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‘ I sahundr ed t housand dol l ar snot enough? ’Hecamecl oser ,hi sdar k eyes bright in the moonlight, the white smoke of his breath drifting around them in the chilly night air. ‘ Let ’ smakei tacoolmi l l i on.A million dollars, Laura. For a single ni ght . ’ She gasped. Ami l l i on…? Re ac hi ng out ,he s t r oke d he rc he e k.‘ Thi nk what that money could mean for you. For your f ami l y. ’Hi s nge r smove ds l owl yagai ns the r c ol d s ki n—t he l i ght e s tt ouc h of a c ar e s s , war mi nghe r .‘ I fyoudon’ tc ar ewhati twoul d mean for me, think what it could do for you. And al lyou ne e dt o do, ’hes ai d hus ki l y,‘ i s smile for a few hours. Drink champagne. Wear af anc ybal lgown.Andpr e t e ndt ol oveme . ’


About the Author had a tragic beginning for any would-be writer: a very happy childhood. Her parents owned a bookstore, and she grew up surrounded by books, dreaming about faraway lands. When she was ten, her father secretly paid her a dollar for every classic novel (Jane Eyre, War and Peace) that she read. JENNIE LUCAS

At f t e e n,s hewe ntt oaConne c t i c utboar di ng s c hoolon s c hol ar s hi p.Shet ookhe r r s ts ol o t r i pt oEur opeats i xt e e n,t he nputo c ol l e ge and traveled around the U.S., supporting herself with jobs as diverse as gas-station cashier and newspaper advertising assistant. At twenty-two, she met the man who would be he rhus band.Fort he r s tt i mei nhe rl i f e ,s he wanted to stay in one place, as long as she could be with him. After their marriage, she graduated from Kent State University with a degree in English, and started writing books a year later. J e nni ewasa nal i s ti nt heRomanc eWr i t e r s ofAme r i c a’ sGol de nHe ar tc ont e s ti n2003and wont heawar di n2005.Af e l l ow 2003 nal i s t ,


Aus t r al i an aut horTr i s h Mor e y,r e ad J e nni e ’ s writing and told her that she should write for Harlequin® Presents. It seemed like too big a dream, but Jennie took a deep breath and went for it. A year later, Jennie got the magical call from London that turned her into a published author. Si nc et he n,l i f e hasbe e n he c t i c —j uggl i ng a writing career, a sexy husband and two young c hi l dr e n—butJ e nni el ove she rc r az y,c haot i c l i f e .Now,i fs hec oul donl y gur eouthow t o pack up her family and live in all the places s he ’ swr i t i ngabout ! For more about Jennie and her books, please visit her website at www.jennielucas.com.


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RECKLESS NIGHT IN RIO JENNIE LUCAS

www.millsandboon.co.uk


To Pete


CHAPTER ONE ‘ WHO i st hef at he rofyourbaby,Laur a? ’ Holding her six-month-old baby on her hip, Laura Parker had been smiling with pride and pl e as ur eac r os she rf ami l y’ st wohundr e dye ar ol d f ar mhous e ,l i twi t hs wayi ngl i ght sand l l e d wi t h ne i ghbor s and f r i e nds f or he rs i s t e r ’ se ve ni ng wedding reception. Now, pushing up her blackrimmed glasses, Laura faced her younger sister with a sinking feeling in her heart. Who is the father of your baby?

People rarely asked that question anymore, since Laur a al waysr e f us e dt o ans we r .She ’ ds t ar t e dt o hope the scandal might be over. ‘ Wi l lyou e ve rt e l l ? ’Be c ky’ sf ac ewasunhappy beneath her veil. At nineteen, her sister was an idealistic new bride with romantic dreams of right andwr ong.‘ Robbyde s e r ve saf at he r . ’

Trying to control the anguish in her heart, Laura ki s s e dhe rs on’ sdar khai r ,s os of t ,ands me l l i ngof baby s hampoo.She s ai di n al ow voi c e ,‘ We ’ ve t al ke daboutt hi s . ’


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‘ Whoi she ? ’he rs i s t e rc r i e d.‘ Ar eyouas hame dof hi m?Whywon’ tyout e l l ? ’ ‘ Be c ky! ’Laur agl anc e dune as i l yatt her e c e pt i on gue s t sar ound t he m.‘ It ol d you… Idon’ t …’She t ookade e pbr e at h.‘ Idon’ tknow whohei s . ’

He rs i s t e rs t ar e d athe rt e ar f ul l y.‘ You’ r el yi ng. The r e ’ snowayyou’ ds l e e par oundl i ket hat .You’ r e t heonewhoc onvi nc e dmet owai tf ort r uel ove ! ’ The people closest to them had stopped pretending to talk, and were now openly eavesdropping. Family and friends were packed i nt ot he f ar mhous e ’ s war r e n ofr ooms ,wal ki ng ac r os s c r e aki ng oor s , havi ng c onve r s at i ons beneath the low ceilings. Neighbors sat on folding chairs along the walls, holding paper plates of food in their laps. And probably listening. Laura held he rbabyc l os e r .‘ Be c ky,pl e as e , ’s hewhi s pe r e d. ‘ Hede s e r t e dyou.Andi t ’ snotf ai r ! ’

‘ Be c ky, ’t he i rmot he rs ai ds udde nl yf r om be hi nd t he m,‘ Idon’ tt hi nk you’ ve me tyourgr e at aunt Ge r t r ude .She ’ st r ave l e dal lt hewayf r om Engl and. Won’ tyou c ome and gr e e the r ? ’Smi l i ng,Rut h Par ke rr e ac he df orhe rgr ands on i n Laur a’ sar ms . ‘ She ’ l lwantt ome e tRobby,t oo. ’

‘ Thanky ou, ’Laura whispered soundlessly to her mother. Ruth answered with a loving smile and a wink, then drew her younger daughter and baby grandson away. Laura watched them go, love choking her. Ruth was wearing her nicest Sunday


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dress and bright coral lipstick, but her hair had grown gray and her body slightly stooped. The past year had left even her strong mother more frail.

The l ump i n Laur a’ st hr oatf e l tr az or s har p as s he s t ood al one i n t he c r owde d r oom. She ’ d t houghts he ’ d putt he s c andalofhe rpr e gnanc y be hi nd he r ,af t e rs he ’ dr e t ur ne dt o he rnor t he r n New Hampshire village pregnant, with no job and no answers. But would her family ever get over it? Would she?

Thr e ewe e ksaf t e rs he ’ dl e f tRi odeJ ane i r o,s he ’ d been shocked to discover she was pregnant. Her burly, overprotective father had demanded to know the name of the man. Laura had been afraid he might go after Gabriel Santos with an ul t i mat um—orwor s e ,as hot gun.Sos he ’ dl i e dand s ai ds hehadnoi de awhohe rbaby’ sf at he rmi ght be .She ’ dde s c r i be dhe rt i mei nRi oasonegi gant i c s hagf e s t ,whe nt het r ut h wast hats he ’ d had onl y one lover her whole life. And even that had been for a single night. Onepr e c i ousni ght …

I need you, Laura. She still felt the violence of he rbos s ’ se mbr ac eashe ’ dpus he dhe rbac kagai ns t his desk, sweeping aside paperwork and crashing t hec omput e rt ot he oor .Af t e rmor et hanaye ar , she could still feel the heat of his body against hers, the feel of his lips against her neck, his hot


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brutal kisses against her skin. The memory of the way Gabriel Santos had ruthlessly taken her virginity still invaded her dreams every night.

And the memory of the aftermath still left a s hot gunbl as ti nhe rhe ar t .Themor ni ngaf t e rhe ’ d s e duc e d he r ,s he ’ dt e ar f ul l yt ol d hi ms hef e l ts he had no c hoi c e but t o qui t he rj ob.He ’ dj us t s hr ugge d.‘ Good l uc k, ’he s ai d.‘ Ihope you nd whatyou’ r el ooki ngf or . ’ Thatwasal lhegavehe r ,af t e r veye ar sofhe r love and devoted service.

She ’ dl ove d he r pl ayboy bos s ,s t upi dl y and wi t houthope .I thad be e n f t e e n mont hss i nc e s he ’ dl as ts e e n Gabr i e l ’ sf ac e ,buts he c oul d not forget it, no matter how hard she tried. How could she, when every day she saw those same dark eyes i nhe rc hi l d’ sf ac e ? Her tears in the little white clapboard church an hour ago hadn’ tj us t be e nf r om happi ne s sf or Becky. Laura had once loved a man with all her he ar t ,buthehadn’ tl ove d he rbac k.And ast he cold February wind whipped through their northern valley, there were still times she imagined she could hear his dark, deep voice speaking to her, only to her. ‘ Laur a. ’

Like now. The memory of his low, accented voice seemed so real. The sound ripped through her body, through her heart, as if he were right


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beside her, whispering against her skin. ‘ Laur a. ’

His voice felt really close that time. Really close.

Laur a’ shandss hookass hes e tdownhe rgl as sof cheap champagne. Lack of sleep and a surfeit of dreams were causing her to hallucinate. Had to be. I tc oul dn’ tbe … With a deep breath, she turned.

Gabriel Santos stood before her. In the middle of he rf ami l y’ sc r owde dl i vi ngr oom,het owe r e dove r other men in every way, even more darkly hands omet hans her e me mbe r e d.Buti twas n’ tj us t his chiseled jawline or his expensive Italian suit t hatmadehi ms t andout .I twas n’ tj us thi she i ght or the strength of his broad shoulders. It was the ruthless intensity of his black eyes. A tremble went through her. ‘ Gabr i e l …? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

Hi ss e ns uall i psc ur ve d.‘ He l l o,Laur a. ’

She swallowed, pressing her nails into her palms, willing herself to wake up from this ni ght mar e —f r om t hi si nc r e di bl edr e am.‘ Youc an’ t behe r e , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ Asi nhere. ’ ‘ Andye tIam, ’hes ai d.‘ Laur a. ’

She shivered at the sound of her name on his l i ps .I tdi dn’ ts e e mr i ghtt hathec oul dbehe r e ,i n


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he rf ami l y’ sl i vi ng r oom,s ur r ounde d by f r i e nds and family eating potluck. At thirty-eight, Gabriel Santos owned a vast international conglomerate that bought and shipped steel and timber across the world. His life was l l e d wi t h one pas s i onat e ,s i ngl e mi nde d pursuit after another. Business. Adrenaline-tinged s por t s . Be aut i f ul wome n. Laur a’ sl i ps t ur ne d downward. Beautiful women most of all. So what was he doing here? What could he pos s i bl yhavec omef orunl e s s …unl e s s … Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mother disappearing down the hall with her baby.

Trying to stop her hands from shaking, Laura folded her arms around the waist of her hand-sewn br i de s mai d’ s dr e s s . So Gabr i e l had c ome t o Gr e e nhi l lFar m.I tdi dn’ te xac t l yr e qui r ea c r ac k t e am uni tt o ndhe rhe r e .Par ke r shadl i ve dhe r e f ort wo hundr e d ye ar s .I tdi dn’ tme an he kne w aboutRobby.I tdi dn’ t .Hec oul dn’ t . Could he?

Gabr i e ll i f t e d adar ke ye br ow.‘ Ar eyou gl ad t o s e eme ? ’

‘ Ofc our s eI ’ m notgl ad. ’Shebi toutt hewor ds . ‘ I fyou r e c al l ,I ’ m nol onge ryours e c r e t ar y.Soi f you’ vec ome vet hous andmi l e sbe c aus eyoune e d me to go back to Rio and sew a button or make yourc oe e —’


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‘ No. ’Hi se ye sgl i t t e r e d athe r .‘ That ’ snotwhy I ’ ve c ome . ’He s l owl yl ooke d ar ound t he hous e , which was decorated with strings of pink lights and red paper hearts along the walls, and candles abovet he r ei nt heol ds t one r e pl ac e .‘ What ’ s goi ngonhe r e ? ’ ‘ Awe ddi ngr e c e pt i on. ’

He blinked, then came closer to her, the wooden boar ds c r e aki ng be ne at h hi sf e e t . Laur a’ se ye s wi de ne d ast hes hadowsof r e l i ghts hi f t e dac r os s the hard angles of his face. He was so handsome, s het houghti nbe wi l de r e dwonde r .She ’ df or got t e n how hands ome . He r dr e ams hadn’ t done hi m justice. She could see why so many women chased af t e rhi m al love rt hewor l d…andwhyhewast he despair of them all. ‘ Andj us twho—’hi sbl ac ke ye snar r owe di nt oa gl owe r‘ —i st hebr i de ? ’ She was bewildered at the sudden harshness of hi st one .‘ Myl i t t l es i s t e r .Be c ky. ’

‘ Ah. ’Hi ss houl de r sr e l axe di mpe r c e pt i bl y.The n hef r owne d.‘ Be c ky?She ’ snotmuc h mor et han a c hi l d. ’

‘ Te l lme abouti t . ’Laur al ooke d down athe r br i de s mai d’ sdr e s s .I nt he gl e am oft he r e and pink lights swaying above, the pale pink gown appeared almost white. She looked up suddenly. ‘ Di dyout hi nki twasme ? ’


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Their eyes locked in the crowded room.

‘ É claro, ’ Gabr i e ls ai d qui e t l y. ‘ Of c our s eI t houghti twasyou. ’ The idea of her having the time or the interest to date, let alone marry, some other man made her choke back a laugh. She smoothed her br i de s mai d’ sgownwi t ht r e mbl i nghands .‘ No. ’

‘ Sot he r ei snoonei mpor t anti n yourl i f er i ght now? ’heas ke d,i nac as ualt onebe l i e dbywayhe held his body in absolute stillness. There was someone important in her life. She just had to get Gabr i e loutofhe r e be f or e he s aw Robby.‘ You havenor i ghtt oas k. ’ ‘ Sim. ’Hepaus e d.‘ Butyou’ r enotwe ar i ngar i ng. ’

‘ Fi ne . ’Laur a’ svoi c ewaspai nf ul l y qui e tass he l ooke ddownathe rf e e t .‘ I ’ m notmar r i e d. ’

Shedi dn’ thavet o as ki fGabr i e lwasmar r i e d. She already knew the answer. How many times had he told her he would never, ever take a wife?

I ’ m notmadef orl ov e ,querida. I ’ l lne v e rhav ea little housewife cooking my dinner in a snug house every night as I read books to our children. Gabriel moved closer, almost touching her. She was dimly aware of people whispering around them, wondering who this handsome, well-dressed stranger might be. She knew she should tell him to leave, but she was caught in the power of his body so close to hers. Her gaze fell on his thick wrists


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be ne at h s har pl y t ai l or e d s hi r tc us , and s he trembled. She remembered the feel of that strong bodyonhe r s ,t hes t r okeofhi s nge r t i ps …. ‘ Laur a. ’

Against her will, her eyes lifted, tracing up his muscular body, past his broad shoulders and wide neck to his brutally handsome face. In the i c ke r i ngs hadows ,s hes aw t hedar ks c r u al ong his jaw, the scar across his temple from a c hi l dhood c arac c i de nt .She s aw t he man s he ’ d wanted forever and had never stopped wanting. His eyes burned into her, and memories poured through her. She felt vulnerable, almost powerless be ne at ht hedar k r eofhi sgl anc e .

‘ I t ’ sgood t os e e you agai n, ’he s ai di n al ow voice. He smiled, and the masculine beauty of his face took he rbr e at h away.The i r f t e e n mont hs apart had made him only more handsome. While s he … Shehadn’ ts e e nt hei ns i deofabe aut ys al onf ora ye ar .He rhai rhadn’ tbe e nc utf orage s ,and he r onl ymake up wasl i ps t i c ki n an un at t e r i ng pi nk s hade t hats he ’ d wor n atBe c ky’ si ns i s t e nc e .He r dowdy dishwater-blonde hair had been hurriedly pulled back in a French knot before the ceremony, but now fell about her shoulders in messy tendrils, pul l e doutbyRobby’ sc hubby s t s . Even as a girl Laura had always tended to put herself last, but since she became the single mother


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ofa baby,s hewas n’ te ve n on t hel i s t .Taki ng a shower and shoving her hair back into a ponytail was all she could manage most days. And she still hadn’ tmanage dt ot ake o al lt he e xt r a we i ght from her pregnancy. Nervously, she pushed up her bl ac kf r ame dgl as s e s .‘ Whyar eyous t ar i ngatme ? ’ ‘ You’ r ee ve nmor ebe aut i f ult hanIr e me mbe r e d. ’

He rc he e kswe nthotbe ne at h hi sgaz e .‘ Now I know you’ r el yi ng. ’ ‘ I t ’ st r ue . ’Hi sdar ke ye ss e ar e d he r .Hewas n’ t looking at her as if he thought she were plain. In f ac t ,hewasl ooki ngdownathe rasi fhe … Asi fhe …

He turned away, and she exhaled.

‘ So t hi si s Be c ky’ s we ddi ng r e c e pt i on? ’ He glanced around the room with something like disapproval on his face.

Laura thought their home looked nice, even romantic for a country-style winter wedding. The y’ ds c r ubbe di ts c r upul ous l yc l e an,t i di e daway all the usual clutter, and decorated their hearts out. But as she followed his gaze, she suddenly saw how shabby it all was.

Laur ahadbe e npr oudofhow muc hs he ’ dbe e n able to accomplish for her sister on almost no budget. Flowers had been too expensive because of Val e nt i ne ’ sDay,s oLaur ahadgonet ot hene ar e s t craft store and cut out large hearts of red tissue


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paper, festooning them on their walls with red and pi nkbal l oonsand s t r e ame r s .She ’ d de c or at e dt he hous ei nt hemi ddl eoft heni ght ,ass he ’ d wai t e d for the cake to cool. For the reception dinner, their mother had made her famous roast chickens and their friends and neighbors had brought casseroles and s al adsf ora bu e t s t yl e pot l uc k.Laur a had made he rs i s t e r ’ s we ddi ng c ake he r s e l f , us i ng instructions from an old 1930s family cookbook.

She ’ dbe e nt i r e dbuts ohappywhe ns he ’ df al l e n i nt obe datdawn.Butnow,be ne at hGabr i e l ’ se ye s , the decorations no longer seemed beautiful. She s aw how i ms yi tal lwas ,how s habbyas e ndo for her second-youngest sister. Becky had seemed delighted when she saw the decorations and slightly tilted wedding cake that morning. But what else could she have done, knowing how hard her family had tried to give her a nice wedding when there was never a dime to spare? As if he could read her mind, Gabriel looked at he r .‘ Doyoune e dmone y,Laur a? ’

Laur a’ sc he e kswe nthot .‘ No, ’s he l i e d.‘ We ’ r e ne . ’

He looked around the room again, at the paper plates with the potluck dinner, at her homemade gown,c l e ar l ynotbe l i e vi nghe r .Hes e thi sj aw.‘ I ’ m j us ts ur pr i s e d yourf at he rc oul dn’ tdo be t t e rf or Be c ky.Eve ni fmone yi st i ght . ’ Laura folded her arms, feeling ice in her heart.


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‘ Hec oul dn’ t , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ Myf at he rdi e df our mont hsago. ’ Shehe ar dGabr i e l ’ si nt akeofbr e at h.‘ What ? ’

‘ Hehadahe ar tat t ac kdur i nghar ve s t .Wedi dn’ t ndhi m onhi st r ac t orunt i ll at e r .Whe nhedi dn’ t c omehomef ordi nne r . ’ ‘ Oh,Laur a. ’Gabr i e lt ookhe rhand i n hi sown. ‘ I ’ ms or r y. ’ She felt his sympathy, felt his concern. And she felt the rough warmth of his palm against her own—t het ouc hs he ’ dc r ave df ort hepas tye arand al lt he veye ar sbe f or e .He r nge r sc ur l e dove rhi s as longing blistered her soul. With an intake of breath she ripped her hand away.

‘ Thankyou, ’s hes ai d,bl i nki ngbac kt e ar s .She ’ d thought she was done grieving for her father, but s he ’ ds pe ntmos toft heday wi t h al ump i n he r throat, watching her uncle walk Becky down the aisle, seeing her mother alone in the pew with tears s t r e aki nghe rpowde r e df ac e .Laur a’ sf at he rs houl d havebe e nhe r e .‘ I t ’ sbe e nal ongwi nt e r .Eve r yt hi ng f e l lapar twi t houthi m.We ’ r ej us tas mal lf ar m and always run so lean, one year to the next. With my dad gone, the bank tried to refuse to extend the l oanorgi veusanyt hi ngmor ef ors pr i ngpl ant i ng. ’ Gabr i e l ’ se ye snar r owe d.‘ What ? ’

Shel i f t e d he rc hi n.‘ We ’ r e nenow. ’Al t hough


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they were just surviving on fumes, trying to hold on anot he rwe e k unt i lt he y’ d ge tt he ne xtl oan. The nt he y’ d pr ayne xtye arwoul d bebe t t e r .She f ol de d he rar ms .‘ Be c ky’ shus band,Tom,wi l ll i ve at the house and farm the land now. Mom will be abl et os t ayi nhe rhomeandbewe l ll ooke daf t e r . ’ ‘ Andyou? ’Gabr i e las ke dqui e t l y.

Laura pressed her lips together. Starting tonight, s he and Robby we r e movi ng i nt o he r mot he r ’ s bedroom. The three-bedroom farmhouse was now full, since Laura and her baby could no longer share a bedroom with Becky, and her other sisters, Hattie and Margaret, shared the other. Ruth had l oyal l ys ai ds he ’ d bede l i ght e dt os har ehe rl ar ge master bedroom with her grandson, but Ruth was a very light sleeper. It was not an ideal situation.

Laura needed a job, an apartment of her own. Shewast heol de s tdaught e r —t we nt ys e ve n ye ar s old. She should be helping her family, not the ot he rwayar ound.She ’ dbe e nl ooki ngf oraj obf or months, but there were none to be had. Not even ataf r ac t i on oft hes al ar ys he ’ de ar ne d whe ns he worked for Gabriel. But there was no way she was going to tell him t hat .‘ Yous t i l lhave n’ te xpl ai ne dwhatyou’ r edoi ng he r e . You obvi ous l y di dn’ t know about t he wedding. Do you have some kind of business deal? I si tt heol dTal f axmi net hat ’ sf ors al e ? ’

Hes hookhi she ad.‘ I ’ ms t i l lt r yi ngt oc l os et he


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Aç oaz ulde ali nBr az i l . ’Hi sj aw t i ght e ne d.‘ Ic ame be c aus eIhadnoc hoi c e . ’ Over the noisy conversation nearby, Laura heard agui t arand ut epl ayt heope ni ngnot e sofanol d English folk song from somewhere in the house. She he ar d a baby’ sbr i ghtl augh ove rt he mus i c andac hi l l i ngf e arwhi ppe dt hr oughhe r .‘ Whatdo youme an? ’ Hi sdar ke ye snar r owe d.‘ Can’ tyougue s s ? ’

Laura sucked in her breath. All her worst nightmares were about to come true. Gabriel had come for her baby.

Af t e ral lt het i me she ’ ds ai dhene ve rwant e da c hi l d,af t e re ve r yt hi nghe ’ ddonet omakes ur ehe ’ d never be bur de ne dwi t hone ,s ome how he ’ df ound outLaur a’ sde e pe s ts e c r e tand he ’ dc omet ot ake Robby.Andhewoul dn’ te ve nt aket he i rs onoutof l ove ,ohno.He ’ ddoi toutofdut y.Col d,r e s e nt f ul duty. ‘ I don’ t want you he r e , Gabr i e l , ’ Laur a whi s pe r e d,t r e mbl i ng.‘ Iwantyout ol e ave . ’ Hes e thi sj aw gr i ml y.‘ Ic an’ t . ’

I c ewat e r oode dhe rve i nsass hes t oodne art he r e pl ac ei nt hewar m par l or .‘ Whatbr oughtyou? Wasi ts omer umor —or …’Shel i c ke dhe rl i psand s udde nl yc oul d no l onge r be ar t he s t r ai n.‘ For God’ ss ake .St opt oyi ngwi t hmeandt e l lmewhat youwant ! ’


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His dark eyes looked down at her, searing straight through her soul.

‘ You,Laur a, ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ Ic amef or you. ’


CHAPTER TWO I

CAME

for you.

Stricken, Laura stared up at him with her lips parted.

Gabr i e l ’ sdar ke ye swe r ehotandde e pwi t hne e d. Exac t l yashe ’ dl ooke dathe rt heni ghthe ’ dt ake n he rvi r gi ni t y.Theni ghts he ’ dc onc e i ve dt he i rc hi l d. I came for you.

How many times had she dreamed of Gabriel ndi nghe rands pe aki ngt hos ewor ds ?

She ’ dmi s s e dhi mc ons t ant l yove rt hel as tf t e e n mont hs ,ass he ’ d gi ve n bi r t ht ot he i rbabyal one , woken up in the night alone and raised their child wi t houta f at he r .She ’ d ye ar ne df or hi ss t r ong, protective arms constantly. Especially during the bad t i me s ,s uc h as t he mome nts he ’ dt ol d he r f ami l ys hewaspr e gnant .Ort hedayofhe rf at he r ’ s funeral, when her mother and three younger sisters had clung to her, sobbing, expecting her to be the strong one. Or the endless frustrating weeks when Laura had gone to the bank with her baby in tow, day after day, to convince them to extend the loan


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that would let their farm continue to operate.

But there had been happy times as well, and t he ns he ’ dmi s s e dGabr i e le ve nmor e .Suc hast he day hal f wayi nt ohe rpr e gnanc y,whe ns he ’ dbe e n was hi ng di s he si nt he t i ny ki t c he n and s he ’ d suddenly clutched her curved belly and laughed al oud i n wonde r as s he f e l t —t hi st i me f or s ur e —t he i r baby’ s r s t ki c ki ns i de he r .Or t he sunny, bright August day when Robby had been bor n,whe ns he ’ d he l d hi st i ny body agai ns the r c he s tandhe ’ dbl i nke dupathe r ,yawni ngs l e e pi l y, wi t hdar ke ye se xac t l yl i kehi sf at he r ’ s . For over a year, Laura had missed Gabriel like wat e rors un orai r .She ’ dc r ave d hi m day and ni ght .She ’ d mi s s e dt hes ound ofhi sl augh.The i r friendship and camaraderie. Andnow,he ’ d nal l yc omef orhe r ?

‘ You c ame f or me ? ’s he whi s pe r e d. Was i t pos s i bl ehe ’ dt houghtofhe re ve naf r ac t i onoft he t i me she rhe ar thadye ar ne df orhi m?‘ Whatdoyou me an? ’ ‘ J us twhatIs ai d, ’Gabr i e ls ai d qui e t l y.‘ Ine e d you. ’ Shes wal l owe d.‘ Why? ’

Hi sdar ke ye sgl i t t e r e di nt he i c ke r i ng r e l i ght . ‘ Eve r yot he rwomanhasbe e napal es hadow ofyou i ne ve r yway. ’ I fhe rhe ar thad be e n ut t e r i ng be f or e ,now i t


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was frantically rattling against her ribs. Had she be e nwr ongt ol e avehi m, f t e e nmont hsago?Had she been wrong to keep Robby a secret? What if Gabr i e l ’ sf e e l i ngshad c hange d,and al lt hi st i me he ’ dc ar e df orhe r ?Whati f — He leaned forward as his lips curved into a s mi l e .‘ Ine e dyout oc omewor kf orme . ’

Laur a’ s he ar ts t oppe d,t he nr e s ume das l ow, sickly beat.

Of course. Of course that was all he would want. He ’ dl i ke l yf or got t e nt he i rone ni ghta ai rl ong ago,whi l es hewoul dr e me mbe ri tf or e ve r —i nhe r passionate dreams, in the eyes of their son. Laura s t ar e d up atGabr i e l ’ s dar k,br ut al l y hands ome face. She saw the tension of his jawline, the taut muscles of his folded arms beneath his suit jacket. ‘ Youmus twanti tbadl y, ’s hes ai ds l owl y. Hegavehe rat i ghts mi l e .‘ Ido. ’

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mother coming back down the hall, holding Robby in one arm and a slice of wedding cake in her other hand. Laura sucked in her breath. Robby. How could she have allowed herself to forget, even for an instant, that her son was counting on her to keep him safe?

Gr abbi ngGabr i e l ’ shand,s hepul l e dhi m outof the room, dragging him out of the house, away from prying eyes and into the freezing February


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air.

Outside in the wintry night, cars and trucks were wedged everywhere along the gravel driveway between their old house and the barn, strewn along the country road in front of their farm. Across the old stone walls that lined the road, white rolling hills stretched out into the great north woods, disappearing now into the falling purple twilight.

Behind them, next to the old barn, she could see the frozen water of their pond, gleaming like a silver mirror under the lowering gray clouds. Her father had taught all his daughters to swim there during the summers of their childhood, and even though Laura was now grown, whenever she felt upset, she would go for a swim in the pond. Swi mmi ng made he r t hi nk of he r f at he r ’ s protective arms. It always made her feel better. She wished she could swim in the pond now.

Laura looked down at her breath in the chilly air ands aw t hewhi t es mokeofGabr i e l ’ smi ngl ewi t h hers. She realized she was still holding his hand andl ooke ddownathi sl ar ge nge r se nf ol di nghe r own. The warmth of them suddenly burned her skin, sizzling nerve endings the length of her body.

She dropped his hand. Folding her arms, she gl ar e d up athi m.‘ I ’ ms or r yyou’ vec omeal lt hi s wayf ornot hi ng.I ’ m notgoi ngt owor kf oryou. ’ ‘ Youdon’ te ve nwantt ohe araboutt hej ob r s t ?


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Fori ns t anc e —’hepaus e d‘ —how muc hi tpays ? ’

Laura bit her lip, thinking of her bank account, whi c hhe l de xac t l yt hi r t e e ndol l ar s —bar e l ye nough f orawe e k’ ss uppl yofdi ape r s ,l e tal onegr oc e r i e s . Butt he y’ d ge tby.And s hec oul dn’ tr i s k Robby’ s c us t ody—not f or s ome t hi ng s o uni mpor t ant as mone y!Shel i f t e dhe rc hi n e r c e l y.‘ Noamountof mone yc oul dt e mptme . ’ Hi sl i psqui r ke d.‘ Iknow Iwas n’ tal wayst he e as i e s tmant ol i vewi t h—’ ‘ Eas y? ’s hei nt e r j e c t e d.‘ Youwe r eani ght mar e . ’

Hi se ye sc r i nkl e di nas mi l e .‘ Now t hat ’ st he di pl omat i cMi s sPar ke rIr e me mbe r . ’ Shegl ar e dathi m.‘ Fi ndanot he rs e c r e t ar y. ’ ‘ I ’ m notas ki ngyout obemys e c r e t ar y. ’ ‘ Yous ai d…’

He looked down at her. His voice was dark and de e p,hi se ye sbur ni ngt houghhe rwi t hi nt e ns i t y.‘ I want you to spend a night with me in Rio. As my mi s t r e s s . ’ His mistress? Laur a’ smout hf e l lope n.

Gabriel continued to stare down at her with his inscrutable dark eyes, his hands in his pockets. She licked her lips.

‘ I ’ m…I ’ m notf ors al e , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ Yout hi nk just because you are rich and handsome you can have whatever you want, that you can pay me to


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f al li nt oyourbe d—andgoawayt hene xtmor ni ng wi t hac he c k? ’

‘ Ac har mi ngi de a. ’A humor l e s ss mi l et r ac e dhi s s e ns ualmout h.‘ ButIdon’ twi s ht o pay you f or s e x. ’ ‘ Oh. ’He rc he e kswe nthot .‘ The nwhat ? ’

‘ Iwantyou—’hemove dc l os e r ,hi shar de dge d f ac ei mpos s i bl y hands ome ‘ —t o pr e t e nd t ol ove me . ’

She swallowed. Then she tilted her head, bl i nki ng up at hi m i nt he f adi ng l i ght .‘ But t hous andsofgi r l sc oul d do t hat , ’s hes ai d.‘ Why come all the way up here, when you could have twenty girls at your penthouse in Rio in four mi nut e s ?Ar eyoui ns ane ? ’ He raked his dark hair back with his hand.

‘ Ye s , ’hes ai dhe avi l y.‘ Iam goi ngs l owl yi ns ane . Eve r ymome ntmyf at he r ’ sc ompanyi si nt hehands of another man, every moment I know I lost my f ami l y’ sl e gac yt hr oughmyowns t upi di t y,If e e lI am l os i ng my mi nd.I ’ ve e ndur e di tf oral mos t t we nt y ye ar s .And I ’ m c l os e now,s oc l os et o ge t t i ngi tbac k. ’ She should have known it had something to do wi t hr e gai ni ng Aç oaz ul .‘ Buthow c an Ipos s i bl y he l pyou? ’

Hel ooke ddown athe r ,hi sj aw c l e nc he d.‘ Pl ay the part of my devoted mistress for twenty-four


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hour s .Unt i lIc l os et hede al . ’

‘ How on e ar t h woul dt hathe l p you c l os et he de al ? ’s heas ke d,be wi l de r e d.

He s e t hi sj aw. ‘ I ’ ve hi ta s nag i n t he ne got i at i ons .As i xf oot t al l ,bi ki ni we ar i ngs nag. ’ ‘ What ? ’

Gabr i e lgr ound hi st e e t h.‘ Fe l i peOl i ve i r af ound outIus e dt odat ehi s anc é e . ’ ‘ You di d? ’Laur as ai di ns ur pr i s e ,t he n gave a bi t t e rl augh.‘ Ofc our s eyoudi d. ’

‘ Now he doe s n’ twantme wi t hi nat hous and mi l e sofRi o.Het hi nksi fhedoe s n’ ts e l lmet he c ompany af t e r al l ,I ’ l lgo bac kt o Ne w Yor k. ’ Gabr i e ll ooke d at he r .‘ I ne e d t o make hi m unde r s t andI ’ m noti nt e r e s t e di nhi swoman. ’ ‘ That doe s n’ te xpl ai n why you’ d ne e d me. Thousands of women would be happy to pretend t obei nl ovewi t hyou.Forf r e e . ’Shet ookade e p br e at h,c l e nc hi nghe rhandsathe rs i de s .‘ Someof t he m woul dn’ te ve nhavet opr e t e nd! ’ Hes e thi sj aw.‘ The ywon’ twor k. ’

Shee xhal e dwi t ha ar eofhe rnos t r i l s .‘ Why? ’ ‘ Ol i ve i r a’ s anc é e …i sAdr i anadaCos t a. ’

‘ Adr i anada…’Laur a’ svoi c et r ai l e do ,he re ye s wide. Adriana da Costa.

Laura could still see those cold, reptilian eyes,


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that skinny, lanky body. Gabriel had dated the Br az i l i an s upe r mode lbr i e yi n Ne w Yor ks e ve r al years ago, while Laura was his live-in personal as s i s t ant .She c oul ds t i l lhe arAdr i ana’ spout i ng voice. Why do you keep calling here? Stop calling. Find the whiskey, you stupid cow. Gabriel always gets thirsty after sex.

Laur ac l e ar e dhe rt hr oat .‘ Adr i anadaCos t a,t he bi ki nimode l . ’ ‘ Ye s . ’

‘ TheoneCelebrity Star magazine just called the s e xi e s twomanal i ve . ’

‘ She ’ sas e ls h nar c i s s i s t , ’hes ai ds har pl y.‘ And for the short time we were together, she was always insecure. Only one woman has ever made he rf e e ls ot hr e at e ne d.You. ’

‘ Me ? ’Laur a gas pe d.‘ You’ r eoutofyourmi nd! Shewoul dne ve rf e e lt hr e at e ne dbyme ! ’ Gabr i e l ’ sdar ke ye sgl e ame d.‘ Shec ompl ai ne dt o me constantly. Why did I always take your calls, but not hers? Why did I always have time for you, day or night? Why would I leave her bed at 2:00 A.M. in order to go home to you? And most of all, why did I allow you to live in my apartment, only youandnoonee l s e ? ’ Laur a’ smout hf e l lope n.

‘ Shene ve runde r s t oodourr e l at i ons hi p, ’Gabr i e l s ai d.‘ How we c oul d be s oc l os e wi t houtbe i ng


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l ove r s . Whi c h we we r e n’ t . ’ He paus e d. ‘ Not unt i l …Ri o. ’ The huskiness of his deep voice whipped through Laura, causing a sizzle to spread down her body.

‘ Adr i anahasmadei tc l e ars hewant smebac k, ’ hes ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ She ’ dl e aveFe l i peOl i ve i r a in an instant for me, and he knows it. Only one thing will convince them both I am not interested i nhe r . ’ Laura stared at him.

‘ Me ? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

Hel ooke dr i ghtathe r .‘ Youar et heonl ywoman t hatAdr i anawoul dbe l i e veIc oul dl ove . ’

A roar of shared memories left unspoken between them washed over Laura like a wave, and he rhe ar tt wi s t e di n he rc he s t .She ’ d be e n onl y twenty-one when, on her second day in New York Ci t y,t hee mpl oyme nto c ehads e nthe rt oSant os Enterprises to interview i nt heac c ount i ng o c e . I ns t e ad,s he ’ dbe e ns e ntupt ot het op oort ome e t with the CEO himself.

‘ Pe r f e i t o, ’the fearsome, sleek Brazilian tycoon hads ai d,l ooki ngathe rr é s umé .The nhe ’ dl ooke d athe r .‘ Younge noughs oyouwi l lnotbepl anni ng to immediately quit to have a baby. At least ten or t we nt yye ar sbe f or eyou’ l lt hi nkoft hat .Perfeito. ’

Now, Gabriel looked at her with dark eyes. She felt a cold winter wind sweep in from the north


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and shivered.

‘ Bemypr e t e ndmi s t r e s si nRi o, ’hes ai d.‘ AndI will pay you a hundred thousand dollars for that oneni ght . ’ He rl i ps par t e d as s he br e at he d,‘ A hundr e d t hous and! ’

She almost said yes on the spot. Then she remembered her baby, and her heart rose to her t hr oat .Shes hookhe rhe ad.‘ Sor r y, ’s hec hoke dout . ‘ Ge ts ome onee l s e . ’ Hi s br ow f ur r owe d i n di s be l i e f .‘ Why? You c l e ar l yne e dt hemone y. ’

She l i c ke d he rl i ps .‘ That ’ s none of your bus i ne s s . ’ ‘ Ide s e r veanans we r . ’

Shes e the rj aw.Hedi dn’ tknow whatki nd of t r oubl ehe ’ d madef orhe rbyc omi nghe r e .Di dn’ t know and di dn’ tc ar e .Hec oul dn’ ts e ehow Laur a had changed through the anguish of the past year. Whowoul dbet he r s tne i ghbort ogos s i pt hathe r ex-boss bore an uncanny resemblance to her son? She exhaled, clenching her hands. He still thought all he had to do was tell her to jump, and s he ’ d as k how hi gh.Buts hewas n’ thi sobe di e nt little secretary anymore. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes. It was time to let it all go.

Le tgot hes ound ofGabr i e l ’ swar m,de e p voi c e


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f ort he l as t ve ye ar sashi se xe c ut i ve as s i s t ant . Mi s sPar ke r ,t he r e ’ snooneasc apabl easy ou.

Let go the brightness of his delight when he came home at 6:00 A.M. t o ndhe rs i l e nt l ywai t i ng wi t hf r e s hl ymadec oe eandapr e s s e ds ui tf orhi s early meeting. Miss Parker, what would I do without you? Let go the memory of their time in bed, when his dark eyes, so vulnerable and warm, had caressed her face with unspoken words of love. Let go the memory of his lips hot against her skin. Let go the feel of him inside her. Laura, I need you. She opened her eyes.

‘ I ’ m s or r y, ’s he s ai d,he r voi c es haki ng.‘ You don’ tde s e r ve an e xpl anat i on.My ans we ri sj us t no. ’

Ar oundt he m,t hedus t i ngofs now r ee c t e dl i ght into the white-gray lowering clouds, in a breathless hus h of mu e d s i l e nc e . He bl i nke d, l ooki ng bewildered. ‘ Di di te nd s o badl y,Laur a? ’he s ai ds of t l y. ‘ Be t we e nus ? ’

She pr e s s e d he r nge r nai l si nt o he rpal mst o keep from crying. Robby. She had to think of Robby.‘ Yous houl dn’ thavec omehe r e . ’He rc he e ks f e l ti n ame di nt hewi nt e rai r ,he rbodybur ni ng upandye tc ol dasi c e .‘ Iwantyout ol e ave .Now. ’ He took a step closer, looking down at her. A


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sliver of moonlight pierced through the clouds to illuminate his face. She noticed the dark shadow on his hard jawline, saw the hollows beneath his e ye s .Shewonde r e dwhe nhe ’ dl as ts l e pt .

He rhe ar tt wi s t e di nhe rc he s t .No.Shec oul dn’ t let he r s e l fc ar e .Shec oul dn’ t !Choki ngbac kt e ar s , s hee dge daway.‘ I fyouwon’ tl e ave ,Iwi l l . ’ He grabbed her wrist. He looked down at her, andhi se ye sgl i t t e r e d.‘ Ic an’ tl e tyougo. ’

For a moment, she heard only the panting of their breath. Then a door banged open, and she he ar dababy’ swhi ne .Ac hi l lwe ntdownhe rs pi ne and she whirled around with a gasp. Too late!

‘ Whe r ehaveyoube e n,Laur a? ’he rmot he rc al l e d irritably, holding a squirming Robby in her arms. ‘ I tt ookmeage st o ndyou.Whatone ar t har eyou doi ngouthe r ei nt hec ol d? ’

Ri ppi ng he r ar m f r om Gabr i e l ’ s gr as p,Laur a gavehe rmot he rahar d,de s pe r at es t ar e .‘ I ’ ms or r y, Mom.J us tgo bac ki ns i de .Go bac k.I ’ l lber i ght t he r e ! ’ Buthe rmot he rwas n’ tl ooki ngathe r .‘ I st hat —i s t hatMr .Sant os ? ’s hes ai dt r e mul ous l y. ‘ He l l o,Mr s .Par ke r , ’Gabr i e ls ai d,s mi l i ngashe stepped towards her and held out his hand. ‘ Congr at ul at i onsonBe c ky’ swe ddi ng.Youmus tbe ve r ypr oudofyourdaught e r . ’


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‘ I ’ m pr oudofal lmydaught e r s . ’Shec amec l os e r t os hakehi shand.‘ I t ’ sni c et os e eyouagai n. ’ Laura stared at them, her heart in her throat. Her mother had always liked Gabriel, ever since he ’ d pai df or t he f ami l yt ot ake a vac at i on t o Fl or i daf ourye ar sago,onet he ywoul dn’ tot he r wi s e havebe e nabl et oa or d.ThePar ke r shadt r ave l e d in his private jet and stayed at a villa on the beach. It had been a lavish second honeymoon for Laur a’ spar e nt s ,abi gc hangef r om t he i r r s tata cheap motel in Niagara Falls. Pictures of that Florida vacation still lined the walls, images of their family smiling beneath palm trees, building sand castles on the beach, splashing in the surf together. With that one gift, Gabriel had won her mot he r ’ sl oyal t yf or e ve r . ‘ I ’ m gl ads ome onehadt hes e ns et oi nvi t eyout o Be c ky’ swe ddi ng, ’Rut hs ai d,s mi l i ng.

Hes mi l e dbac kwi t hge nt l ec our t e s y.‘ I ’ veal ways as ke dyout oc al lmeGabr i e l . ’ ‘ Ohno,Ic oul dn’ t , ’s hes ai d.‘ Notwi t hyoube i ng Laur a’ se mpl oye randal l .I tj us twoul dn’ tber i ght . ’

‘ ButI ’ m nothe re mpl oye ranymor e . ’He as he d Laura a dark look before leaning toward her mot he rt oc on de nt i al l y whi s pe r ,‘ And Iwas n’ t i nvi t e dt ot hewe ddi ng.Ic r as he d.Ic amet oo e r he raj ob. ’ ‘ Oh! ’Rut hpr ac t i c al l yc r i e dt e ar sofj oy.‘ Aj ob! You have no idea how happy that makes me.


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Things have been so tight lately and you should s e es omeoft her i di c ul ousj obss he ’ sappl i e df or ,as f arawayasExe t e r —’ ‘ Mom, ’Laur ac r i e d.‘ Pl e as et akeRobbyi ns i de ! ’ ‘ Sos he ’ sl ooki ngf oraj ob,i ss he ? ’hepur r e d.

‘ Oh,ye s .She ’ st ot al l y br oke , ’Rut hc on de d, t he nhe rc he e kst ur ne dr e d.‘ Butt he n,weal lar e . Eve rs i nc e …s i nc e …’Shet ur ne daway. Gabr i e lputhi shandsi nt o hi spoc ke t s .‘ Iwas sorry to hear about your husband. He was a good man. ’ ‘ Thank you, ’Rut h whi s pe r e d.Ami dt hel i ght l y falling snow, silence fell. Gabriel suddenly looked at Robby.

‘ What a c har mi ng baby, ’ he mur mur e d, c hangi ng t hes ubj e c t .‘ I sher e l at e dt o you,Mr s . Par ke r ? ’ Her mother looked at him as if he was stupid. ‘ He ’ smygr ands on. ’

Gabr i e ll ooke ds ur pr i s e d.‘ I soneofyourot he r daught e r smar r i e d,aswe l l ? ’

‘ Mom, ’Laur a br e at he d wi t ht e ar si n he re ye s , t e r r ie d,‘ j us tgo!Ri ghtnow! ’ Buti twast ool at e .‘ Thi si sRobby, ’he rmot he r s ai d,hol di nghi m uppr oudl y.‘ Laur a’ sbaby. ’


CHAPTER THREE AS her mother turned to place Robby into her ar ms , Laur a’ s he ar tf e l lt ot he s nowy, f r oz e n gr ound.Thes i xmont hol d’ swhi nef ade d,t ur ni ng to hiccups as he clung to Laura. Ruth leaned forward to hug her.

‘ Taket hej ob, ’he rmot he rwhi s pe r e di nhe re ar , t he nt ur ne dt oGabr i e lands ai dbr i ght l y,‘ Ihopet o s e eyouagai ns oon,Mr .Sant os ! ’ Laura heard the dull thunk of the door as her mother went back inside. Then she was alone with Gabriel; their baby in her arms.

Gabr i e l ’ sdar ke ye swe ntt ot hec hi l d,t he nbac k to her. The sound of his tightly coiled voice r e ve r be r at e di nt hec ol dai r .‘ Thi si syours on? ’ She held her baby close, loving the solid, chubby feel of him in her arms. Tears stung her eyes as she l ooke ddownatRobby.‘ Ye s . ’ ‘ How ol di she ? ’

‘ Si xmont hs , ’s hes ai di nas mal lvoi c e .

Gabr i e l ’ se ye snar r owe d.‘ Sot e l lme . ’Hi svoi c e


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wasde adl yands t i l lasawi nt e r ’ sni ght .‘ Whoi st he f at he rofyourbaby? ’

She ’ d wi s he ds o many t i me st o beabl et ot e l l Gabriel the truth, dreamed of giving her son his father. With their baby squirming in her arms between them, the truth rose unbidden to her lips. ‘ Thef at he rofmybabyi s …’ You.You’ r eRobby ’ sf at he r .Robbyi sy ours on.But t hewor dss t uc ki nhe rt hr oat .Gabr i e ldi dn’ twant to be tied down with a child. If she told him her secret, nothing good would come of it. He might feel he had no choice but to sue for custody out of duty, resenting Robby, resenting her for forcing him into it. He might try to take their child to Brazil, away from her, to be given into the arms of some young, sexy nanny. Laura would gain nothing by telling him. And risk everything. ‘ We l l ? ’hede mande d.

She as he dhe re ye sathi m.‘ Thei de nt i t yofmy baby’ sf at he ri snoneofyourbus i ne s s . ’ Hi sown e ye snar r owe d.‘ You mus thavegot t e n pr e gnanti mme di at e l yaf t e ryoul e f tRi o. ’ ‘ Ye s , ’s hes ai dunwi l l i ngl y.Shes hi ve r e d,l ooki ng from father to son. Would he notice the resemblance?

But Gabriel turned on her, his dark eyes full of ac c us at i on.‘ Youwe r eavi r gi nwhe nIs e duc e dyou.


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You said you wanted a home and family of your own. How could you be so careless, to forget protection, to let yourself get pregnant by a one ni ghts t and? ’

Gabr i e lhadus e dpr ot e c t i on,buts ome how s he ’ d gotten pregnant anyway. She said over the lump in he rt hr oat ,‘ Ac c i de nt shappe n. ’

‘ Ac c i de nt s don’ thappe n, ’he c or r e c t e d. ‘ Onl y mi s t ake s . ’ Shes e the rj aw.‘ Mybabyi snotamistake. ’

‘ Youme ani twaspl anne d? ’Hel i f t e das ar doni c e ye br ow.‘ Who i st he f at he r ? Some goodl ooki ng farmer? Someboyyoukne w bac ki nhi ghs c hool ? ’ Hegl anc e d ar ound.‘ Whe r ei st hi spar agon?Why has n’ thepr opos e d?Whyar e n’ tyouhi swi f e ? ’ Robby was s t ar t i ng t os nu e . Eve n i n hi s long-sleeved shirt, he was getting cold, and so was she. Holding him close to her warmth, she shifted hi swe i ghtonhe rhi p.‘ It ol dyou,i t ’ snoneofyour bus i ne s s . ’ ‘ I shehe r e ? ’ ‘ No! ’

‘ Sohede s e r t e dyou. ’

‘ Idi dn’ tgi vehi mt hec hanc e , ’s hes ai d.‘ Il e f t hi m r s t . ’

‘ Ah. ’Gabr i e l ’ ss houl de r ss e e me dt or e l axs l i ght l y. ‘ Soyoudon’ tl ovehi m.Wi l lhec aus eanyt r oubl e whe nyout aket hec hi l dt oRi o? ’


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‘ No. ’

‘ Good. ’

‘ Ime an—I ’ m nott aki ng Robby t he r e .I ’ m not goi ng. ’He rbabys t ar t e dt owhi mpe rass het ur ne d away.‘ Goodbye ,Gabr i e l . ’ ‘ Wai t . ’

The raw emotion in his voice made her hesitate. Against her better judgment she turned back. He stepped toward her, and she saw something in his e xpr e s s i ons he ’ dne ve rs e e nbe f or e . Vulnerability.

‘ Don’ tl e ave , ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ Ine e dyou. ’ I need you.

She ’ d onc el ove d hi m.She ’ ds e r ve d hi m ni ght and day, existed only to please him. She had to ghtt hathabi t ,t hatye ar ni ng,wi t he ve r y bi tof willpower she possessed. ‘ I sahundr e dt hous anddol l ar snote nough? ’He came closer, his dark eyes bright in the moonlight, the white smoke of his breath drifting around them i nt hec hi l l yni ghtai r .‘ Le t ’ smakei tac oolmi l l i on. Ami l l i ondol l ar s ,Laur a.Foras i ngl eni ght . ’ She gasped. Ami l l i on…?

Re ac hi ngout ,hes t r oke dhe rc he e k.‘ Thi nkwhat t hatmone yc oul dme anf oryou.Foryourf ami l y. ’ Hi s nge r smove ds l owl yagai ns the rc ol ds ki n,t he l i ght e s tt ouc h ofa c ar e s s ,war mi ng he r .‘ I fyou don’ tc ar ewhati twoul dme anf orme ,t hi nkwhat


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i tc oul d do f oryou.And al lyou ne e dt o do, ’he s ai d hus ki l y, ‘ i ss mi l ef or a f e w hour s . Dr i nk champagne. Wear a fancy ball gown. And pretend t ol oveme . ’ Pretend. Blinking up at him, she swallowed the lump in her throat. Pretend to love him.

‘ Al t houghIknow i tmi ghtnotbee as y, ’hes ai d dr yl y.The nhes hookhi she ad.‘ Butyouar enots o s e ls hast or e f us e . ’ With an intake of breath, Laura clenched her handsi nt o s t s .‘ MaybeIam.Now. ’

Hi ss e ns ualmout hc ur ve d.‘ The Laur a Ikne w always put the needs of the people she loved above he r s e l f .I know t hat has n’ tc hange d. ’Hi s dar k e ye br ow l i f t e d.‘ You pr obabl ys t aye d up al lni ght maki ngyours i s t e r ’ swe ddi ngc ake . ’ He rl i pst wi s t e d wi t h a dar ke mot i on.‘ Ir e al l y hat eyou. ’

‘ Hat emei fyouwi l l .Buti fyoudonotc omewi t h met oRi ot oni ght …’Hec l awe dhi sbl ac khai rbac k with his hand, then exhaled. His dark eyes seemed f at homl e s sandde e p,e c hoi ngwi t hpai n.‘ Iwi l ll os e myf at he r ’ sl e gac y.For e ve r . ’ Shivering in the cold night, cradling her whimpering baby in the warmth of her arms, Laur al ooke dupi nt oGabr i e l ’ shands ome ,haggar d face. She knew better than anyone what the Açoazul company meant to Gabriel. For years,


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s he ’ d wat c he d hi m s c he me and pl ot t or e gai n control of it. He hungered for it. His legacy.

Living in the house her great-great-great-greatgrandfather had built with his own two hands, on the land her family had farmed for two centuries, Laura could understand the feeling. She looked at his face. It was a shock to see raw vulnerability in hi sdar ke ye s .I twasane xpr e s s i ons he ’ dne ve rs e e n t he r ebe f or e ,noti nal lt heye ar ss he ’ dwor ke df or him. She could feel herself weakening.

One million dollars. For a single night of luxury in Rio, a night of beauty and pleasure. She looked down at her baby. What could that money do for her son? For her family? But oh, the risk. Could she be strong enough to resist telling Gabriel the truth? For twenty-four hours, could she lie to his face? Could she pretend to love him, without falling in love with him again for real?

On the country road in front of their property, Laura saw a parked black sedan turn on its headlights, as if on cue. She heard the smooth purr of the engine as it slowly drove up the driveway. Ove rGabr i e l ’ she ad,moonl i ghtl ac e dt her i dge sof the dark clouds with silver. Shec l os e dhe re ye s .‘ You wi l lne ve rc omebac k l ooki ngf ormeaf t e rt hi s ? ’s hes ai di nal ow voi c e . ‘ Youwi l ll e aveusi npe ac e ? ’ Gabr i e l ’ sownvoi c ewashar s h.‘ Ye s . ’


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Looking at him, Laura took a deep breath and spoke words that felt like a knife between her s houl de rbl ade s .Theonl ywor dshe ’ dl e f tf orhe rt o say. ‘ Oneni ght , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

An hour later they arrived at the small private airport, where his jet waited outside the hangar. As they crossed the tarmac, Gabriel felt his blood rush in his ears as he stared down at her.

Laura was even more beautiful than he remembered. In the moonlight, her hair looked like dark honey. The frosty winter air gave her cheeks a soft pink glow, and as she bit her lower lip, her heart-shaped mouth looked red and inviting. For a s i ngl ei ns t ant ,whe n he ’ d r s ts e e n he r att he f ar mhous e ,he ’ dhadt hei ns anede s i r et oki s she r . He t ook a de e p br e at h.He was t i r e d, yi ng straight from Rio on his private jet. Even more than that, he was exhausted from the months of ne got i at i onst obuybac khi sf at he r ’ sol dc ompany in Rio, to gain back the business that had been his bi r t hr i ghtbe f or ehe ’ ds t upi dl yt hr owni tawayasa grief-stricken nineteen-year-old. Hewoul dn’ tf ai l .Nott hi st i me .Gabr i e lgl anc e d down grimly at his expensive platinum watch. They were still on schedule. Just. As they climbed the steps to the jet, Laura paused, looking behind her. Shifting the baby


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carrier on her arm, she pulled her diaper bag up hi ghe ron he rot he rs houl de rand bi the rl i p.‘ I think we should go back to the house for a few mor et hi ngs —’ ‘ Youhavee noughf ort he i ght ? ’hes ai ds hor t l y. ‘ Ye s ,butIdi dn’ tpac kc l ot he s .Paj amas —’

‘ Eve r yt hi ngyoune e dwi l lbewai t i ngf oryoui n Ri o.I twi l lbear r ange d. ’

‘ Al lr i ght . ’Wi t h one l as t ,t r oubl e d gl anc e ,s he followed him up the steps.

Inside the cabin, Gabriel sat down in the white l e at he rs e at .A i ghtat t e ndanto e r e dhi m agl as s of champagne, which he accepted. It had been har de rt han he ’ de xpe c t e dt oc onvi nc e Laur at o come. She sat across from him, suddenly glaring at him beneath her dark lashes.

Was she angry at him for some reason? God knew why. He was the one who should be angry. She ’ dl e f thi mi nt hel ur c haye arago.I nanac tof pur ec har i t y,he ’ d al l owe d he rt oqui the rj ob.I t hadbe e nt heac tofas ai nt .He ’ dbar e l ymanage d t opat c hupt hehol es he ’ dl e f ti nhi so c e . ‘ You’ dbe t t e rhaveave r yt r us t wor t hybabys i t t e r i n Ri o, ’s he gr owl e d, r e f us i ng t he o e r of champagne. He ni s he do t hec r ys t al ut e .‘ Mar i aSi l va. ’ Shebl i nke d.‘ Yourhous e ke e pe r ? ’

‘ Shewasmynannywhe nIwasyoung. ’


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‘ Youwe r eyoung? ’Laur as ai ds ar doni c al l y.

Gabr i e l ’ s t hr oat c l os e d. Agai ns t hi s wi l l , memories of his happy childhood washed over him, of playing with his older brother, of the wr e s t l i ng and ght i ng, of hi s nanny’ s voi c e soothing them. Only a year apart in age, Gabriel had competed with Guilherme constantly, always s e e ki ng t o be s thi m i nt he i rpar e nt s ’e ye s .He ’ d started some stupid battles. Leading up to the night oft heac c i de nt … Tur ni ng away,he ni s he d har s hl y,‘ I ’ dt r us t Mar i awi t hmyl i f e . ’ Laura no longer looked angry. Now she looked bemused, staring at him with her large, limpid turquoise eyes. She started to ask a question, then was distracted whe nt he i ghtat t e ndants ugge s t e d s hebuc kl ei nt hebaby’ sc ar r i e rbe f or et ake o. Gabriel watched her smiling down at her son, murmuring soft words of love as she tucked a baby blanket into his pudgy hand. The little one yawned again. A strange feeling went through Gabriel.

He ’ d won. He ’ dc onvi nc e d he r . The y woul d make it back to Rio in time. His plan would work. He should be feeling triumphant. I ns t e ad,hef e l t …one dge .

Why? I tc oul dn’ tbet he mone y he ’ d pr omi s e d her. A million dollars was nothing. He would have


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pai dt e nt i me st hat t o wi n bac k hi sf at he r ’ s company. He would have given every penny he possessed, every share of stock in Santos Ent e r pr i s e s ,t he c ont r ac t s ,t he o c e bui l di ng i n Manhattan, the ships in Rotterdam. Everything down to the last stick of furniture.

Soi twas n’ tt hemone y.Butast hej e tt ooko , leaving New Hampshire behind, he looked out the wi ndow.Some t hi ng bot he r e d hi m,and hedi dn’ t know whati twas .Wasi tt hathe ’ dl e tLaur as e ehi s desperation? No, he thought, setting his jaw. She knew how muc h hi sf at he r ’ sc ompany me antt o hi m.And anyway, allowing his vulnerability to show had helped achieve his goal. It was something else. His gaze settled on the dr ows i ngbaby’ sdar khai r ,hi spl umpc he e ks . It was the baby. The baby unsettled him.

Gabr i e l ’ sj aw s e tasher e al i z e d whatt hee dgy feeling was. What it had to be. Anger.

He c oul dn’ tbe l i e ve t hatLaur a had f al l e ni nt o anot he rman’ sbe ds os wi f t l y.Whe ns he ’ dqui the r job andwal ke doutofhi sl i f el as tye ar ,he ’ dl e the r go f oroner e as on onl y—f orhe rown good.He ’ d c omet oc ar ef orhe r .Andhekne w hec oul dn’ tgi ve her what she wanted. A husband. Children. A job t hatdi dn’ tc ons umehe re ve r ywaki nghour .Whe n,


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t hemor ni ngaf t e rhe ’ ds e duc e dhe r ,s he ’ ds udde nl y said she was quitting and going back to her family, he ’ dgi ve nLaur ahe rc hanc eathappi ne s s .He ’ dl e t her go. But i ns t e ad of f ol l owi ng he r dr e ams ,s he ’ d appar e nt l yj umpe di nt oabr i e f ,me ani ngl e s sa ai r wi t hs omeman s hedi dn’ te ve nc ar eabout .She ’ d settled for poverty and the life of a single mother. She ’ d al l owe d he rc hi l dt o be bor n wi t hout a father. Without a name. Cold rage slowly built inside him. He ’ dl e the rg of ornot hi ng .

Gabriel looked at her, now leaning back in her white leather seat with her eyes closed, one hand still on her baby in the seat beside her. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Even in t hatun at t e r i ng,pal epi nks at i n dr e s s ,wi t ht hat horrible hot pink lipstick, her natural beauty shone through. With all its deceptive innocence. Against his will, his eyes traced the generous curves beneath her gown. Her breasts were bigger s i nc es he ’ dbe c omeamot he r ,he rhi pswi de r .And s udde nl y he c oul dn’ ts t op wonde r i ng what he r body would look like beneath that dress. What it would feel like against him in bed.

Er ot i cme mor i e s as he dt hr oughhi m oft he r s t t i mehe ’ dki s s e dhe r ,whe nhe ’ ds we pthi sl apt opt o t he oori n hi sr ut hl e s sne e dt ohavehe r .Taki ng he ragai ns thi sde s k,he ’ dl os tdat at hathad c os t


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thousands of dollars.

Hehadn’ tc ar e d.I thadbe e nwor t hi t .

He ’ d want e d Laur a Par ke rf r om t he mome nt s he ’ d wal ke di nt o hi so c e ,l ooki ngunc e r t ai ni n her country clothes and wearing big, ugly glasses. He ’ ds e e n atonc et hats hehad a ki nd,i nnoc e nt heart, coupled with the fearless bluntness he ne e de di nane xe c ut i veas s i s t ant .He ’ dwant e dhe r , butf or veye ar s ,he ’ d he l d hi ms e l fi nc he c k.He ne e de d he rt oo badl yi n hi so c e ,ne e de d he r e xpe r t i s et o ke e p Sant os Ent e r pr i s e s —and hi s l i f e —r unni ng l i ke a we l l oi l e d mac hi ne .And he knew an old-fashioned woman like Laura Parker would never settle for what a man like Gabriel c oul d oe r —mone y, gl amour , an e mot i onl e s s a ai r .Sohehadn’ tal l owe dhi ms e l ft ot ouc hhe r . Note ve nt o i r twi t hhe r . Unt i l …

Las t ye ar , dur i ng a he l i c opt e r i ght f r om Aç oaz ul ’ ss t e e lf ac t or yt ot he nor t h oft he c i t y, Gabriel had looked up from a report to discover his pi l othad ownt he mr i ghtove rt hes har ps t r e t c hof road where his family had died nearly twenty years before. Gabr i e lhads ai dnot hi ngt ot hepi l ot .He ’ dt ol d hi ms e l fhef e l tnot hi ng.The nhe ’ dgonebac kt ot he o c e .I twasl at e ,andal lhi sot he re mpl oye e swe r e gone .He ’ ds e e n Laur a Par ke ral one athi sde s k, l i ngpape r si nhe rpr i mc ol l ar e ds hi r tandt we e d


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skirt, and something inside him had snapped. Five ye ar soff r us t r at e d ne e d had e xpl ode d and he ’ d seized her. Her blue eyes had widened behind her sleek, black-framed glasses as, without a word, he ’ dr ut hl e s s l yki s s e dhe r .

That ni ght , he ’ d di s c ove r e dt wo t hi ngs t hat shocked him. First: Miss Parker was a virgin.

Se c ond: be ne at h he r de mur ee xt e r i or ,s he ’ d bur ne dhi mt oas he swi t hhe rpas s i onat e r e .

He ’ dmadel ovet ohe rr oughl yagai ns tt hede s k. He ’ d be e n mor e ge nt l et he s e c ond t i me , af t e r t he y’ dt ake nt hee l e vat orupt ohi spe nt hous eand he ’ dki s s e dhe rf orhour s ,l yi ngac r os shi sbi gbe d. The ni ght had be e n…amaz i ng. Mor e t han amazing. It had been the most incredible sexual experience of his life. Now, looking at her, a cold knot tightened in Gabr i e l ’ sc he s t .He ’ dgi ve nt hatup,ands he ’ dj us t t hr ownhe r s e l faway.She ’ dl e ts omeunwor t hyman touch her. Get her pregnant with his child. Gabr i e l ’ shandst i ght e ne di nt o s t s .Pe r hapsi t washypoc r i t i c alt of e e ls o be t r aye d,s i nc e he ’ d e nj oye d many wome nt he pas tye ars i nc es he ’ d deserted him. But enjoy was not the right word. All Gabriel had done was prove to himself, over and over, that no other woman could satisfy him as Laura had.


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Tur ni ngaway,hes e thi sj aw.He ’ dge tc ont r olof Açoazul SA and then send Laura and her baby bac kt o Ne w Hamps hi r e .He ’ dt houghthemi ght ask her to stay in Rio after the deal was done, but now that was impossible. As much as he missed he ri nt heo c e —asmuc hashemi s s e dhe ri nhi s be d—hec oul dn’ tt akehe rbac know.Notnow t hat she had a child. He c oul dn’ tl e t hi ms e l ff e e l ,not e ve nf or a moment, as if he were part of a family. ‘ Youl ookt i r e d, ’hehe ar dLaur as ayqui e t l y.

He turned to her, and their eyes locked in the s e mi dar kne s soft hej e t .‘ I ’ m ne . ’ ‘ Youdon’ ts e e m ne . ’

‘ Al othasc hange d. ’Hel ooke df r om he rt ot he sleeping baby. He wanted to ask her again who the baby’ sf at he rwas .He want e dt o as k how l ong s he ’ dwai t e dbe f or es he ’ dj umpe di nt obe dwi t ha stranger. A week? A day? What had the man done t os e duc ehe r ?Boughthe rs omec he ap owe r sand wine? Given her cheap promises?

What had it taken for the man to convince Laura t os ur r e nde rt hel i f es he ’ dye ar ne df or ,andac c e pt instead just the crumbs of her childhood dreams? ‘ Gabr i e l ? ’

Hel ooke dupt o ndhe ranxi ouse ye swat c hi ng hi m.‘ What ? ’ ‘ Whatwi l lhappe naf t e rwear r i vei nRi o? ’


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He leaned back in his seat, folding his arms. ‘ Ol i ve i r ai shos t i nganaf t e r noonpoolpar t yathi s beachside mansion on the Costa do Sul. Adriana wi l lbet he r e . ’ Laur abi the rl i p,l ooki ngne r vous .‘ Poolpar t y? Li kewi t has wi ms ui t ? ’ ‘ And af t e rt hat , ’he c ont i nue dr ut hl e s s l y,‘ you wi l lat t e ndt heFant as yBal lwi t hme . ’

‘ Fant as y,huh? ’He rf ul ll i ps t wi s t e d.‘ Ihope Brazilian shopping malls sell magic fairy dust, ’ c aus et hat ’ st he onl yt hi ng t hat wi l lc onvi nc e anyoneIc anc ompe t ewi t hAdr i anadaCos t a. ’

‘ The r s tpe r s onyoumus tc onvi nc ei syour s e l f , ’ he s ai d har s hl y.‘ Yourl ac k ofc on de nc ei snot at t r ac t i ve .Noonewi l lbe l i e veI ’ dbei nl ovewi t ha woman who disappears in the background like a wal lowe r . ’ He had the hollow satisfaction of seeing the light i nhe rbe aut i f ulf ac ef ade .‘ Ij us tme ant …’

‘ Wemadeade al .Iam payi ngyouwe l l .Fort he next twenty-four hours, Laura, you will be the womanIne e dyout obe .Yoube l ongt ome . ’

Her eyes narrowed with anger and resentment, and as she turned away, some part of him was glad he ’ d hur the r .He he ar dt he s of ts nu e oft he baby’ sbr e at h,and i twasl i kear az oragai ns thi s throat.

He ’ d onc e be e nc omf or t e d by t he t houghtof


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Laura back at home with her family, following her dr e ams .Now s he ’ dt ake nt hatf r om hi m.She ’ d betrayed him. And he hated her for that.


CHAPTER FOUR AS they descended through the clouds toward Rio de Janeiro, Laura stared out the porthole window at the city shining like a jewel on the sea. She f ol de dhe rar mswi t hahu ofbr e at h,s t i l lf ur i ous . You belong to me.

Her hands gripped her seat belt. Looking past Robby’ s baby s e at , whe r e he was t hankf ul l y sleeping again after a fairly rough night, Laura glanced at Gabriel on the opposite side of the jet. She allowed herself a grim smile.

Poor Robby had be e nc r yi ng hal ft he i ght . Gabriel must have been gnashing his teeth to be trapped in his private jet with a baby. Karma, she thought with a degree of satisfaction. Folding her arms, she turned back to the window to see the beautiful, exotic city as they descended through the clouds. I thadbe e ndi c ul tf orhe rt ol e avehe rmot he r ands i s t e r si nt hemi ddl eofBe c ky’ sr e c e pt i on.But instead of being angry, her mother and sisters had s e e me d pl e as e d.The y’ d hugge d he rgoodbye f or


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t he qui c k we e ke nd t r i p. ‘ You we r es o happy wor ki ngf orhi m onc e , ’he rmot he rhadwhi s pe r e d. ‘ Thi swi l lbeane ws t ar tf oryouandRobby.Ic an f e e li t .I t ’ sf at e . ’ Fate.

Laur ahad bar e l ygot t e n on t hi sj e tbe f or ehe ’ d insulted her. Now, he glared at her as if she were a stranger. No, worse than a stranger. He stared at her as if she were scum beneath his feet.

Ast hej e t nal l yl ande d att hepr i vat eai r por t , her hands gripped the leather armrest. She would never again feel guilty about keeping their baby a secret from Gabriel. After this, she would never let herself feel anything for him. She would do her job, pr e t e nd t o be hi s ador i ng mi s t r e s s —ha! —t he n collect the check and forget his existence. She would. As the door of the private jet opened, Robby woke up with one of his adorable baby smiles. His toothless grin and happy cooing were worth any amount of sleepless nights, she thought.

‘ We ’ r ej us the r ef oroneni ght ,Robby, ’s het ol d her baby, kissing his forehead as she unbuckled his s e at .‘ J us taqui c kni ghthe r eandwe ’ l lgos t r ai ght bac khome . ’ ‘ Di d he s l e e p we l l ? ’Gabr i e ls ai ds ar doni c al l y behind her. Shegavehi m apl e as antans we r i ng s mi l e .‘ Di d


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you? ’

Ast he ys t e ppe doutoft hej e t ,Ri o’ ss ul t r yhe at hit her at once. She went down the steps, blinking in the blinding sunlight and breathing in the scents oft r opi c al owe r s ,e xot i cs pi c eandt angys al tf r om the sea. Lush, white-hot Brazil was the other side of the world from the frigid February weather s he ’ dl e f tbe hi ndhe r . Looking across the tarmac, Laura saw a waiting white limousine and snorted. The other side of the wor l d?Thi swasadie r e ntwor l de nt i r e l y!

‘ Bom dia,Mi s sPar ke r , ’t hedr i ve rs ai d,t i ppi ng hi shatasheope ne dt hedoor .‘ Iam gl adt os e eyou agai n. And what ’ st hi s ? ’ He t i c kl e d be ne at h Robby’ sc hi n.‘ Wehaveane w pas s e nge r ! ’

‘ Obrigada,Car l os , ’Laur as ai d,s mi l i ng.‘ Thi si s mys on,Robby. ’ ‘ I st hepe nt hous er e ady? ’Gabr i e lgr owl e dbe hi nd them. Thedr i ve rnodde d.‘ Sim, senhor. Maria, she has or gani z e de ve r yt hi ng. ’ ‘ Good. ’

Laura climbed into the backseat and tucked Robby into the waiting baby seat, ignoring Gabriel climbing in beside him. Carlos started the engine andpul l e dt hel i moo t het ar mac ,goi ngs out h. As they traveled through the city, now crowded with tourists for the celebration of Carnaval, Laura


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stared out bleakly at the festive decorations. Gabr i e ldi dn’ ts pe ak and ne i t he r di ds he .The silence seemed like agony as the car inched t hr ought het r a c .Ast he y nal l yappr oac he dt he bac k of Gabr i e l ’ s bui l di ng, Laur a he ar d l oud thumping music, drums, people singing and cheering. ‘ Thi si sasc l os easIc ange t ,senhor, ’Car l oss ai d apol oge t i c al l y. ‘ The avenida is closed to cars t oday. ’

‘ Está bom. ’Se t t i ng hi sj aw,Gabr i e lope ne dt he door himself and got out of the limo.

Laura looked out her window in awe. Ahead of them, she saw the street blocked and people gathering on Ipanema Beach for one of the largest, wildest street festivals in Rio. She looked up at Gabr i e l ’ st al lbui l di ngabovet he m.Hehadbought it two years ago, as a foothold in Rio while he wr e s t l e d hi sf at he r ’ sc ompany back from Felipe Ol i ve i r a.The gr ound oor she l dr e s t aur ant sand r e t ai ls pac e .The mi ddl e oor s he l dt he Sout h Ame r i c an o c e s of Sant os Ent e r pr i s e s ,s t i l l o c i al l yhe adquar t e r e di nNe w Yor k.Thet opt wo oor s of t he bui l di ng we r e apar t me nt sf or hi s bodyguar ds , hous e hol d s t a and Mar i a. The pe nt hous e was ,ofc our s e ,f orGabr i e l —and,t he l as tt i me s he ’ d be e n he r e ,f or Laur a. She s wal l owe d.She ’ d ne ve rt hought s he ’ d be bac k here.


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Especially not with a secret. A baby.

The car door wrenched open. She looked up, expecting Carlos, but it was Gabriel. To her shock, the expression on his handsome face was suddenly tender and adoring. His eyes shone with passion and desire.

‘ At l as t you ar e home , querida, ’ Gabr i e l mur mur e d.He he l d outhi shand.‘ Home whe r e you belong. It nearly killed me when you left. I ne ve rs t oppe dl ovi ngyou,Laur a. ’ She gasped.

Suddenly she could no longer feel the hot sun bl az i ng ove r he ad ort hef r e s h br e e z eo t hes e a. Loud music, horns and drumming and singing from Ipanema Beach all faded into the background. Her heart thrummed wildly in her throat. Gabr i e l ’ sbl ac ke ye ss i z z l e dashel ooke ddownat her, catching up her soul, collecting her like a but t e r yi nane t . Then he dropped his hand with a sardonic l augh.‘ J us tpr ac t i c i ng. ’

Se t t i ng he rj aw,s he gl ar e d athi m.‘ A mi l l i on dol l ar si sal mos tnote nought ode alwi t ht hi s , ’s he muttered. Hi sl i pt wi s t e d.‘ Tool at et or e ne got i at e . ’ ‘ Got ohe l l . ’

‘ I st hatanywayt os pe aki nf r ontofyourbaby? ’


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Turning back into the car, Laura unbuckled Robby. Her son cooed happily, reaching up his chubby arms for her embrace, and she was happy she had one person in Brazil who actually loved her. Leaving the baby carrier in the limo, she scooped him out of his seat. He giggled, clinging to he rwr i nkl e ds at i nbr i de s mai d’ sdr e s s .

Laura felt tired, grungy, dirty. After her poor ni ght ’ ss l e e p on t he j e t ,af t e rt r ave l i ng hal f way around the world, and most of all, after the constant friction of having Gabriel near her, Laur a’ se mot i onswe r et ooc l os et ot hes ur f ac e .The as h ofhi sdar ke ye s ,t he s l i ght e s tt ouc h ofhi s hand, the merest word of kindness from his sensual lips, still made her tremble and melt. He was poison for her, she thought grimly. Poison wrapped in honeyed words and hot desire.

She held her baby close and walked around Gabriel with as much dignity as she possessed, her s houl de r ss t r ai ght .He rpi nkhi ghhe e l s —pi c ke dout f r om a t hr i f ts hop by Be c ky f or ve dol l ar s —c l at t e r e d agai ns tt he mar bl e oor as Laur a walked through the back entrance and past the security guards toward the private elevator. Gabriel followed her without a word. The elevator doors closed behind them, and she breathed in his scent. She felt his warmth beside he r .Shedi dn’ tl ookathi m.Hi st al l ,powe r f ulbody was so close and she felt every inch.


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The l as tt i me t he y’ d be e n t oge t he ri n t hi s e l e vat or ,t he y’ dbe e nont hewayt ot hepe nt hous e , af t e rt he y’ dj us tmadel ovedowns t ai r sont hede s k i nhi so c e .I thadbe e nhe r r s tt i me .He ’ dbe e n s hoc ke ds he wasa vi r gi n,e ve n apol oge t i c .He ’ d kissed her so tenderly in this very elevator, taking her back up to the penthouse with whispered pr omi s e st hatt hi st i me woul d be die r e nt ,t hat he ’ dmakei tgoodf orhe r ,t hathe ’ dmakehe rwe e p with joy. And he had.

The elevator dinged at the same instant Robby struggled in her arms with a plaintive whine. Looking down, Laura saw he was peeking behind her at Gabriel, reaching out his plump arms. Gabr i e ldi dn’ tmove t ot ake t he baby,or e ve n s mi l e .Ofc our s ehewoul dn’ t .Whywoul dhet ake the slightest interest in his own child? She knew she was being unreasonable, but she still felt angry. Exhaling, Laura walked into the penthouse. His modern, masculine, clutter-free apartment had two bedrooms, a study, a dining room and mai nr oom o t heki t c he n.Thewhol epl ac ehad clean lines, white walls and high ceilings, and a stark decor. A wall of windows two stories high showcased the breathtaking view of the pool and terrace, with Ipanema Beach and the Atlantic visible beyond.

‘ I ’ m s o gl ad t os e eyou agai n,Se nhor a Laur a. ’


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Mar i a Si l va, Gabr i e l ’ s hous e ke e pe r and f or me r nanny, was waiting for them. Her gaze moved to Robby.‘ Thi smus tbeyours we e tbaby. ’ ‘ Senhora? ’Laur ar e pe at e d,c onf us e dathow s he ’ d just gotten promoted to a married woman.

The plump-cheeked, white-haired woman bl us he d.‘ You’ r e a mot he r .You de s e r ve r e s pe c t , ’ she said, then held out her hands to the baby. Robby gave a gleeful cackle, and Maria took him happily in her arms. Frowning, Laura slowly looked around her. The penthouse seemed the same, but it had changed somehow. She saw to her surprise that all the electric plugs and sharp edges had been covered. Peeking into the dining room, she saw it was e nt i r e l y l l e dwi t ht oys .

Laur at ur ne dt oGabr i e li nwonde r .‘ Al lt hi s ? ’s he s ai d.‘ Foroneni ght ? ’ Hes hr ugge d.‘ Don’ tt hankme .Mar i adi di t . ’

Laur a’ she ar t ,whi c hhadbe e nr i s i ng,f e l lbac kt o her shoes.

‘ We ’ l lhave a wonde r f ult i me t hi s af t e r noon, won’ twe ? ’Mar i as ai dt oRobby,whi r l i ngt hebaby ar ound t omakehi m gi ggl e .‘ I fyou ne e d us ,Mr s . Laur a,we ’ l lbemaki ngl unc h. ’ Laura turned to follow them into the kitchen, but Gabr i e ls t oppe d he r .‘ The y’ l l be ne . Go f r e s he nup. ’


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Shes c owl e dathi m.‘ St opbar ki ngor de r satme . Youwe r e n’ tt hi sbadwhe nIwor ke df oryou. ’ ‘ Doyouwantas howe rornot ? ’

From the kitchen, Laura dimly heard Maria getting out pots and pans as she sang a song to the baby in Portuguese. Robby started banging the pans with a wooden spoon, keeping the beat. They s e e me d ne .Laur as e the rj aw,t he n gr udgi ngl y admi t t e d,‘ Idowantas howe r . ’

‘ You havet e n mi nut e s . ’Whe ns hedi dn’ tmove , hel i f t e das ar doni ce ye br ow.‘ Ne e dhe l p? ’

She saw his lips curve as he turned away, wal ki ngdownt hehal l way.Pul l i ngo hi ss hi r t ,he dr oppe di tt ot he oor as he s t oppe di nt he doorway of his bedroom. He looked back at her wi t h he avyl i dde de ye s .‘ Go.Ri ghtnow.OrIwi l l as s i s tyou. ’ ‘ I ’ m goi ng! ’Wi t hagul p,Laur ar anf ort hes af e t y of her old bedroom.

Her room had changed, as well. All the old f ur ni t ur es he ’ d had as hi sl i ve i ns e c r e t ar y was gone, of course. The space had been turned into a bl andgue s tr oom.Exc e pt … She saw the brand-new elliptical wooden crib beside the bed, the changing table with diapers and baby clothes and everything else Robby might need. She exclaimed with delight as she touched the smooth wood. In the closet, she saw new


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clothes for her, as well. Gabriel had truly thought of everything. Going to the closet, she touched a bl ac kdr e s swi t has of t ,s at i se ds i gh. Then she saw the size on the tag.

We l l ,s he t hought wi t h di s may, he hadn’ t thought of everything.


CHAPTER FIVE T EN MINUTES LATER, Gabriel paced beneath the hot sun across his rooftop terrace. He stopped, staring down at Ipanema Beach across the Avenida Vieira Souto. He could hear the loud music from the crowds celebrating below. Lifting his eyes, he looked past the throngs of people, past the yellow umbrellas and food vendors to the shining waves of the surf, trying to calm his pounding heart.

Now Laura was here, everything would soon be sorted out. Oliveira and Adriana would both believe that they were in love. They had to believe. Ot he r wi s e ….

No,hewoul dn’ tl e thi ms e l ft hi nkaboutf ai l ur e , not e ve nf or an i ns t ant . He c oul dn’ tl os e hi s f at he r ’ sc ompany,not now t hat i t was nal l y within his grasp. He gripped the railing, glaring at the bright horizon of blue ocean. All along the coastline, tall buildings vied with the sharp green mountains for domination of the sky. He ’ dc hange di nt o khakis hor t sand an ope n, but t ondown s hi r tove rat ankt op,wi t h i p-ops


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on his feet, Carioca-style. He paced his private r oof t op.Br i ghts unl i ghtr ee c t e d pr i s msf r om t he water of his swimming pool. Turning back, he stared down blindly at the scantily clad women on Ipanema Beach, to Leblon to the west, ending in the stark, sharp green mountain of Dois Irmãos.

Gabr i e lhad be e n onl yni ne t e e n whe n he ’ dl os t everything. His parents. His brother. His home. His handst i ght e ne d on t he r ai l .Whe n he ’ d had t he c hanc et os e l lhi sf ami l y’ sbus i ne s st heday af t e r t hef une r al ,Gabr i e lhadt ake ni t .He ’ d e dt oNe w York, leaving his grief behind.

Except grief had followed him. Consumed him. Even as he created an international company far l ar ge rt hanhi sf at he r ’ shade ve rbe e n,t hegui l tof whathe ’ d done —c aus i ng t heac c i de nt ,butbe i ng t heonl ys ur vi vor ;i nhe r i t i nghi sf at he r ’ sc ompany, onl yt oc ar e l e s s l ys e l li t —ne ve rl e f thi m.Ne ve r . ‘ We l l ,Idi di t , ’Laur a gas pe ds udde nl y be hi nd hi m.‘ Te nmi nut e s . ’

‘ Ve r ye c i e nt , ’hes ai d,t ur ni ngt of ac ehe r .‘ You s houl dknow t hat —’ His words froze in his throat.

Gabr i e l ’ se ye st r ac e d ove rhe ri ns hoc k ashe wat c he dhe rt owe lo he rl ongwe thai r .Het ooki n the erotic vision of her obscenely full breasts ove r owi ng t he ne c kl i ne ofhe rbl ac k dr e s s .He c oul dn’ tl ook away f r om t hef abr i cout l i ni ng he r full buttocks and hips.


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‘ Whe r e , ’hec hoke dout ,‘ di dyouge tt hatdr e s s ? ’

She stopped toweling her hair to look at him, t i l t i nghe rhe adwi t haf r own.‘ I twasi nt hec l os e t . Was n’ ti tf orme ? ’

‘ Ye s . ’Hec oul dn’ ts t op hi sgaz ef r om de vour i ng her curvaceous body. He became instantly hard, l l e dwi t ht heme mor yofhow i tf e l tt ohavehe ri n his arms, for the most explosive sexual night of his life. He wanted her. Here in Rio, beneath the Brazilian sunshine, suddenly he could think of nothing but taking her, right here and now. He l i c ke d hi sl i ps and s ai d hoar s e l y,‘ ButIdi dn’ t expect it to look like that. ’

An embarrassed blush rose to her cheeks as she pushed up her black-framed glasses in a s e l f c ons c i ousge s t ur e .‘ Igai ne dal i t t l ewe i ghtwi t h mypr e gnanc y, ’s hemumbl e d.‘ I ’ m nots ot hi nasI us e dt obe . ’ ‘ No. ’Gabr i e ls t ar e d at he r ,f e e l i ng hi s body t i ght e nwi t hl us t .‘ No,you’ r enot . ’

Willing himself to stay in control, he pulled out a c hai ratt het abl ene xtt ot hepool .‘ Mar i a made br e akf as t .Comeande at . ’ Laur as c owl e d.‘ I st hatanor de r ? ’ ‘ Si m. ’

Carefully folding her towel and setting it on a ne ar by t abl e —i ns t e ad ofj us tdr oppi ng i tt ot he oor ,ashewoul dhavedone —s hes atdown.


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‘ Ipr obabl ys houl dn’ te atanyt hi ng.Noti fI ’ m s uppos e dt owe arabi ki ni , ’s hes ai di nal ow voi c e . ‘ I ’ vet r i e dt odi e t ,but …’ ‘ Ne ve r di e t agai n, ’he s ai dt e r s e l y.‘ You ar e pe r f e c t . ’ He pushed her chair back under the table. He paused, allowing his hands to remain on the back of the chair, next to her shoulders. He could almost feel the warmth of her soft skin. She looked up at him over her shoulder with a s c owl .‘ You’ r ej us tbe i ngni c e . ’

He s t ar e d down athe r .‘ Whe n have you e ve r knownmet obeni c e ? ’

Her full pink lips suddenly curved into a smile as he rbl uee ye st wi nkl e d.‘ Goodpoi nt . ’Shet i l t e dhe r he ad,c ons i de r i ng.‘ Soyour e al l yt hi nkIl ook…al l r i ght ? ’ ‘ Hmm. ’Hi se ye sl i nge r e d on he rs pe c t ac ul ar gur e .She ’ dbe e nbe aut i f ulbe f or e ,butnow,i twas almost like torture to see her perfect female shape. Those hips. Her curvaceous bottom. Those br e as t s —!

She was almost too attractive, he thought. He wanted to convince Oliveira and Adriana he was in love with Laura, not have every other man on the Avenida Vieira Souta enjoy the luscious spectacle ofhe rbody.‘ You’ r e ne , ’hes ai d,i r r i t at e d.‘ But t hat dr e s s i s unac c e pt abl e . We ’ l l buy you


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s ome t hi nge l s ewhe nwegos hoppi ngt oday. ’

‘ Shoppi ng.Ri ght . ’Pour i ng mi l k and s ugari nt o he rc up,s hes t i r r e dhe rc oe ewi t has i l ve rs poon. ‘ Ic anhar dl ywai t . ’ Hes atdownac r os st het abl e .‘ Youhavenot hi ng t o wor r y about . ’He pus he dt he br e ad bas ke t t owar dhe r .‘ I t ’ l lbe ne . ’

She t ook a r ol land s i ppe d he rc oe e ,and as t he yat e ,Gabr i e lc oul dn’ ts t ops t ar i ngathe r .Onc e , their relationship had been easy. A friendship. A t r us t .Now,hec oul dn’ tqui t er e adhe r . Strange.

For veye ar s ,Laur aPar ke rhadbe e nt hepe r f e c t e mpl oye e .She ’ dhadnol i f eori nt e r e s t sofhe rown. She ’ d al waysbe e nr e adyand wai t i ngt oo e rhe r competent assistance for his latest emergency, whether it was a billion-dollar drop on a foreign stock exchange or a broken thread on his tuxedo.

Now…t he r ewass ome t hi ngdie r e ntabouthe r . Something had changed in her over the last year. Hef e l tasi fhedi dn’ tknow he r . ‘ How i syourme al ? ’hes ai dgr u y. ‘ De l i c i ous . ’

‘ Tr yt hi s . ’He hande d he ra bowlofpas t r i e s . The i r nge r sbr us he d and s he j e r ke d away asi f he ’ dbur ne dhe r . He s c owl e d athe r .‘ We ’ r e at t e ndi ng Ol i ve i r a’ s party in three hours. No one will believe we are a


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c oupl ei fyouj umpe ve r yt i meIt ouc hyou. ’

Putting down her fork with a clang, she looked athi m.‘ You’ r er i ght . ’ He held out his hand across the table, palm up.

With an intake of breath, she placed her hand in his. He felt her tremble. Felt the warmth of her skin. A rush of desire went through him as his nge r st i ght e ne dove rhe r s .Comi ngt ohe rs i deof the table, he pulled her to her feet.

For a moment, they stood facing each other beneath the warm, bright sun. A soft sea breeze r u e dhe rdamphai r .Shewoul dn’ tme e thi se ye s . He rgaz es e e me d xat e donhi smout h. She licked her lips, and he nearly groaned.

‘ Ipas s e dyourt e s t , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ I ’ mt ouc hi ng youwi t hout i nc hi ng. ’ ‘ Hol di ngmyhandi snote nough. ’

Shevi s i bl ys wal l owe d,l ooki ngup.‘ What —what e l s e ? ’ He put his arms around her, pulling her close. He felt the softness of her body, felt her curves pressed against him as he rested his hands on her hips. Her tight black dress squeezed her breasts still higher in the force of his embrace, plump and r m and be ggi ng f orhi st ouc h.He s t r oke d he r c he e k,t i l t i ngbac khe rhe ad.‘ Now Ine e d you t o l ookatme , ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e ,‘ asi fyoul ove me . ’


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Beneath her glasses, her wide-set blue eyes glimmered in the sunlight, shining like the sea.

‘ And I , ’ he c ont i nue d r oughl y, ‘ am ut t e r l y, c ompl e t e l yandi ns ane l yi nl ovewi t hyou. ’ Shet r e mbl e d.The ns he e r c e l ys hookhe rhe ad.

‘ Thi si s n’ tgoi ng t o wor k.No one wi l lbe l i e ve you’ dc hoos emeove rhe r . ’

‘ You’ r e wr ong, ’he s ai d.‘ Adr i ana i sbe aut i f ul , ye s .Butt hat ’ sal ls hei s .Whi l eyou…’ Laur as t ie ne di nhi sar ms ,l i f t i nghe rc hi n.

He c uppe d he rhe ad wi t h hi shands .‘ You ar e mor et hanj us tapr e t t yf ac e . ’Hes t r oke dhe rbar e ne c k.‘ Mor et hanj us tal us c i ousbody. ’Her ubbe d hi st humbagai ns the rf ul l ,s e ns i t i vel owe rl i p.‘ You are smart. And too kindhearted for your own good. You s ac r ic eyour s e l ft ot akec ar eofot he r s ,e ve n whe n you s houl dn’ t . ’Hepr e s s e d a nge ragai ns t he rl i ps t os t op he r pr ot e s t .‘ And you have s ome t hi nge l s eAdr i anadoe snot . ’ ‘ What ? ’

He l ooke d down at he r .‘ You have me , ’he whispered. Gabriel felt her hands tighten around him.

‘ Can you doi t ? ’heas ke di n al ow voi c e .‘ Can youpr e t e ndyou’ r ei nl ovewi t hme ?Canyoumake e ve r yonebe l i e vet hatal lyou’ vee ve rwant e di sf or met ohol dyoul i ket hi s ? ’ Her face was pale as she looked at him,


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t r e mbl i ng l i ke a owe ri n hi s ar ms .Whe ns he spoke, her voice was almost too quiet for him to hear above the noise of the music and street party be l ow.‘ Ye s . ’ ‘ The n pr ovei t . ’Hef e l the rs of tc ur ve spr e s s i ng against his body, felt how delicate and petite she was in his arms. Laura was so beautiful in every way. He felt the press of her full breasts against his chest. Felt the tendrils of her long damp hair brush against his hands as he gripped her back. He breathed in the scent of her, lavender and soap, wholesome and clean. He was hard for her. Rock hard. And yet she seemed to think she was inferior to Adriana da Costa, who aside from her beauty was nothing but a shallow, spoiled brat.

Suddenly Gabriel knew he had to tell Laura the truth.

‘ Iwantyou,Laur a, ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ Mor e t hananywoman.I ’ veal wayswant e dyou. ’ Shegas pe d,he re ye swi de .‘ You…’

Then her expression grew dull as the light in her e ye sabr upt l yf ade d.‘ You’ r epr ac t i c i ngagai n. ’

‘ No. ’He c uppe d he rf ac er oughl y.‘ Thi s has nothing to do with our business deal. I want you. I ’ ve s pe ntt he l as tye arwant i ng you.And now you’ r ei nmyar ms ,Ii nt e ndt ohaveyou. ’ He saw her eyes widen beneath her glasses,


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heard her harsh intake of breath.

‘ Butf ornow, ’hemur mur e d,‘ Iwi l ls t ar twi t ha ki s s . ’ Then he lowered his head to hers.

He felt her soft, warm lips tremble against his own.Foras i ngl ei ns t ant ,he rbodys t ie ne di nhi s arms. He felt her hands against his chest as she tried to push him away. He just wrapped his arms ar ound he rwai s tmor e r ml yand he l d he rt i ght , refusing to let go. Kissing her was even better than Gabriel had imagined. It was heaven. It was hell.

With a shudder and a sigh she suddenly melted against him. He ruthlessly pushed her lips apart, teasing her with his tongue, plundering the warm heat of her mouth.

His kiss became harder, more demanding, their embrace tighter beneath the white heat of the sun. Slowly, she responded. Her hands stopped pushing against his chest, and moved up to his neck, pul l i nghi m downt ohe r .Whe ns he nal l yki s s e d him back, with a hunger that matched his own, a low growl rose in the back of his throat.

Hef or gott he i ra ai rwas n’ tr e al .Hef or gott he deal entirely. He felt only his masculine, animal ne e dt ohavehe r ,t hene e dhe ’ dde ni e dhi ms e l ff or


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too long. Lust swarmed in his blood, pounding through his brain, demanding he take total possession of Laura in his bed.


CHAPTER SIX T HIS c oul dn’ tbehappe ni ng . Gabr i e lc oul dn’ tbeki s s i nghe r .

Butt hepar tofLaur a’ sbr ai nt hatwast e l l i nghe r to push away, push away now, was lost in the s c or c hi ng r eofhi se mbr ac e .Ashi sl i psmove d against hers, mastering and guiding her, heat seared down her body like a hot jungle wind. Pl e as ur e whi ppe dt hr ough he r ,pl e as ur es he ’ d felt only once in her life before. But this was even better than her memory. As they stood on the penthouse terrace, she grasped his open shirt, clinging for dear life. She felt the warmth of his body, the hardness of his muscled chest beneath his cotton tank top. His strong thighs in khaki shorts brushed like tree trunks against her legs. He towered over her, making her feel womanly and petite as he folded himself around her.

The hot, hard feel of his lips seared hers, causing sparks to shoot down the length of her body. Her br e as t sf e l ts udde nl yhe avy,he rni ppl e st aut .A r e of ache raced to her deepest core as tension coiled


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inside her. She felt the rough sandpaper of his chin against hers and breathed in his intoxicating scent of musk and spice. Her knees shook beneath her. Her world was spinning. Eve r yt hi ngs he ’ dwant e d, e ve r yt hi ngs he ’ ddr e ame daboutf ort hepas tl one l y ye ar ,and veye ar sbe f or et hat ,wass udde nl yi n her grasp. His hands stroked her back through her black dress.

‘ Comet obe dwi t hme , ’hewhi s pe r e dagai ns the r skin. Bed.

She sucked in her breath as reason returned. He wass e duc i nghe r .And s oe as i l y.She ’ d madet he mistake of giving in to her desire for him once, and i thadc hange dt hec our s eofhe rl i f e .Shec oul dn’ t l e ti thappe nagai n.Ne ve ragai n… With a ragged gasp, she pulled away from his gr as p.Br e at hi nghar d,s hegl ar e dupathi m.‘ You don’ ts e r i ous l ye xpe c tmet of al li nt obe dwi t hyou af t e ronepr ac t i c eki s s ? ’

Hi shal f l i dde de ye swe r es ul t r ywi t hc on de nc e —arrogance—and hi ss e ns uall i psc ur ve di nt oa s mi l e .‘ Ye s .Ihadr at he rhope dyouwoul d. ’ ‘ For ge ti t . ’

‘ I t woul d make our pr e t e nd a ai r mor e be l i e vabl e . ’ ‘ Byt ur ni ngi ti nt oar e alone ? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.


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He shrugged, even as the intensity of his gaze be l i e dt hatc as ualge s t ur e .‘ Whynot ? ’

The early afternoon was growing hot, the sun and humidity alleviated only by the cooling trade wi ndso t heAt l ant i cand t heJ ane i r o Ri ve r ,f or which the city had been named. Laura took a deep breath of the fragrant, fresh air redolent of spices and tropical fruits. How many times had she prayed that by some miracle, Gabriel would come for her? Iwanty ou,Laur a,mor et han any woman.I ’ v e always wanted you.

Shepus he das i dehe rownl ongi ng.Shec oul dn’ t l e the r s e l fwanthi m.Shec oul dn’ t .Shel i f t e d he r c hi n.‘ Thanks ,butI ’ m noti nt e r e s t e di naone ni ght s t and. ’

Hi sbl ac ke ye sgl owe dl i kee mbe r s .‘ Idon’ twant aone ni ghts t and. ’ She l i c ke d he rs udde nl y dr yl i ps .‘ You—you don’ t ? ’ Hes hookhi she ad.‘ Iwantyout os t ay. ’ ‘ Youdo? ’

‘ I ’ vemi s s e dhavi ngyouasmys e c r e t ar y.And, ’he adde d,ass he f ol de d he rar msf ur i ous l y,‘ asmy l ove r . ’

‘ Oh. ’ He r ar ms f e l l bac kt o he rs i de s . She whi s pe r e d,‘ AndRobby? ’ His jaw hardened as he looked away.


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‘ Thet woofyouc anl i vei nt heapar t me ntbe l ow mi ne , ’hes ai d.‘ Yourc hi l dne e dnoti nc onve ni e nc e meatal l . ’

Your child. Hot pride and anger rushed back to he r ,s t ie ni nghe rs pi ne .‘ Youme anyouwi l lki ndl y overlook my baby in order to have me in Rio as your24/ 7e mpl oye eandl at e ni ghtboot yc al l . ’

He stared at her, wide-eyed. Then he gave a s udde nl augh.‘ I ’ ve mi s s e d you,Laur a, ’he s ai d s of t l y.‘ Noones t andsupt omel i keyoudo.You’ r e not afraid of me at all. You see right through me. I l i ket hat . ’

She jerked away from him, near tears and f ur i ouswi t hhe r s e l f .Shec oul dn’ tbe l i e ves he ’ dl e t herself get seduced by his sweet kisses, not even for an instant. Absolutely nothing had changed. Gabr i e ldi dn’ twantawi f eorc hi l d.And f orhe r , only a real family would do. ‘ Sor r y, ’s hes ai dc ol dl y.‘ Butmy daysofbe i ng your work slave and casual late-night lover are over.Don’ tyoudar eki s smeagai n. ’

Buthi shandsonl yt i ght e ne donhe r .‘ Ic anandI wi l l . ’ Shee xhal e di nf ur y.‘ You haves omear r oganc e t ot hi nk—’ Seizing her in his arms, he kissed her at once, roughly, hard enough to bruise. Showing mastery. Showing possession. And to her eternal shame,


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when his hot lips were against hers, she could not r e s i s t .She s agge di n hi s ar ms —and ki s s e d hi m back.

‘ Iwantyou,Laur a, ’he mur mur e d agai ns the r s ki nwhe nhe nal l ypul l e daway.‘ AndIwi l lhave you.I fnott hi si ns t ant ,t he ns oon.Toni ght . ’ She shoved her hands against his hard chest, his deliciously muscular, taut body beneath the tight c ot t ont ankt op… Maybei thadn’ tbe e ns omuc ha shove as a caress. Angry at herself, she stepped back from him, her cheeks hot. With more c on de nc et han s he f e l t ,s he s ai d,‘ Notgoi ng t o happe n. ’

‘ We ’ l ls e e . ’Hi s voi c e he l das mug mas c ul i ne tone. ‘ Ourde alhadnot hi ngt odowi t hs e x. ’ ‘ Cor r e c t . ’

‘ Idon’ thavet os l e e pwi t hyou. ’

He had the temerity to give her a sensual, heavyl i dde dgl anc e .‘ Andye tyouwi l l . ’

‘ Ooh! ’Cl e nc hi nghe rhandsi nt o s t s ,s hegavea little stomp of her heel and went back into the penthouse. She found her son still playing on the s pot l e s s oori nt heki t c he n asMar i awas he dt he dishes. Gathering her baby in her arms, Laura took Robby into the living room and sat down in a new rocking chair by the wide windows overlooking the


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city. When Gabriel followed her, she glared at him, daring him to interrupt her time with her child. With a sardonic uplift of his brow, he just turned away, disappearing down the hall. For long moments, Laura held her baby. She fed him, rocking him to sleep, and suddenly felt like crying.

Shec oul dn’ tl e tGabr i e ls e duc ehe r .Shec oul d not. No matter how much her body craved his touch. No matter how her heart yearned. Because her heart yearned for a lie. Gabriel would never change. Getting close to him would onl ybr e akhe rhe ar t —agai n.Br e akhe rhe ar t ,and possibly risk custody of her son. If she fell into bed with Gabriel, if she gave him her body, she feared she would also give up the secret that had tormented her for over a year.

She looked down at the sweet six-month-old baby slumbering in her arms. Gently, she rose to her feet and carried him down the hall to her darkened bedroom and set him in his crib. She stared down at Robby for a moment, listening to hi ss t e ady, e ve n br e at hi ng. The ns he s t ie ne d when a shadow fell from the open doorway. ‘ Ti met ogo, ’Gabr i e ls ai dbe hi ndhe r .

Straightening her tight dress over her hips, she walked out of the bedroom and closed the door. Shegl ar e dathi m,t he ngl anc e dbe hi ndhe r .‘ Ihat e t ol e avehi m. ’


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‘ Yours onwi l lbe ne .Mar i awi l lbel ooki ngaf t e r hi m.And anyway—’he l i f t e d a dar ke ye br ow ‘ —t hi soneni ght ’ swor kwi l lal l ow yout ogi vehi m ac omf or t abl el i f e . ’ Shet ookade e pbr e at h.‘ You’ r er i ght .A mi l l i on dollars i swor t hi t . ’Shel i f t e d he rc hi n.‘ I t ’ se ve n wor t hs pe ndi ngani ghtwi t hyou. ’

Hi sl i psc ur ve di nt oas e ns uals mi l e .‘ Thewhol e ni ght . ’ ‘ Notgoi ngt ohappe n. ’

‘ We ’ l ls e e . ’Het ur ne dwi t houtt ouc hi nghe r ,and after bidding farewell to Maria, they took the elevator downstairs. Carlos had the Ferrari waiting in the alley behind the building, engine running. ‘ Obr i g ado, ’Gabriel said to him in passing, then he l dope nt hedoorf orLaur a.‘ I fyoupl e as e . ’

She tottered into the low-slung Ferrari, feeling squeezed like a sausage by the tight black dress and half expecting to bust a seam. Gabriel climbed in beside her and the red sports car roared away from the curb.

As he drove through the crowded streets, Laura stared out in amazement through the window. Rio de Janeiro always lost its mind and found its wildest heart during Carnaval, and this year that was more true than ever. Music wafted through the air, horns and drums to accompany people singing. Impromptu parades marched through the streets,


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and e ve nt hos e noton c ar ni val oat sf r om t he prestigious samba schools often wore costumes that s par kl e dwi t hs e qui ns —andbar e l yc ove r e de nough to be decent. Everyone became sexier, more daring versions of their regular selves. Laura took a deep breath. Even her.

‘ I ’ mt aki ngyou t oZe yt una, ’Gabr i e ls ai d ashe dr ove .‘ Fr om t he r e we ’ l lgo di r e c t l yt o Ol i ve i r a’ s poolpar t y. ’

‘ Ze yt una? ’She ’ d he ar d oft he l ar ge ,e xc l us i ve boutique, but had never shopped there. She licked he rl i psandt r i e dt oj oke ,‘ The ys e l lmagi cbi ki ni s , r i ght ? ’ As he changed gears in the Ferrari, he glanced at he rf r om t hec or ne rofhi se ye .‘ Ye s . ’

Yes. Just yes. No encouragement. No reassurance. Laura tried not to think of her l oomi ngbi ki nif ac e o wi t hAdr i anadaCos t aand the sheer humiliation that was sure to follow. She bi the rl i pandc hange dt hes ubj e c t .‘ Sowhati sour s t or y? ’ ‘ St or y? ’

‘ Whe n di d we f al li nl ove ? So I ’ l lknow whe n pe opl eas k. ’

Hec ons i de r e d.‘ Wehad an a ai rl as tye ar , ’he s ai d nal l y.‘ Youqui tyourj obandl e f tmewhe nI woul dn’ tc ommi t . ’ ‘ Be l i e vabl e . ’


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Hegl anc e dathe r .‘ ButImi s s e dyou.I ’ vebe e n s e c r e t l y pur s ui ng you f or mont hs —vi de oc hat s , owe r s ,s e ndi ngyou j e we l r yand l ovel e t t e r sand s of or t h. ’ ‘ Soundsni c e , ’s hes ai d,l ooki ngaway.

‘ Youi nvi t e dmet oyours i s t e r ’ swe ddi ng,andwe f e l li nt oe ac hot he r ’ sar ms .Yous ur r e nde r e dt omy c har m andagr e e dt obemi neatl as t . ’ ‘ At r ueVal e nt i ne ’ sDayf ant as y. ’He rl i pst wi s t e d ass hel ooke dbac kathi m.‘ AndRobby? ’

Gabriel blinked, then his hands tightened on the s t e e r i ngwhe e lashes t ar e d att her oad.‘ Ah,ye s . Robby. ’ ‘ Eve r yoneknowsyouwoul dne ve rdat eawoman wi t hac hi l d. ’

‘ Ye s . ’ He s e t hi sj aw. The n, r e l axi ng, he s hr ugge d.‘ I twi l lonl yaddt ot hec r e di bi l i t yoft he story. It makes you unique. I wanted you so desperately, I was even willing to overlook your baby. ’

‘ Overlook Robby?Thankyou, ’s hes ai d,f ol di ng he rar msass hegl ar e doutt hewi ndow.‘ Thankyou s omuc h. ’ ‘ Idonotappr e c i at eyours ar c as m. ’

Shel ooke dathi m.‘ Idon’ tappr e c i at eyous ayi ng you’ l loverlook my baby—l i ke you’ r e doi ng me s omebi gf avor ! ’

Hes e thi sj aw.‘ AndIdonotappr e c i at et hef ac t


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t hatt he r ei sababyl i vi ngi nmyhous e . ’

‘ Be c aus eyoumus tne ve rbei nc onve ni e nc e d, ’s he s ai d moc ki ngl y.‘ The gr e atGabr i e lSant osmus t never have even a hint of family domesticity in his s e ls hbac he l or ’ spe nt hous e ! ’ Silence fell over the Ferrari.

‘ Youl oveyours on, ’Gabr i e ls ai d.I ts ounde dl i ke a question.

Pus hi ng up he rgl as s e s ,s hegl ar e d athi m.‘ Of c our s eIl ovehi m.Whatki ndofque s t i oni tt hat ? ’ Gabr i e l ’ sbl ac ke ye sbur ne dt hr oughhe r .‘ Sohow could you allow yourself to get pregnant without also giving him a father? You always told me you wanted marriage, Laura. A home near your family. A career that would allow you time to raise your children. How could you toss all that aside for the s akeofaone ni ghts t and? ’ She swallowed, blinking back tears. Yes, how could she?

Hi se ye st ur ne d bac kt ot he r oad.‘ You qui t wi t houtnot i c el as tye ar , ’hes ai dc ol dl y.‘ That was i nc onve ni e nt . ’ She s t ie ne d.‘ I nc onve ni e ntt or e pl ac e me i n youro c e —oryourbe d? ’ Hi sl i pst i ght e ne d.‘ Bot h. ’

‘ Sodi c ul t ,and ye tyou di dn’ tbot he rt oe ve n t r yt ot al kmeoutofi t . ’ They stopped at a red light. He turned on her,


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hi se ye sgl i nt i ngwi t hf ur y.‘ Il e tyougo,Laur a.For your own good, so you could have the life you wanted. But instead of following your dreams, you t hr e w i t al l away. You made my s ac r ic e worthless. How could you? How could you be so c ar e l e s s ? ’ ‘ I twasanac c i de nt ! ’

‘ It ol d you. ’Hi se ye swe r ehar d.‘ The r ear eno ac c i de nt s .Onl ymi s t ake s . ’ ‘ AndIt ol dyou,mybabyi snotami s t ake ! ’

‘ Ar eyous ayi ngyougotpr e gnantonpur pos e ? ’ Her mouth went dry.

He waited, then the light turned green. His lip t wi s t e dashet ur ne dbac kt ot her oad.‘ Eve r yc hi l d deserves to be born into a stable home with two par e nt s .I ’ m di s appoi nt e d i n you, Laur a. You s houl dhavebe e nc ar e f ul . ’ Laur as t ie ne d.‘ Car e f ull i kewho?Li keyou? ’ ‘ Ye s . ’

She longed to have the satisfaction of wiping t hats c or nf ul ,j udgme nt all ook o hi sf ac e .She wondered what he would say if she told him that he was the father. But she knew the satisfaction would be shortlived. If he knew Robby was his child, he might feel duty-bound to take responsibility for a child he c oul dn’ tl ove , and be pi nne d down t oa dome s t i cl i f e he ’ d ne ve rwant e d.And he woul d


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hat enotj us tLaur af ort hat ,he ’ d hat eRobby,as well. She had to keep the secret. Had to. Leaning back against the black leather seat, she pressed her lips shut. Just a few more hours, she told herself desperately. Tomorrow she and Robby would be on the plane back home, a million dollars richer. ‘ It houghtf ami l yme ante ve r yt hi ngt oyou. ’

She ope ne d he re ye s ,bl i nki ng bac kt e ar s .‘ I t doe s . ’ ‘ It houghtyouwe r ebe t t e rt hant hat . ’

‘ Don’ tyou t hi nk Iwanta f at he rf or Robby? Don’ tyout hi nkIwantt ogi vehi mt hes amel ovi ng f ami l yIhad? ’ ‘ Sowhydi dn’ tyou? ’Gabr i e lt ookade e pbr e at h ands ai di nal ow voi c e ,‘ Badl ydone ,Laur a. ’ She started to deliver a sharp retort; then stopped when she saw the stark expression on his face.

‘ Whyar eyou l i ket hi s ? ’s hes ai d.‘ Whydoyou c ar es omuc h? ’ ‘ Idon’ t , ’hes ai dc ol dl y.

‘ You do.You’ ve al waysac t e dl i ke you de s pi s e the idea of matrimony and commitment and c hi l dr e n—al lofi t .Butyoudon’ t , ’s hes ai ds of t l y. ‘ Youc ar e . ’ Gabriel pulled the Ferrari to an abrupt halt. He di dn’ tl ookathe r .‘ We ’ r ehe r e . ’


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Bl i nki ng i ns ur pr i s e ,s he s aw t he y’ d ar r i ve d at the enormous, exclusive Zeytuna boutique in the Leblon district. Her door opened, and she saw a young, smiling valet in a red jacket. Gabriel handed him keys, then held out his hand to her. ‘ Come , ’hes ai dc ol dl y.‘ Wehave n’ tmuc ht i me . ’

Reluctantly, Laura placed her hand in his, and felt the same shock of sensation, the brush of his war ms ki n and s t r ong gr i p ofhi s nge r sar ound hers. ‘ Ar eyouc ol d? ’ ‘ No, ’s hes ai d.

‘ You’ r es hi ve r i ng. ’

Sher i ppe d he rhand away.‘ I ’ mj us taf r ai d we will fail. That I wi l lf ai l . ’ ‘ Youwon’ t . ’

She looked down at her tight black dress, seeing her big hips and oversize breasts and a belly that wasf arf r om at .Shet houghtagai nofc ompe t i ng against Adriana da Costa in a bikini, and s hudde r e d.‘ Idon’ ts e ehow. ’

Gabr i e l ’ ss e ns uall i psc ur ve d up i nt oas mi l e . ‘ Tr us tme . ’ He folded her hand over his bare forearm as if she were a medieval French princess and he was her honored chevalier. He looked down at her with eyes of love, and even as she told herself that he was only practicing, this time the shiver was not in


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her body, but her heart.

Pretending to love him was too easy. She was pl ayi ngwi t h r e .

Just a few hours more, she told herself de s pe r at e l y.The ns he ’ d ne ve rs e ehi m agai n.He r family would never need to worry about replacing parts on the tractor or losing their home after a bad har ve s t .The y’ d ne ve rne e dt o pani cwhe na glut on the market suddenly lowered prices of wheat to nothing. Her family would be safe. Her baby would be safe. Her baby.

Laur as wal l owe d.Thi swast he r s tt i mes he ’ d left Robby with a babysitter since he was born. It felt strange to be away from him. Strange, and dangerous to feel this young and free, with Gabriel beside her. He smiled down at her, and for an instant she was lost in his eyes, so dark and deep against his tanned skin.

It would be so easy to love him when he treated her like this. Even after she went home, she knew she would always remember his low, husky voice saying, ‘ Iwanty ou,Laur a,mor et hananywoman. I ’ v eal way swant e dy ou. ’She would feel the heat of hi sbodyagai ns the r swhe nhe ’ ds e i z e dhe ront he terrace and kissed her. She had new memories to addt ot het i met he y’ d r s tmadel ove ,whe nhe ’ d pushed her back against his desk, sweeping everything aside in his reckless, savage need. When


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their sweaty, naked bodies had clung together, their limbs intertwined in explosive passion.

Now,Laur a’ sl e gst r e mbl e dasGabr i e ldr e w he r toward the two tall brass doors held wide by doormen.

‘ Boa tarde,Se nhor Sant os , ’t he r s tdoor man said, beaming. ‘ Goodt os e eyouagai n,Mr .Sant os , ’t hes e c ond doorman said in accented English.

Once they were inside the foyer, Laura looked up in amazement at a center courtyard two stories hi gh,wi t hadomeofc ol or e dTianygl as sont he ceiling. But if the glamorous architecture was straight out of the nineteenth century, the bout i que ’ sc l ot he swe r easc ut t i nge dgeasanyt hi ng s he ’ d ndonFi f t hAve nue . A bevy of pretty shopgirls rushed to wait upon Gabr i e l .‘ Al l ow met ohe l pyou,senhor! ’ ‘ No,me ! ’as e c ondonec r i e d.

‘ Senhor, I have something wonderful to show you! ’ Laura scowled. She could just imagine what the eager girls wanted to show Gabriel. Turning, she gl ar e dathi m.‘ How of t e ndoyouc omehe r e ? ’

He s nor t e d,hi di ng a gr i n.‘ Onc e or t wi c ea mont h. ’ ‘ Li nge r i ef oral lyourone ni ghts t ands ? ’ ‘ Sui t sf orwor k.I ’ m knownt ot i pwe l l . ’


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Laura looked at the fawning shopgirls, who were al ls t ar i ngathi m wi t hundi s gui s e dgl e e .‘ Ibe t . ’

‘ Sor r y, gi r l s , ’he s ai d. ‘ We al r e ady have an appoi nt me nt . ’

‘ Mr .Sant os , ’an ol de rwoman s ai di n Engl i s h be hi ndt he m.‘ We l c ome . ’Shes t e ppe df or war dwi t h assurance, her red suit a perfect match to her s hor t ,s l e e kl yc oie dgr ayhai r .‘ Iam r e adyt obeof as s i s t anc e . ’ ‘ Thi si sMr s .Tavar e s , ’Gabr i e lt ol d Laur a.Hi s hand tightened around hers as he turned back to t heot he rwoman.‘ And t hi si st hegi r lIt ol d you about .Laur aPar ke r . ’

‘ Ce r t ai nl y,s i r . ’Mr s .Tavar e sc amec l os e r .Gabr i e l stepped back, and Laura found herself standing alone, bereft of his strength, beneath the older woman’ ss c r ut i ny.Shee xami ne dal ongt e ndr i lof Laur a’ smous ybr ownhai r ,t he nnodde d.‘ Ve r y ne mat e r i alt owor kwi t h,s i r . ’ ‘ Dr e s she rf ort hebe ac h. ’ ‘ Whi c hbe ac h? ’

‘ A poolpar t y ata l uxur i ousmans i on on t he Costa do Sul. It will be attended by famous beauties and rich men. Make her shine above the r e s t . ’ Still staring at Laura, the older woman stroked he rc hi nt hought f ul l y.‘ How obvi ousdoyou wi s h he rbe aut yt obe ? ’


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‘ Compl e t e l y, ’hes ai d.

‘ I twi l lr e qui r ehe l pf r om as al on. ’ ‘ Asyouwi s h. ’

Thewomanpul l e dt hebl ac kr i mme dgl as s e so Laur a’ sf ac e . ‘ He y! ’Laur apr ot e s t e d. ‘ Andanopt ome t r i s t . ’

Gabr i e ls mi l e d.‘ Il e avehe ri nyourhands . ’

Laur a’ sc he e kswe r ehot .Thepe r f e c t l yc oie d, elegant woman continued to walk around her, looking her up and down in the tight black dress, as if she were a handyman and Laura were a sad, decrepit old house in need of a complete remodel.

‘ Thi si s n’ tgoi ngt owor k, ’Laur as ai d, dge t i ng unc omf or t abl y.‘ It hi nkyous houl dgot ot hepool par t ywi t houtme .I ’ l lj us tgot ot heFant as yBal l l at e r . ’ ‘ You go t ot heFant as i at oni ght ? ’Mr s .Tavar e s gas pe d.‘ TheBaile de Gala? ’

‘ Ye s ,and s hene e dsabal lgown, ’Gabr i e ls ai d. ‘ Cas ualc l ot he saswe l l .Buts hemus tber e adyf or t hepar t yi nt wohour s . ’ Mr s .Tavar e sf r oz e .‘ Sol i t t l et i me ? ’ ‘ De s c ul pa. ’

The woman tilted her head, considering Laura. ‘ I twi l lnotbec he ap.Ore as y. ’

‘ Cos tdoe snotmat t e r .J us tr e s ul t s .Sat i s f y my


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r e qui r e me nt sandyou’ l lbege ne r ous l yr e war de d. ’

Theol de rwoman’ se xpr e s s i ondi dn’ tc hange ,but Laura saw her sudden stillness. Looking at Gabriel, s hegaveas l ow,r e s pe c t f ulnod.‘ I twi l lbedone , senhor,asyouwi s h. ’ ‘ Mydr i ve rwi l lpi c khe rupi nt wohour s . ’

With a clap of her hands, Mrs. Tavares turned and started barking out orders to the young shopgirls in Portuguese. With a second clap of her hands she scattered them.

‘ Tc hau, ’Gabr i e ls ai dt o Laur a,ki s s i ng he ron both cheeks before he turned away. He was abandoning her to face the sharks alone? Laur agas pe d,‘ Youc an’ tl e ave ! ’ ‘ Mi s s i ngmeal r e ady? ’

‘ Har dl y! ’s he r e t or t e d wi t he r i ngl y,e ve n ass he looked around her nervously.

‘ You’ r ei ngoodhands , ’Gabr i e ls ai d.‘ Car l oswi l l br i ngyout oOl i ve i r a’ smans i on.Ihavebus i ne s st o at t e ndt o,unf or t unat e l y.ButI ’ l lbewai t i ngf oryou att hepar t y. ’ ‘ Butwhati f …whati fyou’ r edi s appoi nt e d?What i fmymake ove ri saf ai l ur e ?Whati f —’ Gabriel leaned forward to whisper in her ear, ‘ Havef un. ’

Fun? Laura glared at him, her heart in her throat. What kind of fun would it be to look like a f ool ,t o be ne ar l y nake d i n f r ont of Ri o’ s


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notoriously body-conscious crowd, to be compared to Adriana da Costa in a bikini? She shook her head desperately and said for about the millionth t i me ,‘ Thi si s n’ tgoi ngt owor k! ’

He gave he r an annoyi ngl yc on de nt s mi l e . ‘ You’ r egoi ngt ol ovet hi s . ’ ‘ You wi l lnotbedi s appoi nt e d,Mr .Sant os , ’t he older woman said, gently pulling Laura back into her clutches. Laura was suddenly aware that there were twenty salesgirls hovering around her, while all the other customers were being chased out of this expensive, exclusive store. The two-story c l os e d—f orhe r .

luxury

boutique

had

just

‘ No, ’s he whi s pe r e d, f e e l i ng s c ar e dt hat s he woul dl e tGabr i e ldown.‘ You’ r ewr ongaboutme . I ’ l lne ve rbeabe aut y. ’ ‘ You ar et he one who i s wr ong. ’ Gabr i e l ’ s eyebrows l owe r e d e r c e l y ashe l ooke d down at he r ,hi s dar k bl ac ke ye s gl i t t e r i ng.‘ Today,t he whol ewor l dwi l ls e ehow be aut i f ulyour e al l yar e . ’


CHAPTER SEVEN OLIVEIRA’ S party was in full swing when Gabriel arrived.

Security was tight for this event, one of the most coveted private parties of the Carnaval season. Not for tourists or international celebrities, this was for well-connected Cariocas, the richest local tycoons and their glamorous mistresses and wives.

Gabr i e l was gr i ml y s ur e he ’ d got t e n t hi s invitation only so that Felipe Oliveira could taunt hi mi npubl i ct hathe ’ dde c i de dt os e l lAç oaz ulSA to someone else.

And where was Laura? Gabriel cursed softly unde rhi sbr e at h.He ’ d ar r i ve dt e n mi nut e sl at e , after an urgent phone call from London. He needed Laura here at once, so he could introduce her to Felipe Oliveira and try to undo the damage that Adriana had spitefully caused. Ol i ve i r a’ smans i on was on t he mos tbe aut i f ul stretch of the Costa do Sul to the north of Rio. The sprawling house was a white classical confection like a wedding cake, surrounded by multilevel


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terraces, with a large pool that overlooked a private beach. Oliveira had been a workaholic all hi sl i f e ,butnow t hathewasi nhi smi ds i xt i e s ,he ’ d apparently lost interest in business in favor of pos s e s s i ng—and pl e as i ng—a woman hal fhi sage . I twast heonl yr e as on he ’ d nal l yo e r e dt os e l l the company back to Gabriel after almost twenty years.

Gabriel stood on the upper terrace, looking down toward the pool where he instantly saw Oliveira, wearing baggy shorts and a button-down shirt. The man was deep in conversation with French tycoon Thé oSt .Raphaë l ,whowasde ni t e l ynotal oc al , and whose presence here could be for one reason only. Gabriel ground his teeth. The Frenchman wore a sleek gray suit. He alone among all the guests was not even pretending to dress for a pool party. Gabr i e l ’ s hands t i ght e ne d on t he r ai l i ng. The aristocratic French bastard excelled at breaking companies up for parts. The two had tangled before, and Gabriel knew St. Raphaël would like nothing more than to steal Açoazul from under his nos e .Al lt heas s e t sofhi sf at he r ’ sc ompanywoul d be scattered around the world, coldly dissected for St .Raphaë l ’ spr ot .

Gabr i e lnar r owe d hi se ye s .Hec oul dn’ tl e tt hat happen. But where was Laura?


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Scowling, he glanced at his watch. Carlos had texted that they were on the way. But Gabriel would have to start on his own. Grimly going down the stairs to the lower terrace, he started walking toward Oliveira and his French rival.

‘ Gabr i e l , ’hehe ar dawoman’ svoi c ec oobe hi nd him. Setting his jaw, he turned with a scowl.

Adriana da Costa smiled up at him from a poolside cabana, where she was holding court in her tiny bikini. Five half-naked young men s ur r ounde dhe r ,o e r i nghe rf oods hewoul dne ve r eat in a million years. Gabriel saw one particularly hapless youngster trying to tempt her with a platter of bread and cheese. Bread and cheese? Adr i ana’ si de a ofa f at t e ni ng me alwasme nt hol cigarettes and a handful of raisins. Lounging in her chair, she lazily stretched her skinny arm up over her wide-brimmed straw hat as she looked up at him. In her other hand, she was holding a glass of something that looked like water but was likely vodka on the rocks.

‘ Whata l ove l ys ur pr i s e , ’Adr i ana dr awl e d.He r e ye sr ake dove rGabr i e l ’ ss hor t sand s hor t s l e e ve d shirt, now open over his bare chest without the t ank t op.‘ Idi dn’ tknow Fe l i pei nvi t e d you. ’She s mi l e ds l yl y.‘ Ihe ar dt het woofyour ani nt os ome s or tof …t r oubl e . ’

Gabriel set his jaw. She knew perfectly well why hehadn’ tbe e nabl et oc l os et hede al .Si nc eGabr i e l


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had e nde dt he i rs hor tt umul t uousa ai r ,Adr i ana had been determined to get his attention, and now she had it. She clearly wanted to either have him back in her bed, or wreak her revenge. How he despised her.

Curving his lips into a smile, he walked past the young men clustered around her and stood at the bottom of her lounge chair, near her perfectly pe di c ur e d f e e t .‘ Doe s Ol i ve i r a know you ar e ke e pi ngs uc hc ompany? ’

‘ Oh, t he s e ? ’ She s hr ugge d, i ndi c at i ng he r admi r e r swi t h awaveofhe rhand.‘ The yar ej us t myf r i e nds . ’ ‘ You ar e an e ngage d woman.You s houl d not haves uc hf r i e nds . ’

‘ Goaway,al lofyou, ’s het ol dt he mi nEngl i s h. Pout i ng s l i ght l y,s hes atbac ki n he rc hai r .‘ I ti s easy for you to say. You pushed me into an e ngage me ntt hatIne ve rwant e d. ’ ‘ Iwoul dne ve rpus hanyonei nt omar r i age . ’

‘ Dr oppi ngmel i keyoudi d,whatdi dyoue xpe c t me t odo? ’Shes atups t r ai ghti nhe rl oungec hai r , leaning forward to expose her cleavage to better advant age .‘ Noman hase ve rl e f tmebe f or e .You woul dn’ tr e t ur nmyc al l s .If e l li nt ot hear msoft he r s tr i c hmanwhopr opos e dt ome ! ’ Gabr i e ls e thi sj aw agai n.‘ Andt hati swhyyou are trying to destroy my business deal with


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Ol i ve i r a? ’

She s hr ugge d gl e e f ul l y.‘ Ij us tt ol d Fe l i pe t he t r ut h—t hatwewe r eonc el ove r s . ’ ‘ Youi mpl i e dmor et hant hat , ’hes ai d.‘ Youmade him believe if I moved permanently to Rio, I would makei tmymi s s i ont ol ur eyoui nt omybe d. ’

Adriana looked up at him like a smug Persian c at , ut t e r i ng he rl ong dar ke ye l as he s .‘ Woul dn’ t you? ’

He stared down at her, unable to believe her vani t y.She ’ dbe e napai ni nt heas sasami s t r e s s , possessive and jealous. But clearly, she still believed that he, like any man, must be lusting after her as a matter of course. He was tempted to correct that impression, but if he did, she might do some real damage and lie to he r anc é ,t e l lhi mt hatGabr i e lhadmadeapas s athe r .Cl e nc hi nghi shandswi t ht hee or ti tt ook to hide his dislike, Gabriel forced himself to say pl e as ant l y, ‘ I wi l l al ways t r e as ur e our t i me together, but that time is over. I am with another womannow.I nac ommi t t e dr e l at i ons hi p. ’

‘ Commi t t e d? You? ’Adr i ana s t ar e d athi m,he r eyes wide and shocked. It was very satisfying. For several seconds all he could hear was samba music f r om t hel i veband.Se agul l s e w ove r he ad,t he i r cries mingling with those of the guests and laughter of the Cariocas lying out in the sun. She l i c ke dhe rl i ps .‘ That ’ si mpos s i bl e , ’s hes ai df ai nt l y.


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‘ Youwi l lne ve rs e t t l edown. ’ ‘ Andye tIhave . ’

‘ Whoi st hewoman? ’s hede mande d.‘ DoIknow he r ? ’ ‘ Myf or me rs e c r e t ar y, ’hes ai d.‘ Laur aPar ke r . ’

Adr i ana s uc ke di n he rbr e at h.‘ Ikne wi t , ’s he de c l ar e d.He re ye sgl i t t e r e d.‘ Ial wayskne wt he r e was something between you. Every time you ran to her in the middle of the night, every time you explained why she was the only woman who could pos s i bl yl i ve i n your at ,e ve r yt i me you s wor e your relationship was innocent, I knew you were lying! ’

‘ Iwas n’ tl yi ng, ’hes ai d.‘ Att het i me ,s hewas j us tmye mpl oye e . ’ ‘ Shewasal waysmor et hant hat ! ’

‘ Al lr i ght .Wewe r ef r i e nds , ’hes ai dt e r s e l y.‘ But ne ve rmor e .Notunt i ll as tye ar ,whe n—’ ‘ Spar emet hede t ai l s ! ’Adr i anahi s s e d.

A wide shadow suddenly fell between them from t he f r ont of t he c abana, bl oc ki ng t he s un’ s r ee c t i ono t hepool .‘ I st he r eapr obl e m? ’ Gabriel turned to see Felipe Oliveira standing behind him. His shapeless shirt covered his large belly, and his eyes were hard as bullets in his jowly face. He must have seen Gabriel come down the terrace steps and apparently make a beeline for Adriana. Perfeito, Gabriel thought, irritated.


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‘ No pr obl e m. ’He gl anc e d at Adr i ana,who’ d f ol de d he rar mst ol ook away i ns ul ky s i l e nc e .‘ I was just telling your future bride that her love for you has inspired me to make a similar commitment. My secretary and I have had an ono a ai rf ort hel as tye ar ,andI ’ veas ke dhe rt o movei nwi t hme . ’ Si l e nc ef e l l ,unt i lAdr i ana c r i e d,‘ Movei n wi t h you? ’

Oliveira stroked his double chin with shrewd wat c hf ul ne s si n hi she avyl i dde d gaz e .‘ Soyou’ ve decided to make a commitment to another woman. How r omant i c .How ve r y…c onve ni e nt . ’ The older man was no fool. Deliberately, Gabriel s hr ugge d.‘ Laur ai se ve r yt hi ngI ’ vee ve rwant e d. ’

Adr i anamut t e r e dabl as phe mousc ur s e .‘ Ial ways kne wt hel i t t l emous ewasi nl ovewi t hyou. ’ In love? Gabriel frowned. Adriana was mistaken. Laur ac oul dn’ tl ove hi m.She wast oo s mar tf or t hat .Shekne w hi sde e p awsf art oowe l l .Laur a woul dn’ tgi ve he rhe ar tt o an unde s e r vi ng man who would break it. Or would she? He paused, remembering how s he ’ dl e the r s e l fc onc e i vea c hi l d by a man who woul dn’ tmar r yhe r ,amans hedi dn’ te ve nl ove .

Adr i ana s ai d s c or nf ul l y, ‘ Wi t h he r ador i ng, sickening gaze on you all the time, I knew it was j us tamat t e roft i me . ’Shegavehi m ahar dl ook.


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‘ Butyourr e l at i ons hi pwon’ tl as t .Be c aus ewebot h know youc ar eaboutonl yonet hi ng. ’ Aware of Oliveira watching them, Gabriel stared downathe rc ool l y.‘ Andwhati st hat ? ’

‘ Powe r .Gl amour .Bl at ants e xappe al .And your s e c r e t ar y doe s nothave i t . ’Adr i ana t os s e d he r he ad. ‘ She ’ s not hi ng but a dr ab l i t t l e nobody who…’

She paused, tilting her head. Gabriel frowned, t he n hehe ar di t ,t oo—al ow hum ofmal evoi c e s behind them, rolling across the pool and terraces like gathering thunder. Adriana leaned forward to look around the doorway of her cabana. Oliveira and Gabriel slowly turned. A woman had just stepped out of the mansion, and was coming down the stairs from the upper terrace toward the pool. She was wearing a tiny bikini, typical attire for Rio. Carioca women were among the sexiest in the world, and the women at this party were among the most beautiful in the city. One new beauty should have been nothing, and yet something about this particular woman caused every man who saw her to stop in his tracks.

Eve nt he young me n who’ d hove r e d ar ound Adriana suddenly were craning their necks to s t ar e .Awai t e rwho’ dc omet or el lAdr i ana’ sdr i nk accidentally poured vodka on her bare thigh, causing her to curse aloud as she rose to her feet.


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‘ Oh,yous t upi d—ge tawayf r om me ! ’

But no one was looking at Adriana. Not anymore.

The beautiful new guest was petite and curvy, her hips swaying as she moved. Long honey-blonde hair hung in waves down her bare back. She had creamy skin, and beneath the triangles of her top, the largest, most perfect breasts any man could imagine.

Gabr i e l ’ sj aw dr oppe dasher e c ogni z e dhe r ,t hi s woman coming around the pool toward the c abanaswi t hs uc h e or t l e s s gr ac e .The woman who had br ought Fe l i pe Ol i ve i r a’ se xc l us i ve , glamorous party to a standstill. Laura.

Laura trembled as she walked in her high heels. She felt naked in her bikini, passing through the crowds of beautiful, glamorous people who one by one turned to gape at her. Her legs shook as she walked down the stairs toward the lower terrace, where cabanas overlooked the pool and private beach.

Shewal ke d pas tt hemus i c i ans ,pas tt hebu e t table, where a handsome, hawkish man in a gray s ui ts t ood s t ar i ng at he r .She s t ie ne d as s he walked passed him, her head held high though her c he e ks bur ne d. Pe opl e ’ s he ads we r e t ur ni ng s har pl ye nough t oc aus e whi pl as h. Me n’ se ye s


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wi de ne d.Wome n’ se ye snar r owe d.Laur a’ shand shook as she pushed her mirrored aviator sunglasses a little higher up her nose.

Wearing this tiny bikini was almost worse than wearing nothing at all. It had been crocheted of nat ur al ,whe at c ol or e dyar n.She ’ dne ve rgoneout in public dressed in so little before. She had barely ever seen herself this naked, always averting her eyes from the mirror when she came out of the shower. Now, she could feel the hot sun of Rio burning against her skin. Ormaybei twasj us tt he us hofhe atc aus e dby all the eyes roaming every inch of her, tracing the lines of her breasts, butt and legs. Laura swallowed, wishing the earth would swallow her whole. She threw a glance of longing toward the Atlantic on the other side of the terrace gate. She had the sudden yen to throw herself in the water and start swimming for Africa.

But she forced herself to keep walking, looking f orGabr i e lt ot her i ghtandl e f t .Shec oul dn’ tr un away. He was paying her a million dollars, and she c oul dn’ tqui tj us tbe c aus es hewass c ar e d.Shewas on a job and she would earn her money. Every penny. But she wished she knew what people were thinking. Were they staring because they thought she looked nice? Or because she looked so hideously bad? As soon as she was out of earshot,


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would they all dissolve into scornful laughter?

Mrs. Tavares had taken her into the center of a whi r l wi ndatZe yt una,bar ki ngor de r si nqui c k-r e Por t ugue s e ,and t he r ehad s oon be e n ves t yl i s t s surrounding her, doing her hair, hands, toenails. Anonc al lopt ome t r i s thadc omet o the re ye sf or contact lens. Laura had tried on hundreds of pot e nt i aloutt sf ort hepoolpar t y,f ort heFant as y Ball, casual clothes for later, even lingerie. Though she had protested at the lingerie, her every c ompl ai nthadbe e ni gnor e d.Laur a’ smous ybr own hair had been highlighted. The stylists had started to prepare a spray-on tan to darken her skin, until Mrs. Tavares had stopped them.

‘ No.Le ave he r pal e .He rc r e amy be aut y wi l l s t andoutf r om t hef aket ansofal lt her e s t . ’ Laur a’ smake uphadbe e ndonet ope r f e c t i on,s o lightly as to be barely visible, and yet somehow maki nghe rl ook…good.

Mrs. Tavares had ordered her to try on many bi ki ni sbe f or es he ’ d nal l ybe e ns at i se dwi t ht hi s one .Laur ac oul dn’ tt e l lt hedie r e nc e —t he y’ d al l just seemed to be tiny triangles of fabric, barely covering anything at all. But the Brazilian woman had chosen this one, crocheted of soft beige yarn. ‘ Pe r f e i t o, ’s he ’ ds ai d.‘ I ts howsyouo t ope r f e c t i on, Miss Parker. You are soft, womanly, with those curves. You are real. ’Mr s .Tavar e s ’ st hi nl i pshad c ur ve d.‘ Youwi l ls t andout . ’


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I twast r uet hatLaur a’ sbr e as t shadal waysbe e n s ome whaton t he ge ne r ouss i de ,and s i nc es he ’ d left New Hampshire to have a secretarial career in Ne w Yor k,s he ’ d gonet oagr e atde alofe or tt o hide them, to make sure it was her professional skills that attracted attention, not her body.

‘ You havet hepe r f e c t gur e , ’Mr s .Tavar e shad said wi t hs at i s f ac t i onast he y’ ds t ar e datt her e s ul t ofLaur a’ s make ove ri n af ul l l e ngt h mi r r or .‘ A Marilyn Monroe for the modern age. The gold s t andar doff e mi ni ni t y. ’ Laur a di dn’ t qui t e be l i e ve he r .A l i f e t i me of feeling plain and unfashionable, especially compared to the glamorous women of New York, had left it imprinted on her mind that she was the hardworking one. The smart one. Never in her whole life had she been the pretty one. But of course Mrs. Tavares would give her compliments, Laura had told herself as Carlos drove her to the mansion. The woman had been hired to give Laura a makeover, so naturally she would try to make the best of things. Laura had taken her praise with a pound of salt.

But still, the older woman had almost managed t oc onvi nc e he r .Laur a had f e l tc on de nt ,e ve n pr e t t y,whe ns he ’ dl e f tt hebout i que .Now,be ne at h so many open stares, she felt shy. And afraid. What if, after everything, she failed Gabriel? Would he refuse to pay her the million


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dol l ar she ’ d pr omi s e d? Orwor s e ,woul d he j us t shake his head and look at her with cool dark eyes and s ayi n al ow voi c e ,‘ I ’ m di s appoi nt e di n you, Laur a.It houghtyouwe r ebe t t e rt hant hi s ’ ? I thadt ake nmor ec our aget hans he ’ di magi ne d even to get out of the Rolls-Royce. Carlos had held her door open for almost a full minute, conspicuously clearing his throat before Laura had gathered enough bravado to get out of the car and walk into the mansion with her shoulders thrown back. Now, beneath the eyes of so many glamorous people, she felt vulnerable. Exposed. Where was Gabriel?

Laur a’ sf e e ts hooki nhe rr i di c ul ous l yhi ghhe e l s ass he wal ke d ar ound t he pool .She di dn’ tdar e me e t anyone ’ se ye s ,f or f e ar of t he s c or n or mockery she might see there. She kept walking, ke e pi nghe rgaz eove rpe opl e ’ she ads ,l ooki ngf or one man who would stand out above the rest. She ignored the low hum of voices around her. She held her hand above her forehead, shading her sunglasses, as she looked for him. Would he laugh when he saw her? Would he regret whatever madness had caused him to think, even for an instant, that she could convince the world she was t hewoman who’ d nal l yvanqui s he d hi spl ayboy heart? The thought made her throat hurt. Her hand fell to her side. She swallowed, suddenly unable to


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take the strain of all those mocking eyes on her. ‘ Quebe l e z a. ’

He ar i ng Gabr i e l ’ sl ow,hus kyvoi c ebe hi nd he r , she whirled around. She saw him standing in the doorway of a large poolside cabana. He was wearing shorts and an open shirt that revealed his muscular chest, tanned and laced with dark hair. Beside him she recognized Felipe Oliveira, looking sweaty and suspicious. But she was so relieved to ndGabr i e lt hats hehur r i e df or war d,pus hi nghe r sunglasses up on her head with a relieved smile. ‘ Oh,Gabr i e l .I ’ ms ogl adt o ndyou.I —’ Then she saw the woman standing behind them in the cabana and drew back with an intake of br e at h.‘ Oh.Mi s sdaCos t a.He l l o. ’

Thes upe r mode lf ol de d he rar msi c i l y.‘ It hi nk we ’ r eal i t t l epas tt hepol i t e ne s sof‘ Mi s sdaCos t a, ’ don’ tyou? You mus tc al lme Adr i ana now, ’s he said, in the exact same tone one might say Go to hell. Laur abl i nke d be ne at ht hewoman’ smal e vol e nt gaz e .The ns her e me mbe r e d Gabr i e l ’ swor ds .You have something Adriana does not. You have me. Looki ng at Adr i ana’ s angr y e xpr e s s i on, Laur a realized their plan was working. The supermodel c l e ar l y be l i e ve d Laur a was Gabr i e l ’ sl ove r —and hated her for it! Straightening her shoulders, she looked at Gabr i e lwi t has mi l e .‘ Sor r yI ’ ml at e . ’


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He ki s s e d he r c he e k t e nde r l y. ‘ I wai t e d t hi r t ye i ght ye ar s t o nd you, querida, ’ he br e at he d.‘ Whatar eaf e w mi nut e smor e ? ’ He put his arm around her. After smiling at each ot he r ,t he ybot ht ur ne dt os e et hee e c t . Felipe Oliveira looked skeptical. Adriana was scowling, sticking out her lower lip.

‘ You c an’ tr e al l y be movi ng i nt oge t he r ! ’s he said. Laura glanced at him. Moving in together?

‘ I t ’ sal r e adydone , ’Gabr i e ls ai d.Hel ooke ddown at Laura, and his dark eyes were hungry and tender as he stroked her cheek.

Adr i ana gave a f or c e dl augh.‘ She ’ s no one . Not hi ng. ’ Gabr i e lwr appe d hi sar msar ound Laur a’ sbar e waist. She nearly gasped at the rough feel of his hands against her naked skin.

‘ Iam t he one who i snot hi ng. ’Hi sbl ac ke ye s bur ne dt hr ough Laur a’ ss oul .‘ Not hi ng wi t hout you. ’

I t ’ san ac t , she told herself as her heart turned over in her chest.

‘ Al lt hi st i me ,youwe r er i ghti nf r ontofme , ’he murmured as his wide, rough hand traced softly down he rc he e k.‘ Thewoman ofmydr e ams . ’He cupped her face, tilting up her chin as he suddenly s mi l e d.‘ Iwoul d ghtt he m al lf oryou. ’


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‘ Fi ghtwho? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

Staring at her, Gabriel gave a sudden laugh. Turning, he silently pointed behind them.

Following his gaze, Laura saw all the gorgeous party guests whispering to each other around the pool, staring back at them.

Of course they would stare at Gabriel, Laura thought. He was the sexiest, most sought after bac he l orone ar t h.Butt he ywe r e n’ tl ooki ngj us tat him. Even Laura, inexperienced as she was, could see that. And she suddenly knew, down to her bones, that t he ywe r e n’ ts t ar i ngathe rbe c aus es hewasugly.

She suddenly blinked back tears. Her makeover had created the illusion that Laura was worthy to beGabr i e l ’ smi s t r e s s .Fort he r s tt i mei nhe rl i f e , she felt beautiful. It was dizzying. Electrifying. Butt he f e e l i ng hadn’ tbe e nc aus e d by magi c fairy dust. She looked up at him. It was the magic of his dark, hungry gaze. The magic echo of his words. All this time, you were right in front of me. The woman of my dreams.

Shewasdi ml yawar eofAdr i ana’ sangr ys c owl . But Laur a di dn’ tc ar e about he r anymor e . Everyone else around them faded into a blur. She and Gabriel were the only two people on earth. His dark eyes met hers, and his gaze fell to


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her lips. With agonizing slowness, he started to move his head toward hers. She realized he was going to kiss her, and her heart pounded frantically in her throat.

‘ Am It o unde r s t and, ’Fe l i peOl i ve i r as ai di na gr u voi c e be hi nd t he m, ‘ t hat t hi s gi r l , your s uppos e dl ove r ,us e dt obeyoure mpl oye e ? ’ Straightening, Gabriel turned to him, and Laura was able to breathe again. She leaned her cheek agai ns thi sc he s t ,s t i l ldi z z yf r om how c l os es he ’ d come to being kissed.

‘ Hi se mpl oye e ? ’Adr i ana s ne e r e d.‘ She washi s secretary. ’

Gabriel gave her a cool smile before turning his f oc us bac k on hi sr i val .‘ Laur a was onc e my secretary, sim,f or ve ye ar s .Butnow s he ’ ss o muc h mor e . ’Looki ng down ass hene s t l e di n hi s arms, he stroked her cheek and said softly, ‘ Now…s he ’ st hewomanwhot ame dme . ’


CHAPTER EIGHT I T’Sonly an act. Only an act! But in spite of the constant repetition of those wor ds ,Laur a’ she ar ts t i l ldi dn’ tbe l i e vei tass he l ooke dupi nt oGabr i e l ’ sdar ke ye s .

‘ Re al l y, ’t he ot he r man dr awl e di n ac c e nt e d Engl i s h.Hi se ye st r ac e dove rLaur a.‘ She ’ sc e r t ai nl y be aut i f ul .Butt hi si sal lt ooc onve ni e nt . ’Hef ol de d hi s ar ms ove r hi s be l l y.‘ You’ ve f abr i c at e dt hi s a ai r ,s oI ’ l ls t i l ls e l lyouAç oaz ul . ’ Laur a’ spul s ehamme r e di nhe rc he s t .Convi nc e d that their plan had failed before it had half started, she pulled away from Gabriel. But he held her tight in his powerful arms, even as he never looked away from the other man. ‘ Whywoul dIdot hat ? ’Gabr i e ls ai dc ool l y.

Theman l ooke d atAdr i ana’ st al lbe aut y,t he n bac katGabr i e lwi t has c owl .‘ Youknow why. ’

‘ You’ dbeaf oolnott os e l lmeAç oaz ul , ’Gabr i e l s ai ds har pl y.‘ Noot he rc ompe t i t orhaso e r e dyou a fraction of the price. Théo St. Raphaël certainly


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won’ t . Don’ tl os e a f or t une bas e d on s ome unf ounde df e ar ! ’

Theol de rmans t ie ne d.‘ I ’ m notafraid.Andi t ’ s notunf ounde d. ’ Gabr i e lnuz z l e d he rne c k.‘ I ’ m noti nt e r e s t e di n anywomane xc e ptLaur a. ’

She leaned back against him, closing her eyes. The feel of his lips and the nibble of his sharp teeth agai ns tt hes e ns i t i ve e s hc aus e ds par kst ot hr i l l down her body. She heard the other man hiss through his teeth, and opened her eyes. Felipe Oliveira and Adriana were staring at them with shock. Looking up at Gabriel, Laura shivered as a single bead of sweat trickled down her bare skin between her breasts. The air between them suddenly crackled with sexual energy. ‘ Come ,querida, ’Gabr i e ls ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ I t ’ s ge t t i nghot .Ine e dt oc oolo . ’ Wrapping her hand in his own, he pulled her away from the cabana and across the terrace through the open gate, past the security guards to the private beach. Turquoise waves pounded the white sand with a rhythmic roar. Laura glanced back at the party behind them. She and Gabriel were still in full view of the mansion and terraces as he led her across the sand.

‘ Youdi di t , ’Gabr i e ls ai dwhe nt he ywe r eoutof earshot.


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‘ Di dI ? ’Looki ngup,s hef ur r owe dhe rbr ow.‘ He di dn’ ts e e mt obe l i e veus . ’

‘ Ofc our s ehe ’ ss us pi c i ous .Theman’ snots t upi d. Butwe ’ l ls oonc onvi nc ehi m we ’ r ei nl ove . ’ ‘ How? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

He reached down and stroked a tendril of hair from her face.

‘ To t hi nk al lt hi st i me Ihad s uc h a be aut y wor ki ngf orme , ’hebr e at he d,t he ns hookhi she ad wi t h al augh.‘ I ’ m gl ad you di dn’ tl ook l i ket hi s whe n you we r e my s e c r e t ar y.I woul dn’ t have got t e nanywor kdone . ’ ‘ Youwoul dn’ t ? ’

‘ I twashar de noughasi twas .Youwe r eal ways t oopr e t t y.Iwant e d you f r om t he r s tdayIme t you,whe nyouc ameupt omyo c ewe ar i ngt hat ol dbr owns ui tandbi ggl as s e s . ’ Her e me mbe r e dt hec l ot he ss he ’ d wor nt heday t he y me t ?‘ You don’ thavet ot al kl i ket hi s . ’He r he ar twashamme r i ng i n he rt hr oat .‘ No onec an he arus . ’ ‘ That ’ swhyI ’ ms ayi ngi t , ’hes ai d.‘ Comeon. ’

He yanke d o hi s i p-opsand s hi r t ,l e avi ng them on the sand as he pulled her into the sea. Ki c ki ng o he r hi ghhe e l e ds hoe s ,s he f ol l owe d him, almost willing to follow him into the very depths of the ocean as long as he kept hold of her hand.


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He led her into the water, deeper and deeper still. She looked at him in front of her, and her eyes hungrily traced the hard curves of his muscular back, his strong legs. She felt the shock of cool water against her skin as they walked through the ocean waves, moving slower and slower until the water reached their thighs.

Hegl anc e dbe hi nd he r .‘ The y’ r es t i l lwat c hi ng. ’ He s mi l e d.‘ You make t hi st oo e as y.Any man would want you. Half the men here are in love wi t hyoual r e ady. ’ Laur as wal l owe d,ye ar ni ngt ot e l lhi ms hedi dn’ t care, that he was the only man she wanted, the onl yones he ’ de ve rwant e d.She ’ donc el ove dhi m with all her heart, this man with the warm dark eyes that made her melt, who whispered words of adoration, who made her body sizzle even when t he ywe r e n’ touti nt hehots un.

Gabr i e l ’ ss e ns ual mout hc ur ve d. ‘ And you’ ve proved yourself every bit the skilled actress I hope dyou’ dbe .Thewayyous hi ve r e dandl e ane d back against me when I kissed your neck, as if you we r ehe adove rhe e l si nl ovewi t hme …t he ybought i tal l . ’ Exc e pt i t hadn’ t be e n an ac t . Be ne at h t he blazing sun, they stared at each other, thigh-deep in the cool turquoise water, swaying in the currents. She felt the splash of the cool waves against her hot, bare thighs.


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Hec amec l os e rt ohe r .‘ Thewayyoul ookatme s ome t i me s …’Hi sgaz es e ar c he d he r s .‘ I tr e mi nds me of something that Adriana said. As if you r e al l y…’ ‘ Re al l ywhat ? ’Laur awhi s pe r e d.

He pulled back, his self-mocking mask back in pl ac eonhi sdar kl yhands omef ac e .‘ It hi nkIr e al l y done e dt oc oolo , ’hes ai dwi t hal augh,andhe fell back with a splash into the water.

When he resurfaced, Gabriel sprang from the waves like a god of the sea, scattering sparkling droplets as he tossed his black hair back. Rivulets streamed down his tanned, hard-muscled chest. Shec oul dn’ tl ook away.Shewant e d hi m t o ki s s her. She wanted him to make love to her, hard and fast, slow and soft, and never stop. Most of all, she wanted him to love her. He came toward her, his eyes dark. He took her in his arms, and she felt the hard muscles of his chest press against her bare skin. He looked down at her.

‘ Iknow whatyou’ r et hi nki ng, ’hes ai dhus ki l y.‘ I know whatyoune e d. ’ He rmout hwe ntdr y.‘ You—youdo? ’

Without warning, he lifted her up in his arms, against his wet, muscled chest. Her head fell back in surprise, and she had a brief image of the blue sea and distant green jungle before she realized


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what he meant to do. Holding her tightly in his arms, he fell back into the waves. She had one instant to gasp in a breath before she felt the cool water splash against her skin and she was baptized by the waves.

When he lifted her back out of the sea, she sputtered in outrage, kicking her legs against his c he s t .‘ Ic an’ tbe l i e veyoudi dt hat ! ’ ‘ Why? ’hes ai dl az i l y.‘ Di dn’ ti tc oolyouo ? ’ ‘ That ’ snott hepoi nt ! ’

‘ I tf e l tgood.Admi ti t . ’

‘ I tf e l tgr e at , ’s he mut t e r e d.‘ Butyou s pe nta f or t unet oge tmet ol ookpr e t t y,and now you’ ve ruined it. They spent ages getting my hair just r i ght —’

‘ Ihave n’ tr ui ne d anyt hi ng. ’Hi sar mst i ght e ne d ove rhe rbi ki ni c l ad body.She s aw t he y’ d gone farther from the shore. The water now reached his waist, and she could feel the slide of the waves moving sinuously and languorously against her backside and thighs. Her cheeks grew hot as she realized the crocheted yarn bikini, with all its tiny hol e s ,wast r ans par e ntwhe n we t .‘ I ’ m donewi t h t hi spar t y, ’Gabr i e lgr owl e d,l ooki ngdownathe r . Hi shandst i ght e ne d.‘ I ’ mt aki ngyouhome . ’ At the rough sound of his voice, a shiver went through her. Tension coiled low in her belly as his dark gaze devoured her with ruthless hunger.


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As he started wading back through the waves, clutching her against his chest, she felt their overheated skin pressed together beneath the hot sun.

Agai ns the rwi l l ,Laur a’ sgaz ef e l lt ohi smout h, to the cruel, sensual lips that had kissed her with such passion. He looked down at her, then stopped. For several seconds, he just stood in the water, staring down at her. Releasing her from his hold, he let her go, let her slide slowly down his body against him. She felt how much he desired her, felt his hard body be ne at ht hewat e r .Hi se ye swe r el i ke r e . Cupping her chin in his hands, he lowered his head to hers.

As he kissed her, she felt the hard press of his satin-smooth lips, the sweet, tantalizing taste of his tongue, the salty taste of his rough skin. She surrendered in his arms in the swaying ocean, oat i ngonwave s .Dr owni ngi nhi m. As Gabriel kissed her, standing in the ocean, he felt the warmth of her naked skin in the swaying, cool water. He tasted the wet heat of her mouth. Suddenly, he knew he had to have her. Now.

He heard catcalls behind them in Portuguese and r e al i z e d he ’ df or got t e n aboutt hepar t y.He ’ d forgotten about Oliveira and Adriana. At this mome nt ,hedi dn’ tgi veadamnaboutt he m.


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He kept kissing Laura, even when she tried to pull away. She resisted. Relented. Surrendered. Then, with a gasp, she did pull away.

The waves rolled against their skin, pushing their bodies together as they stared at each other. Her eyes seemed to glimmer. With tears? Gabriel f r owne d.‘ Ar eyouc r yi ng? ’ ‘ Ofc our s enot ! ’s hes ai d,r ubbi nghe re ye s .

He reached out to tilt her chin upward, forcing he rt ome e thi sgaz e .‘ You’ r eat e r r i bl el i ar . ’

She l ooke d away.‘ Don’ twome n us ual l y we e p whe nyouki s st he m? ’ Her tone was light, even sardonic. He felt as if he was in some strange dream as he looked down at her. This beautiful woman was Laura, and yet notLaur a.‘ The yus ual l ywe e pwhe nIl e ave . ’

She as he d hi m a gl anc e .‘ I ft he y’ r e your e mpl oye e s ,t he y’ r epr obabl ywe e pi ngwi t hj oy. ’

His lips tugged up into a grin against his will. Meu Deus. Even now, she could make him laugh, when all he could think of was dragging her back home ,r i ppi ngo he rt i nybi ki niand pul l i nghe r naked body into his bed. All he wanted was to be alone with her, to feel her soft limbs caress him, to pull her back into a red-hot kiss so explosive it burned him from within. He would have her. Tonight.

I always knew the little mouse was in love with


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you.

Heangr i l ys hookawayt heme mor yofAdr i ana’ s wor ds .Laur a di dn’ tl ove hi m.She c oul dn’ t .She wast oos mar tf ort hat .I twas n’ tl ovet hate xi s t e d between them. It was sex. Just sex. He shuddered. It would be, as soon as humanly possible. ‘ I ’ mt aki ngyouhome , ’hes ai d.‘ Tobe d. ’

The bravado fell from her beautiful face. She looked up, and her expression suddenly looked vul ne r abl e .Young.The r ee c t i ve wave s of t he water lit up her pale body, exposing her full curves, illuminating her beautiful face, which now seemed to hold new secrets.

‘ No, ’s he whi s pe r e d.‘ Pl e as e .I ’ m notl i ke you. Maki ngl ove …i tme anss ome t hi ngt ome . ’ Looking down at her beauty, Gabriel felt no mercy in his heart. She wanted him, as he wanted her. Why hold back? Why hesitate from taking their pleasure? Laura should belong to him, as she al wayshad.Shes houl dbehi s .Hi suns e ls hac tof letting her go last year had been a mistake. And s he ’ d had anot he r man’ s baby . Sudden possessiveness raced through his body like a storm. Thinking of another man touching Laura left him in a rage. He wanted to get the memory of the ot he rmano he rs ki n.Tomakehe rf or ge tanyone else had ever touched her. With iron self-control, he took her hand. He


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heard her soft intake of breath as she stared up at him, her lips deliciously parted. His gaze fell to her mout h,butki s s i nghe rwoul dn’ tbene ar l ye nough. He led her out of the water and back to the sand. Stepping into his shoes, he grabbed his shirt, wadding it up in one hand. ‘ Whe r ear ewegoi ng? ’

He glanced back at her. She looked as dazed as hef e l t .He rc he e kswe r e us he dwi t hpas s i on,he r l i psbr ui s e d.‘ Home .Le tAdr i anabe l i e vewehadt o r us hbac kt omype nt hous e . ’ ‘ Forane me r ge nc y? ’

‘ It ol dyou. ’Hegavehe ras e ns ual ,he avyl i dde d l ook.‘ Tobe d. ’

He saw her shiver under the hot sun. Blinking, s hekne l tt opi c kuphe rhi ghhe e l e ds hoe s .‘ Buti t ’ s j us ta game , ’s he whi s pe r e d,s oundi ng asi fs he we r et al ki ng t o he r s e l fasmuc h ashi m.‘ I t ’ snot r e al . ’ Ye tGabr i e lwasno l onge rs ur e .She ’ dc omet o Rio as his pretend mistress. Now he wanted to make it true. Where did the fantasy end and reality begin?

As he led her past security and across the lower terrace, he heard the whispers of the crowd racing ahead of them, a murmur rising like a wave of mus i c .Gabr i e ldi dn’ tbot he rt o gl anc e atFe l i pe Oliveira or Adriana as he passed them. He was too


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infuriated by all the men staring at Laura. She did look beautiful with her long wet hair slicked back and beads of seawater sparkling on her skin like di amonds .And—Gabr i e li nc he d—t heyar nofhe r bi ki niwast r ans l uc e ntwhe n we t .Some t hi nghe ’ d appr e c i at e dwhe nt he ywe r eal one ,butnow…

He bared his teeth at the other men as he led her across the terrace, a male predator protecting his chosen female. He climbed the stairs two at a time and entered the mansion, dripping water across t hemar bl e oor s .Ashel e d he rt owar dt hef r ont door, he held her hand tightly. It felt so right in his. Too right.

He grabbed two towels from a uniformed at t e ndant .‘ Te l lmydr i ve rwear er e adyt ode par t . ’ The man hurried away. Gabriel took Laura outside to wait in the warm sun, away from prying eyes. Kneeling before her, he skimmed one plush towel over her bare skin, over her legs, her arms, the plump fullness of her breasts. Rising to his feet, he licked his lips and realized he was breathing hard. He saw her swallow. Felt her tremble.

‘ Gabr i e l , ’s he whi s pe r e d, he r voi c e hoar s e , ‘ Pl e as e …’ The Rolls-Royce pulled in front of the mansion, and Carlos leaped out to open the door, looking di s maye d at hi s bos s ’ se ar l y de par t ur e . He ’ d probably been playing dice with the other


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servants, Gabriel thought, but at this moment, he di dn’ tgi veadamn aboutanyman’ spl e as ur ebut his own. ‘ Ge ti nt hec ar , ’Gabr i e lor de r e dLaur a,hi svoi c e sounding admirably civilized compared to the r oar i ngani malhef e l tl i kei ns i de .Whe ns hedi dn’ t move, he grabbed her arm and pulled her roughly into the backseat. As the driver closed the door behind them, Laura r i ppe d he rar m f r om Gabr i e l ’ sgr as p.‘ You don’ t ne e dt obes or ude ! ’ ‘ Rude ? ’hegr owl e d. ‘ Ye s ,r ude ! ’

Gabriel could tell she was hurt and angry. She t houghthewasbe i ngc r ue l .Shedi dn’ tknow i twas all he could do not to push her back against the l e at he rs e at ,t ol ayhe r atonhe rbac kandr i po the little triangles of bikini. That all he wanted to do was taste those luscious breasts, throw himself ove r he r , l lhe rc ompl e t e l y.He c l e nc he d hi s handsi nt o s t s ,s hudde r i ngatt hes e ns uali mage s t hatove r whe l me dhi m.Hewant e dhe r —now.And heal mos tdi dn’ tc ar ewhos aw t he m. As Carlos started the engine, Gabriel forced himself to release her. He could wait until they got home .Hec oul dwai t … He repeated the mantra again and again as the car drove through the city. His body ached from


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t hee or ti tt ooknott os e i z ehe ri nhi sar ms .The slow drive though crowded streets, with police di ve r t i ng t r a c ar ound s e c t i onsc l os e df ore ar l y evening parades, seemed to take forever. Gabriel glanced at Laura sideways. The towel had slipped from her hands and the air-conditioning in the limo was no match for the way his temperature climbed every time he looked at her. Especially when he saw what the cold air was doing to her nipples beneath the bikini.

Water was still trickling from her wet hair, running slowly down her bare skin, down the valley between her large breasts. He wanted to run t hee dgeofhi s nge r t i pdownt hatt r i c kl eofwat e r . He wanted to lap it up with his tongue. He wanted her spread naked across his bed, his body over hers, as he lowered his head to taste her, thrusting i ns i dehe r ,s ode e p,s ode e p… As if she felt his gaze, she turned. Judging by the e xpr e s s i on on he rf ac e ,s he hadn’ tbe e n havi ng s uc hs e ns uali mage sofhi m—ohno.Shewant e dt o skewer him with a knife. But as their eyes locked, her expression slowly changed. The glare slid away and her face turned bewildered, almost scared. With a visible tremble, she pulled the thick white towel tightly over her naked skin and looked out the window. With a dark smile, Gabriel turned away. She knew.


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She knew what waited for them at home.

Memories of their one night together had caused mont hsofhot ,uns at i se d dr e amsf orhi m.Now t hathe nal l yhadhe ri nRi o,hewas n’ tgoi ngt o let her go. Not until he was completely satiated. He wasdonebe i nguns e ls hwhe ni tc amet oLaur a.

The car pulled up behind their building, but she di dn’ twai tf orCar l ost oope nhe rdoor .She ungi t open herself and dashed out, heading for the private entrance. It gave her a head start.

Al ow gr owlr os ef r om t he bac k ofGabr i e l ’ s t hr oatashe ungope nhi sowndoorandr ac e dout in grim pursuit. As he came around the car in the street, heading toward the curb, a red sedan nearly hit him. The driver honked angrily, but Gabriel di dn’ te ve n paus e ,j us tl e ape dr e c kl e s s l yove rt he hood.He r an i nt o hi s bui l di ng’ s pr i vat el obby, ac r os st hemar bl e oor .I gnor i ngt hegr e e t i ngsof the guards, he ran for the private elevator just in time to see the silver doors slide together in front ofLaur a’ sf ac e .The i re ye sme tf oras i ngl ei ns t ant , and he saw the small smile that curved her lips. Then she was gone. Gabriel cursed under his breath. He pressed the elevator button impatiently, multiple times, then rushed inside as soon as the door opened. When he arrived at the penthouse, he followed her voice.

‘ So Robby had a good day? ’hehe ar d he rs ay


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from the terrace.

‘ Ye s ,Se nhor a Laur a, ’Mar i ar e pl i e d.‘ Hehad a good lunch, good play and is now having his s e c ondnap. ’ Breathing hard, Gabriel saw them through the windows, out on the terrace. The older woman was sitting in a lounge chair, with a glass of lemonade and the baby monitor on the table beside her, placidly knitting in the warm Brazilian sunshine.

‘ Di d hemi s sme ? ’Laur a’ svoi c et r e mbl e d.‘ Di d hec r yf orme ? ’

‘ No,Mr s .Laur a, ’s he s ai d ki ndl y.‘ He had a happy day. But of course he will be glad to see his mama. He should wake soon. Perhaps you would l i ket ot akehi m onawal k? ’ ‘ Ye s ,Iwoul dl i ket hat .Thankyou,Mar i a. ’

Laura turned and headed back inside. Gabriel ducked into the corner as she opened the sliding glass doors. Still holding her towel over her body, she started down the hall toward her bedroom.

He moved fast, springing like a jaguar. He heard her gasp as he shoved her through the open doorway of his room, pushing her against the wall. The towel dropped from her hands as he closed the door behind him with a bang. Grasping her wrists, he held her against the wall. Without a word, without asking permission, he kissed her.


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He felt the heat of her skin, covered only by the tiny bikini as he crushed her against the wall with his bare chest. Releasing her wrists, he grabbed the back of her head with his hand. Holding her tight against him, he kissed her savagely, hard enough to bruise, ruthlessly taking his pleasure.


CHAPTER NINE W ITH a gasp, Laura pulled back her hand and slapped his face. ‘ How dar eyou! ’s hec r i e d.

The sound of the slap echoed in the bedroom. He stared at her incredulously, his hand on his cheek. The nhi se ye snar r owe d.‘ Whyar eyoupr e t e ndi ng i t ’ snote xac t l ywhatyouwant ? ’

Laura sucked in her breath, feeling overwhelmed byne e df orwhats hec oul dnot —could not—al l ow he r s e l ft o have .‘ Eve ni fIwantyou,Gabr i e l ,I know you’ r eno good f orme .I tne ar l y ki l l e d me last year after our night together when you kicked meoutofyourl i f e —’ ‘ Ki c ke d you out of my l i f e ? ’he de mande d. ‘ You’ r et heonewhol e f t ! ’ ‘ You di dn’ tt r yt ot al kmeoutofi t .You di dn’ t e ve nas kmet os t ay! ’ ‘ Iwast r yi ng t o do whatwasbe s tf oryou, ’he s ai d.‘ Ikne w youwant e dahus band,c hi l dr e n.You ne e de d a bos swho di dn’ tde mand yourl i f eand


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soul. You needed a man who could love you as I cannot. So I gave you up, when it was the last t hi ng I want e d! And what di d you do? ’ He gl owe r e d.‘ You l e tyour s e l fge tpr e gnantby some cold bastard who cannot even be bothered to pay c hi l ds uppor torvi s i thi ss on! ’ Tears streamed down her face as she shook her he ad.‘ Why do you ke e pt or t ur i ng meaboutmy pr e gnanc y? ’ ‘ Be c aus ei tme ansIs ac r ic e dyouf ornot hi ng! ’ ‘ Sac r ic e d? ’s hec r i e d.

Hegr abbe dhe rs houl de r s .‘ Don’ tyouknow how muc hI ’ ve want e d you,al lt hi st i me ? ’Hi se ye s s e ar c he d he r s e r c e l y.‘ Do you know how I ’ ve dr e ame d ofyou? I n my o c e .I n my be d! ’Hi s nge r st i ght e ne dpai nf ul l yonhe rs houl de r s .‘ I fI ’ d known you would settle for so little, I would never havel e tyougo! ’ Panting with anger, they stared at each other in the shadowy bedroom, the only sound the violent rasping of their breath. His eyes were dark and furious with denied desire. His gaze fell to her lips. ‘ Laur a…’hewhi s pe r e d.

She jumped when she heard Robby suddenly crying on the other side of the wall. All the shouting and the banging must have woken him.

‘ I ’ m not t hat vi r gi ns e c r e t ar y anymor e , ’s he mur mur e d,‘ f r e et omakewhat e ve rs t upi dc hoi c e sI


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want .I ’ m a mot he rnow.My baby c ome s r s t . ’ Setting her jaw, she pulled away from Gabriel. St oppi ng att hedoor ,s hel ooke d bac k athi m.‘ I gavei nt o pas s i on onc ebe f or e , ’s hes ai d qui e t l y. ‘ Andi tne ar l yki l l e dme . ’ Leaving him, she went to her own bedroom and locked the door behind her before she gathered her c r yi ng baby i n he rar ms .Robby’ spl ai nt i ve wai l instantly stopped as she cuddled him close. She breathed in the sweet smell of his hair. She heard a low knock on the door.

‘ Laur a. ’Gabr i e l ’ svoi c ewasmu e d. ‘ Goaway. ’

‘ Iwantt ot al kt oyou. ’ ‘ No. ’

Silence fell on the other side of the door and she t houghthe ’ dl e f t .Shes atdowni nt her oc ki ngc hai r and held Robby in the darkness of the shuttered bedroom. Then Robby started to squirm and complain. Clearly, his nap was over and he was ready to play. Setting her baby down on the carpet, with a pillow beside him in case he suddenly forgot how to sit and toppled over, she looked through the shopping bags that Mrs. Tavares had sent and selected some dark jeans and a white tank top. Pulling them on over a new bra and panties, Laura lifted her son onto her hip and quietly unlocked


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her door. Holding her breath, she peeked out into the hallway. Gabriel stood leaning against the wall, waiting for her in jeans and a black T-shirt. His eyes were dark, almost ominous. ‘ Pl anni ngt os ne akout ? ’

She took a deep breath, then tossed her head de ant l y.‘ I ’ mt aki ngmys onf orawal k. ’ ‘ Youne e dt oge tr e adyf ort hegal a. ’ ‘ I twi l lj us thavet owai t . ’

Hes t ar e dathe r ,t he ns e thi sj aw.‘ Fi ne .The nI ’ l l c omewi t hyou. ’ ‘ Comewi t hme ? ’s her e pe at e di nc r e dul ous l y.

Hemove dt owar dhe rqui c kasa as h,s c oopi ng Robby from her arms. ‘ He y! ’s hec r i e d.

Gabriel looked down at the baby, who was s t ar i ngup athi m wi t h at r ans xe de xpr e s s i on.A shadow of a s mi l epas s e dove rGabr i e l ’ shands ome face. Turning, he opened the front closet and pulled out a folded stroller, an expensive brand that she would never have purchased on her own. Still holding the baby with one powerful arm, Gabriel opened the stroller with his other, in one easy gesture. He rj aw f e l l .‘ How di d you know how t o do t hat ? ’


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He shrugged.

Shet r i e d agai n.‘ Haveyou e ve rbe e n ar ound a babybe f or e ? ’

Hel ooke d away.‘ I t ’ smadne s sout s i de .You ar e mygue s t s .Iwi l lke e pyous af e . ’ ‘ Topr ot e c tusf r om af e s t i valonI pane maBe ac h? We ’ r ej us tgoi ngf orawal k! ’ ‘ Funny.Soam I . ’

‘ You’ r ebe i ngr i di c ul ous . ’

Putting Robby into the stroller, he clicked the baby’ ss e atbe l t ,t he nwi t houtawor d,pr e s s e dt he elevator button. The doors opened and he pushed the stroller onto it. Looking at her, Gabriel waited. Exhaling, she followed him onto the elevator. The doors closed, leaving the two of them with only a baby stroller between them.

‘ Whyar eyou doi ngt hi s ? ’s hes ai dt hr ough he r teeth. ‘ Formyown s e ls hr e as ons ,nodoubt , ’hes ai d dr yl y.‘ Thati swhyIdoe ve r yt hi ng,i si tnot ? ’

‘ Ye s ,i ti s . ’Shebi toutt hewor ds ,t he nl ooke dat hi m.‘ Why? I st he r ea c hanc e Fe l i pe orAdr i ana mi ghts e eus ? ’

‘ The r ei s al ways a c hanc e , ’he s ai d.‘ I t ’ s not i mpos s i bl e . ’ The elevator doors opened, and she grabbed the handle of the stroller and pushed it through the


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lobby. Gabriel held the door open for her and they were out on the street.

Si nc es he ’ dl as tbe e n out s i de ,t heavenida had be c ome e ve n mor ec r owde d, l l e d wi t h pe opl e celebrating Carnaval. Music was blaring, tubas and drums, as people sang and danced in the street with their friends, some of them wearing extremely provocative costumes as they gulped down caipirinhas, the famous Brazilian cocktail of lime and distilled sugarcane. Laura and Gabriel walked down the beach to a slightly quieter area and found an empty spot past a big yellow umbrella. She saw families splashing in the surf with their children, as nearby, groups of young people drank together beneath the sun as they waited for the nighttime party to really begin, the women wearing tiny thong bikinis, the men in skintight shorts.

Laura took Robby out of the stroller, and when she looked around, Gabriel was gone. She placed her baby in her lap and Robby reached to take a handf ulofs andi nhi s s t .Shes aw Gabr i e lac r os s the beach, talking to a barraqueiro. A moment later, he was walking back across the beach toward her. He held up a plastic shovel and pail. ‘ It houghtRobby woul dl i ke t o pl ay, ’he s ai d gr u y.

‘ Thank you, ’ s he s ai d, s hoc ke d at hi s thoughtfulness.


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He smiled, and the warmth of his suddenly boyish face as he held out the pail and shovel to Robby nearly made her gasp. As the baby happily took the shovel, Gabriel stretched out beside them and showed him how to dig in the sand. Laura stared at him in amazement.

Fi r s the ’ d known how t o handl et he s t r ol l e r . The n he ’ dt houghtofbuyi ngt oysf ort he i rbaby. He claimed he disliked children, so why was he acting like this? Robbyr e s ponde dt ohi sf at he r ’ st ut e l ageby r s t trying to chew on the shovel, then to eat the sand. Gabr i e ll aughe d,andwi t hi n ni t epat i e nc e ,agai n showed him how to dig. Soon he had the baby in his lap. Robby was very curious about sand and kept dumping it on them both, then laughing uproariously. Soon deep male laughter joined with the baby squeals, and for Laura it was the sound of j oy. She l ooke d at Gabr i e l ’ s hands ome f ac e , watching him as he smiled down at the child he di d notknow washi s ,and he rhe ar t l l e d he r throat. How could he not realize that Robby was his son?

‘ Hel i ke syou, ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ Andyous e e mt o know how t ot akec ar eofababy. ’

Gabr i e l ’ sdar ke ye sme the r s .The nhi se xpr e s s i on abruptly became cold. He handed Robby back to her, causing the baby to give a little whine of


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pr ot e s t .‘ No,Ir e al l ydon’ t . ’

All around them, she was dimly aware of the noise of the street party, of half-naked Cariocas tanning themselves beneath the sun, of people laughing and singing and making music all around them.

I twas n’ tt ool at ef orhe rt ot e l lGabr i e lt het r ut h. She could tell him now. By the way, Gabriel, I never took any other man as my lover. You were so careful t o us e pr ot e c t i on,butg ue s swhat ? You’ r e Robby ’ s father. How would he take that news?

Hewoul dn’ tbegl ad.Eve ni nhe rmos tf ant as t i c dr e amss he kne w t hat .He ’ dt ol d he ra mi l l i on t i me s ,i ne ve r ypos s i bl eway,t hathedi dn’ twanta wife or c hi l dr e n.Eve nt oday,whe nhe ’ das ke dhe r t obehi smi s t r e s sf orr e al ,he ’ ds ai dhe ’ dbewi l l i ng t o‘ ove r l ook’he rc hi l d.Thathe ’ dal l ow he rbabyt o l i vei nt hedowns t ai r sapar t me nts ohewoul dn’ tbe forced to endure his presence.

And worse. If there was one thing Gabriel resented almost as much as the thought of having a family, it was someone lying to his face. If he found out that Laura had lied to him for over a year, he would never forgive her. He would take r e s pons i bi l i t y f or t he c hi l d t he y’ d c r e at e d —ye s —and he ’ dt r yt oge ts omeki nd ofc us t ody. But he would not love their son. And he would hate her.


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Tomorrow, she repeated to herself desperately. They would go home to their little farmhouse in t hegr e atnor t hwoods ,s af eands ound.She ’ dne ve r have to see Gabriel again. But that reassurance was wearing thin. Every moment she spent with Gabriel, seeing him with their son, she found herself wishing she could believe the dream. Wishing he could love them.

The truth about Robby hovered on her lips. But the rational part of her brain stayed in control, keeping her from blurting it out. If she told him t het r ut h,onl ybadt hi ngsc oul dhappe n.Ands he ’ d nol onge rbei nc ont r olofRobby’ sf ut ur e .

Gabriel glanced at his watch. The sun had started to lower in the sky over the green Dois I r mãosmount ai nr i s i ngs har pl yt ot hewe s t .‘ We s houl dgo.Yours t yl i s ti swai t i ngatt hepe nt hous e . ’ ‘ St yl i s t ? ’

Her os et ohi sf e e t .‘ Fort hegal a. ’

He held out his hand, and Laura hesitated. A wistful sigh came from her lips. The brief happi ne s soff e e l i ng l i ke a f ami l y wasove r .‘ Al l r i ght . ’ She allowed him to pull her to her feet. Tucking a yawning, messy, sand-covered Robby back into the stroller, she followed Gabriel across the beach toward home. By now the avenue was so crowded that Gabriel had to physically clear a path for the


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stroller.

When they safely reached the opposite side of t hes t r e e t ,hel ooke dathe r .‘ I ’ ml ooki ngf or war dt o s e e i ngyourdr e s st oni ght . ’Hegavehe ras e ns ual s mi l e .‘ Ands e e i ngi to you. ’ He was so sure of himself it infuriated her. But as his dark eyes caught hers, her feet tripped on the sidewalk. He caught the stroller, grabbing her arm. Then, leaning forward, he kissed her.

‘ Not hi ng wi l ls t op me f r om havi ng you, ’he whi s pe r e di nhe re ar .‘ Toni ght . ’

Wi t h an i nt akeofbr e at h,s hef e l tbut t e ri e sof longing and sharp bee stings of need all over her body. Tightening her hands on the handle, she pushed the stroller as fast as she could toward the building. She told herself that the sexy, tender, s t r ongman s he ’ dj us ts e e n on t hebe ac h,pl ayi ng wi t ht he i rbabys on,wasami r age .Shec oul dn’ tl e t herself be fooled by his act. Gabriel was always ruthlessly charming when he wanted something. And right now, he wanted her.

Gabriel Santos always won by any means necessary. Both in business and his romantic c onque s t s .Butonc e he ’ d had whathe want e d, onc ehe ’ d pos s e s s e d he ri n hi sbe d,hewoul d be done with her. He would no longer be willing to tolerate the fact that she had a child. He would toss her out, or drive her out. He would replace her.


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She licked her lips as he caught up with her. ‘ What ’ sgoi ngt ohappe nt oni ght ? ’ Hi ss e ns ualmout hc ur ve d.‘ Youal r e adyknow. ’

Shel ooke dathi sf ac e .The r ewasa veo’ c l oc k shadow on the hard edges of his jaw, giving his hands ome f ac e a bar bar i c appe ar anc e .‘ Fe l i pe Ol i ve i r ai sno f ool .He ’ ss us pi c i ous .Whati faf t e r t oni ght ,hes t i l ldoe s n’ tbe l i e vet hatyoul oveme ? ’ ‘ Hewi l l . ’

‘ Andi fhedoe s n’ t ? ’

Gabr i e l ’ s dar ke ye s gl i nt e d wi t h amus e me nt . ‘ The nIhaveapl an. ’


CHAPTER TEN T HE Fantasia gala ball was the single most s ought af t e r i nvi t at i on of Ri o de J ane i r o’ s Carnaval. Laura had read about it in celebrity gossip magazines in the United States. The glamorous event, held in a colonial palace on the Costa Verde south of Rio, attracted beautiful, rich and notorious guests from all around the world. And tonight, Laura would be one of them. Tonight, s hewoul dbeGabr i e lSant os ’ sbe l ove dmi s t r e s s .Hi s pretend mi s t r e s s ,s hec or r e c t e dhe r s e l fe r c e l y. The door of the black Rolls-Royce sedan opened, and she and Gabriel stepped out onto the red carpet that led inside the palace, which had once been owned by the Brazilian royal family.

Gabriel looked brutally dashing in his black tuxedo. Laura felt his hungry gaze on her as he took her arm. She tried to ignore it, tried to smile f ort hebe ne toft hepapar az z i as hi ng c ame r as around them, but her body shook beneath the palpable force of his desire. I want you, Laura. And I will have you.


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Liveried doormen in wigs opened tall, wide doors. Gabriel and Laura went down a gilded hallway, then entered a ballroom that sparkled like an enormous jewel box. Standing at the top of the stairs, Laura looked up in awe at the huge chandeliers glittering like diamonds overhead. From a nearby alcove, a full orchestra played, the musicians dressed in clothes of the eighteenth century, except with sequins and body glitter. The guests milling around them drinking champagne, laughing, were in gowns and tuxedos that were even more beautiful. More outlandish. As they paused at the top of the stairs, Gabriel t ur ne dt ohe r .‘ Ar eyour e ady? ’

Laura held her breath, feeling like a princess in a fairy tale, or maybe Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, with her strapless red sheath gown and long white ope r agl ove st hatwe ntuppas the re l bows .‘ Ye s . ’

Whe n Gabr i e lhad r s ts e e n he ri nt hi sdr e s s , he ’ dc hoke doutagas p.‘ Youar ewi t houtque s t i on, ’ he ’ ds ai d hoar s e l y,pr e s e nt i nghe rwi t ht wobl ac k ve l ve tboxe s ,‘ t hemos tbe aut i f ulwomanI ’ vee ve r s e e n. ’ Now, Laura looked at him, tightening her hand over his arm as he escorted her down the sweeping stairs. A thick diamond bracelet now hung over her gloved wrist. Diamond bangles hung from her ears s e to by he rhi ghl i ght e d hai rt umbl i ng i ns of t waves down her shoulders.


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She ’ dne ve rf e l ts obe aut i f ul —ors oador e d.Thi s ball was truly a fantasy, she thought in wonder. Silence fell around them as Gabriel, the dashing, powerful Brazilian tycoon, led her onto the empty danc e oor .Laur ahe s i t at e dbe ne at ht hegaz eofs o many people. Then, seeing them, the orchestra changed the tempo of the music, and it was irresistible.

Within twenty seconds, other couples had joined t he m.By t hes e c ond s ong,t he oorwaspac ke d with people. But Laura hardly noticed. As Gabriel held her, she felt hot and cold, delirious in a tangle of joy and fear and breathless need.

He s wi r l e d he rar ound on t he danc e oor ,i n perfect time with the music. She felt his heat through the sleek tuxedo that barely contained the brutal strength of his body, and all she could think aboutwast heni ghthe ’ dmadel ovet ohe r ,whe n he ’ dpr e s s e dhe ragai ns thi sde s kandr i ppe do he r clothes, taking her virgin body and making it his own.He ’ d l l e dhe rwi t hpl e as ur et hatni ght .Fi l l e d her with his child. Now, his dark eyes caressed her as he moved. Leaning her back, he dipped her, his handsome face inches from hers. Pulling her back to her feet, he kissed her.

His lips moved against hers, soft and warm, whispering of love that was pure and true. Promising her everything she needed, everything


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s he ’ de ve rwant e d. Promising a lie.

With an intake of breath, she jerked away from hi m,t e ar si nhe re ye s .‘ Whyar eyoudoi ngt hi st o me ? ’

‘ Don’ t you know? ’ he s ai di nal ow voi c e . ‘ Have n’ tImadei tc l e ar ? ’ ‘ Wehad a de al , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ Oneni ghti n Ri o.Onemi l l i ondol l ar s . ’

‘ Ye s . ’Hel ooke ddownathe r .‘ Andnow I ’ m not goi ngt ol e tyougo. ’ She stared up at him, frozen, even as other couples continued to swirl around them in a dark, sexy tango.

‘ I ’ m notgoi ngt ol e tyous e duc eme ,Gabr i e l , ’s he s ai d,he rvoi c es haki ng.‘ I ’ m not . ’

He looked down at her, his eyes dark with de s i r e .Hedi dn’ tar guewi t hhe r .Hedi dn’ thavet o. With a gasp, she turned and ran, leaving him on t hedanc e oor .Looki ngwi l dl yf ore s c ape ,s hes aw open French doors that led outside to some sort of shadowy garden. She ran for them, only to smack into a wall.

Exc e pti twas n’ ta wal l .A man gr as pe d he r shoulders, setting her aright as he stared down at he r .‘ Goode ve ni ng,Mi s sPar ke r . ’ ‘ Mr .Ol i ve i r a. ’Shel i c ke d he rl i ps .Dr e s s e di na tuxedo that only served to accentuate his bulk, he


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was drinking a martini beside the bar. Behind him, she saw the gorgeously pouting Adriana in a skimpy silver cutout dress that clung like spackle over her breasts and backside, leaving everything else bare down to her strappy silver high heels. ‘ Love r s ’s pat ? ’Fe l i peOl i ve i r as ai dmi l dl y.

Gabriel appeared behind her. He put his hands pos s e s s i ve l yonLaur a’ ss houl de r s .‘ Ofc our s enot . ’

Swallowing, Laura leaned back against Gabriel, feeling the hardness of his body against hers, and t r i e d he r be s tt ol ook as i f he r he ar t was n’ t br e aki ng.Shef or c e dhe rl i psi nt oas mi l e .‘ I ,um, j us twant e dal i t t l ef r e s hai r . ’ Gabriel wrapped his arms around her more t i ght l y,ne s t l i ng he r bac ks i de r ml y agai ns thi s t hi ghsashenuz z l e dhe rt e mpl e .‘ AndIwant e dt o danc e . ’ Oliveira looked at them, his eyes narrowed. ‘ You’ r ebot hl i ar s . ’ Gabr i e ls hookhi she ad.‘ No—’

‘ I ’ l lt e l lyou whati sr e al l ygoi ngon, ’t heol de r mani nt e r r upt e d.‘ Yout hi nkIam s t upi de nought o fall for this. But if I sign those papers tomorrow selling you the company, you know what will happe n? ’ ‘ You’ l lmakeaf or t une ? ’Gabr i e ldr awl e d.

Hi shoode de ye shar de ne d.‘ You wi l le nd t hi s charade and be once again free to pursue what


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doe snotbe l ongt oyou. ’

Gabr i e ls nor t e d. ‘ Why woul d I pos s i bl y be i nt e r e s t e di nyour anc é e ,Ol i ve i r a,whe nIhavea womanl i ket hi s ? ’

The other man looked at Laura, then shook his he ad.‘ Sant os ,you c hangel ove r swi t ht her i s eof each dawn. Miss Parker is beautiful, but you will never commit to her for long. There is nothing you c ans ayt oc onvi nc emeot he r wi s e . ’He ni s he dt he l as tofhi smar t i ni .‘ Iwi l ls e l lt ot heFr e nc hman. ’ ‘ Youwi l ll os emone y! ’

‘ Some t hi ngs ,t he y ar e mor ei mpor t ant t han mone y. ’

Gabriel exhaled. Laura felt his body tense be hi ndhe r ,t i ghtandr e adyt os nap.‘ St .Raphaë li s avul t ur e , ’hegr owl e d.‘ Hewi l lbr e akmyf at he r ’ s c ompanyup f orpar t s ,r et hee mpl oye e s ,s c at t e r the pieces around the world. He will crush Açoazul be ne at hhi she e l ! ’ ‘ Thati snotmypr obl e m.Iwi l lnotgi veyouany r e as ont or e mai ni nRi o. ’Ol i ve i r a’ sj owl yf ac ewas grim as he started to turn away, holding out his arm for Adriana, who could barely contain the smug look on her beautiful face. The y’ dl os t .

Laur a’ she ar tl e ape d up t o he rt hr oat ,c hoki ng her. The y’ df ai l e d.She had failed.


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‘ You’ r ewr ongaboutme ,Ol i ve i r a, ’Gabr i e ls ai d de s pe r at e l y.‘ Ic anc ommi t .I ’ veal waysbe e nr e ady to commit. I was just waiting for the woman I c oul dl ovef or e ve r . ’ Frowning, the older man and Adriana glanced back at them. They stopped. Their eyes went wide.

As if in slow motion, Laura turned to face Gabriel, who was standing behind her.

Exc e pthewasnol onge rs t andi ng.He ’ df al l e nt o his knee.

He ’ dpul l e dabl ac kve l ve tboxoutofhi st uxe do pocket. Opening it, he held up a ten-carat diamond ring. ‘ Laur a, ’hes ai dqui e t l y,‘ wi l lyoumar r yme ? ’ Laur a’ sj aw dr oppe d.

She looked from the ring to Gabriel kneeling in front of her. She looked back at the ring. I was just waiting for the woman I could love forever.

He ’ d c hange d hi s mi nd about l ove and commitment? Did he want her in his bed so badly he was willing to marry her? He smiled, and everything else fell away. She was lost in his dark eyes.

‘ Whati st hi s ? ’Ol i ve i r ade mande d.‘ Somet r i c k? Now s he ’ syourpr e t e nd anc é e ? ’


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Gabr i e lj us tl ooke datLaur a.‘ Sayye s .Maket hi s ane ngage me ntpar t y. ’ And Laura exhaled.

All her wedding dreams came crashing down around her. This proposal had nothing to do with love, or even sex. It was entirely about business. This was his plan B.

Tears rose in her eyes, tears she hoped would appear to be tears of joy. Unable to speak over the lump in her throat, she simply nodded.

Rising to his feet, Gabriel kissed her. Tenderly, he pl ac e dt hedi amond r i ng on he r nge r .I t t perfectly. Laura stared down at it, sparkling on her hand like an iceberg. It was beautiful. And so hollow.

‘ Hmm, ’ Ol i ve i r a s ai d, wat c hi ng t he m t hought f ul l y. ‘ Maybe I was wr ong about you, Sant os . ’ ‘ You s ai d you’ d ne ve rmar r y anyone ! ’Adr i ana sounded outraged.

Ne ve rl ooki ng away f r om Laur a’ sf ac e ,Gabr i e l s mi l e d.‘ Pl ansc hange . ’ ‘ Butpe opl edon’ t , ’s hes pi tout .‘ Nott hi smuc h. Youwoul dne ve rmar r yawomanwi t hababy! ’ St ie ni ng,Gabr i e lt ur ne dt ohe r .

‘ She has a baby, ’Adr i ana s ai ds pi t e f ul l yt o Ol i ve i r a.‘ The y we r es e e nt oge t he r on I pane ma Beach. He just brought Laura here this morning,


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af t e rt he y’ dbe e napar tf oraye ar .Whywoul dhe s udde nl yde c i dehe ’ si nl ovewi t h awoman af t e r be i ngapar tf orove raye ar ?I t ’ sat r i c k,Fe l i pe , ’s he de c l ar e d.‘ I t ’ sal i e .He ’ snotc ommi t t e dt ohe r .He won’ tc ommi tt oanyone . ’ ‘ Ic ane xpl ai n,Ol i ve i r a, ’Gabr i e ls ai dt hr oughhi s clenched jaw.

Fe l i pe Ol i ve i r a’ sj owl yf ac e har de ne d as he s l owl yt ur ne dt of ac e hi syounge rr i val .‘ No, ’he s ai d.‘ I ’ m af r ai d you c an’ t .Idon’ tappr e c i at et hi s e l abor at et he at e ryou’ ve pe r f or me d.The de ali s o c i al l yo . ’

The man t ur ne d away. Laur as aw Gabr i e l ’ s frustration, saw his vulnerability and the desperate e xpr e s s i on on hi sf ac e as he l os t hi sf at he r ’ s company forever. ‘ Wai t , ’Laur agas pe d.

Snorting a laugh, Felipe Oliveira glanced back at he r wi t h amus e me nt .‘ Whatc oul d you pos s i bl y havet os ay,l i t t l eone ? ’

‘ Eve r yt hi ng t hat Adr i ana s ai d i st r ue , ’s he whi s pe r e d.‘ I have a baby.And I hadn’ ts e e n Gabriel since I left Ri oove raye arago.Butt he r e ’ s a reason why he came for me. A very good reason he ’ dwantt omar r yme . ’ Folding his arms over his belly, Oliveira looked athe rwi t has hakeoft hehe ad.‘ Iam dyi ngt ohe ar i t . ’


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Laur adi dn’ tgl anc eatGabr i e l .Shec oul dn’ t ,and still say what she had to say. Closing her eyes, she t ookade e pbr e at h.The ns hes poket hes e c r e ts he ’ d kept for over a year. ‘ Gabr i e li st hef at he rofmybaby. ’


CHAPTER ELEVEN T REMBLING, Laura folded her arms. ‘ Ah, ’Fe l i peOl i ve i r as ai d,s t r oki nghi sc hi nwi t h satisfaction as he looked from her to Gabriel with c annye ye s .‘ Now Iunde r s t and. ’ ‘ No! ’Adr i anagas pe d.‘ I tc an’ tbet r ue ! ’

Laur a’ sgaz er e s t e d anxi ous l y on Gabr i e l .Hi s dark eyes were deep as the night sky. She saw him take a deep breath. Then slowly, very slowly, he came toward her. Never looking away from her face, he took her in his arms. Biting her lip in apprehension, Laura waited for his jaw to clench with fury and resentment. Waited for him to say something biting and cruel. Instead, he gently kissed her cheek, then turned to face Oliveira and Adriana.

‘ Wewe r e n’ tgoi ng t ot e l lanyoneye t .Butye s , Robby is my son. I wanted to wait until after our we ddi ngt omakei tpubl i c .I ts e e me dmor epr ope r . ’ ‘ Pr ope r ? ’Adr i anas ne e r e d.‘ Whe nhaveyoue ve r cared about proper? ’


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Gabr i e ls t ie ne d,gl ar i ngathe r .‘ Ihaveal ways c ar e daboutdoi ngwhati sr i ght , ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ Iwoul d ne ve rl e ave my c hi l d wi t houta f at he r ,wi t houtaname . ’ ‘ And ye t , ’Ol i ve i r as ai d,s hi f t i nghi ss avvygaz e be t we e nt he m,‘ you al l owe d your anc é et or ai s e yourbabyal one ,f oral lt he s emont hs . ’ Gabr i e ls e thi sj aw.‘ I —’

‘ Hedi dn’ tknow aboutRobby, ’Laur ai nt e r r upt e d i n awhi s pe r .‘ Idi dn’ tt e l lhi m.I twas n’ tunt i lhe c amet omys i s t e r ’ swe ddi ngt hathe r s ts aw hi s s on.Ikne w Gabr i e ldi dn’ twantaf ami l y—’ ‘ Soheal waysi ns i s t e d, ’Adr i anas ai dr e s e nt f ul l y.

Gabr i e l ’ s dar ke ye s gl owe d wi t h war mt h and love as he looked down at Laura, who was shivering in her red strapless gown and opera gl ove s .‘ ButRobbyc hange dmymi nd. ’Hewr appe d hi swar m,t uxe doc l ad ar msmor e r ml y ar ound he r .‘ Fr om t hemome ntIs aw Laur awi t hours on,I kne w Ic oul dn’ tpar twi t ht he m.Wewe r eme antt o beaf ami l y. ’ Laura blinked back her tears, hardly able to br e at he as s he he ar dt he wor ds s he ’ d al ways dreamed of.

She ’ dt ol d hi mt het r ut h aboutRobby,and he knew it. She could see it in his eyes. Robby was his s on.And t hi swasLaur a’ sr e war df orbe i ngbr ave e nough t ot e l lt het r ut h.Hewas n’ tr e j e c t i nghe r .


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Hewas n’ tr e j e c t i ngt he i rbaby.

Al lt hi st i mes he ’ dt houghti twoul dbes ohar dt o t e l lhi mt het r ut h,buti twas n’ t .I twase as y.

Staring at them, Felipe Oliveira stroked his chin. ‘ Youmi ghtbeabas t ar d,Sant os ,butyouwoul dn’ t de s e r tyours on.Oryours on’ smot he r . ’Hel ooke d f r om Laur at oGabr i e lwi t has l ys mi l e .‘ AndIs e e the passion between you. I have been a doddering old fool to feel threatened. The two of you are in l ove . ’Hegavea s udde n de c i s i venod.‘ Está bom. We will sign the preliminary contracts tomorrow. Beatmyl awye r s ’o c eatni ne . ’

Gabr i e l put hi s ar m ar ound Laur a’ s wai s t , s mi l i ngatt heot he rman.‘ Sur e . ’ Adr i ana gl ar e d atLaur a.‘ You gotpr e gnanton pur pos e !Yout r i c ke dGabr i e li nt omar r i age ! ’

As Laur a s t ie ne d, Ol i ve i r a gr abbe d t he s upe r mode l ’ sar m gr i ml y.

‘ The r e ’ sonl yonepe r s onyous houl dwor r yabout ge t t i ngt r i c ke di nt omar r i age , ’hes ai d,‘ andt hat ’ s me .Il ookatt he m—’henodde dt owar dLaur aand Gabr i e l‘ —and Is e el ove .Il ookatyou,Adr i ana, andIs e e …not hi ng. ’ She stared at him, her eyes wide.

Ol i ve i r al i f t e d a whi t e bus hy e ye br ow. ‘ Our e ngage me nt , ’hes ai dmi l dl y,‘ i sove r . ’

Hemar c he d o ac r os st hebal l r oom.Adr i ana’ s c he e ks we nt r e d as an amus e d t i t t e r owe d


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through the nearby crowd.

‘ Fi ne , ’s hes hr i e ke d af t e rhi m.‘ ButI ’ m ke e pi ng t her i ng! ’

Ol i ve i r a di dn’ te ve nt ur n ar ound. Fr us t r at e d gr e e d l l e dAdr i ana’ se ye s ,and wi t h ani nt akeof br e at h,s hes t ar t e dt o pus hf or war d.‘ Fe l i pe , ’s he whi ne d,‘ wai t ! ’ When they were alone in the crowd, Gabriel looked down at Laura. She took a deep breath, waiting for the onslaught of questions she knew we r ec omi ng.‘ Oh,Gabr i e l .Iknow we have s o muc ht ot al kabout —’

‘ Wai t . ’Hegl anc e d att hepe opl ear ound t he m, amused celebutantes and movie actors in designer clothes, rich and beautiful and dressed in s par kl i ng,s e xygowns .‘ Comewi t hme . ’

Gr abbi ngt wo ut e sofc hampagnef r om t het r ay of a passing waiter, Gabriel pulled her through the glorious, gi l de d bal l r oom, l l e d wi t h mus i c and magic, and out a side door. The private garden was dark and quiet. Laura looked up and saw black silhouettes of palm trees swaying against the purple sky. The night was tropical and warm, and on the wild southern coast so far from the lights of the city, she could see stars twinkling down on them.

Bi t i nghe rl i p,s hef ac e dhi m.‘ So…s oyoudon’ t mi nd? ’


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‘ Mi nd? ’ Smi l i ng, he hande d he r a gl as s of champagne. His dark head was frosted with silvery moonlight as he leaned forward to clink his crystal ut e agai ns the r s .‘ You ar et he mos ti nc r e di bl e woman I ’ ve e ve r me t , ’he whi s pe r e d.‘ Br i l l i ant . Be aut i f ul . ’ She stared up at him with trembling lips as joy oode dhe rhe ar t .‘ You’ r enotangr y? ’

‘ Angr y? ’Hi sbr ow f ur r owe d.‘ Why woul d Ibe angr y?Be c aus eyoul i e d? ’ Shel i c ke dhe rdr yl i ps .‘ Ye s . ’

Hes hookhi she ad.‘ No,querida. ’Hi se xpr e s s i on was t e nde r .‘ I ’ ve j us t got t e ne ve r yt hi ng I e ve r dr e ame dof .Be c aus eofyou. ’

Hedr ankde e pl yf r om hi sc hampagne ut e ,and she followed suit, her eyes wet with tears of joy. She ’ dne ve ri magi ne dhewoul dr e ac tt hi sway,not in a million years. What had she ever done to de s e r vet hi smi r ac l e —t hatGabr i e lwoul ds oe as i l y accept their child as his own? That he would be glad to be a father after all? ‘ I ’ m s o happy, ’s he whi s pe r e d. Smi l i ng, s he wi pe dt e ar sf r om he re ye s .‘ Ine ve rdr e ame d you woul dr e ac tl i ket hi s . ’ Hel ooke d down athe rwi t h af r own.‘ Querida, ar eyouc r yi ng? ’ ‘ I ’ m happy, ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

‘ So am I ,my be aut i f ulgi r l . ’He s t r oke d he r


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c he e k,hi s nge r t i psl i ght l yc ar e s s i ng he r us he d s ki n.‘ Yous e xy,i nc r e di bl ewoman, ’hebr e at he di n her ear, causing prickles to spread down her body. Cuppi nghe rf ac e ,hel owe r e dhi smout ht ohe r s .‘ I wi l lne ve rf or ge tt hi sni ght . ’ When he kissed her, his lips were hot and smooth on hers. He seared her with the sizzle of his tongue against her lips, teasing her. She gripped his shoulders, instinctively pulling him closer.

They heard a sudden burst of laughter as other guests came into the garden. Grabbing her hand with a low growl, Gabriel pulled her deeper into the trees, into a shadowy corner. Above them, palm trees swayed in the violet-smudged night. The other voices continued to come closer, and he pushed her all the way back against the palace wall. She felt the hardness of his body, the roughness of the stone behind her.

Without a word, he slowly kissed her throat. She closed her eyes, tossing her head back with a silent gasp. She felt his teeth nibble her neck, felt his hands skimming from her bare shoulders down the length of her arms, over her long white gloves. He kissed her bare collarbone, his hands cupping her breasts below the sweetheart neckline of her strapless gown. Pressing her breasts together, he licked the cleavage just above the red velvet, and she sucked in her breath. Samba music poured out of the palace as the


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doors to the garden continued to bang open and more guests discovered the garden. Voices grew louder, laughing and sultry, murmuring in Portuguese and French, as other lovers approached t he i rc or ne r .Gabr i e lpul l e d awayf r om he r .‘ Le t ’ s ge toutofhe r e , ’hegr owl e d. Shebl i nke dathi m,daz e dwi t hde s i r e .‘ Le avet he bal lal r e ady?I t ’ sbar e l ymi dni ght . ’

Jerking her back against his hard body, he l e ane dhi sf or e he adagai ns the r sandwhi s pe r e d,‘ I f wedon’ tl e ave ,Iwi l lt akeyour i ghthe r e . ’ Drawing in a breath, she saw his absolute intent to make love to her right here in the dark garden, against the wall, with people on the other side of the foliage and samba music wafting through the warm air. She gave a single nod.

Gabriel instantly grabbed her hand and dragged her through the garden, back into the ballroom. He pulled her through the huge, crowded space, wadi ng agai ns tt he ow ofne w ar r i val s .Laur a heard people shouting greetings to him in a variety ofl anguage s ,buthedi dn’ ts t op.Hedi dn’ te ve n look at them. He just pulled her relentlessly up the wide, sweeping stairs to the front door, where he tersely summoned his driver.

As they waited, they stood at the end of the red carpet, not looking at each other. His hand gripped he r s ,c r us hi nghe r nge r st hr oughhe rgl ove s .She heard the hoarseness of his breath. Or maybe it


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was her own. Her heartbeat was rapid. She felt dizzy.

‘ What ’ s t aki ng s o l ong? ’ Gabr i e l mut t e r e d beneath his breath. She felt his barely restrained power, felt the grip of his hand as if only sheer will ke pthi mf r om t ur ni ngt ohe rand r i ppi ngo he r slinky red gown, pushing her against the wall and tasting her skin, in front of all the servants, the val e t sand as hoft hepapar az z i ’ sc ame r as . It took three minutes before the Rolls-Royce sedan pulled up and Carlos leaped out. Laura s t ar e datt heman’ sc r ooke dt i e .Shes aw as mudge of lipstick. ‘ Fi nal l y, ’Gabr i e lgr owl e d,gr abbi nghi sdoor .

‘ Sor r y about t he de l ay, senhor, ’Car l os s ai d, casting a regretful glance back at the palace. Laura followed his gaze and saw a housemaid looking downf r om t hes e c ond-oorwi ndow.Laur awass o l l e d wi t hj oy,s he c oul dn’ tbe art he t houghtof everyone not being happy tonight. Standing on her t i pt oe s ,s hewhi s pe r e di n Gabr i e l ’ se ar ,‘ Gi vehi m t heni ghto . ’ ‘ Why? ’hes nappe d.‘ Idon’ twantt odr i ve .Iwant t obeal onewi t hyoui nt hebac k—’ ‘ Hewase nj oyi ng hi st i mehe r e . ’Shet i l t e d he r he adt owar dt hewi ndow.‘ Look. ’

Gabriel glanced behind them, then instantly f ac e dhi sdr i ve r ,who’ dj us tc omear oundt hec ar .


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‘ Car l os ,you’ r edi s mi s s e d. ’

‘ Se nhor ? ’the man gasped in horror.

‘ Enj oyyourni ght , ’hes ai d.‘ It r us tyouc ange ta r i dehomet oni ght ? ’ De l i ght oode dt heol de rman’ sf ac e .‘ Ye s ,s i r . ’

‘ Ihaveane ar l yappoi nt me ntt omor r ow.Donot bel at e . ’Af t e rope ni ngt hedoorf orLaur a,Gabr i e l walked around the car and climbed into the dr i ve r ’ ss e at . Smi l i ng at Car l os ’ s dumbf ounde de xpr e s s i on, Laura fastened her seat belt, and Gabriel pressed on the gas. They drove down the tree-lined lane wi t h as pr ay ofgr ave l ,and t he as h ofc ame r as from additional paparazzi parked outside the gate.

‘ Iknow as hor t c ut , ’Gabr i e ls ai damome ntl at e r . Tur ni ngo t hebus ymai nr oad,hedr ovedownt he rocky coast, the luxury sedan bouncing hard over the rough road. Laura looked out her window. The landscape was haunt i ngl y be aut i f ul , l l e d wi t h trees and thickets of jungle that wound along the s har pc l isove r l ooki ngt hemoonl i tAt l ant i c . She looked back at the dark silhouette of Gabr i e l ’ sbr ut al l yhands omef ac e ,hi sRomannos e and angular jaw. She saw the tight clench of his hand on the gear-shift, saw the visible tension of his body beneath his tuxedo. As a warm breeze blew tendrils of hair across he rf ac e ,s hewass o l l e dwi t hj oys het houghts he


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might die. Life was wonderful, incredible, magical. How had she never fully realized it before?

I twasGabr i e l .He wast he dar k ange lwho’ d changed her life forever. Her heart was his. Forever. She loved him.

‘ Don’ tl ook atme l i ke t hat , ’he s ai di n al ow voi c e ,gl anc i ngathe r .‘ I t ’ sat wohourdr i vebac k t ot hec i t y. ’

Shes uc ke di n he rbr e at h.‘ Can’ tyou dr i veany f as t e r ? ’s hebe gge d.

Wi t hac ur s e ,hes udde nl ys t e e r e dt hec aro t he road with a wide spray of gravel, taking a sharp turn past a thicket of trees that ended on a dark bl u ove r l ooki ngt hewi deoc e an.Hes l amme don t he br ake and t ur ne d o t he e ngi ne . The headlights went black, and with a low growl he was upon her.

Butt hef r ontoft hes e danhadn’ tbe e nmadef or this. The two luxurious leather seats were separated by a hard center console, and the s t e e r i ngwhe e lpr e s s e d agai ns tGabr i e l ’ shi p.He ’ d barely kissed her before he was jumping out with a low curse. Opening her door, he yanked her out. She had one glimpse of the moon-drenched ocean be ne at ht hec l i,andt he nhepus he dhe ri nt ot he backseat. He kissed her, his lips hot and hard against her,


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and covered her body with his own. She felt his we i ghtagai ns the r si nt he t i ghtc on ne soft he backseat. His scent of musk and soap mingled with expensive leather, the forest, wild orchids and the salty sea. The notched satin collar of his black tuxedo jacket moved against the bare skin of her shoulders. He gripped her gloved hands, pulling them back over her head, against the car window.

He kissed down her throat, his hands cupping her breasts through the corset bodice of her red dr e s s .Butt he i rf e e ts t i l lhung o t hee nd oft he seat. His legs were dangling out of the car. And though the seat was comfortable and wide, he had scant space to brace his arms around her. With a low growl, he moved away, so fast he hit his head against the ceiling. He gave a loud, spectacular c ur s e .Shes aw t he as hofhi se ye si nt hemoonl i t night. ‘ I t ’ ss t i l lnote nough, ’he gr owl e d.‘ Notne ar l y e nough. ’ He kicked the door wide open behind them. Taking her hand, he roughly pulled her out of the car. Kissing her, he pushed her back against the hood. Laura gasped as she felt the warmth of the hard metal beneath her. Gabriel moved over her, kissing her lips, kissing her bare neck. Overhead, she saw t het wi nkl i ngs t ar soft heni ghts kyashepe e l e do her long white opera gloves one at a time, tossing


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them to the soft earth. She felt the shock the warm air against her bare skin. Standing up straight, he looked down at her as he yanked o hi st uxe do jacket and tie, and she realized that he did not intend to wait until they got back to Rio. Right here. Right now.

Be l ow t hec l i,s hehe ar dt her oarandc r as hof the ocean waves pounding the shore. She heard the sounds of night birds and the chatter of monkeys from the stretch of dark forest behind them. She s aw t he as h of Gabr i e l ’ s dar k e ye si n t he moonlight as he bent over her, reaching around her to unzip her dress. He slowly pulled it down the length of her body. She watched in shock as he dropped the expensive dress to the ground. She was now lying on the hood of his Rolls-Royce, naked except for a white strapless bra, silk panties, white garter belt and white thigh-high stockings. He gasped as he softly stroked her naked belly. ‘ Sobe aut i f ul , ’hebr e at he d.

Swallowing, she looked up at him. The bright moon illuminated his black hair as his hands stroked her skin. Reverently, he undid the front c l as p of he r br a,pul l i ng i t o he r body and dropping it, too, to the ground. She felt his shudder of barely controlled desire as he cupped he rnake dbr e as t si nhi shands .‘ I ’ vewant e dyous o l ong, ’hes ai dhoar s e l y.‘ It houghtIwoul ddi eofi t . ’ Moving down her body, he licked the valley


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between her breasts, then took her nipple in his wet, warm mouth. As his tongue ran over her taut peak like a caress of silk, she felt his hands slide down to her hips.

Her own hands moved of their own volition, beneath his white tuxedo shirt to feel the smooth warmth of his skin, to feel the hard muscles of his chest beneath the scattering of dark hair. She unbuttoned his shirt with trembling hands as he br e at he dagai ns the re ar ,t as t i ngt hes e ns i t i ve e s h of her earlobe. He kissed a trail down her neck, to her breasts, as his hands moved between her legs, along the top edge of her garter belt and thigh-high stockings. Hi s nge r ss t r oke d ove rhe rs i l ke n pant i e s ,and her breath stopped in her throat. He reached beneath the edge of the silk, and she felt him stroke her lightly, so lightly, across her wet core. Her hips strained toward him but he took his time, holding back, stroking her. He slowly pushed two t hi c k nge r sani nc hi ns i dehe r . She arched her spine against the hood.

Pul l i ng bac k wi t h a gr owl ,he r i ppe d o hi s whi t es hi r t ,poppi ng t he c u l i nks .Wi t h al ow curse in Portuguese, he bent over her once more. His bare chest was rough and laced with dark hair, his skin so warm as his muscles slid against the softness of her breasts. She felt him between her knees, his thickly muscled hips rough against her


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spread thighs. He leaned above her, standing beside the car. She gripped his shoulders as he kissed her neck, nipping the sensitive corner of her throat. With agonizing slowness, he kissed down be t we e nhe rbr e as t st ohe r atbe l l y,pas the rwhi t e garter belt to the sharp edge of her hip bone. He kissed the edge of her white silk panties. Then he stopped. She felt his warm breath against her skin above her thigh-high stockings. His lips slowly moved over the silk, kissing down her legs. Pushing them farther apart, he took an exploratory lick of her inner right thigh. As she sucked in her breath, he switched to her left thigh. She trembled beneath him, her breath coming in increasingly ragged gasps as his lips moved slowly higher on each side. Hehe l dhe rhi ps r ml y,r e l e nt l e s s l y,notal l owi ng her to move away.

Pushing the silk of her panties aside, he paused, and she felt his warm breath against her slick, sensitive core. He lowered his head between her legs, and still did not touch her, except with the soft stroke of his breath.

‘ Pl e as e , ’s he gas pe d,har dl y knowi ng whats he was asking for. She grabbed his head, twining her nge r si nhi shai r .‘ I —’ With ruthless control, he slowly pushed her wide with both hands. Lowering his head even more, he tasted her with the hot, wet tip of his tongue.


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Pleasure ripped through her. With a cry, Laura ung he r ar ms wi de ,de s pe r at et o hol d on t o s ome t hi ng,anyt hi ng,t o ke e p he r s e l ff r om yi ng headlong into the sky. Her right hand found the c ar ’ sme t alhoodor name nt .

Gabr i e l ’ st onguemove d agai ns the r ,l i c ki nghe r in little darting swirls. Spreading her wide, he lapped at her with the full width of his rough tongue. As she cried out, he drew back, using just the tip of his tongue again to swirl against her in progressively tighter circles, until she twisted and writhed with the sweet agony of her desire. It was bui l di ng—e xpl odi ng…. ‘ St op, ’s he gas pe d. ‘ No. ’ She gr i ppe d hi s shoulders, frantically pulling him up toward her, and he l i f t e d hi s he ad.Undoi ng t he y ofhi s tuxedo trousers, he yanked them down with his boxers. They fell to his black Italian leather shoes ashes he at he d hi ms e l fi n ac ondom he ’ d pul l e d from his pocket. Leaving on her garter belt and stockings, he grabbed Laura by the hips and pulled her down to the very edge of the car hood, where he stood. Ripping the fabric of her panties in a single brutal movement, he pushed inside her in a single thrust. She f e l ti mpal e d by t he way he l l e d he r completely, so wide and big and deep. He gave a hoarse gasp and gripped her backside, lifting her legs to wrap around his hips.


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Holding her against the hood, he thrust again, this time even deeper. He pushed inside her, faster and harder, squeezing her breasts as her hips rose to meet him. She felt tension coil low in her belly and held her breath as the sweet tension built, soared and started to explode. Throwing her arms back on the hood, she closed her eyes and surrendered completely to his control. His hands moved to grip her hips again, speeding the rhythm as he rode her, so deep and raw that the pleasure was almost pain. So deep. So deep. Her body was so tense and tight and breathless t hats hedi dn’ tknow how muc hs hec oul dt ake .

He re ye s e w ope nands hes aw hi sf ac eabove her in the night, his features shrouded by shadow as he thrust so deep inside her that her heart twisted in her chest. He gasped her name and she exploded, clutching his shoulders as she heard a s c r e am s hedi dn’ te ve nr e c ogni z eashe rownvoi c e . A man’ svoi c ej oi ne d he r sashepl unge d de e pe r into her one last time, thrust with a hard, ragged shout that echoed across the dark forest and c r as hi ngs e a,c aus i ngs t ar t l e dbi r dst o yf r om t he trees and disappear into the night. Afterward, he collapsed over her, clutching her to him. Their sticky, sweaty skin pressed together as they lay on the hood.

When Laura came to herself, she realized she was wearing nothing but ripped silken panties and


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thigh-high stockings, beneath the dark Brazilian sky, on a remote stretch of coastline where any passerby could s e et he m.She ’ dt ot al l yl os the r mind. And it had been so, so good.

ButGabr i e lhadwon.He ’ ds e duc e dhe r ,j us tas he ’ ds ai d.He ’ dpos s e s s e dhe r . And not just her body, but her heart.

Shepul l e daway,i nt e ndi ngt o ndhe rr e dgown in the darkness, to try to cover herself. But he pulled her back into his arms on the long war m hood.‘ Whe r ear eyougoi ng? ’

‘ You gotwhatyou want e d, ’s he s ai d bi t t e r l y. ‘ Youwon. ’Shes hi ve r e di nt hewar mt hofhi sar ms . She ’ ds ur r e nde r e d and now s hekne we xac t l yt he powe r he had ove r he r —t he powe r he woul d always have. She felt suddenly afraid of how vulnerable she was. He had her heart in his hands. ‘ Now i t ’ sdone . ’ ‘ Done ? ’Hegaveal ow,s e ns uall augh,t he n hi s handst i ght e ne donhe rashemur mur e d,‘ Querida, i t ’ sonl ybe gi nni ng. ’


CHAPTER TWELVE BY the time they arrived back in Rio two hours l at e r , one t hought ke pt r e pe at i ng i n Gabr i e l ’ s mind. One thought over and over.

‘ He r e , ’he s ai dt o he r ,c ove r i ng he rs houl de r s with his tuxedo jacket as they entered the lobby of his building. She threw him a grateful glance. Her red designer gown now hung askew on her body, t hez i ppe rbr oke nf r om whe nhe ’ dr i ppe dt hedr e s s o he re ar l i e r .

As they passed the security guards, Gabriel glanced at them out of the corner of his eye. His whi t es hi r twasr umpl e d,t hec u shangi ngope n, his tie crumpled in the pocket of his trousers. Laura was looking at him breathlessly, her eyes luminescent, her makeup hopelessly smudged and her lips full and bruised. He saw the security guards nudge each other with a smirk, and he knew he and Laura had fooled no one. There could be no doubt what they had been doing.

Nor mal l yhewoul dn’ tc ar ei fpe opl ekne w he ’ d


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t ake nawomanashi sl ove r .Butt hi swasdie r e nt . This was Laura. And one thought kept going through his mind, no matter how he tried to avoid it. He never wanted to let her go.

Gabr i e le xhal e d.Whe n he ’ dt ake n he ron t he hood of the car, beneath the night sky and in full vi e w oft he dar k moonl i ts e a,he ’ dt houghthe would die of pleasure. Touching her naked skin, thrusting inside her until she screamed, holding he rt i ght ,t het wooft he mj oi ne dt oge t he rasone … He shuddered. After that, he should feel s at i se d,at l e as tf or t he ni ght .He s houl d be satiated.

Buthewas n’ t .Now t hathe ’ d had onet as t eof her, he only wanted more. And more. He never wanted to let her go. Silently, they took the private elevator upstairs to the penthouse. The doors slid open, and he followed Laura inside. They found Maria quietly reading a book by the light of the lamp in the main room, beside the wall of windows two stories high.

Thehous e ke e pe rr os et ohe rf e e t ,s mi l i ng.‘ The baby i ss l e e pi ng,Mr .Gabr i e l ,Mr s .Laur a…’And then the older woman got a good look at both of them. She coughed, closing her book with a t hump.‘ Iwi l lwi s hyoubot hgoodni ght . ’

‘ Thankyou,Mar i a, ’Gabr i e ls ai dgr ave l y,andhi s


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former nanny scurried out, the elevator doors closing behind her.

After she was gone, Laura turned to him, a frown f ur r owi nghe rbr ow.‘ You don’ tt hi nks hegue s s e d aboutus ,doyou?Youdon’ tt hi nks hec oul dt e l l ? ’ ‘ Abs ol ut e l y, ’ he s ai d, t he n at he r hor r ie d e xpr e s s i on,headde d,‘ not .Abs ol ut e l ynot . ’

Shes i ghe di nr e l i e f .‘ I ’ m goi ng t o go c he c k on Robby. ’ Laura turned and went down the hall. He watched her go, watched the curves of her back and graceful sway of her body in his oversize tuxedo jacket as she moved like music. She stepped into the bedroom and disappeared. Gone.

His feet moved without thought, and he was down the hall and suddenly behind her in the darkened bedroom. He watched as she crept up to t hec r i bands t oods i l e nt l y,l i s t e ni ngt ohe rbaby’ s s nu i ngbr e at hsashes l e pt .Gabr i e lc amec l os e r . In the dim light of the tiny blue night-light plugged into the far wall, he could just barely see t hes l e e pi ng baby.Robby’ sc hubby l i t t l e s twas tossed back over his head. His plump cheeks moved as his mouth pursed, sucking in his sleep. Gabriel heard the soft, even breathing of the child in the darkness, and something turned over in his chest. He felt the sudden need to protect this little boy, to make sure he never came to any harm.


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J us tashe ’ donc ef e l tabouthi sf ami l y.

The thought caused a raw, choking ache in his throat. Without a word, he turned and left.

He stood in the hallway for long moments, shaking. But by the time Laura came out into the hal la f e w mome nt sl at e r , he ’ d gat he r e d hi s thoughts. Come to some decisions.

She closed her bedroom door softly behind her, then looked at Gabriel in the darkened hallway. ‘ I ’ ms os or r yaboutRobby, ’s hes ai di nal ow voi c e . ‘ I ne ve rs houl d have l i e d, Gabr i e l .I was j us t s o…s c ar e d. ’

Clawing back his hair, he gave a sudden laugh. ‘ Tot e l lyout het r ut h,Iwasal mos ts c ar e dmys e l f f or a mome nt . ’He l ooke d at he r .‘ But i t was br i l l i antofyou t os ay IwasRobby’ sf at he r .I t s ave dt hede al .Thatwasas t r okeofge ni us ,Laur a. ’ He rbe aut i f ulf ac es udde nl yl ooke dpal e .‘ What ? ’

‘ I t was t he pe r f e c tl i e . But don’ t wor r y. I f Adriana s pr e adst her umorI ’ m hi sf at he r —ands he l i ke l y wi l l —Iwi l lnotde ny i t . ’He s e thi sj aw. ‘ Si nc eyourbaby’ sr e alf at he rc an’ tbebot he r e dt o gi vehi m aname ,s ome bodyhast odoi t . ’ She bi the rt r e mbl i ng l owe rl i p.‘ Gabr i e l —you ne ve rt hought …f oronemome nt …t hati tmi ghtbe t r ue ?ThatRobbymi ghtac t ual l ybeyours on? ’

He s nor t e d.‘ No,ofc our s e not .I fRobby we r e r e al l y my c hi l d and you’ dl i e dt o me al lt hi s


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t i me …’

‘ Ye s ? ’

He s hr ugge d. ‘ I ’ ve de s t r oye d me n f or l e s s . ’ Reaching forward, he smiled and stroked her cheek, then lowered his head to playfully kiss her bar es houl de r .‘ ButIkne w Robby c oul dn’ tr e al l y be mi ne .We us e d pr ot e c t i on.And you woul dn’ t lie, not to me. Other than Maria, you are the only pe r s onIt r us ti nal lt hi swor l d.Youar e …’ But then he leaned forward, frowning at her. ‘ Youar ec r yi ngagai n. ’Het i l t e dhi she ad,t r yi ngt o s e ehe rf ac e .‘ I si tf r om happi ne s s ? ’

Shel ooke daways har pl y,wi pi nghe re ye s .‘ Ye s . Happi ne s s . ’

‘ Good, ’hes ai d.‘ Now. ’Hes t r oke dhe rc he e k.‘ We mus tc e l e br at ewi nni ngt heAç oaz ulde alt oni ght . ’ Hegavehe ra wi c ke ds mi l e .‘ Ic an t hi nk ofone way—’ ‘ No, ’s he bl ur t e d out .‘ Ij us tne e dt o—Ine e d t o…beal one . ’

Turning abruptly, she ran down the hall. He he ar dt hes of twhi roft hes l i di ngdoor sass he e d out onto the terrace. When he followed her mome nt sl at e r ,s he ’ d dr oppe d hi st uxe do j ac ke t from her body. Her strapless gown was barely hanging on her full breasts, askew with the broken zipper. ‘ Whatar eyoudoi ng? ’heas ke d.‘ What ’ swr ong? ’


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‘ J us tl e avemeal one , ’s hes ai d.He rvoi c ewas l ow,al mos tgr i e f s t r i c ke n.‘ Got obe d.I ’ l ls e eyou i nt hemor ni ng. ’

Her red dress suddenly fell to the ground, but s hedi dn’ ts e e mt onot i c eorc ar e .Hel i c ke dhi sl i ps , unable to look away from her half-naked body in the white bra and torn panties and thigh-high s t oc ki ngs .‘ Whatar eyoudoi ng? ’ Shel ooke daway.‘ I ’ m goi ngt ot akeas wi m. ’ Hes mi l e d.‘ Wonde r f uli de a.I ’ l lj oi nyou. ’ ‘ No! ’s hec r i e dve he me nt l y.

Hebl i nke dathe r ,f r owni ng.‘ Why? ’

Forl ongmome nt s ,s hedi dn’ tans we r .Hec oul d hear the noise and music of the street party below t he m.She nal l ys ai di n al ow,mu e d voi c e ,‘ I ne e ds omet i meal one . ’Whe nhedi dn’ tmove ,s he c hoke dout ,‘ J us tgoaway,Gabr i e l .Pl e as e . ’ Looking away from the illuminated turquoise water of the pool, she stared out at the vast dark oc e an be yond I pane ma Be ac h. He ’ d s e e n a glimmer of tears in her eyes. And there was no way they were tears of happiness.

Buts hewant e d hi mt ol e ave .She ’ d madet hat clear. Setting his jaw, he turned and left her on the terrace, opening the sliding glass doors with a whir and closing them behind him. Once inside, he stopped, clawing his hair back wi t honehand.Hec oul dn’ tl e ti te ndl i ket hi s .Di d


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s hehaves omuc hr e gr e tt hats he ’ dal l owe dhi mt o make love to her? He turned around, intending to go back and argue, to plead. Instead, he froze.

He saw her on lounge chair, her she dropped her she started to roll

the moonlit terrace, sitting on a face covered by her hands. Then hands. Squaring her shoulders, down her stockings.

Hes t ar e d athe r ,t r ans xe d.Shepul l e d o he r garter belt and tossed that, too, to the limestone oor . Rising, she stood in the moonlight. Now wearing nothing but her bra and panties, she walked to the edge of the illuminated pool. Ripples of water r ee c t e dt i nys hi mme r sofl i ghtt hatmove dac r os s her naked skin. Gabriel stared at her as he touched the window, unable to move or even breathe as she stood on the edge of the pool, looking down into the water. Then in a graceful movement, she dived in. She stayed underwater for so long that he was suddenly afraid. Sliding open the doors, he ran out onto the terrace.

He saw her sitting on the bottom of the pool, her eyes closed. It seemed to take forever before she nal l yr os et ot he s ur f ac e wi t h a gas p,he rhai r sleek and sopping wet. Laura was facing away from him, the moonlight


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frosting her bare shoulders in silver. Her thighs spread wide as her legs chopped the water, which moved around her in illuminated ripples of blue. He choked back a groan. He was hard and aching for her. There was no way he was leaving he rnow.Wal ki ngt ot hee dge ,hes ai d,‘ Laur a. ’ She turned to face him with a gasp. Her eyes were luminous, a dark shade of blue, as she tried to cover her breasts, treading water with her feet. ‘ Whatdoyouwant ? ’

Sitting on a chair by the pool, he looked down at he r .‘ Iwantyout ot e l lmewhatyou’ r et hi nki ng. ’ ‘ I ’ mt hi nki ngIwantt obeal one ! ’

‘ Te l lme , ’he t hr e at e ne d.‘ OrI ’ l lki s si toutof you. ’

He re ye swi de ne d.The ns het ur ne d away.‘ J us t goaway. ’ Buti ns pi t eofhe rde antwor ds ,hehe ar das ob in her voice that caused his belly to clench. Had he done that? Had he caused it? His jaw set. Pushing the chair away, he rose to his feet. He calmly ki c ke do hi sbl ac kl e at he rs hoe s . ‘ Whatar eyoudoi ng? ’s hes ai d,al ar me d.

He di dn’ tans we r .Ful l y dr e s s e di n hi st uxe do shirt and trousers, he jumped into the pool.

He ’ dbe e nont hes wi mt e am i ns c hool ,andwas a fast swimmer underwater. He rose to the surface directly beside her, pushing her back against the


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hard edge of the pool. She gasped as she felt his hands on her. ‘ Te l lme , ’hes ai dgr i ml y. ‘ No. ’

‘ Now. ’

He re ye sbe c amewi deandt e ar f ul .‘ Ic an’ t . ’

Gabriel looked at her, and again he had that same strange feeling in his chest, like a twist in his heart. Holding himself suspended in the water, he gripped the edge of the pool with both hands around her, trapping her. She had nowhere to escape.

‘ You’ r egoi ngt ot e l lme . ’Hef e l tt hewar mt hof her curvy body against the sopping wet shirt now c l i ngi ngt ohi sc he s t .‘ What e ve ri ti s . ’ He heard her intake of breath. Then she lifted her chin.

‘ I twoul dn’ tdoanygood, ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ Nott o you.Nott oanyone . ’

He growled in frustration. Holding on to the edge of the pool with one hand, he cupped her c he e k wi t h hi sot he rpal m.‘ Re me mbe r , ’he s ai d r oughl y,t i l t i nghe rc hi n.‘ Youl e f tmenoc hoi c e . ’ And he ruthlessly kissed her.

Her lips trembled beneath his, soft and warm and wet. He moved his mouth against hers in a seductive embrace, luring her without force, tempting her with their mutual hunger, with the


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insatiable need between them. Deepening the kiss, he softly stroked down her cheek, down her neck. His hand went below the surface of the water and he stroked the side of her body, her plump breast beneath her nearly invisible silk bra, her taut, slender waist, the full curve of her hip. With a shudder of desire, he pulled back to look at her.

In the moving prisms of light from the pool, he could hear the music and noise of the street party on the avenida. But here on the terrace of his penthouse, in the moonlit night, he saw only her. The y we r e c onne c t e d i n a way he di dn’ t understand. He never wanted to let her go.

Reaching beneath her, he lifted her out of the pool. She was warm in his arms and her weight was light, barely anything at all, as he set her down gently on the limestone. He climbed out beside her, his wet tuxedo trousers and white shirt c l i ngi ngt ohi ss ki n.I mpat i e nt l y,hepul l e do t he s hi r t ,t he n yanke d o hi st r ous e r swi t h awkwar d force as the fabric clung stubbornly to his legs, nearly tripping him.

Laur a,s t i l ls i t t i ng on t he t e r r ac e oori n he r transparent bra and panties, choked out a giggle.

‘ Laughatme ,wi l lyou,gringa? ’Gabr i e lgr owl e d. Het hr e w hi ss odde nt r ous e r sont he oor ,andhi s socks swiftly followed. He lifted her into his arms,


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holding her tightly against his naked body.

The laughter faded from her eyes, replaced by something hot and dark. Looking at him in wonder, she reached up and stroked the rough bristles of his jawline.

Just the gentle touch of her small hand sent his senses reeling, spiraling out of control. He wanted t opus hhe ri nt oal oungec hai r —t hatone ,t he r eat hi sf e e t —andt hr ow hi ms e l font opofhe r ,gr i ndi ng i nt ohe r ,l l i nghe runt i lt he ye xpl ode d.

Buthe ’ dal r e adydonet hatonc e ,ont hehoodof his car. No. Now, he would take his time. Now, he would do it right.

Water trailed behind them as he padded naked across the terrace and back inside. The expensive rugs were left sopping wet with every step. He looked down at her, this beautiful, soft, loving woman who had her arms wrapped around his neck and looked up at him with a mixture of apprehension, desire and wonder. He went down the hall to the master bedroom and set her reverently on his large bed.

He saw her lying across his white comforter, nearly naked, and he shuddered with need. Lines of silvery moonlight from his half-closed blinds s l at t e d ac r os sLaur a’ sbar es ki n,e mphas i z i ng t he shadows of her full breasts and hips, and his whole body shook with hunger.


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He needed her. Now.

‘ I ’ m goi ngt oge te ve r yt hi ngwe t , ’s hewhi s pe r e d with a nervous laugh. ‘ Good, ’hes ai dr oughl y.

Her eyes were looking everywhere but at his naked body, everywhere but the hard, huge evidence of his desire. There was no hiding how much he wanted her. Let her see. Let her know. He put his hand on the valley of bare skin between her breasts, and exhaled.

He could see her nipples through her wet silk bra. Beneath her transparent, half-ripped panties, he could see the dark curls of hair between her l e gs .Her e ac he dt or i p o he rbr a,t he ns t oppe d himself. Take it slow. Do it right.

With iron control, he gently undid her bra and pe e l e di to he rwe ts ki nbe f or edr oppi ngi tt ot he c ar pe t .He r pant i e s we r e ne xt —e as yt or e move t hos e ,ast he y’ d al r e ady be e nr i ppe d and onl ya few threads still held them together. Looking at her now, naked and spread across his bed, he took a breath, struggling to stay in check. He wanted to throw himself on top of her and push deep, deep, deep inside until he felt her shake with joy around him. Instead, he forced himself to climb up beside her on the bed. Turning her against his naked body, he reached for her cheek and gently


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kissed her, long and slow.

His hand skimmed her side, caressing her. He took his time, kissing her, relishing the sweet taste of her lips, the warm wet pleasures of her mouth. He heard a sigh come from the back of her throat as she wrapped her arm around him, pulling him closer.

He throbbed against her soft belly, thick and rockhard. But he made no move to throw her back against the bed. Instead, he just kissed her as if he had all the time in the world, exploring her mouth, biting her lip, nibbling her neck and chin, sucking t het e nde r e s hofhe re ar .I tne ar l yki l l e dhi mt o wai t ,butheowe di tt ohe rt ot akehi st i me …t ake i t —

He suddenly gasped as he felt her hand wrap around his hard, thick shaft. He jerked in her hand ass hes l owl yr an he r nge r t i psdown hi sl e ngt h. Her thumb gently touched the tip, and it became wet beneath her touch as a tiny bead like a pearl escaped. He gasped out a groan. ‘ Que r i da, ’hes ai dhoar s e l y.‘ Don’ t … Ic an’ t …’

I n as udde n move me nt ,s he i ppe d hi m on hi s back, pushing him against the pillows. He felt her lips move down his throat to his chest. He was suddenly in her power, and he felt it as she kissed his body. When her head slipped down past his taut belly, he gripped the goosedown comforter with white-knuckled control. Then he felt her


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tongue brush his hot, throbbing skin, licking the bead of moisture at the tip.

He gave a rough gasp and nearly lost it right then. Grabbing her shoulders, he pulled her up with force and lifted her hips over his body. He was blind with need, ready to thrust inside her, to impale her. He only knew he had to take her or die.

‘ Wai t , ’s he pant e d.Wr e nc hi ng away f r om hi s grasp, she opened a drawer beside the bed. He saw ac ondom i nhe rhandandr e al i z e dhe ’ df or got t e n all about it. He ’ df or g ot t e nabouti t .I fLaur ahadn’ ts t oppe d him, he would have made love to a woman wi t houtac ondom f ort he r s tt i mei nhi sl i f e .He exhaled as he broke out into a sweat. ‘ The r e , ’Laur a whi s pe r e d.Fi nal l y,s he l owe r e d her body over his, allowing him to impale her, inch by inch. His eyes rolled back and he closed his eyes. Yes. Yes. He was losing his mind. The more time he spent with her, the more he lost. And it was worth it. So worth it.

Slowly, she moved against him, pulling him deeper inside her. Her thighs were clamped around his hips as she increased her rhythm and speed, riding him. Opening his eyes, he looked up at her, watching the sway of her enormous breasts as she moved over him. Her face was luminous. Her eyes


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were closed in ecstasy as she bit her full, bruised lower lip. He heard the intake of her breath, and he never wanted to let her go. Ever.

Hi she ar tc l e nc he di n hi sc he s t .Hec oul dn’ tl e t hi ms e l ff e e lt hatway.Hec oul dn’ tl e thi ms e l ff e e l anything but lust. Pure, raw sex. He had to teach Laura her place. Show them both the true nature of the passion between them.

With a violent movement, he rolled her over on her back, so he was on top of her. Her eyes widened as he roughly gripped her shoulders. Then with a grunt he thrust inside her, hard and deep.

He gasped as he felt her body around him, hot and tight and silken and deep. She cried out from t hef or c eofhi spos s e s s i on,buthedi dn’ ts t op.He onl yr ode f as t e r , l l i ng he r wi t he ac ht hr us t , deeper and faster, ramming himself inside her. He heard her shocked intake of breath and then she, t oo,be gan t o gr i p hi ss houl de r s ,he r nge r nai l s sharp in her answering frenzy of desire. Buti twas n’ te nough.Hewant e dt ot akeo hi s condom, to feel her from the inside with his naked s ki n— No.

The answer was like a blow. It was the one thing he could not allow himself to do. Ever. He could not be that close. He could not risk her conceiving


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a child.

Fur i ous l y,her odehe rhar de r —f as t e r —de s pe r at e to feel her tight sheath completely around him, to lose himself utterly inside her. As he slammed into he r ,hef e l the r nge r nai l sc ut t i ngi nt ot hes ki nof his back. The pain only increased his pleasure as he rode her harder and harder until beads of sweat covered his forehead. He wanted to leave her raw, until he was utterly spent, until they both collapsed into oblivion. He heard her cry out, her voice rising in a slow crescendo of joy. Tension sizzled down his body, leaving every muscle taut, crying for release. With avi ol e ntt hr us t ,he l l e dhe rde e pl y,t he nhe l dhe r tight as she screamed his name. He felt her convulse around him and could hold back no l onge r .Wi t has avage ,vi ol e ntt hr us t ,he l l e dhe r . He felt her hot and wet all around him and poured himself inside her with a shout, as his vision went black.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN LAURA woke up with a start to see the soft curl of a pink sunrise through the windows. She sat up in bed abruptly, the blanket falling from her naked chest. Had she heard her baby next door?

Shel i s t e ne d,andhe ar dnot hi nge xc e ptGabr i e l ’ s even, steady breathing beside her in the shadowy be dr oom.The ns hehe ar dRobby’ svoi c eagai n. ‘ Ma…ma…ma! ’

Quietly Laura rose from the bed and pulled a r obeo t hebat hr oom doorhook.Le avi ngGabr i e l ’ s room, she went down the hall to her own, where she found her baby son sitting up in his crib. Whispering soft words of love, Laura took him in her arms. Holding him tenderly, she fed him, rocking him in the rocking chair. The baby, now yawning with a full belly, swiftly fell back to sleep. But Laura knew she would not.

Putting him back in his crib, she went to the en-suite bathroom, closing the door silently behind her. She turned on the shower and dropped the r obet ot he oor .Ast hes t e am e nve l ope dhe rbody,


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she climbed into the marble shower. She washed her hair and stared bleakly at the wall. She ’ dbe e ns ohappyl as tni ght . She ’ dbe e ns ostupid.

Of course Gabriel had thought she was lying whe ns he ’ dc l ai me dhewasRobby’ sf at he r .I thad seemed a useful fabrication. Just like his marriage proposal.

She glanced down at the enormous diamond ring s t i l lonhe r nge r .He rot he rhandc l os e dar oundi t with a sob. It had all felt so real. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back in the hot water. Whe ns he ’ dr e al i z e dhes t i l ldi dn’ tbe l i e vehewas Robby’ sf at he r ,he rhe ar thad s pl i ti nt wo.She ’ d fallen into the pool, sinking into the water, hoping to forget her pain the way she did at the pond back at her farm.

Buti thad be e n Gabr i e l ’ st ouc ht hathad made he rf or ge t ,t hes e ar i nghe atofhi sdar ke ye sashe ’ d c ar r i e dhe rt obe d.Foraf e w hour s ,s he ’ dmanage d to forget her heartbreak, forget that she was in l ovewi t hamanwhodi dn’ twanthe rort he i rc hi l d. She ’ d manage dt of or ge ts he ’ d bel e avi ng hi mi n the morning, with a lie forever between them. He ’ dt ake n he ri n hi sar msand ki s s e d he r ,hi s l i ps s o ge nt l e and t e nde r and t r ue ,and s he ’ d forgotten everything but that she loved him. Hi shandshad s t r oke d he rnake ds ki n ashe ’ d


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kissed her, his body hard and hot against hers on t he be d.She ’ dl os the rmi nd.The ns he ’ dt ake n things into her own hands. Literally. A half-hysterical laugh escaped her. She remembered the hard, silky smooth feel of him in her grasp. The taste of the single gleaming bead on the tip of his throbbing shaft. She remembered the rough way he ’ dr e ac t e d,pus hi ng he rdown agai ns tt he be d and savagely thrusting deep inside her until she exploded with pleasure, blinding sweetness tinged with bitter salt like tears. She blinked back tears as she stared across the steamed-up shower. It was morning now. Her left hand closed over the ten-carat diamond sparkling beneath the running water. Their night in Rio was over. Time to give back the ring. Time to take back her heart. As if she could.

She ’ dgobac khomet ohe rf ami l y’ sf ar m.Bac kt o her lonely bed. Only now it would be worse than be f or e .Be c aus enow s hekne ws he ’ d al waysl ove hi m.Now,s he ’ dne ve rbef r e e . Who is the father of your baby, Laura? Will you ever tell?

Shet ur ne do t hewat e randdr i e dhe rhai rwi t h a thick white towel. She put on the plush white robe and left her bedroom, closing the door softly behind her. Going to the kitchen, she turned on a light and


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madec oe e .Asi tbr e we d,s hepour e d mi l k and s ugari nt oabi gmug,t he n l l e di tt ot her i m wi t h the hot, bitter brew. Blowing on the steaming liquid, she stood for a moment, alone in the house of sleeping males.

This could have been her home. They could have be e nhe rf ami l y.I fonl ys he ’ df al l e ni nl ovewi t ha man who actually loved them back, a man who wanted a wife and child.

Carrying her mug, she went outside to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. It was the last morning she would ever spend with both Robby and his f at he runde rt hes amer oof .Thel as tdays he ’ de ve r see the man she would always love. Shef e l tt hes of twi nd,t hebr e e z eo t hes e a,and looked down at the beach below. She looked down. The party had ended, leaving only litter rattling along the empty street. ‘ The r eyouar e . ’

She t ur ne d t o nd Gabr i e l be hi nd he ri n drawstring pajama bottoms. Her eyes unwillingly lingered on his bare chest before she met his gaze. His dark eyes twinkled at her as he held up a s t e ami ngc up ofc oe e .‘ You madec oe e .Thank you. ’

She took a sip from her mug, relishing the burn agai ns the rt ongue .‘ Sur e . ’Shedr e w ade e pbr e at h andt ur ne dbac kt ot hevi e w oft heoc e an.‘ I twas t hel e as tIc oul ddobe f or eIgo. ’


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‘ Go? ’The r ewass ome t hi ngoddi nhi svoi c e .

Shet ur ne dbac kt of ac ehi m,s t ar t l e d.‘ I naf e w hour s ,you’ l ls i gn t hepape r st obuyyourf at he r ’ s c ompany.AndRobbyandIwi l lgohome . ’

Gabr i e l ’ shands omef ac el ooke ds udde nl y gr i m. Se t t i ngdown hi sc oe e ,heputhi shandson he r s houl de r sandgaz e ddownathe r .‘ Idon’ twantyou t ol e ave . ’ ‘ We had our ni ght .I t ’ s ove r . ’She s wal l owe d bac khe rownpai n,t r i e dt os mi l e .‘ Webot hkne wi t woul dn’ tl as t . ’ ‘ No. ’

Laur agavehi m at r e mbl i ngs mi l e .‘ I twasal ways me antt obet hi sway. ’ ‘ No, ’her e pe at e dr oughl y.‘ St ay. ’ ‘ Aswhat ? ’

‘ As …asmymi s t r e s s . ’

She licked her lips, yearning to agree, yearning to say anything that would give her relief from this heartbreak. But she knew that staying here as Gabr i e l ’ smi s t r e s swoul dn’ te ndhe rpai n.I twoul d only prolong it.

‘ Ic an’ t , ’s he whi s pe r e d.‘ I woul d al ways be wai t i ngf ort hedayyou’ dt i r eofme ,andmoveon t oanot he r . ’

He s e ar c he d he r gaz e .‘ Can’ tyou l i ve i nt he mome nt ?J us tl i vef ort oday? ’


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Blinking back tears, she shook her head. ‘ Why? ’hede mande d.

For an instant, she almost laughed. He looked like a spoiled child deprived of his favorite toy. The ns hes obe r e d.‘ Idon’ twantt or ai s eRobbyt hat way.Andbe c aus e …’ ‘ Be c aus e ? ’

She took a deep breath. Taking her heart in her hands, she looked up at him. ‘ Be c aus eIl oveyou, ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

Hi s dar ke ye s wi de ne d. ‘ You—l ove me , ’ he repeated.

Shenodde d,al umpi nhe rt hr oat .‘ Il e f tyoul as t year because I knew you could never love me bac k.You’ vet ol dmes omanyt i me syouwi l lne ve r l oveanyone .Notawi f e . ’Shet r e mbl e d,l i f t i nghe r e ye st ohi s .‘ Notac hi l d. ’ He stared at her, and Laura waited, breathless wi t ht hehopet hathemi ghtde nyi t ,t hathe ’ ds ay his time with Robby had changed his mind.

‘ The r e ’ smor et ol i f et han l ove ,Laur a, ’hes ai d, pul l i nghe ri nt ohi sar ms .‘ The r e ’ sf r i e nds hi p,and par t ne r s hi p,and pas s i on.And Ic an’ tdo wi t hout you, not anymore. I need you. Your truth. Your goodne s s .Yourwar mt h. ’Hegavehe rahumor l e s s s mi l e .‘ I twar mse ve nmyc ol dhe ar t . ’

She caught her breath, then rubbed her stinging e ye s .‘ I ’ ms or r y,butIc an’ tdoi t ,Gabr i e l .Ic an’ t , ’


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s hec hoke dout .‘ Ic an’ tj us ts t ayhe r e ,l ovi ngyou, while you give me nothing in return but the knowl e dget hatyou’ l ls ome dayl e ave —’ Hegr i ppe dhe rs houl de r s .‘ Mar r yme . ’

He re ye sandmout hwe ntwi de .‘ What ? ’

‘ Mar r yme . ’Hepi c ke duphe rl e f thand,l ooki ng downatt hedi amondonhe r nge r .Hi sl i psc ur ve d upwar d.‘ Youal r e adyhavet her i ng. ’ ‘ ButIt houghtyourpr opos alwasal i e ! ’ ‘ I twas . ’

Shes hook he rhe ad t e ar f ul l y.‘ So why ar eyou s ayi ngt hi s ?We ’ r eal one .You’ veal r e adyc onvi nc e d Ol i ve i r a.Youdon’ tne e dt opr e t e nd,notanymor e ! ’

‘ I ’ m notpr e t e ndi ng. ’Be ndi nghi she ad,heki s s e d her hand, making her tremble with the sensation of hi swar m l i psagai ns the rs ki n.Hel ooke d up.‘ I ne e dyou,Laur a, ’hes ai dhus ki l y.‘ Idon’ twantt o l os eyou.Mar r yme .Now.Today. ’ She licked her lips, feeling like she were in a dr e am.‘ WhataboutRobby? ’ Setting his jaw, Gabriel straightened.

‘ Pe r hapsIc an’ tl ovehi m.ButIc angi vehi m my name. I can give you both the life you deserve. AndIc anbef ai t hf ult oyou,Laur a.Is we ari t . ’

I twass oc l os et oe ve r yt hi ngs he ’ de ve rwant e d. Gabriel would be her husband. He would be a father, at least in name, to their child. And if some par tofhe rwar ne dt hatt hi swasaf ool ’ sbar gai n,


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to marry a man who could not love her, she still c oul dn’ tr e s i s t .He rhe ar tove r r odehe rr e as onand s he s uc c umbe dt ot he t e mpt at i on ofhe rhe ar t ’ s deepest desire. Wi t h at e ar f uls ob,s he ung he rar msar ound him in her bulky white cotton robe, kissing him as the sun nal l ybr oke ,vi vi d and gol de n,ove rt he fresh blue Atlantic. ‘ Ye s ! ’s hec r i e dwi t has ob.‘ Oh,ye s ! ’


CHAPTER FOURTEEN T WO weeks later, Laura stared at herself blankly in the mirror.

An elegantly dressed bride in a long, white lace veil and satin sheath gown stared back at her. It s t i l ldi dn’ tf e e lr i ght .She pi c ke d up he rne at l y bundled bouquet of white roses and looked back in the mirror.

It was the morning of her wedding. In less than an hours hewoul d havee ve r yt hi ng s he ’ d bar e l y dar e dt odr e am of —s he ’ d beMr s .Gabr i e lSant os . Robby would have his father.

So where was the joy? She should have been ecstatic with bliss and hope. So why, looking at herself in this beautiful dress, standing in a suite of this beautiful rented mansion outside her village, di ds hef e e ls o…e mpt y?

Gabriel had wanted to marry her immediately, i nRi o,buthe ’ dqui c kl ygi ve ni nt oLaur a’ sbe ggi ng whe ns he ’ d as ke dt o havet he i rwe ddi ng i n Ne w Hampshire, so her family could attend.

‘ We c an ge t mar r i e di n Ne w Hamps hi r e ,of


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c our s ewec an,i ft hat ’ syourwi s h, ’he ’ dt ol d he r . ‘ Butaf t e rt hec e r e mony,wemus tl i vei n Ri o.Do youagr e e ? ’

She ’ d agr e e d.She ’ d be e nl os ti nr omant i cbl i s s , and al ls he ’ dt houghtaboutwasge t t i ngmar r i e dt o the man she loved, in a beautiful wedding surrounded by friends and family. Shehadn’ tbot he r e dt ot hi nkaboutwhatwoul d hap pen afterward. Gabriel had already signed the preliminary contracts to acquire Açoazul SA, and he now planned to merge the company with Santos Enterprises and permanently move the headquarters from New York City to Rio de Janeiro.

Starting tomorrow, she and Robby would live far away from her family, far from the people who actually loved them. Laura would be the wife of a manwhodi dn’ tl ovehe r ,amanwhowoul do e r onl y nanc i als uppor tt ot hec hi l dhedi dn’ tknow was his son. A child he could never love. Now, Laura was dressed in an exquisite 1920s-style designer gown and her greatgr andmot he r ’ sol dl ac e ve i l .I nt e n mi nut e s ,s he would go downstairs to get married in this beautiful place. The Olmstead mansion was a lavish house of forty rooms built by a now-bankrupt hedge fund manager, currently rented out for weddings. It sat among acres of rolling hills with its own private lake, a winter


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wonderland. And after the elegant ceremony in the gr ays t onel i br ar y l l e d wi t h owe r s ,ar e c e pt i on would follow in the ballroom, a lavish sit-down dinner of steak, lobster and champagne.

Laura had fretted about having such a luxurious we ddi ng,wor r yi ng s he ’ ds t e alhe rl i t t l es i s t e r ’ s thunder from two weeks ago. Gabriel had smiled and pi c ke d up t he phone .Wi t hi n mi nut e s ,he ’ d arranged to send Becky and her new husband to Tahi t ion hone ymoon,vi a hi s pr i vat ej e t .He ’ d created college funds for young Margaret and Hattie, to allow them to go to university. For their mot he r ,he ’ dc ompl e t e l ypai do t hemor t gageon t he f ar m,and e ve n he l pe d out Rut h’ s de ar e s t friend, a neighboring woman with a sick child, by paying for medical care. Al l of t hi s , and he ’ d s t i l l de pos i t e d t he agr e e dupon mi l l i on dol l ar si nt o Laur a’ s bank account. ‘ A de al ’ sa de al , ’he ’ dt ol d Laur a whe ns he ’ d thrown her arms around him with a sob of delight. ‘ Iwi l lal wayst akec ar eofyou.Thatme anst aki ng c ar eofyourf ami l y. ’ Laura bit her lip, furrowing her brow as she stared at herself in the mirror. She had everything s he ’ de ve rwant e d.Andye t … ‘ Yourf ami l y, ’Gabr i e lhads ai d.Notour family.

Hedi dn’ tl ovehe r .Hedi dn’ tl oveRobby.Andhe s t i l ldi dn’ tknow t het r ut h.


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Whatdie r e nc edoe si tmake ?she argued with herself. Her love for Gabriel could be enough for both of them. He would still provide for Robby nanc i al l y,l i vi ngi nt hes amehous e ,ac t i nge xac t l y l i keaf at he ri ns omanyways .Whatdie r e nc edi d the truth make? Exc e pti tmadeahugedie r e nc e .I nf ac t ,t r ut h was everything. Because without truth, how could there be love? Her troubled eyes looked back at her in the mirror.

But if she told Gabriel now that he really was Robby’ sf at he r ,i fhekne ws he ’ dl i e dt ohi m al lt hi s time, she might lose everything she had. He would ne ve rf or gi ve he rf ort he l i e .He mi ght —al mos t certainly would—c al lo t hewe ddi ng.Whywoul d het akehe rashi swi f ei fhec oul dn’ tt r us the r ? Then he might sue for custody of Robby, and take he rbaby away f r om he routofdut y—ore ve na desire to punish her.

But he rc ons c i e nc es t ung he r .Di dn’ t Gabr i e l deserve to know the truth before he pledged himself to her for the rest of his life? She he ar d a knoc k,and he rmot he r ’ ss mi l i ng f ac epe e ke dar oundt hedoor .‘ Al lr e ady,s we e t l i ng? Your sisters are waiting and eager to be br i de s mai ds . ’ Laura took a deep breath, clutching her bouquet i nhe rc ol d,s haki nghands .‘ I si tal r e adyt i me ? ’


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‘ J us ta f e w mor e mi nut e s .The l as tgue s t sar e ar r i vi ngnow…’The n,asLaur at ur ne dt of ac ehe r in her 1920s-style gown and her greatgr andmot he r ’ sl ongve i l ,Rut hgas pe d,andhe re ye s l l e d wi t h t e ar s .‘ Oh, Laur a, ’s he whi s pe r e d. ‘ You’ r ebe aut i f ul . ’ Laur a’ sl i pst r e mbl e d ass he s mi l e d.‘ You l ook amaz i ng,t oo,Mom. ’ Her mother shook her head dismissively at the compliment, then came forward to embrace her, looking chic in pearls and a mother-of-the-bride s ui tofl i ghtc r e am s i l k.‘ I ’ m goi ngt omi s syouand Robby s o muc h whe n you’ r ei n Ri o, ’s hec hoke d out .‘ You’ l lbel i vi ngs of araway. ’

Laura fought back tears. Though she adored the energy of Rio, the warmth of the people and the beauty of Brazil, the thought of moving permanently to the other side of the Equator, far from her family and home, caused wrenching pain in her heart. If her husband loved her, it might be e ndur abl e .Butasi twas … Choki ngbac kas ob,s he squeezed her mother tight and tried to reassure he r .‘ We ’ l lbej us taqui c kpl aner i deaway. ’

‘ Iknow. ’He rmot he rpul l e dawaywi t has mi l e , e ve n as he re ye s gl i s t e ne d wi t h t e ar s .‘ My c ons ol at i on i st hat I know you’ r e goi ng t o be happy.Re al l y,t r ul yhappy. ’Shepaus e d.‘ Gabr i e li s Robby’ sf at he r ,i s n’ the ? ’ Laur as uc ke di n he r br e at h. ‘ How di d you


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know? ’

He r mot he r ’ ss mi l e wi de ne d. ‘ I ’ ve got e ye s , have n’ tI ?Is e ehow youar et oge t he r .How you’ ve al waysbe e n.He ’ sc r az yaboutyou. ’ Appar e nt l yhe rmot he rdi dn’ ts e easmuc hass he thought. Blinking back tears, Laura swallowed and s ai d ove rt he l ump i n he rt hr oat ,‘ We have s ome …pr obl e ms . ’

He rmot he rl aughe d.‘ Ofc our s eyou do.The r e were times I was ready to kill your father. But now—’he rvoi c e br oke ‘ —t he pr obl e mswe had seem small. I would give anything to have him he r eagai n,ar gui ngwi t hme . ’Shepaus e d.‘ Iknow l ovei s n’ ts i mpl eore as y.Butyou’ l ldo t her i ght t hi ng.Youal waysdo. ’ Laur as wal l owe dye tagai n.‘ Notal ways . ’

Rut hs mi l e d.‘ Yourf at he rus e dt oc al lyouLi t t l e Miss Trustworthy. Of all my children, you were the e as i e s tt or ai s e .And now,t hehar de s tt ol e tgo. ’ Her mother shook her head, wiping away her tears. ‘ Lookatme .He r eIam,maki ngame s sofmys e l f af t e rGabr i e lboughtmet hi se xpe ns i vedr e s s . ’ ‘ You’ r ec al l i nghi m Gabr i e l , ’Laur as ai d.

‘ We l l ,whate l s ewoul dIc al lmys oni nl aw? ’She ki s s e d he rdaught e ron t hec he e k.‘ He ’ snotyour bos snow.A hus band i squi t eadie r e ntmat t e r . ’ With a little laugh, she turned to leave in a soft c l oud ofl ave nde rpe r f ume .‘ Hus bandsne e dt obe


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r e mi nde dnott ot aket he ms e l ve st oos e r i ous l y. ’ ‘ Wai t , ’Laur awhi s pe r e d.

He rmot he rs t oppe datt hedoor .‘ Ye s ,s we e t i e ? ’

Laura clenched her hands. The bodice of her wedding gown suddenly felt inexplicably tight.

She was standing on a precipice and knew it. The choice she made today would change the e nt i r ec our s eofhe rl i f e .Andhe rs on’ sl i f e ,aswe l l . You’ l ldot her i g htt hi ng .Youal way sdo.

‘ Ine e dt os e eGabr i e l , ’s hec hoke dout .‘ Wi l lyou s e ndhi m upt ome ? ’

He rmot he rf r owne d.‘ Ri ghtnow?I t ’ sbadl uc kt o s e et hebr i de .Can’ ti twai tanhour ? ’

I n anhour ,t he y’ d bemar r i e d.Nott r us t i nghe r voice, Laura shook her head. With a sigh, her mother closed the door. Five minutes later, Gabriel appeared. ‘ Youwant e dt os e eme ,querida? ’hes ai dhus ki l y.

Al ump r os ei n Laur a’ st hr oatass hel ooke d at her handsome husband-to-be, at the brutal power of his body barely contained in the sophisticated tuxedo. She was suddenly reminded of the last t i mehe ’ dbe e ni nat uxe do,whe nhe ’ dki s s e dhe ri n the shadowy gardens at the Fantasia Ball, then made love to her on the hood of his car ove r l ooki ngt hedar k,moonl i toc e an… Shes e the rbouque tont hevani t y.‘ Ine e dt oas k yous ome t hi ng. ’


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His lips curved as he came up to her, stroking he rf ac e .‘ Whati si t ,minha esposa? ’ His wife. She swallowed, looking up at him. ‘ Doyoul oveme ? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

Hes t ie ne d.St ar i ngdownathe r ,hi shands ome eyes became expressionless and dark. She waited, her heart pounding.

‘ It houghtweagr e e d, ’he nal l ys ai d.‘ Ic ar ef or you, Laura. I admire you and I always will. I lust f oryouandwantyoui nmyl i f e . ’ Her heart fell to her white satin shoes.

‘ Butyoudon’ tl oveme , ’s hes ai ds of t l y.

Hes e thi sj aw.‘ It ol dyouf r om t hes t ar t .Ic an’ t l oveanyone .Notawi f e .Notc hi l dr e n. ’ ‘ Butwewi l lhavet he m…’

‘ No, ’hes ai d.Hec amec l os e r ,put t i nghi shands onhe rs houl de r sashes e ar c he dhe rgaz e .‘ I st hat why you sent for me before the ceremony, to ask if Imi ghtwantc hi l dr e ns ome day? ’ She nodded tearfully.

He t ook a de e p br e at h.‘ I ’ m s or r y,Laur a.I t houghtyou unde r s t ood.Though Ic an o e ryou marriage, nothing else has changed. I still cannot oe ryoul ove .Ormor ec hi l dr e n. ’ She bl i nke d,s t ar i ng up athi m i ns hoc k.‘ No mor e …nomor ec hi l dr e n? ’ He shook his head.


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‘ Butwhy? ’s hec r i e d.

He dropped his hands from her shoulders.

‘ Yous houl dknow,be f or eyoumar r yme ,whyI wi l lnotc hangemymi nd. ’Hi sj aw c l e nc he dashe turned away from her. Outside the windows, r ol l i ng whi t e e l dswe r edot t e d wi t h bl ac k,bar e t r e e s .‘ My par e nt sand br ot he rdi e d whe n Iwas ni ne t e e n.Be c aus eofme . ’ ‘ Iknow you’ ves pe ntyourwhol el i f et r yi ng t o r e gai nwhatyoul os t , ’s hes ai d.‘ Buti twas n’ tyour f aul tt he ydi e d! ’

‘ Iwasdr i vi ngt hec art hatki l l e dt he m. ’Hi sbl ac k e ye swe r ebl e ak.‘ Mybr ot he rhadj us te l ope dwi t h awai t r e s swho’ dhadhi sbabywhi l ewewe r eaway atuni ve r s i t y.He ’ dbe e nl i vi ngwi t hhe rf ormont hs , ke e pi ng i ts e c r e tf r om our par e nt st hat he ’ d dr oppe doutofs c hool .Ivi s i t e dt he i r ati nSão Paulo, where they were living with their baby daughter, barely surviving on the wages he could make asa l abor e r .Thi sf r om my br ot he r —who s houl dhavebe e nadoc t or ! ’ Laur at ook a de e p br e at h.‘ So t hat ’ show you know how t o pl ay wi t h a baby, ’s he whi s pe r e d. ‘ You’ ds pe ntt i mewi t hyourni e c e . ’

Hegavehe ras mi l et hatbr okehe rhe ar t .‘ Ye s , ’ he s ai di n al ow voi c e .‘ Butwhe n my br ot he r decided to marry the woman, I was sure she was a gold digger. I dragged my parents to São Paulo to break up the wedding, and we convinced


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Guilherme to come back with us to Rio. I hated the thought of my brother giving up all his dreams, j us tbe c aus ehe ’ dac c i de nt al l ygot t e ns omewoman pr e gnant . ’

‘ Ri ght , ’Laur as ai d ove rt hel ump i n he rt hr oat . ‘ Ac hi l ddoe s n’ tmat t e rt oyou.Notl i keac ar e e r . ’

Hi sj aw c l e nc he d ashe t ur ne d away.‘ I twas r ai ni ngt hatni ght , ’hes ai di n al ow voi c e .‘ Iwas driving the car so my parents could convince my br ot he rt os e er e as on. ’Gabr i e lgaveahar dl augh. ‘ Buti ns t e ad,Gui l he r mec onvi nc e dthem he needed t o go bac k and mar r yI z ador a.‘ Tur nt he c ar ar ound, ’t he yt ol d me .Il ooke di nt ot her e ar vi e w mirror to argue. I looked away from the road only f oras e c ond, ’hewhi s pe r e d.‘ J us tas i ngl es e c ond. ’ He stopped, his face grief-stricken. Laura stared at him, feeling sick.

‘ Is l amme dont hebr ake s .It ur ne dt hewhe e las har dasIc oul d.Butt het i r e ske pts l i di ng,r i ghto t he c l i.Ihe ar d my mot he rs c r e am ast he c ar rolled, then we hit the bottom. They all died i ns t ant l y.Butnotme . ’Hel ooke dathe rbl e akl y.‘ I wasl uc ky. ’

‘ Oh,Gabr i e l , ’s he whi s pe r e d,c omi ng c l os et o him. Shet r i e dt oputhe rar msar oundhi m,t oo e r c omf or t .Buthi sbodywass t i.Hepul l e daway. ‘ Iwas wr ong aboutI z ador a.Atmy br ot he r ’ s f une r als hewoul dn’ te ve nl ookatme .Io e r e dt o


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buy her a house, set up a trust fund for my niece, buts her e f us e d wi t h angr y wor ds .I ’ dt ake n he r husband from her, taken the father of her child, ands het ol dmes hehope dIwoul dr oti nhe l l . ’ Laura shuddered.

‘ Shee ve nt ual l ymar r i e danAme r i c anandmove d t oMi ami .Myni e c ei sgr ownnow. ’Het ookade e p br e at h,ands hes aw t hathi se ye swe r ewe t .‘ She ’ s al mos tt we nt y,and Ihave n’ ts e e n he rs i nc es he wasababy. ’ ‘ You have n’ t ? ’Laur as ai di ns hoc k.‘ Buts he ’ s youronl yf ami l y,yourbr ot he r ’ sc hi l d! ’ Hi sj aw c l e nc he d.‘ How c oul d Is e e he r ? ’he de mande d, t ur ni ng on he r .‘ Why s houl d I be allowed to spend time with my niece, when it was my thoughtless action that caused her to lose her father? Her grandparents? They never got to see he rgr ow up.Whys houl dI ? ’

‘ But , Gabr i e l …i t was an ac c i de nt . You we r e trying to help your brother. We all make mistakes with the people we love. Your brother would forgive you. Your family loved you. They would know yourhe ar t .The y’ d know you ne ve rme ant t o—’ ‘ I ’ m donet al ki ngaboutt hi s , ’hegr owl e d,r aki ng his hair back with his hand. He set his jaw, and his dar ke ye s gl i t t e r e d.‘ You want e dt o unde r s t and whyIne ve rwantc hi l dr e n.I ’ vet ol dyouwhy. ’


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She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath. Tears streamed down her face as she opened her eyes. ‘ I t ’ st ool at e , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

‘ Whatdo you me an? ’hede mande d.‘ Tool at e ? Whatar eyous ayi ng? ’

Shel i f t e dhe rc hi n.‘ I ’ vene ve rhadanot he rl ove r , Gabriel. How could I, when I never stopped loving you?I t ’ sal waysbe e nyou.J us tyou. ’ He stared at her. His dark eyebrows came t oge t he rl i keas t or mc l oud.‘ That ’ si mpos s i bl e , ’he s ai dangr i l y.‘ Robby—’ ‘ Don’ t you unde r s t and? ’She s hook he r he ad t e ar f ul l y.‘ Robbyi syours on. ’ The echo of her words hung in the air between them like a noxious cloud. Gabriel stared at her, then staggered back. ‘ What ? ’hec hoke dout . ‘ Robbyi syour —’

‘ Ihe ar dyou, ’hec r i e d,put t i nghi shandsove rhi s e ar s .Buthec oul dn’ ts t ophi smi ndf r om r e pe at i ng those words. Robby is your son. ‘ You’ r ewr ong.I t ’ s i mpos s i bl e . ’ ‘ No, ’Laur as ai dqui e t l y.‘ Di dn’ tyounot i c ehow he looks so much like you? That he was born exactly nine months after our night together? How c oul dyounotknow?How c oul dyounots e e ? ’


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He s hook hi she ad.‘ But —buti tc an’ tbe , ’he gas pe d.‘ Iwasc ar e f ul .Ius e dpr ot e c t i on. ’ Shes hookhe rhe ad.‘ Condomshavebe e nknown t of ai l —’

‘ Onl yt o pe opl e who us et he m i nc or r e c t l y, ’he mut t e r e d.‘ Idonot . ’ ‘ Bute ve nt he n,t hr e epe r c e ntoft het i met he y—’

‘ No. ’Hehe l douthi shand,bl oc ki nghe rwor ds . He f e l tasi fhec oul dn’ tbr e at he ,andl oos e ne dt he t i eonhi st uxe do.‘ Ic an’ tbehi sf at he r .Ic an’ t . ’ Laura took a deep breath. She looked so be aut i f uli n he rwhi t egown and ve i l .He ’ d ne ve r seen her look so innocent, so beautiful. So deceitful.

‘ Iknow t hi smus tc omeasas hoc kt oyou, ’s he s ai ds of t l y.Shegavehi m at r e mul ouss mi l e .‘ I twas as hoc kf orme ,t oo.ButRobby’ snotanac c i de nt . He ’ snotami s t ake . ’ ‘ The nwhati she ? ’Gabr i e lde mande d.

She looked up at him, her blue eyes luminous. ‘ Ami r ac l e , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

I mage sofRobby’ sc hubby,s mi l i ng f ac e we nt through his mind. His dark hair, his inquisitive dark eyes. Of course Robby was his son. Pacing, Gabriel raked his hair back with his hand. How could he have not seen it before?

Be c aus ehehadn’ twant e dt os e ei t ,het hought gr i ml y.Be c aus ehavi nga c hi l d,whe n he ’ d ki l l e d


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his parents and prevented his brother from raising his, was the one thing he could not allow himself to do.

‘ Ide s t r oye d my own f ami l y, ’hes ai di n al ow voice, staring blindly through the windows toward t hewi nt r yhi l l s .‘ Idon’ tde s e r veanot he r . ’

Laura came slowly toward him, her beautiful f ac e l l e d wi t ht e nde r ne s s and l ove , he re ye s glowing with light.

‘ Whathappe ne dt hatni ghtwasan ac c i de nt .I t was n’ tyourf aul t .Butyou’ vebur i e dyour s e l fi nt he cemetery with them, not allowing yourself to be happyorl ove d,al wayspuni s hi ngyour s e l f —’

‘ Notpuni s hme nt .Justice, ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e , feeling as if his heart were being ripped out of his c he s t .‘ I fIhadn’ tt r i e dt ot al k Gui l he r meoutof havi ngaf ami l y,i fIhadn’ tt r i e dt ot al khi m outof committing to his wife and baby, they would all be alive. Why should I enjoy the life I denied my own br ot he r ? ’

‘ Yourbr ot he ri sgone .Hef or gaveyoul ongago. Butwe ’ r es t i l lhe r e ,and wene e d you, ’s hes ai d. She took a deep breath and lifted her tearstained e ye st ohi s .‘ Pl e as e ,Gabr i e l .Il oveyou.Loveme bac k. ’ His jaw hardened as he stared down at her.

‘ Don’ tus et hewor d love, ’hes ai dhar s hl y.‘ You lied to me. And you turned me into a liar, as well. I


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s ai dIwoul dne ve rhaveawi f e .Now l ookatme . ’ Rage burned inside him as he gazed down at his tuxedo. He ripped the tiny rose boutonniere out of hi sl ape l .‘ J us tl ookatme ! ’ She went pale beneath her wedding veil, and the be aut i f ull i ghti nhe re ye sdi mme d.‘ I ’ ms or r y.I t ’ s why Idi dn’ tt e l lyou Iwaspr e gnant .Ikne wi t was n’ twhatyou want e d,t hatyou’ df e e lt r appe d bydut yt oac hi l d.But —’s het ookade e pbr e at h ‘ —Ic oul dn’ tmar r y you.Notwi t houtt e l l i ng you t het r ut h. ’ ‘ Thankyou, ’hes ai dc ol dl y,pac i ngt hec ar pe t . He stopped. His body felt chilled, as frozen as a New Hampshire winter. Maybe because of the icy dagge rs he ’ dj us tpl unge dt hr oughhi sbac k.‘ Thank you,Laur a,f orbe i ngs ot r us t wor t hyandde c e nt . ’

She i nc he d.He re ye swe r er e d,he rbe aut i f ul f ac es wol l e nwi t ht e ar s .‘ Iunde r s t andi fyouwant t obac kout . ’ ‘ Bac kout ? ’

‘ Oft hewe ddi ng, ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

He saw the way her petite, curvaceous body was shivering in her wedding dress. He forced himself not t oc ar e .Whatdie r e nc edi dhe rf e e l i ngsmake to him anymore? His lips curved as he looked at he rs c or nf ul l y.‘ I ’ m mor ede t e r mi ne dt omar r yyou now t hane ve r . ’ She licked her lips and he saw a tremulous hope


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i nhe rbl uee ye s .‘ Be c aus eyoul oveRobby? ’ Hes t ar e dathe r .‘ Be c aus ehe ’ smydut y. ’

Tears fell unchecked down her face as she clutched her arms together over her exquisite be ade dgown.‘ Can’ tyoue ve nt r yt ol ovehi m? ’

‘ The de als t ands , ’he s ai dc ol dl y.‘ Iwi l ls t i l l mar r yyou.Iwi l ls t i l lt akec ar eofyours on. ’ ‘ Our s on! ’

For a long time, she stood, staring at him. Her lips parted to speak, and his cell phone rang in his pocket. Emotionlessly, he turned away from her. ‘ Sant os . ’

‘ I ’ m af r ai d I have t o bac k out of our de al , Sant os . ’

Gabriel recognized the voice at once. Felipe Oliveira. His eyes widened in shock as he stepped away f r om Laur a.‘ I st hat s ome ki nd of j oke , Ol i ve i r a? ’ he gr owl e d i nt o t he phone .‘ Some at t e mptt o dr i ve up t he pr i c e ? Be c aus e you’ ve al r e adys i gne dt hepape r s . ’ ‘ J us tt he pr e l i mi nar y pape r s . And Thé o St . Raphaë lhasj us to e r e d me t hr e e mi l l i on e ur os mor ef or Aç oaz ul t han you. Be s t of al l , he ’ s throwing in his prize vineyard to sweeten the oe r . ’Themangaveal augh.‘ I ’ veal wayswant e d to make my own champagne, and his vineyard is l e ge ndar y. ’ ‘ Youc an’ tdot hat ! ’Gabr i e le xpl ode d.‘ Wes i gne d


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ac ont r ac t ! ’

‘ A pr e l i mi nar yc ont r ac t , ’t he man poi nt e d out gl e e f ul l y.‘ Al lIne e dpayf orr e ne gi ngont het e r ms i sa s mal lpe nal t y—a mi l l i on Ame r i c an dol l ar s . Whi c hSt .Raphaë lhasal s oo e r e dt oc ove r . ’ Gabr i e lc ur s e dal oud.‘ Butwhy?Whybe t r ayme like this, Oliveira, after we helped you see Adr i ana’ st r uenat ur e ? ’

Theol de rmanc ac kl e d.‘ Now t hatI ’ mr i dofhe r , Is udde nl y nd I ’ m i nt e r e s t e di n bus i ne s sagai n. Sor r y,Sant os . ’Hepaus e d,t he ns ai d wi t h gr e at e r s e r i ous ne s s ,‘ Sor r y,youngman.Butyou’ l ll i vet o ghtanot he rday. ’ ‘ I ’ l ll e ave wi t hi n t he hour , ’ Gabr i e ls ai d de s pe r at e l y.‘ Ic an bei n Ri o by t oni ght ,and we c ant al kf ur t he r —’

But Oliveira had hung up. Gabriel stared for a long moment at the phone in his hand. He felt di z z ywi t ht heve r t i goofhow muc hhe ’ dl os ti nt he l as tt womi nut e s .He ’ dl os t …everything.

He whirled on Laura, who was staring up at him wi t hbi ge ye s .‘ Le t ’ sge tt hewe ddi ngove rwi t h, ’he gr owl e d,s t ompi ngt owar dt hedoor .‘ Ass oonasi t ’ s ove r ,we ’ r el e avi ngf orRi o. ’ He rt r e mbl i ngvoi c es t oppe dhi m.‘ No. ’

He frowned, looking back at her from the door way.‘ No?Whatdoyoume an,no? ’

She licked her lips, coming closer. Her eyes were


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luminous in the morning light.

‘ Ic oul d ac c e ptyou notl ovi ngme , ’s hes ai d.‘ I told myself that my love could be enough for both ofus . ’He re ye snar r owe d,gl i t t e r i ngl i keaf r oz e n bl ues e a.‘ ButIc an’ tac c e ptyounotl ovi ngRobby. Hec an’ tj us tbeyourduty. ’ ‘ Ij us tf oundouthe ’ smys on, ’her e t or t e d,‘ af t e r a year of your lies. What do you expect from me? ThatIde c l ar emyl oveandf al latyourf e e t ? ’ She looked at him, and her lips trembled in a s mi l e .‘ Thatwoul dbeni c e . ’

Hes hook hi she ad angr i l y.‘ Ac c e ptwhatIc an gi veyou.Andbegr at e f ul ! ’

‘ Gr at e f ul ? ’s hec r i e d.Wi t h an i nt akeofbr e at h, she held up the hem of her wedding dress and marched right up to him. Her beautiful face was out r age d.‘ Iwai t e d veye ar sf oryout ol oveme , ’ s hes ai d.‘ Idr e ame dofyouf ort hewhol el as tye ar ! Al lIwant e dwasf oryout omar r yme …’ ‘ AndIwi l l , ’hes ai di mpat i e nt l y.‘ Comeon. ’

‘ ButIwaswr ong. ’Shel i f t e d he rc hi n.‘ Lovei s what matters. Without love, this marriage is not hi ng buta l i e . ’She s hook he rhe ad e r c e l y. ‘ And Iwon’ tl e tRobbys e t t l ef ort hat .Iwon’ tl e t hi m gr ow up wonde r i ng why hi sf at he rdoe s n’ t l ovehi m,whyhi spar e nt s ’mar r i agei ss os t r ai ne d, whathe ’ sdonewr ong! ’ Gabriel stared at her. It suddenly seemed as if an


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ocean divided them. He reached out his hand. ‘ Laur a…’ Shes l appe di taway.‘ No! ’

Hegl ar e dathe r .‘ Idon’ thavet i mef ort hi s . ’ ‘ Sogo. ’

Hebr i e yc ons i de r e dt hei de a ofdr aggi ng he r forcibly down the aisle. But she was surrounded by farmers and ranchers and strong neighbors with guns, while to their eyes he was just some stranger who was taking her and Robby away. Buthewas n’ tj us ta s t r ange r .HewasRobby’ s father.

Gabriel sucked in a deep breath, overwhelmed byt he ood ofe mot i on i n hi she ar t .Hec oul dn’ t give in to the feeling. Coul dn’ t … Grabbing her wrist, he started to pull her t owar dst hedoor .‘ Wewi l lmar r y,t he nl e avef or Ri o—’

She r i ppe d he rar m outofhi sgr as p.‘ I ’ m not goi ng. ’

‘ You’ r ebe i ngr i di c ul ous .Don’ tyouunde r s t and? Ol i ve i r ai sbac ki ngoutoft hec ont r ac t !I fIdon’ t c hangehi smi nd,I ’ l ll os ee ve r yt hi ng! ’ ‘ Iunde r s t and, ’s hes ai ds of t l y.‘ Yous houl dgo. ’

‘ I ’ m notl e avi ngt hec ount r ywi t houtyouandour s on. ’ ‘ I ’ m notmar r yi ngyou.Notl i ket hi s . ’


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‘ You’ r ebe i ngs e ls h! ’

Laura swallowed, her cheeks pink. He could see he ’ d hur the rwi t ht heac c us at i on.Buts hewas n’ t goi ng t ol e thi m mani pul at e he rs oe as i l y.‘ I ’ l l never try to stop you from seeing Robby whenever you want. Our lawyers can work out some ar r ange me nt .ButIwon’ tmar r yyou,and Iwon’ t leave the people who love us for someone who doe s n’ t . ’ ‘ So t hat ’ si t ? ’ he s ai di nc r e dul ous l y. ‘ You’ r e gi vi ngmeanul t i mat um? ’ ‘ Ye s . ’He re ye sl l e dwi t ht e ar sass hegavehi ma t r e mbl i ngs mi l e .‘ Igue s sIam. ’

Gabriel swallowed against the sudden lump in hi st hr oat .Hec oul dn’ tf or c ehe rt omar r yhi m.He c oul dn’ ts e duc eorc har m orbul l yhe ri nt oi t .Whe n did she get so steady? When did she get so strong?

Raki nghi shai rbac k,hel ooke dathe r .‘ Laur a, ’ hes ai ds l owl y.Hee xhal e dade e pbr e at h.‘ Ic an’ t do i t .Whatyou’ r e as ki ng.Iwi s h Ic oul d,butI c an’ t .Ic an’ t …l oveyou. ’ Pai n as he d ac r os s he rf ac e ,r aw and s har p. Then she straightened her shoulders in her wedding gown. Reaching up, she pulled the vi nt agel ac eve i lo he re l e gantbl ondec hi gnon. Her blue eyes were stricken but steady. ‘ The nI ’ m s or r y, ’s he s ai d qui e t l y.‘ Buti fyou c an’ tl oveus …youc an’ thaveus . ’


CHAPTER FIFTEEN G ABRIEL had to hurry. Every second he wasted with Laura was like a grain of sand falling through a fatal hourglass. He had to leave at once. Andye thec oul dn’ t .

Leaving her felt like a death. He took a deep, s hudde r i ng br e at h. ‘ Thi si s n’ t ove r , ’ he s ai d hoar s e l y.‘ I ’ l lbebac kaf t e rIc l os et hede ali nRi o. ’

‘ Ofc our s e . ’Laur a’ ss houl de r ss t r ai ght e ne d,e ve n ashe rl owe rl i pt r e mbl e d.‘ Iwi l lne ve rs t op you f r om s e e i ngRobby.Ihope …Ihopeyou’ l ls e ehi m of t e n.Hene e dshi sf at he r . ’ Gabriel heard the music start to play downstairs and thought of the guests surrounded by white roses and candlelight, waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin. He clenched his hands, feeling that same strange spinning, sinking feeling in the region of his chest.

‘ Re me mbe r , ’hes ai dt e r s e l y,l ooki ngathe r .‘ Thi s wasyourc hoi c e .Iwant e dt omar r yyou. ’ She swallowed as tears streamed unchecked


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downhe rpal ec he e ks .‘ I ’ l lne ve rf or ge tt hat . ’

No,he t houghts udde nl y.I tc oul dn’ te nd l i ke this. Not like this! With a sudden, ragged breath, he seized her in his arms. Pressing his lips against hers, he kissed her with every ounce of passion and persuasion he possessed. He never wanted to let her go. She was the one to pull away. He saw tears falling down her cheeks as she stepped back, out of hi sr e ac h.‘ Goodbye . ’

He sucked in his breath. But there was nothing hec oul ddo.Not hi ngt obedone .‘ I ’ l lbebac k, ’he s ai dhe avi l y.‘ I naf e w days . ’ Shegavehi m awans mi l e .‘ Robbywi l lbegl ad whe ne ve ryouc hoos et ovi s i t . ’

He left the room. Went out the door. Walked past her mother, who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. He went outside into the cold winter air to the limo waiting outside. Gabriel felt a sudden pai ni nhi sc he s twhe nhes aw t hats ome one —one of Laur a’ sf r i e nds , pe r haps —had wr i t t e n J us t Married across the back window in white shaving cream, and attached aluminum cans to the back bumper to drag noisily down the road. Hi shandsc l e nc he d ashe unghi ms e l fhe avi l y i nt ot he bac ks e at of t he l i mo. Car l os , who’ d apparently been texting someone as he waited in t hedr i ve r ’ ss e at ,j umpe d.


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‘ Mr .Gabr i e l !Whatar e you doi ng,s os oon…? Andwhe r ei sMr s .Laur a? ’

‘ She ’ snotc omi ng, ’her e pl i e dt i ght l y.Hi st hr oat hur t .‘ Ands he ’ snotMrs.’ ‘ Butsenhor… Whathappe ne d? ’

Gabriel looked bleakly out the window, at the be aut i f ul e l dsofe ndl e s swhi t e .‘ J us tgo. ’ Laura stood by the closed door until the sound of Gabr i e l ’ sf oot s t e psf ade daway.

Sagging into a chair, she covered her face with he rhands .She ’ dbe e nhappyt obeabr i de ,as i ngl e mot he rnol onge r —s opl e as e dt o nal l yl e avet he scandal behind her. She thought of her baby, downstairs now with one of her cousins, and a sob came from her lips. Buts he ’ dhadnoot he rhonor abl ec hoi c e .I fs he ’ d been willing to accept a life without love forever, what would that have done to her soul? What would that have taught her son?

She ’ ddonet her i ghtt hi ng.Sowhydi ds hef e e l so awful? She heard the door squeak open and looked up with an intake of breath.

Her three sisters, all dressed in elegant bridesmaid gowns, stood in the open door with t he i rmot he r .‘ Whydi dGabr i e ls t or mo l i ket hat ? ’ Rut h as ke dt r e mul ous l y.The ns he s aw Laur a’ s


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t e ar f ulf ac e .‘ Oh,s we e t he ar t ! ’

A moment later, Laura was crying in their arms as they hugged her, and her scowling little sister Hat t i e was c ur s i ng and o e r i ng t o go punc h Gabriel in the face. That made Laura laugh, but the laughter turned to a sob. Wiping her eyes, she looked up at them. ‘ WhatdoIdonow? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

He rmot he rs e ar c he d he rgaz e .‘ Thewe ddi ngi s o ?I si tf ors ur e ? ’ Laur anodde dwi t hal umpi nhe rt hr oat .‘ Hes ai d hedi dn’ tl oveme ,t hathewoul dne ve rl oveme .Or Robby,e i t he r . ’

Her mother and sisters stared at her with a unie di nt akeofbr e at h.The n Rut hs hookhe r s e l f briskly. ‘ We l lt he n.I ’ l lgo downs t ai r s ,t e l le ve r yone t o he adhome . ’

Laura folded her arms, her belly sick with dread and gr i e f .‘ I t ’ l lc aus e s uc h a s c andal , ’s he whispered. She stared at the patterns on the carpet ast hef ul lhor r orbui l ti ns i dehe r .‘ J us twhe n al l t her umor swe r ec omi ngt oane nd. ’ ‘ We ddi ngsge tc anc e l e dal lt het i me , ’Be c kys ai d s t aunc hl y.‘ The r e ’ snot hi ngs c andal ousabouti t . ’

‘ Ze r os c andal , ’Hat t i eagr e e dqui c kl y,pus hi ngup he rgl as s e s .‘ I t ’ st ot al l yuni nt e r e s t i ng. ’

‘ Note ve n asi nt e r e s t i ngaswhe n Mr s .Hi ggi ns ’ s


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c ow knoc ke d ove rt he Tas t E Bur ge rt r uc k, ’ Margaret added. ‘ I t ’ l lbeal lr i ght ,s we e t he ar t , ’he rmot he rs ai d, s of t l ys t r oki ngLaur a’ shai rass hes atbe s i dehe r . ‘ J us ts t ayhe r e .I ’ l lhandl ee ve r yt hi ng. ’ It was very tempting. But with a deep breath, Laura shook her head.

‘ I ’ l las k yourunc l e ,t he n, ’Rut hs ai d qui c kl y. ‘ He ’ swai t i ngt owal kyou down t heai s l e .Hec an s i mpl ymakeal i t t l eannounc e me ntand—’ ‘ No, ’ Laur a c hoke d out .‘ I di d t hi s , ’s he whi s pe r e d,r i s i ngt ohe rf e e t .‘ I ’ l le ndi t . ’

Cl i mbi ng ont o hi spr i vat ej e tatt he ai r por t ve mi l e s away,Gabr i e lne ar l y bi tt he s t e war de s s ’ s he ado whe ns heo e r e dhi mc hampagne .Ass he s c ur r i e do t ot he bac kc abi n,he gr abbe dt he entire bottle of Scotch from the galley and gulped straight from the bottle, desperate to feel the burn. But when he pulled the bottle from his lips, he realized the pain in his chest had only gotten worse. It was his heart. His heart hurt.

‘ Re ady,s i r ? ’t hepi l ots ai dove rt hei nt e r c om.

‘ Re ady, ’Gabr i e lgr owl e d.Fal l i ngi nt ot hewhi t e leather seat, he took another gulp of the bottle and stared out his window. He felt as if he were leaving part of himself


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behind. His wife. His child. Robby. His son. Gabr i e ls t i l lc oul dn’ tbe l i e vei t . Hedi dn’ twantt ogo.

I have to, he told himself angrily. I have no choice. He remembered how his parents had taken Gabriel and Guilherme to visit the factories of Açoazul Steel. It had been truly a family company. His father had been president, his mother vice pr e s i de ntofmar ke t i ng.‘ Some day,boys , ’hi sf at he r had s ai d, ‘ t hi sc ompany wi l l be your s . Your l e gac y. ’

Thej e t ’ se ngi nes t ar t e d.Cl os i nghi se ye s ,Gabr i e l leaned his head into his hands. He still r e me mbe r e dt he s ound ofhi sf at he r ’ sl augh,t he t e nde rs mi l ei n hi smot he r ’ se ye s .The y’ d be e ns o proud of their strong, handsome, smart sons. He could still hear his brother saying, at twenty years ol d,‘ Ine ve ri nt e nde dt ohaveaf ami l ys os oon,but now Ic an’ ti magi nei tanyot he rway.I ’ m happy, Gabr i e l .Iam. ’ Gr i e fgr i ppe d Gabr i e l ’ sc he s t .Why hadn’ the believed him? Why had he been so sure that he was right, and his brother wrong? ‘ Robby ’ snotanac c i de nt .He ’ snotami s t ake . ’

Hes udde nl ys aw Laur a’ sbe aut i f ulf ac eass he ’ d stood in the morning light, wearing a wedding gown as luminescent as New England snow. ‘ The nwhati she ? ’


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She ’ dl ooke dupathi m.‘ Ami r ac l e . ’

He blinked, staring at the porthole window as t hej e t ’ sr oari nc r e as e d.Las tye ar ,he ’ dl e tLaur ago be c aus ehe ’ dwant e dhe rt o ndamanwhoc oul d l ovehe r .He ’ dwant e dhe rt obehappy.He ’ dbe e n s o angr y whe n he ’ dt hought s he ’ dt hr own he r dreams aside and fallen into bed with a man who di dn’ tde s e r vehe r .

Buts he ’ dl ove d Gabr i e lhi ms e l fal lt hi st i me . She ’ dl ove dhi m wi t houthope .She ’ dt ake nc ar eof their baby all on her own, while carrying such a he avy we i ghton he rs houl de r s athome .She ’ d assumed from the start that she and Robby were on their own. Gabr i e lwast hemanwhodi dn’ tde s e r vehe r .

He ’ dt r i e dt oo e rhe rmone y.Hi sname .But t hatwas n’ twhatLaur a want e d.She want e d hi s l ove .Shewant e d…af ami l y. Gabriel set down the bottle. His body felt hot and cold at once.

The jet lurched forward, taxiing toward the runway.

He gripped the armrests. He had to go back to Ri o,or he ’ dl os e hi sf ami l y’ sc ompany f or e ve r . Açoazul SA would be dismantled. He would lose his last link to his family. The jet started to go faster down the runway, and he sucked in his breath.


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His family.

He ’ dt ol dhi ms e l ff ort we nt yye ar st hathedi dn’ t deserve another family. And yet, like a miracle, he had one. He had a family. Right here and now. And he was choosing to leave them.

He sat up straight in his chair. His breathing c ame har d and f as t . What about hi sf ami l y’ s legacy? Legacy.

He had a s udde n as hbac k ofa mi l l i on s mal l memories of warmth and joy and home. Visiting the steel f ac t or y.Si t t i ngonhi sf at he r ’ ss houl de r sat Carnaval, watching the parades go by. Vacations in Bahia. Dinner together each night. A life of love and t e nde r ne s s . Unt i l he ’ d made one dr e adf ul mistake. ‘ Your br ot he r woul df or g i v ey ou. Your f ami l y l ov e dy ou, ’he he ar d Laur a’ swar m,l ovi ng voi c e say. ‘ The ywoul dknow y ourhe ar t . ’ The jet hit full throttle, racing down the runway f as t e randf as t e r ,pr e par i ngf ort ake o.

And Gabriel suddenly realized he was about to make the worst mistake of his life. And this time it woul dn’ tbeanac c i de nt ,ac ars punoutofc ont r ol on a rainy road by a nineteen-year-old boy. This time it would be a stupid, cowardly decision made by a full-grown man.


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Hehadn’ twant e danot he rf ami l y. But he had one.

Gabr i e ls aw t hewhi t e e l ds ypas tt hewi ndow. Thej e ts t ar t e dt or i s e ,l i f t i ngo f r om t hegr ound, and he leapt to his feet with a scream. ‘ St op! ’


CHAPTER SIXTEEN LAURA hesitated outside the closed doors of the huge , owe r s t r e wn l i br ar y,f r i ght e ne d outofhe r mind. She could hear the rumble on the other side of door, the mutters and whispers. The wedding had been scheduled to start thirty minutes ago, and everyone was obviously starting to assume the worst. But there was no way around it. She had to get through it. With a deep breath, she pushed the doors open.

The enormous two-story library had been modeled after an old English abbey with walls of gray stone. It was now festooned with white roses and candles, with hundreds of chairs set up to create an aisle down the middle.

At the sight of the bride standing at the end of t heai s l e ,mus i c i anshas t i l ybe gant opl ay‘ J e s u,J oy ofMan’ sDe s i r i ng’on gui t ar sand vi ol i ns .Laur a stopped the music with a chopping gesture across her neck.


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Silence fell. She could have heard a pin drop as three hundred pairs of eyes turned to her.

She trembled, passing a hand over her eyes. Then she heard her baby cry out halfway down the aisle. Going swiftly to her cousin Sandy, who held him in her lap, Laura took her son in her arms. Robby looked dapper in a little baby tuxedo just l i kehi sf at he r ’ s ,c ompl e t ewi t hr os ebout onni e r e . She smiled through her tears. For an instant, she just held her baby in her arms, feeling his soft skin and breathing his sweet smell. Then, squaring her shoulders, she slowly turned to face her family and friends.

‘ Thankyoual lf orc omi ng, ’s hes ai dl oudl y,t he n f al t e r e d.‘ ButI ’ m af r ai d… Af r ai dt hat …’

‘ What ? ’ he r gr e at aunt Ge r t r ude de mande d l oudl yf r om t hebac k.‘ Tal kl oude r ! ’

Laur a’ skne e sgr e w we ak.Di ds her e al l yhavet o announce to all her friends and relatives that the onl ymans he ’ de ve rl ove dhadj us tl e f the ratt he altar? How had she ever thought this was a good idea?

‘ Di d he l e ave ? ’one ofhe rhot he ade dc ous i ns de mande d,r i s i ngt ohi sf e e ti nt hef r ontr ow.‘ Di d t hatmande s e r tyou? ’

‘ No, ’s hec r i e d,hol di nguphe rhand.Eve nnow, s he c oul dn’ t be ar f or t he m t ot hi nk badl y of Gabr i e l .He ’ d al waysbe e n hone s twi t h he rf r om


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t hebe gi nni ng.Shewast heonewho’ d ar r ogant l y t r i e dt oc hange hi m,who’ dt houghtt hati fs he loved him enough, he might love her back. She wast heonewho’ dt houghti fhekne w Robbywas hi ss on,hemi ghtc hange ,andl ovet hec hi l dhe ’ d ne ve r want e d. ‘ You don’ t unde r s t and, ’ s he whi s pe r e d.‘ It ol dhi mt ogo.Imadehi ml e ave —’

‘ You c oul dn’ t , ’a hus ky voi c es ai d be hi nd he r . ‘ Thoughyout r i e d. ’ With a gasp, she whirled around.

Gabriel stood in the double doorway, dark and dashing in his tuxedo. And most incredible of all, he was smiling at her, smiling with his whole face. Even his black eyes held endless colors of warmth and love.

‘ Whatar e you doi ng he r e ? ’s he mur mur e d.‘ I t houghtyouwe r egone . ’ He started walking toward her.

‘ Ic oul dn’ tgo, ’hes ai d.‘ Notwi t houtt e l l i ngyou s ome t hi ng. ’ ‘ What ? ’

He stopped, halfway down the aisle. ‘ Il oveyou, ’hes ai ds i mpl y.

She swayed on her feet. She was dreaming. She had to be dreaming.

Hec aughthe rbe f or es hec oul df al l .‘ Il oveyou, ’ he murmured with a smile, and he looked down at t hebabybe t we e nt he m.‘ AndIl ovemys on. ’


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There was an audible gasp. Gabriel looked ar oundhi m e r c e l y.

‘ Ye s , ’hes ai ds har pl y.‘ Robbyi smyc hi l d.Laur a was afraid to tell me about Robby, afraid I woul dn’ tbeabl et ome as ur eupt obet heman—t he f at he r —he ne e de d. ’Gabr i e ll ooke d bac k athe r . ‘ ButIwi l l .Iwi l ls pe ndt her e s tofmyl i f epr ovi ngI c anbet hemanyoude s e r ve . ’ As obe s c ape dLaur a’ sl i ps .Re ac hi ngup,s heput he rhandt ohi sc he e k,l ooki ngupathi m.‘ Youl ove me ? ’ He pressed his hand over hers. She saw tears in hi se ye s .‘ Ye s . ’

She bl i nke d,s uc ki ng i n he rbr e at h.‘ Butwhat aboutt hede ali nRi o? ’

Hel ooke ddownathe r .‘ Idon’ tc ar eabouti t .Le t t heFr e nc hmanhavei t . ’ Shegas pe d,s haki nghe rhe ad de s pe r at e l y.‘ But you’ ve t r i e dt o ge tt he c ompany bac k al lt he s e years. I t ’ s al lyou want e d.Al lyou’ ve dr e ame d aboutdayandni ght ! ’ ‘ Be c aus eIt houghti twasmyf ami l y’ sl e gac y. ’He reached down to cup her cheek. A smile curved his s e ns uall i ps .‘ Buti twas n’ t . ’ ‘ I twas n’ t ? ’s hewhi s pe r e d.

‘ Myf ami l yl ove dme ,andIl ove dt he m, ’hes ai d. ‘ No ac c i de ntc an e ve rc hange t hat .Iwi l lhonor their memory for the rest of my life. I will honor


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t he m byl i vi ngasbe s tasIc anunt i lt hedayIdi e . ’ He took her hand tightly in his own, looking down athe r .‘ And t oday,Iwi l ls t ar tt her e s tofmyl i f e l ovi ngyou. ’ ‘ Il oveyou…. ’s hec hoke d out .‘ So muc h. ’She s wal l owe d,t he ns hookhe rhe ad.‘ Butwec an ge t married later. We should leave for Rio at once. I don’ t want you t ol os e your c ompany, your f ami l y’ sl e gac y—’ ‘ Ihave n’ tl os ti t .I ’ vef oundi tatl as t .Myf ami l y’ s l e gac yi sl ove , ’hes ai d.‘ Myf ami l y’ sl e gac y—’he l i f t e dhi ss hi ni nge ye st ohe rf ac e‘ —i syou. ’ The autumn leaves of New Hampshire were falling in a million shades of red, gold and green against the cold blue sky when Gabriel and Laura returned home from New York.

Laura sighed with pleasure as their SUV rounded t he be nd i nt he r oad and s he c aughthe r r s t glimpse of the old Olmstead mansion on the hill. It was the Santos house now. The day after their wedding, Gabriel had bought it for her as a present. ‘ I t ’ st oobi g, ’s he ’ dpr ot e s t e d.‘ Wec an’ tpos s i bl y l lal lt hos er ooms ! ’ He ’ dgi ve nhe ras l y,wi c ke ds mi l e .‘ Wec ant r y. ’

And they had certainly done their best. In fact, t he y’ d done excellent work on that front. Laura


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bl us he d.Si nc et he y’ d move di nt ot he hous ei n Mar c h,t he y’ d madel ovei n al lf or t yr ooms ,and also in the secret nooks of the large sprawling gar de n.The y’ ds har e dmanywar me ve ni ngsont he banks of their private lake, swimming and talking and watching the stars twinkle in the lazy summer night. One big pond, she thought, for what was sure to be one big family. She smiled. She would someday teach her own children to swim there, as her father had taught her.

She ’ d be e ni n Ne w Yor k Ci t y wi t h Gabr i e lf or only a single night, but she was already glad to be bac khome .Shehadn’ tknowni twaspos s i bl ef ora man to fuss so much over his wife. As the SUV stopped, she started to open the door, but Gabriel instantly gave her a hard glare. ‘ Wai t . ’ Laura sat back against her seat with a sigh.

He raced around the SUV and opened her door. Gabriel held out his hand, and his dark eyes softened as he looked down at her. She placed her hand in his, and felt the same shiver of love and l ongi ng t hat s he had t he ve r y r s tt i me s he ’ d touched his hand, in the days when she was only his secretary.

Af t e rhe l pi ng he rf r om t he SUV—i twas n’ tas e as yasi tus e dt obe —hec l os e dt hedoorbe hi nd her. He followed her constantly, anxiously, always concerned about her safety and comfort. It might


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havebe e ni r r i t at i ng,i fi twas n’ ts oador abl e .

‘ Ic an c l os e my own door , you know, ’s he observed.

He stroked her cheek, looking down at her e r c e l y.‘ Ihaveal ott omakeupf or .Iwantt ot ake c ar eofyou. ’

Glancing at the sweeping steps that led to the front door ,s hel i f t e dhe re ye br ow wi c ke dl y.‘ Want t oc ar r ymeupt hes t ai r s ? ’

Grabbing her lapel, he pulled her against his dar k wool c oat .‘ Abs ol ut e l y, ’ he whi s pe r e d, nuzzling her hair. He gave her a sensual smile. ‘ Es pe c i al l ys i nc et he ne xt i ght of s t ai r sl e ads s t r ai ghtt oourbe dr oom. ’ Lowering his head to hers, he kissed her.

His lips were hot and soft against her own, and a c ont e nt e ds i gh c ame f r om t he bac k of Laur a’ s throat. As he held her, a cold wind blew in from the north around them, scattering the fallen leaves and whispering of the deep frost that would soon come to the great north woods. But Laura felt warm down to her toes. ‘ You’ r eaf ur nac e , ’Gabr i e ls ai dwi t hal aughas hepul l e daway.The nhes mi l e d.‘ It hi nkt hebaby i sgl adt obehome . ’

‘ Soam I , ’s hes ai d,t he nl aughe d.‘ Foronet hi ng, you won’ tbet r yi ngt ot hr ow your s e l fi nf r ontof t r uc ks ,t r yi ngt opr ot e c tmeont hec r os s wal k. ’


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‘ Fi f t hAve nuei si ns ane , ’hemut t e r e d.

‘ Ye ah,al lt hos ec r az e dt our i s t sandl i modr i ve r s , ’ she teased. Turning, she started to walk toward the front steps. She was excited to see Robby, after his r s tove r ni ghtapar tf r om t he m.He ’ d had t wo l ovi ng babys i t t e r s ght i ng ove r hi m, Gr andma Rut handnannyMar i a.‘ Thanksf oral ove l yni ght . I twasni c e . ’ ‘ Ye ah. ’ Li f t i ng a dar ke ye br ow, he gr i nne d wickedly, clearly remembering their time alone t oge t he ri nf r ontoft he r el as tni ght .

Shee l bowe d hi mi nt her i bs .‘ Ime antwi t ht he gi r l s . ’ ‘ Ri ght . ’Hec l e ar e dhi st hr oat .‘ Yours i s t e r ss e e m to bes e t t l i ngwe l l .I t ’ st he r s tt i meI ’ ves e e nt he m s i nc et he ys t ar t e dc ol l e ge . ’

‘ You’ r enoti nNe w Yor kve r ymuc ht he s edays , ’ she teased.

‘ I have be t t e rt hi ngs t o do t han wor k, ’ he gr owl e d.‘ Li ke make l ove t o my be aut i f ulwi f e . ’ Grabbing her again by the lapels of her warm camel-colored coat, he kissed her again, long and hard, before she pulled away. ‘ Youar ei ns at i abl e ! ’

Hegaveadar k,wi c ke dgr i n.‘ Iknow. ’

A as h ofhe atwe ntt hr ough he r .Af t e rt he y’ d mar r i e dt hatbl us t e r y day i ne ar l y Mar c h,he ’ d madel ovet o he rwi t houtpr ot e c t i on f ort he r s t


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time. The sensation was so new to him that they hadn’ tl e f tt he be df or a f ul lwe e k af t e rt he i r we ddi ng.I ns omeways ,Laur at hought ,s he ’ dbe e n hi s r s t ,j us tashe ’ dbe e nhe r s .Andt he y’ dgot t e n pregnant on their honeymoon. Laura put a hand on her jutting belly. Their baby, a little girl, was due in just a few weeks.

‘ Thanksf ormovi ng up he r e , ’s hewhi s pe r e d.‘ I am s ohappyt obec l os et omyf ami l y. ’ Hi se ye sme the r s .‘ Soam I .And Ihaveyout o t hankf ort hat . ’ Maybe it was pregnancy hormones, but Laura still felt choked up every time she thought of the three girls now living in the same city, all going to college. Two of them were her sisters. Brainy Hattie had transferred to Columbia University, and eighteen-year-old Margaret had opted for NYU.

Butt hegr e at e s tmi r ac l eofal l —Gabr i e l ’ syoung niece, Lola, was now at Barnard. Last spring, shortly after Laura had found out she was pregnant, she had tracked down Izadora, Lol a’ smot he r ,andi nvi t e dt he i rf ami l yt oc omeup for a weekend visit to New Hampshire in the pr i vat ej e t .ToGabr i e l ’ ss hoc k,t he y’ dac c e pt e d.

Af t e rt we nt y ye ar s ,Gabr i e lhad nal l y made peace with Izadora and met her American husband, a restaurant owner in Miami. Gabriel hadhugge dhi syoungni e c ef ort he r s tt i mes i nc e


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s he wasa baby.And he ’ dc onvi nc e dI z ador at o al l ow hi mt oc r e at eat r us tf undf orLol a.‘ I t ’ swhat Gui l he r mewoul dhavewant e d, ’he ’ ds ai dgr ave l y, and put like that, how could Izadora refuse? Lola was now at Barnard College studying art. ‘ Al lt hi sf ami l y ar ound us . ’Wi pi ng away he r tears with a laugh, Laura shook her head and t e as e d, ‘ And you payi ng f or t hr e es t ude nt s at college already. Robby will probably want med s c hool .Andnow t hi sl i t t l eone .Ar eyous ur eyou’ r e r e adyf ormor e ? ’ Gabriel put his hands on her swelling belly beneath her long T-shirt. At nearly nine months along, she could no longer button her wool coat. Half the time she was too hot to wear it, anyway. ‘ J us taf e w we e ksnow, ’hewhi s pe r e d.Dr oppi ngt o one knee, he impulsively kissed her belly. ‘ Gabr i e l ! ’s hegas pe dwi t h al augh,gl anc i ngup at the big windows of the house.

Her husband looked up at her. His eyes glowed wi t ht e nde r ne s sand l ove .‘ I ’ l lbehe r et hi st i me , querida, ’hes ai di nal ow voi c e .‘ Eve r ys t e poft he way. ’ ‘ Iknow, ’s hes ai d,he rt hr oatc hoki ngwi t ht e ar s of joy. Tugging him to his feet, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. And as the cold wind blew, carrying dry leaves down their long driveway, she felt only warmth and love in t he r eoft he i re mbr ac e .


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And Laura knew two things.

The r ebe t we e nt he m woul dal waysl as t .

And second, that they had an excellent chance of l l i ngal lf or t yr ooms .


All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all the incidents are pure invention. All Rights Reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises II BV/S.à.r.l. The text of this publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. ® and TM are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with ® are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries. First published in Great Britain 2011 by Mills & Boon, an imprint of Harlequin (UK) Limited, Eton House, 18-24 Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1SR © Jennie Lucas 2011 ISBN: 978-0-263-88673-3

Jennie lucas reckless night in rio  

"All you need to do is… pretend to love me." The task should be easy for Laura Parker— after all, Gabriel Santos is outrageously good-looki...

Jennie lucas reckless night in rio  

"All you need to do is… pretend to love me." The task should be easy for Laura Parker— after all, Gabriel Santos is outrageously good-looki...

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