The very thought of publically outing Alekzander in such a way sent the hair on her body into the air. And, again, that something deep inside her rejected the idea. Had she been treated badly during her time with Alekzander and his family, maybe it would have been easier to throw him under the bus. But that hadn’t been the case. She’d been welcomed from day one, made to feel at home. She was sure where she came from had something to do with that. There had been many evenings she’d sat with Vasily and chatted about what was happening in their home country—that was after she’d gotten over her deep-rooted fear of the powerful man.
No. She couldn’t get Alekzander into trouble with the law simply because he’d stopped loving her and had chosen to move on without telling her first. She should. She should spill every little secret she had, not that there were many. But she never would. Despite everything, he was her daughter’s father.
Then again, she thought, feeling ill, if it came down to it and she had to choose between keeping Lekzi in her life and Alekzander’s freedom, well, there was no choice. But until then…
“That would not work because I was never personally aware of anything he or his family did that might have been illegal. For all I know, their intimidating reputation could have been created simply to make themselves feel special.”
She saw Justin’s head turn her way but didn’t meet the look because then he’d see she was lying through her teeth. He tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel.
“This may sound insensitive, but why didn’t you go back home to your family when things fell apart here?”
Wishing he could drive faster, she answered honestly. “I am an only child, and, as you know, my parents are gone. But even if I had someone there, at that time, I could not afford to go home.” He frowned in confusion, so she went on, her cheeks heating. “While I was with Alekzander, I did not work, or go back to school as I had planned. When I left Russia, I dropped out of my fourth year of university,” she explained. “But I had every intention of applying to colleges here so I could finish my liberal arts degree. I had planned to go into the field of Human Resources, but, as I said, I did not.” She moved on because she could hear how defensive she was beginning to sound. “Alekzander enjoyed having me at home, and I enjoyed being there for him.”
Shame coated that last bit, revealing how little she thought of the decision she’d made back then. She should never have given up her independence. She suspected that had much to do with what had happened.
“So he kept you broke and dependent on him?” Justin questioned as they came out of the tunnel and traveled the relatively empty streets of Queens heading for Sunnyside.
“No, of course not. He was very generous. I had credit cards and a bank account that I could use freely.”
Feeling small, she wanted to add that she wasn’t a parasite, but hearing herself, she found she couldn’t. Her and Alekzander’s first real fight had been about her working to save the money she would need to return to school. He’d convinced her it wasn’t something that had to be decided right then and had quieted her protests by saying they’d discuss her education later. It had always been later. And she’d let him get away with discounting her future. Had she not been such a pushover, so eager to please him, would things have been different?
“I did not use his money after things ended,” she murmured.
“Why? Any other woman, especially a pregnant one, would have withdrawn a large chunk of cash—especially because as a Tarasov he could certainly afford it—and lived off it until she was back on her feet. Why didn’t you?”
“Because I did not want his money. I did not want anything from him.” She shifted, grinding her teeth at the warble in her voice. It signified weakness, and that embarrassed her. “Anyway,” she said, sneaking in another common word Americans used regularly. “How could I go home when I did not have enough money to buy an airline ticket, to rent an apartment once I got there, and to live until I found a job? I could not. So I stayed here where it had already become familiar. And Lekzi and I have done fine without him. Our life is simple, but that is all we need.” She might not have two homes and a private jet, but despite having to save most of her earnings, she was providing for her daughter, and she was proud of that.
When they eventually turned onto her street, she tried not to think about what it would cost her, financially and emotionally, to start over again. Another new city, no friends, no job, no place to live. And it would be so much worse this time because she was dragging her innocent daughter along, making her baby suffer for the sins of her parents…
The world stilled for a split second before Sacha felt the impact of her reality hit with the force of a punch.
A group of well-dressed men milled about in front of her apartment building. Two were on the sidewalk speaking with a uniformed NYPD officer while another two stood in front of the main entrance of the three-story walk-up.
Oh, God. “I told you.” Her whisper was eerily accepting. “He has come for me.”