Vassi whitened. “What the hell are you talking about?” But this time, she felt it, his fingers loosening its hold, and she knew then that she had succeeded.
Because that was how love was.
It made fools out of them, and only when it was too late did she realize that Vassi loved her, too.
He loved her, and she loved him.
So, so much that she would rather leave than see him forced out of their family.
She pouted up at him. “Don’t look at me like that. I made sure you enjoyed the show—-”
“Stop it,” Vassi snarled.
“Aww…why so serious? I’m just telling the truth.” She turned her back on him and faced Fyodor. “You see, Papa, ever since I learned that you would never be able to adopt me, I realized then how easily the life I’ve gotten used to could be taken away from me. I got scared, and so I got smart.”
“I thought that if I can’t be your daughter…” Seri inclined her head towards Vassi, murmuring, “Then the next best thing is to be your daughter-in-law.” She released a sigh. “But Vassi was impossible to seduce.”
She walked towards Fyodor. “How about you, Papa?” Her skin started to crawl at what she was about to do, her stomach turning over, but she forced herself to finish what she had started.
Reaching up to trace his lips, she whispered coyly, “How about making me Wife #3?”
Fyodor shoved her away, hard enough to cause her to fall to the floor.
“Get out!” He was shouting, his face white with rage. “Get the hell out of here and never come back!”
The revulsion in Fyodor’s face tore her apart, but she forced herself to pout as she pushed herself up and got back to her feet. “It was just a suggestion, you know.” She shrugged. “But if it’s not to your liking, it’s okay. I’ve got Plan B covered.”
She blew the two men a kiss. “Mata ne.”
Chin up, back straight, she walked out of the library, her hips gently swaying with each step.
Vassi caught her just as she made it out of the front door, cupping her elbow as he spun her around to face him. “What the hell were you saying in there?” Vassi asked sickly.
She sighed. “It’s the truth.”
He shook his head. “I know you, Seri—-”
“Do you?” she asked him levelly. “Do you really? Then if you do, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that I’m heading to Maximilian Rockford because he’s my Plan B.” She paused. “And I guess I should take this opportunity to thank you.” She patted his cheek, murmuring, “Thanks for the initiation into sex. I’m more confident now about pleasing Max—-”
He recoiled from her, and her hand fell to her side.
He was gazing at her with distaste now, and it hurt.
It hurt, but it was the right thing to do.
“No goodbye kiss?” she asked mockingly.
Seri expected him to refuse, but instead he fisted her hair, drawing her close, and when his mouth lowered to hers, she stiffened, expecting it to be a punishingly hard kiss.
But it wasn’t.
It wasn’t even a kiss, no tongue even.
It was just his lips brushing against hers—-
And his beautiful dark voice wrapping around her heart as Vassi whispered dully, “I actually thought I loved you.”
She froze, stricken, and before she could think of what to say, Vassi had already released her, turning around to walk away, and not once did he look back.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stared at his retreating form.
He was so, so unfair.
She could have continued to be strong, damn him, if he hadn’t—-
If he hadn’t said he loved her.
Seri turned around clumsily and walked towards the gates, uncaring that she was still in her robe. Security was nice enough to call a cab for her, their curious, puzzled gazes averted as they waited with Seri for her ride.
When her cab arrived, she told the driver to take her to Akari Studio.
She stared sightlessly at the window.
Fyodor appeared in her mind, a sick look of revulsion on his face.
Get out! Get the hell out!
Vassi kissing her, so gently, like she hadn’t just broken his heart with all the things she had said.
I actually thought I loved you.
She slowly covered her face with trembling hands and wept.
What used to be beautiful could be made sordid—-
What used to be the truth could be turned into lies—-
Because love could make the world upside down.
Two months later
Los Angeles, California
Layla snipped the article from the rest of the page with meticulous care before taping it to the wall, joining the rest of the newspaper and magazine clippings that made up her visual chart on her obsession.
The last word made Layla’s lips curve, and her fond gaze rested once more on her handiwork. Patience was a virtue, and that she had been, for years. Even though she had yearned for him since she was fourteen, she had known even then that it wasn’t yet the right time for them.