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As he sent a look spinning up to dismiss them, one girl holding a fat brush loaded with powder misread the signs and froze, trapped in his stare. Her eyes darkened and her lips plumped, all within the space of a few seconds. The television lights were blindingly bright but, as far as she was concerned, they might have been alone in a candlelit hacienda full of soft lights and low music.
"Enough," he snapped. "I don't do make-up."
The other girls took the hint, backing away step by step in a timid, doe-eyed flock, dreaming wildly he might call one of them back.
"Go," Xavier Martinez Bordiu insisted in a low, gravelly voice, flicking his wrist at the remaining girl. "Go join your friends. You're not needed here."
Abruptly, her eyes cleared and, as he watched them fill with tears of embarrassment, a pang of regret caught him unawares. Straightening up, he reached out to apologise, but she had already gone with the others and the double doors leading out of his apartment at the presidential palace had closed behind them.
What the hell was wrong with him?
As Xavier made a deep sound in his throat, feeling a stab of familiar pain, he saw the Floor Manager starting to panic. He made a signal to deflect the man's concern, but he was already calling. "Water for Dr Martinez Bordiu."
Xavier sat back again, oblivious to the splendour of his surroundings: chandeliers the size of houses, ivory fretwork screens, precious paintings banked up side by side as far as the eye could see on towering walls decked out in crimson silk.
This was a temporary stay at the President's personal invitation, but he had lived with such opulence all his life. It meant nothing to him. However sumptuous his living quarters, however attentive his staff, even a life of unremitting luxury could pall in the end. That was why he had trained to become a doctor. And that was partly the reason he had chosen to lose himself in Peru, in a medical project that meant everything to him.
His jaw clenched and then released again as he waited impatiently for the vanities of the woman who was shortly to interview him about the project to be indulged.
She had the dark flashing looks of a true South American beauty. She was voluptuous and provocative, with a fall of glossy, nut-brown hair cascading over her smooth tanned shoulders. And when she turned to look at him he saw the tip of her tongue creep out to moisten her lips.
He viewed her lazily through hooded eyes and saw her squirm a little on her seat to ease what he knew would be bolts of desire. He knew then he could have her after the show: here, where he was sitting, or straddling his lap on the hard, upright chair where she was having her make-up perfected ... or there on the Aubusson rug in front of the wall of windows so that everyone in Lima could get an eyeful.
He had that effect on women. And somewhere along the way it had all become too easy for him.
He never got involved. He didn't need to. He didn't need anyone. He was fine by himself. He had trained himself to be that way. Loving and losing, they were the same thing as far as he was concerned - and better avoided.
But that didn't give him the right to trample rough-shod over other people's feelings, Xavier thought, mouthing a quick response as someone brought over a jug of iced water and a glass. His thought processes changed track suddenly. Shutting out the rest of the room, he ran over the moment he almost made someone cry - not in pictures, but emotions, and found he cared ... he really cared.
He subdued the rush of relief that gave him as the presenter came to sit across from him on a matching sofa, and tuned his expression to neutral as the interview began.
"XAVIER MARTINEZ BORDIU! Are you sure, Henry?"
Shocked at hearing the name - even more shocked at blurting it out in a tone that made her boss's head shoot up - Dr Sophie Ford felt her cheeks flush red. She knew she only had herself to blame when Professor Henry Whitland levelled a thoughtful stare on her face.
"Xavier Martinez Bordiu is one of the finest physicians in Europe. We're lucky to have the chance to work with him," he reproved her mildly. "I can't think of anyone better to head up the immunisation programme in Peru."
But Sophie wasn't listening. Images of piercing navy-blue eyes were flashing through her mind ... and sun-streaked tawny-brown hair, the colour, lustrous and rich, like a glass of good brandy -
"Sophie ... Sophie?"
While her head of department struggled to recapture her attention it took Sophie a few moments to shunt her thoughts back on track. "I'm sorry, Henry. You were saying?"
He frowned. "I've heard Dr Martinez is something of a maverick, leaving all that luxury behind him and those vast estates ... half of Spain, wasn't it?' He shook his head and sighed as he thought of it. "But he's bringing his Midas touch to medical projects now, so perhaps we should be grateful."
He waited a moment, then stared at Sophie inquisitively. "You're very quiet, Sophie. Is there anything else about him you think I should know?' Laying down his gold-rimmed spectacles, he pinched the bridge of his nose as he waited for her to answer.
Xavier Martinez Bordiu? Sophie played for more time with a dismissive gesture. Rumour said Xavier had become Spain's most notable monument to chauvinism in a country hardly noted for the retiring nature of its men. Would she have volunteered for the project if she'd known who was in charge? Probably not.
"No, Henry," she said, able to reassure him on one point at least. "There are no skeletons in Dr Martinez Bordiu's closet as far as I am aware.' But even that wasn't strictly true, Sophie realised as her face burned a little hotter. "I hear on the grapevine that he's become a great doctor," she said, struggling to return to safer ground as her throat dried.
"You speak as if you already know him."
"I used to," Sophie admitted. "I knew the Martinez Bordiu family when I was a child."
"Ah," Henry said.
Why did she have a sinking feeling he wasn't about to let the matter rest? Henry wanted to be a lot more than her boss at St Agnetha's, and it was fair to say a kind of understanding had developed between them. Henry lived in the same village as her mother, whose knowledge of him was minimal, but enough for her to describe him optimistically as a safe pair of hands. Sophie had no argument with that. Henry Whitland was kind, thoughtful and very well respected in his chosen field. And one day she would have to make a decision about her personal life ...
"And Xavier?' he pressed.
Xavier, Sophie mused. The last time she'd seen him she'd been a hormonal teenager - but now she was a career woman with better things to think about than romance, she warned herself sternly.
"Xavier Martinez Bordiu," Henry said again, with a touch more impatience.
Excerpted from The Spaniard's Revenge by Susan Stephens Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted September 16, 2013
Posted January 3, 2011
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