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Authors: Delaney Diamond

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BOOK: For Better or Worse
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The faraway look in his eyes prompted Antonio
to speak up. “Look, you’re a grown man, and I’m not the moral police. My job is
to make sure you keep a positive image in the media, and getting involved with
a married woman is not the way to get good PR.” He held up his hand when Isaiah
tried to speak. “I know, I know, the married ones can be the worst. Still,
understand that if you go down this road, it’s drama waiting to happen.”

“Don’t worry; I won’t make your job any harder
than it has to be. If I’m lucky, she may be open to hooking up every now and
again.” He stroked his chin. “You know, maybe after I’m done, I’ll send her
home with an autographed football for her husband.” He laughed at his own joke.
“See you next week?”

“I’m not making any promises, but I’ll try to
make it.”

 

Chapter Seven

 

Cassidy was ushered into her
in-laws’ sprawling mansion by a member of their staff. A large staircase
created a semicircle as it wound its way upstairs, and the lights of the
chandelier in the grand foyer reflected in the marble floor, which shone like a
well-polished mirror. When she entered the living room, Antonio’s parents
greeted her with effusive hugs.

Cesar Vega retired from
professional baseball years ago, but he still kept his body fit and in shape.
His chocolate-colored skin barely showed any signs of age, except for laugh
lines in the corners of his eyes. His wife, Lupe Vega, was a former Miss Puerto
Rico. She exemplified the grace and charm expected from a woman who’d spent the
first part of her life winning beauty pageants. Her pale skin glowed when she
smiled a greeting.

Nowadays Cesar showed off his
musical talent, playing in a rock band with other former athletes. They
performed at venues around the city and toured in nearby states. Lupe had
recently started a jewelry line. Since she loved to entertain, she’d invited
everyone to see the first pieces of the collection, eat, and listen to music by
her husband’s band.

Lorena was in the kitchen chopping
cilantro to garnish the shrimp ceviche appetizers when Cassidy entered with
Lupe. The housekeeper worked beside her, adding finishing touches on the
dishes, which would be served outdoors under the covered patio. A male servant
was in the process of loading a rolling cart with beverages to take outside.

“Oh good, more help!” Lorena said
with relief, as if she had been forced to cater the party herself.

Most of the time when the Vegas
entertained, they hired outside caterers, but this affair was small enough for
Lupe to manage with the household staff and family members as volunteers. Cassidy
washed her hands and jumped right in.

As the four women worked side by
side, more guests arrived. Among them was Roarke, Cassidy’s older brother, who
showed up alone, having left his wife and the new baby at home. Derrick and his
wife, Eva, arrived with their daughter, Violet, who would be a year in the
fall.

“Oh, let me see the baby. Look at
those fat cheeks.” Lupe relieved Eva of her daughter. She cooed and kissed the
baby’s cheeks, making Violet’s light brown face light up with giggles. Her
complexion was a blend of her mother’s dark skin and her father’s lighter tone.
“She’s so big.”

“The doctor said she’s coming along
fine,” Eva said. Violet had been delivered a couple of months early by
emergency Cesarean because of complications during Eva’s pregnancy.

Lupe said a few words to Lorena in
Spanish, and Cassidy caught the word
nietos
.

“I’m not married yet, but Antonio
is. His wife is right there. Talk to her about grandchildren.”

Lupe turned her attention to
Cassidy, and behind her mother’s back, Lorena made an apologetic face. “Maybe
next year?” the older woman asked hopefully.

“Probably not,” Cassidy replied,
wanting to kick her friend. Lupe wanted grandchildren, and everyone knew it.
“We want to wait a couple more years before we start a family.”

Lupe tutted her disapproval,
rocking Violet in her arms. “Young people nowadays take too long to have
babies. That is why I have a jewelry line—to keep me busy, because I have no
grandbabies. I’d much rather have a bunch of
nietos
to spoil and keep me
busy.” She murmured unhappily in Spanish as she handed off Violet to Eva. 

“Don’t start, Mama,” Lorena said.

“Do you need any help in here?” Eva
asked.

Lupe nodded. “Derrick, Roarke,
shoo. All the men out. We will take care of everything.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,”
Derrick said, lifting Violet into his arms. “Is your husband outside?”

“Derrick, do not give him any of
your nasty cigars.” The few times he’d come over, the two men always smoked
cigars together. Derrick only grinned before following his brother out. 

With Lupe directing, the women
worked together well, laughing and talking as they made the last-minute
preparations. At one point, Cesar appeared and tried to sneak a couple of chicken
tenders from one of the serving trays, and Lupe saw him and scolded him. Then
he pulled her into his arms and complained that the food smelled so good he
couldn’t resist. To pacify him, she hurried him out the door with a small plate
in his hand.

The comical scene played out every
time they threw a party. Their behavior typified the laughter and energy
prevalent in the house. The strained silences Cassidy remembered between her
parents didn’t exist here. The Vegas had the kind of marriage she wished her
parents had when she was growing up.

Hours later, Violet had been put
down to sleep in a downstairs bedroom. More than forty guests milled around or
sat in front of the eight-member band, listening to them rock out to a Bruce
Springsteen tune. Cesar played the electric guitar, and another band member
sang lead. Cassidy had to admit they were a good-looking group of older men.

Roarke settled onto the cushioned
wicker love seat beside her with a plate of food in his hand. “Where’s that
husband of yours?”

“Working. He should be here soon.”

“It’s Saturday. Even God rested on
the seventh day.”

She knew that, but apparently
Antonio didn’t.

“I took a look at the jewelry and
thought about buying one of the bracelets for Celeste, but they’re out of my
price range.”

A glass case nearby displayed Lupe’s
debut pieces—platinum rings and bracelets filled with diamonds and other
precious gemstones in custom-designed settings.

“She might give you a deal because
you’re family.” Roarke held out his plate to her, and she took a chicken tender
and bit into it.

 “I still couldn’t afford it—not on
a professor’s salary.” Roarke put a forkful of ceviche in his mouth.
“Everything okay?”

Behind the smile in his brown eyes,
she saw concern. All her brothers were protective of her, especially Roarke.
From the age of eight, he’d been her legal guardian, and the temptation to
confide in him was great. But she couldn’t run to Roarke to fix her problems
anymore, even though she knew he’d try to.  

“Of course. I’m having a good
time,” she said lightly. She popped the last bit of chicken in her mouth.

“Good.” Roarke chewed slowly. “I
just noticed you keep looking at your watch.”

“Oh.” Cassidy laughed. “I’m
checking the time, that’s all.”

His perceptive gaze slid from her
face to the performers, who’d segued to Bon Jovi. If she wanted to talk, he’d
listen, but he wouldn’t push. She fought the urge to look at her watch again,
wondering where Antonio could be while she and his family were all together. He
should’ve been there already. Normally he’d call or text to let her know he’d
be running late, but she hadn’t heard from him.

Except for her and Roarke, all the
other guests were there with a significant other. Eva and Derrick sat together,
with her head rested on his shoulder and his arm around her. Lorena and Matthew
stood in a group of six, talking with two other couples. More often than not
lately, she didn’t feel like part of couple since she seldom saw her husband.
She’d been at his parents’ house for hours, and he hadn’t made an appearance
yet.

“There’s Antonio,” Roarke said.

Her heart leaped when she saw him
walk out to the patio, smiling slightly when he ducked as his mother reached
for his head and said something to him. By the expression on her face, she was
probably complaining about the length of his hair. He countered by dipping her
in a bear hug that resulted in her laughing and patting his cheek.

He greeted family members and
friends before making his way over to them. He obviously hadn’t had time to go
home to change because he still wore his suit and tie. 

After a brief greeting between him
and Roarke, her brother left them alone.

Antonio slipped off his jacket and
tie and hung them over the back of the chair. Looking at her, he said, “I know
you’re upset I’m late, but I don’t want to argue. Let’s enjoy ourselves
tonight.”

“Okay.”

He took her hand and brought it to
his lips. “I’m hungry. I’m going to get something to eat.”

“Let me get your plate. You’ve been
working all day.”

Cassidy’s spirits picked up now
that Antonio had arrived. He no longer appeared to be upset with her, which made
her happy. When they weren’t fighting, being in his company always made her
feel better, and she longed for the days when they spent more time together. He
concentrated on work so much, and complaining didn’t improve the situation.

She piled the dish full of ceviche,
fish in coconut sauce, rice, beans, and
mofongo
—a tasty Puerto Rican
staple of mashed green plantains stuffed with spices and shrimp. In no time at
all, he ate the entire meal and washed it down with a beer. 

The band whittled down to four and
switched the instruments to maracas, a drum, and two cuatros for a jam session
of
jíbaro
songs. The traditional folk music of Puerto Rico represented
cultural pride, and all the Puerto Ricans in attendance whooped and hollered
when Cesar strummed his cuatro and the rest of the band joined in as he sung in
an earthy bass.

“¡
Viva
Puerto Rico!” someone
yelled.

They went through several more
songs, and at the end of each, the guests cheered and clapped. The last was by Ecos
De Borinquen, named “A Mi Dulce Amada”—“To My Sweet Beloved.”

Lupe moved to sit beside her husband
and participated by shaking the maracas and dancing in her seat. Midway through
the song, she added her voice to the melody. A respectful hush fell over the
group as their voices lifted upward to the starry sky. They serenaded each
other, their genuine love obvious in the way they gazed into each other’s eyes
as if they were the only ones present.

Cassidy watched them with envy.
Thirty years from now, she hoped to be like them, staring into Antonio’s eyes
and blocking out the rest of the world.

His fingertips brushed the back of
her neck. “What are you thinking?”

“That I want us to be like them one
day,” Cassidy answered honestly.

“We already are.” He kissed the
corner of her mouth. “Our relationship will only get stronger.”

He drew her closer, and Cassidy
settled against him. He had no idea how lucky he was to have grown up with such
a fine example of a loving marriage. She closed her eyes and pushed back the
memories of her parents’ defective relationship. 

At the end of the set, jubilant shouts
of “¡
Wepa
!” went up from the crowd.

The evening eventually wound down,
and people started to trickle out. Antonio told Cassidy to head home and
promised to follow after he’d spoken to his father. She fixed a couple of
plates to take with her and left for home.

****

Cassidy heard Antonio when he
arrived about an hour after she did.
From the bed, she watched him walk
in and set his phone on the nightstand and his briefcase on the floor. Her
laptop rested on its tray across her thighs while she conversed in a chat room
with other hackers about the upcoming exam.

“Hey,” he said. Lines of fatigue bracketed his
mouth, and his tired appearance tugged at her heart. He started toward the
bathroom with a sluggish gait.

“Where are you going?”

“To take a shower.”

“It’s late. Come here.” She patted the empty
space beside her.

“I’ve been in these clothes all day, babe. I
stink.”

“So?” Cassidy logged out of the chat room and
set the computer and tray on the floor. She’d been listening for him and didn’t
want to spend another minute apart.

She waited while he stripped down to his
boxers, and then she opened her arms. He climbed under the covers and groaned,
rubbing her breasts through the orange, skintight tank top. He kissed each
breast, and her nipples immediately puckered against the cotton fabric. She
felt her body moisten, but his touch was more affectionate than sexual.

“Best pillows in the house,” he murmured. He
rested his head on her chest and wrapped her in his arms so she was drawn close
against him. He was definitely no longer upset with her.

BOOK: For Better or Worse
3.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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