THE SCREAMING woke me.
Sitting up slowly, painfully, I glanced quickly around the ornate, sumptuously furnished room and found I was still in the master suite of the villa owned by Miguel García Arquero.
“Shit,” I groaned, the headache pounding at my temples not helped at all by the shrieking as I searched for my phone.
It was dusk, so the light was soft in the room. The gentle breeze stirring the sheer white curtains and the smells of lavender and wisteria wafting through the open french doors were soothing.
The crying was not.
Seeing my phone on the floor, I rolled out of bed and nearly fell when my feet touched the marble. I kept my balance, got hold of my iPhone, kept my eyes on the doorway, and made it there, squinting all the way. I really needed my sunglasses.
Since it was rude to walk around barefoot in the house—I knew a little about Spanish culture—I slipped on the bunny slippers my brother had jokingly bought for me and went to find out what the commotion was about.
Hurling open the double doors, I walked to the balcony and gazed down, one eye open, one eye closed, and took in the scene below.
My brother’s fiancé, sugar daddy, dream come true—seriously, I’d lost track of the different words Dalvon had used over the past six months—Prince Charming was another, the perfection-in-the-flesh’s mother was being walked out of the villa, escorted by two big men I’d never seen before. They were followed closely by another man and a woman—they had to be Inés’s other children, from the resemblance—and Pablo, the villa’s overseer.
“The fuck,” I growled down at everyone.
They all froze and looked up at me, and I could only imagine what I looked like, standing there in boxer briefs and a tank under an ivory silk robe.
“Señor Barber, we are sorry to disturb,” Pablo called up to me. “Please return to your room, and I will send up a tray of food.”
I didn’t think anything for a long moment, and then it hit me as funny: he thought I was my brother, Dalvon. And yeah, it made sense, we were twins, but I was built heavier than him, more muscular, and I worked at it, whereas he did nothing and stayed both leaner and sleeker. I exercised daily, did lots of cardio, and pumped a lot of weights. He swam in the Mediterranean off the side of a 150-foot yacht. He was the one with the sun-bleached blond mane and golden tan; I was the guy with enough hair on his face that it was more than stubble but not quite a beard, and short red hair that stuck up in tufts when there was no product in it—like now. We had common features, but anyone with a discerning eye could tell us apart. We were fraternal twins, not identical, after all.
Now, if Dalvon had spent the summer in Boston, where I lived, instead of in Ibiza where he did, had let his tan fade, cut all the blond out of his hair, and worked out at little… maybe he could have passed for me. It was possible, just not probable. What was not possible was the reverse. The idea of me looking like him was ridiculous. But at the moment, I needed to stop whatever the hell was happening, so I let myself be christened Dalvon and didn’t correct Pablo with my real name: Hudson.
“Where is Inés going?” I asked drolly, leaning over the rail.
“To my home in Barcelona,” the daughter—Marta, I thought her name was—replied coldly, glaring up at me before snapping her fingers for the men to carry on.
I snapped mine back, just to be bitchy, and they stopped. It was both surprising and not. It was my—Dalvon’s—house, after all.
“Who do you—”
“I don’t think she wants to go.” It was an understatement, seeing how bereft the older woman appeared.
“It is of no concern––”
“And since she doesn’t want to and you’re making her, I’m assuming you have permission from Miguel to remove his mother from the villa?” I prodded.
“Okay, then,” I said, looking to the villa’s front door and tipping my head at the guards who I knew were Dalvon’s men. They saw my motion and moved forward.
“What?” The man on Inés’s heels—clearly related to her, now that I was really looking at him—bellowed. So he was Ramón, the other son. “How dare you question what we do with our mother? You are simply a hole for my brother to—”
“No.” I stopped him cold, and I could tell he was startled. Ramón was probably ready to pass out from shock what with me being insistent and all. I was not acting like the Dalvon he knew and usually walked over—I’d been noticing it the whole time I’d been visiting. My brother was a doormat.
Dalvon was quiet and gentle, a sweet little bird who’d always needed someone to have him and hold him and put themselves between him and the world. Growing up, that person had been me. Through foster homes and group homes, it had always been me. His modeling contract at sixteen was a blessing because it got him out of the scary parts of Boston, and also a curse because I couldn’t follow him around anymore. I had to go to school; I wanted to be the guy running the company, not the guy in the ad campaign selling whatever they made. I was so happy when he called and said he’d met someone.
Miguel García Arquero was a shipping magnate from Valencia, Spain, and he was going to make an honest man of my brother, according to what I’d been told. Dalvon wouldn’t have to model anymore because he was going to marry Miguel and be his arm candy for the rest of his life. My relief almost made me fall back into bed with my estranged boyfriend, but I caught myself before I reignited something I had already successfully killed.
When Dalvon wanted to know what I really thought of him becoming Miguel’s husband, I told him sincerely how truly thrilled I was. Dalvon was not made to be anything but the love of some lucky guy’s life. He was a great cook, he would wait on you hand and foot, and all he wanted to do was make the person he loved delirious with joy. Being the trophy of a ridiculously rich man was perfect for him. He’d found his prince, and the guy turned out to be a billionaire. It was win-win.
I understood my first day at the villa that Dalvon had power. He just wasn’t wielding it.
Everyone asked him questions, deferred to him, but when it came down to making a choice—what did he want for dinner, what did he want to do, did he want to plan the party or simply go out to the club—he couldn’t make decisions. Because of that, the staff had to do it all themselves, and that was where the disrespect came in.
The servants ignored him. Pablo, who seemed like a genuinely nice guy, placated him. No one else even noticed he was there unless he needed something. Dalvon wasn’t permitted to make the home he wanted, and he wasn’t allowed to provide the warmth missing from the villa. But the one thing he told me he did love, that he’d put his foot down for, was Miguel’s mother.
When his prince had asked him if he’d mind if Inés came to live with them—the villa in Ibiza had thirty rooms, it wasn’t like they’d be on top of each other—of course Dalvon had said yes. He never had a mother and was thrilled to finally have one, and now, for whatever reason, they thought they were going to remove her while he was out? Hell, no, not on my watch.
“How dare you even—”
“Don’t test me!” I roared. Everyone looked up at me, even Inés, who was now visibly crying. “This is my villa, my home, and everyone here works for me! If you want to be cut off the moment Miguel comes back, go ahead and take your mother out of here.”
“You would not dare!” Marta shrilled.
“Oh, the hell I wouldn’t. He’ll do whatever I ask because even though I may be just a piece of ass, I’m his favorite fuckin’ piece of ass, and if you don’t believe me, get him on the goddamn phone!”
Ramón and Marta, both clearly furious, going by their expressions, stood with the thugs—as I thought of them now—who were escorting Inés, but they were quickly encircled by not only Dalvon’s two guards, but several others who’d come from other parts of the villa to assist them. They must have heard the shouting.
I watched Pablo’s head snap up, and we made eye contact as I came down the outside stairs.
“Make up your mind right now. Do you work for me? Are you loyal to me or somebody else?”
He hesitated a half a second too long.
I passed judgment, my words clipped, scalding, brooking no protest. “You’re relieved of your positon.”
“Dalvon,” he pleaded. It was funny that he really did think I was my brother.
“No,” I said icily, moving quickly through the space my hulking bodyguards made for me to face him. “Who the hell is your number two here?”
“I have no idea what you think you are—”
Pivoting, I found myself facing a very beautiful blonde woman who couldn’t have been more than five foot two. She was teeny, small-boned like a bird, but her eyes blazed.
“I am Duena Torres Juez, and I report directly to Pablo.”
“Not anymore,” I huffed. “Now you report to me.”
She took my measure, and even in the robe and fluffy slippers, I was apparently somewhat impressive. “Sí,” she decided quickly.
I smirked at her and saw the surprise register on her face. “I want everyone outta here except me and Inés, and today, right fuckin’ now, we clean house.”
Duena’s eyes narrowed as she studied my face, and then she took the leap that coincided with a breath and dove in, trusting me to catch her and keep her safe if the whole thing backfired and Miguel was pissed when he got home.
“At once,” she agreed and turned on her chunky black ankle boots and said something to the men in Miguel’s employ so that they made room for her to get to the two gorillas who’d been trying to remove Inés. The barrage of Spanish she let loose on them, I had no hope of following.
I yawned, walked by Miguel’s siblings, and moved in front of Inés Arquero Martín, facing her. “Hiya,” I said softly, smiling.
Her eyes filled with fresh tears as she gazed at me.
I took another step closer so only she could hear me. “Clearly I’m not Dalvon, but I can help you until he gets back from wherever—oof!”
She lunged at me, wrapped her arms around my neck, buried her head against my shoulder, and trembled violently. “Hudson,” she murmured. I rubbed her back and held her close as the tornado that was Duena Torres blew around us. The woman was scary, and her voice carried through the villa as she roared out orders. All the men around her scuttled to comply.
Inés in her red Chanel suit and I in my bathrobe adjourned to the patio where lunch was soon served.
I THANKED the housekeeper for bringing me sparkling water and Tylenol as well as some amazing-looking seafood paella, and I was surprised when she suddenly patted my hand and said something quickly in Spanish.
“I’m sorry, señora, I don’t speak the language.”
Her smile warmed, her teak-colored eyes glinted and the laugh lines around them deepened. She was a handsome woman―not beautiful―tall and willowy with long hair wrapped up in a neat, tight bun. “You are an angel for keeping the master’s mama with us. You are nothing like your brother.”
That was true. “Speaking of Dal, do you happen to know where he went?”
“No, señor Barber.”
“Just Hudson,” I insisted crisply. “Hudson’s good.”
She was surprised. It was all over her face before she recovered. “I am Anita.”
“Good to meet you, Anita. I’m sorry we didn’t meet last week. I kept thinking my brother would introduce me to everyone here, but he never got around to it.”
She made a hmph noise at me.
She waved a hand dismissively.
“No, tell me.”
I could tell from the way her shoulders straightened that she’d taken a quick breath to gird herself. Battle stance all the way. She expected me to attack her. “To him, to your brother, all of us were only staff, and it would not occur to him to know our names.”
I scrunched up my face while thinking about that. “He’s not actually that douchey, but I can see where you’d get that impression.”
“But either way, I’m glad we met now.”
“As am I,” she granted, leaning close to stroke my cheek. She stood tall again and gestured at the beautiful meal she had put down before Inés and me. “Would you like something other than the paella? Your brother always preferred American dishes to—”
“Oh, no, are you kidding?” I made a face like she was nuts. “I’m salivating just looking at it. I just hope there’s enough for Inés.”
Her lips pursed. “So then pulpo a la gallega is good with you for dinner along with tortilla española and empanadas?”
It was a test. I could tell from her tone and the look of daring on her face. But I grew up in Boston, and I knew my damn seafood and what it was called in a number of different languages. “Oh yeah, I like octopus and empanadas, but what is tortilla española?”
Her face brightened. “You like octopus?”
She was studying me as I got a trace of a smile.
“But I never heard of tortilla española,” I reiterated.
“It is a potato dish with cheese.”
“Sounds great,” I assured her. “I’m sorry to make you cook all the meals, though. I know Dal and I ate out almost every night this past week. He said you don’t like to cook.”
“I love to cook, but my husband died and we were never able to have children, so now I have only Miguel to cook for when he is home.”
“Well, you have me until it’s time for me to go,” I said, chuckling. “I love food. I just can’t cook anything at all.”
“That is okay, hijo mío. I am here to feed you.”
She nodded in that quiet way I was already getting used to.
“Ask you a question?”
“Of course,” Anita agreed.
“Do you love that outfit?” I asked, indicating the dated getup she was in.
“The uniform, you mean?”
“Yeah,” I said, grimacing over the black-and-white maid’s outfit that looked like it was left over from the fifties.
“No.” She clipped the word.
“Well, for as long as I’m here, let’s ditch it.”
She arched one judgmental eyebrow, and I smiled because I could tell she was the kind of woman who was not easily impressed. “Sí.”
When she left, I turned to Inés, who I could just tell had been a beauty when she was younger, and still was.
Her thick gray and silver hair fell straight to her shoulders where it flipped up in a perfect curl. From pictures I’d seen, I knew that Inés had gifted her son with her stunning dark liquid brown eyes, long and thick lashes, and perfectly shaped expressive brows. Her skin was not as firm as it had once been, soft now, but her complexion was still flawless, and the minimal makeup and classic jewelry gave an overall perception of an aging, though still gorgeous, member of royalty. So yes, I had noticed her empirical beauty, but more than that, her kind regard for my brother when I first arrived at the villa. Clearly, she liked him.
When Inés reached across the table to take my hand, I took hers quickly, without question.
“You are not like your brother.”
“But you like him.”
“I felt sorry for him.”
“He is such a little mouse and my son is a tiger. I worried that he would be either stepped on or devoured, each and every day.”
“I think he’s tougher than he looks.”
“No, he is not,” Inés apprised me. “And I worried even more for him as I watched Miguel’s interest in him wane.”
“What? No. They’re gonna get married.”
“Oh, no,” she scoffed with a shake of her head. “A tiger does not mate with a mouse, only another tiger.”
“Well, I think in this instance, Miguel was going to make an exception.”
“My son does not make exceptions, but he would not have to, in your case.”
“You are not a tiger,” she mused, “but you are a cat nonetheless.”
“Am I?” I snickered, having fun talking to her.
She laughed, and the sound, deep and rich, made me smile. “You are beautiful—a panther compared to the lamb that Dalvon is.”
“I’ve never been called a jungle cat before,” I teased.
Inés shook her head. “It is the truth I speak. If Dalvon were here today, my conniving son and daughter would have taken me from here to use as leverage against Miguel, who would not even have known I was taken until he got back from his business trip.”
“He does a lot of traveling, huh?”
“Yes, but even when he is home, he lives in the house in Valencia, not here. I think he stays away because of your brother.”
“Your brother does not help Miguel entertain when he is home, will not meet his business associates, and will not oversee the companies here on the island that Miguel would like him to simply check in on.”
“He’s not good with that stuff. He’s better one-on-one with the guy he loves.”
“Dalvon preferred to go to the clubs with Miguel than to stay home.”
“Clubbing’s fun,” I said, just to be saying something. I hadn’t been clubbing in years. Even when I got to the island, to Ibiza, and even though I loved trance and techno music, Dalvon hadn’t been able to drag me out with him. I was done with the scene, my dancing days finished after I got my undergrad degree. I preferred walking through town, eating at the cafés there, strolling the bougainvillea-littered streets, and soaking in the history and culture.
“That is good, but Miguel needs a partner, yes? Not an ornament.”
I made a noise of agreement. “Well, hopefully they can work it out.”
“I do not know, Hudson, as even Dalvon’s love for my son has never given him the strength you showed so effortlessly today. And now my son’s house is put in order simply by your word.”
“Well, by Duena Torres’s word,” I amended.
“No. Even though that woman is a lioness, it was you who she saw and heard and wanted to serve. She stepped forward for you alone. It is you she wants to work for.”
“Well, it won’t be me for long,” I advised.
Inés’s smile bordered on evil. “Only time will tell, yes?”
I was going to argue, but it seemed pointless. She obviously had an idea in her head, though why, I couldn’t say. Clearly, I was not the brother who belonged in Ibiza with the billionaire, but I’d discover where my brother had gone and return everything to normal. I just needed a moment of quiet to get him on the phone and figure out what the hell was going on. Everything would be cleared up soon, I was just certain of it. Because really, who ran away from Ibiza?