Damaso Pires should have known better than to get involved with Marisathe scandalous princess of Bengaria! Yet soon he sees her true beauty and flawless virtue, which touches a place in him he thought ruthlessly destroyed by his childhood on the streets of Brazil.
But their brief affair becomes permanent when Marisa reveals she's pregnant.
Damaso knows the sting of illegitimacy and, having fought tooth and nail to claw his way up to the dizzying heights of international success and financial infamy, he won't let his child slip from his grasp. There's only one way to claim his heir, and that's marriage!
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Damaso saw her and his breath snagged in his lungs.
He who'd had women dancing to his tune well before he made his first million.
How long since one had quickened his pulse? He'd known divas and duchesses, models and Madonnas. In the early days there'd been tourists by the armful, and one memorable tango dancer whose sinuous body and blatant sexuality had made his teenage self burn with need. None had affected him the way she didwithout effort.
For the first time she was alone, not laughing with her coterie of men. He was surprised to see her crouched, photographing flowers on the rainforest floor. She was so engrossed, she didn't notice him.
That was new for Damaso. He'd grown used to being watched and avidly sought after.
It pricked him that she was oblivious to him while he was hyper-aware of her. It infuriated him that his eyes strayed to her time and again, yet she had done no more than gift him with the dazzling smile she awarded so indiscriminately.
Damaso moved closer, intrigued. Was she really unaware or was she trying to pique his curiosity? Did she know he preferred to be the hunter, not the prey?
Beautiful blondes were commonplace in his world. Yet from the first day, watching her radiant face as she'd emerged drenched but undaunted from white-water rafting, Damaso had felt something new. A spark of connection.
Was it her unbounded energy? The devilment in her eyes as she risked her pretty neck again and again? Or that sexy gurgle of laughter that clutched at his vitals? Perhaps it was the sheer courage of a woman that didn't baulk at any challenge on a trek designed to spark the jaded interest of the world's ultra-wealthy.
'Marisa. There you are. I looked for you everywhere.' Young Saltram blundered out of the undergrowth to stop beside her. A computer geek who looked about eighteen, yet was worth upwards of seven figures annually, he was like an over-grown puppy salivating over a bone.
Damaso's jaw tightened as Saltram ate her up with his eyeshis gaze lingering on the delectable peach ripeness of her backside as she squatted with her camera.
Damaso stirred, but stopped as she turned her head. From this angle he saw what Saltram couldn't: her deep breath, as if she'd mustered her patience before turning.
'Bradley! I haven't seen you for hours.' She gave the newcomer a blinding smile that seemed to stun him.
That didn't stop him reaching out to help her rise, though it was clear she didn't need assistance. Damaso had never seen a woman so agile or graceful.
Saltram closed his hand around her elbow and she smiled coquettishly up at the youth.
Amazingly, Damaso felt something stark scour his belly. His fingers twitched as he resisted the urge to march across and yank the boy away.
She was laughing, flirting now, not at all perturbed that Saltram was breathing down her cleavage.
She wore shorts and hiking boots and her toned legs drew Damaso's gaze like a banquet set before a beggar. He swallowed, tasting his own hunger and the sharp, pungent tang of green apples.
Scowling, he recognised it was her scent filling his nostrils. How could that be? Standing in the shadows, he was too far away to inhale her perfume.
She turned and let Saltram guide her down the track, her long ponytail swaying across her narrow back. For a week Damaso had wanted to stroke that shining fall of gold and discover if it was as soft as it looked.
Yet he'd kept his distance, tired of dealing with fractious women who wanted more than he was prepared to give.
But she wouldn't make demands, the voice of temptation whispered. Except in bed.
For Princess Marisa of Bengaria had a reputation with a capital R. Pampered from birth, living carelessly off inherited riches, she was a party girl extraordinaire. The tabloids branded her wilful, reckless and as far from a demure, virginal princess as it was possible to get.
Damaso had told himself he was sick of high-maintenance women. Yet a week in her vicinity had given him a new perspective. She might be feckless but she wasn't needy.
She'd flirted with every man on the trek. Except him. Heat drilled through his belly as the significance of that hit.
She was exactly what he needed. He had no interest in virgins. A little wildness would add spice to a short vacation liaison.
Damaso smiled as he sauntered down the track after her.
Marisa turned her face to the waterfall's spray, grateful for its cooling, damp mist in this sultry heat. Her blood pumped fast and her limbs felt stretched and shaky from fatigue and adrenalin as she clung to the cliff face.
Yes! This was what she wanted. To lose herself in the challenge of the moment. To put aside all the
'Marisa! Over here!'
She turned her head. Bradley Saltram watched her from a perch well away from the waterfall. His grin was triumphant.
'Hey, you did it! Great going.' Bradley had confided his fear of heights. Even his relatively straightforward climb was a momentous achievement. No wonder he wore full safety harness and had Juan, their guide, in close attendance. 'I knew you could do it.'
But it was hard meeting his bright eyes, almost febrile with excitement and pleasure.
A hammer blow struck her square in the chest and she clutched at her precarious handhold. When he smiled that way, with such triumph, she remembered another smile. So radiant it had been like watching the sun's reflection. Eyes so clear and brilliant they'd been like the summer sky. Happiness so infectious it had warmed her to the core.
Stefan had always been able to make her forget her misery with a smile and a joke and a plunge into adventure, making a nonsense of the joyless, disapproving world that trapped them.
Marisa blinked, turning away from the bright-eyed American who had no idea of the pain he'd evoked.
A lump the size of Bengaria's cold, grey royal palace settled in her chest, crushing the air from her lungs and choking her throat. Her breath was a desperate whistle of snatched air.
No! Not now. Not here.
She turned back to Bradley, pinning a smile on her features. 'I'll see you at the bottom. I just want to check out the falls.'
Bradley said something but she didn't hear it over the drumming pulse in her ears. Already she was moving, swinging easily up, shifting her weight as she found new foot- and hand-holds on the slick rock-face.
That was what she needed, to concentrate on the challenge and the demands of the moment. Push away everything but the numbness only physical exertion brought.
She was high now, higher than she'd intended. But the rhythm of the climb was addictive, blotting out even Juan's shouted warning.
The spray was stronger here, the rock not merely damp but running with water.
Marisa tuned in to the roar of the falls, revelling in the pounding rush of sound, as if it could cleanse her of emotion.
A little to the left and she'd be at the spot where legend had it one brave boy had made the impossible dive into the churning pool of water below.
She paused, temptation welling. Not to make a name for herself by a daredevil act, but to risk herself in the jaws of possible oblivion.
It wasn't that she wanted to die. But dicing with danger was as close as she'd come lately to living, to believing there might possibly be joy in her life again.
The world was terminally grey, except in those moments when the agony of grief and loneliness grew piercingly vivid. Those moments when Marisa faced the enormity of her loss.
People said the pain eased with time but Marisa didn't believe it. Half of her had been ripped away, leaving a yawning void that nothing could fill.
The pounding of the falls, like the pulse of a giant animal, melded with the rapid tattoo of her heartbeat. It beckoned her, the way Stefan had time and again. When she closed her eyes she could almost hear the teasing lilt in his voice. Come on, Rissa. Don't tell me you're scared.
No, she wasn't scared of anything, except the vast aloneness that engulfed her now Stefan was gone.
Without thought she began climbing towards the tiny ledge beside the fall, taking her time on the treacherously wet rock.
She was almost there when a sound stopped her. Marisa turned her head and there, just to her right, was Damaso Pires, the big Brazilian she'd been avoiding since the trek had started. Something about the way he watched her with those knowing dark eyes always unsettled her, as if he saw right through what Stefan had dubbed her 'party princess' persona.
There was something else in Damaso's gaze now. Something stern and compelling that for a moment reminded her of her uncle, the all-time expert in judgement and condemnation. Then, to her amazement, he smiled, the first genuine smile he'd given her.
Marisa grabbed at the cliff as energy arced through her body, leaving her tingling and shaky.
He was a different man with that grin.
Dark and broodingly laconic, he'd always had the presence and looks to draw attention. Marisa had surreptitiously watched the other women simper and show off and blatantly offer themselves to him.
But when he smiled! Heat slammed through her in the wake of a dazzling blast of raw attraction.
His dark hair was plastered to his skull, emphasising the masculine beauty of his bone structure. Tiny streams of water ran from his solid jaw down his strong throat.
It was only then that Marisa realised he wasn't wearing a safety helmet.
It was the sort of thing Stefan would have done in one of his wilder moments. Did that explain the sudden tug of connection she felt?
The Brazilian jerked his head up and away from the falls, his ebony eyebrows rising questioningly.
Following his gesture, Marisa remembered Juan telling them about a lookout beyond the falls and a rough track that curved down from it to the valley floor.
She met those fathomless eyes again. This time their gleam didn't disturb her. It beckoned. Her body zinged with unexpected pleasure, as if recognising an equal.
With a nod she began to clamber up and away from the sheer plunge of water. He climbed beside her, each movement precise and methodical, till in the end she had to make a conscious effort not to watch him. Weary now, Marisa needed all her concentration for the climb. The spurt of energy that had buoyed her had abated.
She was almost at the top, her vision limited to the next tiny hold, her breath ragged in her ears, when a hand appeared before her. Large, well-kept but callused, and bearing the silvery traces of old scars, it looked like a hand you could rely on.
Arching her neck, Marisa peered up and met liquid dark eyes. Again she felt that jolt of awareness as heat poured through her. Heat that had everything to do with the sizzle in Damaso Pires's gaze as he stood above her on an outcrop of rock.
Marisa hesitated, wondering what it was about this man. He was different from the rest. More real. 'Take my hand.'
She should be used to that rich accent now. It was a week since she'd arrived in Brazil. But, teamed with Damaso's dark, velvet voice, the sultry seduction of it made something clutch inside.
A quiver rippled through her. She ignored it and made herself reach for his hand, feeling it close hard around her fingers. His strength engulfed her. As she watched, his lips curved in a smile of pure satisfaction.
Awareness pulsed through their joined hands and Marisa knew something like anxiety as his expression sharpened. For a moment he looked almost possessive. Then he was hauling her up, not waiting for her to find the purchase of another foothold.
His display of macho strength shouldn't have made her heart hammer. When she'd been in training she'd known plenty of strong, ultra-fit men.
But not one of them had made her feel as feminine and desirable as she did now, standing, grubby and out of breath, before this man.
His eyes held hers as he deftly undid her helmet and drew it away. The breeze riffled her damp hair, tugging strands across her face. She knew she looked a mess, but refused to primp. Instead she returned his stare, cataloguing achingly high cheekbones set aslant an arresting face of dark bronze, a long nose with more than a hint of the aquiline, a firm mouth, unsmiling now, and heavy-lidded eyes that looked as if they held untold secrets.
The way he looked at her, so intent, so direct, made her feel like he saw hernot the celebrity princess but the woman beneath, lost and alone.
No man had ever looked at her like that.
His gaze dropped to her mouth and her lips tingled. She swallowed hard, unprepared for the sexual need that swamped her as she inhaled his scentclean, male sweat and something elsesoap, perhapsthat reminded her of the sea.
'Bem vinda, pequenina. Welcome, little one. I'm glad you decided to join me.'
She stood, looking up at him, her chin tilted, revealing the slender line of her pale throat. Her eyes, the purest azure he'd ever seen, held his, unblinking. And all the while his body tightened, impossibly aroused by the touch and sight of her.
How would she taste?
The question dried his mouth and set his libido spinning.
'Is this the lookout Juan spoke of?' She didn't move away but slipped her hand from his as she turned to admire the view. It was stupendous, the sort of thing people travelled continents to experience. Yet Damaso suspected she used it as an excuse to avoid him.
Too late for that. He'd felt the throb of mutual awareness.
He'd recognised desire in her eyes even as she'd clung like a limpet to the vertical rock.
There would be no more avoiding what was between them. The time for that was past.
'What were you doing, over by the falls?' The words shot outan accusation he hadn't intended to voice. But the memory of fear was a sharp tang on his tongue. It had sent him swarming up the cliff face without bothering with safety gear.
There'd been something about the way she'd climbeda determinationas she'd headed for the exposed, most dangerous part of the cliff that had sent a chill scudding down his spine.
What had she been up to?
The shadowed, almost dazed look in her eyes when she'd turned to face him on the cliff had shot a premonition of danger through him. Growing up where he had, Damaso had a well-honed instinct for danger in all its forms. He hadn't liked what he'd read in the princess's eyes.
She shrugged. 'Just looking.' Her tone was off-hand, as if she hadn't just risked her life on one of the country's most notoriously treacherous climbs. 'I remembered Juan talking about that boy's dive into the pool.'
Anger stirred at her recklessness. Damaso opened his mouth to berate her then noticed the taut muscles in her neck and her rigid posture. She was like a guard on parade.
Or a princess deflecting impertinent questions?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
He runs & spends the rest of the book being a welcome mat to a "Princess" with spectacularly low self esteem who can't believe that anyone would ever like her. They both are irritating.