Poppy knew there had been a brother, but she’d never heard Randall speak of him, not in the four years she’d worked for Randall.
She shot him a troubled glance now, but before she could ask another question, they were climbing broad stairs and then passing beneath a graceful pink arch to enter a walled courtyard dominated by a huge blue fountain. White and purple bougainvillea covered the walls with pots of blooming lemon and orange trees in the corners of the courtyard. Two dark wooden doors were set in one of the long walls, and Randall opened one of those doors now.
“This is your suite,” he said, leading her into a living room with a high ceiling covered in a dark carved wood. Windows lined one wall with the rest painted a warm golden khaki that made the floor-to-ceiling green-gold silk drapes shimmer in relief. The couch was covered in a vivid turquoise velvet; the two armchairs facing the sofa were covered in a luxurious silver silk. The lamps were silver, too, as was the giant sliding screen door that Randall pushed open to reveal the bedroom.
Again, one wall was nearly all floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the mountains and valley below. The bed dominated the large room, the bed itself enormous and low, covered in pristine white with two rows of plump white pillows. A long leather ottoman was placed at the foot of the bed while two silver nightstands were at the head of the bed. The ceiling had the same dark carved detail as in the living room, while a huge antique silver chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling, making the room glitter with soft iridescent light.
The space was expansive, furnishings were simple and yet the overall effect was sophisticated and glamorous. Poppy had slept in some beautiful rooms, but nothing came close to this understated luxury. Silks, satins and velvet. Furniture and wood covered in silver and gold.
“You’re sure you want me in here? This looks like a room reserved for family.”
“All rooms at the Kasbah are for family, and our special guests.”
Something in his tone made her pulse jump. “When did I become a special guest?”
“When your job shifted from performing routine, mundane tasks to aiding me in a critical mission.”
“Finding you a new secretary is a critical mission?”
“Absolutely. I’m a very busy, very important man. Surely you know that by now?” And then he smiled, his mocking, self-deprecating smile, and she felt a funny flutter in her chest. He was making fun of himself, teasing her in his self-deprecating manner, and she’d never been able to resist him when he made her smile.
“Can we please start with the search tomorrow? I’m beyond exhausted.”
“Is this your way of saying you’re not up for a big banquet tonight with live entertainment and a stream of visiting dignitaries?”
Poppy grimaced, unable to imagine a worse ending to what had been an absolutely horrendous day. “We’re not really doing that, are we?”
“I am Prince Talal.”
She saw the gleam in his golden eyes and the ache was back in her chest.
But then, she’d never been able to resist much about him. Even on the first day of work, she’d felt giddy in his presence. She’d thought that eventually she’d outgrow the juvenile reaction. Instead, she just developed deeper feelings, and a stronger attachment. “If you are indeed the prince, then you can excuse me from the lovely, but possibly lengthy, festivities.”
“What if the festivities were short?”
“I’ve rather had it. I just want to go to bed and stay there forever.”
“In that case, go to bed after dinner. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. We have work to do, and since you’re only here for fourteen days, we can’t afford to waste any time.”
“I’ll be up early,” she promised, unable to imagine life without him. It would be hard not seeing him almost every day. After she was gone, there would be no bounding out of bed, eager to get her day started.
“I’ll have a tray sent to you,” he said. “In the meantime, you’ll find all the basics you’ll need for the Kasbah in here.” He opened one of the doors of the huge wardrobe. “I’m sure one of the dresses should fit, and then tomorrow one of the ladies’ maids can adjust the others, and if need be, I can bring in a seamstress to make up anything else you might need.”
“I don’t need a lady’s maid. I’m quite used to fending for myself.”
“It would offend them if you refused assistance.”
“Can you not explain that I’m English and eccentric?”
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll realize just how eccentric you are, but please don’t reject them. They’ve been trained by Izba, and Izba will want you happy.”
Poppy sighed and rubbed at her forehead. “Fine. But there is no need to bring a seamstress in. I’m only here a short time and tunics are sort of a one-size-fits-all kind of dress. I should be fine without alterations.”
“Sounds good. Sleep well, and I’ll see you in the morning.” Then he was gone, leaving her alone in the spacious suite.
Poppy had just opened the wardrobe to look for a nightgown when a light knock sounded on the door and then her door opened.
“Good evening,” a young woman greeted Poppy in careful, stilted English. “May I please help you?”
“Thank you, but—” Poppy broke off, remembering Dal’s warning and not wanting to offend anyone, much less within twenty minutes of arriving. “Yes, thank you. I was going to take a bath and then go to bed.”
“I shall make your bath.”
“Oh, no, I can start it myself. But I would like something for dinner. Perhaps salad or a sandwich?”
The young woman stared at Poppy clearly not understanding. “No bath?”
“Yes, I’ll have a bath, but I can start it myself. I’d prefer if you could check on dinner.”
“Please, more slowly.” The girl’s face crumpled. “My English is not so good.”
So that was it. The poor girl didn’t understand her. Poppy managed a tired smile. “Okay. Yes, I’ll have a bath. Thank you.”
* * *
Dal slept deeply, sleeping through the night and then until late in the morning, the blackout curtains in his room keeping the light out, allowing him to sleep far later than usual.
When he woke he was disoriented for a moment—the blackness of the room didn’t help—and then it all came back to him.
The flight to Mehkar.
The helicopter ride to the Kasbah.
Dal left the bed and drew the heavy blackout curtains open, revealing brilliant sunshine. He could feel the heat trying to penetrate the thick glass windows. Thank goodness for thick stucco walls and triple glazed glass. The Kasbah remained cool even when temperatures soared outside.
He walked around his room, looking at it properly. This wasn’t his room, at least, not the room he’d had as a boy. This room had been his grandfather’s. It was the room reserved for the head of the family.
Apparently, here at Jolie he was the head of the family.
He felt like a disgrace.
He should have called his grandfather personally to let him know he was returning. He should have gone to the palace in Gila and met his grandfather for coffee or tea. He should have invited his grandfather here...
Dal opened the door to one of his terraces and stepped outside. Despite the heat, the air smelled fragrant, sweet.
He’d wondered if Jolie would still smell the same. It actually smelled better than he remembered—lavender and thyme, jasmine and orange blossoms.
He glanced down at the patio far below, and then at the tower off to his right. Past the tower he could see one of the tall external walls.
The Kasbah had been in the family hundreds of years, originally built as a fortress with thick external walls and tall towers offering vast, panoramic views ensuring that no one approached the Kasbah unseen.
al walls were over fifteen feet tall and the same soft rose-peach hue as the palace itself, but once inside the huge gates, the hard surface of the walls disappeared, becoming a living garden, the plaster covered with flowering vines and lush scarlet, pink and white bougainvillea.
The Kasbah had been designed to protect the royal family in the event of a siege, with everything necessary for survival, but for a young boy that hadn’t been its charm. Dal loved the towers and the secret rooms, the cool cellars and sunlit terraces with low couches piled high with silk pillows. He loved the clay pots used to cook his favorite dishes, chicken and lamb fragrant with saffron, fruit and spices.
The staff at Jolie was friendly, too, and in his mind, the staff had felt like family, always nodding and smiling and greeting him with warmth and pleasure.
Langston House was different. Even as a young boy he was aware of the difference and how no one smiled at Langston House. At Langston House the staff did not feel like family. They were servants. Menial. It was how his father liked things, the separation between classes, the distance between upstairs and downstairs. His father was the Fifth Earl of Langston, after all, raised with a clear sense of distinction and entitlement.
Dal’s chest tightened up again, and he shifted in his seat, wishing he could just walk away from his past, and his father, but that would be the ultimate failure. His father had never expected Dal to succeed at anything, which is why Dal intended to keep his promise to his father—that he’d marry by thirty-five.
It was the only promise he’d ever made to his father and he’d honor the vow because then he’d be free.
And Dal longed to be free, not just of his father but the past.
With no time to waste, he rang for coffee and Poppy.
* * *
Poppy had thought her suite of rooms was lovely, but they were nothing compared to Dal’s magnificent suite, which literally took up the entire second floor of the villa, bordered on all sides by sundrenched terraces and patios and fragrant, private gardens.
Like her, he had a living room and bedroom suite, but he also had a dining room, and office, all four rooms with the same floor-to-ceiling windows and doors that filled her suite with light.
He had papers, a notebook, pen and computer on a table outside, the area shaded by an elegant pergola covered with blooming jasmine.
“Is it too warm for you out here?” he asked, gesturing for her to sit in the chair by the laptop.