She bit her lip and looked away, tears in her eyes. “It’s too little, too late, Dal. You’ve hurt me—”
“I did. I know I did, and I’m sorry. Poppy, I am an arse. I’m ruthless and relentless but none of this should surprise you. You know me. And you married me, knowing me.”
“True, and I’ve realized you haven’t changed. You’ll never change. I’m not going to change, either. I will always want more and you will want less.”
“If I wanted less, why did I marry you? If I wanted less, why didn’t I pick one of those silly party girls who would have been grateful for my wealth and position, instead of throwing it in my face? If I wanted less, why did I choose the woman who wanted more? Who demands more? Who insists I demand more, too? If less was my future, then why have I struggled to grow and change for you?”
She said nothing.
Frustration filled him. “Poppy, who would I be without you?” And then he fell silent, his question hanging there between them for what felt like forever.
Finally unable to bear the silence a moment longer, she said, “You are the Earl of Langston and the Prince of Mehkar.”
“Actually, I’m not the Earl of Langston anymore.”
She looked at him, aghast.
He shrugged. “You’re not the only one who can make grand gestures. I can, too, and I’ve chosen to walk away from the title and the house and everything it entails. It was a bit more complicated than I imagined, but it’s done now. It’s what I’ve been working on since our wedding.”
“The problem in London?”
“But you married me to secure—”
“You. I married you because I couldn’t imagine going through life without you. Poppy, I don’t care about titles and houses. I don’t need anything but you.”
“Then why the rush? Why the pressure?”
“I wanted to keep the promise I made to my father. And I did. And now I’m free.”
She looked away, blinking back tears.
“I am not good with words, my sweet Poppy, but you are my other half. You are my heart and my soul. You are my family and my future. Please don’t leave, and if you’re determined to go, then plan on taking me.”
She brushed away her tears. “You won’t like my crowded, untidy little flat.”
“I will if that’s where you want to be. If that’s what feels like home.”
“The flat’s so small there’s barely room for me, never mind you.”
She spluttered on laughter. “You have no idea what you’re saying. You’re accustomed to huge houses and servants and people bowing and scraping.”
“Not anymore. I’ve given it up.”
“What about here in Mehkar? Are you still Prince Talal, or have you dispensed with that, too?”
“No, I’m still Prince Talal.” He grimaced. “And I should probably tell you something that I ought to have told you long ago.”
“Oh, no.” She looked at him, immediately wary. “I don’t know if I want to hear this.” She looked into his eyes, worried. “What is it? What else have you done?”
“I haven’t done anything yet. You see, I am my grandfather’s heir. When he dies, I will be king.”
“I know it’s a lot to process—”
“He’s healthy, though, isn’t he? At least he seemed relatively fit and strong when he was here for the wedding.”
“He’s as healthy as an eighty-four-year-old man can be.”
He regarded her a moment, the corners of his mouth curving. “You took that better than I expected.”
“You must know I don’t really wish to be a queen. I just want a cozy little house in the Cotswolds—”
“With a couch and a telly.” He smiled and kissed her. “I promise you’ll have the house you’ve always dreamed about. And the television set, too.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Absolutely not. I’m just trying to reassure you that I’m listening and attentive to your needs.”
She groaned and rolled her eyes. “You are impossible.”
“Yes, I know. But isn’t that what you always liked about me?”
TALAL’S CORONATION WAS nearly ten years to the day of their wedding at Kasbah Jolie.
It was early July and impossibly hot. The Gila palace was air-conditioned but with so many guests crowded into the reception room, the air conditioner couldn’t quite do its job.
Poppy was miserable in her gold gown and heels. Not because the kaftan was tight; if anything it was made of the lightest, softest silk imaginable, but she was very pregnant, nine months pregnant, and her ankles were swelling and she was desperate to be off her feet.
Thank goodness she knew what to expect. This was her fourth pregnancy and she always felt irritable at this stage, ready for the bump to be gone and the baby to be in her arms. She was always anxious as the due date grew closer, worried about any number of things that could go wrong. Fortunately, the first three deliveries went without a hitch and all three were really good children, and very excited about the new one, because finally the three boys would have a baby sister.
Poppy struggled to not fidget as Dal accepted his new crown, and the duties it entailed.
But it was hard to stand perfectly still with the odd contractions. They were false contractions, she was sure. She’d had them with the last two pregnancies and she knew now not to be alarmed.
She pressed her elbow to her side, pressing against the tension that wrapped her abdomen.
She must be overly hot and overly tired because that one felt like the real thing.
And then her water broke and Poppy’s head jerked up. Dal was suddenly looking at her and she didn’t remember speaking, or making a sound, but suddenly he was there, at her side, his arm around her.
“My water just broke,” she whispered, aware that all two hundred plus people in the reception room were watching. “But it’s too early. She’s not due for another couple of weeks.”
“Apparently, no one told her that,” he said, smiling warmly into her eyes.
Poppy’s heart turned over. Ten years of marriage and he still made her melt. “I’m sorry we’re disrupting the ceremony.”
“I’m not. I can’t wait to meet her. You know how much I’ve wanted a daughter.”
Another contraction hit and Poppy gasped and squeezed his arm. “It seems she’s in a rush to meet you, too!”
“I’m not surprised. If she’s anything like her mother, she’s going to be fierce and loyal and impossibly loving.” He wrapped his arm around her waist, supporting her. “I love you, Queen Poppy, completely and madly, you know.”
“What has happened to my safe, predictable Englishman?”
“Gone, I’m afraid.”
She gripped his arm as another contraction hit.
“And so are we,” he added, swinging her into his arms. “Because I don’t trust our little princess not to make an appearance here and now.”
* * * * *
If you enjoyed KIDNAPPED FOR HIS ROYAL DUTY by Jane Porter, look out for Caitlin Crews’s contribution to their STOLEN BRIDES duet THE BRIDE’S BABY OF SHAME
Available July 2018!
And in the meantime, why not explore these other stories by Jane Porter?
HIS MERCILESS MARRIAGE BARGAIN
HER SINFUL SECRET
BOUGHT TO CARRY HIS HEIR
Keep reading for an excerpt from BLACKMAILED BY THE GREEK’S VOWS by Tara Pammi.
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