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Castillo Da Silva, near Salamanca
Cesar was hot, sweaty, grimy and thoroughly disgruntled. All he wanted was a cold shower and a stiff drink. A punishing ride around his vast estate on his favourite stallion had failed to put a dent in the dark cloud that had clung to him since his return that afternoon from his half-brother Alexio's wedding in Paris. Those scenes of chirpy happiness still grated on his soul.
It also irritated him intensely that he'd given in to the rogue compulsion to go.
As he neared the stables his black mood increased on seeing the evidence of a serious breach of his privacy. A film was due to start shooting on his estate after the weekend, for the next four weeks. If that wasn't bad enough, the stars, director and producers were all staying in the castillo.
He wasn't unaware of his complicated relationship to his home. It was both prison and sanctuary. But one thing was sure: Cesar hated his privacy being invaded like this.
Huge equipment trucks lined his driveway. People were wandering about holding clipboards, speaking into walkie talkies. A massive marquee had been set up, where locals from the nearby town were being decked out as extras in nineteenth-century garb.
All that was missing was a circus tent with flags flying and a clown outside saying, Roll up! Roll up!
One of his biggest stable yards had been cleared out so that they could use it as the unit base. The unit base, as a film assistant had explained earnestly to Cesar, was where the actors got ready every day and where the crew would eat. As if he cared!
But he'd feigned interest for the benefit of his friend Juan Cortez, who was the Lord Mayor of Villaporto, the local town, and the reason why Cesar had given this idea even half a second's consideration. They'd been friends since the age of ten, when they'd both had to admit defeat during a fist fight or remain fighting till dawn and lose all their teeth. And they would haveboth were stubborn enough.
As his friend had pointed out, 'Nearly everyone has been employed in some capacityaccommodation, catering, locations, the art department. Even my mother is involved in making clothes for the extras and putting up some of the crew. I haven't seen her so excited in years.'
Cesar couldn't fail to acknowledge the morale and economic boost the film had already brought to the locale. He was known in the press for his ruthless dealings with people and businessesone journalist had likened his methods to those of the cold, dead-eyed shark before it ate you whole. But Cesar wasn't completely heartlessespecially if it involved his own local community.
More than one person caught a glimpse of his glowering features and looked away hurriedly, but Cesar was oblivious, already figuring out how he could rearrange his schedule to make sure he was away for as much of the next four weeks as possible.
To his relief, his own private stable yard, which was strictly off-limits to the crew, was empty when he returned. He wasn't in the mood to deal with anyonenot even a groom. After unsaddling his horse and hosing him down, Cesar led him back to his stall and made sure he was secure, patting his still quivering flesh after their exertion.
It was only when he was turning to leave again that Cesar spotted a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to look.
And stopped breathing, and thinking.
In the other corner of the quiet stable stood a woman. Cesar felt slightly dizzy for a moment and wondered if he was seeing an apparition.
She was wearing a white corset that cinched in her waist to almost impossible proportions while provocatively pushing up the abundant swells of her breasts. Long wavy golden hair was pulled back from an ethereally beautiful face and left to tumble down her back. Very feminine hips curved out from that tiny waist and a long, voluminous skirt almost touched the ground.
She was stunning exquisite. She was Venus incarnate. She couldn't be real. Nothing so perfect existed in reality.
Almost without realising that he was moving, Cesar closed the distance between them. She didn't move. Just stared at him, looking as transfixed as he felt. Imbuing the moment with an even headier other-worldly feeling.
Her eyes were huge and blue piercing. She was tiny, and it seemed to call to some deep, primal part of him. Evoking an alien urge to protect.
Her face was small and heart-shaped, but with an inherent strength that elevated it out of the merely beautiful to the extraordinary. High cheekbones. Elegant straight nose. A full, lush mouth made for sin and sinners. Skin like alabaster.
There was a beauty spot close to the edge of her upper lip. She exuded an earthy and very feminine sexual allure. She couldn't be real. Yet every single ounce of his masculinity was humming and throbbing in reaction to her luminosity.
As if to check that he wasn't losing it completely, Cesar reached out a hand, noting with almost dispassionate surprise that it trembled slightly. He cupped his hand near her cheek and jaw, without actually touching her, almost afraid that she might disappear if he did
And then he touched her and she didn't disappear. She was real. Warm. Skin as soft as silk.
A movement made his eyes drop and he saw her chest moving up and down rapidly with her breaths.
'Dios,' he said faintly, almost to himself, 'you are real.'
Her mouth opened. Cesar saw small, even white teeth. Her tongue-tip pink. She said, 'I ' and then stopped.
Just that one tiny word had been uttered in a husky voice, making Cesar's whole body tighten with a need that was unprecedented.
Sliding his fingers further around her jaw to the back of her neck, silky hair tickling his hand, Cesar tugged her into him and after a minute hesitation she came, stumbling ever so slightly. All he knew, once he felt the barest whisper of a touch of her body to his, was that he couldn't hold back now even if a thousand men tried to stop him.
He lowered his head and his mouth touched hers, and all that sweet, soft voluptuousness pierced him right to the centre of his being, and threw him into the pit of a fire of lust so strong it obliterated everything he knew, or thought he knew.
Cesar felt her hands clutching at him, grabbing his shirt. Any resistance vanished when her mouth opened under his, and his arms tightened around her as his hungry tongue thrust into that hot, moist cavern.
However sweet that first initial taste had been, it turned to pure sin. Decadent and rich. Her tongue was sharp and smooth, teasing. Stoking his levels of arousal so that every bit of blood seemed to be rushing to the centre of his body, making that shaft of flesh lengthen and stiffen painfully.
Moving his hands to her waist, encircling it, Cesar almost groaned aloud when he felt his fingers meet. That evidence of her intense femininity pushed his body over the edge, made it betray him as if he were an over-sexed teenager.
He could feel her chest, struggling with constricted breath, moving up and down rapidly. Blood surging anew, Cesar lifted a hand and dragged it up between their bodies, itching to touch that smooth pale skin.
When he came into contact with the swell of one breast his body pulsed with a need that shocked him. He broke the contact of their mouths for a moment, resting his forehead against hers, overwhelmed at the strength of his desire.
Her voice sounded even huskier needy. The way he felt. He needed this woman now. Needed to free himself and lift up her skirts and plunge right into the centre of that taut, smooth body. To feel her legs wrap around him.
On some very dim and distant level Cesar was aware that he had become animalistic. Reduced to the cravings and needs of a base animal in an effort to achieve a kind of satisfaction he'd never anticipated before.
But that still couldn't stop him. Not after that husky please had filled the space between them.
Branding her mouth with his again, the kiss was open-mouthed and carnal. Electrifying.
In the act of lifting up her skirts, almost desperate now, Cesar jerked and flinched when a flash of light seemed to illuminate the world for a second. Like the crack of a whip. Shattering the heady moment.
Lifting his head from where their mouths were welded together, Cesar could only see two huge pools of blue, ringed by long black lashes. That plump mouth was pink. He could feel her chest moving against his.
Then there was another flash, and a rapid jarring, clicking sound. He flinched again. Some vague notion of reality and sanity returned from a long distance. He turned his head, but it was the hardest thing to doto look away from that face. Those eyes.
He saw a man standing at the entrance of the stables holding a camera up to his face. It was the equivalent of having a bucket of cold water thrown over him. Suddenly reality was back.
Cesar straightened up. Instinctively he pushed the woman behind him as he snarled at the man who was backing away, still shooting, 'Get out of here. Now' One of Cesar's grooms appeared near the door and he rapped out at him, 'Get Security nowand get that man's camera.'
But the photographer had disappeared, and even though Cesar's groom darted away after him Cesar had the sinking feeling it would be too late. He'd reacted too late himself.
Becoming aware of rapid harsh breathing behind him, Cesar turned around.
And almost fell into the pit again when he saw those huge blue eyes staring up at him and that body which made him ache.
But reality had intruded. This woman was no apparition or ghost. She was flesh and blood, and he had just lost his legendary control spectacularly. Dios, had he gone mad?
Accusingly, Cesar asked, 'Who the hell are you?'
Lexie Anderson was barely aware of the sharp accusation in the deep, deliciously accented voice. She couldn't seem to get enough breath into her challenged lungs to speak. All she could ask herself was: what the hell had just happened? She remembered wandering away from the camera tests while they set up the lights and finding these quiet stables. She loved horses, so she had come in to investigate.
Then the peace had been shattered when this man had appeared in the courtyard on a huge black stallion. He'd swung down off the horse's back and from that moment on everything had got a little hazy.
Lexie had been mesmerised by his powerful physique and the play of muscles under his close-fitting polo top and jodhpurs as he'd tended to the horse. And that had been before she'd seen his face properly. When he'd heard her and turned around.
He was stunning. Beautiful. But with a masculine edge that made 'beautiful' sound too pretty. He was hard. Edgy. Dark. Messy dark blond hair. A sensually sculpted mouth surrounded by stubble shadowing a very masculine jaw.
But it was his eyes that rendered Lexie a bit stupid and mute even now, as he waited for her reply. They were greenunusual and stark against dark olive skin. Not hazel, or golden, or light green. Something between all three. Unnerving. Mesmerising.
And he smelled of man. Sweat and musk and heat. Along with something tangy. Woodsy.
Lexie shook her head, as if that might make all this disappear. Maybe she was having some bizarre dream. Because she knew that what had just happened was unprecedented. She did not react to complete strangers by letting them kiss her, or by feeling as if she'd die if they didn't keep kissing her.
She remembered his big hands around her waist, then reaching under her skirts to pull them up, and how she'd burned between her legs for him to touch her there.
Now was most definitely not the time to be assimilating that cataclysmic information.
'I'm ' She stopped, her tongue feeling heavy in her mouth. She tried again. 'I'm Lexie Anderson. I'm with the film.'
Lexie's face burned when she realised exactly how she was dressed, and how this man's eyes had widened when he'd seen her. Belatedly self-conscious, she went to cross her arms but realised the corset only made things worseespecially when those green eyes dropped to her heaving flesh again.
Feeling trapped nowliterally backed into a cornerand not liking it, Lexie forced her legs to move, wobbly as they were, and stepped cautiously around him.
He turned to face her. Eyes cool, unreadable. Hands clenched into fists by his sides. 'You're Lexie Anderson the lead actress?'
He looked at her, his eyes no longer unreadable now. Angry. 'And how did you get in here?'
She blinked, not understanding for a moment. 'I didn't see any sign or a gate I just saw the horses'
'It's off-limits here. You should leavenow.'
Anger gripped Lexie. She'd just behaved in a way that was completely out of character. The last thing she needed was to feel the lash of his censure. Stiffly, she replied, 'I didn't realise this was off-limits. If you can tell me how to get back to the unit base, I'll happily leave.'
His voice was harsh, curt. 'Turn left. It's at the end of the lane and to your right.'
Seething inwardly now, because she had been overcome by the first rush of physical desire she'd ever felt, and it had been for some anonymous person who worked at the castle and not even someone she knew or who was particularly charming, Lexie stalked off, tense as a board.
Then she heard the man curse and he commanded, 'Wait. Stop.'
Lexie stopped, breathing hard, and turned reluctantly again, rigid with tension.
He walked towards her, his movements powerfully agile, and she stepped back. His eyes flashed but she just tipped up her chin. What was wrong with her judgement? There wasn't anything remotely forgiving or alluring about this man. He was all hard edges and brooding energy.
He looked grim. 'That was a paparazzo. He got our picture.'
She'd forgotten. Her brain was refusing to work properly. Lexie could feel her blood draining south. The man must have feared she was about to faint or something, because he took her arm and none too gently drew her over to a haystack by the entrance, where he all but pushed her down onto it.
She ripped her arm free and glared up at him, hating the betraying quiver in her belly at his touch. 'There's no need to manhandle me. I'm perfectly fine.'
As if to confirm her worst suspicions, the young groom came running back, his face red.
'Well?' barked the man.
Lexie felt like standing up and telling him to go and take out his aggression on someone his own size, but she was disgusted to feel that her legs might not hold her up.
'Señor Da Silva '
The groom spoke quickly after that, in incomprehensible Spanish, but Lexie was now gaping at the tall, angry man who was answering equally gutturally and quickly, making the groom turn puce and rush off again.
Lexie was too shocked to care for the groom's welfare any more. He turned back to her and she said faintly, 'You're Cesar Da Silva ?'
He didn't seem to be too thrilled she'd made the connection. She'd thought he was a worker! Lexie hadn't recognised him as the owner of this entire estate because he was famously reclusive. Also, she'd never expected the Cesar Da Silva to be so young and gorgeous.
She had to will down her mortification when she thought of how she'd been all but crawling all over him like a hungry little kitten only minutes before. Begging. 'Please.'