Trouble in a Tight Dress(10)

By: Lori Sjoberg

Before she could respond, Ivan pulled her in for a hug. His strong arms squeezed her so tightly that she found it difficult to breathe. Or maybe it was due to the ball of emotion lodged in her throat. In spite of everything, she’d missed him. For an instant, it brought her back to better days, when she was ignorant about her family’s true nature.

When her brother pulled back, some of the tension had left his features, and it made him look ten years younger. But there was something in his eyes, dark and jaded, that set Nina’s nerves on edge.

She forced a smile. “It’s good to see you, Ivan. What brings you to Orlando?”

A pair of lines creased his forehead. “Father’s gone. You’re aware of it, yes?”

“I recently read about it online.” A vehicle drove past, but with her focus locked on Ivan, she barely noticed it. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” His voice went lower. Darker. “The doctors failed to diagnose the cancer until it had invaded every organ in his body. To watch such a strong man grow weak and defenseless was…difficult.” Reaching out, he took her hand and gave it a light squeeze. “It’s time for you to come home, sestra. The family needs you. I need you.”

“For what? You’ve obviously done fine without me.”

“Only because we couldn’t find you. Now that we have, it’s time for you to assume your rightful place within the family.”

She shook her head as a sliver of fear went through her. “No, my place is here.”

“Antonina.” He spoke her name in the exact same tone her father had used when she was in trouble. With her father, it meant she was about to get hit. She didn’t know what it meant with her brother. When she tried to pull her hand away, his grip on it tightened to the point of causing pain, and her fear turned into panic.

“You’ve been away long enough,” he said. “You have responsibilities. It’s time for you to come home.”

“She’s not going anywhere with you.”

The sound of Austin’s deep, rough voice filled her with relief. She glanced over her shoulder to see him behind her, looking big, bad, and madder than hell.

Ivan’s steely gaze shifted to Austin, and the lines on his forehead deepened. “This is a family matter. It does not concern you.”

“I beg to differ.” Austin placed his hand on her back, and the solid weight felt like a brand against her skin. He bent his head, and when he spoke, his breath was warm against her ear. “Are you okay?”

She gave a curt nod as she slipped her hand free of her brother’s grip. “I’m fine. I just want to go home.”

Ivan’s eyes narrowed. “Home is with your family.”

“Not anymore.”

“Antonina…” The way he said her name was loaded with such menace that it took all of her strength to keep her knees from shaking. She was a grown damn woman, one who’d been on her own for more than a decade, but in her brother’s presence she felt small and weak, and she hated every second of it.

Austin inserted himself between Nina and her brother, his back blocking most of her view. The alpha move should have pissed her off, but at the moment she was far more concerned about getting the hell away from her brother. “You heard the woman. It’s time for you to leave.”

“I’m not going anywhere without my sister.” Ivan’s features hardened, and at that moment he looked so much like their father it sent a chill down Nina’s spine. He tapped his knuckles against the side of the car, and Victor and the other man got out. They stared at Austin, not saying a word, but the threat was unmistakable. “This is not your business. Leave now, while you still can on your own accord.”

Austin chuckled, though the sound was tinged with aggression. His shoulders were back, his big body tense, while his hands half-curled into fists. “What, is that supposed to scare me? I’ve shit bigger than you and your friends. But to be honest, I’d rather avoid making a scene, which is why I called the cops when I got here. They should arrive any time now, so you might want to get the fuck out of Dodge.”

Ivan’s eyes widened a fraction at the mention of the police, but then narrowed just as quickly. This time when he spoke, there was urgency in his voice. “Antonina, get in the car. I’m not going to ask you again.”

Drawing strength from Austin, she straightened her spine and tipped up her chin. “I said I’m not going. This is my home now. End of story.”

Her brother made a frustrated sound, as though he were dealing with a petulant child throwing a tantrum instead of a grown woman. “Very well, but remember you chose this path.”

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