She blinked up at him. She seemed to be struggling to find her voice. “That doesn’t seem fair,” she finally whispered.
“What doesn’t seem fair is that you knew about Crisanti and Sophie and you never said a word to me.” He stared down into her wide, anxious eyes, not caring that she looked as if she might truly faint any moment, because her thoughtlessness had jeopardized his future and security. “Collect your things and meet me in front of the house. We’re leaving immediately.”
* * *
Poppy was so grateful to be out of the antechamber and away from Randall that she practically ran through the Langston House entrance and up the huge, sweeping staircase to the suite on the second floor that the bride and attendants had used this morning to prepare for the ceremony.
The other bridesmaids had already collected their things and all that was left was Sophie’s purse and set of luggage, the two smart suitcases packed for the honeymoon—and then off to one side, Poppy’s small overnight bag.
Poppy eyed Sophie’s handsome suitcases, remembering the treasure trove of gorgeous new clothes inside—bikinis and sarongs, skirts, tunics and kaftans by the top designers—for a ten-day honeymoon in the Caribbean. A honeymoon that wasn’t going to happen now.
Suddenly, Poppy’s legs gave out and she slid into the nearest chair, covering her face with her hands.
She really hoped one day Randall would thank her, but she sensed that wouldn’t be for quite a while, but in the meantime, she needed to help Randall pick up the pieces.
She was good at that sort of thing, too.
Well, pretty good, if it had to do with business affairs and paperwork. Poppy excelled at paperwork, and filing things, and then retrieving those things, and making travel arrangements, and then canceling the arrangements.
She spent a huge chunk of every day booking and rebooking meetings, conferences, lunches, dinners, travel.
But Poppy never complained. Randall gave her a purpose. Yes, he’d been Sophie’s fiancé all this time, but he was the reason she woke up every day with a smile, eager to get to work. She loved her job. She loved—no, too strong a word, particularly in light of today’s fiasco, but she did rather adore—her boss. Randall was incredibly intelligent, and interesting and successful. He was also calm, to the point of being unflappable, and when there was a crisis at work, he was usually the one to calm her down.
She hated humiliating Randall today. It hurt her to have hurt him, but Sophie didn’t love Randall. Sophie was only marrying Randall because her family had thought it would be an excellent business deal back before she was even old enough to drive. It wasn’t a marriage as much as a merger and Sophie deserved better. And Randall definitely deserved better, too.
“I came to find out what was taking so long,” Randall said from the doorway.
His voice was hard and icy-cold. Poppy stiffened and straightened, swiftly wiping away tears. “Sorry. I just need a moment.”
“You’ve had a moment. You’ve had five minutes of moments.”
“I don’t think it was that long.”
“And I don’t think I even know who you are anymore.”
She blanched, looking at him where he remained silhouetted in the doorway. “I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“But at the same time you’re not trying to help. I don’t want to be here. I have my entire staff downstairs trying to figure out what to do with the hundreds of gifts and floral arrangements, never mind that monstrosity of a wedding cake in the reception tent.”
“Of course. Right.” She rose and headed toward Sophie’s luggage. “Let me just take these downstairs.”
“Those are Sophie’s, not yours. She can make her own arrangements for her luggage.”
“She’s my best friend—”
“I don’t care.”
“I do, and as her maid of honor—”
“You work for me, not her, and if you wish to continue in my employ, you will get your own bag and follow me. Otherwise—”
“There’s no need to threaten me. I was just trying to help.”
“Mrs. Holmes manages my house. You manage my business affairs,” he answered, referring to his housekeeper.
“I just thought Mrs. Holmes has quite a lot to manage at the moment. She doesn’t need another worry.”
“Mrs. Holmes is the very model of efficiency. She’ll be fine.” He crossed the room and pointed to a small, worn overnight case. “Is this one yours?” When he saw her nod, he picked up her case. “Let’s go, then. The car is waiting.”
Poppy’s brow furrowed as she glanced back at Sophie’s set of suitcases but there was nothing she could do now, and so she followed Randall down the sweeping staircase and out the front door.
Mrs. Holmes was waiting outside the big brick house for them.
“Not to worry about a thing, sir,” she said to Randall, before turning to Poppy and whispering in her ear, “Poor lamb. He must be devastated.”
Poppy wouldn’t have described Randall as a poor lamb, or all that devastated, but Mrs. Holmes had a very different relationship with Randall Grant than she did. “He’ll recover,” Poppy answered firmly. “He’s been caught off guard, but he’ll be fine. I promise.”
Randall’s black Austin Healey two-seater convertible was parked at the base of the stairs in the huge oval driveway.
He put Poppy’s overnight bag in the boot, and then opened the passenger door for her. The car was low to the ground and even though Poppy was short, she felt as if she had to drop into the seat and then smash the pink gown’s ballerina-style tulle in around her so that Randall could close the door.
“This is a ridiculous dress to travel in,” she muttered.
She’d thought she’d been quiet enough that he wouldn’t hear but he did. “You can change on the plane,” he said.
“What plane?” she asked.
“But that was for your honeymoon.”
“Yes, and it can fly other places than the Caribbean,” he said drily, sliding behind the steering wheel and tugging on his tie to loosen it.
“Speaking of which, should I begin canceling your travel arrangements?”
“My travel arrangements?”
She flushed. “Your...honeymoon.”
He gave her a look she couldn’t decipher. “I may have lost my bride at the altar, but I’m not completely inept. Seeing as I made the reservations, I will cancel them.”
Her hands twisted in her lap. “I’m just trying to help.”
“I’m sure you are. You are a singularly devoted secretary, always looking out for my best interests.”
She sucked in a breath at the biting sarcasm. “I’ve always done my best for you.”
“Does that include today?”
“What does that mean?”
“What do you think it means, Poppy? Or have you suddenly become exceptionally good at playing dumb?”
* * *
Dal wanted to throttle Poppy; he really did. She knew far more than she was letting on but she was determined to play her role in whatever scheme she and Sophie had concocted.
He was disgusted, and not just with them, but with himself. He’d always believed himself to be an excellent judge of character, but obviously he was wrong. Sophie and Poppy had both betrayed his trust.
He hated himself for being oblivious and gullible.
He hated that he’d allowed himself to be played the fool.
His father had always warned him not to trust a woman, and he’d always privately rolled his eyes, aware that his father had issues, but perhaps in this instance his father had been right.