“Even if I told you that I think this whole fake fiancée thing is a bad idea?”
“Yes,” he said, surprising himself. He’d leave this instant if she wanted.
“Really?” she asked, tears now falling down her cheeks.
Her shoulders shook harder and he pulled her into his arms, stroking her back as she cried without a sound. “Truly,” he whispered in her hair and he meant it.
Funny how his own father’s death was still fresh in his mind, yet he didn’t feel a tenth of the sorrow she did. Most likely, he never would. As for his mother… She’d made her choice—money over her own sons. Something he hadn’t shared with Daisy.
“Don’t worry,” she sniffed, capturing his attention once more. “I won’t tell anyone that you’re really a sweetheart.”
Lips thinning, he shook his head. He was the exact opposite of a sweetheart. Everything he did was for his own gain, his greater purpose. Except when it came to Daisy. His very awful, drawn-out lie to her didn’t count.
“No one would believe you.”
“But I’d know the truth,” she replied, as if that was all that mattered.
And in that moment, her knowledge of the truth was all that mattered to him.
He followed her to town, parking on the street in front of her flat, and met her at the entrance of the building. She smiled at him, and he took it for a positive sign.
“I really need an answer, Daisy. I don’t have much time, and if you’re not agreeable, then I’ll need to find someone else, which isn’t a problem for me, but you’ll still have the same medical bills looming over you.” He swallowed the boulder in his throat. His threat was empty. There wasn’t a clock running down in the background. The Board didn’t care how quickly he got his life back together. Romanov Industries most likely ran just as well without him, or it had before he’d mucked things up by making a deal with just-this-side-of-legal companies.
“I don’t know,” she said, her shoulders slumping.
“After this morning, I would have thought your answer would be yes.”
Her jaw worked. “You only showed up so I’d agree?”
Reeling from her accusation, he quickly said, “No, of course not. I wanted to be there for you.”
She crossed her arms. Gone was the woman who’d cried in his arms and told him that she believed the best about him. In her place was a woman who didn’t trust him. “Why?”
“Because…because—” He ran a hand through his hair, and then pulled at his tie. “—I thought you needed me.”
Her jaw softened, but only a little. “I did need someone.”
Jules, he thought savagely. She wanted bloody Jules, and not him, even after the brush off he’d given her. “I’d like to take you out for dinner tonight, around six.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I have other plans, with my friend, Isabella.”
He shrugged. “Invite Bella along, or does she know about this Jules?”
Daisy’s eyes narrowed and his heart began to beat faster. He had to stop doing that. “How did you know she goes by Bella? Never mind, I’m sure Zoe told you. She sure is chatty about me.”
She had no idea, he thought grimly. “Well?”
“Yes, she knows about Jules, but not…everything. Besides, Bella is never going to believe that I’ve fallen for you. We’ve been friends since first grade—nothing gets past her. Nothing.” A small smile curved her sexy lips. “So you might want to sit this one out.”
A challenge—he loved this. “I’ll make you a deal, one that you can’t refuse, and more than likely will end up in your favor. Interested?” He knew she loved a challenge just as much as he did, maybe more.
“If I can convince Bella that I’m madly in love with you, then you agree to pose as my fiancée for the next three months. Bills, present and future, all paid off, etcetera, etcetera.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Then I’ll pay you the money anyway and look for someone else.”
Her brow furrowed. “Why would you give me the money anyway?”
Because I’d do anything for you, you daft woman. “For your trouble,” he said lightly. “But there is one condition.”
“I knew it,” she grumbled. “Go on then. Give me your condition.”
He smiled, slowly. “You have to play along.”
“Fine,” she said with a toss of her head. “But you can meet us at Jack’s Fine Italian Dining. No need to drive together.”
“Shall we kiss on it?” he asked, leaning closer. “You know, to make it official.”
Her lashes fluttered and she licked her bottom lip. She took a step closer to him, her eyes trained on his mouth. Oh yeah, she was thinking about their last kiss, and she was thinking of kissing him now, too.
Suddenly, she stuck out her hand and he took it, rubbing his thumb over her skin. He let it slide down to her wrist, where her pulse was beating wildly. Slowly, giving her time to deny him, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, dragging his mouth over her skin and savoring the taste and feel.
“I didn’t say you could kiss me,” she gasped, yanking her hand out of his grasp.
He glanced down at her and smirked. Daisy’s ni**les were hard against her sweater, and it wasn’t from the cold. The day was temperate. Perfect, really, even if it had started off with a rather solemn visit.
“Ah, but you didn’t stop me either.”
Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times, before she glared at him.
“All you have to do is say the word, and I won’t do it again, except for tonight. See you this evening.” Without waiting for her answer, he turned, got into his car, and drove away. A quick glance into his rearview mirror let him know that she still stood there, staring after him.
“Explain to me again how you’re suddenly dating Sebastian Romanov,” Isabella said, tawny eyes narrowed. Oh yeah, her best friend’s you’re-so-full-of-it detector was on high alert.
No telling what Haven would have said—if she’d been able to join them.
Bella tapped the table. “I’m waiting.”
“I’ll start at the beginning—when a guy likes a girl, he generally asks her out to get to know her better. Those events are called dates. And sometimes, when two people fall in love after all those dates, they lead to other things like…” Daisy paused, unable to get out the word engagement.