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She found out later that he’d had them flown to a nearby town and then they had bused in. He had also bused in the musicians and belly dancers

and the fierce-looking men carrying flaming swords.

While she’d been dressing and having her hair and makeup done, dozens of Dal’s staff had transformed the huge lawn into the site for the Arabic wedding and party. The zaffa swept them from the house, down the external stairs, to the grounds below. There was another ceremony after the noisy, colorful, chaotic march. Dal and Poppy had been led up an elevated platform, or kosha, to two plush, decorated chairs. Once seated, glasses were passed to all the guests and everyone toasted them, drinking to their health.

After the toast, the royal family’s Iman spoke to them about the importance of honoring and respecting each other, and then she and Dal switched rings from their right hand to the left index finger before they were pulled to their feet to dance their first dance ever When the band struck up the second song, the dance floor filled with Dal’s family.

Poppy was introduced to so many people, and pulled into so many hugs and kisses, she couldn’t keep the guests straight, although Poppy remembered two—the cousin who’d greeted Dal at the Gila airport, and then the tall, somber patriarch of the family, Dal’s grandfather, the King of Mehkar.

She’d dropped to a deep curtsy before the king, unfamiliar with proper protocol but also profoundly honored that the king would choose to join them today. It couldn’t have been an easy trip for a man in his mid-to late-eighties.

The king drew her to her feet, and then lifted her face to his to scrutinize her thoroughly. She blushed beneath his careful inspection, even as it crossed her mind that the king had the same beautiful golden eyes that Dal did.

Dal, she thought, would look like this when he was older, and suddenly she couldn’t help but smile at the king.

Dal’s grandfather’s stern expression eased, and while he didn’t quite smile at her, there was warmth and kindness in his eyes as he murmured words in Arabic before kissing each of her cheeks.

“My grandfather welcomes you to the family. He said you will bring us many blessings and much joy.”

And then the king moved away and the dancing continued, only interrupted for the cutting of the cake and then again when Dal invited his family and guests to the supper.

It was later in the evening when Dal took her hand and lifted it to his mouth, kissing her fingers. “In our culture the bride and groom always leave before the guests. It is their job to continue the party for us.”

And then just like that, they were walking away, hand in hand, as the assembled guests cheered and the drummers drummed and the horns sounded.

A lump filled Poppy’s throat at the joyous noise. She glanced back over her shoulder and blinked, not wanting Dal to see that she was crying again on their wedding day. “That was amazing,” she whispered. “Beyond anything I could have imagined.” She looked up at him and then away, eyes still stinging with tears. “Thank you.”

His fingers tightened around hers. “You didn’t think I would let our day go without a celebration?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I did.”

He stopped her then, on the stairs in the shadows, and drew her into his arms for a slow, bone-melting kiss. A shiver of pleasure coursed through her as heat and desire filled her, the warmth sapping her strength so that when his tongue stroked the seam of her lips, she felt weak and breathless. Senses flooded, she opened her mouth to him, giving herself to him, wanting to feel everything she could possibly feel on such a beautiful night.

Below them, laughter and music rose up from the garden where the band continued to play and Dal’s family talked and danced inside the colorful tents. And then far above their heads came a crackle and pop, and then another loud pop and fizz.

Poppy opened her eyes to see fireworks fill the dark sky with brilliant crimson and gold, green and silver light. The inky sky came alive with the shooting, exploding sparkling light.

Poppy’s breath caught at the unexpected beauty. But then everything about today was unexpected. The simple, practical civil ceremony this afternoon, followed by the exotic, thrilling Arab ceremony and party and now this: gorgeous, spectacular fireworks. She absolutely adored fireworks, too.

“Is this another tradition in your culture?” she asked, gaze riveted to the brilliant display above them.

“No. It’s something I did for you. You once told me fireworks made you happy. I wanted you to feel happy.”

Her eyes burned and her throat ached, a lump making it impossible to speak. All she could do was nod and blink and try to keep from falling apart.

He’d thought of her. He’d wanted her happy. Even though he didn’t say the words she wanted to hear, he’d tried to make today special for her.

“Thank you,” she whispered, standing on tiptoe to kiss him before turning in his arms to watch the fireworks shoot into the sky and explode.

When it was all over, the guests gathered on the lawn cheered and Poppy applauded and Dal grinned, looking handsome and boyish and impossibly pleased with himself.

He should be, she thought, running up the stairs with him, heading now for his room, which he’d told her would be their room. He stopped her on the terrace before they reached the tall glass doors, and picked her up, swinging her into his arms, carrying her over the threshold into his darkened bedroom, which had been filled with dozens of flickering candles.

* * *

Dal could feel Poppy stiffen as he carried her into the bedroom, her heart racing so hard he could feel it pounding in her rib cage.

“Don’t be scared,” he said, placing her on her feet. “Nothing terrible is going to happen.”

He saw her nervous glance at the bed and he reached out to stroke her warm, flushed cheek. “That won’t be terrible, either, but we’re not going to bed yet. I thought we should change and have some champagne and dessert. We left the party before the dessert was served.”

She gave a half nod, her expression still wary. He didn’t blame her. It had been an overwhelming day and he’d known what would happen today.

He’d kept the zaffa and party secret from her, wanting to surprise her, but maybe it would have been better to let her in on the plans so that she wouldn’t have been so sad earlier after the civil ceremony. He’d hated the shadows that had darkened her eyes when she’d thought the civil ceremony was all that had been planned. It had made him realize how sensitive she really was, and how much she’d need emotionally. But that would be the problem.

He could give her things, and place credit cards without limits in her hands, but he’d never give her the intimacy and emotional closeness she craved, but God help him, he would try.

“I’ll open the champagne while you change,” he said. “I believe Izba is waiting in the bedroom to help you out of your bridal gown and into a more comfortable dressing gown.”

* * *

Dressing gown was overstating things, Poppy thought, inspecting herself in the mirror. Dressing gown implied weight and coverage, but this sheer ivory kaftan with the scattered circles of diamonds and gold beads hid nothing. Oh, there was fabric all right; the gown was wildly romantic with shirred shoulders and a plunging neckline that went nearly down to her waist, but if it wasn’t for the strategic draping Dal would be able to see absolutely everything.

As it was she had a hard time keeping her nipples from popping through the fabric, never mind the dark curls at the apex of her thighs.

“Izba, I can’t go to him like this,” Poppy muttered, blushing. “I’m practically naked.”

“It’s your wedding night,” Izba answered soothingly. “And you look so beautiful.”

“Beautifully naked.” She frowned as she walked, aware that any light shining behind her would give away everything. “Was this another of his mother’s gowns?”

“No. His Highness brought this one back from Gila for you. It was custom made.” She gave Poppy a pat on the back. “Go to him. Don’t be shy. He loves you very much—”


; “He doesn’t love me, Izba.”


“He doesn’t. He told me so.” Poppy’s voice suddenly broke. “But I knew it. I’ve known it. And I’m not going to cry about it. I’m not crying today.”

“He wouldn’t marry you if he didn’t love you.”

“He married me because he had to be married. He needed a wife by his thirty-fifth birthday.”

“His Highness can have any woman. Many women would marry him. But you are the one he wanted.”

Poppy wanted to explain that he hadn’t had real choices, nor the time to explore all his options. Sophie disappearing from Langston Chapel had put him in a bind, and so Dal had settled...he’d settled for her. “It’s more complicated than that,” she said faintly. “His Highness had tremendous pressure on him—”

“Stop making excuses for him. He’s a man. And he wouldn’t have married you if this isn’t what he wanted, not just for him, but also, to be the mother of his children.”

The ever-important heirs and spares, Poppy thought with a panicked gulp.

She shot Izba a quick, nervous smile and then exited the bedroom before she lost her courage altogether.

Dal had dimmed the lights while she was gone, and he was waiting for her on his grand terrace. He gestured for her to come to him and she hesitated, suddenly shy, aware that she was next to naked.

His gaze met hers and held.

He gestured again, a masculine gesture of power and ownership.

She didn’t want to go to him, but at the same time, she couldn’t resist. She walked slowly, self-consciously, aware of the way he watched her, a hot, possessive light heating the gold of his eyes.

The soft chiffon and silk gown floated around her ankles as she crossed the floor. Izba had unpinned her hair, taking out the gold beads, and she could feel her hair brushing her shoulders.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she breathed.

“Because you’re gorgeous and you’re mine.”

Her tummy did a flip. “I think I need that champagne.”

He carried their glasses to the low couch and sat down. He placed one glass on the table and then patted the cushion next to him with his free hand. “I have your glass here. You just have to come to me to get it.”

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