Read an Excerpt
If she was going to do this, then she had better get on with it, Alexa told herself firmly. In fact, she had better get on with it right now, she added fiercely, knowing there was no other way forward.
Because the truth was that she did have to do this. Somebody had to, that was for sure. No one else was going to do it. And definitely not Natalie.
Natalie would never have coped with this. She'd have given in, gone down under pressure, and she'd have ended up saying the exact opposite of what she'd come to saywhat she needed to say.
If Natalie had had to face Santos Cordero then she would have agreed to go through with this wedding she didn't want, just as she'd been agreeing to do right from the start. She'd go through with it and as a result she'd miss out on her chance of a real relationship, real love. No, Natalie was better being on her way to the airport and a new life.
Leaving her older half-sister to tidy up after her. It was now Alexa's job to clean up, apologise, explain.
That thought was enough to have Alexa's feet slowing as she moved away from where the car had just delivered her to the main door of the huge, elegant cathedral of Santa María de la Sede in the centre of Seville. Glancing upwards briefly, towards where the bell tower known as La Giralda was etched against the clear blue sky, she drew a deep, calming breath and squared her shoulders. At her back the crowd of paparazzi gathered to record the event called for her attention, and the flashing of cameras sounded like a fusillade of bullets, one she struggled to ignore as she climbed the couple of worn stone steps into the porch, her fingers reaching out for the heavy wrought-iron handle of thebig, carved wooden door.
'You're not getting trapped that way, Nat. Not any more.'
She spoke the words out loud, shaking her head as she did so in an attempt to give them more emphasis, to make them mean more and have more effect. But even as she heard them she knew that they lacked the conviction she'd been aiming for. They weren't going to be able to give her the strength she needed to walk into the cathedral, announce what had happened and deal with the chaos that followed. And that was what she had to do. Because there was no one else.
'Come on, Alexa. You know you have to do this!'
Sighing with resignation, she accepted the truth as she forced herself forward again, curling her fingers around the big iron handle and gripping hard.
There was no one else who could sort this out. If she didn't do something then the whole dreadful, ugly mess would stay just as it wasin fact it would probably get so much worse. The explosion was going to be nuclear as it was. All she could hope to do was to try to contain some of the fallout so that the repercussions were at least manageable.
Nervousness made her palms damp so that her fingers slipped on the metal handle, foiling her first attempt to open the door.
'Oh, damn it!'
With nothing else available, she had no choice but to wipe her hands down the long skirt of her dress in an attempt to dry them off. The gesture did nothing for the appearance of the expensive pink satin, but then right now that was the least of her concerns. The ceremony that the dress had been planned for wasn't going to go ahead today after all, so it didn't matter at all what it looked like.
Besides, the dress wasn't really her style at all. It was the sort of glamorous look that her stepmother had chosen for the society wedding she had always hoped for for her daughter, and Alexa knew that the colour wasn't the most flattering for her dark brown hair and hazel eyes. But that had been all right when she had believed that the wedding was what Natalie wanted. It was Natalie's day and nothing was going to spoil her half-sister's wedding, even if it was to a man that Alexa felt was not right for her.
A wedding that was now no longer going to take place, Alexa reminded herself ruefully, reaching for the door handle again. She was going to need all her courage to go into the church and tell everyone that.
Her stepmother would probably have hysterics. Her fatherand Natalie'swould become even stiffer, even more withdrawn, his mouth clamping tighter than ever before. And the groom
And the groom
The thought made a sensation like the frantic flutter of butterfly wings start to beat high up in Alexa's throat as the great door swung slowly open, to land with a hollow, sepulchral thud against the worn stone wall, the noise making everyone inside the church turn and stare in expectation.
She had no idea what the groom would say or do. No idea at all just how Santos Cordero would react to the news that his bride-to-be had jilted him at the altar, running away from her marriage and heading for the airport and another man. But just the thought made her shiver as her blood ran cold through her veins.
She had only met the man her half-sister was marrying once, at the family dinner in Santos's beautiful Moorish-style home just a few miles from Seville on the night of her arrival in Spain, two days before. But she'd heard so much about him. And she'd seen the effects that his influence had had on her father ever since the two men had embarked on a business deal together. It seemed now that every time she saw Stanley Montague he looked older, thinner, greyer. More shrunken somehow and clearly desperately stressed. Her dad was just not used to dealing with the financial sharks, and Santos Cordero was one of the biggest sharks of all.
Not for nothing was he known as el Brigantethe Brigand. A nickname that she had heard he lived up to in more ways than one.
'Just wait till you see him! He's such a hunk! And rich as sin,' Natalie had said, sounding so very enthusiastic.
Too enthusiastic, Alexa now realised, hearing in memory what she hadn't recognised then as the forced note in her sister's voice, betraying the careful effort Natalie had been making to sound like an excited young bride desperately in love with her husband-to-be.
But Natalie had been right about one thing at leastSantos was every bit as stunning as everyone had told her he would be. There was no denying that he was one of the most devas-tatingly handsome men she had ever met in her life. Tall, raven-haired, with a leanly powerful frame and powerfully carved features, he was a man for whom the description 'darkly dangerous' had to have been coined.
Hunk he might be, Alexa had told herself later when she had been introduced to Santos. But when she had come up close, close enough to shake his hand, close enough to look into his face, she had known intuitively that the 'dangerous' part of that description was not just fantasy or her imagination running riot.
His grip on her hand had been cool and firm, his careful smile polite and practised, but she had found herself looking into the coldest, iciest eyes she had ever seen. A unexpectedly pale grey gaze that seared over her with the cruel force of a focused laser. Her skin had prickled all over and she had felt alternately hot and then shiveringly cold as if she were in the grip of some horrible fever. Murmuring some inane politeness, she had made her escape as soon as possible and from then onwards had tried to avoid Santos for the rest of the evening. But all the time she had felt the burn of his palm against hers, and her body still tingled under the impact of that scorching gaze.
It was her father's voice, blurred and almost covered by the murmurs of surprise from the congregation, coming to her from where he had been waiting just inside the church waiting not for her but for his younger daughter to arrive. Natalie had made the excuse that she didn't want to overtire him, had insisted that her father went on ahead, rather than following tradition and travelling to the church in the same car as the bride.
'What has happened?'
Another voice sliced into the buzz of interest that had filled the church with the realisation that the new arrival through the door had been not the bride they were expecting but the chief bridesmaid. A pale-faced, uncomfortable-looking bridesmaid at that, Alexa reflected miserably as the cold, incisive tones of the groom's question carried clearly down what seemed like miles and miles of aisle and made every other conversation and comment die away, like the tide ebbing back from the sand.
'What has happened?' he demanded again and unwillingly Alexa's eyes went to where he stood at the altar, tall and darkly, dangerously imposing.
If he had looked stunning in the sombre black and white of the evening dress of the night of the party, so now, in the formal morning coat, waistcoat and elegant cravat, he had an impact that made her head spin. And from the moment that her eyes clashed with his, green-brown locking with glittering grey, it was as if there were only the two of them in the world. The rest of the congregation, her surroundings, the flickering candles and the gorgeous flowers all merged into just one great blur, at the centre of which was a dark, strongly carved face, a tight, set mouth and burning, molten eyes.
'Tell me!' Santos Cordero said, and it was an autocratic command, flung at her with all the force of a perfectly aimed arrow, right from the far end of the church.
The impact of it flung her head back, bringing her chin up as her eyes flashed a defiance of his dictatorial tone and she watched his eyes narrow in swift assessment, his beautiful mouth tightening sharply.
'Per favor,' he added with such a bite and an obviously carefully controlled effort that it was like a slap in her face. Stinging hard.
It wasn't a 'please' at all, she thought furiously. It was just another way of phrasing a command, and in a tone that made her want to toss something rude at him and turn on her heel and march out. Either that or fling the shocking truth in his face and watch that arrogant glare fade from his face, the 'lord of all I survey' stance falter just a little so that his straight shoulders weren't held so high, the elegantly booted feet not planted quite so firmly on the stone-flagged floor of the church.
But even as the angry thoughts crossed her mind, a sense of decorum and a touch of unwilling compassion pushed them out again fast.
Arrogant brute though he might be, Santos Cordero was still a bridegroom on his wedding day. He had come here today believing he was going to be married to her half-sister, Natalie.
The same Natalie who had fled from her hotel and was probably at the airport now with the man she had admitted she really loved.
Leaving it to her sister to explain just what was happening.
The thought dried her mouth, tightening her throat, and just for a moment she actually allowed herself the luxury of considering turning and running too, getting away from here as fast and as far as she could. This wasn't her problem; her responsibility. Let someone else explain to this arrogant Spaniard that his bride-to-be had had second thoughts. Let someone else
There was no one else.
At the far end of the church, Alexa could see that her stepmother, resplendent in emerald-green and a hat with swirling peacock feathers, was twitching uncomfortably in her seat, her narrow face pale and taut as if she already suspected that something had gone very badly wrong. And her father
No, she didn't dare to look into her father's face, knowing that he would guess she had brought the worst of news. And being her father he would probably erupt in a rage. Which could be the worst possible response right now.
Santos Cordero's pointed hint that she continue sounded gentle, but looking into his dark, set face, Alexa suddenly knew that gentle was the exact opposite of just what he was feeling. He had barely controlled his impatience, reining it in only with the most ferocious power. And even now it was very close to breaking free if the harshly drawn white lines about his nose and eyes, etched around that sexy mouth were anything to go by. Say the wrong thing and he would explode, the top blowing off his mental volcano and the red-hot lava of fury flowing out to engulf them with spectacularly nasty results if she wasn't very much mistaken.
This was the Santos Cordero she had been led to expect. This was el brigante, whose reputation for arrogance and ruthlessness had reached her even in Yorkshire, where her home was, miles away from the family house in London.
When her father had first announced that he was negotiating a business deal with Santos he had sounded so excited, totally confident that this partnership would make him a fortune and so ease all his financial problems. But it hadn't been long before everything had seemed to change. It was obvious that the deal was not the success Stanley had dreamed of but instead a source of great stress. Though just lately those worries seemed to have been buried in the unexpected rush to organise Natalie's wedding.
Once more those softly deadly tones drew her eyes to the face of the man her half-sister was supposed to have been marrying today. And once she had looked into those burning, deep-set eyes, even from this distance, she found it impossible to look away. She couldn't drag her own gaze from the mesmeric force of his and once more she had that shocking sense of tunnel vision. Of being at the far end of a long, long channel from where the only thing she could see was the tall, powerful form of Santos Cordero, every ounce of his attention totally focused on her.
'What is it that you have come here to say? Because you have come to say something, I assume?'
Drawing in her breath sharply, Alexa struggled to ignore the sting of that sarcastic tone, which had a bite like the flick of a whip.
'I have to speak to you,' she managed, the words coming out as breathlessly as if she had just run the couple of miles from her half-sister's hotel room to the cathedral. 'Please ' she added with renewed urgency when she saw the way that his black brows snapped together in a dangerous frown.