Hi y'all! I apologize for such the long wait on this chapter. I definitely wasn't planning on taking 8 months to write this chapter but life got super crazy and hectic (and it unfortunately still is) but I'm back now with a new chapter and I will be back with more chapters soon! I hope y'all enjoy this chapter and feel free to leave a review with your comments and thoughts!
It was mid-afternoon when we landed back in Austin, which was late evening in Italy. I wanted nothing more than to go back to the house and take a nap, but as Dimitri and I walked down the stairs to the baggage claim area, I could see Katerina practically bouncing in Karolina's arms as they waited for us. I could see that Olena was holding a sleeping Levi and I couldn't help but smile through my yawn as I looked down at them.
Katerina must have spotted us because the next thing I heard was a little girl's cry of "Momma! Daddy!" and looked up to see her squirming out Karolina's arms. Karo let her go as we reached the bottom of the stairs and Dimitri took my small carry-on suitcase from me in time for Katerina to barrel into my arms. I swung her up into a hug, squeezing her tightly.
"Hi Katya," I whispered. "I missed you. Did you have a good time with Babushka and your aunts?"
Katerina nodded. "I missed you more."
She reached out far enough to drag Dimitri into the hug too and squeezed him as tight as she could. Dimitri pressed a kiss against her forehead before gently extracting himself from her hold to go greet his family. I wrapped my arms back around Katerina, making sure I had a good grip on her, before following him.
Karolina greeted me with a hug, squishing Katerina between us, which caused her to burst into giggles. Karo's eyes lit up and she started tickling Katerina, which made her laugh harder.
"Katya, go to Auntie Karo so I can say hi to Levi, okay?" I whispered once her shrieks of laughter had quieted down. She looked like she wanted to protest but did as I asked.
I walked the short distance to where Dimitri and Olena stood with Levi and leaned against Dimitri, wrapped one of my arms around his waist. He shifted slightly to support me and pressed a kiss to my forehead, while still listening to what his mother was saying in Russian.
"How's the jetlag?" Olena asked, switching to English since I didn't know Russian.
"Exhausting," I said, with a small smile. "But we'll get through it. I'll probably go to bed a little earlier tonight than usual and hope for the best tomorrow."
Olena laughed. "Yeva will help you adjust, I'm sure."
Dimitri chuckled at that. "Babushka doesn't mess around."
I yawned again and Dimitri guided me over to one of the benches that lined the baggage carousel. Olena followed and handed me Levi once I was sitting.
"Stay here," Dimitri said. "I'll grab the suitcases."
I nodded and cradled Levi in my arms. "Were they good for you?" I asked Olena as she sat down next to me.
She nodded. "Levi started teething while you were gone, but Katerina was great at helping soothe him. And Levi and Zoya enjoyed playing with each other as much as babies can. Lissa gave us some tips for Katerina's favorites things and watched Levi a few times so that we could have a "girls" day together," Olena said. "Our "girls" day consisted of playing at the park and watching Disney movies, before getting dinner at Steak 'N Shake."
"I'm sure she enjoyed that," I said, smiling. "She used to have all of my attention before Levi came but she's handled the last nine months remarkably well."
"I think that just goes to show how great of a mom you are, Rose," Olena murmured. "Forgive me if this is too personal, but are you and Dimitri planning on having more children?"
I glanced over to where Dimitri was watching suitcases start to slide down the chute. I could see Karolina out of the corner of my eye and it was clear that she was listening without making it obvious that she was.
"You're fine," I said, "it's not too personal. I did ask Dimitri a while ago if that was something he wanted. Children of his own. He was adamant that Katerina and Levi were his children, as far as he was concerned. He expressed interest in having biological children of his own if it was something that I wanted. Which it is. I told him then that I've always wanted a large family and I wouldn't mind adding another child or two to our family, especially since I see the way that he is with Katerina and Levi. It probably won't be for a while. We'll probably wait until Katerina and Levi get a little older, maybe until after I finish my bachelor's degree."
"Oh, Roza," Olena said, "I'm very happy to hear that. I'm grateful that Dimitri has you in his life and that we now have you as a part of our family."
She hugged me, careful of Levi between us and I couldn't help but shed a few tears. I quickly brushed them away before she (or anyone else) could notice. I finally felt like I had a mother that actually cared.
The last week before classes started at the university passed by quickly, and before I knew it, I was standing in front of the giant tower on UT's campus. The building next to the tower was my first stop of the morning, as I needed to get my student ID created before I could go to class.
The line inside of the academic center that housed the ID center wasn't long and I was at the front of the line before I knew it.
"Name?" a bored-looking student asked from behind the computer.
"Rosemarie Belikova," I said.
Lissa has taken care of all of the paperwork required to change my name in UT's system while Dimitri and I had been on our honeymoon, but this was one of the first times that I was actually getting to say my new name out loud.
I glanced down at my phone where I had added it into my notes app so I wouldn't forget it. "RH3929."
Since my EID had been assigned after I was admitted to the university months before the wedding, it still used my maiden name to create it and there wasn't a way of getting it changed.
"Stand in front of the screen," the student directed. "Smile."
Less than five minutes later, the student was handing me the plastic ID card and I walked away, staring down at it. It was still a little surreal to believe that I was really here.
As I walked back outside, I glanced down at my watch and saw that I had a little under ten minutes to make it across campus in time for my first class. Since it was Tuesday, my first class was my Intro to Gender Studies course, which I was more than a little nervous about.
As I walked into the William C. Powers, Jr. building, my phone vibrated with a text, and I pulled it out while I refilled my water bottle.
From Dimitri (8:57): Good luck in your first class. We love you!
From Dimitri (8:57): [Image]
The picture was of Dimitri and Katerina making silly faces at the camera while Levi sat between them in his bouncer smiling. I quickly saved the photo as I walked onto the elevator and after noting that my floor was already pushed, I made the picture the background on my phone.
To Dimitri (8:58): I love you too.
I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and slid it into my purse as I stepped out of the elevator and onto the fourth floor. My room wasn't hard to find after that and I quietly walked into the room, taking a seat on the left side of the room, close to the wall. I sat towards the middle of the classroom, not wanting to sit all of the way at the back and seem like I didn't want to be there, even though the thought of someone sitting behind me made me queasy.
Beth smiled when she caught my eye and I managed to smile back. She started handing out packets of paper, presumably the syllabus, as more students started to arrive.
"Are you okay, Rose?" she asked softly when she reached my desk.
I nodded. "I just don't like the idea of someone sitting behind me."
Beth's brow furrowed. "Why don't you sit in the back then?"
I blushed. "I don't want to seem like I don't want to be here."
She laughed softly. "I don't mind. I just want you to feel comfortable here and if that means sitting in the back, then so be it."
"Thank you," I whispered. I grabbed my purse, notebook, and the syllabus and moved back two desks so that I was in the corner.
A few more students came in, sitting in various places around the classroom so that there was no real rhyme or reason to how we were organized. It was five after nine when Beth shut the door and walked back to the front of the classroom.
"Good morning and welcome to the first day of the fall semester," she said. "For those who don't know me, I'm Professor Novak, but please feel free to call me Beth. My TA for this course is Mia Reynolds, but I'll let her introduce herself."
A girl with shoulder-length brown hair stood up from a desk near the front, almost directly in front of me, and turned to face the class.
"Hi y'all, as Beth said, I'm Mia. I'm a sophomore studying English Composition with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. I took one of Beth's classes my first semester at UT and haven't looked back. Sophomores aren't typically TAs but Beth took a chance on me so I'm asking that y'all go easy on me." She laughed slightly and turned to sit down.
I didn't even need to fully see her to recognize her but getting a full look at her only confirmed that the voice I was hearing belonged to the same Mia that was with me at Adrian's "Underground House". It made me wonder if Beth knew and if she did, why she didn't say anything to me.
As Mia turned, it was clear that she hadn't seen me walk in and her eyes went wide with shock and she stumbled a little, almost missing the seat as she sat back down.
"Mia? Are you okay?" Beth asked, concerned.
Mia laughed. "I'm fine, just a little clumsy."
Beth nodded. "Okay, who wants to go next? Go ahead and introduce yourselves, tell us your year, your major, if you have one, and a fun fact about yourselves."
The person sitting immediately behind Mia decided to go next and Beth decided that we'd go up and down the rows vertically, which meant that I would be introducing myself in a minute or so.
I could feel Mia watching me when it was my turn to go and I tried to ignore it.
"Hi, my name is Rose Belikova. I'm a freshman, so I'm still undeclared for now. A fun fact about me is that I got married at the beginning of August," I said softly. I couldn't help but look in Mia's direction and I could see the small smile on her face.
The introductions continued around the classroom until everyone had introduced themselves and then Beth dived into explain the syllabus and answering any questions that students had. It was fairly self-explanatory, thankfully. We had modules every week dealing with a different topic, one of which happened to revolve around Adrian and the trial. We'd have group presentations that would start halfway through the semester and then a six-page paper at the end.
"For those of you who have taken classes that involve sensitive topics before, you may be familiar with the next part of the syllabus. There are a few major rules that I have in this classroom that I expect everyone to follow and abide by and breaking these rules will result in being removed from my class. Boundaries are to be respected in this classroom. While I do expect participation from my students and there is a participation grade, I will never ask someone to speak when they are uncomfortable to do so, especially in instances of sensitive topics, such as sexual assault, abuse, domestic violence, et cetera. Everybody is expected to be respectful in this classroom. I do not tolerate any form of insults, hate, victim-shaming, et cetera. You are always allowed to voice your opinion as long as it is respectful and not said with ill intentions. And finally, some of you may be familiar with the Vegas rules. What happens in this classroom, stays in this classroom. This is a safe space for students to express themselves as they see fit. The exception to this is that Mia and I are both mandatory reporters until Title IX and as such, we do have to file a report if we are made aware of a Title IX violation. Any questions?"
I tuned out a little as a few students asked questions but I snapped back to attention when I heard my name. Beth didn't look away from the student who asked the question, but I could feel Mia staring at me.
"The Rosemarie Hathaway case is one that I've taught for a while and while we won't go over it too in-depth in class, but I can certainly provide you with additional resources if you were interested in doing your final paper on that topic," Beth said.
The student nodded and wrote something down in the notebook in front of her, and I gripped the edge of my desk as I remembered the breathing technique that Makenzie taught. Which reminded me that I probably should make an appointment with her since this course was going to be a little harder than I initially thought.
Beth dismissed class early, but I stayed behind. I waited until the room was empty before I went to speak but Beth beat me to it.
"I'm sorry. I should have warned you. There's always at least one student who is interested in writing about the case for their paper. Adrian was from Austin, so it has always been a big case here."
I froze. "He was from here?"
Beth nodded. "You didn't know that?"
I shook my head. "No, I didn't."
I pulled out my phone and created a reminder to do some research tonight.
"Beth, why didn't you tell me that Mia—"
The sound of a water bottle crashing the floor interrupted me and Beth and I both turned to look at Mia.
"Mia?" Beth said. "Are you sure you're okay?"
She nodded. "Rose, can I talk to you?"
Beth glanced between the two of us as I nodded.
"Sorry," I told her. "I'll just email you my questions."
I followed Mia out of the room, and we walked in silence to the elevators. The silence followed us all the way out of the building until I couldn't take it anymore.
"You knocked the water bottle over on purpose."
Mia nodded. "Beth doesn't know I was there. That's why she didn't tell you that I was the TA. That's what you were going to ask, right?"
Mia sighed. "When I saw that the TA position was open, I immediately talked to Beth about it and I got the position before I saw the syllabus. Once I saw it, I felt that I couldn't back out and I also didn't want to. But I feared that if I told her, she might have made me back out. I don't know. The case wasn't about me, I wasn't even mentioned in it. None of us were."
"I'm sorry. You, and everyone else, should have gotten the justice you deserved. But the FBI never found you that night. I didn't even know if you guys made it for the longest time. And then I shot him. And you can't sue a dead person, even if he is evil incarnate," I muttered.
Mia squeezed my hand. "I'm glad you shot him. Well, not glad that he escaped prison and tried to come after you, but glad that he's gone. That he can't hurt anyone else."
"Me too," I whispered. "Me too."
Mia cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. "How's Katerina? I'm sure she's getting big."
I smiled. "She is. She's almost four now."
I pulled out my phone and pulled up the picture that Dimitri sent me earlier to show her.
Mia whistled. "He is hot, holy shit, Rose."
I laughed. "That's Dimitri."
"The husband," I confirmed. "And actually, he's also the one who rescued me that night. He works for the FBI."
"I'm glad you have someone," she said. "You guys have a son?"
She was pointing at Levi.
"Uh, no. He's not Dimitri's. After everyone else escaped, Adrian came downstairs and tortured me to give up your location before he raped me again. He would have killed me if the FBI didn't show up when they did. But I ended up pregnant again. I had Levi last December," I explained.
"I'm sorry, Rose," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
"It is what it is. I can't change it," I said. "I can only accept it and move forward. Dimitri and I will have our chance to have children in the future."
It dawned on me as I said that that Mia wasn't able to have children and that I should have chosen my words differently.
"Mia, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking."
"It's okay, Rose," she said, with a small smile. "I saw a doctor last year and I was diagnosed with endometriosis and there's a procedure they can do that can increase my chance of being able to have kids in the future. There's no guarantee, but I've learned nothing is ever a guarantee."
Before I could say anything, my phone started vibrating in my hand. I glanced down to see that Dimitri was calling.
"Shit, I completely forgot that Dimitri has a work luncheon he has to be at soon. I have to go so I can watch the kids. I'm so sorry."
Mia laughed. "Motherhood calls. Don't worry about it but promise me we'll catch up soon."
"Yes, definitely. And with Aubrey too," I said, handing her my phone. "Put your number in and I'll text you."
She did as I asked and I hugged her, holding her a bit tighter and a bit longer than I probably should have considering that I was in a hurry.
"I'm so glad I found you," I said. "Even if it was a coincidence."
"Me too," she whispered. "Go! You don't want to make that hot husband of yours mad."
I smiled and ran off towards my car.
"Sorry, sorry," I said, as I walked in the front door.
Dimitri was in the kitchen, drinking water. I had called him from the road to apologize for running late, but I couldn't help but apologize again now.
"Roza, you're fine," he said, bending down to kiss me as I joined him in the kitchen.
"How were Levi and Katerina?"
"They were good. Katerina missed you, and Levi almost started crawling," he said.
"If he starts crawling while I'm in class, you better getting a recording of it," I teased.
"Of course," he promised. "How was class?"
I bit my lip. "A little more difficult than I thought," I admitted. "I'm going to schedule weekly sessions with Makenzie to sort through everything because I'm sure I'll need it by the time we get to my case."
He nodded. "That's a good idea. I have to go, but Levi went down for his nap about thirty minutes ago, and Katerina went down not even fifteen minutes ago. I'm actually a little surprised that she hasn't come downstairs to see you yet."
"She must be tired," I said. "Is the monitor in the office?"
Dimitri nodded. "I was working in there right before you came home. I should be back in a few hours. I love you."
"Love you too," I said, leaning up on my tiptoes to kiss him again.
He left, shutting the front door quietly and I slipped into the office to check the monitor. The camera feed was switching between Katerina's and Levi's rooms and I could see that they were both fast asleep.
I grabbed my laptop off the charging station on the desk and the monitor and walked into the living room. I set them both down on the couch before grabbing a bottle of water and an apple from the fridge.
Ever since Beth told me that Adrian had been from Austin, something hadn't felt right. I opened Google and quickly typed in "Adrian Ivashkov Austin Texas" before I could chicken out. The first few results were talking about his death, but further down, I found more information about Adrian being in Austin. He had been slated to attend UT Austin but never ended up going, though the article didn't specify why. I could easily figure it out though. It would have been impossible for him to attend classes in Austin while also holding us hostage in California. I don't know how long the rest of them were down there before me, aside from Audrey, who had been there for at least a year and a half prior. He probably started it shortly after he graduated high school, which is why he never enrolled at the university.
Further digging led me three pages deep on Google to a PDF from Travis County where Adrian was listed as a trustee for something called Spirit Trust. Another quick Google search linked the trust to an address in Austin that I didn't recognize, presumably Adrian's home in Austin. It didn't take long for me to figure out how to find property records and search for recorded documents on Travis County's database that were accessible to the public. Under the "Party List" tab, I type Adrian's name first and when that only turned back the same address that I found before, I searched "Spirit Trust". A long list of properties popped up, with dates ranging from a few years ago up until a warranty deed from less than six months ago. One that I recognized.
I slammed my laptop shut as Katerina called my name from the end of the couch.
"Yes, baby?" I said, holding my arms out to her. She quickly climbed onto the couch and leaned against me.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I love you too," I said, kissing her forehead. "Did you have a good nap?"
"Are you hungry?"
She nodded again.
I smiled. "Momma's going to go get you a snack, okay? Stay here."
I walked to the kitchen and scrolled through my phone contacts, scrolling right past Dimitri's name. Instead of calling the person I originally intended, I scrolled back up to Dimitri's contact and called him instead. He answered on the second ring.
"I'm sorry to bother you," I said, trying not to let my emotion show so clearly in my voice.
"I need you," I whispered. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," he said. "I'm on my way. I'll be home in less than thirty minutes. Do you want to keep talking to me?"
I shook my head before I remembered that he couldn't see me. "Katerina just woke up. I'm getting her a snack but I'll probably start a movie with her while I wait for you."
"Okay," he said softly. "I'll be home soon."
I hung up the phone and grabbed a small bowl of Goldfish for Katerina. I handed her the snack and put on Frozen 2 for her before walking upstairs to get Levi. He wasn't awake from his nap yet, but I needed to hold him, to make sure he was safe. Once back downstairs, I laid him on the couch next to me and placed a pillow on the side in case he tried to roll since he was an expert at that now.
Levi woke with a small cry as the front door was unlocked and opened. I picked him up to soothe him and lifted my shirt to feed him.
Dimitri walked into the living room, his dark eyes meeting mine, a thousand silent messages passing between us.
"Hi Katya," he murmured, kissing her head before sitting down next to me.
"It's on my laptop," I whispered.
Dimitri grabbed the computer from where I left it on the ottoman and quickly logged in. His eyes read over what was on the screen, recognizing the same thing that I saw.
"What is this?"
"That is the Travis County recorded documents site, specifically the recorded documents under the Spirit Trust which belonged to Adrian," I said.
"Rose, that means that—"
"That Adrian owned this house before me, he's the one who technically sold it to me," I said, blandly. "It means this entire thing was a trap, one I fell for hook, line, and sinker."