Lazaro's Revenge Jane Porter Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR One day Lazaro Herrera will get revenge on Dante, his half brother, who received all the love and opportunities from their father that he was denied. When Dante's sister-in-law Zoe arrives in Argentina, Lazaro sees his chance for revenge.But Lazaro hasn't counted on Zoe's blond, blue-eyed beauty and the powerful sexual magnetism that smolders between them. Will his plan for revenge fall apart or can he still go through with it and deny his own happiness? “Who are you, anyway? I don’t even know your name.” “Lazaro Herrera.” The name rolled off his tongue: fluid, complex, sensual. The r’s trilled, the z was accented, the vowels so rich and smoky they could have been aged whiskey. Lazaro Herrera. It was a name that fit him, a name that echoed with strength and muscle and power. “I think I’ll take that drink,” she whispered. His fingers brushed hers as he handed her the glass. “Sip it. Slowly.” His skin was warm, yet his touch scalded her. She nearly dropped the glass. “Why are you doing this?” He shrugged, a vague shift of his massive shoulders. “I have reasons.” “But what did I do? You don’t even know me.” “This isn’t about you.” “Then what is it about?” Her voice had risen. “Revenge.” by Jane Porter In Dante’s Debt #2298 Lazaro’s Revenge #2304 Coming soon from Harlequin Presents . Lucio’s story #2358 The Galvàns are proud Argentinean aristocrats, in need of husbands and wives…. Lazaro’s Revenge Jane Porter www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) CONTENTS PROLOGUE CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE PROLOGUE “I DON’T kidnap women,” Lazaro Herrera retorted grimly, his back to the plate-glass window overlooking Buenos Aires’s fashionable Avenida Sante Fe boulevard. “I might have a reputation for being ruthless, but that’s business, not personal.” “Sometimes I’m not sure if it isn’t personal,” Dante Galvàn answered, almost as an aside. Lazaro turned sharply to face the man who headed Galvàn Enterprises, and the only man Lazaro answered to. Dante might be chief executive officer but as president, Lazaro was the acting manager. “Even I have scruples, and I draw the line at kidnapping.” “You’re misinterpreting me. I never said kidnap. Zoe is my wife’s younger sister. She’s just twenty-two. All I want to do is to protect her.” Lazaro’s gaze narrowed speculatively. “Protect Daisy, you mean.” Dante didn’t say anything and Lazaro’s mouth twisted grimly. “Neither you nor Daisy like this American, Carter Scott—” “For good reasons, mind you.” “So what you’re really doing is shielding Daisy from unpleasant news.” Dante didn’t immediately answer. His mouth pressed tight, his features pinched. Dark purple shadows formed crescents beneath his amber eyes. “Daisy can’t lose this baby. She can’t handle this right now, can’t handle more bad news, and I’ll be damned if I let her suffer through another miscarriage.” Pain throbbed in Dante’s voice, pain and anger and helplessness. Lazaro knew about Daisy’s two previous miscarriages. The second one occurred last year, and fairly late in the pregnancy. Daisy had been devastated by the loss and Dante had taken six weeks off from work to be with Daisy as she convalesced at the estancia. It was then Lazaro had completely taken over management of the corporation. Unfortunately, Dante didn’t know he was playing straight into Lazaro’s hands. Dante didn’t know that every move he made, every bit of power he relinquished, only strengthened Lazaro’s position, and weakened his own. “I’m lucky to have you,” Dante said quietly. “If it weren’t for you, we’d all be in trouble.” Lazaro tensed, his conscience pricked by Dante’s earnest gratitude. He hated the tug of contradictory emotions within him and turned to face the window where Buenos Aires’s skyline sparkled in the sunshine. For the first time in a long time, he despised what he’d started here, with the Galvàns. He despised the secrets he kept buried in his heart, despised the thing that drove him to destroy Dante and the Galvàns, but it was too late to change the course now. Yet even as he stood at the window, weighted by memories of a dark past, he felt Dante’s worry for Daisy, felt Dante’s own burden, and longed to warn Dante to be careful. Don’t trust me. Don’t feel safe with me. Don’t let me close to your family. But Lazaro didn’t speak. He stifled the guilt and sense of obligation, telling himself that Dante’s problems weren’t his problems. Dante’s pain wasn’t his pain. Dante’s loss wasn’t his loss. Lazaro drew a deep breath, hardened his emotions, and reminded himself that this wasn’t a simple feud. It was revenge. More than revenge. It was about one’s soul. His mother’s. Ice sheeting his heart, Lazaro turned from the city glittering with sunshine to face his secret arch rival. “What’s the plan?” CHAPTER ONE “BE quiet, do as you’re told, and everything will be fine.” She’d been kidnapped—abducted in the middle of the day from Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires in full view of airport security. Zoe Collingsworth’s stomach plummeted as the helicopter tilted sideways and flew at a peculiar angle to the earth below. She gripped her boxy seat tighter, fingers clenched so hard that the knuckles ached. He’d told her not to talk and she hadn’t, but she was very afraid. This couldn’t really be happening…this had to be a bad dream… “We’ll be landing in a few minutes.” She jerked at the sound of his voice. It was the first time he’d spoken in the two hours they’d been aboard the helicopter. She’d never heard a voice pitched so low and it rumbled through her like a slow-moving freight train. “Where are you taking me?” she whispered, hands trembling. He briefly glanced her way, his narrowed eyes barely resting on her. “It doesn’t matter.” Her mouth went dry, fear sucking heat from her limbs. She touched her seat belt, checking the tension in the belt, as though the small firm strap across her lap could somehow protect her from whatever was to come next. She wanted to say something fierce and defiant, wanted to be brave because that’s how Daisy handled problems. But Zoe wasn’t a warrior woman and she felt the worst kind of terror imaginable. She’d never even been out of Kentucky before, and now on her first trip anywhere she was…she was… Kidnapped. Her heart thudded so fast and hard she thought it might explode. She stared at her captor. He wasn’t looking at her, but staring out the window, his gaze fixed on the darkening landscape below. Twilight swathed all in shadows. “What do you want from me?” Finally she had his attention. He stared at her in the fading light, long dark lashes concealing his eyes, his expression curiously hard. There was nothing remotely gentle in his grim features. “Let’s not do this now.” His English was flawless and yet his tone cut razor-sharp. He’d been schooled in the States, she thought blankly, numb from head to toe. “Are you going to…hurt me?” She heard the wobble in her voice, the break between words that revealed her fear and exhaustion. He heard it, too, and his firm mouth compressed, flatter, harder. “I don’t hurt women.” “But you do kidnap them?” she choked, on the verge of hysteria, her imagination beginning to run away with her. She’d been up twenty-four hours without sleep and she was losing control. “Only if I’m asked to,” he answered as the helicopter dipped. He glanced out the window and nodded with satisfaction. “We’re landing. Hold on.” The helicopter touched down. While the pilot worked the controls, her abductor flung the door open and stepped out. “Come,” he said, extending a hand to her. Zoe recoiled from his touch. “No.” She couldn’t see his face in the darkness but felt his impatience. “It’s not a choice, Se?orita Collingsworth. ?Vamanos!” Slowly, trembling with fear, she climbed from the helicopter. Her legs were numb and stiff, as if cardboard legs instead of tissue and bone. The night felt warm, far warmer than she’d expected, and yet she convulsively pressed her thin traveling coat closer to her frame. Lights shone ahead. Heart pounding, she gazed at the illuminated house and outbuildings. But beyond the immediate circle of light there was only darkness. A world of darkness. Where was she? What did he intend to do? He moved behind her, reached into the helicopter and lifted out her suitcase and another small traveling bag. His, she thought with a shudder. Bags out, he shut the helicopter door and immediately the helicopter lifted, rising straight from the ground into the dark starry night. The whirring blades blew her hair into her eyes and Zoe stumbled backward, trying to escape the noise and rush of air, tripping over the suitcases behind her. She fell backward. Hands reached out to break her fall. She felt the hard pressure of his body, felt his hands tighten on her as he placed her on her feet. Immediately, she pulled away, and yet that split second of contact was more than she could bear. In that split second she’d felt his strength and heat penetrate her coat, penetrate her skin, penetrate all the way into her bones. He was hard and unyielding. Just that brief contact left her burned. Bruised. God help me, she silently prayed, get me home safe. Hand shaking, she pushed a fistful of hair from her eyes. Her hair clip had fallen out, and the helicopter blades had blown the long heavy mass free. She felt blown to bits. Physically. Emotionally. “This way,” he said roughly, touching her elbow. This second touch was worse than the first. Zoe jerked, muscles snapping, spring-loaded. The sudden stiffening of her body hurt. Every time he touched her she shuddered. Every time he touched her she burned. The noise of the helicopter began to fade. The warm night air wrapped around her. “What happens now?” she asked, drawing herself tall, bringing herself to her full five-ten height. It didn’t do much good. He was still far taller, larger. He had to be well over six foot three, maybe six-four. He was built strong, too, thickly muscled like an American football star, but in his black coat, black shirt, black trousers he could have been from the Mafia. “We go inside. We’ll have dinner. You’ll go to your room for the night.” He made it sound almost civilized. Which should have reassured her, but she wasn’t reassured, not by a long shot. She’d heard that some of the most violent men were also the most sophisticated. He could be toying with her before— Stop it! You have to stop thinking like this. You can’t let your imagination do this to you. You’ll just drive yourself crazy. There were too many unknowns, too many terrifying possibilities. She had to stay calm, had to keep a cool head, as her father used to say. Her father had been a master of cool heads. She swallowed the lump of panic filling her throat. “Okay. Dinner sounds good.” She’d take this step by step, moment by moment. She’d get through this. One way or another. He picked up her suitcase and his bag and headed toward the house, leaving her to follow. But she couldn’t follow, not immediately. How could she just go in there, how could she walk into that house on her own accord? Zoe stood where he’d left her, turned to face the cement pad, felt the night air surround her. The land was flat and open, with only a cluster of trees in the distance. Nothing loomed on the horizon. No mountains. No lights from a town. Just flat, empty space. The pampas, she whispered to herself, remembering the postcards Daisy had sent her. The Galvàn estancia was on the pampas, too. Perhaps she was close to Daisy, closer than either of them knew. She turned back to face the house with the glow of yellow light. What to do now? He was waiting for her at the door. She started toward him then stopped. She could feel his impatience and it frightened her. What would happen once she entered the house? He waited another moment before shrugging and disappearing from view. After a long moment Zoe forced herself to continue. Climbing the front steps, she arrived at the front door. The dark wood door remained open. The man reappeared. He’d removed his coat and unbuttoned his dark shirt. A muscle in his jaw jumped as her eyes met his. His eyes were lighter than she’d thought, his eyebrows straight and very black, but it was his nose that dominated his face. His nose was bent, beaked in two places. There was a small scar at the bridge, and another scar at the edge of his square chin. His face looked as though it’d been smashed silly a half dozen times. A street boxer. A thug. Zoe’s throat constricted. She swallowed hard, terror making her limbs feel like thin splinters of glass. “You’re coming in then?” he said. Her throat worked and she dug her fists against her ribs to stop her shaking. It nearly killed her to force sound through her throat. “You don’t care if I stay outside?” “You can do whatever you want now that you’re here.” “I can?” “There’s no phone line here, no outside communication at all. No visitors, no roads, no disturbances, no interruptions. You’re safe.” Hot tears pricked her eyes and she ground her teeth together. “I’m safe?” He reached out to touch the side of her neck, just below her jawbone, his fingers trailing across the soft skin left exposed by her turtleneck. “Perfectly safe.” She quivered and jerked at the hot painful touch. “Is there no one else here?” “Just an elderly servant, but she doesn’t speak English and won’t bother you.” He lifted his finger from her neck and she felt as though he’d split her in two. The touch had been light and yet he’d lit a bomb inside her skin, heat exploding in her middle, fire racing through her veins. It was the most shocking touch and she wanted to cry out loud, overwhelmed by the intensity of her response. “Come inside. You’re tired.” “I’m afraid.” His dark head tilted. “Of?” His deep voice was pitched so low that it throbbed within her, a soft but distinct vibration that left her humming. She hated him, feared him, and yet he was strangely charismatic, too. Of everything that could happen, she wanted to answer, but she didn’t say it. Wouldn’t say it. He must have read her thoughts because he smiled faintly. “Think of it as an adventure.” Then he moved aside, stepping back to allow her to pass. An adventure? He must be mad. Yet his peculiar dark-light eyes held hers, and he waited, neither speaking nor rushing her. He was going to let her choose. He was going to put the next move on her. What should she do? Stay outside in the darkness, on the endless pampas, or go into the warm yellow glow of the house? With her heart thudding, she stepped inside. Lazaro spotted Zoe Collingsworth the moment she stepped from the jet-way at the airport earlier in the afternoon. Young, blond, beautiful, she was the epitome of Argentine beauty. His narrowed gaze had followed her movements as she rummaged in her leather handbag for dark sunglasses. Her hand had shook as she’d propped the tortoiseshell glasses on her small, straight nose. She could have been a Hollywood starlet. Her sweater’s high funnel neck stopped just short of her chin, accenting her smooth, creamy jaw and the long tumble of golden hair. Lazaro could see that the men in the airport waiting area were already projecting their fantasies onto her. They saw what they wanted to see, the full breasts beneath the thin black sweater and the very feminine hips in wool trousers the color of rich caramel. They were admiring her hair, too, wondering if the glorious color was natural. It was natural. Her hair was like her sister Daisy’s, only more golden. In fact, the two of them looked remarkably similar. Only two years after marrying Count Dante Galvàn, Daisy was already considered a great beauty in Argentina’s elite social circles, but Zoe had a different beauty than Daisy’s…a softer beauty. Lazaro shut the door to the ranch house but didn’t bother locking it. No point in locks. There was nowhere for Zoe to go. He watched her now as she took a step into the hall, her blue eyes wide, and apprehensive, the irises more lavender than sapphire. She scanned the interior, as if searching for a hidden door or a secret torture chamber. “There’s nothing sinister here,” he said calmly. “No knives, guns, whips, chains. Just a simple ranch house.” Her chin lifted, her full lips trembled, but she pressed them together. “Have you sent a ransom note already?” “No.” She blinked, long black lashes sweeping down, brushing the high elegant curve of her cheekbone before looking up again. She was so young. Nearly twelve years younger than he. A lifetime between them. The age difference should have killed his attraction. It didn’t. Ever since she’d stepped from the jet-way this afternoon, his gut had ached, his body throbbing. His response to her stunned him. It was such a primitive reaction, so fiercely and purely physical that he felt raw on the inside. Barely controlled. The desire was there even now and his body tightened yet again, his black wool slacks growing snug, confining. He felt hungry. Like a prehistoric creature brought back from the dead. Something about her made him crave her, made him feel ravenous. Ruthless. He wanted to feel her, taste her, possess her. And in a distant part of his brain he knew he would. Someday. When he’d crushed the Galvàns. When he’d had his revenge. But this wasn’t the time. Right now she was exhausted and afraid, and she was a guest in his house. “Let me take your coat,” he said, softening the edge to his voice, knowing he had a hard voice, and a brusque manner. He wasn’t known for his sensitivity, or civility. He extended a hand for her coat but she took a frightened step back. Zoe nearly screamed when his hand reached out. She couldn’t let him touch her again. She couldn’t let him anywhere near her, feeling trapped, helpless, far too vulnerable. Again she was reminded of his height, his size. There was something about him that exuded strength, not just in terms of muscle, but control…power. She pressed her thin coat more tightly to her body. “I’d like to keep my coat.” His heavy eyebrows lifted. “You’ll get it back.” He was making fun of her. Heat banded across her cheekbones and she lifted her chin. “I’m cold.” “Come closer to the fire then. It should warm you.” He led her from the wide high-ceiling hall into a surprisingly spacious sitting room, the dark-beamed ceiling as rustic as the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. Yet the furnishings were luxurious, from the vibrant scarlet and gold rug covering the wood-planked floor to the deep plush sofas and chairs clustered in small groupings. The artwork on the walls were all massive canvases, oversize oil paintings in vivid brush-strokes—electric blue, blood red, hot yellow. This was no simple ranch house. Zoe moved past the wrought-iron and leather coffee table with its stacks of books toward the fire. Her legs felt brittle, her muscles taut. With a fleeting glance at the bookcases behind her, she reached out to the stone hearth, trembling fingers spread wide to capture the fire’s heat. Kidnapped, she repeated silently, she’d been kidnapped. It still hadn’t completely sunk in. Would it ever? She remembered disembarking the plane, remembered filing out of the jet-way with the other passengers and entering the gate area to discover a waiting throng. She remembered scanning the crowd, looking for Dante, or a driver. Dante had promised someone would be there to meet her. But she didn’t see Dante, or anyone holding a sign. There were mothers and young children, businessmen in suits on cell phones, elderly seniors in wheelchairs but no one for her. Her eyes had suddenly watered as she felt a pang of loss. Normally something like this wouldn’t upset her, but it hadn’t been a normal month. Her father was getting so much worse. He seemed to have forgotten everything now and it was awful watching him fade before her eyes. He’d been a smart man, and a loving man, always generous with others. Her eyes continued to well with tears and she dug in her shoulder bag for her sunglasses. She’d cried most of the flight, and the oversize black sunglasses had come in handy then, too. The truth was, she’d cried so much in the last month she should be out of tears, but somehow the tears just kept coming. Sunglasses in place she felt better. She took a deep breath and tried to focus on the positives. She was here to see Daisy. Soon she’d be reunited with her sister. Things would be better once they were together. It was at that very moment when he approached her, the man in the black coat and shirt, the unsmiling man with a piercing gaze and a strong beaked nose. “Miss Collingsworth?” he’d said, his voice impossibly deep, so deep she’d blinked behind her sunglasses as she let his voice sink into her, tangible and real. Zoe recalled that her travel guide said Argentine men—a blend of Latin passion and European sophistication—were lethally attractive and while she wouldn’t call this man classically handsome, he was arresting…no, intriguing, in a primitive sort of way. “I’m Zoe,” she’d answered, her heart doing a strange double beat. She’d been up all night and was overly tired. She’d never traveled out of Kentucky before and had felt ambivalent emotions about the trip to Argentina. She wanted to see Daisy, yet she hated putting her father in a nursing home. True, he wouldn’t stay there long, just the two weeks she was in Argentina, but it had been awful driving him there, awful leaving him there. “Do you have any bags?” the man asked. “Just one,” she answered. “It’s a large case so I checked it through.” His dark head inclined, his glossy blue-black hair cut short. “If you give me your tag, I’ll get it for you.” His hand stretched toward her, his palm wide, fingers long, well-shaped. He fit his skin somehow. He looked comfortable with himself and she’d given him the tag. They went to baggage claim and he lifted the heavy case off the carousel as though it weighed nothing. A limousine was waiting for them outside baggage claim and they drove straight to the helicopter pad. It wasn’t until they were in midair and she’d begun to ask questions about Daisy and her pregnancy, about the Galvàn estancia, about life on the pampas that he’d told her to stop talking. Actually, what he’d said was, Be quiet, do as you’re told, and everything will be fine. Zoe drew a deep breath and stared at the fire with its red and gold dancing flames. She was shaking again, more violently now than earlier, and with each uneven breath she could smell the acrid scent of burning wood and smoke, yet the heat wasn’t enough. She couldn’t stop shivering. Couldn’t control her nerves. She heard him walk behind her, heard the clink of glass, the slosh of liquid, another clink. He was pouring himself a drink. What kind of kidnapper embraced leather books, modern art and brandy decanters? What kind of man was he? Zoe battled her fear. There had to be a good explanation. People didn’t just abduct other people without having a purpose, a plan. “Drink this.” His cool hard voice sliced into her thoughts, drawing her gaze up, from the fire to his chiseled features, his expression inexplicably grim. “I don’t drink.” “It’ll warm you.” She glanced at the balloon-shaped brandy glass in his hand, quarter filled with amber liquid, and shrank from him. “I don’t like the taste.” “I didn’t use to like it much when I was your age, either.” He continued to hold the glass out to her. “You’re shivering. It’ll help. Trust me.” Trust him? He was the last man she’d ever trust. He’d taken her from Daisy, Dante, from the reunion she’d long anticipated. Her throat threatened to seal closed, her temper rising as her anger got the best of her. She turned on him, arms bundled across her chest. “Who are you, anyway? I don’t even know your name.” “Lazaro Herrera.” The name rolled off his tongue, fluid, complex, sensual. The r’s trilled, the z was accented, the vowels so rich and smoky they could have been aged whiskey. Lazaro Herrera. It was a name that fit him, a name that echoed of strength and muscle and power. “I think I’ll take that drink,” she whispered. His fingers brushed hers as he handed her the glass. “Sip it. Slowly.” His skin was warm yet his touch scalded her. She nearly dropped the glass. “Why are you doing this?” He shrugged, a vague shift of his massive shoulders. “I have reasons.” “But what did I do? You don’t even know me.” “This isn’t about you.” “Then what is it about?” Her voice had risen. “Revenge.” CHAPTER TWO SHE stared at him aghast, the only sound in the house the crackle and pop of the fire. Zoe shook so badly that brandy came sloshing up and over the rim of her glass. Her mouth felt parched. It tasted ridiculously like cotton. She swallowed roughly, trying to think of something—anything—to say. Revenge. Revenge against…whom? But she couldn’t ask because she knew she wasn’t prepared for the truth, wasn’t prepared to hear the words he’d say. She knew somehow that his answer would impact Daisy, it had to impact Daisy because Daisy had married here, into the Argentine aristocracy and Daisy had become part of this world, this culture, this other life. Sick at heart, Zoe lifted the balloon-shaped glass to her lips and took a small sip. The brandy felt cool in her mouth then turned hot as she swallowed. The warmth hit her stomach and finally seeped into her limbs. Lazaro Herrera was right about one thing. The liquor did help. It bolstered her courage. She wrapped her hands around the glass. “Does this have to do with the Galvàns?” “You’re very perceptive.” “You want money?” “Doesn’t everyone?” But his answer didn’t ring true, nor did his sarcasm. There was something else driving him and she needed to understand, needed to know so she could protect Daisy. “Does Dante know about this yet?” “He should.” She stared down into her brandy, trying to calm herself. She couldn’t help Daisy if she lost her head. “My sister, Dante’s wife, is pregnant.” “I know.” “Please don’t hurt Daisy.” Her voice had thickened. The words came out hoarse. She felt the back of her eyes sting, gritty tears welling. “She’s had several miscarriages and it’s been devastating for her. She can’t lose this baby.” He stared at her, his silver-gray eyes shuttered. “I have no desire to hurt her.” “But you will.” Zoe didn’t know how she knew, but she knew and it made her furious. Lazaro Herrera would destroy her family and never look back. “Things happen in life—” “No,” she burst out, gripping the glass tightly. “You’re doing this, you’re creating this.” “It’s complicated, corazîn. Life has never been easy.” He was sidestepping the issue, turning the argument around, and it infuriated her. She took a step toward him, her slim body rigid with tension. Her family had been through so much in the past couple of years. They’d struggled and suffered and finally, just when Daisy found some happiness, this man threatened to take it away. “Of course life is difficult. It’s full of pain and sorrow and loss, but it’s also full of joy and love—” she broke off, realizing she was dangerously close to tears, and swallowed hard. “Don’t hurt my sister. You can’t. I won’t let you.” He wouldn’t acknowledge what she’d said. He ignored her fury. “You’re still shivering. You need a hot bath.” “I don’t want a hot bath. I don’t want anything from you. Not now, not ever.” His gaze swept her face. Her face felt hot in places. She knew her cheeks were flushed and her eyes glowed overbright. “It doesn’t exactly work that way,” he said at last. “You are my guest here. This is my house. We will be together virtually night and day the next several weeks. I suggest you get used to my company. Quickly.” He walked out. Zoe stood there for several moments before her muscles twitched to life. Slowly she placed the half-full brandy glass on the coffee table before wiping her damp palms on the sides of her pale traveling coat. She remembered when she boarded the flight yesterday evening how chic she’d thought she’d looked in the long thin cream coat and cream-colored cowboy boots. She and Daisy had grown up in boots. Just like they’d grown up in the saddle, working the farm. She might look fragile, but there was nothing fragile about her. Just her feelings, maybe. Zoe pushed up her coat sleeve and looked at her wristwatch. Almost seven-thirty. She’d arrived in Buenos Aires over six hours ago. Daisy must be frantic. Forehead furrowing, Zoe looked about for a phone. He’d said there was no phone but she didn’t believe him. Everyone had phones these days. She’d look for a phone jack first. The phone jack would be a dead giveaway that he’d merely unplugged the phone and hidden it away. She’d find the phone and call for help first chance possible. “Your bath is ready.” Lazaro had returned and he stood in the doorway. He’d changed into dark slacks and a thick dark sweater. The dense weave of the sweater flattered his hard features, softening his long crooked nose and square chin. He almost looked human. Almost. “I’m not going to take a bath. I’m not going to stay here.” She left the fire, walked swiftly from the living room to the hall, holding her breath as she moved past him. She half expected him to stop her as she reached for the door but he didn’t move. He didn’t even bat an eyelash as she yanked the heavy door open. “It’s a long walk to town,” he said mildly. “And very dark. There aren’t any streetlights on the pampas.” She gripped the doorknob, hating him, hating his reasonable tone. “I’ve been in the country before.” “Then you know how confusing it gets to walk without landmarks, without roads, without any sign of human life.” “Your ranch can’t be that remote.” His eyebrows merely lifted. “I’m sure there’s something out there,” she insisted. “Sheep. Cows. Deer—” “Not very frightening.” “Jaguars, pumas, cougars.” Zoe swallowed hard. “You’re lying.” “I wouldn’t lie to you.” “All you’ve done is lie to me,” she flung back at him, turning to face him, hand still tight on the iron doorknob. “I haven’t lied to you yet—” “At the airport you asked me if I was Zoe Collingsworth—” “And you said yes.” A humongous brown moth flit from the front porch light into the hall. Lazaro moved toward Zoe and gently but firmly closed the door. “I asked you for your baggage tag and you gave it to me. You came with me, Zoe. Happily. Willingly. Immediately.” Tears of shock and shame filled her eyes. “You let me think you worked for Dante!” “And I do.” Zoe fell back, leaned against the closed door. She pressed her palms to the surface. “You what?” “I work for your brother-in-law. I work for Dante Galvàn.” She couldn’t have heard him right. Something had to be wrong with her head or her ears. “What can you possibly do for him?” “Everything.” Lazaro’s lips had twisted and his cynical smile filled her with fresh horror. She closed her eyes and pressed a fist between her eyebrows, pressing at the throbbing in her head. This was crazy. Worse than crazy. “Please explain what you mean by everything,” she choked, unable to look at him. “Are you some kind of Boy Friday?” “Hardly. I’m the president of Galvàn Enterprises.” Her head jerked up, eyes opening. “But Dante’s the president.” “Dante is the chief executive officer. I run day-today operations.” “Since when?” “Since two years ago.” “But—” “Enough. I don’t want to discuss this anymore, not with you swaying on your feet. You’re tired, you need to bathe, eat, relax. Believe me, we’ll have plenty of time to talk later.” He turned away but she didn’t follow. “How much time?” she called after him. He stopped walking, slowly faced her. “What?” “You said we’d have plenty of time to talk later. I want to know how much time it is. How long do you intend to keep me here?” “Depends. It could be a week, could be two, but if I were you, I’d plan on two.” She opened her mouth to protest but he’d already turned the corner and disappeared down another hallway into a different part of the house. Zoe followed much more slowly, passing through a darkened bedroom into a large luxurious bathroom. It was the most sumptuous bath she’d ever seen. The floor, walls, bath—even the shower stall itself—were covered in a gorgeous red marble. The sink and bathtub were made of gold, the tub was oversize, at least big enough for two people, and already filled with water. Lazaro left her to undress, but Zoe couldn’t. She sank to the edge of the tub, sat on the wide surround and stared at the steamy water. Pools of scented oil floated on the water surface. He’d put something in there, something that smelled rich, comforting. She couldn’t reconcile anything he’d told her. Minutes passed and still she didn’t move, couldn’t move. A knock sounded on the outside of the bathroom door. She didn’t answer and the knob turned, the door slowly opened. “Are you all right?” Lazaro’s voice came from the shadows outside the door. What a question! Was she all right? No, she wasn’t all right, she was anything but all right. Her father was dying. Her sister was on bedrest with a difficult pregnancy. She’d been proposed to by an old family friend who was more old than friend. All right? No, Zoe concluded silently, savagely, she was most definitely not all right. Lazaro stepped inside the bath and looked at her. She hadn’t moved, he saw, and he gave his head a small imperceptible shake. He felt sympathy for her and it was the last emotion he wanted to feel. Moving toward her, he crouched down in front of her. “You’re getting yourself all worked up. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Nothing bad will happen to Daisy, either. I promise.” Her mouth quivered. Her eyes searched his, her lashes damp, matted. “How can I trust you?” “I don’t know.” He fought the urge to touch her, fought the desire to reach out and cup her cheek. Her skin looked so soft, so tender. Like her heart, he thought, she was soft. She shouldn’t have ever been exposed to a man like him. This was Dante’s doing. In Dante’s determination to protect Daisy, he’d exposed Zoe, rendered her vulnerable. Lazaro felt a tightness in his chest, anger and revulsion. He’d felt this same anger and revulsion nearly all his life. The dirty, barefoot street kid outside the store window looking in. To want something and be denied, not just once, but your entire life… He, the outcast, the untouchable, had climbed the social ladder but he hadn’t forgotten and he hadn’t forgiven. If anything, the rage burned hotter, brighter, and he was more determined than ever to take what was rightfully his. To seize life—opportunity—and shake it by the throat. Yet looking at young Zoe Collingsworth he realized all over again how ruthless he’d become, how hard and cruel. He saw her hands balled in her lap. She was pressing her nails into her palms, the bare nails digging deep, breaking the skin. “Give me your hand,” he said quietly. She shook her head. “Give me your hand,” he repeated. He could see the fear in her eyes, as well as the uncertainty. She didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what he wanted with her. Truthfully, he wasn’t entirely sure, either. Sex, maybe. But there was something else, something he couldn’t define but powerful, intoxicating. He was drawn to her. Which would only worsen Dante’s situation. He waited for her hand and slowly she slipped her palm onto his. His fingers wrapped around hers, his hand holding hers firmly, securely. “You are safe with me, Zoe. My fight is not with you. Trust me on this.” Every time he touched her, it happened, she thought wildly. Heat, energy, pleasure. His touch was unlike any touch she’d ever known. There was something in his skin, something warmer, stronger, more real. Zoe stared at his hand, felt the heat and the ripple of delicious sensation surge through her, hand to heart, heart to belly, belly to legs. Her heart slowed, her body felt liquid, bones melting, even as her senses became quivery and alert. “Daisy’s everything to me,” she said, mesmerized by the back of his hand, with the burnished-gold skin and the wide strong bones of his wrist. “She practically raised me. She gave up college for me—” Suddenly he leaned forward, his dark head blocking light and she knew he was going to kiss her. It was as though she’d known from the very first moment she’d met him that this would happen, that this kiss was destined to happen. His mouth brushed hers. It was a fleeting kiss, a kiss so light her heart ached and tears pricked the backs of her eyes all over again. She could feel his breath against her cheek, smell the sweetness and subtle spice of his cologne. He was big and strong and dark, and yet he smelled of light, sunshine, like meadow grass and flowers after an early summer rain. His lips barely grazed hers a second time. His mouth slid over her lips to the corner of her mouth. “I will try my best to protect your sister from this, too.” It wasn’t the same promise he’d made her. She was afraid to ask, but she had to. “What about Dante?” Lazaro stiffened. “What about Dante?” His voice had hardened, the tone turning cold. He didn’t like Dante. “This is about Dante.” “Yes.” This was about Dante. Zoe rushed from beneath his arm, fled to the far side of the red marble bathroom. This was about Dante. He’d kidnapped her to hurt Dante. He’d done this to make Dante suffer. But she adored Dante. He was the big brother she’d never had. He’d saved their farm, fallen in love with Daisy, had taken care of their father. Dante was the answer to the Collingsworths’s prayers. She felt sick, and cold again, deeply cold, as though fear and pain had settled all the way into the marrow of her bones. Pointing to the door, Zoe ordered Lazaro out. “Go.” He slowly stood, rising to his full height. In the dimmed light his cheekbones looked like angular slashes above his full mouth. His broken nose shadowed his blunt chin. “Someday you will understand.” “I will never understand. Dante is a good man. He’s the most generous man I know.” “You don’t know the full story.” “Get out.” She turned her back on him, wrapped her arms across her chest. He crossed to the door. “No matter what happens, I will keep my promise to you.” In the bath Zoe soaped and scrubbed, feeling sullied after the trip, the abduction, the kiss. She didn’t understand how she could feel so many intensely conflicting emotions. She was afraid of Lazaro Herrera and yet intrigued. Toweling off, Zoe knew she had to act to get word to Dante and Daisy, knew time was of the essence. She’d look for that phone as soon as she could. Dry and wrapped in a robe, she faced the open closet in her adjoining bedroom. Someone had unpacked for her. She couldn’t imagine it was Lazaro. Zoe didn’t like feeling naked in this strange house and dressed quickly, putting on comfortable jeans and a well-washed yellow sweatshirt. She’d just started to put on socks and sneakers when a knock sounded at the door. Opening the door, Zoe discovered a tiny old woman, no taller than five feet, with gray-streaked hair and an extremely wrinkled olive-complexioned face. “Hello.” “?Vamanos!” The unsmiling old woman crossed her hands over her stomach. Her voice sounded sharp. “La cena.” Definitely not a warm welcome. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Zoe answered slowly in English. “I don’t speak Spanish.” “La cena. La comida.” “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” The older woman exhaled noisily, tossed up her hands. “?Que dice?” “I…I don’t know what you want me to do. I don’t speak Spanish.” “?Que?” “Se?or Herrera. Ask Se?or Herrera, s??” The elderly woman muttered something beneath her breath and stalked off. She made it halfway down the hall before turning around. With short, curt gestures she motioned to her mouth, and opened and shut her mouth in an exaggerated chewing motion. “La comida. La cena. La cena.” Understanding dawned. “La cena.” Food, dinner, Zoe finally got it. But that didn’t mean she was going to rush on out and eat. Who wanted to be invited to dinner like that? Zoe shut her door and it slammed closed far harder than she intended. Wincing, she climbed on her bed, grabbed a pillow and buried her face in the pillow where she let out a muffled scream of frustration. This was a nightmare. She couldn’t stay here. Nothing made sense. Everything was off kilter, from the brandy to the marble bathroom to the kiss. She felt lost…confused. Her door banged open less than two minutes after she’d slammed it shut. “?Por Dios! What happened?” Lazaro demanded from the doorway. “I’ve never seen Luz so upset.” “Luz?” “My housekeeper.” He braced his hands on his hips, indignation written all over his hard, dark features. “What did you say to her?” “Nothing.” “Yet clearly you’ve offended her.” Zoe mashed the pillow between her hands, squeezing the pillow into a ball. “You’ve got to be joking.” “No. She said you spit in her face and slammed the door. I heard the door slam, too.” Zoe flushed. “I didn’t spit. I wouldn’t spit. That’s rude.” She swallowed hard. “And I didn’t mean to slam the door. It closed harder than I expected.” He stared at her for a long moment, his jaw tight, his mouth compressed. He seemed to be considering her, the situation, Luz’s version of events. “Que joda,” he ground out after a moment. “What did you say?” “I said, what a nuisance. You don’t want dinner, fine. Stay in your room. But I’m not going to send special trays to you. There is a dining room in this house, and a very nice antique table with matching chairs. If you want to go to bed hungry, that’s your choice. If you want to eat, you know where I—and the food—will be.” He knew she wouldn’t join him for dinner and he didn’t have dinner held. It didn’t bother him eating alone in the elegant dining room, either. He almost always ate alone, and had ever since his mother died when he was seven. He used to think it was poverty that killed her. The two of them were always hungry, and despite the fact that she worked every job she could secure, there never seemed to be enough money to get them off the streets. Luz entered the dining room, reached for his plate, saw that he’d barely made a dent in his dinner. “Not hungry?” she asked sharply, her wrinkled brow doubly lined with concern. Luz had befriended his mother before she died. Luz had been poorer than his mother, too, and yet she had fire, and a fierce spirit which made her fight back against those who would oppress her. She’d tried to teach his young mother, Sabana, to stand up to the aristocratic Galvàns but his mother was terrified of the powerful Galvàn family. “I’ll have coffee and something light later,” he said, leaning back so she could clear his place. Luz held the plate in her hands. “Who is she, the girl?” “A friend of a friend.” Luz made a rough clucking sound. “The truth.” “It’s half truth, and that’s enough for you to know.” Lazaro pushed away from the table. “Thank you for dinner.” He walked out, headed for the living room and discovered the fire had burned low. Sitting down on the couch, he put his feet on the massive iron and wood coffee table and stared into the glowing embers. He’d built this house for his mother. Of course she’d been gone nearly twenty-five years when he had the plans drawn and the house finished, but the attention to detail had been for her, in honor of her. He’d insisted on the best of everything. Crystal chandeliers, silk window hangings, marble bathrooms, French antiques. She’d been a beautiful girl when Count Tino Galvàn took her against her will. Just seventeen. Not even out of high school. But taking her innocence hadn’t been enough for Count Galvàn. After he’d hurt her, Tino Galvàn had Sabana sent away, exiled to a remote Patagonia village where she delivered her son alone. The Galvàns had hoped the baby wouldn’t survive. But Lazaro had. Since his mother died, he lived for but one thing. Revenge. Revenge on those who hurt his mother, and revenge on those who’d shut their doors on him. Zoe went to bed hungry and woke up ravenous at three in the morning. Between the time change and the growling of her stomach, she couldn’t fall back to sleep. Lying in bed awake, her thoughts quickly turned to Daisy. Daisy would be worried sick and Zoe knew she had to reach her sister as soon as possible and reassure her everything was fine. She also needed to alert Dante to the danger Lazaro posed, without getting Daisy involved. Throwing back the bedcovers, Zoe slid out from between the warm sheets and reached for her thin white cotton robe that matched the pink-sprigged nightgown. It was a girlish set, something she’d had forever and yet refused to part with despite the cotton wearing thin and the rosebuds fading to peach and cream. The sleep set had been a gift from her dad years ago. Daisy got one like it, only hers had been blue. Opening her bedroom door, she peered down the darkened hall. She wasn’t sure where to begin searching for a phone. She knew there had to be one somewhere, and not just a phone, but a fax, a modem, a cell phone. Lazaro Herrera had to communicate with the outside world somehow. In the living room, Zoe crept on her hands and knees along the baseboards, searching for a hidden phone jack, running her fingers along the edge of plaster wall and wood base. She worked her way around the living room before moving to the bookcase where she inspected each shelf. Nothing. At least not yet. From living room to hall, hall to the cavernous kitchen, around the kitchen islands and huge rough-hewn pillars to the dining room. She’d just finished circling the circumference of the dark dining room when she heard a cough behind her. “Lose something, Zoe?” “No.” She rose and brushed off her hands. It was so dark she could hardly see him but she felt him, felt his energy from ten feet away. A little bit of moonlight fell through the window, illuminating his profile. “You’re not cleaning, are you? Luz wouldn’t like it.” “I’m not cleaning.” “Then what are you doing creeping around the house at three-thirty in the morning?” A long lock of hair fell forward, brushing her cheek, and she tucked it behind her ear. “You know what I’m doing. You know what I want.” “You won’t find a phone.” “Not even a computer jack?” “I’ve taken precautions. I’ve been quite thorough.” “Let me go.” “No.” “I’ll go back to Kentucky, I’ll call Daisy and tell her I changed my mind about coming out—” “No.” She felt dangerously close to losing it, to screaming and crying and begging. “This isn’t fair.” “But we’ve already discussed this, and we know life isn’t always fair. If life was fair your mother wouldn’t have died after your birth. If life was fair your father wouldn’t have Alzheimer’s. If life was fair your only sister wouldn’t have moved halfway around the world leaving you to take care of your sick father—” “How…how…do you know all that?” “This wasn’t a random abduction, Zoe. I made sure I knew what I was doing.” He flicked on the dining room light fixture, a large iron and crystal chandelier. “Now go back to bed and get some sleep. You need it. We both need it.” In a white T-shirt and loose black cotton pajama pants with his black hair ruffled, he looked incredibly male. And human. He looked like a man that knew all about women. He looked like a man that knew how to use his hands, his body and his mouth. Heat seeped through Zoe’s limbs, color sweeping her cheeks. She hated that she could find him physically attractive when his character was so appalling. He was awful, cruel, twisted. “I hate you.” She hadn’t meant to say it. But the words slipped out anyway. His dark head merely inclined and his beautiful lips shaped into a small shadow of a smile. “I know.” CHAPTER THREE THE helicopter that carried Lazaro off just before dawn, leaving Zoe alone with Luz for the next three days, finally returned. Zoe heard the buzzing of the blades in her sleep, heard the whine grow louder and louder until the helicopter sounded as though it had landed in the middle of Luz’s herb garden. So he was back. She squeezed her eyes more tightly closed, wishing her heart wasn’t flopping around inside her. She was glad. How could she be glad? She hated him. I do, she firmly told herself, opening her eyes and staring at the dark-beamed ceiling. She’d grown to like the yellow plaster walls in her bedroom that contrasted with the dark beams. The tapestry cover on her bed was woven in shades of yellow, deep rose and green. Everything was so different in this house, so different from the way she’d grown up. Four days after arriving here, she still felt completely alien. Luz didn’t help much, either. The housekeeper-cook was less than hospitable, taking every possible opportunity to shut a door in Zoe’s face, serve cold food, ignore Zoe’s halting questions. A knock sounded on the door just seconds before the door opened. Luz entered the bedroom with a tray and her now familiar glare of disapproval. No, Zoe thought, sitting up in bed, relations hadn’t exactly warmed up between the two of them. “Cafå,” Luz announced curtly, setting the tray on the edge of the bed with just enough force to slosh coffee up and over the rim of the cup. Somehow Zoe knew the coffee would be lukewarm, too. “Thank you,” she answered stiffly. “You might try ‘gracias,’” a voice said from the doorway. “Luz would at least understand your thanks.” And here he was, freshly returned from battle. Or civilization. Or wherever he’d gone. Her temper grew to near bursting point, and she dragged the covers higher against her chest as if she could control her anger. “You’re back.” “Happy to see me?” “No.” His cool silver eyes flashed and she saw a hint of amusement and something else in the pewter depths. He moved to the foot of her bed and stood, arms folded, eyes narrowed in appraisal. “You’re still in bed. It’s almost noon.” He made her feel difficult, unreasonable. “I didn’t know I had social obligations,” she answered tersely. But this was his problem, not hers. He was the one who kidnapped her. He was the one who dumped her here and flew away, back to Buenos Aires, because that’s where she suspected he’d gone. Back to work. With Dante. “Did you see him?” she asked, fingers tightly stretching the linen. “See who?” Lazaro was playing dumb. He knew perfectly well who she meant. Zoe’s chest hurt as she drew a deep breath, fighting for patience as well as control. “Dante.” “Oh.” Lazaro smiled lazily, and walking around the foot of the bed, approached her side. “Yes. I did see him, but then as I’ve already told you, I work with him. Closely.” The word closely hung there between them, strange, rather sinister. The word implied trust, intimacy, safety. It still stunned her to think that Dante’s confidant, his most senior in command, intended to betray him. Like Iago and Othello, she thought, and she knew the tragic outcome there. Zoe suppressed a shiver. “Does he know I’m here?” “Yes.” Lazaro stood so close to the bed that he could touch Zoe with the tips of his fingers if he wanted. And he wanted to. He wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anyone and he didn’t know why, or how. It just was. Something about her made him hungry to touch her. From those brief caresses he knew he liked the feel of her and in the past three days he found himself craving her, craving to know her skin, her smell, her taste. He’d thought she’d looked beautiful in the black turtleneck and sunglasses, and yet now, virtually stripped bare, long blond hair tousled, her delicate features scrubbed of all makeup, she looked even more astonishing. Beautiful and sweet. Heartbreakingly innocent, too. He watched her eyes close, her cheeks pale. She took a deep, shuddering breath before opening her eyes again. “What do you want from him?” “I’ve already told you.” “Revenge,” she spit back, as if unable to stomach such a word, much less the concept. “Exactly.” Her face lifted, her lavender eyes wide, incomprehensible. “But for what? Revenge against what?” “The Galvàns.” She drew the sheet higher, tighter, so that it pressed against her breasts, outlining the rise and swell, the delicate ridge of nipple. “But you work for the Galvàns, you are president of their corporation.” “Yes.” “You must have spent years working to get where you are.” “Nearly thirteen.” “So…why hurt them? Why destroy your career?” He slid the tray over and sat down on the mattress next to her. She shuddered as he sat down. But she wasn’t afraid of him. She was afraid of the attraction. Good girl. Smart girl. She should be afraid. He’d never felt anything so powerful in his life. “My career,” he said carefully, placing a hand on the bed, near her thigh, drawing the cover taut across the tone muscle, “has but one focus, and one purpose. To destroy the Galvàns.” Zoe had never punched anyone in her life. She’d never raised a hand, made a fist, used physical violence of any sort. But suddenly she’d closed her fingers, wrapped her thumb over her knuckles and slammed her fist into his chest, in the hollow at his breastbone. It hurt when she struck him and it wasn’t even a fierce blow, more pathetic than anything, and he, she noticed through the tears filling her eyes, didn’t even flinch. “How can you be so cruel?” she choked. “How can you care so little about other people?” He shrugged. “Habit.” “That’s a lousy excuse!” “Blame it on my family then.” “Your family?” Zoe flung her head back, unshed tears glittering in her eyes. “And just who is your family?” “The Galvàns.” Zoe felt sick. She felt physically ill, ill to the point that she actually crouched over the toilet in her red-marble bathroom, hugged the sides of the lavatory seat and heaved and heaved—nothing came up—but the tears didn’t stop. He couldn’t be Dante’s brother. Half brother, she corrected, but a brother was a brother was a brother. My God, they had the same dad. They were practically the same age, born just six months apart. It had all come out, or most of it had come out, and she’d begged him to stop talking but he hadn’t, not until he’d filled her head with words that wouldn’t go away. Lazaro had left her room and she’d run in here, to crouch at the lavatory and gag on the horrible awful things he’d said. How could a brother destroy a brother? The bathroom door opened. Luz stood there, dark eyes narrow and unfriendly. “?La gripe?” she asked, freshly laundered towels in her arms. Zoe sat back, wiped her nose and eyes on a crumpled tissue. “La gripe?” she repeated dumbly, hating that she couldn’t communicate in the slightest with the housekeeper. Lazaro appeared behind Luz. “The flu,” he translated. “She wants to know if you’re sick.” At heart, Zoe thought, swallowing hard. “Tell her I’m fine. Just sad.” His light eyes narrowed. “There’s no reason for you to be sad. This isn’t your problem.” Zoe rose. “Of course it’s my problem.” She took a step forward, hands balled at her sides, anger making her head light. “He’s my family now, too, and if you think I’ll stand by while you do whatever it is you intend to do, you’re wrong.” “You don’t know him.” She took another step, fury growing by the moment. “Maybe you’re the one that doesn’t know him. Maybe you’re the one that just thinks you do.” He lifted a hand, gestured Luz away before reaching out and clasping Zoe lightly around the wrist. He brought her toward him despite her obvious reluctance. “How well do you know him, Zoe?” His voice had dropped lower, huskier, and it shivered down her spine even as the heat of his hand burned through the skin at her wrist. The heat was the main thing, the most pressing thing. She felt warm from the inside out, warm just touching him, warm from standing so close to him. Her mouth went dry. Her heart was pounding inside her chest. 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