Ruiz slouched in the lawn chair, a bottle of beer in one hand and his cell phone in the other, watching and listening to the sounds of a happy family as the knife of jealousy repeatedly stabbed him in the chest.
He watched as his sister Riana blew her husband a kiss where he stood at the grill with his best friend Matthew and with a broad smile Allan caught it and pressed it to his chest over his heart. She smiled lovingly at him as she strolled, rocking the new addition to her family, Allan Patrick Sinclair III, to sleep. Ruiz knew his nine month old nephew would wake almost immediately once the laughter and other happy noises grew louder, penetrating his haze of sleep. He didn’t like to be left out. Ruiz could relate.
And just a few feet away from him, Reno and Loraine were having one of their famous arguments that usually ended with them sneaking off together and emerging an hour later with the biggest grins on their faces. Loraine was now four months pregnant so there was no sneaking away this time. Reno had put an end to that. They all had their fingers crossed—Reno especially—that she would carry this baby to term with no complications. After the attack over a year ago that resulted in Loraine losing their first baby together they had their fingers and toes crossed. Sure they were all worried, treating her like a fragile egg, but Reno was a little extreme. From Loraine’s complaints they barely had sex, which apparently was like torture to a horny hormonal pregnant woman—who knew? Ruiz was sure one day his brother would lose it and wrap his wife in bubble wrap. The attention was driving Loraine nuts considering she was barely showing. At the beginning of her pregnancy she had been very understanding of his antics, but now she really looked ready to punch Reno when she stood up mere seconds after he settled her down on the cushioned chair. Amy, Matthew’s wife, watched, quietly laughing as she cradled her second son, seven month old Ethan in her arms.
Amy, Riana, and Loraine had become very close the past two years, which led to their three houses being built next to each other on a hill that over looked New York City. It was a compound that shared the same huge access gate and yards full of trees and flowers. Their gardens were their boundaries and there was one rock path that led to each of their front doors. The backyard was both a playground and an outdoor living area with a gazebo, a section for the barbeque pit with tables and chairs, a swimming pool with pool chairs, umbrella tables and chairs, and a marquee for formal parties which happened twice a month which Loraine’s new company catered. With Matthew’s law firm, Allan’s company, and Red Roses hotels that Reno ran, and of course his sister’s new pride and joy, the art school and gallery that Amy helped her run—as she used to be an art connoisseur in her home country Brazil before she married Matthew—it was great business for Loraine and the best excuse for the state of the art kitchen in her home.
The three kids who ran past him laughing loudly drew Ruiz’s attention. He smiled as he watched them dash for the jungle gym, climbing up the steps into the pirate ship and disappearing into the tube with Aurora tailing behind. Since Tyler and Mark met and forged a friendship, Aurora was left behind quite a few times. She was jealous of the bromance and had to resort to pouting and whining as she followed them around until they would relent and include her. The hold she had on Mark that had amused them all before had been broken by Tyler’s arrival. Riana had tried to arrange play dates with girls Aurora’s age but she would ditch them to run after Tyler and Mark.
There were three happy families in Allan’s side of the compound and Ruiz was the odd one out. Once, he thought he’d achieved it—the beginning to his happily ever after. The proof of that belief sat in the center of his chest, held there by the chain around his neck. It burned his flesh, constantly reminding him of what he’d lost a year ago, just a flimsy moment after he had attained it. It was a cruel joke played on his heart. Worse of all, it had caused tension in his family. If it wasn’t for Riana, Allan would have disowned him already.
He stared at his phone’s screensaver like he had a million times before since he last saw her. A year and he still hadn’t changed it. It was a picture of Melody taken in the Bahamas just before the relocation to the States. She was in her bikini, with her wet hair swept over her shoulder and the most beautiful smile he had ever seen that made her brown eyes twinkle like honey gold. The two of them were left behind to handle the changeover in the Bahamas as Matthew handled everything else in the United States, giving Reno and Loraine the time they needed to get past the disaster their wedding night had been. And of course the space they needed to mourn the child they lost while reassuring Tyler of his place in their lives. It had taken a few months, but right after Reno moved his family to the States, Melody and Ruiz began their tour of the Red Roses branches worldwide. Paris had been their last stop and the place that changed both their lives.
The woman had bewitched him, left him love sick and disillusioned. She had also turned him into the man he used to be—lonely, bitter, resentful and full of rage. All he had worked hard to rid himself of, flooded back with a vengeance, drowning him in renewed pain.
Why couldn’t the one thing he wanted in his life to go right, go right?
“Hey, what are you thinking about that’s making that face?”
Ruiz’s lips pulled in a faint smile as he looked up at his sister. She looked so good with a baby cuddled to her chest. Ruiz placed his beer down and tucked his phone into his cargo pants pocket then he reached his arms out. “Why don’t you let me hold him for a few so you can enjoy the barbecue?”
“What about you? Don’t you want to enjoy the barbecue?”
He shrugged. “I’ll enjoy myself more if you hand over my nephew.”
She stared at him for a long while, her face not betraying the worry he knew she felt before she placed her son into Ruiz’s waiting arms.
Ruiz cradled little Allan to his chest. For some reason he always felt whole when he held his niece and nephews, like they could temporarily save him from his own misery.
“Allan doesn’t hate you, you know.”
Ruiz scoffed keeping his eyes on his nephew. He smiled at how little Allan smacked his pink lips repeatedly as he settled to sleep. It was cute and funny.
“He really doesn’t,” she insisted.
“He hasn’t seen his little sister in over a year. She didn’t even come home for Christmas because she’s avoiding me. Yeah, totally not a reason to hate me, nor the reason he’s so cold towards me,” he finished sarcastically.
Riana sighed heavily. “You need to understand his position—”
Ruiz cut her off with a look that said he was done with the conversation. He couldn’t stand another day past the year of her pestering. He knew her concern was out of love but god, he wasn’t interested in hearing this again.