Mariana Zapata gets me every time with the slow burn romance. This one was a little different. It started with a bit of a red herring with a neighborhood fight outside of a child’s bedroom window. I had a hard time getting into it because of the unexpected violence and the unlikeable character who was involved. I thought at first that the male character who was being pulverized was the hero. He was not. He was the hero’s brother. The brother is a monumental jerk. When we meet the hero, he is married. I had issues with that as well. He is separated, and he honorably does not let anything happen between himself and the heroine until he’s divorced. With Zapata’s typical slow burn, of course, that process took most of the book. I was thoroughly enchanted with the children in the book. They were just that cute.
Diana Casillas is a single mother (yes, she’s Sal Casillas’s cousin – our heroine from Kulti). Diana is raising her two nephews, Josh and Louie, after their father’s death. Louie’s mother is also deceased; Josh’s is not, but she’s not a suitable parent. One thing I disliked about the book was how long it took to explain what had happened to Diana’s brother, Rodriguo and what happened to Louie’s mother, Mandy. Josh’s mother appears in the story fairly early on. Diana and her two boys have recently moved into the house across the street from the hero, Dallas and his brother, Jackson. Jackson is the one who gets beat up at the beginning of the book. He is not a nice person.
Dallas is Josh’s baseball coach, and he is great with the kids. Most of the baseball players’ mothers have a crush on Dallas. He is leery of Diana at first, not wanting to get involved and not wanting to play favorites for fear of upsetting other parents. Of course, over time, he and Diana share many experiences, and they grow close. Diana, too, is hesitant to get involved with Dallas. She is constantly reminding herself that he’s married, but despite that, she does become attached. Dallas is such a good man, and he is always there for her. He’s thoughtful, protective, kind and good to the kids.
Although this one took me a little time to get into the story, once I did, I couldn’t put it down. Dallas is a really good guy. He was definitely not a jerk, unlike Zapata’s previous heroes who had poor manners and poor social skills. Dallas is almost perfect except for the fact that he is married.
This story also had cameos with characters from past books. Sal and Kulti (from Kulti) come to Josh’s birthday party. Aiden and Vanessa (from the Wall of Winnipeg) are also featured. Vanessa is Diana’s best friend. It took me a bit to figure out who she was until they mentioned her husband being a famous football player, and then it dawned on me who the two of them were. It had been a while since I read the Wall of Winnipeg. I went back to that book and looked for Diana, and she was there. It’s fun that past characters are usually revisited in Zapata books. I’m hoping that Diana and Dallas pop up in a future Zapata story.
I highly recommend this one. Stick with it if you find it slow to start. It gets better. The character development is awesome.
“Joe, I’ll need those revised drawings on my desk before 5:00,” his boss said, “Do you think you’ll be able to get them to me on time?”
Joe looked up at the clock and nodded. “Sure.”
‘So much for getting home for dinner on time’, he thought to himself as his boss left and he turned back to the drawings he was working on for the new client.
His company had taken on a lot of new business lately. With the staff they had, everyone was working at full capacity. Joe spent most of his time lately rushing to get things done by some unrealistic deadline. There was no time to spend time doing a good and thorough job anymore, and he hated working that way. He was starting to worry about making mistakes. So far, he’d been lucky, but the stress was starting to get to him.
It was after 6:00 by the time he finished the drawings. Luckily his boss wasn’t too upset at the extra time he’d taken.
“You’re here late,” Fran, the cleaning lady said, as she came around the corner, pulling the vacuum cleaner. She looked surprised to see him still at his table, “I can start at the other end, if you want.”
“Nope, I was just leaving,” he smiled, grabbing up his jacket, “Clean away, Wonder Woman.”
“Go on with you!” she laughed, “Have a nice night, Mr. Joe.”
“You, too, Fran.”
He took the stairs down to the street and started home. He was lucky he was able to walk to and from work. Their apartment wasn’t the greatest, but he couldn’t beat the location. They saved a lot of money on transportation.
He came through the door just as Holly dashed by, chasing a shrieking Annelise. They were both laughing. He tossed his jacket onto the couch and was prepared to join in the fun when his daughter turned and saw him.
“Daddy!” she yelled, running towards him instead. He scooped her up into his arms.
“I’ve got her!” he yelled to Holly, and Annelise shrieked and giggled in glee.
“No! Not the tickle monster!” she laughed as Holly approached with her hands out like claws.
“How was your day?” Holly laughed, dropping her hands and leaning past Annelise to give him a kiss. He shrugged.
“Me next!” Annelise yelled, puckering up, and he laughed and kissed her, too.
“How are my favorite girls?” he asked.
“I got an A on my paper about Barney,” Annelise told him, as he put her down and moved over to peer into the bassinette. He bent down to smooth Robbie’s hair and rub his back.
“You did?” he asked, “That’s great, Leesie”. He looked at Holly. “Maybe we have a budding journalist or novelist on our hands.”
“Could be,” she said, “I kept your dinner warm. Why don’t you wash up?”
While he ate, Holly cleaned up the kitchen.
“I want to help out,” she said, suddenly, “with Barney’s daughter. I want to do something.”
Joe swallowed and chose his words carefully. “Be careful how much you take on, Hol.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just don’t stretch yourself too thin.”
“I talked to his daughter for quite a while the other day,” she said, “She’s very nice, Joe.”
“Then be a friend, Holly,” he suggested, “She sure sounds like she could use one.”
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Holly was woken out of a sound sleep by the baby’s cry. She glanced at the clock – 3:06. Joe mumbled in his sleep beside her and rolled over to pull the covers over his head as she got up. She shook her head and stumbled towards Robbie’s room.
“I’m coming, little man,” she soothed as she entered his room. She glanced at the bed on the opposite side of the room. Annelise still slept soundly, like her father.
“Just you and me, little man,” Holly murmured, picking up the baby to change his diaper.
Five minutes later, they were settled into the darkened living room and Robbie was busy working on his bottle. Holly watched the shadows from the tree branches on the wall as he ate. They were lucky to have the park close by. It gave Annelise a place to play, and it was a nice spot to take Robbie so he could get some fresh air.
She smiled as he made a contented noise as he ate. He was getting so big. He’d be running around the apartment, chasing his sister, soon. Maybe Joe was right. Maybe they would have to think about moving, but they had a few years yet before they had to worry about that. Besides, they were close to his job here, and it was a nice neighborhood.
After Robbie had been burped, Holly tucked him back into his crib and then wandered back to bed herself. It seemed like she had just closed her eyes for a second when Joe’s alarm woke her back up again.
“Go back to sleep, hon,” Joe said, “You can catch a few more winks.”
“I’ve got to get Annelise up for school,” she said.
“I can do that.”
“It’s okay. I’m awake anyway, and there goes Robbie …”
Once Joe and Annelise had left, Holly wandered over to the window and looked out at the park. She smiled when she saw Barney, sitting on his usual bench. As she watched, Barney’s daughter came out to join her Dad. Holly thought about her own parents back home and how horrible it must be to have a parent with Alzheimer’s. She wondered if there was something she could do to help Barney and his family out. She felt a little bemused that Annelise was the only one who had picked up on the situation. Kids had a sixth sense sometimes.
After lunch, she bundled Robbie into his stroller and set out for the park. She walked him up and down the paths a few times. She was about to head back inside when she saw Barney’s daughter coming outside again.
“Hello,” she waved, “I’m Annelise’s Mom, Holly.”
“Hi, Holly, I remember,” the older woman smiled, “I’m Chloe. Who’s this handsome young man?”
“Robbie,” Holly said. She fidgeted with the strap on the diaper bag. “Um, I’m not sure how to say this so I’ll just come right out with it – I was wondering if there was anything you needed help with, or if there was anything I could do for you.”
“Oh.” Chloe looked surprised.
“If you ever need something at the store, I could get it for you, or I could sit with your Dad sometime,” Holly said.
“Holly, that’s so sweet of you,” Chloe said, reaching over to pat her arm. “I appreciate the offer more than words can express. Thank you. Now I know where Annelise gets her generous spirit from.”
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