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Sophia is nursing private hurts of her own—after all, she is on her honeymoon alone. Her bravado is a cover act to show everyone she can stand on her own two feet. Trouble is, she's in ...
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Sophia is nursing private hurts of her own—after all, she is on her honeymoon alone. Her bravado is a cover act to show everyone she can stand on her own two feet. Trouble is, she's in danger of being swept away into the rancher's arms!
Sophia straightened in the seat and peered out the window at the vast plain, her eyebrows snapping together in confusion. Antoine had told her that Vista del Cielo translated into View of Heaven. She liked that idea. It conjured up images of wide blue skies dotted with puffy clouds, perhaps seen from a comfortable deck chair with a mimosa in hand. The sky was right, but looking out, Sophia saw nothing but waving grass and a dirt drive flanked by a row of trees. "This can't be it. There must be a mistake."
"No, señorita" The driver's accent was thick. "Esta Vista del Cielo." He took his hand off the steering wheel and pointed at a small white sign at the end of the long drive.
A sickening, crawling feeling began in Sophia's stomach. The pampas spread out before her, flat and brownish-green. She slid across the back seat and looked out of the other side of the car. It was exactly the same view. On either side the fields spread, endless and dull. Off to her right, one huge gnarled tree looked out of place standing alone, a leafy green sentinel. And ahead, a house. A nice house, but definitely not a hotel. The building was large, a sprawling one story that turned two corners. A low roof over a stone patio added cozy atmosphere and contrasted with white stucco. Flowers in colourful pots stood here and there all along the front patio and another twisted tree formed a soft canopy over one side. It was beautiful, but clearly a family home, not the four or even five-star accommodations Antoine usually insisted upon when booking his travel.
The driver pulled to a stop in front of a shed and put the car into Park. "Don't leave," Sophia commanded. "This is a mistake." She fumbled for the Spanish words. "Por error," she tried. "No vayas." She knew the grammar was incorrect but hoped he'd catch her meaning. Perhaps she should have spent longer learning some important Spanish phrases. She flashed him a smile. She had to find out exactly where she was supposed to be and then get the cab driver to take her there.
"Si, senorita," he replied, and at last got out to open the door for her. This had to be wrong, all wrong. Where were the luxury rooms? The spa and gym? The dining area with a chef and wait staff?
For a moment her bravado failed her. She'd shored it up to make the trip alone, wanting—no, needing—to do this for herself. She'd wanted to find a way to stick it to Antoine for humiliating her so much. What could make a better statement than going on their honeymoon without him?
But that had all been based on things going smoothly and exactly to plan. She finally admitted to herself that she should actually have studied the plan a little more closely. She should have known the route. Especially traveling solo. What would she do now?
Then she remembered what had driven her to this point in her life and she steeled her spine. It had been wrong to accept Antoine's proposal in the first place and discovering his indiscretion had been a disaster. Still, if she had to be thankful for anything it was that she'd found out before the wedding and not after. She had given him three years of her best work, all the while falling for his kind words and sexy smiles. She'd thought herself the luckiest woman ever when he'd asked her out the first time. Marriage had seemed like the next logical step. Everyone had said it was meant to be, and she'd believed them.
But now she knew that Antoine had wanted nothing more than a trophy wife, the proper person on his arm to look good for the public. It wasn't enough for her. She hadn't realized until that moment—walking in on him making love to his mistress—that she wanted more. She didn't want the country club existence that was so important to her mother. She wanted more than appearances. She wanted respect, not betrayal. Love, not suitability.
And in that defining moment, as her future had crumbled away, she'd found the courage to say no. And to walk away.
Which had led her here. Still, she was sure there had to be a mistake. She took a few steps forward, trying to make out the plaque on the front of the house. It was old and in Spanish, but she made out the words Vista del Cielo and the year—1935.
A roar and a cloud of dust had her swinging her head back towards the taxi, only to find the cabbie had dumped her luggage and was now driving back down the lane, tires churning up the dry earth like a dusty vapour trail.
"Wait!" She called after the taxi, running forward as fast as she could in her heels. But he didn't pause or even slow down. In moments he was gone, leaving her stranded with her bags in the middle of Nowhere, Argentina.
Her heart pounded. No one had come from the house to greet her. The place looked abandoned. She took a breath. Told herself to calm down. She would find a way out of this.
What she knew for sure was that she would not panic. She would not cry or indulge in hysterics. She reached for her purse and the cell phone inside, but paused. No. She most definitely would not make a phone call home for her mother to bail her out of trouble. She could handle this on her own.
Her mother had barely spoken to Sophia since she had cancelled the wedding. There was no question of asking Antoine, either. It would be a cold day in hell before she'd ask him for anything ever again.
She took a step forward, feeling the heel of one of her favourite Manolos sink into the soft earth. She gritted her teeth. Why was it that the first time in her life she did anything impulsive, it turned out like this? If it had happened to anyone else, she'd have had a good laugh at the comedy in the situation. But it wasn't happening to someone else, it was happening to her. And the truth was, behind the designer shoes and the skirt and the French manicure, she was scared to death.
She'd been running on righteous indignation for weeks now, and, if she let it, being alone in a strange country could be the straw that broke her back.
"Hola," a voice called out, and she turned her head towards the sound, her shoulders dropping with relief. At least someone was here who could explain the mix-up. Antoine had told her that they were staying at an estancia—a guest ranch—with all the amenities. It had sounded lovely and serene. But she knew Antoine. He never settled for anything except the best. She'd prepared for the trip based on that assumption, and now she wasn't prepared at all. Sometimes it felt as though everything she thought she knew had been turned upside down, and it was hard to find her feet again.
A man stepped out of the shadows by the barn door and Sophia swallowed.
Whatever she had expected to find here in the middle of nowhere, it wasn't this. The man approaching with long, lazy strides was perhaps the best looking male creature she'd ever clapped eyes on. He wore faded jeans and boots and a T-shirt that had seen better days. What was surprising was his face. He had a crown of thick, slightly wavy black hair and gorgeous brown eyes fringed with thick black lashes that most women would die for. The golden tone of the skin over his high cheekbones set his dark looks off to exotic perfection.
What was a man like that doing in a place like this?
"Hello," she called out, attempting to calm her suddenly increased heart rate. She shrugged it off, telling herself that just because she'd sworn off men she wasn't dead. She pasted on a smile, fighting to quell the anxiety swirling through her veins. "Perhaps you can help me." After the incident with the cabbie, she felt compelled to add, "Do you speak English? iHablas ingles?"
"Of course. What is the problem?" His black gaze looked at her suitcases, then her, and then slid down to her feet, to the peacock-blue pumps, one with a now very dirty heel. He raised an eyebrow as he examined the four-inch stilettos and a smile flirted with his lips before he looked back up. She schooled her features into a bland mask. She needed his help, and it didn't matter a bit if he approved of her shoes or not. They would have been perfectly appropriate for the upscale accommodation she'd expected.
"I'm afraid I've been delivered here in error, and the taxi driver didn't speak English. He simply dropped my bags and left. I was hoping you could help me sort this out?"
She smiled, feeling much better knowing she had an ally. "I was supposed to arrive at the Vista del Cielo this afternoon. He claimed this is it, but I am sure he was wrong."
"This is the Vista del Cielo, but you were not expected."
Her smile faltered as alarm jolted through her body. "Perhaps there is another Vista del Cielo?" she suggested, trying desperately to sound pleasant and not panicked. "I am booked there for the next week."
The man's scowl deepened. "No, we are the only one. But we have no bookings for this week. We did, but it was cancelled last month."
"This is a hotel, then."
"An estancia, yes. A guest ranch."
A guest ranch. This was no mistake, she realized with a sinking heart. She remembered Antoine's voice as he'd teased her. It will be different, he'd boasted. Lots of privacy for a newly married couple.
Looking back now, the idea made her blush. The thought of being here alone with Antoine made her suddenly self-conscious in front of the man before her. Thank goodness she'd at least been spared that.
Still, it seemed inconceivable that Antoine, with his lavish tastes, would have booked them here. It looked quiet and peaceful—a definite bonus to her—but it still didn't seem to compute with what she'd expected. "Where is the spa? The pool?" After her long dusty trip, the idea of dipping into the pool for a refreshing swim sounded heavenly. Perhaps a hot tub to soothe the muscles that had been cramped up in an airplane and then the taxi. She could nearly feel the bubbles on her skin already. Maybe this place was more rustic than she'd anticipated, but she knew Antoine would have demanded a certain standard.
"That's why we had to cancel the reservations. There was a fire. I'm afraid the spa building as well as others were destroyed. Thankfully the house was spared."
Everything in Sophia went cold and the polite smile slid from her face. "Fire?"
"Yes we've cancelled everything until the repairs are made and things rebuilt. The pool made it through, but we've had to have it drained because of the ash and debris."
Sophia felt a growing sense of despair. She stared around her, wondering how things could have gone so perfectly pear-shaped. Her gaze caught on the odd looking tree, standing like a solitary sentinel in the middle of the plain. It looked exactly as she felt. Alone. And lonely. She was beginning to understand that they were two completely separate things.
"Perhaps if you told me your name, we could sort it out," he said, a little impatiently.
"The reservation was under Antoine Doucette."
The man's face changed as understanding dawned. "The honeymoon." Then he looked confused again, looked at her cases, and back again. "And the other half of the happy couple?"
Sophia lifted her chin. She could do this. She could. She could get past the embarrassment and the hurt and explain dispassionately. She had faced worse in the last months. She'd faced Antoine, her family and friends, even the chokehold of the press closing in around her. She could handle one annoying Argentinian.. whatever he was. Farmer? Gaucho? Who was he to judge her?
"I came alone. I'm afraid the marriage did not take place."
"I see. I am sorry, señorita."
His words said apology but his tone certainly did not. It was strictly polite and almost cold. "Don't be," she replied, putting her hand on her hip. "I'm not." It was only a half lie. She wasn't sorry she had called off the wedding. Under the circumstances it had been the right thing to do.
But it had been far from easy. She'd bear the scars from it for a long, long time.
A huff of surprise erupted from his mouth, followed by mutterings in Spanish that she couldn't understand. That made her angry. It made her feel inadequate and even more of an outsider, and she was tired of that feeling.
"Why were we not notified of the cancellation, then?" She pressed on, annoyed.
"I don't know." His brow furrowed. "Maria handles all the reservations and business. I can't imagine her making a mistake."
"Someone did. I'm here, aren't I?"
And so she was. She had to convince him to let her stay.
Antoine had thrown in her face how he'd not bought travel insurance and her breaking their engagement would cost him thousands of dollars. She'd told herself she had nothing to feel guilty about—after all, he was the one who'd been caught red-handed. She'd also spent money on a wedding that had never happened. The dress. The deposits for the printer, the reception, flowers, cake—all the trappings of a society wedding. His protests about the honeymoon money had fallen on deaf ears. It was only money. It would take a long time to replace it, but it would take longer to erase the pain of his betrayal. It was the betrayal that had hit her deep in her soul. She had been blind, had not recognized the signs. She had been left wondering if she could ever trust her own judgment again.
And now she was in Argentina with no place to stay.
She could go back to Buenos Aires. She could try to change her ticket and go home with her tail between her legs. Or she could book herself in somewhere and stay for the duration. It would mean taking most of her savings to pay for the hotel and food, but she'd have her dignity.
Wouldn't Antoine have a laugh about that? And she could already hear her mother chiding, I told you it was a mistake to take that trip alone.
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