A vein pulsed in Vladimir’s forehead. His face turned red, then purple as his eyes bulged. He clutched his left arm, dropping to the floor.
Sasha rushed to his side, knocking two security guards out of his way. He loosened the tie and unfastened the collar around his uncle’s throat. “Call the medics, he’s having some kind of attack.”
Cell phones were whipped out, voices giving descriptions of what had just happened.
His uncle wheezed and gasped for breath.
“Keep breathing, because I’ll be damned if I give you mouth-to-mouth.”
“S-ss,” his uncle began, his eyes rolling and spittle accumulating in the corner of his mouth.
“Deathbed apology—not quite what I wanted, but who am I to argue with the Grim Reaper.”
A crew of in-house medics entered the room, brushing Sasha out of the way. They worked over the twitching body.
Sasha strolled over to the window, gazing down at the always busy sight of London’s streets. He supposed he should feel sorry or pity…something, but he couldn’t. He just didn’t have it in him. Tucking his hands into his trouser pockets, he started whistling and slipped out of the room.
A medic stopped him in the hallway. “Sir?”
“The receptionist said you were next-of-kin.”
“I’m the only one who’ll claim him, you mean,” Sasha grumbled. “I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
Traffic was forgiving and they made it in record time. After waiting for an hour in a pleasant room with beige walls while reading fashion magazines two months out of date, a doctor entered the room.
“Your uncle’s stable.”
“What’s the good news?” Sasha asked, not really caring that the man looked aghast.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to him.”
Sasha passed a few nurses who winked at him and waved. Beds with only curtains for privacy lined the walls as he got closer to the private rooms.
His uncle lay prone in bed, his eyes active and alert as Sasha and the doctor drew closer. “Your uncle had a stroke, Mr. Romanov.”
“Is he able to speak?”
The doctor grabbed the chart from the shelf in the wall and scanned over it. “Not at this time. The injury done to his body will require intense physical therapy. The kind that we, unfortunately, don’t offer.”
Glacial eyes hardened, one narrowing while the other’s eyelid drooped.
“Who does?” Sasha asked, his gaze unwavering on his uncle’s face.
He looked up from his chart. “St. Mary’s and, well, between the two of us, the other place isn’t worth mentioning.”
“Childer’s?” It would be divine justice to send the evil son of a bitch there. For Vladimir to be at the mercy of inattentive workers and dodgy facilities with shite conditions. He could send him there and his uncle’s days would be numbered, a revenge so tantalizing that it shimmered and tempted him to grab it. To make his uncle pay.
Vladimir let out a snort. Sasha didn’t know if the man was daring him to do it, or mentally calling him weak. But only a true villain took revenge on a weak man. And he was done being the villain.
“St. Mary’s.” Sasha nodded his head. There were just some things a man didn’t do. Turn into his uncle was one of them.
“Sorry, but it’s not up to you.”
Both Sasha and the doctor turned.
“You always did have a talent for telling us apart.” Arrogant and cold, with his pale eyes and slicked back hair, his formerly missing cousin strode into the room wearing a three-piece suit.
“Easy enough—you’re the one with the stick up your arse.”
Sebastian handed a stack of papers to the obviously confused doctor. “He’s being transferred to Childer’s.”
Sasha gaped at him. “That place will most likely kill him.”
Sebastian leaned over his father, placing a kiss on his forehead. “One can only hope.”
What sounded like a laugh burst from Vladimir’s mouth. Over and over the horrible sound like a gun being fired, until the three of them were forced to leave the room while a nurse rushed past them, hypodermic needle in hand.
Sebastian paused in the middle of the hallway. “I’ll be taking over as head of Romanov Industries.”
Astounded, Sasha stared at him. His cousin was going to waltz in and take over like he hadn’t been missing for the past six months? “Where have you been?”
“Here and there.” Sebastian sliced his hand in the air. “I have massive plans for R.I.”
“Leave Rose Holland alone.”
“If I don’t?”
Sasha smiled, slowly and with confidence. “I’ll email pictures of you and Kate in a rather intimate moment to The Daily Mail.”
“Done.” Sebastian pulled on leather gloves. “I’m not interested in partnering with Nahalah Industries.”
“And you’ll leave my mum at St. Mary’s.”
“I’m guilty of many things, but using a dying woman as leverage isn’t one of them.”
Sasha hadn’t thought his cousin was that much of a bastard, but he couldn’t be sure. For years Sebastian had followed in his father’s footsteps. Trying, it seemed to Sasha, to snatch every crumb of attention and praise from Vladimir when it was tossed his way.
“Lastly, I want my inheritance and for everyone to leave me alone. I’m done.”
Sebastian’s brows lifted, an amused smile on his lips. The first Sasha had seen since they were boys. “Didn’t he ever tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“All this time I thought you were an utter bastard.”
“Out with it,” Sasha demanded, clenching his hands into fists.
“You’ve had control of everything for the past three years. If you’d taken the time to actually go over the documents with your father’s lawyer, you’d have known.” Sebastian turned on his heel, leaving Sasha to do what he hadn’t done since Holland Springs.
“I’m getting pissed,” he said to no one in particular.
Despite Rose’s prayers and bargaining with God, Tuesday came as it always had. To add insult to injury, the sun shone brightly while fluffy clouds lazily drifted in the sky. An absolutely perfect day to auction off her home, her life and her dreams.
The clock on the microwave changed from 1:59 to 2:00 and her heart dropped to her stomach, acid eating it away. The land that Strawberry Grove had been built on was gone, sold to an international corporation for a fire-sale of a price.