Lana Finch is a twenty-five-year-old social worker. She believes wholeheartedly in saving the world—one broken kid at a time. Lana is headstrong, she’s righteous and she’ll let nothing stand in her way. Except for maybe her entire family that’s financially dependent on her.
Enter Mozey Cruz, the eighteen-year-old juvenile delinquent assigned to her charge. He’s an illusive artist, he’s misunderstood, and he’s a natural born troublemaker. Their love is illegal, much like Mozey’s undocumented status in the States. So Lana lets him go even though it might be the worst mistake she’ll ever make.
But destiny has a way of catching up with us even when we run from it.
But first, Lana has to find him before she can deliver him.
On the way out of Pathways, I run into Mozey Cruz in the hall. He’s got a program participant, a pretty one with a full sleeve of tattoos, backed up against the wall. His arm is up, palm flat, sustaining him and effectively hiding her face. I’d like to just march by, let them make out and make my way out the door. But it’s the rules here that sustain us, and I happen to be the asshole in charge.
I hike my bag up on my shoulder and grip my case files hard.
“Mr. Cruz, Ms.—” I say, trying to see her around his arm. She giggles. Little baby girly laughter that says she’s eating up his charm. Neither of them pays me any heed. They’re too wrapped up in each other. She’s got a crop-top on, and I watch in horror as Mozey’s other hand caresses her bare flesh. The back of his hand brushes up her torso, but I swear I’m the one who feels it. What would it be like to have him touch me like that? Snap out of it, Finch. That’s not going to happen.
They both turn on a dime and stare.
“What’s up, Doc?” says the girl and steps out of the cage of Mozey’s arms. Her eyebrows have a high arch; she’s wearing bright red lipstick. I note that none of it is on his face.
“I was heading to the bathroom. He was filling me in on his project,” she says, winking at him, her eyes going right to his crotch. “I’d say he’s a team asset.”
For some reason I’m the one dying of embarrassment.
“Fine. Go,” I say, waving her off.
Mozey watches her ass as she sways her hips and slowly saunters away down the hall.
I can’t believe I fell for his act. He’s a disgusting man, just like all the rest. He comes on to anyone with a vagina. And I fell for it. On the inside, I’m still the little kid with no friends. I want everyone to like me.
“Hey, Lana,” he says, eyeing me up and down suggestively.
“Mr. Cruz, there is no fraternizing on our property. What you do on your own time is none of my business. However, fraternizing during open hours will get you kicked out of the program. Consider that your first and last warning. Please don’t waste my time or make me regret that I chose you.”
Mozey leans back against the lockers and crosses his arms. “You don’t want me touching other women.”
It’s a statement. He delivers it with complete seriousness. I’m frozen and momentarily delirious. Did he just say “other women”?
“No touching, no kissing, no canoodling, not even hand holding. Hugs are okay, as long as they’re appropriate and warranted.” I rattle off rules like a robot. I am a robot. I don’t have feelings anymore.
His face curves seductively to reveal his sweet smile. He takes one step toward me and envelopes me in a huge, warm hug. My body tenses. I wasn’t expecting a hug, and I’m taken so off guard. I haven’t been hugged in a long time and his is so friendly; it warms me from the inside out. But, I’m made of hard clay, or maybe of stone, anything that would require a hammer and chisel for molding. Crack, bang. A few percussion chips fall away and smash on the floor.
I step backward out of his hug, my arms clenched at my sides. He smells of cedar and musk with a hint of turpentine.
“Funny, Mr. Cruz. If you’ll excuse me, I have to get to court.” I’m spinning inside, a gyroscope caught around my heart. “Do you oil paint, too or is that-? Never mind. I’m late. Get to your creative space or get lost. The hug doesn’t get you off. I’m still writing you up.”
“Maybe I wasn’t trying to get off.”
His innuendo is clear.
“Can it, Cruz. I’m late,” I say as my heels clack down the hall, and I refuse to look back.
Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.
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