At the Brazilian's CommandBy: Susan Stephens
THE TERMS OF his grandfather’s last will and testament had shocked everyone but Tiago Santos, to whom they had come as no surprise. To inherit he must marry. It was that simple. If he did not marry within a specific timeframe the ranch he loved in Brazil, and had built up into a world-class concern, would be handed over to a board of trustees who didn’t know one end of a horse from the other.
His grandfather had suffered from delusions of grandeur, Tiago recalled as he prepared to land the jet he had piloted from Brazil to the wedding of his best friend, Chico, in Scotland. Tiago must give up his freedom to marry in order to preserve the Santos name, which his grandfather had believed was more important than the individuals who bore that name.
‘The name Santos must not die out,’ his grandfather had stated on his deathbed. ‘It is time for you to find a wife, Tiago. If you don’t provide an heir, our family will disappear without a trace.’
‘And if I marry and we’re not lucky enough to have a child?’
‘You will adopt,’ the old man had said, as if a child could be so easily co-opted into his plan. ‘If you refuse me this you will lose everything you have worked so hard to rebuild.’
‘And the families who have lived on Fazenda Santos for generations? Would you disinherit them too?’
‘Your bleeding heart is wasted on me, Tiago. Do you think I care what happens when I’m dead? My legacy must live on. Don’t look at me like that,’ his grandfather had protested. ‘Do you think I won this land with the milk of human kindness? What’s so hard about what I’m asking you to do? You’re with a different woman every week—pick one of them. You breed horses, don’t you? Now I’m asking you to breed on a woman and get a child to bear our name. You know what will happen if you don’t. You don’t even have to keep her. Just keep the child.’
There was no way to argue with someone on his deathbed, and for that reason alone he had held his tongue. But one thing was sure: whatever it took, he would save the ranch.
THE FIST CAME out of nowhere and smacked her in the face. Flat on her back in the hay, reeling from shock and fighting off oblivion, she blanked for a moment and then fought like a demon. Cruel hands grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head. Before she drew her next breath a powerful thigh was rammed between her legs. Terror clawed at her throat. Pain stabbed her body. The man was kneeling on top of her. She was alone in the stables, apart from the horses, and it was dark. The band at the wedding party was playing so loudly no one would hear her scream.
No way was she going to be raped. Not if she could help it, Danny determined.
Fear and fury gave her strength. But not enough!
She couldn’t fight the man. He was too strong for her. Pressing her down with his weight, he was grunting as he freed himself, breathing heavily in anticipation of what he was going to do.
Yanking her head from side to side, she looked for something—anything—to beat him off with. If only she could free one hand—
He laughed as she strained furiously beneath him.
She knew that laugh.
Everything had happened in a matter of seconds, blinding her to all but the most primal sense of survival, or she would have recognised her brutal ex. It sickened her to know that Pintos must have tracked her down to this remote village in the Highlands of Scotland. Were there no lengths he wouldn’t go to, to punish her for leaving him?
Coming here to Scotland, she’d been running home—running away from Pintos—running for her life. But no longer, Danny determined fiercely. She had escaped her brutal lover, and had no intention of giving way to him now. This was over.
As hate and fear collided inside her an anger so fierce it gave her renewed strength surged inside her. Bringing her knee up, she tried to catch him in the groin. But Pintos was too quick for her, and he laughed as he back-handed her across the face.
She recovered to find him braced on his forearms, preparing for his first lunge.
‘Boring then—boring now,’ Pintos sneered as a guttural sound of terror exploded from her throat. ‘Why don’t you admit you want me and give in?’
The only thing that made it through her frozen mind was that if ‘boring’ meant refusing the type of relationship Pinto had demanded, then, yes, she was boring.
‘Well?’ he sing-songed, sending her stomach into heaving spasms as he licked her face.
It had only been after she’d been going out with him for a while that Danny had discovered that Carlos Pintos, a big noise on the polo circuit, was a violent bully. He was always charming in public, and she had been guilty of falling under his spell, but he became increasingly vicious when they were alone. He must have used that same charm to get through security at the wedding.
Exclaiming with revulsion, she whipped her face away from his slavering tongue, knowing she had only one chance. With his weight advantage Pintos was over-confident, and he was taunting her by drawing this out. Gathering her remaining strength, she snapped up and rammed her head into his face.
With a yowl he reeled back, clutching his nose, blood pouring through his fingers. She lurched away, but the deep hay slowed her progress as she scuttled crab-like across the stable. Grabbing hold of the hay net on the wall, she hauled herself up and hit the bolt on the stable door. Barging through, head down, legs heavy and as weak as jelly, she lumbered forward, setting her sights on an exit that had never seemed further away.
* * *
Having escaped the wedding party, Tiago was taking a brisk stroll around the home fields of the vast Highland estate. As heir to a ranch in Brazil the size of a small country, casting a professional eye over farmland was second nature to him. His public face was that of an international polo player at the top of his game, but his private world was the wild pampas of Brazil, where he bred horses—a place where men were worthy of the name and women didn’t simper. The press called him a playboy, but he much preferred being outside in a challenging landscape like this to the cloying warmth of the crowded house.
Quickening his stride, he headed around the side of the house to the stables. His friend Chico had done well, marrying the heiress of this estate, though Chico had his own slice of Brazil to add to the pot, so it was a good marriage bargain all round. Chico intended to breed horses here as well as in Brazil—priceless ponies that might have been said to be the best in the world if Tiago’s hadn’t been better. He and Chico had often talked about expanding into the European market, and he could tell that this land had been primed and was ready for animals to raise their young in the spring.
Which was more than could be said for him, Tiago reflected dryly. Fulfilling his grandfather’s demand that he find a wife was still a work in progress. He liked his freedom too much to settle down. The press referred to his Thunderbolts polo team as a pack of rampaging barbarians. He gave the tag new meaning—though the public liked to think of him rampaging with a glass of Krug in his hand and a beautiful woman on his arm.
He relaxed as he came closer to the stables, where he would be as happy chatting to a horse as making small talk in the ballroom. The courtyard in front of the block was dimly lit, in contrast to the chandeliers set party-bright inside the grand old house.
He was halfway across the yard when the door to the stable block burst open and a small female, dressed in some flouncy creation, tumbled out.
Instead of reacting graciously as he ran to save her she screamed some obscenity at him and, grabbing hold of his lapels, roared at him like a tigress before angrily attempting to thrust him away. When this failed to make any impact she stepped back and, holding herself defensively, glared at him through furious eyes.
For a moment he didn’t recognise her, but then...
He knew the girl. She was the bride’s best friend, and a bridesmaid at the wedding. He’d first met her at Chico’s ranch in Brazil, where both the bride—Lizzie—and Danny had been studying horse-training under the heel of an acknowledged master of terrorising students: his friend and teammate Chico Fernandez.
‘What has happened here?’ he demanded as she continued to glare at him. She was panting as if she’d run a mile. Then he saw her face was badly bruised. ‘Deus, Danny!’
Moving past her, he stared into the darkened stable block. Nothing seemed to be out of place, so he turned back to her.
‘Danny, it’s Tiago from Brazil. Don’t you recognise me? You’re safe now.’
Battered and bruised she might be, but her eyes blazed at this last comment.
‘Safe with you?’ she derided.
Fair enough. If she believed his press, she probably should run for her life.
But she didn’t run. Danny stayed to confront him. She’d always had guts, he remembered, and had never been afraid to take him on when they’d met at Chico’s ranch. But what had happened here?
‘Why are you out here on your own?’ And where the hell was Security? he wondered, glancing around.
‘What’s it to you?’ As she spoke she touched the red bruise on her cheek.
‘Quiet, chica... You need help with this.’