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His Ultimate Prize

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His Ultimate Prize Maya Blake 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, hell walk away.But will virgin Raven risk a night in Rafaels bed? So, which is it to becompliance without question or physical restraints? Raven strolled towards Rafael, her gaze cool and collected. The laughter that ripped from his throat felt surprisingly great. Hed had nothing to laugh about for far longer than he cared to remember. Several heads turned to watch him but he didnt care. He was more intrigued by the blush that spread over Ravens 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 youre beyond redemption. No one can save you. Despite his bitter self-condemnation moments ago, hearing the words repeated so starkly caused Rafaels chest to tighten. Because, knowingly or unknowingly, shed struck a very large, very raw nerve. Then tell me, Raven, if Im 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 sisters 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 isnt lost in a book she likes to swim, cycle, travel and Tweet! You can get in touch with her via e-mail, at mayablake@ymail.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 Blasss 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 dont need guidance on how to hold a woman in my arms. I give instructions; I dont take them. Rafael de Cervantess 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 hed tried to unsettle her with in the five weeks since hed 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 nephews christening altogether. After agreeing to be his godfather, Im sure you not turning up in church will go down well with your brother and Sasha. As shed known it would, the mention of Sasha de Cervantess name caused the atmosphere to shift from toying-with-danger sexual banter to watch-it iciness. Rafaels 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 didnt agree...exactly. Her snort slipped out before she could stop it. Yeah, right. The likelihood of you agreeing to something youre 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, youre too far away for this to work. If I move the wrong way and land on top of you, Ill crush you, you being such a tiny thing and all. Im 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. Im 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. Im 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 shed 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 Rafaels back and braced herself to hold his weight. Despite the injuries hed 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 didnt 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 hed lain in after hed crashed his Premier X1 racing car and ended his world championship reign eight months ago had only formed part of his injuries. Hed also sustained several pelvic fractures and a broken leg that had gone mostly untreated while hed 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, dont you think? Certainly, this sexual tension youre 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, Im 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 theyre doing now. Its been such a long time since I felt this surge of essence to a particular part of my anatomy, I was beginning to fear itd 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 thats 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 Jacks ceremony was being held. If youre trying to get me to resign by being intolerable, I wont, she stated in as firm a tone as possible, hoping hed 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 mothers huge treatment bills. It would take a lot more than Rafaels sexual taunts to make her walk away. He shrugged and fell into step beside her. Good. As long as youre here tormenting yourself with your guilt, I feel better. Acute discomfort lodged in her chest. I thought we werent going to speak about that? You should know by now, rules mean nothing to me. Unspoken rules mean even less. Hows 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 Ravens 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 havent 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 Cervantess 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 Rafaels 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. Its not a gig; its your nephews christening. In a church. With other guests. So act accordingly. Another dark chuckle. Or what, youll put me over your knee? Or will you just pray that I be struck down by lightning if I blaspheme? Im not rising to your baits, Rafael. Mostly because she had an inkling of how hard this morning would be for him. According to Rafaels housekeeper, it was the first time hed interacted with his family since his return to Len from his private hospital in Barcelona. You can try to rile me all you want. Im not going anywhere. A martyr to the last? A physiotherapist who knows how grumpy patients can be when they dont get their way. What makes you think Im 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 youre here now, Im 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 didnt answer back. She hoped it was because they were within the hallowed walls of his familys 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 whod managed to gain an invitation to the christening of Sasha and Marco de Cervantess firstborn turned to watch their slow progress up the aisle. Shame youre 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, youre 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 dont think thats how your brother and his wife see it. Rafaels jaw tightened before he shrugged. Im prepared to accede that for some the Halleys Comet effect does happen. But well wait and see if its a mirage or the real thing, shall we? Her breath caught at the wealth of cynicism in his tone. She couldnt 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 Rafaels 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 Im thinking of is dropping my nephew. You dont need to hide it, Rafael. Your tension is so thick its suffocating. His eyes grew colder. Remember when I said weddings bore me? She nodded warily. Christenings bore me even more. Besides, Ive 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, Im not your grandmother so youre spared the smacking. Besides, youre 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 didnt 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 youll 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 Cervantess 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 whod worked the X1 Premier circuit, she knew all about the de Cervantes brothers. Gorgeous beyond words and successful in their individual rights, theyd 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 theyd 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 whod 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, shed 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 shed put the past behind her, shed been proved brutally wrong again when shed met Rafael de Cervantes. Rafaels mouth very close to her ear ripped her from her painful thoughts. Right, Im up, I believe. Which means, so are you. Her heart leapt into her throat. Excuse me? I can barely stand up straight, peque?a. Its time to do your duty and support me just in case it all gets too much and I keel over. But youre perfectly capable Rafa... Marcos voice held a touch of impatience. Rafaels 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 shed tried her damnedest to stem and, failing that, ignore since the first moment shed clapped eyes on the legendary racing driver last year. What had she said to himsuck 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 Sashas 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, shed 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. Hed tried to tell his brother over and over since hed dropped the bombshell on him a month ago. Hell, as late as this morning hed 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 sons 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 ones hero. He was the last person any father should entrust with his child. He gazed down into his nephews sweet, innocent face. How long before Jack de Cervantes recognised him for what he was? An empty shell. A heartless bastard whod only succeeded at two thingsdriving 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 nephews head. At the priests 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 brothers child, the poor boys 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 nephews adorable curls and plump cheeks. Beside him, he heard Ravens 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 memoriesboth living and deadlingered 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 stooda constant reminder of what hed done. A reminder that because of him, because of callous destruction, this was his mothers final resting place. His beloved Mam... His breath caught as Sasha, his sister-in-law, came towards him, her now quietened son in her arm. Sasha...something else hed ruined. Dios... Hes got a set of lungs on him, hasnt 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. Hed denied his mother thisthe 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 champs not that bad. Besides, Marco tells me he takes after you, and I dont 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 dont 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 Im between phases two and three on the recovery scale. Dios knows what that means. All I know is that Im still a broken, broken man. In more ways than he cared to count. She gently rubbed her sons back. Youre 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. Were 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 youre not giving her a hard time. From what I hear, shes the best physio there is. Despite telling himself it wasnt the time or place, he couldnt stop his gaze from tracing the perfect lines of Raven Blasss body. And it was a perfect body, honed by hours and hours of gruelling physical exercise. She hadnt 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 hed laid eyes on her in his racing paddock almost eighteen months ago. Of course, hed 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. Shed gone out of her way to hammer her rejection home...right at the time when hed 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, Im 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. Id forgotten how stubborn you are. Its okay. Im happy to remind you when you need reminding. Your equally demanding godson demands your presence at the villa, so well see you both there in half an hour. No excuses. If we must, Rafael responded in a bored drawl. Sashas lips firmed. You must. Or Ill have to leave my guests and come and fetch you personally. And Marco wouldnt 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 wouldnt want to disappoint him. Also, dont 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. Hed long stopped resenting the kick in his groin when he looked at her. In fact he welcomed it. Hed 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. Ive seen her in action during her training sessions. Shes 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. Sashas smile widened. I see you havent lost your dirty sense of humour. Thats 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 brothers arm enfolded her immediately. Rafael gritted his teeth against the disconcerting pang and accompanying guilt that niggled him. Hed robbed his family of so much... So, which is it to becompliance 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 theyd 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 dont revere your surroundings enough to keep your voice down when you air your...peccadilloes. The laughter that ripped from his throat felt surprisingly great. Hed had nothing to laugh about for far longer than he cared to remember. Several heads turned to watch him but he didnt care. He was more intrigued by the blush that spread over Ravens 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 youre beyond redemption. No one can save you. Despite his bitter self-condemnation moments ago, hearing the words repeated so starkly caused Rafaels 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, shed struck a very large, very raw nerve. Then tell me, Raven, if Im beyond redemption, what the hell are you doing here? CHAPTER TWO IM NOT HERE to save you, if thats what you think. The words hovered like heat striations in Ravens brain an hour later as she stood on the large sun-baked terrace of Marco and Sashas home. This time the rich surroundings of the architecturally stunning Casa Len failed to awe her as they usually did. Im not here to save you... She snorted. What a load of bull. That was exactly why shed begged Marco to let her visit Rafael in hospital once hed woken from his coma all those months ago. It was why shed flown to Len from London five weeks ago, after months of trying to contact Rafael and being stonily ignored by him; and why shed begged him to let her treat him when she found out what an appalling job his carers were doingnot because they were incompetent, but because Rafael didnt seem inclined in any way to want to get better, and theyd 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 shed said to him eight months ago, right before hed climbed into the cockpit of his car and crashed it into a solid concrete wall minutes later. Because it wasnt Rafaels fault that she hadnt been able to curb her stupid, crazy delusional feelings until it was almost too late. It wasnt his fault that, despite all signs that he was nothing but a carbon copy of her heartless playboy father, she hadnt been able to stop herself from lusting after him No, scratch that. Not a carbon copy. Rafael was no ones copy. He was a breed in his own right. With a smile that could slice a womans 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 shed 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 Ravens father held over her. And although she knew after five weeks in his company that Rafaels 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 shed known this on his unfortunate race day. But, tormented by her mothers suffering, her control when it came to Rafael had slipped badly. Instead of walking away with dignified indifference, shed 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 Ive studied you enough to recognise your frowns. Two lines mean youre unhappy because Im 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 youre 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 theyd held at the chapel. Youre wearing a three-line frown now. She took the proffered drink and glanced away, unable quite to meet his gaze. You think Im that easy to read? The fact that youre 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 cant remember the accident itself but can remember every single word you said to me only minutes before it happened, doesnt it? Her insides twisted with regret. I...Rafael...Im sorry... As I told you in Barcelona, Im sorry wont 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 wont 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 shouldnt 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. Well see who breaks first. Her fingers tightened around the cold glass. Is this all really a game to you? The man in turmoil shed glimpsed at the chapel seemed very distant now. But shed 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 youll be recommending I practise Transcendental Meditation to get in touch with my chakra. Meditation isnt such a bad thing. I could teach you... His mocking laugh stopped her in her tracks. Will we braid each others hair too? Maybe share a joint or two while were 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. Youre cocky, arrogant and dismissive of things you know nothing about. I dont 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. Its obvious youve had a...traumatic experience in the past Thats like a psychic predicting someones 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 youre thinking of taking up clairvoyance, youll need to do better than that. His bared teeth held the predatory smile of one who knew he had his prey cornered. Claro, lets do it this way. Ill make a psychic prediction. If Im wrong, feel free to throw that glass of vintage champagne in my face. Id never make a scene like that, especially not at your nephews christening. The reminder of where they were made him stiffen slightly but it didnt 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 hed uncover, she started to shake her head, but Rafael was already speaking. Youve 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 didnt move he leaned in closer. Since that relationship ended, youve decided to take the tired all men are bastards route. Youd 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 shed 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, Ill take it Psychic Rafa is accurate on all accounts? His arrogance finally loosened her tongue. Dont flatter yourself. I told you when you started playing these games that I wouldnt participate. I know youre challenged by any woman who doesnt fall for your charms, but not everyone subscribes to the OMG-Rafael de Cervantes-makes-my-knickers-wet Fan Club. Rafaels smile was blinding, but it held a speculation that made her hackles rise. Pique?a, since theres only one way to test that youre 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 dont mind if I borrow him for five minutes, do you, Raven? Relief spiked, headier than the champagne shed barely drunk. Not at all. We werent discussing anything important. Rafaels 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. Whats 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. Whats 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 mans been asking for you. Grey eyes bored sharply into his. I think its time. Every bone in his body turned excruciatingly rigid. Thats for me to decide, surely? And if he didnt feel he was ready to ask for forgiveness, who was anybody to decide otherwise? Theres been enough hurt all around, Rafa. Its time to move things forward. He spiked tense fingers through his hair. You wouldnt be trying to save me again by any chance, would you, brother? An impatient look passed through Marcos eyes. From the look of things, you dont 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 Patrn. In that case, were copacetic. Was there anything else? Marcos 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 Im mistaken, Im still the CEO of X1 Premier Management. The events start in three weeks. You delegated some of the events organisation but its time for me to take the reins again. His brothers gaze probed, worry lurking within. Are you sure you dont want to sit this one out? Im sure. Dont 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 didnt remember his accident, hed seen pictures of the wreckage in vivid detail. He was very much aware that lucky to be alive didnt 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. Im happy to hear it. According to Raven, youre 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 itll be safer for me not to know which part of your anatomy youre thinking with right at this moment. Bueno, Ill be in touch later in the week to discuss other business. No need to wait till next week. I can tell you now that Im 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. Marcos 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. Sashas 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. Ill 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 Ravens 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. Ill 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 thats 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 didnt 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 Id 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. Well discuss my various buttons later. Right now you need to eat something before you wither away. I noticed you didnt 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? Its called Krav Maga. It works the mind as well as the body. He let his gaze rake her from top to toe. I dont dispute the effects on the body. But I dont think its 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 didnt stop her glaring fiercely at him. Rafael was so busy enjoying the way he got under her skin that he didnt hear the low hum of the electric wheelchair until it was too late. Buenos tardes, mi hijo. Ive been looking for you. The greeting was low and deep. It didnt 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 Rafaels 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 couldnt let go. He sucked in a breath as his vision blurred. Before the red haze completely dulled his vision, he saw Ravens concerned look as her eyes darted between him and the wheelchair-bound figure. Rafael? He couldnt find the words to respond to the greeting. Nor could he find the words to stem Ravens escalating concern. Dios m?o, he couldnt 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. Youll do well to remember that. Raven shouldve heeded the icy warning, shouldve just kept her hands on the wheel of the luxury SUV and kept driving towards the stunning glass and steel structure that was Rafaels home on the other side of the de Cervantes estate from his brothers villa. But her senses jumped at the aura of acute pain that had engulfed Rafael the moment hed 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 youre doing? Ive stopped because we need to talk about what just happened. Your mental health affects your bodys recovery just as much as your physiotherapy regime. Healthy mind, healthy body? Thats a piss-poor way of trying to extract the hot gossip, Raven m?a. Youll need to do much better than that. Why dont 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 didnt already guess, that was my father. Our relationship comes under the subject line of kryptonitekeep 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 Ill be happy to educate you in how we can fully explore it. That is not what I meant. Youve 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? Youll fall back on your default setting of sexual innuendo and taunts? Rafael, Im 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 its the help Ive 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. Hed 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 fatherand shed known immediately the nearly all-grey-haired man in the wheelchair was his fatherhad hammered home what shed been surprised to learn this morning at the chapel, and had somewhat confirmed at Marcos 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 shed treated him several months agobecause 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 didnt 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 Im growing senile, todays Sunday. Did we not agree wed 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. Its a great thing Im the boss then, isnt 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 thinkthat Im going to run away in virginal outrage? His shameless grin didnt hide the strain and tension beneath. At twenty-four, I seriously doubt theres anything virginal about you. No, mi dulzura, Im hoping youll stay and cheer me on through my striptease. The sound that emerged from her throat made his grin widen. Dont 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 youd 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. Youre under the impression that I want to be shot of you but you couldnt be further from the truth. I want you right here with me every day. So I can be your whipping girl? Ive 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 didnt bat an eyelid. For goodness sake, what are you doing, Rafael? He toed off his shoes and socks. I thought it was obvious. Im going for a swim. Care to join me? I...no, thank you. The way her temperature had shot up, shed need a cold shower, not the sultry warmth of Rafaels azure infinity pool. But well need to talk when youre done. Ill 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 shed 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 shed 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 didnt enjoy it so much Id 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 Rafaels 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. Thats 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, Id never get any work done and youd 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. Im sure youre going to enlighten me. Your eyes flash with the deepest hypnotic fire when youre all riled up but your body screams stay away. Even the most seductive woman cant pull that off as easily as you can. Im 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 cant help but feel theres 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 shed stopped trying to fathom the depths of it. Enjoy your swim, Rafael. Ill 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 couldnt forget that, once again, Rafael had cut through the outer layer of her defences and almost struck bone, almost peeled back layers she didnt want uncovered. She pushed the niggling sensation away and shoved her feet into comfortable trainers. After a minutes 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 Rafaels to the sub-basement level where the state-of-the-art gym was located. It was the only room in the whole house that didnt have an exhibitionists view to the outside. Rafaels 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 didnt need to compose herself, didnt 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 whod fathered her. The man whose playboy lifestyle had mattered to him on so deep a level hed turned his back on his parental responsibilities until theyd been forced on him by the authorities. The same man whod 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. Shed 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 couldve 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. * * * Ive laid out the itinerary for the next three months. If you cooperate, Im 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 Rafaels study. She approached his desk, only to stop when she noticed his attention was caught on the papers strewn on his glass-topped desk. Im 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 isnt going to work. He slapped it down and picked up his own papers. Raven waited a beat. When he didnt 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 doesnt. It might as well. Youve 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. Ill be travelling a lot in the next three months. Youre 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, youll be travelling a lot? Youre 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 hed turned professional at nineteen. I have a multi-billion-dollar company to run, or have you forgotten? No, I havent. But wasnt...isnt 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 didnt Youre glowing. His gaze raked her face down to her neck and back up again. Excuse me? You look...flushed. If I werent painfully aware of the unlikelihood of it, Id have said you had just tumbled from a horizontal marathon in a lovers 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, hes taking a well-earned break, so Im managing his company as well. A wave of shock nearly rendered her speechless. And you didnt think to speak to me before you decided all this? I wasnt 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 shed concluded long ago was near on impossible when in Rafaels presence. Its part of the contract we agreed. If youre going to take on any substantial amount of work Ill need to know so I can formulate your therapy accordingly. For goodness sake, you cant go from zero to full-time work in the space of an afternoon. And I really dont know what you were thinking, telling your brother youd take on this amount of work for the next goodness knows how long! Rafaels 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. Hed 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 shed donned and discover the delights underneath. Dios, focus! Luckily, I dont answer to you, mi dulzura. He certainly had no intention of enlightening her on what hed been working steadily on for over a month; what he hadnt stopped thinking of since hed 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 youre 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. Im hoping it wont come to that. Because you know as well as I do, youre 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 cant, I suppose. But I think youll agree youre not in the best shape. Physically or mentally? Only you can judge your mental state but, as your physiotherapist, Id say youre 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 acrossslowly, so she wouldnt boltand traced his forefinger along her jaw. Your eyes are so huge right now. Youre 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 dont detest you, Rafael. If I did, I wouldnt be here. Ill admit were...different but her shoulders rose and fell under the thin layer of her cotton top Im willing to put aside our differences to help you recuperate properly. And racing before youre ready...come on, you know thats crazy. Besides, think of your family, of Sasha. Do you think youre being fair to them, putting them through this? He froze. Ive never responded well to emotional blackmail. And leave Sasha out of this. Ill tell you what, if you dont want me to race, youll have to find other ways to keep me entertained. She dropped his hand as if it burned, just like hed known she would. Why does everything always circle back to sex with you? I didnt actually mean that sexually, but what the hell, lets go with it. Stop doing that! Doing what, mi encantador? Pretending youre a male bimbo whore. Are you saying Im 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 dont care how great you claim to be in bed; you couldnt 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 shouldnt sit like that. Youre putting too much pressure on your hip. Annoyance replaced his buzz. He didnt 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 shed 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 Im the best person to help you get better? she breathed. Because my mam 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. Youve made it a mission to upturn every single rock in my life. And yet I dont feel in any way enlightened about your life. Maybe because Im an empty vessel. He tried damn hard not to let the acid-like guilt bleed through his voice. No, youre not. You just like to pretend you are. Have you considered that by pretending to be something youre not, all youre doing is attracting attention to the very thing you wish to avoid? Thats 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, shed 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 wasnt ashamed to admit that he found the return of his libido exhilarating. For a few weeks after hed emerged from his coma itd been touch and go. His doctors had cautioned him that he might not resume complete sexual function. Raven Blasss 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. Youre such a buzzkill, he said, but he felt relieved that shed 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 Id feel if you got back into racing before you were ready and reversed your progress. Youd never hear the end of it if you proved me right. The sultry movement of her mouth was a siren call he didnt 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 isnt exactly what most people think when they look at me. Thats not an answer. She realised she was hanging on to him with a death claw but, for the life of her, Raven couldnt let go. She feared her legs would fail her if she did. And hell, she wasnt even sure why Rafaels 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 wasnt 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 couldve 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 youll need special equipment for where well 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 wouldnt make any more headway with him, she turned to leave. Oh, and Raven? Yes? Well 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 wont suit. * * * Raven fought the need to smash her fist into the nearest priceless vase as she left Rafaels 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. Shed fought long and hard to channel her tumultuous emotions into useful energy when, at sixteen, shed realised how very little her father cared for her. For far too long, shed been so angry with the world for taking her mother away and replacing her with a useless, despicable parent, shed let her temper get the better of her. . . , (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926322&lfrom=390579938) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .
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