“Hey,” Valerie said as she answered it.

“Never mind,” Sarah said, sounding a little deflated. “I’m still here at the restaurant, and just as I was reading your text, I heard Angel’s dad explaining that they’re leaving for Mexico tomorrow morning. He came in to talk to Angel as soon as they got the call that his grandpa was rushed to the hospital. So the three brothers and Sofie will be running the show all weekend. Angel will likely have to be in that booth all day all weekend. I’ll probably be right there with them, helping out too. You know how crazy busy it gets.”

It dawned on Valerie that it was strange that Alex hadn’t mentioned it. But then their family’s restaurant participated in the festival every year. Maybe he just assumed she knew about it and knew that’s where he’d be all weekend.

“Well, maybe you can sneak away with me for a little bit.” Valerie said, trying to make her feel better. “Is Alex still there?”

“No, he left over an hour ago,” Sarah said. “But I’m sure he’ll get a call soon enough from Angel or his dad.” Sarah continued but in a lower voice as Valerie’s stomach plummeted. “I feel so bad, Val. His dad looks pretty broken up. They think his grandpa had a stroke. I saw Angel hug his dad because I think he broke down for a moment there. I couldn’t even watch. So I just walked away.”

As bad as Valerie felt about Alex’s grandpa, she was suddenly too pissed to empathize. He’d been gone for over an hour? The restaurant was less than ten minutes away from his place. He’d warned her he’d be late tonight, so wherever the hell he was, this was something he’d planned ahead. Yet he’d mentioned nothing other than having to be at the restaurant.

She felt so stupid now, being there stuck at his place because he’d picked her up at her apartment today after work. She didn’t have her car. Now even if he got home and they fought, she’d be stuck there.

“Yeah, that is sad,” Valerie said, doing her best to sound sincere.

Mostly she was. Alex had mentioned his grandpa hadn’t been well in that last few months. He’d also been real worried about his dad. “My mom says it’s not looking too good for my grandpa, but my dad’s still holding out for a miracle. It’s like he’s in denial that his dad is that sick. I shudder to think of how he’d take it if my grandpa suddenly goes.”

The front door opened, and Valerie turned to see Alex walk in holding a backpack and a plastic store bag.

“I gotta go,” she said in a lowered voice, “but, yes, I’ll be there Saturday. I’ll stop and see if I can whisk you away. We’ll have a drink or something.”

Alex stared at her from where he was standing as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and set his phone on the dining room table.

“Who was that?” he asked as soon as she was off the phone.

“Sarah,” she said, not wanting to look at him. “Where were you?”

“Working,” he said.

“Until just now?” she asked, trying desperately not to sound like a nagging girlfriend, but that’s exactly how she felt.

“No.” He plopped down next her, and instantly she wanted nothing more than for him to kiss her—reassure her insecure heart that she was all he needed just as she’d only ever wanted and needed him. “I had errands to run,” he said, pecking her softly. “I had to go to three different drug stores to find the brace I need for my ankle.” He motioned with his head to the bag he’d just dropped on the end table then lifted his nose in the air. “Smells good. Did you make cookies?”

She nodded, already feeling a strange relief. Strange because she wasn’t sure if she should be feeling it. Why hadn’t he called her to tell her he was off or come pick her up and have her go with him on his errands?

Just the other night he’d picked her up after his shift at the restaurant and asked her to come to the gym with him. “I’ve really been slacking and need to get back in the gym, but I haven’t seen you all day. Come with me,” he’d said.

Taking a deep breath, she decided not to pout like a child about this. So he didn’t pick her up and take her with him. Big deal. The important thing was she couldn’t imagine him getting home this aroused and kissing her the way he already was if he’d just left the arms of another girl. Giving into him as she always did—she was beginning to wonder if she’d ever be strong enough not to—she lay back on the sofa, already trembling in response to his tongue and decided to just enjoy letting him have his way with her.


Last year, Alex and Valerie’s to-be-or-not-to-be relationship was in not-to-be mode when the Taste of La Jolla first started, unlike the year before when she’d hung out with Alex, his brothers, and Sarah at the booth from the beginning.

Moreno’s restaurant had been participating in the festival for years, and the stupid local girls who were into the brothers took advantage of the chance to talk to them by making plenty of stops there. Last year was no exception, so of course there’d been drama. Not for Angel because he was always so preoccupied with Sarah to be bothered with other girls, but Sal and Alex and even Romero, who’d helped out for a few hours, had hammed it up for the girls stopping by. Valerie had been witness to Alex’s flirting and even exchanging numbers with some of the stupid bitches. How could they stand there and take his number when the girls before them did just the same thing? It was infuriating.