The Most Expensive Lie of All

By: Michelle Conder
CHAPTER ONE

‘EIGHT-THREE. MY SERVE.’

Cruz Rodriguez Sanchez, self-made billionaire and one of the most formidable sportsmen ever to grace the polo field, let his squash racquet drop to his side and stared at his opponent incredulously. ‘Rubbish! That was a let. And it’s eight-three my way.’

‘No way, compadre! That was my point.’

Cruz eyeballed his brother as Ricardo prepared to serve. They might only be playing a friendly game of squash but ‘friendly’ was a relative term between competing brothers. ‘Cheats always get their just desserts, you know,’ Cruz drawled, moving to the opposite square.

Ricardo grinned. ‘You can’t win every time, mi amigo.’

Maybe not, Cruz thought, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d lost. Oh, yeah, actually he could—because his lawyer was in the process of righting that particular wrong while he blew off steam with his brother at their regular catch-up session.

Feeling pumped, he correctly anticipated Ricardo’s attempted ‘kill shot’ and slashed back a return that his brother had no chance of reaching. Not that he didn’t try. His running shoes squeaked across the resin-coated floor as he lunged for the ball and missed.

‘Chingada madre!’

‘Now, now,’ Cruz mocked. ‘That would be nine-three. My serve.’

‘That’s just showing off,’ Ricardo grumbled, picking himself up and swiping at the sweat on his brow with his sweatband.

Cruz shook his head. ‘You know what they say? If you can’t stand the heat...’

‘Too much talking, la figura.’

‘Good to see you know your place.’ He flashed his brother a lazy smile as he prepared to serve. ‘El pequeño.’

Ricardo rolled his eyes, flipped him the bird and bunkered down, determination etched all over his face. But Cruz was in his zone, and when Ricardo flicked his wrist and sent the ball barrelling on a collision course with Cruz’s right cheekbone he adjusted his body with graceful agility and sent the ball ricocheting around the court.

Not bothering to pick himself up off the floor this time, Ricardo lay there, mentally tracking the trajectory of the ball, and shook his head. ‘That’s just unfair. Squash isn’t even your game.’

‘True.’

Polo had been his game. Years ago.

Wiping sweat from his face, Cruz reached into his gym bag and tossed his brother a bottle of water. Ricardo sat on his haunches and guzzled it.

‘You know I let you win these little contests between us because you’re unbearable to be around when you lose,’ he advised.

Cruz grinned down at him. He couldn’t dispute him. It was a celebrated fact that professional sportsmen were very poor losers, and while he hadn’t played professional polo for eight years he’d never lost his competitive edge.

On top of that he was in an exceptionally good mood, which made beating him almost impossible. Remembering the reason for that, he pulled his cell phone from his kitbag to see if the text he was waiting for had come through, frowning slightly when he saw it hadn’t.

‘Why are you checking that thing so much?’ Ricardo queried. ‘Don’t tell me some chica is finally playing hard to get?’

‘You wish,’ Cruz murmured. ‘But, no, it’s just a business deal.’

‘Ah, don’t sweat it. One day you’ll meet the chica of your dreams.’

Cruz threw him a banal look. ‘Unlike you, I’m not looking for the woman of my dreams.’

‘Then you’ll probably meet her first,’ Ricardo lamented.

Cruz laughed. ‘Don’t hold your breath,’ he replied. ‘You might meet an early grave.’ He tossed the ball in the air and sent it spinning around the court, his concentration a little spoiled by Ricardo’s untimely premonition.

Because there was a woman. A woman who had been occupying his thoughts just a little too often lately. A woman he hadn’t seen for a long time and hoped to keep it that way. Of course he knew why she was jumping into his head at the most inopportune times of late, but after eight years of systematically forcing her out of it that didn’t make it any more tolerable.

Not that he allowed himself to get bent out of shape about it. He’d learned early on that the things you were most attached to had the power to cause you the most pain, and since then he’d lived his life very much like a high-rolling gambler—easy come, easy go.

Nothing stuck to him and he stuck to nothing in return—which had, much to everyone’s surprise, made him a phenomenally wealthy man.

An ‘uneducated maverick’, they’d called him. One who had swapped the polo field for the boardroom and invested in deals and stock market bonds more learned businessmen had shied away from. But then Cruz had been trading in the tumultuous early days of the global financial crisis and he’d already lost the one thing he had cared about the most. Defying expectations and market trends seemed inconsequential after that.

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