She shifted the hands holding her purse and worn travel bag but made no other sound. Finally, he glanced up at her, his strong black brows flattening over his light eyes.
“What’s happening?” he said brusquely.
She didn’t take offense. She knew it was his tone when concentrating. His sharpness wasn’t aimed at her but rather the annoyance of breaking his focus. He wouldn’t like what she had to say, but it was time, and she’d made her mind up. “I’d like to leave now.”
For a moment there was just silence and then he slowly rose. “What did you say?”
“You told me when you found a new secretary, you’d put me on a plane. You have a new secretary. I know she’s working in the London office right now, but she replaced me a week ago.”
“You’re my wife, Poppy, not an employee.”
“Please have your helicopter come and take me to Gila. I intend to sleep tonight in my own bed, at home.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t, and I don’t expect you will, but this marriage helped you, but it’s not good for me. Please do the right thing for me, and let me go. If you care for me at all, you’ll send me home now.”
He moved away from the desk, walking slowly toward her. “I won’t send you back to England like this—”
“So you don’t care for me.”
“I won’t send you because I do.”
“Then you’re not listening. I’m not happy here. I’m not happy living like this. I don’t regret marrying you, and I won’t call it a mistake, because I gave you what you needed...the title, the house, the estates...so please give me now what I need. My freedom.”
* * *
Dal was grateful for twenty years of lessons in control and discipline because it allowed him to keep his expression mercifully blank. He was stunned, though. Inwardly reeling.
“I am listening,” he said casually, calmly, as he approached her. “I always listen to you, even when you think I’m sleeping. I am there in bed with you, hearing you breathe, hearing you weep—”
“If you’ve heard me cry at night, why didn’t you say something, or do something? Why just let me cry myself to sleep?”
“Marriage is new, and an adjustment. I thought you needed time.”
“No, I didn’t need time. I needed you.” She nearly backed up a step as he closed the distance, stopping just a foot in front of her. Her chin lifted, her dark eyes bright with anger and pain. “You, Dal,” she repeated fiercely, “not time. All I’ve had here is time.”
“But you have me. I sleep with you every night. I hold you through the night. I am not far during the day, and when you need me, you can find me. Just as you found me today.”
Silence greeted his words. Her eyes narrowed a fraction and then her lips curved but there was no warmth in her eyes. “This you,” she said at last, nodding at him, “the one you’re offering, the one you’re giving, it’s not enough. I’m sorry if it hurts, but it’s the truth.”
He’d never seen this side of her. He didn’t know what to make of her anger. “People are not perfect. They will inevitably let you down. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you—”
“There are small disappointments, life’s little irritations and then there are tragedies. I can handle the irritations. I expect the irritations and annoyances. But me marrying a man who doesn’t love me...that borders on tragedy.”
She’d stunned him again. He couldn’t think of a single appropriate thing to say. Poppy, for her part, was so still and pale she reminded him of a wax figure.
“Please put me on the plane—”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“So you don’t care for me. I am just another of your toys and possessions.”
“I don’t know where this is coming from, and I don’t know what has made you feel so insecure—”
“You have, Dal! You with your lack of words and lack of emotion. You only make room for me in bed. But out of bed, there is no place for me in your life!”
“You are bordering on hysteria.”
“Of course you’ll mock me and shame my emotions, but at least I have emotions! At least I feel, and at least I’m able to be honest about what I need. I need a man who will love me. I need a man who will share with me and sacrifice for me.” Her voice cracked, broke. “But from the beginning it’s been about you, and as long as I stay here, it will only be about you, and I was wrong to think I could do this...live like this. So let me go now while we both have some dignity.”
“I’d rather lose my dignity than you.”
“You’ve already lost me.”
“No, I haven’t. You’re hurt and angry, but we can fix this.”
“It’s impossible to fix us. We can’t be fixed. You can’t be fixed—”
“I am not a machine! I have feelings—” he broke off, grinding his teeth together, trying to hold the blistering pain. “And maybe it shocks you, but your words hurt. Your words wound. But I’ll take the words and the wounds if it will allow us to grow stronger together.”
She averted her head, lips quivering. “I don’t want us to be together. Not anymore.”
“I don’t believe you. I can’t believe you. After four years—”
“I didn’t know the real you! I didn’t know us.”
He felt like he was in quicksand and sinking fast. Emotions were not his strength. Tears and sadness and grief and need...they baffled him. He’d never been allowed to feel or grieve, and he’d learned to survive by being numb. But he wasn’t numb right now. His chest burned. His body hurt. She might as well have poured petrol on him and then struck a match. “Perhaps what you should be saying,” he said tightly, “is that you didn’t know you.”
She looked at him then, tears in her eyes. “But I did know me. I knew what I needed. And every time I refused your proposal it was because I knew what I needed...and that was love.”
“Poppy, I am trying, with everything I am—”
“It’s not enough.” Her chin lifted, eyes glittering with tears. “Call for the helicopter. I’ll be downstairs in the garden, waiting.”
* * *
Poppy walked away then, quickly, her heels clicking on the marble, her eyes scalding.
That was beyond brutal. That was awful, so very awful. She’d said hard, harsh things, not to hurt him, but to make him understand that this wasn’t a game. She was done. She felt broken. He had to let her go.
She sat in the garden on a bench waiting for the helicopter, her bags at her feet. She would stay in the garden until the helicopter arrived, too. It might take days, but eventually he’d know she was serious.
Thirty minutes later Dal emerged from the Kasbah with his large black suitcase. She watched him cross the lawn and then he squeezed onto the bench next to her. She refused to make eye contact. This wasn’t an act. It wasn’t a game. She was leaving him today.
“The helicopter should be here in the next five to te
n minutes,” he said, breaking the silence.
“The jet has been fueled and is ready in Gila.”
“I needed to file a flight plan and I told them London.”
“Good. Glad to know I’ve done something right.”
She shot him a furious glance. “I don’t feel sorry for you. You’re a grown man, a very successful man. You have extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions. You’re accustomed to the bumps and disappointments. You’ll bounce back in no time.”
He met her gaze and held it. “You’re not a merger, or an acquisition. You are my wife, and you’re hurt, and I’m sorry. Your happiness means everything to me.”
“Those are just words.”
“But isn’t that what you wanted? Words? Tender words? Affectionate words?”
“You can’t even say them!”
“Love, you mean?” His black eyebrow arched. “I do love you, Poppy, and yet I find the word hard to say, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it.”
He caught her jaw, turned her face to him. “I’m not a machine. I feel emotions. In fact, I feel them so intensely they scare me. I have spent my entire life trying to contain my emotions, determined that they wouldn’t dictate my future. And every time I said I wanted you, I meant it. I wanted you then, and I want you now.”
“Sexually,” she said, bitterly.
“Sexually, emotionally, spiritually. I want you as my partner, my best friend—”
“Your only friend.”
“The mother of my children,” he continued calmly.
She gave her head a toss. “For the all-important heirs.”
“Not heirs,” he corrected, “but us, our family. You’ll be an incredible mother. And I’d like to be a father, although I’m not sure I’ll be good at it in the beginning. I’ll have to learn, but I can.”
“You never talked about family before. You and Sophie—”
“Because I couldn’t imagine raising a family with Sophie. I couldn’t imagine a life with her. But I can with you. I can imagine everything, and I want everything, and I do mean everything. You, Poppy, have made me want more.”