Page 64 of The Cleaner (Chicago Bratva 7)

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Kat screams and stumbles backward into my arms. She covers her mouth with her hands. “Oh my God. What is this? Oh my God!”

“Welcome to your new studio, Kremlin Clay,” I tell her, rocking her slowly as she takes it all in.

“Wh-what?” she says faintly. “This is…mine?”

“That’s right, dietka. Thanks to Ravil,” –I nod at my pakhan– “for giving us this space. And to all my brothers who helped me get it ready.”

She takes in the studio. I consulted with the teacher at the nearby studio where she started classes to find out everything she would need. The space is roomy, with ceramic tile floors and countertops for easy clean up and two large industrial sinks at the back. There’s one wheel, but room for more, in case she ever wants to hold classes here. I built utilitarian shelving units in the back to hold her works in progress and nicer ones in the front to display finished work.

“The kiln will be delivered in a few weeks, but I already have the electrical set up for it. It will go in the basement, which you can get to through those stairs.” I point to the door at the rear of the studio. “The windows are frosted for now, but if you ever decide to display your wares, they can be made clear.” I point toward the front of the studio that faces the street.

Kat turns to face me. Her skin is blotchy with color. She buries her face against my chest and bursts into tears.

“Aw, I think that means she likes it.” Sasha winks at me.

I try to calm the racket of my heart ricocheting against my chest. They are happy tears, but they still make me want to move mountains to see her smile.

“I love it,” she sobs against me. “Oh my God, I can’t stop crying.” She lifts her face and mops her tears. “This was so nice of you.” She turns. “All of you. I can’t believe you did this for me.”

“Of course, we did,” Sasha says easily. “You’re part of the crew now.”

That only makes Kat cry harder. Even my own eyes mist because I know how much this sense of belonging means to her. She hasn’t had a family she could rely on before. I’m resolved to give that to her each and every day. To make sure she knows she belongs here. Not just with me but with us.

“Thank you.” She tries her best to get a hold of herself.

Nikolai pops a bottle of champagne and hands it to Chelle, who starts pouring in the glasses lined up on the counter.

“Come on, let’s toast.” Sasha tugs Kat forward and hands her a glass of champagne as Nikolai pops a second cork. “You don’t have to make this into a retail location, you could always keep it as your private studio but have monthly open studio nights. You could even invite other artists.”

I smile to myself as Sasha brainstorms.

“Absolutely,” Chelle agrees. “I’d be happy to help with your publicity, if you did.”

“You guys are making me cry again,” Kat complains, wiping her tears. She puts her glass down and throws an arm around each of the women. “I love you so much, do you know that?”

“Aw, we love you, too, sweetheart,” Sasha says.

“We do,” my sister agrees in her soft voice.

When everyone has a glass, Sasha lifts hers. “To Kremlin Clay and her resident artist, Kateryna!”

“To Kateryna,” I murmur, clinking my glass to hers. “I love you.”

“Vashe zdorov'ye.” The Russians in the room all give the Russian toast.

“Cheers,” Chelle and Story say with a laugh, clinking their glasses together.

“Thank you, Adrian.” Kat’s eyes swim with tears again.

I lean my forehead against hers as glasses clink around us. She sets her glass down, and I catch her two wrists and trace my thumbs over her pulse points, where the tattooed knots lie. “You’re mine,” I murmur.

“Say it again.”

“You’re mine. Forever, malyshka.”

She traces the pathway of my new tattoo down my arm to my wrist then picks up my hand and kisses my pulse. “And this means you’re mine.”

“Yes. Also forever.”

She surges against me, throwing her arms around my neck and pressing her lips to mine. “We’re going to have so much fun,” she says, and I laugh, pulling her against my body and giving her another kiss. “Yes. Yes, we are.”


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