And so instead of being glad to see this lost grandfather, Dal curtly invited his grandfather in. “Would you like tea? I could put the kettle on.”
“Only if you shower first.”
And Randall Grant, the second-born son who shouldn’t have become the heir, the second son who had never flaunted his wealth or position, snapped, “I will have my tea first. Come in, Grandfather, if you wish. But I’m not going to be told what to do, not today, and certainly not by you.”
Dark gaze hooded, Sheikh Mansur bin Mehkar looked his oldest living grandson, Randall Michael Talal, up and down, and then turned around and walked away.
Randall stood next to his door, his flat key clenched in his hand, and watched his grandfather head for the steep staircase.
He should go after him.
He should apologize.
He should ask where his grandfather was staying.
He should suggest meeting for dinner.
It wasn’t until the next morning that Randall discovered the envelope half-hidden by the thin doormat. Inside the envelope was a birthday greeting and a packet of papers. For his twenty-first birthday he’d been given Kasbah Jolie, his mother’s favorite home, the home that had also been the Mehkar royal family’s summer palace for the past three hundred and fifty years.
He wouldn’t know for another ten years that along with the summer palace, he’d also been named as the successor to the Mehkar throne.
But both discoveries only hardened his resolve to keep his distance from his mother’s family. He didn’t want the throne. He didn’t want to live in, or rule, Mehkar. He didn’t want anything to do with the summer palace, either, a place he still associated far too closely with his beloved mother, a mother he’d lost far too early. It was bad enough that at eleven he’d become Viscount Langston following his older brother’s death. Why would he want to be responsible for Mehkar, too?
* * *
Poppy glanced up and watched as Dal approached. He’d changed into dark trousers and a light tan linen shirt, the shirt an almost perfect match for his pale gold eyes. He looked handsome, impossibly handsome, but then, he always did. She just never let herself dwell on it, knowing that her attraction was unprofessional and would only lead to complications. Gorgeous, wealthy men like Randall Grant did not like women like her. Why should they when they could have the Sophie Carmichael-Joneses of the world?
“Your turn,” Randall said shortly. “And once you change, please throw that damn dress away. I never want to see it again.”
“Where is my bag?”
“In the closet in the back cabin.”
Poppy located her worn overnight bag in the closet but when she opened it, she had only her nightgown, travel toiletries, a pair of tennis shoes and her favorite jeans. The jeans and tennis shoes were good, but she couldn’t leave the cabin without a shirt.
* * *
Poppy sat back on her heels and tried to remember where she’d put the rest of her clothes. Had they gotten caught up in Sophie’s things? Or had she left them at the hotel when they checked out this morning?
Suppressing a sigh, she returned to the chairs in the main cabin.
The flight attendant was in the middle of setting up a table for a late lunch, covering the folding table with a fine white cloth before laying out china plates with thick bands of gold, crystal stemware, and real sterling flatware.
“You didn’t change,” Randall said, spotting her.
“I don’t have a blouse or top or...or bra...for that matter.”
“You could borrow one of my shirts, and braless is fine. It’s just me here. I won’t stare.”
* * *
There was nothing provocative in his words and yet her face and body flooded with heat. “Then yes, thank you. Because I’m ready to get out of this dress, too.”
He rose from his seat, stepping around the table, and she followed him back to the cabin. The private cabin was small, and felt even tinier when Randall entered the room with her.
She stepped back so he’d have room to open his suitcase and find a suitable shirt for her.
“What are you wearing on the bottom?” he asked.
He rifled through his clothes, selecting a white dress shirt with blue pinstripes for her. “This should cover you,” he said.
He nodded, and he turned to leave and she took a step to give him more room but somehow they’d both stepped in the same direction and now he was practically on top of her and he put out a hand to steady her, but his hand went to her waist, not her elbow, and his hand seemed to burn all the way through the thin silk fabric, and she gasped, lips parting, skin heating, her entire body blisteringly warm.
In the close confines of the cabin, she caught a lingering whiff of the cologne he’d put on this morning and it was rich and spicy and she wanted to step closer to him and bury her face in his chest, and breathe him in more deeply.
He smelled so good, and when he touched her, he felt so good, and it was frightening how fast she was losing those boundaries so essential to a proper working relationship.
“Looks like we’re tripping each other up,” he said, his deep voice pitched so low it made the hair on her nape rise and her breasts tighten inside her corset, skin far too sensitive.
“I’m sorry,” she said breathlessly. “I didn’t mean to get in your way,” and yet she couldn’t seem to step away, or give him space.
His hands wrapped around her upper arms and he gently but firmly lifted her, placing her back a foot, and then he exited the small cabin without a glance back.
Poppy exhaled in a rush, shuddering at the extreme awkwardness of what had just taken place. She’d walked into him, and then stayed there, planted, as if she’d become a tree and had grown miraculous roots.
Poppy carefully closed the door and then pressed her shoulder to the frame, wishing she could stay barricaded in the cabin forever. It was one thing to have an innocent crush on your boss, but it was another to want his touch, and Poppy wanted his touch. She wanted his hands on her in the worst sort of way. Which raised the question, what kind of person was she?
Poppy had always prided herself on her scruples. Well, where were they now?
POPPY STRUGGLED WITH the minute hooks on the pink dress, freeing herself little by little until she could wiggle out of the gown. The dress had been so tight that it had left livid pink marks all over her rib cage and breasts. It was bliss to finally be free and she slid the shirt on, buttoning the front. The fabric had been lightly starched and it rubbed against her nipples, making them tighten. She prayed Randall wouldn’t notice. Things were already so awkward between them. She’d always thought they had the ideal relationship, professional but warm, cordial and considerate, but today had changed everything.
Today he overwhelmed her, and her brain told her to run but there was another part of her that desperately wanted to stay.
And be touched.
That was a very worrying part of her.
She’d have to work hard to keep that part in check, because elegant, refined Randall Grant was one thing, but dark, brooding Dal Grant was something else altogether.
Poppy finished changing, stepping into the soft, faded jeans that now hung on her hips thanks to four months of determined dieting, and after pulling the pins from her hair, she slipped her feet into her tennis shoes and headed back to her seat.
While she was gone, the flight attendant added a low arrangement of flowers to the center of the table, the lush red and pink roses reminiscent of the bouquet Sophie had carried this morning. The flowers made Poppy heartsick and guilty all over again.
“You look more comfortable,” he said as she slid into her seat.
/> “I am.”
“Tell me your sizes and I’ll have some basics waiting for us when we land.”
“I can shop for myself, thank you.”
“There won’t be shops where we’re going.”
“Where are we going?”
The flight attendant appeared with the salad course, and Poppy waited for Randall to reach for his fork before she did the same. “Is it a country house?” she asked.
He didn’t pick up his fork, or answer right away, instead he glanced away, his long black lashes lowering, accenting the high, hard lines of his cheekbones.
She’d always thought he had the most impressive bone structure, with his lovely high cheekbones, strong jaw and chin coupled with that long nose. Sophie had always disdained of his nose—not refined enough—but Poppy had disagreed, thinking he had the nose of a Roman or Greek.
“Something like that,” he finally answered, his dark head turning, his light gold gaze returning to her, studying her for a long moment, making her feel strangely light-headed. And breathless. Far too breathless.
Poppy inhaled slowly, trying to settle her nerves. She’d had a crush on him for four years and she’d managed to keep her feelings in check. There was no reason to let herself get carried away just because he was suddenly single.
Her heart did a funny little beat, the kind of beat that made her feel anxious and excited, but neither emotion was useful. She needed to settle down and be calm and steady and strong.
“You’re not doing much to clarify things.” She tried to smile, a steady, professional smile. “Where is it exactly?”