The only hire car she had been able to afford had no air conditioning and to top it all she’d got lost three times on the way to the castillo. The distance on the map was deceptive. Although quite close to the Mediterranean, the historic estancia set high on a lush plateau in the Sierra Nevada was not easy to reach.
It had been the day from hell and only a determination to save her niece from making a terrible mistake had kept Nell going.
And all the time at the back of her mind there had been the question, what if all this was pointless? What if Lucy had already married her Spaniard?
‘Tell me,’ she pleaded, catching hold of his jacket sleeve. ‘Are you married?’
Something dark, bleak and very forbidding flickered into his eyes. For a moment Nell thought he was not going to reply.
‘I was, but not now.’
Oh, my God. Lucy had not only got involved with an older man, she had got involved with an older man who already had a failed marriage behind him, and if his manner when he spoke of it was anything to go by the break up had not been amicable. But then he did not strike Nell as the sort of man who would shrug off a divorce and say, ‘Let’s stay good friends.’
‘You’re a resourceful woman.’
‘I’m a woman who is fast running out of patience.’ Nell, pleased at the crisp delivery, tilted her chin to a ‘don’t mess with me’ angle. ‘I want to see Lucy and I want to see her now. I don’t know what your job is here, but I can’t imagine your employers will be too impressed if I tell them what you’ve been up to!’
‘Are you threatening me?’
‘Yes!’ And not doing a very good job of it. It was difficult to imagine a man looking less threatened than Lucy’s lover… She grimaced—Lucy’s lover. That sounded so wrong on so many levels!
On the silly and shallow level it hardly seemed fair her teenage niece was now officially more sexually experienced than she was.
‘I do not work here.’
Nell, who suddenly realised she still had hold of his arm, regarded him with suspicion. ‘You’re a guest at this hotel?’ She gave a tiny gasp of relief when her fingers finally responded to the message from her brain and let go. The impression of hard, lean strength lingered even when she rubbed her hand against the canvas bag slung around her neck.
‘Not a guest, and not a hotel—this is the home of my grandmother, Doña Elena Santoro.’
The colour faded from her cheeks as Nell turned her head and stared at the vast Castillo d’Oro, a fortified stone edifice—a real castle complete with turrets.
‘You live here?’ That explained the superior attitude and the faint air of disdain, the man obviously considered anyone who didn’t own a castle beneath him. Well, she for one was not impressed by inherited wealth.
She shook her head, not waiting for his confirmation, and said firmly, ‘That doesn’t change anything.’
‘I’m not the man you’re looking for. I’ve never met your niece.’
Frustrated and tired, tears springing to her eyes, Nell, who rarely cried, blinked angrily.
‘I don’t believe you!’ She struggled not to, because if he was telling the truth she was no nearer finding Lucy than she had been this morning.
‘But I do know the man you’re looking for.’
Nell looked at him with a mixture of hope and suspicion.
‘Come indoors and I’ll explain.’
‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m not budging from this spot!’ Nell said, folding her arms across her chest.
‘Have it your way, but I wouldn’t like to have your epidermis tomorrow.’ He glanced up at the relentlessly blue sky, then back at her face. ‘You have the sort of fair skin that burns.’ A slightly distracted expression drifted across his face as he stared at the pale curve of her throat.
‘And freckles,’ Nell murmured with a sigh.
The comment seemed to wake him from his reverie. Possibly he was feeling the heat too, Nell thought, noticing the bands of high colour that attracted her eye to the slashing contours of his marvellous high cheekbones.
THE dull pain drumming in her temples intensified as Nell watched him stroll back to the castillo not pausing even once to look back. He was so damned sure that she’d follow him the way women had no doubt been following him all his adult life—not that she would be following him in the same sense.
She would have loved to have the luxury of calling his bluff, but that gesture would have been pretty self-defeating. If he was speaking the truth and he knew who Lucy was with she had no choice but to follow him. And his point about the heat was valid; the protective factor of the moisturiser she had used that morning had to have worn off hours ago.