Welcome to Sunday Sips.

I hope you enjoy this sample of Seductive Nights.

“You alright, Julio?” Alonzo asked, passing a ceramic plate with plantains while balancing his one-year-old daughter, Catalina, on his lap.

Julio accepted the food. “Yeah, I’m good,” he mumbled, not making eye contact with his brother.

Alonzo, the eldest of the Castro siblings, was a retired professional baseball player and Julio’s business partner. Beside him sat his wife, Jeanette. A true sweet. Julio loved her as much as he loved his baby sister, Teresa.

“Big brother, you don’t sound good,” Teresa commented.

Julio’s mind churned with discontentment, ignoring Teresa’s on-point assessment of his current mood.

Once a month on Sunday evening the Castro clan gathered for dinner at the home of Javier and Marta Castro.

Julio enjoyed the company of his loved ones. But today he was edgy because he simply didn’t want to be there. While they sat around the enormous dining room table chatting, passing plates laden with Cuban cuisine, his dark eyes scrutinized his family.

Everyone was paired up. His father, Javier, sat at one end of the table. His lovely mother, Marta, was at the opposite end. After thirty-seven years of marriage, their love affair had gone through ups and down, yet they remained in love and committed. If Julio ever had any doubts about love, the adoration shining in his father’s eyes as he gazed at his mother wiped them away.

Teresa stood when her phone rang. “I have to take this call. It’s about the fabric order from Paris.” She plopped her six-month-old son, Mace, on her husband’s lap and pulled her cell phone out of her back pants pocket.

“Hurry back and turn that phone off before you sit at the table.” Marta gently scolded in Spanish.

“Yes, Mamá,” Teresa answered, rushing out of the room to take the call.

Though Julio was in a funky mood it didn’t stop him from chuckling at the matriarch of their family.

“Mamá, you should know by now when you have your own business you work twenty-four-seven,” Julio pointed out in his sister’s defense.

After all, Javier owned a body shop. In the early years when he was the only mechanic, Javier didn’t arrive home some nights until after midnight so he’d have a vehicle ready for a client.

“Julio, everyone needs a break from work. Right Javier?” Marta’s smile was coy when she glanced at her husband.

A man of few words, Javier held his glass of wine up in agreement.

Marta Castro was a formidable force to deal with because of her intense personality. Though strong, she learned when to fall back for the sake of her family.

There was a time when his parents’—especially his mother’s—old ways and beliefs threatened his siblings’ happiness. Alonzo and Teresa defied their parents’ desire for them to marry someone Cuban. Julio admired his siblings for following their hearts. Why hadn’t he done the same? He wondered, studying his family as if he didn’t know them.

Catalina leaned forward and grabbed a plantain off Alonzo’s plate. Julio’s gaze shifted to Mace, twisting and fussing on Pierce’s lap. No amount of gently bouncing the baby calmed him. The infant settled down when Teresa returned, and discreetly opened her blouse to nurse him.

“How’d the call go?” Marta queried before taking a sip of wine.

“Great. The fabric will be shipped tomorrow.” Jeanette laughed when Teresa rolled her eyes. “Talk about a Bridezilla. I’m sorry I took that woman on as a client.”

Julio despised the green-eyed monster snaking its way under his skin. At thirty-three-years old, he’d accomplished his dream of owning a restaurant. Cuban Soul was thriving in one of the hottest Center City neighborhoods in Philly.

Reservations were made weeks in advance for a table. Profits were good and his staff were well paid. With business booming, he and Alonzo were ready to launch another location uptown in Chestnut Hill. In a recent call, the owner of a popular casino and investors in Vegas approached him about opening a West Coast location; and possibly shooting a pilot for a show on the Cooking Network.

Though the world was at his fingertips, for now, Julio couldn’t shake the deep-seated emptiness despite the happiness around him. He didn’t begrudge his loved ones their lives or the joy that was evident as they ate, laughed, talked, and played with babies. Because, for once, he wanted the same.

After forcing down several bites of shredded beef, he gave up. None of the flavorful spices tantalized his taste buds. Appetite gone, Julio stood and dropped the cloth napkin on his plate.

“Excuse me,” he murmured before he silently left the room.


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