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The Playboy of Argentina

By:Bella Frances

The Playboy of Argentina
Bella Frances

       CHAPTER ONE


IN THE LAZY warmth of a summer afternoon, Rocco 'Hurricane' Hermida  stepped out of his helicopter onto the utterly perfect turf of the  Buenos Aires Campo Argentino de Polo. From her vantage point in the  crowd Frankie Ryan felt the air around her ripple with the flutter of a  thousand eyelashes. If awe was a sound it was the reverent silence of  grown men turning to stare at their own demigod. No doubt the polo  ponies were stamping and snuffling and shaking their shaved manes  adoringly, too. Yet all she could feel were the unbidden tremors of hurt  and humiliation and-damn him to hell-shame.

With every step he took across the springy grass his fabulous outline  sharpened. A little taller, definitely more muscular. Could his hair be  longer? It had seemed so shockingly defiant all those years ago. Now it  just trademarked him as none other than Argentina's own-her finest,  proudest export.

Wind whipped at silk skirts and hands flew to hair and hats. The crowd  swelled and leaned closer. For a second her view was obscured, but then  there he was again. Clearer and nearer. Ruggedly, shockingly beautiful.  And still making her heart pound in her ears-after all these years.

He turned, cast his profile; it was caught on camera and screened all  around. The scar through his eyebrow and the break in his nose-still  there. A hand landed on his shoulder, and then there at his side was his  brother Dante, as blond as Rocco was dark-twin princes of Darkness and  Light.

It really was breathtaking. Just as they said in the media. Only even  more potent in the flesh. The dazzling smiles of their happy conspiracy,  the excitement of the match, the thrill of the crowd. How intoxicating.

How sickening.

How on earth was she going to get through the next four hours? The party  afterwards, the gushing hero-worship? All over the man who had looked  her in the eye, kissed her full on the mouth and broken her soft,  trusting heart.

Easy. It would be no problem at all. How hard could it be to watch a  little polo, sip a little Pimm's and keep well out of trouble?

Tipping too large sunglasses onto her too small nose, she took a seat on  the high-rise bleachers and crossed her jiggling legs. Maybe she  shouldn't have come here today. She could so easily have made this  stopover in Buenos Aires and not taken in a polo match. It wasn't as if  she was obsessed with the game itself. Not anymore.

Sure, she'd grown up more in a stable than in a home. And yes, once upon  a time becoming a polo player had been her sixteen-year-old heart's  desire. But she'd been naive back then. Naive enough to think her father  had been kidding when he said the best thing she could hope to become  was a rich man's secretary, or better still a rich man's wife. And even  more naive to throw herself into the arms of the most dashing man she'd  ever seen and almost beg him to take her to bed.

Almost beg? That wasn't strictly accurate, either.

At least in the ten years since then she'd got well past palpitations and hand-wringing.

She spread out her pale Celtic skinny fingers, frowned them steady.  Looked at the single silver ring with Ipanema carved in swirling  writing-a gift for her fourteenth birthday, worn ever since. She rubbed  at it. She still missed that pony. And she still hated the man who had  stolen her away.

But at least Ipanema's line was alive and well. She was the dam of two  of the ponies on Rocco Hermida's string. His favourites, as he made no  secret of telling the world's press. And rumoured to be being used in  his groundbreaking genetics programme. And about to carry him onto the  field and to victory at this charity polo match. Well, that was what  everyone here thought anyway. To the home crowd there was not a shred of  doubt that Argentina's darling was going to triumph over the Palm Beach  team. Totally. Unquestionably. And, with his brother at his side, the  crowd would be guaranteed eight chukkas of the most mouthwatering  display of virile man candy in the whole of South America.

But Frankie Ryan wasn't drooling or licking her lips. Oh, no.

She was rolling her eyes and shaking her head. As much at herself for  her stupid reaction-thankfully she now had that under total control-as  at the flirty polo groupies all around her.

The fact that Rocco Hermida was here, playing, was completely irrelevant. It really was.

He probably didn't even remember her  …

Which was actually the most galling thing of all. While she had burned  with shame and then fury on learning that he'd bought Ipanema, and had  then been sent off to the convent, he had appeared in her life like a  meteor, blazed a trail and as quickly blazed off. He'd never been back  in touch. He'd taken her pride and then her joy. But she had learned a  lesson. Letting anyone get under her skin like that was never going to  happen again.                       
       
           



       

She had a perfectly legitimate reason for being here that had nothing to  do with Rocco Hermida. She might look like a tourist today, but she was  full of business. Landing a job as product development manager at Evaña  Cosmetics, after slogging her guts out as an overgrown intern and then  an underpaid assistant just so she could sock it to her old man was a  dream come true!

She could think of worse things than travelling to the Dominican  Republic and then Argentina in search of the perfect aloe vera  plantation. And she could think of much worse things than an overnighter  in Buenos Aires to lap up the polo followed by a weekend at her friend  Esme's place in Punta del Este to lap up the sun and the sea.

Bliss.

She got another drink-why not? As long as she was fresh enough to start  on her presentation tomorrow she could have a little downtime today. It  might even do her good to relax before she went out on her last trips.  She still had plenty of time to put it all together into a report before  the long flight home and her moment in the boardroom spotlight.

It was such a big deal. She'd spent so long convincing the directors to  take this leap of faith, to look farther than their own backyard for  organic ingredients, to have a unique selling point that was truly  unique. So while she could play the tourist here today, the last thing  she'd do was jeopardise it by getting all caught up in Rocco damn  Hermida.

She began to thread and weave through the contrasting mix of casual  porteños and glamorous internationals. On the other side of the giant  field, spread out like bunting, she spotted the exclusive white  hospitality tents. Esme would be in one of them, playing hostess,  smiling and chatting and posing for pictures. As the Palm Beach  captain's wife, she was part of the package. Frankie could imagine  nothing worse.

An announcement rang like a call to prayer, and another headshot loomed  on the giant screens. There he was again. The default scowl back in  position, the dark hair swept back and landing in that flop across his  golden brow. He was in the team colours, scarlet and black, white  breeches and boots. As the camera panned out, she instinctively looked  at his thighs. Under the breeches they were hard, strong and covered in  the perfect dusting of hair. She knew. She remembered. She'd kissed  them.

For a moment she felt dazed, lost in a mist of girlish memories. Her  first crush, her first kiss, her first broken heart. All thanks to that  man. She drew her eyes off the screen again, scowled at it. Muttered  words under her breath that her mother would be shocked to hear, let  them slide into the wind with the commentator's jabbering biography-a  'what's not to love?' on the Hurricane-and the brassy notes of a gaudy  marching band.

The first chukka was about to start. The air around her sparkled with  eager anticipation. She could take her place-she could watch this-and if  he turned her stomach with his arrogance she could cheer on Palm Beach.  Even if two of his ponies were from Ipanema, the Rocco Hermida on those  screens was just an imprint of a figment of a teenage girl's  infatuation. She owed him nothing.

If only it was that simple.

He was electric.

Each chukka was more dramatic and stunning than the one before.

He galloped like the wind and turned on a sixpence. His scowl was caught  on camera, a picture of composed concentration, and when he  scored-which he did, ten times-a flash of white teeth was his momentary  gift to the crowd.

And of course there was Dante, too. Like a symphony, they flew up and  down the field. Damn, damn, damn, but it was utterly, magnetically  mesmerising.

They won. Of course. And as fluttering blue-and-white flags transformed  the stadium and the crowd hollered its love she scooted her way out.  Head down, her face a picture of 'seen it all before, can take it or  leave it, nothing that special', she made her way round to the  ponies-the real reason she was here.

The grooms were hosing down the last of them when she slipped through  the fence, and watery arcs of rainbows and silvery droplets filled the  air. She sneaked around, watched the action. She loved this. She missed  it. Until this moment she hadn't realised how much.

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