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Page 71 of Just Desserts (Holland Springs 4)

She was the worst liar he’d ever met. Not meeting her eyes, he glanced around the room. “You could keep it, for a stake in your venture with Isabella. I’ve never owned a part of a catering business before.”

“I have no desire for any part of me to be owned by you. Ever.”

“But you will allow me to pay child support,” he said.

“Is that all you want to be in our child’s life—a paycheck?”

Hell no, but their child deserved better than him for a father. “It doesn’t matter what I want. It’s what’s best for you.”

“And Romanov Industries,” he quickly added. He stood and placed his hands behind his back. “I’ll be off. Thank you for letting me be a small part of your life.”

“That’s it?” she cried as he began to stride away. “The only thing you have to say to me, before you walk out, is thank you?”

He paused at the door, his hand going to the frame. His knuckles whitened and his head bowed. “The jewelry from last night is yours to keep, all of it.”

“I don’t want your damn jewelry,” she said sharply.

“It’s yours anyway. Perhaps…perhaps we’ll see each other at the wedding and of course, when the baby is born. If you want me there, that is,” he said, and then he left the room, the door shutting softly behind him.

He knuckled an eye, the lump in his throat suffocating. He couldn’t catch his breath. Closing his eyes, he made himself take a breath. And another. Then a third before he finally could see straight and actually walk out the house and out of Daisy’s life for good.

The fork Daisy had been holding clattered to the tray. The same tray that he’d placed across her lap this morning, bringing breakfast to her with a smile and a kiss. He’d helped her out of all the jewelry she’d slept in and placed it back in the wooden box, then headed to the shower.

Like a fool, she’d sat in bed, eating breakfast and exhaling dreamy sighs about him between bites.

She flexed her fingers, pain shooting through the joints. Her heart pinched so hard in her chest that she gasped and rubbed the heel of her other hand against it.

Closing her eyes, she fell against the pillows and tried to make sense of it all. But she couldn’t. Eventually the pain ebbed and the sun rose higher in the sky. She set the tray aside and rose from the bed, shoving her arms into his robe and cinching the sash tight, as if it was all that held her together. Which wasn’t far from the truth.

A maid came to her room and began to pack. Daisy kindly but firmly told her in no uncertain terms that the box of jewelry had to stay here as well as the contents.

Ivan appeared at the door. “We need to leave in twenty minutes, Countess.”

She blinked at the word and glanced down at her ring. It shone bright in the sun, a reminder of her time with him. Of when he had thought of her and had tried to be more than what he was. In the end, he’d been right—business mattered more to him than anything else.

Twisting the ring off her finger, she placed it on the dresser and gave Ivan a wobbly smile. “Please, call me Daisy.”

It took her only fifteen minutes to shower and dress. She sat in the back of a dark Mercedes as it wound its way down a perfectly maintained drive. Ivan turned on the main thoroughfare, the car picking up speed. As they got closer to his house, the urge to stop and take a keepsake of her fairy tale time there overwhelmed her. Though in nine months she’d have a permanent keepsake of their time together.

“Ivan, do we have enough time for a quick stop at The Rectory?”

“Da, Coun—Daisy.” He grimaced in the rearview mirror. “He’s not there.”

“I don’t want to see him,” she said, meeting gaze. “Will you stop, please?”

He didn’t reply. Instead, he slowed near the entrance and turned into the drive. The gate opened and the car pulled through. Ivan stopped near the front entrance and Daisy got out. For a moment, she leaned against the car and took everything in. The leafy vines climbing up the front, the profusion of flowers that bloomed everywhere. The front door with its heart-shaped knocker.

For a little while, this had been their home. Tears slipped down her cheeks. For a little while, she had deluded herself.

She started for the door, surprised to find it unlocked.

Looking back at Ivan, she asked, “Is it safe for me to go in?”

He nodded once.

Opening the door, she stepped inside and slapped her hand over her mouth. It had been destroyed. Holes the size of a man’s fist peppered the drywall. Furniture lay in shambles, pieces and parts strewn everywhere. A sledgehammer lay propped against the stairwell.

“Ivan,” she shouted, finally finding her voice.

He came running through the door, his heavy footsteps echoing. “I’m here.”

“What happened?”

“Mr. Romanov.”

“He did this?” She carefully made her way to the kitchen, but it remained pristine. Nothing out of place, not even the towel she’d left by the sink. The pot of African Violets remained where they’d been, to the right of the sink, where Sebastian liked them. Automatically, she moved them to the center, where she preferred them.

“After you left. He ordered us out, but Boris remained behind.”

Of course he did. Ivan had to protect her.

She wandered through the rest of the house, her heart sinking with each step, each room worse than the one before it. She saved the art studio for last. Despite thinking that her heart couldn’t get any lower, it dropped to her feet.

His studio looked as if a bomb had gone off in it. All of his paintings had been slashed, paints dumped, and the fainting couch—oh God—the fainting couch sat outside, its charred remains a violent gash against the gorgeous garden.

She whimpered, letting her head hit the glass with a soft thud. She pressed her palm against the pane. So many painful memories had overshadowed the new ones they’d created. Or maybe those were false memories.

Maybe the entire thing had been a dream.

Or a beautiful nightmare.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Daisy had been home all of six days when her lawyer had contacted her about a serious buyer for her business. They wanted to purchase the rights to The Sweet Spot and operate a bakery in Charlotte.

She met Isabella for lunch at the park to discuss the offer. The two of them sat on a wrought iron bench, sharing a sandwich and cold pasta salad.

“Do you think I should take the deal?” Daisy asked after catching her best friend up on everything.

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