“I won’t say more. I’m done talking.”
“I could get you to say more. I could get you right now to tell me everything.” He must have seen her expression because his mouth eased and his eyes warmed. “One kiss—”
“For God’s sake, stop!” Tears filled her eyes and reached up to wipe them away before they could fall. “I know you’ve had a bad day. I know this has to be one of the worst days of your life, but why must you torture me? I love Sophie, and I love you—”
She broke off, horrified to have said so much, to have admitted the depth of her feelings. She closed her eyes, teeth biting into her lower lip to keep it from trembling, and yet she couldn’t stop the tears from falling, one after the other, but she gave up trying to catch them, or stop them.
It didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered anymore.
“I quit,” she whispered. “I’m done. Consider this my formal resignation. As of now, I no longer work for you and the moment we land, I’m gone.”
DAL RELEASED HER, and Poppy returned to her chair, but Dal was fully aware that she didn’t eat anything, choosing to simply stare out the window, the very picture of martyred innocence.
But she wasn’t innocent. She was responsible today for his being on this plane, now, a single man, and he wasn’t just holding her accountable. He fully expected her to solve his problem, saving him from failing his father.
Dal had never been close to his father but he’d made a vow to his father when he was dying, and he fully intended to keep the promise.
Which meant, he needed a wife. Quickly.
Thank goodness Poppy was available. She wasn’t the wife his father had wanted for him, but she’d definitely do in a pinch.
Sadie, the flight attendant, appeared to check on them and when she saw that neither of them had eaten the risotto she asked if there was something else she could bring.
“The cheese plates,” Dal answered. “And whatever chocolates you might have. It’s an emergency.”
Poppy muttered something unflattering beneath her breath and Dal looked at her, eyebrow rising. “You once said chocolate helps everything.”
“Well, not this.”
“I think you’re wrong. I think once you eat some proper food and then have some excellent chocolate you’ll calm down and realize you don’t want to walk away from me in Mehkar, at the Gila airport—”
“Why not? It’s supposed to be a gorgeous country.”
“Without a passport, or money, or bra. Mehkar is not as conservative as some of our neighbors but it’s still an Arab country with a traditional culture.”
“I can’t believe you felt the need to mention the bra.”
“Men are men.”
“Well then, once we land, and you get out, send me back to England in your plane. That way I won’t be stranded and my lack of undergarments won’t create alarm.”
“And what will you do once you’re back in London?”
“Go on the holiday. Sleep in. Enjoy the freedom of being unemployed.”
“And then when you’re properly rested you’ll begin looking for a new job.”
He studied her thoughtfully. “But won’t it be hard to get a decent position without references? I’d think you’d need me to put in a good word for you. You did work for me for four years after all.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What happened today in the chapel wasn’t fair, either.”
“Sophie always did say she knew you better than I thought. Clearly, she was right.”
His secretary was so disillusioned that he almost felt sorry for her. “It will be better tomorrow.”
“What will be?”
“The disappointment. You’ll realize it’s just a temporary setback, and life goes on.”
Poppy glared at him, her brown eyes flashing. “Thank you for that extremely deep and insightful philosophy lecture.”
Sadie returned with two cheese plates, each plate filled with cheeses, crackers and fruit, along with a bowl of chocolates. She set the plates down, centered the bowl of chocolate and disappeared.
Dal watched Poppy try to ignore the chocolates and cheese plate. It was almost comical because he knew how much she loved both things. “You really will feel better if you eat something.”
She refused to look at him, her smooth jaw set, lips pursed, expression mutinous. He’d never seen this side of her. She had a temper. He was pleased to see it, too. He’d worried that she had no backbone. He’d worried that Sophie had taken advantage of her generous nature.
“There is no reason to continue the starvation diet,” he said. “The wedding is over. No one is going to compare you to Sophie’s stick friends.”
Poppy gave him an indignant look. “They’re not sticks. They’re models.”
“You really think so?”
“You’ve never noticed that they live on their phones? For them, social media is more important than real human interaction.”
“It’s because they get paid for their Instagram posts. The more likes they get, the bigger the bonuses.”
He rolled his eyes. “I find that very hard to believe.”
“It’s true. I didn’t know it until one of them explained that modeling has changed. Lots of their jobs are pictures for their Instagram accounts.”
“I’m still not impressed.”
“Are you being serious? You really didn’t like them?”
“Did you?” he retorted.
He seemed to have caught Poppy off guard and she paused to think about her answer. After a moment her shoulders shrugged. “They were nice enough to me.”
“I wasn’t one of them.”
“Of course not. You weren’t an actress or a model—”
“Some of them are just horsey girls. They live for polo.”
“You mean, rich men who play polo.”
/> “You don’t sound very complimentary.”
“I knew I was marrying Sophie, not her social scene.”
Poppy regarded him for another long moment, her wide brown eyes solemn, her full mouth compressed, and he was glad she was nothing like Sophie’s other friends. He was glad she was short and curvy and fresh-faced and real. She was Poppy. And she was maybe the only person in his life who could make him smile.
“But maybe that was part of the problem,” she said now, picking her words with care. “Maybe you needed to like her world better. Sophie is quite social. She likes going out and doing things. She was never going to be happy sitting around Langston House with you every weekend.”
“It’s a wonderful house.”
“For you. It’s your house. But what was she supposed to do there all day?” When he didn’t answer she pressed on. “Have you ever looked at her? Really looked at her? Sophie is one of the most beautiful, stylish women in all of England. Tatler adores her—”
He made a dismissive noise.
Poppy ignored him. “Everyone in the fashion world adores her. Sophie is smart and glamorous and she is very much admired, but you...you only saw her as the woman who would beget your heirs.”
* * *
When Dal’s mocking smile disappeared Poppy felt a stab of pleasure, delighted that she knocked his smug, arrogant smile off his smug, arrogant, albeit handsome, face, but then when he rose and walked away, the pleasure abruptly faded.
Chewing the inside of her lip, she watched him walk to the back, heading for his private cabin in the rear of the jet. After he disappeared into the cabin, the door closing soundlessly behind him, she sank back into her seat, deflated, as if all the energy had been sucked from the cabin.
So much had just happened that she couldn’t process it all.
Poppy didn’t even know where to begin taking apart the conversations and the revelations, never mind examining the intense emotions buffeting her.
Randall—Dal—knew about her infatuation, and had implied that Sophie probably knew, too. And then Poppy, in a burst of uncharacteristic temper, had quit.
Poppy sighed and rubbed her brow, gently kneading the ache. Was she really going to leave him, after four years of working for him? After four years of trying to deny her feelings?