A ZEBRA SHOUT FRESH NEW ROMANCE
The Fernandez sisters have always had big dreams, and the talent and drive to pursue them. And in this sunny, spicy new series, each one will discover that success is that much sweeter when love follows . . .
Rosa Fernandez doesn’t act on impulse—she’s the responsible one, planning her career with precision, finally landing a job as the librarian at conservative Queen of Peace Academy, confining her strongest emotions to her secret poetry journal. But she’s been harboring a secret crush on dreamy Jeremy Taylor, and after one dance with him at her sister’s wedding, Rosa longs to let loose for the first time. She deserves some fun, after all. So what if she doesn’t have a shot with Jeremy, not with his wealthy pedigree and high profile lifestyle. But one dance leads to one kiss, and soon Rosa is head-over-heels . . .
The adopted son of a prominent Chicago lawyer, Jeremy has a lot to live up to—especially with his birth father in prison—the perfect example of a bad example. With a big promotion and a move to Japan in the works, Jeremy is worlds away from settling down. But sweet, steady Rosa is a temptation he doesn’t want to deny himself, at least for now. Yet when their simple fling turns complicated, everything they’ve both worked for is threatened—except the red-hot intimacy they’ve found together. Can forever really grow from just-for-now?
Praise for Priscilla Oliveras’ His Perfect Partner
“Moving familial relationships and splashes of Puerto Rican culture round out this splendid contemporary.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“Oliveras takes all the right steps in this sweet romance . . . Packed with emotion, humor, and memorable characters.”
—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
“Well written and full of fun, welcoming characters. Readers will laugh and cry and be uplifted.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
About the Author
Priscilla Oliveras is a USA Today bestselling author, 2018 RWA® RITA®double finalist and four-time Golden Heart® finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latinx flavor. Proud of her Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage, she strives to bring authenticity to her novels by sharing her culture with her readers. She and her work have received praise from the Washington Post, New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Redbook, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, amongst others. Priscilla earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently teaches the online class “Romance Writing” for ed2go. To follow along on her fun-filled and hectic life, visit her on the web at PrisOliveras.com or on Twitter and Instagram @prisoliveras.
Read an Excerpt
Rosa Fernandez stared at the sea of wedding guests whirling on the dance floor. Her toe tapped to the beat of the salsa music, but she didn't join in the revelry. Not when it was her responsibility to make sure everything was running smoothly.
Scooting around a potted palm, she made a beeline for the buffet tables and wedding planner, relieved that so far all had gone according to schedule. Her big sister and her new husband had departed over an hour ago amidst kisses and well wishes. With huge grins on their faces and love for each other in their eyes, they'd headed upstairs to one of the finest suites the downtown historic Chicago hotel boasted.
Now, with the clock close to striking 1 AM, the party would be ending soon.
Without Rosa having worked up the nerve to ask a particular someone to dance. Her gaze scanned the crowd, looking for —
"It was a beautiful September wedding, mija."
Rosa turned her attention to her neighbor, bending to accept the elderly woman's hug. "Gracias, Señora Vega."
Señora Vega smiled, the wrinkles on her face deepening. "You did a fabulous job. Just like the church senior social you organized last month."
"I'm glad you enjoyed them."
"Bueno, no one doubted tonight would come together beautifully in your capable hands," Señora Vega said. "You're always on top of things. That's your specialty, verdad,nena?"
Or maybe it was her affliction.
Rosa kept the errant thought to herself, returning Señora Vega's smile with a tremulous one of her own. "Yazmine and Tomás deserve the best."
"Que nena buena eres." The older woman patted Rosa's cheek, a wistful sheen in her eyes. "Your parents would have loved this," she said, leaning in for a good-bye hug.
Rosa nodded mutely, melancholy wrapping around her heart at the thought of her parents and how much she missed them. They should have been here. Sure, there was nothing any of them could have done to stop Papi's cancer, but her mother's car accident all those years ago ... that should never have happened.
For now, Rosa pushed aside the memories and guilt. Today was her big sister's special day, so Rosa would do her best to channel their mom and her knack for organizing the best parties anyone could throw.
As Rosa wove through guests, the reception music changed to the heavy bass of a popular reggaeton song and the crowd on the dance floor let out a cheer.
"Hey, Rosa, come join us!" Arms raised overhead, her younger sister waved at her.
Surrounded by a crowd of her old high school friends, Lilí shimmied her hips and shoulders in reckless abandon to the Spanish rap music. Thanks to her sweaty gyrations throughout the night, her pixie haircut had lost some of its spike, but Lilí's playful grin had only grown bigger.
One of the guys snaked his arm around her lower back, and Lilí plastered her lithe body against his. They moved to the music as one, simulating an act that more likely belonged in the bedroom than on the dance floor.
Rosa shook her head in bemusement. Lilí puckered up and made a show of blowing her a kiss.
Ay, the little brat. A cocktail dress and heels could not a properly behaved young lady make.
Lilí yelled another catcall in her direction.
Rosa waved her off. Mosh-pit-style dancing wasn't really her cup of café con leche. Lilí knew that.
Lilí stuck out her tongue, then went back to her fun.
With a resigned sigh, Rosa turned away. Lilí might not understand that there were responsibilities to attend to, but she certainly did. With Papi's passing earlier this year, Rosa felt compelled to take charge. Even more so than after Mami's death almost ten years ago, when Rosa and Yaz had been in high school.
Be responsible. Do the right thing. It was what she did best. Even if the "good girl" reputation Señora Vega had referred to sometimes made Rosa itch to break out of the mold.
Shaking off the lingering melancholy, she continued moving through the crowd, stopping now and then to chat with friends and guests, thanking them for their attendance, reminiscing about her parents.
She was halfway across the ballroom when a thick arm encircled her waist from behind.
"Red Rosie, you've been avoiding me."
Recognizing her former classmate's voice, Rosa bit back a groan.
"Héctor!" She turned, leaning away from him, barely stopping herself from stomping on his foot with her heel. It would serve him right after grabbing her butt earlier in the buffet line!
"No seas mala!" he complained.
"I'm not being mean. I'm busy."
"One dance. A slow one. Come on, Red Rosie."
The embarrassing high school nickname grated on her already frayed nerves.
"Héctor, I have to check in with the wedding planner."
"All work and no play —"
"I know, I know. But this party is all about Yaz and Tomás. How about you go play a little harder for the both of us, okay?" Rosa schooled her face into her understanding-yet-I'm-not-giving-in expression. She might only be seven weeks into her job as the librarian at Queen of Peace Academy, but she'd been practicing this look in the mirror for months. "Marisol is sitting by herself. I'm sure she'd love to dance with you."
Rosa pointed at their mutual friend.
When Héctor gave her a sad-eyed pout, Rosa arched a brow to make her point, but softened it with a teasing smile.
"Está bien," he finally moaned.
She watched him trudge away, part of her wanting to join him and the crowd having fun. Yet, she held back. Her job wasn't done.
Moments later, after a short discussion with the wedding planner, Rosa learned all was in order. She wasn't needed anymore. Just like at home now that Papi was gone and Lilí was off to college.
Uncertainty weighed heavy in her chest.
She glanced from her peers, excitedly dancing, to the older couples chatting at the circular tables. Most people here would say she fit in better with the older, more reserved crowd. Not that she could blame them. It's where she typically gravitated. She heaved a sigh weighty with resignation.
No one knew about the increasing number of times lately that she wondered how it might feel to shake up the status quo. Do something just because it felt good, without worrying about the consequences.
Although, shaking things up might not be what the Catholic diocesan school board at Queen of Peace Academy in their quiet Chicago suburb of Oakmont, Illinois, wanted from their new librarian. She'd worked hard to finish her MLS on time so she could take over when Mrs. Patterson had retired this past summer. Now was Rosa's chance to carve her own niche amongst the staff, moving from former student to colleague. Allowing her to work on becoming a mentor to her students.
So what if she felt something was missing. It would pass.
Feeling out of sorts, Rosa edged her way toward the back of the ballroom near one of the portable drink stations.
"One ginger ale with a lime twist for the señorita, coming right up," the bartender said as she approached.
The grey-haired man filled a cup with ice and smiled at her. "Why aren't you enjoying yourself with the other young people?"
"I was just about to ask her the same question."
Rosa started at the deep voice coming from behind her.
She glanced over her shoulder, thrilled to find Jeremy Taylor standing close by. His broad shoulders and football-player physique filled out his navy pinstriped suit to perfection. Even though her heels added a good four inches to her five- foot-six height, Jeremy still towered over her. He smiled, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. A thrill shivered down her spine.
"I'll have what she's having, please," Jeremy said.
"Ginger ale?" the old bartender asked.
Jeremy blinked in surprise before he slowly shook his head. "Rosa, Rosa, Rosa. How can you celebrate your sister's marriage without enjoying some champagne? C'mon, share a glass with me?"
Longing seared through her, fast and hot. Ay, little did he know that she'd share pretty much anything with him.
Jeremy tilted his head toward her, urging her to say yes. But not pushing.
Ever since Yaz had introduced the two of them almost four years ago, Jeremy had been nothing but friendly, almost brotherly. After Papi's death back in January, Jeremy had been amazingly supportive. A perfect gentleman.
Just not her perfect gentleman.
Now he waited for her answer, an expectant gleam in his blue eyes.
Technically she was off the clock. The wedding planner had said she'd wrap things up and touch base on Monday.
What could one glass of champagne amongst friends hurt?
Before she could change her mind, Rosa nodded, pleased by the way Jeremy's grin widened at her response. He held up two fingers at the bartender, who winked at Rosa.
"Buen provecho," the old man murmured.
She gave him a shy smile of thanks as she reached for the proffered champagne flute, then sidled away from the bar.
Jeremy fell into step alongside her and her heart rate blipped with glee.
"What did he say when he handed you your drink?" he asked. "Good something, right?"
She nodded, remembering Jeremy's recent decision to start learning Spanish. "Literally it means, 'enjoy your meal,' but in this sense, it's more like, 'enjoy.'"
"Well then" — leaning closer to her, he clinked his flute against hers — "buen pro-pro —"
"Provecho," she finished, her belly flip-flopping at his chagrined smile.
They walked a few more steps before she worked up the courage to ask, "So, um, where's your date?"
The tall blonde who'd been his plus-one was the epitome of old money and high class, a glaring reminder that Jeremy came from a wealthy, established Chicago family. Rosa, on the other hand, came from a small town on the Island, her parents having transplanted from Puerto Rico to the Humboldt Park area of Chicago when they were first married, then later to Oakton in the suburbs.
She and Jeremy, not to mention his date, weren't quite the same pedigree.
"Uh-huh. Is she your ... ?" Rosa let her voice trail off, wondering what his response might be.
"Family friend. I mean, we dated years ago, but decided we're better as friends."
Rosa breathed a soft sigh of relief.
"Anyway, she ditched me a while ago." Jeremy brushed it off like his date leaving him behind didn't bother him. "Her parents are hosting a charity event over on Michigan Avenue and she wanted to put in an appearance."
"You didn't want to go?"
"And miss this fun?" He jutted his chin out at the people dancing to a well- known merengue hit. Couples packed the floor, some more seasoned and coordinated than others, but all having a great time.
They reached an empty table and Jeremy pulled out a chair for her.
"I haven't seen you out there," he said. "How come?"
He sat down to join her, his muscular thigh inadvertently brushing against hers. Tingles of awareness danced a cha-cha down her leg.
"Um, well." Hyper-attuned to his nearness, it took Rosa a second to find her words. "This is more Yazmine and Lilí's scene. I guess I tend to be a much better party planner than a partygoer."
"I wouldn't necessarily say that." Jeremy's lips quirked as he slid her a teasing glance. "I seem to recall you play a mean game of charades."
Rosa laughed, remembering Lilí's birthday this past spring. It'd been their first family celebration since Papi's death, so Lilí had kept it an intimate affair at home with the three sisters; Tomás; his six-year-old daughter, Maria; Jeremy; and a few other close friends.
She and Jeremy had wound up on the same charades team. That night, they'd been on a similar wavelength or something, quickly guessing each other's clues before anyone else.
Lilí had cried foul play.
Yaz had dubbed them the dynamic duo.
Rosa had soaked up the shared moment, their uncanny connection. Later, she'd composed a few verses about it in her private poetry journal.
"By the way, Yaz mentioned how you stepped in to help so she wouldn't stress as much today. Everything turned out great." The pleasure in his bright smile, directed right at her, made Rosa's pulse skip.
She ducked her head, embarrassed by his praise. "It wasn't that much."
"Right," Jeremy answered, his tone dripping with disbelief.
She peeked at him from under her lashes. At some point in the evening, he'd shed his suit jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves, revealing his muscular forearms. As always, she was drawn by his ruffled dark blond hair and square jaw. But even more so by his friendly eyes and the easy camaraderie they shared.
He took a swig of his champagne, eyeing her over the rim.
What did he see when he looked at her?
Anxiety fluttered in her chest at the thought.
No way did she measure up to Cecile, or any of the other women who traveled in his family's social circle. Cecile's diamonds had been real. Rosa wore costume jewelry she'd found on sale. Her red taffeta bridesmaid dress, bought off the rack, was far from designer label.
She tugged at her hem, uncomfortable with the short style Lilí had preferred. Hating the fact that even among her sisters she sometimes felt like she didn't measure up.
They were movers and shakers, life-of-the-party people.
She was the low-key Fernandez sister.
For a long time, she'd preferred it that way, especially after ...
It was simply safer.
The thing was, safer often also meant lonely.
"How come you didn't bring your own plus-one tonight?" Jeremy angled toward her to be heard over the music, his shoulder bumping into hers. His earthy cologne teased her senses.
She shrugged, her bare shoulder rubbing against the cool material of his shirtsleeve. "Pretty much everyone I know was already coming. Plus, I thought it'd be rude to leave a date alone if the caterer or someone needed help."
Besides, the only man she would have liked to ask was already on the invite list. With his own plus-one. And probably way out of her league.
Not that Jeremy had any inkling of her major crush on him.
"Always thinking of others, huh? You're pretty amazing, Rosa Fernandez." Jeremy raised his glass in salute with a playful wink.
"Thanks," she murmured. His flattery and sincere tone caused heat to flood her cheeks, reminding her of Héctor's earlier Red Rosie comment. She despised the nickname that dated back to her freshman public-speaking class and the vicious blushing episodes she'd suffered.
Rather than press her flute to her warm face, Rosa settled for a gulp of the cold champagne.
"Mis amigos, it's almost closing time." The DJ's rich baritone elicited a groan of disapproval from the partiers. "We'll play our last slow song, then finish the night with a bang. Gracias por venir esta noche! For you gringos, that means 'thanks for coming tonight' to celebrate Yazmine and Tomás's wedding! Now, here's one for all you couples out there."
The beginning strains of an old Spanish love song drifted from the speakers. Regret and loss tightened Rosa's throat when she recognized the tune as one Papi and his trío had often played at their gigs throughout the years.
Around the ballroom, dancers quickly paired up. Rosa watched a young teen work up the nerve to ask a pretty girl from their church to join him. The girl hesitated, hands clasped behind her back. Rosa waited, anxiously hoping the poor boy's spirits weren't about to be crushed.
Dios, her adolescent memories were pockmarked with similar self- esteem-diminishing moments. Waiting for this cute boy or that smart one to invite her to a school dance, or out for ice cream. Or even for a library study date. The one time she'd tried taking the initiative, she'd bungled it. Badly. Eventually, she'd given up wishing for a date. Books were far safer companions.
Finally, the girl gave a shy nod and the young couple moved to join the others. Out of the corner of her eye, Rosa noticed Jeremy pushing his seat back. She turned to say good-bye, only to find him holding out a hand to her.
"You're not going to let the night end without allowing me one dance, are you?" His blue eyes warmed with a plea for her to say yes.
Surprised anticipation hummed in her chest.
She'd wanted an invite from him all night, but figured his date wouldn't appreciate it. Now that the statuesque socialite was out of the picture. ...
Behind him, Rosa caught Lilí laughing with her partner, enjoying herself, having done very little tonight to help behind the scenes.
Diviértete, Lilí had chided her earlier during the wedding party dance.
Excerpted from "Her Perfect Affair"
Copyright © 2018 Priscilla Oliveras.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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