Her crime was to have loved him…
“You go to pieces when I touch you..” However had she tried, Georgie couldn’t deny how physically attractive she found Rafael Bernaza. But four years ago he had devastated her emotions and her pride, and she vowed to never let him get that close again. So it was with a sinking heart that Georgie realized she was stranded in Bolivia, a country where only Rafael could help her. But at what price?
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THE Bolivian policeman growled across the table. ‘Es usted inglesa? Donde se aloja usted?
The small room was unbelievably hot and airless. Georgie shot her interrogator a glittering glance from furious violet eyes and threw back her head, a torrent of tousled multi-coloured curls every shade from gold to copper to Titian red dancing round her pale triangular face. ‘I do not speak Spanish!’ she said for the twentieth time.
He thumped the table with a clenched fist. ‘Como?’ he demanded in frustration.
Her teeth gritted, the naturally sultry line of her mouth flattening. Suddenly something just exploded inside her. ‘I’ve been robbed and I’ve been attacked and I’m not going to just sit here while you shout at me!’ she burst out, her strained voice threatening to crack right down the middle.
Plunging upright, the man strode over to the door and threw it wide. Georgie gaped in disbelief as her attacker was ushered in. All the fear she had striven to hide behind her defiant front flooded back, images of rape and violence taking over. She flew up out of her chair and stumbled backwards into the corner, one trembling hand attempting to hitch up the torn T-shirt which threatened to expose the bare slope of her breasts.
Her assailant, a heavily built young man, glowered accusingly and self-righteously across the room at her and burst into vituperative Spanish.
Georgie blinked bemusedly. Her own blank sense of incomprehension was the most terrifying aspect of all. Why did the creep who had mauled her in his truck behave as though he was the one entitled to make a complaint to the police? In fact, the lunatic, apparently ignorant of the fact that the attempted sexual assault was a crime, had actually dragged her into the tiny, dilapidated police station!
In exaggerated dumb-show, the policeman indicated the bloody tracks of Georgie’s nails down one side of the younger man’s unshaven face.
Dear heaven, was a woman not allowed to defend herself when she was assaulted in Bolivia? Without warning, the artificial strength of outrage began to fail Georgie. Her independent spirit quailed and, for the first time in her life, she longed for family back-up.
But her father and stepmother were enjoying a three week cruise of the Greek islands in celebration of their twentieth wedding-anniversary and her stepbrother, Steve, was in central Africa reporting on some civil war that had recently blown up. Her family didn’t even know where she was. Georgie had impulsively splurged her late grandmother’s legacy on her flight to Bolivia. A once in a lifetime holiday, she had promised herself.
Just thirty-six hours ago she had landed at La Paz, cheerfully anticipating her coming reunion with her friend, Maria Cristina Reveron. How many times had Maria Cristina pleaded with her to come and stay? It had undoubtedly never occurred to her friend, an heiress from the day of her birth, that simple lack of money might lie behind Georgie’s well-worn excuses. In the same way, it had not occurred to Georgie that Maria Cristina and her husband, Antonio, might not be in residence when she finally arrived!
The Reveron villa had been closed up, guarded by a security man with two vicious dogs. He had not had a word of English. Refusing to surrender to panic, Georgie had checked into the cheapest hotel she could find and had decided to do a little exploring on her own while she waited for the Reverons to return to La Paz. Since Maria Cristina was eight months pregnant, Georgie was convinced that her friend could only be away for the weekend at most.
‘A little exploring,’ she reflected now, on the edge of hysteria as she studied the two angrily gesticulating men several feet away. Panic was threatening her. She was more than out of her depth, she was drowning. Intelligence told her that it was time to play the one card she had refused to play when she found the Reveron villa inconveniently and dismayingly empty of welcoming hosts. The wild card, the one move that she had never dreamt she would ever be forced to make.
She could have phoned Rafael to ask him where his sister was…but her every skin-cell had cringed from the idea of contacting him, asking him for his assistance. Stupid pride, she saw now, hardly the behaviour of a responsible adult. Four years was a long time. So he had dumped her. So he had hurt and misjudged her. So he had humiliated her. Well, join the real world, Georgie, she taunted herself, with the thickness of tears convulsing her throat, you are not the only woman ever to suffer that way!
Approaching the table, where a notepad and pen lay, Georgie drew in a deep sustaining breath. But suppose they had never heard of Rafael? Suppose he wasn’t the big wheel her friend had always led her to believe? And, even if both those fears proved unfounded, just how likely was it that Rafael Cristobal Rodriguez Berganza would flex a single aristocratic finger to come to her aid?
With an unsteady hand, Georgie carefully blockprinted Rafael Rodriguez Berganza across the pad and then pressed it across the table. It hurt to do it—oh, yes, it hurt to write that name.
A furrow appeared between the policeman’s brows. With an air of questioning confusion, he looked up and across at her. He repeated the name out loud with more than a touch of reverence. ‘No entiendo,’ he said, frowning his lack of understanding.
‘Friend.’ Good friend!’ Georgie tapped the pad with feverish desperation and then crossed her arms defensively over her breasts. ‘Very good friend,’ she lied, forcing a bright and hopefully confident smile, while inside herself she curled up and died with mortification.