TWO YEARS LATER
Everyone, and I mean every single person in the hall, looks back at me.
Some laugh, others stab me with their elite, snobbish expressions, and many shake their heads, including Levi and that fucker Landon.
He’s most definitely in the glaring category. I swear to fuck, if it weren’t for Bran and Mia getting between us, we would’ve ripped each other’s throats out a long time ago.
Anyway, the people here don’t matter. I couldn’t give one single flying fuck about any judgmental, patronizing eyes, because the only person who matters faces me with a grin so wide, I nearly go into cardiac arrest.
He’s suited up in the most flattering, flawless tuxedo that showcases his lithe, fit body. His hair is styled in his gorgeous Prince Charming look and his eyes are so bright, I’m positively drowning in their depths.
Sometimes I look at him and think I’m floating in an alternate reality. Sometimes, he whispers he loves me before he falls asleep in my arms, and I spend the entire night watching his face just to make sure it’s true.
We are real.
In what world did someone like me end up with someone like him?
No fucking clue, but I’ll take it. All day. Any day.
There’s no way in fuck I’ll ever let him go. Not after our lives have become so intertwined that I can’t breathe properly unless he’s beside me.
It’s why the past week was fucking torture. I graduated this summer and had to go back to the States for my new role in the Bratva.
As much as I wanted to delay it, Jeremy has been waiting too long for me, and I can’t just leave my bro behind.
But I was rethinking the whole fucking thing the first night I slept without my lotus flower hugging me. The second night, I nearly spiraled into that black hole lurking in my mind and went back to smoking.
So yeah, I quit smoking a year and a half ago since I refuse the very notion of causing my Bran any form of health hazard namely the stupid second-hand smoke. Besides, he helped me all the way through it.
Just kidding. When it got a bit too much and I craved a smoke, he became his pragmatic stern self and announced a ban: either I touch him or a cigarette.
I quit within the week, thank you very fucking much.
My recent trip to the States felt like a redo of that time. No, it was much worse since I couldn’t even see him. We spoke on the phone for hours, despite the time difference, and he didn’t hang up until I actually drifted off to sleep.
I don’t want to ever, and I mean ever, get used to the feeling of sleeping in an empty bed. I prefer the bed where he pulls my head against his chest and strokes my hair until I fall asleep. A bed where I can hug him from behind and kiss his nape as we drift off.
This past week’s experience is just not happening anymore.
Bran couldn’t come with me because of this award ceremony he was attending for winning some important art shit. Don’t ask me what it is. It has a stupid complicated title.
All I know is that my man is a fucking genius who broke the internet with his viral videos and the art people’s souls with his work.
It started as a joke when I once filmed him so concentrated on work while he was wearing just shorts and painting me. People went crazy about that, especially after they saw the final result. Since then, I’ve been taking sneaky videos of him all the time. And he’s gotten so many fucking deals because of that.
And awards. Many of those, too. He’s now as well-known in the art community as his psycho brother. Which should’ve been the case from the beginning, just saying.
I know Bran doesn’t like attention, but there’s no one in the whole fucking world who deserves it more than him. He’s so dedicated, disciplined, and a ridiculous perfectionist.
He deserved that solo exhibition he had two months ago more than anyone. It was a smashing success and the best I’ve seen.
Not that I’ve seen that many—only the ones he and his mom participate in. Sometimes he drags me to Lan’s exhibitions and I go just to talk shit about that psycho. Anyway, this one was special, and not only because it was his first solo. Most of his paintings were of me and my tattoos, but the center painting, the one that I begged Dad to spend over a million pounds from my trust fund on just so I could have it for myself forever, is my favorite.
I still have it as my lock screen.
It’s the one painting he couldn’t finish all those years ago.
The one where I’m standing and he’s leaning against my shoulder. He finally managed to draw his own face, and this time, he’s fucking smiling.
Never giving that painting up. Will probably have to put a request in my will to bury it with me so that when I meet Satan, I can tell him all about my lotus flower.
Speaking of whom, he abandons his company of hotshot art people who either love me for the way he depicts me or can’t stand my rowdy, brutally honest, beautiful self.
As Bran walks toward me, I’m once again hit with that inability to believe he’s with me. My heart is so full of him, it’s about to burst. I missed him so fucking much, I have to stop myself from kissing him, because it definitely wouldn’t stop there.
Something tells me the snobs wouldn’t appreciate me shoving him against the wall and letting Kolya and Bran Jr. say hi to each other.
Chill, Kolya, dude. Your future parents-in-law are here.
“You made it,” he breathes, his smile blinding the fuck out of me.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“But there was a storm on the east coast. Please don’t tell me you did something reckless to get here.”
“Reckless is my middle name. But in this case, I couldn’t have done anything even if I’d wanted to. We had to get the okay to fly. Took off as soon as I could.” I point at the award in his hand. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the actual ceremony.”
“You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”
“Congrats, baby!” Because I have to touch him, I wrap my hand around his nape and stroke the side of his neck. “I’m so proud of you and how far you’ve come. You did it!”
He pushes the award into my hand and forces me to grab it as he shakes his head. “We did it. I would’ve never been able to do this without you, baby.”
“You were born for great things and would’ve been able to do this whether or not I was here.”
“No, I wouldn’t. You’re the reason I even want those great things, remember?”
I nod and kiss the top of his head, lingering for a second to sniff his gorgeous hair. “I missed you so fucking much. Totally not flying without you by my side anymore.”
He fixes my crooked bow tie, a small smile tugging on his lips. He’s always fixing me up, my lotus flower, whether physically or emotionally. He still likes to nag, too, but it’s music to my ears at this point. The day he stops nagging is the day he stops caring.
“You better not leave me again,” he whispers. “I couldn’t sleep without you.”
“What the fuck? You told me to stop being a baby every night we spoke on the phone.”
“Well, I didn’t want to stress you out. That doesn’t mean it was any easier for me, you know.”
“You’re totally coming to the States with me. Or I’m staying here. Jeremy and Vaughn will kill me, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
“I told you I’ll come over. I can work from anywhere.”
He interlinks my fingers with his. “Want to get out of here?”
I’m about to haul him away so I can kiss him, but he presses his chest to mine and devours my lips in a searing, passionate kiss.
In front of the whole world. His whole word.
If anyone had told me about this scene a couple of years back, I would’ve called them a borderline liar.
But my lotus flower can’t seem to get enough of me as much as I can’t get enough of him.
Before I can deepen the kiss, he pulls back, putting a halt to Kolya’s diabolical plan.
So I drag him behind me, pushing through the bodies of people, desperate to get him alone.
Bran drives us to his parents’ house, which we’ll probably have to ourselves for a while before his parents and Glyn come back, bringing the other psychos, Landon and Kill, along.
During the entire ride, I’m kissing Bran’s throat, nibbling on his Adam’s apple, undoing his bow tie, and unbuttoning his shirt to leave hickeys on his collarbone.
The perfect image he loves so well shatters against my tongue and fingers as he moans my name and groans his pleasure.
My lotus flower is the most unbothered driver you’ll ever find. He never gets his feathers ruffled, never gets mad, never drives recklessly, but even he has to stop the car on the side of the road, and I haul him onto my lap so that Kolya can say hi.
The dry humping session comes to a halt, though, because he can’t have us getting arrested for indecency. Despite his car having tinted windows.
The only reason I stop is because I don’t want a quickie in the car. I need to feast on him properly after a week of being deprived of him.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the phone sex, the filthy texts, and the dick pics he sent occasionally—after I bombarded him with a thousand pics of Kolya weeping in agony—but the real thing is better by fucking miles.
As soon as we’re inside the house, I slam my lips to his, both of us stumbling as he shoves me against the wall, his tongue demanding and warring with mine.
I reverse our positions so that he’s against the wall, our bodies pressed together from the dick up.
“I missed you so much, you have no idea,” he breathes against my lips. “You’re never getting out of my sight again.”
“Mmm. Never again, baby.” I speak against his throat, trailing my tongue and lips against his throbbing pulse and the faint scar from when I nearly lost him forever.
He’s come so far since then. Has gotten so much better at dealing with his emotions. Has learned to forgive himself and even smile at his image in the mirror.
That didn’t stop the control-freak tendencies, though. That’s a personality trait—one I love just like he secretly loves my reckless behavior sometimes.
He doesn’t try to change me and embraces me the way I am. He doesn’t care who I have to maim as long as I don’t get hurt in the process. That’s when he loses it.
I kid you not. Once, Kill threw a lighter at my head since he loves hitting me with random shit. Bran threw it back at his head and told him point-blank not to hit me anymore or he wouldn’t stand for it.
Did I fall in love with him a bit deeper after that? Possibly.
Bran shudders and his hands wrap around me, one gripping my waist and the other pulling my hair free as he throws his head against the wall with a throaty groan.
I inhale him into my lungs and keep him there—citrus and fucking mine.
“Bed. Now.” I growl against his fully marked neck, and the best part? He doesn’t hide my hickeys anymore. If anything, he loves leaving some of his own, too.
“Can’t have you running around and attracting unwanted attention. The world needs to know who you belong to,” is what he tells me every time.
“I have to show you something first.” He pants and leads me down the hall.
“Can’t it wait?” I wrap my arms around him from behind, matching his steps as I kiss his neck.
It’s awkward and definitely not fun to walk in this position, but Bran doesn’t complain and even gives me access to his throat, moaning when I nibble on his Adam’s apple.
“Baby…stop…” His voice trembles as he pushes the door open.
“You can’t call me baby and ask me to stop. I’m so going to devour the fuck out of you.”
“Give me a sec…”
“What?” I lift my head, slightly annoyed that he’s stopping me when we’re both burning for this.
As if that’s not blasphemous enough, he pulls away and faces me.
That’s when I realize we’re inside his stupid home studio.
Not going to lie, ever since he nearly bled out on this floor, I’ve been kind of traumatized and would rather not come here unless it’s absolutely necessary. Good thing we live on the island, and whenever we visit his parents, he’s not in the mood to work.
Now, however, he thrusts me back into this ominous place, and even Kolya’s legendary libido is shrinking as images of that day play in my head.
It was a long time ago, and we’ve come to terms with it. I even went to therapy with him for it, but no amount of therapy will erase the feeling of ‘I’m losing him’ that beat into my skull as I held his unresponsive body on the floor while his life essence poured out of him in sickening red.
But now, as he stands in front of me in his rumpled suit and with his glittery smile, those images slowly disappear.
He’ll always be fucking here.
He came back for me.
“What did you want to show me?” I ask with a note of sarcasm. “What’s so important that you chose violence, aka cock-blocking us both for it?”
He clears his throat. “I thought since now we’ll be starting the next chapter of our lives and moving to a new place, we’ll need a painting for it.”
“I already have my favorite painting of yours.” I pull out my phone and show him the lock screen. “This is going in the living room so that it’s the first thing everyone sees.”
A look of adoration crosses his features. “In that case, let’s put this one in the bedroom, then.”
He pulls on a sheet that’s covering a canvas, revealing a stunning piece of work. And it’s not about the sharp details or earth-shattering beauty of what his hands are capable of.
It’s the scene he chose to paint. Him sitting on my lap while I’m wearing the yellow-stitch mask. And he didn’t paint his own mask.
It’s from the first night we met.
The night after which I couldn’t purge him from my mind even if I wanted to.
His expression in the painting isn’t what I saw back then. I thought he was embarrassed or humiliated, but through his own eyes, he looks intrigued, confused, and most of all, aroused.
“Wow,” I breathe out, actually glad he showed me this before the fuck fest that will totally happen in a few. “This is…wow.”
“You like it?”
“I fucking love it, baby. Look at all those details.” I step closer to take a better look. “Definitely going in the bedroom. Don’t want anyone to see that expression on your face. It’s only for me.”
He chuckles, the sound light and contagious.
I smile back. “Why this scene, though?”
“It’s the night I developed a crush on you. I thought it came afterward, but no, I was definitely intrigued by you from the beginning. I wanted to keep that feeling alive forever through this painting.”
“You did such an awesome job. Man. Now, I don’t know which one I want on my lock screen. What do you think…?”
I trail off when I face my lotus flower and he’s on one fucking knee. What the…?
“That scene was our beginning, as unglamorous as it was. No matter how scared I was of you and everything you presented, I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re the purest, most passionate soul I’ve ever met. You loved me when I didn’t even like myself. You held me together when I was falling apart and helped me put myself back together one piece at a time until I became the man I am today.” He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a dark-blue velvet box, then opens it to show two rings. “I love you more than words can describe and I’ll be honored if you choose to spend the rest of your life with me so I can give back a fraction of what you’ve given me. Nikolai Sokolov, would you marry me—”
The words aren’t fully out of his mouth when I fall to my knees in front of him and drag his lips to mine, kissing him like a fucking madman until I’m lost in him and he’s breathing my air.
He wrenches his lips back but seals his forehead to mine. “Is that a yes?”
“Fuck yes, baby. I’ll marry the fuck out of you and make you my husband today if you want.”
His grin nearly blinds me as he slips the ring onto my finger. The inside is engraved with a fucking lotus flower and N X B.
“Good.” He lifts my hand to his mouth and kisses my knuckles over the ring.
“I’m supposed to be the one who proposes,” I grumble while slipping his ring onto his finger. “I hate you for beating me to this.”
“You pursued me in the beginning. I had to be the one who proposed first.”
I glide my hand across his nape and pull his forehead to mine again. His fingers stroke my hair as we breathe each other in.
This is the happiest moment of my life and I want to soak in it for as long as possible.
“The rest of our lives, huh, baby?”
He nods, lips curling into the most gorgeous smile. “The rest of our lives, baby.”
“I wouldn’t have it with anyone but you.” My mouth reaches for his and I kiss him slower this time, taking my fill of him.
I love this man with everything I have and don’t have.
I love him with my sane and insane parts.
He’s my lotus flower.
My Prince Charming.
The love of my life.