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His Ultimate Prize(2)

By:Maya Blake



'I'm not rising to your baits, Rafael.' Mostly because she had an  inkling of how hard this morning would be for him. According to Rafael's  housekeeper, it was the first time he'd interacted with his family  since his return to León from his private hospital in Barcelona. 'You  can try to rile me all you want. I'm not going anywhere.'

'A martyr to the last?'

'A physiotherapist who knows how grumpy patients can be when they don't get their way.'

'What makes you think I'm not getting exactly what I want?' he rasped lazily.

'I overheard your phone call to Marco this morning...twice...to try and  get out of your godfather duties. Since you're here now, I'm guessing he  refused to let you?'

A tic in his jaw and a raised brow was her only answer.

'Like I said, I know a grumpy patient when I see one.' She hurried forward and opened the large heavy door.

To her relief, he didn't answer back. She hoped it was because they were  within the hallowed walls of his family's chapel because she was close  enough to feel his tension increase the closer they got to the altar.

De Cervantes family members and the few close friends who'd managed to  gain an invitation to the christening of Sasha and Marco de Cervantes's  firstborn turned to watch their slow progress up the aisle.

'Shame you're not wearing a white gown,' Rafael quipped from the side of  his mouth, taking her elbow even as he smiled and winked at a  well-known Spanish supermodel. But, this close, Raven could see the  stress lines that faintly bracketed his mouth and the pulse throbbing at  his temple. Rafael really did not want to be here.

'White gown?'

'Think how frenzied their imagination would be running right about now.  It would almost warrant a two-page spread in X1 Magazine.'

'Even if I were dressed in bridal white with a crown on my head and  stars in my eyes, no one would believe you would actually go through  with anything as anathema to you as a wedding, Rafael. These poor people  would probably drop dead at the very thought of linking you with the  word commitment.'

His grip tightened for a minuscule moment before that lazy smile  returned. 'For once, you're right. Weddings bore me rigid and the word  marriage should have a picture of a noose next to it in the dictionary.'

They were a few steps away from the front pew, where his brother and  sister-in-law sat gazing down adoringly at their infant son. The sight  of their utter devotion and contentment made her insides tighten another  notch.

'I don't think that's how your brother and his wife see it.'

Rafael's jaw tightened before he shrugged. 'I'm prepared to accede that  for some the Halley's Comet effect does happen. But we'll wait and see  if it's a mirage or the real thing, shall we?'

Her breath caught at the wealth of cynicism in his tone. She couldn't  respond because an usher was signalling the priest that it was time to  start.

The ceremony was conducted in Spanish with English translations printed out on embossed gold-edged paper.

As the minutes ticked by, she noted Rafael's profile growing even  tenser. Glancing down at the sheet, she realised the moment was  approaching for him to take his godson for the anointing. Despite her  caution to remain unmoved, her heart softened at his obvious discomfort.

'Relax. Babies are more resilient than we give them credit for. Trust me, it takes a complete idiot to drop a baby.'

She was unprepared for the icy blue eyes that sliced into her. 'Your  flattery is touching but the last thing I'm thinking of is dropping my  nephew.'

'You don't need to hide it, Rafael. Your tension is so thick it's suffocating.'

His eyes grew colder. 'Remember when I said weddings bore me?'

She nodded warily.

'Christenings bore me even more. Besides, I've never been good in  churches. All that piety.' He gave a mock shudder. 'My abuela used to  smack my hand because I could never sit still.'

'Well, I'm not your grandmother so you're spared the smacking. Besides, you're a grown man now so act like one and suck it up.'

Too late, she remembered certain words were like a naked invitation to  Rafael. She was completely stunned when he didn't make the obvious  remark. Or maybe it was a testament to just how deeply the whole  ceremony was affecting him.

'I just want this to be over and done with so I can resume more  interesting subjects.' Without due warning, his gaze dropped to the  cleavage of her simple, sleeveless orange knee-length chiffon dress. The  bold, heated caress resonated through her body, leaving a trail of fire  that singed in delicate places. 'Like how delicious you look in that  dress. Or how you'll look out of it.'

Heat suffused her face. It was no use pointing out how inappropriate  this conversation was. Rafael knew very well what he was doing. And the  unrepentant gleam in his eyes told her so.

'Rafa...' Marco de Cervantes's deep voice interrupted them.

Raven glanced up and her eyes collided with steel-grey ones which softened a touch when they lit on his brother.

Like most people who'd worked the X1 Premier circuit, she knew all about  the de Cervantes brothers. Gorgeous beyond words and successful in  their individual rights, they'd made scores of female hearts flutter,  both on and off of the racing circuit.

Marco had been the dynamic ex-racer team boss and race car designer. And  Rafael, also insanely gifted behind the wheel, had at the age of  twenty-eight founded and established himself as CEO of X1 Premier  Management, the multi-billion euro conglomerate that nurtured, trained  and looked after racing drivers. Between them they'd won more medals and  championships than any other team in the history of the sport.

The last year had changed everything for them, though. Marco had sold  the team and married Sasha Fleming, the racing driver who'd won him his  last Constructors' Championship and stolen his heart in the process; and  Rafael had spectacularly crashed his car, nearly lost his life and  stalled his racing career.

The icy jet of guilt that shot through Raven every time she thought of  his accident, and her part in it, threatened to overwhelm her. Her  breath caught as she desperately tried to put the incident out of her  head. This was neither the time nor the place.

But then, when had timing been her strong suit?

Over and over, she'd proven that when it came to being in the wrong  place at the wrong time, she took first prize every single time. At  sixteen, it was what had earned her the unwanted attention that had  scarred what remained of her already battered childhood.

As a grown woman of twenty-three, foolishly believing she'd put the past  behind her, she'd been proved brutally wrong again when she'd met  Rafael de Cervantes.

Rafael's mouth very close to her ear ripped her from her painful thoughts. 'Right, I'm up, I believe. Which means, so are you.'

Her heart leapt into her throat. 'Excuse me?'

'I can barely stand up straight, pequeña. It's time to do your duty and  support me just in case it all gets too much and I keel over.'

'But you're perfectly capable-'

'Rafa...' Marco's voice held a touch of impatience.

Rafael's brow cocked and he held out his arm. With no choice but to  comply or risk causing a scene, Raven stood and helped him up. As  before, his arm came around her in an all-encompassing hold. And again,  she felt the bounds of professionalism slip as she struggled not to feel  the effortless, decidedly erotic sensations Rafael commanded so very  easily in her. Sensations she'd tried her damnedest to stem and, failing  that, ignore since the first moment she'd clapped eyes on the legendary  racing driver last year.

What had she said to him-suck it up? She took a breath and fought to take her own advice.

They made their way to the font and Raven managed to summon a smile in  answer to Sasha's open and friendly one. But all through the remainder  of the ceremony, Raven was drenched with the feeling that maybe, just  maybe, in her haste to assuage her guilt and make amends, she'd made a  mistake. Had she, by pushing Rafael to take her on as his personal  physiotherapist, jumped from the frying fan into the proverbial fire?

* * *

Rafael repeated the words that bound the small person sleeping  peacefully in the elegant but frilly Moses basket to him. He firmed lips  that wanted to curl in self-derision.

Who was he to become godfather to another human being?

Everything he touched turned to dust eventually. Sooner or later he  ruined everything good in his life. He'd tried to tell his brother over  and over since he'd dropped the bombshell on him a month ago. Hell, as  late as this morning he'd tried to get Marco to see sense and change his  mind about making him godfather.

But Marco, snug in his newfound love-cocoon, had blithely ignored his  request to appoint someone else his son's godfather. Apparently, reality  hath no blind spots like a man in love.

Was that a saying? If not, it needed to be.

He was no one's hero. He was the last person any father should entrust with his child.

He gazed down into his nephew's sweet, innocent face. How long before  Jack de Cervantes recognised him for what he was? An empty shell. A  heartless bastard who'd only succeeded at two things-driving fast cars  and seducing fast women.