Pyotr watched the love of his life move about the kitchen with languid grace, like a butterfly floating in a beehive. Where clanging chaos reigned, pots steamed, and skillets sizzled, Cecily maintained an almost otherworldly calm as she directed cooks and busboys and waiters. His stomach rumbled in anticipation of the supper she would later cook for him and his groin tightened in anticipation of sinking into her plump, soft flesh that night.
She looked up, eyes lighting with pleasure to see him standing at the kitchen door. To Pyotr, her smile brightened the entire place as though a star from the heavens had descended to earth to illuminate his life.
Bog, he was getting sappy.
He nodded at her, but she'd already turned her attention to the stovetop, and returned to the small dining room of the restaurant, The Matrynoshka, the restaurant Maksim and Olivia had purchased.
"Your woman needs a kitchen and I need a legitimate and profitable business," Maksim said as sat beside Pyotr, Gennady, and Iosif as they cheered the graduation of Cecily and her roommate, Latasha. The girls' other and former roommate, Gia, would graduate next semester.
Maksim continued, "With your Cecily cooking, the restaurant is sure to be successful."
He'd been uneasy about meeting her parents who had traveled up from some tiny town in southern Indiana, but they'd greeted him cordially enough. He supposed it helped that his suit, tailored to accommodate the expanse of his shoulders and generally big frame, hid the tattoos that festooned his arms and chest. He wasn't as heavily tattooed as Vitaly, but enough so that a discerning eye would notice that much of that ink had been imprinted into his skin in prison. And some in the military. Like Vitaly, he'd been an orphan and transitioned immediately upon adulthood to army life.
He'd hated the army.
It was weird that life after the army imposed as much discipline and rules as during, with less forgiveness or tolerance.
The money was better, certainly.
"Privet," a deep voice captured his attention, followed by a heavy hand clapping down on his shoulder. "You got a table for us?"
"Vitaly!" With a kiss to the big man's cheeks, Pyotr welcomed his old colleague and friend. He saw that Gia, Vitaly's myopic Italian wife, stood beside him, smiling a little uncertainly. "And Gia!" He kissed her cheeks, too, with just enough flair to make Vitaly growl.
"What am I, chopped liver?" demanded the irrepressible Latasha, her skinny figure dwarfed by Iosif, who gently and firmly restrained her by means of a big hand splayed across her belly.
"Of course not," Pyotr chuckled as he bussed her on the forehead. Vitaly might tolerate a little teasing, but Iosif would not. "It's good to see you, Latasha."
"I'm surprised it's so busy," Gia commented, looking around as she adjusted her glasses.
"Three-quarters of the customers are Bratva," Vitaly remarked, his keen eyes sweeping the room.
"And the rest are mafia," Iosif murmured.
"Well, if the food's as good as I think it will be, then regular customers will soon be coming in," Gia said. "I have faith in Cecily. She's a terrific cook."
"She's a great chef," Pyotr corrected with pride.
"Is Maksim coming tonight?" Iosif inquired.
"No," Vitaly replied and switched to Russian. "He had business in Springfield. Giuseppe Maglione requested a favor."
"Da. Something to do with Giancarla's parents. He didn't elaborate."
"They're somewhat estranged, aren't they?"
Vitaly shrugged. As far as Giuseppe Maglione was concerned, the Bratva owed him a favor for ridding Cleveland of the Culebras. A family dinner had witnessed the very unusual and eerie spectacle of the usually dour mafia don laughing and calling himself the St. Patrick of Cleveland. He'd had to look that one up to understand the reference.
A shiver ran through Gia's body and immediately she immediately occupied his whole attention.
"What's wrong, vozlyublennaya?"
"I'm queasy," she muttered, breathing shallow, rapid breaths.
With murmured excuses, he left the small group and steered his wife toward the restroom.