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Fractured Souls: Chapter 8

Pavel

 “Ready?” I ask.

Asya is standing in the middle of the bedroom with her arms wrapped around her midsection. “No.”

“We need to get you some clothes. Nothing I bought fits.” I nod toward the shirt she’s wearing which is at least two sizes too big. The legs of the blue jeans she’s got on are rolled up, as well. How did I fuck this up so much? When I was buying the clothes, they seemed small to me. Asya might only stay with me for a short time, but I won’t let her go around pulling the sleeves of her shirts nonstop. I want her to feel comfortable. “The store is close by and we’ll be the only ones there.”

Asya looks down at the floor, biting her lower lip.

“Asya. Look at me, baby,” I say, and she reluctantly lifts her head. “I won’t let go of your hand, no matter what. You will be safe.”

“You said ‘safe,’” she mumbles. “You didn’t say ‘it’s going to be okay.’ Why?”

“Because it probably won’t be okay. You may get scared because it’s the first time you’re going out in public after almost three weeks. You may even freak out.” I squeeze her hand. “But you will be safe the whole time. Do you understand what I’m saying, mishka?”

Asya’s eyes find mine and, for a moment, I’m taken aback by the trust I see in their depths. Roman trusted me with his clubs when he assigned me to manage them. But no one has trusted their life to me before. Feeling safe is one of the most basic human needs, and she just placed her faith in me.

“Do you want to take the car or walk there?” I ask. “It’s just two blocks away.”

She just watches me, her lips pressed tight. Looks like she’s still having trouble making decisions herself, but she is getting better. This morning she opened the fridge and took out the milk to make cereal for breakfast, she probably did it without thinking about it. Before today, she would just open the fridge and stare inside until I came and picked up the milk for her. I would never admit it, because it’s absolutely selfish, but I secretly enjoy it.

I have never needed anyone, or better said, I’ve never let myself need anyone. And no one has ever needed me. That concept was completely foreign to me until now. The idea of Asya needing me feeds a yearning that I couldn’t name before.

We’re still sharing my bed. For the first couple of nights, I thought about using one of the other bedrooms, but I’d see the fear in her eyes when I tried to leave and go back to lie next to her instead. At some point, I stopped trying. I love how she snuggles into me when she awakes from a nightmare, as if being close to me is enough to chase away the monsters.

“We’ll head out on foot, then,” I say and leave the room with her following, her hand tightly clasped in mine.

 

* * *

 

We are the only customers in the small boutique I picked. I called the owner earlier and instructed him to make sure no one else is let inside until we’re done. I also requested to have the store cleared of all personnel except the one attendant at the cash register, who was also told not to leave her spot.

Asya comes to a stop in the middle of the store and looks around, her eyes skimming along the long racks of clothes and the shelves of shoes. She takes everything in, inhaling a deep breath, and squeezes my hand.

“Let’s start with underwear,” I say and lead her to the far corner of the store.

Asya peruses the things on display but doesn’t make a move to pick anything up. Her eyes wander over the underwear, lingering on some items for a few seconds longer than others. It’s usually the bright colors that draw her attention. She passes over the white pieces as if they’re not even there.

I pay attention to her gaze as she looks at the displayed undergarments, noting every article her eyes land on for a split-second longer than the rest. After she’s done with the displays, I pick up the smallest size of every item that caught her attention.

“All good?” I look down at her and find her watching me. Her eyes are brimming with unshed tears. I brush her cheek with the back of my hand, then nod toward the rack on my left. “Let’s do shirts next.”

We repeat the ordeal in every section of the store, and since my hands end up filled with clothes, Asya switches to holding the sleeve of my jacket. When we reach the changing room, I enter the stall and place the heap of clothes, along with the yellow coat she ogled for almost a minute and two pairs of shoes, onto the bench by the mirror.

“You can let go of my jacket and try on everything,” I say.

She nods but doesn’t let it go.

I reach for the first shirt on the pile and offer it to her. “You’re safe, mishka. No one can hurt you while I’m here.”

The corners of Asya’s lips lift a little, and she slowly releases her hold.

It takes her more than half an hour to try on everything, and only a few items end up being too big. I collect the clothes that fit under one arm and, taking her hand in mine, we leave the changing room. As I’m paying at the cash register, the chime of the bells over the door rings out behind us. I turn around just in time to see an older man in a gray suit coming inside the store.

“Mr. Morozov!” he smiles, walking toward us. “I hope your shopping experience went as requested?”

Asya stiffens, her hand squeezing mine in a mad grip. I look down at her to find her staring at the boutique manager with horror in her eyes.

“Come, baby,” I say, sliding my arm around her middle. She jumps up and tightly wraps her arms and legs in a familiar pose.

“Was everything to your liking?” the idiot keeps rambling as he approaches us. “I specifically—”

I grab the store manager by the collar of his dress shirt with my free hand while supporting Asya with the other. I jerk him around and slam him against the concrete pillar next to the cash register.

“What the fuck did I tell you?” I bark into his face.

“I . . . I . . . please!”

“I said only one person, a female, is allowed in here until we leave.” I shove him into the pillar again, then one more time for good measure. “Are you a fucking female?”

“No . . . please . . .”

“No. You are not!” I snap.

Fingers are in my hair, passing through the strands. Once. Twice. I turn my head to the side slightly and my cheek presses to Asya’s.

“He meant no harm,” she whispers next to my ear.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I say. “Do you know that quote?”

“Yes.” Another stroke through my hair. “It’s both true and idiotic. Let the man go.”

“No one scares you and gets away without punishment.” I release my hold on the store manager’s shirt and backhand him before turning to the counter to collect our bags.

I leave the store with Asya in my arms and carry her the two blocks to my building. A few people we pass throw dumbfounded looks in our direction, but they quickly look away when they see the angry scowl on my face. Most of Asya’s tension eased shortly after we left the boutique, but she keeps her face snuggled in the crook of my neck, her arms and legs clutching to me with all her strength. Stupid motherfucker, I should have just snapped his neck for scaring her. I’m still so fucking livid, I have to resist the urge to turn around and do that exact thing.

When we reach my building, I don’t even nod to the security guy in the lobby, just head right into the elevator and hit the button for the third floor with my elbow. As soon as we’re inside my place, I let the bags fall to the floor and walk to the living room. Asya is still plastered to my body as I sit down on the sofa.

“You can let go, mishka,” I say and stroke my palm down her hair.

She just shakes her head and presses her face more into my neck. A soft sigh escapes her, and then I feel something wet on my skin.

“Please don’t be sad, baby.”

Asya takes a deep breath and leans away, looking at me. Tears are falling down her cheeks, and her eyes are red and puffy. But she doesn’t look sad. She looks mad as hell.

“I’m so sick of this,” she says through her teeth and grabs at the front of my jacket. “So. Fucking. Sick.”

“I know.”

Her hands let go of my jacket and she takes my face between her palms, staring into my eyes. “I want to go to the mall.”

Our gazes are locked. It feels like I could drown in the dark depths of her eyes, it makes it hard to think straight. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Asya.”

“I can’t live like this. Panicking because of the most basic things. Hiding here, in your place.” Her hands move to the back of my head, threading the strands between her fingers. “I want my life back. I want myself back.”

Her last sentence is barely audible. I lift my hand and brush the tears from her cheeks with my thumb. “Okay.”

Asya nods and her eyes fall to my lips. Her hands are still raking my hair. As I watch, she takes a deep breath and leans forward. She’s going to kiss me. God, I’ve been thinking about kissing her for days, hating myself for having the idea festering in my mind. She is too young, and she’s been terribly hurt. Letting her kiss me would be no better than making a move on a traumatized girl.

“Asya,” I whisper. “Please don’t, baby.”

 

Asya

 

My body goes rigid upon hearing Pasha’s words. I look up to find his eyes regarding me with concern. Just a couple of inches are separating my mouth from his. If I’m quick, I might be able to steal one quick kiss, even if he doesn’t want it.

But as fast as that thought enters my mind, another follows. No, I know what’s it like to have something taken from you against your will. I can’t do it to him.

“Why not?” I ask. “You don’t want spoiled goods, is that the issue?”

Pasha’s eyes widen and the next instant his hand shoots up, grabbing my chin. “Don’t you ever say that again,” he says through his teeth. “Ever.”

“Then why, Pasha? Is it bad that I want to kiss you?” I lean into his hand, intending to close the distance between us, but he doesn’t allow me to.

He doesn’t say anything, just stares at me, his nostrils flaring. I wonder if he’s aware that while he’s holding me away from him with his left hand, his right is still stroking my cheek. I sigh and straighten, letting go of his hair.

The phone in his pocket rings. He reaches for it and presses it to his ear, listening to what the person on the other side is saying. I can hear the faint voice from the other end. It’s male and sounds agitated, but I can’t understand what is being said because he’s speaking Russian.

“I’ll come over,” Pasha replies in English, then lowers the phone.

“You need to go to work?”

“Yes. I’m in charge of the Bratva’s club business. I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” he says. “Will you be okay?”

I don’t want him to go, but I nod anyway.

“I’ve ordered some groceries; they will leave them at the front door. If you’re tired of cooking, I’ll order something for you from the restaurant across the street.” He brushes the side of my chin with the tip of his finger. “But if you want to make something for dinner and can’t decide what, there is a laptop on the nightstand in the bedroom. Google quick dishes and pick the first one you know how to make. Okay?”

I nod again. He doesn’t release my chin. Instead, his fingers move along my jaw to the back of my neck where he buries them in my hair.

“I emptied the dresser in the bedroom, you can put your new clothes there.”

So, he noticed that I freaked out when I saw the suits in his closet. “Do you really need to leave?”

“I won’t be long.” He looks over at the clock on the wall. “I need to go over some paperwork with Kostya before the club opens at ten. I’ll be back by ten thirty.”

“Can you take the clock down?”

Pasha looks down at me, and I can see the question in his eyes.

“I’m nearsighted,” I say.

His hand on my nape moves back to my chin and tilts my head up. “Why haven’t you told me?”

I shrug.

“Do you wear glasses or contacts?”

“Glasses. Contacts irritate my eyes.”

His other hand cups my face and he glides his palm up, brushing his thumbs along my eyebrows and then over the sensitive skin under my eyes. “We’ll get you glasses tomorrow when we go to the mall.”

He lets go of my face and removes his wristwatch. “Would this work?” he asks.

I stare at the expensive gold watch he placed in my hand. It’s still warm from touching his skin. “Yeah,” I choke out.

“Okay.” He nods. “Take a shower. You have three pairs of pajamas—they’re all the same so you don’t have to choose. Put away your new clothes. Eat. Wait for me. In bed, not on the floor in front of the door.”

I get down off his lap and watch him leave, then head into the bathroom to have a shower.

 

* * *

 

I grip the wristwatch in my hand. Half past eleven. I’ve been sitting in bed for two and a half hours, staring at this thing, and with each passing minute, the panic in the pit of my stomach intensifies.

I did everything Pasha told me to do within the hour, including preparing risotto with chicken. It was the first dish that showed up in my Google search. Making food was usually my task at home. I quite enjoy cooking, so I can prepare almost anything except seafood. The slippery feel of it in my hands always made me cringe, so Arturo was in charge of that. My brother is an amazing cook, and he’s the one who taught me everything. He tried to coax Sienna into learning, too, but my sister burned everything. My guess is she couldn’t cook and simultaneously post dozens of photos on social media.

I look down at the watch again. Twenty to midnight. Where is he?

 


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