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Page 53 of Just Desserts (Holland Springs 4)

“The punishment must fit the crime, or in my case, receiving a B instead of an A. Or playing a joke on him. Vladimir was a remarkably inventive man when it came to punishments,” he continued, as if he hadn’t heard her. More likely, he didn’t believe her. “And God help you if you showed the slightest hint of weakness when it was meted out.”

“What about your brother?”

“Christian had it much worse.”

Worse? “Oh, I—”

“After our mother left us, Vladimir ignored him. It was as though Christian didn’t exist. Given the choice, I’d think he would have picked the cupboard, because in some f**ked-up way, it meant Vladimir actually cared.” He was matter-of-fact while saying this, like he was relaying the evening news to her.

Tears pricked at her eyes and gathered in her throat. She slowly reached out to touch his face, the rough stubble of his five o’clock shadow tickling the tips of her fingers. “I’m sorry he hurt you and your brother. His job was to protect. People with power should always choose to protect the ones without it.”

“I’m nothing like my father,” he said fiercely. “Nothing.”

“You don’t have to convince me,” she insisted, turning his face to hers. “You’re one of the most compassionate people I know.” Tears escaped, slipping down her cheek.

“Don’t cry, Daisy.” He wiped away her tears with the pad of his thumb. “It’s in the past.”

She tried to take a deep breath, but it ended up being shallow and shaky. “I don’t think it is.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” He leaned into her touch, his eyes closing. “Vladimir f**ked me up good, huh?”

She didn’t know what to say to that. Instead, she sat there with him, never taking her eyes off his face as she caressed him. Finally his eyes opened, blue eyes glittering with an emotion she couldn’t define. Or maybe she was too scared to name.

He smiled tightly, and then kissed her forehead. “You did it.”

“Did what?” she asked as he gently grabbed her wrist and pulled them both to their feet.

He tipped his head toward the glass. “Made it to the top.”

“I did? Oh my God, I did!” Refusing to look at the view, she threw herself against him and hugged him tight, mostly because she still hadn’t gotten over her fear of heights.

“You’re not letting go of me for the entirety of the ride, are you?” he asked, amusement lacing his words.

She shook her head, his wool sweater prickly against her cheek. “Nope.”

Chapter Twenty

After her last sightseeing tour stop fail, Daisy had insisted Sebastian to take her to a local pub. He, of course, wanted to go home. But she couldn’t trust herself to go home with him, not without sleeping with him, and her desire for Sebastian was getting worse by the second.

The way he’d helped her in their private capsule hadn’t helped at all. Neither had his confession of some of his most secret fears. Or when he’d held her the entire time while they rode The Eye and didn’t take Afternoon Tea. She still felt guilty about wasting all that food and his money.

The cab they shared bumped down a narrow road. “How far away is this pub?”

Another bump and he slammed into her. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“You really don’t want to eat another one of my cupcakes ever again, do you?”

He placed his hand on her thigh and leaned closer, his sweater-covered chest brushing against her br**sts. “I could eat your cupcakes for hours, for days on end, and always come back for more.”

Oh my mercy. Heat pooled low in her belly and she managed a weak laugh. “Sweet talking me won’t help you.”

He wriggled his brows and grinned. “But it doesn’t hurt things either.”

The cab stopped, saving her from answering as Sebastian got out to pay the driver. Why he didn’t pay the man while they were in the car made no sense to her, but who was she to judge? She stepped out of the cab and made her way to the entrance of the—oh Dear Lord—she gaped at the name. “The Cock and Beaver?” The rooster painted on the wooden sign was practically straddling the poor beaver. “He wants me to order food from here?”

“My favorite place,” Sebastian said from behind her.

“I won’t be able to tell anyone I ate here.” She busted out laughing, tears forming in her eyes.

“What’s so funny?”

“Translations.”

“We speak the same language.” He opened the door for her and held it. “A cock’s a c**k and a beaver’s a beaver.”

“Oh my mercy,” she giggled, then dug her phone out of her purse and took of picture of the sign, sending a text to Isabella and Haven. Hopefully, Haven would have cell service soon. She would love this. “When in Rome, I’ll eat at the Cock and Beaver.”

“Really, Daisy, I don’t understand why the name is so amusing.”

She bit back another smile. “I’ll explain it to you when you’re drunk.”

The pub wasn’t too crowded and it fulfilled the hyped-up vision she’d had of an English pub. Low ceilings stained with smoke from a huge fireplace, exposed wooded beams and an ancient bar. There was a dartboard off to the side, with a chalk scoreboard. A couple played at the moment, drinking beer and giving each other kisses after each throw.

“Shall I order, while you find a table or would you rather sit at the bar?”

She pointed to an empty table in a shadowy corner of the bar. “I want to people watch.”

“Today’s her day,” she heard him mutter.

After practically running over to the table, she sat in a chair that faced the room and pulled one up for Sebastian beside her.

“Two pints—one for the lovely countess,” the server said with a smile.

“What countess?” More honest-to-goodness titled people? “What does she look like?” She searched the room, thinking she’d see a woman wearing a crown and a ball gown, as one did in a bar in the middle of nowhere, but the only person who stuck out was Ivan, wearing a grim expression as he surveyed the room.

“Maybe you should hold off on ordering another one until you’ve eaten something.” Setting the drinks down, the server gave her a this-woman-is-clearly-already-drunk look. “Sebastian said to tell you he had to take a call and would return in a bit. Fish and chips should be right up.”

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