“I can’t go with you,” she whispered and grabbed the coat from the bed.

His jaw worked. “Can’t or won’t?”

This wasn’t easy for her. Who would choose to live a life like this, confined to a role she had no desire to play. “I’m Poppy, my mother was Poppy, her mother before her. It’s just the way things are.”

“No one gives a damn about Poppy Holland.” He shook his head and rapped his knuckles on the mantle above the fireplace. “No one knows who that is anymore. Your family’s the ones clinging to the past.”

“It’s all I have left.”

He gave her an incredulous look. One that was underlined with vulnerability, but she refused to let it sway her. “You have me,” he said.

“Because you owe me.”

“Yes. No…fuck it all.” He strode to her, gripping her shoulders. His heated gaze pierced her heart. “Don’t you want something different?”

Yes, she wanted something different, but she did not want to be with a man who thought he owed her. Who’d mentioned nothing of love. She loved Sasha—God, she loved him. But she refused to stand by him why he worked for his uncle. It wasn’t about him choosing his mother over her. She’d never ask him to. And the thing she knew Sasha wanted the most was the thing that being with her would never give him—his freedom. “I want you to leave me alone.”

Sasha’s green eyes shuttered and his hands fell to his sides. His face was devoid of emotion, of warmth. “Fine. Stay here and rot for all I care.”

“Good-bye, Sasha.”

She slipped her feet into the flats and moved to the door, closing it softly behind her. Forcing the tears back, she closed her eyes to pain, not wanting to think of how tenderly he’d taken care of her last night. How he’d touched her so reverently and like she was made of glass. As if he knew that all the cracks in her soul were threatening to break her body into pieces. Then this morning, the most intimate time of her life.

She told herself that she didn’t need Sasha in her life. That she’d made the right decision. That sometimes a person had to set free the person they loved the most.

She’d always hated old sayings like that, because it was obvious that whoever thought it up had never gone through it themselves.

Lifting her chin, she descended the stairs and went to find Haven.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Sasha boarded the jet, flinging the painting of Poppy Holland in the nearest chair and hoping like hell he’d damaged the thing.

He wasn’t waiting until next week to leave. Today would suit him just fine.

Except he wasn’t fine. He was the exact opposite of it. He was the most miserable sod on the face of the planet and couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

For some reason known only to God and Rose, she was convinced that she belonged in that ass-backwards town. That she had to be Poppy Holland to a generation that cared little and knew nothing of what it meant to her. Jason Everett hadn’t preyed on Rose solely because of her last name. Jason had done it because he was an unfeeling ass**le. Unfortunately and most likely, Rose wasn’t the first or the last woman he would hurt.

Perhaps Vladimir had been right all along. Sasha should have never tried playing the hero. Look what it had gotten him. Absolutely nothing. His uncle still plotted, his cousins were either not speaking to him or still missing. Phoebe hung on by a thread, wasting away while the woman he loved…Jesus.

He stared at back of a seat. “I love her. I love Rose.” Fate couldn’t be this cruel to make him love a woman whose life he ended up helping to destroy after all.

“We’ve been cleared for take-off, Mr. Romanov.” The pilot’s voice came through the intercom.

Sasha glanced out of one of the windows, hoping for some kind of unnatural weather pattern, but all it did was continue to rain.

He sat heavily in one of the numerous seats and fastened his seatbelt, ignoring the football match on the flat screen.

Once they were airborne, a flight attendant strolled through the cabin, the expression on her face inviting and hopeful as she bent over, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Anything you need?” That same hand slid lower, nearing his groin, but he caught it and gently moved it into away.

“Not this time, Taylor.” Not ever. She wasn’t Rose. No woman ever would be.

“I’ll be back with a soda water.” Taylor said, then walked away.

He let his eyes close and put his heartache firmly from his mind.


Three days later, Sasha met his uncle at Romanov Industries London offices. He’d always admired this particular building, mostly for its view of the hands-on museum across the street. He’d loved going there as a child with his parents. They would spend the whole day exploring and touching everything in sight. Every child’s dream come true.

Of course, Vladimir wanted to tear the thing down because it blocked his view of the Thames.

“I’m surprised you’ve dared show your face.” His uncle strode into the office, security on his heels but always ten paces behind. “I had to pay someone to do your job.”

Bored at the always threatening tone of Vladimir, Sasha snagged an Asian pear from a fruit basket and rubbed it on his shirt. “Explosion expert is not on my list of talents.”

“Pity, it would actually make the other one less lonely if it were.”

There were times, Sasha darkly acknowledged, that his uncle’s sarcastic nature was unnervingly identical to his. He took a savage bite of the pear.

“Make it quick. I’ve more important things to do than listen to you blather on about your inheritance, your mother or what you don’t feel like doing.”

The speech he’d been prepared to make went into his mental wastebasket and what was left of his pear in the trash bin. “I quit.”

Glacial eyes bore into his. “Pardon?”

“Need a hearing-aid in your advanced years, do you?”

Vladimir cursed in Russian and advanced on Sasha. “You can’t quit.”

They stood toe to toe, but for the first time, Sasha was without fear. There was nothing his uncle could do to his mother. Phoebe’s health had deteriorated to the point that even the doctors refused Vladimir’s intimidation. A new administrator with family connections to MI6 and an amazing dedication to her patients hadn’t hurt either.

“I’m done. It’s over. Finito. Sore de kimatta. Shall I say it in your native tongue, or my mother’s?” Sasha didn’t bother to hide his smirk.

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