“The real world isn’t ready to handle our reality. How could they accept that the gulags, the drugs, and the Blood Pit are real? It is the stuff of nightmares. How could they believe that males are being raised as killers, for sport and greed?
“Worse, it would surely implicate the Bratva and my people in too many ways. We can fight the police and the system here in our city, but we can’t take on the whole world.” Zaal shrugged and tapped the map of the Blood Pit. “We need a way in. We need a solid plan, and we need it fast. I won’t have our freedom jeopardized. I won’t have what I’ve found with my Talia taken away from me, after being without her all of these years.” He raised his brow. “And we know you won’t give up Kisa. We need to act, Luka, and we need to do it soon.”
Lifting the glass of water sitting beside me, I brought it to my lips and drained it in one motion. Zaal stood up. As he passed by, he pressed his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t move until I heard him leaving my house with Talia, who had been sitting with Kisa.
Pushing back from the table, I got to my feet and walked down the hallway. In the living room, Kisa was waiting for me on the couch, hand lying on her swollen stomach.
She took one look at me, her face sympathetic. Silently, she held out her hand. I took it in an instant and dropped to the couch beside her. Kisa fell against my chest and her hand landed on my stomach.
She didn’t say anything. Once I’d fought through my pride, I admitted, “I can’t see a way to defeat Arziani.” The minute I had confessed what was torturing my mind, a heavy weight lifted from my chest.
Kisa froze, then tilted up her chin to meet my eyes. I stared down at my beautiful wife and sighed. “They run a damn fortress, solnyshko. Arziani seems insane from what Valentin has said. He’s deluded, thinks he’s some kind of king, some Roman Caesar. The king of his prisoners. Males, just like me, he drugs them and forces them to fight on until they die. Kids plucked from families and or- phanages, made into his monsters.”
I ran my hand over my tired eyes and asked, “How the hell do we stop him? How do we even breach his Blood Pit?”
Kisa sat up and brought her face to hover above mine. “You’ll find a way, baby. I trust you, we all do.”
I shook my head. “And that’s the problem,” I said harshly. “Everyone expects me to work this out. Everyone expects me to find a way in and execute a plan to bring Arziani down.” I pressed my hand to Kisa’s pregnant stomach, to our baby she was carrying. “But more than that, I need this Arziani to be fucking killed. I need to cut off the head of the snake. Everything, everything we have all been through starts with Arziani. The gulags, his contact with the Durovs. Levan Jakhua worked with Arziani, using Anri and Zaal as his prototypes. Then we found out how he keeps so hidden—by using drugged killers as assassins. They take out anyone who is a threat.”
Kisa blinked, then blinked again when what I was saying hit home. “You believe he’s coming for us. You believe that now we know about him, he’ll send another Valentin.” Her words were not a question. Because she knew what she said was exactly what I’d been thinking.
An ache caved in my chest, and I leaned in to run my lips over hers. “If he came for you. If someone took you away from me . . .” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Stop,” Kisa said, moving back to press her finger over my lips. I took her hand in mine. My mind took me back to the gulag.
I could still smell the dankness of the cells. I could still smell the richness of the blood spilled hourly in the ring. I could still feel the heavy veil of death that draped us all, waiting to strike, waiting to deliver another soul to hell.
“Luka, lyubov moya, come back to me.”
I gasped as I heard Kisa’s soft voice cut through the memory. I tightened my grip on her hand. Once again I looked down to her stomach. My teeth clenched together, then I said, “I have to find a way to take him down. I can’t, I won’t, have our baby brought into this world knowing that the male who condemned me, us all, to that life is still breathing, still stealing children from homes, forc- ing them to be killers.”
A tear escaped Kisa’s eye to fall to our clasped hands. “Luka,” she whispered, “this man scares me more than anything else in the world.”
Dropping my forehead to rest against hers, I replied, “That’s another reason why he needs to be put out of our misery. I want our version of a normal life. I want this Bratva life with you, with my new brothers and our families. But as long as that prick lives, it can never happen.” I paused. My hand, still on Kisa’s stomach, felt a tiny kick.
My eyes darted to my wife’s stomach. Kisa laughed a single watery laugh. She covered my hand with her own, just as our baby kicked again.
Leaning forward, Kisa pressed her lips to mine. When she pulled back and I saw the love she had for me written on her stun- ning face, I knew I had to remedy the Arziani problem quickly.
I had two months until our child came into this world. What that world would look like depended on me.
A world free from any threat to our lives. That meant Arziani dead.
His guards slaughtered.
And the Blood Pit burned to ash.