“Stop maligning him! That poor lad has been through enough because of you. You stole everything from him.”
“He’s a grown man. And you’ve got your knickers in a wad because he didn’t invite you to the wedding.”
“An oversight, I’m sure. Besides, my sources tell me Christian was spotted at Heathrow this morning.”
“Better get new sources, because Christian is already back home. He didn’t come here to see you.”
“That’s not true,” Francesca whined. “Zoe said she would talk to him.”
“Only because my sister-in-law is too damned nice to say no.”
This was not a conversation she needed to continue to hear or witness. “I think I’ll go bake something.” Daisy tried to leave. She inched toward the door and wiggled her fingers, but Sebastian tightened his grip. So, she took a deep breath and stayed by his side.
“Get it through your head, Francesca. We. Don’t. Want. You,” he said.
Francesca took a step closer, her hand darting out and slapping Sebastian across the face. “You’re him all over again. She’ll never be enough for you. Kate wasn’t enough for you. No woman ever will be.”
Daisy stared in horror at the red handprint that stood out in vivid contrast to his pale face. “Please Sebastian, if you let go, I can get some ice.” This time he let go of her. She rushed to the kitchen, grabbing a towel and filling it with crushed ice. Her hands shook as she dashed into the room, bits of ice falling to the floor.
“Do you know why I married that bastard?”Francesca asked and Daisy skidded to a stop just at the entrance to the room.
Sebastian’s gaze met hers, over his mother’s head, but there was nothing behind his blue eyes. “Should I?”
“Because of you and your bother. Your father seduced me, on purpose. I had to get married because I ended up pregnant and thought I loved him,” Francesca said, her voice shaking. “Vladimir said the first time he saw me, he had to have me. He wanted me like he’d never wanted another woman. Who could resist that? Only I didn’t know the truth until a few years later. Romanovs conquered. They took, without asking, using any means available. He didn’t want me—he wanted what I could give him—respectability and a son who would inherit a Dukedom someday.”
Daisy swallowed a scream, of denial or outrage, she wasn’t sure. Sebastian’d said almost the very same thing to her. I saw you. I came. I conquered. I wanted you. I needed you. I’d lie, steal, and cheat…and I’d do it again.
Doubt seized hold of her, razor-sharp claws digging into her heart.
Was their entire engagement a front for his real purpose? Had he engineered the entire thing: from his firing to his public bad behavior, because he really was obsessed with her?
The first time I saw you…
… so you can understand the extreme depths of my obsession with you…
Sebastian stood, straight and tall, his face impassioned as Francesca began to pace. His eyes closed briefly, then impassioned gave way to raw shame, and Daisy’s heart broke for him.
If he really was this evil imitation of his father, would he feel anything, least of all shame? Taking a deep breath, Daisy marched into the room.
“Only he couldn’t wait that long, so he shamed my family by buying Chetham’s title. That’s why your grandfather won’t have anything to do with any of us.” Francesca shook her head, pausing in front of the wall of paintings, her pretty face contorting. “Vladimir’s death hasn’t changed anything, damn him.”
“Leave,” Daisy ordered, going toe to toe with the woman. “Take your nasty mouth and nasty lies and get the hell out of our house.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Lady, there’s a cast iron skillet in the kitchen, and I know how to use it,” Daisy bluffed. Although she really, really wanted to smack the woman. “I’m not just talking about cooking either.”
Francesca gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
Ivan chose that moment to walk into the room.
Daisy smiled. “Ivan?”
“Frying pan, the big black one. It’s in the cabinet beside the oven.”
He lumbered off.
Daisy crossed her arms, smirking at her. “Anything else you want to say before you leave?”
Francesca made a face and smashed her hat back on her head. “I’ve said what I needed. If you want to stay with that monster, far be it from me to try and stop you further.” She tipped up her chin and sailed out of the room.
The front door slammed behind her.
Daisy turned to Sebastian, uncrossing her arms and holding the towel loaded with ice up to his cheek. “Here, this will help a little.”
Sebastian stared down at her, his eyes smoldering. “Ivan?”
“Da, Mr. Romanov?”
“Is the maid still here?”
“Da. She’s cleaning the upstairs.”
Sebastian slid his gaze to Ivan. “Have her pack up Ms. Barnes things.”
Ivan left the room, cast iron skillet in hand.
“I don’t understand,” Daisy said, bewildered.
“You’re not staying here a minute longer.” He stepped away from her and crossed his arms, tattoo-covered muscles flexing.
Apprehension skittered over her, making her stomach drop. “Where am I going?”
“You don’t want me here anymore?” Daisy asked.
Hell, no, Sebastian didn’t want her here, in this house, not when it had been tainted with Vladimir’s sins. His mother’s accusations and revelations. He was ready to burn the damned fainting couch.
He was ready to burn down the entire house.
“No.” He watched the emotions play across her face, leaving devastation behind. He’d caused her pain. Honestly, his mother wasn’t that far off the mark with her assessment of him. He needed to get Daisy as far away from him as possible, before he really hurt her.
“But you promised we’d get through this together,” she said, her hazel eyes turning shiny with tears.
“I promise a lot of things.”
She bit her lip. “Don’t do this. You’re better than him…you’re not the man she claims you are, and you always keep your promises to me.”
Listening to the confidence in her voice, he almost believed her. Yet another reason to terminate their contract and get the hell away from her. He should never have contacted her in the first place. He should never have listened to his cousin’s open window speech.