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“I don’t think I want to own a bookstore,” Isabella said. “Nothing I used to want to do appeals to me now.”

“We’re pitiful right now,” Daisy replied.

“At least we’re pretty,” Isabella joked.

Daisy said nothing for a moment, and Isabella gave her a what-are-you-hiding-from-me look. “I’m pregnant.”

Isabella’s tawny eyes widened. “Oh God,” she croaked. “What can I do? What do you need?”

Daisy laced her fingers with her best friend of seventeen years and said, “I need a friend.” Then she collapsed against her shoulder and sobbed while Isabella held her.

“I will always be your friend, no matter what,” Isabella said after Daisy had cried herself out. “I love you like a sister.”

Daisy smiled. At least she still had that. No one could buy her best friend’s love.

***

“You did the right thing, Ms. Barnes,” her lawyer said, adding it to the stack of papers she’d already read over. “Now you’re debt free.”

“Business free, too,” she pointed out, but she refused to be bitter about it. This was the best she could do, without Sebastian’s money, and the insurance company had agreed to reduce the outstanding bill to an even two hundred grand.

Lucky for her, the buyer had given her enough to pay off the insurance bills and the few outstanding bills she had due to vendors.

Other than that, all she had left was ten grand in savings. It was enough to keep her head above water, until her catering business took off again. This time without a storefront. Instead, she’d be conducting business out of her apartment.

Guess she was getting back to her roots, like her momma had done for so many years. And just like her mother, she’d be raising a child by herself too.

“That’s all we need. I’ll have what’s leftover of the check deposited into your account.” Her lawyer stood, extending his hand.

“Thank you.” She rose and shook it, then walked out of his office.

The spring day was bright and cloudless, birds chirping happily as she made her way to her car. A strange feeling of someone watching her washed over, and she glanced quickly to her right, but no one was there.

Shaking her head, she unlocked her car and got in. Her mind was really playing tricks on her. While her heart…her heart refused to listen to her mind. Her heart continued to love Sebastian Romanov. Her heart was clearly an idiot that needed therapy.

And she needed to cook something, for about a million people, to feel better about how things ended between them.

With a sigh, she started up her engine and headed home.

Sebastian glanced down at his notes, then back at the Board. “Our second quarter earnings rose by three percent, outpacing predictions and shoring up holdings. Consumer confidence rose as well, stock in Romanov Industries is currently selling on the American Exchange at Eighty-five and a half.” He took a drink of water and waited for their reaction, bored out of his mind.

Liam sat on his right. “Brilliant work,” he said, and the six other members nodded their heads in unison. “On schedule for next month’s meeting—we will take a vote on reinstating Mr. Romanov as President. Any further questions?”

A chorus of no’s and after two rounds of back patting and handshaking, the Board left the room. Liam closed the door behind the last one and loosened his tie. “Drinks. I’m thinking seven-thirty, at Percy’s new place.”

“The one on St. James that doesn’t have an entrance?” Sebastian asked, clearing his app of notes. Two weeks. It had been two weeks since he’d seen Daisy, since he’d talked to her, since he’d texted her. Since he’d been inside of her.

He swallowed.

No use in thinking of her. Just this morning she had signed the child support agreement and had emailed it back to him, with no other communication included in the reply.

He’d done what was best for Daisy, for the baby too. Even if he had had to lie in order to send her away. Even if he was the most miserable he’d ever been in his life. Nothing appealed to him. Most nights he stayed in his townhouse, locked in his room, vodka his only company.

Ivan barely spoke to him and Boris, who never said a word, glowered more than usual.

“Earth to Sebastian,” Liam said, snapping his fingers in front of Sebastian’s nose.

“Watch it,” he snapped.

“Are you in or out? I’m leaving for Monaco this evening at eleven.” He wriggled his brows. “Plan on surprising Verity with this trip. Strictly business, of course.”

“Of course.” He slipped his phone into his coat pocket and followed Liam into the hallway. “I’ll meet you there, outside. But if I can’t find the entrance, I’m leaving.”

Liam punched him in the arm. “Text me when you get there.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Sebastian said with a curt bow.

“None of that here.” Liam pulled a face. “I’m plain Mr. Stewart and you’re my employer.”

“Then get back to work before I fire your arse, Mr. Stewart.”

Liam saluted him. “Much better.” He strode away, hands finding his pockets.

Sebastian opened the door to his office, intent on pouring himself a cuppa, when he noticed it was already occupied.

“Christian?”

His brother stood at the window, still in his coat. “The wedding’s been moved up.”

“Oh?” Sebastian moved to his desk, clicking on his calendar. “When? I’ll adjust my schedule—”

“Zoe’s pregnant.”

Sebastian’s gaze slid to his brother’s face. It was pale. “You’re not happy?”

“I’m scared as hell.” Christian plopped down in the nearest chair and ran a hand over his face. “Me, someone’s father? You know I’ll screw it up somehow.”

“Actually, I don’t know that.”

“You’ve met our parents.” Christian steepled his hands together, pressing them against his mouth. “We are destined to mess up our children. It’s in our DNA.”

Sebastian closed the calendar and came from around the desk to sit in the chair opposite his twin. A part of him still couldn’t believe that Christian needed him of all people. He’d chosen to seek him out. It had to mean something. He hoped like hell that it meant something. “It’s in every parent’s DNA to mess up.”

His twin gave him a skeptical look. “Levels, Bastian, levels. I’m predicting mine to be at DefCon One.”

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