Katya's heart stopped as she met those eyes. "Dev, you look so much alike." Except for the color of his skin, Massey Petrokov was the mold from which Dev had been cast.
"Yeah." Dev's hand clenched around her waist.
She waited for something more, but he went silent. Massey watched them approach with the same silence. But when she reached him, what she saw in his eyes made her own burn - the abject apology as he looked at his son, the complete lack of hope. . . it broke her heart. "Hello, Mr. Petrokov," she said, taking a seat opposite him.
The older man - his face aged far beyond his years - finally looked away from Dev. "You belong to my son."
"He'll take care of you," Massey said, his gaze following Dev as his son walked to stand facing the windows on Katya's left. "He won't hurt you."
"I know." She waited until the man turned back to her. "Will you tell me about her?"
Dev's entire body froze, but he didn't say a word.
Massey swallowed. "I don't have the right to say her name."
After a long, long moment, Massey began speaking, his eyes locked on his son's back. "We were teenagers when we met. She was the bright, funny girl. I was the jock. But we always found something to say to each other. She made me feel smart." A smile as he fell into memory. "She used to say I made her feel strong."
At that moment, there was nothing insane or broken about Massey Petrokov. He was a young man, his whole life ahead of him.
"I asked her to marry me after I finished college - on a football scholarship. I knew even then that she was going places, but that was okay with me." A small laugh. "I used to say I'd be the househusband while she took over the world."
"Yes." Another smile. "I played for four years, then got injured. But I made good money those few years, and my Sarita was already on the fast track at her investment firm, so we were okay financially. We decided to try for a child. She got pregnant almost immediately."
Katya didn't dare glance at Dev, but she could almost feel his concentration. "Did she like being pregnant?"
Massey blinked at the words, as if he'd forgotten her presence. "It surprised her how much she liked it. She'd thought she'd have trouble bonding with her baby - she never really saw herself as maternal. But right from the word go, she adored everything about the child in her womb." Massey turned to his son again, speaking to the rigid line of his back. "Grape juice and bananas, that's all she wanted to eat half the time."
A quiet pause, filled only with the soft shush of a nurse's footsteps in the corridor on the other side.
"She was meant to go back to work twelve months after Dev was born, but she took another year off. We managed." His eyes glazed over again. "But after that, it was mostly me and Dev. We were thick as thieves - I used to make him his lunch, take him to kindergarten, then school, help him with his homework. Sarita used to call us her Two Musketeers."
The depth of Dev's sense of betrayal made so much more sense now. He'd adored both parents, but he had to have been closer to his father simply because of the amount of time they spent together. "It sounds like a good life."
"It was." His shoulders began to shake. "But then. . ." A jagged sob. "I never meant to hurt her. She was the only woman I ever loved."
Unable to stand his pain, Katya reached forward to take his hands. "It wasn't a conscious choice," she whispered. "Your mind wasn't your own." She knew all about that, about being made a puppet.
Massey just shook his head as he cried. "But I killed her. And I'll carry that guilt for the rest of my life." Shifts in his eyes, as if something was trying to get out. "I'm not lucid much these days," he said clearly, even as tears rolled down his cheeks. "I wish I was never lucid." Another pulse of darkness, fragments of a broken mind trying to retake control.
Katya felt movement, then saw Dev's hand close over his father's shoulder. "You weren't you," he said, his voice raw with emotion. "Not that day." He didn't seem to be able to get out any more words, but they weren't needed. Massey's face filled with such joy that it hurt Katya to look at it.
"My boy," he said. "My Sarita's precious Devraj." One of his hands left hers to close over Dev's.
They sat that way for a while. . . until Massey Petrokov could no longer hold on to his sanity.
"How did you know to ask about my mother?" Dev asked as they walked back into his home. It was the first time he'd spoken since they left his father.
She dared go to him, slide her arms around his waist. "I thought it was something you'd likely never asked him."
"I used to copy everything he did." Arms clenching around her body. "I used to want to be exactly like him when I grew up."
"He was your hero."
"Yeah." A pause. "Afterward, I couldn't even bear to keep his name. I chose my mother's instead."
"Maybe one day, you'll be ready to reclaim it."
Neither of them said anything else, but Katya knew Dev would return to visit his father again. It didn't make her want to stop railing at fate, but it did give her a little peace. "Promise me something, Dev."
"No." It was implacable.
She smiled. "Stubborn man."
"It's in the blood."
"I'm selfish," she admitted. "I want you to promise to love again, but at the same time, I want to scratch out the eyes of any woman who even looks at you."