The Playboy of Argentina(4)

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He cupped the back of her head, held her. Just there.

She jerked away.

‘What?’

If she could have spat out the word with venom she would have, but she was lucky to get it out at all, the way he was simply staring at her.

‘All grown-up.’

He took another step. She saw the logo of his team in red silk thread: two balls, two sticks, two letters H. She saw the firm wall of muscle under his shirt—hard, wide pecs, the shadow of light chest hair framed in the V. She saw the caramel skin and the wide muscular neck, the heavy pepper of stubble and the rich wine lips. She saw his broken nose, his intensely dark eyes, his questioning brows. And she scented him. Pure man.

That hand was placed on her head—and it felt as if he was the high priest and this was some kind of healing ritual.

One she did not need to receive.

‘Yes, all grown-up. And leaving.’ She pulled away. ‘Let me past. I want to go.’

But he held her. Loosely. His eyes finally dropped to absorb every other possible detail. She could feel his appraisal of her sooty eyes too big for her face; her nose too thin; her mouth too small; her chin too pointed. But instead of stepping back he seemed to swell into the last remaining inch of space and he shook his head.

‘In a moment. Where are you staying?’

She wavered—rushed a scenario through her mind of him at her cute little hotel, in her tiny room. Filling up all the space. The picture was almost too hot to hold in her head.

‘That doesn’t matter. I’m only here for a day or so.’

He was in no hurry to move. She looked away, around, at the empty glass she somehow still clutched in her hand. Anywhere but at him.

‘I think you should stay a little longer. Catch up.’

There was nothing but him—his body and his energy. Ten years ago she had dreamed of this moment. She had wept and pined and fantasised. And now she would rather die than give him the satisfaction.

‘Catch up with what? I’ve no wish to go over old ground with you.’

‘You think we covered ground? Back then? In that tiny little bed in your farmhouse?’

His words slipped out silken and dark.

‘You have no idea, querida, how far I would have liked to have gone with you.’

He caught a handful of her bobbed hair and tugged. She flinched—not in pain, but in traitorous delight.

‘How far I would go with you now …’

He smoothed a look of hunger all over her face. And her whole body throbbed.

‘You’ve got no chance,’ she hissed.

A smile—just a flash. Then his mouth pursed in rebuttal. A shake of his head.

It was enough. She put her hands on him and shoved. Utterly solid—she hadn’t a hope. He growled a laugh, but he moved. Stepped to the side.

His tone changed. ‘Your horses are resting. They played well. In the stalls at the top. Take your time.’

She pushed past him, desperate to escape from this man, but two steps away she stopped.

She swallowed. ‘Thank you.’

‘The pleasure is mine, Frankie.’ He whispered it, threatened it. ‘And I aim to repeat it.’

He left her there. She didn’t so much hear him go as feel a dip in the charge in the air. The ponies looked round at her—sympathising, no doubt, with how hard it was to share breathing space with someone who needed his own solar system.

She found her mares. Saw their Irish names—Roisin and Orla—and their white stars, but most of all their infamously wonderful natures, marking them out as Ipanema’s. She could never criticise what he had done with them—the effort and love he poured into all of his stock was legendary. And she was proud that Ipanema’s bloodlines were here, in one of the best strings in the world. If only Ipanema was still here, too …

Her brother Mark would be delighted. His own expertise was phenomenal in the field of equine genetics and this line had put their stud farm on the map. She knew he kept in touch with Rocco, sharing professional knowledge from time to time, while her father had fumed silently every time his name was mentioned. His suspicions had never been proved, but he’d never let her forget that he had them. Oh, no. And he’d punished her by sending her off to the convent to learn to ‘behave’.

But she’d been away from Ireland five years now. Away from that life and forging her own. Madrid was her home; Evaña was her world. Her father had passed the business to Mark and all her contact with beautiful creatures like these was sadly limited to the infrequent trips she made to see him.

She kissed their polished necks and they whickered their appreciation, soothing her heated blood before she went back out into the day.

Sometimes animals were a lot easier to deal with than people. Actually, animals had always been easier than people. They had their moods and their own personalities, of course, but they never judged, never made her feel like the slightly gawky, awkward tomboy that everyone else did. Especially Ipanema. Being given her as a foal to bring on had changed her life completely.

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