“Papa,” he whispered, small child and grown man at the same time.
The image faded. “Christ,” he swore and pushed Liam away. He didn’t need his comfort. He didn’t want his comfort. “Take what you need, Ivan, and find out who’s responsible so they can be properly dealt with by the authorities.”
Ivan nodded. He knew exactly what Sebastian meant, and Sebastian was the only authority his head of security and personal bodyguard would obey.
He clenched his jaw and turned to face the window. God, he hated the view and the office, but he couldn’t leave. He was trapped by years of training, years of discipline by his father.
So, although he wanted to go with Ivan, he didn’t. He couldn’t. Hadn’t his father drilled the keep-your-nose clean mantra into his head for years? Sebastian, the Golden Child. The heir to the throne of the Romanov Empire. The one to make it above board in all things. Totally legitimate and legal.
Until now. Until Sebastian’s carefully laid plans had been thwarted by someone who hated his father more than he did.
“I know you and Vladimir weren’t on the best of terms, but still, bloody hell, I’m sorry,” Liam said softly from behind.
“I’m sorry, too,” Sebastian bit out and pivoted to face his friend. “I’m sorry I didn’t blow up the bastard myself.” Then he walked out of his office, down the hall, and made his way outside, into the dreary English afternoon.
Two weeks later
Daisy: Did you get the cupcakes I sent?
Jules: I did. Thank you.
Daisy: You’re welcome. You know…if you need a shoulder to cry on, I have one available. Or just lean on, since men don’t cry. But if you do, that’s okay. I won’t tell.
Jules: I’ll sort it all out on my own, but thank you.
Daisy: You’re welcome. So…how’s the weather?
Jules: Dreary, like my soul.
Daisy sent Jules an image of two people hugging. Ever since his father had passed away in his sleep, Jules had been noticeably quieter, not that she expected him to be chatty over e-mails and texts, but he was subdued, and there was nothing she could do about it, other than send him cupcakes and be there for him, in whatever way he needed her.
He sent her back a heart, and her heart danced in her chest, making it feel lighter than it had in days. Last week, after making no progress at all with the insurance company for the most recent and most expensive bill she’d ever been required to pay, she finally put her house up for sale. Her realtor had already secured a showing for this afternoon. Too bad the woman couldn’t have waited for a Monday, so Daisy could at least have the distraction of work.
Jules: What are you up to today?
Daisy glanced around Holland Springs Meadows before sitting down on a bench under a leafy green tree. Flags were placed on the graves of the fallen, including her dad’s, in honor of their service.
Daisy: Visiting my parents.
Jules: Does it ever get easier?
Tears blurred her vision, and the screen of her phone became unreadable.
Daisy: Not as fast as I’d like, but with friends like you, Haven, and Bella, it doesn’t get any harder.
Jules: Is there’s hope for me?
One month later
Jules: I miss him, and I hate it. It’s like he’s all around me, and I can’t purge him fast enough.
Daisy: Take deep breaths. You don’t have to do it all at once.
Jules: So it’s okay for me to feel this way?
Daisy: As long as you’re feeling something, I think so.
Jules: What if I told you I was glad he was dead?
Daisy: Then I’d listen.
Daisy: And what?
Jules: Obviously, that makes me a monster.
Daisy: No, it makes you human.
Jules: Thank you.
Daisy: What about your mom? Where does she fit in all this?
Jules: She practically danced on his grave. We don’t speak much.
Daisy: Maybe when all of this is over and everyone’s feelings have had a chance to settle, you’ll be able to speak to her a lot more.
Jules: Doubtful. Tell me something about your day. Something to make me smile and forget.
Daisy: This morning I put salt instead of sugar in my blueberry pie. It was disgusting. One of my customers ate an entire slice before telling me. She didn’t want to hurt my feelings. So I made her two whole pies, the right way, and sent them home with her.
Jules: God, I wish I could hold you right now…please disregard if I’ve overstepped my bounds.
Daisy: I’ll book a flight and you can hold me by tonight.
Jules: Save your money. I’m not fit for company, and the place I’m stuck in doesn’t help.
Daisy: Then go somewhere that has good memories for you.
Jules: I don’t have a place like that.
Daisy: Then make one. I’ll mail your cupcakes there.
Three months later
Jules: Finally sold the house I’d shared with my father, and bought a new one in a village called Cheam. The house is all brick, with ivy growing up the front. There’s a heart-shaped door knocker on the front door. The kitchen made me think of you—shiny appliances and lots of counter space. The garden in the back is nice. There’s a place where you can dine al fresco. I think you would love it.
Daisy: Send me pictures and I can pretend I’m there with you, cooking for us in your kitchen and eating outside while the birds sing and the breeze blows.
Jules: Do you think other people text like this?
Daisy: Who cares what other people do?
Jules: I care about what you think.
Daisy: Me too.
Jules: Do you have a Bucket List?
Daisy: I do. First thing on it: Go to England
Jules: I’m flattered.
Daisy: Um…I wrote it three years before I met you. Sorry. What’s your first one?
Jules: Ouch! A place to call home, with the woman who loves me waiting inside.
Daisy: That’s a very nice first.
Jules: Wishful thinking is always very nice.
Five months later
Daisy: Someone bought my house, for more than I hoped to get.
Jules: This makes you happy, yes? You can pay off that one last pesky insurance bill.
Daisy: I’ve never lived anywhere else. I feel like I’ve sold a piece of my heart.
Jules: Maybe the new owner will rent it out to you.
Daisy: I don’t want to rent it. Sending a check every month would remind me of what I’ve lost.
Jules: So what now?
Daisy: I found an apartment. It’s in town.
Jules: You can make happy memories there.
Daisy: Come stay with me, and you can be a part of them. Promise I won’t bite, and I’m not insane.