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Broken Whispers: Chapter 7

Mikhail

The two guys sitting in the coffee shop have been ogling Bianca for almost a minute. I squeeze my hand into a fist and take a deep breath. If we make it through this shopping trip without me killing someone, I will be pleasantly surprised.

Lena has been pestering me about the ballet shoes for days, and I finally caved in and took her to the mall. I asked Bianca to come because I had no idea where to buy ballet shoes, and because I wanted to spend more time with her.

Bad decision.

Bianca is an exceptionally beautiful woman, so this is somewhat expected. Having a man throw a look at her occasionally, I could stomach. Maybe. What I wasn’t expecting was that every single man in the mall would stare at her, or how furious each of those stares would make me.

I turn my head to the right and observe my wife, who is currently crouching in front of a shop window, pointing out sundresses to Lena. Bianca is wearing skinny jeans and a white sleeveless shirt that is tied around her neck. The white heels she has on definitely make her legs look amazing, but still, it’s nothing provocative. I try to imagine how the men here would act if she had worn a miniskirt, and almost snap. Not going there.

She left her hair loose and, with her crouching like that, the tips of her pale blonde tresses almost reach the ground. Lena says something and points to the dress on the right. Bianca tilts her head and all that hair slides from her back to the side, and a few locks end up touching the floor tiles. I bend and gather her hair with my left hand, lifting it off the floor. Bianca looks up at me, and then to my hand holding the silky strands. She smiles a little and goes back to pointing out dresses to Lena.

“The red one! Daddy, can we buy the red one?”

I look at my daughter and sigh. “You have more than twenty dresses, Lenochka.”

“Please! Just this one, please Daddy. Bianca likes it. Bianca, do you like it?”

Bianca laughs in that silent way of hers and nods, looking at me over her shoulder. Women. Never enough clothes. “Okay, but just this one.”

I follow behind them as we enter the shop and navigate between the racks. Along the way, Bianca takes out what seems like every dress available in Lena’s size. She drops the heap of at least ten dresses on a stool, places Lena in front of a mirror next to it, and holds up the first dress in front of her. It’s the red one Lena liked, and my daughter squeals in delight. Bianca looks over at me and I nod. She takes the next dress, a dark green one with black details, and places the hanger under Lena’s chin. They make eye contact in the mirror, and Bianca looks at her with a comically disgusted face. Lena laughs and copies Bianca’s expression.

They continue the ordeal with each dress, having a great time, and I enjoy watching them. After they are done, Bianca turns to me and holds up not one, but four dresses, looking at me with sad puppy dog eyes. Of course, we end up buying all four.

When we exit the shop, Lena runs toward the big fish tank in the window of a store across the way. Bianca and I hang a few steps back. Suddenly, I notice a man heading in our direction—early twenties, business suit, seems like he’s in a hurry—but the moment he sees Bianca, his stride slows. His eyebrows raise slightly as he checks her out.

The neural pathways in my brain must have snapped and rearranged themselves, because in that instant, I decide I’m done. My issues with skin contact can go fuck themselves. I grab Bianca’s hand, pull her to my side, and wrap my arm around her. Not close enough. She’s not close enough. I tighten my arm around her and stand with her back plastered to my front. The pressure in my chest eases. That will do. I don’t need a shrink to interpret my actions. When a man has already lost all he held dear, it’s normal for him to become slightly unhinged and scared that it may happen again.

The fancy guy looks up, his eyes widening upon seeing my murderous look. Yes, motherfucker. She’s mine. He gulps, turns to the right, and enters the nearest shop. Much better. I look down at Bianca to find her watching me with surprise, and I wonder if I should explain my erratic behavior. Then, a corner of her lips pulls up slightly, and as if nothing strange has happened, she resumes watching Lena follow a fish with her finger.

 

Bianca

 

I don’t know what happened, but something had gotten into Mikhail. Since the moment we met, he has been extremely distant, avoiding almost any kind of physical connection. Other than a few light touches and helping me into his car, he rarely has initiated contact. I even started wondering if something was wrong. Maybe he’s decided to compensate for the past several days, because he hasn’t let go of my hand for the last two hours. We went to a store to buy Lena’s ballet slippers and checked out a few more shops along the way. At one point, Lena complained she was tired, so Mikhail scooped her up. He never let go of my hand as he carried her on his left hip, and my ovaries almost exploded as I stole glances of him holding Lena so naturally on his side.

“Do we need anything else?” he asks when we exit the bookstore we visited to buy a children’s book for Lena.

He turns his head and looks at me, and for a moment, I wonder why. Then, I realize I’m on his blind side and he probably can’t see my answer otherwise. I shake my head.

“Good. I’ll call Sisi to come watch Lena this evening. I’m taking you to dinner. Is that okay?”

I smile and nod. Yes, it’s more than okay.

 

***

 

Is it too much?

I turn on the side and inspect myself in the mirror. The dress is long, with a slit on the side, and a modest neckline. It is, however, red. Maybe I should change.

Mikhail’s voice comes from the other side of the door. “Are you ready?”

Looks like it’s going to be the red dress after all.

I open the door to find Mikhail standing there. Based on the way he’s staring at me, he likes what he sees, and that sends a small thrill rushing through me. I turn to grab the coat I left on the bed, but Mikhail takes it from my hands and holds it out for me. Always a gentleman, this dark husband of mine. I reach to sweep my locks out from under the coat but he beats me to it, sliding his hands under my hair at the base of my neck and carefully lifting it out.

“You take my breath away,” he whispers in my ear.

Chills run down my spine as he takes my hand and leads me out of the apartment.

We arrive at the restaurant and while we follow the maître d’ to the table in the corner, people are staring at us. They are trying to be discreet, but they focus on Mikhail’s eyepatch and scars, then lower their gazes to our joined hands, surprise clearly written on their faces. It seems like Mikhail doesn’t notice, or maybe he’s just pretending he doesn’t. I hate it for Mikhail’s sake, and pretend I don’t notice their cold stares or hushed whispers.

When we are seated, I take the menu to check out what they have, but everything is in French. I could pick something randomly, but I would risk getting snails or something similarly disgusting. Instead, I put it down, move my chair next to Mikhail’s, and look down at the menu he’s holding. It’s in French as well, but I assume he can read it since he brought us here.

Mikhail looks down at me, puts his arm at the back of my chair, and starts listing the dishes for me. I’m not particularly picky, so I take out my phone and quickly type.

You choose, just no snails or anything nasty like that.

I then leave the phone on the table in front of him.

While we wait for the food, the waiter brings us wine, placing the glasses on the right side of our plates. When he leaves, Mikhail takes his glass and moves it to the left.

I reach for my glass, brush the underside of his forearm lightly, and look up.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Almost healed.”

I type on the phone again.

I never asked what happened.

I show him the screen and point to his forearm.

“We tracked the shooter to an Albanian gang and went to catch the leader in order to question him. He resisted.”

Did you find out anything?

“No, but we will. It’s just a matter of time.”

I wonder what he will do to those who ordered the shooting, and what exactly Mikhail’s job is in the Bratva, but then again, I’m not sure I really want to know.

The waiter brings our food soon after. I have no idea what I’m eating. It tastes like pork in mushroom sauce and it’s mouth-watering. Mikhail’s dish looks like pork as well, cut in small slices and with heavy seasoning over it. It smells amazing, so I lean closer, prick one piece of meat with my fork, and stuff it into my mouth.

“You like it?” There is a barely visible smile on his lips, as if he’s amused with me stealing his food.

He should smile more. I stab a piece of meat from my plate and lift the fork toward him, wondering what he’ll do. Mikhail looks at the fork, then to me and leans forward, taking the offering.

“Absolute perfection,” he says while looking right at me, and I think he is not talking about food.

For a moment, I wonder if he is going to kiss me. The way he is looking at my lips makes my body hum with excitement, but then he looks the other way. Am I doing something wrong? I know he is attracted to me. I see how he looks at me when he thinks I’m not watching—like he wants to burn the clothes from my body with his eyes.

What the hell is going on in that head of yours, Mikhail?


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