kirill drive away from the corner window.

Is this it then?

The roar of Kirill’s engine feels like the severing of my last tie to Ruslan.

I wipe my face dry as I take the stairs up to the apartment, but I’m still on shaky ground. I have no idea how I’ll respond if one of the kids asks me about Ruslan.

What I want to do is force a smile and answer evasively.

What I’ll probably do is burst into fresh tears.

No—you’re stronger than that. You can do this, Emma. For the kids. For Sienna.

Josh, Rae, and Caroline swarm around me the moment I walk through the door. I give them all big hugs and sloppy kisses and take comfort in the fact that there are at least three little people who still think I’m a decent human being.

Of course, all three of those little people also think having ice cream for breakfast is a great idea. But right now, I’ll take what I can get.

I relieve Amelia of her nannying duties and, after we send her off, I sit on the living room floor and pretend that I’m invested in a game gone wrong that includes competing tea parties that Reagan and Caroline are hosting against each other. Any other day and I’d have been splitting my side, laughing at their sibling rivalry, but today—

Well, fake it ‘til you make it.

“Aunt Emma?” Josh asks, venturing over to my side. “If you’re feeling tired, I can look after the girls.”

I wrap an arm around Josh and kiss him on the forehead. “Thanks, kiddo, but I’m fine.”

He doesn’t seem convinced. He keeps looking at my face as though he can will away the bruises if he just concentrates hard enough.

“Auntie Em!” Reagan cries, clearly upset about the fact that Mr. Bunny has chosen to go to Caroline’s tea party instead of hers. “Whose tea party are you coming to?”

“I’m coming to both.”

Reagan puts her hands on her hips. “You have to choose.”

“I can’t choose between my two favorite nieces. I love you both equally.”

Caroline’s attempt to lure me to her side comes in the form of old brown playdough. “My tea party has chocolate swiss rolls.”

Despite my dark mood, I find myself chuckling. The chuckle dies in my throat when Ben rounds the corner looking… halfway presentable?

What the fuck is happening?

His shirt is free of stains, his jeans are free of holes, and everything he’s wearing is clearly brand spanking new. My eyes pop when I notice the shoes on his feet.

“Are those Yeezys?”

He lifts the shoe up so I can get a better look. “Pretty damn snazzy, huh? I liked ‘em so much, I got the same pair in white. Can’t believe they’re selling these things for like five hundred a pop.”

My hands ball into fists. “Girls, can you take your tea parties to your room, please? I need to speak to your dad.”

Josh gets up right away and starts hurrying his sisters along. The moment I hear the door close, I turn to Ben in a fury. “You spent five hundred dollars on a pair of shoes?”

“Did you not hear me say I bought two pairs? Or are you just really bad at math?”

I put my hands on his chest and shove him. Hard. He’s so startled, he trips backwards and lands on the armchair. “So you’re spending the money you screwed me over for on yourself?” I screech.

He struggles upright. “Oh, for fuck’s sake—here we go again.”

“Do you know what you just cost me?”

“Don’t worry; you’ll find another fuck buddy soon enough.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself thinking that some murders are justified. For four to live, one must die.

A bubble of crazed laughter bursts out of me. It startles me just as much as it startles Ben. “What the fuck? Are you losing it or some shit?” He picks himself off the sofa and smooths down his Yves St. Laurent t-shirt.

“You know, I just may be losing it. And you are the reason!”

He rolls his eyes. “You really know how to bring the drama, don’t you?”

“You cost us our last lifeline, Ben,” I whisper. “Now, I’m fucked. We’re fucked. I don’t have an income anymore!”

He shrugs. “You’ll find something. It just better be soon, ‘cause I saw another pair of shoes that I like.”

“You motherfu—” He grabs my arm all of a sudden and reels me towards him, so close that I can smell his breath. Urgh. Garlic and beer. “Let go of me!”

He glares at me, his eyes shot through with scaly red veins. “I am fucking done with your nagging and bitching. I am the man of this house and I expect you to start respecting that.”

He twists my arm just to make his point but, despite the pain, the very idea of respecting Ben seems laughably ridiculous.

Which is why I laugh.

Right in his face.

He drops my arm as though he’s been scalded. His eyes go wide with disbelief. Then his cheeks color and I know the anger isn’t far behind. But still, I can’t stop laughing.


He slaps the fucking hell out of me.

Gasping, I clutch my cheek. I hadn’t even seen it coming and even now that it hurts, I still don’t quite believe he did it. It stings. No, it’s more than a sting. This is agony—more emotional than physical, although the reopened cut on my forehead from my tumble down the stairs with Remmy adds some blood to the mix.

Still, holding my cheek I look at Ben with my mouth hanging open. But instead of regret, his face is contorted into a mask of black rage. He takes a step towards me and it forces me back.

I’m the boss now,” he growls. “I’m done being pushed around, treated like a second-class citizen.”

“You have no right to touch me. Or any of those kids. If you put a hand on me or any of them again, I will—”

My words are swallowed up in another gasp as he snatches me by the front of my blouse and throws me down hard. Except he’s not aiming for the sofa like I did when I pushed him.

He’s aiming for the coffee table.

Which happens to be made of glass.

I lose my voice in shock as I fall backwards. The glass shatters under the force of my weight and I go right through. Pain screams up and down my arms as those cold shards rip my skin open.

Fear clogs in my throat and all the fight leaves my body. Ben stays put, though. He squats down beside the coffee table and looks right at me.

“I don’t give a fuck how you do it, but you will get yourself another job and you will support me. Work two jobs, clean toilets in the mall, fuck your way through New York—I don’t give a shit how you do it. I just expect it to be done. And if you don’t start falling in line right fucking now, I’m gonna take those kids and make sure you never see them again.”

I’m shivering when Ben walks out the door, taking the keys to the Mercedes with him. It’s partly because of the fear, partly because of the pain. I’ve been cut up pretty bad by the glass, but it’s nothing compared to the weight on my chest and the knowledge that I’m cornered. And there’s no one I can turn to anymore.

I can’t rely on my parents.

I can’t turn to Ruslan.

It’s just me. I’m the last line of defense between Ben and those kids. And I will not let them down.

I will not let you down, Sienna.

I swear.


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