Sergei shot Vassi a grim look before saying reluctantly, “Fine. For you.”
She beamed. “Thank you, Sergei.” She glanced at Misha expectantly.
Misha rolled his eyes. “You know you don’t even have to ask, little dove. You have us wrapped around your little finger.”
Before Seri could thank him, the celebrity host Fyodor had hired for the party announced that the cake was being brought out. “A round of applause, please, and everyone greet our birthday girl a happy birthday again!”
The guests clapped and yelled their birthday greetings, and Seri could feel herself flushing with pleasure. With Vassi here, everything was perfect.
The cake was gigantic, a three-tier red velvet creation designed with edible crystals. The eighteen birthday candles were spread all over the cake, and the host said, “On the count of three, please blow the candles and make a wish. Three, two, one—-”
Outside the hotel’s panoramic windows, fireworks exploded in the sky and the crowd gasped and cheered.
She turned to Fyodor in surprise, and his boyish grin made him look decades younger. “Happy?” he asked gruffly.
She threw her arms around him. “I love you, Papa.” She hugged him tightly, too choked up to say more.
Fyodor hugged her back just as tightly, and she knew he had understood.
He might not be her real Papa, but in her heart, he was the only father she could ever love.
She blew her candles one by one, and the crowd laughed when she had to tiptoe and stretch up so she could blow the candles on the second layer.
There was one last candle on the topmost layer, and she stared up at it in consternation, wondering if she had to jump just to—-
Before she knew it, Vassi had her by the hips and lifted her up in the air. She cried out in shock, “Vassi!”
He grinned up at her. “Blow, solnishka moya.”
Ooooh. Even as her heart squeezed with happiness, her dirty little mind couldn’t stop conjuring another image, and something else for her to blow—-
Stop it, Seri. This is not the time for…things.
She forced herself to look at the candle. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and made her wish.
Please let Vassi love me back.
She blew the candle.
When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was…Vassi.
And it felt right.
He slowly lowered her to the floor. “What did you wish for?”
She couldn’t make herself answer, could only look at him with mute hope.
His jaw clenched, and she knew he understood. She also knew that while it felt right for her, it had not felt the same for him. “Vassi—-”
He suddenly smiled at her, and she fell silent, confused and just more than a little bit…scared. She used to think she loved everything about Vassi, but now she realized it wasn’t true. That smile of his was…different, terrifying, it was a smile that was too savagely beautiful, like a smile meant to hurt.
But there was no time to think about it.
The rest of her family closed around her, and she was lost in a chain of hugs as Fyodor and the other boys greeted her again. When they stepped away, other guests surged forward, and Vassi disappeared from her gaze.
She returned their well wishes with vague replies, forcing herself to concentrate on her guests, but it was futile. All she could think of was Vassi’s smile.
That savagely beautiful smile, which was already making her heart break even though she knew she could very well be paranoid.
Half an hour passed when she felt Vassi’s presence behind her, and she stiffened as he curled an arm around her waist. He smelled faintly of alcohol, and because he had never tried to imbibe liquor in her presence, she whirled around in surprise.
And there it was again, that savagely beautiful smile—-
“I have a couple of people I want you to meet.”
For a moment, she almost wanted to shove him away.
For a moment, she almost wanted to shout at him, It won’t work.
Because she knew this game he was playing.
He was going to introduce her to girls like Shelby, and it would be his way of telling her that she was hoping for a lost cause.
He would not change his mind about her.
She heard herself say, “Sure.”
She lifted her gaze—-
—-and realized that she had grossly underestimated Vassi.
In front of them were a couple of guys, all of them incredibly good-looking, almost as gorgeous as Vassi really, if she tried to be a little less biased. She recognized their names, their faces – they were so famous she had watched all their recent films, and every one of it had been a blockbuster success.
“I want you to meet my friends,” Vassi was saying. He introduced his friends one by one, and when it was all over, he asked one of them – Christian – to take her to the dance floor.
And even as Seri paled, Vassi only smiled down at her. “He doesn’t bite, leech. You know I won’t trust you to anyone who’d dare hurt you.”