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Nadezsha stared off at the marble pillars of the bank as she waited for her turn at the front. Sometimes it felt surreal as she pondered what had transpired over the last few days. There was a lingering soreness between her thighs from the thorough coupling Arkady had given her the night before. And oh yes, she had enjoyed every last bit of it. He could be fierce, grabbing her hair or throat — two things she had come to enjoy, much to her surprise — or gentle, holding her close as he moved against her languorously, taking his time to explore her.
Even now, her body warmed at the thought of being with him again. He’d mentioned needing to work tonight, but to expect to see him tomorrow. She could play with herself, but after the sublime pleasure of his touch, she doubted her massage wand would make her feel anywhere near as sated.
A sneeze from behind her pulled her out of her reverie, and her location reminded her of another pleasing aspect of Arkady — his generosity. And the promise of a car soon. How she’d missed having the car.
Sure, she’d had use of Dad’s car, but the shit luck was that he’d had his heart attack while driving, wrecking the car. Naturally, as the old bastard had wiped out her hard-earned savings, it wasn’t as if she’d been able to just go out and buy a car. Wishing to avoid loans, she paid tuition entirely out of pocket what her meager scholarship didn’t cover, and consoled herself with the fact that she saved more money with a monthly bus pass instead of all the expenses of having a car. Still, it was a pain in the ass dealing with public transit at times.
She looked down at the check before the person in front of her went up to the teller. The number that Arkady had written was significant to someone in her position. Even if Arkady were to decline further financial assistance, she could stretch out this check for a couple of semesters and even take full-time. Over the last few days she’d had the check in her purse, Nadezsha had debated fiercely with herself as to whether she should take it. It basically made Arkady official as her sugar daddy, even if he didn’t want to call himself one.
Still, Arkady had a point about pride. There was a such thing as too much of a good thing, and wasn’t it said that pride went before the fall?
Ah, fuck it, Nadezsha said to herself as she came to the front of the line. She deposited the check into her savings, but took out five hundred dollars for herself, leaving the bank feeling oddly elated. It was rare that she ever had fifty in her purse.
Nearly across the street from the bank was a strip mall and shopping center, an establishment which boasted of a couple of higher-end clothes and shoes stores. And she now had five hundred dollars of cash in her purse. Her gaze moved down to her jacket, which she’d had since she was a junior in high school. It was a bit tight around the chest, but was otherwise serviceable, and kept her warm on this brisk day.
On the other hand, it was getting threadbare. The dark purple had faded to a medium purple-gray, and the hems of her sleeves were fraying.
She’d get a new coat. And maybe new shoes, as well. It’d been too long since she shopped anywhere other than thrift stores or the clearance rack of Wal-Mart. Money might be said to be the root of evil, but it could buy at least some happiness.
Arkady was surprisingly forthcoming, at least with certain aspects of his life. His grandparents had been involved in the black market trade, finding ways to keep the family comfortable during the privations of the Soviet Era.
The collapse of the USSR had caused loss of wealth for many who had managed to amass it, but the power behind the Volga Group had diversified its funds, so a good amount of it remained intact enough for them to weather the turbulent times.
The Volga Group used its money to help families emigrate to the United States. Among these had been Nadezsha’s grandparents and their children. In exchange, the adults had agreed to work for the Group for a certain amount of years. On a basic level, it was a contract of indenture. But the Volga Group provided for its workers, so the Ivanovs and others had been able to make a decent life for themselves and their children. Through its influence, the Group supported the Russian-American community through legitimate means such as banking services, legal representation, and guidance through the immigration and naturalization process.
Its influences, as Nadezsha would learn, extended along much of the Pacific Coast. The business arm of the Volga Group was established in imports and exports. Boris had gotten a loan from the Volga Group to open his restaurant, and his business acumen had ensured that the Group was paid back its investment in due time.
And yes, the powers behind the Group did conduct questionable endeavors at times, or had done so in the past, was his answer to her only direct question about illegal activities. She decided to not pursue the line of inquiry after bursa escort she’d secured a promise from him that whatever he might be involved in would not impact her in any way.
Arkady and his siblings had been given an excellent education, learning several other languages in addition to Russian and English, at the insistence of their father who recognized the need for such skills in the changing world.
Arkady had majored in finance with a minor in business, and was secure in his position in the Group, using his financial acumen to help his employers balance their books and make good investments. Turns out he was a giant math nerd, after all. Brains and brawn, there were plenty enough of both, and of course, having a lot of money didn’t hurt, either.
It’d been several nights since she saw Arkady. He’d had to travel upstate for business, and she actually found herself missing him immensely. He said he’d be back tomorrow though, and she was eager for that. Tonight was a long night at the restaurant, and with Arkady gone, it seemed like Ludmilla would let her wounded pride dictate her behavior towards her cousin. It was nothing overt, or anything that could easily be reported to Boris, but at the same time, Nadezsha was experiencing what it was like to invoke the fury of a woman scorned.
It would be snide comments to the diners, bemoaning how ‘the cook is so slow’ or the like, or slight jabs of the elbow as they passed by one another.
With Arkady’s money in the bank and the promise of better living conditions, Nadezsha seriously considered tossing her apron down and stalking out of the restaurant, never to return. Her remaining family generally saw her as a burden, a bother, the poor orphan cousin who was lucky enough to have such generous relatives who would forgive the sins of her deadbeat father, and so on and so forth…
She’d worked for her uncle for nearly four years now, and did not intend to spend the rest of her life under the thumb of her family. This was not Old Russia. She did not have to remain if she did not want to.
“Ludmilla can shove it up her ass,” Nadezsha snapped as Mikhail came around the counter to tell her that Ludmilla said the stroganoff was not cooked enough. “If she thinks she can do a better job, she can get her ass back here and do it herself.”
Mikhail stared at her, and she regarded him with a tight smile. “You know as well as I do that I know my shit. Has any diner ever complained about my stroganoff?”
“She just told me to tell you what she said-” The dark-haired youth started to say, but she shook her head.
“I don’t give a shit about what she says. I have work to do, and so do you. And Ludmilla too. I don;t want to hear anything else she says, and I’m fucking serious, Mikhail. Go away so I can work,” she added acidly, waving a wooden spoon at him. Aunt Fanya was also up front and fortunately stayed there for the most part. Her cooking was only marginally better than her daughter’s, but she was a decent enough hostess.
It was Friday night, and there was plenty to do on a crisp night when people wanted something hot in their bellies. Since Fanya was up front with her daughter, Nadezsha remained in the kitchen and for that she was glad. She lost herself in the preparation of food, chopping up vegetables, cutting up slices of meat, applying various foods to hot surfaces for certain periods of time, seasoning this or that with pinches of various herbs and spices. Cooking for her was Zen, and when there weren’t too many distractions, she found the art calming.
So even with the quick pace of the restaurant, Nadezsha found solace in her work. She’d always enjoyed cooking it, and when Mom had become sick, she’d taken over most of the food preparation at home. When things started to slow down, she poured herself some coffee, leaning against the wall in the alcove and closing her eyes.
Her eyelids fluttered open when she heard someone clear their throat, and saw Aunt Fanya. Her graying sand blonde hair was pulled up in a chignon which did take some attention from the loose skin around her jaw.
“I hear you and my daughter are having problems,” Fanya stated. Nadezsha drew n a slow breath. ‘You and my daughter’. It was clear which one Fanya preferred.
“I am not causing them,” she retorted quietly.
“You disrespect her by not doing as she asks. She is a hostess.”
It’d been this way ever since the cousins were little. It wasn’t so bad back then, but as the girls had gotten older and Ludmilla’s dislike of Nadezsha became more intense, it seemed that Fanya would mirror her daughter’s feelings.
“She steals tips,” Nadezsha blurted out. She didn’t doubt that the theft Arkady had witnessed was not the first one, and it confirmed a suspicion she’d tried to suppress for a long time. After all, being snotty to your cousin was one thing, but stealing from her? She’d wanted to believe that Ludmilla was better than that, at least. Apparently not.
“Oh, now you make false accusations!” her bursa escort bayan aunt gasped, pressing her hand to her heart as if Nadezsha had threatened to torture and kill all her children.
“I would never make accusations I suspected were false.” Nadezsha kept herself calm, schooling her face in an almost blank expression. “Especially against members of my own family.” She lifted the coffee to take a sip as Fanya scowled.
“We will talk to my husband about this, and-“
Nadezsha could see where this was going. It wouldn’t be an open meeting where things could be discussed calmly and rationally. No, it would be Ludmilla turning on the waterworks and appealing to her father, batting her eyes at him, and the dispute, whatever it might be, rarely ever was settled entirely in Nadezsha’s favor, however right she might have been.
And this time, Fanya would join forces with her daughter. ‘I am a good mother! I never raised my daughter to be a thief!’ And so on.
“I will be happy to have a family discussion about this… at a time that is convenient to me.” She set down her coffee, pulled her coat from its hanger, patted her pockets to make sure her keys and wallet were where they should be, and without another word, she slipped the coat on.
“Your shift is not over, and you still have the cleanup to do!”
“We will talk at a time when you are in a calmer mood.” It was something she’d recently learned from the Internet. It was called ‘gray rock’, a method of dealing with difficult people.
She ignored the curious glances of the kitchen staff as she walked down the corridor with Fanya making angry noises behind her. As she walked through the restaurant, she gave a polite nod to several regular diners who waved or acknowledged her as she passed by.
When Ludmilla turned towards her, Nadezsha wanted to drive her fist into her cousin’s face. Instead, she lifted her middle finger before exiting the building.
Nadezsha lay there in the semidarkness of her apartment, enjoying the relative silence of the apartment after she’d turned off her phone after its near-nonstop buzzing. She didn’t doubt that there were plenty of angry messages from her aunt and Ludmilla, and perhaps a few concerned messages from Mikhail or other members of the staff.
There was some ramen and a couple of pieces of fruit among other odds and ends. Normally, at the end of the night, she could have taken home a plate of leftover food, but after tonight… Eh.
She could go out, but she wasn’t in the mood to go to a restaurant alone, or go grocery shopping. Maybe she’d just watch something on Netflix and have a quiet night. Arkady would he coming back tomorrow, and she was certain that he would find plenty to do tomorrow night…
With a quick shrug, she turned off her phone, setting it down on the coffee table before turning on the television and surfing through her options.
In no time, she was settled on the old couch, head resting against a cushion as she watched a movie. Suddenly, there was a sharp rapping at the door, and she jerked from her couch, glancing at her phone. Almost a quarter past ten.
“Nadezsha?” she heard Arkady call out. With a quiet gasp, she was on her feet, immediately unlocking the door. Much of the dim hallway light was blocked by his bulk, and Nadezsha felt her heart patter out a quick beat as she took in his presence.
“Arkady,” she said quietly. He slid into the room, closing the door behind him before staring down at her.
“I… um… I thought you weren’t coming back until tomorrow,” she said quietly. “Not that I’m complaining, of course.” He looked a bit travel-tired around the eyes, but he was still an appealing sight in his dark gray pants and black jacket, his hair pulled back in a simple tail. Without thinking, she spoke to him in Russian, and he responded in kind.
“I had the opportunity to catch an earlier flight, and all of my business was finished, so I thought to not put off my pleasure any longer.” His lips started to turn to a smile before a thoughtful frown ceased his brow.
“Didn’t you get my messages?”
“I turned off my phone a while ago, got tired of the constant buzzing going off from my aunt and cousin,” she said with a quiet huff.
“Yes. I knew you worked tonight, and I thought I would come by there and surprise you, but your aunt had a few choice words about you. What the hell happened?”
After a slow huff, she gave him a condensed version of tonight’s events. He led her over to the couch, and they both sat down.
“What do you intend to do about your uncle and family?” Arkady asked. “Do you need my help?”
How easy it would be to have her lover exert his influence over these who had antagonized her for years. But she didn’t want that to be hanging over everyone’s heads if she agreed to go back to work there. “I don’t want to go back.”
“You don’t have to.”
She stared at him for a moment as she savored the rightness of his words. Of course escort bursa not. She could just find a job elsewhere. She’d also tried her hand at Chinese and other cuisine at home when she could afford it, so she was certain she could find work soon enough, and her knowledge would be handy in a bar kitchen as well, she reminded herself. She was an adult, and figured she’d given her uncle and aunt enough work through the years, and a certain amount of her tips to a sticky-fingered cousin.
In the old way, she would have remained at the restaurant — or at home, helping her aunt around the house — until she found a nice Russian-American man and married him and had a family of her own.
Well, fuck that. It was the twenty-first century. “You’re absolutely right,” she smiled brightly. “I can work somewhere else, and-“
“No.” He stroked his finger along her jaw. “I’ll take care of you.”
She pulled away, reminding herself of the promise she’d made.
“I told you before, I don’t want a sugar daddy.”
“You can focus on your education full-time,” he pointed out. “And attain your degree much more quickly. Take a double major, even.”
The objection that had been struggling to make its way past her lips died in her throat. What was it he’d observed about pride before?
“And education is work, isn’t it?” Nadezsha ventured.
“Nothing worth gaining without effort,” he retorted. “I expect you to approach your studies with your fullest effort.” He wagged his finger at her. Lightly, she snapped at it.
“And not dealing with these long shifts leaves you with more time… and energy,” Arkady added.
She smiled faintly at that.
“But not tonight. I am tired, and so are you. I thought we could go back to my apartment and enjoy a quiet night.” For a moment, she pondered asking him to stay here, but all she had was the sofa bed, and… oh hell. His place was much nicer.
“You’ll keep your hands to yourself?” she asked in a faintly disbelieving tone.
“I’ll try. But no promises.”
It took her all of fifteen minutes to pack her computer, toiletries, and extra clothing, cramming it all into a large backpack. Arkady was quiet for the most part when they were en route to his apartment.
“Are you hungry? I can order something up from the hotel.”
“It’s a twenty-four hour kitchen. The Volga does serve some important clientele.”
“Gotcha.” She tapped her chin. “Something simple and comfortable.”
“Just what I had in mind. Make yourself at home,” he said as he turned down the hallway.
She clad herself in a comfortable pair of pajama pants and an old sweatshirt that had belonged to her mother. It’d once been a bold pink, but it’d now faded to a shade closer to salmon. She settled down on the couch with one of the blankets thrown over its back, and as Arkady passed through the living room, he paused, looking down at her. She raised her eyebrow quizzically before he closed in on her, pulling her in for a deep kiss.
“I’ve missed you,” he growled into her ear before he righted himself and went on his merry way. He’d said he would keep his hands to himself tonight… but did she really want that? Despite her tiredness from work, the kiss had sparked the heat that Arkady had banked within her core.
He emerged in lounge-wear, black, silver, and red, with a white undershirt. As appealing as he looked when dressed in one of his fine suits, there was no denying the appeal that a common article like a man’s shirt had, when it was tastefully stretched across a man’s well-formed torso.
You said you would keep your hands off me, but there was nothing said about what I would do with my own hands, Nadezsha mused as he sat down next to her, content to watch Jessica Jones after she’d selected it. It turned out that he was a bit of a nerd, at least nerdy enough to enjoy the movies and television shows that came from Marvel or DC, or otherwise. And as she watched some of these same shows, they got into a lively talk about what they were watching until a chime told Arkady their food had arrived.
He came back to her with a large white paper bag, pulling out french fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken strips, and stuffed mushrooms, and condiments on the side. For drinks, he pulled out a red wine from the kitchen cabinet while she arranged the containers on the coffee table. The fries had a satisfying crunch to them, and the cheese sticks had been rolled around in pesto before being breaded and fried.
“Ooh, fancy,” she teased as he poured the wine into two wineglasses, as if they weren’t about to sit down for a meal found cheaply enough in many American bars. He smirked a bit at that.
“I felt that we might mark this occasion.”
“What occasion?” Nadezsha asked quizzically.
“Leaving your job and pursuing your education full-time,” he replied smoothly.
“Oh. Yeah, there’s that,” Nadezsha commented before she reached out for a goblet, taking a sip. She almost couldn’t believe it. After over three years, she was done with her uncle’s restaurant. She’d been given a chance to leave her father’s legacy behind, and better herself, thanks to a man whose generosity was rivaled only by his desire for her.
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