Sergei frowned.

Seri gulped. She had a bad feeling about this.

Her brother looked up. “Seri Devereaux.”

B’lyad. That meant ‘fuck’ and right now, she was so fucked.

She slowly made her way to the front of the class with her book gripped tightly in her hands.

When she reached Sergei, she held her breath, wondering if Sergei would scold her for having one of the lowest grades in last week’s test.

But instead, her brother smiled.

Which was worse.

He took the book from her hand and flipped it open to the exercise they were working on. “We’re going to answer number 3, baby girl.”

And that was strike one for her, Seri thought with an inner wince. If looks could kill, she would have died about thirty-five times by now, at the hands of each and every girl in her class.

“You know the answer to it?” Sergei was asking.

“Umm, no?”

Sergei drew her towards the board, saying easily, “That’s okay. I’ll show you how to solve it. That’s what I’m here for.”

Professor Alexeyev coughed, while people’s gazes began boring through Seri’s back.

Strike two, she thought glumly.

Sergei wrote the equation and answer on the board in seconds. “That’s how you solve it. Want me to explain it for you?”

Not unless I want to die, Seri thought and out loud, she said quickly, “No need, I, umm, get it now.”

Sergei had a concerned frown on his face. “Are you certain?”

She nodded vehemently.

He ruffled her hair. “If you say so.”

As she turned her back to return to her seat, she heard the professor sigh, “A little bird told me that the only reason you turned down the internship from Geneva was because you wanted to stick close to your sister—-”

Seri jerked at the words.

Strike three.

“I guess it’s true.”

Someone suddenly stuck her foot out as Seri walked past and she tripped over it, falling painfully to her knees.

Before Seri could even cry out, Sergei was already next to her, helping her up. “What’s wrong?”

You are.

You all are.

But then she saw the concern in his gaze, and swallowing back the words, Seri shook her head, mumbling, “You know how clumsy I am.” Mother of Russia, she was such a pushover when it came to her boys, and they weren’t even emotionally blackmailing her.


Third period was P.E., and Seri finally had some time to be alone, seated at the top row of the bleachers while the rest of the class was below, yelling their lungs out for cheer practice. Lying down, she was about to take a nap when a shadow fell over her, and her eyes opened.

A startlingly handsome face with hair and eyes the color of silver greeted her.

“Vassi,” Seri gasped and sat up so quickly she ended up bumping her head hard with the guy’s chin.

Vassi grunted in pain, saying dryly, “I guess that means you miss me?”

“I can’t believe you’re here!” She threw her arms around him as he took his seat next to her. The youngest of the Grachyov brothers, Vassi was only a year older than Seri at fifteen. Even so, he still towered over her by a foot, and his lean frame was just as muscular as his older brothers.

He was also her favorite, and Seri had never made a secret of it.

Grinning at the bear hug she gave him, he teased, “You haven’t answered my question. Have you missed me, leech?”

“You know I did.” She hugged him even more tightly.

Pulling away, he smiled down at her and said simply, “I missed you too, leech.”

“When did you return?” she asked. “And how long are you going to stay? When’s your next project?” His last one had been a fashion shoot in Belgium, and she had thought he would be gone for at least another week for it. Being a Grachyov, he could miss as many days of classes as he needed and the school wouldn’t even blink.

But to Seri, it mattered. Every day was just a little less wonderful than it should be whenever Vassi had to leave for work.

Vassi was laughing at her. “Medleno, solnishka moya.”

It meant ‘slowly, my little sun,’ and Seri could have closed her eyes and listened to the words forever. She loved hearing Vassi speak in Russian. There was just something impossibly beautiful about it, and the fiercely tender cadence of his tone never failed to make her feel warm and cherished.

“Sometimes, you are worse than the paparazzi with your questions.”

She made a face. “Am not.”

Vassi put an arm around her shoulders, saying, “But because you’re my little sister, I shall answer your questions. Firstly, I returned a while ago, and I came straight here from the airport.” He looked at her, saying dryly, “You didn’t really think I’d let Sergei and Misha be the only ones present during your first day in high school, did you?”

Her eyes widened. “But what about your work?”

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