Nadezhda let the gentle tones of the priest wash over her, relaxing as she did so. The last few weeks had been stressful, but now it was all over and she could immerse herself in the beauty of the ceremony. The ornate church, sunlight pouring in through gorgeous stained-glass windows, was lovely enough on its own, but for the special occasion, it had been coupled with gorgeous decorations. There were paper chains hanging off everything. Around the room, delicate pastel carnations were clustered together in bouquets, the sweetness of their scent paired with powerful incense. It was only matched by the loveliness of the occasion.
It was at that point that Nadezhda forced herself to focus again. She shouldn't be paying so little attention to this important event. She looked back to the front and centre of the room. The alter stood there, adorned with a golden cross, and covered in a deep blue cloth. It had been a long time since she had been to Church, and she had forgotten how beautiful it usually was.
She shook her head softly as she tried again to focus on the scene in front of the altar. A middle-aged woman in white was beaming at a tall, dark-suited man, her hands clutched in his. The priest stood there too, talking to them in a low tone. Then he stopped, letting the groom take over. Holding onto his fiancée's hands as if his life depended on it, her Uncle intoned, "I, Alexander Moroz, take you, Maria Sobachkina, to be my…"
At this point, Nadezhda's attention was distracted again, against her will this time, by a woman in the front row. She was dressed rather dramatically in black, in a long black gown and huge hat. That alone seemed out of place at a wedding, but the woman's eyes weren't on the ceremony. She had turned around and scanned the rows behind her.
In the circumstances, Nadezhda thought she could hardly help but notice her odd behaviour. Perhaps it was her police training telling her something, or her heightened state of tension at the moment, but the strange woman seemed familiar.
Her grey eyes settled of Nadezhda for a second, meeting her gaze and giving her a strange half-smile. Then she turned back to watch the ceremony, leaving Nadezhda confused and uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, the young woman attempted to focus once more. The ceremony was drawing to a close before her eyes. The couple kissed and people began to file out. Walking back down the aisle, she reflected on the past week. It had been nothing but stress. She had been getting on with her training as a police cadet quite peacefully, then Maria, her new Aunt, had called her with some scary news.
"You remember the Volkovs, of course," Was the first thing the older woman said. There was no greeting and no small talk.
"Of course," She remembered replying. There was no way she could forget going up against an insane gang, even though it had been five years earlier.
"Vladimir's dead, and Diana's on the run," Maria revealed abruptly.
The news had set Nadezhda's head spinning. They were figures from her past, any news of them was surreal. And yet it was also disturbing. One of them was out of prison. She remembered Diana clearly. The woman had hated her from the moment that they first met. She had been imprisoned and nearly killed because of Diana's actions...
As for Vladimir, the mental leader of the group... She wouldn't mourn his death. "Well... He was old and insane, so that isn't a surprise," She replied, "As for her, won't your lot catch her?" Maria was a police officer in Yaroslavl, where the group had lived and later been imprisioned.
"That's where it gets difficult. He was murdered. Strangled. And she's still missing..." Maria continued, delving deeper into the maddening case.
"But they were in seperate prisions, she can't have..." Nadezhda started muse over the implications of it all.
"Exactly, so she didn't kill him, but she disappeared a day after he died. I don't think that's a coincidence."
"Did she know he was dead?" Nadezhda pressed, hoping they could piece this all together.
"She's his granddaughter, of course she was told," Maria replied.
After that last comment, she had to rush off back to her final wedding plans, leaving Nadezhda with a lot to think about. What had happened to Vladimir? Where was Diana and what was she planning? Would she hunt her down? She had, after all, been heavily involved in the case that had sent them to prison...
Then there was the added stress of the long journal to Yaroslavl for the wedding. It was 173 miles away, but they had to be there. Her mother was one of the witnesses, making it all more important.
And, since her mother didn't drive and she did, she found herself making the journey in her messed up state of mind. With her excitable Aunt, Ekaterina, and her bubbly best friend, Sof, in the back of her car, talking loudly. Even her mother was quite cheerful about the wedding, and she felt bad for being so tired and stressed as she drove them there in silence.
Now, though, she was standing outside the church in the fresh spring air, and it seemed as though she had worried too soon, over too little. The wedding had been the best part of her week, and right now, all she had to do was celebrate with her family and friends.
She stood against the wall with her mother and Ekaterina as they waited for the couple to finish signing the register and join them for the photos. Sof bounced over to them, "Wasn't that sweet?" She commented with a smile, "Though... Who is that woman, Nadya? The one who keeps staring at you..." She added curiously.
As one, the four women looked over to where the woman in black stood, examining Nadezhda carefully. When she saw them looking, she flushed and turned away.
"I don't know. She was looking at me during the ceremony too. I swear she's familiar. I ought to know her, but I don't..." Nadezhda replied, still trying to place her.
"Ah," Sof nodded, "I wondered if she might be here to make trouble. Only she's got that band aid on her cheek, just where all the Volkovs had those weird scars..." She mused aloud, "I'm probably just paranoid though," She shrugged it off.
If you are, I am too, Nadezhda thought, silently staring after the woman and wondering how she could have missed a detail like that.