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Beth looked up to smile at the handsome young man who, until a few moments ago, had been sitting at a neighbouring table enjoying a cup of coffee at the same outside cafe in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires, and shooting her the occasional admiring glance from beautiful chocolate-brown eyes.
But before she could respond she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye as another man approached at a speed totally at odds with his overwhelming height and muscular build. Two seconds later one of the younger man's arms was twisted painfully up behind his back, totally immobilising him.
'Raphael!' Beth muttered in embarrassed protest as she rose to her feet, very tall and slim in a black T-shirt and denims beneath her brown leather jacket.
Raphael didn't so much as glance at her. 'Back off,' he ordered the startled young man coldly, not easing his grip for a second, his expression grimly detached.
'You're the one who should back off, Raphael!' Beth shot him an exasperated glance. 'In fact, you shouldn't even be here ' So much for believing she had managed to escape for even a short time; she should have known that Raphael Cordoba would eventually track her down and ruin her few moments of peace!
'Is this man bothering you?' The young Argentinian braved the other man's wrath as he now spoke to her in heavily accented English.
Was Raphael Cordoba bothering her?
Raphael Cordoba had been 'bothering' Beth since the moment she first met him! And not just because she hated having him dog her footsteps day and night
Over six feet of male perfectiondark hair framing a chiselled face dominated by piercing blue eyes that any male model would envy, broad shoulders and a leanly muscled body that not even the three-piece suits Raphael habitually wore could disguisewas apt to do that to a woman!
'I thought only to talk to you?' The younger man grimaced, obviously as overwhelmed by the forceful Raphael as Beth was.
'I know.' Beth shot Raphael a censorious glance.
'It is safe to leave you with this man?'
'Safer than with you, you'
'Raphael, please!' Beth reproved wearily, having to admire the younger man's persistence in the face of Raphael's fierce displeasure. 'It's complicated,' she excused as she smiled at the other man reassuringly. 'But it's okayhe doesn't have any intention of harming me.'
'You are sure?'
'She is sure,' Raphael answered the younger man grimly, with a deadly expression she was also sure would be in those piercing blue eyes currently hidden behind black mirror-shaded wraparound sunglasses.
And if there was one thing Beth was very sure of, it was that Raphael Cordoba wasn't going to harm her. The opposite, in fact; he was her bodyguard, employed by Cesar Navarro, and here to ensure that no one else harmed her.
Or rather, that no one harmed Gabriela Navarro, the young woman everyone now believed Beth to be. Except Beth herself.
Just a week ago she had been quietly going about her life in England, enjoying her new job working Monday to Friday in a London publishing house, and feeling only mildly anxious that her sister, Grace, had flown to Argentina for the weekend with her new boss, the breathtakingly handsome billionaire Cesar Navarro, in his private jet. Never in a million years could Beth ever have guessed that Grace's stay in Buenos Aires would have such a profound effect on her own life!
But here she was only days later, also in Buenos Aires, the blood tests having convinced everyoneexcept Beth herself!that she was Gabriela, the daughter of Carlos and Esther Navarro, who had been abducted twenty-one years ago.
And Raphael Cordoba, previously Cesar Navarro's own personal bodyguard, now watched over Beth's every move. To the point, it seemed, of attacking handsome young men who had only wanted to talk to her!
'Let him go, Raphael,' Beth muttered wearily, knowing her few minutes of freedom were very definitely over. 'I'm leaving now anyway,' she assured him heavily. 'I think the milk has gone sour in my coffee!' She drew some money from her shoulder bag and threw it down onto the tabletop to cover the cost of her drink before walking off without so much as a second glance at either man. Why bother, when she was never going to be allowed to sit and talk to the younger manit was safer for him if she didn'tand she knew if she left Raphael would only be a few steps behind her?
As he had been only a few steps behind her in the days since those blood tests had supposedly proven Beth was the missing Gabriela Navarro. Beth clung to that 'supposedly'. She had to. Because she absolutely refused to accept the results of those blood tests until Cesar Navarro's investigations had found some other form of proof to back up that claim.
Much as she had come to like Carlos and Esther Navarro these past few days, Beth was still sure there had to have been some sort of mistake. Her parentsher real parents, James and Carla Lawrencehad loved her. Her adoptive parents, the Blakes, had also loved her. Having to accept that she was neither Elizabeth Lawrence nor Beth Blake, but someone else completely, was enough to make Beth's stomach clench and her hands tremble every time she thought about it.
And, despite her verbal protests, she thought about it a lot.
In the meantime, Cesar Navarro had placed his own bodyguard, Raphael Cordoba, the man who also happened to be Cesar's closest friend, as Beth's shadow.
Now there, although Beth would never openly admit it, was another man she found totally intimidating. Another man?
Oh, yes, much as Beth liked to pretend otherwise, she found Raphael Cordoba beyond intimidating. All six feet and several more inches of him. There was a predatory stillness about the man, from the top of his military-short black hair, those piercing blue eyes set in that swarthy and startlingly handsome face, to those wide muscled shoulders and washboard chest, tapered waist, powerful thighs, and down the long, long length of his legs, and all shown to advantage in those expensively tailored suits he always wore.
At thirty-three, Raphael Cordoba looked exactly what he was; ex Argentinian military, and scary as hell!
To complicate matters even further, her sister, Grace, was busy making preparations for her wedding to Cesar Navarro next month. And happy as Beth was for her sister, because even she could see how much Grace loved the handsome Argentiniana depth of love that was unmis-takeably returned by that normally coldly aloof manit also made Beth feel more trapped than ever, when what she really wanted to do was pack her bags and go back to England and just forget all of the Navarro family existed.
Which was never going to happen. Even if Beth could have made good her escape, she couldn't escape Grace's engagement and future marriage to Cesar Navarro. And no matter how much Beth might believe she was and only ever had been Elizabeth Lawrence before being adopted by the Blakes, she could never hurt Carlos and Esther Navarro by disappearingas their baby daughter had twenty-one years agoin that cruel way.
Fortunately she didn't have to allow for that concern in regard to hurting Raphael Cordoba's feelings! 'Will you just back off?' she snapped at him now as she sensed him walkingstriding with that predatory grace that was such an inborn part of himclose behind her.
Instead he fell into step beside her. 'It was very foolish of you to disappear from Cesar's apartment in that thoughtless way.'
Beth winced at the rebuke. 'I felt as if I was slowly being suffocated!'
Raphael's mouth tightened. 'You still should not have worried Esther in that way.'
How did he do that? How did Raphael know exactly the right thing to say to make Beth feel guilty?
Because impossible, unbearable, as her current situation was for her, Beth didn't want to hurt the couple who had already suffered so much. To the extent that once Cesar was old enough to go to university, and despite their love for each other, Esther and Carlos had no longer been able to live together with the ghost of their beloved baby daughter standing so painfully between them.
A beloved daughter the couple now sincerely believed to have been returned to them in Beth.
It was a belief Beth simply didn'tcouldn'taccept.
Not least because, at almost twenty-four, she felt like a fish out of water in the opulent lifestyle the Navarros all enjoyed so naturally. And while she had grown fond of the two older Navarros these past few days, and enjoyed nothing more than challenging Cesar Navarro's haughty arrogance, she innately knew she didn't really belong here. With the Navarro family. Or in Argentina itself. She was English through and through, and comfortable in her own skin, as a product of her well-off but far from wealthy adoptive parents, Clive and Heather Blake.
Nevertheless, Beth was totally awareas was Raphael!of the effect the supposed return of their daughter had had on the older Navarros' relationship. After years of living apart, Carlos in Buenos Aires and Esther in the US where she grew up, the couple had been sharing a bedroom in Cesar's apartment since Grace had returned to Buenos Aires with Beth at her side.
Beth sighed heavily. 'I'm sorry, okay? I just needed some time to myself.'
Raphael looked down at Beth Blake from behind the mirrored shades of his sunglasses, easily able to read the emotions flitting across her expressiveand extremely beautifulface. A part of him even sympathised with her obvious bewilderment at being taken to be the newly returned Gabriela Navarro. But the medical proof of blood tests could not be easily denied, and, as a childhood friend of Cesar's, Raphael knew how important this young woman was to the Navarro family. A familythe calm and steady Carlos, the warm and loving Esther, and the coolly arrogant Cesarwho had taken Raphael in as one of their own after a row with his father so many years ago had caused him to leave home.
As such, whether the feisty and stubbornly independent Beth Blake accepted her new identity or notand she obviously did notRaphael intended ensuring, by whatever means possible, that she remained safe while on his watch. And, as far as Beth was concerned, his watch now covered the whole twenty-four hours of every one of her days!
Something she had shown himonce again!by just disappearing from Cesar's apartment earlier that she deeply resented. 'Gabriela'
'My name is Beth, damn it!' she corrected, her eyes flashing darkly, two bright spots of angry colour having appeared in her cheeks.
Cheeks normally as pale and smooth as the finest porcelain, her eyes a deep rich brown above her small uptilting nose, her mouth a perfect bow above her stubbornly determined chin. As for her long silky hair ! Raphael had only ever seen one other woman with hair those heavy layers of all shades of blond, from gold to the palest silver, and that was Esther Navarro. The woman blood tests had shown to be Beth's birth mother.
He shrugged broad shoulders. 'I now think of you as Gabriela Navarro.' Having been only a precocious two years old when she was taken from her real family, Beth would no more remember having met Raphael before than she did the Navarro family. But he remembered her, had stayed often with Cesar's family even then, usually during the school holidays, and Gabriela had been Cesar's beloved baby sister, a golden-haired angel to be petted and spoilt by the two much older boys.
At the moment Beth Blake looked as pettable as a spitting tigress. 'Well, isn't it just lucky for me that I have absolutely no interest in what, or who, you happen to think I am!'
'I do not "happen" to think anything, it has been medically proven as fact that you are Gabriela Navarro. And it is equally lucky for me that I have absolutely no interest in what you may think of me, either.' Raphael allowed a mocking smile to quirk his lips, knowing by the way those rich brown eyes narrowed that Beth Blake did not appreciate his humour at her expense.
She gave an inelegant snort. 'You really don't want to know what I think of you, Raphael!'
As her bodyguard, perhaps not, but as a man? Oh, yes, much as she might wish it were otherwise, the completely carnal glances Beth Blake gave him from beneath those thick dark lashes whenever she thought Raphael wasn't looking at her told him that she saw him very much as a man. And was attracted to what she saw.
As much as she resented his status as her bodyguard!
A status that Raphael, equally aware of the allure of the fullness of Beth's breasts and the sensual curve of her gently swaying hips, was determined to keep front and centre in all of his dealings with Beth Blake. To do anything else would compromise his protection of her.
'Perhaps not,' he drawled dismissively. 'Shall we return to the apartment now?'
She shot him a weary glance. 'Why do you bother asking, when you have every intention of taking me back there now whether I want to go or not?'
'And why do you bother continually fighting what is, after all, your destiny?' Raphael eyed her coolly from behind those wraparound sunglasses.
Beth gave a pained frown. 'Perhaps because I don't see it as my destiny?'
'Grace appears to be having little difficulty in accepting the Navarro family as her own.'
Beth Blake gave a rueful smile. 'It's different for Grace. She's chosen to fall in love with Cesar, to accept Cesar's marriage proposal, and to become a member of the Navarro family and all that entails.'
Raphael arched dark brows. 'Does anyone choose to fall in love?' As Cesar's personal bodyguard until a few days ago, Raphael had been a silent witness to the other couple falling in love, and he did not believe it to have been in the least as smooth and pleasant as Beth's words implied that it was.
Perhaps it was now that Cesar and Grace had acknowledged their love for each other and were planning their wedding, but certainly not initially, when the sparks had flown and they had argued about almost everything except the attraction building so rapidly between them.
Much as he and Beth now argued about everything.
No, it was not the same at all, Raphael dismissed determinedly. Much as he might be attracted to Beth Blake's fiery nature and her beauty, and the supple and desirable curves of her slender body, where she was concerned Raphael had no intention of allowing that attraction to become anything more than visual appreciation. She was Cesar's beloved little sister returned to him, and as such Beth could never become one of the numerous women who had fleetingly shared Raphael's bed these last fifteen years.
Which were the only relationships with women Raphael allowed in his life, having learnt of a woman's treachery at a young age, from his own father's second wife.
'Probably not.' Beth gave a grimace as she answered him. 'But Grace at least has her love for Cesar as reason to try and embrace his lifestyle.'
'And you do not have love for Cesar, and your parents, as a reason to try and do the same?'
It was impossible for Beth to miss the censure in Raphael Cordoba's tone. And no doubt, if she took off those damned sunglasses of his, she would find that same censure in those piercing blue eyes. 'Stop twisting my words, Raphael,' she murmured instead. 'And how can I possibly love three people I didn't even know existed a couple of weeks ago?' And there, in the proverbial nutshell, was the reason for Beth's feeling at a loss as to how to deal with this situation.
She wished she could remember Carlos and Esther as having once been her parents, even the arrogant Cesar as having been her brother, but the truth of the matter was that Beth had absolutely no recollection of any of them. Furthering her belief that she couldn't possibly be related to them, no matter what those blood tests said to the contrary.
Time would take care of that, the two older Navarros had assured her, together and individually. Time they obviously expected Beth to spend here in Argentina getting to know all of them.