Page 19 of Corrupted Innocence

Nikolai

My fatherand brothers are already at the restaurant when I arrive. Beside my father is Ivan. He’s not family by blood, but he might as well be, he’s been at my father’s side for so long. His family and ours made the move from Russia to America together when they were young men.

“Nice of you to join us.” Roman, the oldest of my brothers, cocks an eyebrow at me as I take a seat. A glass of water is placed in front of me as well as a shot of vodka.

“I had to take care of something.” I down the shot and grab the bottle on the table to pour a second.

“Leave him alone. We all have shit to do, sometimes it takes longer than others.” Dad waves a hand over the table. “I already ordered for you, Nikolai. I’m fucking hungry and I wasn’t waiting on you.”

I nod. “Not a problem.”

“Good.” Dad leans back in his chair. Ivan owns this place, so we can speak candidly. Especially since we’ve been given the table in the back, away from the other customers dining at the moment.

A text comes through on my phone and I check it. Nothing important, but while I have my phone out, I swipe it open to the tracking app I put on Charlotte’s phone last night while she slept. I haven’t heard anything from her or Viktor since they left the condo this morning and I want to be sure she’s where she’s supposed to be.

It might cross a line for her, but she hasn’t drawn any yet. I can be honest enough to admit I wouldn’t give a shit if she did anyway. Like I said this morning. She’s mine for the next month and while she’s mine, she will be protected. If that means she has to give up a little privacy, so be it.

The signal shows she’s at a medical building. I send a quick text to Viktor asking what’s going on.

“Hanna will be sending out invitations this week, but Gregor called me last night to let me know that the christening for Julianna will be in three weeks,” Dad informs us. Our cousin and his wife have just welcomed their first child. While they don’t live in New York, most of her family and all of us do, so they’ll be coming home for the event.

“So put it on your calendars. No excuses for not being there.” Dad gives a pointed look at Arman.

“I’ll be there. Of course I will,” Arman defends himself and picks up his phone to enter the date.

“Good.”

Ivan signals that the food is coming, and we fall silent as the plates are placed on the table. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for braised beef, but I know better than to complain.

“Thank you.” Ivan smiles at the waitress, a young blonde girl with large brown eyes, who gives a grin back before hurrying off.

“She’s new,” Arman says, eyeing her as she disappears into the kitchen.

“And off limits to you.” Ivan points a finger across the table. “But maybe Roman might want to meet her. She’s a family friend.” He cuts into his steak.

“I’m not in the market,” Roman stifles the suggestion.

“Like hell you aren’t.” Dad narrows his eyes. “I’m an old man, Roman. I would like to meet at least one of my grandchildren before I get tossed in a grave.”

“No one’s tossing you anywhere.” Roman sips his drink. “When I’m ready, I’ll settle.”

“When he’s ready.” Dad points at Roman while making a face at Ivan. These two have spent too much time together lately. They’re starting to act like an old married couple.

“There’s always a match to be made with my daughter, Anya,” Ivan says between bites.

“Anya is a child.” Roman shakes his head.

“She’ll be twenty-one next month,” Ivan argues.

“Maybe she won’t want to marry an ugly man like Roman,” Arman jokes, but his shoulders tense.

“She’ll marry who she’s told,” Ivan says, but the merriment has dropped from his tone. I haven’t seen Anya since she was in grade school, but I have a feeling the girl isn’t the docile woman he’d like her to be.

“I’m sure she’ll be a good wife,” Dad says as he finishes the last of his meal. He leans back in his chair and places his hands over his stomach. “Your food here gets better every time we come.” He grins.

I pick up a roll from the basket on the table and use it to mop up the gravy on my plate. Dad’s not wrong. Ivan’s restaurant is one of the best in Manhattan.

“Ah. There’s Kristoff. Come on, Igor, you haven’t met him yet.” Ivan stands up from the table.


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