His Ultimate Prize(5)

By: Maya Blake



He shifted on his feet. Pain ricocheted through his hip and pelvis. Ignoring it, he gave a mental shrug, limped forward and took the ladle the priest passed him. Scooping water out of the large bowl, he poised it over his nephew’s head.

At the priest’s nod, he tipped the ladle.

The scream of protest sent a tiny wave of satisfaction through him. Hopefully his innocent nephew would take a look at him and run screaming every time he saw him. Because Rafael knew that if he had anything at all to do with his brother’s child, the poor boy’s life too would be ruined.

As well-wishers gathered around to soothe the wailing child, he dropped the ladle back into the bowl, stepped back and forced his gaze away from his nephew’s adorable curls and plump cheeks.

Beside him, he heard Raven’s long indrawn breath and, grabbing the very welcome distraction, he let his gaze drift to her.

Magnet-like, her hazel eyes sought and found his. Her throat moved in a visible swallow that made his fingers itch to slide over that smooth column of flesh. Follow it down to that delectable, infinitely tempting valley between her plump breasts.

Not here, not now, he thought regrettably. What was between the two of them would not be played out here in this place where dark memories—both living and dead—lingered everywhere he looked, ready to pounce on him should he even begin to let them...

He tensed at the whirr of an electronic wheelchair, kept his gaze fixed on Raven even as his spine stiffened almost painfully. Thankfully the wheelchair stopped several feet behind him and he heard the familiar voice exchange greetings with other family members. With every pulse of icy blood through his veins, Rafael wished himself elsewhere...anywhere but here, where the thick candles and fragrant flowers above the nave reminded him of other candles and flowers placed in a shrine not very far away from where he stood—a constant reminder of what he’d done. A reminder that because of him, because of callous destruction, this was his mother’s final resting place.

His beloved Mamá...

His breath caught as Sasha, his sister-in-law, came towards him, her now quietened son in her arm.

Sasha...something else he’d ruined.

Dios...

‘He’s got a set of lungs on him, hasn’t he?’ she laughed, her face radiant in the light slanting through the church windows. ‘He almost raised the roof with all that wailing.’

He took in the perfect picture mother and child made and something caught in his chest. He’d denied his mother this—the chance to meet her grandchild.

‘Rafael?’

He focused and summoned a half-smile. ‘Sí, my poor eardrums are still bleeding.’

She laughed again as her eyes rolled. ‘Oh, come on, my little champ’s not that bad. Besides, Marco tells me he takes after you, and I don’t find that hard to believe at all.’ She sobered, her gaze running over him before piercing blue eyes captured his in frank, no nonsense assessment. ‘So...how are you? And don’t give me a glib answer.’

‘Thoroughly bored of everyone asking me how I am.’ He raised his walking stick and gestured to his frame. ‘See for yourself, piqueña. My clever physiotherapist tells me I’m between phases two and three on the recovery scale. Dios knows what that means. All I know is that I’m still a broken, broken man.’ In more ways than he cared to count.

She gently rubbed her son’s back. ‘You’re far from broken. And we ask because we care about you.’

‘Sí, I get that. But I prefer all this caring to be from afar. The up-close-and-personal kind gives me the...what do you English call it...the willies?’

Her eyes dimmed but her smile remained in place. ‘Too bad. We’re not going to stop because you bristle every time we come near.’ Her determined gaze shifted to Raven, who was chatting to another guest. ‘And I hope you’re not giving her a hard time. From what I hear, she’s the best physio there is.’

Despite telling himself it wasn’t the time or place, he couldn’t stop his gaze from tracing the perfect lines of Raven Blass’s body. And it was a perfect body, honed by hours and hours of gruelling physical exercise. She hadn’t been lying when she said she was solid muscle and bone. But Rafael knew, from being up close and personal, that there was soft femininity where there needed to be. Which, all in all, presented a more-than-pleasing package that had snagged his attention with shocking intensity the first time he’d laid eyes on her in his racing paddock almost eighteen months ago.

Of course, he’d been left in no uncertain terms that, despite all indications of a very mutual attraction, Raven had no intention of letting herself explore that attraction. Her reaction to it had been viscerally blunt.

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