Studying her design, he said, “You could bring out the—”
“Do I give you pointers on world domination?”
“Moonshine could be the official drink, to pay tribute to your family.”
Hazel eyes crinkled at the corner. “So you do know who the Dukes of Hazzard County are.”
She couldn’t stay mad at him. A point her favor, and in his since he was the beneficiary of her benevolence.
“Boredom struck last night. I bought the series, as one does.”
Her head dipped as she sketched, adding more flowers to the second tier. “I’m surprised you didn’t hire the actors to come to your house.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped, and then clamped his jaw shut.
She glanced up at him. “I was teasing you, Sebastian.”
Like Jules had told her to do. “Noted.” Placing his hands behind his back, he wandered around her flat. “May I ask you a question?”
“Only if it isn’t an insult.”
“Rather narrow parameters you’ve given me.”
Sighing, she placed her pencil to the side. “Just ask.”
“Have you made up your mind, or did our impromptu kiss persuade you not to take my offer?”
She smiled, small and tight. “I’m surprised you didn’t ask who the other man was, then again, you don’t concern yourself with stuff like that, do you? You probably expect me to break up with him and be with you, because it’s on your to-do list.”
Ordinarily, yes, but this was no ordinary circumstance. Everything was on the line. “Okay, who’s the other man, and when can I meet him?”
Her face paled, and then turned red. “His name is Jules, and you can’t, because he doesn’t live around here.”
He kept his expression neutral, despite never being happier at being categorized as the other man. “Sure you’re not making him up?”
She straightened. “No.”
“No, you’re not sure?”
One cheek hallowed. Oh yeah, he’d ticked her off. She was chewing on the inside of her mouth. A bad habit he’d once told her to stop. “He’s real.”
“But I can’t meet him?”
“I told you he doesn’t live around here.”
“That’s not a problem for me. I own a jet.”
She chewed harder and he inwardly winced. She really needed to stop. “Did you ever think that maybe I didn’t enjoy kissing you?”
Her mouth fell open. “God, you’re conceited.”
Guilty. “I’m right, aren’t I?” He took a step closer to her. “You enjoyed every minute of our kiss. In fact, I’d bet you’d like to do it again.”
She shook her head. “I would not,” she said faintly, but the lie was loud in her tone.
He smiled, confident as he’d ever been. “Say yes, Daisy.”
“I’m not kissing you again.”
“Say yes to this.” He dug a box out of his pocket and opened it. Her eyes widened at the pink diamond inside. “Pretend to be mine while you really get to know me. Who knows, maybe next time, you’ll be the one to kiss me.” He set the box down on the counter and strolled out of her flat, without waiting for an answer.
He was barely in his car before Daisy texted him. Well, not him, Jules. He frowned.
Daisy: I really need someone to talk to. Can I call you?
It was time to let doubt enter their relationship.
Jules: Actually, no. I’m rather busy at moment.
Daisy: Oh. Sorry, I thought you’d be home from work by now.
Jules: I’m out with some friends. New club in Mayfair.
Daisy: Oh. Okay. Well, I’ll talk to you later.
Jules: Probably not tonight. How about I text you when I have a moment?
Daisy: Sure. Have fun.
Jules: Thanks. Bye!
Hating himself, Sebastian threw his phone in the passenger seat beside him, and started up the Mercedes.
He was taking a big risk by doing this, the biggest he’d ever taken. In the end, he could be without Romanov Industries and Daisy—if he ever manned up and revealed his deception.
At precisely nine o’clock the next morning, Sebastian parked his Mercedes beside Daisy’s Honda. He got out and walked along the tree-lined path. A few minutes later, he caught sight of her, sitting beside a headstone, flowers in her lap, and her head bent.
He paused, not wanting to intrude upon her prayers or private thoughts. Perhaps he’d been too hasty in coming. Only he knew that she visited her parents’ graves once a month, on the fifteenth, which was today
The wind picked up, sending a few petals from the bouquet in his hand floating.
Daisy lifted her head, her eyes meeting his. An O formed on her mouth, and then a little smile. She waved at him.
Still feeling like an intruder, he shuffled over and kneeled beside her. “Good morning,” he said softly, and then read the inscription on the headstone. Words like Beloved Mother and Beloved Father jumped out at him, as well as the dates. God, her parents had been young and so had she.
His heart constricted for her.
“Morning,” she said. The wind gently blew, her scent of vanilla and honey reaching him. “How did you know I was here?”
Damn it, he was tired of lying, but the end justified the means. She needed him. “Zoe informed me that you’d be here this morning instead of your flat right as I was leaving.”
“Oh.” Her lips trembled.
He handed her the bouquet. “These are for your parents.”
“Thank you.” She took the bouquet and placed it beside hers in the urn situated between the two headstones. Her shoulders shook a little and he reached for her hand, lacing his fingers through hers.
“I’m sorry about your parents.”
“Thank you,” she said again, her voice whisper-thin now. “After all these years, I shouldn’t feel like crying. I know my parents are in Heaven, happy and with each other. I know this, but…I’m tired of being alone, Sebastian.”
As was he. He could be surrounded by business colleagues, friends, or extended family, yet still feel so damn alone that it left an acrid taste in his mouth.
He swallowed. “I know this might not mean much, but right now, at this moment, you’re not alone. I’m…I’m here for you.”
She turned and gazed up at him, tears threatening to spill over black lashes. Today her sweater was dark blue and she wore even darker jeans, with little black flats on her feet. The chopsticks in her hair were black as well. Such a somber sight she was and that manage to break off a little piece of his heart.