At the Brazilian's Command(2)

By: Susan Stephens


Exclaiming with revulsion, she whipped her face away from his slavering tongue, knowing she had only one chance. With his weight advantage Pintos was over-confident, and he was taunting her by drawing this out. Gathering her remaining strength, she snapped up and rammed her head into his face.

With a yowl he reeled back, clutching his nose, blood pouring through his fingers. She lurched away, but the deep hay slowed her progress as she scuttled crab-like across the stable. Grabbing hold of the hay net on the wall, she hauled herself up and hit the bolt on the stable door. Barging through, head down, legs heavy and as weak as jelly, she lumbered forward, setting her sights on an exit that had never seemed further away.

* * *

Having escaped the wedding party, Tiago was taking a brisk stroll around the home fields of the vast Highland estate. As heir to a ranch in Brazil the size of a small country, casting a professional eye over farmland was second nature to him. His public face was that of an international polo player at the top of his game, but his private world was the wild pampas of Brazil, where he bred horses—a place where men were worthy of the name and women didn’t simper. The press called him a playboy, but he much preferred being outside in a challenging landscape like this to the cloying warmth of the crowded house.

Quickening his stride, he headed around the side of the house to the stables. His friend Chico had done well, marrying the heiress of this estate, though Chico had his own slice of Brazil to add to the pot, so it was a good marriage bargain all round. Chico intended to breed horses here as well as in Brazil—priceless ponies that might have been said to be the best in the world if Tiago’s hadn’t been better. He and Chico had often talked about expanding into the European market, and he could tell that this land had been primed and was ready for animals to raise their young in the spring.

Which was more than could be said for him, Tiago reflected dryly. Fulfilling his grandfather’s demand that he find a wife was still a work in progress. He liked his freedom too much to settle down. The press referred to his Thunderbolts polo team as a pack of rampaging barbarians. He gave the tag new meaning—though the public liked to think of him rampaging with a glass of Krug in his hand and a beautiful woman on his arm.

He relaxed as he came closer to the stables, where he would be as happy chatting to a horse as making small talk in the ballroom. The courtyard in front of the block was dimly lit, in contrast to the chandeliers set party-bright inside the grand old house.

He was halfway across the yard when the door to the stable block burst open and a small female, dressed in some flouncy creation, tumbled out.

‘What the—?’

Instead of reacting graciously as he ran to save her she screamed some obscenity at him and, grabbing hold of his lapels, roared at him like a tigress before angrily attempting to thrust him away. When this failed to make any impact she stepped back and, holding herself defensively, glared at him through furious eyes.

For a moment he didn’t recognise her, but then...

‘Danny?’

He knew the girl. She was the bride’s best friend, and a bridesmaid at the wedding. He’d first met her at Chico’s ranch in Brazil, where both the bride—Lizzie—and Danny had been studying horse-training under the heel of an acknowledged master of terrorising students: his friend and teammate Chico Fernandez.

‘What has happened here?’ he demanded as she continued to glare at him. She was panting as if she’d run a mile. Then he saw her face was badly bruised. ‘Deus, Danny!’

Moving past her, he stared into the darkened stable block. Nothing seemed to be out of place, so he turned back to her.

‘Danny, it’s Tiago from Brazil. Don’t you recognise me? You’re safe now.’

Battered and bruised she might be, but her eyes blazed at this last comment.

‘Safe with you?’ she derided.

Fair enough. If she believed his press, she probably should run for her life.

But she didn’t run. Danny stayed to confront him. She’d always had guts, he remembered, and had never been afraid to take him on when they’d met at Chico’s ranch. But what had happened here?

‘Why are you out here on your own?’ And where the hell was Security? he wondered, glancing around.

‘What’s it to you?’ As she spoke she touched the red bruise on her cheek.

‘Quiet, chica... You need help with this.’

‘From you?’ she demanded. And then she shrieked. ‘Watch out!’ and, giving him one hell of a push, she alerted him to the shadowy form looming behind them.

Shielding her with his body, he countered the attack and knocked the man out cold.

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