An afternoon at the Erotic Museum de Barcelona.
Going to a nude beach—if she could find the nerve.
A real Barcelona vermouth barhop.
Kissing a Spaniard.
Ticking through her once-in-a-lifetime vacation agenda was the only thing keeping London Montgomery sane in the middle of the sardine can that was Barcelona’s train station. She tightened her hold on her luggage to thwart yet another bump-and-spin ploy by a pickpocket and breathed a sigh of relief her passport, driver’s license, and credit card were all safely tucked away inside her bra.
Good luck getting in there without an invitation, boys.
Braver have tried, better have failed.
Though this trip did ensure the potential for finding the perfect sexy invitee. Nothing fit her midnight fantasies better than tall, dark, and Spaniard. A little one-night stand might just be what the doctor ordered to decompress—no better prescription than one that read slam, bam, and thank you, man.
Truth be told, she’d been too effective at keeping the men away the past few years. She wracked her brain to remember the last time she’d been open for business, but the memory was too faded and too fleeting to recall. Well, now was her chance. After years of working nonstop to take care of her mother’s medical bills and build a reputation as a sought-after luxury hotel inspector for Elite Travel & Life Magazine…
She. Was. On. Vacation.
A string of unbreakable migraines and endless weeks of insomnia had landed her in the clinic more than once. Her doctor warned her if she didn’t take care of herself, she wouldn’t be able to take care of her mother. And that would never do. She would take care of her mother, just like her mother had always taken care of her—on her own.
London could just barely see the doors to outside through the crowd. She weaved around travelers, businessmen, and other vacationers toward the daylight, with her rolling suitcase tight in her grip. Her research about traveling in beautiful Barcelona had taught her a lot, but one thing was paramount: keep your possessions close and your wits closer.
A sharp tug on her sleeveless pantsuit had her grabbing the handle of her luggage tighter to keep from losing her balance. A panicked little girl shook London’s hand, tears streaming down her smudged face. The child spoke rapidly, pulling at London to follow and pointing with quick, anxious thrusts of her dirty finger.
London lowered to the little one’s eye level and held her gently by the shoulders. “Honey, it’s okay. I’ll help you.”
Large brown eyes welled with more tears and stared back, hopeful and attentive. London’s chest tightened. She could only imagine how terrifying it would be to get lost in such a crowded place so young. Using a soft, calm tone, she reassured the little sweetling that she’d help, though there was a good chance the child didn’t know English, and she scanned the crowd for anyone who might be able to assist them. The distress in her new friend’s eyes shifted, and her attention flitted over London’s shoulder before a sly grin stretched wide across her face. She wrenched from London’s light grasp and disappeared between the bodies of the crowd.
“Wait,” she called after the girl.
Straightening, London tried to see where she went, but there was no chance of finding the child in the sea of casually dressed tourists. With a small shake of her head, she dropped her hand to her rollaway only to meet thin air. “No!”
She spun around, clutching her chest.
Her luggage was gone.
She swallowed against the hot burn crawling up her throat. Pins and needles pricked her fingertips. She wasn’t going to cry; she wasn’t going to panic. Or so she tried to tell herself.
All her smack talk about the pickpockets was nothing but a false sense of bravado, because she was neither braver nor better at this point. She was a putz—duped by a six-year-old and now luggageless on the dream vacation she’d saved years for. Now that did make her want to cry.
What a dirty, dirty trick.
Straining her neck to look over the swarms of people, she spotted the Policia sign. She wasn’t one to give up, and certainly not when it came to her vacation.
Thankfully, she had an extra outfit in the Hobo cross-strap bag that settled against her hip. That would definitely get her to a nude beach, at the very least.
A masculine voice stopped her. “I think I found something that belongs to you.”
Slapping both hands over her one remaining bag, she turned toward the masculine voice.
He was tall and dressed like he’d stepped out of an advertisement in her company’s magazine. A man that sexy should never be trusted, even if she wasn’t already suspicious from having just been scammed by a kid.
The seams of his black dress shirt strained at the shoulder as he pushed her luggage forward, delivering it into her hand.
“Oh my God. How did you find it? That little stinker…” The flood of relief was so great she didn’t even think before she flung herself at the man, nearly tripping over her suitcase. “Thank you so much.”
His warmth and fresh scent enveloped her as he caught her to keep her from falling.
Shit. Had she really just thrown herself into the arms of a stranger? She grimaced and slowly released him, brushing his suit as if ridding the evidence of her embarrassment. “I’m sorry.” She reached for her luggage, pressing a hand to her temple with a smile. “This is such a relief. Thank you.”
“My pleasure, guapa.”
He held her gaze, but instead of looking away, she found herself staring mutely back. Snap out of it, dumbass.
But it was hard to do, standing in front of her knight-in-silk-and-Armani.
She pulled her gaze away to check the security of her luggage.
“May I?” He extended his long fingers toward the handle of her luggage, a sprinkling of hair along his knuckles, and placed his other hand on his chest. “I’d like to help. As you can see the dippers in these parts don’t shy away from using any methods possible to distract tourists from their valuables.”
She blinked twice. Though kind of him to ask, there was no way she was letting her things out of her grasp again. “Thank you, but I’ve got it.”
His eyes skimmed over her face, but he dropped his hand back to his side. “My pleasure.” When he said it, her ears heard it more like her pleasure and a heap of hot promises. “And where do we need to deliver you?” he asked with an accent she could listen to on repeat—his English very clear, a tad formal, and a lot intriguing.
She cleared her throat. “Huntington Place.”
A broad smile showed straight white teeth and a shallow dimple in his left cheek. “Ahhhh, well this is certainly my good fortune. As fate would have it, I too am heading to Huntington Place. Would you like to share a taxi?”
“No, but thank you.”
He dipped his chin. “Of course. Would you be completely opposed to taking the same shuttle, then?”
With a small shake of her head, she fell in step next to him, pulling her luggage. “This is the first time fate has been on my side. First, my girlfriend, who was supposed to come with me, had a family emergency, then my flight got diverted, then that little stinker helped steal my bag.” She shook her head. How could anyone involve children in theft?
“Anyway, you’ve been a huge help. Thank you so much.” She tried to see around the walls of people, but even at her height, it was nothing but heads and large terminal signs, though the ceiling was a magnificent array of glass and iron, like an architect had been let loose with a Spirograph.
“I want to be sorry you’ve had such a difficult time, but then I wouldn’t have met such a beautiful woman because of it.” His expression warmed from regretful to pleased.
“Are you from around here, then?” she asked.
Those caramel eyes peered down at her through impossible lashes. “Yes, just returning from a trip. I grew up all over Catalonia, but Barcelona mostly. My family owns a local orchard. We have mandarin groves and lemon groves, and they’re the official supplier of Huntington Place Barcelona. I have business with the hotel to renegotiate terms for next year.”
“You work on an orchard?” The fine cut of his shirt and pants made her think more businessman than laborer, though his build bragged of hard work and the potential for a lot of fun.
He nodded. “My whole life, right alongside my parents and siblings. It’s a family business, family tradition. A legacy, if you will.”
“That’s lovely.” And she meant it. It had always been just her and her mother. What would it be like to have brothers and sisters all working together? This was perfect. A concept for an article for her magazine’s Homeward Bound section popped into her head. If she could just swing by to take a few pictures. A vision of lemon trees popped into her head.
No. Doctor’s orders were to relax. Best push away the heart and hearth fairytale before…
“My great-great-grandfather established the orchard in 1870. Back then, it supplied lemons and mandarins to the local markets, but my father had a mind to expand further.”
Oh, what the heck? Her vacation was supposed to be relaxing, but a passion project like this couldn’t be denied. If she loved the work she was doing, then who was to say it wasn’t relaxing?
Her list grew by one: visit to the citrus orchard. Now she simply had to ask for a tour.
He dipped his chin. “What about you?”
“I’m on my dream vacation. Like I said, I was supposed to have company.”
“But you do.”
She laughed. “Sure. Like you’re going to hang out with me for the next week and a half. But hey, I can’t complain. I’m in Barcelona.”
“The dippers haven’t deterred you?”
“Of course not. It’s all worked out, thanks to you. I guess I owe you one. You never did tell me how you accomplished that.” She gripped the handle tighter.
“I’d really like to go back to how you owe me.” He flashed her a devilish smile.
Her heart skipped a beat, but she chuckled as they followed the current of people through the tunnel of sky-lit iron archways. She loved the architecture of Barcelona—it was one of the many reasons she’d decided on it for her vacation. And she wasn’t about to let a little thing like being mugged by a kid ruin her opportunity-of-a-lifetime agenda. She snuck a sidelong glance at her new acquaintance. No doubt kissing a Spaniard was looking like a better and better idea. She pulled in a breath with a grin.
Her boss even had the audacity to call before she’d boarded her plane, hoping to get her to work once he’d found out where she was going. She always said yes, and man, she could use the money.
But not this time.
She needed this break before she broke. Stretching gently from side to side, she was pleased to find her neck wasn’t causing her a stress headache for the first time in months, years even. Her new vacation buddy was good for her health and her ego. He was a big guy, the kind who could toss a girl about in the fun kind of way.
Fun. She was due a heap of it. For once, she’d get to sleep on luxury sheets without doing a light test for bedbugs and pee on a toilet without completing a white-glove test on the tiles behind it first. That thought alone was like a day at a spa.
The wheel of her bag caught the seam of the tile and almost sent her flying onto her face.
Her companion stopped walking. “It will be easier if you let me help. Si us plau. Please.” When she hesitated, he held her gaze. “No one will take the bag from me. I promise.”
She studied him. “Thank you, but I’ve got it, and it’s not because I think you’d take off with it.” Liar, liar. She eyed her rollaway, then pointed her finger at him. “Besides, if you did, I’d tackle you to the ground.”
Something flared in his eyes. “I wouldn’t say things like that, if I were you.”
“Oh, I mean every word.”
“What if there is nothing I’d like more than to be tackled by my charming American friend?” The question was asked softly, but he pronounced each word succinctly.
She froze for a second, heat rising in her face. Her vacation was certainly looking up, that was for sure. She laughed. “Do men from Barcelona always say such outrageous things?”
Maybe that hadn’t been outrageous flirting for him, but it was for her. She couldn’t remember when she’d last had time for flirting. Anyway, he was just having some fun with the poor American tourist. Men like him weren’t interested in women like her. She was too blunt and had the shoulders of a linebacker. A combination that had burned her more than once.
Out on the sidewalk, she handed over her bag for the driver to carry onto the bus. “Gracias.”
Her rescuer pulled out his wallet and lifted two fingers as the man returned.
“Oh, I appreciate the help, but I’ll pay my own way,” she said.
Surprise flitted across his face. He shook his head. “No need.”
He stood back with a quick nod, and she ascended the stairs. As she scooted across the woven canvas, the fresh spice of his cologne moved along with her. It occurred to her a little too late that even with all the others on the bus, sharing the ride might be awkward.
With a tug to each shirt cuff, he settled back and offered his hand. “I’m Mateu Espasa.”
His skin was warm and his shake firm, sending a thrill of anticipation rushing down her spine. “London Montgomery. Mateu… I like the sound of it. What does it mean?”
He smiled. “Gift of God.”
From any other man, she’d have laughed outright, but with his large form nearly filling the small bench seat they shared, she found herself comforted by the heat of him. It was all so surreal. Maybe because he’d saved her luggage or maybe because he’d made her transport to the hotel so seamless, but appreciation tightened in her chest. She snuck a peek at her new friend, Mateu.
Finally, she was in Barcelona, on her way to her favorite hotel chain—and this time for pleasure not business—and just maybe, possibly on her way to crossing her favorite once-in-a-lifetime vacation item off her agenda.
She nodded. “Gift of God? After today, I can attest to that.”