He's back in her life
Events planner Karina Marcelos has risen to the top of her field trying to forget lothario polo player Dante Barracca. Ten years ago he took her innocence, but that wasn't all she lost after that fateful night
She's back in his bed!
With the Gaucho Cup to organize, Dante knows Karina is the best person for the job. But the buttoned-up woman he hires is a shadow of the vivacious girl he once knew. No one can hide under the glare of the Brazilian sun, and Dante plans to lift the lid on Karina's secret before he lifts the champion's cup!
About the Author
New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.
Read an Excerpt
'YOU VOLUNTEERED ME to do what?'
Shielding her eyes against the bright morning sun, Karina Marcelos stared at her brother in disbelief. They were standing on the balcony of Luc's eyrie on the penthouse floor of his magnificent cream marble flagship hotel with Rio de Janeiro laid out in front of them. Luc was one crazy polo playerhe could be dictatorial when he was in ruling his business empire mode, but he was always considerate of her feelings.
Her brother looked at her with surprise. 'Why the fuss? You're the obvious choice. The job of events organiser for the polo cup couldn't be awarded to anyone better than my highly qualified sister.' With a shrug he left her clenching and unclenching suddenly clammy fists.
She followed him in. 'You'll have to wn-volunteer me,' she said firmly.
Luc scowled as he sat heavily at his desk. He wasn't used to being denied anything, unless his beloved wife Emma was in the picture.
'I mean it, Luc,' Karina insisted. 'My schedule's packed. I could only give the project a couple of weeks and it's going to need a lot more time than that.'
She could make the time. She could make the event fly, but that wasn't the reason she was shying away from this plum of a job.
'Too late,' Luc said flatly. 'The posters have gone out and your name's on them. I didn't expect you to kick up a fuss. When I put your name forward to the team, they nearly bit my hand off.'
By team, Luc meant Team Thunderbolt, the world's most infamous gaucho polo players. Luc was a mainstay of the team and so was Dante Baracca, Karina's nemesis. This year it was Dante's turn to host the Gaucho Cup.
'What's wrong now?' her brother demanded, glancing up impatiently from his paperwork.
Where to begin? She didn't want to arouse Luc's suspicions, and finding a plausible excuse not to work with Dante wouldn't be easy. Nor would handling the whisper of awareness that skittered over her skin at the thought of being close to Dante again.
'I need you to do this for me, Karina.'
'I do know what this event means to you, but there are other events organisers.'
'None as good as you,' Luc insisted. 'There's no one who understands the world we work in better than you.'
Karina's glance landed on the cabinet where Luc kept his trophies. He'd left a space for this year's prize. Right next to it, in a pointed reminder that it would be hard, if not impossible to get out of this, there was a trophy belonging to Karina. The International Association of Events Planners had awarded it to her for exceptional merit, and Luc was as proud of that trophy as he was of his own gleaming cups.
'I need you to give me an answer, Karina,' Luc pressed.
'And I need time to think,' she countered.
'What's there to think about?' Settling back in his chair, Luc pushed his papers to one side. 'Planning the polo cup is easily the most prestigious work you've ever been asked to do, so what's your real problem, Karina?'
She loved her brother dearly, but Luc had no idea what he was asking. She had avoided face-to-face confrontations with Dante for a very good reasonthe man was a hundred per cent ice-cold arrogance. She'd avoided him at polo matches, had been forced into his company when Luc and Emma had got together, but apart from that she was always careful to keep her distance from him. If she accepted this commission her avoidance tactics where Dante Baracca was concerned would be shot to hell.
'You should at least have consulted me before you went ahead with this.'
'My apologies,' Luc mocked, gesturing widely to express his frustration. 'I can't imagine why I thought you'd be thrilled. You're the go-to events organiser in Rio, Karina,' he reminded her tensely. 'Who else am I going to ask?'
Her brother was right in that arranging the fixture would be an exciting challenge. It was just the man she had to deal with that was the problem.
'Dante Baracca is an arrogant, humourless dictator,' she murmured, speaking her thoughts out loud.
'He's a powerful, successful man,' her brother argued.
'Didn't I just say that?'
Black eyes flashed as the Marcelos siblings stared each other out.
Karina didn't want to upset her brother, but Luc was equally determined that she would take the job.
'What aren't you telling me?' he demanded shrewdly.
Ice slid down her spine.
'There has to be something,' he insisted. 'We've known Dante for years. I play on the same team. I'd know if there was a problem. I hope you don't believe his press?'
'He doesn't intimidate me, if that's what you think. And as for his reputation ' She blew out a contemptuous breath. 'Dante's the devil incarnate if you listen to the mediaand much as I would love to take on the challenge of working with someone like that, I would have thought that my brother, of all people, would do me the courtesy of allowing me to refuse this job.'
Luc shook his head. 'No can do, Karina. Too much money has been invested in publicity for you to pull out now.' He gave her the look that had melted a thousand hearts. 'Do this one thing for me and I'll never ask again.'
She smiled thinly. 'Until the next time?'
'I've never known you to be so unreasonable.'
She shared a lot with him, but not everything. 'I'll sort something out,' she promised.
'There's nothing to sort out,' Luc insisted. 'We want you. Dante wants you.'
Somehow, she doubted that.
Her mind was already racing. If the posters had gone out, she would have to have a banner added, announcing her replacement. It would have to be someone goodsomeone who was trusted by the polo community. She might not want the job, but she would do everything she could to make sure things went well for Luc and his team. She would still be cheering for them.
'If it's Dante private life worrying you, it's none of our concern. And he won't have time to notice you in that sense as he'll have so many admirers around him.'
'Thanks for the reassurance,' she said dryly. Luc was right in that there were always polo groupies hanging round the players, and she had never been the glamorous type, let alone wanted to compete with them.
'You're my sister,' Luc pointed out now with exasperation, as if that were enough in itself to disqualify her from attracting male attention. 'Dante will only want to do business with you. I hope you've got more sense than to think anything else?'
'Of course. What do you take me for?'
'A highly successful and very beautiful woman, who could never think of Dante Baracca as anything more than a childhood friend and my teammate.'
'And a man to avoid,' she murmured beneath her breath.
'What was that?' Luc asked suspiciously.
'I don't have to like all your teammates.'
'You don't have to take an unreasonable dislike to them either. Sign the contract, Karina. I'm done waiting.'
And throw herself across Dante's path againwork with him on a daily basis?
It had been a long time since she'd been the tomboy tagging along with her brother's gang, sharing a prickly if somewhat reluctant acceptance from his friends. But she should do this for Luc. He'd done so much for her. He'd brought her up single-handed when their parents had died. There was just one fly in that ointment. Luc had done a brilliant job but had often been distracted, which had given Karina all the time she had needed to get into mischief and more.
As Luc uncapped his pen she was forced to accept the fact that her brother meant more to her than her own stubborn pride. She would just have to put the past behind her, as they had told her to do in the hospital. She would lift up her head and move forward. Dealing with Dante Baracaa was not beyond her. And she'd put a good face on it. Luc deserved nothing less.
'I should thank you for putting my name forward,' she admitted as she stepped forward to sign the contract.
Luc laughed with relief. 'Everyone wanted youand if I hadn't suggested you, I think you'd have cut me off at the knees.'
'Maybe.' Angling her chin, she gave her brother an affectionate grin. At least one of them was happy. And she would be a fool to turn this down. This wasn't just the most prestigious job to come her way, it was the job.
Luc came around the desk to give her a hug. 'All that fuss about nothing. This is going to be the best thing you've ever done.'
Dante Baracca was not a fuss about nothing. Hiding her concerns, she returned Luc's hug. Stepping back, she assessed one of the most striking men in polo. All the players on Team Thunderbolt were forces to be reckoned with, and her brother Luc was no exception. She made allowances for his dictatorial side. He tolerated her constant challenges. They loved each other, and of course she'd do this for him, regardless of the consequences.
'I know Dante used to provoke the hell out of you when you were young,' Luc remarked as he relaxed into his triumph. 'No one was more surprised than me when you practically made him guest of honour at your eighteenth birthday party.'
Karina flinched as she remembered and had to pin a smile to her face. 'My friends wanted him there.' She shrugged. 'And there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then.' Monumental understatement.
Unaware of the undercurrents, Luc laughed off her comment. 'If you say so. I haven't seen you anywhere near Dante since that night, so I'm guessing he said something out of turn, but whatever he did to upset you, my advice is to leave it in the past so you can see the bigger picture.'
She could see the bigger picture and it wasn't pretty.
Turning away, she walked to the window to put some distance between herself and her sharp-eyed brother.
'Dante is the lynchpin of our team,' he stressed. 'He's hosting the polo cup. We need someone to organise it. What more do you need to know?'
'Nothing,' she agreed, staring blindly out of the window.
Karina would be the first to admit she'd been a wild child. Dante had been a big part of that past, but while he'd been worldly and experienced, she'd taken longer to grow up. She'd been naive and a bit of a dreamer, and had paid a high price for her lack of sophistication. Growing up fast had been forced on her. Putting her sensible head on had come too late. She had clipped her party wings, but it still tore her up to know that by then the damage had been done. It had been a steep learning curve ever since, and that had been something in which Dante had played no part.
'I understand this is the biggest contract you've ever handled,' Luc remarked, misreading her preoccupation. 'You're bound to have concerns, Karina, but I know you can nail this.'
'I'll do a good job for you,' she promised, turning to face him.'
'I know you will. That's why I want you and no one else to handle this contract. And, believe me,' Luc added with a smile to reassure her, 'no one finds Dante easy.'
'With the possible exception of the women in his life,' she countered dryly.
'What's that to you?' Luc said suspiciously.
'Absolutely nothing.' She held his stare steadily until he looked away.
Leaning back against the cold, smooth glass, she remembered begging Luc to let her continue her studies abroad. She'd given him the excuse that she'd had enough of Rio and being under his wing, and that it was time for her to make her own way in life. Luc hadn't guessed for a minute that all she'd really wanted was to get away from Dante. Luc had paid for her to go to catering college, which had turned out better than she had expected. She'd ended up winning a full scholarship to a prestigious Swiss training facility for event planners, where she had excelled. Equipped with an honours diploma, she had returned to Rio ready to change the worldor, at least, her brother's hotel chainonly to find a highly sceptical Luc waiting for her.
She had won her spurs by working on small assignments for him, until he'd finally allowed her to work on his bigger projects. This Gaucho Polo Cup was the biggest project to date by far. And, yes, she wanted to be part of it. And, yes, she knew she could make it a success. She had the expertise and the inside knowledge when it came to the world of polo. But she'd be working with Dante, and that was a problem. She wasn't the person she'd been in the past, but would Dante see that? According to the press he hadn't changed and the word 'wild' still defined him. She only had to open a magazine to see him dating another woman. Dante Baracca attracted glamorous females in dizzying succession, but then he discarded them twice as fast. So nothing had changed.
'Dante Baracca, the hard man of polo.' Her brother said this with amusement, quoting a phrase most often associated with his teammate. 'You'll be the envy of half the women in the world.'
'Half the women in the world don't need a wake-up call from me,' she argued. 'And, if they did, I'd tell them that their idol has feet of clay.'
Luc drew back his head to give her a look. 'That's a little harsh when you've barely spoken to the man for years.'
'For a very good reason,' she dismissed. 'Who needs trouble like Dante Baracca in their life?'
Dante could be charming when it suited him, but he could also be hard and cold. If Dante would behave professionally, she might be able to make this work. If not Her thoughts took her back to a man with black hair, black eyes and a black heart, a man who looked like a Gypsy king with gold earrings glinting in his ears. She could still remember the night Dante had punched those gold hoops into his own earlobes because she'd challenged him to do so. They'd both been wild when he'd been fourteen and she'd been ten, back in the day when they could take risks and get away with them.
'Stop frowning, Karina. Anyone would think I'd hooked you up with a monster. Here ' Luc held out a magazine, which he obviously intended to reassure her. 'Take a look at thisDante's riding the crest of the wave at the moment.'
Dante Baracca was on the front cover. Of course he was. Where else would the god of the game be?
'There couldn't be a better time for you two to be getting together.'
'We won't be getting together,' she insisted. 'I'll be working alongside him.'
'Of course you will,' Luc agreedto placate her, she suspected.
She made herself stare at the photograph while Luc looked on with approval.
Thank goodness Luc couldn't hear her heart thundering at the sight of a man who had always affected her profoundly, both for good and for bad. The photo showed Dante seated bareback on a horse at sunset on the fringes of the surf. He was stripped to the waist with his face in profile. His powerful torso was warmed to a seductive bronze by the mellow rays of the setting sun. He was a daunting sight. The shadows pointed up the harsh angles of his face and delineated his formidable muscles. She had no doubt the photographer's intention had been to big up the legend that was Dante Baracca, and in that he had succeeded.
Dante had more tattoos than she remembered. All the members of Luc's team had a Thunderbolt inked on their torsos, but it wouldn't have surprised her to learn that these new additions to Dante's hard frame had been handcrafted by the devil.