Those lips of hers flattened a little, and then her smile returned. No, not the same smile. This was a hurry-up-and-state-your-business-and-get-out smile.

His heart pinched and he fought the urge to rub his chest in that very spot.

“For the last twenty-four years I have been.” She nodded a little, and then said, “You’re Sebastian Romanov. We’re practically related, you know.”

Stupefied, he could only reply, “We are?” in an even sharper tone. Shut it, he mentally told himself. He was totally mucking this up.

Daisy, bless her, kept her smile in place. “Your brother married my first cousin. Zoe’s dad is my uncle. That makes us cousins by marriage.”

Cousins by marriage? “It most certainly does not,” he snapped. No way in hell he wanted to be related to the woman who made him all sweaty, shaky, and gutted.

Hazel eyes widened, and her face paled a little in obvious embarrassment. “What can I get you before you leave?”

He couldn’t blame her wanting him out of her store, and he couldn’t help but admire how she stood up to him. He couldn’t help but notice it only upped his love-struck state. There was no way he could stay here any longer, not in her shop at least.

So, he blurted the first thing that came to mind, “I’m looking for Rose Holland.”

A dark brow lifted and she tucked a strand of orange hair behind her ear. “Have you tried her store?”

“I’m not an idiot,” he said. The hell he wasn’t. No greater idiot had ever existed before him.

She crossed her slender arms over a rather ample chest, tantalizing him with a glimpse of lace and creamy swells of flesh, and then she frowned when she caught him noticing. “Anything else?”

Yes, dear God, for this entire conversation to be over. “Your best cupcake.” He swallowed. “Please.”

A confident smile graced her lips. “They’re all my best.”

Cheeky, he thought, all bemused and bewitched. “I’ll take the lot—all of them.”

“All—” she glanced at her case, brows furrowing. “—thirty five?”

Yes. “Don’t be ridiculous.” He lifted his chin, falling back on what he did best—intimidate and hold at bay.

“I’m only ridiculous every other Tuesday.”

“Today is Tuesday,” he pointed out.

She smiled wickedly, and he nearly swooned like a school girl at a One Direction concert.


This most perfect of all women had to stop, because if she didn’t, he’d most likely end up on bent knee, proposing marriage and babies. Two things he’d always told himself that he never wanted and never deserved.

“I’ll take a dozen,” he said, pulling his wallet out. He’d simply pay for his purchases, leave, and eat his cupcakes in private while nursing his embarrassment.

“What flavors?”

Instead of answering like a decent human being, he smacked his credit card on the counter and snapped, “It doesn’t bloody matter.”

Taking a step back, she grabbed a container and marched to the display. He half expected her to toss each one in and shut the lid so hard that the cupcakes would be a smashed mess by the time he opened it again, but she didn’t.

Instead, she began to hum as she carefully selected and placed each cupcake in a green box, closing the lid carefully and tying a silver bow around it. Her head was bent as she worked, her back to him. He couldn’t stop staring at the exposed nape of her neck. Her bright orange hair was caught up in a bun, two chopsticks—one green and one red—holding it in place.

While she worked so efficiently, oblivious to him, erotic thoughts appeared out of nowhere—all over that smooth expanse of skin. Thoughts transformed into mental images of him kissing the nape of her neck, while he slowly moved inside of her. Of her hair, tumbling around her shoulders before sliding across his thighs while she put that lush mouth of hers on his body.

He swallowed, willing the images away and instead filled his head with to-do lists.

Fly to Holland Springs.

Search for Rose Holland.

Find Ms. Holland and convince her to fly to England for the holidays.

Daisy whirled around, placing the green box on the counter. “Anything else?”

Come back to Holland Springs, find Daisy Barnes again, and convince her to fly anywhere with him.

Ha! Voicing that particular addition to his to-do list was not something he could afford. Ever. Not even if she were amenable to the idea. Most certainly, she would not be amenable due greatly in part to the top-notch conversation he’d been having with her up to this point.

Honestly, the best thing he could do at this moment would be to cut his losses and leave.

“Ms. Barnes, I truly apologize for insulting you and taking up your time,” he said, and then grabbed his credit card and the box of cupcakes. He gave Daisy a stiff nod, ignoring the most treacherous part of him that now beat out her name, and walked out of her shop.

Daisy stared after him, jaw on the floor. “What in the world?” she whispered. He’d been unresponsive, rude, insulting, and then completely apologetic. There was no mistaking the look in his beautiful blue eyes.

Sebastian disappeared around the corner, green box under his arm.

“He didn’t pay for anything,” she said as reality hit her. She checked the register to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. “Cheese and crackers! He didn’t pay for a darn thing.”

Hurrying around the counter, she shoved the door to her store open and ran up the sidewalk, cold December air finding its way through the thin cardigan she wore.

A hard body rammed into her or she rammed into it. Either way, she was falling, until a large hand jerked her up and steadied her.

“Mr. Romanov said to give you this.” The enormous man held out a fifty-dollar bill.

She gaped at the money, and then at him. “That’s too much.”

“Mr. Romanov said keep the rest for your trouble.”

Then the man, who had to be Sebastian’s bodyguard, let her go, still holding out the money. She took it and slipped it in her back pocket. “Tell him thank you.”


“Wait!” she cried as he turned to go.


She wet her lips. “Why is Sebastian looking for Rose Holland?” Please let him be here for something good, not to do something horrible to Rose, she thought, because she would have no choice but to tell the police or CIA.

A wide grin split the man’s face. “He wants his cousin to stop pestering him.”