“Why are you here,” his brother mimicked, and then grinned. “I was thinking there was just too much fun to be had in the world. So I thought to myself, who could remedy this tragedy, this great affliction of laughter and fun upon innocent bystanders? You, of course, came to mind first.”
“Sod off, Christian.” Sebastian uncrossed his arms and ambled to the reception room. The bathroom door down the hall stayed firmly shut. He refused to enter it. He refused to look at the results, until she came home.
“Daisy must love being here with only you for company,” his brother said, his blue eyes missing nothing. “Any biscuits in the kitchen?”
There were, along with every other sweet he liked, but they were made for him by her and he wasn’t in the mood to share. Ever. “No.”
Christian shoved past him and made his way into the kitchen. Sebastian followed, stopping to wash his hands at the kitchen sink. He moved the pot of African violets slightly to the left and then dried his hands.
“You suck at lying, Bastian.” Christian searched through the pantry, the cabinets, and the refrigerator, taking out everything he liked and needed before carrying it to the breakfast room. He set it all on the table and sat down, opening the closest container.
“Holland Springs.” Christian tucked into a slice of lemon pound cake with poppy seed icing, groaning his appreciation. “If I weren’t in love with my wife, I’d marry Daisy. And if you weren’t in love with Romanov Industries, you would, too.”
“Hang on. That actually requires feelings. Never mind,” he added, punctuating his insult with a wave of his fork.
“Get to the point,” Sebastian said, eying the lemon tarts. Daisy had finished baking those right before they’d left for the grocery store this morning. Before she’d found him out and he’d mucked things up with his prideful nature. And the truth. He would do it again. “What’s the real reason you’re here?”
Wiping his mouth with a napkin, Christian leaned back in the chair. “I’m worried about you.”
That wasn’t something he’d ever expected his brother to say. “About me? What for?”
An uneasy look crossed his twin’s face and he tapped his fingers against the table. “From what I’ve seen, you’re not yourself. I think you’ve taken things too far.”
Confronted with his brother’s concern, Sebastian didn’t say anything at first. Instead, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I assure you I am exactly the same.” Deceitful, dishonest…listening to the monster that lived inside of his head.
“So you say, but… My God, look at what you’re wearing.”
“Jeans and a t-shirt?”
“Exactly.” Christian threw his napkin on the table and flicked his hands out. “When’s the last time you’ve been in the office?”
“Last week, but I fail to see—”
“Were you out of the country?”
“No.” He drew his brows together. “Should I have been?”
“Are you happy?”
“I was, until you turned up,” Sebastian replied without hesitation and his brother shot him the bird. Where was Christian going with this?
“Did Daisy make you take her on a tour of London, or did you volunteer?”
“A little of both.” Everything she’d seen had been an adventure to her. Every church, every tourist trap, and every shop an event worth taking about fifty million pictures.
He smiled fondly at the memory. At least he would have those. She couldn’t take his memories away.
“Stop it,” Christian snapped, rising to his feet.
“Stop what?” Sebastian asked, taking a step back.
“You never smile like that.”
“So, I’m not allowed to smile, have fun, or miss work?”
“Have fun…have fun?” Christian began to pace the length of the room, hands clasped behind his back. “This is the only time you’ve ever missed work, excluding the stunt you pulled when you f**king disappeared for six months, without a bloody word to anyone, including me. Hell, Bastian, you took a lunch hour to attend Vlad’s funeral. Nothing is more important to you than Romanov Industries. I’m right, yes?”
Sebastian didn’t answer. He couldn’t, because he was too ashamed to admit that he had disappeared because he was about to have a mental breakdown. He’d disappeared because he’d been too weak to stand up to Vladimir and running away was his only option. So he’d flown to Alaska, to the most northern part that was habitable by man and simply lived there, in a village, and learned to fend for himself.
But it hadn’t helped, not really.
Suddenly, it dawned on Sebastian the real reason why his brother was here. The pictures. Christian needed Sebastian to take the heat again. “I’ve informed James to have the video taken down from YouTube. No one will dispute the bloody pictures. ”
His brother paused, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “I don’t care about the pictures. I should own up to them anyway. It’s me in them.”
“But your career. All you’ve worked for thrown away just like,” Sebastian snapped his fingers, “that. Are you mad?”
Christian pointed at him. “You I recognize.” He plopped down in the nearest chair. “For a moment, you had me going. Flew all this way for nothing.”
“Don’t let me keep you from flying back.” Sebastian nodded in the direction of the foyer. “I have plans with Daisy tonight.”
Christian raised his brows and smirked. “Going over profit margins for her catering business?”
“Something like that,” he said lightly, unable to confide his fear to his brother.
“Some things never change and they never should, I guess. Might make the world stop spinning.” Christian grabbed several biscuits, wrapped them up in a napkin, and stood. “Cheers, Bastian.”
“Have a safe flight home, and tell Zoe I said hello,” Sebastian said, walking with Christian to the foyer.
Christian nodded. “I know the way out.”
Just as his brother closed the front door, the French doors in the kitchen swung open, and Ivan burst inside, dripping wet. “I lost her.”
“You lost who?” Panic swelled inside of him, threatening to explode.
Ivan flicked water off his hands. “The little countess disappeared.”