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.”