Read Change of Heart (The Flanagan Sisters, #2) Online
Authors: Claire Boston
Tags: #interracial romance, #hispanic romance, #latino romance, #competent heroine, #modern romance, #romance series
He poured and handed her the plastic champagne flute. Carly took a sip, allowing the bubbles to tease her tongue.
“Is it a good year?” he asked, his tone pompous.
He flashed her a grin that made her heart race. “Are you hungry?”
She nodded. She’d forgotten to eat lunch as she’d been working on her app. It was just as well she’d set an alarm for when she had to get ready, otherwise she would have been late.
Evan pulled containers out of his basket, taking off the lids as he did. “I’ve got stuffed peppers, chili olives, pâté and bread to start.”
She stared at him as he laid out some of her favorite foods. Suspicion massed heavily in her stomach. How did he know? Was this part of his game? “Who told you?” Her voice was cold, the disappointment thickening. He
trying to play her.
“Told me what?” He put down another container and glanced at her.
She couldn’t hold in her anger. “Who’s your spy? Who told you what I liked?”
van held up both hands. “Don’t be mad. I wasn’t sure if you were vegetarian, so I called Zita. She gave me some suggestions.”
Carly let out a long, slow breath.
Why was she so upset? “I’m sorry.” He didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot when the evening was just beginning, though he wasn’t sure why he was apologizing.
“Forget about it.”
He couldn’t. Why would she be mad that he went to the effort to buy what she liked? Unless she thought he was manipulating her. If everyone she dealt with constantly wanted things from her, it was no wonder she’d look for ulterior motives. He was going to have to be really careful if he wanted to keep seeing her. Show her he wasn’t interested in her money.
He handed her a plate. “Help yourself.”
“Thank you.” She gave him a small smile.
“Tell me,” he said after he’d piled food onto his plate. “What does Carly Flanagan do on her days off?”
She swallowed her mouthful. “What days off?”
He frowned. “The weekend. What did you do today?”
“I dealt with a few queries, and spent the rest of the day working on an app.”
“Surely there are other people who can do that?”
“It’s what I like to do,” she said, straightening her shoulders.
She was as prickly as a pear. “What do you like about it?” He remembered her sheer delight when she’d helped someone in the indie hub during the week.
She blinked. “It’s like speaking another language. You code it, and then it does exactly what you want it to.”
So control was important to her. “Is it difficult?”
Carly laughed. “I imagine it’s a whole lot easier than painting a landscape. Programming can be taught.”
“So can painting.”
She shook her head. “Only to a certain extent. I think the really great artists see the world in a different way from the rest of us.”
“I disagree. I worked my ass off to get where I am. There’s no raw talent there, it’s hard work.” He hated the way people made art seem like some airy-fairy concept that only a few could do. He’d wanted to become an artist, had told his doubting parents he could do it, and had proved them wrong. It was in large part stubbornness more than talent.
“Your work is wonderful,” she said.
Pleasure rushed through him, which surprised him. He’d worked hard not to care about what people thought of his work, he was just trying to make a living. He needed to lighten the mood. “Better than Isobella’s and Desmond’s?”
She hesitated. “Yes, but don’t tell them I said so.”
He mimed locking his lips.
“So what do you do in your spare time?” she asked.
That was a good question. He shouldn’t make fun of her for working all the time because he wasn’t much better himself. He’d been living in Houston for ten months, and aside from the artists at the center and Zita, he didn’t have any friends. He spent his days painting or drawing, experimenting with new media. “When I’m not making art, I read, and I follow the Yankees.”
“So you’re a workaholic?” She raised an eyebrow.
He smirked. “Takes one to know one.”
She nodded. “So what do you like about game art?”
“I’m always looking to diversify. Being a portrait or landscape artist certainly doesn’t pay the bills unless you make it big. I like to try a new medium, get some new skills, and explore if it’s something I want to continue with. Basil has such a clear idea of what he wants for the game and he can actually articulate it. It makes my job so much easier.”
“If you could choose only one format, what would it be?”
“I love landscapes. Give me some oil paints and a canvas, and I’m a happy man.”
“If the first night of the exhibition is any indication, you may get to do just that. Selling three works in one night is a fantastic achievement.”
It was, but he knew not to get his hopes up. “We’ll see.”
“Your parents must be so proud.”
His laugh was bitter. “Not so much.” He needed to redirect the conversation. “Do you have any hobbies, or guilty pleasures?”
Her eyelids lowered and he could swear she was blushing. “Carly?”
She cleared her throat. “Not really. No time. I do like antiques, but Bridget normally shops for me.”
“How can she shop for you? Isn’t it a personal thing?”
“Whenever she goes to Brenham she video calls me, shows me what they’ve got.”
“You don’t go yourself?”
“I never have the time.”
Well, that was sad. Evan wanted to change that. There had to be some way he could show her how to relax, and maybe take some of his own advice at the same time.
“Do you want another drink?” he asked, gesturing to her empty glass.
“Please.” She handed it to him. “How long have you known Zita?”
“Ten months. She came over and introduced herself the day after I moved in. I’ve got to say I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting to get to know my neighbors.”
“Zita likes to meet everyone,” Carly said. “Did you move from New York?”
“No, I was living in Michigan. I was tired of the cold.”
“And you mentioned you’ve got a brother?”
“Yeah, he’s younger. He’s an electrician, and still lives around the corner from my folks.”
“Are you close?”
“We chat about once a month. There were no regular lunches at my parents’ place, like you do with your sisters. That must be nice.”
She nodded and took a sip of her drink.
He didn’t want to talk about his family. He was far more interested in her. “So what did you do before you became CEO of your own company? What did a young Carly do for fun?”
She sat up, a little more alert now. “Not much.”
“No? You didn’t have boys hanging around?”
She laughed in disbelief. “Hardly.”
“Really? Weren’t you fighting them off?” She was beautiful with her darker skin, her deep brown eyes, and her curvy body.
“They didn’t notice I was alive,” she said. “I wasn’t one of the popular girls.”
“So which crowd did you fit with – the geeks, the marching band, the jocks?”
She shrugged. “None of them.”
Evan gazed at her. He wouldn’t have picked her as a loner. “A small group of friends?”
Carly looked away. “Something like that. What about you?”
“The artists, of course. I loved creating things.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “May have even got into trouble for painting a graffiti mural on the back of the locker rooms, but they kept it there.” That had been incredibly fun and exciting, two of his friends keeping watch while he painted a scene with the school’s mascot and the different teams on the field training. It had taken all day during one summer vacation.
“Always the creative. Did you go to college?”
“Yeah. Rhode Island School of Design.”
She raised her eyebrows. “That’s one of the best.”
“Got in on a scholarship.” It had been one of the proudest moments of his life. He’d expected his parents to be thrilled for him.
He’d been wrong.
hat about you?” Evan asked. “Did you go to college?”
Carly was enjoying herself, but now she paused. How much she should tell him? “Eventually. I had a mentor who taught me how to code, and supported my first little software program. When I came up with the idea for Comunidad, I needed to learn more.”
“So you were sixteen when you sold your first program?”
“Yes.” It was the biggest thrill of her life. She’d been able to buy herself a new computer with the initial proceeds, and later when she’d found herself a distributor, she’d bought her mother a new car.
“What made you want to learn how to program?” His expression was interested, as if he genuinely wanted to know.
She hesitated. She actually wanted to tell him, and she felt like she could trust him. Was she being gullible?
The worst that could happen was he’d tell her story to the media, and she wasn’t ashamed of her past. “I was a freshman in high school and was in the library after school.” It was where she’d always hung out, away from people who wanted to make fun of her, with her books that made her feel safe. “One of the seniors was being tutored by an older guy and I listened in. It sounded fascinating. I never realized you could learn how to code programs. Afterward, I got out as many books on the subject as I could find, and every week I made sure I was in the library for the tutor session so I could listen.”
“You didn’t ask him to tutor you?”
“Mama wouldn’t have been able to afford it. As it was, I had to use the school’s computers to experiment with because we didn’t have a computer at home.” If the teachers had known what she was doing, they wouldn’t have been pleased.
“So were you completely self-taught?”
“No.” She smiled. “After about a month, the tutor noticed I was always there and he saw what I was doing on the computer.” She’d been stuck on a piece of code and had chosen the computer close to the tutor in hope she could get a glimpse of the screen. “He was impressed and offered to help.” It had been a little terrifying that the older man had even spoken to her, let alone wanted to help. She’d barely been able to squeak out a response. “From then, we used to meet at the library once a week. I’d ask him any questions I had and he’d answer them.” Dennis had been retired and she suspected now that he’d got as much enjoyment out of their interaction as she had. He hadn’t had any family close by.
“He gave me my first laptop. It was an old, slow thing that he didn’t use any more, but it was so much better than using the library computers. It meant I could continue programming when I got home.”
“What did your mother think?”
Carly smiled at the memory. “When I brought the laptop home, she was horrified. She wanted to know what this man wanted from her little girl. She demanded to meet him and he convinced her he wasn’t taking advantage of me.” She placed her empty glass on the blanket, leaning it up against the basket so it didn’t tip over, and ate another stuffed pepper.
“When did you start work on your own software?”
“I made a couple of games for my sisters first. My tutor gave me instructions to build something simple. From then I knew I wanted to build something for myself.” With her own computer she was able to spend all her school breaks coding. She’d been so incredibly shy that she didn’t have any friends to hang out with.
“Are you still in touch with your tutor?”
She nodded. “He moved to Austin to be closer to his grandchildren, but I see him a couple of times a year.”
“He must be incredibly proud of you.”
Dennis wasn’t the type to give effusive praise. And he’d tried to refuse when she’d given him shares in Comunidad, but she’d insisted. Without him, it never would have happened.
The light was fading. There were less people running on the paths and the families over by the barbecue facilities were packing up. Carly didn’t want to go, but she wasn’t keen to stay out here at night either. “It’s getting dark.”
“Do you want to get some dessert?” Evan asked. “There’s a chocolate place not far from here. We could grab ice cream or a cake.”
It sounded wonderful. She didn’t often have dessert. “Sure.” She helped him pack up the hamper and fold the picnic blanket. When he held out his hand to her, she took it without thinking, enjoying the warmth and comfort. They walked side by side, slowly back to the car. Carly hadn’t ever been this relaxed on a first date. Evan had surprised her with the suggestion of a picnic and everything else had been so casual. It was “getting to know you” conversation, but it wasn’t forced. For once, she didn’t feel as if he wanted something else from her. He seemed genuinely interested in her as a person, not as a billionaire. Could he
be interested in her? Carly hoped so.
On the drive to the chocolate place, Evan broke the silence. “Zita introduced me to this place. She got me hooked on the triple crème truffles when she brought some over as a welcome gift.”
When they arrived, it was full of people, and the rich aroma of melted chocolate captured Carly’s attention. It smelled divine.
“Shall we grab something to go?” Evan suggested. “It’s a bit crowded.”
“Sure.” She walked over to the cabinet, which displayed rows of chocolates, brownies, cakes and pies. She had no idea what to try. While she perused the menu, Evan ordered a dozen triple crème truffles and an ice cream cone. Deciding ice cream would be the easiest if they were getting take out, Carly pointed to the flavor she wanted and got her wallet out.
“I’m paying,” Evan said.
“I can pay, you bought dinner.”
He shook his head. “No, I’ve got this.” He gently pushed away her hand.
It wasn’t right to let him pay. She had more money than him. “I’m happy to.”
“So am I,” he said firmly.
The determination on his face made Carly put her wallet away. It gave her flutters in her stomach that he paid, like this was a real date. She took her cone from the shop assistant and followed Evan outside. “Thank you.”
They wandered down the street until they found a park bench and took a seat. It was dark now, but still early. Carly wasn’t ready to invite him back to her place, but she didn’t want the date to end yet.