She cried out when the can struck the side of Vassi’s head. But while she was horrified, the crowd only cheered, and soon everyone was throwing at him whatever they could get their hands on.
The crowd closed around Vassi, and when she could no longer see him through the mob, her heart stuttered, and Seri broke into a run.
She didn’t pause to think or plan, simply forcing her way through the crowd until she got to him.
At first Vassi thought he was only imagining things. But when he realized it was really Seri calling out to him, he swiftly pulled her towards him and when she fell on the sidewalk, he twisted around to face and protect her at the same time.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.
Seri couldn’t answer right away, unable to believe that other people were still trying to get to him, pulling his hair and some of them even trying to tear the clothes off his back.
She whispered numbly, “Why won’t you fight, Vassi? Why?”
Instead of answering, Vassi blindly reached for the first object he could lay his hands on. When he found himself a plastic bottle, he pressed it to her hand, saying grimly, “Hit me with this.”
“Hit me,” he hissed, “so they’ll know you’re against me, too.”
“Dammit, Seri. They’ll hurt you, too—-”
“I don’t care—-”
“But I do! So fucking hit me—-”
“No.” She shook her head. “Just…no. Never.” They stared at each other, and even with the angry crowd behind him trying to pull Vassi away, it was almost like it was just the two of them.
Looking at his beautiful face, everything slowly became clear. “V-Vassi.”
His gaze became shuttered.
She clasped his face. “Vassi. Please. Please look at me.”
Almost as if he was unable to resist her plea, he slowly raised his gaze to hers, and what she saw there made Seri choke back a sob.
Love that was made imperfect by fear, love that was even a little bit selfish and misguided, but it was there, and it was for her.
“V-Vassi. She’s blackmailing you, isn’t she?” After what she had learned from Misha, she wouldn’t put anything past that bitch.
Vassi’s lips compressed. “It will die down eventually. She just wants her fifteen minutes of fame, and it will be over soon.”
Behind them, Seri’s guards had finally come to interfere, and taking their cue, so did Vassi’s bodyguards, causing the crowd to slowly step back even as they continued with their heckling.
But for Seri, she only eyes for Vassi. “What did she offer in exchange?”
“Like what?” When he didn’t answer, she guessed painfully, “It has something to do with me, doesn’t it?” Again, her words were met with silence, but it didn’t really matter. Everything that she needed to know was already in her heart.
Fyodor was right.
All the answers she needed had always been in her heart.
She had only lacked the courage to see them and the strength to accept them.
“Tell me,” she whispered. “Please. Tell me what she threatened you with.”
As he carefully pulled her back up to her feet, he said quietly, “If I didn’t agree to her demands, she would let the world know about—-”
He said tightly, “What we used to be.”
“And you agreed—-” Her breath caught. “Because you love me?”
Vassi’s smile broke her heart to pieces, and they shattered into more pieces when he said simply, “Probably from the very first day.”
She slowly raised her arms and placed her hands on his shoulders. Ignoring his stunned look, she said with quiet sincerity, “Me, too, Vassi.” She choked back a sob. “All my life, I’ve loved you, and I’m so sorry I t-turned my back on it out of fear.” Shaking her head, she said, “But if you take me back, I promise I won’t ever stop again.”
She rose on her toes.
The crowd started shouting again, and this time they were calling her names, too.
Slut. Whore. Incestuous bitch.
None of it mattered to her.
Cupping his face, she drew him down and covered his mouth with hers. A moment passed, and then he was kissing her back, and she hugged him tightly in response. With this kiss, she took away Daniela’s power over him. With this kiss, she liberated him from his chains. And with this kiss, she told him over and over she loved him.
And this time, it was for keeps.
“I love you,” Vassi whispered against her lips.
Her eyes stung. “I love you, too.”
Even as he nipped her lip hungrily, Vassi whispered, “We’re probably going to hell for this.”
“That sounds fabulous.” Her tone was dreamy, with Vassi’s kisses making her feel alive like she hadn’t been the past month.
“But first—-” She drew back so he could see in her face that she meant business. “Sue the hell out of that bitch.”
His shoulders rocking with laughter, he lowered his mouth back to her, saying, “My pleasure.”