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Damn it. Of course Angie would do this today.

“No, she had work to do.” He sped up as he got onto the freeway. Maybe she would be distracted by him driving too fast and would abandon this line of questioning.

“I’m happy for you, you know,” she said. “So happy that I’m not even going to gloat about how I’ve known for weeks there was something going on there.”

He should have known that nothing could distract Angie when she got going.

“Nothing’s going on there. She was just at my house when I got Jessie’s call and the enchiladas were still in the oven, so she said she’d stay to finish them. And then when she checked in to see how things were going, I said we were all hungry, so she brought them over, that’s all.” He shrugged. “No big deal.”

Angela had a big grin on her face. It made him want to throw things.

“Mmmmhmm. Any girl you’re dating who I get to meet is a big deal.”

He cut around another car in the fast lane and gritted his teeth. Did Angie really have to do this right now?

“You’d already met Nik. You met her at the exact same time I did.” Thank God the hospital exit was in only three miles.

“You know that doesn’t count. You don’t bring girls around the family; we both know that. And Nik met everyone who matters last night, so I’m just saying, it sounds serious.”

He shook his head.

“It’s not serious. Last night was an emergency; don’t think too much of it.” Oh God, this was going to be a disaster. Everyone was going to keep asking him about Nik for months, and he would have to be reminded about how he’d felt this morning over and over again.

“Oh, please with that ‘it’s not serious’ bullshit. I was sitting right there when she brought up you going to the doctor, and if that doesn’t say serious, I don’t know what does. Don’t worry, I won’t say anything to Mama. She already called me this morning to ask what I knew about her, but I didn’t say much. Mama was so happy that you’d found a nice girl who takes care of you. She said she’d be happier if she were a Mexican girl, but at this point she’d take anything, and I told her that—”

He couldn’t take this anymore.

“We broke up, okay? We broke up this morning. I told her I loved her; she didn’t feel the same way; we broke up. She’s the first person in years that I’ve talked to about Dad, which probably should have been my sign that I was falling in love with her, but I didn’t realize it until this morning. But it doesn’t matter, because we broke up.”

He didn’t look in Angie’s direction. He didn’t want to see the look of sympathy he knew was on her face.

“Oh, Carlos. I’m so sorry.”

He shrugged.

“It’s probably for the best. I can’t date anyone seriously now. You guys need me. I should have never gotten involved so closely with her as it was.”

Angie turned her whole body toward him.

“What are you talking about? Who needs you?”

He glanced at her. Why was she playing dumb?

“The family. You, Mama, Tia Eva, even Jessie sometimes, though she has Jon for most things. Who would put together your bookshelf or change your light bulbs on those high ceilings of yours or go shopping with Mama or answer all of your phone calls? I don’t have time to do all of those things and get involved with someone. I shouldn’t have let myself get so close to Nik in the first place.”

He looked at Angela, expecting her to be nodding at all of this. Instead, she was looking at him like he had two heads.

“Carlos. Are you really trying to tell me that you think you can’t date someone seriously because you have to be free to put together bookshelves for me on a moment’s notice?”

He shook his head.

“Not just that, it’s a lot of things—you know that. Dad’s gone, so I need to—”

She cut him off.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I know I’m your little sister, but I’m a grown woman. I can put together my own bookshelves or pay someone else to do it. Mama is not a little old lady. She doesn’t need someone to go to the grocery store with her. She goes with you because she likes to spend time with you. We don’t need you to put your life on hold to take care of us. We can take care of ourselves. I’m pretty sure I speak for Mama—and Jessie and Tia Eva—when I say that we want you to be happy, not spending all of your leisure time doing errands for us.”

Angie clearly didn’t understand.

“I know you can take care of yourselves. That’s not the point. What if I fell in love with some woman, and I was with her when there was an emergency? I would never forgive myself if I wasn’t there for someone in the family when they needed me.”

Angie put her hand over his.

“But there would be nothing to forgive. You and I both weren’t there when Dad died, and I hate that, too. But it was no one’s fault, and you can’t spend your life trying to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.”

He pulled off the freeway and made the turn toward the hospital.

“This isn’t about Dad! It’s just that I’m a doctor, and—”

Angie talked over him.

“Plus, you did fall in love with a woman, and you were with her last night when there was an emergency, and what happened? She sent you off to the hospital to take care of your family, and then she showed up a few hours later because she thought you needed her. Which you did. You don’t always have to be the hero, Carlos, and you definitely don’t need to be my dad. It’s okay to just be my brother.”

Finally, he exploded.

“Angela, can we please stop talking about this? You’ve made your point: you don’t need me, I’m wasting my life, et cetera, et cetera. I get it—enough. Can we please just concentrate on Jessie and little Eva today?”

Angie nodded. She was silent until they got out of the car in the hospital parking garage.

“I’m sorry if I made things worse. That’s not what I meant to do.”

He pulled her hair.

“No, I’m sorry for getting mad.”

She gave him a one-armed hug.

“You know I’m here if you ever want to talk, right?”

He nodded as they got in the elevator.

“I know. Thanks. Now, let’s go see our new little cousin.”

Chapter Twenty

. . . . . . .

The sparkly sign in front of Natalie’s Gym was the first thing to make Nik smile in days.

She never should have gone out with Carlos in the first place. After everything with Fisher, she should have kept her distance from Carlos and all other men for at least several months, if not years. And now she’d spent the last three days inside her apartment with too many pints of ice cream, trying and failing to concentrate on her work instead of how much she missed Carlos.

She was even doing that thing where she caught herself checking her phone every time it buzzed, hoping it was him. She hated doing that thing. She’d always felt scornful toward the kind of woman who would do that thing. Why was she such a bitch? Now she felt sympathy for those women and even shittier about herself right now.

And the buzz from her phone was never him. She hadn’t heard a single thing from Carlos since he’d slammed that door on Sunday morning.

Enough wallowing. She’d finally pinned Natalie down for an interview time for her story about the gym, thank goodness. She was looking forward to talking to Natalie, if only to get her mind off of herself for once this week.

She still felt lucky that Natalie had even agreed to the interview. Between her hesitation when Nik had brought it up and her slow response to Nik’s emails about scheduling a time, it was clear that she was reluctant about this story for some reason.

She walked into the gym and knocked on Natalie’s open door.

“Hi!” Natalie said. “Come on in.” She was smiling, but Nik could see her hands trembling. She couldn’t tell if it was because Natalie was just nervous about being interviewed in general—lots of people were like that—or if there was something specific that she was anxious about. Either way, Nik knew she had to have a gentle approach in this interview.

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