Archive | June 2013

What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirteen

It took all morning to pour over records and receipts but after compiling all the data it was plain as day that Dave the wine guy had been robbing them blind for closer to a year rather than the meer months they thought. Danny seethed, “Almost makes me wish we were still in the business of kicking ass and taking names Tony.”

Tony understood where his cousin was coming from perfectly. Dave had hidden his deception well and would have probably gotten away with it even longer if he hadn’t gotten greedy. But this time Danny and he had built Infierno to last and the Santos name finally stood for something positive. And they liked it that way. It had taken too long to get them to this point and they weren’t going to risk that all for some thief. “I hear you Danny but we agreed just to let our lawyer handle it. It would be easier if Dave would just admit he did it but he still says he’s innocent.” He smiled wryly at his cousin, “Plus the Santos way usually ended up blowing up in our faces.”

Rafael looked up from the list of distributors they were looking through to replace the thieving Dave, “The Santos way? What is that like sleep with the fishes?”

Danny and Tony shared a look before they both bust out laughing. Tony shook his head, “Hardly. The whole sleep with the fishes thing is so typical mobster. We Santos’ we liked to go things with a bit more…style.”

Rafael sat back in the table and crossed his arms across his chest. “Do tell.”

“Well my grandmother had a hit put out on me then tried to turn Tony against me by offering him power. The hit men from the rival family shot me from outside my wife’s family home.” He gestured across the table to his cousin, “They shot Tony too as he played Rambo. I might have laughed but I was too busy bleeding on the linoleum.”

“Saved your ass didn’t it! Well, kind of.” Tony shrugged his shoulders, “I came to warn you though which is the important part of the story. But that Aubela was damn quick for an old lady.”

Danny looked at Rafael and fluttered his eyes, “What can I say? He can’t live without me.” The three men laughed at Danny’s joke before he continued, “But there were a few warehouse explosions, Tony’s first wife was killed by angel statue which was once again engendered by our Grandmother, and my own mother tried to kill me. But nope, no sleep with the fishes. Well she did try to kill Michelle at the docks. Does that count?”

“We liked being colorful.”

Rafael nodded, “I’ll say. Homicidal Grannies, Murderous Mother-in-Laws, Being Santosed seemed to more than your typical gangster fare.”

Danny smiled as lifted his eyebrow in question, “Santosed? Oh I have to tell Michelle that one! She’s going to love it.”

Tony reached across the table and grabbed the stack of papers Rafael had been going over, “That’s nice Primo. You can show her the non-lethal form of being ‘Santosed’ later. Right now we need to find a new wine guy or we’re going to be screwed.”

“I think the last one sounds pretty promising. Black Fox distributing based out of Bay City. Owned and operated by a Carlos Riviera. From the intel I’ve gathered he was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. in the late 90s. Settled in Florida working for small import and export companies before moving west and striking out on his own. In Florida he was one of many, here his company is in high demand among restaurants and bars.”

Tony whistled appreciatively, “Damn. You’ve done your homework.”

“You don’t pay me the big bucks for nothing.”

Tony handed over the paper to Danny who read over the information Rafael gathered and the rough estimate of figures written down, “You’re a numbers guy Rafael. What do these figures tell you? Long term at least?”

“You’d be saving each month there is no doubt. Of course a lot of that is because the company is close enough to be easily accessible and their prices are reasonable.”

“No harm in setting up a meeting. Tony how about you call and set a meeting up for next week. And since the girls are probably still out shopping how about I get us some Little Havana?”

Tony could feel his taste buds begin to salivate already. “Sounds like a plan to me. Rafael you in?”

The older man scoffed, “As if you had to ask.”

***

Bay City

In his newly furnished office Carlos Riviera sat with his legs crossed upon his desk. It was hand-crafted mahogany that practically shouted power and success. Just the image he liked to portray to the world. “I am sure I could make some time to come visit your establishment Mr. Santos. How does Wednesday at one o’clock sound okay?” He smiled while he waited for the other man to check his own calender. Being the large fish in this small pond had its perks, one of them was being in demand. Businesses didn’t call him unless they needed him and he could be choosy. But he wanted the Santos business. Badly. Everything he worked for in the past eleven years depended on this deal.

When Tony Santos came back on the line to confirm Carlos moved his feet to the floor and sat forward. He circled the date on his desk calendar. “Will see you then Mr. Santos. Hope this will be the start of a new business relationship.”

After hanging up the phone Carlos returned to his casual pose from before. “Can’t wait to meet you Tony Santos. Can’t wait to meet you.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Twelve

Marah had just pulled the tray of muffins out of the oven when she felt Tony’s arms close loosely around her waist.  He leaned his head down beside hers and hummed in appreciation, “Mm-hmm.  Something sure smells good in here.”

“My Grandma Sarah’s Apple Cinnamon muffins.  I woke up craving some and had to make them.” She reached out to grab one before hesitating, “I probably shouldn’t.  I can already feel my butt expanding and I haven’t even tasted it yet.”

Tony leaned back to examine said body part in question and smiled in adoration, “Looks mighty fine to me Mrs. Santos.  Mighty fine indeed.”

Marah turned and slapped his arm playfully, “You have to say that husband of mine.  Though I do love when you watch me with those pervy eyes of yours Mr. Santos.  Gets me all hot and bothered.” She giggled as she grabbed a muffin anyway, her early talk about expanding derrieres forgotten, “So what are your plans for the day?”

Tony looked out the window, his brown eyes taking in the early morning sun and how it made everything seem so more promising than the night before.  He grabbed a muffin of his own before answering, “Danny, Rafael, and I are meeting at Infierno to go over quarterly sales figures and discuss possible new wine distributors.  The one we have been using has been late three times in the past two months.  But we’ll get it resolved.”

“I’m sure you will.  Michelle and I are going shopping on Main Street.  Trying to locate some decent maternity clothes that don’t make me look like a circus tent.”

Tony laughed loudly.  “Kind of early don’t you think?  You are not even showing.”

“You are such a guy.” Marah rolled her eyes, “Maternity clothes have a tendency to run towards the hideous.  So Michelle and I are getting an early start.  That way when I do start to show I don’t have to look like the circus tent I just mentioned.”

Tony nodded though Marah could tell he wasn’t the least bit interested.  “Understood.”  He got up and after washing his plate he kissed her on the top of her head. “But you know you are gorgeous in anything you wear.  Even circus apparel.”

Now it was Marah’s turn to laugh. “You sweet talker you!”

“I do have my good points Mrs. Santos.  You remember that.”

***

“How does this look?”

Marah barely glanced at the scarf Michelle held up for her to inspect, “Looks good.  Very chic.  But you should have seen him last night Michelle I just felt so bad for him.”

“I knew I didn’t have your full attention!” Michelle threw the offensive scarf down in disgust and eyed her friend with mock anger, “That scarf I showed you had to have been a holdover from the seventies at least!  I think my mom had a scarf like that, and it was probably ugly back then too.”

Snapped to full attention at the displeasure, and humor, in Michelle’s voice Marah finally looked down at the discarded garment…and winced.  It was indeed ugly, not that she would ever admit defeat though. “Well in the fashion world we call that vintage.  And it never really goes out of style.”

Michelle scoffed and moved over to the closest rack of maternity clothes, “Here in the real world we call that ugly and it is always out of style.” She began rifling through the garments before continuing, “So tell me about Tony.  What had him so upset?”

“Last night we were having dinner over at Towers with my family to tell them about the baby.  It was going great when the new bartender asked if it was our first baby.”

Now it was Michelle’s turn to wince, “Well I am certain that but a kibosh on the whole celebration atmosphere,”

“You can say that again!  Tony actually had to excuse himself and go outside.  Then when we got home he was still pretty upset about it.  Said it brought back a lot of the old pain from that summer.  We talked it out and he seemed fine when we finally went to bed, but what if it’s always there Michelle?  That anger and resentment? Just waiting to burst to the surface.”

Michelle looked thoughtful for a moment as if she herself was reliving that year as well.  The summer where her brother almost died and that fall when she and Danny separated and Danny was thought to be dead.  Marah’s suspicions were confirmed when Michelle shuddered, “I think I can speak for all of us that 2002 was not a great year.  Losing the love of your life because someone manipulated you into getting them pregnant is enough for anyone.  Losing the baby then going to jail for murder of said manipulative wench?  Yeah I must say Tony had a pretty rough go of it that year.” Michelle held out her palm and placed it on Marah’s belly, “But this baby is a whole other story.  This baby is your baby and if I know Tony he has a secret list of baby names a mile long.  Don’t worry, Tony will get his head on straight.”

Marah had to admit that Michelle had made some good points.  And no one else knew what it was like loving the complicated Santos males than she did.  “You have a point.  But I’m tired of thinking.” She rubbed her belly gently, “And the baby is thinking it’s time for some lunch.”

Michelle’s lifted an eyebrow. “Buzz burger? Followed by a trip to Len’s since Rick and Mindy has the kids until Danny is done with work?”

Marah grabbed her purse and the two women moved towards the exit, “You read my mind. Junior mint isn’t too picky as long as he or she is fed regularly.”  Marah paused then laughed, “Hey this baby is part Lewis after all.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Eleven

Angela knocked on the adjoining door of what the shifty looking night manager had the audacity to dub a “suite”.  Not sure who he was trying to fool.  The Rex Motel was not known for four star accommodations, their clientele ran more towards the no-tell motel variety.   It’s basic amenities included a bed, a television that was reminiscent of the dark ages, and a guy behind a desk who didn’t ask too many questions for the right amount of cash.  Which made it the perfect hideaway, even as it made her skin crawl just being inside the dingy walls.

The connecting door opened and she was ushered in without a word.  The room was a carbon copy of her own.  The peeling wallpaper that held the unmistakable odor of cigarette smoke and age.  The sagging moth-eaten mattress.  Yes the Rex motel was definitely a hole.  Her companion smiled snidely, “Have a seat.”

Angela eyed the unmade bed with suspicion.  She and her partner were thrown together by circumstance and a common goal, revenge.  But who knew what unwashed trash he brough back to this room to pass the time away with. “I’m fine standing.”

He walked over to the foot of the bed and thew the comforter over the crumpled sheets, “There you go princess. Does that help your delicate sensibilities?”

She straightened her spine at the mocking tone of his voice, “I am not delicate.  I just don’t know what kind of nasty women you have brough back to this flea-ridden room. And who knows what kind of filthy things you do in this room.  I know men and you strike me as the down and dirty type.”  To prove that she wasn’t intimidated by his fierce intensity Angela sauntered over and took a seat on the haphazardly made bed. But before she could speak she was pinned down flat on her back, her companion’s bulking weight effectively caging her in, “So, you want to find out?”

She placed her hands on her shoulders and pushed to no avail, “Find out what? That you’re an ass? I know that already.”

He leaned his head back and laughed then turned those brown intense eyes down at her, “No princess. You want to find out what filthy things I do in this bed?”

Angela felt another shiver go through her body that had nothing to do with cold or fear.  She had always been attracted to strong men, and he certainly fit the bill. But something told her that he wasn’t acting on attraction but trying to assert his alpha male dominance over her.  Well he had another thing coming, “Hardly.” She brought up her knee and surreptitiously hinted that she’d have no issue kicking him in the cojones if he didn’t move off of her. “Now move or sing soprano for a year. Your choice.”

He eyed her for a few moments before leveling himself off of her with a terse, “Your loss princess.”

“And that’s another thing. Stop calling me princess. It’s annoying.”

He laughed without humor, “Have you taken a good look at yourself? You act like all this is beneath you but despite what you believe I’m no one’s fool.  I’ve done my homework on you.  So while you may play the princess I bet this dive is hardly the worst place you’ve stayed in your life.” He crossed his muscled arms over an equally impressive chest.  It was a classic move intended to intimidate and damn if it didn’t work though Angela managed to hide it as best she could.  But he still pinned her with his laser-like intensity, “So let’s cut the crap.  You are currently slumming here by no one’s choice but your own.” Judging by her frown he could tell that she really hated when he was right.  Tough luck sweetheart. He had only been playing earlier, pushing Angela to see how far she was willing to go.  Though it’s not like he would push her out of his bed if the opportunity presented itself.  He was hardly a monk and she was a good-looking woman.  But he had someone else in his sights…

“I still think that considering how much dough you are raking in we could afford some better living accommodations.  This place should have been condemned years ago.”

There were times that he was tempted to shake some sense into her, even more times when he was tempted to choke the life right out of her.  But he held back because he had plans for her.  She had her purpose even if he wasn’t going to fill her in on the whole plan.  “You know why.  Does discretion mean nothing to you? ”

Angela feigned boredom.  Yeah she knew why they had to live in this hovel, but she didn’t have to like it.  “So tell me about this amended plan of yours before I fall asleep already.”

He watched her eyes spark with interest and mischief as he laid out the details.  Such a blood thirsty little wench.  Tony Santos wouldn’t know what hit him.

***

Tony knew he shouldn’t have let some stranger’s words affect him tonight but he couldn’t seem to stop it any more than he could stop them from effecting him now.  Hours later and he could still hear the echo of the innocent enough question and it brought all the pain from the past upon him like a tidal wave. Why did the past never stay buried like it should?  He was married to the love of his life, they were expecting a baby together, and he had his family back.  He should be enough to leave the past where it belonged.  It should be, now if only someone would tell his fool head maybe it would shut up.  He wanted to scream and rage.  Instead he reached behind him and tried to punch his pillow into submission.

Marah paused in climbing into bed and instead stopped and sat upon her heels, eyeing him warily, “Feel better?”

He looked at her sitting there and felt the knot in his chest pull even tighter.  She was so damn beautiful and everything he had always dreamed of.  She was simply everything, which made him feel that much worse. “Not really.”

She tilted her head inquisitively, no doubt thinking about how best to approach the situation.  “Do you want to talk about it?”

Tony let out a brief sigh.  “It just when that guy asked if it was our first child…it all came flooding back.  I was going to be a father before.  And then that brought even more stuff from the past.  All the hurt and pain.  From Romeo. From Catalina.”

“And me.”  Marah moved forward until she could brace herself against the headboard alongside her pensive husband.  “I hurt you too Tony and you hurt me.  There was a lot of hurt that summer.  It took a long time for us to move forward and find our way back to each other but we did.  I didn’t think we were going to be able to have this chance together but we do Tony.”  She reached out and grabbed Tony’s hand and placed it on her slightly rounded stomach. “Sure we didn’t plan to have children this fast but considering how much time we have missed out on maybe it was God’s way of making up for some of it.”  She lifted her hand from his as he moved to rest his head on her stomach next to their child.  He liked to sit and talk to the baby and Marah thought it was perhaps the most beautiful sight in the world, Tony being a father.  Even if that baby was still in utero.  As he took his nightly position Marah began sifting her fingers soothingly through his hair.  It may not be much but she knew he liked the small gesture, and if it was the only comfort Tony would accept she would offer it gladly.

Tony raised an eyebrow as he gently rubbed his knuckled back and forth across her abdomen, “Have you been talking to Ray again?”

Marah stopped her soft caress, “Maybe.  But in all seriousness does this feel in any way like when Catalina was pregnant?”

Tony sat up quickly dislodging her fingers from his hair and looked her in the eye, “Hell no!  Catalina getting pregnant was one of the worst times in my life.  I felt like an animal caught in a trap with nowhere to go.  Bound by a sense of duty to a woman I didn’t love and a child I helped create.  And also torn because I desperately wanted to be with you, the one who I have always loved and who I will always love….”  Tony paused, “I am sorry I ruined dinner.  I was an ass.”

Marah laughed, “You didn’t ruin dinner.  And you weren’t an ass.  Really I think everyone kind of thought about that summer for a brief minute.  But no one could begrudge you a moment to collect yourself.  No matter what you lost a child Tony, no one can take that from you.”

“I love you.”

“I know.” Marah leaned forward and kissed him then settled beneath the covers, “Now turn out the light.  The baby and I want to snuggle some more with you before we fall asleep.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Ten

Ducking out of work early was no easy task these days as busy as Infierno had been, and today had been no exception. It had taken bribery, in the form of babysitting so that Danny and Michelle could eventually have some date nights, and he still had to break land speed records to get home on time! But miraculously at six o’clock on the dot he was throwing his car keys on the entry table, “Marah! I’m home!” However, the only one who seemed impressed that he was home on time was Toby who sat wagging his tail enthusiastically in glee.

When a quick search of the first floor showed no signs of Marah he quickly moved upstairs, a sense of panic creeping in. What if something happened to the baby? What if she fell and couldn’t call for help? What if his stubborn wife had decided to take up the carpet in the second bedroom despite his adamant refusal for her to do any of the big renovations? He skidded to a stop in the doorway to the master bedroom, “Marah? Where are you?”

“Tony?”

The quiet voice coming from the bathroom caused the fear to rush out of him like water from a bathtub. Until he tried to turn the handle and discovered it was locked, “Yeah baby it’s me. Are you okay? Why is the door locked?”

More muffled shifting before Marah opened the door and looked out him, “I’m okay. Your child just hates me is all.”

Tony would have smiled at the your baby comment if he wasn’t positive that it would have gotten him a swift kick to the Santos family jewels. “I thought it was called morning sickness not night sickness. And I thought you were over that stage.”

Marah groaned, “Don’t make me laugh. Clearly the baby books are all liars because this baby decides to trample my insides at all hours, day or night. And I have been wrong before, don’t look so smug.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” He reached out and brushed the sweat-dampened hair from her forehead, “I’m going to go get you some crackers okay?”

Ten minutes later he was rubbing her back while she was munching away on a Saltine, “Do you still feel lousy? Do you want me to call you parents and Jonathan and cancel?”

She swallowed her mouthful of dry nirvana. When it thankfully stayed down she looked up at him, “No I feel better and baby Santos seems to have calmed down for the night.” She slowly stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, “Though I really need to freshen up, I look like hell. But I am really not feeling up to cooking dinner. Would you call them and ask to meet us at Towers around seven-thirty?”

Tony brushed a quick kiss on her forehead, “Anything for you Mi Vida.”

***

Reva put down the phone and faced her husband, “Well that was Tony. Seems Marah doesn’t feel up to cooking dinner and wants to meet at Towers instead.”

From his spot on the couch Josh groaned loudly, “Towers? That means I have to actually get all gussied up. At least when it was just dinner at their house I could go as is.”

“Joshua it’s not like you have to put on a suit and tie. Towers isn’t exactly the most exclusive place in town you know.” She joined him on the couch. She knew they had made a deal by the suspense was eating her up, and the excitement. “So do you think Marah and Tony are inviting us to dinner to announce something? Like a grand baby perhaps?”

“I can’t believe you held out on asking as long as you did. Restraint has never been your strong suit,” He shot his wife a look out of the corner of his eye, “Reva we promised we weren’t going to pry into our daughter’s life. Plus it could just be about the community center project. She had a meeting with Doris Wolfe today right?”

You promised, I just agreed not to discuss it with you. I work with her and I can tell you that she smiles an awful lot lately and it has nothing to do with community centers. Though it is an excellent project and will bring in more high-end clientele. But I am sure that she has that one in the bag. But my money is still on the grand baby.”

Josh raised a brow. “Your money is on a grand baby?

Should have known he caught that tidbit, but Reva playfully slapped his arm. “Go get dressed. I have to go get Collin ready and get myself all gussied up as you so eloquently put it.”

He grabbed her arm and playfully reeled her in as she walked past, “Now darlin’ you are just as gorgeous today as the day we met. But I still want to know how money is involved in this dinner.”

Like she was going to answer that. “You are quite the charmer Joshua Lewis. Flattery will get you all kinds of rewards. Later.” She quickly kissed him before resuming her trek out of the room, “But right now you need to get up and get changed.”

***

It didn’t take long for the Lewis clan to assemble together, they were quite the motley crew but Marah wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. She leaned over and greeted her mother with a kiss, “Long time no see mom.”

“What’s it been? Two hours? You can’t live without me.” And so the greetings went. Getting swept up in the Lewis clan was as easy as getting swept up with the tide, it just happened. It wasn’t five minutes before Marah forgot why she even invited her family to dinner in the first place. Until she felt Tony’s hand lightly clasp her under the table. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye and saw him wink. She softly cleared her throat, “So if were wondering why we asked you to meet us here tonight there are two reasons. The first is that yes, we got the community center project.” She eyed her mother and gave her a wink, “You might just get a raise Mrs. Lewis.”

Reva raised her glass of wine in celebration, “My boss is more than generous, which is of course why I love her so.”

“The second news is that Tony and I are going to have a baby.” Marah rushed the words together quickly.

The news was met by silence until Reva leaped out of her chair with a shout of glee, “I told you so Joshua!” She rounded the table and gathered Tony, then Marah into a hug. “Oh I am so happy for you two! Jonathan you owe me ten dollars.”

Tony accepted Josh’s more demure and manly congratulatory handshake before facing Reva, “Hey! You were betting on my wife’s womb.” He tried to look upset and affronted by the news but the effect was lost by his large smile.

“You’re darn tootin’ I was. She was smiling for months. I knew you were doing something right.”

It was hard to tell who groaned the loudest, which made Reva laugh even louder, “You guys are too easy to rile up.”

“Back so soon Mrs. Santos?”

Marah turned in greeting, it was the bartender from earlier. “Yes I am David. ” She quickly made introductions between David and her family. She felt the gentle weight of her husband’s protective arm on her shoulders and lifted her hand and rubbed it comfortingly, “And this is my husband Tony.”

Reva broke in as only Reva could do, with full gusto. “My daughter and son-in-law just announced they are having a baby!”

David extended his hand towards Tony, “Congratulations. You are a lucky man. The first for you both?”

The jubilant chatter around her suddenly got really quiet really fast. Marah was sure you could hear a pin drop it was that silent at the table. She saw Tony’s back stiffen as her moved back from shaking the newcomer’s hand. But he masked his discomfort well, “Thank you. And yes it is the first for us both.” How easily the lie slipped from his lips. Tony turned towards Marah, “I’ll be right back. I need to…I just need to get some air.” He laid a perfunctory kiss on her cheek before walking towards the door.

“Was it something I said?”

Marah turned her attention back to David and shook her head. “No it wasn’t your fault.” Just a bad memory coming back to haunt us.

Her parents continued to smile and make idle chit-chat before David resumed his duties but she could tell by the look in their eyes that they were remembering Catalina and the deadly outcome of her deception. Jonathan leaned into her and whispered, “What in the hell was that all about?”

Sometimes she forgot that he wasn’t around for all of that madness. “The past always rears its ugly head when we least expect it.” If anything Jonathan looked even more puzzled but he seemed to take the hint and dropped the subject. It wasn’t long before Tony walked back inside, a smile once again gracing his face, but like her parents she could tell he was masking the pain from the past. He took his seat next to her, “Sorry. I needed some air.”

How Marah ached for him. But she wished he didn’t hide it, he had to know she of all people would understand. “Do you want to go?”

“Don’t be silly. ” Tony began talking to her father and Jonathan about business and she could tell the matter was closed. At least for right now.

***

Angela leaned against the wall in the bathroom designated for employees, basically the only place where she could find a minute amount of privacy, and strained to hear the person on the other end of the line above all the noise. “What do you mean the plan has changed? You can’t do that! We had a damned deal.”

This was not good. Not good at all. And there was nothing she could do about it. She hadn’t been able to so much as make a move on her part of “the plan”. Not with the manager with eyes like a hawk. He noticed everything and missed nothing. Especially after the other night. He was watching her especially close. She couldn’t even take a bathroom break without him noticing.

She kept listening to voice on the other end of the line giving instructions. “Okay. I get it. Yes. I will meet you later.” She ended the call and let out a calming breath before making her way back into the busy club. It was going to be a long night.

What Matters Most ~ Chapter Nine

Marah worried her lip as she looked over her proposed designs for the new Fifth Street Community Center. She knew she was good but jobs of this scale always made her a bit nervous. But a job this big would also launch her business into a whole other playing field. Which was why she had arrived a few minutes early to make sure everything was perfect, and to give herself a little pep talk. “If you could handle starving models during fashion week you can handle this. Doris Wolfe at her worst is nothing compared to that.”

“You know talking to yourself is never a good sign.”

Marah had been so engrossed in her plans she hadn’t noticed the man approach. She just considered herself lucky that she hadn’t been drinking anything or her surprise might have scrapped the entire project. Hard to look professional when not only your outfit but your designs are drenched, “Occupational hazard or personal quirk? Take your pick. I like to go with occupational hazard myself. Makes me seem a little less on the crazy side.”

The man smiled, “And why is a beautiful lady like yourself sitting alone?”

Inwardly Marah groaned. Why was it that when men decided to flirt they used such lame lines? Marah eyed the stranger again, she guessed he was handsome enough. If you liked that generic dark-haired college frat boy look. She hadn’t been a fan of that look when she was in college much less now. She had always had eyed for her tall, dark, and handsome Santos. Some things never changed no matter how old you were.

As if sensing that he had moved beyond normal social etiquette the newcomer held out his hand, “Sorry I forgot to introduce myself. My name is David Anderson. I am the new bartender slash night manager here at Towers.”

Years of good manners demanded dignify with a response. She held out her hand, “Marah Santos. Do you always flirt with patrons you just met?”

“Only the pretty ones.”

He still wore that smile meant to disarm unsuspecting females though she would have sworn his eyes flickered when she introduced herself. Which by now she was sort of used to, the Santos name still wasn’t completely cleared, and probably never would be, but they chose not to let the curious whispers bother them. But this was a stranger, which in her eyes put a whole new spin on the situation. Marah opened up her mouth to inquire further when she saw Doris Wolfe enter from the elevators. Show time! She stood and gathered her designs back into her portfolio, “Well it was nice to meet you but my meeting is about to start. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

“Oh I can almost guarantee it Mrs. Santos.”

***

Marah found that Doris Wolfe was remarkably less frightening as an adult than she was as a teenager. As a teenager Doris had not only tried to send Tony to prison but had actually succeeded in sending her mother away for a while. She had been formidable and scary on Marah’s youthful memories. Now they were on my even footing and Marah wasn’t so intimidated by Doris’s formidable demeanor. Even better, she liked the plans Marah had for the community center. “Well Marah I must say I’m impressed. It’s both practical and efficient while still remaining classy . I will present these to the Board of Trustees but off the record, yours is the best we’ve seen yet.” The older woman began placing the photo renderings in her briefcase while inside Marah did a happy dance. Yes Doris Wolfe wasn’t nearly as bad as she had been to a frightened teenager.

“Thank you for the opportunity Ms. Wolfe. Working on a project of this magnitude would be a great honor.” When Doris continued to stare off into space Marah became a little concerned. She tried again. “Ms. Wolfe?”

Snapped out of her thoughts Doris looked at Marah with a guilty wince. “Sorry my mind is elsewhere today.”

Marah was no idiot, she knew that snagging this job hinged on her ability to charm Doris Wolfe. And it was clear that Doris’ mind wasn’t anywhere close to community centers or Fifth Street. “Would you like to talk about it? I hear I am a pretty good listener.”

It was as if giving Doris the green light to unload her emotional drama opened the flood gates. Suddenly Marah was privy to all of Doris’ woes and she was regretting her offer of assistance. “It’s my daughter Ashlee. I sent her to college to get an education and what happens? She meets a man. She could be the next Barbara Walters, instead she and her fiance are thinking of returning to Springfield. I wanted better for her than working for the Springfield Journal.”

Marah wisely kept her mouth shut. She doubted Doris wanted to hear about how since Fletcher Reade had returned to Springfield the paper had seen a resurgence of its formal glory so she just tried to nod sympathetically while Doris kept ranting.

“And her fiancé? I think he is some kind of hippie. Has her balancing her chakras and meditating. And rock climbing! Like I want my daughter hanging off a mountainside by her fingertips. But that is not the real issue. The real issue is I frankly don’t know how I could see being related, even through marriage, to Olivia Spencer.”

While Doris visibly shuddered Marah’s antennas went up. That must mean that Ashlee was engaged to… “Is Ashlee engaged to Sam Spencer by any chance?”

Marah wasn’t the only one whose antennas went up. Doris practically perked up with the innocent enough question. “I forgot your father was married to Olivia for a while.”

Marah laughed without any real humor.  She had put Olivia through the ringer, had in fact considered her the stepmother from hell. And she hadn’t been too far off the mark, Olivia had been a real piece of work. But if Marah was honest with herself she hadn’t been too much better. She had been in her teenage rebellion phase and not very pleasant to, well, anyone those days. Not even poor sweet Sam who tried so hard for her to see him as more than a friend. But even then her heart had belonged to Tony. “Doris I hope this doesn’t ruin all my hopes of getting the job, but Sam is a good guy. I haven’t seen Olivia in years but back then he was the best part of Olivia Spencer, even with the New Age meditation stuff.”

Doris seemed to ponder this for a moment. “I am still not to thrilled with my daughter hanging off the side of a mountain.”

At that moment Doris reminded Marah so much of her parents, particularly her father, it was downright scary. But then did any parent want to see their child grow up and spread their wings? But Joshua Lewis’ reluctance had been due to the danger associated with the Santos family so Marah at least felt compelled to point out Sam’s positive points. “You know one time Sam literally free climbed a tower to rescue me from kidnappers? We were never meant to be more than friends but he was always a good one.”

Marah glanced at the clock on the wall and was shocked to see how much time had passed. She still had to so much to get done before her family came over tonight! “I am sorry to cut this meeting short but my parents are coming over for dinner tonight and I am not even remotely ready.” But before she could leave she had to say at least one more thing, “I hope you like my designs. I may be new to the business but my portfolio speaks for itself. I do good work. And give your daughter a chance at love. If not you might end up missing out on time that you can never get back.”

As she made her way towards the exit Doris called out her name to get her attention. “Thanks for the advice. And though I will have to run it formally by the trustees I can informally say you got the job.”

Marah smiled demurely while inside she was doing a happy dance. ” Thank you. You won’t be disappointed.”

New Posting Schedule

Marony5

So you may have noticed that I may have been veering away from my original planned posting schedule.  Simply put, I couldn’t handle the once a week posting.  Yes it was ME that had to change the schedule!  I am just too excited to get this story out for everyone that I have increased the postings to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  So now there are three days of Marah and Tony enjoyment to be had for all.  In addition, if there are multiple sections to chapters (such as the Bauer BBQ) I will post those chapters consecutively.

I hope you are enjoying the story so far.  There is a lot more coming your way….

What Matters Most~ Chapter Eight

Hope bounced up and down in her sneakers, “Uncle Tony we’ll never be able to find them in the middle of all these people!”

Truthfully Springfield International wasn’t as crowded as he expected for a Saturday afternoon, but he supposed that for a little girl it probably looked like Grand Central Station, “No worries kiddo, we’ll find them.  We’re even early for a change so we’ll be waiting right there when your parents step off their plane.” He held the little girl’s hand and ushered her forward then winked at Robbie, “Now remember, you two were complete angels and Danielle was so good she puts the Gerber baby to shame.”

As if Danielle found that idea completely ridiculous she chose that moment to blow a raspberry and yanked at the blonde ponytail clutched in her tiny fist.  Marah winced before looking at the toddler in question, “I was thinking the same think Dani.” She turned her attention to her husband while subtly trying to extract the new object of Danielle’s fascination, “Danny and Michelle know full well that their kids aren’t angels.  Come on Tony, they’re kids!  And Santos kids at that.  You were the one who always told me that all Santos’ were natural-born hellions.”

Tony barked out a laugh of his own before stopping and tucking the soft blonde hair Dani had pulled out of her ponytail behind her ear. “You just remember that Mrs. Santos when our own little hellion is blowing up DVD players.”

The seductive purr Tony used when calling her Mrs. Santos never failed to curl her toes.  If only they weren’t in a crowded airport and currently corralling two anxious kids, and one baby who seemed to have grown an extra pair of hands, through the throngs of travelers,”Well Mr. Santos we’ll just have to hope that he, or she, gets their temperament from me.”

“Ha! Like Josh and Reva’s daughter was a timid little flower.  Pretty sure you were one who ran away from home.  Though I must admit, we Santos children probably should have run away.  But it’s okay Baby, you keep telling yourself that you are the sweet one.”

Robbie chose that moment to make a loud gagging noise, clearly unamused by their mushy antics. “Ick! You two are as bad as mom and dad with that Mr. and Mrs. Santos stuff.”

Both adults stood stunned at the little boy currently making exaggerated gagging noises.  Marah was the first to look away, her face beet red with embarrassment.  Tony however was curious, “So Robbie, your parents do the Mr. and Mrs. Santos thing too huh?”

Not realizing that he had just handed over a gem of information Tony would love to use against his cousin, Robbie nodded enthusiastically, “All the time.  Dad says it is their special code, whatever that means.  But I guess since you’re a Santos too it’s okay.”

Marah decided to step in and change the subject before the little man gave away anymore of his parent’s bedroom secrets, “Your mom’s five pages of travel itinerary said that they will be arriving at Gate 145.  How about we move that way before Danielle snatches me bald?”

***

A half an hour later Marah and Tony, along with two anxious kids and one hair-snatching toddler, watched as passenger after passenger began to disembark the plane.  When after twenty minutes there was still no sign of Danny and Michelle questions began bouncing in Marah’s head.  Especially when it appeared the last of the passengers seemed to have trickled out of the plane.  What if they had missed their flight?  What if this was the wrong gate?  She passed Danielle to Tony and began to rummage through her oversized purse before pulling out Michelle’s very detailed notes, “It says right here, bold and underlined, Flight 265 at Gate 145.”

Hope looked at her with worried eyes, “Did they lose my mom and dad like they lost Uncle Rick’s luggage?”

Marah opened her mouth to reassure the girl but suddenly Hope darted past her followed closely by Robbie.  Marah turned in time to see Danny scoop the little girl into his arms,  “No Sweetie the airline didn’t lose us.  We just got…held up a little bit.”  Marah noted the pink tint to Michelle’s cheeks and could only guess what ‘held up’ entailed but she just shot the woman a knowing smile.  But that didn’t stop Tony who winked at Michelle while he handed over Danielle, “Hey Primo thanks for worrying us while you were circling the skies getting some last-minute nookie.”

Danny wrapped his free arm around Michelle and smiled, “Can you really blame me?”

Michelle reached forward and ruffled Robbie’s hair, “How about we go get our luggage and head home?  And you need to tell us all about baseball camp.  Did you have fun while we were gone?”

They began walking towards the baggage claim while Robbie kept up a steady stream of commentary about how much he enjoyed baseball camp and the new friends he had made before the new school year began.  Before long they were waiting with all the other passengers for their luggage to appear.

Tony leaned over and at least whispered at his cousin this time, “Well at least your little forray into the mile high club didn’t slow down the dedicated staff at Springfield International Airport.  They are as efficient as ever.”

Danny’s laugh was interrupted by his son leaning into him, “What’s nookie?” It was hard to decide whose face expressed the most shock at Robbie’s innocent question.  Though judging by the looks the people around them it was a show stopper.

Michelle looked at Tony and smiled patiently while shaking her head, “It’s a good thing I like you Tony considering what you are teaching our children.  Who needs MTV and HBO these days?”

After surreptitiously wiping tears of laugher from his eyes Danny looked at his cousin with glee,”So Tony you think you are ready?”

Tony seemed to ponder the question a moment before answering, “After exploding food, melting DVD players, and a middle of the night ear infection I can say with good authority that I think your kids broke us in.  Either that or they broke us.  I almost crawled up in a ball and cried for my mommy a few times.”

Marah slapped his arm, “He did not!  Tony was a trooper.  I was the basket case.”

Michelle laughed before nudging her friend with her elbow, “Sweetie you are running on hormones.  Once, when I was pregnant with Danielle, I cried when Len’s was out of my favorite flavor of ice cream.  The sales lady got so flustered by my outburst that she gave me a different flavor just to shut me up.  And wouldn’t you know that would become my new food craving for the next three months.”

Danny nodded at the memory, “Good thing the people at Len’s remember how fond of Michelle old man Len was.  If not those right at closing cravings would have gotten us banned for life.”

“Duly noted.  When in doubt blame the hormones.”

Michelle reached forward as she spotted some of their luggage pass by. “You’re learning young grasshopper.”

***

“What are you doing?”

Angela gasped at the booming voice of Rafael which in the best of circumstances he commanded attention, in the worst he almost made her wet herself.  This was definitely an example of the later.  “I was just leaving Mr. Santos a note telling him I need next Friday off.  Dentist appointment.”  She held out the paper as though brandishing evidence, and through sheer will kept her hand from shaking.

Rafael narrowed his eyes in suspicion as he moved deeper into the office.  Angela resisted the urge to recoil in fear.  She had faced worse, at least she thought she had.  “I don’t know how your other places of employment opperated but I am your manager.  If you need next Friday off you come to me, not Tony.  And these offices are off-limits after hours.  I catch you up here again and you can have all your Fridays off, and the rest of the week too because you’ll be unemployed.”

Inside Angela seethed.  Who did this guy think he was?  He wasn’t even a Santos yet he threw his weight around like he was.  Well it was time to defuse Mr. Rafael Santiago.  She smiled coyly, “Mr. Santiago I didn’t mean to break the rules.  I swear next time I will come straight to you.” When all he did was stand there and blink at her attempts at seduction Angela wanted to kick her feet like a stubborn child.  This was not right!  All men had a weakness and she had learned early in life that the way into a man’s heart, head, or pocketbook wasn’t through his stomach. It was about six inches lower.  Rafael Santiago was made of stone.

As if he knew that she was frustrated by his lack of response he cracked a patronizing smirk. “Go home before you embarass yourself even further.  I only have so much patience in one night.”