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Cruel Paradise (Oryolov Bratva Book 1): Chapter 74


Kirill bursts into my office, his cheeks flushed as though he sprinted all the way here. “I’ve got news!”

“You found Sergey?”

“No,” he pants. “This is about Emma.”

I scowl. “Why would I care about that news?”

“The security team is still on her. She ended up in the hospital with all three kids.”

Before I realize what I’m doing, I’m on my feet. “Are the kids okay?”

Kirill frowns. “The kids are fine. It’s Emma that’s hurt.”

“Can she walk?”

“Uh, I think so? She drove to the hospital herself.”

I sit back down and concentrate on the barrage of legal paperwork in front of me. “Then she’s not that badly hurt, is she?”

I’m being pulled in two directions. On the one hand, I fucking loathe that she might be hurt, badly or otherwise. On the other hand, her problems are no longer mine.

I’ve spent the morning dodging calls from The Brooklyn Gazette asking if they can get an exclusive statement from me. A quote, maybe? Fuck them all.

And fuck Emma, too.

“Ruslan, I know you’re pissed at her—”

“‘Pissed’ doesn’t begin to cover it. I’m done talking about her.”

“There’s something you need to—”

“We need to double the number of men looking for Sergey. He can’t have just disappeared into thin air.”

“I got my hands on Emma’s files and—”

“I’ve managed to suppress news of the botched launch getting out there. So far, the incident has been printed as a ‘good time gone bad’ incident. Nothing has been traced back to Alcazar itself or to me by association, but rumors are circulating. We need to expedite the investigation so that we have a story we can spin to the press.”

Kirill is glaring at me with his jaw clenched. “That’s the third time you’ve cut me off.”

“If you didn’t insist on talking about Ms. Carson, I wouldn’t have to cut you off.”

“This is important!”

You were the one who brought me the news, remember?” I growl. “You were the one who shoved those pictures in my face and told me that Emma and Remmy were working together.”

Kirill bristles. “Meaning what—this is a ‘kill the messenger’ kind of situation?”

“Whatever you have to say about Emma is immaterial to me now. So if you want to keep talking about her—” I jab a finger toward the door. “—you can get the fuck out and find someone who cares.”

He has the nerve to open his mouth again. Thankfully, my phone starts to ring. I pick it up pointedly and answer the call without checking who it is.

“Hiya, buddy. How’re you doing?”

Jesus Christ. I can’t catch a fucking break anymore.

“What do you want, Adrik?” I ask impatiently.

Kirill’s eyebrows leap up on his forehead as he listens.

“Oh, just wanted to see how you were doing. Can’t imagine Alcazar is doing all that well, considering all the bodies it’s turned up lately.”

“Ah, you called to gloat.”

“Not at all! I called to sympathize. Personally, I think you should capitalize on your notoriety. Maybe change the name from Alcazar to The Grim Reaper? This game is all about marketing after all.”

“It was simply a case of overindulgence. It’s happened before. The incident will be forgotten soon enough.”

“Overindulgence, huh? That is the perfect branding for the magic drug you’re pushing. Tell me: how long do you think it’ll be until the press gets wind of the fact that five dead bodies turned up the same night that you decided to launch Venera?”

I grit my teeth. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have no connection to Venera and, if I did, I would definitely take the credit.”

Adrik chuckles darkly. “Is that how you managed to seduce that pretty little secretary of yours? Slipped her some Venera at the water cooler?”

If only he were standing in front of me now. Nothing could stop me from punching the smirk off that weaselly little cunt.

“If you’re done—”

“Why was she at the hospital today? You two had a little fight, did ya? You know what they say: you can’t have it all.”

I freeze. That’s why he’s calling. He’s not just trying to needle me. He’s trying to let me know that he’s got eyes on me.

“Adrik, a little word of advice: get your nose out of my fucking business and mind your own. Maybe then you’ll be able to make at least one of your ventures successful.”

I hang up without waiting for his reply. My eyes are focused out of the window, but I’m not seeing anything there. “That fucker is watching Emma.”

Kirill pulls out his phone immediately. “According to the report I got earlier, the doctor advised that she stay at the hospital overnight for observation. She should still be there…” He puts the phone to his ear. “Maksim? You at the hospital… Yeah… I need you to…”

I turn back to the window while Kirill coordinates with the security team on Emma’s tail.

How could I have been so stupid? I brought Emma out into the public sphere with me. I exposed her to the whole damn world. Which means I’m the one who made her a target. I may be done with her, but Adrik doesn’t know that and, even if I told him, he would never believe me.

I’m still pissed at her but not enough to justify feeding her to the dogs. Definitely not enough to risk those kids in the process.

“… what? What the fuck do you mean… Where… When? Damn it, Maks! Okay. Fucking hurry. Hell’s Kitchen.” Kirill cuts the line and swipes a hand over his hair. “They can’t find her.”

“I thought you said she was supposed to stay overnight for observation.”

What do they need to observe? What happened? I hate that I don’t know. I hate that I want to know. I hate everything about this situation.

“Yeah, well, she was. Apparently, she opted not to.”

“Stupid,” I mutter. “As per fucking usual. Maksim and the team are heading to Hell’s Kitchen?”

“As we speak.”

I clench my fist around a fountain pen hard enough to bend it. “Where else would she go?”

Kirill doesn’t look as confident about that and I have no clue why. But asking him might just encourage him to start talking about Emma and, as much as I want to make sure she and the kids are safe, I do not want that.

“We need to get a team on Adrik, too. The motherfucker knows too much.”

Kirill frowns. “Do you think he might know something about Sergey’s disappearance?”

“I have a feeling he might. He knew about the launch date. And he’s the only one who stands a chance to gain through my failures.”

“So we know that Adrik has something to do with the botched launch. My question is, How?” Kirill starts cracking his knuckles. “This launch was airtightOnly our inner circle knew the details. Only the inner circle even knows that you’re behind Venera in the first place.”

“Sergey’s disappearance feels convenient, don’t you think?”

I’m just thinking out loud, but Kirill shakes his head. “Sergey? You think Sergey’s the mole?”

“He has all the information.”

Kirill frowns. “Still—either the preexisting samples of Venera were tampered with prior to the rollout or those unfortunate five were given a different dose altogether. Either way, Adrik had someone inside Alcazar that night fucking with the Venera samples.”

My jaw clenches. “I’m missing something…”

Ring, ring, ring.

Kirill picks up the call and puts it on speaker. “Maks?”

“We just got to Hell’s Kitchen, sir,” the soldier reports. “It looks like she came here but then… she left again.”

Kirill and I exchange a glance. I lean in towards the phone. “Soldat.”

He clears his throat. “Yes, pakhan?”

“I want you to stay there until she comes back home.”

He clears his throat again. “Sir, if I may… It doesn’t look like she’s coming back.”

I freeze. “What do you mean?”

“We’ve got a long lens camera aimed at the inside of the apartment. She seems to have packed up the majority of her belongings.”


“Keep watch,” I snarl. “I’ll be there soon.”

Kirill follows me as I run to the elevators. There’s a wariness in his face that I don’t care to decipher right now. My head is pinging with warning flares. Why did I think it would be as easy as cutting the cord?

Maksim is parked outside Hell’s Kitchen when Kirill and I arrive. While Kirill stays behind to talk to the soldier, I dart upstairs. It doesn’t take me long to break the lock and let myself into the apartment.

The first thing I notice when I walk in is the broken coffee table. Glass shards litter the center of the living room and I spot little flecks of blood drying on the sharpened edges.

What the hell happened here?

Their clothes are gone. Their shoes are gone. The apartment seems empty compared to its usual comfortable chaos. The only mess is the broken coffee table, which feels ominously symbolic right now. All the little things that are so precious to each child are noticeably absent.

Reagan’s favorite soft toy, a stuffed rabbit she named Mr. Bunny.


Caroline’s cloth doll with the handmade dress that Emma crocheted herself.


Josh’s boxing gloves. The ones I gave him. The ones I taught him to lace up.


As if for added confirmation, I turn towards the mantel. The pictures are still standing in their mismatched frames, Sienna’s smiling face shining out at the center. But there’s an empty square of dust where something used to be and Emma’s words are ringing in my ears.

It’s the first thing I pack and the last thing I unpack.

Her sister’s music box is gone.


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