Sandra Santiago is in a tailspin. Her life never seems to steady itself long enough for her to breathe. She finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place, or in other words, stuck between two men. Carlos, her incarcerated ex-husband, makes her stomach turn in the worse way, but he’s all she’s known for most of her life. Then there’s Manuel, the father of her son, who challenges all of her thoughts on men in general. However, there’s a problem, neither one is her husband, yet both want her for themselves. What is Sandra to do? Stay single and heal from her misjudgments or go out on a limb and go with a path that has been more than fated for her? All her entangled desires will be broken when she finally listens to her heart and gets out of her own way.
Sandra shifted in her sleep, and Manuel held his breath, as he did not want to disturb her. Her curls fell into her face. God she was beautiful. Manuel gingerly fingered her hair away from her brow. To him, she was glorious. Long, thick, curly hair, like a wavy lion’s mane. Olive-colored skin that shined with a glow. A slender frame that had filled out a bit since giving birth to their son.
She was perfection.
He was so grateful to her for carrying and bringing the most beautiful person in creation into the world. Manuel loved Deuce more than anything. More than his family. More than himself. Every time he was around his baby, his breath caught for a moment, just from the rush of joy. And for that, he was grateful. To her. Sandra had unselfishly given him something to live for. Someone to love. Her greatest gift to him.
He watched Sandra twitch her lips into a cute pucker, and then she shifted again. For a little over a year, he had spent nearly every moment of his free time in her company. Yes, it was to be with his son, but he had to admit that during the past six months of Deuce’s life—the late night bottle feedings, colic, and a small bout of influenza—he had bonded with Sandra as well. Manuel felt something past the level of co-parenting. He yearned to know what she was doing when he was away from her. What had she eaten that day? Did she laugh at something funny? What did she wear? Everything. While in her company, he wanted to touch her every chance he could get. Sweeping a stray strand from her brow, a pat to her knee, the graze of her fingers as she passed him something. He needed to feel her constantly.
Manuel asked himself why a handful of times. The day she came home from her divorce proceedings, he knew why he wanted her so much. That day, Sandra was shattered, broken, sobbing about how she had failed. Manuel had become a shoulder for her to cry on. A friend to vent to. Her best friend, Victoria, was nursing a sick baby of her own that weekend, so Sandra needed a rock to hold her up and he was it. He cancelled all his business plans, and he stayed with her for the weekend, taking care of her and Deuce while her depression cleared.
Manuel knew what it was like to have something you worked so hard to create and fix when it was broken become irreparable. It had happened to him also. Yet that weekend he focused on her without making it about him. Manuel knew then that he wanted to give her the world. Repair her broken heart and show her a different way of being loved. He wanted to give her time. Not force himself and his feelings on her. Then there was the ball that he had yet to drop on her that kept him from revealing how he felt—his own marriage. Two years in, and his divorce still was not finalized. With him being a successful lead corporate accountant for a Fortune 500 company and his wife a homemaker, they had a lot of assets and red tape to weed through. And now he had a dependent, which made everything difficult as well.
“Manuel? What are you still doing here?”
Before he could answer, Sandra continued with her questioning. “What time is it? Is the baby still asleep?”
She sat up in the bed and began to rub her eyes, then checked the time. Sandra had somewhat of a commanding presence and Manuel was quiet-natured, so she tended to control the flow of all of their conversations, which was why he never really got a chance to mention his divorce issues. Sandra asked a few times about his life, but he felt it safe to not divulge too much. Protecting her feelings was very important to him, so eventually she focused on finding her own way in life. Creating a path for herself, and he did not want to overshadow her growth with his personal issues. They weren’t in a relationship, no matter how badly he wanted it. Co-parents with a loose friendship was what they were. Point blank and period.
Sandra sought a newfound independence, and he wanted to allow her that. Sure, he had the ability to give her everything she needed, but he wanted to do things the right way. From what he could see, her husband had controlled everything, from what she ate to where she worked. Manuel did not want to create the same environment. He did not want to rule her but uplift her, and he wanted to be single and free of his marital binds before he showed that side of himself. Until then, he would be an amazing father to Deuce and a silent supporter for her.
“Manuel? Are you just going to stand there?”
“Oh, I apologize. The baby is still asleep, and it’s just turning dusk.”
Sandra sank her head into her hands. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I’ve just had an intense day.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“Not really. I guess we can’t really spend the day in the park. So what’re your plans?”
“If it’s all the same to you, I would like to spend some time with you guys.”
“Sure. I can whip up some rice and fajitas. How does that sound?”
“Now you’re talking my language, Mamasita,” Manuel said with a little swirl of his hips, mimicking a salsa.
Sandra chuckled. “No dancing around these parts mister.”
“Ay, dance with me this one time.”
Sandra shook her head, but with the snap of his wrist, Manuel pulled her out of the bed and flush with his torso. There was no way for her to talk her way out of his hold. He happened to be dominant in a few areas, and dance was one. He grazed his hands down her side while she wrapped her arms around his neck with force, like a gust of wind. When he got his hand to her thigh, she kicked up her leg, and he grabbed her knee and dipped her low. Then with a quick motion of his body, Manuel snapped her up, and her loose tendrils covered her face.
Manuel brushed back her hair, and he took in her gaze. As he inspected her beauty, she began to regard him. The air became thick. He could feel her breath hitch. His desire rising. They both seemed to be caught up in a trance until Sandra broke away.
She ran her fingers through her hair as she paced away from him. “I’ll get dinner started, and you go wake your son or he will be up all night,” she stated.
After one quick glance in his direction, Sandra muttered something in Spanish as she stormed down the hallway. He stood there for a second and shook his head. Another lost moment, he thought. All he wanted was her. To be with her. To dance with her. But their life was filled with those lost moments, lost opportunities to take things to the next level.
“Manuel!” Sandra shouted from the kitchen. “Wake Deuce, por favor.”
Ay dios mio with this one, he thought as he hurried to complete her demands. Mi amor, she is, mi amor.