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The moonlight that poured over the mountaintop hotel gave it an ethereal, mysterious quality. From one perspective it looked enticing, welcoming. From Charley's perspective, the shadows it cast spelled danger. The moonlight shouldn't be silver. It should be red.
But this was no time for imagined threats. She was here for one purpose and one purpose only.
Taking a fortifying deep breath, she waited for the barrier to rise then drove through and parked in the main car park. No valet approached to whisk her Fiat 500 off to the secure parking area filled with Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and the like.
Ambient music greeted her in the sprawling lobby where hotel guests were lounging around in their finery sipping on pre- and post-dinner drinks. She didn't make eye contact with anyone, intent on slipping through to the function room at the back.
The closer her steps took her, the louder the thuds of her heart grew. By the time she reached the door, the beats inside her were so loud the ambient music was completely drowned out.
A barrel of a man materialised, preventing her entry into the room.
'Your invitation, please,' he said, holding out his hand. 'My husband arrived earlier,' she answered in hesitant Spanish. She'd lived in the country for over five years but only in recent months did she feel she'd got an actual grip on the language. She still kept her phrasebook in her handbag just in case. 'He left word that I would be getting here late,' she lied. 'Your husband?'
Charley reached into her silver clutch bag, removed her passport and handed it over. 'Raul Cazorla.' She imagined how her soon-to-be ex-husband would react if he were in this situation and tried to channel some of his arrogance. She held her phone up. 'Would you like me to call him so he can come and verify who I am?'
She could see the guard debating what to do. No doubt he had taken Raul's invitation himself. No doubt he had clocked the flame-haired lingerie model on his arm too.
Thinking of that lingerie model…
A host of bitter feelings curdled in Charley's belly, just as they had two weeks ago when the first picture of the happy couple had been spread on the cover of one of Spain's highend glossies. Raul had looked like the cat who'd licked the bowl dry of all the cream, which Charley supposed wasn't all that surprising. Physically, Jessica was perfect.
She doubted the model was his first lover since she'd left, just the first he'd publicly acknowledged.
Who he saw was none of her business, she reminded herself. In a few short weeks their divorce would be finalised. He would be a free agent.
She inhaled deeply and narrowed her eyes, little signs she had seen Raul perform hundreds of times to denote his displeasure at whatever situation was occurring. 'Perhaps you would prefer to find him yourself and ask him to confirm who I am?'
She knew her words had done the trick when the guard placed his hand on the door to admit her. Who wanted to be the man to seek out Raul Cazorla, one of Spain's richest men, in the middle of a high-society party, to ask him if the woman bearing his name really was his wife?
'Enjoy the party,' he said, opening the door.
The function room of Barcelona's Hotel Garcia was a mass of glitz and silver and heaving with glamorous bodies. Unlike the easy jazz music of the lobby, here a DJ was playing a set, popular dance music throbbing beneath her already aching feet. It had been nearly two years since she'd last worn high heels and all the bones in her feet were protesting.
Waiters and waitresses armed with trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres mingled discreetly, but close enough for Charley to swipe a flute of champagne and drink it in one swallow.
As she scoured the room she became aware of curious eyes watching her, imagined she could hear the whispers of, 'Is that Charlotte…?'
She tuned them out, focusing her attention on the open French doors that led out into the expansive gardens and the balmy night air.
The garden was alive with revellers sitting on the many iron tables and chairs scattered over the lawn, people talking, smoking, kissing…
Her heart recognised him first, accelerating to a gallop as she spotted the tall, muscular frame standing in the far distance, his back to her, a hand in his pocket. He was deep in conversation with a man she didn't recognise. On the table beside them sat two women chatting between themselves. The redhead took a long drag of a cigarette.
Raul hates smoking, she thought faintly.
For a horrible moment she thought she was going to be sick.
She'd barely taken a step when he turned his head as if sensing eyes upon him.
He tilted his face a touch in her direction then turned back to the gentleman he was talking to and carried on his conversation.
Gathering all her courage, Charley began to walk. She'd only taken a few steps when he turned his head again. This time his eyes fixed directly on her.
He twisted his body round fully to face her.
As she neared him he became more than just a figure in the distance. Step by step he seemed to expand and flesh out, becoming solid. Becoming Raul.
He was as handsome as her tortured mind remembered.
Dimly she noted the dark hair cropped short, the black bow tie loosened around his neck, the perfectly tailored handmade suit hugging his snake hips.
By the time she reached the table, all conversation between his companions had stopped. In particular, she could feel the redhead's eyes boring into her.
'Hello, Raul,' Charley said softly, the anger that had propelled her to gatecrash this party diminishing as she took in the face she had last seen in the flesh almost two years ago.
If her appearance shocked him, he hid it well. He'd always been able to hide his emotions well. Apart from in the bedroom.
'Charlotte,' he said, leaning forward to place a kiss on both her cheeks. 'This is an unexpected pleasure.'
At least, those were the words his mouth said. His eyes spoke a different tale. Even through the tingling on her cheek where his lips had met her skin, she could see the fire spitting from them.
When he next spoke she could hear the tightness of his vocal cords. 'Excuse me, Andres, ladies.' With those polite parting words, he bore her away, taking hold of her arm and clasping it tightly enough to prevent her escaping but not so hard as to hurt.
Eyes followed them as they walked in silence to the far corner of the garden, the part where discreet benches were placed amongst the blooming flowers for lovers to be alone. With every step she took, Charley forced her mind to concentrate, to remember the words she'd spent the day rehearsing.
Being here with him was a thousand times harder than she'd imagined it would be.
The last time she'd seen her husband had been exactly six hundred and thirty-three days ago.
The last time she'd seen her husband they'd been screaming at each other, real hate and fury spilling out like a bunch of fireworks detonating in one big bang. She'd left that night and hadn't seen him since.
She'd thought all the hurt and anger from that evening and everything that had led up to it had gone, that she was over it and moving on with her life. To feel the same maelstrom of emotions stirring within her scared her more than anything she'd experienced since that night.
She could feel him trying to rein in his own fury too, in subtle ways that only someone who'd been intimate with him for a long time would recognise. Someone like his wife.
Only when they were safely out of sight, hidden behind a cherry tree laden with fruit, did he drop her arm and glower down at her. 'What are you doing here, Charlotte?'
'I'm here to speak to you.'
'That much is obvious. The question is why have you wormed your way into this party when I've made it clear I have no wish to see you?'
His words shouldn't feel like a slap to the face. But they did. They stung as badly as his refusal to take her calls and as badly as when he'd cancelled the appointment she'd made to see him less than an hour after his PA had put it in his diary. Charley had heard the mortification in Ava's voice when she'd called her back with the bad news.
'I need your help,' she said with a helpless shrug, gazing intently into the pale blue eyes she'd once adored. The very first time she'd caught a glimpse of him it had felt as if her heart expanded enough to consume the rest of her. The high cheekbones, the full lips offset by a firm jaw.
She blinked and looked away. Raul's intense masculinity that bordered on beauty had turned her brain to mush before. She needed to keep her head together, not plunge back five years to a time when her libido did her thinking for her. This was her one chance to convince him to help her. 'Did you get my letter and the finance report I put with it?'
His throat emitted a sound of disgust. 'Are you talking about the begging letter I received a couple of days ago?'
She rubbed an eye and immediately wished she hadn't. She'd spent an age applying her make-up, unpractised after almost two years of not wearing it, and in one frustrated rub had probably ruined it. But she needed to look the part, not just to gain access to the party but to convince Raul to take her pleas seriously. Image was everything to her estranged husband. Regardless of what occurred behind closed doors, the public face had to be perfect.
'So you've read it?'
Raul had taken one look at the girlish handwriting on the envelope and known immediately who it was from. Charley's writing was undeveloped, as if she were stuck at age twelve.
It suddenly struck him that her handwriting was something she'd always been embarrassed about. She must have been really desperate to get in touch with him in this manner.
At the time he'd received her letter, though, he hadn't been thinking of anything like that. Seeing her handwriting there before him had hit him low in his gut, churning up so many emotions he'd screwed the envelope into a tight ball and thrown it at the wall. A good hour had passed before he'd retrieved it and taken a look at the content of her letter. He'd barely got a third of the way through before screwing it back up again. The finance report—and he used that term loosely—had gone straight in the shredding pile.
'I read enough to know you're after more of my money.' He'd transferred ten million euros into her account not long after she'd left, a reminder to her of everything she was giving up. He'd fully expected her to come crawling back. He'd still been expecting her to come crawling back a year later when the divorce papers had landed on his doorstep.
But now those millions had dried up and here she was, dressed to the nines, trying to get her greedy hands on more.
'I'm not after your money. Did you read the bit about the Poco Rio day care centre?'
'Yes.' It was as far as he'd got before the words had blurred in his eyes.
Poco Rio day care centre. Those five words had been the reason his hands had fisted the letter into a ball the second time. It had been his estranged wife's refusal to have a child with him that had killed their marriage.
He'd pumped an endless supply of money into her failed business ventures and now she had the nerve to ask him for money to fund yet another business, this one involving children, when she'd strung him along for three years with the promise of one.
He'd never thought of her as a sadist.
'Then you know how important this is. I've found the ideal premises but the owner won't hold onto them for ever. Either I complete the sale in the next month or he's pulling out. Please, Raul, there isn't time to find new premises. We've got four months left until we're kicked out of our current home and—'
'None of this concerns me. This is your problem.'
'But I'm running out of time! The place I've found is perfect. The grounds are enormous and, once all the renovations are done, the building itself will be ten times better than the one we're currently in and we'll be able to double the number of children.'
'As I said, this is your concern, not mine.'
'But without you I can't get the rest of the funding. I've tried everything…'
'Then try harder. Maybe this time you'll actually see something through to the end rather than giving up halfway through.'
She sucked in her cheeks at his home truth but met his gaze head-on. 'I won't give up this time. I can't. But no one's prepared to invest.'
'Then either your business plan needs working on or you need to change your résumé. Maybe you should consider changing the truth into lies and hope no one bothers to check it.' He backed away and nodded his head. 'I've given you enough of my time—my date will be feeling neglected. I trust you can see yourself out?'
She blanched at the mention of his date.
He waited for gratification to hit him but all he felt was something akin to guilt, although why that should be the case he couldn't begin to fathom. Charley had left him. After three years of his lavishing his money on her, helping her to improve herself, supporting her, giving her everything she desired…she'd refused him a child.
After three years of stringing him along, dangling the promise of a child over his head, she'd finally admitted the truth. She didn't want to have his baby.
Their whole marriage had been a lie, reduced to nothing but a cauldron of recrimination and hate.
And now she had the nerve to ask for his help.
Yet, staring at her now, her skin as pure as alabaster under the moonlight, Raul had to clench his hands into fists and hold them tightly to his sides to prevent them reaching out to touch her.
The first time he'd met her, he'd just taken over the running of the Cazorla Hotel chain, the family business run by his father until he'd suffered a major stroke. Despite having his own successful, unconnected business to run, Raul had stepped up to the plate and taken over. The stroke had left his father physically disabled and unable to speak but he'd perfectly conveyed the disgust he felt at this occurrence. Raul had known it was the thought of him taking over rather than his new physical situation his father had hated the most. He knew his father despised the roaring success he'd made of the business since.
Excerpt: Chapter One
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"The Perfect Cazorla Wife was yet another well written stunner from the author Michelle Smart."Harlequin Junkie
"I highly recommend this read for each and every single romance fan out there, if you want passion with energy, romance with a kick, sex with so hot the pages will go up in flames and a second chance romance that will blow you away, go read this book!!" Deserè Steenberg, Romance Book Haven.
"Smart’s story is nicely written, well paced and her characterization is excellent. Amalie’s phobia and Talos’ painful past are both perfectly depicted. The sexual tension between the two sparkles." Romantic Times
The Perfect Cazorla Wife
"Nothing in life comes free, cariño."
Charley Cazorla strides uninvited into the exclusive Barcelona party, steeling herself against facing her soon-to-be ex-husband. With her dreams for the children's center that she's dedicated her new life to slipping away, proud and powerful Raul is Charley's last hope.
Except Charley underestimates the depth of Raul's fury toward her. In return for saving her business, the suave Spaniard demands his own brand of payment: Charley must resume her role as the perfect Cazorla wife—in every sense!
Back in her husband's imposing world, their all-consuming lust rekindles. Can Charley escape its hold a second time?
The Perfect Cazorla Wife Playlist
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