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The Spaniard's Passion
By Jane Porter
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE blazing sun dazzled the eyes and the steady crash of waves on the long sandy beach lulled Sophie Johnson to sleep. She snuggled deeper into her towel on the warm sand. She'd had more fun in the last ten days than she'd had ... well, than she'd had ... ever.
Abruptly the sand shifted and a shadow stretched over her. Sophie's stomach tensed: a knot of excitement and fear. Shading her eyes, she glanced up, knowing it was Alonso Huntsman. How could she adore someone so much when he made her this nervous?
Alonso was standing over her, dripping wet, his black hair slicked back from his face, the hard planes of his chest darkly tan from a summer spent in the sun. "You smell fantastic, Sophie. I think I'll eat you."
She tried to ignore the way her heart jumped. "It's just lotion, Lon. I'd taste disgusting."
He flashed her a wicked grin. "I'll be the judge of that."
Clive Wilkins, son of prominent banker Lord Wilkins, stirred restlessly on his towel next to Sophie. "Will you two kindly shut up?"
Alonso reached for his towel, his muscles rippling as he mopped his face dry. "Are we disturbing your sleep, old man?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, you are," Clive retorted, burying his blond head deeper into the crook of his arm.
"Just one little taste," Lon whispered to Sophie over Clive's head, his light blue eyes glowing. He knew he was being wicked. He also knew it thrilled her.
He nodded seriously. "Just one good lick."
Squirming on the inside, trying not to laugh, she picked up her bottle of suntan lotion and tossed it to him. Lon caught it with one hand. "Here you go, big boy. Enjoy."
"Oh, for God's sake!" Clive swore, sitting up.
"You've just ruined a brilliant nap." He grabbed Sophie's arm, pressed her wrist to his mouth and flicked his tongue across her warm skin.
"Disgusting," Clive pronounced, tossing her arm away. He lay back down again, nestling his unshaven cheek to his arm, the blond bristles glinting gold. "She tastes like synthetics and plastic. You'd hate it, Lon. Now, will you two please shut up so I can sleep?"
"You just don't want me to taste her," Lon mocked, dropping down next to the two of them. "I think you're jealous, old man."
Clive didn't even bother to open his eyes. "Jealous of you two pathetic human beings?" His aristocratic English had never been more precise. "Of course, you big Scottish meat-head. You and the princess are the two best friends a man could ask for."
Meat-head. Princess. Sophie bit her lip, trying not to giggle, but she couldn't hold the laughter in. Once she started to laugh Lon and Clive joined in, and suddenly her eyes were burning with tears she wouldn't cry.
This was the best school holiday of her life. No, make it the best summer of her life. Clive and Lon were impossible. Incorrigible. Irredeemable. And she'd never loved anyone so much.
Nothing, she thought as she surreptitiously wiped a tear away, gazing out at the Pacific Ocean where the waves crashed against Buenaventura's white sandy beach, nothing would ever top this. Nothing would ever be as sweet; nothing would ever be as innocent.
If only time would stop and the three of them could remain together, forever, like this.
"HOW much?" Lady Sophie Wilkins asked, holding her hand up, watching the ring catch the light. The marquis cut emerald surrounded by smaller diamonds glittered in the jewelry store's bright fluorescent lighting, throwing off white sparks like fireworks exploding on New Year's Eve.
"Ten thousand pounds," the jeweler answered.
She turned her hand a little, mesmerized by the hot glow of the emerald and the brilliant blue and yellow streaks of fire in the white stones.
She heard the jewelry store door open but she couldn't tear her gaze from the glittering stone on her finger. Ten thousand pounds, she silently repeated, ten thousand pounds, knowing she'd never have anything half so beautiful again. But she couldn't keep it. She had to get to Brazil, and she still had so many bills to pay, and ten thousand pounds would settle a lot of debts.
Her silence troubled the jeweler. "I might possibly be able to do ten thousand five hundred," he said as though she'd squeezed the offer from him, "but that's my best price, Lady Wilkins. I couldn't go higher."
"Not even though you'll get twice that much tomorrow?" a deep male voice asked mockingly.
Sophie felt a shadow cross her grave. It couldn't be ...
Slowly she looked up, and slowly her eyes focused. The air left her throat. She swayed a little on her feet. "Lon?"
She couldn't look away, her hand balled into a fist and she kept staring at him as if she'd seen a ghost. "What are you doing here?"
"Taking care of some business."
"Business?" she repeated numbly, as if it were a foreign concept, although she knew Alonso was one of the world's leading emerald exporters.
The jeweler hurriedly put away his monocle and the black velvet pad on the counter. "I didn't expect you until tomorrow, Mr. Huntsman. The stone's not even cleaned yet."
Sophie's eyes searched his face even as her fingers curled around the wedding ring still on her fourth finger. "You're buying a stone?"
"An emerald," Lon answered.
He'd traveled halfway around the world to buy an emerald? "Must be valuable."
His eyes never left hers. "It came from my mine, so I suppose you could say it has sentimental value."
As he'd talked she'd gone hot, then cold, and now she tugged her wedding ring from her finger and handed it to the jeweler. "I accept your offer."
The jeweler nodded his head, pocketing the ring Clive had given her nearly six years ago. "Will you take a check, Lady Wilkins?"
"Yes." Her throat seemed to be squeezing closed.
"Thank you." The jeweler moved across the shop and chilled, Sophie began to button her long wool coat.
"You're selling your wedding ring?" Lon asked, black lashes lowered, concealing his expression.
"It's a reputable jeweler," she answered, hating the defensive note that had crept into her voice.
"You're short on cash?"
"I'm fine." There was no way she'd ever tell Lon the truth. She didn't want pity, and she didn't want sympathy from him, either. She'd chosen Clive. End of story. "I didn't realize you were back in the country."
"I have a house in Knightsbridge."
"You live here in London?"
"Part of the year."
"I had no idea."
Lon heard the pang in her voice, and he felt a shaft of hot emotion. He'd known from the start that her marriage had been rocky, maybe even downright unhappy, but she'd never said a word against Clive. "I travel back and forth between South America quite a bit. Depends on business."
Excerpted from The Spaniard's Passion by Jane Porter Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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