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She wheels her chair over and opens the folder, setting it down between us. She takes her pen and points to a paragraph. “Technically speaking, you don’t have to rezone here. This area is already zoned as industrial. Whoever told you this wasn’t zoned that way is an idiot. It’s such an unnecessary step. You can literally just move your business in and start operating.”

She points to another paragraph and explains how I can set up a legit-looking company here that I can then pass money through without it being noticed. I watch her in fascination. She is so intelligent and clearly knows what she is talking about. I try to listen intently, but she amazes me, so eventually, I stop her. “Redo this report with your suggestions, and give it to me to look over. Make your suggestions in red, and I’m going to see what idiot is making these suggestions and costing me money.”

“I hope no one is going to get hurt on my account,” Tori says anxiously. “I mean, I know that’s what families like ours do, but it’s probably just that they didn’t know any better.”

“Don’t you worry about that,” I say with a smile, reaching for her hand and squeezing it. “You’re doing great things for the family, and I’m pleased about it. You’re proving everyone wrong, especially Leonid, that you can’t be trusted. I knew you could.”

I raise her hand to my lips and kiss her fingers gently.

“There’s also a bunch of inspections you can bypass if you divide the units into smaller units,” she says shyly. “But I’ll make a note of it on the document. This one will take me a day, so I’ll do it now and get it to you by tonight.”

“Your family really lucked out,” I say suddenly, surprising even myself. “You’re by far one of the most intelligent people I’ve met, and you could have really boosted your family if they’d let you.”

“Try telling them that,” she laughs. “My family doesn’t exactly think I stand out. As the youngest of my cousins, I’m generally protected and kept in the dark about things.”

I shake my head. “They’re idiots, Tori. I mean that.”

She gives me a dazzling smile, and I can see she isn’t used to this kind of praise. That smile, though. I will praise her all the time if that’s what I get to see. Making her happy makes me happy in a way I haven’t felt in a long time, and even though there’s a pang of nagging guilt about Mila, I feel like my deceased wife would have loved Tori.

Chapter 14 - Vittoria

With guilt gnawing at me, I sit down at breakfast with Ivan. I have practiced this speech in my head over and over again. I need to do this.

“Is something the matter?” he asks me as we tuck into our eggs.

I smile at him. “I miss going to the public library. I know we have so many books here, but it’s non-fiction I’m after.”

“Why don’t you go this morning, then?” Ivan asks as I hoped he would.

I nod. “I think I will go this morning and get something light to read in the non-fiction section.”

With that, we settle into our comfortable silence as we eat. Ivan doesn’t seem to sense anything else is off with me though I worry he’ll send Aleks with me. However, after breakfast, he simply gives me a soft kiss before I leave.

I ask the driver to take me to the public library, and I sit back and relax. The hard part at this point is over, convincing Ivan I wanted to go to the public library. Technically speaking, that’s exactly where I want to be, but for nefarious reasons that are building a guilty feeling within me.

The driver finds parking a block away, and I walk toward the library, trying to appear casual, just in case anyone is following me. I can’t just go in, get a book, do what I need to, and leave. I need to make out as though I am actually enjoying myself there. Whoever sees me must think I’m a regular person browsing for books.

I walk through the doors and look around. I find the non-fiction section quickly but take my time running my hands over titles. Every so often, I pull one off the shelf and browse through it as though I’m interested in its contents. I actually would like to check out some psych books while I’m here.

I move to that section and slowly browse the books, glancing around now and then to ensure no one is watching me. I move deeper into the section where it is harder to see me. I quickly skim through the books before I find the one I am looking for.

I open it to page one hundred and twenty-seven, slip a folded letter into the pages, shut it, and put it back. The letter details to Alessandro what he should be negotiating for and what he should make look appealing to Ivan. I want to do right by my family and focus on the fact that my father’s still in hospital in a coma to squash the guilt building in me. There’s a part of me that wants to do right by Ivan as well. It’s a strong feeling, one that doesn’t want to betray him. It’s the part of me that feels safe resting in his arms at night. Who enjoyed the feel of his hard dick stretching me out.

I move to the more modern section on psychology and pick three books. I checked the time; it was almost noon. I’ve been here long enough.

When my phone rings, I jump slightly and look apologetically at the librarian, who is sternly gazing at me over her glasses. I answer quietly, “Hello?”

“It’s me,” Ivan says. “I want to meet for lunch at the restaurant if you’re done.”

“Yeah, I found some good books to read. I’ll be there soon,” I say before hanging up.

I check out the books with a different librarian, pack them into the book bag I brought, and then leave the library. I go to the driver and asked him to take me to the restaurant. We’re not far away, so when I get there, there’s no sign of Ivan.

A beautiful hostess comes to me. “Mrs. Volkov?”

“Yes, that’s me,” I say, feeling terribly awkward, everyone treats me like I’m so special here.

“This way, Mr. Volkov will be here soon. He is stuck in traffic.” She leads me to the private booth and sits me down. “Your waitress will bring you a glass of water and take your drinks order shortly.”

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