Series: Vega Family Love Stories #2
Published by MIRA on October 31, 2023
Genres: Adult, Family Life, Hispanic American Literature, Women's Fiction, Romance
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In this follow-up to A PROPOSAL THEY CAN'T REFUSE, single dad Santiago "Saint" Vega gets a second shot at love when he falls for his daughter's teacher, but when duty to his family forces him to do something she'll never forgive, will everything he's built come crumbling down?
Santiago "Saint" Vega gets a second shot at love with Lola León, but when duty to his family forces him to do something she'll never forgive, will everything he's built come crumbling down?
Years ago, Saint walked away from the girl he loved to fulfill his duty. Now he’s struggling to build bridges between his drifting family, take on more responsibilities at his uncle’s construction company, figure out why his daughter refuses to talk at school and curtail his mischievous abuelo’s escalating pranks. Then she walks back into his life.
Social justice advocate Lola León has returned to Humboldt Park for two reasons: to help care for her dear abuelo and to serve the community center she loved, particularly the shelter for unhoused LGBTQIA+ youths. When she finds out that the Vegas are responsible for endangering both, she is more than ready to go to war—even if the boy she never forgot is standing at the front of the battlefield.
Neither of them expects to become allies in saving the shelter, helping Saint’s daughter or ending the decades-long feud between their grandfathers. They definitely don’t expect all of their old feelings to come rushing back. As Saint and Lola enter combat, they can’t help but wonder where the other’s true allegiance lies, and whether they’ll win these battles only to lose each other.
Last year I brought you an excerpt from Natalie Caña’s debut, A PROPOSAL THEY CAN’T REFUSE. Now I’m back with an excerpt from her second installment in the Vega Family Love Stories series called A DISH BEST SERVED HOT. I just finished reading this one tonight and I’ve totally fallen in love with Lola and Saint, as well as with their extended families. Look for my review this weekend, and here’s an excerpt from this latest release.
Santiago Vega II—known to family and friends as Junior much to his annoyance—took his time getting back to the front office after dropping off paperwork for Miss Wallis, the school secretary. He loved it when the halls of his high school were empty and mostly silent. It gave him a sense of calm he never got otherwise. Not when he was the oldest of a five-child family who lived in a tiny apartment directly above the restaurant his family ran. The restaurant where his grandpa’s band loved to play music at all hours of the day, because it was always filled to the gills with people from the neighborhood. Junior was surrounded by people all the time—loud, demanding people—so he enjoyed moments of quiet stillness whenever he could.
That made it all the more annoying when he heard raised voices down the hallway.
“You better stay away from her!”
“You two aren’t even together anymore.”
Oh great. Two idiots were about to fight over a girl and Junior had to go that way to get back to his work-study.
Junior turned the corner to one of the side hallways and stopped dead in his tracks. It was worse than two idiot guys. It was Jose Mendez, one of the largest offensive linemen on their high school football team, and Lola León, the biggest troublemaker in the school.
Lola was constantly in the office when he was there, but where Junior was there helping out during his free period, she was always there to talk to the principal after getting kicked out of one class or another. Sure, he didn’t know her well, she was a junior to his senior, but it wasn’t hard for Junior to tell why she was constantly pissing everyone off. She had a terrible attitude and a mouth to accompany it. She said what she wanted and did what she wanted without a care for anyone around her.
As if to prove his point she opened her mouth and said, “Aww, is your fragile male ego hurt because she liked my kiss more than yours?”
Junior’s eyebrows rose. He’d heard that Lola liked girls, but he’d assumed those were ignorant rumors based on how she dressed—in baggy clothes that looked like she’d taken them from a large man’s closet. At least, he’d hoped that was the case after seeing her for the first time in the office a few weeks ago. It didn’t matter that he had no intention of actually talking to the pretty girl. A part of him was selfish enough to be hopeful.
Her taunt seemed to be the last straw for Jose. “Bitch. I’ll give you something to do with that smart mouth of yours.” He rushed her and crowded her into a corner before she could dodge. His hand tangled into her long dark hair and pulled it hard.
Junior jumped into action without thinking. There was no way he was going to sit back and let someone be hurt. Especially not a young woman who didn’t even reach Jose’s shoulder. He charged forward, trying to remember everything his abuelo had taught him about taking down someone bigger than you.
He wrapped his forearm around Jose’s neck and locked it into place with the crook of his other arm. He moved his head to one side just in case Jose decided to try to headbutt him. He looked down at Lola, whose head was pulled back exposing her neck and a pair of wide brown eyes.
Junior didn’t think he’d ever seen her look scared. Pissed off and scowling yes, but not afraid. For some reason her fear released a new level of anger in him. Junior was quiet and serious, but not usually angry. Except at that moment he was livid.
“Let. Her. Go.” He growled in a voice he’d only ever let out when someone was messing with one of his younger siblings. When Jose didn’t immediately do as he said, Junior tightened his grip.
Jose let go of Lola’s hair to grab Junior’s arm with both hands and attempt to pull him off. Somehow he couldn’t. Instead he wheezed.
“Get behind me,” Junior barked to Lola, who was rubbing her no-doubt tender head.
It took her a second, but eventually she did.
As soon as she was behind him, Junior started to loosen his grip around Jose’s neck. However, he knew the impulsive hothead would do something in retaliation, so, at the same time he released his neck, he kicked Jose in the back of the knee.
He jumped out of the way as Jose went down coughing and rubbing his throat. Then he spun on his heel, grabbed Lola’s hand, and began running in the opposite direction. He wanted to put as much distance as possible between them and Jose.
His head swiveled back and forth, trying to find a place for them to lie low, before he grabbed the handle to a door and swung it open. He herded Lola through the empty classroom door, pulling it closed behind them, and backed them both away from the narrow glass window. A second later Junior heard uneven pounding footprints rush past the door. He stayed there silent and still until the footsteps faded.
Finally, he turned his attention to the girl next to him. He took a deep breath and told himself to ignore how pretty she was, but wasn’t prepared for the way her eyes would snare him as soon as they met his. Her eyes were a reddish-brown that made him think of lava the moment it hit air and began to cool—dark around the edges and still burning bright in the middle. Junior lost his ability to breathe. He couldn’t do anything but stare.
She was the one to break the silence. “I think he’s gone,” she whispered.
“He’ll double back,” Junior murmured.
“How do you know?”
“Because he’s not one to let things go.”
That caused her to make a face and a sound almost like a snort.
Junior noticed a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her screwed-up nose and pale cheeks. He blinked in confusion. It was just so incongruous for Lola León, whose entire family was known for being dangerous hard-asses, to have something as sweet and innocent as freckles.
When he realized how long he’d been staring at her face, and no doubt making her feel uncomfortable, he cleared his throat. “So what’d you do to piss off Jose?” he asked.
Lola looked like she contemplated lying, but must’ve decided against it because she replied. “I kissed his ex-girlfriend.” She looked away from him and the air around her seemed to still. It was like she was waiting for him to say something messed up.
“Why?” he asked. He knew Jose’s ex, Yesenia. Part of the dance squad and daughter of everyone’s favorite gym teacher, she was one of the most popular girls in the school. Sure, she was beautiful, but she was also dumb as a bag of rocks and selfish to boot.
“‘Why what?” Lola asked.
“Why’d you kiss her? I’ve known Yesenia since we were kids and she’s awful.”
Lola just stared at him.
Junior rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m just saying. I don’t think there’s a whole lot going on in that girl’s head. You could do better. Not to mention, she’s a very traditional girl from a very traditional family. So just, you know, be careful…”
Lola’s voice was full of incredulity when she asked, “Are you trying to protect my feelings?”
He blushed. “It’s just that.” He paused. “I mean. It can’t be easy for you to be, you know.” He paused, unsure if it would be okay for him to say the word. He didn’t want to offend her.
So she did like guys. The warmth on his cheeks deepened for some reason. “I just wouldn’t want you to fall for someone who would just make things harder. That’s all. You can love whoever you want, but I just think it should be someone who loves you back.” He shrugged awkwardly.
She tilted her head and looked at him like he was a brand-new species of animal. “You know, I think you might be one of the first people in this school to tell me that.”
“Tell you what?”
“That I can love anyone I want. Most people I know tell me it’s just a phase or that I like being difficult.”
Junior didn’t know how to respond, so he stayed quiet.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Junior,” he replied. Then he shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs. “I mean, no. That’s not right.”
Her smile was wry. “Do you not know your own name?”
He gave her a look. “My name is Santiago Vega. Like my dad, so everyone calls me Junior which really makes no sense because no one even calls my dad Santiago.”
“Santiago, huh? Like the city in Chile?”
“Right, but the city is actually named for Saint James.”
“I’m sure whatever he did to get that title was something super cool and not at all colonialist.”
Junior was so nervous that he totally missed her ironic tone. He just started talking.
“He was one of Jesus’s first disciples. He eventually traveled to Spain while spreading the word and ended up becoming Spain’s patron saint. You can actually follow his path from France through Spain if you want. It takes like a month to walk and leads to a huge church,” He shut his mouth abruptly, highly aware that he was babbling. The daughter of Humboldt Park’s most notorious gang leader didn’t give a shit about the religious origins of his name.
“You’re a bit of a nerd, huh?” Lola asked with a curl to her lips. “Makes sense you’d be named after a saint.”
He didn’t hear any derision in her tone, but he felt defensive anyway. “Why do you say that?”
“Because look at you.” She gestured to him. “You jump into the middle of fights to save the underdog. You dish out words of wisdom to protect people. Don’t you volunteer in the office for fun? Shit. I bet you have straight As and help little old ladies cross the street. You basically are a saint.”
His brow creased. “I don’t think that’s how it works.” Besides, it wasn’t like he was perfect. He had plenty of flaws. Junior was no doubt about to embarrass himself more by enumerating said flaws, but he was quite literally saved by the bell, which blared through the room and caused them both to startle.
Lola recovered first. “Well, to answer your earlier question, I kissed Yesenia because she asked me to. I’m not in love with her or anything.” She slipped around him and made her way to the door. At the last moment she turned back to him. “Thanks for saving me… Saint.” Then she closed the door behind her and rushed to her next class.
The next morning when they saw each other down the hallway she shouted, “What up, Saint?” in her loudest voice, making sure everyone heard her, and that was it. The nickname spread around the school and then the neighborhood like a forest fire. He was no longer Junior or even Santiago. He was Saint. And Lola was no longer the troublemaker from the office. She was everything he wanted and everything he eventually lost.
Find A DISH BEST SERVED HOT
About Natalie Caña
Natalie Caña writes contemporary romances that allow her to incorporate her witty sense of humor and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.
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