She took the hand he extended and allowed him to help her to her feet. “I’m not helpless, Vitaly. I am fully capable of opening doors. In fact, I’ve been doing it a long time.”
“You are completely vulnerable,” he growled. “Exposed. Let me protect you.”
She opened her mouth to object, but then closed it without speaking. She realized that she could not see around his bulk. Presumably Pepe’s minion could not see her through Vitaly. He had placed himself so that any threat would have to go through him before reaching her.
“I’m sorry, Vitaly,” she murmured.
He tucked her close to his side and pressed a quick kiss to the top of her head. He said nothing, but she felt forgiven.
They crossed the asphalt and walked into the bank and, with the weary acceptance of financial patrons the world over, got in line. Minutes passed. They shuffled forward. A couple of older women noticed Vitaly’s tattoos on the backs of his hands and frowned their disapproval. A young man with large gauges distending his earlobes and silver rings piercing his eyebrow and lip followed the women’s gazes and grinned.
“Nice ink, man,” he complimented.
Vitaly nodded politely and did not waste his time explaining the significance of his tattoos, the Cyrillic markings that marked him as a member of the Bratva, the visual record of each murder committed at the order of the Bratva, the other assignments successfully completed and the promotions earned through blood, sweat, pain, and loyalty. What Vitaly told no one was that he had not added a single tattoo in the past five years, choosing not to celebrate his bloody achievements on his skin.
Gia attempted to take a step or three back when they walked to the teller’s station in order to give Vitaly a little privacy, but he even more firmly tucked her against his side. So, she tried to ignore the exchange between the thug and the teller by looking around at the bland decor.
She looked up to see Vitaly slide a fat envelope into an inside pocket of his jacket.
“Are we finished?”
“Yes,” he answered curtly, gaze sharp and wary as he escorted her back to the car.