The Playboy of Argentina(5)

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She’d loved that pony, and Ipanema had loved her right back, and when she’d been sold to Rocco her heart had taken its first battering.

She stepped out into the warm afternoon. The thrill and roar of the crowd had died down, but the celebrations were only just beginning. There was to be a party at the Molina Lario Hotel later, hosted by the champagne sponsors. Esme had told her to join her there.

It’s only the most talked-about event in the charity polo circuit after Dubai and Deauville! You need to let your hair down—there’s more to life than work!

But Rocco would most likely be there. And her reserves were running low. Maybe she’d call it a day, lap up the night safe in bed and swerve the whole unfolding drama attached to seeing him again.

She pushed her glasses back up her nose and wound her way round to the flotilla of white hospitality tents, her legs more obedient, less shaky now. But she should have known better than to think she was home free. At the edge of the field and up on the screens were four tall men in red, black and white, four in blue and yellow. All were standing on the podium, and every eye was drawn to them. Even hers.

Round about them were all the beautiful people. She hung back, watched.

A cheer … The cup being passed over, held up. Dante beaming his easy, confident golden smile. Rocco curling his lip. The crowd adoring.

They stepped down and into the flow of people—mostly girls, she noticed. Well, they were nothing but obliging! Letting themselves get all wrapped up in them, posing together in a spray of champagne, moving to another little group. Another pose, a squeeze, kisses on cheeks.

She’d seen it all before, of course—most recently in the pages of various magazines and in online news. But watching it like this she felt a flame of anger burst inside her. Anger at herself for still being there! Still gawping. She was a respected businesswoman now. Not a stupid, infatuated little girl!

She turned and began a fast path out. She’d get a cab, get away, get her head straight.

Her flat-heeled sandals moved swiftly over the grass, her stride long in her cotton sundress. Molina Lario was getting less and less attractive by the moment. More of that? No, thanks. Esme would understand. She knew her feelings for the arrogant Rocco ran to pathological disgust—she just didn’t know why.

No one did.

The one thing she could thank him for, she supposed, was igniting that fire for her to get the hell out of County Meath. When she’d watched him swing his rucksack over his shoulder and walk away from her, down the singletrack farm lane, through the dawn light and rain dust, she’d realised he was heading back into a world wide open with choices and chances. She didn’t need to be tied to County Meath, to Ireland, to the narrow options of which her dad thought her capable.

She’d taken a cold hard look at herself. Skinny, flat chested, unattractive and unkempt. Her dressing table cluttered with riding trophies instead of make-up. And when she’d stopped wailing and sobbing into her pillow she’d plotted her escape.

And now here she was—out in the world.

And here she would stay—proving them all wrong.

Head down, she reached the gates.

Just as a figure in black stepped alongside her. Large, male, reeking of strength.

‘Señor Hermida asks that you join him.’

A rush … a thrill thrummed through her. For a moment she felt the excitement of flattery. Tempted.

But, no. That way disaster lay. She was headed in a whole different direction.

She didn’t even break her step.

‘Not today. Or any other day, thanks.’

She eyed the gate like a target board, upped her pace. Lost him.

Almost at the gate, she felt his presence again.

‘Miss Ryan, Señor Hermida will collect you later for the party. 10:00 p.m. At your hotel.’

She spun on her heel, ready to fire a vicious volley of words right back. But he was walking away, obscured by the hundreds of people crossing in front of her. As obscured as her own feelings at seeing the Hurricane.

So sure he’d mean nothing to her, she’d turned up as if it was all in a day’s work to bump into him. But skulking about in the crowds, sneaking among the horses when she could so easily have done things properly …? She should have asked Mark to set it up. That was what someone who truly wasn’t fazed would have done—brushed off what had happened between them and joined him for a drink and a chat for old times’ sake …

Instead of spontaneously combusting when he’d come up behind her.

He was dangerous. The last thing she needed.

Her career was her life. Not ponies. Or polo. Or dark, intense men who lit up her body and squeezed at her heart.

She emerged onto the pavement like a hostage set free. He didn’t know her hotel. And he didn’t know her. Collect her later? Arrogant fool. One overbearing father and two extremely alpha brothers did not make Frankie Ryan anyone’s pushover.

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