His Ultimate Prize Maya Blake Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Racing driver Rafael is a devil behind the wheel and in the bedroom until a major crash puts him out of action. Rafael masks his crippling pain the only way he knows how… by seducing his beautiful physio, Raven Blass!Raven is in hell… literally. Resisting Rafael is hard enough without knowing she was responsible for the scars on his sculpted body. Once he discovers the truth, he’ll walk away.But will virgin Raven risk a night in Rafael’s bed? ‘So, which is it to be—compliance without question or physical restraints?’ Raven strolled towards Rafael, her gaze cool and collected. The laughter that ripped from his throat felt surprisingly great. He’d had nothing to laugh about for far longer than he cared to remember. Several heads turned to watch him but he didn’t care. He was more intrigued by the blush that spread over Raven’s face. He leaned in close. ‘Do you think the angels are about to strike me down? Will you save me if they do?’ he asked, sotto voce. ‘No, Rafael. I think, based on your debauched past and irreverent present, all the saints will agree by now that you’re beyond redemption. No one can save you.’ Despite his bitter self-condemnation moments ago, hearing the words repeated so starkly caused Rafael’s chest to tighten. Because, knowingly or unknowingly, she’d struck a very large, very raw nerve. ‘Then tell me, Raven, if I’m beyond redemption, what the hell are you doing here?’ His Ultimate Prize Maya Blake www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) MAYA BLAKE fell in love with the world of the alpha male and the strong, aspirational heroine when she borrowed her sister’s Mills & Boon at age thirteen. Shortly thereafter the dream to plot a happy ending for her own characters was born. Writing for Harlequin Mills & Boon is a dream come true. Maya lives in South East England with her husband and two kids. Reading is an absolute passion, but when she isn’t lost in a book she likes to swim, cycle, travel and Tweet! You can get in touch with her via e-mail, at email@example.com, or on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mayablake Recent titles by the same author: MARRIAGE MADE OF SECRETS THE SINFUL ART OF REVENGE THE PRICE OF SUCCESS Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk To Lucy Gilmour, for making my dream come true, and also because I know she loves bad boys! Contents CHAPTER ONE (#ue39d1653-7e2a-5803-b222-cef83bb56957) CHAPTER TWO (#u92c42eca-f940-5c13-bfff-5e5336f9d09f) CHAPTER THREE (#ub8117f17-4aad-52b6-abc7-499099fe3b8d) CHAPTER FOUR (#ucfa553ef-4016-5329-bb2f-c0ff96de6490) CHAPTER FIVE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SIX (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHT (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ELEVEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWELVE (#litres_trial_promo) EPILOGUE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ONE ‘PUT YOUR ARMS around me and hold on tight.’ The rich, deep chuckle that greeted her request sent a hot shiver down Raven Blass’s spine. The same deep chuckle she continually prayed she would grow immune to. So far, her prayers had gone stubbornly unanswered. ‘Trust me, bonita, I don’t need guidance on how to hold a woman in my arms. I give instructions; I don’t take them.’ Rafael de Cervantes’s drawled response was accompanied by a lazy drift of his finger down her bare arm and a latent heat in ice-blue eyes that constantly unnerved her with their sharp, unwavering focus. With gritted teeth, she forced herself not to react to his touch. It was a test, another in a long line of tests he’d tried to unsettle her with in the five weeks since he’d finally called her and offered her this job. Maintaining a neutral expression, she stood her ground. ‘Well, you can do what I say, or you can stay in the car and miss your nephew’s christening altogether. After agreeing to be his godfather, I’m sure you not turning up in church will go down well with your brother and Sasha.’ As she’d known it would, the mention of Sasha de Cervantes’s name caused the atmosphere to shift from toying-with-danger sexual banter to watch-it iciness. Rafael’s hand dropped from her arm to grip the titanium-tipped walking stick tucked between his legs, his square jaw tightening as his gaze cooled. Deep inside, in the other place where she refused to let anyone in, something clenched hard. Ignoring it, she patted herself on the back for the hollow victory. Rafael not touching her in any way but professionally was a good thing. Recite. Repeat. Recite. Repeat— ‘I didn’t agree...exactly.’ Her snort slipped out before she could stop it. ‘Yeah, right. The likelihood of you agreeing to something you’re not one hundred per cent content with is virtually nil. Unless...’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Unless what?’ Unless Sasha had done the asking. ‘Nothing. Shall we try again? Put your arms—’ ‘Unless you want me to kiss that mouth shut, I suggest you can the instructions and move closer. For a start, you’re too far away for this to work. If I move the wrong way and land on top of you, I’ll crush you, you being such a tiny thing and all.’ ‘I’m not tiny.’ She moved a step closer to the open doorway of the sleek black SUV, stubbornly refusing to breathe in too much of his disconcertingly heady masculine scent. ‘I’m five foot nine of solid muscle and bone and I can drop kick you in two moves. Think about that before you try anything remotely iffy on me.’ The lethal grin returned. ‘Dios, I love it when you talk dirty to me. Although my moves have never been described as iffy before. What does that even mean?’ ‘It means concentrate or this will never work.’ Rafael, damn him, gave a low laugh, unsnapped his seat belt and slid one arm around her shoulders. ‘Fine. Do with me what you will, Raven. I’m putty in your hands.’ With every atom in her body she wished she could halt the stupid blush creeping up her face, but that was one reaction she’d never been able to control. In the distant past she tried every day to forget, it had been another source of callous mirth to her father and his vile friends. To one friend in particular, it had provoked an even stronger, terrifying reaction. Pushing away the unwelcome memory, she concentrated on the task at hand, her job. Adjusting her position, she lowered her centre of gravity, slid an arm around Rafael’s back and braced herself to hold his weight. Despite the injuries he’d sustained, he was six foot three of packed, lean muscle, his body honed to perfection from years of carefully regimented exercise. She needed every single ounce of her physiotherapist training to ensure he didn’t accidentally flatten her as promised. She felt him wince as he straightened but, when she glanced at him, his face showed no hint of the pain she knew he must feel. The head trauma and resulting weeks-long coma he’d lain in after he’d crashed his Premier X1 racing car and ended his world championship reign eight months ago had only formed part of his injuries. He’d also sustained several pelvic fractures and a broken leg that had gone mostly untreated while he’d been unconscious, which meant his recovery had been a slow, frustrating process. A process made worse by both his stubborn refusal to heed simple instructions and his need to test physical boundaries. Especially hers. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked. Because it was her job to make sure he was okay. Nothing else. He drew himself up to his full height and tugged his bespoke hand-stitched suit into place. He slid slim fingers through longer-than-conventional hair until the sleek jet-black tresses were raked back from his high forehead. With the same insufferable indolence with which he approached everything in life, he scrutinised her face, lingered for an obscenely long moment on her mouth before stabbing her gaze with his. ‘Are you asking as my physiotherapist or as the woman who continues to scorn my attentions?’ Her mouth tightened. ‘As your physio, of course. I have no interest in the...in being—’ ‘Becoming my lover would make so many of our problems go away, Raven, don’t you think? Certainly, this sexual tension you’re almost choking on would be so much easier to bear if you would just let me f—’ ‘Are you okay to walk, Rafael?’ she interjected forcefully, hating the way her blood heated and her heart raced at his words. ‘Of course, querida. Thanks to your stalwart efforts this past month, I’m no longer wheelchair-bound and I have the very essence of life running through my veins. But feel free to let your fingers keep caressing my backside the way they’re doing now. It’s been such a long time since I felt this surge of essence to a particular part of my anatomy, I was beginning to fear it’d died.’ With a muted curse and even redder cheeks, she dropped her hand. The professional in her made her stay put until Rafael was fully upright and able to support himself. The female part that hated herself for this insane fever of attraction wanted to run a mile. She compromised by moving a couple of feet away, her face turned from his. For the second time in as many minutes, his laugh mocked her. ‘Spoilsport.’ She fought the need to clench her hands into agitated fists and faced him when she had herself under sufficient control. ‘How long are you going to keep this up? Surely you can find something else to amuse yourself with besides this need to push my buttons?’ Just like that, his dazzling smile dropped, his eyes gleaming with a hard, cynical edge that made her shiver. ‘Maybe that’s what keeps me going, guapa. Maybe I intend to push your buttons for as long as it amuses me to do so.’ She swallowed hard and considered staring him down. But she knew how good he was at that game. Heck, Rafael was a maestro at most games. He would only welcome the challenge. Reaching behind him to slam the car door, she started to move with him towards the entrance of the church where baby Jack’s ceremony was being held. ‘If you’re trying to get me to resign by being intolerable, I won’t,’ she stated in as firm a tone as possible, hoping he’d get the hint. Aside from the need to make amends, she needed this job. Her severance package from Team Esp?ritu when Marco de Cervantes had sold the racing team had been more than generous, but it was fast running out in light of her mother’s huge treatment bills. It would take a lot more than Rafael’s sexual taunts to make her walk away. He shrugged and fell into step beside her. ‘Good. As long as you’re here tormenting yourself with your guilt, I feel better.’ Acute discomfort lodged in her chest. ‘I thought we weren’t going to speak about that?’ ‘You should know by now, rules mean nothing to me. Unspoken rules mean even less. How’s the guilt today, by the way?’ ‘Receding by the second, thanks to your insufferable tongue.’ ‘I must be slacking.’ He took a step forward, gave a visible wince, and Raven’s heart stopped, along with her feet. He raised a brow at her, the hard smile back on his face. ‘Ah, there it is. Good to know I haven’t lost my touch after all.’ Ice danced down her spine at his chilled tone. Before she could answer, the large bell pealed nearby. Pigeons flew out of the turrets of the tiny whitewashed church that had been on the de Cervantes’s Northern Spanish estate for several hundred years. Raven glanced around them, past the church poised at the summit of the small hill that overlooked miles of prime de Cervantes vineyards, to the graveyard beyond where Rafael’s ancestors lay interred. ‘Are we going to stand here all day admiring the landscape or do we actually need to go inside the church for this gig?’ A quick glance at him showed his face studiously averted from the prominent headstones, his jaw set in steel. She drew in a deep breath and moved towards the arched entrance to the church. ‘It’s not a gig; it’s your nephew’s christening. In a church. With other guests. So act accordingly.’ Another dark chuckle. ‘Or what, you’ll put me over your knee? Or will you just pray that I be struck down by lightning if I blaspheme?’ ‘I’m not rising to your baits, Rafael.’ Mostly because she had an inkling of how hard this morning would be for him. According to Rafael’s housekeeper, it was the first time he’d interacted with his family since his return to Leîn from his private hospital in Barcelona. ‘You can try to rile me all you want. I’m not going anywhere.’ ‘A martyr to the last?’ ‘A physiotherapist who knows how grumpy patients can be when they don’t get their way.’ ‘What makes you think I’m not getting exactly what I want?’ he rasped lazily. ‘I overheard your phone call to Marco this morning...twice...to try and get out of your godfather duties. Since you’re here now, I’m guessing he refused to let you?’ A tic in his jaw and a raised brow was her only answer. ‘Like I said, I know a grumpy patient when I see one.’ She hurried forward and opened the large heavy door. To her relief, he didn’t answer back. She hoped it was because they were within the hallowed walls of his family’s chapel because she was close enough to feel his tension increase the closer they got to the altar. De Cervantes family members and the few close friends who’d managed to gain an invitation to the christening of Sasha and Marco de Cervantes’s firstborn turned to watch their slow progress up the aisle. ‘Shame you’re not wearing a white gown,’ Rafael quipped from the side of his mouth, taking her elbow even as he smiled and winked at a well-known Spanish supermodel. But, this close, Raven could see the stress lines that faintly bracketed his mouth and the pulse throbbing at his temple. Rafael really did not want to be here. ‘White gown?’ ‘Think how frenzied their imagination would be running right about now. It would almost warrant a two-page spread in X1 Magazine.’ ‘Even if I were dressed in bridal white with a crown on my head and stars in my eyes, no one would believe you would actually go through with anything as anathema to you as a wedding, Rafael. These poor people would probably drop dead at the very thought of linking you with the word commitment.’ His grip tightened for a minuscule moment before that lazy smile returned. ‘For once, you’re right. Weddings bore me rigid and the word marriage should have a picture of a noose next to it in the dictionary.’ They were a few steps away from the front pew, where his brother and sister-in-law sat gazing down adoringly at their infant son. The sight of their utter devotion and contentment made her insides tighten another notch. ‘I don’t think that’s how your brother and his wife see it.’ Rafael’s jaw tightened before he shrugged. ‘I’m prepared to accede that for some the Halley’s Comet effect does happen. But we’ll wait and see if it’s a mirage or the real thing, shall we?’ Her breath caught at the wealth of cynicism in his tone. She couldn’t respond because an usher was signalling the priest that it was time to start. The ceremony was conducted in Spanish with English translations printed out on embossed gold-edged paper. As the minutes ticked by, she noted Rafael’s profile growing even tenser. Glancing down at the sheet, she realised the moment was approaching for him to take his godson for the anointing. Despite her caution to remain unmoved, her heart softened at his obvious discomfort. ‘Relax. Babies are more resilient than we give them credit for. Trust me, it takes a complete idiot to drop a baby.’ She was unprepared for the icy blue eyes that sliced into her. ‘Your flattery is touching but the last thing I’m thinking of is dropping my nephew.’ ‘You don’t need to hide it, Rafael. Your tension is so thick it’s suffocating.’ His eyes grew colder. ‘Remember when I said weddings bore me?’ She nodded warily. ‘Christenings bore me even more. Besides, I’ve never been good in churches. All that piety.’ He gave a mock shudder. ‘My abuela used to smack my hand because I could never sit still.’ ‘Well, I’m not your grandmother so you’re spared the smacking. Besides, you’re a grown man now so act like one and suck it up.’ Too late, she remembered certain words were like a naked invitation to Rafael. She was completely stunned when he didn’t make the obvious remark. Or maybe it was a testament to just how deeply the whole ceremony was affecting him. ‘I just want this to be over and done with so I can resume more interesting subjects.’ Without due warning, his gaze dropped to the cleavage of her simple, sleeveless orange knee-length chiffon dress. The bold, heated caress resonated through her body, leaving a trail of fire that singed in delicate places. ‘Like how delicious you look in that dress. Or how you’ll look out of it.’ Heat suffused her face. It was no use pointing out how inappropriate this conversation was. Rafael knew very well what he was doing. And the unrepentant gleam in his eyes told her so. ‘Rafa...’ Marco de Cervantes’s deep voice interrupted them. Raven glanced up and her eyes collided with steel-grey ones which softened a touch when they lit on his brother. Like most people who’d worked the X1 Premier circuit, she knew all about the de Cervantes brothers. Gorgeous beyond words and successful in their individual rights, they’d made scores of female hearts flutter, both on and off of the racing circuit. Marco had been the dynamic ex-racer team boss and race car designer. And Rafael, also insanely gifted behind the wheel, had at the age of twenty-eight founded and established himself as CEO of X1 Premier Management, the multi-billion euro conglomerate that nurtured, trained and looked after racing drivers. Between them they’d won more medals and championships than any other team in the history of the sport. The last year had changed everything for them, though. Marco had sold the team and married Sasha Fleming, the racing driver who’d won him his last Constructors’ Championship and stolen his heart in the process; and Rafael had spectacularly crashed his car, nearly lost his life and stalled his racing career. The icy jet of guilt that shot through Raven every time she thought of his accident, and her part in it, threatened to overwhelm her. Her breath caught as she desperately tried to put the incident out of her head. This was neither the time nor the place. But then, when had timing been her strong suit? Over and over, she’d proven that when it came to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she took first prize every single time. At sixteen, it was what had earned her the unwanted attention that had scarred what remained of her already battered childhood. As a grown woman of twenty-three, foolishly believing she’d put the past behind her, she’d been proved brutally wrong again when she’d met Rafael de Cervantes. Rafael’s mouth very close to her ear ripped her from her painful thoughts. ‘Right, I’m up, I believe. Which means, so are you.’ Her heart leapt into her throat. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘I can barely stand up straight, peque?a. It’s time to do your duty and support me just in case it all gets too much and I keel over.’ ‘But you’re perfectly capable—’ ‘Rafa...’ Marco’s voice held a touch of impatience. Rafael’s brow cocked and he held out his arm. With no choice but to comply or risk causing a scene, Raven stood and helped him up. As before, his arm came around her in an all-encompassing hold. And again, she felt the bounds of professionalism slip as she struggled not to feel the effortless, decidedly erotic sensations Rafael commanded so very easily in her. Sensations she’d tried her damnedest to stem and, failing that, ignore since the first moment she’d clapped eyes on the legendary racing driver last year. What had she said to him—suck it up? She took a breath and fought to take her own advice. They made their way to the font and Raven managed to summon a smile in answer to Sasha’s open and friendly one. But all through the remainder of the ceremony, Raven was drenched with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, in her haste to assuage her guilt and make amends, she’d made a mistake. Had she, by pushing Rafael to take her on as his personal physiotherapist, jumped from the frying fan into the proverbial fire? * * * Rafael repeated the words that bound the small person sleeping peacefully in the elegant but frilly Moses basket to him. He firmed lips that wanted to curl in self-derision. Who was he to become godfather to another human being? Everything he touched turned to dust eventually. Sooner or later he ruined everything good in his life. He’d tried to tell his brother over and over since he’d dropped the bombshell on him a month ago. Hell, as late as this morning he’d tried to get Marco to see sense and change his mind about making him godfather. But Marco, snug in his newfound love-cocoon, had blithely ignored his request to appoint someone else his son’s godfather. Apparently, reality hath no blind spots like a man in love. Was that a saying? If not, it needed to be. He was no one’s hero. He was the last person any father should entrust with his child. He gazed down into his nephew’s sweet, innocent face. How long before Jack de Cervantes recognised him for what he was? An empty shell. A heartless bastard who’d only succeeded at two things—driving fast cars and seducing fast women. He shifted on his feet. Pain ricocheted through his hip and pelvis. Ignoring it, he gave a mental shrug, limped forward and took the ladle the priest passed him. Scooping water out of the large bowl, he poised it over his nephew’s head. At the priest’s nod, he tipped the ladle. The scream of protest sent a tiny wave of satisfaction through him. Hopefully his innocent nephew would take a look at him and run screaming every time he saw him. Because Rafael knew that if he had anything at all to do with his brother’s child, the poor boy’s life too would be ruined. As well-wishers gathered around to soothe the wailing child, he dropped the ladle back into the bowl, stepped back and forced his gaze away from his nephew’s adorable curls and plump cheeks. Beside him, he heard Raven’s long indrawn breath and, grabbing the very welcome distraction, he let his gaze drift to her. Magnet-like, her hazel eyes sought and found his. Her throat moved in a visible swallow that made his fingers itch to slide over that smooth column of flesh. Follow it down to that delectable, infinitely tempting valley between her plump breasts. Not here, not now, he thought regrettably. What was between the two of them would not be played out here in this place where dark memories—both living and dead—lingered everywhere he looked, ready to pounce on him should he even begin to let them... He tensed at the whirr of an electronic wheelchair, kept his gaze fixed on Raven even as his spine stiffened almost painfully. Thankfully the wheelchair stopped several feet behind him and he heard the familiar voice exchange greetings with other family members. With every pulse of icy blood through his veins, Rafael wished himself elsewhere...anywhere but here, where the thick candles and fragrant flowers above the nave reminded him of other candles and flowers placed in a shrine not very far away from where he stood—a constant reminder of what he’d done. A reminder that because of him, because of callous destruction, this was his mother’s final resting place. His beloved Mamà... His breath caught as Sasha, his sister-in-law, came towards him, her now quietened son in her arm. Sasha...something else he’d ruined. Dios... ‘He’s got a set of lungs on him, hasn’t he?’ she laughed, her face radiant in the light slanting through the church windows. ‘He almost raised the roof with all that wailing.’ He took in the perfect picture mother and child made and something caught in his chest. He’d denied his mother this—the chance to meet her grandchild. ‘Rafael?’ He focused and summoned a half-smile. ‘S?, my poor eardrums are still bleeding.’ She laughed again as her eyes rolled. ‘Oh, come on, my little champ’s not that bad. Besides, Marco tells me he takes after you, and I don’t find that hard to believe at all.’ She sobered, her gaze running over him before piercing blue eyes captured his in frank, no nonsense assessment. ‘So...how are you? And don’t give me a glib answer.’ ‘Thoroughly bored of everyone asking me how I am.’ He raised his walking stick and gestured to his frame. ‘See for yourself, pique?a. My clever physiotherapist tells me I’m between phases two and three on the recovery scale. Dios knows what that means. All I know is that I’m still a broken, broken man.’ In more ways than he cared to count. She gently rubbed her son’s back. ‘You’re far from broken. And we ask because we care about you.’ ‘S?, I get that. But I prefer all this caring to be from afar. The up-close-and-personal kind gives me the...what do you English call it...the willies?’ Her eyes dimmed but her smile remained in place. ‘Too bad. We’re not going to stop because you bristle every time we come near.’ Her determined gaze shifted to Raven, who was chatting to another guest. ‘And I hope you’re not giving her a hard time. From what I hear, she’s the best physio there is.’ Despite telling himself it wasn’t the time or place, he couldn’t stop his gaze from tracing the perfect lines of Raven Blass’s body. And it was a perfect body, honed by hours and hours of gruelling physical exercise. She hadn’t been lying when she said she was solid muscle and bone. But Rafael knew, from being up close and personal, that there was soft femininity where there needed to be. Which, all in all, presented a more-than-pleasing package that had snagged his attention with shocking intensity the first time he’d laid eyes on her in his racing paddock almost eighteen months ago. Of course, he’d been left in no uncertain terms that, despite all indications of a very mutual attraction, Raven had no intention of letting herself explore that attraction. Her reaction to it had been viscerally blunt. She’d gone out of her way to hammer her rejection home...right at the time when he’d been in no state to be rejected... His jaw tightened. ‘How I choose to treat my physiotherapist is really none of your business, Sasha.’ A hint of sadness flitted through her eyes before she looked down at her son. ‘Despite what you might think, I’m still your friend, so stop trying to push me away because, in case you need reminding, I push back.’ She glanced back at him with a look of steely determination. He sighed. ‘I’d forgotten how stubborn you are.’ ‘It’s okay. I’m happy to remind you when you need reminding. Your equally demanding godson demands your presence at the villa, so we’ll see you both there in half an hour. No excuses.’ ‘If we must,’ Rafael responded in a bored drawl. Sasha’s lips firmed. ‘You must. Or I’ll have to leave my guests and come and fetch you personally. And Marco wouldn’t like that at all.’ ‘I stopped being terrified of my big brother long before I lost my baby teeth, pique?a.’ ‘Yes, but I know you wouldn’t want to disappoint him. Also, don’t forget about Raven.’ He glanced over his shoulder at the woman in question, who now stood with her head bent as she spoke to one of the altar boys. Her namesake hair fell forward as she nodded in response to something the boy said. From the close contact necessitated by her profession, Rafael knew exactly how silky and luxuriant her hair felt against his skin. He’d long stopped resenting the kick in his groin when he looked at her. In fact he welcomed it. He’d lost a lot after his accident, not just a percentage of his physical mobility. With each groin kick, he ferociously celebrated the return of his libido. ‘What about Raven?’ he asked. ‘I’ve seen her in action during her training sessions. She’s been known to reduce grown men to tears. I bet I can convince her to hog-tie you to the SUV and deliver you to the villa if you carry on being difficult.’ Rafael loosened his grip on his walking stick and gave a grim smile. ‘Dios, did someone hack into my temporary Internet files and discover I have a thing for dominatrixes? Because you two seem bent on pushing that hot, sweet button.’ Sasha’s smile widened. ‘I see you haven’t lost your dirty sense of humour. That’s something to celebrate, at least. See you at the villa.’ Without waiting for an answer, she marched off towards Marco, who was shaking hands with the priest. His brother’s arm enfolded her immediately. Rafael gritted his teeth against the disconcerting pang and accompanying guilt that niggled him. He’d robbed his family of so much... ‘So, which is it to be—compliance without question or physical restraints?’ Raven strolled towards him, her gaze cool and collected. The mental picture that flashed into his mind made his heart beat just that little bit faster. Nerves which his doctors had advised him might never heal again stirred, as they’d been stirring for several days now. The very male satisfaction the sensation brought sent a shaft of fire through his veins. ‘You heard?’ ‘It was difficult not to. You don’t revere your surroundings enough to keep your voice down when you air your...peccadilloes.’ The laughter that ripped from his throat felt surprisingly great. He’d had nothing to laugh about for far longer than he cared to remember. Several heads turned to watch him but he didn’t care. He was more intrigued by the blush that spread over Raven’s face. He leaned in close. ‘Do you think the angels are about to strike me down? Will you save me if they do?’ he asked sotto voce. ‘No, Rafael. I think, based on your debauched past and irreverent present, all the saints will agree by now you’re beyond redemption. No one can save you.’ Despite his bitter self-condemnation moments ago, hearing the words repeated so starkly caused Rafael’s chest to tighten. All traces of mirth were stripped from his soul as he recalled similar words, uttered by the same voice, this same woman eight months ago. And then, as now, he felt the black chasm of despair yawn before him, growing ever-wider, sucking at his empty soul until only darkness remained. Because knowingly or unknowingly, she’d struck a very large, very raw nerve. ‘Then tell me, Raven, if I’m beyond redemption, what the hell are you doing here?’ CHAPTER TWO I’M NOT HERE to save you, if that’s what you think. The words hovered like heat striations in Raven’s brain an hour later as she stood on the large sun-baked terrace of Marco and Sasha’s home. This time the rich surroundings of the architecturally stunning Casa Leîn failed to awe her as they usually did. I’m not here to save you... She snorted. What a load of bull. That was exactly why she’d begged Marco to let her visit Rafael in hospital once he’d woken from his coma all those months ago. It was why she’d flown to Leîn from London five weeks ago, after months of trying to contact Rafael and being stonily ignored by him; and why she’d begged him to let her treat him when she found out what an appalling job his carers were doing—not because they were incompetent, but because Rafael didn’t seem inclined in any way to want to get better, and they’d been too intimidated to go against his wishes. It was most definitely why she continued to suffer his inappropriate, irreverent taunts. She wanted to make things right...wanted to take back every single word she’d said to him eight months ago, right before he’d climbed into the cockpit of his car and crashed it into a solid concrete wall minutes later. Because it wasn’t Rafael’s fault that she hadn’t been able to curb her stupid, crazy delusional feelings until it was almost too late. It wasn’t his fault that, despite all signs that he was nothing but a carbon copy of her heartless playboy father, she hadn’t been able to stop herself from lusting after him— No, scratch that. Not a carbon copy. Rafael was no one’s copy. He was a breed in his own right. With a smile that could slice a woman’s heart wide open, make a woman swoon with bliss even as she knew her heart was being slowly crushed. He possessed more charm in his little finger than most wannabe playboys, including her father, held in their entire bodies. But she’d seen first-hand the devastation that charm could cause. Swarthy Spanish Lothario or a middle-aged English playboy, she knew the effect would be the same. Her mother was broken, continued to suffer because of the very lethal thrall Raven’s father held over her. And although she knew after five weeks in his company that Rafael’s attitude would never manifest in sexual malice, he was in no way less dangerous to her peace of mind. Truth be told, the more she suffered his blatant sexual taunts, the more certain she was that she wanted to see beneath his outwardly glossy fa?ade. With every atom of her being, Raven wished she’d known this on his unfortunate race day. But, tormented by her mother’s suffering, her control when it came to Rafael had slipped badly. Instead of walking away with dignified indifference, she’d lashed out. Unforgivably— ‘So deep in thought. Dare I think those thoughts are about me?’ Warm air from warmer lips washed over her right lobe. ‘Why would you think that?’ she asked, sucking in a deep, sustaining breath before she faced the man who seemed to have set up residence in her thoughts. ‘Because I’ve studied you enough to recognise your frowns. Two lines mean you’re unhappy because I’m not listening to you drone on about how many squats or abdominal crunches you expect me to perform. Three lines mean your thoughts are of a personal nature, mostly likely you’re in turmoil about our last conversation before my accident.’ He held out a glass of champagne, his blue eyes thankfully no longer charged with the frosty fury they’d held at the chapel. ‘You’re wearing a three-line frown now.’ She took the proffered drink and glanced away, unable quite to meet his gaze. ‘You think I’m that easy to read?’ ‘The fact that you’re not denying what I say tells me everything I need to know. Your guilt is eating you alive. Admit it,’ he said conversationally, before taking a sip of his drink. ‘And it kills you even more that I can’t remember the accident itself but can remember every single word you said to me only minutes before it happened, doesn’t it?’ Her insides twisted with regret. ‘I...Rafael...I’m sorry...’ ‘As I told you in Barcelona, I’m sorry won’t quite cut it. I need a lot more from you than mere words, mi corazon.’ Her heart flipped and dived into her stomach. ‘And I told you, I won’t debase myself like a cheap paddock bunny just to prove how sorry I am for what I said.’ ‘Even though you meant every single word?’ ‘Look, I know I shouldn’t have—’ ‘You meant them then, and you still believe them now. So we shall continue as we are. I push, you push back; we both drown in sexual tension. We’ll see who breaks first.’ Her fingers tightened around the cold glass. ‘Is this all really a game to you?’ The man in turmoil she’d glimpsed at the chapel seemed very distant now. But she’d seen him, knew there was something else going on beneath all the sexual gloss. ‘Of course it is. How else do you expect me to pass the time?’ ‘Your racing career may be stalled for the moment but, for a man of your wealth and power, there are a thousand ways you can find fulfilment.’ A dull look entered his eyes but disappeared a split second later. ‘Fulfilment...how New Age. Next you’ll be recommending I practise Transcendental Meditation to get in touch with my chakra.’ ‘Meditation isn’t such a bad thing. I could teach you...’ His mocking laugh stopped her in her tracks. ‘Will we braid each other’s hair too? Maybe share a joint or two while we’re at it?’ She tried to hide her irritation and cocked her head. ‘You know something? I have no idea what all those girls see in you. You’re cocky, arrogant and dismissive of things you know nothing about.’ ‘I don’t waste my time learning things that hold no interest for me. Women hold my interest so I make it a point to study them. And I know plenty about women like you.’ She stiffened. ‘What do you mean, women like me?’ ‘You take pleasure in hiding behind affront, you take everything so personally and pretend to get all twisted up by the slightest hint of a challenge. It’s obvious you’ve had a...traumatic experience in the past—’ ‘That’s like a psychic predicting someone’s been hurt in the past. By virtue of sheer coincidence and indisputable reality, half of relationships end badly, so it stands to reason that most people have had traumatic experiences. If you’re thinking of taking up clairvoyance, you’ll need to do better than that.’ His bared teeth held the predatory smile of one who knew he had his prey cornered. ‘Claro, let’s do it this way. I’ll make a psychic prediction. If I’m wrong, feel free to throw that glass of vintage champagne in my face.’ ‘I’d never make a scene like that, especially not at your nephew’s christening.’ The reminder of where they were made him stiffen slightly but it didn’t stop him moving closer until his broad shoulders and streamlined body blocked out the rest of the party. Breath catching, Raven could see nothing but him, smell nothing but the heady, spicy scent that clung to his skin and seemed to weave around her every time she came within touching distance. As if he knew his effect on her, his smile widened. ‘No one will see my humiliation if I get it wrong.’ Afraid of what he’d uncover, she started to shake her head, but Rafael was already speaking. ‘You’ve been hurt by a man, someone you really wanted to depend on, someone you wanted to be there for you.’ He waited, his eyes moving to the fingers clenched around her glass. When she didn’t move he leaned in closer. ‘Since that relationship ended, you’ve decided to take the tired all men are bastards route. You’d like nothing more than to find yourself a nice, safe man, someone who understands you.’ His gaze moved to her face, his incisive stare probing so deep Raven wanted to take a step back. With sheer strength of will, she stood her ground. ‘You hate yourself for being attracted to me but, deep inside, you enjoy our little skirmishes because the challenge of sparring with me makes your heart beat just that little bit faster.’ His gaze traced her hopefully impassive face down to her throat. For a blind moment, Raven wished she’d worn her hair down because even she could feel the wild tattoo of her pulse surging underneath the skin at her throat. She tried to speak but the accuracy of his prediction had frozen her tongue. ‘Since my face is still dry, I’ll take it Psychic Rafa is accurate on all accounts?’ His arrogance finally loosened her tongue. ‘Don’t flatter yourself. I told you when you started playing these games that I wouldn’t participate. I know you’re challenged by any woman who doesn’t fall for your charms, but not everyone subscribes to the OMG-Rafael de Cervantes-makes-my-knickers-wet Fan Club.’ Rafael’s smile was blinding, but it held a speculation that made her hackles rise. ‘Pique?a, since there’s only one way to test that you’re not a member, I now have something to look forward to. And just like that, my days suddenly seem brighter.’ Heat punched its way through her pelvis but, before Raven could answer, a deep throat cleared behind them. Marco de Cervantes was as tall as his brother and just as visually stunning to look at but he wore his good looks with a smouldering grace where Rafael wholeheartedly embraced his irreverent playboy status. Marco nodded to Raven, and glanced at his brother. ‘I need to talk to you. You don’t mind if I borrow him for five minutes, do you, Raven?’ Relief spiked, headier than the champagne she’d barely drunk. ‘Not at all. We weren’t discussing anything important.’ Rafael’s eyes narrowed at the thin insult, his icy blue eyes promising retribution just before they cleared into their usual deceptively indolent look. Lifting her glass in a mocking salute, she walked away, piercingly aware that he tracked her every step. Out of his intoxicating, domineering sphere, she heaved in a breath of pure relief and pasted a smile on her face as Sasha beckoned her. * * * Rafael turned to his brother, mild irritation prickling his skin. ‘What’s on your mind?’ He discarded his champagne and wished he had something stronger. ‘You need another hobby besides trying to rile your physiotherapist.’ His irritation grew as Raven disappeared from sight, pulled towards a group of guests by Sasha. ‘What’s it to you? And why the hell does everyone feel the need to poke their nose into my business?’ Marco shrugged away the question. ‘Consider the matter dropped. The old man’s been asking for you.’ Grey eyes bored sharply into his. ‘I think it’s time.’ Every bone in his body turned excruciatingly rigid. ‘That’s for me to decide, surely?’ And if he didn’t feel he was ready to ask for forgiveness, who was anybody to decide otherwise? ‘There’s been enough hurt all around, Rafa. It’s time to move things forward.’ He spiked tense fingers through his hair. ‘You wouldn’t be trying to save me again by any chance, would you, brother?’ An impatient look passed through Marco’s eyes. ‘From the look of things, you don’t need saving. Besides, I cut the apron strings when I realised you were driving me so nuts that I was in danger of strangling you with them.’ Rafael beckoned the waiter over and exchanged his untouched champagne for a crystal tumbler of Patrîn. ‘In that case, we’re copacetic. Was there anything else?’ Marco’s gaze stayed on him for several seconds before he nodded. ‘You sent for the papers for the X1 All-Star event coming up?’ Rafael downed the drink, welcoming the warmth that coursed through his chest. ‘Unless I’m mistaken, I’m still the CEO of X1 Premier Management. The events start in three weeks. You delegated some of the event’s organisation but it’s time for me to take the reins again.’ His brother’s gaze probed, worry lurking within. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to sit this one out—?’ ‘I’m sure. Don’t second-guess me, mi hermano. I understand that my racing career may be in question—’ He stopped as a chill surged through his veins, obliterating the warmth of moments before. Although he didn’t remember his accident, he’d seen pictures of the wreckage in vivid detail. He was very much aware that lucky to be alive didn’t begin to describe his condition. ‘The racing side of my career may be up for debate,’ he repeated, beating back the wave of desolation that swelled up inside his chest, ‘but my brain still functions perfectly. As for my body...’ He looked over as a flash of orange caught his eye. The resulting kick gave him a surge of satisfaction. ‘My body will be in top condition before very long.’ Marco nodded. ‘I’m happy to hear it. According to Raven, you’re on the road to complete recovery.’ ‘Really?’ Rafael made a mental note to have a short, precise conversation with his physio about sharing confidential information. ‘...Dios, are you listening to me? Never mind, I think it’ll be safer for me not to know which part of your anatomy you’re thinking with right at this moment. Bueno, I’ll be in touch later in the week to discuss other business.’ ‘No need to wait till next week. I can tell you now that I’m back. I own fifty per cent of our business, after all. No reason why you should continue to shoulder my responsibilities. Come to think of it, you should take a vacation with your family, let me handle things for a while.’ He glanced over to where Sasha stood chatting to Raven. As if sensing their attention, both women turned towards them. Marco’s face dissolved in a look so cheesy, Rafael barely stopped himself from making retching noises. ‘Are you sure?’ Marco asked without taking his eyes off his wife. ‘Sasha’s been on my back about taking some time off. It would be great to take the yacht to the island for a bit.’ They joint owned a three-mile island paradise in the Bahamas, a place neither of them had visited in a very long time. ‘Great. Do it. I’ll handle things here,’ Rafael responded. His brother looked sceptical. ‘This is a one-time offer, set to expire in ten seconds,’ he pressed as his sister-in-law and his physiotherapist started walking towards them. For the first time he noticed Raven’s open-toed high heels and saw the way they made her long legs go on for ever. Sasha said something to her. Her responding smile made his throat dry. Hell, he had it bad if he was behaving like a hormonal teenager around a woman who clearly had man issues. He barely felt it when Marco slapped his shoulder. ‘I’ll set things in motion first thing in the morning. I owe you one, brother.’ Rafael nodded, relieved that the disturbing subject of his father had been dropped. ‘What are you looking so pleased about?’ Sasha asked her husband as they drew level with them. ‘I have news that’s guaranteed to make you adore me even more than you already do.’ He kissed her soundly on the lips before leading her away. Rafael saw Raven looking after them. ‘I do believe if they had a like button attached to their backs you would be pressing it right about now?’ Her outraged gasp made him curb a smile. He loved to rile her. Rafael didn’t hide from the fact that while he was busy riling Raven Blass, he was busy not thinking about what this place did to him, and that gained him a reprieve from the torment of his memories. She faced him, bristling with irritation and censure. ‘Whereas if you had a like button I’d personally start a worldwide petition to have it obliterated and replaced with one that said loathe.’ He took her elbow and, despite her resistance, he led her to an exquisitely laid out buffet table. ‘We’ll discuss my various buttons later. Right now you need to eat something before you wither away. I noticed you didn’t eat any breakfast this morning.’ She glared at him. ‘I had my usual bowl of muesli and fresh fruit.’ ‘Was that before or after you spent two hours on my beach contorting yourself in unthinkable shapes in the name of exercise?’ ‘It’s called Krav Maga. It works the mind as well as the body.’ He let his gaze rake her from top to toe. ‘I don’t dispute the effects on the body. But I don’t think it’s quite working on the mind.’ He stopped another outraged gasp by stuffing a piece of chicken into her mouth. Her only option, other than spitting it out, was to chew, but that didn’t stop her glaring fiercely at him. Rafael was so busy enjoying the way he got under her skin that he didn’t hear the low hum of the electric wheelchair until it was too late. ‘Buenos tardes, mi hijo. I’ve been looking for you.’ The greeting was low and deep. It didn’t hold any censure or hatred or flaying judgement. In fact it sounded just exactly as it would were a loving father greeting his beloved son. But every nerve of Rafael’s being screeched with white-hot pain. His fist clenched around his walking stick until the metal dug excruciatingly into his palm. For the life of him, he couldn’t let go. He sucked in a breath as his vision blurred. Before the red haze completely dulled his vision, he saw Raven’s concerned look as her eyes darted between him and the wheelchair-bound figure. ‘Rafael?’ He couldn’t find the words to respond to the greeting. Nor could he find the words to stem Raven’s escalating concern. Dios m?o, he couldn’t even find the courage to turn around. Because how the hell could he explain to Raven that he and he alone was responsible for making his father a quadriplegic? CHAPTER THREE ‘DO YOU WANT to talk about it?’ ‘The therapy in your job title pertains only to my body, not my mind. You’ll do well to remember that.’ Raven should’ve heeded the icy warning, should’ve just kept her hands on the wheel of the luxury SUV and kept driving towards the stunning glass and steel structure that was Rafael’s home on the other side of the de Cervantes estate from his brother’s villa. But her senses jumped at the aura of acute pain that had engulfed Rafael the moment he’d turned around to face the old man in the electric wheelchair. The same pain that surrounded him now. Grey lips were pinched into a thin line, his jaw carved from stone and fingers clamped around his walking stick in a white-knuckled grip. Even his breathing had changed. His broad chest rose and fell in an uncharacteristically shallow rhythm that screamed his agitation. She pulled over next to a tall acacia tree, one of several hundred that lined the long winding driveway and extended into the exquisitely designed landscape beyond. Behind them, the iron gates, manned by twenty-four-hour security, swung shut. Narrowed eyes focused with laser-like intensity on her. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ ‘I’ve stopped because we need to talk about what just happened. Your mental health affects your body’s recovery just as much as your physiotherapy regime.’ ‘Healthy mind, healthy body? That’s a piss-poor way of trying to extract the hot gossip, Raven m?a. You’ll need to do much better than that. Why don’t you just come out and ask for the juicy details?’ She blew a breath, refusing to rise to the bait. ‘Would you tell me if I asked you that?’ ‘No.’ ‘Rafael—’ Arctic-chilled eyes narrowed even further. ‘In case you didn’t already guess, that was my father. Our relationship comes under the subject line of kryptonite—keep the hell out to any and all parties.’ ‘So you can dissect my personal life all you want but yours is off limits?’ His smile was just as icy. ‘Certain aspects of my personal life are wide open to you. All you have to do is say the word and I’ll be happy to educate you in how we can fully explore it.’ ‘That is not what I meant.’ ‘You’ve taken pains to establish boundaries between us since the moment we met. This is one of my boundaries. Attempt to breach it at your peril.’ She frowned. ‘Or what? You’ll fall back on your default setting of sexual innuendo and taunts? Rafael, I’m only trying to help you.’ His hand slashed through the air in a movement so far removed from his normal laid-back indolence her mouth dropped open. ‘I do not need your help unless it’s the help I’ve hired you to provide. Right now I want you to shut up and drive.’ He clipped out the final word in a hard bite that sent a chill down her spine. After waiting a minute to steady her own shot nerves, she set the SUV back onto the road, aware of his continued shallow breathing and gritted-jaw iciness. Her fingers clenched over the titanium steering wheel and she practised some nerve-calming breaths of her own. From the very first, Rafael had known which buttons to push. He’d instinctively known that the subject of sex was anathema to her and had therefore honed in on it with the precision of a laser-guided missile. Seeing his intense reaction to his father—and she’d known immediately the nearly all-grey-haired man in the wheelchair was his father—had hammered home what she’d been surprised to learn this morning at the chapel, and had somewhat confirmed at Marco’s villa: that Rafael, as much as he pretended to be shallow and sex pest-y, had a depth he rarely showed to the world. Was that why she was so driven to pay penance for the way she’d treated him several months ago—because deep down she thought he was worth saving? Raven shied away from the probing thought and brought the car to a stop at the end of the driveway. The wide solid glass door that led into the house swung open and Diego, one of the many staff Rafael employed to run his luxurious home, came down the steps to open her door. In silence, she handed him the car keys and turned to find Rafael rounding the bonnet. The sun glinting off the silver paint cast his face into sharp relief. Her breath snagged in her chest at the masculine, tortured beauty of him. She didn’t offer to assist him as he climbed the shallow steps into the house. In the marble-floored hallway, he shrugged off his suit jacket, handed it to Diego and pulled his shirt tails impatiently from his trousers. At the glimpse of tanned golden flesh a pulse of heat shot through her belly. Sucking in a breath, she looked away, focusing on an abstract painting that took up one entire rectangular pillar in the hallway for an infinitesimal second before she glanced his away again, to find him shoving an agitated hand through his hair. ‘Do you need—?’ she started. ‘Unless I’m growing senile, today’s Sunday. Did we not agree we’d give the Florence Nightingale routine a rest on Sundays?’ Annoyance rose to mingle with her concern. ‘No, you came up with that decree. I never agreed to it.’ Handing his walking stick to a still-hovering Diego, he started to unbutton his shirt. ‘It’s a great thing I’m the boss then, isn’t it?’ Her mouth dried as several inches of stunning flesh assaulted her senses. When her brain started to short-circuit, she pulled her gaze away. ‘Undressing in the hallway, Rafael, really?’ She tried to inject as much indifference into her tone as possible but was aware her voice had become unhealthily screechy. ‘What do you think—that I’m going to run away in virginal outrage?’ His shameless grin didn’t hide the strain and tension beneath. ‘At twenty-four, I seriously doubt there’s anything virginal about you. No, mi dulzura, I’m hoping you’ll stay and cheer me on through my striptease.’ The sound that emerged from her throat made his grin widen. ‘Don’t you want to heal completely? That limp will not go away until you work hard to strengthen your core muscles and realign the bones that were damaged during the accident. If you’d just focus on that we can be rid of each other sooner rather than later.’ Although she thought she saw his shoulders stiffen as he turned to give his shirt to Diego, his grin was still in place when he faced her. ‘You’re under the impression that I want to be shot of you but you couldn’t be further from the truth. I want you right here with me every day.’ ‘So I can be your whipping girl?’ ‘I’ve never been a fan of whips, myself. Handcuffs, blindfolds, the odd paddle, certainly...but whips?’ He gave a mock shudder. ‘No, not my thing.’ His hand went to the top of his trousers. Deft fingers freed his button, followed by the loud, distinct sound of his zip lowering. She froze. Diego didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘For goodness’ sake, what are you doing, Rafael?’ He toed off his shoes and socks. ‘I thought it was obvious. I’m going for a swim. Care to join me?’ ‘I...no, thank you.’ The way her temperature had shot up, she’d need a cold shower, not the sultry warmth of Rafael’s azure infinity pool. ‘But we’ll need to talk when you’re done. I’ll come and find you—’ She nearly choked when he dropped his trousers and stepped out of them. The way his designer cotton boxer shorts cupped his impressive man package made all oxygen flee from her lungs. Utterly captivated by the man whose sculpted body, even after the accident that had laid him flat for months, was still the best-looking she’d even seen or worked with, Raven could no more stop herself from staring than she could fly to the moon. His thighs and legs bore scars from his accident, his calves solid powerful muscle that made the physio in her thrilled to be working with such a manly specimen. Dear Lord, even his feet were sexy, and she’d never been one to pay attention to feet unless they were directly related to her profession. Helplessly, her gaze travelled back up, past his golden, sculpted chest and wide, athletic shoulders to collide with icy blue eyes. ‘My, my, if I didn’t enjoy it so much I’d be offended to be treated like a piece of meat.’ She snapped back to her senses to see Diego disappearing up the granite banister-less staircase leading to Rafael’s vast first floor suite. The click of his walking stick drew attention back to the man in question. One brow was raised in silent query. ‘What do you expect if you insist on making an exhibition of yourself?’ One step brought him within touching distance. ‘That’s the beauty of free will, querida. The ability to walk away when a situation displeases you.’ ‘If I did that every time you attempted to rile me, I’d never get any work done and you’d still be in the pathetic shape I found you in five weeks ago.’ Another step. Raven breathed in and clenched her fists against the warm, wicked scent that assailed her senses. ‘You know what drew me to you when you first joined Team Esp?ritu?’ he breathed. ‘I’m sure you’re going to enlighten me.’ ‘Your eyes flash with the deepest hypnotic fire when you’re all riled up but your body screams stay away. Even the most seductive woman can’t pull that off as easily as you can. I’m infinitely fascinated to know what happened to make you this way.’ ‘Personal subjects are off the table. Besides, I thought you had me all worked out?’ His gaze dropped to her lips. She pressed them together to stop their insane tingling. ‘I know the general parameters of your inner angst. But I can’t help but feel there’s another layer, a deeper reason why you want me with every cell in your body but would chop off your hand before you would even bring yourself to touch me in any but a professional way.’ The ice that encased her soul came from so deep, so dark a place that she’d stopped trying to fathom the depths of it. ‘Enjoy your swim, Rafael. I’ll come by later to discuss the next steps of your regime.’ ‘Of course, Mistress Raven. I look forward to the many and varied ways you intend to whip me into shape.’ With a step sideways that still managed to encroach on her body space and bring even more of his pulsing body heat slapping against her, he adjusted the walking stick and sauntered away in a slow, languid walk. Hell, even a limping Rafael de Cervantes managed to move with a swagger that made her heart race. Tearing her traitorous gaze away from his tight butt, she hurried up the floating staircase to her room. Gritting her teeth against the firestorm of emotions that threatened to batter her to pieces, she changed into her workout gear. The simple act of donning the familiar attire calmed her jangling nerves. But she couldn’t forget that, once again, Rafael had cut through the outer layer of her defences and almost struck bone, almost peeled back layers she didn’t want uncovered. She pushed the niggling sensation away and shoved her feet into comfortable trainers. After a minute’s debate, she decided on the gym instead of her preferred outdoor regime. Even though the day was edging towards evening, the Spanish sun blazed far too hot for the gruelling exercise she needed to restore balance to her equilibrium. She took the specially installed lift that divided her suite from Rafael’s to the sub-basement level where the state-of-the-art gym was located. It was the only room in the whole house that didn’t have an exhibitionist’s view to the outside. Rafael’s house held no concrete walls, only thick glass interspersed with steel and chrome pillars. At first the feeling of exposure had preyed on her nerves, but now the beauty of the architecturally stunning design had won her over. Nevertheless, right this minute she was grateful for the enclosed space of the gym. Here she didn’t need to compose herself, didn’t need to hold back her punches as she slammed her gloved fist into the punching bag. Pain repeatedly shot up her arms, and gradually cleared her mind. She was here to do her job. Which started and ended with helping Rafael heal properly and regain the utmost mobility. Once she achieved her aim and made peace with her part in his accident, she could walk away from the crazy, bone-deep, completely insane attraction she felt for the man who was in every shape and form the epitome of the man who’d fathered her. The man whose playboy lifestyle had mattered to him on so deep a level he’d turned his back on his parental responsibilities until they’d been forced on him by the authorities. The same man who’d stood by and barely blinked while his friends had tried to put their hands on her. Punch! Her hand slipped. The bag continued its lethal trajectory towards her. Only her ingrained training made her sidestep the heavy-moving bag before it knocked her off her feet. Chest heaving, she tugged off the gloves and went to the climbing frame and chalked her hands. Clamping her lids shut, she regulated her breathing and forced herself to focus. Rafael would not derail her. She’d made a colossal mistake and vocalised her roiling disgust for his lifestyle at the most inappropriate moment. Whatever the papers had said, Raven knew deep down she was partly, if not wholly, responsible for putting Rafael in the dangerous frame of mind that had caused his accident. She also knew things could’ve turned out a million times worse than they had. This was her penance. She would help him get back on his feet. Then she would leave and get on with the rest of her life. Reaching high, she grabbed the first handhold. By the time she reached the top seven minutes later, her new course of action was clearly formulated. * * * ‘I’ve laid out the itinerary for the next three months. If you cooperate, I’m confident I can get you back to full health and one hundred per cent mobility with little or no after-effects,’ she started crisply as she opened the door and entered Rafael’s study. She approached his desk, only to stop when she noticed his attention was caught on the papers strewn on his glass-topped desk. ‘I’m talking to you, Rafael.’ ‘I heard you,’ he muttered, and held out his hand for the sheet without looking up. After a cursory glance, he started to shake his head. ‘This isn’t going to work.’ He slapped it down and picked up his own papers. Raven waited a beat. When he didn’t look up, she fought a sharp retort. ‘May I ask why not?’ ‘I have several events to host and meetings to attend between now and when the X1 season starts. Your itinerary requires that I stand still.’ She frowned. ‘No, it doesn’t.’ ‘It might as well. You’ve upped the regime from two to three times a day with sports massages thrown in there that would require me to be stationary. And was that acupuncture I saw in there?’ His derisive tone made her hackles rise higher. ‘I’ll be travelling a lot in the next three months. You’re sorely mistaken if you think I intend to take time off to sit around being pricked and prodded.’ She watched the light glint off his damp hair. ‘What do you mean, you’ll be travelling a lot? You’re supposed to be recuperating.’ Steely blue eyes met hers and instantly Raven was reminded of the unwavering determination that had seen him win several racing championships since he’d turned professional at nineteen. ‘I have a multi-billion-dollar company to run, or have you forgotten?’ ‘No, I haven’t. But wasn’t...isn’t Marco in charge for the time being? He told me he had everything in hand when we discussed my helping you—’ His eyes narrowed. ‘What else did you discuss with my brother?’ Mouth dry, she withstood his stare. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I expected an element of confidentiality when I hired you...’ ‘What exactly are you accusing me of?’ ‘You will not discuss details of my health with anyone else but me, is that clear?’ ‘I didn’t—’ ‘You’re glowing.’ His gaze raked her face down to her neck and back up again. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘You look...flushed. If I weren’t painfully aware of the unlikelihood of it, I’d have said you had just tumbled from a horizontal marathon in a lover’s bed. Not quite tumbled to within an inch of your life, more like—’ ‘Can we get back to this, please?’ She waved the sheet in his face then slammed it back in front of him. He shrugged and sat back in his plush leather chair, the cool, calm businessman back in place. ‘Marco has his own company to run...and a new family to attend to. Besides, he’s taking a well-earned break, so I’m managing his company as well.’ A wave of shock nearly rendered her speechless. ‘And you didn’t think to speak to me before you decided all this?’ ‘I wasn’t aware I needed your permission to live my life or run my business.’ His voice, a stiletto-thin blade, skimmed close to her skin. She took a breath and searched for calm, a state which she’d concluded long ago was near on impossible when in Rafael’s presence. ‘It’s part of the contract we agreed. If you’re going to take on any substantial amount of work I’ll need to know so I can formulate your therapy accordingly. For goodness’ sake, you can’t go from zero to full-time work in the space of an afternoon. And I really don’t know what you were thinking, telling your brother you’d take on this amount of work for the next goodness knows how long!’ Rafael’s gaze dropped to her annoyed almost-pout and fought not to continue downward to the agitated heaving of her breasts. Peachy...the smooth skin of her throat glowed a faint golden-pink. He’d long been fascinated by how a woman with jet-black hair such as hers could have skin so pale it was almost translucent. He knew she took care to stay out of the sun and practised her exercises before daybreak. An image of her, streamlined, sleek and poised upside down in a martial arts pose, slammed into his brain. The groin-hardening effect made him grip his pen harder. His gaze fell once more on her lips and it was all he could do not to round his desk, clasp her face in his hands and taste her. Or maybe coax her round to him, pull down that prim little skirt she’d donned and discover the delights underneath. Dios, focus! ‘Luckily, I don’t answer to you, mi dulzura.’ He certainly had no intention of enlightening her on what he’d been working steadily on for over a month; what he hadn’t stopped thinking of since he’d woken from his coma. Because finding a way to occupy his mind was the only sure way of keeping his many and varied demons at bay. ‘...I hope to hell you’re not thinking of adding racing to this insane schedule.’ She paled a little as she said it and the usual kick of satisfaction surged. ‘And what if I am?’ He moderated his voice despite the cold fist of pain that lodged in his gut. Unless a miracle happened, his racing career was over. A part of him had accepted that. Deep inside his soul, however, it was another matter. ‘I’m hoping it won’t come to that. Because you know as well as I do, you’re in no shape to get into a racing cockpit.’ He raised an interested brow. ‘And how exactly do you intend to stop me?’ Her delectable lips parted but no words emerged, and her eyes took on a haunted look that made him grit his teeth. ‘I can’t, I suppose. But I think you’ll agree you’re not in the best shape.’ ‘Physically or mentally?’ ‘Only you can judge your mental state but, as your physiotherapist, I’d say you’re not ready.’ He finally got his body under enough control to stand. He caught her sharp inhalation when he rounded the desk and perched on the edge next to where she stood. Hazel eyes, wide and spirited, glared at him. Taking the sheet from her hand, he dropped it on the table, reached across—slowly, so she wouldn’t bolt—and traced his forefinger along her jaw. ‘Your eyes are so huge right now. You’re almost shaking with worry for me. Yet you try and make me think you detest the very ground I walk on.’ Her hand rose to intercept his finger but, instead of pushing it away, she kept a hold of it, imploring eyes boring into his. ‘I don’t detest you, Rafael. If I did, I wouldn’t be here. I’ll admit we’re...different but—’ her shoulders rose and fell under the thin layer of her cotton top ‘—I’m willing to put aside our differences to help you recuperate properly. And racing before you’re ready...come on, you know that’s crazy. Besides, think of your family, of Sasha. Do you think you’re being fair to them, putting them through this?’ He froze. ‘I’ve never responded well to emotional blackmail. And leave Sasha out of this. I’ll tell you what, if you don’t want me to race, you’ll have to find other ways to keep me entertained.’ She dropped his hand as if it burned, just like he’d known she would. ‘Why does everything always circle back to sex with you?’ ‘I didn’t actually mean that sexually, but what the hell, let’s go with it.’ ‘Stop doing that!’ ‘Doing what, mi encantador?’ ‘Pretending you’re a male bimbo whore.’ ‘Are you saying I’m not?’ He pretended astonishment, the fizz of getting under her skin headier than the most potent wine. She nodded at the papers on his desk. ‘You just reminded me that you run a multi-billion-dollar corporation. I don’t care how great you claim to be in bed; you couldn’t have made it without using some upstairs skills.’ He leaned back on the table when a twinge of pain shot through his left hip. ‘How do you know?’ ‘You shouldn’t sit like that. You’re putting too much pressure on your hip.’ Annoyance replaced his buzz. He didn’t deny that Raven had made much progress where his previous physios had failed. After all, it was the reason Team Esp?ritu had hired her as his personal therapist last year. She was the best around and got impressive results with her rigorous regime. But she’d always been able to brush him off as if he were a pesky fly. He remained in his exact position, raising a daring brow when her gaze collided with his. His blood thickened when she took the dare and stepped closer. Without warning, her hand shot out and grabbed his hip. Her thumb dug into his hipbone where the pain radiated from. A few rotations of pressure-based massage and he wanted to moan with relief. ‘Why do you fight me when you know I’m the best person to help you get better?’ she breathed. ‘Because my mamà told me I never took the easy way out. You will never get me to ask how high when you say jump.’ She paused for a second, then continued to massage his hip. ‘You never talk about your mother,’ she murmured. Tension rippled through him. ‘I never talk about anyone in my family. The prying all comes from you, bonita. You’ve made it a mission to upturn every single rock in my life.’ ‘And yet I don’t feel in any way enlightened about your life.’ ‘Maybe because I’m an empty vessel.’ He tried damn hard not to let the acid-like guilt bleed through his voice. ‘No, you’re not. You just like to pretend you are. Have you considered that by pretending to be something you’re not, all you’re doing is attracting attention to the very thing you wish to avoid?’ ‘That’s deep. And I presume that thought challenges you endlessly?’ Her hand had moved dangerously close to his fly. If she looked down or moved her actions a few inches west, she’d realise that, despite their verbal sparring skimming the murkier waters of his personal life, he was no less excited by her touch. In fact, he wasn’t ashamed to admit that he found the return of his libido exhilarating. For a few weeks after he’d emerged from his coma it’d been touch and go. His doctors had cautioned him that he might not resume complete sexual function. Raven Blass’s appearance in his hospital room five weeks ago had blown that misdiagnosis straight out of the water. ‘No,’ she responded. ‘I know better than to issue challenges to you.’ ‘You’re such a buzzkill,’ he said, but he felt relieved that she’d decided to leave the matter of his mother alone. He saw the faintest trace of a smile on her face before it disappeared. Her fingers moved away, rounded his hip and settled into his back. The movement brought her closer still, her chest mere inches from his. Firm, relief-bringing fingers dug into his muscle. Again he suppressed a moan of relief. ‘I know. But think how smug I’d feel if you got back into racing before you were ready and reversed your progress. You’d never hear the end of it if you proved me right.’ The sultry movement of her mouth was a siren call he didn’t try very hard to resist. His forefinger was gliding over her mouth before he could stop himself. Her fingers stilled before digging painfully into his back. The rush of her breath over his finger sent his pulse thundering. ‘Or I could die. And this relentless song and dance could be over between us. Once and for all.’ CHAPTER FOUR THE CALM DELIVERY of his words, spoken with barely a flicker of those lush jet eyelashes, froze her to the core. ‘Is that what you want? To die?’ Her words were no more than a whisper, coated with the shock that held her immobile. ‘We all have to die some time.’ ‘But why, Rafael? Why do you wish to hurry the process when every rational human being fights to stay alive?’ ‘Mi tesoro, rational isn’t exactly what most people think when they look at me.’ ‘That’s not an answer.’ She realised she was hanging on to him with a death claw but, for the life of her, Raven couldn’t let go. She feared her legs would fail her if she did. And hell, she wasn’t even sure why Rafael’s explanation was so important to her. For all she knew, it was another statement meant to titillate and shock. But, looking closer, her blood grew colder. Something in his expression wasn’t quite right. Or, rather, it was too right, as if he held his statement with some conviction. ‘What is it, Rafael? Please tell me why you said that.’ ‘Quid pro quo, sweetheart. If I bare my soul, will you bear yours?’ ‘Would that give you something to live for?’ Raven could’ve sworn she heard the snap of his jaw as he went rigid in her arms. Grasping her by the elbows, he set her away from him and straightened to his impressive six foot three inches. His lids shuttered his expression and he returned to the seat behind his desk. ‘The amateur head-shrinking session is over, chiquita. Modify your regime to accommodate travel and liaise with Diego if you’ll need special equipment for where we’ll be travelling. We leave on Wednesday.’ He reeled off their intended destinations before picking up a glossy photo of the latest Cervantes sports car. Knowing she wouldn’t make any more headway with him, she turned to leave. ‘Oh, and Raven?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘We’ll be attending several high profile events, so make sure you pack something other than kick-boxing shorts, trainers and tank tops. As delectable as they are, they won’t suit.’ * * * Raven fought the need to smash her fist into the nearest priceless vase as she left Rafael’s study. Not because he would see her, although the glass walls meant he would, but because not losing control was paramount if she wished to maintain her equilibrium. She’d fought long and hard to channel her tumultuous emotions into useful energy when, at sixteen, she’d realised how very little her father cared for her. For far too long, she’d been so angry with the world for taking her mother away and replacing her with a useless, despicable parent, she’d let her temper get the better of her. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926322&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.