Heartfelt, sexy, and always savvy, author Carmen Rita’s new novel follows four wildly successful best friends as they tackle unforeseen challenges, struggle to keep it together—and learn how to let go...
They’ve had each other’s backs through major changes—and maximum bad news. But now Cat, Magda, Gabi, and Luz find unexpected drama from their pasts threatening their bond, along with everything they've fought to build.
Always upfront and out-there in her career, Cat won big with her solo online interview show. However, risking romantic commitment will mean confronting her deepest fears—and a stunning secret.
Hotshot investor Magda finally has a stable, happy life. But with her worst mistake about to go viral, how far will she push a friend—and break the rules—to stop it?
It took a lot of self-help for sensitive therapist Gabi to start over. A sizzling new love now offers some straight-up delicious healing—but honesty can be one dangerous illusion...
Wealthy socialite Luz will do whatever it takes to care for her newfound teenage half-sister. But a life-changing choice is putting more than their still-fragile relationship on the line...
Now what these close friends don't know about each other will test everything they believe about themselves. And finding the courage to understand and the strength to forgive will be their only chance to come to terms, move on—and live for real.
Praise for Carmen Rita’s Never Too Real
“Rita's debut novel reads a bit like a multicultural edition of Sex and the City…Brimming with smart dialogue and ricocheting plot twists.” Kirkus Reviews
“This deliciously fun read is perfect for fans of Kimberla Lawson Roby or Jennifer Weiner.” Booklist
“A funny, witty, and beautiful novel…Rita’s debut novel leaves readers hoping for more fiction in the future.”–RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“Empowering novel about four ambitious, successful, career-driven Latinas whose close-knit friendship makes the bond between Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte look positively flimsy.” – Latina Magazine
“The summer's smartest sexy beach read…. Will stay with you long after the last delicious pages are done.” New York Times bestselling author Veronica Chambers
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
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Never Too Late
By Carmen Rita
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Malecon Productions, LLC
All rights reserved.
"You haven't spoken to your mom, still?" The woman's question landed with a scold.
"Not all of us have a wonderful mother like you, Luzita." The answer came from her friend with a loving, if envious, eye roll as the women sat arm to arm at the oak bar.
Luz dropped her empty oyster shell and sighed. She gazed at the pearly inside in the dim lights of the restaurant bar. Reflected within: the unlined, deep brown skin of Luz Tucker Lee's high cheekbones. Behind the two women, who were perched above the fray, the bustle of the busy seafood spot filled in the quiet between them.
"I know," Luz said. "But it's not like mine doesn't have her own problems, m-kay?"
"You got that right." Luz's dinner companion was her dear friend Catalina Rosa Rivera. "Cat" was a thirty-something former national television host, now a big face in Web video. She was happier now that she was her own boss, though not as financially secure. Raised by a Chicana single mother who she referred to as "Dragon Lady" ("Tiger Mom" would have been too placid), Cat wondered if and when she'd speak again to the woman who gave birth to her.
"Can I ask, Luz ... I mean ... Do you ever get angry at her? For, you know ... not telling you?" Cat stammered as she avoided too much eye contact. Luz's mother was wildly better than hers as a parent, but as they all had found out lately, she was far from perfect. Some very dirty family laundry had come to air. It was shocking to have a parent on a pedestal for decades only to see her tumble down from gold to bronze. Cat was sincerely curious and concerned about her friend, as well as looking for a wee break in the veneer of happiness and love that Luz had with her mother. Cat wanted to feel normal at being so pained by her own mother-daughter relationship. She wanted to feel less alone.
"Yeah, I mean, sure. I was mad. I was disappointed." Eighteen months prior — Luz had been keeping count, the day and date burned into her mind like char in a musty fireplace — she discovered that though she was raised by an upwardly mobile immigrant mother and a blue-blooded, wealthy, black professional father and had grown up between a historic townhouse in Harlem and a rambling colonial on Martha's Vineyard, her biological father was something else altogether. He was a now-incarcerated Dominican gangster. It was too close to a stereotype for Luz. But all stereotypes are built on some form of reality. Her privileged black-Latino family was its own cliché in some circles. But now, her circle had been redefined.
This man, her biological father, had been a brief love of her mother during a break from her relationship with Luz's father — her father, the one who raised her, the successful, educated one. Not the one in prison. Nope. He's not my father. Not really.
And to add to the news of that day, that scorched-brick day, the impetus for the truth bubbling to the surface: Luz was gifted with the discovery of a sister, the young teen daughter of this man. The girl's mother was dead, her father behind bars, and Luz was now raising her along with her own brood. She was her biological sister, but still just another child to care for.
"You know, I was mad for a minute, Cat. But, thinking about what she went through at that age, what her choices were ... I think she made the right choice."
Cat raised a brow.
"Look, the lying sucks. It sucks. That just really was the worst part. And funny enough, I'm not really sure why. I mean, I turned out okay, but what would have happened had I known? What if I had had a relationship with this guy? I could have thought that I was no better than him and ended up in some bad places, sabes?"
Cat shrugged. "Yeah. That's true."
"Look. I know you need some time with your mother, but remember that our mamis come from very different places than we do. They had very different lives."
Cat nodded, processing. She munched on toasted sourdough.
Luz changed her tone a bit, moving from a lecture to an open heart. "They're not like us, hon. Our mothers are made of different stuff. They grew up in a different time. What helped me a lot was doing the whole putting-myself-in-her-shoes thing. What did the world look like to her back then? What choices did she have? Compared to us, they didn't have many."
"I know. You're right. But when she's in my life, it's like I can't move through everything — she's tied to me like an anchor, dragging me down. Like cement shoes, girl!" Luz chuckled at her friend's dramatic visual.
A cloud of sadness moved across Cat's angular face, a foggy veil Luz didn't want to see slide so heavily over her friend's eyes. Cat continued, "Luz, I wish your mother had raised me. But what I have right now is myself, and I can't move forward with her yanking at me."
Luz had spent the past year encouraging Cat to feel strong and proud of walking away from a life she wasn't happy with. The life that Cat felt her mother — Dolores, a name that meant sorrow — had shaped and molded for her. Straight As in school, Ivy League undergrad, ambitious local producer, even hosting her own daily TV show covering business and finance. It was a world where a brown girl with a Latin name and Mexican heritage could stand out, plow through with the force of a freight train, taking names the whole way. Cat was proud of all she'd done, even sometimes stunned at her own drive, but once her success was in place, many times she'd looked back at her bio and wondered, Who was that, who did all that? And why?
Luz nodded. "I get it, sister, I get it." She did understand. Not as if she'd like the idea of her new "father" in prison blowin' up her cell, always asking or pressuring for something like Cat's mom tended to do. That would be horrifying. "Okay, but here's the real question, you zzzexy thang ..." They were both a bit buzzed now.
"Okay, now, stop that, because I am still workin' on droppin' that baby weight, mama!" Cat rubbed her barely there paunch.
"When are you and my brother getting married?!" Luz pressed.
"So this is why you insisted on a night out just us gals, huh?!" Cat teased.
"Maybe," Luz mumbled, and smiled.
Cat responded, "Hon, I just want to make sure, okay?" "Make sure of what?!"
"I dunno. Make sure I know what I'm doing, I guess."
"Ay, hon." Luz redistributed the plates on their table, choreographing the clearing of the oyster platter and bread for the luxe bar bites of grilled octopus and fried manchego.
Cat dug in. "Luz, I love him to pieces. You know that. Dios, he's the best. Just beyond." Luz blushed at Cat's description of her younger brother. She had to agree that he was a pretty damn fine catch. Not to say that she wasn't absolutely shocked at the revelation that one of her oldest friends in the city, Cat, had been sneaking around with her brother. Well, it wasn't sneaking per se, but they did keep their relationship on the down low mostly because of Cat's mother. Dolores was an old-school racist. She was devastated to learn that her daughter was having a baby with a black man. Cat had decided not to spring Dolores on her partner, as she was already on bad terms with her after losing her television show, the biggest trophy her mother carried in her social case. She had tried to do it over the phone when she learned she was pregnant, to keep Dolores involved somewhat but enough out of arm's reach to maintain her own bravery in the face of potential discord. If Dolores threw something, it wouldn't be able to hit her over the airwaves. And, rather than having to run out the door, she could just hang up. After thirty seconds of Dolores wailing and screaming in Spanish, blasting through her cell at not only the news of an unmarried pregnancy, but the father's blackness, Cat did what she thought would save her sanity, her mind, and her heart. She did just that. She hung up on her mother. Maybe for good.
"Luz, honestly, I'm scared," Cat said.
Luz took a long sip of her second glass of wine while Cat sipped on her first, still getting the hang of drinking again even a year after giving birth. Cat wished she could swig it, hard. Shake off the tiny little fingers of guilt pressing into her neck, squeezing her into standing too still, sometimes, too scared.
"What are you scared of, Catalina?"
"Luz. My father left us. And look, I know that Tomas would never do that. I know that, really." She held up her hand to ward off the words she knew were about to come at her.
"Tomas would never leave you guys," Luz assured her as a big sister could.
"But, girl, my head knows one thing but my heart is yelling too loud. It's too scared of being left alone — a single mom, like my mother was —"
Luz interrupted. "But, no! No, Cat. You know he won't do that. He won't. And being married or not doesn't change if he's going to go or not. If anything, isn't he more likely to go because you're not married? Not that he would leave. I'm just saying."
Cat shrank on her bar stool a few inches. She felt terrible about her baggage. She felt it was unfair. Or was it? She was uncertain. "Luz, I know," Cat whispered, as low as possible while still being heard over the din. "But, I need to get there, okay? I need to know that marriage to Tomas, marriage in general, will work. And I don't know why I equate a further commitment with him going away — I don't know why, but I need to get there myself, okay? Maybe it's because he was married before. I dunno."
Luz took it in. She adored her very successful younger brother. The one who knew the family secret before she did. The one who her "father" in prison contacted to ask for help — to ask for Luz to take care of her sister. Their sister. The brother who kept his relationship with Cat to himself for a while, thinking it bad form to gush about his new love while his family took on the opening of a very riled-up chapter in their lives. Though Luz knew it was more likely he kept quiet because he'd come out of a failed starter marriage and didn't want anyone to think that he was going to hurt one of his sister's dearest friends, and he had to make sure, himself, that it was going to last.
But the addition of a teenage girl? A new sister from the hood who had to be loved so deeply and hard that she wouldn't slip into the cracks of thinking she was no better than the man she was born to. That man in prison. Father.
And now, Cat had become another member of her family. Not just a friend anymore, the mother of her baby niece, a delicious Mexican-Dominican-African-American almost-toddler, Alma Thelma Tucker. Luz's own children were half-Asian and she felt blessed that her Chinese-American husband, Chris Lee, the founder of a sold-for-millions Web business, the made-good son of immigrants who settled in Queens, was inured to the stares and questions his very blended family could get once they all ventured outside of New York City or Los Angeles. Shoot, Luz remembered all the times they still got eyeballed even on the Upper East Side. Some people.
Some people don't realize that family is family. No matter where they come from or what color they are. I should listen to myself.
"Cat. We're family now. Whether you marry Tomas or not, we're not going away. I mean, I can't guarantee what my brother will do, but I can tell you that you're stuck with us — the whole familia! — no matter what that pendejo does! Knowwhattamean?!" Luz's arms stretched as wide as she could Her smile was as broad as the long, crowded bar.
"I know, mama, I know." Cat grinned back, letting herself fall into Luz's embrace as her friend kissed the top of her head.
"But, there's my mom ..."
"Oh yes, there's that...." Luz responded but deflected, rather than getting back onto that somber track. She looked at the bright side and raised her glass to make a toast.
"Here's to our crazy little brown, black, yellow, white babies who will soon take over the world!"
Cat couldn't resist that, the image of their mini tribe of tots and now a teen, their wild hair and wide eyes filled with the promises that their own mothers wished upon them, now fulfilled. The image forced a wide grin onto Cat's once-worried face.
"Niñas y familia!" Cat returned the toast as they clinked their glasses and took a drink.
"And, to our crazy mamas," Luz said.
"Yup, to our crazy mamas ... May the 'crazy' end with their generation." They toasted and drank again. Cat added silently in her head, And may my darling baby Alma be spared my mother's poison. Then, maybe everything will turn out okay....CHAPTER 2
There were no sounds of children giggling or arguing, no rustling of cereal boxes being shaken empty, no yelled requests to turn on the TV on a weekend morning. Magda felt a slight pang, missing the chaos of her children, Ilsa and Nico. Her oldest girl, bossy as all heck, just like her ma, would usually be home, trying to watch her tween shows while her younger brother begged for his cartoons and superheroes. The tug of missing them dissipated as Magdalena Reveron de Soto realized what this stillness — courtesy of her children's mother taking them for the weekend — meant. Magda smiled to herself as she lay in bed with her wife of just over a year. Cherokee's back was to her and she murmured an mmmm, still groggy.
Magda caressed her wife's arm. "Mornin', sexy." But as Cherokee rolled over with a smile, the landline rang.
"Who is calling this house right now?!" Magda checked her cell phone first to see if she'd missed any calls or texts from her ex about the kids, while the old-school ring blared on.
"Mags, puh-lease, pick that up," Cherokee muttered under the pillow she held over her head.
As Magda reached over to see the caller ID, she said, "Oh man, it's my dad."
"Your dad —" Cherokee was cut off by Magda's quick picking up of the call.
"Papi, hi. ... Qué pasa?" Magda got out of bed, her phone to her ear, her long, heather gray, designer tee hanging to her mid-thigh and off one shoulder. She used her left hand to smooth down her short, wheat-hued hair.
Magda had had a zero relationship with her father for more than ten years. As his oldest, she had spent her childhood groomed by both her parents to follow the traditions of a well-off, doctor-led, Venezuelan immigrant family living in Miami. Statuesque, golden-haired, and whip smart, Magda was entered in beauty pageants and cast in commercials for local television from the age of eight. She nearly won Miss Miami her senior year of high school. If only she hadn't flubbed — possible self-sabotage — the talent portion, which in her case was playing the flamenco guitar. She loved what the guitar did to her fingers. She took pride in her callused digits, an outward sign of what she felt inside, rough. Her fingers itched when she thought back to her now-lost hobby. But back then, she was hard-worked, pent-up, pretty, but not so perfect as everyone thought.
Her father had had so many hopes and dreams for her, not to mention local Ivy League suitors to marry her off to. "Think of my grandchildren!" he'd say. Never, Magda would tell herself. I'm never having children. Well, not with a man, anyway. She had thought that her father's love for her, and the love of her mother and extended family, would mean that they would accept her for who she was and as a person. Her sisters not as much, as she was only close with one out of the three, the others resentful of the attention given to her, the firstborn, the "golden child," they called her. A sister, a daughter, who was very much female but who didn't want to wear heels and lipstick anymore, or have relationships with men.
When Magda came home during a college break scrubbed clean of the usual feminine accoutrements, flaunting her new, buzzed short hair, looking much more like a teenage boy-band idol than a former beauty queen, her father refused to speak to her again. Ever. She was iced out and financially disowned. Her mother, traditional in her own ways and subservient to her husband, seemed to follow suit. But Mama Carolina had other plans. She may not have understood her daughter's choices, but she understood that this was still her daughter, her flesh and blood, always. That trumped every decision her daughter made, every bad turn, every venture into what Carolina was raised to think immoral. Within a month, like a corporate whistle-blower, Carolina had purchased a cell phone specifically to call her daughter without her husband's knowledge.
Excerpted from Never Too Late by Carmen Rita. Copyright © 2017 Malecon Productions, LLC. 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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