The Playboy of Argentina(2)

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She had a perfectly legitimate reason for being here that had nothing to do with Rocco Hermida. She might look like a tourist today, but she was full of business. Landing a job as product development manager at Evaña Cosmetics, after slogging her guts out as an overgrown intern and then an underpaid assistant just so she could sock it to her old man was a dream come true!

She could think of worse things than travelling to the Dominican Republic and then Argentina in search of the perfect aloe vera plantation. And she could think of much worse things than an overnighter in Buenos Aires to lap up the polo followed by a weekend at her friend Esme’s place in Punta del Este to lap up the sun and the sea.

Bliss.

She got another drink—why not? As long as she was fresh enough to start on her presentation tomorrow she could have a little downtime today. It might even do her good to relax before she went out on her last trips. She still had plenty of time to put it all together into a report before the long flight home and her moment in the boardroom spotlight.

It was such a big deal. She’d spent so long convincing the directors to take this leap of faith, to look farther than their own backyard for organic ingredients, to have a unique selling point that was truly unique. So while she could play the tourist here today, the last thing she’d do was jeopardise it by getting all caught up in Rocco damn Hermida.

She began to thread and weave through the contrasting mix of casual porteños and glamorous internationals. On the other side of the giant field, spread out like bunting, she spotted the exclusive white hospitality tents. Esme would be in one of them, playing hostess, smiling and chatting and posing for pictures. As the Palm Beach captain’s wife, she was part of the package. Frankie could imagine nothing worse.

An announcement rang like a call to prayer, and another headshot loomed on the giant screens. There he was again. The default scowl back in position, the dark hair swept back and landing in that flop across his golden brow. He was in the team colours, scarlet and black, white breeches and boots. As the camera panned out, she instinctively looked at his thighs. Under the breeches they were hard, strong and covered in the perfect dusting of hair. She knew. She remembered. She’d kissed them.

For a moment she felt dazed, lost in a mist of girlish memories. Her first crush, her first kiss, her first broken heart. All thanks to that man. She drew her eyes off the screen again, scowled at it. Muttered words under her breath that her mother would be shocked to hear, let them slide into the wind with the commentator’s jabbering biography—a ‘what’s not to love?’ on the Hurricane—and the brassy notes of a gaudy marching band.

The first chukka was about to start. The air around her sparkled with eager anticipation. She could take her place—she could watch this—and if he turned her stomach with his arrogance she could cheer on Palm Beach. Even if two of his ponies were from Ipanema, the Rocco Hermida on those screens was just an imprint of a figment of a teenage girl’s infatuation. She owed him nothing.

If only it was that simple.

He was electric.

Each chukka was more dramatic and stunning than the one before.

He galloped like the wind and turned on a sixpence. His scowl was caught on camera, a picture of composed concentration, and when he scored—which he did, ten times—a flash of white teeth was his momentary gift to the crowd.

And of course there was Dante, too. Like a symphony, they flew up and down the field. Damn, damn, damn, but it was utterly, magnetically mesmerising.

They won. Of course. And as fluttering blue-and-white flags transformed the stadium and the crowd hollered its love she scooted her way out. Head down, her face a picture of ‘seen it all before, can take it or leave it, nothing that special’, she made her way round to the ponies—the real reason she was here.

The grooms were hosing down the last of them when she slipped through the fence, and watery arcs of rainbows and silvery droplets filled the air. She sneaked around, watched the action. She loved this. She missed it. Until this moment she hadn’t realised how much.

Everyone was busy, the chat was lively and the whole place was buzzing at the fabulous result. Of course the Palm Beach team were no pushovers, and Esme would be satisfied, but the day belonged to Rocco Hermida. And Dante. As expected.

As soon as she had taken a little peep at the two ponies she wanted to see she’d head off, have a soak in the tiny enamel bath in her hotel’s en-suite bathroom. She would use some of the marketing gifts from the last plantation: a little essential oil to help her relax, and a little herbal tea to help her sleep. She’d been on the go for twenty-four hours. Even if she did make the party tonight, which Esme seemed so determined she would, sleep was going to have to feature somewhere.

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