The Shameless Life of Ruiz Acosta

BOOK: The Shameless Life of Ruiz Acosta
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London Diary:

Research. And that’s all it would be. I wouldn’t be breaking Rule 2—no men. I would simply be observing this man from a purely clinical point of view. My ‘Living with a Playboy’ idea would be like one of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries. I wouldn’t be hands-on—I should be so lucky. More all hands to the pump—gulp—as I try to do my bit to save the agony aunt column. (Though I can’t deny the thought of living so close to this particular playboy has done wonders for my metabolic rate. I’ve eaten a whole tub of double chocolate chip icecream in anticipation of his return and I can still get into my jeans …)

(Imagine how slim I’d be if we lived together permanently …)

(Not that I’d ever consider living with anyone after my experience with the ex …)

Love-life? Vicarious. Active. Very active indeed.

Lustful thoughts? Are there any other kind?

And the playboy? This might all be over by tomorrow. He didn’t exactly seem thrilled to see me, and I have yet to discover how he feels when he returns from the gym to find I’m still here.

 

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About the Author

 

SUSAN STEPHENS
was a professional singer before meeting her husband on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta. In true Modern

Romance style they met on Monday, became engaged on Friday, and were married three months after that. Almost thirty years and three children later, they are still in love. (Susan does not advise her children to return home one day with a similar story, as she may not take the news with the same fortitude as her own mother!)

Susan had written several non-fiction books when fate took a hand. At a charity costume ball there was an after-dinner auction. One of the lots, ‘Spend a Day with an Author’, had been donated by Mills & Boon
®
author Penny Jordan. Susan’s husband bought this lot, and Penny was to become not just a great friend but a wonderful mentor, who encouraged Susan to write romance.

Susan loves her family, her pets, her friends, and her writing. She enjoys entertaining, travel, and going to the theatre. She reads, cooks, and plays the piano to relax, and can occasionally be found throwing herself off mountains on a pair of skis or galloping through the countryside. Visit Susan’s website: www.susanstephens.net—she loves to hear from her readers all around the world!

Recent titles by the same author:

THE UNTAMED ARGENTINIAN
RUTHLESS BOSS, DREAM BABY

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

 

 

 

The
Shameless Life
of Ruiz Acosta

Susan Stephens

www.millsandboon.co.uk

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

STRETCHING out his powerful limbs, Ruiz Acosta took the call from his brother Nacho in Argentina. Gazing out across the sophisticated cityscape through the elegant window of his town house, Ruiz knew he had come to love London as much as the wild reaches of the pampas, if not more. The contrast was extreme and the challenges different, but just as stimulating.

And the women?

Pale, harried, and bundled up in so many clothes it was impossible to imagine them freeing themselves from the many wrappings long enough to make love—

‘Will I be home in time for the annual polo match?’ he asked, refocusing in order to reply to his older brother Nacho’s question. ‘Wild horses wouldn’t keep me from that brawl. Just make sure I have a stallion that can outrun Nero’s fire-breathing monster and I’ll be back in time to watch your flank, Nacho—’

‘And the business?’ the hard male voice interrupted.

‘We’re in pretty good shape. I’ve completed the reorganisation. I just have to approve one or two new members of staff. I’ll be splitting my time between Argentina and London in future, but—’

‘So long as you don’t forget your family on the other side of the world, Ruiz,’ Nacho interrupted. ‘You’re the glue that holds us together—’

‘Glue can stretch,’ Ruiz pointed out wryly.

Not liking this challenge to his authority, Nacho changed tack. ‘Have you heard from Lucia, recently?’

‘Lucia? No. Why?’ Ruiz sat up, hearing the change in his brother’s voice. ‘Is there a problem?’

‘Our sister’s gone off radar again—changed her number—’

‘Lucia was always tricky.’ And who could blame her with four older brothers looking over her shoulder? Ruiz reflected. But his sister’s safety was paramount. ‘I’m on it. I’ll drop by Lucia’s flat later to see if she’s back, or if she left any clues behind.’

Nacho seemed satisfied now he knew Ruiz was picking up the latest family problem; his voice mellowed into a dark-chocolate drawl. ‘Have you found yourself a woman yet?’

Ruiz laughed as someone, or rather something, nuzzled its way between his knees. ‘No, but a dog found me.’ There was a curse on the other end of the line, which Ruiz ignored. ‘This great black mutt wandered in from the street while I was having some furniture delivered and made himself comfortable in front of the fire. Didn’t you, Bouncer?’

‘You’ve given the dog a name?’ Nacho interrupted sharply.

‘Not just a name—a home. Bouncer is part of the furniture now.’ Ruiz ruffled the big dog’s ears.

‘This is so typical of you, Ruiz,’ Nacho rapped, reverting to elder brother mode. ‘You always were a sucker for waifs and strays. If anyone needs TLC, you’re there before they know they need help.
Dios!
Get rid of the mongrel!’ Nacho thundered.

‘Butt out!’ Ruiz fired back. They weren’t boys now for Nacho to push him around. His brother should know that where animals were concerned Ruiz cut no corners.

‘See you at the polo match,’ Nacho growled, ‘without the mutt!’

‘Goodbye to you too, brother,’ Ruiz murmured, staring at the silent receiver in his hand.

Nacho had issues. Having taken responsibility for his siblings when their parents died, Nacho sometimes forgot they were all adults now and that, having made his home in London rather than the pampas, Ruiz was independently successful.

Sensing his irritation, Bouncer whined. He stroked the dog to reassure him. ‘I should make allowances for Nacho?’ Ruiz queried as Bouncer’s expressive eyes invited him to take a walk. His brother ran an
estancia
in Argentina the size of a small country and Ruiz supposed Nacho was entitled to have his off days. ‘Okay, boy, you’re right. Let’s go,’ he said, standing up.

A big dog like Bouncer needed hours of exercise. Not unlike his master, Ruiz reflected, catching sight of his swarthy, unshaven face in the mirror. It had been another long and ultimately disappointing night. None of the women he’d met in London appealed to him with their bony figures, heavy make-up, and uniformly dyed blonde hair. It would be fair to say he had become more than a little jaded. Perhaps Nacho was right and he should return to Argentina to find some sophisticated, black-eyed siren, full of the fire and passion of South America who could not only match him in the bedroom but who would share his zest for life.

That was the type of woman his brother Nacho could do with, to shake him out of permanent warrior mode, Ruiz reflected wryly as he locked the front door. It didn’t occur to Ruiz that a similar wake-up call might be waiting for him just around the corner …

 

 

 

 

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CHAPTER ONE

 

I’ve always kept a diary. I’m a compulsive writer some might say. I’ve heard that in the absence of anyone else to confide in people often record their thoughts.

This is day one of my new life in London and my train is just pulling into the station, so I have to keep this short. To make sure everything is in line with the K.I.S.S. principle—which, just in case my journal is discovered a thousand years from now, stands for Keep It Simple Stupid, there are only two rules:

Rely on no one but yourself.

No men—at least, not until you are established as a journalist and can call the shots!

THERE was sleet dripping down her neck and a really old man had just decided Holly was the one who needed help. Was she trying to work out which bus would take her to the station? ‘No, but thank you for asking—I just got here,’ she explained. Chin up. Jaw firm. Smile big. Stop tapping diary notes into your phone and put it away. ‘I’m waiting for a friend,’ Holly added to reassure the elderly Samaritan. Well, it was almost true. She was waiting to get hold of a friend on the phone.

The old man wished her well and went on his way but with the brief moment of human contact snatched away again she felt doubly lost. It was the noise in London, the constant traffic and the mobs of people that took some getting used to when you had just arrived in the capital from a small market town. It didn’t help that her winter coat was soaked right through, she was frozen, and her long red hair hung in sodden straggles down her back.

How could things go so wrong?

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t made the most meticulous plans before coming to London to take up the job at
ROCK!
magazine, carefully tallying her start date with an amazing offer from her best friend from school to stay in her central London garden flat until Holly could sort out her own accommodation. So how was it that the black cab that had brought her from the station to this faceless part of town had left her in front of a door that should have been flung wide in welcome but had instead been opened by a stranger who didn’t even know her name?

Wiping the rain from her face, Holly pulled out her phone and tried to call her friend Lucia again.

‘Lucia?’ Holly exclaimed excitedly, forced to execute a little unplanned dance as she dodged spray from the traffic. ‘Lucia—Can you hear me?’ Holly yelled over a deafening soundtrack of horns tooting, grinding gears, and steel drums—

Steel drums?

‘Holly!’ Lucia shrieked with equal excitement. ‘Is that really you?’

‘Where are you, Lucia?’

‘St Barts. Can’t you hear the sea? Holly, it’s incredible here. You’d love it—’

‘St Barts in the Caribbean?’ Holly interrupted, shivering as she bowed her head beneath a fresh onslaught of wind and icy sleet. Lucia was from a very wealthy Argentinian family, so anything was possible. ‘Isn’t it some unearthly hour there?’

‘Dunno … Still partying!’ Lucia shrieked as if to confirm this with a thousand friends.

‘So … didn’t you get my text?’ Holly asked carefully.

‘What text?’ Lucia sounded bewildered.

‘The one I wrote confirming I’d love to accept your invitation to stay with you this week until I find a place to live down here?’

‘Breaking up … breaking up.’ Lucia was shrieking with laughter now with her hand over the phone. ‘This line is terrible, Holly,’ she confided in a slurry voice. ‘Why don’t you just catch a plane and come over here?’

Er, zero cash? Zero bikinis? Zero desire to cop out of a life that had already been through the shredder …

Holly held back from explaining to Lucia that they might have attended the same school but, while Holly had been a full scholarship pupil, Lucia had been a new sports hall, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a riding stables complete with indoor arena. Oh, yes, St Bede’s School for Girls had had a very shrewd headmistress.

‘So, where are you now, Holl?’ Lucia demanded to the accompaniment of clinking glasses.

‘Outside your flat. “Meet u apt 12/20th Nov”,’ Holly read the text from her phone, leaving out the bit about how Lucia ‘cdnt wait’, followed by ‘:-D’ and a dozen exclamation marks.

‘Did I send that?’

‘Yes, but no problem,’ Holly lied brightly.

Lucia groaned. ‘I did! I said it would be okay for you to stay. I remember now. And it is okay. At least, it would be if I were there. And I sublet my part of the house. Oh, you poor darling, I completely forgot. Were they awful to you?’

‘Actually—’

‘But you can book into a hotel, right?’ Lucia chirped before Holly could explain that the woman who had opened the door to her had been quite nice, if a little bewildered to find a stranger with a suitcase standing on her doorstep looking hopeful. ‘Of course I can,’ Holly soothed. ‘I’m really sorry I interrupted your break, Luce—’

‘No. Wait.’

‘What?’

‘The penthouse!’

‘The penthouse?’ Holly queried.

‘The family’s London penthouse is free! I’m sure it is.’

‘The penthouse, where?’ Holly said, frowning.

‘Right there at the same address,’ Lucia explained triumphantly. ‘There’s a spare key in the key box by the side door. Give me ten minutes to ring someone to make sure the penthouse is empty and find out what the code is.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Is the sun shining in St Barts?’ Lucia screamed with laughter. ‘And there’s a café right across the road,’ she said. ‘See it?’ Lucia demanded, tense with excitement now she had identified a way out of the problem. ‘Have a coffee and wait for me to call you—’

Holly stared at her silent phone. Only a member of the powerful Acosta clan could have a penthouse going spare in London, she thought wryly. Putting her phone away, she glanced across the road and saw the café Lucia had mentioned. The windows were all steamed up. It looked inviting, and also warm. But it also looked very smart, Holly thought, losing confidence. The café was all black glass and bronze—the sort of place her boyfriend had frequented between those colossal deals he used to tell her he was brokering.

Her ex-boyfriend, Holly reminded herself as she started jiggling her cumbersome suitcase down the kerb. You didn’t have to be middle-aged and weary to lose everything to a good-looking swindler, Holly had discovered. You could be young and ambitious, and think you knew it all too. But she wasn’t going to let one mistake rule her life. She was going to forget Mr Crud-for-pants dipping his greedy little paws into her bank account, and start again. Right now her goal was reaching that café where she could have a hot drink and dry off while she waited for Lucia to call.

Choosing her moment, Holly launched herself across the road—only for her suitcase to get stuck at the opposite kerb long enough for a truck to drive past and soak her. She was still spluttering with shock when a huge black dog appeared out of nowhere and attempted to lick her dry. And now a hunk in jeans had joined the scrum. ‘Here. Let me,’ he insisted in a deep, husky voice with an intriguing accent. Lifting both dog and suitcase away, he tried to steer Holly off the road.

‘Get off me!’ She was spluttering with shock, her voice rising with each syllable as she attempted to push him away. But he was like a rock and what made it worse was that he was so incredibly good-looking—exotically dark, extremely clean, and very big—which made her feel correspondingly washed-out, mud-streaked, very clumsy, and annoyed.

‘Sorry,’ he exclaimed, turning away to comfort his over-excited dog.

‘Can’t you control your animal?’ she flashed. ‘Perhaps something smaller would be easier for you to handle?’

Holly’s barb missed its mark by a mile. The man only seemed amused and succeeded in looking sexier than ever with his mouth pressed down as she ranted on. ‘Bouncer is a rescue dog from the streets,’ he explained, straightening up to his full, towering height. ‘I still have to teach him manners. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive him?’

The voice was as delicious as she had first thought, and she had stared for far too long into those dark, compelling eyes, Holly warned herself. But instead of standing on her dignity and ending this, she heard herself say, ‘You could buy me a coffee and I’ll think about it.’

‘I could,’ the man agreed.

Had she gone completely mad?

Was
Rule two: No men
out of the window already?

Hmm, maybe. The man was not only incredibly good-looking—tall, dark and handsome in the best possible way, which was to say a little rugged and not too contrived, with quite a thorough coating of sharp black stubble on his face and excellent teeth—but as well as an exotic accent he had an intriguing way of looking at her. His gaze didn’t flicker away like some people she could mention, but remained steady on her face.

But was that a good enough reason to risk it?

‘May I take your hesitation for acquiescence?’ he prompted. ‘You look frozen.’

She was. And the man’s steady gaze was making her feel uncomfortable. She wasn’t used to attracting interest from such good-looking men. Of course, it would have to happen when she looked more of a mess than usual. Typical. ‘I suppose a coffee wouldn’t hurt.’

‘Strong, hot coffee is what you need,’ he said firmly. ‘But before we go inside, are you going to forgive my furry friend?’

How could she refuse a request like that? Her ex hadn’t been able to get near a dog without it biting him, Holly remembered as the big dog stared back at her, panting hopefully. ‘Forgiven,’ she said, watching with interest as the man made a fuss of his dog, tempting him with a bowl of treats someone had laid out ready beneath the cafe’s rain-proof canopy. He even pointed out the bowl of clean water—

‘Bouncer’s done a real number on your outfit,’ he observed, turning round.

‘Yes, he has,’ Holly admitted ruefully. It wasn’t so much an outfit as a motley collection of sale items she’d kept at the back of the wardrobe too long to take back to the store.

‘How about I pay for dry-cleaning?’

‘Oh, no. That’s okay,’ she insisted. ‘The mud will wash off—’

‘If you’re sure? I’m happy to pay.’

A man offering to pay for anything was a first too, Holly thought. ‘Really, I’m sure,’ she said with a small smile, and then, embarrassed by so much concern and attention from a stranger, she turned away. ‘Hey, Bouncer.’ Predictably falling for the liquid brown sappy look, she started tickling the dog’s ears, which Bouncer took as a cue to roll onto his back, waving his giant-sized paws in the air.

‘You have a way with animals,’ the man observed.

‘When they’re not trying to lick me to death,’ Holly agreed wryly.

‘Shall we?’ he said, starting for the door.

In nothing more exciting than a pair of jeans, scuffed boots and a heavy jacket, he looked exactly like the type of man who could turn a girl’s world upside down. Rebuilding herself after a devastating love affair meant stepping out and stepping up. It did not mean running away. And it was only a coffee.

The guy was so big he made Holly feel dainty as she walked past him, which was another first. She was built on a heroic scale, as her father always reminded her proudly before he gave her that second and rather concerned look—the one she was supposed to miss. But it wasn’t every day a dog could coat her in mud and make her smile, or a man could hold her gaze for longer than two seconds. And at least he was polite, she reasoned as he held the door.

As the warm, coffee-scented air swept out to greet them Holly relaxed her guard enough to brush past him on the way in. The jolt to her senses woke her up and warned her to take more care in future. But it wasn’t as if she was coming on to him, Holly reasoned. He was deeply tanned and film-star striking, while she was pale and not that interesting. But there was some common ground. She felt out of place in London and he looked about as much at home on a grey day in London as a polar bear on a beach—

And about as dangerous.

Once they were inside the café he reached behind the counter and grabbed a towel, which he tossed to her.

‘Well caught,’ he said as she gasped and snatched hold of the towel. ‘May I suggest you wipe the worst of the mud off your clothes?’

‘Won’t they mind?’ Holly said worriedly, throwing a guilty glance at the counter staff.

‘They’ll mind more if you don’t wipe it off before you sit down,’ the man observed, curving his attractive smile again.

Men as good-looking as he was could do as they liked, Holly concluded as she watched him return the towel with a few words of thanks to the staff. There wasn’t one complaint. And why should there be? she thought as he shrugged off his jacket and everyone turned to look. Who wouldn’t want a better view of that body? Holly mused as her gaze roved reluctantly past the well-packed jeans to the crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled back to display a pair of massive forearms. Her day had definitely improved. Until the girls behind the counter started flirting with him and she felt a stab of something unexpected.

And a warning that drew a parallel between this man and her ex. The ex had been good-looking too, and had packed a certain degree of charisma—not pure, one hundred per cent gold star charisma like this man, but enough—until she had scratched the surface and found the base metal underneath—

‘I’ll get the coffee,’ he said, distracting her, ‘while you grab a table.’

She registered a shivery reflex when the man touched her shoulder and was powerless to hide the quiver of awareness that streaked through her. He must have felt it too. He had, Holly concluded, noticing how the steady gaze was now laced with humour. ‘You might want to wipe some of the dirt off your backside before you sit down?’ he murmured discreetly.

The fact that he’d noticed her backside was concerning. Craning her neck, Holly groaned.

BOOK: The Shameless Life of Ruiz Acosta
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