Para siempre means forever. That’s what they’d promised one another. Then she left.
Now she’s back, and para siempre is just two words written on the wall of the community center he’s determined to tear down … and she wants to save.
Eduardo Forenza’s property development project hits a snag when a protest committee recruits a celebrity to head up their cause. But the Argentinian developer grew up on the rough streets of La Boca—he’s not going to be intimidated by some big shot who’s never felt the cold bite of hunger. When the star who stands in his way turns out to be the same woman who ripped out his heart and used it to fuel her rise to fame, he’s determined to purge her from his system once and for all. If only he didn’t have to keep rescuing her first.
Anna Marquez is known to the world as the singing sensation Angel. Launched into stardom by an avaricious mother, Anna had to leave everything behind, including the man she’s never stopped loving. Now she’s back in Buenos Aires to bury her beloved grandmother and solve an intimate dilemma. But when her personal problem is overshadowed by attempts on her life, Anna flees to the one place she feels safe: Eduardo’s arms.
Will the pain of the past be too much to overcome, or will they gamble again on a love to last para siempre?
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Copyright © 2019 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the publisher.
Excerpt From The Developer and The Diva
Eduardo glanced out the window as the car crawled towards its destination. Multicolored tin-clad buildings, for which this barrio was famous, assaulted his eyes. Tourists from around the world flocked to take selfies in front of them. They considered them ‘quaint.’ All he saw was poverty and a past he’d give almost anything to erase.
He checked his watch, clenching his teeth. At this speed, the meeting would be over before he even got there.
“Sorry, Señor Forenza. The traffic is crazy,” Raul said. It didn’t matter how many times Eduardo asked to be addressed by his first name. As soon as he was behind the wheel, his driver insisted on formality. “It would be quicker if you walked.”
Quicker, but sweatier. And he wanted—no, needed—to project an ice-cold, heart-of-steel image to the protesters who, he’d been warned, were about to wreak havoc on his carefully constructed development schedule. It was his first project since becoming full partner in Alva-Suarez Developments, and he was going to do everything in his power to ensure it went off without a hitch. His reputation was on the line.
Nothing threatened his hard-earned reputation.
Whatever celebrity had been hired to influence the planning meeting was in for a surprise. He’d grown up on the streets of La Boca. He’d dodged thugs in the dark alleys and sold papayas on the street as a child to earn food money. He wasn’t a born-rich kid who’d never set foot in one of Buenos Aires’s rougher barrios. He wasn’t going to be intimidated by some big shot who’d never felt the sharp bite of hunger in the night.
Up ahead, a group of teenagers spilled from the sidewalk onto the road, and the slow crawl of the traffic came to a complete stop. Blaring car horns clashed with the tango music booming from a dance studio on the corner.
“I haven’t seen gridlock this bad since the last time Messi played at La Bombonera.” Raul punctuated his statement with a long blast of the BMW’s horn. Not that the noise made one whit of difference to their progress.
Okay, maybe he’d be slightly flustered if the world-class soccer player showed up at his development meeting. Although a rugby man himself, Eduardo had respect for professional athletes. He personally knew the sacrifices they made to get to the upper echelons in sport.
All the things Eduardo had given up had been for naught—his athletic career had been cut short by an illegal tackle. He rubbed his clavicle and the scars hidden under his shirt. It still ached, mostly during turbulent weather. The surgeon had done an impressive job knitting together his shattered collarbone and repairing his other injuries.
Too bad the doctor hadn’t been able to fix the damage done to Eduardo’s heart. That pain never went away, no matter the weather. No bad tackle was to blame for it, though, just a self-centered woman who put fame before love. He should have known returning to the community center would bring back memories of her. Good thing it was about to be destroyed.
Suddenly, the vehicle was too confining. “I’ll walk. I know a shortcut,” Eduardo said. “Wait on Calle Parker. I’ll call you when I’m done.”
Before Eduardo was even out of the BMW, Raul had shed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to show his muscles and tattoos. The luxury car would be a target in this area, but he was a match for any trouble he might face.
Eduardo shrugged out of his own suit jacket while keeping a tight grip on his briefcase. As he walked, he scanned the faces of those heading towards the community center. Few were wearing Messi, Barcelona, or Boca Junior jerseys, so maybe this wasn’t going to be his fanboy dream day.
The entrance to the community center was packed with people. Two security guards stood by the door, their eyes darting around, fists clenched on the truncheons hanging from their belts. It would take at least ten minutes—time he didn’t have—to even make it to the door. Hopefully, other members of the planning committee were already inside. If the meeting had to be rescheduled because some VIP’s presence prevented a quorum, he’d seriously lose his shit. They were already up against cascading deadlines.
Thankfully, he knew where the back entrance was located, having spent a great deal of his youth either trying to get in, or out, of the center.
He slipped into the building. The custodian let him pass. Either he didn’t recognize Eduardo, or the tailor-made suit and Italian leather shoes were enough to legitimize the kid who’d been one step from the wrong side of the law for most of his youth.
The meeting was to be held in the gymnasium, so he headed in that direction. The hallway still had the same chipped brown floor tiles and scratched, dented, and graffiti-marred yellowish walls. If he looked, he’d probably find his own contribution: E+A para siempre inside a badly drawn heart. He didn’t look. Graffiti lied. Forever? What a joke. They’d barely lasted three years.
The closer he got to the gym, the stronger the scent of cleaning fluid, rubber, and sweat. One look should be enough to convince the committee that this place needed to be torn down. His plan for a mid-rise apartment building with retail space on the ground floor was a much better use for this land. Who hung around a community center these days? Kids were either on their phones or playing video games. Senior citizens, too, for that matter.
He paused outside the door to put on his game face. Damn memories. His palms were clammy, and his stomach had taken up freediving. The sooner this place was demolished, the better.
Feedback from a microphone inside the room halted the excited chatter for a nanosecond. Then the muffled voice of the chairperson could be heard through the door. Nothing like making a last-minute entrance. Eduardo pushed open both doors and strode through, halting two steps into the room, as that was all the space available. There had to be twice as many occupants as legally allowed. Behind the rows of folding chairs, people stood six deep.
Eduardo’s eyes roved the crowd as he pressed his way forward as politely as possible. With so many bodies in the way, he couldn’t see who the star attraction was. Because he was damn sure these people hadn’t turned up at ten o’clock on a Monday morning to hear a dry recitation of the planning application under consideration.
He was two meters from the tables set up between a battered podium at the front of the room before he could see who had caused the mayhem.
His heart stalled. Then it joined his stomach in a race to see which would make it to his knees first. Staring back at him, as shocked as he was, was the A in E+A forever.
Excellent. This demolition wouldn’t even require a wrecking ball.
Frank Sinatra had done things his way with a few regrets. Anna had only the one. But it was a doozy—and it had just walked into the room.
Her heart pounded so loudly she was sure the microphone would pick it up and broadcast her distress to the entire audience. It’d been torture enough walking through the halls of the building that held so many of her most treasured memories: her first kiss, her first dance, and the moment when her heart had switched ownership, only to be thrown back at her three years later with permanent cleat marks embedded in it.
The co-owner of those memories, and the guy who’d trampled her racing organ, was walking towards her, looking like he’d slice her to pieces given the opportunity.
And she couldn’t really blame him. She’d burned their relationship to the ground. Then she’d flung the ashes to the wind and made a million dollars. Several million, actually.
However, if Eduardo hadn’t been so pigheaded, arrogant, and, well … macho, maybe they’d have had a different ending. Or no ending. And she wouldn’t be faced with her current dilemma.
Now there was a thought to make her squirm in her chair.
That was an issue for another day. This instant, her focus was on why Eduardo would show up here now. Was he about to denounce her as a fraud, as a woman who sang of love but was incapable of the emotion? He’d be wrong.
Maybe he was another ‘celebrity’ here to lend his support to the opposition, hoping to halt the destruction of a neighborhood landmark. His rugby career had been incredibly short, but he’d been hailed as a national hero when he’d scored the winning try in Argentina’s one and only win over New Zealand’s All Blacks. Was he still riding that claim to fame? Surprisingly—or not, given the way they’d ended—he’d never cashed in on his role as her first boyfriend.
Looking at him now, boyfriend was not the word that came to mind. Madre de Dios, he’d become a stunning man. He’d always been taller than most, his shoulders and chest strong enough to give her respite from all her fears. Now they were even more magnificent. He might no longer be a professional athlete, but he clearly hadn’t stopped his fitness routine.
Desire trampled regret in its bid to be the overwhelming emotion of the moment.
She shifted in her chair. Eduardo would take the empty seat next to hers. Long-suppressed memories surfaced of his muscled thighs pressed against hers, and her skin warmed. With her pale coloring, soon everyone in the room would know she wanted him.
The blood that had moments ago flushed her cheeks receded like a cockroach in the light when Eduardo took a chair at the opposite table. What? He wanted to destroy this place? Their gazes met for a split second and she audibly caught her breath at the loathing she saw in his mocha brown eyes. He definitely hadn’t forgiven her.
Thankfully, at that moment, the chairperson called the meeting to order. Marshaling every ounce of willpower she possessed, Anna channeled her nervous energy into presenting the image for which she was famous: an ethereal beauty untouched by the world’s woes.
What a load of bullshit.
Surreptitiously, she texted her assistant, instructing Janet to send her everything known about Eduardo Forenza, especially over the past five years. When Anna had first gone to LA, she’d cyberstalked Eduardo, desperate to know if he’d made a full recovery from his career-ending injury. But since he was no longer in the world of professional athletes, there had been little information on the web. He’d always been private and, as far as she’d been able to discover, he never had any social media accounts.
For her sanity, she’d stopped searching for word about him. She’d given up all contact with any friends who’d known them as a couple. Eduardo was her past. She’d moved on. Sort of.
The dry recitation of the planning application over, the chairperson called on the developer’s representative to expound on the benefits his proposed new building would bring to the community.
Without sparing even a glance in her direction, Eduardo strode to the lectern. At last, she had an excuse to stare at him. His voice was deeper now than she remembered, coming from the depths of his soul, offering shelter and sanctuary.
But not to her. Not anymore.
His dark-brown hair was cut short. Too short. It used to curl against his collar and give her something to hold onto as his lips traced a path from her ear to her shoulder, turning her knees to water. His lips were the same—full, promising endless delight. She’d dreamed about those lips on her body.
His dark, chocolate-colored eyes, which used to soften when she walked into the room, were hard. His steely determination to see his project come to life was evident for all to see. This was a man who knew what he wanted—and stopped at nothing to get it.
A tailor-made suit hugged his lean form, hinting at the amazing body she knew was hidden beneath. Her fingers itched to trace the contours of his back, to feel his chest muscles react to her touch, to hear his whispered words of encouragement as she rubbed her hips against his.
The room got too hot, but she resisted the urge to fan herself. The breath she pulled in was harsh and unsteady.
“Are you okay?” Johanna, the head of the community protest group, leaned over and whispered in Anna’s ear.
“Yes,” she managed to reply through a throat thick with memories. “Just jet lag hitting me.”
The woman patted Anna’s knee, a gesture so similar to her grandmother’s that a wave of grief threatened to obliterate Anna’s tenuous grip on composure.
The chairperson’s voice came to her through a haze. “And now we’d like to welcome to the podium the singing sensation Angel. What many of you may not know is that Angel grew up right here in La Boca and spent hours enjoying these facilities.”
Great. She’d been so busy staring at Eduardo that she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. She’d just have to go with her prepared statement about how the community’s youth needed a place to meet, to learn, to develop essential skills. Although she’d done none of those things. Her time here had been spent almost entirely in Eduardo’s arms. She probably shouldn’t mention that.
It took five minutes for the crowd to quiet down before she could speak. Like at her concerts, there were those who called out that they loved her, those who started to sing her most popular song, hoping she’d join in, and those who screamed just to make noise. When she glanced to the left, Eduardo sat with his arms crossed over his chest, a glower puckering the skin between his eyebrows. Based on the muscles working in his jaw, his molars were being ground to dust.
She held up her hand and eventually the room quieted. “This community center,” she said, pausing to clear her throat, “was witness to some of my happiest days.” She didn’t dare look at Eduardo but allowed her voice to soften. “It distresses me greatly to think that today’s youth won’t have a place to gather if this building is destroyed for apartments no one in the area will be able to afford.”
Eduardo stood and came around to the front of his table. Even a meter away, she could feel his strength, his determination to sway the committee to his viewpoint. “If Angel,” he sneered her stage name, “had listened to my presentation rather than playing on her phone, she’d have realized that ‘today’s youth’ don’t ‘gather’ here anymore. They hang at the park or each other’s homes, where they play online games, surf the internet, or watch YouTube videos.” His voice carried so well she was sure that the people at the very back of the room could hear him even without the microphone. A general murmur of agreement rose among the crowd.
“And while it’s all very nice that she has such fond memories of the place, those of us who still live here, who walk these streets every day, know that what La Boca needs is safe housing and reasonable-rent commercial space to allow locals to conduct business and earn a living to feed and clothe their children. We can’t all live in mansions in Beverly Hills and charge twenty thousand pesos for a ticket to one of our concerts.”
He perched his delectable ass on the table, stretched his long legs, crossed his ankles, and folded his arms over his abdomen, blatantly challenging her to respond.
As she racked her brain for a counter to his argument, there was a commotion at the back of the room. A deafening bang was followed immediately by pandemonium. Most in the audience stood, blocking her view. Chairs crashed to the floor, and a few people screamed.
Before she could even formulate a plan of escape, Eduardo was in front of her, further preventing her from seeing whatever was happening at the door. Without a word, he ushered her towards the curtained area behind them.
Within seconds, they were enveloped in darkness behind the heavy curtain, his body pressed against hers. His heart beat steadily beneath her hand and his scent, a mix of bergamot and sandalwood, suited the man he’d become.
“Where’s your security team?” Eduardo’s whisper straight in her ear sent heat directly to her core. Damn, but she wished she could turn back time, if only for a few hours. Where was a time-travel rune stone when you needed one? Or did those only work in Scotland?
“I didn’t bring any. I thought I’d be safe. This used to be my home.” She’d wanted to just be Anna Marquez for a while. But as the shouts of terrified people grew, she realized the folly of her plan.
There was no going back to a simpler life—one where Eduardo loved her.