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Page 52 of Just Desserts (Holland Springs 4)

He wanted to disappear again, to hide out in a place no one would ever accuse him of going. But he couldn’t. He had his brother to look out for, a sister-in-law, and his damnable cousin, Alexander.

And now he had Daisy to protect, for the rest of her life. She’d never know, of course, but he would do it. Perhaps he should have explained that bit of his family’s business dealings to her. Briefly, he closed his eyes and slid the phone back into his pocket. “Honestly, I don’t know.”

“We don’t have to go sightseeing,” she said. “I’ll go by myself, or take Ivan the Terrible with me.”

Trust her to lighten his mood, no matter what. “You really shouldn’t call him that.”

“But it’s his pro-wrestling name.”

“Former pro-wrestling name.”

She grinned. “He still wrestles on his days off.”

“Forget about the driver, darling.” Her face fell and he caressed her cheek. “We’re walking.”

Her enchanting smile returned as he grabbed an umbrella and her hand. “Yay! Does this mean you’re open to wearing matching Union Jack t-shirts?”

“No.” He opened the door, gesturing for her to go first. “And don’t even think about pouting or batting your lashes at me.”

“Matching hats?”

Oh, Good God. “No.”

She gave him a sidelong glance. “Matching jumpers?”

“Daisy.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?”

They stepped out onto the street and he breathed deeply, then checked behind him. Boris and Ivan followed at a discreet distance. “With my sense of humor.”

“Looks like I got my work cut out, then.” She tugged on his hand. “Hurry up, I want to hear the song about the lemons at the church.”

He stopped, right in the middle of the sidewalk, and took her in his arms. “Daisy, there’s no rush.”

“But I agreed to a half day.” She tilted her head to one side, her brows drawing together. “And you didn’t call in sick.”

“I’m not calling in at all.” He dipped his head, kissing her softly. Looking into her hazel eyes, he said, “Today…my time belongs to you.”

“That’s such a nice English saying,” she whispered.

“It’s not an—” He clamped his jaw shut before he could finish his sentence. He’d nearly mucked up their day. Tell her, the very standup part of him said. Later, the monster inside of him roared.

“It’s a very lovely saying,” he agreed as they linked arms.

***

Daisy gazed wide-eyed and a little terrified at the London Eye. She wanted to experience everything of London, but that Ferris wheel made her knees shake.

“Last stop,” Sebastian said, sliding his phone in his pocket.

She opened her mouth to tell him that she really, really didn’t want to go on The Eye, but he stopped her with an engaging smile and hands held up in surrender.

“I know you didn’t want the earl’s tour of London or even the Sebastian Romanov’s tour, but I couldn’t help it. I’ve arranged a private capsule for us to have Afternoon Tea. They had one for couples in love, but I thought it a bit much,” he said, looking so pleased with himself she didn’t have the heart to tell him no. He held out his hand. “Shall we?”

Lacing her fingers through his, she smiled and then began to pray—silently—for courage and not to pass out. “How long is the ride?”

“Thirty minutes.”

Her vision swam as they bypassed a line of tourist waiting in line for tickets. She almost stumbled. “That long?”

“Seems rather short to me.”

It would seem like a million years to her. Heights terrified her. Planes were necessary evils and only by taking something before she got on, so she could fall asleep, helped her not panic.

They entered the capsule and a spread fit for the Queen’s Afternoon Tea greeted them. In the middle of the room, a long table was covered with a white cloth. Plates of sandwiches, desserts, and a delicate tea service sat on top of that and in the center was a huge bouquet of flowers. All her favorites.

She should enjoy this. She wanted to enjoy this. Come hell or high altitudes, she would enjoy this.

“What about Boris and Ivan? Don’t they want some tea and crumpets? Or is vodka and caviar more their thing?” she asked, trying to joke around. “Is there vodka for us?”

“I had entertained the thought of Champagne, but thought you’d like this more. In any case, Boris is in the capsule behind us and Ivan is in the one in front of us.” Sebastian wiggled his brows. “It’s only the two of us. I declined being attended by servers or a host.”

Oh goody. He’d be the only one to see her lose her ever-loving mind.

The door closed behind them. Her heart sped up. She wanted to drop to the floor and crawl to the nearest chair. She turned to face the stunning view of the city.

Sebastian joined her. “Just wait until we get to the top.”

The Ferris wheel began to move. “Oh God,” she croaked, her arm shooting out to find the wall…something to keep her upright. Finding nothing, she sort of half-crumpled, half-slid to the floor and pressed her fingertips to her eyes, breathing deeply.

“Daisy.” She felt Sebastian sit beside her. “Are you all right?”

“No,” she said on a sniff and looked up at him. Compassion on his face. “I’m scared of heights, but I didn’t want to ruin your surprise.”

“You should have told me anyway.” He stroked her hair, taking out the chopsticks and placing them on the floor. “I’m not too fond of confined spaces, really. This capsule was pushing it.”

“You’re not? It is?” She searched his face. “Why not?”

Soft compassion melted away, leaving nothing behind. His pale eyes were hard and his mouth drawn tight. For long minutes, he said nothing, then, “My father’s favorite punishment was to lock me in a cupboard under the servants’ stairs for hours at a time.”

Bile rose in her throat. Locked him up, for hours at a time? “Favorite?” She didn’t want to know this. She didn’t have a right to know this.

“Achieving perfection comes at a high price.”

“There’s no such thing as perfection, not really.” Reasonable people knew this. His father should have known this. His father should have been put in jail.

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