Different worlds collide in Sera Taino's debut novel.
It's hard to remain enemies when you've broken bread together
Val Navarro’s first mistake: going out dancing after a bad breakup when the chef should be focused on her family business. Her second mistake? Thinking the handsome, sensitive stranger she meets could be more than a rebound – until she discovers he’s Philip Wagner of Wagner Developments. His father’s company could shut down her Puerto Rican restaurant and unravel her tight-knit neighborhood. When Philip takes over negotiations, Val wants to believe he has good intentions. But is following her heart a recipe for disaster?
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Val took a sip of her añejo, listening to the beats of a reggaetón mash-up as it boomed through the room. People made their way to the dance platform, dappled in colors from the strobe lights. Val loved the way the music blasted through her body, the reverberations of the pumping bass through her bones; it had been too long since she’d felt this loose.
Olivia, who had stopped to talk to people she knew, grabbed Val by the hand and pulled her onto the dance floor.
“I also forgot how much fun dancing could be,” Val shouted.
“Yeah, that Luke did a number on you,” Olivia shouted back.
Val waved her hands, indicating she didn’t want to talk about Luke or anyone else. She just wanted to enjoy the music, let her mind grow empty of everything except the lyrics and the beat. Reggaetón was a gift to someone like her—US born but every bit as Puerto Rican as a transplant could be without having lived on the island. It was the soundtrack of the vaivén, or the back-and-forth movement that characterized the migration of people going from the mainland to the island and back again.
Val danced until the song changed. Olivia’s face split into an uncharacteristically dazzling smile at her girlfriend’s arrival. Aleysha’s smooth, dark skin contrasted sharply with light brown eyes the color of burnished bronze that were shocking even from a distance.
Aleysha raced over to them, giving Val a glossy, messy kiss on her cheek before flinging her arms around Olivia. “Why didn’t you text me when you got here?”
Olivia shrugged. “I figured you’d be late, like always, so why stress you?”
“You’re one to talk. Let’s go sit with Malena.” She gave Val a wink. “She’s been seeing this one guy and he brought a friend of his.”
Ugh, not a spontaneous blind date. That was the last thing she needed tonight. But of course, before she could say no, Olivia spoke for her. “Why not?”
“I’m not really—” Val started but Aleysha put a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re just hanging out. No pressure, okay?”
She just wanted to dance, maybe catch a buzz and go home in peace. But Olivia and Aleysha were wrapped up in each other, so Val had no choice but to follow them. At the far end of the patio, she recognized Malena, who often stopped into her family’s restaurant for a late lunch. She sold real estate in one of the smaller boutique agencies in Wagner Financial Place. Malena was leaning into a good-looking man she introduced as Étienne, who said his name with a voluptuous, Creole accent.
At the end of the table, almost in his own orbit, sat Étienne’s friend.
“And this is Philip,” Aleysha said.
He was whispering something to Étienne, initially unaware of her, but when he turned, the overhead lights flashed, illuminating the most striking blue eyes she’d ever seen. They reminded her of the Caribbean lapping at the beaches of Ponce, where her family used to vacation when she was a child. Music skipped through the space between them before passing her by. How long had she been staring at him. A few seconds? Minutes?
She gave him a cursory wave, determined to cover her dazed reaction before taking the seat next to Olivia. He had the kind of face that was just shy of being too good-looking and it kept dragging at her attention. Through sheer force of will, she fixed her gaze on her cousin to tame her wayward eyes, focusing intensely on her conversation without really processing the meaning of her words. Maybe if she ignored him, he’d forget she was there.
But she didn’t have that kind of luck. He slid into the chair next to her and cleared his throat.
About the Author
Debut romance author Sera Taíno has been selected for Harlequin’s Romance Includes You Mentorship, an initiative launched in 2019 to reach out to diverse communities of writers and bring more own voices stories to romance readers. Her unpublished, #ownvoices novel, Incomparable, will be published with Harlequin Special Edition in 2021 as part of the mentorship initiative. When she is not writing, she can usually be found teaching, traveling, or wrangling her family.
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