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.