“Alexander Romanov.” The man had a weird obsession with her cheesecakes, before he’d left town suddenly. Rose was almost as bad. Anyone with eyes could see the two of them were sweet on each other.
“How does my friend Rose fit in with his plan?” she said, stressing the word friend. A gust of wind made her shiver and she crossed her arms over her chest.
“Mr. Romanov will take her to his cousin.”
“Take her-take her, or ask her to go?” Her lips had to be turning blue. She was not a fan of the cold at all, but none of that mattered. She had to make sure Rose was safe. The poor girl had been through enough.
“Ask,” he said, staring at her with admiration or irritation, she wasn’t sure.
She stomped her feet, not out of exasperation, but rather to warm up. “And if she says no, then what?”
The man looked her over, making her feel about two feet tall with his size. “We leave, without her.”
“Promise,” she asked, her teeth beginning to chatter.
“Yes, we promise. I’m not a monster, Ms. Barnes,” Sebastian said from behind her and she turned to face him.
“I didn’t say you were, but—”
“If Ms. Holland doesn’t want to go, then she and her daughter stay here, in Holland Springs,” he said.
“Oh.” She shivered again and his icy blue eyes narrowed. “But—”
“If you don’t get your arse inside, then I won’t be held responsible for tossing you over my shoulder, without your permission, and hauling you to your store myself,” he growled. “That I promise as well.”
She tipped her chin, refusing to be intimidated by him. It wasn’t like she was going to stand out here all day, just as long as she needed to. “All you need to promise is that you’re not here to hurt Rose or her daughter.”
His eyes narrowed even more and his mouth thinned. “I promise.”
“And you promise if she says no, that you’ll leave, without her?”
He turned his head for a moment, then gazed back at her. “If you’re so damned worried, I’d be happy to ask her in front of you, in public. Perhaps right here on this corner.”
Weighing his words in her mind, she thought of all the positives, of all the things she did know about him. He was a public figure, a viscount, not some underworld mob boss, and his twin brother lived in Holland Springs with her cousin. This wasn’t some stranger, and he had no reason to lie to her.
Plus, he’d ended up paying for the cupcakes. Evil didn’t pay full-price, and then some for cupcakes, did it?
“You promise to do that, then go through with it, and I won’t call the cops on you,” she said softly.
“Or the CIA,” she added quickly.
He smiled, all the way to his eyes, and she felt something warm grow inside of her, finding its way around and making her all soft. Something that had never happened when she’d been around his brother who was his twin, for goodness sake, so it couldn’t be just his looks.
Although, his looks were very pleasing to her eye. Pale blond hair, all slicked back, crystal blue eyes, full lips and to-die-for cheekbones.
Then that gorgeous smile turned into a smirk and she stepped back. “I promise,” he said and took her hand. He shook it, like they’d just conducted a business transaction, and let it go, but not before a thrill of something ran up her arm. “Off you go before I make good on my promise to haul you back inside.”
Just as she opened her mouth to protest, another gust of wind blew right through her sweater and jeans. Sebastian stood there, with his bodyguard, neither of them bothered at all by the sudden drop in temperature, which meant that neither of them would leave before she did.
“Fine,” she said, her teeth chattering. “Merry Christmas to y’all.”
She practically ran back to her store, and spent the next hour drinking hot chocolate while chatting with her customers, until they all left. Not quite convinced Rose was completely safe, Daisy stayed open later than usual to keep an eye on things.
At four-thirty Rose Holland, along with her daughter, walked inside Daisy’s store and pop rocks began to zing around Daisy’s stomach.
Rose asked for her usual while Daisy contemplated the best way to tell her Sebastian was looking for her. But she didn’t want to make Rose worry, when she had nothing to worry about. And what if he’d already left town? She'd look stupid for getting Rose all worked up over nothing. Plus, he’d promised, and from what she knew of him, what she’d read of him (yes, she was unabashedly nosy about Sebastian Romanov, the twin brother of her cousin’s husband, and his title and his world and his, well, everything.) and what she’d heard of him, his word was everything.
Still…she had to do something.
Mind churning, Daisy wiped down all her counters and tables, swept the floors, and turned her sign from open to closed. “Stay as long as you like,” she said, then she shuffled to the back of her store, emptied the dustpan, and hung up the broom. “Don’t be stupid, Daisy. Tell the woman.”
The bell on her door rang and she heard Rose call out her good-bye.
“Oh, crap.” Daisy turned sharply, slipping on the floor and falling. She caught herself on her hands. She scrambled to her feet, snagged her cell phone, and raced outside.
A black Mercedes idled by the curb. Rose stood at the corner, her back to Daisy, while Sebastian stood facing her, as the two of them talked.
“Brilliant.” Sebastian clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Let’s go.”
Daisy skidded to a halt, clutching her phone so hard that her knuckles hurt.
“Where are we going?” she heard Rose ask.
Rose didn’t sound afraid or coerced. She sounded excited. Daisy relaxed her grip on her phone and slid it into her back pocket.
He gently tweaked Rose’s daughter on the nose and said, “To jolly old England, of course.”
She’d worried for nothing. Sebastian had kept his word, like he said he would. Like she’d known in her heart and brain he would.
He was not a monster.
His eyes met hers over Rose’s head. Daisy smiled sheepishly at him. He simply stared at her, then turned his attention to the woman in his arms and guided her into the waiting car.
Suddenly, for some reason Daisy couldn’t explain, she wished it was her in his arms.
For the second time in a month, Sebastian stood just outside The Sweet Shop, contemplating the desserts in the display window, or so he told himself.