Charlotte Kavanagh’s beloved grandmother may have made peace with her mortality, but Charlotte isn’t yet ready to do the same. There is still so much she wants to know about her abuela—like the truth about her youth in Spain, her days dancing flamenco—all subjects Katarina has refused to speak of. And when she becomes ill, Charlotte fears losing her forever—along with any chance to know the history that is also part of her own legacy . . .
Yet despite her fragile condition, Katarina rallies, and Charlotte hopes she may have had a change of heart about revealing her secrets. It’s a wish that will challenge Charlotte to break out of her perfectly ordered life in ways she never expected. Does she have the courage to step out of her routine—to leave the country and discover the woman her grandmother once was—and perhaps even find herself along the way? . . .
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Dreaming of Spain
A Prequel to Under the Spanish Stars
By Alli Sinclair
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Alli Sinclair
All rights reserved.
Charlotte Kavanagh stood on the corner of Johnston and Brunswick Streets in Melbourne's inner city, the salsa music from a nearby stage pulsing through her body. With her back against a shop wall, she tapped her fingers against her thigh in time to the music and watched the steady flow of people. Sunlight reflected off the rainbow of sequins sewn onto the national costumes of an array of Latin American countries — Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia — as women swished by in full skirts and men strode past in billowing gaucho pants and wide-brimmed hats. They chatted and laughed, occasionally glancing at Charlotte. With her blue eyes, red hair and a smattering of freckles across her nose, she looked like she'd just stepped off a plane from Ireland. They could not know she shared their Spanish ancestry.
The aroma of sizzling onions and garlic from the Argentine asado stall made Charlotte's stomach grumble. Freshly brewed Colombian coffee wafted past her nostrils. She contemplated diving in to the crowds to get the full festival experience but ultimately decided against it. Her tardy brother Steve would likely show the second she disappeared.
When they'd originally made plans for a rare non-work-related catch-up, neither she, nor Steve, were aware that one of Australia's largest multicultural festivals was on. As an inner-city girl, she should have realized but as usual, Charlotte had been so caught up with work she'd barely known what day it was. Her weekdays constantly bled into weekends and taking any time off seemed like mission impossible. Steve had pushed her into stepping outside the office for this brother-sister bonding lunch and for that she was grateful, even if he was later than the White Rabbit from Alice's Wonderland.
A boy who looked around four grinned at her as he ambled by, his tiny hand secure in his mother's grasp. His other hand clutched a balloon animal in the shape of a monkey and he waved the animal at Charlotte as his lips formed a perfect circle. "Ooh-ooh!"
"Ooh-ooh!" she replied and tucked her hands under her arms, doing her best monkey impersonation.
The little boy laughed but then a gust of wind whipped the balloon monkey out of his hand. The black and orange creation bounced along the footpath, bumping against people's feet as they hurried along, oblivious to the little boy's distress. His mother turned to search frantically for the monkey, but Charlotte had already shoved her way into the crowd, trying to get hold of the treasure. The animal kept slipping from her grip but she finally got hold of it, moments before a broad man's large foot landed on the spot the monkey had just vacated.
Charlotte fought her way back through the mass of people and handed the little boy his beloved balloon animal. The mother opened her mouth and a flurry of Spanish came out. This was one of the myriad reasons she loved living in a city like Melbourne — you could travel the world in half-a-dozen suburbs. With a Spanish grandmother, it should have been easy for Charlotte to learn the language of her ancestors but her grandmother had made it clear she would not teach it to any of her offspring — or speak of her life back in Spain. And yet Katarina Sanchez insisted on being called abuela, the Spanish word for grandmother. But Abuela thrived on living a life with contradictions – she thought it kept everyone on their toes and made her feel younger than the ninety-six years she'd experienced on this earth.
Charlotte held up her hand to the woman and gently smiled. Learning Spanish in high school hadn't prepared Charlotte well for the real world. "I'm sorry, didn't catch all that."
The woman nodded and in heavily accented English said, "Thank you."
"That's okay. We couldn't have the monkey escaping, could we?" Charlotte studied the young boy as he hugged the monkey and murmured to it in Spanish.
"Thank you, thank you." The mother leant forward and drew Charlotte into a tight embrace before kissing her on the cheek. She waved goodbye, and with her son, blended again into the sea of bodies.
A group of six young girls dressed in red-and-white-spotted flamenco dresses skipped past, giggling and chatting while a couple of older women with hair pulled back in severe buns herded them towards the dance stage. Thanks to her grandmother's distaste for the subject, it had been ages since Charlotte had given flamenco dancing any thought. In her rebellious teenage years, she'd considered sneaking off to a class or two, but had chickened out at the last minute. What if she really liked it and wanted to continue? That can of worms would only cause angst because whenever Charlotte broached the subject of flamenco, her grandmother killed the conversation. It was as if Abuela's life as one of Spain's most famous flamenco dancers had never existed. No one, not even Charlotte's father, knew why she'd given it up.
Though it didn't stop Charlotte from surreptitiously studying the history of Spain with the hope of gaining a glimpse into her grandmother's life back then. From what she could gather, the years when Francisco Franco ruled had caused immense suffering and grief for many Spaniards, though others were staunch supporters of his iron-fisted rule. Even now, decades after his death, his actions still divided people.
Charlotte craned her neck to get a better view of the young flamenco troupe assembled on the stage. The giggling and playfulness from earlier had been replaced with serious expressions. The girls held their chins high, arched their backs, and waited for the guitarist to begin. Taking their signal from the older women on the side of the stage, the girls stamped their feet in unison, let out a shout and flicked their skirts. Their dancing looked way too complicated for such young performers but they carried it off with ease and flair.
As the troupe stomped their feet and twisted hands in elaborate patterns to the up-tempo rhythm of the guitarist, Charlotte's mind buzzed with questions she hadn't considered for a long time. Had Abuela begun learning flamenco as a kid? Was it something she'd always wanted to do or had she fallen into it by accident? And what, or who, had made her give up the dance that required such intensity?
Sighing, she resigned herself to the fact she might never know. She checked her phone again and mumbled, "Come on, slacker brother of mine."
'So how is Steve these days?'
The muscles in her shoulders and neck tensed as the familiar voice hit her ears. Her clammy hand almost lost its grip on the phone and she shoved the device into her bag before it smashed onto the footpath. Charlotte tried to steel herself, even though a headache instantly wrapped around her skull.
"Hi Drew." Her voice came out raspy and she immediately wished she was the one who'd been running late, not her brother Steve.
Drew stood in his six-foot brilliance, his well-defined footballer's physique clad in a simple t-shirt and jeans. He'd styled his sandy hair into a fashionable windswept look and when his blue eyes met hers, memories of the last time they'd seen each other crowded in on her. Barbed words echoed in her ears but instead of the anger she had experienced all those months ago, sadness had taken up residence.
"You're looking really good." The smile went all the way to Drew's eyes and she knew he meant every word. Not that she trusted her judgment of men's characters these days. Drew was the perfect example of how she'd failed miserably at reading the signs that other people had seen flashing like neon billboards.
"Thank you." She coughed, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. Thank god she hadn't run into him on one of her mad dashes to the Victoria Market in her yoga pants and baggy hoodie. At least she'd made some effort today and had dragged a brush through her curls, dusted on makeup and donned a pair of jeans that actually fit in the right places.
"So ..." they said in unison then stared at each other. Drew smiled and her lips started to mirror his but she quickly forced them into a straight line.
"How's the insurance business?" His slight hesitation made her think he might be uncomfortable; that he could possibly be grappling with the unexpected appearance of the woman whose heart he'd smashed into a million pieces.
"Busy, as usual." Man, do we really have to do this?
"Still jet setting?" Drew shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced around.
"Yep," she forced herself into cheery-mode. "The company's doing really well, so I'm traveling to London a fair bit for training and updates. Last month I was in Denver for a conference. I'm loving how my frequent flying miles are adding up." Why did she always feel the need to run off at the mouth when nervous? Charlotte tried to make herself stop but a brainwave hit her hard. "Actually, I'm thinking I might use the points to take my holidays in the Caribbean. Maybe Trinidad or Barbados."
There was no doubt she had hit a bullseye. They'd been planning a short break at one of the Caribbean's most beautiful resorts — until Drew's secret life exploded around them.
"That's ... great. I'm glad you're going to take some time out for yourself. You work too hard, you know."
Even though she'd planned to make Drew uncomfortable, he sounded genuine and she wondered uneasily if she was just being spiteful. Then again, he hadn't exactly handled the end of their relationship with tact ...
Drew scanned the crowd. "Well, I best be off."
"Did the team make it to the finals this season?" She asked before mentally slapping her forehead when she realized the ridiculousness of moving onto the subject of football. Why the hell did she go down this road and why did she insist on continuing this excruciating conversation?
"I ... uh ... nah, we got knocked out in the semis." A deep red rushed up Drew's neck and across his face at the mention of the football team that had played a key role in their break-up. He coughed into his fist. "How's the painting going?"
"I ..." Bloody hell, he'd just turned the tables and brought up a topic she loathed. "I stopped, remember?"
"You give up too easily. Stop listening to others and do what's right for you."
"Like you did?" She couldn't help herself.
"Fine. If you want to hash this out again we will, but it's not going to get us anywhere. You made your choice, just like I made mine."
Placing her hands on her hips, Charlotte said, "But my decision didn't affect anyone else. I didn't lie. I didn't cheat."
Drew tugged at his collar. "I'm seriously going now, Charlotte." He turned, paused then looked directly at her. "It really was nice to see you."
Her lips started to kick into an involuntary smile but they stopped the second a young man strode around the corner and made a beeline for her ex, grabbing Drew in a strong embrace and planting his lips on Drew's. When her former friend, Richie, caught sight of Charlotte, he froze. His wide eyes didn't leave hers as Drew, the man who had caused her so much angst, stood between his past and his present.
"Hello Charlotte." Richie nearly choked on the words.
She straightened her back and jutted out her chin. "Richie."
"Christ, is that the time?" Drew looked at his wrist, even though he hadn't worn a watch for years. "We have to ... uh ... be ..."
"Somewhere, I'm sure," she said, relief sweeping through her. The less time she spent in their presence the better.
"Yes, yes, that's it. Well, we better go!" Drew looked at Richie and cocked his head to the side. Just before Drew disappeared into the crowd, he shouted over his shoulder, "Don't give up so easily, Charlotte. You are capable of so many wonderful things."
As soon as she lost sight of Drew and his lover, her shoulders slumped and she leant against the wall. With her heart banging against her chest, she held back the sobs, wishing he didn't have such a profound effect on her. And what did he mean by that parting comment?
Her phone buzzed and she retrieved it from her bag. The text message was from a number she recognized but had deleted from her contacts list a while ago.
I meant your painting. You are too talented to give up. Xx
Gah! How could Drew read her mind so easily and why did he have to go and say something nice just when she was trying to hate him? Although hating Drew was nearly impossible. Of course, he'd hurt her, especially when he'd betrayed Charlotte right under her nose. Every week, she'd cheered his football team from the sidelines, forging friendships with Drew's teammates and their girlfriends. She'd loved how Richie had made a special effort to get to know her and help her break into the clique, and she'd never questioned the amount of time Richie and Drew spent together. Her gaydar, as Steve called it, hadn't screamed a warning. In fact, it hadn't sounded a tiny beep.
Oh hindsight, what a marvelous thing ...
What she hated most is that Drew hadn't confided in her. Up until Richie, Drew had only dated women. If he'd just opened up and let her know he needed to follow his feelings and explore his attraction to men, then things would have turned out so differently. Sure, it would have hurt, but eventually she would have understood. Instead, he'd chosen to sneak behind her back with Richie and she had to find out in a ridiculously clichéd way. No one wants to find their boyfriend snogging their teammate at night in a deserted park a few blocks from home. Charlotte had done well getting over it — until seeing him today had brought a whole new world of hurt crashing in on her.
Her handbag vibrated and she pulled out the phone again. Without looking at it, she pressed Answer.
"Listen, Drew, it's not a good idea to call me —"
"Drew? It's Steve. I'm at St Thomas's. You need to come right now. It's Abuela."CHAPTER 2
Charlotte raced through the doors of Emergency and up to the front desk, thankful she'd only been a few blocks from the hospital. As expected, long lines snaked through the waiting room. She grabbed her phone and called Steve.
"I'm stuck in a line at Emergency."
A moment later, the doors opened and out strode Steve, his dark curls a ragged mess. He wrapped his arms around Charlotte and silently guided her to the resuscitation cubicle where her beloved abuela lay. Voices murmured behind the closed curtains as Charlotte stood outside, trying to hold back the tears and find the strength to enter.
Steve gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. They may have spent most of their childhood at each other's throats but now, as adults, their relationship had morphed into one of mutual respect and a genuine wish to have each other's back. Just as well, because together, they worked their butts off in the family business and spent a great deal of time at familial gatherings instigated by Abuela.
Abuela ... the super glue of the family.
Charlotte started to step forward then stopped. Could she handle seeing Abuela in such a state? She'd always been so robust, probably from years working on the farm in the outback when she'd first arrived in Australia. Then, when they'd moved to suburbia, she'd tended the garden on a daily basis and this kept her fit and looking a lot younger than she was. Though, truth be told, lately Charlotte had noticed her grandmother's gait shortening, her shoulders and back hunching, and longer pauses in conversations as Abuela searched for the right words.
It pained Charlotte to remember the spritely woman who'd spent so much time with Steve and Charlotte as children. She'd taken care of them before and after school, while Charlotte's parents had concentrated on growing the family business. Abuela had attended the music recitals and school concerts, and was there with chocolate cake when their little hearts were broken from a bout of schoolyard politics. After Charlotte's grandfather had retired, her parents had taken over the small rural insurance business that serviced outback farmers and built it into a large city firm insuring some of the city's most notable companies. Out of respect for Charlotte's grandfather, they'd kept the rural part of the business, an area that Charlotte loved. Through all the years, when she barely saw her parents, Abuela had become more than a grandmother. She was a confidante and the only person who truly understood Charlotte's love/hate relationship with art. And now, Abuela needed her.
Taking a deep breath, Charlotte's shaking fingers reached for the curtain and she gently pulled it to the side and let herself into the cubicle. Steve followed.
Excerpted from Dreaming of Spain by Alli Sinclair. Copyright © 2017 Alli Sinclair. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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