Poppy wasn’t surprised by the brisk efficiency. Randall’s helicopter was always available and his staff was always the epitome of professional but it still boggled her mind that he had a helicopter and a private plane. It had to be a terrible expense maintaining both of these, as well as his fleet of cars. Randall loved cars. It was one of his passions, collecting vintage models as if they were refrigerator magnets.
“What about the car?” she asked him.
“I’m driving it back to Langston House,” the young man answered with a quick smile. “Do you have everything?”
“Good. Enjoy your flight.”
Poppy boarded the plane self-consciously, pushing back dark tendrils of hair that had come loose from the pins. She felt wildly overdressed and yet exposed at the same time. She wanted a shawl for her bare shoulders and comfy slippers for her feet. But at least she wasn’t the only one in formal dress. Randall still wore his morning suit, although he’d loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button on his crisp, white dress shirt.
A flight attendant emerged from the jet’s compact kitchen galley and greeted Poppy with a smile. “Welcome on board,” she said. “Any seat.”
The flight attendant followed Poppy down the narrow aisle, past a small conference table to a group of four leather armchairs. The seats were wide and they appeared to be the reclining kind with solid armrests and luxuriously soft leather.
She gingerly sat down in the nearest chair and it was very comfortable indeed.
“Something to drink?” the pretty, blonde flight attendant asked. “A glass of champagne? We have a lovely bottle on ice.”
“I’m not the bride,” Poppy said quickly.
“I know. But the wedding is off so why not enjoy the bubbles?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t want to upset Randall.”
“He was the one who suggested it.”
Poppy laughed, nervous. “In that case, yes, a small glass might be nice. I’m shaking like a leaf.”
“From the sound of things, it’s been quite a day. A little fizz should help you relax.”
The flight attendant returned to the galley and moments later Randall and the pilots boarded the plane. The three men stood in front of the cockpit, still deep in discussion. The discussion looked serious, too. There wasn’t much smiling on anyone’s part, but then, Randall wasn’t a man that smiled often. She wouldn’t have described him as grim or stern, either, but rather quiet and self-contained. The upside was that when he spoke, people listened to him, but unfortunately, Randall didn’t speak often enough, tending to sit back and listen and let others fill the silence with their voices. Sophie thought his silence and reserve made him rather dull, but there were plenty of women who found him mysterious, asking Poppy in whispers what was the Earl of Langston really like?
Poppy usually answered with a dramatic pause and then a hushed, Fascinating.
Because he was.
He had a brilliant mind and had taken his father’s businesses and investments and parlayed them into even bigger businesses and more successful investments, and that alone would have been noteworthy, but Randall did more than just make money. He gave his time generously, providing leadership on a dozen different boards, as well as volunteered with a half dozen different charities, including several organizations in the Middle East. Randall was particularly valuable to those latter organizations since he could speak a staggering number of languages, including Egyptian, Arabic and Greek.
The Earl of Langston worked hard, very hard.
If one were to criticize him it would be that he worked too much. Sophie certainly thought so. Poppy had tried to educate Sophie on Randall’s business, thinking that if Sophie was more interested in Randall’s work and life, the couple would have more in common, and would therefore enjoy each other’s company more, but Sophie wasn’t interested in the boards Randall sat on, or his numerous investments. Her ears had pricked at the charity work, because Sophie had her own favorite charities, but the interest didn’t last long, in part because Randall failed to reciprocate. He took Sophie for granted. He didn’t try to woo her, or romance her. There were no little weekends away. No special dinners out. It was almost as if they were an old married couple even before they married.
Sophie deserved better. She deserved more.
Poppy hoped that Renzo marching down the aisle of Langston Chapel would ultimately be a good thing for Sophie.
But even if it was a good thing, it would be scandalous. It would always be scandalous.
Heartsick, Poppy closed her eyes and found herself wondering about Sophie. Was she okay? Where had Renzo taken her? And what was happening in her world now?
“Guilty conscience, Poppy?”
Randall’s deep, husky voice seemed to vibrate all the way through her.
She opened her eyes and straightened quickly, shoulders squaring so that the boned bodice pressed her breasts up.
He was standing over her, which meant she had to tilt her head back to look up at him. He was tall and lean, and his elegant suit should have made him look elegant, too, but instead he struck her as hard and fierce, and more than a little bit savage, which was both strange and awful because until today she would have described Randall Grant as the most decent man she’d ever met. Until today she would have trusted him with her life. Now she wasn’t so sure.
“No,” she said breathlessly, worried about being alone with him. It wasn’t that he’d hurt her, but he struck her as unpredictable, and this new unpredictability made her incredibly anxious.
The flight attendant appeared behind him with the flute of champagne. “For Miss Marr,” she said.
Randall took it from her and handed it to Poppy. “We’re celebrating, are we?” he said mockingly.
Her pulse jumped as their fingers brushed, the sharp staccato making her breathless and jittery. She glanced from his cool, gold eyes into the golden bubbles fizzing in her flute. “The flight attendant said you were the one that suggested the champagne.”
“I was curious to see what you would do.”
Her eyes stung. Her throat threatened to seal closed. “Take it back, then,” she said, pushing the flute back toward him. “I didn’t want it in the first place.”
“I wish I could believe you.”
The hardness in his voice made her ache. She’d thought she’d done the right thing by writing to Renzo, but now she wasn’t sure. Had she been wrong about Randall and Sophie?
Did Randall actually love her? Had Poppy just inadvertently broken his heart?
It didn’t help being this physically close to Randall when her emotions were so unsettled, either. Nor did she know how to read this new Randall Grant. He wasn’t anything like the quiet, considerate man she’d worked for, a man who always seemed to know how to handle her.
“You like champagne,” he said carelessly, dropping into the seat opposite hers. “Keep it. I have a drink coming, too.”
“Yes, but I shouldn’t drink, not when working. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You were thinking that you’re a bundle of nerves, and a little bit of alcohol sounded like the perfect tonic.”
“Maybe. But we don’t drink together. I don’t think you and I have ever had a drink, just the two of us. If there was wine, or champagne open, it’s because Sophie was there and Sophie wanted a glass and we never let her drink alone.”
“No, we never did. We both looked after her, didn’t we?”
Poppy’s throat thickened. “Please don’t hate her.”
“It’s impossible to like her right now.”
Poppy stared down into her glass. “Maybe it’s better if we don’t discuss her.”
“Four hours ago she was to be my wife. Now I’m to simply forget her? Just like that?”
She looked up at him, struggling to
think of something she could say, but nothing came to her and she just gave him a look that she hoped was properly sympathetic without being pitying.
“I’m shocked and angry, not broken. Save the sympathy for someone who needs it.”
“Do you want her back?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Because even if she did decide she’d made a mistake, I don’t think you’d forgive and forget. At least not for a long time.”
The corner of his mouth curled. “I don’t like being played for a fool, no,” he said, giving her a long, penetrating look that made her squirm because it seemed to imply that he also thought she had played him for a fool. And if that was the case, then spending the next week working together was asking for trouble. He wouldn’t be in a proper state of mind.