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Ellen emerged into the arrivals hall, looked through the flotilla of crazily waving name cards, beyond the massed heads of the expectant crowd, and saw him. Jader de Sa Moreira. She stopped dead. Almost ten years had passed since they had last met and then their association had been brief, so for her gaze to arrow directly to him seemed uncanny. An against-all-the-odds fluke.
Or, on second thoughts, perhaps not. Even if there had been no necessity for her to search out her host, she might well have noticed him, Ellen thought wryly. As other women around her were noticing him. His height - a virile six feet something - plus his formal appearance in a slate-grey three-piece business suit and pristine white shirt made him different from the waiting hordes. Though it was his cool, commanding stance, allied with a touch of arrogance, which set him apart.
Ellen's fingers instinctively tightened around the bar of the luggage trolley. The cool was deceptive. Jader de Sa Moreira possessed an internal combustion which could ignite with explosive effect - and heaven help anyone caught in the blast.
As she looked at him, the Brazilian suddenly smiled - a crooked, fetching smile which warmed his deep-set brown eyes.Her grip on the pushbar eased and Ellen smiled back. Whilst his invitation to Rio was a clear-cut gesture of reconciliation, memories of their last meeting had still made her a little apprehensive. But for no reason.
"Hello," Ellen mouthed, and wiggled her fingers. Jader shot a hasty look to right and left, as if uncertain whether she was speaking to him, then nodded.
Easing back into the procession of arriving passengers, Ellen trundled her trolley along the roped-off channel. After an eleven-and-a-half-hour overnight flight, and at eight o'clock in the morning, the pace was shambling and slow. She glanced back at Jader. Although he had yet to make a move to greet her, he continued to smile and, she realised, his eyes were flickering over her in obvious male interest.
Ellen hauled the slipping strap of her hefty camera bag higher onto her shoulder. Her mane of long fair hair and willowy figure often drew masculine glances, yet she had not expected this. It had never occurred to her that she might appeal to him in a sexual way. A grin glimmered. Yet the idea was ... intriguing.
Ellen reached the end of the rope and, when her host remained stubbornly immobile - did the macho psyche of the Latin American male insist that she must approach him? - manoeuvred her trolley around. She pushed forward in his direction. With thick, dark, wavy hair, a Roman nose and clean-cut jaw, he packed an undeniable physical punch. Ten years ago, Jader de Sa Moreira had been an almost pretty young man, she recalled; however, she preferred the sharper angles and leaner planes to his face which maturity had bestowed.
As Ellen drew closer, the rhythm of her heartbeat quickened. His dark brown eyes had locked onto hers and in them she saw not just sexual attraction but something deeper. Far deeper. She saw the dawning awareness that here was a kindred spirit, a soul mate. And, although it perplexed and bewildered, Ellen felt an answering emotion. Their eyes held. She walked on. Airport noise and bustle dwindled, other people faded, and by the time she arrived in front of him only the two of them existed.
"Made it," Ellen announced, pink-cheeked, breathless and full of a nerve-tingling sense of anticipation.
Jader arched a black slash of a brow. "A determined lady," he said.
As his looks hit hard in her solar plexus, so did his voice. He had a low, smooth baritone and, because he had studied at Cambridge and later spent a couple of years gaining work experience in the States, spoke perfect English with a murderously sexy accent.
"Always," she told him.
Jader looked amused. "So - what happens next?" he enquired, but then abruptly he leaned forward, his dark eyes narrowed and he muttered what sounded like an oath in Portuguese. "It's you!"
Ellen's spine stiffened. Indignation pinched at her lips. She had believed, first, that he had smiled in welcome and out of friendship, and, second, that he had been interested in her - Ellen Blanchard, his guest. But all he had been interested in was some unknown, anonymous, arrived-from-anywhere blonde in a petunia-pink T-shirt and faded blue jeans. Lust had reigned supreme and as for any fusion of souls - that had been the bizarre concoction of a travel-worn and jet-lagged mind!
"You thought I was attempting to pick you up?" she demanded.
Jader spread his hands. "Well...yes."
"Zeroing in on complete and utter strangers in order to fix an assignation is not my style," Ellen informed him witheringly.
His mouth tweaked at one corner. "Then maybe you should try it some time? I can guarantee you'll have one heck of a success rate."
"You'd have succumbed?" she enquired, not sure whether she felt bitingly contemptuous or sneakily pleased. "But I might've been a psychopath. Or a serial killer. Or -"
"A vampire out for a quick bite?" Jader suggested, when she cast wildly around for another idea. "Anything is possible. However, I wouldn't have succumbed, not least because my sole purpose in being at the airport is to meet you. I apologise most sincerely for my mistake," he carried on, without missing a beat, "but you've changed."
Ellen gave a small, taut smile. The years had altered her in a number of ways. "You mean that last time we met I wore a brace on my teeth and was still in the process of shedding the final few pounds of puppy fat?" she said.
"Plus your hair had been hacked short, your clothes were relentlessly baggy and you made not even a passing stab at make-up."
She frowned, surprised that he should remember her in such detail. Unflattering detail. "I was being determinedly plain Jane," she defended.
"Why would you do that?" Jader enquired.
Ellen tossed silky wheat-blonde curls back from her shoulders. "I was sixteen and going through a phase," she replied dismissively.
"But now you're twenty-six and now you have fantastic cheekbones, lip-glossed lips -" his eyes lingered on her full mouth for a moment, then fell to the pout of her breasts, travelled lower to her hips and down the length of her legs "- and a dream of a body. My car's outside."
"Excuse me?" she said, bemused by the sudden veer.
"If you leave the trolley here, I'll take your luggage," Jader said, and, swinging her travel bag onto one broad shoulder, he picked up her suitcase. "You reckon you've packed enough to last you the week?" he asked drily, for her suitcase bulged and was heavy.
Ellen hesitated. Should she tell him how she would be extending her stay? No, she had only just arrived, so the news could wait for later.
"Mmm," she mumbled vaguely. "I had a great flight," she said as they set off towards the exit, "and I managed to catch a glimpse of the statue of Christ the Redeemer before the plane came in to land." Ellen smiled, recalling the sight of the hundred-and-thirty-foot statue set on a hilltop with arms spread wide. A sight which had brought a catch to her throat, and thrilled her. "It was breathtaking. As the view of the city - with the mountains, the sea, the offshore islands - was breathtaking," she chattered on, and her steps quickened. She was needing to hurry in order to keep pace with his long strides.
"I've always longed to visit Rio and particularly at Carnival time, so thank you for asking me over and thanks for providing the air ticket. It was very generous. I've never travelled first class before and -"
"No?" he cut in, sounding surprised.
"No, and being so pampered was terrific."
"Glad you enjoyed the experience," Jader said, and directed her out of the airport terminal and along a service road, where vehicles were parked in chaotic disarray. They passed sleek limousines, ramshackle pick-up trucks, a swarm of bright yellow Volkswagen Beetles which, it was evident, did duty as taxis, and eventually reached a gleaming scarlet convertible with a black soft-top roof. "Here we are."
Excerpted from His Sleeping Partner by Elizabeth Oldfield Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.