Rules of attraction, p.42
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       Rules of Attraction, p.42
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         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 42

 

  When I open them, I see a glimpse of Rodriguez out of the corner of my eye. He’s got a gun pointed to the white-haired undercover agent. I try to warn the agent, but to my surprise Westford grabs Devlin’s gun and shoots Rodriguez as if he’s a trained sharpshooter.

  Westford barks orders to one of the DEA agents as he and Alex carry me out of the ware house.

  “Are you DEA?” I ask Westford through gritted teeth, because my damn leg stings like a mother.

  “Not exactly. Let’s just say I still have friends in high places. ”

  “Does this mean you get to keep the fifty Gs?”

  “Yep. I guess that means our deal is off. You don’t have to go to college or the military. ”

  Two paramedics rush over with a gurney. They strap me down, but I reach for the Professor before they can wheel me away. “Just so you know, I’m goin’ to enlist. ”

  “I’m proud of you. But why?”

  I groan against the pain but manage to give him a half smile. “I want to make sure Kiara’s got a boyfriend who has more to offer than a hot bod and a face that could make angels weep. ”

  “Do you ever lose the ego?” Westford asks me.

  “Yeah. ” When his daughter kisses me, my ego flies out the window.

  56

  Kiara

  I stroke Carlos’s arm and let him squeeze my hand as we’re waiting to hear what the doctor has to say about his leg. A stoic Alex also hasn’t left Carlos’s side since we arrived at the hospital. He’s scared, and it looks like he blames himself for not preventing his younger brother from getting hurt. But it’s all finally over.

  My dad found out that Carlos’s mom and brother were threatened, so with their permission he’s arranged for them to come to Colorado. He’s also helping them get temporary housing, which is great.

  “My dad says you’ll live,” I tell Carlos as I lean forward and kiss him on his forehead.

  “Is that a good thing?”

  Okay, Kiara, it’s time to spill it, I tell myself. It’s now or never. I lean close to him, so only he can hear me. “I . . . I think I need you, Carlos. The forever kind of need. ” I look up. Carlos’s eyes are locked on mine. I want this, I want him. More than that, I really do need him. We need each other. The closer I get to him, the more I feed off the energy and strength radiating from him.

  I can tell he wants to say something, to fill the silence like he usually does, but he holds himself back. Our eyes are still locked, and I won’t look away. Not this time.

  I slowly reach out a shaky hand and touch the center of his chest over his shirt, wanting to take his pain away. He’s breathing heavier now, and I can feel his heart beating against my palm.

  He cups my cheek in his hand, his thumb gently stroking my skin. I close my eyes and lean into his touch, melting in the warmth of his hand.

  “You’re dangerous,” he says.

  “Why?”

  “Because you make me believe in the impossible. ”

  After Carlos’s surgery, my entire family is surrounding his hospital bed. There’s a knock at the door. Brittany walks in tentatively.

  “Thanks for calling me, Kiara,” she says.

  Carlos told me to call right before his surgery, after he told me about Alex and Brittany breaking up. “No problem. I’m glad you’re here. ”

  “So am I,” Carlos says. “But I’m on morphine, so you might want to get that in writing. ” Alex is about to walk out of the room, but when he reaches the door Carlos blurts out, “Alex, wait. ”

  Alex clears his throat. “What?”

  “I know I’m gonna regret sayin’ this, but you and Brittany can’t break up. ”

  “We already did,” Alex says, then looks at Brittany. “Right, Brit?”

  “Whatever you want, Alex,” she says, frustrated.

  “No. ” He walks up to her. “You wanted to break up. Mamacita, don’t put the blame on me. ”

  “You want to keep our relationship a secret from my parents. I don’t. I want to scream to the world that we’re together. ”

  “He’s afraid, Brittany,” Carlos says.

  “About what?”

  Alex reaches out and tucks her blond hair behind her ear. “That your parents will make you realize you deserve better. ”

  “Alex, you make me happy, you make me strive to work hard. I get caught up in your future dreams and am desperate to be part of it. Whether you like it or not, you’re a part of me. Nobody can change that. ” She looks up at him, tears streaming down her face. “Trust me. ”

  He cups her cheek and swipes her tears away. Without a word, I hear Alex choke up as he pulls her close and doesn’t let go.

  A half hour later, Alex, Brittany, and my parents have escaped to the hospital cafeteria. Tuck walks in with a big vase filled with hot pink carnations and a balloon attached that reads FIFTY PERCENT OF ALL DOCTORS GRADUATE IN THE BOTTOM HALF OF THEIR CLASS— HOPE YOUR SURGERY WENT WELL!

  “Hey, amigo!” he says.

  “Oh, hell. ” Carlos snorts in fake annoyance. It makes me feel good to know he hasn’t lost his fighting spirit after what happened today. “Who invited you?”

  Tuck sets the vase down on the window ledge and smiles wide. “Oh, come on. Don’t be such a grump. I’m here to cheer you up. ”

  “By bringin’ me pink flowers?” Carlos says, gesturing to the vase.

  “Actually, the flowers are for Kiara because she has to deal with you. ” He pulls out the balloon and ties the string to the hospital-bed handrail. “Consider me your candy stripper . . . I mean striper. ”

  Carlos shakes his head. “Kiara, tell me he didn’t just call himself a stripper. ”

  “Be nice,” I tell Carlos. “Tuck drove all the way here because he cares about you. ”

  “Let’s just say you’ve grown on me,” Tuck admits, then brushes his long hair out of his face. “Besides, if I didn’t have you to annoy, my life wouldn’t be the same. Face it, amigo . . . you complete me. ”

  “You’re loco. ”

  “And you’re a homophobe, but with Kiara’s and my guidance you’ve got potential to be a decent and tolerant human being. ” Tuck’s cell starts ringing. He pulls it out of his pocket and announces, “It’s Jake. I’ll be right back. ” He disappears into the hallway, leaving me and Carlos alone. Well, we’re not entirely alone. Brandon is in the chair in the corner of the room, busy playing one of his video games.

  Carlos grabs my wrist and pulls me onto the bed with him. “Before today, I was plannin’ on leavin’ Colorado,” he tells me. “I figured it was better if I wasn’t a burden to your parents or Alex anymore. ”

  “And now?” I ask nervously. I need to hear him say he wants to stay here for good.

  “I can’t leave. Did your dad tell you my ma and Luis are comin’ here?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “That’s not the only reason I’m stayin’, chica. I can’t leave you any more than I could walk out that door right now while my leg is busted up. I was just thinkin’ . . . should we tell your parents now or later?”

  “Tell them what?” I ask, eyes wide.

  He kisses me softly, then says proudly, “That we’re in a serious, monogamous, committed relationship. ”

  “We are?”

  “Sí. And when I get out of here, I’m gonna fix the door to your car. ”

  “Not if I fix it first,” I tell him.

  He bites his bottom lip and looks at me as if I just turned him on. “Is that a challenge I hear in your voice, chica?”

  I take his hand and weave my fingers through his. “Yeah. ”

  He pulls me closer to him. “You’re not the only one in this relationship who loves a challenge,” he says. “And just so you know for the future, I like my double-chocolate chip cookies warm and soft in the middle . . . and without magnets glued to them. ”

  “Me, too. When you decide to bake me some, let me know. ”

  He laughs, then le
ans his head toward mine.

  “Are you guys about to French-kiss?” Brandon blurts out.

  “Yeah. So close your eyes,” Carlos says, then pulls the blanket over us, giving us as much privacy as we can get right now. “I’ll never leave you again,” he whispers against my lips.

  “Good. I’m never letting you leave. ” I lean back a little. “And I’m never leaving you either. Remember that, okay?”

  “I will. ”

  “So does this mean you’re going to learn to mountain climb with me?”

  “I’ll do anythin’ with you, Kiara,” he says. “Didn’t you read the note I put in your locker? I’m yours. ”

  “And I’m yours,” I tell him. “Forever and always and then some. ”

  Epilogue

  TWENTY-SIXYEARS LATER

  Carlos Fuentes watches as his wife of twenty years tallies up the day’s receipts. Business was good at McConnell’s Auto Body, which they bought when he got out of the service. Even during the slow years they’d gotten by just fine. His wife always appreciated the simple things in life, even when they could afford more. Hell, hiking near The Dome made her smile more than anything else—that hike had become a weekly ritual for them.

  Now skiing or snowboarding, that was another thing altogether. Carlos took Kiara and their kids to the resorts in the winter, but he watched from a distance as Kiara taught all three of their girls to ski, then snowboard. They especially liked it when their uncle Luis came along, because he was the only Fuentes brother who was crazy enough to race them down the black-diamond slopes.

  Carlos wipes his hands on a shop cloth after changing the oil on his old friend Ram’s car. “Kiara, we gotta talk about this kid your dad coerced me into letting stay with us. ”

  “He’s not a bad kid,” Kiara says, looking up at her husband and giving him a reassuring smile. “He just needs some guidance, and a home. He reminds me of you a little bit. ”

  “Are you kiddin’? Did you see how many piercings that delinquent has? I bet he’s got ’em in places I don’t even want to know about. ”

  As if on cue, their oldest daughter, Cecilia, drives up to the garage door with the delinquent in the passenger seat beside her.

  “His hair is too long. He looks like a chica who needs a shave,” Carlos says.

  “Shh, be nice,” his wife reprimands.

  “Where were you two?” Carlos questions accusingly as the two high school juniors simultaneously hop out of Cecilia’s car.

  Neither of them answers.

  “Dylan, follow me. We need to have a man-to-man. ” Carlos catches the delinquent roll his eyes at him, but he follows Carlos into his private office in the corner of the body shop. Carlos closes the door and settles into the chair behind his desk while he motions for Dylan to sit in the guest chair opposite him.

  “You’ve been stayin’ with us a week already, but I’ve been so busy at the shop I haven’t been able to go over house rules,” Carlos says.

 
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