Angel Gomez has never lived by the book. A Bronx-based unwed mother by the time she was sixteen, Angel’s personal mission has always been to show the world that a Puerto Rican girl is not to be messed withespecially by a man. The only thing that matters to Angel, now, is providing for her son and earning enough tips at the club to complete her nursing degree along the way. Love is nowhere on her agenda.
Caleb “The Duke” Lewis is a star pitcher for the Bronx Bolts whose romantic escapades make delicious fodder for gossip columns. But lately he’s been trying to keep a lower profileso much so that when he meets Angel, first while she’s in her nurse uniform and the next time behind the bar, she has no idea who Duke is, fails to fall for his obvious charm, and ends up throwing a drink in his face! She is the perfect woman for Duke...to fool the tabloids into thinking he’s finally settling down. But what begins as a charade soon has Duke and Angel hurtling into a full-blown romance that rocks each of their worlds and begs the question: Is this the real dealor are some love stories just too good to be true?
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.58(w) x 8.22(h) x 0.78(d)|
About the Author
Holly Lörincz is a successful collaborative writer and owner of Lorincz Literary Services. She is an award-winning novelist (Smart Mouth, The Everything Girl) and co-author (best-selling Crown Heights, and How to Survive a Day in Prison) living in Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
Angel Gomez hissed under her breath.
Claro. Of course. If she was going to get a paper cut, it would be from the page illustrating the male reproductive system. The twenty-three-year-old sucked at the thin line of blood on the web of her hand, squinting hard at the flayed cojones in her anatomy textbook.
As a nursing student, Angel knew the male anatomy — from the bulb to the external urinary meatus — but her ability to reel off the Latin names of penis parts seemed to scare the living, breathing version away.
Not that I want a man, she reminded herself, her inner voice stern. Focus, girl.
Dark spirals of hair popped free from her ponytail as she bent closer to her textbook. Concentration was elusive. She closed the window next to her with a shriek of metal on metal, shutting out the gray February breeze and the number 4 train running on the elevated tracks down Jerome Avenue. She tilted her head, listened.
What is that?
Breathing. It was gaspy, heavy breathing, coming from the depths of the worn corduroy couch behind her.
Angel twisted in her chair. "Jose," she said, too loudly, knocking pages of lecture notes off her makeshift desk on the radiator.
"Mama, I'm fine," the seven-year-old boy muttered. He turned up the live radio stream coming from the decrepit laptop and avoided her eyes.
"Go get your inhaler. Now."
"Just a minute. The Duke is about to pitch."
Faintly, she could hear Suzyn Waldman, longtime announcer for the Bronx Bolts, adding color to a local charity game. "He's winding up and ... another beauty, right over the plate ... Ohh no, the batter's hit a hard foul right into the dugout." The announcer clucked, but then, "What's this? The Duke seems to want off the mound."
"No!" Jose yelled at the computer, as if it could hear his complaint.
"His ankle may still be giving him problems."
"Jose! What'd I tell you?"
Jose's face shone with perspiration as he stomped past her, wheezing down the hall to his room. That beautiful pouty face, she thought. His bronze complexion, a shade darker than hers, was the perfect blend of her and his father. Jose's dad was long gone, however — the high school quarterback had disappeared when he found out his fifteen-year-old girlfriend was pregnant, but not before slapping her around, yelling, "That ain't my kid." Angel had shoved him into the hallway, slammed the door in his face. She didn't want him. She didn't need him.
Two years after Jose was born, her mother died. Angel was seventeen. She almost buckled from the pressure of the responsibility to care for another, tiny human. She had no safety net. His dark eyes, staring up at her with such adoration ... She'd shoved steel into her spine, stood up straight, and vowed her boy would be safe, happy, and healthy on her watch.
And she was doing it.
In a few more weeks, she'd be done with nursing school and would take her final boards. She survived by putting her head down and pushing through, focused on getting them out of this decrepit apartment building filled with dust and screeching train brakes. She kept the rest of the world's bullshit at arm's length.
"Usted va a la escuela, muestran al mundo que las niñas puertorriqueñas no deben ser," Mama said. You go to college, show the world Puerto Rican girls are not to be messed with.
There was a small inheritance when she died. Angel used the money and grants and side jobs to pay for the student nursing program at Bronx Community College. But with a child, it wasn't easy. Her lab partners would compare notes on grinding sessions and Beyoncé's salty AF concerts while she wrote reminders to pick up diapers and Goldfish crackers. Thank God for Gabriela — her Dominican neighbor had bullied her way into their lives a few years ago, insisting on helping with Jose. "Auntie" Gabriela treated them like family.
Angel stooped and gathered her homework from the apartment floor. She'd been working on it since returning home from morning practicum rounds. The medical training taught her to recognize Jose's triggers and how to deal with the onset of an asthma attack, but, really, she needed a good-paying job. A nursing job.
"Mi chiquito?" she called out. She and Jose had exchanged less than ten words that day, which had included Can you keep it down? I've got to study. As she scrabbled for air beneath an avalanche of schoolwork and practicums and part-time jobs, he got the short end of the stick.
She looked at the clock and the guilt bubbled up in her stomach. How can it be time to go to work already? She hated her nights at the Peacock. Her teeth clenched at the thought of the handsy men in their tailored suits and the entitled women with their eyes focused on the air above her forehead while they ordered their lavender-infused martinis. It took all her willpower not to throw the shade right back in their faces, with force. But the tips at the high-end club were too good. Those bitches and their flowery drinks pay my rent.
There was a knock at the door. Gabriela had come to get Jose and bring him with her downstairs, so he could hang out with her and the other stylists in Gabriela's beauty salon while Angel catered to the rich.
"Come in!" she shouted, and made her way back to Jose's room, picking up socks and a baseball mitt along the way. She pushed open his door, "Baby, how many times do I need to tell you to —"
Her heart lurched.
The student nurse at the local medical clinic's intake desk scrunched up her pink face as Angel glared at her. She and Angel were both in their early twenties, and in the same classes, but Theresa was routinely mistaken for a high school candy striper fresh from cheerleading practice.
"Angel, you know as well as I —"
"Look here, girl, you've got eyes in your head. Get the doctor. Now!" Angel gestured at the small boy huddled on Gabriela's lap in the waiting room, ashen-faced, with big, scared eyes, laboring to catch his breath.
Jose's face was only slightly more alert than when she'd found him a few minutes before, lying on his bedroom floor, gasping, the skin around his lips blue. His inhaler had been lying next to him. Empty.
I should have known it was empty. This is my fault. The rage, atherself and the world, roared through her like an apocalyptic fire.
From across the crowded room, she and Gabriela exchanged a glance. The older woman gave her a nod, agreeing with the young mother that it was time to release the mama bear.
Angel walked around the desk and loomed over her fellow student nurse, using her slim five-foot-eight frame to intimidate the even smaller girl. "Theresa, I am going back there. I'm not gonna spaz, I promise." Sorry, that's bullshit, she seethed. Turning and jogging down the hall before Theresa could gather her wits, she thought, People don't start moving their asses, shit will burn.
An X-ray tech and a registered nurse were walking toward her. "Hi," the RN said politely, but they didn't stop. Angel wore scrubs from her morning rounds. She blended right in.
She knew the nurse, and these rooms, not just because Jose was a repeat guest but also because this was where she'd been placed for her nursing practicum, with Dr. Collins as her supervisor.
She could hear the doctor's stupid, fake southern accent two doors away, followed by a nervous giggle. Walking past the open door, she could see the crusty bourgeois bastard, his signature black turtleneck setting off his waxy, pale flesh. He stood way too close to a teenage girl lying stiffly on the exam bed.
Angel coughed to get Dr. Collins's attention. Where is the nurse who's supposed to be in here?
"Hey! I didn't know you were on rounds tonight!" The doctor slid away from the teen, slicked back his silver hair. "We're waiting for Brandi's mom to come back with her paperwork."
Angel purposefully stepped closer to the exam table, forcing the doctor to slide further away. "Sorry to interrupt," she said blandly. "I'm not working, just checking to see where you're at with patients."
"The nurse can finish up here. I have a minute." Dr. Collins placed a hand on Angel's upper arm. Her muscle twitched involuntarily, his touch lingering too long, with a hint of a caress, before he casually dropped his hand and shoved it into the pocket of his lab coat. "Did you need something, darlin'? Help with one of your reports? We can go to my office ..."
"No! No, sorry, it's Jose. He needs a breathing treatment. Right now. He's in distress."
"Ah. Sounds like it's time to get him on daily doses. Why don't you put him in exam room three. I'll meet you there in a minute," Dr. Collins drawled, raking his eyes up and down her body, settling on her chest. Even when she wore loose scrubs, the man had the ability to make her feel naked.
"Okay, but right away." She wanted to jam her fist down his throat, grab him by his goddamn phony Colonel Sanders vocal cords, and swing him around the room. It made her stomach roll to let him get away with his creep-ass behavior, but she only had to put up with the pig for a few more weeks. Once he signed off on her practicum, she planned to turn him into bacon.
Besides, he was the only one who could help her son right now. Keeping her lips pressed firmly together, Angel nodded and quickly retraced her steps to the waiting room.
Jose had been a healthy baby. Then, last year, he got pneumonia. Since then, he'd complained of an occasional tightening in his chest and start to wheeze. But a single puff from his inhaler had always solved it. Today is different. I need Dr. Collins to fix this. Through the open doors, she saw Jose sitting slumped in a chair. Her heart quailed. Even if that means selling my soul.
Gabriela was nowhere in sight. But there was a lanky man wearing sweats and a baseball cap, next to her son, talking to him. She hurried across the room.
"You like baseball, huh? You on a team?" The man's voice was mellow, the brim of his cap angled low. He was around her age and vaguely familiar. Is he the water delivery guy?
"Yeah." Jose sat up straighter as she approached, but his eyes were foggy, his voice rough and far away.
"What position do you play?"
"I like ..." Jose took in a slow, agonizing breath, a tiny hand pressed against his chest, "shortstop."
"Easy, buddy. In ... out ... good. Shortstop is a great position. Very important to the team. With those long arms, I bet you get a lot of those grounders, huh?" When he realized someone was standing over them, the man glanced up.
Angel startled. From under the bill of his baseball cap, he peered at her with sharp, translucent eyes, a surprising green against his warm mahogany skin. He had high cheekbones and his lips were sculpted perfection. Maybe I've seen him on a billboard?
He broke their locked gaze, furrowing his brow at Jose as he struggled to answer the man's question.
The seven-year-old shut his eyes. "Yeah." Big, shallow breath. "I'm mad fast." Ragged cough.
"Jose," she said, upset with herself for getting sidetracked, even for a second. She gently drew the boy to his feet. He had deep, dark circles under his eyes. She pulled down his bottom eyelid; the color was faint but not gone. His breathing, however, sounded like a train from one of his cartoons. "Come on, chiquito, we've got an exam room ready."
"You be strong, little buddy." With graceful, fluid movements, the man bent over to retrieve a baseball that had fallen from Jose's lap when he stood. He slid the ball into the boy's sweatshirt pocket. "You don't want to forget this."
Jose nodded listlessly. The man patted his shoulder and then arched an eyebrow at Angel. "I'm not sure I should let you take off with this kid. Shouldn't you wait for his mom?"
Angel's mouth dropped open in surprise, but before she could retort, Gabriela materialized, flapping her hands anxiously.
"Finally! Thank the Lord!" The stylist kissed the top of Jose's head, then she batted her fake eyelashes and flipped around her long, shiny black hair, focusing in on Jose's new protector.
"Gabriela, you left him? With a stranger?" Angel asked through gritted teeth, keeping her eyes averted from those piercing green eyes while maneuvering Jose out from the adult bodies encircling him.
"Oh, honey, relax. Nursey over there was watchin' him. I had to use the ladies' room." Gabriela put her hands on her hips. "Besides, don't you know who this is?"
The man took a sudden step back, his eyes wide. Angel, her arm wrapped around Jose, was already moving her sick son toward the back hall. She couldn't care less about some hood rat, no matter how attractive. "There's an exam room ready. I'm taking him back." Guiding him past the chairs packed with coughing, groaning patients, Jose's ragged breathing distracting her, she said over her shoulder, "We'll be out soon, thanks."
"I'll be right here!" Gabriela shouted behind her.
Then she heard the green-eyed man say, "You gonna let a nurse talk to you like that?"
Her friend's response was smooth as Chanel silk and filled the room. "And how the hell do you know she's not a doctor?"
Angel smiled without turning around. Gabriela always knew what to say.CHAPTER 3
"Doc, you can't say anything. You gotta swear to that."
"Obviously. Besides, the muscles are just weak, you're going to be fine. Take it easy." Dr. Collins stood up, placed the extra tape and gauze on the counter. "Alright, you can put your sock and shoe back on. The nurse will bring your paperwork."
"No paperwork." Duke tasted iron. It was from biting his tongue. This skinny motherfucker is a piece of work. I could knock him over if I blew on him.
"Right." The doctor nodded, once, scrunching his black turtleneck. "Cash only, then." The exam room door swung shut behind the old white guy with the weird accent.
The ballplayer could only hope a newspaper didn't find out he'd been to the clinic. What if they offered the doc more money for details? The man was as smarmy as they came.
Duke took a deep breath, hopped off the table, and gingerly put his wrapped right foot on the ground. His green eyes narrowed to slits. While it was not unbearable, there was pain. And where there was pain, there was a problem.
When is this going to be done?
It wasn't just the ache. The unhealed ankle was a constant reminder of the worst night of Duke's life. In his dreams, he saw his friend Mark, the Bronx Bolt catcher, take a bullet in the chest, dying painfully fifty feet from him. Another stray bullet took Duke in the ankle but had seemed like nothing in comparison, until the wound put his career in jeopardy. Without baseball, he was nobody. Just another Bronx dude on the street, good for nothing but throwing a ball.
Caleb "the Duke" Lewis would be stripped of his status if he couldn't stand steady on the mound by the time he reported to spring training next week. The Bronx Bolts would replace him with the young buck they had waiting in the wings. Which was why he, the Bronx Bolts' star pitcher, was at a crappy clinic in the middle of the Bronx instead of at the Bronx Bolts' medical facility. He had to trust the skeezy Dr. Collins to keep his mouth shut.
In the waiting room, he found Aaron Miller, his agent and childhood friend, ranting into a cell phone, oblivious to the annoyed scowls from the people around him. Catching Duke's eye, Aaron clicked off and loped over.
"Man, you look fine. You're not even limping. You okay?"
"Good! Anyone recognize you?"
Duke tugged the brim of his baseball cap lower and shook his head. There was the mother in the waiting room earlier, but she hadn't taken any pictures. Maybe the sexy nurse — the uptight one who'd taken the asthmatic kid away ... But he didn't think so.
There was something about that feisty young nurse. When their eyes had met, he'd felt a weird jolt, and now he couldn't stop thinking about her. The gold flecks in her brown eyes were mesmerizing, her skin was golden and smooth, her thick dark hair had gold highlights. She was naturally beautiful. God musta sprinkled gold dust over that luscious woman.
He turned to scan the room but then abruptly swung back around. What am I thinking? I have got to get my shit together. No time to chase skirt around.
"Yo, Earth to Duke. Let's get you outta here."
"Hang on, I gotta make a call." Walking out to Aaron's SUV, Duke tried calling his father, who was his business manager, but there was no response. "Pops," Duke said, leaving a message. "Call if you get this. I need you to drop some money at the clinic out in Mount Eden. I'll explain tonight." And I don't need any of your bullshit, he wanted to add, but didn't. He'd deal with his father later.
Aaron opened the car door for him, bowing like a butler. "Where you want to go, bro?"
"There's a bar a couple blocks from here." Duke pictured a row of tequila shots.
"We not going to some whack dive bar."
"Fine. Let's go to that place Roland's always talking about, not too far from here. The Peacock."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Perfect Date"
Copyright © 2019 Evelyn Lozada.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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