“I strongly suspect one of the girls is pregnant. Well, it isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. These things happen.”
“Promotes promiscuity,” the priest argued.
“It would be better if we agreed to disagree,” Brynn said evenly. She didn’t want to get into a verbal battle with the one person she considered her friend.
They didn’t speak for several moments.
“Roberto asked me to dinner Friday night,” Brynn said, wanting to break the tension between them.
Father Grady’s face broke into a wide smile. “He asked you, did he?”
“Is there something important about this dinner date I don’t know about?”
“Not particularly,” the priest informed her, “only that it’s probably the first time Roberto’s dated in the last four or five years.”
“No. While he was in high school, he held down two part-time jobs in an effort to earn enough money for his mother to travel to the United States. Every penny went toward that goal. There wasn’t time for dances or anything else a normal teenager enjoys.”
“But he’s an excellent dancer.” Being in his arms had seemed as right as rain, as the saying went.
“He comes by that talent naturally,” Father Grady explained. “But he’s never taken the opportunity to indulge in the small pleasures in life. He sacrificed his youth for the sake of his mother.”
“I’ve never met her.”
“You won’t,” Father Grady said sadly. “She died before Roberto had saved enough money.”
Brynn felt Roberto’s frustration. “I’m so sorry.”
“Roberto blamed himself.”
“But how could he?” She hated the thought of his taking on blame when he’d already sacrificed so much.
“He seemed to think that he’d failed her.”
“Surely he understands that isn’t the case.”
“Intellectually I believe he does, but not emotionally, although I have hope now that he’s taken such a keen interest in you.” Father looked well pleased with himself, as though he were the one responsible for bringing her and Roberto together. “You’ve been good for that young man, but by the same token Roberto has been good for you.”
“I like him so much,” she whispered. Sometimes it frightened her how deeply she cared for Roberto. He wasn’t like any other man she’d dated. He was deep and intense, intelligent and generous.
“I suspected you did.”
“Not at first,” she countered. “Roberto and I rubbed each other the wrong way in the beginning.” Even now they were at different poles on the subject of education. No matter how hard she tried to persuade him, Roberto refused to listen to reason.
Then it dawned on her why Roberto was so opinionated. Father Grady had unraveled the mystery. Roberto had stayed in school and worked, saving his money in order to bring his mother from Mexico. She’d died before he had been able to save enough. If Roberto had been working full-time instead of trying to balance two part-time jobs with his schooling, he might have been able to help his mother. Because he’d stayed in high school the help he had to offer her had come too late.
Emilio followed Roberto around the apartment like a lost puppy, offering him unwanted advice for his dinner date with Brynn.
“First you’ve got to tell Miss Cassidy how beautiful she looks,” Emilio instructed, “then gently take her in your arms and kiss her, but only lightly. Remember that, because it’s important. You don’t want to start something too soon. Women don’t like a guy coming on heavy first thing. They want to be wined and dined first.”
“Emilio,” Roberto warned under his breath as he tightened the knot in his tie in front of the bedroom mirror, “I can handle this on my own.”
“But I know Miss Cassidy better than you do. Don’t forget I see her practically every day.”
But his brother didn’t view her as Roberto did. To Emilio she was his teacher, the first one he’d liked well enough to mention. To Roberto Brynn was a warm, desirable, generous woman. When they kissed the electricity between them was as powerful as Hoover Dam.
In the beginning he’d attempted to ignore the way the air sizzled every time they were together. A touch of antagonism had proved to be his best defense, and it had worked until Father Grady had manipulated them into chaperoning the dance at the church hall. Before he knew what had happened to him, Brynn was in his arms and life hadn’t been the same since.
“Where are you taking her to dinner?” Emilio asked, following him across the bedroom.
Roberto splashed on a touch of spice-scented cologne. “I haven’t decided yet.” Actually he had, but he didn’t want his brother dropping by unexpectedly with some phony excuse.
Emilio frowned with disapproval. “That’s not going to work, bro, you’ve got to plan these things well in advance. You should have made reservations for a classy woman like Miss Cassidy.”
If the truth be known, Emilio’s attitude toward Brynn amused him. The way Emilio talked about her, one would think his brother was half in love with her himself.
“You can’t just walk into any restaurant and expect a decent table to be waiting for you.”
Roberto reached for his wool jacket. He hoped Brynn didn’t recognize it as the same one from the dance. He owned only one suit, and he wasn’t about to go out and purchase another just because of a silly dinner date.
“How do you know all this?” Roberto probed.
“I been around,” Emilio answered with a hint of defiance.
That might be true, but Roberto didn’t think Emilio had ever taken a girl out on a fancy dinner date.
“You got her flowers, didn’t you?”
Roberto hadn’t thought of that. “No.”
“Oh, man,” he said, shaking his head, “you’re going to blow this.”
“I’ll pick some up on the way.”
Emilio’s face relaxed. “Good idea.”
Roberto headed for the door, then stopped for his overcoat and gloves. The leather gloves were new and necessary to hide the car grease he couldn’t remove from around his nails.
Once more Emilio followed him. “I know the perfect restaurant,” he said excitedly, and snapped his fingers. “It’s perfect. Call Mama Celeste’s and make a reservation. The food’s great and they think you walk on water ever since you repaired their van.”
“Good idea.” Unfortunately that was exactly where Roberto had already planned to take Brynn. He turned and met his brother, eye to eye. He couldn’t remember when Emilio had grown so tall. Nearly ten years separated them, and Roberto had become accustomed to being the older, wiser, bigger brother. He wasn’t taller by much, and that surprised him.
“I’ve already made arrangements to take Brynn to Mama Celeste’s,” he admitted. “And I don’t want you making any excuses to stop by there this evening. Do I make myself clear?”
One corner of Emilio’s mouth lifted with a cocky half smile. “What’s it worth to you?”
Roberto eyes narrowed into a dark scowl, and Emilio laughed. “Hey, I was just kidding, bro.”
Roberto opened the front door. “Don’t wait up for me.”
“Are you kidding, man? This is one night I’m going to want to hear about.”
Brynn had been less nervous for her first high school prom. She checked her appearance a dozen or more times before the doorbell rang. Her inclination was to rush across the room and throw open the door, but she forced herself to remain calm and collected.
Roberto stood on the other side of the door, so handsome her breath locked in her lungs. It reminded her of the night of the church dance. He’d knocked her senses for a loop then, too.
Looking away, she stepped aside to allow him into her apartment. “Hello, Roberto.”
He inclined his head slightly. “You look lovely.” Smiling, he stepped into her apartment and tenderly pressed his lips to her cheek.
Surprised and delighted, Brynn raised her hand to her face, her fingers investigating the spot where he’d kissed her.
Next he presented her with a small bouquet of flowers.
“Roberto, how sweet. Thank you.” She led the way into the kitchen, where she placed the bouquet of pink carnations and miniature purple irises in a tall crystal vase.
“I didn’t think to buy any wine,” she said, regretting now that she hadn’t thought of that beforehand.
“We’ll have wine later,” he said.
“I’ll only be a minute,” she said, and gestured self-consciously toward the bedroom. “I need to get my coat.”
The ride to the restaurant, an Italian one from the looks of it, took several minutes. Roberto, the perfect gentleman, helped her out of the car and then escorted her inside.
The moment she walked through the door, Brynn was greeted with the scents of basil and simmering tomato. Garlic permeated the air, and she inhaled deeply, the smell alone enough to make her hungry. No one needed to tell her how good the food would be.
Roberto apparently knew the owners, and standing with his arm tucked around her waist, he introduced her.
“Brynn Cassidy, meet Stefano and Celeste Seti.”
She shook hands with the white-haired gentleman who was smiling broadly. His wife, Mama Celeste herself, planted her hands on her face and mumbled something in Italian to her husband. Brynn couldn’t understand a word. Whatever it was appeared to please the grandmotherly woman. With a wide smile she kissed Roberto on both cheeks and promised them, in heavily accented English, the best dinner of their lives.
Soon they were seated at a table. Before Brynn had a chance to smooth the linen napkin on her lap, she was served red wine, thick slices of bread, and a large block of cheese.
The food never seemed to stop coming. Brynn sampled one fabulous dish after another. There must have been three or four different appetizers—shrimp, eggplant, tiny meatballs—before a huge Caesar salad arrived. When Brynn was convinced she couldn’t eat another bite, the pasta was brought to their table by Stefano, who insisted she would break Celeste’s heart if she didn’t take a large portion of the specialty of the house. From the envious looks being sent her way, Brynn had the feeling if she couldn’t finish the clam spaghetti, any number of volunteers would gladly step in for her.
“More wine, more wine,” Stefano insisted, replenishing their glasses when she’d finished the best pasta she’d ever tasted. Brynn wasn’t given a chance to refuse the wine. Stefano filled her glass and carried away their empty plates.
“I’ve never had such good food in my life,” she murmured, and scooted back her chair. She planted her hands on her stomach. “But if I don’t stop eating now, I won’t be able to walk.”
“No dessert?” Roberto teased.
They finished with a cup of dark coffee. Stefano and Celeste visited their table before they left, and this time it was Brynn who was hugged and kissed. Mama’s eyes watered, and she dabbed at their corners with the hem of her apron.