Authors: Claire Boston
Tags: #interracial romance, #hispanic romance, #latino romance, #competent heroine, #modern romance, #romance series
“Carly,” she found herself saying.
He nodded and smiled. “Goodnight then, Carly. Sweet dreams.” He turned and walked back the way they had come.
Carly watched him for a minute. He hadn’t tried to kiss her, and hadn’t asked for her number. So much for wanting to get to know her. She’d been right to be cautious. Shaking her head, she stepped into her apartment building.
He was a strange man.
van wandered back to the exhibition, the enigma that was Carly Flanagan firmly on his mind. She’d had such a visceral reaction to both of his paintings. She understood they were more than images on a canvas. But she didn’t want anyone to know, anyone to see the real her. She’d fled when she’d realized she’d said too much.
Then there was her professional self. He’d seen Isobella and Desmond corner her, had admired how she had remained polite and patient – those two drove him crazy – and had arrived in time to hear Carly talking about business plans. He’d wanted to high-five her for so politely putting them in their place. There was going to be a
of talk about it at the next LACH meeting. Evan grinned just thinking about it.
But she’d really blown his mind when she’d stepped on the stage for her turn to speak. She’d hated every minute of it, but he’d guarantee no one noticed. He’d almost missed it himself, would have if he hadn’t been paying close attention to her. There was the tiniest tremor when her hands wrapped around the lectern and there was her measured breathing. Everything else was perfect, but the breathing was too perfect. How did the CEO of a billion dollar company fool everyone that way?
What it came down to was, he needed to know more.
He walked back into the gallery and Zita pounced.
“Where have you been?”
“I walked your sister home.”
“She walked?” Zita’s eyes narrowed. “I thought she was catching a cab.”
“So did I until she strode off down the street. I wanted to make sure she got home safely.”
“Thanks.” Zita hugged him. “She doesn’t always accept help.”
“I didn’t say she liked it,” Evan said and Zita laughed.
“I’m surprised you could tell. Carly is nothing if not exceedingly polite all of the time.”
He smiled. He’d obviously gotten under her skin a little, because she’d been annoyed at his offer. He took Zita by the arm and led her away from the door. “She must be busy. Do you see much of her?”
“Yeah, at least every second week for lunch. Both of my sisters come home. It’s pretty much law in our house. You do
want Mama asking why you weren’t there.” Zita grinned.
“When’s your next get-together?” He hated using Zita’s open nature to get information, but he was unlikely to run into Carly at any other time.
“Tomorrow.” She squinted at him. “Why all the questions?”
He ran a hand through his hair and shuffled his feet. “Promise you won’t laugh, Z?”
He laughed. “She caught my eye, is all. I want to get to know her, but I don’t imagine I’ll run into her again.”
She assessed him. “What about her caught your eye?”
“Aside from her incredible beauty? She felt something when she looked at my paintings. Not many people really get it.” None of his family did. Feeling a little awkward, he added, “I don’t think she shows that side of herself to many people.”
She nodded. “You should come for lunch.”
He blinked. “What?”
“Tomorrow. Lunch. My house, twelve o’clock. Perhaps Carly will catch more than your eye.” Zita walked away.
Evan let out a breath. He hadn’t quite been expecting that, but the idea thrilled him. It was a chance to see Carly again, and perhaps find out who she was at home. Though he wasn’t sure how happy Carly would be.
“Evan!” Stewart called. “Another two of your paintings have sold. Let me introduce you to who bought them.” He gestured toward a couple who screamed old money.
Evan went to schmooze.
arly groaned as her alarm sang her awake. Her dreams had been so vivid, she felt as if she hadn’t slept. And the worst thing was the leading man in her dreams had been Evan. She hadn’t had a sexy dream like that in quite a while. She sighed and climbed out of bed, padding to the bathroom, and firmly pushing the remainder of her dreams from her mind. She wasn’t likely to see him again. He might be Zita and her mother’s neighbor, but the properties were so far apart she wouldn’t even catch a glimpse of him.
She was fine with that.
He was too unsettling.
After making herself a coffee to go, she drove to Bridget’s place. Bridget and her partner Jack came out of the house as she pulled in.
As Jack opened the rear car door, he asked, “
Carly grinned. He’d been practicing his Spanish since he and Bridget had become an official couple. “
“How was the exhibition opening last night?” Bridget asked as she slid into the passenger seat.
“There was quite a range of styles,” she said, checking to see if the road was clear before reversing out.
“I can imagine. Zita was excited about her neighbor’s work . . . I can’t remember his name.”
“Evan Hayes,” Carly answered without thinking. “I bought one of his paintings.”
“Wow, it must have been good. Wait until word gets around that Carolina Flanagan has discovered a new artist.”
Carly frowned. She hadn’t thought about that, she’d just
to have that canvas. Though she doubted it would have much effect on his sales – she was a software developer, not a celebrity. No one cared what she bought. She changed the subject. “How’s the new job?”
Bridget sighed happily. “It’s fantastic. Everyone is so supportive and I’ve already got two projects on the go.”
Her sister was a safety projects coordinator and had just started in her dream job. It was fantastic to hear her talking about work with enthusiasm, rather than the frustration she’d had at her previous job. Carly glanced in the rear view mirror at Jack. “How about at Dionysus?”
Jack remained at the oil refinery where Bridget used to work. There had been a huge incident only last month and the investigation was taking a lot of Jack’s time.
“The accident really shook up a few people, and safety is now getting a much bigger voice. It’s not a constant battle anymore.”
They chatted until they arrived at the property where Zita and their mother lived. The main house was a big two-story place surrounded by lush gardens. Carly had helped her mother design it to make sure it was big enough for the refugee foster children she cared for. There were also smaller cottages where some of the older foster children lived, now that they were adults.
Carly sighed as Zita’s two dogs raced out to greet them. She slowed the car to a crawl, afraid she might hit them, even though they kept their distance.
Getting out of the car, she then walked up the steps to the house. Loud voices could be heard inside, and as she pushed open the door, she saw Elena and Teresa in the living room arguing, and Alejandra was soothing her crying baby.
It was never quiet at Casa Flanagan. Carly loved it.
“Mama, we’re here,” Bridget called.
Carly went straight over to Alejandra, who appeared a little stressed. “Can I hold him?” The baby was only a couple of months old, and the fifteen year old was still getting to grips with having a child to take care of.
“Of course.” Alejandra passed baby Julio over. Carly cooed over the little boy as she carried him into the kitchen where there were raised voices.
“Why did you invite him?” her mother asked Zita.
“Invite who?” Carly said, carefully maneuvering the baby so she could kiss her mother’s cheek.
Zita sighed. “I invited Evan for lunch.”
Carly stopped her gentle swaying with Julio. “The artist?”
Her sister rolled her eyes. “No, the fighter pilot.”
Her muscles tensed. “Why
you invite him?” She didn’t need to see him again. She didn’t
to see him again. He was unsettling.
Zita pursed her lips and then her eyes twinkled, which meant she was up to no good. “Mama, I think Evan likes Carly. They met last night. He’s a nice guy and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get to know her.”
. Her sister was setting her up.
Carmen turned to her youngest daughter with speculation in her eyes. “Is that so?”
Carly wanted to scream.
“In that case, he
come.” Carmen grinned.
“Poor guy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself in for,” Jack murmured to Bridget.
The doorbell halted further conversation.
“That must be him,” Zita said, wiping her hands on a dish towel and hurrying to the front door.
“I think Julio needs changing,” Carly said quickly and headed for the stairs. The longer she could avoid Evan the better.
She wasn’t sure what it was about him that unsettled her. He was an attractive man, sure, but she’d dealt with good-looking men before. Many of them either wanted to tell her how to run her company, or wanted a job, or her money. She got the feeling Evan wasn’t interested in any of that. Which made her nervous. She couldn’t trust her taste in men.
After changing the baby – not because he needed it, but because she hated to lie to her mother – she sang to him until he fell asleep in her arms. She watched him sleep for some time before gently laying him in his crib. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t hide out there all day, so she went downstairs.
Her eyes were instantly drawn to Evan. His black hair was tied back in a tiny ponytail and he was wearing jeans and a black and white checked shirt. He was talking with Jack, and seemed completely comfortable surrounded by the nine females in the room – her mother and two sisters, as well as the six foster girls staying at the moment.
As Carly walked in, Evan looked up and met her eyes. He smiled, a small, private smile, and nodded to her before returning his attention to Jack. She breathed deeply to slow her heart rate.
“How is Julio?” Alejandra asked as Carly walked in.
“He’s asleep upstairs.”
She closed her eyes and whispered a prayer of thanks. “He has not been sleeping well.” Alejandra had fled El Salvador after she’d fallen pregnant. She’d been threatened by a local gang and, fearing for her and her baby’s life, she’d left. She’d been granted refugee status and was being homeschooled until her English improved so she could go to school.
Carly ran a hand down the young girl’s arm. “After lunch you should get some sleep yourself.”
She nodded. “
said the same.”
Carly smiled at the name the girls had given Carmen – little mother. It was apt, because at just under five feet, she was even shorter than Carly.
“It is time for lunch,” Carmen announced, gesturing them into the dining room with its long table. Carly moved to her usual seat at the head of the table opposite her mother.
“Carly, let Jack sit there today,” her mother called. “You can sit next to our guest.”
Carly smothered her groan. Carmen did like to play matchmaker. “How did the rest of the exhibition go?” she asked as she sat down.
“Good,” Evan said. “I sold a couple more pieces.”
“Congratulations.” Carly didn’t know what else to say. Usually she was fine with small talk, but right now all she could focus on was the heat coming from Evan’s body. She frowned. It was so unlike her to get this flustered around a man.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” Zita said. “I knew the exhibition was a brilliant idea.”
“Did anyone else sell pieces?” Carly asked.
“I think Isobella and Desmond both sold one painting,” said Zita. “Stewart was happy. There was quite a bit of media there, so that should hopefully bring people in over the next two weeks.”
Carly was glad the exhibition wouldn’t be a complete waste of money. When she’d seen the first few works, she hadn’t been so sure.
“What kind of painting do you do?” Bridget asked Evan.
“I work in various media: watercolor, acrylic, pencils, but my favorite is oil painting.”
“Is painting your full time job?” Bridget asked.
“I do some freelance graphic design work as well.”
“That’s a different skill set.” He’d mentioned it last night, but Carly wanted to know more.
He glanced at her. “Yeah. There’s a lot of work out there for graphic artists and it keeps the money coming in.” He was very matter-of-fact about it.
Most of the artists she met were snobs who wouldn’t dare risk their reputations by doing anything commercial. It was one reason why the developer of an indie game she was sponsoring was still searching for an artist to do the artwork. Evan’s style would suit the story perfectly. “Have you ever worked on software, games and such?”
His arm brushed hers as he turned her. “No, but I’ve been intrigued by it. There are some beautiful games out there.”
Carly ignored the rush of warmth through her body. “I have an indie developer who’s looking for an artist. If you’re interested, I can put you in touch.”
“That would be great.” He smiled then, and it was like a fire on a cold night.
She nodded. “I’ll give you the details after lunch.”
“Enough of this work talk,” Carmen said. “Tell us about your family, Evan. You’re not a Texan?”
Evan’s smiled disappeared. “I’m from New York City originally. My folks and brother still live there.”
“Do you see them much?”
“Not really.” He shifted in his chair, looking decidedly uncomfortable.
“Why not?” Carmen asked.
Before Evan could answer, Carly said, “Mama, that’s really none of our business.”
Evan shot her a grateful look, which made Carly all the more curious.
“How long have you been in Houston?” Carly asked.
“About ten months,” he said. “I really like the yard sizes out here; you get a country feel with city conveniences.”
Did he like to be a little more isolated from everyone?
“I like my space,” Carmen agreed. “Plenty of room for my garden.”