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The doctor was leaving the Castillo d'Oro when the sound of a helicopter low overhead stopped him in his tracks. As he paused, his hand shading his eyes from the sun, it landed and a tall figure disembarked.
The figure, immediately recognisable even at a distance, appeared to see him and hit the ground running, reaching the doctor's side before the helicopter had lifted off again. He had covered the hundred metres or so with a speed and grace that in the medic's envious opinion would not have looked out of place on an athletic track.
'How are you, Luiz?'
The question was strictly rhetorical.
There were few people who looked as little in need of his care as Luiz Felipe Santoro. Despite his exertion, the hand extended to the doctor was cool and dry, and its owner, not even breathing hard, presented his usual immaculate appearance complete with formal tailored suit and sober silk tie.
The doctor always found the vitality this young man projected slightly exhausting and today was no exception.
It was hard to guess looking at him now that Luiz Santoro had once been a delicate child who had suffered more than his fair share of childhood ailments including asthma.
His delicate constitution combined with an adventurous—some called it reckless—personality meant the doctor had treated the young Luiz for many bumps and bruises, and on one occasion a broken limb.
It seemed likely to the doctor that it was that streak of adventure that his parents, before they had left him in the care of his grandmother, had tried unsuccessfully to quash that made Luiz, to quote his grandmother, 'the only member of this family I can stomach.'
That, of course, was on the occasions her favourite grandson hadn't incited her wrath by refusing to jump through one of her hoops, but then when the two people involved were strong-minded individuals, both incapable of compromise, there were bound to be sparks.
It struck the doctor as ironic really that the only member of the family that neither wanted nor needed the fortune the rest of his family eyed so covetously was likely to inherit. Luiz, with his steel-trap mind and competitive streak, had made his first million before he was twenty-one and was already incredibly wealthy in his own right.
'I'm surprised to see you. Your office told me you were mid Atlantic on your way to New York when I rang.'
'I was.' Luiz dismissed his altered travel arrangements with a wave of his long brown fingers. 'How is my grandmother?'
The medic felt the sweat break out across his brow as he met, with as much composure as he could summon, the younger man's dark eyes. It seemed to him that there was more than a hint of the ruthlessness the press spoke of in his dark, penetrating gaze.
The doctor tried hard to put a positive spin on his account of his patient's health, but Doña Elena's health was not what it had been.
Luiz summed up the situation in his usual concise manner. 'So you are saying, though she has improved slightly since you contacted me, it is possible my grandmother might not get better.'
Luiz had always prided himself on being a realist, but this oddly was the first time he had allowed himself to believe that his grandmother was not indestructible. Recognising that should not hit him so hard—her decline was inevitable—but that did not stop him feeling as if he'd just been kicked in the guts.
The doctor sighed and looked sympathetic. 'I'm sorry it could not be better news, Luiz,' he said, struggling to gauge the younger man's reaction. It was not easy when his eyes gave as much away as the mirrored surface of dark sunglasses. 'Of course if I am needed…'
Luiz, his expression sombre, inclined his head in acknowledgement of the courtesy. 'Goodbye, Doctor.'
He was still standing watching the man leave, thinking about the great gaping hole the death of his grandmother would leave, when a cheery voice hailed him.
He turned in response to his name to see Ramon, his grandmother's estate manager, approaching at a trot.
Ramon had replaced the previous manager five years earlier. Experiencing a lot of resistance in the early days of his tenure, he had appealed to Luiz for support in his efforts to bring about some much-needed changes to the estancia set high in the Sierra Nevada, where tradition was important and his modernising ways were viewed with suspicion.
Over the years the two men had developed not just a relaxed working relationship, but a friendship. When Luiz had discovered the desperate condition of his grandmother's finances—she had taken some appalling advice and put all her financial eggs in one basket; they had smashed—Ramon's expertise and energy had helped him to save the estancia from imminent financial ruin.
Luiz was grateful that his grandmother still remained blissfully ignorant of the personal funds he had poured into the failing estate and how close she had come to losing it.
'Surprise visit,' the other man observed as he approached.
'You could say that,' Luiz agreed, unfastening his tie from his throat and loosing the top button of his shirt.
Ramon winced and clapped a sympathetic hand to the other man's shoulder before tentatively asking, 'Not a good time, I know, but I was wondering should I go ahead with the preparations for next week's birthday celebrations or…?'
'Go ahead with them,' Luiz agreed before turning the subject to matters he felt more comfortable discussing. 'Has anything else come up?'
'It's funny you should say that.'
Luiz, clasping a hand to the back of his head as he rotated it to relieve the tension that was tying his shoulder muscles in knots, missed the flicker of amusement that crossed Ramon's face. Brow puckered in concentration, he glanced at his wristwatch.
'Give me an hour to see my grandmother, change and shower…'
'This item that has come up is actually of the immediate variety.'
There was a flicker of interest in Luiz's eyes as he asked, 'How immediate?'
'Immediate as in there is a woman, a pretty woman, demanding to see you.'
'I was thinking more along the lines of a problem with the plumbing or a disaster with the first press of olives,' Luiz admitted. 'And does this woman…sorry, pretty woman—and I have to say, Ramon, it pains me that you would think that would make a difference—have a name?'
'She is a Miss Nell Frost. English, I believe.'
Luiz shook his head and shrugged dismissively. The name rang no bells. 'Never heard of her.'
'Pity. I was hoping she was your birthday present for Doña Elena's birthday—the next Mrs Santoro. Now that would make her day.' When his joke fell flat Ramon shrugged and asked, 'Got any other ideas?'
'Ideas?' Luiz, who couldn't see the problem, frowned. 'Just tell her it is not convenient, suggest she makes an appointment.'
He began to walk away but Ramon followed him.
'It won't work. Neither will threats, charm or bribery because I've already tried and failed.'
Luiz felt a surge of impatience. How hard could it be to get rid of one unwanted visitor?
'Have Security remove her.' His expression revealed that he was amazed this had not already been done. 'Or better still, get Sabina to give her her marching orders.'
'Sabina has tried. It was she who suggested that you might like to speak with the young lady.'
Luiz raised a brow. Sabina held the official title of housekeeper, but in reality she was far more and in this household her suggestions carried as much weight as his grandmother's orders. He gave a resigned sigh. 'Where is she?'
'She has been sitting on the south lawn for the last hour or so, and it's warm.'
Luiz raised his brows at the understatement. It was thirty-plus degrees in the shade. 'Why has she been sitting on the south lawn?'
'I believe it is in the nature of a protest.'
'A protest,' Luiz echoed. 'Against what?'
The other man struggled against a smile. 'Why, something to do with you, I believe. Did I mention she is very pretty?' he added.
Nell lifted her hand to shade her eyes from the sun that beat down on her unprotected head. The throbbing pain in her temples and behind her eyes felt uncomfortably similar to the early stages of a migraine.
She dragged her hand down her forehead to blot the salty rivulets that ran down her face. Her skin felt gritty and hot.
How long had she been sitting here? This morning certainly seemed like several lifetimes ago, she thought, pulling the creased and crumpled e-mail printout from her pocket. She had lost track of time; actually she was finding it increasingly difficult to focus her wandering thoughts.
She didn't know who had been more surprised when she had sat down and delivered her ultimatum, her or the man with the warm smile. He had been so nice she felt a bit guilty, but mingled with the guilt had been a weird sense of liberation. After spending most of her adult life being accommodating and putting her plans on hold for other people, now it was her turn to be obstinate and awkward.
'I'm actually quite good at it,' she discovered with a smile.
Luiz, who was approaching the solitary figure sitting in the middle of several acres of carefully manicured lawn, stopped when she spoke.
The voice was low and with an unexpectedly sexy rasp that was a lot more grown up than she appeared to be. Ramon had misled him when he had said woman—the female sitting there was, he decided, a girl.
A girl with hair that shone honeyed gold in the sun, dressed in a light blue summer dress that revealed slim, shapely calves. She might be shapely all the way up to her delectable lips but the dress was not fitted to her slim shape.
As he continued to observe her as yet unseen a sudden gust of warm air lifted the skirt of her unfitted dress and suggested the shapeliness went at least thigh-high.
Had he not had more important things on his mind…Had she not been too young, and possibly unstable—she was talking to herself, after all—Luiz just might, he conceded, have been interested.
But as none of the above conditions applied he could view her with total objectivity.
'From now on everyone is going to give in to me. I'm a powerful and strong woman. God, I'm not even in my prime yet. Where has the man with the warm smile gone—to call for reinforcements or get Luiz Felipe slimy snake Santoro?' Liking the alliteration she smiled and wondered if she'd had too much sun.
'He went to get Luiz Felipe Santoro.' Accustomed to hearing himself described in slightly more flattering terms— at least to his face—Luiz was curious to discover where this young woman had formed this opinion of his character.
Nell, who had been unaware that she was voicing her thoughts out loud until that moment, focused on the shiny leather shoes a few feet away.
'Who are you?' Luiz asked as his brain struggled to provide a scenario that would put this odd girl here, now.
Nell's gaze stayed at knee level. 'I'm the one asking the questions,' she retorted belligerently. 'Who are you?'
'I'm Luiz Santoro.'
A sigh of relief left her dry lips as Nell got shakily to her feet.
The man who had materialised was tall, dark and handsome, though the generic term hardly seemed appropriate considering the unique individuality of his features.
Her glance lingered on his face. The man had a firm, cleanshaven jaw, high forehead, golden skin stretched across strong cheekbones, and a wide sensually sculpted mouth.
As her eyes connected with his hooded, unblinking and slightly impatient stare Nell experienced an odd little jolt that ran like an electric shock all the way down to her toes.
She blinked to break the connection. His eyes really were extraordinary. Set beneath strongly defined black brows, they were deep-set and very dark, almost black, flecked with silver and framed by the only feature that was not aggressively male— long dark curling lashes that any woman would have coveted.
She started to shake her head, only stopping when it made her world spin unpleasantly. 'You can't be Luiz Felipe Santoro.' She'd said it so often that the name was starting to roll off her tongue as if she were a native.
For a start off he was no student or teenager…Had Lucy said he was or had that been an assumption?
And that was the least of it. Her thought processes moved sluggishly as she looked up at him, her critical stare trained on the face of the man whom her niece intended to marry. Actually there was little to criticise on an aesthetic level at least, his face was about as perfect as faces got if you liked a profile that could have come from an ancient Greek statue.
And the rest of him…Nell swallowed, uncomfortable with her visceral response to the rest of him, which was silly. His body was no better than any number of Olympic swimmers she had watched cleave cleanly through the water of a swimming pool.
Of course, they had not been standing mere feet away from her. Other senses like smell—he really did smell exceptionally good in a warm male, musky sort of way—had not been involved.
'I can't be?' The sinfully sexy Spaniard with the autocratic bearing sounded more curious than put out. 'Why not?'
'You have to be, what…?' Her assessing gaze moved up from his toes to the top of his dark gleaming head. All of it appeared to be hard muscle and bone and aggressively male. Her stomach muscles reacted to all that undiluted masculinity and flipped. 'Thirty?'
'Thirty-two,' she echoed.
Luiz was wondering why she looked so peculiarly repulsed by the admission when she added, 'That is disgusting.'
An energising burst of anger put strength back into Nell's legs as she took a purposeful step towards the Spaniard. Self-satisfaction was not in her experience an attractive trait, and men this good-looking were generally very self-satisfied.
Of course, her experience was limited.
'You know what I think of men who prey on impressionable young girls?'
'I feel sure you are going to tell me,' he drawled laconically.
His flippant attitude incensed Nell further. 'You think this is some sort of joke? This is a young girl's future we are talking about. Lucy is too young to get married.'
'Who is Lucy?'
The blonde pursed her lips and continued to regard him as though he were some sort of depraved monster. The novelty value of being verbally abused was already wearing thin but the pleasure of staring at her heaving bosom would take a lot longer to pall.
The kick of his libido was irrational, but sexual desire did have a habit of bypassing the logic circuits. Fortunately he never had any problem keeping his own carnal instincts on a short leash.