Fractured Souls: Chapter 24

Asya

I’m taking the bowls out of the cupboard when a kiss lands on the back of my neck.

“I have something for you,” Pasha says.

I turn around and stare in confusion at the boxes he’s holding in his arms. “New cereal flavors?”

“Yeah.” He smiles, but it seems guarded, and places the boxes on the counter. There are five in total.

“Um . . . okay.” I snort. “Do you want to pick?”

“No. I want you to choose.” He makes sure the boxes are in a perfect line and looks down at me. “Which one?”

I laugh and look at the cereal packages. I rarely have problems with making decisions now, but he still makes sure we practice from time to time. The way Pasha continues to help me is amazing. He even convinced me to meet with the psychiatrist Doc had recommended, and she, too, has been really great. Our sessions are difficult, but I appreciate her care and support.

Reaching out, I grab the box with dried strawberries.

“Does this work for you?” I raise an eyebrow.

“Yes.” He leans over and brushes a kiss across my lips. “Now, open it.”

Shaking my head, I start opening the box, wondering why he’s making such a fuss out of the cereal. I tear the top and stick my hand in to pull out the bag when my fingers touch something hard and velvety. My heart is beating triple-time as I take out a small red box.

“Pasha?” I choke out, staring at the jewelry box. “What is this?”

“I don’t know. Let’s see” He takes the box from my hand and opens it.

I gape at him as he takes out a gold ring. A radiant-cut yellow diamond shines under the overhead lights. My hand shakes slightly as he lifts it to place a kiss at the tips of my fingers.

“Will you marry me, mishka?”

“Yes,” I whisper.

Pasha smiles and slides the ring onto my finger. I sniff and jump into his arms, burying my face in the crook of his neck.

“What would you have done if I picked the wrong box?” I ask.

“You could never pick wrong, baby.”

“I could have taken the crunchy cereal.”

His palm strokes my back as he laughs. “You hate crunchy cereal.”

“Yes, but what if I decided to give it another try?”

He just shrugs.

I lean away and stare at him as realization forms in my brain. “You didn’t.”

“What?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Put me down.”

“Why?”

“I need to check something.”

As my feet touch the ground, I turn toward the counter where the other four cereal boxes are lined up. I take the first one, the one with honey, and open it. A red velvet box sits on top of the cereal bag. When I open it, I find a ring identical to the one on my finger nested on the white silk cushion. I leave the jewelry box on the island and grab the next cereal box. And the next.

The box of crunchy cereal I leave for last. I never would have picked the crunchy one, Pasha knows that very well, but when I open it, the jewelry box is in that one, as well. I put it on the counter next to the other four. He had hidden a ring in each one.

I feel arms wrapping around my waist as Pasha leans on me from behind, but I don’t turn. I can’t take my eyes off the four extra jewelry boxes holding identical rings.

“Why?” I whisper.

His hold around my middle tightens. “Because I needed you to understand.”

“What, Pasha?”

“That as far as I’m concerned, you can’t make a wrong decision, baby.” A kiss lands at the top of my head. “Even if it’s just picking the cereal flavor.”

 

* * *

 

One month later

 

“What if I freak out?” I ask, my voice sounding strangled.

Sienna looks up from the shoe she’s helping me tie up. “You won’t freak out, Asya.”

“Yes, I know . . .” I lift my hand and bite my nail. “But what if I do? There are like . . . two hundred people out there.”

Sienna straightens, pulls my hand away from my mouth, and grabs my shoulders. “You won’t freak out. You’ll go out there, stand beside the man you love and who’s crazy about you, and you’ll have the best day of your life.”

“I know, but . . .”

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” she says. “When you and Pasha decide to have kids, how about you let me pick out their names? Auntie will make sure they are super special.”

I stare at my sister in horror. There’s no way I would ever let her pick the names for my children. I’d be risking them being named after chocolate bars or some other candy if I do. Or worse.

Sienna looks up at me and grins. “Relax.” She giggles. “I’m just kidding. But admit it, going out there in front of all of those people sounds less terrifying now.”

I snort. “It certainly does.”

“Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry.”

I straighten my dress for the umpteenth time, “Maybe I should have picked a white dress. What if people—”

“It’s your wedding day. You can wear whatever the fuck you want, Asya.” She looks down at my bright yellow lacy dress and grins. “I love it! You look like you walked out of a fairytale.”

“You think Pasha will like it?”

Sienna grabs my face between her palms and leans in closer. “That man is so ridiculously in love with you, you could walk in there wearing a kitchen rag and he would eat you up with his eyes.”

I laugh. “I can’t believe I’m getting married.”

“Me either, sweetie.” She sniffs. “Come on. Arturo is waiting. And I’m ruining my makeup.”

Sienna squeezes my hand tightly as we leave the room and hurry down the hotel hallway toward the big wooden door at the end, where Arturo is waiting. Leaving me with our brother, Sienna slips inside the wedding hall, pulling the door shut after her. A few moments later, the first tones of a melody reach my ears.

It’s not the wedding march.

“Ready?” Arturo asks.

I nod, trying to keep my breathing under control.

The music gets louder as the door before us slowly open. It’s “Moonlight Sonata.” We step into the hall.

Pasha is standing at the end of the aisle, his eyes glued to mine, following our every step. As Arturo leads me forward, a thought crosses my mind that something is out of order. Considering I’m a bundle of nerves, it’s not surprising that the realization hits only when we almost reach our destination.

I blink in confusion. Pasha is dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt. He knows it doesn’t bother me when he wears a suit, so why did he come in jeans? I turn my head to my brother, roving my eyes over his jeans and a Henley shirt until I reach his face.

“Your Russian arranged the dress code for the wedding,” he says as he keeps walking.

I take a deep breath and glance at the guests sitting on our left. My heart flutters in my chest. I look over to the right side, as well. It’s the same. Every single man is wearing jeans and either a long-sleeved or short-sleeved T-shirt. Even our don, who’s sitting in the front row with his wife. I’ve never in my life seen Salvatore Ajello in a T-shirt. In fact, I don’t think anyone has. Except maybe his wife.

I shift my eyes back to Pasha and see him smiling, and I can’t keep the tears at bay anymore. So, I let them roll down my cheeks and smile widely as my brother hands me off to my future husband.

Pasha lifts my hand to his mouth and places a kiss on my fingers. “Everything okay, mishka?”

“Yes,” I say, “everything is perfect, Pashenka.”

 

* * *

 

We’re going through the buffet line when Arturo’s phone rings. I turn to the side and pass the serving spoon to the older man standing next to me when I note the tension in Arturo’s voice.

“How come they didn’t find anything? It’s been months.”

He listens to the person on the other end of the line for a few moments, then squeezes his temples. “All right.”

“What happened?” I ask.

“They still don’t have a clue why Rocco’s house burned down the way it did, but the report will show a suspected gas leak. No remains were found because everything was scorched to ashes, and the building crumbled in on itself. Based on the security footage before the signal cut out, Rocco, Ravenna, and Alessandro were inside. Without any more evidence, they’re closing the investigation and pronouncing the three of them dead.” He puts the phone in his pocket and looks over his shoulder. “I need to tell the boss.”

I’m staring at Arturo’s retreating form when I hear subdued snickering at my side. I look over at the gray-haired guy next to me. He’s piling meat on his plate while a wide smile spreads across his face. What the hell is wrong with him? Three people died, and he finds it funny?

“Jesus fuck, Albert! Are you done?” The big, blond guy standing on the other side nudges him with his elbow. I think his name is Sergei. “Move already, there are other people here who want to eat. And why are you snickering like a damn hyena?”

“No reason.” The old guy shakes his head and leaves, quietly singing something. It sounds like . . . “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga.

 

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