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Authors: Phoebe Conn

Fierce Passion

BOOK: Fierce Passion
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Dedication

Fierce Passion
is dedicated to my wonderful family and dear friends who are always there when I need them. I love you all dearly.

Chapter One

Barcelona, Spain

The exquisite orchid corsage lay beside Ana Santillan’s place card. It was whiter than snow and tied with a fiery red satin ribbon. She made a yearly donation to the children’s charity benefiting from tonight’s gala dinner, but she wouldn’t have been singled out with such a lovely corsage. There was no card, and that week beautiful rose bouquets had also arrived at her condo without a sender’s name.

She’d assumed her mystery admirer might be too shy to sign a card, but if he’d left the orchid at her place, he must be there and hope to meet her tonight. Anticipating an awkward introduction to a man she’d rather not know, she spread the starched linen napkin over her lap and left the orchid untouched.

Seated with advertising personnel she knew from modeling, she smiled at their spouses and partners. Armand Leyva, one of her favorite photographers, gave her a welcoming grin. She enjoyed her companions’ decidedly ribald humor, although as the evening progressed, she grew increasingly uncomfortable. The eerie sensation of being watched created an itching ball of heat between her shoulder blades. She made her living with her face and figure, but being slyly observed unnerved her.

The popular benefit drew a wealthy crowd, and she recognized most faces but knew no one well. Turning to see who sat nearby, she found Santos Aragon with his American fiancée. Although she and Santos were through months ago, she didn’t envy his latest willowy blonde. Someday soon he’d shatter the poor kid’s heart and leave it scattered like glass at an accident scene.

She scanned the tables seated closer to the orchestra, but no one gazed her way. The hairs on the back of her neck continued to twitch. Someone stared at her even if she couldn’t catch him. He hadn’t approached her during the cocktail hour, but she’d arrived only a few minutes before everyone had been ushered into the ballroom.

The dinner had been quite good, even if she hadn’t eaten more than a mouthful or two, and the auction would soon begin. She excused herself to beat the rush to the restroom. The hotel’s newly remodeled lounge was decorated in ivory and gold with comfortable padded chairs, and rather than return to her table, she sat to rest and ripped her fingers through her gently curled hair.

Leaving early would make it far too easy for an adoring fan to follow her home. She yawned, kicked off her silver heels and rested her feet on a bench facing the long mirror. If she’d come with one of the brawny men she’d posed with last week, maybe being watched wouldn’t be so unsettling. Unfortunately, she wasn’t particularly fond of any of them.

She looked up as the door opened, and nearly hissed as Santos’s fiancée entered with Maggie Mondragon. She nodded to Maggie and forced a smile. After posing her whole life, she easily summoned a pleasant expression.

“Ana, I haven’t seen you since, well, it’s been a while,” Maggie greeted her. “I framed all the beautiful photos you took of Rafael and me. I believe you’ve met my sister, Libby.”

“Yes, at the photo shoot for the Aragon cologne ad,” Ana replied. “Santos and you are spectacular on the billboards, although I prefer the intimacy of the magazine ads.”

“They’re my favorites too,” Libby replied. “That’s the last time I’ll say yes to modeling. It’s much harder work than people imagine.”

Ana eyed Libby with a sudden inspiration and stood to study their side-by-side reflections in the mirror. Santos had a weakness for leggy blondes, and she’d be a fool not to use their remarkable resemblance to her own advantage. “We have the same coloring, the same height and size. Would you do me a favor?”

Surprised, Libby turned cautious. “What sort of favor?”

“Someone’s been sending me roses, red one day, yellow the next, and this morning, a flaming orange. There aren’t any cards. There’s an orchid corsage at my place, and I’d rather not stay if my mystery admirer hopes to meet me tonight. If we exchanged gowns and you went back to my table for a few minutes, I could slip out without being followed.”

“Wait,” Maggie warned, her voice full of concern. “If someone is stalking you, we should notify the hotel security.”

Ana laughed. “Spanish men shower women with flowers every day. If I complained someone’s been sending roses, I’d look ridiculous.”

“The magazines with your fashion spreads have excellent relationship articles. Don’t you read them?” Libby asked. “Controlling men often begin with flowers and gifts, and their true nature doesn’t emerge until the woman attempts to break it off.”

“That’s why I’m very careful about the men I date,” Ana countered. She congratulated herself silently for keeping Santos’s name out it. “All I want to do is go home. Will you help me?”

Libby and Maggie exchanged perplexed glances. “Why not?” Libby answered. Ana’s gown shimmered with silver threads while Libby wore a long, dusty-rose sheath. She’d also worn her long hair down and softly curled. Once they’d switched gowns, all she had to do was bend over to fluff her hair, and when she stood, she could easily pass for Ana at a casual glance.

“We do know an excellent private detective, if you’d like a reference,” Libby offered.

Ana gave Libby’s arm a fond squeeze. “Thank you, but no. I’ll send your gown to the beach house Monday, and the deliveryman can pick up mine. Give me five minutes to find a taxi before you return to your own table.”

“I saw where you were seated,” Libby replied. “Maggie, we came in together. Why don’t you walk Ana out, and she’ll be mistaken for me.”

Maggie sent a quick glance at the mirror and curled her long pageboy behind her ear. “Fine, let’s go.”

Ana took a deep breath. “You keep talking, Maggie, and I’ll keep my head down as though I were following closely.”

Libby let them go, counted to ten and left the restroom as several women entered. She raised her hand to shade her face as she made her way through the maze of tables and slid into Ana’s place. Dessert had just been served, and her companions were exclaiming over the raspberry mousse cupped in a chocolate shell. She took a bite.

“Oh, this is good.”

Armand’s brows shot to an extraordinary height.

Thinking he’d recognized her from the Aragon cologne ads, Libby raised a finger to her lips. She’d pushed her hair forward so those seated beside her couldn’t see her face clearly. She picked up the orchid corsage and buried her nose in it while Armand continued to stare. Ana had only asked for five minutes, and when Libby saw Maggie rejoin Rafael at Santos’s table, she assumed Ana must have already left in a taxi.

She sat up and smiled. “How silly of me. I seem to be at the wrong table. Please excuse me.” The orchid corsage remained in her hand as she left.

Santos stood as she came to the table, and he swept her with a puzzled glance. “I’d swear you were wearing pink when we arrived.”

Libby gave him a light kiss and returned to her place. “How perceptive of you. Ana Santillan and I swapped gowns.”

Maggie touched Santos’s sleeve. “I know your opinion of Ana, but she needed a favor, and we were glad to help.”

“Why would she need another gown?” Santos asked incredulously.

Rafael, Maggie’s husband, leaned forward. “Women think in an untranslatable language. Don’t try to understand them.”

“Save your advice for a man who needs it,” Santos shot back.

“Fine, because it doesn’t come cheap.”

“Gentlemen, please,” Libby scolded. “This dessert is incredibly good. Let’s enjoy it in a peaceful silence. I’ll answer all your questions later, Santos. I promise.” She gave her lips a saucy lick, and as expected, Santos’s dark gaze lightened to a sexy smolder.

 

 

The Aragon beach house was designed by a protégé of Antonio Gaudí and was a stunning example of surrealist architecture. With curves rather than sterile straight lines, the home had the perfection of a seashell nestled along the shore of the Mediterranean. Libby and Santos went back and forth between her room and his so often they had to sit up and look around in the morning to discover whose bed they’d chosen.

She turned her back to him and lifted her hair in an invitation to unzip Ana’s gown. “Thank you.” She stepped out of the slinky silver dress and folded it over her arm. “Someone has been sending Ana roses without including a card. She thought he might be there tonight and wanted to leave before he approached her.”

Santos responded with a rude snort. “She has very low standards. I can’t believe she’d shun a man who’d send flowers.”

She poked him in the chest. “Don’t insult her. We have the same taste in men.”

He caught her hand and pulled her close. “Avoid her. Tonight she wanted your dress. Who knows what she’ll ask for next time you meet?”

She rubbed her hips against his. “I love it when you go all macho. I won’t let her have another chance at you, and that’s all that matters.”

He growled against her throat. “Macho I can do.”

Her man was so easy to distract, and she was far too curious about Ana Santillan to avoid her indefinitely.

 

 

Maggie sat on the side of their bed and kicked off her heels. Rafael studied her wistful expression. “Didn’t you have a good time tonight? Should I have bid on something in the auction?”

Everything about the black-eyed gypsy fascinated her. His hands were as handsome as the rest of him, and she watched him unbutton his shirt. “It was a lovely evening, but we shouldn’t bid on expensive things we don’t need.”

He shrugged off his shirt. “It was a very good cause.”

“True, and I’m happy to help all the children’s charities, but I really thought we’d be on our way to having our own family by now.”

He took her hands to coax her up and helped her out of her fluid pale peach gown. The luscious color complemented her hazel eyes and hair, and her lingerie was a dreamy lavender with a smooth satiny feel. “The two of us are a family,” he insisted. “We were only married last summer, after you’d nearly bled to death.” He kissed the scars on her wrists. “You can’t rush nature. The babies will come in time.”

She swayed against him. “I hope so.”

He pulled her close and fondled her hair. “We’ll have all the babies you want, even if we have to rely on science to become parents.”

Her smile turned slyly seductive. “I prefer the old-fashioned method.”

“So do I, so let’s not waste any more of tonight.” He overwhelmed her with affection, and they were swiftly lost in love.

 

 

Ana made it home without being followed, but her mystery lover already knew her address. She paused at the security guard’s desk. “If someone arrives claiming I’m expecting him, please send him away. I don’t care who he is or how magnificently he’s dressed.”

“Yes, Miss Santillan. Has someone been bothering you?”

“I attended a large party tonight, and I’m being cautious. Thank you, Jacob, good night.”

Rather than walk into a dark room, she always left the lights on in her condo. Nothing was out of place, although the fragrant roses on the coffee table were a colorful warning something was definitely amiss. She wouldn’t toss them until their blooms began to droop. She went into her bedroom and carefully slipped out of Libby’s dress. It was scented with the haunting Aragon cologne. Maybe Santos splashed it on her for fun.

She yanked off the pink diamond ring Santos’s father had left her in his will. Miguel had died much too young, and while Santos resembled him, she longed for the original Aragon man.

 

 

Ana was so easily recognized on the street she seldom left home without a large hat and dark glasses, or her favorite disguise, a straight black wig with bangs that brushed her eyelashes, generous Goth eyeliner and baggy black clothes. She’d always tip the security guard before she left so he’d recognize her and allow her back in, but she loved being able to go for long walks on Sunday afternoons and not draw more than an occasional idle glance. Slumping along rather than walking with her usual regal grace, she felt exhilarated the whole way.

El Gato Café off Las Ramblas was a favorite place to order tea and bite-size nut cakes and sit on the patio to read. When a young man carrying a bulging backpack asked to join her, she nodded and remained focused on her book.

BOOK: Fierce Passion
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