The Playboy of Argentina

By:

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.

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