Tears Of Betrayal: Chapter 25

ARIANA

I’m shaking inside as I shut the bedroom door behind me.

Holy shit, I can’t believe I just said that to Alexei.

I shake out my hands that won’t stop trembling and begin to pace up and down. I wish life would stop giving me whiplash. Just for one freaking day.

After the attack, I was certain about a relationship with Demitri, and now… now I’m sure things will never work between us. Alexei will always be Demitri’s first priority.

Demitri made that clear when he just sat there while I was practically face to face with death.

The door opens, and I swing around. Demitri comes in, and shuts it behind him, and then we instantly fall into a stare-off.

Finally, he says, “This is how things are done in our world.”

Seriously?

I pin him with my angriest glare. “Don’t come at me with that crap.” Lifting my chin, I bite out, “I’m Sergei Ivanov’s daughter and heir.” I take a step closer to him, squaring my shoulders. “My father’s blood runs in my veins.” I move even closer. “You and Alexei will treat me with the same respect you gave my father.”

A freaking smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

“Don’t you dare smile,” I warn him, quickly losing my shit. “I’m serious.”

“I can see that,” Demitri murmurs, his smile growing.

And it’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. All my anger, my fear, my pain – it hits me so hard I stagger back, and a sob bursts from me. I tighten my fists, fighting with the last of my strength to keep from crumbling to the floor.

Demitri grabs hold of my arm and yanks me to his chest, but I’m too upset with him. I shove against him, sobbing, “Don’t touch me.”

Of course, he doesn’t listen and wraps his arms tightly around me. Letting out a frustrated scream, I strain against his hold. Like a bomb detonating, the shrapnel of my life rains down on me.

Demitri holds me as I fall apart from the unbearable weight on my shoulders.

I hate every tear as they burn like acid over my cheeks.

He moves his hands to the sides of my face, and with his thumbs, he brushes the tears away. “Don’t cry, Malyshka.” His strong arms engulf me again, and he presses kisses to my temple. “Christ, my heart can’t handle this.”

It takes a while before I’m able to calm down. Fisting Demitri’s shirt, I breathe through the last sobs fluttering from my chest. My mind starts to work again, and I address the elephant between us.

I pull back, and Demitri moves his hands to my arms, rubbing his palms up and down my biceps.

I take another deep breath, and then I lift my eyes to his. “I get that the bond between the two of you is unbreakable, but I’m not going to fight Alexei for you.”

Demitri shifts a hand to the side of my neck and tilts his head. “Alexei’s not fighting you. This isn’t about who’s most important in my life.”

I lift an eyebrow at him. “Could’ve fooled me. He practically pissed a circle around you.”

“That’s not what he was doing,” he argues, then he explains, “Alexei was testing your strength, and you fucking held your own in front of him. Do you know how rare that is?”

“A test?” I mutter.

Demitri nods. “You’re taking over a powerful business, and Alexei’s preparing you for it. He doesn’t just do that for anyone. He’s grooming you, Ariana.” His features soften as he steps closer to me. “But, Alexei is the head of this family, and after the meeting, he’ll be the head of the Bratva. We all live by his rules.”

Hello, whiplash, my old friend.

“You represent the Ivanov name which means, just like all the other members, you’ll have to decide if you’re going to vote for Alexei or go against him.”

A shiver ripples down my spine, but I’m starting to understand what Demitri’s saying. Wanting clarity on what it would mean for a relationship between Demitri and me, I ask, “So if Alexei says jump, I ask how high? If he says we’re getting married, I have no choice in the matter?”

“Marry who? Alexei?” Demitri asks, his tone turning dark.

“Yes.”

“Fuck no.” Demitri takes a calming breath, then explains, “Alexei only has a say when it comes to business. Who you marry and how you live your life is your decision.”

“What happens the day Alexei and I have a fight… about…” I roll my eyes as I try to think of something, “ah… what we’re having for dinner?”

Demitri frowns at me. “What are you asking? Whose side will I choose?”

“Yes. Will you let us argue, or will you take Alexei’s side with everything?”

Understanding flashes over Demitri’s features. “Alexei will never do anything to intentionally hurt you, so I’ll never be in that position. I kept quiet because Alexei was talking business with you. If he got aggressive with you because you wanted chicken and he wanted steak, I’d step in.” He leans a little down. “You’re both important in different ways. This isn’t a competition.”

I nod, and still standing by what I said earlier, I demand, “I’m new to this world. Can you tell Alexei to tone it down a little? Having him give me the glare of death while he barks out orders doesn’t fly with me.”

Demitri frames my face again and presses a kiss to my forehead. “Malyshka, I’m not going to do that. Alexei was smiling like a proud fucking father after you told him to go to hell. He wants to make you stronger. He means well. Instead of seeing him as a threat, think of him as your teacher.”

I let out a tired sigh. “I understand now, but the training session was unexpected. A head’s up would’ve been nice.”

I’m pulled back into a hug. “Are we good, or is there anything else you want to talk about?”

I shake my head and then rest my cheek against his chest. “Nothing else.”

“So we’re good?” he asks again.

I’m not sure.

There’s a part of me that wants to run for the hills.

Instead of telling Demitri the truth, I whisper, “We’re good.”

 


 

DEMITRI

 

The way Ariana looked at me after the shootout is gone, and the hesitation is back. It feels like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back with her.

When we come down the stairs, Alexei’s standing by the front door, staring outside. He glances over his shoulder, and seeing Ariana, he turns around and walks toward her. “Let’s talk.”

We head into the living room, and I stand to the side while they both sit down.

Alexei leans forward, and resting his forearms on his thighs, he presses the tips of his fingers together, and then he locks eyes with Ariana. She’s tense as fuck, her features tight.

Ariana’s the first to talk. “Demitri already explained everything to me.”

“I don’t want to talk about business,” Alexei says.

“Then what?” she asks.

“Us.” He gestures between the two of them. “You and me.” Leaning back, Alexei rests one arm on the back of the couch. “As I’ve said before, I’ll only get involved if you hurt Demitri. What I mean by that is if you betray him.” His fingers flex, and he tilts his head. “But you and me, we’re not at war for him. If I give you advice or try to steer you in the right direction, and you attack me for it, it places Demitri in an impossible situation.”

“I wasn’t the one who attacked first,” Ariana says, her defenses going up at the speed of fucking light.

Alexei shakes his head. “Ariana, if I attacked, you wouldn’t be breathing right now. I totally understand you’re still getting to know us, so I’m going to spell it out for you.”

She crosses her legs and lifts her chin.

I quickly jump into the conversation, explaining, “What Alexei’s trying to say is you each play an important but different role in my life. When it comes to business, as the head, he makes the decisions, but he’s not going to get involved in our relationship.”

Alexei brings a hand to his face, and rubbing his jaw, he says, “I don’t waste time with people who mean nothing to me, and I’ve never explained myself to anyone before. If you and Demitri become an item, you’ll be the most important woman in my life, next to my own wife, should I ever take one. That means, right now, you’re the most powerful woman in the fucking world. For you to do that position justice, I will train you because whatever you do is a reflection on me.”

He gives her a moment for the words to sink in, then continues, “I can count on my fingers how many allies I have. The rest of the fucking world is my enemy. To survive, I’ve become the most feared man. Everything I do is a strategic move to ensure I remain at the top of the food chain.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, “But I get that you don’t know me, and with time that will be rectified. I’ll learn what triggers your temper, and you’ll do the same with me, just like you and Demitri are getting to know each other.”

There’s a moment’s silence between them, then Ariana asks, “Can I be honest with you without you ripping my head off?”

Alexei nods. “Of course.”

 “You made me feel threatened. Like you said, I’m just starting to learn how everything works, so can you take it down a notch? If you give any random person on the street the look you gave me, they’d be scared shitless.”

Ariana looks down at her hands, and then her shoulders slump. I move toward her, but Alexei shakes his head as he gets up, wanting to be the one to comfort her.

Knowing this is a bonding moment for them, I pause and watch as he sits down next to her, placing his arm around her shoulders.

Pressing a kiss to the side of Ariana’s head, he says, “I’ll take it down a notch on one condition.”

Ariana glances up at him. “What?”

“You work on becoming stronger. Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Never back down in the face of danger. The harder the blows come, the more you have to fight back.”

“I will.” Ariana glances down, and when she brings her eyes back to Alexei’s, there’s a vulnerable expression that rips at my heart. “I really want to be friends with you.”

Alexei gives her a playful look which is rare as fuck. “Think of me as an older brother.”

Ariana’s chin begins to quiver. “The last one I had is trying to kill me.”

Alexei pulls her into a hug and then murmurs, “As long as you’re loyal to me, I’ll never betray you like that.” He rubs a hand over her back, then asks, “So there are no more misunderstandings?”

Ariana pulls back, and the corner of her mouth lifts. “No, we’re good.” She scrunches her nose then says, “I’ll even vote for you at the meeting.”

He lets out a chuckle. “You better.”

Moving to the other couch, I drop down on it, letting out a sigh. “The two of you are going to make me old.” I lie down, then look at Ariana, “Come to me.” She gets up and lies down beside me, and I wrap my arms around her.

“The meeting is at seven tonight,” Alexei says as he gets up. “I’m going to relieve Carson.”

When Alexei walks out of the living room, I bring a hand to Ariana’s chin and force her to look up at me. “Better?”

“Much.”

I stare into her eyes, and when they turn soft like they did after the shootout, the knot in my chest loosens. I move my hand up and trail my fingers over her temple and cheek.

“You understand that you and Alexei are both important to me, right? He’ll never hurt you, but let’s say the impossible happens, and Alexei does try to hurt you, I’ll protect you. Even from him. But you have to understand it works both ways. If you try to hurt him, I’ll be forced to stop you.”

“I understand.” She gives me a smile. “You’re not picking a favorite. I get that.”

I press a kiss to her lips, then the corner of my mouth lifts. “Still glad I kidnapped you?”

Ariana nods, then lays her cheek down on my shoulder. “I’ll get the hang of it soon.”

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