Chapter 12. Engagement Party
I woke up alone in my bed. When I laid down earlier, Abigail and Stormy were still in bed asleep. I didn’t want to wake them. They didn’t sleep much the last couple of days. I checked my phone, but there weren’t any calls or texts.
Abby walked into the bedroom. “Hey, babe.”
“Hey, where is Stormy?” I asked and yawned.
Abby crawled across the bed and sat next to me. “In her bedroom playing.” She curled herself into my chest.
I laid back and tangled a hand in her hair. My other hand rubbed her back.
“Where is everyone?” Abby looked up at me.
“Gone. They left a few hours ago to investigate Irena’s disappearance.”
“Do you think that Harold caught up with her or something? She wouldn’t just leave and not call you, would she?” Abigail stared at me with wild concern in her eyes.
“I don’t know, bebé. If she’s anything like Iris, maybe. Iris was the type to be very independent. She never asked for help, which is part of why she wound up dead. I hate saying that, but it’s true. I should have pushed her harder to stay here with me. Dad’s theory is the only one that makes sense.”
“So, you think she ran off?”
“That’s what I want to believe.”
We stayed silent for a long moment after that. She kept her arms tightly around me. Abby had never held on so tightly to me before, and she didn’t have to tell me the reason because I already knew. What happened in Florida scared her. Everyone, including myself, believed that I might not come back from San Francisco. Some part of me knew that I still might not survive the situation with Harold, and Abigail knew it too.
“Mom is planning an engagement party,” I said, breaking the long silence.
Abigail stared at me with wide eyes, and her lips parted in shock. “Oops,” she mouthed.
I laughed. “That’s a super guilty expression you’re wearing.”
Abigail shot forward and turned to face me on her hands and knees.
I tilted my head, and my eyes fell to her chest, which I had a good view of because of her position.
“Andy, I’m sorry. She grabbed my hand. What was I supposed to do or say? I didn’t want to lie to your mother and—”
“Relax, Abby. It’s fine.” My eyes danced with humor, and a chuckle escaped me. It wasn’t like I was upset about it. I figured we would tell them together, but it didn’t matter.
Abby pursed her lips. “You’re not upset?”
“Your parents aren’t upset?”
“What? No. Why would they be?”
Abby shrugged and sat down cross-legged in front of me. Her hands gripped tightly onto the blanket. Her knuckles turned white from her tight grip. She stared at the bed as she spoke in a low voice. “Sometimes, I’m not sure that they like me too much.”
“That’s ridiculous, bebé.”
“No, it isn’t,” she argued. Her eyes flickered to mine, and she shook her head. “Maybe they think you deserve better. Stormy isn’t your daughter, and they know that. Maybe they won’t ever like her as much—”
“Abby, stop,” I snapped. I groaned in frustration and rubbed my face fiercely with my hands. I dropped them and took a deep breath before I spoke. “Baby, they don’t care that Stormy isn’t biologically mine. I’m going to be the one raising her. Nobody is going to look at her differently because she isn’t my blood. They love her, and I love her. That’s all that matters.”
“I guess,” Abby said and sighed.
“Besides, if they didn’t like you, they wouldn’t want to throw us an engagement party.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“You know what else I’m right about?” I asked. I got on my hands and knees and inched closer to her face.
She smiled at the playfulness in my tone. “What’s that?”
“We need a shower.” My voice held nothing but authority.
She giggled. “Do we?”
“Mhm,” I hummed. The second my lips caught hers, I got excited, and utterly disappointed in the next second when my phone rang. I groaned in frustration.
“You better get that. It could be your parents,” Abby said.
I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and answered it. “Hello?”
“Hey, honey. We’re on our way back. We were able to get into her bank account, but she hasn’t used her debit card. She did go to the bank a few days before you got the call from Harold to withdraw quite a bit of money, though,” Mom explained. “Benny searched through the airport’s records, and she hasn’t got onto a flight. There is no telling if she used cash for a rental car. She left her vehicle at home.”
“Okay. He must have called her then. Can you double-check that it’s her that went to the bank through the cameras?” I asked. Part of me wondered if Harold emptied her account.
“Benny checked that,” Mom said. “It’s definitely Irena. She’s fine, honey, wherever she is. Did you tell Abigail about the engagement party?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said and smirked. My eyes flickered to Abby. “She’s all for it.”
“Great because we’re doing it this weekend at one of our dinner clubs,” Mom said. “Andrea and I are going to take her shopping for a dress to wear tomorrow.”
“I’ll warn her,” I said and chuckled.
“Okay. Bye.” Mom hung up the phone. It sounded like she could barely contain her excitement. If Mom could pull the party off sooner, she probably would have tried.
“We need to get Marlena a plane ticket. Call her and tell her about the engagement party,” I said. “Mom’s planning it for the weekend and wants to take you shopping for an outfit tomorrow.”
Abigail sighed. “Have you told them about us moving?”
“Haven’t had a chance.”
“Daddy,” Stormy called for me as she dashed into the bedroom. Her brown curls flew out behind her as she ran.
“Hey, baby girl.”
“Daddy, can we go to the zoo?”
“The zoo?” I looked at Abigail.
Stormy’s hopeful face made it impossible to say no. “Sure, the zoo,” I agreed. “Go find your shoes.”
The announcement of our engagement stunned Marlena and Sean. Chelsea seemed genuinely pleased by the news. Marlena didn’t take it quite as bad as any of us expected. Marlena would be meeting my family for the first time tomorrow when she got into town. She would arrive early in the morning and intended to stay for a few days. Sean took it better than Marlena did. Marlena hadn’t been able to get away from work before, so the ticket Angel bought her before went to waste. Mom and Andrea were already throwing themselves into wedding planning. Our wedding wouldn’t take long to put together.
The cool night air did nothing to calm my nerves. I had no problem marrying Abigail, but I hated the attention I would receive. Tomorrow would be the engagement party and wouldn’t be much easier than the actual wedding.
The bourbon burned my throat as it went down. The wind blew my hair into a disarray. I couldn’t afford to be hungover, but between the wedding, Harold, Irena, and the Latin King situation, it started to take its toll.
Sean stepped out onto the back patio. He hopped up beside me on the concrete wall that wrapped around the patio. “Better slow down champ, you don’t want to spend your engagement party hungover, do you? Weren’t you the one who proposed?” Sean teased. He tipped his beer bottle back and took a swig.
A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “Yeah, I did.”
“Don’t get cold feet on my sister, man. She’ll kick your ass. I won’t have to.”
I laughed and nodded in agreement. “I don’t have cold feet. It’s the whole center of attention thing that bothers me. I’m not used to it. All my life, people tended to avoid me. I’m still getting used to large crowds, you know?”
Sean nodded slowly. “Yeah. I get that. Men don’t tend to enjoy being the center of attention anyway. At least, most don’t.”
“Yeah. Angel does pretty well at it, but he’s been the boss for like twenty years of a huge mafia.”
“That doesn’t mean he enjoys it, hijo.”
Sean and I looked up to see who interrupted us. My mother stepped out of the shadows and smiled at us.
“He just grew up around it. I wouldn’t say any of us particularly like being the center of attention. We’re just more experienced with it.” Mom leaned up against the concrete wall beside me and smiled. “It’ll go smoothly. All you have to do is show up. Everything else will be taken care of.”
“Since I have both of you here. I want to say something,” Sean said.
Mom and I looked at Sean and waited for him to speak.
Sean took another swig of his beer and swallowed hard. “Chelsea and I appreciate everything you guys have done, but we’re both missing Florida a lot. Her dad offered me a good-paying job too. I’ve already spoken to Angel about it. We’re going to come back for the wedding, but we’re going to move out by the end of the month.”
Mom smiled politely and nodded.
“Don’t worry, man. No hard feelings. This was just a test it out and see if you like it type of situation. No strings attached. I hope the best for both of you. Just stay away from motorcycle clubs.” I winked at him.
Sean and Mom chuckled.
Sean shook my hand. “Thanks, I appreciate it. We like it here, but Florida is just home for both of us, and we miss it. Take care of my sister and niece.”
“You already know,” I said.
“Yeah, I do.” Sean jumped off the concrete wall and headed into the house.
My eyes flickered to Mom. “You didn’t just come out here to hear all of that. So, what’s up?”
Mom smiled. “You already know me so well. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Not strange. I’m happier here than I have been anywhere else,” I told her.
“Good.” Mom drew in a deep breath and cleared her throat. “Your father and I want to buy you a house and pay for the wedding.”
“Mom,” I groaned. “Don’t do that to me.”
“We thought about what you told us. We can see that you and Abigail aren’t used to being taken care of, but you have to understand that we have more money than we know what to do with. Whether you get it while we’re alive or when we’re dead isn’t going to make a difference, is it?”
“When you’re. . .” I trailed off and shook my head. “What do you mean?”
“Andy, when your father and I die, you’re going to inherit a lot of money. All of you kids will. Not only that, but all of you kids are even chipping in and making your own. Angel has plenty to retire and take care of his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. Possibly more than that. The two of you are just going to have to learn to accept the money.”
“Andrew,” Mom said sternly. “It’s not burning a hole in our pockets. You have helped Angel so much since you have been here. Do you know what Abigail is inside doing right now?”
“She’s sweeping and mopping the floors, and she just got done with the dishes. We have maids and butlers. Some nights they have nothing to do because Abigail has already done it.”
“It’s more Abigail than it is me. Talk to her, Mom.”
“I left her in the kitchen with your father,” Mom said.
“You two are tag-teaming us, aren’t you?” I chuckled and sipped the whiskey from my glass.
“We sure are, honey,” Mom said and winked. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I guess we’ll see who wins that argument.”
“I have a hundred bucks on your father.”
I pursed my lips. “It’s a bet.”
She put her hand out, and we shook on it. Mom stayed silent for a long moment as she gazed up at the stars.
“Is there something else on your mind?” I asked her.
Mom looked back at me and smiled. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Something is bothering you,” she pressed.
I mashed my lips together and looked away. I wasn’t used to sharing my feelings with anyone. Abigail was an exception to that rule, among other things.
“You can tell me,” she said.
“I just don’t understand why you guys want to throw us such a big wedding. Abigail doesn’t even have much family. I hate being the center of attention.” I jumped off the wall and turned to look out over the backyard. The pool had lights built into it and a fountain that flowed into it, which made a calming and beautiful noise.
“You have a big family, Andy. A family that cares a lot about you and hasn’t been much part of your life up until recently,” Mom said. She pressed her hand to my cheek.
My gaze flickered to hers. “Mom, can I ask you something?”
“When Ademar takes the chair. . .” I trailed off. “What am I supposed to do if he takes my job from me? I’ve grown used to it and—”
“Andy, stop. Ademar wouldn’t do that, and he wouldn’t humiliate his father like that. It would be disgraceful if he did such a thing.”
I nodded. “So, you don’t think he would?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Is something else bothering you?”
“Everything, Mom. Life just isn’t that simple right now. Stormy is doing a lot better after her accident, but I still think about it a lot. It scared the hell out of me. I watch her closer now than ever before. I’m getting married soon. Abigail is going to miss her brother and Chelsea like crazy. Ademar hasn’t been keeping up with his training with me, and I’m afraid Angel will blame me for that. And I have this gut-wrenching feeling about Harold and Irena. Harold could be in Los Angeles for all I know. Irena could be dead by now.” I took a deep breath and shook my head.
“You sure do have a lot on your mind,” Mom said. “Stormy is going to be fine, and it’s normal for you to be worried. I love that you love her so much. She’s quite the little girl. Abigail will see Sean and Chelsea plenty, I’m sure. Ademar has a lot of growing up to do still, and Angel won’t blame you for Ademar’s misbehavior. As for Irena and Harold, just try to push them out of your mind for now. Focus on Abigail and Stormy.”
I nodded. “Yeah, easy for you to say.”
Mom chuckled. “Maybe you should talk to your dad.”
Dad walked onto the patio. “Talk to me about what?”
“Do you two ever realize just how impeccable your timing usually is?” I asked.
Dad laughed. “I like to think so.”
“So, how did it go with Abigail.”
“I think her and I came to an understanding. How about him?” Dad gestured to me.
Mom snaked her arms around Dad’s waist and pecked his cheek. “He owes me a hundred bucks.”
“Are you two placing bets?” Dad asked.
“Yeah. Mom won.”
“Don’t ever bet against your mother, buddy.” Dad smiled at Mom. “Are you ready to head out? We have to be up early to pick up Marlena.”
“Yes,” Mom agreed.
“Goodnight,” I said.
“Goodnight,” Mom and Dad said.
Mom and Dad headed home, and I took off in search of Abby. It wasn’t hard to find her. She was still in the kitchen with a rag in her hand, cleaning the counters.
“I’m going to get you one of those sexy maid outfits,” I said and leaned up against the counter.
Abigail jumped in surprise and spun around. She threw the rag at me, and I caught it. I walked toward her and tossed the rag onto the back of the sink.
“Did your parents talk to you?” Her arms wound around my neck, and my arms wrapped around her waist.
I pretended to think for a moment. “Do you mean about the house and wedding?”
“Bebé,” I said and chuckled. “We were ambushed.”
She threw her head back and laughed. Her laugh was such a carefree sound that it made me smile. “I kind of thought so.”
“Mhm, I heard Dad won.”
“He did,” she muttered and rolled her eyes. “It’s hard to say no to him.”
“It’s hard to say no to either of them,” I corrected.
She smiled and nodded in agreement. I lowered my lips to hers and kissed her softly for a moment. Her lips turned into a pout when I pulled away.
“Ready for bed?”
“We do have a long day tomorrow. Well, at least I do. I’m apparently going to the salon and getting my nails done. It’s going to be an all-day thing, I guess.”
“They do realize we’re not getting married tomorrow, right?”
“Tell that to your mother and sister,” Abigail snickered. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the foyer. As we walked up the steps, she looked back at me and gave me a naughty smile.
“Hell yeah,” I said excitedly. I threw her over my shoulder and sprinted up the stairs with her, and she bursted into laughter.
It wasn’t the first business I had been in that my family owned. I shouldn’t have been surprised by how luxurious the place was. Dad kept me busy as Mom kept Abigail busy, and they kept us apart. Mom refused to let me see Abigail until the engagement party.
Dad and I walked through the front doors of the restaurant. I let out a low whistle. We stood in a foyer that had a massive staircase just past the podium that the restaurant greeter stood at. The stairs were made of cherry wood that was identical to the floor in the foyer. On the railings of the staircase, there were identical statues of a man with a crown on his head, holding a lamp. It wasn’t the first time I saw a statue like this in the businesses that my family owned. Most people didn’t know, but it stood for the Latin Kings. Many companies have logos and trademarks, and the statues on the railing belonged to the Kings.
“Mr. Garcia, it’s a pleasure,” the greeter said. The man wore a fancy suit and gestured for us to proceed up the stairs to where the restaurant was.
“This is a little outrageous for Abigail and me, Dad. We could have done this at the mansion.”
Dad chuckled. “You’ll get used to it eventually.”
“Mm, I doubt that.”
Dad patted me on the shoulder.
We stopped at the top of the stairs and gazed around. My parents had decorations set up. There were red and white balloons, which were the colors that Abigail picked when my mother asked her. There were red and white flowers and candles and tablecloths on every table in the room.
A silver swinging door divided the kitchen from the dining area. A long dark wood counter stretched across the sidewall where there were twenty or more barstools. A bartender waved and smiled at us politely as he wiped off a champagne glass. The far back wall was made of glass. Lights from the city poured through the windows. Small candle lights lined the diner’s walls, one light wouldn’t give off much light, but hundreds of them did. There were a couple of pool tables off to the far side of the dining area.
“Wow,” I said.
“Yeah. Your mother and sister love weddings. I can’t believe your sister didn’t marry the first bonehead that came along,” Dad said and smirked.
I laughed. “Don’t like her boyfriends?”
“Are you kidding? I’m still trying to get used to Arianna and Alana’s husbands, and they’ve been married for years.” Dad grimaced with a disgusted look on his face.
“What about Adelina’s husband, Jesse?”
“I love that kid. I can’t help that much. Your mother and I practically raised him. He’s Angel’s best friend, and they’ve been like that since they were little. Jesse had been in a crappy foster home. He stayed with us more than at his own house,” Dad explained and shrugged.
“Hmm,” I hummed. “Good point.”
Shortly after Dad and I arrived, others arrived too.
Angel came up to me and rested a hand on my shoulder. “Looking good, man.”
Mia stopped beside me and smiled. “Hey,” she said. Her stomach had grown rapidly. She and Angel would be having another baby soon.
“Is she here yet?” I searched the large room full of people—some people I knew, and some I didn’t.
Mia gestured across the long room to the staircase. Abigail took the last step up into the room with her arm looped through Andrea’s. Mom stood on the other side of Andrea. Abigail had Stormy’s hand in hers.
Abigail wore a medium-length red cocktail dress. The sleeves drooped off her shoulders. It fit her so well that it seemed to be made exactly for her. She wore a heavy-looking diamond necklace around her neck and earrings that matched. Some of her hair curled and dripped around her gorgeous face and down her back—the rest of her hair was held in place by a red jeweled hair comb.
Dad’s laughter brought me back to planet earth. I shook my head slightly and looked at Dad in a bit of a daze.
“You should see the look on your face,” Dad said and chuckled.
I grimaced. “Can I skip the party? I have a more pressing—”
“Buddy, you’re going to have to suffer through it until you get home,” Dad interrupted. “Your mother would kill you if you tried to bow out early.”
“Take her into the bathroom for a quickie,” Angel suggested. “That’ll hold you off.”
Mia smacked Angel upside the head and glowered at him with such penetrating eyes that I didn’t dare laugh.
“Ow, what?” Angel rubbed the back of his head as he stared at Mia with an innocent expression.
My gaze fell to Stormy, and I smiled. She wore a dress similar to Abigail’s dress. Stormy looked just like her mother.
Stormy saw me and took off running from Abigail.
“Stormy,” Abigail called after her. Abigail started to follow Stormy, but then she saw me and stopped.
The instant that our gazes locked, I knew that we were doing the right thing. A crooked smile formed on my face. Abigail’s lips stretched up into a smile, and her smile took my breath away. Her chest rose and fell faster as she approached me.
Stormy reached me and claimed my attention.
I lifted her and smiled. “Hello, gorgeous.”
“Do you like my dress?”
“No. I love your dress. It’s beautiful.”
Abigail, Mom, and Andrea reached me at the same time. Dad whistled at Mom, and Mom giggled. Andrea scrunched up her face in disgust when they kissed, and I laughed at Andrea’s reaction.
“You look amazing,” I told Abigail.
“Mm, you look pretty good too. Whoever thought anyone would ever see you in a tux,” she teased.
“We’ll just keep the tux thing between us.” I winked at her, and she bursted into giggles.
Marlena came up behind Abigail with Tina, Carlos, and Tammy. “Oh, Abigail. You look stunning,” Marlena said.
Stormy squirmed in my arms to get down. I let her down between Me, Marlena, and Abigail.
“Thanks, Mom,” Abigail said.
Marlena smiled at me. “You look nice too, Andrew.” Marlena took a deep breath and cleared her throat. “You take care of my baby.” It was the most Marlena ever said directly to me. The moment felt sort of private as if she were giving me her blessing or support to marry her daughter.
“Ma’am, with all due respect. . .” I trailed off. “I already do.” My eyes flickered to Abigail.
Abigail had her eyes on a champagne glass she held, and she had a half-smile and half grimace on her face like she didn’t know what to feel. Her expression didn’t hold my attention for long. In the two seconds it took me to take in her expression, she had a red dot on her forehead.
“Down!” I shouted. I grabbed Marlena and Abigail and shoved them down to the floor. As we fell toward the floor, I grabbed Stormy and took her down with us. The glass window behind our table shattered. I covered Abigail and Stormy’s heads with my hands.
The entire restaurant erupted into screams, gunshots, and glass-shattering. I crawled under the table and flipped it onto the side to protect us. My eyes scanned the area near me. My parents got down beside me on the floor, along with Andrea, Angel, and Mia.
I turned Abigail and Marlena to face me to make sure they were okay, and I checked Stormy too.
I turned back to Dad. “What the fuck is that?” I asked.
Dad peeked above the table. “Oh, boy.”
I took a deep breath before I peeked over the table, and what I saw made my heart beat faster. I swallowed hard, and my breathing accelerated. “Son of a bitch,” I whispered.