Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Exciting times--TANGO due for release 04-04-17

Prelude to
Taming the Tango Champion

Ava Whittaker landed on the soft turf, an involuntary ‘whoosh’ escaping her lungs as her bum made contact with the ground. A cloud of dust rose, and she coughed, flapping a hand in front of her face. Red Sox, the mare she had been trying without success to ride, lowered her head and puffed a hot, smelly breath of air into Ava’s face. Pushing her away, Ava grinned at her. 
            “Okay okay I’m good…”
            Red Sox ambled to the trough in the corner, her demeanor good-natured as she left Ava awash in the sunlight streaming through the open barn door. She blew a stray blond hair back from her face. A friend she had met travelling told her if she ever got as far as Argentina, she must check out the de Romero ranch and ride one of their horses. So here she was. She had never ridden much beyond the odd hack, but she could do this. Hopefully.  
            Was she mad to want to finish off her twelve-month travelling stint by riding a horse through the Andes? 
            She dusted off her hands preparing to stand as an outline against the sun rang alarm bells. An exasperated breath at her ineptitude being witnessed escaped before she looked at the dusty brown cowboy boots blocking her line of vision. Her gaze followed denim-clad calves along muscle bound thighs clearly defined beneath the soft work-faded fabric. Stuck in her position of being half way off the ground, she had no choice but to let her gaze skitter further, over the taut stomach – clung to with much love by his tee-shirt – and up to impossibly broad shoulders. Maybe it was the angle, and being backlit by the sun, but this man looked like a Greek god. 
That would make her his worshipper.  
            He put a hand out.
For her to kiss.  
Smiling inside, she stretched up and couldn’t help flinching as his hand encircled her wrist and lifted her off the ground. His touch rendered her graceful as a dancer. Myriad feelings blazed a trail through her, and she shivered as his strong grasp brought her up close to his wide chest. The tallest girl in her class growing up, it had become rare for her to have to look up to anyone, but here she only reached his broad shoulder span. A scent of amber and spices filled her head, an intoxicating blend that spiraled into her to twist her lower stomach. 
“Why are you on your own?” A deep voice rumbled in his chest, perfect English with a sexy soft Argentine accent. 
Her throat suddenly dry, Ava stepped away, ignoring the sharp pain in her left side and left him in the sun. 
“Pardon?” She shaded her eyes to look at him, welcoming mild annoyance that rose as a cool escape from the hot feelings flustering through her body. A cloudy haze descended on her mind, and her limbs sat heavy within her. 
The brim of his cowboy hat hid his eyes. But his chiseled jaw, lightly covered in dark brown stubble, combined with high cheekbones made him look as though he had just walked off a movie set. 
            He tipped his hat back in an almost mocking gesture, and dark green eyes looked into hers, gold flecks beckoning her to gaze deeper.
            “I asked you what you were doing in here on your own.” He folded an arm across the wide girth of his chest, long slender fingers tapping his chin.
“And it’s your business, because?” Ava could match mocking for mocking any day, yet her voice sounded only faintly like hers.  
            “Matthias de Romero, at your service.” He doffed his hat and gave a slight bow. 
            De Romero, where had she heard that name before? She almost groaned aloud as the realization came to her. 
            “De Romero? This is your ranch?” 
            “It is. Now, do I have to ask you a third time?” The low timbre of his voice had her watching his mouth as he spoke, a sensuous bottom lip hiding straight white teeth. 
“Ava Whittaker.” Ava breathed her name. Great, now she sounded like a silly teenager. “I mean, that’s my name.” 
She cleared her throat, determined to find some gravitas. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she glanced up through a dim haze to see him raising an eyebrow. Perhaps it was the heat of the Argentine sun, or her empty tummy which helpfully growled now, but she couldn’t seem to focus. Her hip ached from where she landed, and attempting to put weight on it nearly caused her knee to buckle.     
Great first impressions. 
            She stifled a yelp only to let it lose when he slid a strong arm around her to support her. Of its own accord, her body tucked itself under his shoulder, blood fizzing crazily in the feel of the long, lean torso pressed warm against her. Her head seemed to have floated from her body, giving it carte blanche to behave in the most outrageous of manners.  She suspected she was cultivating Dengue Fever, despite the fact a mosquito hadn’t been near her in days.
             “Let’s take you up to the ranch house, get you a nice cool drink.” Smooth and deep, his voice caressed her, all signs of impatience buried. 
            Not waiting for her reply, he steered her out of the barn to emerge blinking in the broad sunlight.
            “Alessandro?” his voice cut like a bullet through the air to a ranch hand leading two horses into the busy stables. “Red Sox needs looking after.” 
            I do too…
            She banished the thought as soon as it raised a seductive head. Taking a sabbatical from her job as breakfast news presenter to travel the world on her own had been wonderful. But it had meant being on her guard at all times. A lone girl of twenty-eight travelling had to keep her senses sharp and her passport close. Two weeks short of her flight home, she wanted to relax and a rising desire whispered to lean on this capable man for a short while. 
            “Nearly there…” 
His encouraging tone washed over her. The long low red ranch shimmered ahead in the hot midday sun, and she closed her eyes against the sudden nausea. The porch, when she reached it, provided a very welcome shelter from the blazing sun. 
            Matthias swung the kitchen door open with a flourish and gestured for her to come in. 
“Gracias, Senor de Romero.” She spoke with a quiet tone. 
“Please, call me Matthias.” The deep tone and seriously sexy way his name rolled off his tongue with the accent on the ‘th’ sent shivers down her spine. Ava nodded slowly and closed her eyes in gratitude for the cool air conditioning. 
Matthias took his hat off and called in “Maman, are you here?” 
            Inviting in a way that reminded her of her mum’s kitchen back home in England, the marble cream flagstones shot through with black veins matched the black granite work-tops. White painted wooden blinds guarded against the sunlight and helped keep the temperature at a more bearable level.
            “Si, Matthias.” A round woman, dark eyes like currants in a bun, bustled into the kitchen, her kind face changing to concern as she saw Ava’s flushed face. 
            “You poor girl. Quick, Matthias, get some water from the fridge. Sit, sit!” 
With soft hands, she grasped Ava’s arm and guided her to a chair. “Silly girl, you’ve been out in the heat for too long. Your skin is too fair to cope.” Underlying her gentle admonishing tone was worry and Ava subsided, grateful to sit down. Matthias placed a glass of water at her elbow and she gave a weak smile, wondering why she felt like such a ditz. The pain in her side sharpened and she picked up the glass, appreciating the sound of ice clinking against the sides. She took a sip, then held it to her forehead. 
            Senora de Romero turned to Matthias and a rapid fire Spanish conversation took place, with Matthias shrugging expressively at the accusatory tone of his mother. Ava caught words such as Red Sox and Alessandro, and then gave up. It was clear they were talking about her, she could only guess at what they said. 
            The water seemed to be helping and, when Senora de Romero turned from her son, Ava joined the conversation. “Sorry to cause all this fuss. I guess I’m just tired.”
            Matthias leaned against the counter, threw off his hat and braced his hands behind him. With delightful results as thick dark disheveled hair and waves of curls made Ava want to reach out and run her fingers through it.
            “Eat, eat!” His mum put a plate in front of her, piled with Empanadas - the small pastries of meat, cheese, vegetables that were popular and tasty, in Argentina. Normally Ava devoured them, but her appetite had deserted her the moment she landed on her bum. She stared at them, watching in amazement as they circled the plate all on their own. Very carefully, she placed her glass on the table. 
            “Gracias, Senora, but I must go.” She stood up, nodded to her hosts, and made her way out the door. 
            At least in her dreams she did. 
            In reality, she moved to stand and winced as the pain renewed in her side, a low persistent throb. The table supported her as she lowered herself back into her chair, listening in horror as Matthias came towards her, barking commands.  
            “Let me see.” He gestured to her to pull up her top, and too dazed to care, Ava did so. Warm fingers gently probed her side and then he supported her to stand, as he pulled her hiking trousers aside to see her hip. Dazed she may be, but the pressure of his fingers and heck, even his gaze, turned her blood molten. Her knees quaked and his strong hands reached behind her to support her into a seated position. 
            “Just a lot of bruising, nothing more serious.” 
            “Great.” Ava cradled her head in her hands. “I’ll get on back to the dorm then.” She wanted to go but her legs seemed to have ideas of their own. 
A clucking senora appeared by her side. 
“Brusing and some heat exhaustion. You can’t go to the dorm, chica.” A resolute tone took over as she turned to Matthias. “Take her to the Aconcagua room, she’ll be more comfortable there and I can keep an eye on her.” 
            “Not at all, thank you very much.” All Ava wanted was to be left alone, to figure out what was real and what not. If she stayed here, she doubted she’d ever figure it out. 
            “Good idea.” His deep voice caressed her skin like silk and she shivered at the touch. “Have something more to drink, Ava and I’ll take you up.” Bringing a jug of lemonade from the fridge, he filled a glass for her.  She took it, grateful to have something to do. His fingers brushed hers - by accident? Sparks crackled up her right arm. She wouldn’t have been surprised had her hair stood on end. A pastry was treated to the shredding action of her nimble fingers. 
            “I have to go.” Senora de Romero rose up on her tiptoes to reach his cheek just as he leaned down to accept his Mum’s kiss. “I need to go into Mendoza for some things. You look after her!” 
            A small spark of panic threatened to close her throat against the water she drank. What? She was going to be alone with Matthias again? The man was far too dangerous, made even more so by her desire to let him look after her. She had managed fifty weeks of her year without getting romantically involved with any of the men she had met; she didn’t want to fall at the last hurdle. It would be heartbreaking to allow an intense attraction—like one she’d never experience before—to weigh her down when she had to leave for home.  
            Maybe she should go right now with his mother to Mendoza instead, find a bus to take her back over the Andes to Santiago in Chile, get to the airport, get a flight, get home and be able to…breathe. 
            An inner voice scoffed at her not to be silly. Who was to say this devastatingly handsome man would want a girl like her? 
            “Come and I’ll show you to your room. I think you need to rest a while.” At his words, Ava started, suddenly conscious she had been staring. She filled her lungs with a deep breath.. Maybe they were right, she should stay here. The desire for clean white cotton sheets on a bed, in her own space almost overwhelmed her. She hadn’t had her own bedroom since working as a chalet girl in Australia. 
            Matthias came to her side and offered an arm to lean on. She took it with gratitude and he directed her to the doorway next to the larder, a flight of wide wooden steps snaking up to the next floor. Once there, Ava lost count of the numbers of turns and corridors they walked down only to arrive at a door with Aconcagua written above it. 

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