I rush through the door of The Capital Grille, “Can I help you?” The perky hostess asks.
“Yes, I’m meeting my friend, Lena Love,” I answer hoping she’s not here yet.
The hostess smiles sweetly and says, “This way, please.”
Following the hostess into a private room, I see the raven-haired, porcelain skin Lena studying the menu. Her bodyguard, Billy is sitting one table back and to the left watching her. Plopping into the seat across from Lena I say, “I’m sorry I’m late. Traffic was a bitch.”
“Don’t worry,” she says rubbing her ever-growing baby bump. “Billy and I arrived a couple of minutes ago.”
“Good. How are you feeling? You look amazing,” I ramble. Lena’s husband, Patrick, my cousin is the leader of the most powerful mafia family, and her father is the President of the United States. Surrounded by so much power, Lena is the kindest person you will ever meet.
“I think the morning sickness is finally gone. Thank you for saying so, I’m feeling like poo.”
“Nonsense you have the cutest baby bump.”
“Thank you. How are you? How is work?” Lena asked taking a sip of her water.
“Things are good. Manus is starting on Sunday’s game; the whole family is flying to Florida to watch him play.”
“Wow that is awesome, what position does he play again?”
“I’ll tell Patrick, and we’ll watch the game.”
“Manus will be thrilled.”
The server appers at our table introducing herself as Tiffany. I order a salad and water, Lena a cheeseburger with everything including the kitchen sink. Pointing to Billy, Tiffany asks, “Would your other guest like anything?”
Tuning to Billy Lena asks, “Billy what would you like to eat?”
“Nothing, thank you,” he answers in a deep voice.
“Billy, what do you want to eat?” Lena asks again in a stern mom voice.
“Club sandwich please,” Billy says in a defeated voice.
I bit my lip trying to stifle a giggle. Every time we go to lunch Billy tries to maintain distance and be professional, but Lena won’t have it. If he hasn’t eaten, she makes him order something. Turning back to Tiffany Lena answers, “He’ll have the club sandwich with fries and a coke. Thank you.”
Tiffany leaves to input our order returning quickly with my water and Billy’s coke. As she leaves us again, Lena says, “I have to be honest. I asked you here for something more than lunch with a friend.”
“Um, I’m not sure how to say this and I kind of feel weird doing this, but Patrick asked me too. He can be very persuasive when he wants something,” Lena says biting her bottom lip and blushes.
“Ookay, what is it?” I ask leery of what she will say.
“Patrick has someone he would like you to meet. He seems to think you two would make a good couple.”
“Who?” I ask swallowing hard. I knew The Family set up couples and marriages; my parents resulted from one of their matches. I never thought they would come to me.
“His name is Maks Volkov. I haven’t met him yet, but Patrick and Dad told me he is a nice guy. He works in a museum in Philadelphia as a curator. His father is Gennadi Volkov, Vory Pakhan.”
Russian. “Okay, does my dad know?”
“Yes, Patrick talked to him a couple of days ago. Your father has not met him officially, but he knows, and he’s okay with you meeting Maks,” Lena explains.
Dad would know Lena wouldn’t be here if he didn’t. While we may not be a traditional mafia family, we follow tradition, and they need a father’s permission before requesting an arranged marriage. “I guess I can meet him. It’s not like I have to marry the guy,” I joke.
“Nope, if he’s a dud you can kick him to the curb,” Lena says laughing.
“Good, because if it goes badly, I’m blaming you and Patrick,” I joke.
“Blame Patrick, I’m just the messenger,” Lena laughs.
Tiffany returns with our meals as Lena’s phone beeps with an incoming text. Looking down at the screen she shakes her head and smiles. “Patrick?” I ask.
“Yes,” Lena drawls. “He’s texting to check up on me. I swear he has gotten more overprotective since we found out I’m pregnant. He and Dad want to add a second bodyguard to my detail; I know they have more guards following me than Billy.”
“They both have powerful enemies and want to keep you and the little bean safe.”
“I know, but it is driving me crazy. And it’s kind of creepy having someone watching every move I make. No offense Billy.”
“None taken,” Billy answers with his mouth full of the club sandwich.
“I can’t imagine. You went from the front desk manager with no family to the daughter of the President of the United States and the wife of the most powerful man in the world.”
Lena laughs, “Yeah it’s been a crazy year and a half.”
“And in three months things will get crazier,” I point out.
“Speaking of three more months are you having a boy or a girl?” I’ve been dying to know if I should buy dolls or cars.
Lena smiles a huge vibrate smile and rubs her belly, “We are having a little boy.”
“Oh my god, that is amazing. I bet Patrick is over the moon.”
“He and Dad are already planning for little league, football, and soccer when he gets older.”
“Are you happy?” I ask.
“I’m scared. What if I’m not a good mother? My mom was great, but she kept a lot of secrets. I don’t want to be like that with my children,” Lena says brushing tears away.
Taking her hands in mine, “Lena you will be a great mom. You are one of the most loving and caring people I’ve ever met. If you have questions ask Brianna or my mom; between the two of them they’ve raised ten kids.”
“Thank you, Shauna. You are a great friend and one of the few I have in the city. I scare everyone else.”
I giggle nervously, “I won’t lie when we first met I was a little scared. When I think of how much power your husband and father have, I’m still a little intimated by you.”
“Don’t worry I only use my powers for good,” Lena giggles.
“Tell me more about Maks.”
After Lena and I say our goodbyes I fight D.C. traffic to work, Kinsmen communication, the world’s leading Communication Company. We are involved in everything from cell phones to news outlets and T.V. shows. Our CEO Kagen Scott, my uncle; hired me after I graduated college as an app developer. Four years later I’m the lead app developer for the cellphone and Kins T.V. (similar to Amazon’s Fire T.V.) department. On the surface, our apps are above board, but if you know where to look you find their true purpose. They are used for data dredging and other underground activities for The Family.
I’m working on our newest game when Kagen knocks on my open, “How was lunch?” Kagen asks sitting in the chair across from my desk.
“It was interesting,” I reply looking up from my laptop.
“She told you about the setup?” Kegan asks.
“You knew too?”
“Your father told me and asked me to check on you.”
“Then why didn’t he tell me himself if he was worried about my reaction,” I retort. Did everyone, but me knew about my meeting?
“Patrick thought it would go better if Lena asked you. I guess it didn’t go as he had hoped.”
“Kegan, we are not in the eighteen hundreds anymore. It is my life. Why wasn’t I invited to this meeting to discuss meeting a potential husband?”
“This is the way it has always been. The leader approaches the father or head of the women’s family about marriage.”
“Whatever, I’m meeting him Friday night at Lena and Patrick’s.”
“Good. Now, how’s the new game coming?”
Gnome Treasure is our new game. On the outside, it is another waste of time while your oil gets changed phone gaming app. But in reality, it allows The Families illegal counterparts to communicate with each other or send messages to The Family’s legal business. “I’m working on the internal communication feature now.”
“I’ll let you get back to it. Don’t work too late tonight,” Kegan asks from the doorway.
“I’ll try, but Patrick wants this app up and running as soon as possible.”
“Okay, but there is more to life than work.”
Looking up from my screen I smile at my uncle, “Thanks Kegan.”
“No problem sweetheart,” he says before leaving me to my work.
Before leaving work on Friday, I step into the ladies’ room to touch up my makeup. “Big date?” my assistant, Sarah asks.
“Blind date,” I reply applying lipstick.
Sarah wrinkles her nose, “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I deadpan running my hands down the front of my black cocktail dress and leaving the Kinsman building.
The massive Iron Gate of the Love Estes push open, and I remind myself this is a meeting, nothing is set in stone. Parking my Mazda in front of Patrick and Lena’s real-life fairy tale mansion equipped with a river rocks exterior and climbing vines. I take a deep breath before exiting the car.
Lena greets me before I reach the door, “I’m happy you’re here. Your date is running a couple of minutes late but should be here soon.”
“Good, gives me a few minutes to calm my nerves,” I say hugging her.
“Come in, Patrick will fix you a drink for your nerves. Liam and Hui are here too,” Lena says closing the door and leading me into the sitting room.
“Hi baby cousin,” Patrick says hugging me tightly. “Can I get you a drink?”
“I’m not the baby anymore, Patrick. And I’ll take a whiskey, please.”
Patrick moves to the bar cart pouring two fingers of amber liquid into a crystal tumbler. Handing me the glass Patrick says, “You will always be my baby cousin.”
“What about Manus, he’s younger than I am?”
“He’s my baby cousin too, you can have more than one baby cousin,” Patrick says with a smirk.
“Whatever,” I say having no real comeback.
“Baby cousin you made it,” I hear from behind me.
Rolling my eyes, I see Liam holding Hui’s hand, “Hey, I didn’t know you guys would be here. Where’s my bubby?”
Liam hugs me tight, “He’s with Mom getting pumped full of sugar and spoiled.”
Liam moves and Hui hugs me her baby bump making it challenging to hug her tight, “You look great, how much longer do you have?” I ask.
“Two more months and I can’t wait. This kid keeps kicking me in the ribs. Father is convinced he will be a footballer.”
“What does Jian think about becoming a becoming a big brother?”
“He is ecstatic about his baby brother and cousin,” Hui says with a giggle. I roll my eyes at Hui’s use of the baby cousin reference, a nickname that has stuck with me and Manus because we are the youngest cousins on our father’s side.
A middle-aged woman with short brown hair wearing a black power suite enters the room. “Sir, Mr. Volkov is here.”
“Thank you, Irene.”
Patrick leaves coming back a few minutes later with a man whom looks like he belongs in a GQ magazine. With chin length dirty blond, stormy gray eyes, and a muscular body wrapped in a white button-down shirt, charcoal tweed jacket, and dark blue jeans. “Shauna, this is Maks Volkov. Maks this is Shauna Daly,” Patrick says introducing us.
“It is nice to meet you, Shauna,” Maks says with a thick Russian accent.
“It’s nice to meet you, Maks.”
“Can I get you a drink, Maks,” Patrick calls from the bar cart Lena tucked into his side.
“A brandy, please,” Mask answers.
“Maks, this is my brother Liam and his wife Hui,” Patrick says introducing the rest of the party.
I feel awkward, and out of place as Liam and Hui are quietly discussing something in Chinese on the couch while Patrick is gently stroking Lena’s cheek, whispering something in her ear. “So,” I say to Maks trying to break the awkward silence. “Are you from D.C?”
“No, I am in town for work. I live in Philadelphia.”
“What kind of work do you do?” I ask curiously.
“I am a museum curator for the Philadelphia Natural history museum,” Maks tells me.
“No offense but that seems like an odd job for the son of a Pakhan.”
Maks smirks, “We have learned to adapt, like your Family.”
“Okay,” I drawl. Something in his tone is telling me he will not elaborate. “What brings you to D.C?”
“I am acquiring ancient Greek artifacts from a private collector,” Maks explains, “What do you do?”
“I’m the lead app developer for Kinsman communication.”
“What is that?” Maks asks.
“I approve and help develop the applications on your phone and for Kins T.V.”
“You play on the computer all day?” Turning to Patrick Maks says, “Why did you set this up? She is a geek, this will never work,” Mak’s barks turning to leave the room.
“Excuse Me?” I demand.
“Maks,” Patrick barks back. “Your father asked for you to marry into our Family. He trusted my judgment to hand pick someone to stand by your side as Pakhan. Shauna is someone who will not only stand by your side but is your equal in every way. If you leave now, you can explain to your father why the Vory will not be joining The Family,” Patrick growls stepping into Maks’ personal space forcing him to take a step back. Liam rises from the couch coming to his brother’s side.
Lena comes to my side hugging my shoulders silently apologizing for their guest’s behavior. I grind my back teeth trying to keep my thoughts to myself while Patrick gives Maks a dressing down. Maks make a groaning sound low in his chest; he is not used to being told off by anyone.
“Now apologize to Shauna,” Patrick demands.
Relenting quickly Maks turns his attention back toward me, “I apologize for my rudeness, please forgive me, Shauna.”
I nod my answer; if I try to answer, I will tell Maks precisely what I think of him and embarrass Patrick and Lena. Thankfully Irene enters the room announcing dinner is ready.
Lena pulls me into the dining room taking the seat to my right; Hui follows taking the place on my left, offering their silent support. The men file in one-at-a-time Patrick and Liam sitting across from their wives, while Maks sits across from me. He offers me a sheepish smile, but I choose the high road and ignore him. How could Patrick imagine this asshole and I would ever get along let alone get married?
Dinner is tense; Lena and Hui try to make small talk, but I focus on eating and leaving as quickly as possible without choking. Maks seems to do the same answering questions addressed to him. After the plates from the dessert are cleared, I politely refuse a drink and leave. No one, not even Patrick Love has the power to make me stay and endure such rude, calluses behavior. Calling me a geek because of my job, he’s a museum curator doesn’t that make him a nerd, but I was kind enough not to point that out.
Driving into the city, I call my father, “What the hell were you thinking?” I ask when he answers the phone.
“I’m guessing your meeting didn’t go well,” Dad replies in his deep voice.
“That would be an understatement. After five minutes of talking, he declared me a geek and couldn’t be with me because of it.”
“What?” My father roars into the phone.
“Don’t worry. Patrick gave him what for and made him apologize. But next time he asks if he can marry me off tell him thanks but no thanks. I’d rather live with a house full of cats than be treated like that again.”
“You’re allergic to cats, Shauna,” Mom says in the background.
“Exactly. I’m willing to die from anaphylactic shock then deal with an asshole like that again.”
“Where are you?” My father asks.
“Are you sure you should drive? You’re upset.”
“I’m fine. I needed to vent.”
“Okay baby girl, drive home safe, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Text me when you get home,” Dad demands.
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you too,” I say ending the call.
Saturday morning I’m sitting in the kitchen finishing my coffee, waiting for Mom and Dad to pick me up on their way to the airport. The whole family is meeting in Florida to watch Manus play for the Pensacola Hurricanes. At a quarter to seven, there is a knock on my door; rinsing my coffee cup I pick up my weekend bag, and join Dad on the front stoop locking the door. Hugging me tight, Dad takes my bag from me and asks, “How are you doing baby girl?”
“I’m okay,” I say feeling a little defeated. Secretly I was hoping my meeting with Maks would have gone better; I want what my parents have, a committed, loving relationship.
Dad hugs me again tighter this time, “It will be okay baby girl. Your mister right is out there somewhere.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I whispered kissing him on the cheek. No matter how old I am my dad knows how to make me feel better.
“Okay, now let’s catch our flight to see Manus,” Dad says walking me to the car where Mom and twin older brothers, Brenn and Carson are waiting for us. The twins are identical; the easiest way to tell them apart, if you don’t know them, is Brenn has a small scar above his left eye from fighting with Connor Jr. or CJ, our oldest brother.
“Who do we need to kill?” Brenn and Carson say together studying my face.
Smiling, I wrap my arms around their waists and hug my two favorite brothers. “Thank you.”
“You only have to say his name, we will take care of the rest,” Carson says opening the door and sliding into Dad’s Discovery Land Rover, Brenn following.
Mom rolls down her window, “Oh honey, a weekend in the sun is what you need.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I tell her sliding into the third row behind my brothers.
“Why didn’t I know we had a plane?” I say to Kagen as we board.
“We don’t, I do,” Kagen answers with a smirk.
“But the side of the plane says, Kinsman.”
“A tax write-off.”
“FYI, when you send me to those dull conferences I’m not flying commercial anymore,” I tell Kagen before moving behind him to hug my Aunt Regina.
“Give him hell,” Regina says loud enough for Kagen to hear. Regina and Kegan’s relationship differs from most of the arranged marriages in The Family. Kegan married Regina as our way into the Italian mafia; while they didn’t need our help, we needed theirs. Kegan was asked to marry Regina, a descendant of three of the five families.
Kagen laughs snaking his arm around Regina’s waist, “Like you don’t give me enough,” he says kissing her.
“Gross get a room,” their twins, Tito and Sofia say.
“Hey, Tito. Hi Sofia,” I said hugging them.
“How is our favorite cousin?” Tito and Sofia ask.
“Hey what about us?” Brenn and Carson ask.
“Sorry Shauna and Manus have always been our partners in crime,” Tito says.
“If everyone could please take their seats we’ll be taxiing soon,” The captain requests before disappearing into the cockpit. Brenn, Carson, Tito, Sofia, and I spend the two-and-a-half hour catching up.
We meet my older siblings and their families along with Kagen and Regna’s eldest daughter at the resort in Pensacola.
“Manus will be here after practice. Let’s get checked into our rooms and settled before he gets here,” Dad instructs everyone.
Riding the elevator to the third floor, we each go to our separate rooms. After checking the bed to make sure it’s clean and bug-free I shower quickly.
Turning the water off and wrapping a towel around me there is a knock on the door, “Shauna open up,” Manus yells.
Slipping into a bathrobe, I wrench open the door, “Manus,” I yell jumping into his arms.
Manus hugs me tight before setting me on my feet, “Why are you wet and where the hell are your clothes?” My brother asks.
“I was finishing in the shower when you knocked.”
“Get dressed, and you can tell me everything then we’ll round up the rest of the crazies,” Manus says pushing me into the bathroom.
Closing the door, I pull on a pale yellow sundress and pull my hair into a high ponytail then jump onto the bed next to Manus. “I miss you so much. Tell me everything, Dad said Patrick is trying to marry you off.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that is happening,” I say rolling my eyes. “But work is great; I’m developing a new app with a built-in communication for The Family. Patrick and Lena say hello and they’ll be watching on Sunday.”
“Cool. Tell them I say hi back. Is that it? Nothing else is going on at home?”
“No, everything is the same. I don’t see CJ often, Caitlann is busy at Kindred Corp and the kids, Brenn and Carson are the same, in fact, Mom is threating to have Patrick marry them off.”
“I want to be there when she tells them they have to grow up or get married. Then I want to meet the girls willing to put up with their asses,” Manus laughs.
“Enough about me and home what is going on with you?”
“Right now, everything is practice, watching game tapes and workouts. During the season, I don’t have time for anything but work,” Manus says with a huge smile.
“You really love it, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” Standing Manus takes my hands and pulls me off the bed. “Get your shoes on, and we’ll join the rest of the crazies.”
After a loud dinner with the whole family in the resort restaurant Manus, Brenn, Carson, Tito, Sofia and I sneak out to enjoy the Pensacola nightlife. Three Boilermakers, four shots of tequila, and two bars later Carson has tossed me over his shoulder and carried me into my hotel room.
“How the hell are you upright?” Tito asks as I sit down to breakfast the next morning.
“Because I’m awesome like that,” I say with a laugh.
“You just think you are. I’ve seen the pictures from last night you were a mess baby sister,” CJ says pulling on my ponytail.
“There are pictures,” I shout glaring daggers at Brenn and Carson.
“Oh, my god you should see your face,” Caitlann joins in the laughter.
“What is today, piss off Shauna day?” I ask the table.
“Okay let’s stop picking on Shauna, she’s had a rough week,” Mom says calling the table to order. “Listen up everyone, I know we are all excited to see Manus play today. But, the stadium is not as exciting for kids, so I have booked them a guided tour of LEGOLAND.”
All five kids go crazy jumping around and screaming at the top of their lungs. Brenn and Carson look pissed. “What do you mean they get to go to LEGOLAND? We begged you to take us to LEGOLAND for years, and they get to go?” Brenn asks pointing at our nieces and nephews.
“Really,” Dad deadpans. “You two were nineteen and could have gone on your own. Now everyone eats your breakfast so we can get this day started.”
After tailgating for a few hours, we take our seats at the fifty-yard line and watch the Hurricanes pummel the California Miners. After the game, Mom, Dad, Regan, and Kagen return to the hotel while the rest of us celebrate the win with the team.
We are sitting in the VIP room of a local bar the Hurricane players frequently visit. Sofia is on my right, Tito is on her right, and Manus is on my left. We are laughing and reliving old times; some of the other players are listening to our stories and laughing with us. “Manus you will never live this down,” one player says with a laugh.
“Don’t even try it, Larry,” Manus says.
“Are you two sweethearts single,” a large man asks with an eager look on his face.
“No way in hell are you are dating my sister or my cousin,” Manus yells back.
“Oh come on,” the man fires back.
“No fucking way, David. You’re a man whore.” Manus stands to look down at us, “Let’s go.”
Manus and Tito drag Sofia and me out of the bar, the rest of our siblings following and back to the resort. I hug Manus tight, “You’ll be home in a few weeks, right? For the fundraiser?”
“I will,” Manus says before giving me one last hug and leaves.
A weekend with my family was exactly what I needed after my crappy week. On the flight home, Aunt Regina told me about Kagen and her first date. Let’s just say I’m, surprised they were ever married let alone have been together for thirty-five years. Shaking my head at what Kagen said to Regina I pull my laptop from its bag and get started on my day.
I’m ultra-focused working on the communication feature of Gnome Treasure as Sarah’s voice croons from the intercom, “You have a visitor, Shauna.”
Confused I ask, “Was I expecting a visitor?”
“No, he doesn’t have an appointment, but he told security it was personal.”
“Did he give a name?”
“My god, what does he want now? Send him up; thank you.”
Five minutes later Sarah is escorting Maks into my office, “Thank you for seeing me, Shauna.”
“You have some nerve showing your face here today. What do you want?”
“I was hoping you would let me take you to lunch.”
“And why would you do that? You made your feeling pretty clear Friday night,” I say standing from my chair and crossing my arms over my chest.
“I want to apologize properly, please have lunch with me. Let me show you I’m not as big of an asshole as I appeared Friday night,” Maks pleads.
“I would have to disagree with Mr. Volkov. You are a huge asshole who has no manners. What gives you the right to call me a geek; you are a history nerd. Please give me one good reason. I should spend more time with you?”
“Because I regret my actions Friday night and I want to show you I can be better, that I am better. Please let me take you to lunch and show you I am a good man.”
“This is your last and final chance; if you blow this, I don’t want to see your face again, you got it?” I ask pulling my messenger bag from its drawer and rounding my desk to the door.
“I understand,” Maks answers following me out of the office.
The server leaves us after dropping off our drinks and taking our lunch order. Leaning forward Maks takes my hands and brings them to his lips kissing each one of my knuckles. “Thank you for giving me another chance.”
“Don’t mess it up,” I volley back. “Tell me about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything? That is a lot to fit into a lunch hour,” Maks states with a laugh as the server brings our lunches. “Well, I was born in Khimki, a small city northwest of Moscow. When I was ten, my father moved us to Philadelphia. The Pakhan who ran Philadelphia was dying and had no living children. They killed the man he trained to take his place while negotiating with the Armenians. The Pakhan called the Vory elders to send someone, and they chose my father to take his place.”
“Wow, that must have been difficult for you and your family.”
“Philadelphia has a large Russian population who helped us with the transition.”
“Any brothers or sisters?” I ask in between bites of my salad.
“Three younger sisters, Nika is twenty-seven, Rozalina is twenty-four and Lada is twenty.”
“What do they do?”
“Do?” Maks asks confused again by my question.
“They don’t have jobs?”
“We are traditional once a woman is married. Her job is to care for the house and children. Nika and Rozalina attend ladies’ meetings and host fundraiser for local charities. Lada is going to school for computer engineering at Pen State.”
“Wow, smart girl. I have to ask is that what you want from me, to stay home and care for the house and kids.” If so, this won’t work.
“Can we discuss this at a later date? We are still getting to know each other, but being a Pahkan’s wife is a demanding job.”
“My father is a Rear Admiral in the Navy, the parties and meetings he has to host keeps my mom busy. If being a Pahkan’s wife is anything like that, I understand.”
The server returns to clear our plates and drop off the check. Mask pulls his wallet from an inside jacket pocket and says, “Unfortunately I have to return to Philadelphia tonight, but I’ll be back in two weeks. Can I call while I’m gone?”
“I guess,” I say biting my lip and handing him my phone. Maks punches in his number then texts himself, he has my number.
Maks walks me back to my office then kisses me on the cheek, “Thank you for lunch, Maks.”
“You are welcome, Shauna. I’ll call you later.”
Shortly after arriving home my doorbell rings, not expecting anyone I guess Mom is in the city and popped by unannounced. I’ve asked her a million times to call her before coming over, but she does what she wants. Answering the door, I find a florist delivery man with a massive bouquet of pink carnations, pink roses, and lily of the valley in a pastel purple vase. The man hands me the vase, “I don’t know what your man did, but he must be really sorry.”
“Why do you say that?” I ask plucking a five-dollar bill from my pocket.
He shakes his head at my tip, “It’s been taken care of Miss. These flowers mean I’m sorry, and he paid a pretty penny to have them rushed to you tonight.”
“Thanks,” I say closing the door and removing the card from its holder.
Shauna, thank you for giving me a second chance you won’t regret it.-Maks-
Setting the vase of flowers on the table, I hunt down my phone. Finding it on the kitchen counter, I find Maks' number and type a quick text.
Me: Maks thank you for the flowers they are beautiful.
Maks: You are welcome. What are you doing tonight?
I debated on whether to make up something more exciting than what I’m doing but go with the truth.
Me: Staying in and making dinner. You?
Maks: Dropping off the acquisition off at the museum then I’m spending the rest of the night in working.
Me: We are an exciting bunch. Lol.
Maks: We are. What are you doing tomorrow?
Me: Work, you?
Maks: Work then dinner with my family.
Me: Sounds like fun. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Good night.
Sighing with contentment I hold the phone to my chest, maybe things with Maks will be the forever kind of love Mom and Dad have.
Setting the phone on the table, I shake my head, “What the hell Shauna Daly? You’ve known this man for less than one day, and you’re thinking about love?” Now I should be committed wanting true love with a man I don’t know and talking to myself. Turning on music I move to the kitchen to make dinner.
The next morning, I dive into work; Patrick and Kegan want the gnome treasure game working before Labor Day weekend, six weeks away. The Python programming prompt appears on my screen, and I compose if-then statements for the communication feature. I’m three hours into my script when Sarah knocks on my door coming in with a large vase of lavender roses. “Who are those from?” I ask.
Sarah hands me the card, “Open it and find out.”
Opening it, I find another note from Maks.
Shauna, I saw these and thought of you. I miss you and your sharp tongue. See you in two weeks.-Maks-
Snapping a picture of the vase and send it to Maks.
Me: Thanks for the flowers again ;)
Maks writes back within seconds.
Maks: You are welcome.
I count the number of long stem roses in the vase.
Me: Why are there thirteen flowers rather than twelve?
Maks: Even numbers are bad luck in Russian culture.
Me: Okay. Why do you keep sending me flowers?
Maks: Because I like you, thought you would have figured that out, smart girl.
Me: I figured.
Maks: Then why did you ask?
Me: Because it’s weird. You come into my office Monday apologize then leave town with I’ll see you later. Then you send me flowers.
Maks: It is not weird; it is what men do when they are sorry and want to show a woman they are interested in her.
Me: No, no it’s not. I don’t know any men that do that.
Maks: I do : )
Me: Then you are one in a million.
Me: Whatever, I have to get back to work.
Maks: Me too. TTYL.
It takes another three hours to finish the if-then statements because I keep looking up from the screen to look at my flowers. After the statements are done, I test the game. Entering the secret garden, the game skips then freezes. “You will be the death of me,” I growl at my computer.
“You know it will not talk back, right?” I jump and look up and see Mom standing in the doorway.
“Mom, what are you doing here?”
“I was shopping for a dress for a state dinner this week I haven’t seen you in a few days and wanted to take you to dinner. Who are these from?” Mom asks as she smells the roses on my desk.
“Sure dinner would be nice. The flowers are from Maks.”
“The man from Friday night?”
“Yeah, he came by Monday to apologize for his behavior.”
“Wow, and he sent flowers?”
“This is actually the second vase of flowers he sent. He sent a large vase of flowers to my house last night.”
“Marry him,” Mom blurts. “Do you know how rare it is for a man to send flowers not once but twice?”
“I do. I told Maks too.”
“Maybe there is hope,” Mom says as we walk into the waiting elevator.
“Hi pchelka,” Maks greets me when I answer my phone.
“Hi Maks,” I say smiling.
“How was your day?”
“Ugh, frustrating. I spent all day writing if-then statements in Python. Then I went to test the program it seized up; it took me and two programs to read the code to find the sequence was out of order. Tomorrow I must change the program sequencing. How was your day?”
“Exciting, we received an exhibit on loan from China of the Xia Dynasty, the oldest dynasty in China. I wish you were here to see it.”
“I wish I was there too. When are you coming back to D.C?”
“Umm, I’ll be there late next week.”
“It does. So, what are you wearing?”
“Maks,” I admonish him with a giggle.
“What you sounded sad, and now you don’t. But seriously what are you wearing?”
“Jeans and a T-shirt; I just got home from work. What are you wearing?”
“Basketball shorts, I ran and showered before calling you,” Maks answers. “I’ll let you go so you can eat. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Bye,” I say ending the call.
I spend the rest of the night picturing Maks sitting on the couch in nothing but basketball shorts fresh from a shower. I shake my head, time for a shower before dinner.
Two days later Dad calls, “Hi baby girl I need to ask a big favor.”
“Will you come with me to a state dinner? Your mother is sick and can’t make it.”
“Yes, at seven.”
I look down at my watch it’s already four, “Um if I leave now, I should be ready in time.”
“Thank you baby girl; I’ll pick you up at six. Love you.”
“Love you too,” I reply ending the call. “Sarah,” I call out.
“I need to leave. Is there anything on my calendar?”
“No, you’re free.”
“Thank you, Sarah. If anyone comes looking for me have them call me on my cell.”
I leave the office hailing a cab to get home as fast as possible. Bolting through the front door, I shower quickly then pull my hair into a simple up do, add a light dusting of makeup before stepping into a plum column gown. Rummaging through my closet, I find a black clutch and black closed toe pumps giving me enough height, so the dress doesn’t drag on the ground. I clasp the buckle of the left shoe as Dad rings the doorbell. Racing downstairs I toss my ID, keys, and phone into my clutch then join Dad outside on the front porch.
“You look great baby girl,” Dad says hugging me.
“Thank you, you look good too.”
“Let’s go, or we’ll be late.”
Sliding into the back of the town car next to Dad I ask, “What is this dinner for?”
“The Russian President is here for a visit; this dinner is for him and his wife.”
After waiting in a hell of a long line of cars, Dad enters the State dining room with me on his arm. A man in an Air Force dress blue uniform shows us to our table where some of the other high ranking military members are sitting. Dad greets everyone by name and introduces me, then explains Mom is home sick and I was kind enough to fill in at the last minute.
Taking my seat I scan the room to see if I know anyone. I spot Maks seated at a table with a young blond girl in her late teens, older women, and a man who has to be his father.
Why didn’t Maks tell me he’s back in town and why is he here? Does his father know the Russian President or did Samuel invite him? Hopefully, I can ask him after dinner. Scanning the room, I see Lena and Patrick sitting at the head table with Samuel and who I guess is the Russian President and his wife.
After everyone has taken their seats the doors are closed and Samuel stands taking the podium. “Good evening everyone. It is my great honor and privilege to welcome President Popov and his wife Yana. Our two countries have a long, tense history of being on opposite sides of the issues. This dinner is not only to welcome President Popov and his wife but also to celebrate our countries coming together, despite our past. Now please help me, welcome President and Mrs. Popov.” Everyone in the dining room claps as the two men shake hands.
President Popov takes the podium in a heavy Russian accent address the room, “Thank you for the warm welcome Mr. President. My wife Yana and I are pleased to be here cultivating such an important friendship between our two countries. We too are hoping to learn from the past and move forward with a stronger alliance.” Everyone claps again as the two Presidents shake hands.
“Please enjoy your dinner,” Samuel says before taking his seat.
I make small talk with the Generals and Admirals at our table as dinner is being severed.
“Shauna, your father was telling me you work at Kinsman Communication.” The man in an Air Force uniform says.
“Yes, sir,” I reply. “I’m the lead app developer.”
“What do you do?” A man in an Army uniform asks with a smile.
“I help make and approve the games on your phone and Kins T.V.”
“You’re the one responsible for my son playing on his phone rather than doing his homework,” an older lady asks.
“Yes, ma’am guilty as charged,” I say with a laugh.
After they have cleared the dessert dishes the orchestra begins playing, Dad leads me to the dance floor for a father-daughter dance. We share two songs before he kisses my cheek and tells me he has to work the room. I tell him to enjoy while I say hi to Lena and Patrick.
“Hi, Shauna. I didn’t know you would be here tonight.” Lena greets me as I approach their table.
“I was a last-minute replacement; Mom is sick with a nasty cold.”
“That’s a shame, I know she loves coming to these dinners.”
“She does. Anyway, how are you feeling? You look amazing.”
“See, I told you,” Patrick says. “I told her the same thing before we left the house, but she won’t believe me.”
“You are my husband; you have to tell me I’m pretty,” Lena says kissing Patrick on the cheek.
Mrs. Popov laughs, “I remember feeling the same way when I was pregnant. Don’t worry those feeling don’t last long and it is more than worth it.”
“Thank you,” Lena says with a glowing smile. “Sorry we are rude, Mrs. Popov this is my best friend, Shauna Daly. Shauna this is Mrs. Popov.”
“Oh, please call me Yana. Shauna Daly? You are dating my nephew?”
“Your nephew?” I ask confused.
“Maks Volkov, he is my nephew. His mother is my sister.” Yana explains.
“Oh yes, we started seeing each other recently,” I explain looking at Patrick and Lena for answers.
“He is a good boy, but sometimes he doesn’t think before he speaks,” Yana says with a laugh.
“I’ve noticed,” I say with a laugh.
Yana turns to her husband and says something in hushed Russian. President Popov turns to me, “It is nice to meet you, Shauna. I trust we will meet again.”
“Tetya Yana,” a deep voice says from beside me as a strong arm circles my waist. “I see you met my girlfriend,” Maks says.
Yana stands rounding the table hugging Maks and kissing his cheeks cooing to him in Russian. President Popov moves to embrace his nephew saying something to his in Russian as they look at me.
Maks makes our excuses and pulls me to an empty corner, “What are you doing here?” Maks hisses.
I shake my head pissed, “I told you my father is a Rear Admiral. He was invited; my mother is sick and couldn’t make it tonight. What the hell are you doing here? I thought you wouldn’t be back for a couple of weeks? Is everything you say a lie?” Turning I try to stomp off but Maks catches my arm and slams his lips down on mine forcing my lips apart with his tongue. I pull back and slap him, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Kissing my girlfriend,” Maks states slowly.
“Not until you answer my questions.”
Maks keeps my hand in his playing with my fingers. “Sorry I did not call you. I was not sure I would make tonight’s dinner until we board the plane. My father wanted the whole family here to support my aunt and uncle. I never met to lie to you. I was going to call you first thing tomorrow.”
“I’m telling you right now Maks Volkov; I dislike liars. If you can’t be honest with me, then this ends now.”
“I am not a liar and would never purposely lie to you.”
I study his face but see no sign he’s telling what I want to hear, “Okay.”
“Now can I kiss my girlfriend?” Maks asks with a dazzling smile.
“Now you ma-.” Maks presses his lips to mine before I finish talking sliding his tongue along the seam of my lips. Breaking the kiss Maks pants, “I would like you to meet my family.”
“Then you can meet my dad,” I reply taking Maks' hand and following him across the dining room to his table.
As we get closer to his table, my palms sweat, and my heart feels like it will beat out of my chest. “Do not worry they will love you,” Maks says kissing me on the temple.
Maks stops at the table, “Mom, Dad this is my girlfriend, Shauna. Shauna these are my parents, Gennadi and Alla Volkov. These are my sisters and their husbands, Nika her husband Stas Petrov, Rozalina her fiancée Ioann Orlov, and my baby sister Lada.”
“It is nice to meet you all.”
“Oh it is very nice to meet the woman who has Maks tied in knots,” Stas says his Russian accent thicker than Maks. I blush at his statement and look up at Maks.
“Stop embarrassing Shauna,” Maks breaks in.
“Please sit,” Gennadi says.
Sitting Alla says, “Shauna tell us about yourself,” her voice is soft but stern. I can tell she is trying to size me up, making sure I’m good enough for her baby boy.
I chew on my lower lip then word vomit the first thing that comes to mind, “My father is a Rear Admiral at the Pentagon, my mother is sick, and I’m his date. I have three older brothers, one older sister, and a younger brother. I am the lead app developer at Kinsman Communication.” I look around the table Maks parents are still studying me, his sisters and their other half’s looks bored, but Lada seems star stuck.
“Finally found a smart woman with a job,” Nika says with a laugh.
Maks shots something back in Russian. Alla gives them both a mom look staying something in Russian making them both stop and look apologetic.
“Let us visit your father,” Maks says helping me from my seat.
Making our way to the Admiral’s table, I get nervous again. “Pchelka do not worry, it will be okay,” Maks says giving my hand a light squeeze.
“Excuse me,” I say as Dad is laughing at a general’s joke. They turn to see me and Dad’s jaw ticks when he sees Maks. “Dad, this is Maks, my boyfriend.”
Dad stands from the table, “You’re the one who made my little girl cry?”
“Dad,” I admonish him.
“Yes, sir,” Maks answers.
“Don’t ever let it happen again or else,” Dad says extending his hand and shaking Maks' hand.
Maks takes Dad hand and nods, “I want to make your daughter happy. Our first meeting was a poor representation of myself; it will not happen again.”
“Good,” Dad replies and gestures for us to sit.
“You are chipper,” Mom says the following Saturday at our weekly afternoon lunch at Fig & Olive in City Center.
“I see it too, you’re glowing,” my sister Caitlann says.
I sigh knowing they will not let this go, “Maks,” I say knowing this will drive them crazy.
“Who’s Maks?” Caitlann asks.
“Dad said he was quite the charmer at the State Dinner,” Mom says.
“He was, I really like him,” I say blushing.
“I’m happy for you baby girl,” Mom says rubbing my arm.
“When do we get to meet this Maks?” Caitlann asks.
“I don’t know we only started dating.”
“Friday the whole family will finally be together for the annual gala, bring him with you,” Mom demands.
“I’ll ask him tonight,” I reply biting into my F&O burger.
“Kate Spade’s first,” Caitlann says. “You need a dress for your date tonight.”
“I don’t need new dresses I have plenty,” I tell her and Mom.
“Honey, when was the last time you bought a new one? Lena’s wedding?” Mom asks.
“No. I wore one I already had.”
“Exactly; you need to update your wardrobe, sweetie.”
“Fine, two dresses.”
Caitlann and Mom drag me into Kate Spade. Pulling dresses off the rack at an alarming rate; they hold them up trying to find the perfect dress for my date tonight. “This is stupid. None of these will look good on me, let’s go home,” I say turning to leave.
“No, you don’t,” Caitlann says grabbing my arm. “Stay, we will find you the perfect dress for tonight.”
“This isn’t me,” I say gesturing at the surrounding clothes. “I’m jeans and t-shirt girl, not dresses and ruffles.”
“Sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone to find things you like,” Mom tells me.
Caitlann holds up a black minidress with red poppies, “This is the dress.”
“It looks like they made it for a twelve year and it is too short,” I say pointing at the dress she’s holding. “My hoo-ha will hang out.”
“This will look perfect on you and your vag is not going to hangout. It will show the perfect amount of leg driving your Maks crazy,” Caitlann says pushing me into the dressing room.
Striping off my jeans and sweater I pull the dress on and slide my hands over the skirt. Glancing in the mirror I’m shocked how it showcases my curves.
“Come show us,” Mom says.
Opening the dressing room door Mom and Caitlann coo and fuss over me. “This dress was made for you,” Mom whispers in my ear as she kisses my cheek.
“Maks will not know what hit him. Do you want me to help with your hair and makeup?” Caitlann asks.
“Yes, please. I’m nervous; this will be our first real date.”
“There is no need to be nervous, he will love you. Now go change so we can find dresses for Friday night,” Mom says hugging me.
After changing and paying for the dress, we walk down the block to Bloomingdale’s. Mom and Caitlann quickly find dresses for the gala. I flip through the rack not seeing a single dress I like. Mom holds up one resembling a plaid sack; I shake my head. Caitlann flips through the dresses and holds up a mermaid gown. The top is solid black with bobbed sleeves while the skirt is decorated with large pink and red flowers. I nod, “It’s perfect.”
“Okay sweetie go shower then I’ll help do your hair and makeup,” Caitlann says taking a seat on the couch and turning the TV on.
Skipping upstairs to my bedroom, stripping quickly and step into the shower letting the hot spray wash away my fears and anxiety. Turning off the water and towel drying my skin the anxiety rears its ugly head again. Taking a deep breath and pulling my robe on I yell for Caitlann, “I’m done!”
Walking into my bedroom, she points to the chair at the vanity table, “Have a seat.” Opening a drawer Caitlann finds a round brush and pulls it through my wet locks. Looking at me in the mirror she says, “Don’t worry he will love you,” then turns on the hairdryer. Satisfied with my hair Caitlann turns me in the chair picking up a makeup brush and telling me to close my eyes. “Is this necessary? I mean he’s already seen me without all this,” I say pointing to my face.
“Yes, now stop talking.”
“But I want him to like me not all this.”
“I know you’ve had much luck with men. This is not to make him like you; this is to attempt to show him you are serious about getting to know him.”
“What if I do all this and he still doesn’t want me?”
“Then it’s his loss, and we’ll let the boys kick his ass,” Caitlann says making me giggle. “Now close your eyes and let me finish your makeup before he gets here.”
“I can’t wear this,” I say pointing to the mini dress.
“Why not? You look amazing in it.”
“I can’t wear a bra, and my boobs are too big.”
“Don’t worry I have the tape,” Caitlann says pulling a roll of tape from her purse.
“It’s double sided tape to tape your girls into place. Trust me; I do it all the time. And these,” Caitlann says putting small flower stickers placing them on my nipples, “are pasties. They keep your nipples from showing through your dress.”
Caitlann helps me into my dress being mindful of my hair and makeup. Leaving me to zip my knee-high black boots the doorbell rings, “I got it,” Caitlann yells.
“Great,” I mutter to myself hurrying to join them. Rushing downstairs I overhear Caitlann telling Maks, “If you treat my sister less than the princess she is I will hunt you down and let our brothers beat you.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Maks answers.
I join them in the entryway, and Maks' eyes grow wide with surprise, and a Cheshire smile spreads across his face. Reaching his side, he pulls me close kissing me on the cheek, “You look amazing,” he whispers handing me thirteen red long stem roses.
“Thank you, these are beautiful,” I say placing them in an empty vase on the entryway table.
“Okay, you crazy kids have fun,” Caitlann says joining her husband, Chase who is standing at the curb leaning against his Jag.
“Sorry about her. She is crazy protective of me and my younger brother,” I explain.
Maks chuckles, “It is okay I am the same way with my sisters. Are you ready for dinner?”
“I need my purse,” I say walking into the living room and picking it up from the table. Rejoining Maks in the entryway I say, “I’m ready.”
As Maks helps me into his Aston Martin Vanquish, I ask, “Where are we going?”
“I made our reservations at Zaytinya,” He answers shutting the door.
“Fancy,” I joke.
“Only the best for you,” Maks answers kissing my hand before sliding the car in gear and racing across the city.
Once we are seated at our table Maks turns his stormy gray eyes on me, “It’s your turn, Shauna, tell me everything about you.”
“My dad is in the Navy, so we moved around a few times. I was born in Guam; then we moved to Hawaii, Greece, Japan, and Italy. My dad was promoted to Rear Admiral, they stationed him in D.C. when I was fifteen. My parents have been married for Thirty-seven years. I have four brothers, three older, one younger and my older sister, Caitlann. My oldest brother Connor Jr or CJ is thirty-five, in the navy, married with two boys. The twins Brenn and Carson are thirty, and currently bartenders at a bar downtown and refuse to grow up. Manus is twenty-six and plays professional football for the Florida Hurricanes. Caitlann is thirty-two works for Patrick at Kindred Corporation in their marketing department; she is married with two girls and a boy.”
The server returns with our wine, “Are you ready to order?”
“Do you mind if I order for us?” Maks asks.
“Please,” I am assuming he knows what is good here.
After ordering for us, Maks asks, “You told me about your family, but what about you?”
“I’m twenty-eight; I have a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Georgetown. Kegan, my uncle, and CEO of Kinsman Communication hired me right of college as a programmer. I did programming for a couple of years then moved to app development. After a few years as a developer, they promoted me to the lead app developer.”
“You must be good for him to hire you for such an important job,” Maks states.
“I’m sure it was more because he’s my uncle,” I say blushing and taking a sip of my wine.