“Do you mind if I join you?”
A shiver of recognition ran down Bella’s back as the man
with the husky Latin American voice lifted the latch on the stable
door and walked in. There was only one man who could breeze through
security in Her Majesty’s backyard - the Guards’ polo
club in Windsor. Nero Caracas, known as the Assassin in polo circles,
played off ten, the highest ranking a polo player could achieve,
and enjoyed privileges around the world others could only dream
of. Impossibly good-looking, Bella had seen Nero commanding the
field of play, and had lusted after him like every other hot blooded
woman, but nothing could have prepared her to be this close to
so much man.
“So this is Misty,” he said, running an experienced
palm down the pony’s shoulder, “She looks smaller
close up - ”
“Appearances can be deceptive.” Racing to the defence
of her favourite pony, Bella forced her hands to go on oiling
the mare’s dainty hooves. She’d lived close to animals
for so long she was as acutely tuned in to danger as they were,
and though the mare seemed calm, Bella was on red alert.
“The match starts soon - ”
And? Bella thought, still polishing. As trainer and one of the
coaches of the British team she knew only too well when the match
started. Surely it was Nero, as captain of the opposing team,
who should be elsewhere?
Nero’s reputation preceded him. He had obviously thought
he could drop in and his smallest wish would be granted with one
eye on the timetable for a match in which he would captain the
Argentinian team. No such luck. The Assassin could yield to the
Ice Maiden on this occasion. And he did, but with a warning glint
in his eye. “I need to speak to you about Misty,’
he said, running another appreciative glance over her pony.
“This isn’t the time,” Bella said coolly, realising
only when their stares clashed that she was running the same type
of assessing look over Nero – experience had nothing to
do with it. Bella's points of reference were in her head. And
all the better for staying there she thought, having taken in
Nero’s conker tan, close fitting white breeches, plain dark
polo shirt, wayward curls catching on his ferocious black stubble,
not to mention the leather boots hugging his hard muscled calves.
It was safer, certainly.
“As you wish,” he said.
When he dipped his head, one professional acknowledging another,
she saw the steel of challenge in his eyes. Nero Caracas was hardly
the most sensible enemy for a woman in Bella’s precarious
financial position to make. The recession had taken a deep bite
out of her resources and the polo world was too small, too incestuous
to take chances. You failed in the eyes of one you failed in the
eyes of everyone. But she wouldn’t fail, Bella told herself
firmly, straightening up to confront this god of the game. “Is
Nero’s lips pressed down. “No,” he said with
a shake of his head. “I think Misty would benefit from being
ridden by a man who really appreciates her -”
“I can assure you that the captain of the English team
appreciates Misty - ”
“But does he ride her in a way that brings Misty pleasure?”
Did Nero Caracas have to make everything sound like an invitation
She glanced at her watch.
“Do I make you nervous, Bella?”
She laughed. “Certainly not – I’m merely concerned
that you’re leaving yourself dangerously short of time.”
“My timing is split second,” Nero assured her.
Was that humour in his eyes? As the rugged Argentinian caressed
Misty’s neck Bella lost herself for a moment. All muscles
and tough, virile appeal, Nero Caracas was quite a man. Another
woman, another time - who knew what might come of this meeting?
Bella thought wryly, dragging herself round.
“En garde,” Nero murmured when she came
to stand between him and the dapple grey polo pony. “I would
like you on my side, Isabella Wheeler, not working against me
for the competition.”
Bella gave him an ironic look. “I’m very happy where
I am, thank you.”
“Maybe I can change your mind -”
“I wish you joy of that -”
“If that’s a gauntlet, I should warn you, Bella,
I always pick them up.”
Too much man - Too close - Too desperately disturbing –
Irritated by the fact that her highly strung mare had remained
calm when Nero entered the stable, Bella demanded sharply, “Anything
Sensation overload, she registered dizzily as Nero’s long
dark stare made her heart go crazy. Nero Caracas was ridiculously
attractive even in the world of audacious risk-takers he inhabited.
He had more charisma than was good for any man. No woman wanted
to be reduced to a primal mating state by an unreconstructed male.
A woman wanted control – something Bella possessed in vast
amounts… usually -