Three very different Latina sisters. Three dazzling talents with ambition—and passion—to burn. And in this warm-hearted, sexy new series, three chances to figure out if the path to success can also lead to lasting love . . .
Ad executive Tomás Garcia shouldn't even be thinking about his daughter’s alluring dance teacher, Yazmine Fernandez. Burned by a shattering divorce, he's laser-focused on his career—and giving his young daughter, Maria, the secure home she deserves. Plus, he's certain that with her talent, Yaz will be leaving Chicago and heading back to Broadway as soon as she can. But Yaz's generous spirit and caring concern are sparking a desire Tomás can't resist—and doesn't want to let go . . .
For Yaz, good-looking workaholics like Tomás simply can't be part of her life ever again. She owes it to herself to get back her confidence and fulfill the dreams her papá could not. She's glad to spend time with Maria—and taste the family life she feels she can never have. And she’s sure that she and Tomás can keep their attraction under control because there's so much at stake. But each unexpected intimacy, each self-revelation, makes the fire between them grow hotter with every step—and every risk to their hearts . . .
“Page-turning plot, great characters, a sparkling debut!” —Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author
“Warm and witty, this wonderful debut novel from Priscilla Oliveras celebrates the best of love and family. Looking forward to more from this fabulous author!” —Shirley Jump, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
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The hottest guy to ever hit Oakton, Illinois, lingered outside her dance studio doorway, bringing Yazmine Fernandez to a stutter-step stop.
Seriously, the guy was like manna-from-heaven Latino GQ — from the top of his closely cropped jet-black hair, down his six-foot muscular frame, to the soles of his shiny wing-tip shoes.
Behind her, seven pairs of dancers scrambled to remember the next step in the preschool father-daughter Christmas dance. But Yazmine couldn't look away.
"Hey, a little help here?" One of the dads waved at her from the back row.
"Sorry." Yaz listened to the music for several beats, then fell back into step with their "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" routine.
In the studio's mirror-lined wall she caught the stranger's flustered scowl. Even frowning, he still made her heart hop-skip in her chest.
Dios mío, she'd obviously neglected her social life for too long. Sure, her dance card had been pretty full with other obligations for nearly eighteen months now, but her lack of partner-dance practice shouldn't account for the heat prickling her insides. In her line of work, hunky guys were always on the cast list.
Then again, drop an attention-grabbing, well-built man into a room full of suburban soccer dads, and a woman's thoughts naturally wandered down a road better left untraveled.
Untraveled by her, anyway.
The newcomer's gaze skimmed across the people in her studio.
Yaz brightened her smile, but he turned away without even noticing her. Disappointed, and strangely self-conscious, she tugged at the bodice of her camisole leotard as she led the group into a jazz square.
The song's second verse transitioned to the chorus repetition, and Yaz wove through the front line to get a better look at the back row. "Left hand, Mr. Johnson — your other left."
The dad groaned, his daughter giggling at his exaggerated grimace.
"Don't worry, you'll get it." Yaz peeked over the child's shoulder to the studio doorway again.
The hunk glared down at his phone, flicking through something on the screen. His mouth thinned as he slid the cell into the pocket of his suit jacket. Yaz's stomach executed a jittery little sashay.
This guy had to be in the wrong place. No way she'd forget meeting him before at the dance studio.
Yaz dropped her gaze to his left ring finger. Bare.
Not that it should matter to her. She'd learned the hard way it was much better to look than to touch. Especially if a girl didn't want to get her fingers singed, or her heart flambéed.
Besides, as soon as Papi's oncologist gave him the all-clear, she'd be on the first direct flight out of Chicago, headed back to New York and Broadway. Nothing would stand in her way this time.
The holiday song drew to a close. Fathers bowed. Daughters curtsied. GQ stepped into her studio.
Anticipation fluttered a million, spastic butterfly wings in her chest. He probably needed directions to another business close by.
Yaz hurried toward him. "Excuse me, do you need some help?"
Or, better yet, a no-strings-attached date for a night out in nearby Chicago?
Maria Garcia jumped up from her seat on the floor along the back wall, running to fling her arms around the man's thighs. Everyone else in the class turned at the commotion.
Increíble. Apparently the hunk did belong here. To the usually subdued, adorable five-year-old who'd joined the class in mid-September.
At his daughter's screech of delight, the worried scowl vanished from the man's features. Relief and joy surged in. For a moment Yaz bought into his pleasure, savoring the smile that softened his chiseled face with boyish charm.
Then, with the stinging slap of a bitter Chicago wind, Yaz recalled the number of practices Maria's father had skipped over the past two months — the number of classes when the child had sat alone in the back and the number of times she'd had to partner with Mrs. Buckley, her grandmotherly nanny, because her father had failed to show up as promised. Again.
The attraction searing through Yaz's body cooled as fast as if she'd dunked herself into an ice bath after a marathon day of rehearsal.
Bendito sea Dios, the prodigal father, more focused on his advertising career than his child, had finally arrived — tardy, of course. Blessed be God, indeed.
"You made it!" Surprise heightened Maria's high-pitched cry.
"I sure did, chiquita." Mr. Garcia scooped up his daughter and spun her around, the picture of familial bliss.
Maria grinned with pleasure.
Still, Yaz couldn't stop remembering the hurt in the little girl's eyes over the past weeks because of her father's absences. Legs shaking, she strode to the corner table at the front of the room and jabbed the stop button on her iPod speakers. "Everyone, let's take a five-minute water break."
Mr. Garcia and Maria stepped to the side of the room so the other class members could head to the lobby area.
Anger over the weeks of disappointment he'd brought on his daughter pulsed a heavy, deep bass beat in Yaz's chest. She sucked in what was supposed to be a calming breath and counted to ten. Then twenty.
So much for her brief fantasy of a friendly night out with a hunky stranger. Her first since long before she'd left New York to come home. That definitely wasn't going to happen. Not with this man.
"M'ija, I'm sorry I'm late."
The trite words burned Tomás's lips with their insignificance. No matter how many times he apologized, he knew he'd never forget the dejection crumpling Maria's shoulders when he'd finally spotted her sitting in the back of the room. Knowing he'd put the sadness there was like a swift punch to his gut.
He tried so damn hard to be a good father. Still, more and more often it felt like he was falling short.
"It's okay." Maria gave him a sad version of her normally sunny smile. "At least you made it for a little while this time."
Guilt latched onto him, sinking its claws into his shoulders. Talk about feeling like a loser single parent. Lately, his drive to be the best at work had him short-changing his daughter. Sure, he'd landed a prize client today, but the extended negotiations had made him leave the office late, remorse riding shotgun on his mad dash out of the city.
"Come on, Papá." Maria linked their fingers together. "I want you to meet Ms. Yazmine. 'Member, I told you about her."
Ha, it was impossible to forget. All Maria talked about was her new dance instructor. Apparently the lady walked on water.
Maria pointed to a tall, slender woman standing at a corner table up front. The previously crowded room and his anxiety over not being able to find Maria when he'd first arrived had to be the only explanation for his not noticing the beautiful instructor earlier.
Now, there was no missing her.
Ms. Yazmine's black hair was pulled back in a sleek bun low on her nape. On someone else the style might have looked severe. On her, it accentuated her smooth forehead, high cheekbones, elegant neck, and sun-kissed olive skin. She wore a black, figure-hugging spaghetti-strap leotard with tights, and a short, filmy skirt fluttered over the thighs of her long, toned legs.
Hands clasped, feet set in a dance position he couldn't name, Ms. Yazmine had him picturing a different kind of position altogether. One not quite appropriate for their current surroundings.
Heat pooled low in his body. Ay, ay, ay, this woman could sell sand in a desert. She was an ad-man's dream.
Hell, any man's dream.
A guy could probably get used to having a woman like her dancing around in his life.
Tomás sucked in a surprised breath, wondering where that thought had come from.
"Vente." Maria paired her command for him to come with a tug of his hand, dragging him across the floor. "Ms. Yazmine, I want you to meet my papá."
Tomás could have sworn he saw her flinch, but the instructor set her iPod down and slowly turned away from the desk. She gave him a stiff, yet polite, smile.
"My apologies for being late. It's nice to meet you." Tomás held out his hand, noting Ms. Yazmine's hesitation before she placed her cool hand in his.
"I'm glad you could finally join us, Mr. Garcia." She might appear delicate, but her grip was as firm as her voice. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd make it."
There was no missing the reproach. Clearly they were starting off on the wrong note.
"Longer than anticipated meetings, shifting schedules. Sometimes they can't be avoided, no matter how hard I try. But I'm here now, ready to give this a shot." He swung an arm out to encompass the room, tamping down his irritation at having to explain himself. After all, he was twenty minutes late.
Experience, and his mamá's advice, reminded him that he'd catch more flies with leche quemada than vinegar. Something she'd often said as she spread the sweet caramel confection on his morning toast.
"Maria and Mrs. Buckley have been trying to teach me at home, but I've been told you're the expert."
Yazmine arched a brow. Probably letting him know she wouldn't buy his compliment so easily. Strangely, he found that appealing.
"I appreciate the thought," she said. "My students make my job easy though. They work hard both in and out of class."
"Well, I've got a mean salsa. I can handle a merengue, or a Mexican polka, but ballet ...?" He shook his head with a grimace. "Not really one of my strong suits."
"I can probably help with that." The edges of her generous mouth curved up, smoothing the censure from her voice.
Aha! A crack in her prima donna shell.
"Sí, Papá can't really get the grapevine." Maria's dark brown curls bounced as she crisscrossed her feet to demonstrate the step. "But I said you could help him. 'Cuz you helped me. You're the bestest dancer in the whole world."
Yazmine knelt down to Maria's eye level, flashing her a genuine smile brimming with warmth. An uncomfortable pang rippled through him as he wondered what it would be like to have Yazmine smile at him in the same welcoming way.
He cut the thought off before it went any further, his sense of self-preservation sharpened in the years since his divorce.
"Thanks for your vote of confidence," Ms. Yazmine told Maria. "Even better, I love seeing you so excited about dancing." She tapped Maria's nose gently, eliciting a giggle Tomás hadn't heard often enough in the two months since he'd moved them out of Chicago and into the more family-friendly suburbs forty-five minutes northwest of the city.
Right now, he didn't quite know what to make of Yazmine Fernandez. Her engaging smile and lithe body captivated him. Her subtle reprimand rankled. But he'd kiss the ground she walked on if she helped his daughter shake off her recently acquired reticence. He missed Maria's spunkiness.
Nothing he'd tried, not an impromptu trip to the zoo or an afternoon picnic in Grant Park, had helped. She'd been outgoing and talkative in her old kindergarten class. Here in Oakton, she'd withdrawn and still wasn't quite comfortable with others.
"I'm gonna be a famous dancer just like you." Maria's brown eyes lit up like Christmas morning.
"Sounds like a good plan. Why don't you go grab a quick drink from the fountain while I chat with your papá?"
"Okay!" Maria skipped off and Yazmine rose with a grace she'd undoubtedly acquired from a million or so dance classes.
"You're great with her," Tomás said.
"She's a pleasure to have in class. All my students are."
Alluring and comfortable with kids.
Stepping closer to the desk, Yazmine picked up a white binder. "Actually, I've found that any problems I encounter teaching are few and far between." She flicked a quick glance his way. "And rarely involve the children themselves."
There it was again, the hint of admonition from her. It pricked his conscience, making him feel like a front-runner for Worst Father of the Year.
Damn. He tightened his jaw, uncertain whom he was annoyed with more. Her for making the assumption or himself for having to admit that she might have a point.
"I take it you see me as one of those problems."
"I don't mean it to sound that way." Yazmine's chest rose and fell on a sigh. "Maria really wants to perform this routine in the Christmas show. Honestly, I'd love for the two of you to share that experience. But if you check the attendance sheet, I'm not sure it's going to be possible."
Yazmine leaned toward him so he could peer at the open binder with her. The scent of violets wafted in the air, tickling his nose. Unable to resist, he dragged in a deep breath, filling his lungs with her tantalizing perfume.
"Even though this is a special performance, the Hanson Academy of Dance attendance policy still applies. If a dancer had this many absences in a class for another number, we'd pull him from the show." Yazmine tapped the page in front of them.
He followed her pink-tipped finger from his neatly printed name across the row of spaces that should have been checked off to indicate his attendance. The blank spaces were glaring proof of his parental shortcomings.
The violets enveloping him withered, choked by the remorse settling around him like a toxic mushroom cloud.
"I'm doing my best." The words were more of a muttered curse, pushed through his gritted teeth.
"Please, you don't have to defend yourself to me." Yazmine pressed the open binder to her chest, concern blanketing her face. "Maria's the one who needs to know that this is important to you."
He gave her a curt nod, not trusting his voice to betray his growing frustration. Maybe he wasn't doing such a class-act job at parenting, but with his nanny's help he'd learn. Get better. He and Maria would be fine. Failure was not an option.
"Look, I shouldn't have —" Yazmine broke off. Her lips pulled down with resignation. "I simply want you to be aware of the situation. That's all."
Tomás was tempted to walk away, but he kept his feet firmly planted. He hadn't run from anything in his entire life. Now was not the time to start. No way would a simple father-daughter dance or an appealing yet prickly instructor get the best of him. Maria depended on him.
"Why don't we see how it goes today, and then we'll take it from there," Yazmine offered as the students returned.
Maria skip-hopped into the room. With a sweet grin that instantly relaxed his shoulders, she waved him over to join her in the back line of dancers. The breath-stealing tightness in his chest instantly eased. At the same time, his resolve to do his best for her hardened like quick-drying cement.
Yazmine blinked at his brusque tone.
"Don't worry. I can do this," he assured her, softening his words with a smile. "I won't let my daughter, or you, down." He made a silly face at Maria and she giggled and, that easily, wrapped him around her finger a little tighter.
From the moment he'd held her tiny squirming body in his arms, he'd vowed to do whatever it took to make his baby girl happy. Nothing would change that.
Tomás slipped off his suit jacket and tossed it over the barre. Then he pocketed his cufflinks and deftly rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt as he moved next to Maria. The opening strains of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" filled the studio once more.
"Here we go, everyone! Five, six, seven, eight." Yazmine clapped as she counted out the beats.
Beside him, Maria counted aloud as well, the same way they'd practiced at home. He tried following along, but with his thoughts lingering on the intriguing instructor, he fumbled the opening steps.
"Ay, Papá, the other way." Maria nudged him with her elbow when he nearly collided with the dad next to them.
"Yeah, I know," he grumbled.
Great. It probably looked like he'd never practiced at home at all. Maybe Ms. Yazmine hadn't noticed.
He peeked up at her to check.
Her lips quirked with the hint of a teasing smirk he should have found annoying rather than enticing, she exaggerated her steps for him to catch on.
Before long, Tomás understood why Maria was so enamored with her teacher. Why Maria brimmed with excitement when she spoke of her dance class.
Yazmine Fernandez was great at what she did, full of a vibrant, intoxicating energy. Whether calling out the next move with encouragement, or waving her left hand at a dad reaching out to twist his daughter toward him with the wrong arm, she showed absolutely no sign of impatience. Her pride and delight in her job were palpable forces.
He could relate to that.
In spite of the negative tone of their earlier conversation, her charisma and charm beckoned him like a front porch light welcoming a weary traveler too long on the road. Too long on his own.
Excerpted from "His Perfect Partner"
Copyright © 2017 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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