“Are you okay?”
“Never better,” he answered mockingly.
She sighed and looked out the window, her stomach doing a little free fall when she did.
She’d been in helicopters before. She’d traveled with Randall in his helicopter dozens of times over the years, accompanying him to meetings, taking notes, pulling together his travel details, but the London-based helicopter was small compared to this one, and that one never flew over jagged mountains marked by narrow, deep ravines.
She tried not to look down. She didn’t want to see just how close they were to the mountains, or how far from civilization, either.
There was nothing here.
Just scrub brush. The occasional flock of sheep. What seemed to be a sheepherder’s hut made of mud and stacked stone.
Poppy exhaled softly, fingers curling into her palms, telling herself to relax. Not worry. But how could she not be concerned? The Randall Grant she thought she knew was gone, and this new man was even more complex and mysterious. “I know you said you didn’t want to discuss Sophie anymore,” she said carefully.
“But I’ve been thinking about what you said, and how you feel betrayed by both Sophie and me, and I want to explain—”
“I wanted to hear earlier. But that was earlier. I’ve realized it doesn’t matter. It won’t change anything.”
“But won’t you always wonder?” When he didn’t answer she drew a shaky breath. “Sophie met him in Monaco, during her hen party. It was on the last night. I don’t know all that happened, only that he was there, and then he wasn’t.”
“She went with him?”
She couldn’t meet his eyes. “I didn’t know then that she had. I thought she’d maybe gone to get air, or maybe popped up to the room to freshen her makeup. We waited for her in the casino. We were drinking bubbly and playing roulette and I kept looking for her as I’d saved her seat as it was next to mine.”
“She didn’t return.”
“She was back in her bed when I woke up the next morning.”
“But she wasn’t there when you went to bed.”
Poppy drew a deep breath. “No.”
“What time was that?”
She hesitated, debating telling him the details, wondering whether or not the details mattered now, after everything else that had happened.
“Midnight? One? Two?”
Later than that, she silently answered, seeing herself in the opulent hotel room, sitting in the upholstered chair closest to the door, holding her phone, keeping vigil.
The other girls had all gone to bed.
Poppy couldn’t, imagining the worst. Poppy was just about to dress and go down to the hotel reception and ask if she should contact the police when the text arrived.
Am fine. With Renzo. Go to sleep.
After getting Sophie’s text, Poppy pressed the phone to her brow and squeezed her eyes shut, heartsick instead of relieved.
The fact that Sophie knew she’d be worried was small comfort.
Everything had changed.
Poppy continued her vigil until four-thirty when she finally fell asleep in that overstuffed chair. She was still curled in the chair when she woke an hour later and discovered the room dark, and Sophie tucked into her bed, pretending to sleep.
“We never discussed it,” Poppy said carefully, and that much was true. As they packed for their return to London, Sophie acted as if nothing had happened. And maybe nothing did happen. Maybe nothing would have happened. Maybe Sophie would have married Randall Grant this morning if Poppy hadn’t sent the newspaper clippings to retired racecar driver, Renzo Crisanti, letting him know just who he’d taken to his bed five weeks before her wedding to the Earl of Langston.
On one hand, it was a terrible thing for Poppy to do.
On the other, it wouldn’t have signified if Renzo hadn’t stormed into the church and carried Sophie away with him.
Clearly, Sophie meant something to Renzo, and clearly Sophie had some interest in Renzo, too, because she hadn’t kicked and screamed on the way out of the church.
It had been quite a scene, and profoundly uncomfortable, but the morning’s events reassured Poppy that she’d done the right thing. She’d given Sophie not just a chance at love, but passion, too—
“Convenient,” Dal said drily, sardonically. “Whatever you do, don’t discuss the one thing that needs to be discussed.”
The helicopter dipped and she grabbed at the harness straps connected to her lap belt and gave it a desperate tug. Thankfully, she was still secure, even though she felt as though her entire world had turned upside down.
Dal’s gaze met hers, but he said nothing. He didn’t need to, though. She could feel his fury.
Poppy looked away, out the window, fighting the emotion that threatened to overwhelm her as it crossed her mind that her note to Renzo hadn’t just wrecked Sophie and Dal’s wedding, but it’d wrecked her life, too.
* * *
Dal clenched his hand. He was so angry. So incredibly angry. He longed to smash his fist into Renzo Crisanti’s face. He’d like to follow that blow with a series of hard jabs. Crisanti had no right. But then, Sophie had no right, either.
Jaw gritted, Dal glanced from the jagged red mountain range beneath them to Poppy’s pale, stricken face and then he couldn’t even look at her because she would marry him.
She didn’t know it yet, but she didn’t have a choice.
They traveled the rest of the way in tense silence, and then they were landing, heading for a sprawling pink villa. Tall, rose-pink walls surrounded the estate, while inside the walls it looked like a miniature kingdom complete with stables and barn, orchards and garden, and three different pools. They swooped lower, still, and her stomach dropped, too.
While the Gila airport transfer had been formal and choreographed, the arrival at the Kasbah was loud and joyous and chaotic. People were everywhere, and
there was so much noise. Shouts and cheers and laughter and song.
Dal hadn’t expected such a welcome, and from the look on Poppy’s face, neither had she.
* * *
Poppy kept her smile fixed as she was greeted by one bowing, smiling woman after another, the women in long robes in bright jeweled colors. She was aware that the women greeted her only after first bowing to Randall. He, of course, received the biggest welcome, and it was a genuine welcoming, every staff member clearly delighted to see him. Several of the older men and women had tears in their eyes as they clasped his hand. One small, stooped woman kissed his hand repeatedly, tears falling.
Randall, so stoic in England, seemed to be fighting emotion as he leaned over to kiss the elderly woman’s wrinkled cheek and murmur something in her ear.
Poppy got a lump in her throat as she looked at Randall with the tiny older woman. He wasn’t affectionate with any of the staff in England, which made her even more curious about the elderly woman, but before she could ask, he brusquely explained the history as they walked toward the villa, shepherded by the jubilant staff.
“Izba was my mother’s nanny,” he said. “She used to look after me when we would visit Jolie. I hadn’t expected her to still be alive.”
“She was so emotional.”
“She raised my mother from birth, and was closer to my mother than her own mother. Izba would have followed my mother to England, too, if my father had permitted it.”
“Why wouldn’t your father allow it?”
Randall shot her a mocking look. “He wanted my mother’s wealth, not my mother’s culture or family.”
“It’s not right to speak ill of the dead, but your father was—” She broke off, holding back the rest of the words.
“He was hard to love,” Dal agreed. “And while he and I didn’t have a good relationship, he was loving toward my brother. Andrew was his pride, his joy. My father was never the same after he died.”