Fyodor shook hands with the younger man and introduced himself.
“Fodor?” Mason asked innocently. “Like the idiot in Game of Thrones?”
Fyodor glanced at his sons. How old was this boy?
His sons started coughing hard, but it was a poor attempt to hide their amusement.
Mason’s face turned red as he realized his plan to shame Tanya’s ex-husband had backfired. Instead of him laughing at them, it was the other way around, the four men making him feel ridiculously childish. His humiliation only worsened when the photographer Tanya requested for arrived, and instead of asking him to join them, Tanya smiled and said, “Excuse us, please?”
He reluctantly stepped back, and Tanya squeezed his arm. “Thank you, sweetheart.” She moved back to Fyodor, but when her sons and Seri inched closer as well, she paused, a dismayed expression on her face.
“What is it, Ms. Darby?” the photographer asked.
Tanya glared at him.
The photographer gulped, and realizing his mistake, he corrected himself quickly, saying, “What’s wrong, Mrs. Grachyov?”
A beautifully worried expression crossed the older woman’s face. “I just wanted a family photo as a souvenir of tonight’s ball.”
“I understand, ma’am, you all look picture-perfect so please just—-”
But Tanya was shaking her head again.
“Just say what’s wrong.” Fyodor tried not to let his impatience show.
“I want a family photo.” She looked pointedly at Seri. “Could you excuse us as well, darling?”
“Oh. Okay.” Seri would have been able to shrug it off if not for some of the crowd tittering, and the sound made her flush. But before she could step back, Vassi took hold of her arm and pulled her towards him again.
“It’s no bother, solnishka moya. You are part of the family.” His voice was light, but his smile was tight.
Behind him, Tanya released a charming laugh, saying, “I’m sorry, Vassi. I guess I didn’t make myself clear. What I mean is, I want a photo of just us.” She paused. “You know, the real Grachyovs.”
A muscle started ticking in Vassi’s jaw.
It meant ‘oh shit,’ which was the only way to describe the sudden tension in the air.
She squeezed Vassi’s hand, saying, “It’s okay—-”
“Oh, thank goodness you know your place,” Tanya gushed.
Vassi’s eyes turned cold with rage, and upon seeing it, Mason realized he had his chance to get back at Tanya’s sons. He said loudly, “That’s only fair. I’m dating Tanya, and I understand it gives me no right to be part of the photo. That goes for you, too, little girl,” he sneered at Seri. “You haven’t been legally adopted, have you?”
“Zatknis’ na hui,” Vassi hissed.
It meant ‘shut the fuck up,’ and the tone of his voice made the words easy to figure out even for those who didn’t speak Russian.
Unfortunately, Mason was as dumb as a jar.
Instead, Tanya’s boyfriend moved closer to Seri, leering at her as he said slyly, “I’ve always wondered about you. You’ve been with them for years but they never got around to adopting you.” He paused, and the way he looked at Seri made her skin crawl. “Is it because Fodor has you warming his bed—-”
The rest of his words disappeared into Vassi’s fist.
Seri timidly knocked on the door, whispering, “Vassi?”
It was almost five in the morning now, and sleep had proved impossible for her. The entire night, she had tossed and turned, guilt making her wonder if there had been anything she could have done differently. It had been the first time that her position in the family had been publicly questioned, and now Seri couldn’t get rid of the question in her mind.
Why hadn’t Fyodor adopted her yet?
She raised her fist to knock a second time, but the door opened and she almost knocked on Vassi’s face. Oops. “Sorry,” she mumbled. He didn’t appear like she had woken him up, and she asked hesitantly, “Were you unable to sleep, too?”
Instead of answering, he opened the door wider and stepped to the side to let her in.
The moment she entered, Vassi closed the door and proceeded to nearly crush her with his embrace.
“V-Vassi?” She was alarmed at the way his powerful body was trembling hard against her, and she tried to calm him down by stroking his back. “What is it?”
He suddenly gritted out, “I still want to kill him.”
“Don’t,” she said right away. “And I mean it, don’t ever do that.” She pushed herself out of his embrace and when his arms reluctantly loosened, she took hold of his hand and led him to his bed. “Sit.”
After, she headed to his personal fridge and took out a bottle of water. It had been over a year or so since she had last entered his room, but a quick look at her surroundings told her nothing at all had changed.
She gave Vassi the bottle of water. “Drink please.” She sat beside him as he uncapped the bottle and took a swig. She watched him worriedly, unable to help noticing the tight set of his mouth as he placed the bottle on the side table.