Authors: Claire Boston
Tags: #interracial romance, #hispanic romance, #latino romance, #competent heroine, #modern romance, #romance series
He stiffened. “Yes, I did.”
“A picnic, Zita tells me.”
“That’s right.” He continued to sketch, as he tried to ignore the tension in his shoulders.
“She is not worth taking out to a fancy restaurant?”
He couldn’t quite pick her tone. “I figured she gets enough of fancy restaurants at work.”
Carmen hummed, neither in agreement or disagreement.
“I thought she’d appreciate something different.” Why was he defending himself? It was none of her business. He didn’t have to live up to her expectations.
“I’m sure she did. My daughter works too hard. She has forgotten how to have fun.” Carmen paused and looked over to him. “Do you know how to have fun?”
She was definitely testing him to see if he was good enough for her daughter. He was tempted to say something outrageous to prove he didn’t care, but he controlled the urge. “My work is my fun.”
“I do not believe it is the same for my Carolina. Not anymore.”
He got the same impression, but Carly had appeared relaxed and happy at lunch the other day.
Carmen dropped the subject and he was able to focus on his drawing again, trying to capture the essence of the woman on the page. They worked side by side in silence, Carmen making her way around her garden harvesting produce and picking the occasional weed out of the soil. She kept a basket next to her, and a pair of secateurs hung from her belt so she could trim an unwieldy branch or stem. She hummed as she worked, a tune Evan wasn’t familiar with, but it flowed into his head and stuck. He began to hum along with her.
The fading light was the first indication it was getting late. He checked the time. He’d been there all afternoon. He flicked through his sketchbook, reviewing the collection of drawings. There were probably more than he needed, but he’d enjoyed watching Carmen work. He couldn’t remember ever being this relaxed with his own mother. Though he didn’t remember a time when she’d been this serene.
“I should be going,” he said, getting to his feet. “My dog will be getting hungry. Thank you for your time today.”
“You have a dog? You could have brought him here.”
“He’d probably trample all over your beautiful garden.”
“They are just plants. They will recover.”
Evan wasn’t so sure. McClane always chose to lie directly on the most fragile plant – another reason why he barely had a garden.
“When shall I come and look at your garden?” Carmen said.
He’d forgotten about her offer. “You don’t have to.” He didn’t want to feel like he owed her.
“I know. I would like to,” she said. “How about tomorrow afternoon?”
He hesitated for a moment, but the look on Carmen’s face suggested she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Sounds great.” He’d be working on the game artwork, but could take a break in the afternoon.
Carmen reached over and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him on both cheeks. “You are a lovely man. I will see you then.”
Heat rushed to his cheeks and he hurried away. He wasn’t used to that kind of affection, especially from a parent. He blocked the feel-good vibes coursing through him. There was no point getting used to them, or needing them. The first time he did something to disappoint her, she’d change her mind about him. It’s what always happened.
t was Tuesday, and Carly hadn’t heard from Evan. Not that she was expecting him to call immediately, but some kind of follow-up would have been nice. He probably hadn’t enjoyed himself. The disappointment was all too familiar to her, though usually it hit halfway through the date rather than a few days afterward.
He was the first guy since Andrew who was interested in
Maybe that should be a red flag.
She’d been so young when Andrew had charmed his way into her heart and her pants, just out of college, and already a multi-millionaire. She’d been so excited that a guy seemed genuinely interested in her and she’d spent all of her free time with him. She’d taken his advice about needing a stylist and had bought them both new clothes. He’d coached her how to act like a businesswoman and she’d seen a remarkable change in how people treated her. She’d felt powerful for the first time in her life and had listened to all of his advice. She’d been so eager to please, eager to change herself into whatever he wanted, she’d even refurnished her apartment with things he’d liked and given him a key. When, after a few months of dating, he’d casually mentioned a project he was trying to get funded, she’d given him the fifty thousand dollars without hesitation.
That was the last she’d seen of him.
She’d been devastated. She never told her family what had happened, too embarrassed by the way she’d been conned to admit the truth. She’d simply said they’d broken up. When she finally recovered enough to examine their relationship, she’d realized that he’d never told her the details of the project, or much about himself. He’d been fully focused on her and that had been incredibly flattering.
But she’d learned from that mistake. He had taught her how to spot money-grabbers and made her less naïve.
Carly pushed thoughts of Andrew aside.
Evan was different. She’d been herself with him. Perhaps it was wearing different clothes, maybe it was the silly getting-to-know-you questions he’d asked, and he hadn’t once asked about Comunidad. Maybe she should call him.
“Carolina, your two o’clock is here,” Hayden’s voice called through her intercom.
She took a deep breath. She had to stop thinking about Evan and focus on work. Her two o’clock was Lisa, and Carly wasn’t sure how she was going to broach the subject she needed to raise. Letting out her breath, she pressed the button on her intercom. “Send her in.”
She stood and went to the door to greet her. Lisa was in her early forties, with short, sleek black hair, and she wore dark suits that were always immaculate. Her style was effortless whereas Carly always felt fake. “Have a seat.” She indicated the small meeting table.
“What can I do for you?” Lisa sat upright, her legs crossed. “Hayden wouldn’t tell me what this meeting was about.”
Carly hated confrontation. “Are you enjoying working for Comunidad?”
She blinked. “Of course.”
“Is there anything that frustrates you that you’d like to change?”
Lisa frowned. “There’s always something I would do differently from someone else.”
She wasn’t going to give anything away. Carly couldn’t blame her. “Why don’t you tell me what you would change?”
Eva shifted and crossed her legs the other way. “It’s not my place to say.”
“I accept suggestions from everyone in my company, so if you have ideas I’d like to hear them.” Carly suspected she wouldn’t agree with them, but that was the point of the meeting. She wanted people working for her who were happy, and who embraced the ideals the company stood for.
“All right.” Lisa tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “We’re not taking every opportunity we can to expand and improve the company. We’re an important player in the industry, but there are bigger players than us and we need to keep up with them.”
Lisa blinked. “To continue to be relevant.”
“How do you suggest we do that?”
“Through expanding our advertising, charging for apps and add-ons, and not helping those who may become direct competitors in the future.”
Carly frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The indie hub. We’re basically supporting them to develop software that will be on the market competing against ours. The least we could do is ensure a percentage of their profits come to us.”
Carly shook her head. Lisa didn’t get it. It was damn hard to develop anything, but to get it to a stage where it was making money was a whole other step. “Our motto is Community, Sharing, Support. They’re not words, they’re actions. I never formed this company to make money. It came out of a desire to help people. We don’t need to expand, we don’t need to compete with the bigger players. We have our niche, and we can give our users a different type of service than anyone else.”
“But that makes no business sense.”
“We’re not your typical business,” Carly said. “I’m always happy for you to make suggestions, Lisa, but you need to keep in mind why we’re here – to help people and build a community. That’s our foremost goal – not to make money. If you don’t agree with that, it’s fine, but you might be happier elsewhere.”
Lisa’s eyes widened. “Are you asking me to leave?”
“Not at all. You’re a fantastic asset to the company, but if you don’t like what we stand for, you’re going to be frustrated and unhappy. I don’t want that for any of my staff.”
She nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Carly stood. “Thank you for your time.”
She waited until Lisa had closed the door behind her and then sat down again, letting out a deep breath. That was hard. She would hate to lose Lisa, because she was brilliant at what she did, but the truth was Carly wanted all her staff to agree with the company motto, otherwise they wouldn’t embrace what she stood for.
“Carolina,” Hayden’s voice came through her intercom. “Are you in for Frederick? I’ve got him on the line.”
With a sigh, she got to her feet and walked over to her desk. Frederick was her public relations manager and was bound to have a new idea for her to approve – something she’d have to be the face of, she was sure. “Put him through,” she said and waited for her phone to ring.
y the time Carly was finished, she’d agreed to three different events, which would take up more of her time. Perhaps she needed to say no more often, but Frederick only ever pitched events that suited the company’s motto. She could hardly refuse.
Her cell phone had rung twice while she’d been on the phone. The first message was business related and the second was from Evan.
A rush of warmth went through her as she heard his voice.
“Hi Carly. Are you up for a movie night soon? You still need to watch
and I’ll watch whatever you want to see. Give me a call.”
Carly smiled. A movie night sounded like fun. She went to call him back as a reminder flashed up on her computer. She had to be downstairs at the indie hub in five minutes.
She sighed. She’d have to call him when she was done.
t had been three days since Evan had called and left Carly a message. Since then they’d been playing phone tag, leaving messages for each other, but being unable to connect.
She was constantly on his mind and he wanted to see her again, talk to her.
Today, he was going to the Comunidad building to show Basil the work he’d done. He called her cell phone and left another message, this time inviting her to lunch, then put his work together and headed into Houston. By the time he arrived, he still hadn’t received a response.
Walking across the lobby of the building, he noticed Hayden carrying a takeout coffee and a satchel. He jogged to catch up with him.
“Hi, Hayden,” he said.
Hayden turned from the elevator bank. “Evan, right?”
He nodded. “I’ve been trying to get hold of Carly, but I guess she’s been busy. Can you tell me if she’s free for lunch?”
“She’s been crazy busy this week.” He got out his cell and flicked through. “I’ve barely seen her. She hasn’t had a minute to herself.” He looked up. “She’s got something blocked in at twelve, but she hasn’t written what it is.”
The elevator arrived and they both got in. Evan hit the button for the indie floor.
“You could always try and catch her then,” said Hayden. “She might be in her office, but I can’t guarantee it. She might have something off site to do.”
“Thanks.” Evan got out at his floor, an idea forming.
t midday, Evan told Basil he was taking a lunch break. He dashed downstairs to a bakery he’d spotted on his way in and bought two subs with the lot. Then he headed to the top floor.
After checking the map, he made his way to Carly’s office. Hayden’s desk was right outside. He was typing at his computer, and he smiled when Evan stopped by.
“Is she in?” Evan asked.
“Just arrived back. Let me check if she’s busy.” He picked up his phone. “Evan Hayes is here to see you.”
There was a pause and he put down the phone.
Hayden gestured him in. “Good luck.”
Evan opened the door, a slight feeling of trepidation in his stomach. Perhaps she was busy and he was about to make a fool of himself.
Carly sat behind her desk, wearing a peach shirt, her hair clipped back with some kind of pearl encrusted clip. Her eyes were shadowed, but she smiled when she saw him. “Hi. I’m sorry we haven’t connected. It’s been so busy this week.”
She looked tired, but her smile dissolved his concerns. Was it weird that just her smile could make him feel better?
“I took a gamble,” he said, holding up the bakery bag. “Have you got time for a bite?”
She checked her computer. “Yes.”
“Are you sure? Hayden said you had something blocked out.”
She glanced down and then screwed up her face. “I sometimes put in appointments so I can have time to myself,” she admitted.
“Good idea. But that means I’m stealing your free time again. I can leave the sub and let you take a nap or something.” Was he going to constantly feel guilty about taking up her time?
She chuckled. “I like spending time with you. Just let me finish this email.”
His heart beat a little faster at her words. He glanced around the office. All the furniture was polished dark wood, and there was a huge floor-to-ceiling window that looked out over the city. A painting hung on one wall and Evan wandered over to take a closer look. It was a farm scene, workers in the field and children playing nearby. The brushwork was intricate. He checked the signature at the bottom. It wasn’t one he recognized.
“It reminds me of El Salvador,” Carly said, walking over to him. “We had a farm like that.”
“How old were you when you moved here?” he asked, moving to the table and placing the bag down.
They sat down and he handed her one of the rolls. “Why did you move?”