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When he’d pictured Kasbah Jolie yesterday, he’d pictured a remote estate, someplace peaceful, and he’d imagined he’d arrive with very little fanfare, but the transfer in Gila had been anything but understated. The royal carpet, the line of dignitaries, the military guard behind, the royal helicopter itself. He hadn’t wanted any of it. His flight crew had contacted the executive terminal at Gila and arranged for a helicopter for the Earl of Langston, but at no time had they dropped his Mehkar title. They couldn’t have, as they didn’t know it.

Which meant someone at the Gila airport had contacted the palace, and the king had ordered the welcome.

Dal frowned, his chest as heavy as his gut.

His grandfather knew he was here, aware that Dal had not just come home, but had once again shut him out, choosing to retreat to the mountain palace rather than attempt any form of reconciliation.

Dal didn’t know why he was treating his grandfather the same way his father had—with callous contempt and utter disregard. What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he be kind to the one man who’d always been kind to him?

Dal planned on accomplishing two things before he left Mehkar: he’d be married, and he’d finally make peace with his grandfather.


POPPY SETTLED DOWN to work at the desk in the library on the main floor. The room had a soaring, dark-beamed ceiling, arched windows and walls the color of deep red rubies. The beamed ceiling had been stenciled in gold, and the big light fixtures were gold, and then there were the floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with leather-bound books that looked to be hundreds of years old.

Poppy had discovered the room earlier this morning and couldn’t wait to return. She opened her laptop, checked the internet and was pleased to see that it worked just as well here as it did at home. It wasn’t long before she had accessed all her files through the cloud storage system on the laptop. All of Dal’s companies used the same cloud storage, making it easy to use any computer, anywhere.

She checked her email, and then scanned BBC’s news and then reached out by email to several prominent employment agencies, sharing the details about the secretarial position to be filled, and how they were hoping to fill the job as soon as possible.

She received a reply from each almost immediately. One wanted her to fill out a more complete questionnaire, while the other promised to begin forwarding résumés later that afternoon.

With no résumés to review yet, Poppy wasn’t quite sure what to do with her time next.

And then she thought of Sophie. Where was she? And how was she?

Poppy opened her email and sent Sophie a quick message.

I’m with Dal in Mehkar. Where are you? How are you? Fill me in, please!

And then, because her curiosity was getting the best of her, she went back online and studied Florrie and Seraphina’s social media accounts.

Florrie had shared a photograph taken outside Langston House before the wedding had begun. She was with Seraphina and several other beautiful girls and they were all smiling for the camera.

Seraphina was a dark brunette and Florrie was a golden blonde. They were both gorgeous and glamorous, and they knew how to wear clothes well.

But that didn’t make them good matches for Dal.

Poppy was staring at the photo hard, so hard, she didn’t hear Dal enter the library.

“Are you trying to decide which one is better for me?” he asked, leaning over her desk chair to get a better look at the photo of four smiling women.

She closed the computer quickly. “What are you doing here?”

“Checking on your progress. Any good résumés yet?”

“One agency asked me to fill out a questionnaire, while the other has promised to begin forwarding résumés straightaway.”

“Was the questionnaire complicated?”

“No.” She wiggled in her chair, not willing to admit that she’d somehow managed to forget all about completing the form. She didn’t know how she could forget.

“So you are all done with everything right now?”

“I’m caught up for the moment, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Yes. Great. I’d like your help in my search.” He lifted a hand to stop her when she started to protest. “And I know you don’t want to. Sophie was your friend and you’re very loyal to her, but Sophie is no longer in the picture and I need a wife.”

“But how can I help you when you won’t even help yourself?”

“What does that mean?”

“You can’t treat your next fiancé the way you treated Sophie. It was criminal. You were the King of Cold, the Master of Remote.” She shrugged at his frown. “It’s true, Dal. I’m telling you the truth. Please don’t propose to another woman without being willing to give her more.”

* * *

Dal couldn’t believe they were back to discussing this intangible “more” again. It was beyond infuriating.

It was also beyond infuriating to have to play this game with her. He wasn’t even considering Florrie or Seraphina as a future wife. There was only one woman on his list and that was Poppy. But if he told Poppy that, she’d have a nervous breakdown, and they didn’t need that. He had to get married, but he preferred marrying someone stable. And most days Poppy was stable. She was also dependable, and someone he trusted. Perhaps Sophie had done him a huge favor.

“I’m not sure I know how to go about demanding more,” he said flatly, battling to hide his irritation. “I am not sure I even know what this ‘more’ would look like.”

“More is just more, Dal. More companionship. More conversation. More laughter. Possibly more tears—”

“Not that, please.”

She sighed, but continued on. “More would also be more friendship, and more support, more encouragement, more happiness.”

“That’s a great deal of more.”

“Yes, it requires some thought and effort, but that’s how you develop a relationship. It’s how people get to know you, and you would get to know them. It takes time, too.” Her wide brown eyes met his. “And it’s not something money can buy. So you can’t throw money at it. If anything, money makes it worse.”

“How so?”

Her brows pulled, her expression troubled. “Money is power, and power thrives on inequality. True friendship, just like true love, doesn’t care about position, or prestige. It wants what is best for the other person.”

Her words grated on his nerves, putting an uncomfortable knot in his chest. He didn’t know why her thoughts bothered him so much, but it took every bit of his control not to retort sharply, mockingly. He didn’t like the world of feelings and emotions. He didn’t enjoy the company of emotional people. Poppy was the sole exception, and maybe that was because at work he could normally steer her in a different direction, and she’d oblige him. But here, here was proving to be a different matter.

“Please don’t make me lose all respect for you,” he said with a hard, sardonic smile. “Feelings are massively overrated.”

“But I didn’t specifically say feelings,” she answered quietly. “I was very careful not to use the word feelings. Apparently, that’s all you heard, though.”

“I think I stopped listening when you said I couldn’t solve the problem by throwing money at it.”

“You can make all the jokes you want, but you can’t change the truth, and the truth is, you have to open up more, and give more and be present in the lives of those who love you.”

He shot her a wry glance. “You make me sound like an ass.”

“Well, you can be intolerable at times.”

“And yet you’re still fighting to save me.”

“Just for another two weeks.”

“So altruistic, then, trying to whip me into shape for the next secretary.”

“I’m more concerned about the

next fiancée. She’s the one that would get the short end of the stick because she will expect a relationship. The secretary won’t.”

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