The scrambled eggs on Dani's plate had turned to mush from being poked around for too long.

Well, not that it mattered anyway. She didn't have the appetite to begin with the moment she woke up this morning. Today was supposed to be her last day in this house, and yet she felt like throwing up.

Excitement should be thrumming in her veins. Instead, something cold was forming in the pit of her stomach, and it had nothing to do with the steady snowfall that hadn't stopped since this morning.

Dani's fork gently clattered to her plate as she gave up and leaned back to her chair with a sigh. A breakfast good for three people was served, but she was the only one dining as usual. Come to think of it, not once had she seen Alexei come down for breakfast before. Perhaps he wasn't a morning person.

Her fingers danced around her glass of orange juice. Alexei had done everything to make sure her stay had been comfortable, and yet the thought of her father coming here to fetch her himself was unnerving. She was dying to see him again, of course, but the thought of her father walking right up in here, surrounded by Alexei's guards… It disconcerted her to no end, for some reason.

"Good morning."

Alexei stood by the entryway to the dining hall, looking sharp in a grey on white three-piece suit. He looked dressed for business.

"Today's the big day." He walked over and placed a hand on a nearby chair. "Are you excited to see your father again?"

She pulled her lips up in a polite smile. "I am."

His gaze fell on her full plate. "You don't seem like it."

"I…" She exhaled a quick sigh. "I'm fine. What time is my father supposed to arrive?"

"Should be a few hours from now, but there might be some delay due to the weather."

He cocked his head towards the window, where snow continued falling outside.

"I think I'll head back upstairs." She rose from her chair. "Will you let me know as soon as he arrives?"

He gave a single nod. "Of course."

Dani walked past him before the rest of her nerves showed on her face.

Dani awoke with a shudder.

Her room was dim and cold when she groggily sat up from her bed. She'd fallen asleep again shortly after breakfast, and now the temperature in the room had considerably dropped. Snow lined thick on her windowsill as snowfall continued to persist outside.

It was already two in the afternoon when she woke up. They should've roused her as soon as her father arrived, and yet she had slept uninterrupted for hours. Perhaps the weather had indeed slowed him down, but he had to be arriving any minute now.

Dani walked to the mirror and straightened the creases from her cream-colored dress. She had to look presentable. She took the red winter coat that hung from the closet door and donned it.

The corridor was quiet and uninhabited when she stepped outside. Even the guards had bunched up under their roofs by the gates, seeking shelter from the snow. No cars lined the driveway.

Dani headed for the winding staircase leading to the foyer. Alexei stood by the main entryway, back facing her as he held a phone to his ear.

"Yes, De Luca's daughter is still here."

Dani froze in descending down the stairs.

"You don't need to worry about that. I know she's leverage. I won't let her out of my sight."

Her ears rang at his words. What the hell was he talking about? She was supposed to be going home today, and yet he was still talking in the present tense.

"No, Tommy doesn't know about that, and he doesn't need to. We can leave the girl alone until he starts becoming difficult."

Slowly, Dani doubled back as quietly as possible and retreated behind a wall. This was clearly something she wasn't supposed to be hearing. Her pulse escalated as her mind began to conjure all sorts of conclusions, but she remained pressed against the wall, eavesdropping with her heart beating wildly in her ribs.

Alexei's chuckle echoed in the foyer. "Don't be a creep, Viktor. No touching the merchandise, remember? She's off-limits, unfortunately for you."

It took every ounce of strength not to storm downstairs and punch Alexei in the face. Instead, she closed her eyes and quietly took a deep breath. The rest of Alexei's words became unintelligible as both rage and fear turmoiled inside her, but she painstakingly waited until he ended the call.

The sound of Alexei's heels on the marble floor grew faint. Carefully, she peeked to find him gone. She gave herself ten more seconds to make sure he didn't return, and in all that time her mind screamed with fury at how Alexei had been playing her all this time for a fool.

It had been stupid of her to consider for even just one moment that he was a decent man. He'd been planning to use her all along after he bled her father dry, but he was sorely mistaken to believe he was going to earn anything from making a "merchandise" out of her.

When Alexei did not return, Dani descended the stairs as quickly and as quietly as possible. Both corridors were clear when she darted past them. She headed for the French doors leading to the garden, which was also uninhabited. Thankfully, Alexei's guards only roamed the front of the estate.

Snow instantly flecked her face, but she continued heading towards the wall at the back of the garden. Her vision narrowed down to the bushes that would lead her out of here, out of whatever heinous plans Alexei had in store for her.

Dani fell to her knees and swiftly unbuttoned her coat. She was too enraged to feel cold, even as she began to claw through leaves and ice to find the hole that Maksim had discovered. She didn't bother checking her back in case somebody saw her. Let them know she wasn't going down without a fight. She would get out of here or die trying.

Finally, the hole in the wall reappeared before her very eyes. Without hesitation she dove headfirst into the bushes, fighting through branches that scratched her skin. She went through the hole, heaving her upper body forward as sharp rubble pierced against her torso. She groaned through gritted teeth but kept pushing until finally, she landed on the other side of the wall and nearly fell face first into the snow.

Dani gasped from the effort, and with another heave she stretched her right arm to reach for her coat in the bushes. She shook the snow off her coat, wore it as snugly as possible, and began to march forward into the trees beyond.

to be continued