Her hero – or was this Vassi – raised an eyebrow as her fingers grazed his skin. “Uh…Leech?”
This was the real Vassi.
She snatched her hand back, stammering, “You had, umm, dirt on your cheek.” She couldn’t meet his gaze as she lied, and the burning heat in her cheeks just made her feel guiltier.
He gave her an odd look but only asked curiously, “Are you okay?”
“Uh huh.” Or at least she was as okay as someone who had just come face to face with the very person she had been fantasizing…doing…things with.
The thought made Seri’s cheeks burn hotter, and she asked quickly, “What time did you guys get back?”
“About twenty minutes ago,” Vassi replied. Like Seri, he was already dressed for the party, his body encased in a black tux. It made him look a lot older than his seventeen years, and Seri found herself disliking the thought. A mature Vassi would attract even more females, girls who were older and prettier than Seri, girls who knew how to do certain…things.
“Okay, leech. What did I do this time?”
Oops. Realizing she had been scowling at him, she forced a smile, saying, “I was just thinking of something.”
He shook his head. “It’s not like you to space you out like this. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I am. I promise. I was just thinking about work.” She changed the subject before he could ask her about work, asking, “Are we leaving already?”
“No, not yet. The reason I’m here is to give you this.”
“Oh, Vassi.” She couldn’t help rolling her eyes, but she couldn’t stop herself from smiling either as she took the jewelry box from his hands. “You know you’re supposed to give me this on Christmas Day.”
His eyes gleamed. “Exactly.” He touched her nose. “I want to be the first.”
She had to bite her lip hard at the words, her heart wanting to tell him that he was her first for everything.
As she started to open the box, he said softly, “Merry Christmas, solnishka moya.”
A rose gold Cartier love bracelet studded with diamonds lay on a bed of white silk, and picking it up, she noticed Russian characters engraved on its inner surface.
“What does it mean? Seri asked.
“A Russian saying,” he answered. “Literally, it translates to visiting is good but home is better. In English, the closest to it would be—-”
Something clicked in Seri’s mind, and she said slowly, “There’s no place like home?”
And of course, she had to smile back. She couldn’t help it, pleasure unfurling inside her at the knowledge that she had gained Vassi’s approval.
“Wear it tonight?” At her shy nod, he slid it in place, murmuring, “Perfect fit—-”
His fingers brushed against the sensitive skin of her wrist, and she jerked. It reminded her of the scene where the hero had gripped the heroine’s hand, using it to haul her close—-
And almost on cue, Vassi inched closer to her.
Mother of Russia, why was it suddenly hard for her to breathe?
“Seri? What’s wrong?” Before she could even think of what to say, he was already tipping her chin up, and his frowning gaze took in her eyes. “You’re sick, aren’t you?” Before she could even answer, he continued, “Don’t think I didn’t notice how flushed your cheeks are.” He felt for her forehead, his touch hot and gentle at the same time, and her knees knocked hard under the semi-loose skirt of her gown.
“You don’t feel hot enough for a fever, but…” Releasing her face, he lowered his head so he could gaze straight into her eyes—-
“We should go now!” She ducked under his arm and raced down the stairs. Mother of Russia, that was close! When she reached the landing, it was to see her two older brothers emerging out of the study and on their way to the front door as well.
She almost expired in relief. Those two were exactly what she needed to keep Vassi away…and stop him from ever guessing the truth.
Following them inside the limousine, she squeezed herself in between the two.
Sergei and Misha immediately stopped talking and turned to her in visible surprise.
Knowing that they were both wondering why she wasn’t in her usual place, which was right next to Vassi, she stammered, “I, umm…miss you both?”
Both of them immediately smiled.
“We miss you, too,” Sergei murmured, patting her head fondly.
“Cute little dove,” were Misha’s words even as he threatened to crush her ribs in his hug.
Vassi came inside and scowled when he saw where Seri was seated. Slamming the door shut, he patted the space beside him. “Come here, leech.”
Sergei and Misha shook their heads.
“Our baby girl misses us,” Sergei murmured in pleasure.
“So stop monopolizing our little dove,” Misha said with a reproving frown.
Vassi rolled his eyes.
Seri stuck her tongue out.
“See how disrespectful she is? You guys are spoiling her rotten.”
But Sergei and Misha were no longer paying him any attention, too busy asking Seri about her day.