The Forbidden Touch of Sanguardo(10)

By: Julia James


He spoke with certainty, and an underlying grimness. Her eyes lifted to him again.

But he was not looking at her. He had turned his head to address the barman. ‘Two brandies, please.’

As he gave his order he made a notable effort to control his emotions. They were surging strongly. One was an impulse to stride right out onto the pavement, seize hold of the jerk who had said what he had to the ashen-faced, shaken figure beside him and slam his fist into his foul-mouthed face. It took him aback, just how strong that urge was. A wave of protectiveness swept over him.

No one’s going to hurl that kind of abuse at her!

The protectiveness he was feeling was almost overpowering... But him slamming his fist into her abuser was not what she needed right now! What she needed was to stop shaking, to pull out of the shocked state she was clearly in after that vicious little scene back there with Karl Reiner.

He knew who the man was, all right. Just as he now knew the name of the woman who had been dominating his thoughts ever since he’d laid eyes on her.

Celeste Philips—that was her name. It had taken little effort to discover it, courtesy of the organisers of the charity fashion show, simply by describing her. After that her professional bio had been easy to find via her agency. She was currently contracted to Reiner Visage—of which cosmetics company the unlovely Karl Reiner was President. Nor had it taken much digging to uncover Karl Reiner’s even more unlovely reputation for pursuing the models he contracted.

A reputation that the ugly incident just now more than amply confirmed.

The two glasses of brandy were placed in front of him and he slid one towards Celeste.

‘Drink it down,’ he instructed. ‘You’re in shock.’

But Celeste gave a quick, jerky shake of her head. ‘No—no brandy.’ Her voice was slightly high-pitched. In her head she could hear Karl’s foul words snarling at her again. Hear his vile accusation...

She fought to stay calm, at least on the surface. Inside was different...

‘Coffee, then—you need something. You’re white as a sheet.’

She lifted her face, made herself look at the man who had rescued her. The man she couldn’t get out of her head. Who was now here, beside her, dominating her consciousness. ‘I’m fine. It was just—’ She stopped. Swallowed painfully.

‘Damn,’ said Rafael feelingly. ‘I should have hit him. Trouble is...’ his voice was deadpan ‘...I might have spoilt his looks.’

For a moment Celeste was on a knife-edge. Then the balance tipped, giving her a safety net, letting her pull herself together. The laconically uttered insult to the drunken, obnoxious Karl had retrieved her sufficiently for her to manage to find the darkly wry humour clearly intended in the remark.

She bit her lip. ‘That’s a low blow,’ she heard herself murmur.

‘The lower the better,’ Rafael agreed. ‘Low enough to...ah...quell his unwanted ardour.’

She gave a shaky smile, not quite meeting his eyes. She might be pulling out of the shock of what Karl had snarled at her, but that only meant she was now having to cope with this completely unanticipated encounter with Rafael Sanguardo. And cope she must—somehow.

And she must start with the most important priority. Gratitude.

She lifted her eyes again. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Thank you for what you did back there.’

For just a moment, as her eyes met his, she felt weak—as weak as a kitten. The blood seemed to be flooding back into her ashen cheeks, heating them. She could not drag her gaze away—his eyes were holding her...holding her as if there was a physical link between them...as if they were bound together...

She saw something shift at the back of his eyes—his dark, basalt-black eyes. Something that seemed to set every nerve-ending in her body jangling.

Then, with a quick movement of his head, he broke the moment. ‘De nada,’ he said lightly. His tone of voice changed. ‘So, coffee?’ he said enquiringly. ‘Or tea, maybe? Isn’t that what the English drink to settle their nerves?’

‘China tea would be lovely, thank you,’ she assented, grateful for something so normal. She needed to feel normal again—needed it badly.

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