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AFTER trying to sell an idea for ten minutes straight most people would have given up. Dan Taylor wasn't one of them. Some people said that what he lacked in flair he made up for in determination. They were essentially correct.
Santiago Morais, who was considered to have more than his fair share of flair, listened to the younger man explain again why it wasn't just necessary for Santiago to make up the numbers this weekend, it was his duty.
The 'No' wasn't the sort of no that could be confused with maybe, and it wasn't encouraging that the enigmatic expression on Santiago's lean features had given way to mild irritation.
Actually Dan was a little taken aback by Santiago's lack of co-operation. He was showing the sort of stony indifference that Dan had expected five years earlier when he had turned up at the London offices of Morais International. The only thing he'd had going for him then had been a tenuous--very tenuous--family link with the Morais family.
He had expected to be thrown out on his ear. Getting to see the man himself had been just as hard as he had expected. When they had come face to face, his resolve had almost deserted him. Santiago was younger than he had expected and much, much tougher.
Faced with a dark, cynical and very chilly stare Dan had instinctively dumped his carefully prepared speech and said instead, "Look, there's absolutely no reason you should give me a job just because some great-aunt of mine married some distant uncle of your mother's. I'm not qualified--in fact I've never finished anything I started in my life--but if you gave me a chance you wouldn't regret it. I'd give it all Ihad and then some. I have something to prove."
"You have something to prove?" The voice, deep and barely accented, made Dan jump.
"I'm not a loser."
The figure behind the desk got to his feet and became correspondingly more intimidating; this man was seriously tall and was built like an Olympic rower. For a long uncomfortable moment Santiago just looked at Dan in silence, those spookily penetrating eyes not giving a clue to what he was thinking.
"Right, sorry to have bothered you..." 'Eight-thirty Monday."
Dan's jaw dropped as he swung back. 'What did you say?"
One of Santiago's dark brows lifted. "If you want a job, be here Monday morning at eight-thirty."
Dan sank into the nearest chair. "You won't regret this," he vowed.
Dan had come good on his promise. He had quickly proved his worth and, perhaps more surprisingly, a friendship had developed between the two men. A friendship that had survived Dan leaving the company and setting up on his own two years earlier.
Dan adopted an injured expression as he looked across at his Spanish distant cousin, who had put down a file he'd been reading to say something in his native tongue into a Dicta-phone. Actually it could have been one of several languages; Santiago was fluent in five.
"I must say I think you're being pretty callous about this."
"If by callous you mean I will not spend a weekend amusing a fat, boring and mentally unstable woman--I'm quoting you here--so that you can have your Rebecca to yourself...I am indeed callous."
"Rachel, and the friend isn't mentally unstable exactly. I think she's just having a breakdown or something." 'You're really tempting me now, but the answer is still no, Daniel."
"If you'd met Rachel you wouldn't be so heartless."
"And is your Rachel beautiful?" 'Very, and don't look at me like that. This isn't some casual affair. She's the one; I just know she is." His expression grew indignant when Santiago responded to his emotional admission with a cynical smile that was only slightly less corrosive than neat nitric acid. "I'd have thought you'd have been more sympathetic considering..." Dan continued falteringly.
Santiago abandoned his attempt to carry on working and pushed his thick sable hair back from his brow. "Considering what?"
"Aren't you getting married?" 'At some point I imagine it will be necessary." The exquisite irony of him continuing the precious Morais family name was not lost on him.
"You know what I mean. Aren't you marrying that hot little singer who I keep seeing you photographed with."
"That hot little singer has an agent with a vivid imagination. Susie is not in love with me."
Dan's expression grew curious. "So it's just..."
"None of your business." 'Fair enough, but I still think you're being totally unreasonable. I'm asking you to spend a weekend in a cute cottage, not donate bone marrow! Look...look," he said, reaching into his pocket and extracting a photo. "Isn't she gorgeous? And, as for her being older, I like older women..." he added defensively as he shoved the photo under Santiago's nose.
With a sigh Santiago took the creased item from the younger man's fingers and dutifully glanced at the slightly out-of-focus image of a tall blonde who looked to him like many other tall blondes.
"Yes, she is very..." He stopped, the colour seeping steadily from his olive-toned skin as he looked at the person half concealed by Dan's girlfriend.
"Are you feeling all right?" Dan asked, thinking of Santiago's father, who had dropped dead at fifty-five from a massive heart attack several years earlier.
Santiago hadn't inherited his dad's looks, generous girth or taste for copious amounts of brandy--the old man had by all accounts been a bit of a sleaze--but who knew what else he had inherited?
Like maybe a propensity to heart disease and dropping down dead!
Dan had started to try and remember if you bashed someone who stopped breathing on the chest, or gave them mouth to mouth, when Santiago's eyes lifted. He looked bleak, but much to Dan's relief not about to expire any time soon.
"I'm fine, Daniel." Santiago wasn't about to reveal that he'd recognized the woman in the photograph. "This woman here, she is the friend who will be there this weekend?" he enquired casually as he indicated the figure in the background.
"Yeah, that's Lily," Dan admitted without enthusiasm. "Rachel's had her staying at her place for the past three weeks. They go way back. I never see Rachel alone. Wherever she goes, there's Lily. I don't think she likes men...she definitely doesn't like me. Must be the husband dumping her has made her all weird."
"Her husband left her...?"
Dan nodded. "Not too sure of the details, but presumably that's what made her fall apart."
Santiago's eyes lifted. "Are they divorced?" 'Like I said, I don't know the details. I had a colleague lined up for this weekend to keep her out of our hair, but he got mumps, of all things!"
"That was inconsiderate of him," Santiago murmured sarcastically, thinking fast and hard-- something he was well equipped to do.
"I'm not saying he did it on purpose, but, hell-fire, Santiago, I've been planning this weekend for weeks, ever since I bought the ring."
"You are going to propose?" He watched as Dan looked self-conscious and thought, I hope she's not a total bitch. Being Lily's friend was not the best of recommendations.
"Six years is a very small age gap." 'Insignificant," Santiago agreed obediently, amused that it was something as minor as an age difference that bothered his young friend. "This alters things," he mused out loud.
"It does?" Dan sounded cautious. "Being a romantic--" "Since when?" "I will come and keep this...Lily...company." Dan was so grateful that it took Santiago ten minutes to get rid of him.
When Dan finally left, Santiago took the photograph he had slipped surreptitiously into his pocket and laid it on the desk. Hands pressed on the polished rosewood surface, he leaned forward, his eyes trained on the barely distinguishable features of the woman in the background. A quiver of movement tightened the contours of his impossibly symmetrical features. When admirers attributed that symmetry to generations of aristocratic inbreeding, Santiago could barely repress his amusement.
Lily's hair looked dark in the snapshot, but Santiago knew it was a medium brown, not a boring matt brown, but a fascinating intermingling of shades ranging from golden blonde to warm, rich russet.
That heart-shaped little face--thinner than he recalled--those big, kittenish blue eyes, and soft, seductive mouth didn't look as though they belonged to a woman who had the morals of an alley cat.
She had made a fool of him.
But, as Santiago had told himself many times over the last months, he had the consolation of knowing that he had had a lucky escape. Lucky me!
He wasn't married to this heartless little cheat--someone else was. Another man enjoyed the expertise of those soft lips. Someone else slept with his head cushioned on those soft, warm breasts at night. That man was entitled to touch pearly skin that smelt of roses and vanilla, and wake up with pale, smooth limbs wrapped around him.
Another man was listening to her lies and believing them.
Someone else, but not me.
Oddly enough, thoughts of his lucky escape did not make Santiago feel like breaking into spontaneous song.
Then he remembered Daniel's words and realised that it was possible nobody was enjoying the carnal delights of her voluptuous body. Recalling what a sensual little thing she had been, he doubted this situation would last for long.
He looked at his hands clenched into white-knuckled fists and rotated his head to ease the tension that had crept into his shoulders and neck. He was over the woman; it was the memory of his own criminal gullibility that plagued him, that stopped him fully enjoying what life had to offer. The obvious way to restore equilibrium was to face his problem. He needed what the psychologists called closure, and what he, in the privacy of his own thoughts, called seeing Lily get what she deserved.