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'Can I help You!' Cairo's pleasant query broke off in a gasp, and she came to a startled halt in the driveway as she easily recognized the man stepping out of the car a short distance away.
This couldn't be!
This man could not be here, of all places!
Cairo had been lazing beside the pool, sunbathing, when she'd seen the silver car slowly moving up the winding, narrow road with access only to this villa in the South of France. She had already been on her feet and pulling on a thigh-length black T-shirt over her bikini when she'd heard the car stop outside. Forcing down her irritation at this intrusion, she had hurried towards the driveway to tell the driver that they had obviously lost their way.
But nothingnothing!could have prepared her for the man who now stood beside the car, sunglasses pushed up into the dark silkiness of his hair, as he looked across the car's bonnet at her through narrowed lids.
If she was surprised to see him, then he looked no more pleased to see her, his mouth tightening grimly even as he lifted a hand to move the sunglasses back into place over those eyes of sky-blue.
'Cairo,' he greeted her with a terse nod of his head.
Cairo couldn't speak. Couldn't move. In fact, this whole situation felt completely unreal!
'Cat got your tongue, Cairo?' he taunted in his huskily familiar transatlantic drawl, dark brows quirked above those sunglasses. 'Or maybe it's just been so long that you don't remember me?' he taunted.
Not remember him ?
Of course Cairo remembered him!
It might be eight years since she had so much as set eyes on this man, but what women evertruthfully!forgot her very first lover? No, Cairohad never completely forgotten Raphael Antonio Miguel Montero. How could she have, when Rafe Montero was the half-American, half-Spanish A-list actor who had been known all over the world for the last fifteen years, and more recently as director of the Oscar-winning film Work of Art?
He regarded her coldly now. 'Do you really have nothing to say to me, Cairo?'
'I said all that I needed to say to you the last time we met!' she snapped, even as she desperately tried to make sense of the fact that Rafe was here at all, at this remote villa situated in the hills above the picturesque town of Grasse.
Rafe grimaced as he moved to the back of the car. 'It's been so long I've forgotten,' he drawled before lifting up the boot of the car to begin taking bags from inside and placing them beside him on the driveway.
Cairo could only stand and stare at the man who had once filled her twenty-year-old heart, as well as her bed.
Now aged in his late thirties, if anything Rafe was even more devastatinglysinfully!handsome than he had been eight years ago. He was well over six feet tall, his dark hair was brushed back from his face, the natural swarthi-ness of the skin he had inherited from his Spanish father adding density to those mesmerizing sky-blue eyes set in a ruggedly chiselled face. His long aquiline nose and curved lips were set above a square jaw that had what most women called either a cleft or a dimple in its centrebut all agreed was sexy as hell. And the black polo shirt and faded denims he wore emphasized the muscled width of his shoulders, tapered waist and lean powerful thighs above long, long legs.
Cairo shook her head. All of this was very well, but none of it explained what he was doing here, taking luggage from the boot of his car! 'What do you think you're doing?'
He straightened. 'Moving in, of course. Grab a bag, hmm, Cairo?' He slung the bag containing his laptop over his shoulder and picked up the two small suitcases, leaving only a holdall sitting on the driveway.
'Grab a? Rafe, you can't just What do you mean, you're moving in?' she repeated incredulously.
'Exactly what I said.' He shrugged those broad shoulders as he strode towards her.
Cairo instinctively took a step back. 'I But You can't!'
'Why can't I?' he asked calmly.
'Stop babbling, Cairo, and bring the bag in.' He didn't so much as pause in those long strides that were rapidly taking him towards the villa.
Towards Cairo's haven of tranquillity after months, years, of never knowing a moment's peace. A peace that Rafe Montero had destroyed the moment he got out of his car!
She hurried to catch up with him and then struggled to match her strides to his much longer ones. 'Rafe, what are you doing here?'
'I could ask you the same question,' he countered without so much as glancing at her. 'Where are Margo and Jeff?'
'They aren't here,' she replied.
Although Cairo was beginning to wish they wereher sister and her husband might have some explanation as to what Rafe Montero was doing here at their holiday villa!
'No?' He arched those dark brows again. 'Have they gone out for the day or just shopping locally?'
'Neither.' Cairo shook her head exasperatedly. 'Rafe, will you just stop and tell me what's going on?' Her voice rose in agitation as she came to a halt, her hands clenched tightly in frustration on the narrowness of her hips.
Rafe slowly placed his luggage inside the front door of the villa before pushing his sunglasses up into his hair once more to look across at Cairo through narrowed lids as he tried to come to terms with her being here.
It had been eight years since he had last seen this woman.
Eight long years.
It was a hell of a shock to suddenly find himself face to face with her again after all that time
Dammit, he was still reeling!
If anything, Cairo Vaughn was even more beautiful. Perhaps a little too thin, he allowed with a slight frown, those almost six feet of curves very willowy now. But her hair was still that long tumbling red, and her legs were still long and shapely beneath the black thigh-length T-shirt. Her face was thinner, too, emphasizing the delicate curve of high cheekbones beneath chocolate-brown eyes, her nose small and straight, but her lips were as full and pouting above the stubborn set of her small, pointed chin as they'd ever been.
Although her cheeks were healthily flushed with temper at the moment, those chocolate-brown eyes looking ready to shoot flames! It made her look more like the famous actress she was than the pale woman whose photograph had been on the front page of the newspapers for months during her very public divorce.
It was none of his business, Rafe told himself grimly. Just as Cairo herself was none of his business, either.
'So where are Margo and Jeff?' he asked again. He had a few things he would like to say to the other couple concerning the fact that neither of them had warned him that Cairo was going to be here!
'I told you, they aren't here,' Cairo repeated exasperatedly.
Rafe's eyes narrowed. 'At all?'
She shook her head. 'Margo's doctor has ordered complete bed-rest for the last four weeks of her pregnancy.'
Margo and Jeff weren't here.
Only Cairo was.
And neither Margo nor Jeff had bothered to let him know that little fact!
What was he supposed to?
'Uncle Rafe! Uncle Rafe!'
Rafe just managed to turn in time to catch the small golden-haired bundle dressed in a pink bathing costume as she came hurtling out of the villa and launched herself in his general direction.
Margo and Jeff's six-year-old daughter.
If Cairo had brought Daisy with her, that probably meant she didn't have a lover with her, as well. Probably
'Mummy said you'd be arriving today!' Daisy beamed at him excitedly even as he swung her up to hold her in his arms.
To Cairo only one part of Daisy's statement was relevant. 'Margo knew you were coming here?'
'Of course,' Rafe confirmed as he moved Daisy into the crook of one arm to look across at Cairo with guarded blue eyes.
Cairo could barely breathe. Could barely think.
After the last stressful weeks, months, she had desperately needed to get completely away for a while, to be somewhere where she wasn't being constantly photographed wherever she went. Which was why she had been only too happy to accept the suggestion her sister Margo had made, when she'd pointed out that as she and Jeff were unable to go on their usual May holiday to the South of France this year, Cairo might like to make use of the villa in their stead.
It had been Cairo's own idea, with Margo eight months into what was turning out to be a precarious second pregnancy, that as six-year-old Daisy was on half-term holiday anyway, she could take the little girl with her.
It had all gone so smoothly until now, too. None of the press that had hounded Cairo so doggedly the last ten months had been looking for a woman travelling with a little girl of six. Neither had they recognized the actress Cairo Vaughn behind the dark sunglasses and the baseball cap she had worn to hide the fiery length of her hair as she drove onto the train that would take them through the Eurotunnel into France.
It had been a long drive, of course, but the villa, set high in the hills above Grasse, had been a pleasant surprise, a large, sprawling single-storey building that maintained its rusticity at the same time as providing all the amenities they could possibly want, including a huge pool on the lower terrace, and a number of small shops in the local village that would see to their daily needs.
And Daisy had proved a delightful companion, as only a gregarious six-year-old could, as she kept up a constant stream of chatter on the journey here, and then yesterday threw herself into the pool with enthusiasm once they'd finally reached the villa.
In fact, the simplicity of it all had been a wonderful relief to Cairo after so many years of knowing exactly what she would be doing next week, next month, next year!
But never, during any of Cairo's plans to come to France, had Margo so much as mentioned Rafe Montero. In fact, Cairo hadn't even known that her sister and brother-in-law were still friends with him.
She gave a puzzled shake of her head. 'Margo didn't say anything to me about your coming here.'
'If it's any consolation, she didn't say anything to me about your being here, either,' Rafe retorted sharply.
'It isn't,' Cairo assured him impatiently. 'I appreciate that Margo hasn't been too well recently, but'
'Perhaps it might be better if we continued this conversation later,' Rafe cut in with a pointed glance at Daisy before he turned his blue gaze warningly on Cairo.
A warning Cairo took absolutely no notice of. 'I really feel we should sort this situation out now, Rafe'
'Your feeling is noted, Cairo,' he acknowledged brusquely.
Noted, and dismissed, Cairo realized indignantly. Had Rafe always been this infuriating? So arrogantly sure of himself and his surroundings that he totally ignoredor just didn't see or hear!what anyone else wanted?
Probably, Cairo thought wryly. She had just been too naïve eight years ago, too enthralled by him, too much in love with him, to see it.
Well, she wasn't now and she wouldn't let him get away with it.
'And obviously ignored,' she snapped. 'Rafe, I have absolutely no idea what your arrangement was with Margo and Jeff.' But she certainly intended finding out when she telephoned her sister shortly! 'But as they're obviously still in England, there is no way you can expect to continue with your own plans to stay here.'
He quirked dark brows. 'And just where would you suggest I go instead?'
The hardness in his eyes told her she'd do better to hold back on the reply that she really wanted to make. So instead, Cairo replied, 'To a hotel, of course.'
'You really expect me to be able to do that in the week of the Cannes Film Festival?' he taunted.
'I The Cannes Film Festival?' she repeated slowly.
'It's the reason I'm in France at the moment,' Rafe explained. ' Work of Art has been put up for several awards.' He shrugged. As director, I'm expected to make an appearance.'
The Cannes Film Festival, Cairo berated herself in her head. Of course Rafe's film had been nominated for an award; it had virtually wiped the board at the Oscars earlier in the year.
'But Cannes is miles away,' she said stubbornly.
'So there must be a hotel there where you could stay. It would be much more convenient than being all the way out here, anyway,' Cairo reasoned firmly.
Rafe's mouth tightened. 'I'm sure it's very kind of you to attempt to rearrange my plans for me in this way, Cairo,' he bit out sarcastically. 'But I've been travelling for hours now, and certainly have no intention of discussing this any further until I've at least taken a swim. What do you say, Daisy-May, shall the two of us go for a swim?' He smiled affectionately at the little girl as she gave an excited squeal of approval. 'It would appear you're outnumbered and outgunned, Cairo,' Rafe drawled as he put Daisy down on the tarmacked drive and she instantly took hold of his hand to begin pulling him down towards the swimming pool on the lower terrace.
'Outnumbered and outgunned,' Rafe repeated softly as he released his hand from Daisy's to begin pulling his polo shirt over his head, revealing a broad golden expanse of naked chest and shoulders.
Cairo's mouth went dry and her breath caught in her throat as she found herself unable to look away from the sight of Rafe slowly peeling the shirt from his body.
Eight years ago, she had been intimately familiar with every hard, muscled, beautiful inch of Rafe's body, from those wide shoulders, across that muscled chest and flat stomach and down to thrusting thighs.
The time since then had only honed that body, with not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his muscled torso. Rafe's dark hair rested rakishly on his shoulders as he looked across at her with challenging blue eyes. He looked every inch a Spanish conquistador with that mocking smile playing about those chiselled lips. He seemed fully aware that he had rendered Cairo momentarily speechless.
The bastard. He had done that on purpose. Had deliberately
'Rafe!' she gasped as his hand moved with slow deliberation to unfasten the top button of his denims and slowly slide down the zip.
He arched mocking brows. 'Something wrong, Cairo?' he taunted.
Something was very wrong!
Eight years ago, the two of them hadn't exactly parted the best of friends. In fact, the two of them hadn't seen or spoken to each other again in all that time.
But just to look at him now made Cairo feel breathless, her face hot and flushed. No, all of her felt hot and flushed as she found herself unable to look away from those unfastened denims and the deep V of dark hair that disappeared beneath them.