Deceitful Vows by Brook Wilder
The mansion is quiet this morning as I wait in the foyer. I wander to the window, inch back the curtain, and peer outside. On the driveway, the Range Rovers are lined up, each containing four armed men in their best suits, ready for a Bratva wedding. At these mandatory social functions, the parking lot of the church holds more people than the service inside. Dirty looks are exchanged as rival guards flex for each other, showing off outside the church.
Nothing will happen today, and the guards’ presence is merely for show. Weddings are sacred and off-limits to feuds.
Even ones that run deeper than blood.
The office door opens, startling me. I spin around with my hand on my gun. My father, Vasily, smirks in the open doorway, pleased that he can still sneak up on me despite his advanced age.
The only things we have in common are our brown eyes and square jaw. The silver streaks in his hair are wider, obliterating the gray. His lone tailored tux and shiny black shoes make an appearance at every social event, proof that he still weighs the same. His linen shirt carries the faint smell of gunpowder. The scars on his hands prove he isn’t as invincible as we all think.
His guard, Dmitri, slips around him, past me as he heads outside to the SUVs. Dmitri and I are close, but my father expects a certain conduct around his men. Benevolent but distant, I cannot treat them like friends.
“Andrushka.” Smiling, my father approaches me as if he actually cares about me. “Soon, we will be planning your wedding day.”
I grimace, closing the button on my suit jacket. “There’s plenty of time before that.”
“Your intended is in her prime,” he says. “I expect grandchildren soon.”
Intended. I shake my head at the word. Indifference is the only thing I feel for her, and even that gives her more credit than she deserves. I don’t think about her except when I’m reminded that I have to marry her.
The only women that interest me leave without saying goodbye in the morning and don’t return. Instead, I think about the day I will finally lead the Barinov Bratva to successes my father can’t envision.
But all he cares about are grandchildren to secure his own legacy.
I scowl at the image in my head.
“Are you planning on going away, Father? Are you admitting that you’re incapable of running the Barinov Bratva without my assistance?”
He pats my face, the thick rings on his finger cold against my skin. “I want to be around long enough to see my grandchildren, Andrushka.” His smile holds no warmth, and his chuckle betrays no humor. “I want to know that my hard work will continue once I’m gone.” He lowers his hand and glances out the window. “You should have invited dear Talia to the wedding.”
“Don’t you know, Father?” I trained the emotion out of my voice long ago. “It’s bad luck to see your bride before you’re married.”
“Hmph.” Father nods. “Marriage is for business. And in business, we make our own luck.”
“So you say, Father.”
“Forget that at your own risk, Andrushka.” Vasily nods. “Once you are married, our Bratva will double in size.”
“And so will the burden,” I reply. “Her family debts will become ours.”
“But so will their businesses,” Father points out. “Naturally, the Karamazov Bratva wants those deals. But sadly, Igor doesn’t have a son’s hand to offer for Talia Nikitin.”
“Are these deals any use to us?”
“That’s not for you to question, Andrei Vasilyevich,” he replies coldly in my patronymic, reminding me that I am forever his subordinate. “All I need from you is a healthy grandson. Nothing more.” Vasily deftly changes the topic to cut off my reply. “I am ready to welcome the Nikitins into our Bratva. But they will always be less than family.”
A noise at the top of the stairs captures our attention. Father may be stealthy, but he cannot outmaneuver my mother, Eva. Her light step makes his sound like a stampede of deer running down the gravel drive. She stands at the top of the stairs in a pale green dress dotted with sequins. Her legs are exposed from the knee down, revealing her silver heels. Her loose hair rests on her shoulders.
Except for the silver strands that now pepper her blonde hair, she looks no different from when I was a boy.
My tight expression eases as I watch her descend.
“Go change, suka!” Father barks. “That dress is made for a younger woman, not an aged hag like you.”
Mother stops in mid-step. Her face betrays no reaction, but her hand holds tightly to the banister. For a moment, she appears ready to defy my father. But I know she won’t. She never does. My mother was taught how to be an obedient Bratva wife. Without a word, she heads back upstairs to her bedroom.
I wait until she’s gone to speak.
“That was unnecessary, Father.”
“Once you are married, Andrushka.” He waves his hand dismissively. “Then you will understand what I’ve had to face for years.”
“A loving wife who’s forced to endure her ungrateful husband?”
His aim is quick, and his rings will leave a mark this time. I toss my head a few times, letting my hair fall back into place, and I mask my expression to show nothing. As a boy, I stared up at him. But now, I tower over him, immune to his hate.
But not his blows.
“I want my grandsons.” He scoffs as he heads for the car. “Be good for something other than sucking at my teat, you ungrateful whelp.”
And just like that, he leaves me alone with my black thoughts.
Somewhere above the stairs, I hear the familiar sound of Mother crying as my fist clenches in anger.
What a wonderful start to a wedding.