Tempest in a teacup.
Santiago James-Ibarra looked down at Katrin, peacefully asleep in his guest bedroom. The old saying he’d picked up while living in Canada had never been more appropriately applied because when this tempest named Katherine Alesander-Casey woke up and pieced together how she had gotten here, there would be holy Hell to pay.
This could turn into a very messy international incident if not handled correctly.
Madarikatua, Santiago cursed in his native Basque tongue. He did not need this.
In sleep, Katrin looked innocent, completely incapable of unleashing the maelstrom of righteous indignation he knew would come while she beat a path to the closest Canadian Consulate General if he let her. She was a court-appointed child supervisor, taken across several international lines, now in a foreign country, with her young charge, his nephew in tow. The exact reason she was appointed supervisor in the first place was to prevent exactly this, his brother, Malik from taking Tariq away from his mother.
Santiago grit his back teeth and pulled out his satellite cell phone. He was now an accomplice. What a cluster fuck, as his North American business partners loved to say. He tapped in a coded series of numbers to disrupt his villa’s Wi-Fi service. The last thing he needed was for Katrin to wake up, panic, and send out some kind of social media distress call before he could make her see reason. He tapped out a quick text message to Sandra Deskes, his lead administrator and head of his PR damage-control team.
Ona. Good. He closed his phone, completely confident in Sandra’s abilities in diplomacy. Raymond Sinclair, the Canadian consular general was now tucked away vacationing with his mistress at one of Santiago’s exclusive luxury villas in Ibiza. The arrogant peacock had been hounding him for an invite for the past year. Now he had it, and Santiago leverage, should things—he glanced at Katrin—go badly. Sinclair would not want his wife knowing about this impromptu “business trip.” Not that Ibarra would ever betray Man’s timeless code of silence toward another man’s personal or family business, but—he grimaced—he had his own family’s honor to protect right now.
He turned as Dora, his main housekeeper entered the room with a stack of towels and linens. He nodded dismissively toward the soft leather armchair beside the bed, but did not miss the woman’s curious look of derision before she set down the towels and silently left. Katrin’s presence in his home had raised every eyebrow of his staff, not to mention how much it piqued his family’s curiosity.
He was going to have to deal with them. Soon. They were already descending on him like a pack of teenage girls with new gossip in their arsenal. Their cackling intrusion rivaled the paparazzi. He’d already had to beat back his uncles, the lot of them worse than the women with their questions, assumptions and annoying nosy comments. Admittedly, he’d never brought a woman home to his villa, let alone into this bed in the guest room, so he couldn’t exactly blame their curiosity. However, it was not reason enough to behave like jackals, lying in wait for him to show up at their txoko, their traditional men’s club, and gastronomic society so they could interrogate him all night, instead of cooking and eating and singing as tradition dictated.
Santiago stood and went to the door in time to see his father’s oldest sister stride through the courtyard, her sharp eyes darting up the stairs toward him. She smirked as he tracked her accusing walk through the garden and down the stone stairs that led to the kitchen.
His balance of aunts and cousins were not so easy to stare down. They were gathering in the kitchens; their excited chatter easily heard all the way to the southern vineyards.
Damn Malik and his ill-fated scheme.
Normally, Santiago came home alone, ready to relax and settle back into the old Basque ways he loved. His country was timeless, traditional and slow, three things he treasured and missed when away. Over the past year he’d only been back a handful of times, and as a rule, he entertained his chosen women away from his family, up in his penthouse atop Ibarra Plaza Hotel in Donostia. He would arrive at his flagship hotel and unwind with an experienced lover who knew how to relax him, and at the same time could emotionally and publicly detach from any media interest while she enjoyed his wealth and luxury. It gave the tabloids their fill of senseless distracted gossip about him while he escaped, alone, here to his family villa in peace, his lover the perfect evasive distraction for the paparazzi. He never brought women here into the thick of his Ibarra clan.
Santiago ran his eyes over Katrin’s quiet form, nestled within his most expensive Egyptian cotton sheets in one of his family’s oldest hand-carved beds. Dora and the other women had twisted her thick mass of black curly hair into a braid that lay over her bare shoulder and rested atop the covers. He didn’t know where they got the white, sleeveless nightgown she wore, but the deeply cut neck and fitted bodice ended all of his wonderings at how full her breasts really were beneath the armor like shirts she normally wore. Now, they were laid out in temptation, along with her hourglass figure, outlined in the sheets, that was made for a man’s eyes and hands, her hips perfect for bearing children to continue a man’s line.
A year ago, when she arrived at Malik’s mansion, dressed in a business suit stiff enough to stand on its own, he saw right through her court-appointed watchdog persona to the sensuous woman she tried to hide. He wanted to tell her that nothing hid genetics or nature, that no matter how buttoned-up she dressed, her naturally curved and arched body was made to fit a man’s hands. Mold to a man’s body. Make a man’s babies. Why fight it?
He looked down when she moved beneath the sheets as if sensing his thoughts. His body flared in reaction. He should be used to this, his body’s reflexive response to her, but it still irritated him. So much so, he’d given up in defeat, battling his own physical reaction and compulsion toward her was pointless, like trying to hold back the tide. Now he just controlled it, forced his mind to respite elsewhere until the waves of lust for her body passed. Normally it worked, when he was thousands of miles away from here and on duty in his brother’s home in another country. However, right now she was in his house, in one of his heirloom beds, half-naked and vulnerable. He shifted against the tension growing in his pants.
“I see she stirs, Iago.”
Santiago turned to see Dr. Segura enter the guest room. He nodded and stepped back to give the older man space as he leaned over Katrin with a stethoscope.
“She has better color. Some sun when she wakes will be necessary. But rest too. She is exhausted.” Segura lifted his hand from her forehead. “Provide plenty of fluids. Water. Fresh fruit. It will help flush any remains of the sedative too.”
Santiago cut his eyes to the doctor.
Segura stilled. “You said she does not speak Euskara.”
They both watched her eyelids flutter. “She doesn’t.” Santiago took out his phone and paced back while called his cousin, instructing him to bring his nephew up to the room. “But, I suspect she comprehends more than she lets on.”
Both men watched as Katherine opened her eyes and blinked at the ceiling for a long moment before she bolted up and curled into the pillows, her eyes alive and filled with confused anger. She glared at Segura and jammed a trembling finger toward the older man’s chest. “Don’t touch me.”
Santiago lifted the corner of his mouth and turned off his phone. The tempest has woken.
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