Possess Me by Michelle Heard
(Twenty years old…)
Cinnamon hangs heavy in the air, the delicious aroma luring me to the kitchen where I find Mama and Tiana admiring the honey cake they just baked.
It’s my favorite smell in the world – Mama baking in the kitchen. It’s home.
The moment Mama spots me, she gives me a stern scowl. “Don’t you dare try to steal a slice. It’s for after dinner.”
It’s Vincent’s birthday today. My brother is three years older than me. We haven’t seen much of him over the past years as he’s been training to take his place in the bratva.
With my father being a boss, it’s only natural that we follow in his footsteps.
I take a seat at the table, eyeing the cake like it’s my last meal.
“Do you want coffee?” Tiana asks me.
“Please.” I smile at the girl who’s like a little sister to me.
My parents adopted Misha and Tiana Petrov, and even though things were rocky at first, Misha is now my best friend.
I watch as Tiana makes the coffee the way I like it, creamy and sweet, and smile again when she places the beverage in front of me.
“Thanks, T.” After I savor my first sip of caffeine for the day, I ask, “Did you bake only one cake?”
It's normal for Mama to be up at the crack of dawn when it’s one of our birthdays. And she always bakes enough for a small village.
Mama shakes her head while trying to hide the smile tugging at her mouth. She cuts a huge slice out of the freshly baked cake. “You’ll live on pastries and desserts if I give you half a chance.” Still, she plates the slice and pushes it closer to me. “Only one slice.”
I lean closer and take a deep breath, my mouth watering from the aroma. “I can’t promise anything,” I chuckle. “This is why you bake extra.” I give Mama a thankful smile. “You love me too much to let me suffer until dinner time.”
“Hmm.” Her eyes are fixed on me as I take the first bite.
When the taste of cream and cinnamon explode over my tongue, I let out a satisfied groan. My eyes close as I savor the goodness of my mother’s baking. “Perfect.”
Excitedly, Tiana claps her hands. “Really? You like it?”
My eyebrows fly up, and I swallow before asking, “Did you bake this one all by yourself?”
She nods, pride dancing in her sky-blue eyes.
“Well, little sister,” I nod my approval, “it’s exactly how I like it.”
Tiana lets out a little shriek before falling onto the chair next to me. “Tell me how it tastes. Is there enough cream? Did I make the dulce de leche right? Not too much cinnamon?”
I lift a hand and softly pat her back. “Everything is perfect.”
“What’s perfect?” Misha asks as he comes into the kitchen.
“The honey cake I made,” Tiana answers, pride lighting up her face. “Sit. You have to taste it.”
“It’s too early,” Misha protests. He grabs a seat, then looks at me. Shaking his head, he mutters, “How can you eat cake first thing in the morning?”
I pop a huge bite into my mouth and groan again. “So good,” I mutter around the cake.
Tiana places a cup of coffee in front of Misha, along with a much smaller slice of cake. “Just taste it,” she begs.
Tiana might’ve accepted Vincent and me as her brothers, but there’s no one she loves more than Misha. Before my parents adopted them, they were stuck in an orphanage and only had each other, so it’s understandable that they’re inseparable.
Mama starts to prepare breakfast, and soon the aroma of fried eggs, melting cheese, and sliced sausages fills the air.
Vincent and Papa enter the kitchen, and Tiana gets busy preparing tea for them.
“Happy Birthday, zaika,” Mama says before hugging Vincent.
We all take a moment to wish Vincent a happy birthday, and as Mama and Tiana set all the dishes on the table, Papa mutters, “The boys are coming with me. We’ll be gone all night.”
“But it’s Vincent’s birthday!” Mama exclaims. “We always have dinner together. It’s tradition.”
Papa shakes his head, giving Mama an impatient look. “Work can’t wait.”
Mama looks visibly unhappy, but she doesn’t force the subject. “You better eat,” she says, glancing around the table. “Come, come. More food.” Getting up, Mama starts to make more fried eggs, a clear sign she’s pissed off with my father. Cooking always calms her down.
“Tiana, you look after your mama while we’re gone,” Papa instructs.
“Yes, Papa,” she replies.
Tiana was the first to call him Papa, where it took Misha a couple of years. He still alternates between Mr. Ashlanhov and Papa. It was easier for both to switch from Mrs. Ashlanhov to Mama, though.
Just to please Mama, we all eat twice as much. It feels like I’m going to burst by the time I stand up from the table. I press a kiss to Mama’s cheek before giving her a tight hug, then move to Tiana to hug her quickly.
“Be careful,” Mama says to Papa. “And look after our babies.”
“Babies, my ass,” Papa grumbles. “They’re fully grown men.”
Mama gives him a look of warning. “They’ll always be my babies.”
It takes another ten minutes before we’re able to leave the house, and only once we’ve all piled into the armored SUV does Papa say, “We’re taking Ivanov’s daughter tonight.”
My eyes widen, and shock trickles through my body. Misha and I just started with our bratva training. We’ve been assigned to a junior boss and follow him around like lost fucking puppies. So far, I’ve only beaten a couple of fuckers who owe the bratva money. I’ve only killed once.
Kidnapping? That’s a whole different level. Especially if the girl has half a fucking army guarding her.
My eyes flick to Misha, and we stare at each other for a moment.
“Alek, you’ll grab the girl while Vincent has your back. Misha and I, along with my soldiers, will take care of her guards.”
I nod because there’s no arguing allowed. You do as you’re told in the bratva. I have to kidnap the girl. I’d much rather help take care of the guards.
Letting out a slow breath, I turn my attention to the snow-covered scenery passing us by as we speed toward the heart of Moscow.
Against my better judgment, I ask, “What happens to the girl after we take her?”
Papa’s eyes remain on the road as he mutters, “She’ll be our hostage until Ivanov either withdraws out of our territory or agrees to an alliance.”
Fuck. That can take years.
Pushing my luck, I ask another question, “Will she be kept in one of the safe houses?”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask yet another question, but I know it will anger my father.
“She’ll stay with us,” he mutters.
What the fuck? Mama is going to lose her shit.
Papa once came home with a little boy they kidnapped, and Mama didn’t speak to Papa for a whole two months.
“It won’t be for long,” Papa adds.
The little boy only stayed two days. Hopefully, things will run as smoothly this time around.
Or things are going to be tense at home for a long while.
“You’ll make me proud,” Papa demands. “Do as you’re told and get the job done.”
“Yes, Papa,” we all answer in unison.