“I can’t think when you’re doing that,” she said under her breath.
“And I can’t have you running off every time the questions get uncomfortable.” He moved his hand, sliding it from her wrist up over the flat of her hand so that they were palm to palm, his long fingers pressing against hers, parting them.
She shivered at the press of his hand to hers. It felt wildly indecent.
“I would say this is far more uncomfortable than any of your questions,” she whispered, trying to slip her hand out, but only succeeding in dragging her palm down his, sending sparks of sensation up her arm, through her breasts and into her belly below.
His fingers laced through hers, holding her still.
She looked down at their joined hands because there was no way she could look into his face right now. “I don’t think this is proper.”
“It’s a little late to worry about propriety, Poppy. So tell me what you did. You don’t need to tell me why. I think we both know the why.”
She closed her eyes, mortified, not sure if he was suggesting what she thought he was suggesting.
She prayed he wasn’t suggesting...
Just then the plane lurched and dropped, caught in a violent stream of turbulence, and Randall clamped his arm over her thighs, his hand locking around her knee, holding her steady. “I have you,” he said.
And he did, she thought wildly, eyes opening as heat and desire rushed through her.
He’d touched her before—a hand to her elbow as he assisted her across a gravel car park, or a touch to her shoulder when entering a crowded lift to nudge her forward—but never like this. Never anything like this, and she was suddenly riveted by the sight of his hand on her knee, his fingers as lean and strong and elegant as the rest of him.
She’d imagined this, though, hadn’t she?
Poppy smashed the little voice but it was too late, the little voice wouldn’t be silenced. It was beyond inappropriate to have feelings for him in the first place. Randall Grant was Sophie’s fiancé and her employer, and Poppy would rather cut off her right arm than embarrass Sophie, or Randall. But that didn’t mean the feelings weren’t there, suppressed. Buried.
She worked hard to keep them mashed down, too. And one of the ways she contained her feelings was by keeping a proper distance from him.
She didn’t let herself stand too close, or bend too low.
She didn’t look him in the eye more than was necessary.
She dressed conservatively, even frumpishly, so no one could accuse her of trying to play up her assets—not that there were too many of those.
And she called him Randall, not Dal like his other friends, because she wasn’t his friend. She was his secretary and on his payroll, and those were key distinctions.
She couldn’t ever risk forgetting herself.
She couldn’t risk dropping her guard, letting him see that beneath her professional demeanor was a real woman...a woman who wanted nothing more than to see him happy. Because Randall Grant was many things—brilliant, wealthy, strategic, successful—but he wasn’t happy. In fact, he didn’t seem to allow himself to feel emotions at all.
Perhaps that was what troubled her most. He would give the shirt off his back to someone in need, but he never asked for anything in return.
He never took anything from anyone, or wanted anything for himself.
He just existed in his space and sphere, brilliant and handsome and impossibly solitary.
Sophie had never seemed to notice. In her mind, Dal was just one of those introverts...a loner...and content to be alone, but Poppy didn’t agree. Of course she kept her opinion to herself. But instinct told her that Randall Grant hadn’t always been so alone, and that his isolation was perhaps the result of his being raised by a difficult father.
“I think you should let me go, Randall.” Her voice was soft, almost broken.
“Maybe, but I don’t think I shall. I quite like having you close. You have no defenses right now, making it impossible for you to lie.”
“You’re more of a gentleman than that.”
“Oh, Poppy, you don’t know me at all.”
“That’s not so. I know you quite well—”
“You’ve made me into someone I never was. Your impression of me is sweet, and flattering, but absurdly false. I am no gentleman, and am anything but chivalrous.”
“I’d like to return to my chair now.”
“Why? Isn’t this what you always wanted? Haven’t you wondered what it would be like to be Sophie, engaged to me?”
Poppy stiffened. She couldn’t move, or blink, or speak. She couldn’t do anything but sit frozen while shame suffused her heart. He knew? Dear God, did he really know? All these years she’d thought she’d been so good at hiding her feelings, hiding her attraction, and yet apparently she hadn’t hidden anything well at all.
But then she forced the thought back, not willing to go there, not willing to be stripped emotionally bare before him. “How much whiskey did you drink?” she flashed, praying he hadn’t heard the wobble in her voice.
“The one glass. I’m not drunk.” He leaned back against his leather seat, infuriatingly relaxed. “And you can play it cool, and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, but we both know the truth. I’m not trying to shame you—”
“It certainly feels like it, and I don’t appreciate it. I was supposed to be going on holiday in the morning. I haven’t had a proper vacation in years and this should have been the start to a vacation and instead you have me trapped on your plane, listening to your insults.”
“It’s not an insult.”
“For you to imply that I’ve been dying for you to kiss me, yes, that’s an insult because until five hours ago you were marrying my best friend.”
“I never said Sophie knew. You were remarkably good at concealing your feelings when she was around.”
“I don’t have feelings for you!”
His expression of amused disbelief made her want to throw up.
“Can we agree on soft spot?” he suggested with the same insufferable smile.
Poppy shuddered. She averted her face, trying to hide behind her shoulder. “I miss the old you, the nice you. Can you please bring Randall Grant back?”
“Randall Grant is dead.”
Her head jerked up and her gaze met his.
He nodded, expression almost sympathetic. “Yes, dead, because he never existed. I am Dal Grant, and have always been Dal. You made me into this Randall who was good and kind and considerate, but that’s not me. It never has been.”
“Fine. You’re Dal Grant. Congratulations.” She yanked on her hand, struggling to free herself, struggling with a new, feverish desperation. “Now, let me go.”
“Because we need to finish establishing a few things—”
“I think we’ve established quite a lot already. You’re Dal, not Randall. You’re not a nice man and you never have been. You think I betrayed you—”
“I know you betrayed me.”
“And you want me to betray Sophie.”
“But you don’t want to do that.”
“Of course I don’t. And I won’t.”
“Because she was your champion. She protected you from the time you were just a charity case at Haskell’s—”
“Stop, just stop.”
“I understand more than you think I do. I know more than you think I do, too. I know you grew up poor and insecure, and how you believed that you had to be perfect, or close to perfect, because one misstep and you could lose it all. Your scholarship at Haskell’s. Your friendship with Sophie. And then later, your job with me. Sophie once said that the reason you were so dependable was because you knew life was precarious and fraught with uncertai
nties. You’d told her that the best way to survive, and maybe the only way to survive, was by being necessary to those around you. So you became Sophie’s rock. And then my rock.”
“You were Sophie’s rock, too,” he continued, “but she’s gone now, and that leaves just you and me.”
She flushed deeply, even as her body throbbed with awareness. Randall’s arm still lay across her thighs, and his hand continued to cup her knee, and her pulse was beating so hard that her head felt woozy. “I don’t like the way you make that sound.”
“How am I making it sound?”
“As if there is something...illicit...between us. But there is nothing illicit. There is just a work relationship, and this—” she broke off, gesturing to the chair and the place she sat “—is not proper or professional and I’m asking you to let me go so that I can return to my chair.”
“Did you not invite Renzo to my wedding today?”
Her stomach rose and fell and she stared into Randall’s golden eyes, stricken. Had Renzo contacted Randall? Had there been communication of some sort between the two men?
But no, that couldn’t be. There was no way.
He was making wild guesses, trying to unsettle her, and it was unsettling, but he didn’t know anything and she could not, absolutely could not, give him details. Let him speculate all he wanted, but it would be disastrous if she confirmed her part in today’s debacle.
Stay calm, she told herself. Don’t panic.
And don’t feel, and don’t think about how warm Randall’s hand is, or how heat seemed to radiate from him to her, seeping into her skin, making her aware of how large his hands were, and how the pressure of his forearm across her thighs made her feel tingly, and tingly wasn’t good. Tingly was dangerous.
“It’s not disloyal to care for us both,” he added after a moment.