Deciding to head to the Grachyovs’ residence once he was done with his extracurricular work at the lab, it was almost ten in the evening when Maximilian made it to Seri’s place. He had to provide his ID at the gates, and when he made it to the front doors, he had to pass another security check before he was allowed inside.

Inside, a butler took him straight to a receiving room in time to see the one person he would rather not meet coming down the stairs.

Seri’s brother appeared unsurprised at the sight of him. Vassi was dressed casually in a shirt and loose slacks, but even so, the other man exuded the kind of arrogance and power that was more typical of men twice his age.

He could see why Seri would be attracted to the other guy, Maximilian acknowledged grimly. And since he had done his research on Vassi Grachyov, he was now aware as well that the other guy happened to be a famous celebrity.

It didn’t matter to him one bit, though.

Maximilian knew he had just as much to offer on the table, and considering what an ass this guy had been to Seri, he was probably more capable of caring for her, too.

“Maximilian Rockford, correct?” Vassi’s tone was polite. “Your visit to my sister’s appreciated, but I’m afraid she’s already gone to sleep.”

That was probably true, he thought grimly, but the air of possessiveness around Vassi also told him in plain words that Seri wasn’t sleeping just because she was sick.

No, something had happened between them, and Maximilian shook his head in disgust. “Really, Grachyov? Even in her condition?”

Vassi stiffened. He had no trouble at all deciphering what Maximilian was insinuating. Rockford knew about him and Seri, and there was only one way that could have happened.

She had told the other man about it, he realized.

Seri had betrayed him.

The knowledge devastated Vassi. It didn’t make any sense, it wasn’t like the Seri he had known and cared for his entire life. But the truth was inescapable, staring back at him in the form of a six-foot-tall scientist who was already more than halfway in love with his sister.

“Since it seems you know everything, I suppose there’s no point pretending.” Vassi had schooled his face into an expressionless mask as he spoke, not wanting to let Rockford know how much his revelation had affected Vassi. “Seri,” he drawled with an offhanded shrug, “was the one who said it’s what she needs. And I always give her what she wants.” His tone was deceptively casual, but the smirk on Vassi’s lips made it clear exactly what he was talking about.

Bastard, Maximilian thought. Vassi’s arrogance pissed him off, but not as much as the way the other man continued to seemingly take Seri’s feelings for granted.

Without missing a beat, he asked, “Do you know why Seri wanted to keep her illness a secret from you?”

Vassi mockingly gestured for him to continue. “Enlighten me, please.”

“It was because she was afraid you’d stop her from seeing me.” It was a calculated risk, but Maximilian had always been good at calculating odds, and when he saw Grachyov’s face harden, he knew his bluff had been successful. “So you see, you’re not all that she wants.”

Goddamn son of a bitch.

The thought that Seri wanted to secretly meet with this man had Vassi feeling murderous, but he managed to rein his temper in. Ever since the huge fight he and his brothers had gotten into the previous Christmas, he had vowed to himself he wouldn’t let anything similar happen.

“Thank you for the information,” Vassi said politely. “Shall I congratulate you on turning my sister’s head around with your pretty looks?” He paused. “You do know that’s all there is to it, don’t you? And that at the end of the day, if she had to make a choice, she’d choose us – her family – over you.” His lip curled. “And just for the record, I don’t think you’re good enough for Seri.”

Maximilian laughed humorlessly. “And you are, the way you’ve been treating her like a dirty little secret—-”

“Don’t talk about her like that,” Vassi snapped.

“That’s rich,” Maximilian snarled, “considering you’ve acted worse towards her, and you know it.” He knew, by the way Vassi’s eyes flashed, he had scored another point, but it left him feeling hollow because he also knew he was digging a deeper grave for Seri.

“You seem to know everything about us,” Vassi said tightly.

Fuck. Maximilian knew then that if he had the chance to take his words back, he would have. Scoring points like a goddamn kid was useless if it meant having Seri bear the brunt of Vassi’s anger.

“I found out about it accidentally,” he muttered. “So don’t be mad at her.”

“And you expect me to believe you, of course,” Vassi drawled.

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