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The white-hot desire for venganza--revenge--had driven Rafaelo Carreras, Marques de Las Carreras, for years. Now, at last, the ruthless Spanish aristocrat had come to New Zealand, to take what was rightfully his from the wealthy, powerful, hated Saxon family. Seducing Caitlyn Ross, the Saxons' beautiful young winemaker, was child's play for a man like him--and the perfect way to get what he wanted. But as he came to know this woman, to taste her beguiling blend of inocencia and pasión, he wondered if he was the ...
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The white-hot desire for venganza--revenge--had driven Rafaelo Carreras, Marques de Las Carreras, for years. Now, at last, the ruthless Spanish aristocrat had come to New Zealand, to take what was rightfully his from the wealthy, powerful, hated Saxon family. Seducing Caitlyn Ross, the Saxons' beautiful young winemaker, was child's play for a man like him--and the perfect way to get what he wanted. But as he came to know this woman, to taste her beguiling blend of inocencia and pasión, he wondered if he was the one being seduced....
Rafaelo, Marques de Las Carreras, was seething with hot Spanish rage. And when Rafaelo seethed, wise people gave him a wide berth until he cooled down to his normal impeccable courtesy.
Rafaelo told himself he had reason to be furious. He'd flown from Spain via London to Los Angeles and on to his final destination of Auckland, New Zealand. A security furore in Heathrow had caused a six-hour delay, resulting in a missed transatlantic connection to the United States.
There had been no first-class seats available on the flight he'd finally caught and the carrier had been packed as full as a tin of sardinas. He'd been wedged between a sweating overweight car dealership owner and a fraught-looking woman with a screaming baby. It had not improved his mood.
By the time Rafaelo landed in Auckland eighteen hours later than scheduled, it was to discover that his monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage had vanished, and to top it all, the Porsche reserved for him had been hired out when he'd failed to turn up earlier.
Not even flashing traveller's checks, his platinum bank card or large-denomination American dollars could commandeer him a vehicle. Sorry, no cars available. There was an international sporting event on in the area, explained one car-hire company after another.
The Marques de Las Carreras wasn't accustomed to apologies, certainly not from an indifferent middle-aged woman filing her nails—who didn't respond to either his most charming smile or, when that failed to get results, to his dangerously lowered tone.
It was unheard of for him to be treated like a peon—usually his name was enough to secure him the best. The best seats at the bullfight, thebest table in the restaurant, the best-looking woman in the room. And to come back to his present situation, the best car for hire.
He blinked, told himself this couldn't be happening. Finally he managed to rent a vehicle—if the battered and dented yellow-and-black apparition plastered with neon-coloured Make Waves and Shoot the Tube stickers could be called that—from an operator most appropriately named Wreck Rentals. It had cost him plenty.
Not only had he been royally ripped off, but he also hadn't slept in two days and a night. Nor had he showered. His clothes were creased. He was driving an abomination.
Twenty minutes later, teeth gritting as the thing—he couldn't truthfully label it a vehicle—shuddered, Rafaelo slowed at a large hand-carved sign welcoming visitors to Saxon's Folly Winery, home of the Saxon family.
The lane into which he turned was lined with established trees. Farther along the lane, a modern winery complex appeared. Through the trees Rafaelo glimpsed a large stately residence.
The car rolled to a stop.
He stopped breathing. The house was exactly as his mother had described it. Tall. White. Lacy wrought iron trimmed the balconies. The elegant triple-storey Victorian homestead was drenched in history.
Cold purpose settled in the pit of his stomach.
Letting out the breath he'd been holding, he edged forward and parked the abomination in the shade of a giant oak. It was then that he discovered that the hand brake didn't hold. To Rafaelo's immense displeasure, he had to climb through a triple-strand wire fence to find a suitably large rock to place under the back tire, and by this stage his hands were dusty and his immaculate suit had a smudge of mud down the front.
"Madre de Dios," he cursed with quiet ferocity, then set off to find Phillip Saxon. And his destiny.
Caitlyn Ross noticed the stranger the moment he arrived at the memorial service being held for Roland Saxon in the winery's courtyard. Behind her the vineyards stretched to the hills in the distance, to the hills that formed The Divide. But for once she didn't spare a glance at the vines.
Her attention was riveted on the stranger. It wasn't his height, the dark, overlong hair or his black eyes that caught her attention. With Heath and Joshua Saxon in the vicinity, there was no shortage of tall, dark, black-eyed men.
Rather, it was the fire that lit those black eyes and made them snap with energy, the way he stood holding himself with stiff formality at the back of the crowd that had gathered to remember Roland Saxon.
She had no idea who he could be. Or what his association to the Saxons was. And that was unusual. Having worked here since she left university, Caitlyn was part of the inner circle of the family. But this man was definitely a stranger.
Beside her, someone sniffed and pulled out a handkerchief. Phillip Saxon had finished his speech.
Remembering the occasion, Caitlyn forced her attention away from the mystery man. Alyssa Blake was speaking now, a short, moving address. Roland had been her brother. No one had known that he'd been adopted by the Saxons as a baby until very recently. Caitlyn knew it had to be a huge adjustment for Heath, Joshua and Megan, the Saxon siblings, who had believed that Roland was bonded to them by blood.
Her gaze sneaked back to the stranger. Even sandwiched between Jim and Taine, two of her cellar hands, he stood apart. She watched as he scanned the gathering, those snapping eyes assessing making a judgement then moving on to the next person.
Who was he?
Yet another journalist come to dig up dirt on the family? They didn't need that. Not now.
She examined the tall, suit-clad body. Despite the dusty patches on his suit, he didn't look like a journalist. He couldn't be paparazzi because there was no giveaway bulge of an oversized camera lens anywhere to be seen. She supposed he could be a school—or university—friend of Roland.
Caitlyn slipped through the throng, murmuring apologies as she went. It took her only a minute to skirt the edges of the gathering. She paused beside Jim, who made way for her with a sideways smile. Caitlyn nodded in acknowledgement and edged into the space created beside the stranger.
Yes, he was tall all right. At least three inches taller than her own five feet eleven inches.
Softly she murmured, "We haven't met."
He raked her with those hellfire eyes. A bolt of sensation shot through her. An awareness that she hadn't felt in a long, long time.
"I am Rafaelo Carreras." His voice was mesmerizing, the accent deliciously foreign. Within Caitlyn, in a deep-down sealed-off place, warmth uncurled. She tamped down the unwelcome sensation. No hint of New Zealand in that voice.
Perhaps not a school friend after all.
Curious, and wanting to hear him speak again, she asked, "Did you know Roland?"
It was possible. As marketing director of Saxon's Folly Estate & Wines, Roland had travelled all over the world.
One word, abruptly spoken. And clearly he wasn't volunteering any further information. Again the suspicion that he might be a news journalist, carrion descending to feast on the family's sorrow, stirred. The Saxons had been through enough. All her protective urges aroused, Caitlyn said in a low, fierce voice, "Then what are you doing here?"
He inspected her. His narrowed gaze started at her shoes— the serviceable black leather pumps that she'd had for ten years and only wore for wine shows. He considered her unstockinged legs, pale from a longer-than-normal winter spent under worn jeans. His gaze lingered on the hemline of her skirt, an unfashionable length this season. But then, she never wore anything other than jeans and trousers, so what did it matter? Then he studied the jacket that she wore. It had cost her a fortune and she'd only bought it because Megan, whose sense of style was fabulous, had insisted. The peach-coloured linen did wonderful things for her Celtic skin and ginger-blond hair—she knew that because Megan had told her—but it probably wasn't suitable for today's sombre occasion.
Finally he lifted his eyes to her face. As his gaze met hers, the impact jarred through her. There was nothing in the black depths to suggest that he'd liked anything he'd seen. To the contrary, she could find only a disdain that made her flinch.
"You are a member of the Saxon family?" He raised a haughty brow.
"Then why I am here does not concern you."
Caitlyn blinked. She was not used to such blatant rudeness. How to deal with him? Her gaze flickered to Pita, the security guard who patrolled the winery every night. Since an incident three weeks ago when a pair of youths had caused mischief down at the stables, security at Saxon's Folly had been stepped up. Pita was big and burly. He would have plenty of men here to help evict this man if need be.
She eyed the dark-haired stranger covertly. It would take quite a few men to restrain him. Under the dark suit his body appeared lean and his shoulders broad. The man was built like a fighter— an impression strengthened by the harsh features, the ridged nose and fiery eyes. He wouldn't back away from a fight.
She held his gaze. "Well, I am concerned."
His mouth clamped into a hard line causing apprehension to weigh heavily in Caitlyn's stomach. Another quick glance showed that Pita was still within earshot. She wavered. Should she summon him have the stranger escorted away?
Did the Saxons need the commotion? She glanced around the gathering. Alyssa was speaking in a breaking voice about how she'd grown to know Roland through the memories of his mother and his siblings—Joshua, Heath and Megan. No, commotion was the last thing the Saxons needed right now.
What if this man turned out to be a valuable business connection? And she'd tried to have him thrown out? Caitlyn shuddered just thinking about it. No, she'd leave him alone. For now.
A rustle and the soft murmurs of the crowd caught her attention. Alyssa had finished speaking and was stepping down from the paved stage, wiping her eyes. Joshua Saxon moved forward and put his arm around her, his head close to Alyssa's as he led her away. Joshua and Alyssa were engaged now. Despite the upheavals in the past month, they had managed to find each other and love.
A pang of some unfamiliar emotion shot through Caitlyn. Not jealousy—she'd never felt anything vaguely romantic toward Joshua—but something a little like envy.
She wanted to find love.
She was tired of being Caitlyn Ross, chief winemaker at Saxon's Folly, top graduate of her year the smart student that all her fellow students considered one of the boys.
She wanted what other people had.
Love. Togetherness. A life.
But she knew that her chances of that were scant. Not that she was complaining. There was nothing wrong with her life. She loved Saxon's Folly. There had been a time when she'd hoped she and Heath Saxon might
But there was little chance of that now. And to be truthful Heath had never seen her as anything other than Good Ol' Caitlyn. Damn, she was practically one of the boys.
Although nothing about the bold inspection she just received made her feel remotely like one of the boys. She resisted the temptation to slide her gaze sideways to the stranger beside her. His inspection had been heavy with male arrogance, but there was no doubt that he'd been assessing her as a woman.
Even if he had found her wanting.
It had been so long since she'd drawn any male attention— these days she took care to avoid it. At last, against her will, resenting the effect he had on her, she gave in to temptation and peered sideways, to see what those never-still eyes were looking at now, and her stomach plummeted into her practical black shoes.
He was gone.
Rafaelo had found his target.
Silently, unwaveringly, he made his way in the direction of the tall man with the distinguished wings of grey at his temples.
He stopped behind the older man and waited for what was clearly a memorial ceremony to end. He'd wanted to savour this meeting. He'd called Saxon, spoken to his PA, and without listening to her protests that Saxon wasn't seeing people right now, had advised that he would be arriving to meet with the older man. He hadn't revealed why he wanted to see Saxon—only that he was the owner of a Spanish vineyard of some reputation. But he hadn't planned for this meeting to take place in public.
A movement behind him caught his eye. Rafaelo frowned impatiently as he watched the crowd part for the tall, slim strawberry blonde who had waylaid him minutes before.
He tightened his lips as she came closer. She was not beautiful—she lacked the self-awareness that beautiful women possessed. But she had something
Then he met her startlingly pale blue eyes, read the determination in them.
He glanced dismissively away. She couldn't stop what he'd come all the way to New Zealand to achieve. Nor would he allow himself to be distracted.
The crowd was shifting. A tall, black-haired man stood at the edge of the courtyard beside a vine and a rosebush that the raw earth beneath revealed had recently been planted.
"These have been planted in the memory of my brother, Roland. May he live in our hearts forever," the black-haired man said.
All around Rafaelo women were reaching for handkerchiefs. But he barely heard the gut-wrenching sobs of sorrow. He only heard the words my brother, Roland. So Roland Saxon was dead. That would make the speaker either Joshua or Heath Saxon. An unfamiliar heavy heat coalesced in his chest.
He turned to gaze at Phillip Saxon and instantly the emotion became identifiable. Rage. Saxon moved forward, away from him. The ceremony had ended.
Rafaelo tapped him on the shoulder. "Disculpe."
The older man spun round.
There was a long silence as Rafaelo stared into Phillip's face. He examined the narrow nose. The dark hair that sprung back from a high forehead. He stared into the dark eyes—so like his own—and watched them widen.
"No." The denial burst from Saxon.
Another beat of time passed. Rafaelo waited, letting the other man put it all together.
"It can't be." Saxon was shaking his head.
"Phillip?" The strawberry blonde stood there. "Is everything okay?"
Rafaelo resented his focus being taken from Saxon. But he did a double take at the unfriendly suspicion in the pale eyes that clashed with his. A frisson of a wholly unfamiliar sensation prickled the back of his neck. He did a startled double take.
Get rid of her. As a young man he'd survived countless bullfights by listening to his senses. He heeded the warning now.
"We would like some privacy, please," he demanded, giving her the freezing glare that he usually reserved for the paparazzi.
Phillip looked horrified at his statement.
"Do you want me to go?" Her words were directed at Saxon, but she never took her eyes off him.
Rafaelo reassessed. She must be more important than he'd initially thought. Estupido! He could kick himself for dismissing her as a nonentity. Narrowing his eyes, he scrutinised her. He knew she wasn't Megan Saxon—he'd met Megan once, briefly, at a wine show in France several years before. This woman was too tall and her colouring was all wrong. And she'd denied being part of the family earlier.
Posted August 18, 2012
Posted January 6, 2010
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