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Tormentor Mine(88)

By:Anna Zaires

Sara won’t die from menstrual cramps, but I don’t want to see her in any pain.

“Better, thank you,” she answers, laying her tablet next to her. It looks like she was watching some music videos on there—something I’ve seen her do to relax.

“You can keep on doing that,” I say, nodding toward the tablet. “I have to make dinner, so don’t stop on my behalf.”

She makes no move to pick up the tablet, just tilts her head and watches me as I walk to the sink to wash my hands and take out the ingredients for tonight’s simple dinner: the chicken breasts I marinated last night and fresh veggies for a salad.

“You know, you never answered my question,” she says after a minute. “Why are you really doing this? What do you get out of all this domesticity? Doesn’t a man like you have something better to do with your life? I don’t know… maybe rappel down the side of a building or blow up something?”

I sigh. She’s back on that topic. My ambitious young doctor can’t grasp that I just like doing this—for her and for myself. I can’t turn back the clock and spend more time with Pasha and Tamila, can’t warn my younger self to forego work in favor of what matters because it could all vanish in an instant. I can only focus on the present, and my present is Sara.

“My wife taught me to make a few simple dishes,” I say, placing the chicken breasts in the frying pan before starting to chop up the salad. “In her culture, women tended to do all the cooking, but she wasn’t big on tradition. She wanted to make sure I could take care of our son if anything happened to her, so to please her, I agreed to learn a few recipes—and found I liked the process of preparing food.” A familiar pain tightens my chest at the memories, but I push the grief away, focusing on the sympathetic curiosity in the warm hazel eyes watching me from the couch.

Sometimes, I’m convinced Sara doesn’t hate me.

Not all the time, at least.

“So you started cooking for your wife?” she asks when I’m silent for a couple of moments, and I nod, scraping the veggies off the cutting board into a big salad bowl.

“I did, but I didn’t learn more than the basics until she was gone,” I say, and despite myself, my voice is rough, raw with suppressed agony. “Two months after the massacre, I was walking past a culinary school in Moscow, and on impulse, I walked in and took a cooking class. I don’t know why I did it, but when I was done and my borscht was simmering on the stove, I felt a tiny bit better. It was something different I could focus on, something tangible and real.”

Something that cooled the boiling rage inside me, enabling me to strategize and plan out my vengeance like a recipe, complete with steps and measures I would need to take.

I don’t say that last part, because Sara’s gaze softens further. I guess my little hobby humanizes me in her eyes. I like that, so I don’t tell her that I was in Moscow to kill my former superior, Ivan Polonsky, for participating in the massacre cover-up, or that an hour after the class was over, I slashed his throat in an alley.

His blood looked a lot like borscht that day.

“I guess you never know what you have until you lose it,” Sara muses, hugging the heating pad to her, and I feel a flicker of jealousy at the wistfulness in her tone.

I hope she’s not thinking of her husband, because as far as I’m concerned, he’s no big loss.

That sookin syn deserved everything he got and then some.

When the meal is ready, Sara joins me at the table, and we eat while I tell her about some of the cities where I’ve taken cooking lessons: Istanbul, Johannesburg, Berlin, Paris, Geneva… After describing the cuisines, I share a few stories about temperamental chefs, and Sara laughs, a genuine smile lighting up her face as she listens to me. To avoid spoiling the mood, I leave out all the dark parts—like the fact that Interpol found me in Paris and I had to shoot my way out of the building where the cooking school was located, or that I blew up a target’s car in Berlin before going in for my lesson—and we wrap up the meal on a companionable note, with Sara helping me clean up before I shoo her away.

“Go relax,” I tell her. “Take a shower and get in bed. I’ll be up soon.”

Her expression turns wary. “Okay, but just so you know, my period started.”

“So what? You think I’m grossed out by a little blood?” I grin at the look on her face. “I’m kidding. I know you’re not feeling well. We’ll just cuddle, like the good old days.”

“Ah, gotcha.” An answering smile, genuine and warm, flashes across her face. “In that case, I’ll see you up there soon.”