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“Well, I kissed you last night—”

“That’s not an exciting development.”

The corner of his mouth curled. “It was for me.”

“How is it going with the other two on your list?”

“I haven’t kissed them, but that’s probably due to the lack of proximity and other logistics.”

“Would you kiss all three of us if you could?”


She hated hearing him say that, she did. Poppy clenched her hands into fists. “Why?”

“Because as you so kindly pointed out, physical attraction is part of marriage—”

“I did not point that out. I said nothing about attraction or sex.”

“You did infer that compatibility is important, and part of the ‘more’ relationships needed.”

“Successful relationships.”

“Right, and that’s what I’m to want for myself because I deserve it. I deserve that elusive ‘more.’”

She hated that he kept quoting her, and doing it literally word for word. “‘More’ is not elusive.”

“Isn’t it? It’s an intangible, something one cannot easily quantify when making an offer, or proposing marriage.”

“You should stop talking. You’re making me hate you.”

“And yet you were the one that told me to communicate. I’m trying to communicate.”

“I think you’re trying to annoy me.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t figured that part out yet.”

“Well, when you do figure it out, let me know. I hate having you upset with me when we only have thirteen days left together.”

And just like that she felt her heart mash and fall. She ground her teeth together to keep from making a sound.

“You will be missed,” he added kindly. “More than you know.”

Poppy smiled to hide how much his reminder hurt. He made her feel crazy, but at least she was able to be crazy and near him. “So you don’t need me today? There’s nothing you want me to do?”

“Why don’t you take the afternoon off? Have some time for yourself. Read or swim or feel free to explore the estate.” He was smiling up at her, the smile of a man who acted as if he genuinely cared about her best interests.

He didn’t, though. Because if he did, he wouldn’t have kissed her like that last night. He wouldn’t have held her so firmly, his hands low on her hips, making the inside of her melt and ache, while making the rest of her shiver and tingle. She’d felt his desire, but most of all, she’d become painfully aware of her own. She wanted him...almost desperately. She’d always wanted him, but it had been a cerebral thing, not a body thing, but last night had woken her up and set her body on fire.

Poppy headed for the door, her sandals making a light tapping sound against the marble floor, the tapping echoing the hard, uncomfortable thudding of her heart.

All these years she’d wondered what it would be like to kiss him, and now she knew.

And now she’d never forget.

She paused in the doorway to look back at him. “Oh! Before I forget, Florrie emailed me. She’d love those tickets to the polo match in Gila and is eager for all the deets.”

And then, flashing him a great, wide, furious smile, she walked out.

* * *

Dal listened to Poppy’s footsteps retreat.

Gone was his tidy, buttoned-up secretary with the tight chignons and conservative skirts and blouses. In her place was this passionate, fierce, fresh-faced beauty who didn’t hesitate to give him her opinion. He’d always enjoyed working with Poppy, even when she had her mini meltdowns and crises of confidence, because she was fundamentally one of the best people he’d ever known, but now he enjoyed looking at her. And teasing her. And making her blush.

And shiver and arch in his arms.

She’d been impossibly appealing last night; so appealing that he’d barely been able to sleep, his body heavy and aroused for far too much of the night. Which is why he’d deliberately kept her at arm’s length this morning. It had been an endless night and he wasn’t ready to be tempted.

But clearly, she didn’t like that he’d kept his distance, and she definitely didn’t like the email from Florrie.

His lips twisted. Poor Poppy. He’d told Florrie that Poppy would be the one to help her get the tickets because he knew Poppy wouldn’t like it.

His smile deepened, remembering her extreme vexation. He wasn’t a nice man, but he was good at getting what he wanted, and he wanted Poppy, fierce, passionate, beautiful Poppy, who wasn’t afraid to stand up to him, and talk to him and make him feel like a man, not a machine.

* * *

Poppy took a bath before dinner feeling incredibly conflicted about the night ahead. At any other time in her life she would have been thrilled at the idea of having a lovely, long evening with him, where it would be just the two of them, but her fantasy Randall was nothing like Sheikh Talal, who did what he wanted and kissed her when he felt like and generally ignored all the rules for polite behavior.

Poppy towel-dried and stepped into the bedroom where Imma had placed a variety of kaftans on the bed for her to choose from.

She wasn’t in the mood for the navy or green one, even though both were lovely, and the black looked far too depressing even with all the silver and blue beadwork. She reached for the plum gown with the gold and cream and quickly dressed. She tried drawing her hair into a ponytail but it didn’t look right with the formality of the gown. Sighing, Poppy released her hair, combed it hard, hating the thick waves, but left it down.

Imma told her dinner would be on the rooftop and directed her up the three flights of stairs in the central tower. Poppy stepped out of the dim, cool tower into the golden light of dusk, thinking she had never seen a more magical setting for a meal. It was a rooftop dining room, open to the sky. It was heading toward twilight now, but it’d be dark within the hour. The walled patio already gleamed with candlelight, pillars of candles along the waist-high walls, while glittering silver lanterns dotted the side tables.

Stewards stood at attention, one with a tray of cocktails, another with appetizers. A third gentleman held a folded silk pashmina should she become cold later.

It wasn’t just luxurious, but wildly romantic, although she’d never tell that to Dal. He was already powerful and overbearing. She didn’t need to feed his ego, or his ridiculous marriage plans.

She was not going to marry him. Nor was she on his list. She’d never be on a list.

Dal emerged from the opposite tower just a minute after she did. He was wearing elegant black trousers and a fitted black dress shirt open at the collar. He wore no tie and

his black hair was combed but he hadn’t shaved before dinner, giving him a hint of a shadow on his strong jaw and a wicked glint in his golden eyes.

She hated the shiver that raced down her back, as well as the bubbly, giddy sensation she got when he lifted two glasses from the silver tray, carrying one of the pretty icy-pink cocktails to her. “The Kasbah Jolie signature drink.”

“What is it?” she asked warily, taking the frosty glass rimmed in sugar.

“I have no idea. There is a new chef and he seems to be having a great deal of fun naming everything Kasbah this, and Kasbah that.”

It seemed that tonight Dal was determined to be charming and she couldn’t help smiling. “Cheers to the innovative chefs.” And then she clinked her glass to his and sipped the drink, and the icy-cold pink martini-style cocktail was absolutely delicious. She could taste pomegranate juice, grapefruit juice plus vodka and something else. “Compliments to the chef.”

“Come this way,” he said, taking her elbow and steering her across the enormous roof to a private alcove facing the mountains.

Screened by a hedge of jasmine, he set down his drink and reached into his pocket and drew out a small black velvet box.

Poppy’s breath caught in her throat as she spotted what looked like a jeweler’s box. This wasn’ couldn’t be...

“I haven’t showered you with gifts. I thought it was time,” he said. “I hope you like them, and I think you should put them on now.”

Like them. Put them on now.

Obviously, it wasn’t a ring, then, and she didn’t know why she felt a stab of disappointment. She didn’t want to marry him. She didn’t want to be wooed by him. So why did she care that he was giving her some pretty trinket instead of a diamond ring?

She hated herself for feeling like crying as she cracked open the lid, and catching a sparkle of white fire, she popped the lid open all the way. More glints of light and fire. “Oh, Dal.” Nestled in black velvet was a pair of large gold and diamond chandelier earrings, dazzling earrings, the kind that only movie stars and princesses wore. Without even meaning to count, she added up all the diamonds sparkling up at her, with eight large oval diamonds in each earring, with dozens of smaller diamonds covering the gold setting. “I am praying these are not real diamonds,” she said.

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