“That brings us to your second question, and unfortunately I must return to Brussels tomorrow.”

“Vassi!” She couldn’t believe he had flown almost fourteen hours just to be with her on the first day. “You know you didn’t have to—-”

“I was concerned,” he interrupted her. “Knowing those two, they probably made things worse for you, didn’t they?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You can’t lie to me, leech. I’ve heard from Rick that you left for school before Sergei and Misha, and on foot. You were thinking you could delay the inevitable, weren’t you?”

She shrugged.

“But then somehow, Misha and Sergei screwed things up, and now everyone hates you for being the apple of their eye.”

Her shoulders slumped. “It’s not their fault.” There was no point lying to Vassi. He always had the uncanny ability to see through her the way her older brothers couldn’t.

“I’m going to have a word with them later,” Vassi said darkly. “Those idiots are old enough to know—-”

She shook her head quickly. “Please don’t. I wouldn’t want them to change. I wouldn’t want any of you to change. You know that.”

Vassi looked at her for one moment and then the next thing she knew, she was suddenly in his arms.

“You’re the sweetest little thing, solnishka moya,” Vassi sighed softly against her hair.

And that was when it happened.

It was…the strangest little thing, her heart skipping a beat while she was in her brother’s arms.

His arms tightened around her—-

And there it was again, Seri thought in shock.

Her heart skipped another beat, and consequently it made Seri feel breathless as her throat tightened. I must be imagining it, she told herself. She was just excited about Vassi’s unexpected return. That was all.

Lightning struck the skies as soon as the thought occurred, and heat burned Seri’s cheeks. It was almost like the heavens were mocking her—-

But for what?

Thunder rumbled, and rain fell hard and fast without warning.

Seri gasped in surprise.

Vassi was already on his feet and tugging her up. “Let’s make a run for it!”

The nearest covered area was the waiting shed near the entrance, but by the time they made it there, the two of them were completely drenched.

It’s Vassi!

Vassi’s here!

Oh my God, someone give me a towel so I have a reason to go to him!

Can I offer my body to dry him?

Seri bowed her head, her gaze on the floor. She didn’t want anyone to see her scowling because she knew she was being unreasonably selfish and jealous. She was always a little bit too possessive where her favorite brother was concerned.

“Dammit, Seri.”

She looked up quickly, hearing the anger in her brother’s voice. “What’s wrong—-uh!” She suddenly found herself in the circle of Vassi’s arms.

“Stay here,” he gritted down at her. “Your shirt’s completely transparent.”

Oh.

“We don’t want anyone to see you’re flat as a—-”

She stomped on his foot, hard.

He grunted. “I’m kidding, leech.” His arms tightened around her. “But seriously, stay here while I call Misha to come here and give you his lab coat.” With one arm still wrapped securely around her, Vassi pulled his phone out with his other hand.

And Seri stayed there, listening without hearing a thing.

She was in a state of shock, the ability to think clearly knocked out of her the moment her heart started doing its weird thing again.

The moment Vassi had pulled her into his embrace, her heart had raced, her stomach had twisted itself into knots, and her toes had curled painfully hard inside her shoes.

What was going on?

Chapter Two

“Morning, Papa.” She greeted Fyodor happily, bending down to give him a kiss on the cheek. He was a tall and extremely attractive man in his early forties, and the touch of grey in his dark hair only made him look more distinguished. He was like a better version of George Clooney, she thought fondly, with the added bonus of a swoon-worthy Russian accent.

“Morning, kroshka.” Fyodor smiled as he watched his only daughter greet her brothers. He might have all the money in the world, but nothing he could purchase would ever equal the pleasure he experienced every time he saw his family together.

As Seri settled on his right, he was able to take a closer look at her face and frowned. There were unusually dark circles under her eyes and, looking at her now, he also noticed that she seemed thinner and paler.

He asked abruptly, “Is something wrong, Seri?”

Seri started in her seat. “Huh? What? No?”

Silence.

She could feel three pairs of eyes narrowing at her.

“Something is clearly wrong,” Misha said slowly. “You’ve lost weight, haven’t you?”

Seri quickly tried to shrug it off, saying lightly, “That’s a good thing for us girls, you know?”

“No. I don’t know.” It was Sergei who answered, and the unusually cool note in her brother’s voice had Seri swallowing.

He raised a brow at her, asking, “Unless of course it’s your intention to starve yourself?”


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