At the Brazilian's Command(7)

By: Susan Stephens

‘Be gentle with her, Tiago’.

What the hell do you think I’m going to be with her? he had thought.

‘Just do this one thing for me,’ Lizzie had begged him with her hand on his arm.

‘I will,’ he had promised, finding a smile to reassure the bride. And he’d kept his word.

In his hand there was nothing more threatening than horse liniment to speed up the healing of Danny’s bruises. Was that gentlemanly enough?

* * *

Danny looked at the dress Annie had left on the bed with dismay. It was the type of dress she’d seen in magazines, but it was hardly appropriate for someone whose life revolved around horses. It was lovely, and maybe any other night she would have loved to try it on. If she was honest, she would love to wear it—but not tonight, when she was feeling about as confident as a cockroach with a foot hovering over it.

The dress was bright red silk, and the type of dress to get you noticed, darted in such a way that it showed off the figure. It was a perfect dress for a wedding party, for dancing, for having fun. It was Lizzie’s dress. She recognised it immediately and smiled, thinking of her friend picking it out for her to wear.

So what was she going to do? Tiago was waiting outside. Lizzie was waiting downstairs. She didn’t want Tiago thinking she was weak, and she didn’t want to worry her friend.

She put on the dress and left her hair loose. Slipping her feet into Lizzie’s silver sandals—they were almost the same size—she checked herself over in the mirror. She tipped her chin up and sighed. The bruises didn’t look too bad now, but they were still noticeable even though she had covered them with make-up. But there would be atmospheric lighting downstairs for the dancing. No one would notice, she hoped. She was definitely going to pull this off.

* * *

He could hear Danny moving around inside the room. Why the hell didn’t she open the door? He rested his head against the wall, and then pulled away again. He thought about walking straight in, and then remembered he was playing the role of a gentleman tonight.

‘Nearly ready,’ she called out brightly, as if the evening had held nothing more for her than a garden party and a chance meeting between old friends. ‘Sorry to keep you waiting!’

I bet, he thought.

She swung the door wide and for once he was speechless. A transformation had been wrought and for a moment he wasn’t sure he approved. He’d seen Danny in breeches and a shirt often enough as she sat astride a horse. He’d seen her in a fancy bridesmaid’s dress, demure and contained—and then bedraggled, muddy and bruised later, which had brought out his protective instinct. But this red clinging number—far too short, far too revealing...

‘You can’t be thinking of going down to the party dressed like that?’

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. The irony wasn’t lost on him. Danny was dressed as he expected a woman on his arm to dress—but this was Danny.

And, seeing the way she was staring at him now, he braced himself for the backlash he knew was on its way.

‘I most certainly am going down in this dress,’ she told him, her gaze steely. ‘It’s all I’ve got to wear—other than a bathrobe. Or I could make Lizzie think I’m in a really bad way and upset her even more than I have already by staying up here in my room all night?’

He slanted a smile, guessing none of those options would appeal.

‘If you’d rather not be seen with me—’

‘I brought you this,’ he interrupted.

‘What is it?’ she asked suspiciously, thrown as she stared at the tube he held in his hand.

‘I use it on the horses when they get bruises. It works miracles.’

She angled her chin to give him an assessing stare. ‘Does it smell?’

A muscle in his jaw flexed as she brought the tube to her nose. ‘I must admit I hadn’t thought about that.’

‘Perhaps I should?’ she said with the suggestion of a smile. ‘For the sake of the other guests, if nothing else?’

He raised a brow, forced now to curb his own smile. Having taken in the hourglass figure, the glorious hair hanging loose almost to her waist, and the tiny feet with pink shell-like nails enclosed in a pair of high-heeled silver sandals, he was appreciating Danny’s indomitable spirit as he never had before. The fact that she could be so together after such an ordeal was hugely to her credit.

‘Thank you, Tiago,’ she said briskly, before he could process these thoughts. ‘It seems I have a lot to thank you for tonight. And I do...sincerely,’ she added, holding his gaze steadily for a good few seconds.