Finding a date has never been a struggle for wealthy polo champion Tiago Santos. But now that he needs a wife, he'll make sure he finds a woman who understands that this Brazilian stallion won't be tamed!
Practical, poised Danny Cameron is the perfect candidate. She sees the value of a union that provides investment in her businesswith no false promise of the happily-ever-after she doesn't believe in.
But as their wedding night approaches, the sensual rhythm of the samba fills Danny with a longing to experience all that Tiago's enthralling Latin fire promises to unleash!
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The fist came out of nowhere and smacked her in the face. Flat on her back in the hay, reeling from shock and fighting off oblivion, she blanked for a moment and then fought like a demon. Cruel hands grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head. Before she drew her next breath a powerful thigh was rammed between her legs. Terror clawed at her throat. Pain stabbed her body. The man was kneeling on top of her. She was alone in the stables, apart from the horses, and it was dark. The band at the wedding party was playing so loudly no one would hear her scream.
No way was she going to be raped. Not if she could help it, Danny determined.
Fear and fury gave her strength. But not enough!
She couldn't fight the man. He was too strong for her. Pressing her down with his weight, he was grunting as he freed himself, breathing heavily in anticipation of what he was going to do.
Yanking her head from side to side, she looked for somethinganythingto beat him off with. If only she could free one hand
He laughed as she strained furiously beneath him.
She knew that laugh.
Everything had happened in a matter of seconds, blinding her to all but the most primal sense of survival, or she would have recognised her brutal ex. It sickened her to know that Pintos must have tracked her down to this remote village in the Highlands of Scotland. Were there no lengths he wouldn't go to, to punish her for leaving him?
Coming here to Scotland, she'd been running homerunning away from Pintosrunning for her life. But no longer, Danny determined fiercely. She had escaped her brutal lover, and had no intention of giving way to him now. This was over.
As hate and fear collided inside her an anger so fierce it gave her renewed strength surged inside her. Bringing her knee up, she tried to catch him in the groin. But Pintos was too quick for her, and he laughed as he backhanded her across the face.
She recovered to find him braced on his forearms, preparing for his first lunge.
'Boring thenboring now,' Pintos sneered as a guttural sound of terror exploded from her throat. 'Why don't you admit you want me and give in?'
The only thing that made it through her frozen mind was that if 'boring' meant refusing the type of relationship Pinto had demanded, then, yes, she was boring.
'Well?' he sing-songed, sending her stomach into heaving spasms as he licked her face.
It had only been after she'd been going out with him for a while that Danny had discovered that Carlos Pintos, a big noise on the polo circuit, was a violent bully. He was always charming in public, and she had been guilty of falling under his spell, but he became increasingly vicious when they were alone. He must have used that same charm to get through security at the wedding.
Exclaiming with revulsion, she whipped her face away from his slavering tongue, knowing she had only one chance. With his weight advantage Pintos was overconfident, and he was taunting her by drawing this out. Gathering her remaining strength, she snapped up and rammed her head into his face.
With a yowl he reeled back, clutching his nose, blood pouring through his fingers. She lurched away, but the deep hay slowed her progress as she scuttled crab-like across the stable. Grabbing hold of the hay net on the wall, she hauled herself up and hit the bolt on the stable door. Barging through, head down, legs heavy and as weak as jelly, she lumbered forward, setting her sights on an exit that had never seemed further away.
Having escaped the wedding party, Tiago was taking a brisk stroll around the home fields of the vast Highland estate. As heir to a ranch in Brazil the size of a small country, casting a professional eye over farmland was second nature to him. His public face was that of an international polo player at the top of his game, but his private world was the wild pampas of Brazil, where he bred horsesa place where men were worthy of the name and women didn't simper. The press called him a playboy, but he much preferred being outside in a challenging landscape like this to the cloying warmth of the crowded house.
Quickening his stride, he headed around the side of the house to the stables. His friend Chico had done well, marrying the heiress of this estate, though Chico had his own slice of Brazil to add to the pot, so it was a good marriage bargain all round. Chico intended to breed horses here as well as in Brazilpriceless ponies that might have been said to be the best in the world if Tiago's hadn't been better. He and Chico had often talked about expanding into the European market, and he could tell that this land had been primed and was ready for animals to raise their young in the spring.
Which was more than could be said for him, Tiago reflected dryly. Fulfilling his grandfather's demand that he find a wife was still a work in progress. He liked his freedom too much to settle down. The press referred to his Thunderbolts polo team as a pack of rampaging barbarians. He gave the tag new meaningthough the public liked to think of him rampaging with a glass of Krug in his hand and a beautiful woman on his arm.
He relaxed as he came closer to the stables, where he would be as happy chatting to a horse as making small talk in the ballroom. The courtyard in front of the block was dimly lit, in contrast to the chandeliers set party-bright inside the grand old house.
He was halfway across the yard when the door to the stable block burst open and a small female, dressed in some flouncy creation, tumbled out.
Instead of reacting graciously as he ran to save her she screamed some obscenity at him and, grabbing hold of his lapels, roared at him like a tigress before angrily attempting to thrust him away. When this failed to make any impact she stepped back and, holding herself defensively, glared at him through furious eyes.
For a moment he didn't recognise her, but then
He knew the girl. She was the bride's best friend, and a bridesmaid at the wedding. He'd first met her at Chico's ranch in Brazil, where both the brideLizzieand Danny had been studying horse-training under the heel of an acknowledged master of terrorising students: his friend and teammate Chico Fernandez.
'What has happened here?' he demanded as she continued to glare at him. She was panting as if she'd run a mile. Then he saw her face was badly bruised. 'Deus, Danny!'
Moving past her, he stared into the darkened stable block. Nothing seemed to be out of place, so he turned back to her.
'Danny, it's Tiago from Brazil. Don't you recognise me? You're safe now.'
Battered and bruised she might be, but her eyes blazed at this last comment.
'Safe with you?' she derided.
Fair enough. If she believed his press, she probably should run for her life.
But she didn't run. Danny stayed to confront him. She'd always had guts, he remembered, and had never been afraid to take him on when they'd met at Chico's ranch. But what had happened here?
'Why are you out here on your own?' And where the hell was Security? he wondered, glancing around.
'What's it to you?' As she spoke she touched the red bruise on her cheek.
'Quiet, chica You need help with this.'
'From you?' she demanded. And then she shrieked. 'Watch out!' and, giving him one hell of a push, she alerted him to the shadowy form looming behind them.
Shielding her with his body, he countered the attack and knocked the man out cold.
He loathed the man. Pintos gave polo a bad name. A cheat on the field of play, as well as in life, he was also Danny's exwho had brutalised her, by all accounts, he remembered now. Toeing the inert figure with the tip of his boot, he reassured himself that Pintos wasn't going anywhere before calling Chico on his phone.
A few terse words later, he turned back to Danny.
'Don't,' she said, holding up her hands as if to ward him off.
They'd had many a run-in during Danny's time in Brazil, but theirs had always been a good-natured battleground, where he teased and she flirted. It had never gone any further than that.
'Thank you would suffice,' he commented mildly. 'And please let me assure you that I have absolutely no intention of touching you.'
He was assessing her injuries as he spoke. Judging them superficial, he considered the subject closedthough the police would have to be alerted, and he would wait until he was sure Pintos was safely under lock and key.
'Thank you,' Danny muttered, frowning as she stared up at him from beneath her eyelashes.
Straightening his suit jacket, he brushed his hair back and then asked bluntly, 'Did he touch you?'
'What do you think?'
'I can see the obvious bruises, but I think you know what I mean.'
Grimly, she shook her head. 'He didn't do what you're thinking. You men all think the same.'
She was upset, but he wouldn't stand for that. 'Don't tar me with the same brush as Pintos. And you still haven't told me why you're out here on your own.'
'I was in the stable block checking out the horses,' she explained grudgingly.
He didn't believe her for a minute. Chico had staff to do that, and even Danny wasn't so closely welded to her job.
'I've lived here all my life,' she murmured, 'and I've always felt safe here. Nothing like this has ever happened before. And if you must know,' she added, flashing a glance up at him, 'I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think away from the noise of the party.'
'I can understand you wanting some quiet time,' he agreedhe'd felt the same. 'But times change, Danny.'
'Yes,' she said ruefully. 'Everything changes. But I'm still here.'
He guessed she would miss her friend Lizzie now she had married Chico, and perhaps Danny's scholarship to train horses in Brazil hadn't been the golden ticket she'd hoped for. 'It takes time to establish a careerespecially a career with horses.'
'And money,' she said. 'Lots of money that I just don't have. And if there's one thing I've learned it's that I can't have everything in life.'
'You're wrong. Look at me'
She smiled at his arrogance, but he knew that self-confidence was the first step towards building any successful career. If he hadn't believed in himself, who would have?
'It's possible for you to do this too,' he said, and when she started to argue, he added, 'I admit I was in the right place at the right time, but I worked all the hours under the sun for that luckas you do. I always had a vision of what my future would hold. You have the same. So go for it, Danny,' he advised. 'Don't hold back.'
If there was one thing he couldn't tolerate it was bullies, and he hated seeing what Pintos had done to this womanstripping away Danny's spirit and leaving only the doubt underneath. He found himself willing his strength into her.
He'd never been in this position with a woman before; communicating with women on a serious level had never been necessary. His life was full of women, and he had never wanted this type of interaction with one of them. But to keep Danny steady after her ordeal, he continued on with his theme.
'When we first met on Chico's ranch in Brazil you wanted your own horse-training establishment. Am I right?'
'Yes,' she agreed, but she was shaking her head. 'I was idealistic then. I hadn't thought through all the pitfalls ahead of me.'
'And you think it's been easy for me?'
His face was close. Her scent bewitched him. He was pleased when her flickering gaze steadied on his, telling him she was calming down.
"I worked hard and never gave up my dream. And neither must you, Danny. Never never give up your dream.'
Her gaze strayed to Pintos.
'Don't look at him. Look at me.'
He was relieved when she did so.
'Thank you.' Her eyes were wide and wounded. 'Thank you for reminding me what I want out of life, and that he has no part in it.'
'Don't thank me. You're strong. You'll get over this.' He glanced at the creep on the floor. 'He won't be bothering you again. I promise you that.'
'I'm all rightreally,' she insisted, with a smile that didn't make it to her eyes.
She didn't want his pity. He could understand that. Danny wasn't the type to make a fuss. She didn't cry, or cling to him. She'd been one of the boys in Brazil, only caring for her horses and for her best friendtoday's bride, Lizzie. She had always lifted everyone's spirits on Chico's ranch.
He glanced again at Pintos in disgust. The creep had been so eager to recapture Danny he had forgotten to do up his flies. 'I'll stay with you until Security arrives,' he reassured her, seeing she was still frightened of the man. 'I'll hand Pintos over to them and then I'll take you back to the house.'
'There's no need for that,' she insisted, shaking her head as she hugged herself defensively.
'There's every need,' he argued. 'You shouldn't be on your own tonight. And you should get checked over.'
She shook her head slowly, as if she were reliving events. 'I can't believe I let this happen.'
'You didn't let this happen, Danny,' he said firmly. 'You've done nothing wrong.'
She glanced at him then, as if seeking reassurance. 'Maybe I should take it as a sign that my time here's done.'
'Then don't stay,' he said with a shrug. 'But just promise me you won't make any hasty decisions while you're upset.'
'Upset?' she scoffed. 'I'm over it.'
He doubted that. 'Good, but please sleep on it, and see how you feel in the morning. Maybe you'll feel differently then.'
'Or maybe I'll think Clean page, new story'
'That's also a possibility,' he conceded.
'But I can't run away,' she said softly, almost to herself. 'I can't run away from Carlos or from anything else.'
'You don't have to,' he reassured her. 'Change doesn't always involve running away. Think carefully before you make any life-changing decisions. And don't go wandering around on your own in the dark in future.'
'Why?' Her eyes cleared suddenly and she repaid him with a piercing look. 'Because you won't be around to save me?'
He met that stare and held it. 'That's right. I won't.'