Authors: Claire Boston
Tags: #interracial romance, #hispanic romance, #latino romance, #competent heroine, #modern romance, #romance series
“So we’ve talked about family, childhoods and education. Now it’s time to ask the tough questions,” Evan said, his tone serious, but with a glint in his eye.
Carly’s lips quirked. “What would they be?”
“Favorite TV show.”
“I don’t watch television.”
Evan sat back. “What, not at all?”
“I don’t have time.”
He nodded. “Fair enough. Favorite movie.”
She pursed her lips together. That was a tough question. She didn’t have much time to go to the movies either. “I don’t know. What’s yours?”
,” he said instantly.
“What’s it about?”
His mouth dropped open. “You’ve never heard of
She shook her head, that old sensation of being on the outer swirling in her stomach. She wasn’t familiar with a lot of pop culture references, had always preferred to be lost in her programming world.
“Bruce Willis, yippee-ki-yay?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” she said lightly, trying to think of another question to ask.
“That’s a tragedy. I’m going to have to rectify that.
needs to see
“What’s so good about it?”
He opened his mouth and then shut it again, shaking his head. “No, I can’t explain it. You have to see it for yourself. We could go to my place now and watch it?”
Carly got the feeling he was deadly serious, and this wasn’t just a way to get her back to his place. She couldn’t help smiling. But calculating the time it would take to get out there and back, she shook her head. It’d be a two-hour round trip and she couldn’t ask that of him. “I’ll take a raincheck.”
“What about tomorrow? No, wait, I’m going to your mother’s to paint.”
“Really?” Her mother would be thrilled.
“Yeah. I’m looking forward to it.” He sounded genuinely excited.
Carly finished her ice cream as he asked, “Any pets?”
“I have a tropical fish tank.” It had come with the apartment, and maintenance on the tank was included in her lease. All she had to do was feed them occasionally. “You?”
“An Australian bulldog.”
She’d never had a dog before and was never sure how to behave around them. Zita’s two dogs were so energetic and made her a little uneasy.
They walked back to the car. “Did you want to go to the movies tonight? There’s still time,” Evan said.
She would, but there was so much she needed to get done tomorrow. She really should get back to work, she’d had enough time off as it was. “I’m a little tired.”
They were silent on the drive back to her apartment. After pulling up, Evan jumped out and ran around to the passenger side door to open it. Ridiculously pleased at the old-fashioned gallantry, she got out.
“Thank you for a lovely evening.”
“Thank you for giving me some of your time.”
She stood outside her apartment building. Was that it? Was he going to kiss her? Did she want him to? “Well, I’d better go in.” She moved a step away and he took hold of her hand.
“Just one more thing,” he said and he bent his head toward her.
Her breath caught moments before his lips touched hers. It was a gentle kiss, soft and sweet, but Carly’s heart raced in response.
“Good night, Carly,” Evan said as he stepped back.
Her legs a little unsteady, she nodded to him. “Good night.”
She fled inside.
van felt pretty darn good when he woke up on Sunday morning. His date with Carly had been nice, casual. He’d had the opportunity to learn more about her, and what he’d learned left him wanting more. She was . . . reserved wasn’t quite the right word. Cautious might be better, and he’d only just scratched the surface. When he’d arrived home, he’d done a quick sketch of her sitting on the picnic blanket, in her flowery summer dress, looking relaxed. That’s the person he wanted to see more of. He didn’t think the businesswoman Carolina was really who she was at all.
Then there was the kiss. He’d decided to keep it short, almost friendly, but the spark when his lips met hers had surprised and aroused him. There was so much hiding beneath her surface.
He made coffee and went out on the back deck to enjoy the morning sun. His bulldog, McClane, came with him and Evan tossed him a treat. McClane laid down next to his chair and munched on the bone-shaped chew. It was gone in seconds.
Evan liked his place. It might be a rental, like all of the other places he’d lived in since leaving New York, but this was the first place he’d felt settled. Everywhere else was more like a stop before his final destination. Still, he wasn’t ready to make a commitment. The idea of having a mortgage was a little bit frightening, and he wasn’t one hundred percent sure this was where he belonged. He may be feeling settled because the house had everything he wanted: a decent swimming pool so he could do laps, space from his neighbors so he could play music at whatever volume he liked, and it had a yard for McClane to explore on the odd occasion when he was feeling adventurous.
But that didn’t mean Evan belonged. He’d never really belonged. New York had been full of hustle and bustle, but everyone was rushed, unhappy, going through the motions. His parents had been a prime example. They worked long hours, complained about their jobs, and spent every cent as soon as it came in. They were tied to their paychecks and too caught up in their own lives to remember to pick him up after class. Evan had vowed never to be like that.
After college he’d tried a small town in Rhode Island, but it had been too small, everyone wanting to know his business, and that didn’t work for him. In each city after, he’d floated around, not becoming part of the community. None of the artist centers he’d joined had members who were full-time artists, they were all treating it like a hobby. He hadn’t been able to convince anyone that his way of working actually brought in money. Not a fortune, that’s for sure, but enough for him to live and keep doing what he loved.
When he’d left Detroit, he’d chosen to try a bigger town on the outskirts of a city. He’d discovered this place, and he’d even made a good friend in Zita. It was strange having someone to chat to and discuss ideas when in the past, he’d always had to rely on himself.
No one else was interested.
His mind veered away from that thought. Today he was heading over to Carmen’s to do the first sketches of her garden. He hadn’t quite decided what medium he was going to use, though he was leaning toward acrylics. Those details would come to him when he had a better idea of what he wanted to do, which angle to capture.
He was curious about Carmen. She had been genuinely moved by his offer to paint her garden. He’d bet Carly’s willingness to help others came from her.
He smiled at the thought of Carly. Should he call her? Would it seem too eager to call straight after their date? Would she be too busy to chat? Probably. He’d been stunned when she’d listed off her appointments the week before, amazed she’d even agreed to go on a date on her one night free.
He didn’t want to seem too pushy, and casual dating suited him just fine. He was uncomfortable with women who wanted to spend every second of the day with him, especially when he was painting. So he wasn’t going to be one of those people for Carly. He’d leave things a couple of days and then call.
Pleased with the decision, he got to his feet and headed over to Carmen’s.
t ten o’clock exactly, he knocked on the front door of Casa Flanagan. Unlike the other day, it was silent. Zita’s two dogs wagged their tails next to him, looking up as if to say, are we going inside?
Perhaps Carmen wasn’t back from church yet.
Evan debated what to do. He hated waiting, and there was no point going home and turning right back around to come back. He might as well get to work. The dogs would let him know when Carmen arrived. He took his things out of the car and walked around the side of the house.
The garden was as lush as he remembered, with colors and textures intertwining. He wandered the paths, working out which perspective he wanted to paint, and taking a few photos to get an idea of framing. A door banged shut and he looked up to see a girl in her early twenties walking away from one of the little cottages at the back of the property. Not wanting to startle her, he called, “
,” and waved when she glanced over.
The girl hesitated and then walked toward him, keeping a garden bed between them. “Who are you?”
“Evan Hayes,” he said. “Carmen said I could come and paint her garden, but she must still be at church.”
The girl relaxed. “Zita mentioned you. I’m Daniella.” She stepped back. “I need to get to work. The others shouldn’t be long. I’ll see you around.”
He continued his meandering until he’d explored the whole garden and had chosen two or three spots. As he walked back to the house, the dogs barked and a car pulled up the drive. Out front, a van drove into the garage and all the women poured out. Zita saw him first.
, Evan. I hope you haven’t been waiting long?”
“No. I took a walk through the garden, found some spots I’d like to set up.”
“That’s great. Come inside and have a drink.”
He greeted Carmen with a kiss on both cheeks and followed them inside to the kitchen where Zita made him a glass of horchata. He was itching to start drawing, but he had learned his manners from an early age. He had to do the small talk first.
Luckily, Zita recognized the signs. “Why don’t you take the drink and get started? Give us a holler if you need a hand.”
“Thanks.” He carried his drink and equipment outside to the first place he’d identified. Placing his glass next to him on the garden wall, he began to draw.
van had drawn three sketches from different angles, but he wasn’t happy with any of them. There was something not quite right, something missing. He picked up the glass of horchata, but he’d left it too long. The ants had found it and were swarming all over it. Sighing, he tipped the contents into the garden bed, hoping it wasn’t going to kill anything.
Someone cleared their throat behind him. He looked up and his face heated. Carmen was standing there watching him.
“Sorry, the ants got to it.”
She waved her hand. “That does not matter. I did not want to disturb you. You seemed quite involved.”
How long had she been standing there?
“I’m sorry. I tend to zone out when I draw.”
“My Carolina is the same when she is on her computer. Like you, she does not hear when I am standing right next to her.”
Had she spoken to him and he’d ignored her? “Did you need something?”
“I wanted to ask whether you would like to join us for lunch.”
He glanced at his watch. It was midday. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. “If you have enough, I’d love to.”
“There is always enough for one more.”
It was such a different sentiment from his own family. He’d never invited friends to stay for dinner, because his father would have kicked up a fuss about the extra mouth to feed. Yet his family earned more than Carmen. He closed his sketchbook and returned his pencils to his case before following her back to the house.
“Is the drawing going well?” she asked him.
He didn’t want to answer. People sometimes panicked when he said it wasn’t, and he didn’t want to upset her. “It’s going well for a first pass.”
“Would you mind if I did some gardening after lunch? Will I be in your way?”
“Of course not. Please do what you need to and tell me if I’m in your way. This is your garden.”
She nodded, pleased with his answer.
Inside, Zita carried a large bowl of salad to the table where the girls were seated.
“Have a seat.” Carmen said, directing him to the head of the table. He hesitated, but at Zita’s nod, he sat down.
Soon the room was filled with chatter. Next to him, Zita said quietly, “So how did the picnic go?”
Hell. He hadn’t considered this aspect of asking for Zita’s help. “It was nice.”
“Nice?” Zita repeated, screwing up her face.
“Nice,” he said firmly.
“Are you going to see her again?”
He chuckled at her persistence. “I am not going to discuss my relationship with your sister with you.”
Zita pouted. “Just tell me this. Did she wear her high heels?”
He frowned at the question. Why would Carly wear high heels on a picnic? “No.”
Zita beamed as if he’d told her the secret to the universe. “That’s great!”
Not sure where this was going, he kept his mouth shut.
fter lunch, Carmen put on a wide-brimmed hat and accompanied him out to the garden. When the path split, she took the right path while he continued to the next place he’d identified as a potential landscape. After maybe an hour, he put down his pencils. It wasn’t working. He couldn’t quite capture the story he wanted to tell – the hours of work that went into tending the garden to make it what it was.
He walked back along the path until he found Carmen crouched down, picking some peas. That was what he needed. Walking over to her, he asked, “Would you mind if I draw you in your garden?”
“Me?” She seemed surprised.
“Yes. Just keep doing what you need to do. I’ll follow you around.”
“You do not want an old woman in your painting,” she protested.
“You’re not old.” He chuckled. “You are the mistress of the garden, the nurturer, the defender.”
She waved him off. “If you want to.”
Inspired now, he drew. It only took him a moment to notice she wasn’t moving, she was posing. He swallowed his smile. “You don’t need to be still. Keep picking the peas or whatever.”
“How can you paint if I keep moving?” she asked, but reached for the next pea.
“I get a sense of your movement and then I can transfer it to the drawing.”
She was silent for a moment as she picked her crop. “I hear you took my Carolina out to dinner,” she said, catching him by surprise.