Harlequin Presents #2644
Originally published: 07/01/07
Amber Taylor looked innocent—and that interested Spanish billionaire Miguel Mendez. But as a model…she sold her innocence every day.
The seduction was relentless…. Miguel’s Mediterranean charm made Amber feel beautiful for the first time in her life.
It was supposed to be a quick fling with a top model. But now Miguel had taken the most precious gift of all—her innocence!
“Taken: The Spaniard’s Virgin is another gem by Lucy Monroe. She really can weave a full-bodied tale in a short format. Each book she writes makes me want to read more and more”~Judy, amazon.com reader review
“This book blew me away, it’s that powerful. From the moment they met at Amber Taylor’s photo shoot they are both captivated by each other. Miguel Mendez was so taken with Amber’s beauty he knew he had to spend as much time as he could with her and Amber felt the same way. Miguel knows in a couple of weeks he needs to leave for Prague and wants to make the most of their time together so he asks Amber to stay in his home. This attraction between them is a highly “charged” but Amber is very willing to become involved with Miguel; however, she’s hiding a secret……she’s never been with a man!
Their love story was emotional and explosive and will have you turning the pages and weeping along the way. There are a few twists and turns and I promise you won’t be sorry you’ve taken the journey with Amber and Miguel” ~Marilyn Shoemaker
“Taken: The Spaniard’s Virgin (Harlequin Presents) This book had me invested emotionally in what happened to these characters. At one point I reminded myself it was fiction and not real life–the writer lures you into the lives of the characters and you believe the emotions they feel.” ~amazon.com reader review
“Drop your head a little to the left. That’s right. Good, Amber, good.”
Amber Taylor moved to the direction of the photographer, the hot Spanish sun baking her skin despite the high factor sunscreen slathered on under her body sheen. She didn’t complain though. The shoot was her first truly big ad campaign as well as her first big international contract.
At twenty-four, she was either on the cusp of making it big in modeling, or sliding into mediocrity. Mediocrity was not an option. She’d been modeling since her early teens and had sacrificed sleep, chocolate and a social life for her chosen career. She was determined to make it big.
It helped that her mom was on her side. A widow, who had raised Amber on her own, Helen Taylor was an amazing woman. She’d sacrificed herself for Amber’s career and loved her only daughter enough to remind her when to exercise and when not to eat…too much.
Amber had been living on a low calorie diet so long, she didn’t even get hungry anymore. Helen was careful to make sure that the food Amber did eat was uber nutritious. She’d even given up her own comforts so that she could afford to hire a personal trainer for Amber. Helen Taylor had provided Amber what she needed to hone her body into the perfect form for modeling.
Her mom’s support of her dream meant everything to Amber and she had every intention of repaying it with success.
“Okay…lift the phone like a victory fist and smile.”
Amber lifted the trim flip phone high in the air and gave her signature smile, one that her agent said promised the world and everything in it.
A whistle sounded from her left and unexpected tingles traveled up her spine and down her arms. It was if someone with an electric gaze was watching her. Which was just plain silly. Superman might have x-ray vision, but he was fiction and no real person actually had the ability to touch someone else with a look. Only, she felt touched. Caressed even.
Doing her best to mentally shrug off the odd feeling, she turned up the wattage on her smile and the whistle sounded again. This time low and suggestive. It was all Amber could do not to clench her thigh muscles. She never reacted like this.
A swear word hissed out between her perfect teeth even as she maintained the smile for the numerous clicks of the photographer’s camera. What was wrong with her?
“Call a break.” The voice rang with authority and just the hint of a Castilian accent.
The photographer called the break and Amber dropped the cell phone she’d been holding onto a nearby table. She went to pull on a gauzy wrap, but two elegant, masculine hands were there before hers.
The wrap was held open waiting for her to slide her arms into it. “Come, querida, you must cover such perfect skin from the heat of the sun.”
She allowed him to draw the wrap up her arms, a sense of unreality stifling her. She had not even seen his face yet and felt as if they were intimately acquainted. Impossible.
And just slightly terrifying.
“Whose not so brilliant idea was it to work during the hottest part of the day?” he asked in a voice that carried as far as the photographer.
“It is the light, Señor Menendez. It is perfect right now,” the ad campaign manager said in a much less authoritative voice than Amber had ever heard from him while she saw the photographer hurry over out of the corner of her eye.
“Are we not civilized? Does not the siesta demand rest, not work during the hottest part of the day?”
“I apologize, señor. If we had known you wished to oversee the shoot, we would have arranged it for a different time.”
The man behind Amber laughed, the sound warm and rich, like chocolate sauce pouring over French vanilla ice cream. “It is not myself I am concerned about.”
That strange urge to clench her thigh muscles hit her again and she had to force herself to step out from under the hands now resting on her shoulders. When had she ever wanted to prolong a man’s touch? She could not remember a single instance. Men were business associates or props for photo shoots, nothing more.
She turned to face the man upsetting her equilibrium and got her first glimpse of Señor Miguel Menendez. Her brain immediately began to catalog the information she had on him.
His family ran Menendez Industries, the parent corporation for the cell phone company doing the ad campaign she was posing for. While his grandfather and father still played an active role in running the business, analysts agreed that Miguel was responsible for most of Menendez Industries’ expansion in the last five years.
He’d gotten them in at ground level with cell phone service to parts of Asia and Europe as well as negotiating investment in other high tech ventures that had paid off hugely for the more than hundred year old, multi-billion dollar, family controlled company. He wasn’t the only member of his generation involved with the company, but thus far, he’d been the most successful.
She’d done her homework, learning what she could about both the company and product she was supposed to be representing – as she always did for a job. As her mom often said, it never hurt to be prepared. Only she had the distinct feeling that nothing could have equipped her for seeing the billionaire in person for the first time.
She’d seen photos, but the pictures accompanying articles in prominent business journals hadn’t begun to catch the essence of the man. The flat two-dimensional images had in no way alluded to his sheer animal magnetism or overwhelming masculine presence.
Six feet, two inches of prime male, Miguel Menendez had a body most male models would have sacrificed a year’s wages for. Tall, lean and muscular, he filled out his Dolce and Gabbana shirt and trousers like they’d been made for him. And they probably had. While she recognized the cut and style of the designer’s signature look, there were subtle differences that implied this man’s clothes weren’t even bought off the runway.
Not that a super rich tycoon was going to do anything but have a personal shopper who brought designers to him, but still.
Gray eyes watched her with heated interest tempered by a humor that surprised her. The man made her go weak in the knees and considering she spent her time with some of the most beautiful males the earth had to offer on a regular basis, that realization was not an altogether welcome one.
Yes, his patrician features and dark, curling hair were to-die-for gorgeous, but it was more than that. And it was the more that had her taking another step backward in the awkward silence that had fallen after his last statement.
He smiled, even white teeth flashing briefly. “My concern is for this most lovely young woman whose beauty will not be enhanced by a sunburn I think.”
“We’ve got Amber slathered in fifty factor sunscreen,” the photographer said dismissively.
Señor Menendez’s eyes narrowed. “I see that you are in long sleeves and wear a hat. Very sensible…while she pretends to talk on the phone in little more than three triangles of fabric.”
“She’s a model.”
Which said it all. Her body was a tool. To sell products for them and to achieve her dreams for Amber. It was the way it was and she didn’t even mind.
But apparently Señor Menendez did. She could only be grateful she was not the recipient of that particular look. The photographer tugged at his collar and looked beseechingly at the ad campaign manager who in turn was looking at his boss as if the tycoon had sprouted a couple of horns.
“She is a beautiful woman whom you would do better to care for than to mistreat in such a manner if indeed it is her image we wish to use to encourage customers to use our products.” He turned to her, the chilled visage warming. “Though I am still unsure of what a barely clad woman and better cell phone coverage have in common.”
She laughed, charmed by his blatant bemusement. “My body has been used to sell car batteries. I’m not really sure what the connection is, but I’m personally grateful advertisers seem to think there’s a correlation. And honestly…I’ve done photo shoots in the California desert during the summer. This isn’t any worse. Believe me.”
A smile flirted at the edges of his perfectly shaped lips. “But we are more civilized than Californian’s, yes?”
“If you say so.” She’d found that many Europeans still saw Americans as backwoodsmen.
Her agent would swoon at being described in such a way, but Perry had a propensity to drama anyway.
Señor Menendez cocked his head. “You said your body?”
“Surely you sell the products.”
“My image which is essentially my body.”
He shook his head decisively. “No. There are thousands of truly beautiful women who could be standing where you are right now, it is the spirit inside you that shines forth when you smile as you were doing when I arrived. It is you that my advertising executives hired…not a mere body.”
He was right. Modeling was so much more than displaying body parts to their best advantage, but few people saw it that way. And regardless, her body was still the main tool for her trade. Which sounded kind of bad when she thought of it and didn’t open her mouth to say so.
She simply smiled and said, “Thank you.”
“The smile…it is real? Or can you turn it on for others as well as the camera?”
The question was like a smack between the eyes. It was too much like the question that had been plaguing her lately. Was she a plastic person, or real? Sometimes she felt like a wind-up toy that operated only for the photographer’s pull on her string. She’d always worked hard to be in charge of her career, but was it really controlling her?
“When was the last time you did something for the sake of enjoyment alone?” he asked although she had not answered his first question yet.
“I…” She didn’t remember. Maybe if her mom were here, she could ask her.
While she was Amber’s biggest supporter for her career, her mom still pushed Amber to relax occasionally, reminding her that life wasn’t all about modeling. But she still couldn’t think of a recent time when it hadn’t been.
She stood there, feeling exposed and vulnerable. There was only one safe place of retreat. Behind the plastic smile.
She flashed it. “My career is all the fun I need, Señor Menendez. Now, if you gentlemen don’t mind, I’d like a chance to get a drink before we resume shooting.”
He reached out and caught her arm before she walked away. “Let me buy you a fruit juice. And my name is Miguel. Use it.”
He dismissed the other two men with a jerk of his head and the ad campaign manager and photographer melted away.
“Is that an order?” she asked, her internal hackles rising as she once again faced him.
While her body might be her tool for her trade, it was not a plaything and if he thought she’d fit the role of Playboy Bunny in her off hours, he was very much mistaken.
“Does it need to be?” he countered, ignoring the frost in her voice.
“That depends. Do your other employees call you by your first name?”
“Some do. Some don’t. I prefer that you do. And technically, you are not my employee, but a private contractor hired for a specific purpose. Quite outside my jurisdiction.”
“So outside your jurisdiction that you called a break in the middle of a successful shoot and have dismissed the two men I do answer to in order to be alone with me?”
“I don’t think anything in any of your companies is truly outside your jurisdiction, Miguel…except me.” There was no warmth in the smile that curved her lips then. “I’m a model, not an escort.”
Undaunted, he gave her a genuine grin, his gray eyes filled with amusement and unalloyed approval. “You are a beautiful woman I wish to get to know. What is the harm in that?”
“You tell me.”
“You are very prickly, are you not?”
“I’ve learned to be.”
“Have a glass of fruit juice with me. Decide if you like my company enough to share dinner tonight.”
She opened her mouth to deny him, but he put a finger to her lips.
“A moment of your time only. Please.”
This was not a man who said that particular word very often. She was certain of it.
She shut her mouth.
He left his hand where it was. “Your decision will in no way impact your role as cover model for this campaign.”
She stared at him, trying to read his sincerity. All the articles she’d read about him touted him as an honest man. And fair. She chose to believe.
She couldn’t talk with his finger pressed against her lips, however. Well, she could, but she was finding it difficult enough to deal with the sensations that tiny touch evoked without moving her lips against him. She swallowed and nodded with a short jerk of her head.
He smiled and let his hand drop. “Good.”
The photo shoot was being done on a roped off area of the beach and he led her to a small café less than twenty yards from it. They took a table for two outside and he called the waiter with an arrogant flick of his hand.
The young man came over, his eyes widened as if in recognition. She supposed the billionaire was something of a celebrity in his home country…like Donald Trump back home. But Miguel Menendez was a lot better looking. Miguel ordered them both a glass of fruit juice before she could think better of it and request water. The extra electrolytes wouldn’t hurt and she could make up for it by eating less at dinner, she thought with a mental shrug.
“Have you always wanted to be a model?” he asked after the waiter left.
“Yes. How about you? Have you always wanted to be a business tycoon?”
He laughed, the sound running along her nerve endings like a hyper charged current. “I was born to it, more or less. My father was a businessman and his father before him. You know the story.”
“But you’ve taken the family holdings to unprecedented heights.”
It was his turn to look wary. “Reading the gossip rags?”
“Business weeklies actually. My mother’s a financial consultant and she raised my on bedtime stories where the Big Bad Wolf was a guy selling junk bonds and Prince Charming was a good investment partner.”
Now, his gaze turned speculative. “I am surprised you chose the career you did then.”
“Why? I invested in a personal asset I could enhance at will…my looks. I have worked my tail off to make them pay dividends and they have. That’s a better investment than many business ventures over which I would have less control regarding the principle component my success would depend on.”
“Have the dividends been worth the hard work?” he asked, his tone laced with reluctant respect.
“You tell me. Have your sacrifices been worth the business success?”
“Yes. What is a twenty-hour work day compared to my family’s security?”
She liked that he thought in terms of family commitment. She only had her mom, but they were devoted to each other. Family came first. She sipped at her juice. “Thankfully, since graduating from University two years ago, I don’t have to work twenty hour days any longer.”
“You went to university?”
“That surprises you?”
“Considering your dedication to your career, yes. The cost exacted by your education would have taken a toll on what is clearly your main goal in life.”
“I saw it that way, but Mom didn’t. She has always supported my desire to be a model, but no model’s career lasts forever and she maintained the better education I had, the better I would be at managing my career.”
“Is that not what an agent is for?”
“A model who leaves her career to others is just looking for a trap door in the floor to fall through to obscurity.”
“That sounds like a well-rehearsed rule.”
The warmth and approval were there again in his gaze. “I like you, Amber.”
“I think I could like you too, Miguel.”
“I’m the cautious type.”
He threw his head back and laughed.
And something inside, suspiciously near her heart, melted.
He was there when the shoot finished two hours later.
He’d been there the whole time, watching, asking questions of the ad campaign manager, of the photographer and even one or two questions of her. Was the ground too hot for her bare feet? He hadn’t believed her when she said no and his displeasure at her supposed discomfort had been obvious. So much so that they’d quickly moved to a different shot. Then he’d asked what she’d thought of the ad campaign.
She’d requested a water break to tell him. She was impressed with the ad designer’s vision and thought the campaign would be effective and didn’t mind saying so.
“You’ve studied the market?”
“If your job was to represent it, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose I would.” He picked up the spray on sunscreen the dried clear and started to mist her with it. “You continually surprise me, Amber. It is a new experience for me with a woman.”
“You must be spending time with the wrong ones.”
“I think that is a given.” He winked.
Her heart stopped. Literally. And then started pounding so hard and fast, she felt lightheaded. This man was so bad for her equilibrium. “I need to get back to work,” she said, only sounding a tiny bit breathless.
“Have dinner with me tonight.”
She’d been surprised he hadn’t pushed the issue earlier, but the man knew his way around women. He’d given her time to think, time to decide if she wanted to see him some more. He’d dialed in right away that control was important to her and having time to make a decision would make her feel like she wasn’t losing it. His perception should worry her, but she was too busy experiencing new feelings.
Not just the desire that was such an incredibly different thing for her, but weird emotions too. She really liked Miguel Menendez. He got to the heart of the woman that hid behind the plastic smile.
It was both scary and very, very exhilarating.
“Okay,” she heard herself saying with a sense of fatalism that was also new to her. “But the shoot tomorrow starts before the cock crows. I need to be in my suite early.”
“I am happy to make sure you get to bed early if that is what you want.”