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And now a FREE chapter from Perfectly Normal, the epilogue in which we meet two characters who will make an appearance in Little Dove, the third book in the series.
Ioana Lupu had been a gifted child. Growing up in a small village in Moldova, Romania’s poorest region in the North East had been difficult, but she had persevered. She learned as much as she could by teaching herself to read at a young age and sneaking into the church to soak up as much knowledge as her curious mind could hold. She made friends with Bunica Popp, a woman who had more years than anyone could count and owned the village’s only radio. She would tune into Romania’s news and information station night after night, and Ioana would sit close and listen to everything the hosts would say. Ioana would trade this time for small chores around Bunica’s house. Because of the access to the radio, she considered herself rather well learned about the state of affairs beyond their tiny town.
Thus, when a kind, older woman in fancy clothing and a long, sleek car approached her, she considered herself intelligent enough to sense a scam. She was fourteen after all, and the most sought after for marriage in her village, but had remained aloof and separate, believing herself destined for better things.
The older woman’s name had been Madelina, such a beautiful sound to roll off Ioana’s lips back then.
Nowadays she spat it with the same force one might use to spit bitter venom from one’s mouth.
Madelina had promised her work in Bucharest as a housemaid, something vague but promising. Fourteen-year-old Ioana hadn’t considered there would be anything other than cleaning toilets and folding towels.
She had been so wrong.
Madelina had been a scout, traveling the country looking for the most promising and desperately beautiful of all the girls and boys. She had paid Ioana’s parents a large sum of money and promised more, along with regular updates on Ioana’s progress in the big city. The intent had been to work for five years, then return to marry and settle down. Old for a woman of her village, but one with Ioana’s beauty and assumed riches would have no troubles.
Ioana’s mother had wept when she left, and pressed a tarnished necklace into her hand with a single bright blue cut glass pendant. Her own mother had given it to her on her wedding day, and she insisted her eldest daughter take it with her. Ioana had dressed in her best clothing, threadbare but clean and bright. She’d worn her best pair of leather men’s shoes, they weren’t stylish she knew, but they were shiny and comfortable. She had kissed each of her siblings on the cheek and promised to return to them soon. She’d gotten into the long, black car with Madelina and waved at her family until they turned a corner on the road and they were out of sight.
The first night they had stayed at a roadside hotel, a shabby one by most standards but it was beyond luxurious for Ioana. The towels had been clean and she had been given a bed all to herself. Back home she shared a small pallet with her three little sisters in a cramped back room stuffed with kids. Ioana’s cousins and siblings and sometimes a neighbor child when the parents had to work.
The next night they had arrived in the city and spent it at an even more decadent hotel. Ioana had spent hours in the tub, soaking and refilling it as the water grew cold. She’d emerged; pink fleshed and flushed cheeked and spent the most incredible night of her life rolling around the great, fluffy bed.
That would be her last comfortable night. The next day Madelina had taken her to her new workplace, a crumbling townhouse in the centre of Bucharest’s Ferentari district. Ioana was uncomfortable the moment they entered and Madelina had locked the heavy metal doors behind them.
The townhouse was full of girls and woman of all ages, shapes and races. They possessed varying degrees of mental awareness, some hanging about in filthy rags looking like the aftermath of a battle, others with sharp faces drawn in permanent shifty grins.
Each one looked Ioana up and down and immediately found her lacking. She was just another stupid country girl coming to the city looking for riches and finding forced servitude in one of Bucharest’s many brothels.
For a country so impoverished, it was simply amazing how many men could afford to use such places. There was a seemingly never ending parade of them, all pinching and probing and eventually fucking the girls any way they wanted, any place and any time.
Ioana had spent that first night balled up in a corner on a dirty floor in a back bedroom that doubled as a wardrobe and impromptu change room. It was full of clothing, all of it resembling her own threadbare outfit. She soon deduced it had been taken from the girls when they arrived and was cycled around the prostitutes, as they needed.
The next day had been her first introduction to the type of work she’d been bought for. A fat, old Czech business traveler had shown interest in her, as much for her beauty as her virginity. The housemother had dragged her to a back bedroom, she had been a great hulking woman from a village near Ioana’s, but Ioana’s pleading had fallen on deaf ears. There was no community among whores. The housemother had forced Ioana into a headlock under her stinking, flabby arm and wrestled her to the client.
He had not even spoken to her when he tore the clothes from her body, forced her face down on a filthy mattress and fucked her hard until she lost all sense of time or reality. It all seemed more like a nightmare than anything she could have imagined for her life. Nothing on her body was sacred to him and nothing was left untouched that day; she was broken in until she was left a weeping mess of girl meat and sweaty man stench. The businessman paid his very high price for destroying her virgin body and left when he had satiated his needs. She never saw him again, but she saw many more like him over the next two years. She fell into a waking nightmare of the living dead, stumbling from one horrific encounter to the next. Fighting with other girls over slivers of soap and rags to stop the bleeding. Many had simply stopped eating or slit their own throats when they had the chance. The more malleable of the girls were sent to better houses, only returned if they became pregnant or too old to please higher end clientele.
Ioana thought about killing herself many times. She was a fighter though, never one to shrink in the face of a raging client or an angry housemother. She finally fought back one too many times and was kicked out of the house one night after she’d bitten the cock of one particularly vicious client. She was sent into the street naked, clutching only a thin blanket and the necklace she’d miraculously managed to hang onto.
She’d wandered for a day through the city, huddling over heat vents to escape the frigid nights, and begging for anything to keep her alive. She contemplated walking home, back to her parents, no matter how long it took. She couldn’t though; she couldn’t bring shame upon them. She would be useless to them now that she was a disgraced former whore, how could she support herself in their tiny village if word got out what she was?
The next day she was picked up by a street gang and saved, as much as a stupid, prideful whore could be saved. She was almost seventeen at this point…or could have been eighteen; she’d lost track of the years during her time in the brothel. The leader, simply known as Boian, took a liking to her and kept her close once he found out she could read. Their mutual respect and friendship inevitably lead to a relationship, one that served them both well and blossomed into a fiery love.
Boian was no more than a boy himself, nineteen and strong, tall and proud…and devastatingly handsome. He was also ruthless and cunning, but possessed a strong moral code that he stuck with religiously. It didn’t follow the same code as those living inside of the law, but it was an honourable set of rules nonetheless.
He ruled the underground, miles and miles of dank, dark warrens and tunnels under the city streets. He was just and kind to those who served him, but cutthroat and deadly to those he saw as his enemy. He had been an orphan, tossed out of the orphanage at the age of ten, deemed too old to be adoptable and too mean to keep around. Thus, he became the Orphan King; the head of hundreds of lost children, those thrown to the curb the moment they’d been born, their mothers and fathers unknown to them.
For this, Ioana stood out among the rest, having had a family to raise her and keep her warm and safe until she’d been taken. She seemed like a foreigner to them all and was constantly barraged with questions about having a mother and father, people who loved her.
She was happy with them all and ran with Boian for three years, until just yesterday, the day she realized that she was pregnant with his child. There was no way she could have a baby down here among the orphans and waifs, thieves and murderers, glue sniffers and drug addicts…among her chosen people.
She made the decision that first moment she felt the baby kick and finally understood what it was and why she had been so exhausted; she was going to make the long journey home. She woke early, before anyone in the great underground cavern stirred. She and Boian had been given the gift of privacy in their little back tunnel; this afforded her more autonomy than most. She paused in the light of the stolen flashlight she clutched in her hand and looked at him one last time. He was beautiful when he slept, his angular face turned soft and angelic. He looked like one of the paintings in the church, with thick black curls framing his smooth face. It wasn’t until he opened his dark eyes that you realized you were in the presence of a very old soul, one who could just as easily make love to you or slit your throat, depending on your next move.
She leaned and kissed him for the last time and laid her hand on his chest. She felt the comforting rise and fall of his rhythmic breathing and smiled. She really did love him; she just didn’t love where life had taken them. If only they had been raised together in her little village and he a farm boy instead of the king of orphans. If only life hadn’t been so cruel, she would be curled up with him now, his hand protectively on her stomach, feeling their baby kick. If only…
She stood before she lost her nerve. She turned and left the tunnel, silently telling every sleeping soul a farewell. She was fond of them all, each one in a different way but collectively as a rag tag type of family. She passed the night guards and told them some story about wanting to get to the fruit sellers early to pinch a couple oranges for Boian, as a gift for him. They commented on her kindness and her ears burned in shame as she left him forever.
If only she had told him about the baby, perhaps he would have talked her out of leaving with promises of a better life, of changing their circumstances.
If only she had told him so she didn’t find herself hours outside of Bucharest, alone on the highway, heading for home.
If only she had told him, she wouldn’t have decided to spend the night on the side of the road, at a small rest stop in the middle of nowhere. She took her last crust of hard bread from her pack and nibbled on it as she watched the sun setting. She’d been walking all day and her heart was growing heavier with each passing mile. She missed him already, longing for him as a drowning man longed for his last breath.
If only she would have told him, she wouldn’t have been interrupted by bright headlights cutting through the darkening night. She wouldn’t have jumped off the ground as a long, black car rolled up beside her.
If only she had told him, she wouldn’t have been dragged into the car, kicking and screaming until a punch to the side of her head forced her into the abyss.
Her last thought as she slipped away was of Boian, his eyes shining when she made him laugh, his face so fierce as he spilled his seed inside of her, his heart pounding in his chest as he made his declarations of love… and his baby. If only…if only…