“Why did he want it or why was it rotting?”


She wandered over to a club chair by the fireplace and sat down.

He grabbed a remote off a side table and clicked on the fire. “Neat!” she said, unable to contain her excitement, and then she schooled her expression. “Sorry.”

“It’s all right. If I were seeing this place for the first time, I’d think it neat as well,” he offered and maneuvered her so that he was the one in the chair and she was in his lap. He placed a possessive hand on her stomach and she leaned back, laying her head on his shoulder and propping her legs across the width of the chair.

Holding her like this, he felt safe. She lightly scratched at the nape of his neck. He breathed her in, honey and vanilla mixed in the flowery scent of her shampoo. A man could get used to this, even a man who thought himself to be a monster.

“Chetham, the earl at the time, apparently sided with the Nazis during the first World War. The Crown tried him for treason, found him guilty, and took everything away. He wasn’t the only titled gentleman to be tried. There were barons, viscounts, and a duke, I believe. Later, they revised the ruling and declared that any heirs could reclaim their title and the estates. So far, Vladimir has been the only one to do so. It was bad enough to live with the taint of that, going to school and being the heir to a treasonous title wasn’t the easiest thing, but I worshipped my father. He didn’t care what everyone else thought, only his opinion of himself mattered. He was a god in my eyes.

“So, when I found out he’d bought the title, that we weren’t actually related to Chetham at all... Let’s just say that my hero worship began to die a slow, painful death and I let it be known.”

“You worshiped him despite all the stuff he did to you?” Daisy asked slowly.

“I did. I loved him, even when he marked me with the Romanov tattoo on my back,” he said, staring into the fire. “I should be proud, he said. I should be grateful for the blood running in my veins, he said. It could be worse, he said. I could have given you a bloody rose on your chest like Christian.”

All over a fifteen-year-old boy’s temper, all over Sebastian shouting in front of the wrong people at the wrong time that he hated being a Romanov. For his punishment, he been held down, tied up, and forced to endure hours of pain as one of his father’s bodyguard inked him.

“Try denying me now, boy,” his father had spat as Sebastian had struggled to his feet. His back burned, his skin felt stretched and thin.

He’d stumbled and instead of reaching out to steady him, his father had kicked his legs out from under him.

The touch of her hand on his pulled him back to the present. “Do you want to talk about it anymore?”

“No.” He caressed her stomach, slow easy glides that hitched up her shirt and made it possible for him to touch her bare skin. It was hot and smooth beneath his palm.

“That feels very nice.” She made a little noise, a sort of purring sound of pleasure. He kissed the top of her head and smiled against her hair, then frowned at her lack of concern. Shouldn’t she be running away from him, yelling at him that monsters bred monsters?

Like his mother had? Oh holy hell, he had mother and father issues. Actually, he just had issues. Screwed up, needed-to-be fixed issues.

None of that seemed to bother Daisy.

Don’t you think it makes me a monster?

No, it makes you human.

Even then, when he’d bared his soul to her in their texts, she’d not judged him. She’d listened and given comfort. Maybe it wasn’t so unreasonable to believe he was worth loving.

She snuggled deeper into his arms, her body relaxing into his in soft degrees until he knew she was asleep.

Ivan ambled inside, his eyes missing nothing, yet the bodyguard remained the epitome of discretion. “Shall I bring the car around?”

“Yes. It’s time I take the little countess”—Sebastian flashed a smile as he stood, cradling the woman he loved against his chest.—“home, don’t you think?”

“Home is where she is, don’t you think?” Ivan’s lips stretched over his teeth.

Raising his brows, Sebastian nodded once in answer, and started for the private entry on the east side of The Hall.

“Will you marry me, Daisy?” he asked, but he knew she wouldn’t answer. She was still sleeping.

However, the real question remained—would he have the courage to ask her while she was awake?

Chapter Twenty-Four

The next day, Sebastian asked her to attend a swanky charity event with him. Though he hadn’t said the word swanky, she knew it would be.

So, she’d put on her sexiest dress and highest heels. He’d worn a tux and a charming smile.

Neither one of them had been able to keep their hands off each other while they were getting ready, while they rode in the back of the limo, or even when they first arrived.

But no one seemed to care. Some looked downright shocked, but not because they were humping each other in public.

No, it was the open affection he showed her. The way he brushed her hair away from her face or took her hand and kissed it. Apparently to the people who knew Sebastian that was the same thing as a preacher deciding to streak down the aisle in the middle of a church service.

Music swelled in the background and she turned her attention to him once more.

“Feeling alright?” Sebastian placed a hand at the small of her back and brushed her stomach with his free one. “Need to sit?” Without waiting for her answer, he propelled her to their table at the front and pulled out her chair.

He looked anxious. He looked a little lost. She inwardly smiled. “May I have a glass of ice water?” she asked.

Relief broke over his face. He had needed something to do. “Anything else?”

“Not until dinner is served.”

After pressing a fleeting kiss to the back of her hand, he took off like a shot. She glanced around the magnificent ballroom. It dripped with elegance and money, lots and lots of money.

There was a sea of tuxes and designer ball gowns. A three-piece band played soothing music while servers in black pants and white shirts buzzed around the tables like bees. She couldn’t help but notice how efficient they were, and how smoothly everything ran.

Someday she’d like to cater an event like this, but most likely, she’d never get the chance. Holland Springs might have more billionaires and millionaires than the average town, but this cosmopolitan gathering for charity was something straight out of a book.