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Authors: Jessica Whitman

Nacho Figueras Presents (10 page)

BOOK: Nacho Figueras Presents
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A
lejandro walked into the house as his mother and Corinne, the housekeeper, were putting the finishing touches on lunch. Pilar smiled at him and raised her cheek for a kiss.

His mother was amazing, Alejandro thought, throwing together feasts day after day so effortlessly. His father had always loved inviting friends—repeatedly springing dozens of people on her for dinner—and Sebastian was the same. With a little discreet help, she made sure the place was impeccable and everyone was comfortable, day after day.

“Anything I can do to help?” he asked.

“Call your brother and Valentina?”

“Isn't Sebastian on the field?”

“In the media room, I think,” Pilar said, sprinkling basil over the salad.

Alejandro scowled. Sebastian should have been at practice.

Alejandro went down to retrieve his brother from the lavishly designed basement theater. Seeing him lounging on the giant leather couch, feet up, a drink in his hand, enjoying the closing moments of the latest Christopher Nolan movie, took a large bite out of Alejandro's mood.

“Hey,” Sebastian said, not taking his eyes off the screen.

Alejandro fought back a wave of annoyance. “Hey. Get any riding in?”

“Not yet,” Sebastian said. “Hoping we can head down together after lunch.”

“I have to fly to Kentucky,” Alejandro said. “See a pony to potentially replace MacKenzie in the string.”

“Yeah? I might watch the sequel to this, then.” Sebastian said, eyes still on the screen.

“Rory and Hendy are on the field. At least one of us should put in an appearance,” Alejandro said.

“Enzo can handle it. That's what we pay him for.”

“No, Seb, we pay him to be the
piloto
. He's in charge of the horses. He doesn't take your place on the field,” Alejandro said.

“Enzo won't care,” Sebastian said to his brother's retreating back. “Lighten up.”

Alejandro stalked upstairs, where he found Valentina lying on her stomach watching makeup tutorials on YouTube.

“Valentina, lunch is ready.”

She slid off the bed and slouched toward the door in her socks without looking his way.

“Shoes?” Alejandro suggested. “
Abuela
's been to so much trouble.”

Valentina rolled her eyes and pulled on a pair of Toms.

Pilar had laid out lunch on the terrace beneath a sailcloth shade, which snapped and billowed in the breeze. Thick-petaled peonies and bright floral print napkins decorated the table, along with tall flasks of chilled water and wine from the family's Argentine estate. Pilar made even a simple family lunch look ready for a
Bon Appetit
photo shoot.

“So, how'd it go at the club?” Sebastian asked as he helped himself to risotto.

“Dr. Fellowes accepted,” Alejandro said. “Hendy will handle the contract, but we shook on it. Looks good.”

“Doesn't she?” Sebastian drawled. “There's something intoxicating about that one, headstrong and sexy.”

Alejandro felt a flare of annoyance. “She's a professional,” he said grimly.

“She's also very pretty,” Sebastian said. “Don't be so uptight, Jandro.”

Pilar brought out another dish from the kitchen and sat down to join them. “Who is this we're talking about?”

“The lady vet,” Sebastian said. “You met her at the party. Slinky blue dress. Curls.”

“I remember,” Pilar said. “
Que linda.

“See?” Sebastian threw up his hands in triumph. “I'm sorry, Jandro. I'm not suggesting Dr. Fellowes is not a good vet, or the fact she's pretty is the entire reason you hired her, but I don't see why I have to pretend to be blind just because you insist on it. The fact is, we're discussing a beautiful woman. Valentina? You with me?”

Valentina shrugged. “Yeah, she's all right. Whatev.”

“Whatev,” Sebastian mocked, and Valentina swiped him with her napkin.

Sometimes they acted more like siblings than uncle and niece, Alejandro thought. He threw a glance of apology at his mother and set his water glass down heavily. “Look, Sebastian, maybe you spend more time watching movies than you do on horseback, but that does not mean that you are not part of this team. You have to act accordingly. She works for us now, and you can't treat her that way.”

Sebastian threw up his hands in frustration. “In what way have I treated her? I haven't done a thing to the woman. I'm just saying she's attractive.”

“We have to focus. We can't be distracted. Do you know how close we are to being out of running for the cup?”

“So, we've had
un poco de mala suerte
,” Sebastian said. “A little bad luck. Nothing terminal. Give it a break, Jandro.”

“No, it's not bad luck. It's lack of discipline. It's disorder. Hiring Dr. Fellowes is going to help us get back on track.”

“What about Gustavo?”

“What about him?”

“How is he going to feel about working with a woman?”

“I didn't ask him,” Alejandro said. He felt himself flush in annoyance. “It's not his decision to make.”

“Hmm.” Sebastian raised his glass. “Well,
buena suerte
to Georgia. I hope the poor girl knows what she's getting into.”

B
illy and Beau ignored all of Georgia's protests about everything she had to do and insisted on taking her out to celebrate. Between their own plans for collaboration and her new job, Billy assured her that it would be rude not to drink midday.

The three of them drank stone cold rosé at a little restaurant overlooking the water while the men told her everything they knew about working for the Del Campo family.

“It'll be a lot of work,” said Beau. “You'll need to be strong to handle that responsibility. It's a thirty-horse barn, and a highly volatile environment even when the season's going their way. Horses are extremely vulnerable down here. Even a scratch can be a calamity in this heat. How much are they paying you?”

Georgia took a sip of wine. “They've been very generous. Plus they're giving me the cost of travel home at the end of the season, a car to use, and room and board.”

“Well, just be sure you're getting what you're worth, Georgia. Think what it would cost them to get a good deputy vet on a day rate. The temps down here make a fortune. Injured horses are dangerous. Vets get hurt all the time.”

“And remember, money's not an issue with these guys,” Billy said. “The family's worth millions.”

“Billions,” Beau confirmed.

“Squillions,” Billy trumped. “And G., there's other stuff to consider besides the actual work-work. They've got a small army of people working for them. Someone told me that they have a handler-to-pony ratio of something like five-to-one. And half of the grooms are young girls—they practically work for free in hopes of getting time on the horses or a lesson from one of the players. So you know that kind of crowd is going to be a bitch to handle. The politics in those barns are pure poison. The whole La Victoria team is a mess of scandal and intrigue.”

“Well, at least it will be more interesting than worming terriers.” Georgia smiled.

“Now that's a whole other point. What about your boss upstate?” Beau said, waving a forkful of asparagus. “Will you even have a job to come back to?”

“I think so. I mean, I haven't talked to him yet, but winter isn't a very busy season and…Oh God, maybe I accepted too soon.” Georgia threw down her spoon. “You guys are making me too nervous to eat.”

“Well, you haven't signed anything yet, darling. You don't have to do it,” said Billy.

“Yes, it would be simple enough to back out,” said Beau.

“But I want to do it!” blurted Georgia. “I don't care if it's hard work and that everyone behaves badly. I want to work with those ponies and I want to work with—”

She caught herself and quickly shut her mouth.

“Now who is it that you want to work with so bad, Peaches?” teased Billy.

Georgia glared at him. “The team,” she said. “I want to work with the team.”

“Uh-huh,” said Beau.

“Okay then. If you're hell-bent on doing it. Call your boss in New York now,” advised Billy. “Get it over with. Make it official, G.”

Georgia took one last gulp of wine and then walked out to the deck to call her boss at the clinic.

Dr. Jackson was genuinely delighted for her. Georgia had been right. Given that the town emptied so dramatically over the winter, he was more than happy to reduce his overhead until the spring. He promised to give her a dream reference if anyone called, and he assured her that the job would be waiting when she was ready.

Georgia stepped back in from the terrace relieved and beaming, which Billy decided warranted a second bottle. She sat down and sipped her wine, feeling each anxious knot in her back slip loose as the moments ticked by. She was happy to relax and let her friends dish gossip and intrigue while she basked in the rays of the warm Florida sun pouring through the window and the odd and delicious feeling that, for once, she was exactly where she wanted to be.

*  *  *

Alejandro was wondering how it was that family had the ability to kill a good mood so quickly. It nearly winded him watching his daughter finishing her meal with that shuttered expression. They had been coming to Wellington for years, and it seemed only yesterday she'd been eleven, and seven, and five, and her happy chatter and easy peals of laughter had been the warmth which bound them as a family. Now he could barely remember the last time he'd even seen her smile.

After picking at her food, Valentina asked if she could be excused.

“Say thank you to your
abuela
,” Alejandro said automatically.

“Thank you,
Abuela
,” Valentina parroted as she slid from her chair.

It had been so much easier when Olivia was alive. They'd had a traditional marriage. Olivia managed the home, Alejandro the barn. And Olivia's constant vigilance over their daughter had left him free to be the fun
papá
when it came to weekends and bedtime. It was only now he found himself having to nag Valentina about manners that he realized just how much work Olivia had actually done. His throat felt constricted with guilt.

“Valentina?” he called after her on impulse.

She turned back.

“Come with me, to Lexington? We'll see a couple of ponies, maybe bring one home. It's a short flight. Should be fun.”

She looked interested for a moment. “Can I try them out?”

Damn. He should have seen that coming. “Well…no, I think it's better if I ride.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nah, then,” she said. “What's the point?”

Snubbed and trying not to mind, he helped his mother clear the plates.

As he stacked the plates in the sink, a deep urge for privacy triggered a pang of homesickness. It wouldn't be like this if he and Valentina were at home. He missed his own
campo
, the glorious rambling kitchen and flagstone floors, the worn wooden surface of his enormous kitchen table. This Florida house still felt more like his father's home than his own. There was something about the gleaming and impeccable look of the kitchen—the wraparound granite and stainless steel—that left him ill at ease. He missed the warmth of Argentina. It was a relief at home to be able to leave things where they fell, among the dogs and a comfortable amount of dust. This place was just too antiseptic for his taste. Still, he knew that the interior decorating was less of an issue for him than the fact that, here, he and his daughter were never alone.

He loved his mother and was glad to have her fixed presence in their lives, for Valentina's sake as much as his, but he couldn't help feeling that his daughter's transgressions were somehow magnified under her gaze.

As his mother and the housekeeper restored the vast kitchen to order, Hendy called to ask Alejandro about the deal he'd struck with Georgia.

“You offered her room and board?”

“Of course,” Alejandro said.

“Where do you propose we put her?”

“I'm not sure yet. I'll need to figure it out.”

“Good. Oh, and I had a thought. Why don't you take her with you to Kentucky, eh? It's always better to use our own vet when we're buying.”

Alejandro was silent for a moment—imagining himself traveling alone with Georgia. His heart hammered in his chest.

“Alejandro? Did you hear me about the trip?”

He shook his head. “Yes. Sure. That's a good idea. I'll call her.”

“Excellent. All right then, my boy. Have a good time.”

Alejandro hung up and filled his mother in on their need to find someplace for Georgia to stay. He wanted the vet to be a fully integrated member of the team, close to the barn and on call for Gustavo at all hours, but of course, finding a rental now that the season was under way would be a hopeless task.

“The motel?” Pilar suggested, but he knew the place would be booked solid since this time last year, often with three or four girls to a room. There were plenty of young people in Florida sleeping out in trailers, happy to have the experience of working with world-class trainers and horses, but that was hardly a setup he could propose to Georgia.

It occurred to him to enlist his brother's help, but after the exchange they'd had at lunch, Alejandro thought that Sebastian would probably think it totally reasonable to offer Georgia to share his own bed for the season.

Help from Gustavo was out of the question until news of Georgia's hiring had been properly finessed, and Rory was off wining and dining with possible sponsors, fishing missions at which he had had limited success but fun trying.

Alejandro rubbed his hands through his hair in frustration. Seeing this, Pilar came over and smoothed it back down again. “You need to get ready to go,
hijo
. Let me figure this out for you.”

“You don't mind? It's a lot.”


Querido
, it's the least I can do. I may be decorative, but I'm not completely ineffective. In forty years with your father, I learned a thing or two. You should use me. There's so much more I could do to lighten the load if you'd let me.”

“Just this one thing would be amazing,
Mamá
,” Alejandro said, already on his way out to the barn. “Thank you.”

*  *  *

Back at Billy's place, the boys took a nap, leaving Georgia no further excuse not to call her father. She dialed his number with a rising feeling of dread. She was doing exactly what she had said she would never do, leave him in the lurch in order to run off with the equestrian jet set.

The conversation went even worse than she'd expected. As she described the offer, Georgia could feel her dad's hurt and disapproval all the way down in Florida.

“You have commitments here, Georgia,” he said.

“I know, Dad. That's why I'm taking the job. Think how much we'll be able to do with what I make down here. It includes room and board, so I can save everything I make. We can fix the rotten siding, get going with the new roof, maybe even get a second car so that I won't have to bum all those rides from you.”

He was silent for a moment and then said, “Who's going to look after the animals while you're gone?”

“Dad, I'm sorry, but you did fine looking after everything when I was at college. And we can get some help. I can arrange that from down here. Plenty of locals I know from the practice are good with animals and would be happy for some extra work in winter. I know it's a pain in the neck for you now, but the payoff could really make life simpler.”

“What about your job at the clinic?”

“I've spoken to Dr. Jackson, and he was super supportive.”

Too late Georgia realized that was a mistake. She could hear her dad's anger like white noise around her words.

“You've already gone ahead without talking to me? Why are we even having this conversation, then? I thought you were calling to ask my permission. Why bother even asking me when your mind's made up?”

“Dad,” Georgia said slowly, trying to keep her voice calm, “I wasn't asking, so much as explaining. I mean, I have made my mind up, but I would love your understanding. Your blessing—”

“Well, I'm sorry to rain on your parade but the whole idea seems flaky to me. Giving up a good thing at the first hint of glamour—”

“Dad, it's not like that. And it's temporary. Six weeks max and I'll be back on the farm. Back at work in the clinic with that extra savings in the bank.”

“What about Sam? Have you told him? What about the rental?”

Georgia felt a flash of annoyance that her father thought Sam should have any say in the matter. “I'll send him an e-mail. And if I decide later that I want the place—who knows? Sam didn't seem in a hurry to rent it to anyone else.”

“Who do you think you are, expecting the world to wait around for you? Do you think a man like Sam doesn't have options?”

Georgia felt her anger rising. They were clearly talking about more than a lease.

“I've said yes to the Del Campos, and that's that. I can't go back on it now.”

“Well, what can I say, Georgia? You are your mother's daughter,” he said wearily and hung up on her.

She felt the tears smart in her eyes. His weariness was worse than anger.

Her phone rang again, and she snatched it up.

“Dad, please,” she cried. “That was completely unfair! Just because you don't want me down here doesn't mean you can compare me to Mom!”

There was a silence and then, “
Doctora?
” a deep, accented voice asked.

Damn.

Georgia flipped the phone in her hand to see the caller ID. Private Number. She cringed as she put the phone back to her ear. “Um, Alejandro?”

“Yes? Georgia? Is everything all right?”

“Yes, yes. I'm fine,” Georgia said.

“You sound upset.”

The obvious concern in his voice created a little warm spot in her chest. She couldn't help smiling. Suddenly what had just happened with her father didn't seem like the end of the world.

“No, I'm fine, thank you. I just thought you were…someone else.”


Bueno
, I am calling to ask if you could start work a bit earlier than we discussed.”

“Of course. How much earlier?”

“Would an hour from now be a possibility?”

BOOK: Nacho Figueras Presents
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