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God of Fury – Chapter 32

LEVI

He can’t possibly be worse than Killian.

Anyone is better than Killian.

It was an exaggeration on Bran’s part to emotionally prepare me.

Again, no one can be worse than Killian.

Those were the thoughts I had before I went to bed last night, and I woke up today in a proper fantastic mood.

Until now.

Or, more accurately, since I walked into the kitchen and saw the motherfucking gangster who’s built like a fucking wall, standing beside my son.

I knew it was the little fucker Nikolai before Bran even introduced him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out when Bran’s lips were all swollen and the bastard’s long hair was finger-raked.

Dear fucking God, I know you’re out there somewhere and I beg you, take this arsehole and give my son a normal lover. Just once, I want fucking normal.

First I get a psycho son. Okay, fine. Love that. Best challenge of my life and pretty sure I passed it. I didn’t need to have my daughter with a psycho boyfriend.

And now, it’s the psycho’s psycho fucking cousin.

What the fuck have I done to deserve that? Was I a mass murderer in a past life or something?

“Levi!” My wife pulls on my shirt’s sleeve from her position on the table beside me. “You’re staring.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was supposed to be fucking glaring,” I say loud enough for everyone to hear.

We’re sitting around the dining table for breakfast. We had to order takeout from the local bakery because I’m not in the right headspace to cook anything.

And it’s all because of the fucking wanker on my left, right beside my son. I narrow my eyes at the full sleeves of tattoos decorating both his arms. Motherfucking gangster. A delinquent bastard who’s in no way fit to be with my well-mannered, completely selfless son.

My son who’s hidden himself so as not to bother us—his own parents. His closest flesh and blood.

Why would he end up with Killian’s more unruly cousin? At least that waste of space is presentable. This one looks like he was chewed up in a tattoo gun, broke the fucking thing, and got spit right out.

Don’t get me wrong. I have tattoos and so does Lan, but we’re not covered in them like damn mafiosos.

Astrid clears her throat and smiles at Nikolai, who had the decency to put his fork and knife down when I spoke.

Even with his hair tied back, he still gives a major creeper vibe.

Just what the fuck does Bran see in him? He looks like one of those violent wankers. Aka me when I was young. I know an adrenaline junkie when I see one.

“So how old are you, Nikolai?” my wife asks in a soft tone. “You look about Bran’s age.”

Bran swallows the mouthful of toast and grimaces. “He’s actually four years younger.”

“Shut the fridge.” She gasps. “He doesn’t look a day younger.”

“Thanks, ma’am. That’s what I’ve been saying.” He slides his fork and knife on either side of his plate again. “Also, it’s only three and a half years. I’m going to be twenty in a couple of weeks.”

“Don’t ma’am me. Just call me Astrid. Make yourself comfortable and treat this like your home.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that.” I cut my toast with scrambled eggs and glare at him.

To give him credit, he doesn’t hold my gaze or glare back like his fucker cousin.

He lowers his head and says, “Once again, I’m sorry for showing up without previous notice. I thought I’d see Bran and leave.”

“Aw, such good manners.” My wife smiles. “And don’t worry, you’re welcome here any time.”

“I wouldn’t use the word welcome.”

“Dad,” Bran mouths pleadingly and I resist the urge to roll my eyes.

There he goes defending the little fucker. I’m losing my children one by one to a bunch of wankers.

“So where did you guys meet?” my wife asks, battling against my every attempt to scare him away. Hopefully, he’ll act up and Bran will realize Nikolai is not for him.

Let’s cross all fingers for that very happy ending.

“It was at a…” Bran trails off. “Party.”

Nikolai smirks. “Yes. A party. I was all over him in no time.”

“You were what?” I snap.

“I mean.” His smirk disappears. “I was the one who noticed him first.”

“And you couldn’t keep your attention to yourself?”

“Levi.” Astrid pinches my thigh beneath the table.

“I’m afraid not, sir,” he answers with a straight face. “It was my destiny to meet your son and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

There it is. The same arrogance that courses through Killian’s veins instead of blood.

Bran ducks his head and smiles as he spreads an unhealthy amount of apricot jam on some toast.

My heart kind of fucking bursts.

I haven’t seen my son smile so broadly since…well, his pre-teenage years. Puberty changed him into this overly responsible, slightly depressed man. Where Lan grew into his obnoxious, too outward self, Bran turned inward.

Last night, when he told us it was because he didn’t want to come off as abnormal, it made me feel like a shitty father. I often tried to make him feel as special as his brother, but that didn’t matter if he himself didn’t believe in that fact.

“That’s so sweet.” My wife, who seems already taken by the little shit Nikolai, smiles and passes him a plate of eggs Benedict.

“He prefers a sweet breakfast, Mum.” Bran slides the jam sandwich that I thought he was making for himself in front of Nikolai and even gives him a whole plate of macarons.

“He doesn’t look the part,” she says.

“Don’t be fooled by the muscles. He has the most tragic sweet tooth I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness.”

“Guilty as charged,” Nikolai says after he finishes the toast in two bites like a barbarian. “Honestly, I work out so I can consume as many pastries as possible.”

“One day, you’ll go into a sugar coma,” Bran says with a sigh, as if he’s mentioned this countless times before.

“Worth it.”

“That’s the spirit.” Astrid raises her glass of orange juice in his direction and he clinks his against it.

“So what do you study in uni, Nikolai?” Astrid asks.

“Business management. I’m supposed to be taking over the family business that my parents have been leading for decades.”

“Oh, how exciting. You and Bran share something in common.”

“Really?” he asks, too eager. “What?”

“Heirs to a family business. Though Bran clearly expressed that he’ll have nothing to do with the management side.”

“Eli, Lan, and Creigh will do that just fine. I prefer art.”

“That’s my boy.” She reaches across the table and pats his hand.

“I find it hard to believe you do well at school,” I comment dryly.

“I actually have a GPA of 4.15, sir. I might not look like it, but I have an awesome memory. Though your other son likes to call me stupid.”

I smile to myself, proud of Lan, but then Bran strokes Nikolai’s arm. “You’re not stupid. Besides, Lan finds ninety-nine percent of the human population mentally challenged, so he’s the problem.”

Is he consoling him right now?

Dear God, please blind my fucking eyes.

“As long as you don’t think that, I couldn’t care less about Landon’s opinion of me.”

“You guys are so sweet.” Astrid has this dreamy expression all over her face that could only be described as swooning.

“We are, right?” Nikolai grins like a fucking idiot and nudges my son’s shoulder. “Hear that? Even your mom thinks we’re sweet.”

“Stop it,” he hisses under his breath, more out of embarrassment than annoyance.

I really wish it was fucking annoyance.

“So what do you like about my son?” I ask in my solemn tone, and that immediately puts a damper on the cheerful mood.

Nikolai is the only one who doesn’t get the jab or the tone, or if he does, he completely ignores it. “The right question would be what I don’t like about him. Which is maybe three things…actually, I take that back. I like those things sometimes as well, so they don’t count.”

“Is that your way of not giving me one single thing you like?”

“I’m happy to. How much time do you have, sir?”

“As much as you need.”

“Okay then.” He inhales deeply and speaks in one continuous breath. “I like that he’s responsible, punctual, takes all of his engagements seriously, steps up for justice, and helps in every way possible. I like his cooking, his rare smiles, and how dedicated he is to running and staying healthy. I like making him laugh and, eh, watching him sleep. I like how he’s fully concentrated when he’s in the art studio, but most of all, I like how he let me into his life and made a place for me there. I even like the boring Agatha Christie movie adaptations now, not because they’re any good, but because he’s truly obsessed with that shi—I mean, stuff. I even like his nagging and control-freak tendencies most of the time, so yeah, there’s nothing I don’t like…actually, there’s something. He has this habit of putting everyone else’s comfort before his own, or he pretends to be fine when he’s obviously not. I don’t only dislike that. I hate it.”

My wife has fallen into an irreparable puddle on her chair, but she’s not what’s making my blood run cold. It’s the look in Bran’s eyes as his entire body angles in Nikolai’s direction.

It’s awe and affection but also fear. A fear so deep, even I can see it. What is he afraid of?

He doesn’t look to be scared of Nikolai, more like he’s scared for him. But why and from what?

There’s also another disturbing emotion. I recognize that look. That’s how I looked when I first realized the depth of the emotions I felt for his mother.

He’s in love with him. It’s not a crush, mere admiration, or a fling. My son is fully, truly, and irrevocably in love with the gangster.

God rest my soul in fucking pieces.

“By the way.” Nikolai grins at Bran. “I’m totally going to tell my dad to ask you that exact same question when you meet him. I want to hear what you have to say.”

Bran smiles again and passes him a few jam-filled scones that he chomps on like a monster.

After breakfast, Astrid ushers them to the living room.

“Mum, shouldn’t you rest? You spent an all-nighter in the studio.”

“Nonsense. I wouldn’t miss the chance to meet Nikolai for the world. I had my English Breakfast tea. I’ll be fine.”

“Ma’am…” he trails off when she glares at him. “Astrid…I’m sorry I intruded on your resting time.”

“At least you’re aware of that,” I mutter, following close behind them.

My wife scolds me with those bright-green eyes that could make me do anything—absolutely anything—except for handing over my precious Bran to this wanker.

“I can leave if that’s better—” His words come to a halt when Bran clutches his wrist and shakes his head.

“Absolutely not,” my wife says. “You’re our guest.”

“Not one I approve of.”

“Levi, seriously. Shouldn’t you be going to work?” She hikes a hand on her hip and offers me her stern look.

“I’m calling in sick.”

I’m literally sick to my fucking stomach over the thought of yet another one of my children leaving the nest.

Yes, they’ve been going to university for a few years now, and I should be used to this feeling, but I most definitely am not. Besides, a part of me thought Bran would choose to move back home and stay with us for life.

Am I saying goodbye to my dream right now?

“Anyway, Nikolai,” my wife says after she shakes her head at me. “Do you want to see Bran’s baby photos?”

“Hell yeah,” he agrees readily like an eager child, then blurts, “I mean yes, please.”

“Mum.” Bran gives her an incredulous look.

“You have no idea how long I’ve waited to do this.”

Astrid leads Nikolai to her favorite sofa that faces the garden, then goes to the cupboard to fetch all the albums she treats like treasures.

Bran falls back so that he’s standing with me, a safe distance away from them.

We watch as his mother sits beside Nikolai and begins with pictures from the day she found out she was pregnant with the twins. We didn’t know they were twins at that time.

I remember that day so well. The joy that washed over us at the thought of having our own family was so palpable, I can still taste it on my tongue. It feels like yesterday, but it isn’t, because one of my first babies has his own life now and probably won’t call or text me when he needs a pick-me-up.

As Astrid tells Nikolai the story behind every picture, he listens carefully while looking at the album on his lap with keen interest.

Fucking creep.

Bran steps closer to me, his expression sheepish as he rubs the back of his neck and then speaks low so that I’m the only one who hears him. “Do you hate him that much, Dad?”

“Oh my, what gave you that impression?”

“You kind of made it obvious and, well, you’re still glaring at him.”

I break my staring contest with Nikolai’s skull. I figured if I glared hard enough, it’d crack and we’d be rid of the nuisance.

“I thought you said you weren’t together anymore?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.

“I…thought so, too.” He sighs and shakes his head. “It’s impossible to stay away from him. Believe me, I’ve tried. Multiple times. Each time, it only got harder, not easier, and I really can’t imagine my life without him in it anymore. I hurt him enough by denying my sexuality and him. He was patient and even agreed to see me in secret although he’s openly bi. I can’t hurt him anymore, that would be worse than causing pain to myself. The idea of losing him scares the shit out of me, Dad.”

Bloody hell.

I see it again. That look he had earlier. This time, it’s more intense as he stares at him.

He’s not afraid for him, he’s afraid of losing him.

The delinquent gangster motherfucker.

I knew that bastard Killian was trouble. Not only did he shove his unwanted presence into our lives, but now, there’s his cousin.

Though I admit Nikolai is a lot more well-mannered than that psycho.

Bran slides his attention back to me. “All my life, I thought I was one of those people who was meant to be alone, but he changed that. Single-handedly. He chased me and made it impossible to ignore him. He’s helped me become a better man—more balanced, less…agitated and lonely. He’s the only one for me. So…if you don’t hate him a lot, can you try to accept him? I love you and respect you a lot, Dad. You know how much your approval means to me.”

“Come here, son.” I half hug him. “I don’t actually hate him. I just don’t like the idea of him replacing me.”

“That’s impossible. No one can take your role in my life.” He steps back. “You’re also my only worthy kitchen mate. Nikolai can’t cook to save his life.”

“Pretty sure he can’t do much to save his life.”

“Tell me about it. He’s so unorganized, it drives me bonkers. He’ll be throwing everything around, leaving milk outside the fridge, and meditating underwater. He can’t even tell the difference between basil, oregano, and coriander. ‘They’re all grass’, he says. He also didn’t know who Agatha Christie was until recently. He barely knows who Zeus or most historical figures are. He said the only superior one is Hannibal because he was a badass general who nearly brought down an empire, and the rest of them don’t merit a place in his head. Can you believe that?”

My sigh is deep and fucking defeated. “You love him that much, huh?”

“Yeah—” He cuts himself off and his eyes widen as he swallows thickly. “I mean… I…I…”

“It’s fine.” I clutch his shoulder. “Take your time to come to terms with it. I know it’s scary, but it’ll get better.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

I smile. “Let’s join them before your mother embarrasses you any further.”

He grins in return and we walk in as Astrid says, “That’s Jayden, or Jay for short.”

“A relative?” Nikolai asks.

“You could say that. He’s my stepsister’s half-brother and was Bran’s first crush.” She winks at our son and he shakes his head.

“First crush you say?” Nikolai’s tone turns mysterious as he looks at the picture in which Bran and Jay are wearing Minion jumpsuits, clutching each other by the shoulders and grinning with glee.

“Yeah,” my wife says, completely unaware of the fire of jealousy igniting in Nikolai’s gaze. “Bran went through that phase of obsessing about everything Minion and Jay was his partner in crime.”

“Hmm. And where is he now?”

“In the States. He’s the youngest hotshot NASA scientist. I’m so proud of him.”

“Is he at the headquarters or one of the other field centers?”

“Headquarters, I believe.”

“Good to know. Is he Jayden Clifford?”

“No, Adler.”

“Jayden Adler. DC. Cool.”

Jesus fucking Christ.

He sounds like a damn mafioso who’s collecting information about a potential target.

Astrid keeps showing him other photos, but Bran definitely picked up on the energy, because he says, “Jay and I haven’t really seen each other much over the years. He’s a genius student and barely has time for anything but studying.”

Nikolai shows a poker face for the first time today. “Did I say anything?”

“Don’t even think about it,” Bran says low, but I hear him.

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“Nikolai,” he warns.

“Yes?” He smiles and I want to punch him, but I can’t, because my son loves this twat.

Nikolai hides his yawn. “Excuse me. I came straight from the States and couldn’t sleep on the plane.”

“Oh my word.” Astrid closes the album. “Bran, you should take him to rest.”

“No.” Nikolai holds on to the album. “I prefer childhood pictures.”

“Nonsense. They’ll be waiting when you wake up, deal?”

“Deal.”

“I should catch a few hours of sleep myself.” She appears distraught as she tries to shake the exhaustion from her face.

Nikolai stands up and nods at me. “Thank you for letting me stay in your house, sir.”

I’m about to throw out a ‘No, I’m not letting you,’ but the expectation on Bran’s face forces me to change my mind, and I release a begrudged affirmative noise instead.

My son smiles and mouths a “Thanks” before he and the fucker go up the stairs.

He better take him to the guest room.

I’m about to remind him of that when Astrid shakes her head. “Don’t even think about being a dick. You did enough damage this entire morning.”

“I don’t like the idea of him in our son’s room.”

“He’s a twenty-three-year-old man, Levi. Stop treating him like a child. Besides, Nikolai is just so well-mannered.”

“Have you seen the tattoos?”

“You mean how beautiful they are?”

“How many there are, Princess.”

“So what? Those don’t make his personality. Since when do you judge a book by its cover?”

“Since it walks into my house and steals my son.”

She laughs and wraps her arm around mine then leans her head on my shoulder. “You’re such a papa bear. Just be happy that Bran found someone who cares about him like Nikolai does. You heard the part he hates, right? That’s exactly what we struggle with, and not only has he picked up on it, but he chose it as the only thing he dislikes. You know how closed off and inward Bran can be, so we should be celebrating the fact that he’s letting someone close, not be babies about it.”

I release a grumble.

“Levi, come on. Have you ever seen Bran smile so much?”

I groan. So she noticed that, too. Of course she did. And I hate to admit it, but she’s definitely right. I’ve never seen him as happy as he was this morning.

Fucking hell.

“I know you’re also glad deep down.” She kisses my cheek. “You better not cause Nikolai trouble.”

“So you’re Team Nikolai now?”

“I’m Team Bran and he loves that man. Besides, he’s a real lad.”

“A real lad? Seriously, Princess?”

“He gets my stamp of approval.” She kisses me again. “Want to sleep some more since you called in sick?”

“You know I won’t say no to that.”

After we go to the bedroom and Astrid slips in for a quick shower, I open my group chat with my cousin and friends.

LEVI

I think I’m depressed.

AIDEN

Midlife crisis? Is that why you called in sick?

More like theft-of-my-children crisis. No one told me they’d slip away one by one.

XANDER

Tell me about it, Captain. I still can’t believe my baby bee has some lizard boyfriend.

RONAN

An actual lizard? Bloody hell, Xan. What happened to baby Cecy?

XANDER

He’s a person, but I’d rather think of him as a lizard so he doesn’t grow on me.

I like that idea. Dehumanization won’t allow them to grow on me. Though I really doubt it with this one. Why can’t we invent a time machine so they’ll stay young forever?

COLE

Don’t even remind me of that, Captain. I get nightmares about the day my babies will introduce me to some fuckers.

AIDEN

Pretty sure you know at least one of them, if not two.

COLE

What are you insinuating?

AIDEN

You might want to sit down for this.

COLE

Sit down for what?

AIDEN

One day, my Eli will marry your Ava and we’ll be in-laws.

XANDER

Jesus. Is that a script for a horror film?

AIDEN

A reality show.

COLE

I’ll kill him first, Aiden. You know that.

AIDEN

Good luck trying to stop my son. We King men always get what we want.

He’s right. It’s not only about him, me, or Uncle. The younger generation is the same as well. Bran included.

I saw it in his eyes earlier. He wants to be with Nikolai and he’ll do it no matter what it takes.

He’ll be with him even if the whole world is against him.

I guess Astrid is right. It’s better to be happy for him than trying to sabotage Nikolai’s existence.

And he is much more well-behaved than Killian, so there’s that silver lining.

“Still thinking about your precious baby?” Astrid walks out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel and steps between my legs. It doesn’t matter how old we get, she’ll always be the woman who does my head in. In every exciting sense of the word.

“Not anymore.” I wrap my arms around her waist. “Let me help you sleep better, Princess.”

“I love you so much.” She kisses me, and I’m done for.

I’ll think about everything else later. Now, I need to be there for the love of my life.

My wife.

My forever.


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