Read an Excerpt
'Put your arms around me and hold on tight.'
The rich, deep chuckle that greeted her request sent a hot shiver down Raven Blass's spine. The same deep chuckle she continually prayed she would grow immune to. So far, her prayers had gone stubbornly unanswered.
'Trust me, bonita, I don't need guidance on how to hold a woman in my arms. I give instructions; I don't take them.' Rafael de Cervantes's drawled response was accompanied by a lazy drift of his finger down her bare arm and a latent heat in ice-blue eyes that constantly unnerved her with their sharp, unwavering focus.
With gritted teeth, she forced herself not to react to his touch. It was a test, another in a long line of tests he'd tried to unsettle her with in the five weeks since he'd finally called her and offered her this job.
Maintaining a neutral expression, she stood her ground. 'Well, you can do what I say, or you can stay in the car and miss your nephew's christening altogether. After agreeing to be his godfather, I'm sure you not turning up in church will go down well with your brother and Sasha.'
As she'd known it would, the mention of Sasha de Cervantes's name caused the atmosphere to shift from toying-with-danger sexual banter to watch-it iciness. Rafael's hand dropped from her arm to grip the titanium-tipped walking stick tucked between his legs, his square jaw tightening as his gaze cooled.
Deep inside, in the other place where she refused to let anyone in, something clenched hard. Ignoring it, she patted herself on the back for the hollow victory. Rafael not touching her in any way but professionally was a good thing.
Recite. Repeat. Recite. Repeat'I didn't agree exactly.'
Her snort slipped out before she could stop it. 'Yeah, right. The likelihood of you agreeing to something you're not one hundred per cent content with is virtually nil. Unless '
His eyes narrowed. 'Unless what?'
Unless Sasha had done the asking. 'Nothing. Shall we try again? Put your arms'
'Unless you want me to kiss that mouth shut, I suggest you can the instructions and move closer. For a start, you're too far away for this to work. If I move the wrong way and land on top of you, I'll crush you, you being such a tiny thing and all.'
'I'm not tiny' She moved a step closer to the open doorway of the sleek black SUV, stubbornly refusing to breathe in too much of his disconcertingly heady masculine scent. 'I'm five foot nine of solid muscle and bone and I can drop kick you in two moves. Think about that before you try anything remotely iffy on me.'
The lethal grin returned. 'Dios, I love it when you talk dirty to me. Although my moves have never been described as iffy before. What does that even mean?'
'It means concentrate or this will never work.'
Rafael, damn him, gave a low laugh, unsnapped his seat belt and slid one arm around her shoulders. 'Fine. Do with me what you will, Raven. I'm putty in your hands.'
With every atom in her body she wished she could halt the stupid blush creeping up her face, but that was one reaction she'd never been able to control. In the distant past she tried every day to forget, it had been another source of callous mirth to her father and his vile friends. To one friend in particular, it had provoked an even stronger, terrifying reaction. Pushing away the unwelcome memory, she concentrated on the task at hand, her job.
Adjusting her position, she lowered her centre of gravity, slid an arm around Rafael's back and braced herself to hold his weight. Despite the injuries he'd sustained, he was six foot three of packed, lean muscle, his body honed to perfection from years of carefully regimented exercise. She needed every single ounce of her physiotherapist training to ensure he didn't accidentally flatten her as promised.
She felt him wince as he straightened but, when she glanced at him, his face showed no hint of the pain she knew he must feel.
The head trauma and resulting weeks-long coma he'd lain in after he'd crashed his Premier X1 racing car and ended his world championship reign eight months ago had only formed part of his injuries. He'd also sustained several pelvic fractures and a broken leg that had gone mostly untreated while he'd been unconscious, which meant his recovery had been a slow, frustrating process.
A process made worse by both his stubborn refusal to heed simple instructions and his need to test physical boundaries. Especially hers.
'Are you okay?' she asked. Because it was her job to make sure he was okay. Nothing else.
He drew himself up to his full height and tugged his bespoke hand-stitched suit into place. He slid slim fingers through longer-than-conventional hair until the sleek jet-black tresses were raked back from his high forehead. With the same insufferable indolence with which he approached everything in life, he scrutinised her face, lingered for an obscenely long moment on her mouth before stabbing her gaze with his.
'Are you asking as my physiotherapist or as the woman who continues to scorn my attentions?'
Her mouth tightened. 'As your physio, of course. I have no interest in the in being'
'Becoming my lover would make so many of our problems go away, Raven, don't you think? Certainly, this sexual tension you're almost choking on would be so much easier to bear if you would just let me f'
'Are you okay to walk, Rafael?' she interjected forcefully, hating the way her blood heated and her heart raced at his words.
'Of course, querida. Thanks to your stalwart efforts this past month, I'm no longer wheelchair-bound and I have the very essence of life running through my veins. But feel free to let your fingers keep caressing my backside the way they're doing now. It's been such a long time since I felt this surge of essence to a particular part of my anatomy, I was beginning to fear it'd died.'
With a muted curse and even redder cheeks, she dropped her hand. The professional in her made her stay put until Rafael was fully upright and able to support himself. The female part that hated herself for this insane fever of attraction wanted to run a mile. She compromised by moving a couple of feet away, her face turned from his.
For the second time in as many minutes, his laugh mocked her. 'Spoilsport.'
She fought the need to clench her hands into agitated fists and faced him when she had herself under sufficient control. 'How long are you going to keep this up? Surely you can find something else to amuse yourself with besides this need to push my buttons?'
Just like that, his dazzling smile dropped, his eyes gleaming with a hard, cynical edge that made her shiver. 'Maybe that's what keeps me going, guapa. Maybe I intend to push your buttons for as long as it amuses me to do so.'
She swallowed hard and considered staring him down. But she knew how good he was at that game. Heck, Rafael was a maestro at most games. He would only welcome the challenge.
Reaching behind him to slam the car door, she started to move with him towards the entrance of the church where baby Jack's ceremony was being held. 'If you're trying to get me to resign by being intolerable, I won't,' she stated in as firm a tone as possible, hoping he'd get the hint. Aside from the need to make amends, she needed this job. Her severance package from Team Espiritu when Marco de Cervantes had sold the racing team had been more than generous, but it was fast running out in light of her mother's huge treatment bills. It would take a lot more than Rafael's sexual taunts to make her walk away.
He shrugged and fell into step beside her. 'Good. As long as you're here tormenting yourself with your guilt, I feel better.'
Acute discomfort lodged in her chest. 'I thought we weren't going to speak about that?'
'You should know by now, rules mean nothing to me. Unspoken rules mean even less. How's the guilt today, by the way?'
'Receding by the second, thanks to your insufferable tongue.'
'I must be slacking.' He took a step forward, gave a visible wince, and Raven's heart stopped, along with her feet. He raised a brow at her, the hard smile back on his face. 'Ah, there it is. Good to know I haven't lost my touch after all.'
Ice danced down her spine at his chilled tone. Before she could answer, the large bell pealed nearby. Pigeons flew out of the turrets of the tiny whitewashed church that had been on the de Cervantes's Northern Spanish estate for several hundred years.
Raven glanced around them, past the church poised at the summit of the small hill that overlooked miles of prime de Cervantes vineyards, to the graveyard beyond where Rafael's ancestors lay interred.
'Are we going to stand here all day admiring the landscape or do we actually need to go inside the church for this gig?' A quick glance at him showed his face studiously averted from the prominent headstones, his jaw set in steel.
She drew in a deep breath and moved towards the arched entrance to the church. 'It's not a gig; it's your nephew's christening. In a church. With other guests. So act accordingly.'
Another dark chuckle. 'Or what, you'll put me over your knee? Or will you just pray that I be struck down by lightning if I blaspheme?'
'I'm not rising to your baits, Rafael.' Mostly because she had an inkling of how hard this morning would be for him. According to Rafael's housekeeper, it was the first time he'd interacted with his family since his return to Leon from his private hospital in Barcelona. 'You can try to rile me all you want. I'm not going anywhere.'
'A martyr to the last?'
'A physiotherapist who knows how grumpy patients can be when they don't get their way.'
'What makes you think I'm not getting exactly what I want?' he rasped lazily.
'I overheard your phone call to Marco this morning twice to try and get out of your godfather duties. Since you're here now, I'm guessing he refused to let you?'
A tic in his jaw and a raised brow was her only answer.
'Like I said, I know a grumpy patient when I see one.' She hurried forward and opened the large heavy door.
To her relief, he didn't answer back. She hoped it was because they were within the hallowed walls of his family's chapel because she was close enough to feel his tension increase the closer they got to the altar.
De Cervantes family members and the few close friends who'd managed to gain an invitation to the christening of Sasha and Marco de Cervantes's firstborn turned to watch their slow progress up the aisle.
'Shame you're not wearing a white gown,' Rafael quipped from the side of his mouth, taking her elbow even as he smiled and winked at a well-known Spanish supermodel. But, this close, Raven could see the stress lines that faintly bracketed his mouth and the pulse throbbing at his temple. Rafael really did not want to be here.
'Think how frenzied their imagination would be running right about now. It would almost warrant a two-page spread in X1 Magazine''
'Even if I were dressed in bridal white with a crown on my head and stars in my eyes, no one would believe you would actually go through with anything as anathema to you as a wedding, Rafael. These poor people would probably drop dead at the very thought of linking you with the word commitment.''
His grip tightened for a minuscule moment before that lazy smile returned. 'For once, you're right. Weddings bore me rigid and the word marriage should have a picture of a noose next to it in the dictionary.'
They were a few steps away from the front pew, where his brother and sister-in-law sat gazing down adoringly at their infant son. The sight of their utter devotion and contentment made her insides tighten another notch.
'I don't think that's how your brother and his wife see it.'
Rafael's jaw tightened before he shrugged. 'I'm prepared to accede that for some the Halley's Comet effect does happen. But we'll wait and see if it's a mirage or the real thing, shall we?'
Her breath caught at the wealth of cynicism in his tone. She couldn't respond because an usher was signalling the priest that it was time to start.
The ceremony was conducted in Spanish with English translations printed out on embossed gold-edged paper.
As the minutes ticked by, she noted Rafael's profile growing even tenser. Glancing down at the sheet, she realised the moment was approaching for him to take his godson for the anointing. Despite her caution to remain unmoved, her heart softened at his obvious discomfort.
'Relax. Babies are more resilient than we give them credit for. Trust me, it takes a complete idiot to drop a baby.'
She was unprepared for the icy blue eyes that sliced into her. 'Your flattery is touching but the last thing I'm thinking of is dropping my nephew.'
'You don't need to hide it, Rafael. Your tension is so thick it's suffocating.'
His eyes grew colder. 'Remember when I said weddings bore me?'
She nodded warily.
'Christenings bore me even more. Besides, I've never been good in churches. All that piety' He gave a mock shudder. 'My abuela used to smack my hand because I could never sit still.'
'Well, I'm not your grandmother so you're spared the smacking. Besides, you're a grown man now so act like one and suck it up.'
Too late, she remembered certain words were like a naked invitation to Rafael. She was completely stunned when he didn't make the obvious remark. Or maybe it was a testament to just how deeply the whole ceremony was affecting him.
'I just want this to be over and done with so I can resume more interesting subjects.' Without due warning, his gaze dropped to the cleavage of her simple, sleeveless orange knee-length chiffon dress. The bold, heated caress resonated through her body, leaving a trail of fire that singed in delicate places. 'Like how delicious you look in that dress. Or how you'll look out of it.'
Heat suffused her face. It was no use pointing out how inappropriate this conversation was. Rafael knew very well what he was doing. And the unrepentant gleam in his eyes told her so.
'Rafa.' Marco de Cervantes's deep voice interrupted them.
Raven glanced up and her eyes collided with steel-grey ones which softened a touch when they lit on his brother.
Like most people who'd worked the X1 Premier circuit, she knew all about the de Cervantes brothers. Gorgeous beyond words and successful in their individual rights, they'd made scores of female hearts flutter, both on and off of the racing circuit.
Marco had been the dynamic ex-racer team boss and race car designer. And Rafael, also insanely gifted behind the wheel, had at the age of twenty-eight founded and established himself as CEO of X1 Premier Management, the multi-billion euro conglomerate that nurtured, trained and looked after racing drivers. Between them they'd won more medals and championships than any other team in the history of the sport.
The last year had changed everything for them, though. Marco had sold the team and married Sasha Fleming, the racing driver who'd won him his last Constructors' Championship and stolen his heart in the process; and Rafael had spectacularly crashed his car, nearly lost his life and stalled his racing career.