Spoilers: Season 1
Summary: Three years after Dila’s fateful encounter with Kuzgun, she’s finally ready to move on. But fate has other plans in store for the couple as Kuzgun returns, once again, to wreak havoc in Dila’s life.
Dila stared at the image of her wedding dress reflected in the mirror, the beautiful fabric glistening behind her. It hung against the closet door, the mermaid design an intricate mixture of lace and satin, and a far cry from the dress she wore to her first wedding reception. Her heart squeezed in her chest. As difficult as the circumstances were a small part of her had been filled with happiness at the idea of marrying the only man she’d ever loved – but this time there was no secret sense of joy. Instead, she was filled with dread at the thought of spending the resting of her life with Ferman Koruogluo.
“Dila, are you okay?”
Plastering a smile on her face, Dila whirled around to greet her brother’s widow. Seda stood by the door, looking her usual calm self. After Ali’s death she and Seda had grown much closer, only having each other as support in the past few years. “I’m great, Seda. Just taking a few minutes to myself.”
Seda’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes as she moved closer to admire the wedding dress. “It’s beautiful.”
“Has Ferman seen it?”
“He’s the one who chose it.” Concern flitted across Seda’s features, something Dila chose to ignore. “He has great taste.”
Seda nodded, the skeptical expression on her face growing stronger. “Are you sure about this, Dila?”
“The dress? Yes. I wouldn’t wear something ugly to my own wedding.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Turning back to face the dresser, Dila started applying moisturizer to her face. “Don’t mind me. I’m just a little nervous about the ceremony tomorrow. There are so many people coming and I’m just-”
“I don’t think you love him.”
Dila paused, meeting Seda’s gaze in the mirror. “What makes you say that?”
“This feeling I have. You don’t seem happy, not like when you were marrying-”
“Stop, Seda. I don’t want to hear it.”
“I just don’t want you to do something you’ll regret.”
A bitter laugh escaped Dila’s lips. “It’s too late for that.” Instinctively her fingers skimmed along the scar on her chest, one of many reminders left from her self-inflicted gun shot.
“Ferman makes me nervous.”
As much as Dila wanted to confess the truth, she couldn’t. It was better to keep lying than risk the safety of her family. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Ferman won’t hurt us.”
“Is that why you’re marrying him?”
Dila forced a smile on her face. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Kartal thinks so.”
“Yeah well, he’s wrong,” Dila snapped.
“Then why don’t you seem happy, Dila? Ever since the engagement you’ve been nothing but miserable. It’s obvious, to everyone.”
Dila stood up and stormed across the room, throwing things in the suitcase she was planning to take for her honeymoon. “Just because you and Kartal act deliriously happy about getting married doesn’t mean everyone has to be the same way. Did it occur to you that maybe I’m just anxious about getting married again? That maybe it’s not about Ferman but me? It’s not like I have a great track record when it comes to men. Maybe I’m just freaking out about the future in general. Maybe I’m just worried Ferman will regret marrying a woman who can’t have any children.”
“So he knows? You guys have talked about it?”
Dila may have physically recovered from the injury but her heart had been significantly weakened from trying to kill herself, to the point where the doctors had told her she would never be able to have a successful pregnancy. She’d hoped that fact would stop Ferman from proposing marriage; it hadn’t. “We’ve discussed it. He said he doesn’t want children.”
Once upon a time she did, but those dreams were destroyed a long time ago. “It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“It’s not the middle ages. You have lots of options these days.”
“Enough, Seda!” Furious, Dila grabbed her purse and rushed out of the room.
Dila drove aimlessly for an hour, her mind reeling, feeling angry at Seda for agitating her and then at herself for snapping at her friend. Guilt flooded over her, she felt horrible. Seda was only looking out for her, something Dila appreciated. It’s not like she had a lot of people in her corner. And anyway, soon Seda would be getting married and moving away and Dila would lose her closest friend. She’d be alone once again. Giving herself a mental shake, Dila told herself to snap out of it. Seda deserved every bit of happiness the world had to offer. Ali had never treated her well but that wasn’t the case with Kartal. That man was madly in love with Seda and worshipped the ground she walked on. Moreover, he absolutely adored Defne and loved her like his own. Dila was truly happy for them, albeit slightly envious. To be sincerely loved was a feeling she’d never known and a part of her ached for it. Because I love you. I love you very much. Kuzgun’s words flashed through her mind, and she struggled to breathe all of a sudden. No matter how hard she tried not to think about him, he was always there, lurking in the back of her mind. On cue the scar on her chest started to itch, reminding her of how far she’d fallen. What happened between them wasn’t love, not the true, good kind of love that inspired people to be better. Instead, they’d been poison for each other.
Dila found herself parking by the giant tree that had encompassed so much of her childhood. It had been years since she’d last visited the spot, the memory still etched into her mind. It was the day she’d realised Kuzgun’s anger was never going to lessen, not even after her father had passed. He would always be filled with hatred and revenge, and nothing she could say or do would change that. It had been a difficult lesson to learn, one that almost cost her her life. A mistake she couldn’t afford to make again.
Swiping the tears from her face, she exited the car and made her way towards the tree. It was time to say goodbye and leave that part of her behind. Tomorrow would be a fresh start, the first day of her new life with Ferman. So what if she didn’t love him? It’s not like he loved her either. They were both adults, going into this marriage with open eyes, which meant she was in no danger of losing herself. That was worth something.
It was his voice whispering her name, a voice that still haunted her soul. It was a figment of her imagination, it had to be.
“Are you really going to pretend I’m not here?”
Her heart was thundering in her chest, her stomach coiled into knots. She felt sick, her hands clammy. It took every bit of willpower she had to force herself to turn around and face him. Kuzgun. Standing a mere few feet away from her.
His hair was shorter, his face hardened. Prison wasn’t supposed to make a person look good but that’s exactly what it had done to Kuzgun. He looked even more handsome than she remembered. “What are you doing here?” she asked, her breath hoarse. “You’re supposed to be in prison.”
“Early parole.” A sardonic smile curved along his lips. “For good behaviour.”
Of all the ways she’d imagined this moment, it had never occurred to her it would be so civil between them. They were old acquaintances catching up after unexpectedly crossing paths, nothing like the toxic pair they once were. If it wasn’t so unbelievable, it would be funny. “Your family must be ecstatic to have you back.”
“Well, good luck to you,” Dila said before heading back to her car.
“I am curious about how my wife feels. Happy to see me?”
Dila stopped in her tracks, swallowing an audible breath. Anger and hurt surged through her, hearing him speak of her so casually. Then again, she’d always loved him more than he ever did her. “I’m not your wife anymore,” she reminded him. “So it doesn’t really matter how I feel.”
He moved towards her. With every step he took to close the distance between them, her composure cracked. She’d always been utterly powerless around him while he’d fully been in control. And that weakness had cost her everything. Emotion glistened in his eyes as Kuzgun came to a stop directly in front of her, an expression of tenderness covering his face. A part of her still desperately wanted to believe in him, to wrap her arms around him and hold him, but then she remembered the pain from the bullet entering her body. Love wasn’t supposed to be so crushingly painful and hopeless that death felt like the only salvation – but that’s what loving Kuzgun had been like.
“I’m not the one who filed for divorce.” His breath was soft against her cheeks as his gaze pierced into her.
“Well, I did try to make you a widower but the ambulance was too quick.”
His eyes darkened. “Don’t joke about that.”
Dila took a step back, needing distance from his close proximity. “Anyway, I hope everything goes well for you.”
“So we’re just going to avoid talking about it? I’ve never known you to be a coward, Dila.”
Irritation surged through her but she ignored the instinct to snap back. “What would you like to discuss?” she asked, feigning a calm demeanor. “Because there really isn’t much.”
“Why don’t we start with the fact you’re apparently getting married tomorrow?”
Her heart stopped. His rage was palpable, the anger stamped across his features. “How is that any of your business?”
“You made it my business by marrying my enemy.”
Of course it wasn’t about her, it never was. “My relationship with Ferman has nothing to do with you.”
Her breath halted in her throat when Kuzgun suddenly advanced forward, trapping her against the parked car behind. His body was taut with tension, his eyes brimming with stormy rage.
“He’s using you. You know that, Dila. Don’t do anything stupid.”
As impossible as it was for her to think coherently with his body tightly pressed against her, his condescending attitude was enough to slice through her current state of desire. “It’s impossible for you to believe someone would want to marry me without any strings attached, isn’t it? You really think I’m that worthless?”
He pulled back, eyebrow arched in surprise. “You’re putting words in my mouth. That’s not what I meant.”
“Ferman and I are getting married because we want to. He’s not using me, I’m not using him. There are no ulterior motives behind this.” She sidestepped past him and circled the car to reach the driver’s seat. Her insides were trembling, she needed to calm herself. Breathe, Dila, breathe, she consoled herself as she opened the car door.
“There’s no love either.”
She paused to look at him. “Love drove me to put a bullet through my own heart. Why in the world would I ever want that again?” Before he could respond, she slid inside the car and drove away speedily.
It was only after she was far, far away that she allowed herself to pull over to the side and take a breath. Kuzgun was back, to wreak havoc once again and destroy her life, but this time she had no illusions about him. There were no blinders. And the only way to protect herself, her sanity and those she loved was to stay the hell away from Kuzgun.
Chapter 2 (added 09/19)
“Auntie Dila, you look like a princess!” proclaimed Defne, clapping her hands together.
Dila returned a forced smile, wishing she felt as enthusiastic about the day as her beautiful niece. It was a miracle she looked as calm as she did, considering the restless night she had after her encounter with Kuzgun. Thinking about him always brought up a whirlwind of conflicting emotions for her, her heart and soul battling love and anger, hatred and guilt, with no end in sight.
Three years she hadn’t seen him and the distance had helped, even if a part of her missed him terribly. Then she’d remember the extent of Kuzgun’s rage and revenge, the terrible consequences of her choices which led to the death of her father and brother, and ultimately the decision to take her own life – and the ache to submerge herself in Kuzgun would temporarily subside. It was a never-ending pattern but she’d learned to cope – until last night. Seeing him reawakened all those emotions but now they were even more potent and she felt powerless once again. And she hated him for it.
Seda appeared at the door, wearing a beautiful blue dress that made her look ethereal. “Defne, stop bothering your aunt. She needs to get ready.”
“She’s not bothering me,” Dila said with a smile, stroking Defne’s face. “We’re just talking. Besides, I’m ready.”
“You look beautiful,” Seda remarked.
“Thank you,” she replied in a flat tone. “Are all the guests here?”
“Yes, but Ferman hasn’t arrived yet.”
For a second Dila’s heart soared but she quickly reminded herself to settle down. As much as she wanted to believe Ferman had changed his mind, she knew that was impossible. He’d invested too much to simply release her from his grip. “Why don’t you take Defne downstairs? I’ll call Ferman and see where he’s at.”
Once Dila was alone she reached for her phone, her fingers trembling as she called Ferman. He picked up the phone on the second ring. As usual his voice was deep and self-assured, always reminding her of someone who didn’t make any choices lightly. “Dila.”
“Ferman, are you close by?”
“No. I’m dealing with something at the moment.”
“Is everything okay?”
“It will be.”
That was it, no more explanation. She knew better than to ask for one. “Should I send the guests home?”
“Why would you do that, Dila?”
To anyone else it may have come across as an innocent query but Dila heard the threat laced in his voice, and it was enough to scare her. “My apologies. I wasn’t thinking.”
“Good. I don’t need any more surprises coming my way. That wouldn’t be good for either of us.”
Another threat. She reminded herself to keep her composure. “What do you need me to do?”
“Wait for me.” With that he hung up, leaving Dila alone with her thoughts.
She was sinking again, into a pit of hopelessness and fear with no way to get out. The last time she’d felt that way death had seemed like the only salvation. Now, she didn’t even have that.
Suddenly it was dark everywhere. The power was out, leaving the room pitch-black. Dila used her phone as a flashlight to guide her way out of the room and into the corridor. Sounds from the panicked crowd downstairs reached her ears, and she worried about Defne and Seda being caught in the turmoil. She tried calling Seda to no avail. The calls went directly to her voicemail. Before she could text Seda her phone went off, notifying her of an incoming message from Seda herself.
Defne and I are fine. Kartal’s with us. No lights down here. Do you want us to come up?
Dila sent a response right away. No, stay downstairs. I’ll come down. Before she could make a move someone pulled her from behind, a stranger’s hand covering her mouth. Immediately Dila started pushing back, using all of her strength to free herself. Panic surged through her; she fought with everything she had but the assailant was stronger and easily overpowered her, picking her up forcibly and dragging her back into the dressing room.
It was only when she was trapped against the wall, the stranger pressed against her that she recognized the darkened eyes staring into her. “What the hell are you doing, Kuzgun?” she bit out, her breath still ragged from putting up a fight.
He peered at her closely, his piercing gaze sweeping over her face. “Did you really think I was going to let you marry him?”
As much as she wanted to believe he was there out of love, she knew that wasn’t true. “What do you want? Why are you really here?” Her breath halted in her throat when his eyes shined with unexpected vulnerability. His fingers began to caress the soft strands of her hair, his touch feathery-soft against her skin. “Stop…”
“I missed you.”
“Sure you did.” Her voice reeked of sarcasm even if her heart wanted to believe him. Unfortunately she knew Kuzgun too well; he operated on sheer anger, everything else, even his version of love, was secondary. “What game are you playing now? What is it that you want?”
His other hand stroked down the length of her neck, sending spasms through her until his fingers suddenly paused. Following his eyes, she realised he was fixated on her scar from the self-inflicted gun shot. It may have taken a long time to heal physically, but the emotional impact on her psyche would never go away. On the rooftop that day she had been in so much pain, drowning in agony, and she was confronted with such terrible despair that there simply had been no way out but to end her life. Yet there had been no escape, and now she found herself in a situation even more dire.
With a tentative touch he reached out to trace the scar, his fingers quivering. “I begged you not to do it.” Somehow he managed to sound both compassionate and angry, his voice torn between two extremes. His gaze returned to her face. “Why didn’t you stop?”
“That’s no longer your concern.”
His jaw clenched. “You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to marry the guy. We can leave, go somewhere-”
“Why would I do that?” Her voice was steady, calm. “I’m not being forced into anything. I’m marrying Ferman because I want to.”
Immediately Kuzgun punched the wall next to her, startling her so much she yelped.
“Stop lying, Dila!”
Her heart was beating thunderously, but she managed to stand up straight and stare him squarely in the face. “I’m with Ferman because he’s who I want. I. Don’t. Want. You.”
His mouth closed over hers, forceful, demanding, taking her by surprise. She didn’t want to respond, reminded herself to not react except his hand tugged at her hair, his other hand cradling her face and her resolve melted instantly. So long. It had been so long since she’d kissed him. Being around him always made her lose her breath and when he was kissing her with such urgency, stroking her, she turned into a bundle of sensation with no thoughts or agency. He swallowed the moans of pleasure that seemed to be unearthed from deep within her core, simultaneously picking her up, sitting her haphazardly atop his knee so it was pressed intimately between her thighs.
He trailed wet kisses down her neck, while her fingers curled into his shoulders for some kind of balance. As his mouth skimmed over her scar, her stomach twisted into knots. And then his tongue caressed over the wound, so tender it made her heart ache, and the anxiety turned back to the heady desire coursing through her. She wanted him so much, remembering how the weight of him felt pressed against her body.
When he ripped the bottom of her wedding dress to get easier access between her thighs, she didn’t stop him. When he shoved aside her lace underwear and began stroking her intimately, she arched back and shuddered against him. His fingers moved expertly, delving inside her until she was a quivering mess. She clung to him for support, biting his shoulder to alleviate the pressure that was rapidly building inside her.
His breath was labored, his voice a deep rasp when he whispered in her ear softly, “You’re mine.”
She was caught in a whirlwind of passion, her only focus being on the way his thumb circled her clit.
“Say it, Dila. Tell me you’re mine.”
Her fingers fisted his hair, urging him closer to kiss her again but he held firm, not giving into her advances. Before she could wrap her head around what he was doing, he withdrew his hand.
“Tell me you love me.”
Not a request, but an order. A command he expected her to follow, because that’s what he was used to from her. Reality sunk in, and she realised this seduction was a ruse. As always. He was using her, leveraging her feelings for him to get what he wanted. The disappointment and shame she felt was overwhelming, and it broke her heart to realise how little he valued her still. But she reassured herself this was a temporary setback and, using every bit of willpower she had, she managed to control her composure. “I can’t. I don’t love you anymore.”
Hurt flashed across his face; it made her want to retch.
“You don’t mean that,” he insisted. “You’re just saying that because you’re pissed at me.”
She snickered, shaking her head. “Why would I still love you?”
“I know you. I see you, the real you.”
“You made a fool out of me, you turned my family against me, you destroyed every bit of confidence I had in myself. And then you made me kill my father with my own hands.” Hot, angry tears streaked down her cheeks. “You caused me so much pain that I tried to kill myself to end it. What makes you think there’s anything still left in me that’s capable of loving you?”
He physically recoiled at her words.
“Ferman values me, he respects me. That’s more than I ever got from you.” She swiped the tears from her face. “You’re poison for me, Kuzgun. I barely survived you once. If you cared me for ever, even a little bit, walk away. Please.”
A flurry of emotion swept over his face, until anger finally won the battle and settled across his features. She recognized the look, it was his steely resolve that she knew all too well. He stood up straight, arms linked together behind him, and he leveled her with a cold look. “Don’t get in my way,” he said quietly before storming out of the room.
Her insides crumbled, she felt broken. The power had come back on, the room was ablaze with light, but her world felt pitch black like always.
CHAPTER 3 (added 09/24)
“I’d like you to do me a favour.”
Dila stilled upon hearing Ferman speak. He was sitting across from her at the breakfast table, seemingly engrossed in the newspaper in front of him but that was obviously not the case. Whether she was near or far, he was cognizant of her every move. To the world he seemed to be a calm, collected, worldly man but she knew him for who he really was and that meant being hyper vigilant of everything she did and said.
Their wedding had taken place four weeks ago in a lavish ceremony, pictures of them plastered all over the popular society blogs in Istanbul. Dila had caught glimpses of herself. amazing at how deceptively happy she’d looked in the photos. To everyone else she appeared to be madly in love with her husband but inside she’d been petrified the entire time, thanks to the casual words Ferman had uttered before the ceremony began.
“How did you enjoy your visits with Kuzgun?”
That same sense of dread flooded over her again. “Of course, Ferman,” she replied in an even tone.
“I’d like for you to buy your childhood home back.”
The house was worth nothing financially which meant Ferman either wanted the land or he was testing her. This was her life now, a daily series of hoops she had to jump through to satisfy Ferman’s every whim. A part of her had foolishly hoped that marrying Ferman would not be as disastrous as she’d dreaded but their honeymoon had proven otherwise. He was a sadist who enjoyed inflicting pain on others and she had no choice but to play his games. “The house belongs to Kuzgun. He bought it at the auction after my father died.”
Ferman drank his coffee. “Do you think I’m not aware of that?”
“I doubt he’ll sell it back to me.”
Ferman locked his gaze onto her; a cold shiver ran down her spine. “I have faith in you.” He gave her a small smile before putting down the paper. Taking a sip of his coffee, he stood up and circled around the table towards her.
Her stomach recoiled as he leaned down to kiss the top of her head, his arm touching her right thigh – the very spot he’d bruised so badly last night. Even as pain shot through her and she grimaced internally, she maintained her outward composure. She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of seeing her grimace. He may own her in many ways but she still had her dignity and he would never take that from her.
“You’ll find a way to persuade him.”
She nodded her head, holding still. It wasn’t until he left the room that Dila finally exhaled. Instinctively, her hand pressed the scar on her chest. How was she supposed to face Kuzgun? Their last encounter had been disastrous, and no matter how much she tried to bury him in the recesses of her brain his memory was ever ready to torment her. The thought of having to see him made her want to throw up but then there was that tiny little part aching for him – but she couldn’t dwell on that. Her focus had to be on Ferman and Ferman only, otherwise everything she’d worked for would be in jeopardy and her family would pay the price.
Drawing in a long breath, she started formulating a plan.
Dila made her way towards her old neighbourhood, her heart swelling up when she parked in front of her childhood home. She walked to the front gate, taking in the surroundings. There were so many memories attached to this place, ghosts of her parents laughing in the front yard while she and Ali played together, the stone bench on which her mother sat when she was sick and in need of fresh air, the hidden alcove in the garden when she and Kuzgun shared their first kiss. The last time they made love. Every inch of the house was haunted and entirely too painful to visit, which was why she never came back in the past three years.
“Look, Cihan. We have a blushing bride coming to visit us.”
Hearing Kuzgun’s mocking voice from behind, she braced herself for a fight. Dila took a deep breath, and turned around to face him.
“Evening, Sister-in-Law,” Cihan said.
“She’s not your sister-in-law anymore,” Kuzgun remarked from next to him. “No need to be polite.”
At least Cihan had enough sense to look embarrassed, unlike Kuzgun. His eyes were overflowing with anger, sheer contempt plastered along his clenched jawline. It was an expression she’d been the recipient of many, many times. “I’d like to speak to you alone,” she said, forcing a detached tone.
Kuzgun raised his eyebrow, his head help up high. “Anything you can say to me you can say in front of Cihan.”
“Sorry, I actually have to go finish some work,” Cihan mumbled, scurrying away. It was obvious to Dila he didn’t want to be caught in the middle of their warfare even if Kuzgun didn’t seem to care.
“You really know how to make them run away,” Kuzgun remarked.
“Must have learned that from you,” she snapped.
“What do you want? Why are you here? Don’t tell me married life has become boring already and you’re here looking for some fun.”
“You’re the last person I’d come to for anything let alone fun.”
“Yet you’re here.” He glanced down at his watch. “I don’t have all day.”
She paused, saying a silent prayer to whoever was listening that Kuzgun wouldn’t make things difficult. “I want to buy this house back from you.”
“I’m not interested in selling,” he responded without skipping a beat.
“I’m willing to give you double what its worth.”
“In that case…” He stood with his arms linked behind him, casting a fleeting glance at the house before locking eyes with her again. “The answer is still no.”
“This house doesn’t mean anything to you!” she insisted, trying her best to keep the desperation out of her voice. “This was my home.”
“I’ve grown attached to it. Besides, I’ve been seeing someone and she really likes the place. We might move in together.”
White-hot anger coursed through Dila. Four weeks. It had only been four weeks since they last saw each other, when he’d held her and kissed her and begged her to leave with him, and now he’d already moved on. “The only thing you can commit to is revenge,” she spewed with hatred.
“Does your husband know you’re out here harassing your ex-husband about his new girlfriend?”
“Girlfriend?” She scoffed, shaking her head. “You’re unbelievable.”
“You sound jealous.”
“I don’t give a shit about who you’re sleeping with. I came here to buy my house back.”
He took a step towards her. A warm flush crept up her face as his gaze lingered on her lips. His close proximity was wreaking havoc with her thoughts. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. “What are you willing to do to get the house back?” he murmured.
She stiffened. The threat of Ferman was enough to bring her back to her senses. “I’m not going to sleep with you.”
He pulled back, his lips twisted into a cruel smile. “Don’t flatter yourself. I have no interest in married women.”
“Good. Because I’m not interested in you either. I just want my house back.”
“You sound desperate, Dila. Why is that?”
Because if I don’t follow Ferman’s orders, my sister and Shermin are dead. She wanted to scream the truth at Kuzgun, to beg him to make things easier on her but knew, ultimately, it would do no good. Kuzgun had no interest in saving anyone in her family. “I’m not desperate. I just want to buy this house because it means the world to me, I grew up here. Can’t you understand that?”
“It’s not my job to understand you. You’re not my wife anymore.”
Sadness clouded her features. “Even when I was, you didn’t care.”
“Good thing we’re not married then.”
“So you’re not going to sell?”
He gave her a cold sneer. “Nothing you give me can tempt me into selling this place.”
“Go to hell!” she barked. Furious, she stormed back to her car. As Dila drove away, her eyes sought out Kuzgun’s reflection in the rearview mirror watching her intently. He stood tall, daunting, proud and unyielding. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help her family, that she knew with full certainty – which meant she only had herself to rely on.
Her heart pounded in her chest, her mind spun frantically. How was she going to tell Ferman about the house? And what punishment would he exact for her failure?
Dila circled the block a few times to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Once she was confident none of Ferman’s men were watching her, she parked her car a block away and walked to Serdar’s office. From the outside it looked like a shoe repair store, inherently unnoticeable, but inside resided one of the best private investigators working in the city and the only person she trusted to help her find Naz and Sermin. As far as everyone knew, her stepmother and sister had moved to London a year ago and were happily living there. Only Dila knew that that wasn’t the case – Ferman had them hidden somewhere and was using them as leverage against Dila.
She spotted the older man in the back office and headed towards him, Thanks to Serdar and his son, she already had information on many of Ferman’s financials, but what she desperately needed they still hadn’t found – Naz and Sermin’s location. She handed Serdar the box of pastries he loved so much and took a seat across from him.
“Thank you, my child,” he mumbled with appreciation.
“Please tell me you found something.”
He pursed his lips, exhaling a heavy sigh. “Patience. We’re working on it.”
“I’m running out of patience.” She thought back to two nights ago, when she had to tell her husband Kuzgun refused to sell her childhood home back to her, and how he punished her for it. She was in pain, physically, emotionally, and she didn’t know how much longer she could take it. “Why is this so hard to find? There has to be some kind of clue in his records about where he’s keeping them.”
“The problem is there’s multiple options and it’s taking time to narrow it down. He’s already moved them twice. We have to make sure we can get their location before it happens again.”
She wanted to believe Serdar so badly, otherwise she didn’t know how much longer she could go on. To think she’d actually hoped her marriage to Ferman would be something bearable, even if he’d trapped her into it. The gullible part of her had assumed they could lead a normal life, that he would be a decent human being, but she knew the truth now. What kept her awake at night, however, wasn’t just what he did to her – it was about what he was doing to Naz and Sermin. He enjoyed torture, and watching others in pain, and if he was having his men do the same thing to – no, she didn’t want to think about it. She glanced down at her watch. “I have to go.”
“Watch yourself around Ferman. We’re being extremely careful but you should always be on guard around him.”
“I always am.”
She picked up her bag and headed outside. With Serdar’s help she was putting evidence together to take down Ferman but her first priority was making sure her family was safe. Until then, she was at his mercy. As if things weren’t difficult enough, there was a dinner planned later tonight where Seda would officially meet Kartal’s family. The last thing Dila wanted was to plaster on a smile and pretend everything was okay but Seda needed her and she wasn’t about to disappoint her only friend. Unfortunately, that meant dealing with Aunt Meryem and Kumru. Kuzgun’s mother held her personally responsible for him being in jail while Kumru still treated her with complete contempt. At least she wouldn’t have to see Kuzgun tonight – she highly doubted he’d be showing up at Seda’s to discuss wedding preparations.
Upon reaching her car, she slid inside. For a few minutes she simply sat in silence with her head against the steering wheel, desperate from some respite – until Naz’s terrified face flashed through her mind. Immediately she bristled, fighting back tears. No matter how bad it got, she couldn’t give up. She couldn’t stop fighting. Because her sister’s life was on the line and Dila could never forget that.
Taking a deep breath, she started her car.
“Seda, it’s okay. Everything looks great,” Dila assured Seda who was cleaning the coffee table erratically even though the surface was spotless.
“I don’t want to give them any reason not to like me, you know?”
Dila didn’t have the heart to tell her friend the truth: that even though Seda was kind and wonderful and an amazing woman, Kartal’s family would probably only see her as a Bilgin. A part of Dila hoped she was wrong, but she knew the Cebecis too well. She reached out to give Seda a hug, trying to console her. “What matters is how Kartal feels, not his family. Kartal’s madly in love with you, and he loves Defne like she’s his own.”
“He really does, doesn’t he?” Seda repeated, a hopeful smile across her face. “He’s so good with her.”
“Yes, he is.” Dila took the wipe from Seda’s hand and threw it in the garbage. “Tonight will go great. Don’t worry.” She glanced over at the perfectly set dinner table. “Look how much food you cooked for them! After they taste your cooking they’ll be begging you to leave with them tonight,” she teased, hoping to ease Seda’s mind.
Seda’s smile grew. “I asked Kartal what to make and he made some recommendations. He said my Dolmas are even better than his mother’s.”
“He better not say that in front of her,” Dila retorted.
“I already warned him.”
The doorbell rang. Dila felt her anxiety return, but she reminded herself to stay calm. Tonight was about Seda and Kartal. Everything else was secondary. “I’ll grab Defne, you answer the door.”
Despite the pep talk, Dila needed a few minutes to gather herself before facing the Cebecis and Defne was the perfect balm to soothe her. Dila headed to Defne’s room and found her playing tea party with her stuffed animals. “Ah, my little mouse, how’s the party going?”
Defne lit up with a bright smile. “Auntie Dila, do you want some tea? Sit here with me!”
Dila smiled. “Come, come, we’ll have tea later. Uncle Kartal is here.”
“Yay!” Defne squealed. “Mommy said Uncle Kartal will be living here with us soon. Is that true?”
Dila brushed the bangs out of Defne’s eyes. “Are you okay with that?”
“I love Uncle Kartal. He makes me laugh and makes me funny pancakes.”
“But does this mean I have to call him daddy?”
Dila stiffened. It had been three years since her brother died but it still felt like it happened yesterday. His loss had left an aching hole in all of their hearts, especially Defne’s. Dila knew full well what it was like to lose a parent at such a young age. She bent down and gave Defne a big hug. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. If you want to keep calling him Uncle Kartal, that’s fine.”
“I miss daddy.”
Dila swallowed the lump in her throat. “Me too. But he’s always with us, in our hearts.” She cradled Defne’s face. “He’s always watching over us.”
Hearing Seda’s nervous voice call for her from the other room, Dila took Defne’s hand. “Come, let’s go have dinner.”
With each step bringing them closer to the living room, Dila felt more agitated. Her anxiety reached peak height when she found herself facing all of the Cebecis, including Kuzgun. Kuzgun. He was seated by himself on the recliner couch, dressed in a grey suit, looking like he was posing for a magazine cover. Confident, arrogant smile firmly in place. Their eyes locked. She couldn’t breathe.
“Uncle Kartal!” Defne greeted, running towards Kuzgun’s brother.
Dila used the opportunity to acknowledge the rest of Kuzgun’s family.. “Hello, Good Evening.” Aunt Meryem and Kumru returned the greeting with a stiff nod. Kartal, on the other hand, received her with a bright, warm smile.
“Dila, how are you?” Kartal asked. He was seated next to Seda on one corner of the couch, Defne on his lap.
“I’m doing well. How are you?”
Awkward silence ensued, the tension palpable. Dila felt Kuzgun watching her intently, but she avoided his gaze. Finally, he spoke, his voice uncharacteristically soft. “Defne, do you remember me?”
“Yes, you’re my Uncle Kuzgun! You’re Auntie Dila’s husband!”
Dila wanted to die. Her cheeks grew hot, she could feel them burning. Everyone else appeared just as embarrassed except for Kuzgun who was grinning and extending his hands out to Defne. She, in turn, ran to hug him.
“Where did you go, Uncle Kuzgun? I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“Don’t worry, little mouse. I’m back for good.”
Dila cast a quick glance at Defne wrapped in Kuzgun’s arms, surprised he’d noticed her special term of endearment for Defne. In the past he’d had always been gentle with her, and that hadn’t changed. Dila observed their easy camaraderie, her heart aching.
“So we’re planning to have the wedding next month,” Kartal said.
Dila forced herself to ignore the playful conversation Defne was having with Kuzgun and instead refocus on Kartal and Seda.
“Isn’t that a little too early?” Aunt Meryem asked.
Seeing Seda’s despondent face, Dila quickly spoke up. “It doesn’t take very long to plan the festivities.”
“You would know. You just finished wedding number two, right?” Kumru said snidely.
“Kumru,” said Kuzgun, his voice stern.
Dila leveled Kumru with a cold look. “If you have something to say, Kumru, say it.”
“She doesn’t,” Kartal interjected.
Kumru’s words may have been intended for Dila but inadvertently they were also an attack against Seda, a topic Seda was already sensitive about.
“Our house isn’t very big but it’s in a lovely neighbourhood,” Aunt Meryem said. “You’ll love living there.”
Seda shot Kartal a pointed look.
“Mom,” Kartal said, “I’m going to be moving in here after I’m married. Defne’s school is close by-“
“You’re going to be living here? In Rifat Bilgin’s house?” Kumru demanded. “Are you out of your mind, Kartal?”
“Seda, why don’t you take Defne to her room for a little bit?” Dila suggested, doing her best to keep her anger in check.
“I think that’s a great idea. Kartal, you should go with them,” Kuzgun added.
As soon as Kartal, Seda and Defne exited the room, Dila turned towards Kumru and Aunt Meryem. “You can treat me however you want, I don’t care, but don’t you dare say anything bad about our family in front of Defne!” She shook her head, angry. “And even now you blame my father? Even though your grandfather was behind everything?”
“Rifat wasn’t innocent,” Kumru pointed out.
“No, but he was a pawn that Behram Adivar created. Your grandfather. So don’t act like your brother living here is a mark against your sainted family.”
“Defne will never hear a bad word about your family from us. I promise.” Kuzgun’s tone was free of his trademark smugness, and it surprised her enough that Dila looked at him to gauge his expression. His dark gaze pierced right through her, his stare hypnotic.
“You didn’t lift a finger to help my son when he was in jail!”
Aunt Meryem’s accusation was enough to break Kuzgun’s hold on her. Guilt flooded over her. It was true, she hadn’t helped Kuzgun. “I was in the hospital. For the first few months-“
“Stop, Dila. You don’t need to defend yourself.”
Her gaze lifted to meet Kuzgun’s once again. Why was he standing up for her to his family? She didn’t understand. This wasn’t like him.
“What happened or didn’t happen is between Dila and me. It doesn’t concern anyone else,” Kuzgun said, shifting his attention to his sister and mother. “And Kartal loves Seda, he wants to build a family with her. We shouldn’t get in the way of that.”
“Even if it might be the biggest mistake he makes?” Aunt Meryem prodded.
“That’s his choice to make,” Kuzgun said, irritation lacing his voice.
Dila’s phone buzzed in her pocket. Even before checking, she knew who it was. “Excuse me.” She rushed out of the room and towards the bathroom, finally hitting answer on her phone when she was alone. “Hi, Ferman.”
“How are the wedding preparations going?”
“Fine,” she replied in a deliberately breezy tone. Ferman wasn’t remotely interested in Seda’s wedding, but Dila knew it was just another way to exert power over her.
“Who’s there with you right now?”
She paused. “Everyone.”
She closed her eyes. “Yes.”
She knew what that meant.
“Kuzgun and his thugs hijacked one of my important shipments today. It cost me quite a lot of money and my partners aren’t happy.”
Her heart sank. One way or another, Ferman was going to make her pay for Kuzgun’s actions.
“So far this marriage has been quite disappointing. I spent a lot of money on your recovery, I’ve been taking care of your family, and I have yet to see a return on my investments.”
A mix of anxiety and fear flitted through her nerves. Ferman had a way of twisting things around to make himself sound incredibly generous, but the truth was far from it. She hadn’t asked him for any help, but by the time she had regained consciousness and recovered enough to leave the hospital, she was already indebted to him.
“How are you going to fix this, Dila?” Ferman prodded, his voice holding a million threats.
“I don’t know.”
“You can start by finding out where he’s hidden my merchandise.”
Listening to Ferman, Dila felt queasy. How was she supposed to get that information from Kuzgun? He’d never tell her something like that in a million years. Maybe she could reach out to Serdar and have him look into it, but that meant he’d divert his resources away from searching for Naz – and that wasn’t an option. “Kuzgun won’t just give me that information.”
Ferman’s heavy sigh sent dread flowing through her veins. “Dila. You don’t want to see me when I’m angry.”
He hung up without another word. She stood there, trembling. Think, Dila think.
The door closed behind her all of a sudden, and she whirled around to find Kuzgun in the bathroom with her. He was watching her, utterly unfazed and oblivious to the chaos he’d turned her life into. But a part of her suspected even if he knew, his reaction would still be the same.
“For a newlywed, your husband doesn’t seem very interested in being around you,” he said with his trademark arrogance.
“Is that why you came here today? Were you hoping Ferman would be here so you can brag about one-upping him?”
Kuzgun smiled. “I guess your dear husband has already complained to you about his missing merchandise.”
Her eyes remained concentrated on him even if her heart was breaking with disappointment. “I don’t know why I thought things would be different.” A bitter laugh escaped her lips. “I really thought you’d want to start over again after prison, maybe lead an honest life away from all of these criminal activities and darkness… but you don’t want that, do you? You want to continue Behram’s legacy.”
Anger flashed over his face. “You’re going to lecture me about leading an honest life after marrying Ferman?”
“Have you considered what this war with Ferman is going to cost? You’re putting yourself in danger, your family. For what? Have you thought about the risks? Is it really worth it?”
“He took something from me.”
The intense emotion in his eyes made her desperately want to believe Kuzgun meant her, maybe then she could convince him to stop the attacks against Ferman until her family was safe. “What?”
His jaw tightened. What he had to say was clearly difficult for him, giving her hope.
“Before I went to prison I found evidence that my dad was alive. Turns out Ferman planted it all. They were all lies.”
Pain was etched on his face, his expression so vulnerable she could feel the depth of his anguish. Engulfed in sorrow for both herself and him, tears glistened in her eyes. It must have been so difficult for him to be given that level of hope only to have it taken away so harshly. And she thought about her own situation, and the precarious position she was in. Because now, no matter what, Kuzgun wasn’t going to pause his war with Ferman. Not for her, and definitely not to save her family.
“He’s going to pay for everything he’s done, I promise you that.” The rage in his voice was sadly familiar, and she knew Kuzgun meant every word of it. “And I’m not going to let you stop me.”
“I don’t expect you to.” She gave him a sad smile. “I know better.”
The muscle in his jaw twitched, his lips curled into a snarl. “You married this man, knowing what he was capable of. How could you be so stupid? How desperate were you?”
“I told you this already. He values me.” She sighed. “When I was in the hospital, he’s the one who took care of me. Not just me, but my family too. I was so out of it after the gunshot, I didn’t even know Ali had died. He made all the funeral arrangements, he provided for my family.” Dila looked him squarely in the eyes. “What he did for my family means more to me than your need for revenge. Just like you won’t let me stop you, I won’t let you stop me from taking care of my family.”
“You weren’t thinking about him or your family that night I came to you.” As he advanced towards her, she fought the urge to retreat. Instead she stood still, forcing him to stop when he was directly in front of her. “You let me kiss you. Would you have let me fuck you, I wonder?”
“I stopped you, or do you not remember? Your selective memory is quite a blessing,” she fired back calmly, even though his close proximity was wreaking havoc with her mind.
His gaze wandered over her face languidly, drawing back to her lips. “How did you explain your wedding dress? Does he know I’m the one who ripped it?”
“He didn’t even notice it,” she lied. “The only thing he said over and over again was I’d never looked more beautiful.”
Kuzgun cocked his eyebrow, signaling his unhappiness with her response. “He’s a bigger idiot than I assumed.”
“Why? Because he genuinely loves me?” She exhaled a resigned breath. “Not everyone is like you, Kuzgun. There are people in this world who are capable of love, of forgiveness, who can put aside their anger and hate and choose love instead.”
“Do you really believe this bullshit?”
“Ferman loves me. Just because you couldn’t doesn’t mean he can’t.”
He held her stare, his expression blank, for what felt like an eternity before he finally turned around to leave. It was only after he exited the bathroom did she take a breath. Her hands shook as she dialed Serdar’s number, her voice quivering when he finally picked up. “I need a favour.”
“What can I do for you?” Serdar asked.
She texted him Kuzgun’s address. “I just sent you a location. Do you know anyone who lives in that neighbourhood?”
There was a brief pause as he checked his phone. “I think so. Why?”
“Give them my number. Ask them to contact me. I need them to steal Kuzgun’s cell phone.”
“Yes, of course. But I can have one of my men-“
“No, I don’t want to divert your focus. I’ll take care of this, I just need someone I can trust.”
“Yes, ok. No problem. Give me a few hours and I’ll get back to you.”
After hanging up, Dila took a few minutes for herself. She felt a sharp pain behind her temple, triggering a headache, and for a few minutes she rubbed her forehead to alleviate it. Ferman waited for her at home and she knew whatever punishment he had planned was going to be excruciating. But first she had to get through the hell that was this dinner.
When she finally returned to the living room, it was a relief to find Kuzgun gone.
A/N – Thanks for reading! If you like my writing, feel free to give my book a shot. You can read a preview here.