For a while, it was just silence between them, but Seri didn’t mind. She knew from experience that if Vassi had something to say, he would do so, in his own time.
And after several more minutes, he did.
“You don’t have to worry about dad not adopting you.”
He glanced at her, and his voice was fierce when he said, “I know that idiot probably made you think Papa doesn’t want to adopt you because there’s no point since Marianna’s already gone—-” Vassi took hold of her hand, and gripping it tightly in his, he muttered, “Your biological father demanded it from Papa and Marianna.”
Seri was stunned. “No one’s ever said—-”
“It was his condition before he agreed not to contest your mother’s petition for divorce,” Vassi explained reluctantly. “And the reason why no one has told you that is because Marianna didn’t want you to think…worse—-”
Despite herself, Seri couldn’t stop her lips from twitching. “He’s a hardened criminal who’s proud about conning people and has never apologized for it,” she said helplessly. “Is there any other way to think of him?”
Vassi’s lips curved, but his tone was serious as he said, “I’m glad you can still see the humor in this, solnishka moya.”
She said lightly, “It’s a choice, you know, how you see people.” And in the back of her mind, she suddenly found herself thinking if Vassi would ever choose to see her as more than a sister.
“Are you angry with Papa?”
Slowly, she shook her head.
He squeezed her hand. “I’m glad.”
She looked down at their entwined hands, sadness finding a way into her heart when she saw his bruised knuckles. “Does it still hurt?” she heard herself ask.
“Not as much as I wish it did,” he answered briefly. At her look of confusion, he explained flatly, “It means I didn’t hit him enough.”
Seri didn’t quite know what to say to that, remembering the way Sergei and Misha had to haul Vassi away from the other guy and how Mason’s face looked more like an abstract work of art, with his blackened eyes, crooked nose, and cut lips.
“Marianna was everything to us,” Vassi intoned under his breath. “She was everything a mother should be, everything that our own mother wasn’t.” His grip on her tightened, as if he needed to make sure he would be able to keep her with him before he spoke. “Papa was an ordinary salesman when he met our mother. When he got her pregnant, her parents disowned her, and naturally Papa married her and took her in. But she blamed him for the change in her lifestyle, and I grew up hearing her nag at him every damn day, belittling him, accusing him of ruining her life. But Papa never said a word until one day they had this major row, and…”
Vassi took a deep breath.
“She told him she had been sleeping around since the very start, and one of those men – whose name she couldn’t even fucking remember – managed to get her pregnant.”
Vassi’s gaze was unseeing, his mind lost in the past. “I’m not Papa’s biological child, Seri, but despite knowing that – the way he looked at me never changed, and he didn’t stop loving me. That was why…when you and Marianna came along, and I saw how she made him whole again, how you two made us feel like a family, I vowed to myself I would never let anything destroy what we have.” He looked at her. “I’d destroy them first, and that includes my mother.”
And as she gazed at him, Seri realized painfully what Vassi was saying, even without knowing it.
Vassi going to destroy any threat to their family—-
And that included Seri, if she ever confessed her feelings.
It was close to noon when Seri woke up, and she found herself sleeping in Vassi’s bed while he slept on the pullout.
He was lying on his side, his brows creased even in his dreams. His shirt had inched up in his sleep, revealing the bronze muscular panes of his body.
She stared at him for a long time, feeling like a voyeur but unable to stop herself, knowing that this was the last time she could ever allow herself to be this close to him.
I love you, Vassi.
She knew that she was young and inexperienced enough for her feelings to change. She knew this, but even so, what she felt right now—-
It was love, and it was heartbreaking because the guy she loved could never be hers, the way she wanted him to.
I love you, Vassi.
And because she loved him, she would personally kill her feelings for him on her own. All night long, he had regaled her with stories about Marianna and Fyodor, most of them in the first year their parents had gotten together.
Although they were only one year apart in age, those memories held nothing special for Seri, who had been raised happily by her single mother. But for the six-year-old Vassi, every memory had been precious, new, and different – nothing like the days of Tanya’s violent tantrums that he had grown up with.