A short while later, changed for the charity function, Isobel had herself rigidly in control. She was aware of Rafael flicking her glances in the back seat of the car and each one fell like a hot caress on her bared and too sensitive skin. They were on their way to a charity dinner where Bob and his wife were Rafael’s guests.
She wore a strapless cocktail dress, fitted and to the knee and her legs were primly together, slanted to the side, as far away from Rafael as possible. She was still reeling from the revelation of finding out exactly what Rafael had been working on and how wrong she’d been. It made her feel now as if a layer of protective skin had been ripped away, leaving her exposed and vulnerable. Tooexposed and vulnerable to face the prospect of sleeping with Rafael that night.
She cast him a quick surreptitious glance, he was looking ahead, coolly remote and Isobel shivered. She couldn’t hide any longer.
After a short journey they pulled up outside one of Beunos Aires’ oldest and grandest hotels. Isobel’s door was opened by a liveried doorman and she stepped out to be greeted by Rafael taking her hand in a firm grip. Quashing the urge to pull away she gritted her teeth against the shooting sensations up her arm and let him lead her into the thronged and glittering function room.
Hundreds of dinner tables were set around a dance floor which was currently occupied by tables showing off the charity lots. After dinner and when the lots had been auctioned off, Rafael having spent a ludicrous amount of money, the staff started clearing the dance floor.
Despite herself, Isobel’s distaste for this superficial social scene rose up again. Rafael leant close, and it took all her restraint not to move back, his evocative scent teasing her nostrils mercilessly.
‘What is wrong with you? You look like you’ve swallowed a lemon.’
Isobel tightened her jaw. ‘I just find it hard to sit here and watch the elite throwing their money around when the charities in question probably get a bare percentage, just for the privilege of having their name mentioned in such exalted circles.’
Rafael’s voice was deep and close, lightly mocking, ‘You’re too quick to judge again.’
Isobel burned to be reminded of how quick and absolute her judgment had been.
‘It’s all a game just like everything else. The people you see here are the most powerful in the country. To a large extent you’re right in your assessment. But you’re discounting what goes on in tandem with this; for instance, the fact that I’ve donated a disgustingly large amount of money to the cancer charity which is chaired by the Marquesa Consuela Valderosa who is holding court on the table over there, means that she will now feel compelled, in the nicest possible way of course, to lend her illustrious name and support to a much less monied charity of my own choice. It’s all about getting what you want from people. You just have to know how to play the game Isobel.’
Isobel looked at him speechlessly, his eyes were dark and hypnotic and she had the strong suspicion he was talking about the games he had accused her of playing with him. She felt hot inside.
Just then Rita leant across the table and said excitedly to Isobel and Rafael, ‘They’re playing that tango music from Scent of a Woman, would you two dance for us…please?’
Isobel looked at Rafael helplessly, her belly quivering as she remembered how he’d strode across the room earlier and taken her face in his hands. He hadn’t even kissed her but when he’d turned and walked away she’d been trembling all over. She turned to Rita and started to say, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t know if —‘
Isobel felt her hand being taken and she was being urged up to meet Rafael who was looking down at her with a glint in his eye. ‘Of course we’d love to dance a tango, wouldn’t we carino.’
Isobel hissed at Rafael as he led her to the dance floor where a few couples were trying unsuccessfully to emulate the famous movie scene, ‘My dress is too tight, I won’t be able to dance properly.’
Rafael just swept a look down and bent, all Isobel heard was a faint ripping sound and when he led her forward again she gasped when she felt a breeze and looked down to see that Rafael had effortlessly ripped her dress to mid-thigh.
He brought her to the middle of the dance floor and she looked up at him, ‘What on earth do you think— ‘
But her words were cut off when Rafael expertly pulled her into his arms in a quick staccato move, forcing her weight forward and into him. His embrace was close and tight, their chests all but welded together as he started to move.
Isobel’s feet followed naturally and instinctively but already this tango was not like the first time they’d danced in Paris. There was a simmering sensuality about this one and it was worlds away from the kind of tangoes their grandparents would have danced.
Isobel could feel the rip in her dress give way even more as Rafael led her in a dizzying series of steps. She had to close her eyes when she could see that other dancers were stepping back to give them space, and watch.
Isobel felt the slide of Rafael’s leg between hers, forcing her leg up into a high kick known as a bolero. Her heartrate went out of control. Then he displaced her weight and she had to lean into him even more.
When he twisted so that she had to hook her leg under his, she could feel the tension in his powerful thigh muscle against the back of her leg. Her eyes opened with a mute plea for him to stop this sensual torture. His dark gaze glittered down at her, green and golden flecks standing out making her throat dry. His intent was written all over his face; tonight he was going to make her his.
For a heart stopping moment Isobel thought he was going to kiss her, an instant fine layer of sweat seemed to spring up over her skin, but then Rafael broke the intense eye contact and kept dancing, pulling Isobel close again. She felt utterly exposed; the tango had become a display of Rafael’s sensual domination over her and with every move, it felt like he knew more and more just how badly she hungered for him. Along with everyone else watching.
Her fear of intimacy with this man and what it might reveal to him, and worse toher about her feelings for him, was hanging by a mere thread now.
Finally the last chords of the achingly melancholic music died away and Isobel was breathing so hard she felt faint. She was also in a classic supplicant tango pose, bent back and looking up into Rafael’s face. People were starting to clap but it was the triumphant look in his eyes that did it, Isobel acted completely on instinct and ripped her hand from his and slapped him across his face.
Instantly a silence fell, the clapping stopped. Isobel stood awkwardly and attempted to walk off the floor, aghast at her reaction and what she’d done but her wrist was caught and she was effectively twirled back into Rafael’s hard body.
Before she could react everything had disappeared as his mouth crashed down on hers and the entire world seemed to explode inside her head. His mouth was hard and hot, the slide of his tongue too erotically seductive for her to fight. Angrily she matched him, aggressively stroking his tongue with hers, teeth nipping and biting at his lower lip. In that moment she truly hated him for reducing her to this tumult of feelings.
Her whole body was arched into his as if she wanted to fuse with him there and then, it felt like she was finally boiling over to a place of no return, all restraint being washed away in an overwhelming tide of need. And then Rafael pulled away and stepped back, albeit still holding Isobel’s hand. Stunned, exposed and very shaken, Isobel could only follow on wobbly legs as they walked off the dance floor. To her abject relief, other people had started to dance again.
Isobel was aware of Rafael issuing a curt instruction to someone and then they were out in the lobby and emerging into the cool night where his car was already waiting. In the back of the car, Isobel was still feeling crazily out of control.
She blurted out heatedly, ‘I’m not going to apologise for that, it could have been a perfectly normal dance but you…you turned it into something positively indecent.’
Isobel shot him a glance to see his face stark, he ran a hand through his hair. She felt the waves of tension crackle off him.
‘The only thing indecent about that dance was the intensity of sexual frustration. I was no more capable of keeping that dance clean that you were of not twining your seductive body around mine like a purring cat.’
Isobel flushed as she recalled how it had felt to feel the slide of his thigh between her legs. The cliché of tango being the vertical expression of a horizontal act really wasn’t such a cliché. The truth was, the dance had been exhilarating.
But right now one of her hands was holding the ripped sides of her dress together, in a futile attempt at some sort of modesty, when it felt as if she’d just been made love to in front of an entire audience.
‘Need I remind you,’ she hissed now desperately trying to claw back some dignity, ‘That you were the one who ripped my dress like some kind of cave man.’
They were at the house. Rafael said nothing and just got out, and before Isobel could scramble out herself, Rafael was there. With a squeal Isobel saw Rafael duck low and then she was out of the car and over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. She clamped her mouth shut, knowing that it would be futile to say a word, and the sensation of Rafael’s powerful shoulder under her body was rendering her speechless anyway.
He climbed the stairs with ruthless intent in every step, and then walked all the way to his bedroom door, opened it and stepped inside and then kicked it shut with a foot.
Suddenly Isobel was back on her feet and breathing harshly. A wild excitement mixed with fear sang in her blood. She knew she was powerless now, in the face of this overwhelming desire. She had no defences left. Rafael had chipped and picked away at them remorselessly. It made her blurt out unthinkingly, ‘Don’t come near me, you’re a Neanderthal.’
Tension and coiled energy bounced off Rafael in angry waves. A muscle twitched in his jaw, his eyes were black. Mere feet separated them but Isobel fancied in that moment that she could feel his heart beating, thundering like hers. She wanted him to close the distance, haul her into his arms and silence the cacophony of voices in her head and in her heart.
But then, as if a switch had been flicked the tension disappeared. Rafael stepped back to the door. Isobel felt her whole body move slightly as if they were joined by an invisible thread.
Rafael’s face was carved from stone. Unreadable and harsh. And then in a low blistering voice he just said, ‘Damn you Isobel.’ And then he turned and walked out the door.