Read an Excerpt
Justin Stern pulled his Porsche 911 to a stop in the parking lot of the Miami-Dade County Zoning Offices. As the corporate attorney and co-owner of Luna Azul he was always busy and he liked that. Unlike his younger brother Nate, who was out partying every night and keeping the nightclub in the public eye, Justin preferred the quiet comfort of his office. He had worked hard to make sure that Luna Azul was where it was today from a financial perspective and he was determined to see it continue to grow.
That's what he was doing here todayensuring that the future of the club didn't just rely on the nightclub crowd. He had negotiated the purchase of a strip mall that was run-down and in desperate need of repair. He'd researched the deed and found that it had changed hands about ten years ago and that had been the start of the disrepair of the buildings.
He envisioned an outdoor plaza with restaurants and shops that would help revitalize the area and bring a new revenue stream into the Luna Azul Company.
All he needed to do was file the final paperwork here today, and they could proceed with the expansion plans.
It was a beautiful spring morning, but he took no notice of it as he walked to the building. He took the stairs to the eleventh floor instead of the elevator because elevators really weren't an efficient use of time. He was happy to see there were only two other people in the waiting room. He took a number from the reception desk and then took a seat next to a very pretty Latina woman.
She had thick hair that curled around her face and shoulders in soft waves. Her skin was flawless, her olive complexion making her brown eyes seem even bigger. Her lips were full and pouty; he found he couldn't tear his eyes from her face until she raised one eyebrow at him.
"I'm not a creep," he said with a self-effacing grin. "You're just breathtaking."
She flushed and rolled her eyes. "As if I'd believe that line."
"Why wouldn't you?" he asked, turning to face her.
"I'm used to smooth-talking men," she said. "I can spot one a mile away."
"Just because I'm complimenting you doesn't mean that I'm BSing you," he said. She was really lovely and he liked the soft sound of her voice. She was well put together. He had no idea of designers or fashion but her clothes looked nicefeminine. For the first time in a very long time he didn't mind having to wait.
"I suspect you can be very charming when you put your mind to it," she said.
"Perhaps," he said. "Not really. I'm usually straight to the point."
"You don't strike me as blunt," she said.
"I am," he said. He wasn't giving her a lineshe really was gorgeous. She had caught his eye and distracted him. And he didn't mind at all. That was the surprising part for him. "Your eyes are so big, I could get lost in them."
"Your eyes are so blue that they look like the waters in Fiji."
He laughed out loud. "Is that what I sound like to you?"
"Yes," she said with a smile. "Honestly, I'm not all that."
She was all that and a lot more, but he wasn't the best when it came to talking to women. In a corporate boardroom or at a negotiating table he was the best but one-on-one when he was interested in a girl well that was when he got caught up.
"What brings you here?" he asked, then shook his head. "Zoning."
"Zoning," she said at the same time. "I'm here to file an injunction.
"Is it for your own company or a client?" he asked, wanting to know more.
"My grandparents think that an outside company is trying to buy their property and turn it into some big commercial club. So I'm checking it out for them."
"Do you live here in Miami then? Or just your grandparents?"
"My entire family lives here," she said. "But I live in New York."
"Oh. So ours will have to be a long-distance relationship," he said.
She raised her eyebrow at him. "This relationship might not make it out of the waiting room."
"I'm not giving up on us so easily," he said.
"Good. One of us should fight for this," she said, deadpan.
"I guess it will be me," he said with a grin. He couldn't help it. Something about this woman just made him smile.
A nattily dressed man came to the counter. "Number fifteen."
She glanced at the paper in her hand. "That's me."
"Just my luck. Any chance you'll give me your number?"
She tucked a thick strand of her hair behind her ear and reached into her handbag. "Here's my card. My cell number is on the bottom."
"I will call you," he said.
"I hope so what's your name?"
"Justin," he said standing up and taking the card from her, but he didn't look at it. "Justin Stern. And what should I call you other than beautiful?"
She was quiet a moment as she looked him over, a light going on in her eyes. "Selena," she said. "Selena Gonzalez."
She walked away and he watched every sway of her hips. Then her name registered. Gonzalez was the last name of Tomas's big-gun lawyer and granddaughter. Selena Gonzalez wait a minute; he was lusting after the corporate lawyer Tomas Gonzalez had called in from New York to stop his plans for the strip mall.
That wasn't cool.
Dammit, he wanted to call her. It wasn't very often he met a woman who got his rather odd sense of humor and could banter with him. But now.
Then again, she didn't live here. She was in town for a few weeks at most, he thought. That made her the perfect woman for him.
Was he out of his mind? She was gumming up the plans he'd worked hard for. And if she was anything like her grandfather, she'd be stubborn and unwilling to realize that change was necessary if they were going to keep their section of Calle Ocho alive and kicking.
Selena Gonzalez left the zoning board with the information she needed and an injunction in hand. The emergency call from her grandfather three days ago made it sound like there was going to be a big bad company trying to take away her grandparents' market. From the information she just received.well, she still wasn't sure.
Justin Stern had intrigued her and made her wish that he was a stranger. But she'd heard enough about the smooth-talking rich boy who was trying to muscle out her grandparents to know that Justin wasn't the Mr. Congenial he had portrayed in the waiting room.
If the Luna Azul Company did succeed in developing the old strip mall that housed her grandparents' business now she had a feeling their neighborhood would change. She'd seen the plans that had been submitted by the companythey showed an upscale shopping area designed to bring tourists into the neighborhood. That wasn't what her grandparents' Latin American grocery store was about, but it wasn't the nightclub they feared would be built, either.
As she drove home, she took in the lush, tropical sights of Miami. Her family had wanted her home for a long time. She acknowledged to herself that if it hadn't been for this legal emergency she'd still be ignoring their pleas.
This area made her.it made her all the things that she didn't like about herself. When she was home she was impulsive and passionate. And made stupid decisionslike giving her number to a handsome stranger in a waiting room.
And after all that had happened with Raul ten years ago, she'd been afraid to come back home. She hadn't wanted to face her past or the memories that lingered everywhere she went in her old home and her old neighborhood. As she parked in front of her grandparents' house, she drew a deep breath.
"Did you get the injunction?" her grandfather asked, the minute she stepped through the door.
He wasn't an overly tall manprobably no more than five-eleven. Life had been good to Tomas Gonzalez and he wore his success with a gently rounded stomach. He could be tough as nails in business but he always had a smile for his family and a hug and kiss for her. One of fifteen grandchildren that lived in a three-block radius of his house, Selena had always felt well loved in this home. Especially after her parents' death eleven years ago. A drunk driver had taken both of her parents from her in one accident, leaving her little brother and her alone to face the world. Her grandparents had stepped in but it hadn't been the same.
"I did, abuelito," she said. "And tomorrow I will go down to the Luna Azul Company offices and talk to them about our terms if they still want to go ahead with their plans."
She sat down at the large butcher-block table in the kitchen. The kitchen was the one room where they spent most of their time at her grandparents' house. Her grandmother was in the other room watching her shows.
"Very good, tata. I told you we needed you," he said. Tata was his nickname for herjust a sweet little endearment that made her feel loved every time he used it. "Those Stern brothers think they can come in and buy up all our property but they aren't part of our community."
"Abuelito, the Luna Azul Company has been a part of the community for ten years. From what they told me in the zoning office, they've done a lot for our community."
Her grandfather threw his hands up in the air. "Nothing, tata, that's what they have done for our community."
She laughed at him. She was used to his being passionate, even melodramatic about Little Havana. Her grandfather was part of the pre-communist Cubaan energetic and creative environmentand he'd brought that with him to Miami when he'd become an exile. He still talked about Cuba with fond memories. It was a Cuba that no longer existed, but his stories were always enjoyable.
"What are you two laughing at?" her grandmother asked, coming in to refill her espresso cup with sugar and coffee.
"Those Stern brothers," her grandfather said. "I think Selena is just what we need to keep them in their place."
Her grandmother sat down beside her. She smelled of coffee and the gardenia perfume she'd always worn. She wrapped her arm around Selena's shoulder. "You promised to stay until summer, tata. Will you be able to take care of all this by then?"
She hugged her grandmother back. "Definitely. I want to make sure that you get the most out of this new development."
"Good. We want to own our market the way we used to," Grandfather said.
Selena felt a pang around her heart as she realized that the reason they didn't own their own market was because of her. They were mere renters in the market the Sterns planned to develop, but once they had owned the place. Until Selena messed everything up. She had to make this right for them. "I met Justin Stern at the zoning office. So I will set up a meeting with him," Selena assured her grandparents.
"Good," her grandmother said. "I am going back to my shows. Are you staying at your house?"
"I haven't decided yet," she said. She still owned a house here. She didn't know if she wanted to go back and stay in it all alone. But staying here wasn't a solution; after living alone for so long, she needed her space.
She shrugged. "What's the use of owning a house if you never use it."
"I will send Maria over to make sure it's clean and ready for you," her grandmother said.
"That's not necessary," Selena said. Her grandparents were the caretakers of the old Florida house while she was in New York. It was the house she'd lived in with Raul while they'd both been in school at the University of Miami. There were a lot of memories in that place.
"I can clean it out if I need to," Selena said.
"No. We will make it ready for you. You concentrate on Luna Azul and Justin Stern," Grandfather said.
She shook her head. "He's a very charming man, abuelita. Have you met him?"
"No, but abuelito has, several times. You find him shrewd, right?" her grandmother said, turning to her husband.
"Si. Very shrewd and very he watches people and then he makes an offer that is exactly right for you. He's like the devil."
Selena laughed, thinking that her grandfather's observation was spot on. "He is silver-tongued."
"Si. Watch yourself, tata. You don't want to fall for another man like that," her grandfather said.
She wrapped an arm around her own waist as her grandmother got to her feet and yelled at her grandfather in Spanish, telling him to let sleeping dogs lie. Selena quietly left the kitchen, going into the backyard and finding a seat on the bench nestled between blooming hibiscus plants underneath a large tree covered with orchids.
She'd stayed away for so long because of Raul and everything that had happened between them. But now that she was back she was going to have to face her past and really move on from it. Not run away as she'd done before. And she liked the thought of focusing on Justin Stern. He was just the man she needed to forget the past and start to live again here.
Justin signed a few papers that were waiting for his signature and then sent his administrative assistant out for lunch. An injunction. Selena Gonzalez with her sexy body and big eyes had filed an injunction against the company to keep them from beginning with their construction work until they proved that they were using local vendors. Now their plans for a ground-breaking in conjunction with the tenth anniversary gala was going to be slowed down if not halted. "Got a minute?"
Justin glanced up to see his older brother Cameron standing in the doorway. Cam was dressed in business casual, as was his way. He was the one who ran the club and made sure the business there was on track. Unlike Justin, who always wore a suit and spent the majority of his time at his office here in the downtown high-rise complex.
"Sure. What's up?"
"How'd things go at the zoning office?" Cam asked, coming inside and sitting down in one of the leather armchairs in front of his desk.
"Not so good. The Gonzalez family filed an injunction against the building. I'm going to spend the afternoon working on the paperwork we need to file in response. I'm hoping to speak with their lawyer later and see if we can negotiate some kind of deal."
"Damn. I wanted to have the ground-breaking at the tenth anniversary celebration. I was also hoping we could maybe sign up some new, high-profile tenants, but this could put a damper on things."
"I will do what I can to make it happen. Don't get your hopes up, the neighbors and existing tenants in that market don't like us."
"Use your charm to convince them otherwise," Cam said.