At the Brazilian's Command(5)

By: Susan Stephens

‘No, you won’t,’ she argued firmly.

Tiago raised a cynical brow over eyes that were dark and piercing. He was such a good-looking man it was impossible to remain immune to him. And he could read her like a book. He always had been able to.

The course she’d taken in Brazil had been so hard, and Tiago was a hugely successful polo international. She had always tried that little bit harder when he’d come to watch her working in the training ring. Her pride was holding her up now. He knew how shaken she was, but she didn’t want him to think her weak.

As the seconds ticked by she longed for the sanctuary of her room. This situation was unreal, and she wanted nothing more than to strip off and stand beneath a shower, scrubbing every inch of her body clean. She had to get rid of Carlos’s touch, and then hopefully forget she had ever been so stupid as to take up with a man like him in the first place.

She glanced at Tiago as he gave instructions to the security guards, thinking how different he was. Tiago’s command of the situation was reassuring. He was everything the sorry excuse for a man at their feet was not.

Did the fates see any humour in the situation? she wondered. Tiago Santos, the world’s most notorious playboy, was no playboy but a protector—strong and caring. He might look dangerous, but his character was different from the way it was described in his press.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ he called after her as she started back to the house.

‘We’ve spoken to the police. Pintos has gone—’

‘I’m heading your way, remember?’ he said, catching up with her. ‘Go straight up to your room and I’ll tell Lizzie what’s happened.’

‘No, you won’t. Lizzie’s been upset enough tonight. She must have noticed I’m missing. She will have seen the lights of the police cars. This is her day, not mine. Let’s not spoil it for her,’ she said, desperate not to ruin Lizzie’s day. ‘Just tell her the fuss is over and there’s nothing for her to worry about. Say I went to check on the horses and lost track of time. Tell her I tripped in the mud and had to clean myself up—I’ve gone upstairs to change my clothes and I’ll be back at the party soon.’

‘I’ll do what I can,’ Tiago promised. ‘But I won’t lie to her. Danny, you can’t pretend nothing’s happened,’ he insisted when she scowled at him.

‘That’s not what I asked you to do. What?’ she demanded impatiently, when Tiago continued to stare at her.

A faint smile touched his mouth. ‘You might not be able to keep it a secret.’

‘Why not?’

‘You won’t win any beauty contests tonight.’

She touched her face and groaned, remembering the bruises. She’d forgotten about them.

‘Do you have anything you can put on them?’ Tiago asked with concern.

‘I’m sure there’ll be something in the house.’

‘Maybe I should call a doctor for you?’

‘A doctor won’t come out at this time of night—and why would we trouble one? Thank you for your concern—seriously, Tiago—but it’s only a bruise, and bruises fade.’

‘And you don’t have to be strong all the time,’ he fired back.

‘What’s it to you?’ Biting back tears, and hating herself for the weakness, she confronted him in the way they had squared up to each other on so many occasions on the ranch in Brazil.

It was a terrible mistake to stare into Tiago’s eyes. Her awareness of him only grew. But she couldn’t allow him to patronise or pity her, if only because it was so dangerous to wonder, even for a second, how it might feel to have a man like Tiago Santos care for her.

The first thing she had to do was get over tonight. Bruises would fade, but the disappointment she felt in herself for not progressing her career as she would have liked, for not moving away from her home town, and most of all for getting mixed up with a man like Carlos Pintos, would take a lot longer.

‘I should thank you properly,’ she said, remembering her manners belatedly. If nothing else, Tiago had been her saviour tonight.

He shrugged it off. ‘No medals, Danny. They’d only spoil my suit.’

He could always make her smile. The playboy was still in him, beneath that white knight’s shining armour. She must never allow herself to forget that Tiago Santos possessed a glittering charm that had led many women astray. She must never be guilty of romanticising that charm, because there was another man underneath it.

Brutal tattoos showed beneath the crisp white cuffs of Tiago’s immaculate dress shirt, and a gold earring glinted in what light there was. This was not some safe, mild-mannered man—a white knight racing to rescue the damsel in distress—but Tiago Santos: the most infamous barbarian of them all.