There are times when the human spirit must rise above it's comfort zone.
He's a man who has everything.
Dale Curtis runs a multibillion dollar airline his father built from the ground up. He cares about two things: profits and driving up his stock prices. Neither compassion nor devotion are part of his vocabulary.
She's a woman who wants nothing.
Tamara Cassetti has made it her life's goal to take children out of dangerous situations and find them loving families. But as a professional social worker her involvement ends there. Raised by institutions herself, she has learned to keep attachments superficial.
What they both need they can only find in each other.
But a young orphaned boy makes them both question what's important in life. Tamara has no dreams of happily ever after. She believes love is only an illusion, especially with a wealthy, arrogant playboy such as Dale. Yet, as she watches Dale overcome his affluent upbringing and give his love to the one child who has stolen her heart, she fears they will both lure her into their world forever.
"Lara Rios has created likable protagonists and has given them strengths as well as endearing flaws. Children are always heart (and scene) stealers and Raffi is no exception. All in all, A Family for Raffi is a warm, tender story with all the right ingredients that will give the reader a lot of smiles and few, well-placed tears." -- Writers Club Romance Group on AOL
"A Family for Raffi is an incredible story of love conquering all, and Raffi will steal your heart from the first page...I highly recommend it." -- Romance Reviews Today
"Lara Rios has a great depth of feeling for human emotions, and she does a
bang up job of weaving a love story that will twist your heart in two. A Family for Raffi is very loving and thought provoking. Don't miss it!"
-- The Belles and Beaux of Romance
"Hey! What do you think you’re doing?" Dale Curtis crossed the luxurious, expertly maintained Pacific Sands Country Club lawn.
The raggedy little boy bent over the spectacular welcoming flower bed at the entrance of the hall looked up in alarm. He stood abruptly with a handful of pulled flowers in his filthy fist. The dirt under his fingernails had obviously been packed in from digging, but from the look of the boy, Dale guessed he’d already had enough dirt under there to make little difference if he added more. His unkept appearance angered Dale. What parent would let their child run around like that?
The boy looked like he might bolt at any second.
"I asked you a question. What are you doing here and who gave you the right to pull those flowers and destroy private property?"
"I, I din’t do notin’." The boy’s expression turned belligerent.
"Raffi! What’s going on, sweetie?" A female voice called from behind them.
Dale watched an athletic, young woman, who looked just as unkept as the boy, marching toward them. She gave Dale an apprehensive look then turned her attention to the boy.
"I din’t do notin’," the boy repeated to her this time.
"What do you call those flowers in your hands?" Dale challenged.
"They’re for you." The boy held out the fist full of flowers to the woman.
Her face softened and she bent down on one knee. "That’s so sweet, Raffi. How can I ever thank you?" She accepted the flowers and kissed his dirty cheek.
"Thank him?" Dale inhaled sharply. "Is this your kid?"
The woman tilted her head, glancing at him. She patted the boy’s head full of long, black curls, and stood to face Dale. "My name is Tamara, and yes, he’s with me."
Dale ignored her outstretched hand, examining instead her torn, stained jeans, about two sizes too big for her, and her equally spotted, once white, T-shirt with the logo ‘just do it’ written across her chest. "You and your son do not belong here. Now I suggest you leave before I have you thrown out."
Tamara’s full, voluptuous lips curved into a start of a smile. "He just pulled a few flowers. It didn’t hurt anyone. You don’t have to be so nasty about it."
"He yelled to me," Raffi pouted, reaching for Tamara’s hand.
She took his small hand into the protective cover of hers. "Don’t worry, sweetie, they can afford more flowers."
"Is that what you teach your son?" Dale asked, getting angrier by the second. He was tired of people who didn’t teach their kids to take any responsibility for their actions. "Stealing from rich people is okay?"
Tamara tossed back her unruly brown hair and held the boy close to her leg. "Look mister, he didn’t steal. Haven’t you ever picked a flower for someone?"
"No, I usually buy them like I’m supposed to."
She brought the uneven bouquet to her nose, sniffed, and closed her eyes, bringing a look of pure ecstasy to her face.
Dale was unnerved at the way his body reacted to her simple yet sensual act.
"Mmm, you ought to try picking some yourself someday." She opened her eyes and treated him to a sexy, wide smile.
Dale looked at the boy who turned his face away, focusing instead on the opulent angel fountain in the middle of the flower garden. Dale felt some sympathy for the child. What chance did he have to grow up right, if this was what he had for a mother? "How did you get here?" he asked Tamara.
"Car," she said.
"Which is . . . ?"
"Over there." She let her hand float upwards and her index finger flicked up.
A piece of junk, Volkswagen bug, with half its paint peeled off, sat abandoned on the red curb.
Dale sighed. "Well, get back in it and leave."
"It died. I expected it to eventually since it hasn’t been running well, but I didn’t know it would be today. I’ll call a mechanic to come fix it. Don’t worry."
He wasn’t worried, just annoyed. What was she doing driving in a private country club anyway? At the board of directors meeting last week, they had discussed getting better security, perhaps installing electric gates or closed circuit cameras. In past years such measures hadn’t been necessary. A couple of patrolling security guards had been enough, but lately vandals snuck inside and had gotten caught in the pools, tennis courts, or strolling through the property. Of course, he’d always pictured the vandals as punk teenagers, not poor mothers with little boys.
"I’ll call a tow truck. A mechanic will cost you a fortune if he has to come out here to work."
"No thanks, Prince Charming, I’ll call my mechanic. Come on Raffi, let’s go." She headed for her car.
Dale followed behind. "Stay off the grounds while you wait."
She ignored him and continued to stroll leisurely toward the VW Bug.
Dale watched the sexy sway of her hips and imagined how much better she’d look if she wore better fitting clothes. His entire body temperature rose a few degrees. He followed a respectable distance behind her until she reached the curb.
She opened the back door. "Oh, damn. This isn’t my day." The vinyl head liner lay on her back seat. She crawled in and began stretching it back up, taping it with double sided sticky tape.
Dale leaned inside, and shook his head. Her car was a hazard. "You need to reupholster it."
She laughed. "It’s not worth the cost. The tape works well for months, then it falls again and I just add more tape."
He exhaled, part from frustration, part from annoyance, and reached his hand inside to help her hold one side while she taped the other. She sat on the car seat, while he leaned inside. Both had their hands on the roof. A corner slipped and they both reached for it at the same time. Dale leaned in too far, lost his balance, and fell inside - on her.
She fell hard on her back, a choked yelp escaping from her lips. Her arms landed above her head.
He stared into her obviously stunned eyes, noticing the almost golden shade of brown, hating to admit how appealing she looked in this position.
She placed her hands on his shoulders and lifted her head. "I’ve had lot’s of guys make strange passes at me, but this tops them all," she said a little breathless.
He’d apparently knocked the wind out of her. Dale braced his arms on either side of her head, lifting his upper body off her. "Don’t flatter yourself. I prefer my women clean, with less denim, and more lace."
Tamara frowned and for the first time looked angry at his antagonism. "And when was the last time one of those women gave you a night you couldn’t forget?"
Dale felt her shift under him, parts of her rubbing intimately against his already aroused body. He lifted himself off her. "I’ll let security know you’re here. If your mechanic doesn’t get here within the hour, I’ll have you towed away."
Tamara watched that arrogant, pampered, rich jerk walk away in his two hundred dollar golf shirt and hand tailored tan slacks. His shoes alone probably cost half of her weekly salary. In fact, the hard earned couple thousand dollars she made a month, he probably threw away in a day.
Every time she met one of these obnoxiously wealthy men, she remembered why she had chosen to leave her family’s money behind, and had built a life separate from these types of people. For the most part, she stayed as far away as she could. Unfortunately, today she couldn’t miss her best friend’s bridal shower, so she’d put her personal dislike aside.
Tamara took her cell phone out of her purse, called her mechanic, asked him to fix the car then tow it to her work place. Then she took little Raffi to the women’s locker room to wash his face and hands. She signed him up for swimming lessons for the afternoon, so she could attend the shower. Only then did she herself shower and go to the beauty salon to have her make up applied, hair made up, and dress fitted.
She finished everything just in time for the start of the shower. When she walked in, she spotted Daphne already at the head of the table deep in conversation, waving her hands around as she talked.
Daphne smiled when she saw Tamara, excused herself, stood, and reached for Tamara’s hands. "Oh Tam, how are you?"
Tamara kissed her friend on both cheeks and smiled. "I’m here."
"You sure are and I couldn’t be more pleased."
"You look marvelous, as always, Daphne."
Daphne beamed and introduced Tamara to the others, although Tamara knew many of them already from previous functions. She politely greeted everyone, offering her fingertips for a handshake to the older aunts as a sign of respect.
The bridal shower was as oppressively formal as Tamara knew it would be. Tuxedoed waiters swarmed the tables, pouring iced water with lemon. As soon as Tamara sat, the first waiter approached her and asked, "Champagne?"
"Yes, please." Tamara shifted her shoulder so he could reach her glass more easily. If she were in one of her favorite, casual restaurants, she would have lifted the glass so the waiter could fill it, but in this setting, it wasn’t proper for guests to acknowledge the waiters, much less help them.
Another waiter arrived seconds later with the menu choices. Tamara accepted the menu and placed it on her plate without looking at the items on the list.
Four long tables were placed in a horseshoe shape so everyone could see the guest of honor and each other. Tamara guessed about one hundred and fifty women were invited.
She made polite, inconsequential conversation with the ladies beside her.
"Still doing that social work job, Tamara?"
"Yes, I am."
"Isn’t that sweet? Tamara’s so kind hearted. She works with the poor," the woman said in a type of hushed manner as if she were telling a dirty joke.
"Ohhh," the other women said trying to hide the distaste and lack of understanding from their faces.
Tamara smiled and explained what she did. They all nodded and smiled back. Tamara could tell from their faces they understood even less after she explained it than before. She resisted the urge to sigh. Why did she waste her breath on these obviously superficial women?
The meal was exquisite, the champagne plentiful, the atmosphere extravagant in every way. Tamara noticed the bouquets of yellow Angel trumpets and purple crocus in beds of baby’s breath adorning the tables. Above, golden and Ruby Pothos hung from beams, decorating the ceiling and adding an open, outdoorsy ambiance to the room. The flowers reminded her of Raffi and his thoughtful gesture. Of course, that brought to mind that hateful man who had made an already abused boy feel even worse for attempting to perform a kind act.
What did Raffi know about flowers and which were okay to pick and which weren’t? Easily three or four thousand dollars worth of flowers adorned this room alone. What was the harm in Raffi picking a few from the garden? Tamara shook off the unkind feelings she had for the mean-spirited jerk. She’d kept her cool out there so why dwell on it now? She would take Raffi one of these bouquets when she left the shower, she decided.
After the drawn out meal, the shallow conversations, and the classical music flowing from hidden speakers paused, Tamara was grateful for the intermission, allowing the waiters to remove the tables and bring the shower gifts. Comfortable chairs were brought for the ladies to sit and watch Daphne open her gifts while they enjoyed cake and coffee.
The break gave Tamara a chance to walk around and stretch. She set out for the head of the table to speak with the one person she cared about here. "I had your gift shipped, Daphne," Tamara explained to her friend as she took her hand.
"Tamara, I know how busy you are. Don’t worry about it."
"It’s for your new house. I had it sent there."
Daphne’s mother joined them and they excitedly talked about the wedding and their honeymoon cruise to Europe.
"When will you get married, Tamara?" The older woman clasped Tamara’s arm and slid her hand down its length, raising Tamara’s fingers. "No ring yet."
"Not yet, Edna. I’m too busy to find a husband."
Edna waved her hand in distaste. "Too busy with that dreadful job, I take it?"
"I’m afraid so, Edna. It takes all my time, but it’s important. Lots of children depend on me."
"Let them depend on someone else, I say. Your poor mother must be horrified to tell her friends what you do for a living."
Tamara knew her parents weren’t very happy about her choice of work, but at least they were outwardly supportive. They never cared much what she did anyway. "I doubt Celeste discusses me over tea with her friends."
"And if she does, I’m sure she’s as proud of her as I am." Daphne smiled. "Oh, there’s Dale," she said, touching her mother’s shoulder.
Tamara glanced across the room and noticed the man from the flower garden strolling their way. She felt bitter distaste building inside her at the sight of that horrid man. "You know him?"
"Know him?" Daphne laughed. "He’s my brother Dale. I told you about him in college, remember?"
Brother? That spoiled socialite was Daphne’s kind, charming brother Dale? Boy, did he have Daphne fooled.
Dale strolled toward them with the grace of a giraffe, nodding politely to women along the way; women who responded with swooning smiles. Elvis would not have gotten a better reaction. Tamara admitted he wasn’t bad looking. No, actually, he was attractive. His wavy, blond hair fit his coloring perfectly. His face was almost too beautiful for a man, yet it had a hard, masculine edge. His height, maybe six feet, weight, body frame . . . everything well proportioned. Yes, she could see what women might like about Dale, as long as he didn’t open his mouth and spew out all his venom, that is.
Daphne hugged him and then Edna did the same. Dale’s olive green eyes shone with appreciation as he looked at the two women, then his eyes shifted to Tamara. His smile, coloring, and good humor faded.
Tamara noticed the awareness of Dale’s response to her on Daphne’s face. Daphne looked from Dale to Tamara, shifting her glance back and forth a couple of times, then introduced Tamara to Dale.
"Nice to meet you, Dale." She held out her hand. She remembered doing the same outside earlier, and he refused to take it, refused to touch her.
This time he did accept her fingers, squeezing them almost painfully. "Likewise."
"I didn’t know men were invited to bridal showers," Tamara said sweetly, refusing to flinch or pull her hand away.
"He’s not a guest," Daphne intervened jovially. "He’s a board member here at Pacific Sands and helped Mother make the arrangements for the shower."
"I see." Tamara nodded, keeping her smile in place. "A board member. Such an important position must make you feel like you own the club."
His jaw stiffened and moved from side to side. His thumb slid over her knuckles, and she finally relented and glanced at their still joined hands. Ahh, yes, one more beautiful attribute for Dale Curtis, strong, large hands with sleek, long fingers, just like Daphne.
At her inspection, he released her hand. "I do my best to keep it the upper class treasure that it is."
Ouch. "You do a marvelous job. I’ve been a member for years precisely for that reason, Dale."
Daphne and her mother excused themselves. They must have sensed they were being practically ignored. Once they left, the same frown she’d seen by the flower garden returned to his face. He buried his hands in his trousers, and ran a sweeping glance down her cocktail dress.
A lacy outer layer which went down to her knees, covered the white satin fabric inside. "Enough lace for you, Dale?"
As if her words were an invitation, he stepped closer, lifted a hand from his pocket, and reached around her to press his palm on her back. "Don’t tell me you had this hidden in your car." His firm, warm hand moved from her shoulder blades, down her spine, and stopped at her lower back, in such a bold, intimate manner, she had to fight not to jump back and put some distance between them.
"Sure, didn’t you see it in that brown paper bag on the floor of the back seat when you were laying on top of me?"
He began to walk, forcing her to move her legs and go with him, leading her out of the main hall. He let up the pressure on her back when they turned out to a veranda covered with vines of fragrant, white trumpet shaped Easter lilies. Then he faced her. "When I was laying on top of you, I was trying not to touch anything to keep from getting as dirty as you were."
She smiled at him. "Don’t worry, Dale, you were a perfect gentleman. You didn’t soil yourself at all."
He took a step away from her, obviously getting flustered if the color rising on his face meant what she thought it did.
"Who are you?"
"I’m your little sister’s best friend, she told you."
"My sister doesn’t hang out with sloppy women with filthy mouths."
Tamara nodded. "You’re right. She hangs out with over indulgent, high society types."
"And you’re trying to tell me that’s what you are?"
"Not when I can help it, but I’m afraid it’s in the breeding."
"Meaning my ancestors owned half of Los Angeles and our family has been selling off bits of land ever since, making them filthy rich for doing nothing."
Dale frowned, keeping his eyes glued on her. "Did Daphne say your last name was Cassetti?"
She smiled. "She did, and it is."
"As in Cassetti Inc., as in Cassetti Cultural Center in down town, as in The Cassetti’s?"
Dale looked baffled. "Yeah, you could say that again."
She shrugged. "You see, you have nothing to worry about. Daphne hasn’t lowered herself and become friends with an unworthy commoner. I’m just another spoiled rich girl."
He moved closer and gazed at the curls scattered around her head.
The hair stylist had done a terrific job, Tamara had to admit. Her hair had been a filthy mess. Now it was pinned up with strands let loose for effect.
He reached for a curl and wrapped it around his index finger. For the first time, he gave her a lopsided grin. "A beautiful rich girl at that."
She smiled back even though she felt like slapping him. A few hours ago, she had been the scourge of humanity and he’d practically run her off the grounds. She really couldn’t stand men like him. "Oh Dale, you’re going to make me blush."
He let her hair go and frowned. "Why were you driving that sorry excuse for a car, which was towed by the way, and who was the miserable looking kid, and why--"
"Oh give it a rest, Dale. I’m a social worker. I just pulled that miserable four-year old child from an abusive home, and he has clung to me like glue. He’s afraid of everyone, so I can’t leave him alone yet or put him in a foster home."
Dale’s eyes widened. "A social worker? Rich girls don’t become social workers."
"Yeah, I know, your mother tells me that every time I see her."
"Never mind my mother. Why –-?"
"Because I chose to."
His eyes returned to normal, then actually began to narrow. "So this boy, you brought him with you today because you had no where to leave him?"
"Right. I’ve been working on his case for months. Each time Raffi has been in worse condition and more terrified. I couldn’t miss the shower, but I couldn’t leave Raffi either."
"So where is he now?"
"Swimming. He’s probably a lot cleaner now, so you won’t have to wrinkle your nose at him."
"I only stopped him from doing something wrong. You’re the one who should be teaching him to behave properly."
"Look, Dale." She poked his chest with her acrylic fingernail. "Don’t stand here in this multi-million dollar country club with your designer everything and tell me how to deal with a poor, abused boy. Maybe you should learn a thing or two about how to speak to the other two-thirds of humanity."
"Can’t you admit he did something wrong?"
"Yes. He should have given you back those flowers, shoved them into your nice, expensive pants pockets."
Dale shook his head. "I won’t apologize, Tamara. And look at yourself. Aren’t you being a little hypocritical? How much did your dress cost you?"
Tamara did what she could, but she couldn’t deny who she was. Yes, it was hypocritical, perhaps, but she was part of two worlds, and neither one understood the other. "I need to return to your sister’s shower. Nice meeting you after all these years," she said in the sweetest voice possible.
He placed his hand on her shoulder to detain her. "Why did you let me believe you were some poor, white trash woman?"
She stared at him for the longest time, her golden eyes seemed to delve into his conscience, making him uncomfortable. "I never described myself that way. Funny how you decided that was who I was."
"Do you blame me?"
"Oh yes, Dale. I blame you."
He invaded her personal space, and slid his hand behind her neck, rubbing his thumb along the elegant line of her throat. God, she cleaned up good. "Give me a chance to make it up to you."
Why indeed. Maybe because she’d aroused something in him that had been long dead. In a bold move, he bowed his head and brushed her lips. They were so soft and moist.
A small breath escaped through her lips. She didn’t pull away and her soft acquiescence gave him encouragement.
He kissed her again, letting his fingers slide up into her thick, golden brown hair which smelled of sweet Vanilla. She placed her hands on his shoulders and applied just enough pressure to make him lift his head.
"Can I drive you home after the shower?" he whispered against her lips.
"I’ve arranged for a limo."
"Let me take you home, Tamara."
She moved away from him, apparently unaffected by his kiss. "I like men who wear more denim and less wool and cashmere. Good bye, Dale."
He sat at the bar in the back of the room, occasionally sipping his double whiskey, knowing he should return to his office at Quest Air. He had met his obligation to his mother and sister. The rest of the shower would proceed without problems. Yet he stayed and watched Tamara from afar, both intrigued and aroused. He wanted her in a way he hadn’t wanted anyone or anything in a long time. He had wanted her when he thought she was a poor street woman and had been angry with himself. But now that he knew she was from his social class, his desire was her ten times greater. Not that he wouldn’t have slept with her if she had been poor, but he would have felt guilty. He wasn’t into using people, and that’s how he would have felt.
But now . . . he stretched his legs out in front of him, he didn’t have to worry about turning a poor woman’s head. Tamara, he could safely seduce, have a good time with, and not feel like he owed her anything.
She was indignant now, of course, because she perceived him as cold hearted and unsympathetic and he understood why, but he would show her she was wrong about him. He swirled the ice in his glass and smiled to himself. Yes, it had been too long since he’d allowed himself the pleasure of courting a woman. And he definitely enjoyed a good chase.
After the shower when she was saying her goodbyes to Daphne, he approached her again. "Are you leaving, Tamara?"
She glanced at him, a look of surprise on her face. "Yes, it’s time. You don’t mind if I take one of these bouquets for Raffi, do you?"
Dale fought a smile. "They belong to the club."
"Dale?" Daphne looked incensed. "Of course, she can take a centerpiece if she likes."
Dale shrugged. "Yes, of course you may, Tamara. May I walk you to get Raffi?"
She began to shake her head, but Daphne interrupted, saying it was a great idea. A waiter brought her a wrap and Dale helped her cover her shoulders, purposely caressing the base of her neck.
Tamara looked unnerved and it pleased him. The little flirt had a great time teasing him earlier so now it was his turn. As they walked along the wood plank walkway to the gym area, he placed his arm around her shoulder. "Do you think you could wear a little more lace, and I could wear a little more denim?"
"I’m not interested in you, Dale."
"I’m not lying. I don’t go out with guys who belong to country clubs." She lifted her chin and gazed at him. "The last thing I want is to marry into this same group and be stuck being a high society wife. No, thank you."
"I wasn’t offering marriage."
She smiled. "What do you want, a one night stand?"
He pulled her closer to his side. "Sure, why not?"
"I’ll think about it," she said in a way which told him she wouldn’t think about it at all.
They reached the gym and a now clean Raffi with still moist, shiny black hair parted on the side, greeted them with apprehensive eyes. "He gonna yell to me again?"
"No. I won’t let him, Raffi." She held out the centerpiece. "Look, I brought you flowers this time."
He smiled, his dark eyes brightened, and reached for her hand. "You look pretty, Tamara."
"Thank you, sweetie. You look tired. Do you want to come to my place tonight?"
Dale wished she had made him the same offer. He bent to Raffi’s level. "I didn’t mean to scare you today. It’s just that if someone pulls out the flowers, the gardeners have to come and plant new ones, and they cost a lot of money. You understand?"
Raffi nodded, then looked up to Tamara once again. "We go now?"
"Yes, sweetie." She glanced at Dale. "Again, I’m glad we met, Dale. Daphne used to talk about you incessantly in college and read your letters to me."
Dale stood, not knowing exactly how he felt about his sister sharing specific personal details with Tamara. He knew nothing about her. But he smiled. "I’ve enjoyed meeting you as well."
"I’m sure I’ll see you at Daphne’s wedding."
"I hope it won’t be that long before we see each other again."
She offered a warm, genuine smile. "One night stands aren’t my thing, Dale. Especially not with my best friend’s brother."
I actually began to write A Family for Raffi as I waited for my first child to arrive. My husband and I decided to adopt internationally and from start to finish, it’s a long, anxious year. Then when my son finally made it home, I put my book aside for over a year as I got used to being a Mom. When I picked it up again, I realized how special the story really was, because it’s more than just a romance. It’s the story of two people who are brought together through the love a child. Raffi is an orphaned little boy who needs a family. He needs these two adults to get their act together, fall in love, and become his parents.
In A Family For Raffi, I tried to explore how love can grow when two people who are obvious opposites and are busy following their own agendas learn to put aside selfishness to help a child who has nothing.
I’ve been asked if the story was based on personal experience. It’s completely a work of fiction, but being in the process of adoption had me thinking a lot about orphaned children, and fictionalizing a story about a boy who needed a family perhaps helped me get through the waiting. I didn’t know that our child would be a boy. That was coincidence or fate, I don’t know.
I’ve now re-written this story changing the characters into Latinos, because a Spanish network was interested in buying the book for a mini-series. It was strange and I had to view my book in a whole new and different way, but it was fun to do. The TV deal fell through, but who knows, A Family for Raffi may someday be reprinted with Latino characters.
© 2008-2013 by Lara Rios. All Rights Reserved.