But even so—-

He could not make himself ignore the way Seri was looking at him.

No matter if he now knew her for the heartlessly calculating girl that she was.

He said quietly, “They were like that as well when we first met.” He nodded towards the door. “It’s just Yuki Himura being extremely possessive over his girlfriend. There is nothing to worry about.”

“Are you sure?” Seri asked uneasily. “Look at Yuki’s secretary.”

Vassi spared the older woman a glance and his lip curled, thinking that wasn’t worry on the woman’s face but jealousy. “Don’t mind her,” he dismissed.

She was about to protest when she suddenly felt Vassi’s fingers curl around her wrist. “Vassi—-”

But he was already pulling her towards the elevator, and she found herself following him, the scorching-hot feel of his touch draining Seri of her will to resist.

When the elevator doors closed, Vassi asked abruptly, “When did you come back?”

“Just yesterday,” she answered stiltedly.

“Have you spoken to Sergei or Misha?”

“No.” Her voice was tight. “And I would rather you don’t talk about either of them.” Because if he did, she would be forced to learn the truth, and she didn’t think she was ready for that yet.

In the two months she had stayed in Tokyo, Seri had deliberately isolated herself from all news back home. She hadn’t gone online a single time and even changed her number. This way, she wouldn’t be able to know if her older brothers had tried to contact her. This way, she could pretend that those two boys didn’t believe that she had betrayed them.

What you don’t know won’t hurt you.

Seri didn’t use to believe in this, but she did so now.

When the elevator doors opened to the lobby, Seri didn’t even pause to think. She wrenched her hand out of his hold and half-ran.

A familiar figure came through the revolving doors, and Seri almost sagged with relief.

Thank God.

“We need to talk, Seri.” Vassi had caught up with her, and once again his fingers encircled her wrist.

“There’s nothing to talk about—-”

As if he didn’t hear her at all, Vassi said, “Let me drive you to your place.” His hold tightened on her, and then he was forcing her to turn around to look at him. “Where are you staying now?”

Before she could answer, someone came to stand beside her, and Seri saw Vassi’s face whiten.

I’m sorry, she cried inside of her.

So, so sorry.

But I’m doing this for you.

And she clung to this thought as she once again pulled her hand away from Vassi. Forcing herself to meet his gaze, she said, “I’m staying with Max.”

Chapter Two

Maximilian Rockford’s arm went around Seri’s stiff shoulders before drawing her closer to him. Dressed in a lab coat over his black suit, he looked more like a model posing as a doctor, when in truth he was a scientist-in-training who happened to be exceedingly attractive.

Plan Fucking B, Vassi thought tautly. Seri’s Plan Fucking B was standing right in front of him, and if he had any ounce of pride left, he would have simply turned away and they could go to hell for all he cared.

But he could not.

Conscious of the way almost everyone in the lobby was looking at them, Vassi forced himself to maintain his tight-lipped smile even as his teeth clenched behind it. Seri might no longer care about their family –

No, it was his family now, and Vassi would be damned if he would allow for any rumors that could make Fyodor sink further into the black hole he was already drowning in.

The hazel-eyed graduate student looked down at Seri with visible concern. “I’m sorry for just coming now. Did I make you wait too long?”

Vassi watched Seri shake her head with an adoring smile. “You’re just in time.”

Classic gold-digger look, Vassi thought sickly.

Was this truly the girl he had loved almost his entire life?

Wanting this to be over with, he offered his right hand to the other guy, forcing Maximilian to release Seri to shake Vassi’s.

“Rockford.” Gripping the man’s hand tightly, Vassi said with practiced charm, “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Grachyov.” Maximilian squeezed the other man’s hand back just as hard. “Good to see you, too.” Releasing Vassi’s hand, he wasted no time drawing Seri back to his side, his arm going around her waist as he murmured, “I hope you haven’t given your little sister a hard time about dating me.”

“Why should I?” His voice was curious, even perplexed. “While I do want to talk to Seri about her ongoing misunderstanding with our father, other than that—-” His broad shoulders moved in an elegantly dismissive shrug. “She’s eighteen now. She can do whatever she wants, and I won’t stop her.”

Seri was having a hard time hanging on to her fake smile. God, she was such a fool. He had only wanted to speak to her about Fyodor. Only Fyodor, she thought painfully, and not the way he had loved her—-

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