Evangeline pursed her lips as though she’d won something and looked directly at Tessa. “He’s afraid that having me around all the time will be too much of a temptation for him. Then your poor little dull librarian’s heart would get broken.”
Tessa rose out of her chair and muttered, “Something might get broken, but it won’t be my heart.”
“What was that?” Evangeline asked over the sound of Julian snorting with amusement.
“Nothing.” Tessa glanced at Sebastian. “I’ll be in the library.”
Without waiting, she strode off. Sebastian stood, frustration souring his mood further. “You’re unbelievable, Evangeline.”
She smiled lazily. “I am, aren’t I?”
He went after Tessa.
She stood, waiting in the library. Fingers interlaced. Face masked with distress. “She is…awful.”
“I know. I’m very sorry. Obviously, I’m going to tell her this preposterous idea of hers is not going to happen—”
“Absolutely not. You have to agree to this. It’s your chance to get your life back. And like I said in the dining room, I’m agreeable. As much as anyone can be in this situation.”
He stared at her, trying to be sure he’d heard her correctly. “I don’t think you understand what you’re saying.”
“Of course I do. I’m going to have to move in here with you for a week.”
He shook his head. “Nothing makes sense to me right now. Why are you all right with this? With her?”
“I’m not all right with her, but this has nothing to do with Evangeline.” A cautious smile curved her mouth. “It has everything to do with you. You stood up to her tonight. And it feels like something has changed within you. Like you’ve finally figured out that you want to be happy and that you can be, if you remove her from your life. I know you still want to keep your promise to her father and I won’t try to dissuade you from that, but if you want your life back, then I want to help you.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
No one outside his family had ever done anything like this for him before. Or shown so much concern for his well-being. “I am amazed that you would do this for me. What do you want in return?”
“Nothing.” She shrugged. “You’re giving me a job. A great job. That’s plenty.”
His heart swelled with affection for her. So many people came to him with their hands out, but not Tessa. She was giving him something that had no price. A chance at happiness. “You can keep the ring.”
She jerked back. “What? No, that’s far too much. And I don’t have any use for it. Please, just let me do this. I’m not trying to get anything out of you. Evangeline’s done that enough, I think.”
A true statement. “This isn’t going to be easy.”
“No, it won’t be. I’ll have to run back to my sister’s and collect my things.”
“You can do that in the morning, once Evangeline succumbs to daysleep. She’ll be out cold for at least five or six hours.” He raked a hand through his hair, worry filling him at the thought of everything that could go wrong. “I don’t like this idea at all.”
“Neither do I, but despite what she said about not believing us, she’s doubtful. I could read it in her and a valkyrie’s instincts are never wrong.”
“Is that why you’re doing this? Because she’s on the fence?”
Tessa’s smile returned. “I’m doing this because…I like you, Sebastian. I see a kindred spirit in you. And it makes me sad to think you’ve already spent so much of your long life burdened by responsibility for a woman who doesn’t love or respect you. I understand living a life that feels constrained by something you cannot control, but you have a chance to change that and I absolutely think you should.”
Emotion clogged his throat. He was unaccustomed to anyone wanting to help him, something he knew he’d fostered by his insistence on Evangeline being an off-limits subject. “Thank you,” he managed.
She nodded. “We should go out and tell her the good news.”
He snorted. “I’m not sure I’d call it good, but yes. In a moment.” He caught her hand and kissed her knuckles, wanting to do more, but restraining himself. If this worked, he would be indebted to Tessa for the rest of his life. Unlike with Evangeline, however, that was a debt with which he felt comfortable.
She allowed him to hold on to her for another second, then eased her hand out of his. “Come on. I’m sure she’s chomping at the bit to move in here and cause trouble.”
Sebastian sighed. “Amazing how well you know her in such a short span of time.”
Together they walked back into the dining room, which was uncomfortably quiet. Evangeline’s gaze held the determination of someone prepared to fight for what she wanted. It was not an unusual look for her.
Sebastian paused just inside the door, Tessa at his side. Knowing full well he was taking advantage of the situation, he slid his arm around her waist and settled his hand on her hip. The warmth of her seeped through his skin, a tease of what he couldn’t have. At least not yet. But it was still worth it. “Tessa and I have nothing to hide. You want to see us together for a week, fine. But then you will sign dissolution papers and we are done. My family serves as witness to this. Agreed?”