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Authors: Charity Pineiro

Faith in You

FAITH IN YOU

the sequel to NOW AND ALWAYS

by Charity Pineiro

Paul Stone accepts Connie Gonzalez’s invitation to join her for a traditional and fun-filled Cuban Christmas Eve dinner. Paul is instantly captivated by her intriguing kid sister. Carmen Gonzalez is leery of the self-assured FBI agent whose upscale upbringing provided him with all he ever needed … except love. After a fast-paced courtship, Paul and Carmen are ready to walk down the aisle, blissfully unaware that fate – and their own secret fears – will test their fragile commitment long before they make it to the altar ….

Copyright Notice

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 1999 by Caridad Piñeiro Scordato

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of Caridad Piñeiro Scordato.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

Visit Charity/Caridad’s websites at
www.caridad.com
and
www.charitypineiro.com
.

Cover design by Caridad Piñeiro Scordato

Manufactured in the United States of America

Chapter 1

Paul Stone glanced at the check with the five zeroes before the decimal point, folded it, and then calmly tore it into tiny little pieces.

“Stone,” he heard from behind him as he swept up the bits of paper into the palm of his hand and dusted them off into the trash can. He turned and smiled as Connie Gonzalez approached, a bright red, Santa hat sitting slightly askew on her head.

“Merry Christmas, Speedy,” Paul replied and leaned back in his chair. He laced his fingers together, rested his hands across his stomach, and stretched his legs out.

Connie returned his smile and sat on the edge of his desk. Her hands were hidden behind her back. “They’re saying you’re a Scrooge and won’t join the festivities.” She inclined her head in the direction of one of the interrogation rooms where an impromptu Christmas party was underway.

He looked away and sat back up at his desk. He absentmindedly began to turn over and over the deep burgundy envelope on his desk. “I’m not a holiday kind of guy,” he answered bluntly.

Connie tried to surreptitiously examine the envelope, but Paul shifted it away. She shrugged and leaned over, dropped a long, rectangular box on his desk. “Regardless. Merry Christmas, Stone.”

He stared at the gaily wrapped box, but didn’t touch it. “What’s this?”

Connie gave him an exasperated sigh and nudged the box closer. “A Mercedes. Now get it over with. Open it.”

Paul looked at her and realized she didn’t know just how possible a gift like that would be for him. The check his parents had sent him would alone be most of the purchase price. That is, if he cashed it. He never did, but every year they did the same thing and he wondered if one day they would notice.
Unlikely
, he thought, fingering the curling ribbons adorning the present.

“Come on,” Connie urged at his hesitation.

He glanced at her again. “I didn’t get you anything.”

Connie tossed her hands up in resignation. “That’s not a prerequisite. Now open the damn gift,” she urged, although it was clear to him from the playful tone of her voice that she wasn’t angry.

Paul examined the box, turning it over and over in his hands. She had taken time with the wrapping. The edges were neatly folded and sealed. A sticker of reindeers pulling a sled held down the ribbon and had his name scrawled on it in her carefree script. “It’s real pretty, Speedy,” he teased in his mock good ol’ boy drawl.

She grew exasperated. “Haven’t you ever seen a Christmas present before?” she shot back, but seemed to regret it instantly when his face hardened.

Paul fought the tightness in his chest and replied, “My parents aren’t big on presents. Just checks. They’re usually away for most holidays.” Something, he didn’t know what, made him open up to her and it helped ease some of the tension. He pointed to the envelope on his desk and Connie picked it up, examining the postmark.

“Switzerland?” she asked, clearly sorry she had caused him this discomfort.

He nodded tightly, brought his hands together and made a zigzagging motion with his hands. “As we speak, my parents are schussing down the Alps somewhere.”

“Do you have any siblings?”

“An older brother who is currently involved in a very nasty divorce battle. He’s spending his holidays trying to get his soon-to-be ex-wife to let him see his kids,” Paul said, thinking that even if Simon wasn’t busy, it was unlikely they would have gotten together.

“I’m sorry, Paul.” She laid a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off. He didn’t need her sympathy.

“Don’t be,” he said harshly. “I’m not.”

Despite his words, Connie seemed to sense it bothered him deeply. “I’m heading to my parents’ for
Noche Buena
.”

Paul shook his head, not understanding. “What’s
Noche
–”


Buena
,” she finished for him. “Christmas Eve. It’s our big holiday along with
Los Reyes
.”

He didn’t understand that one either. “What’s whatever that second one was?”

“The Three Wise Men,” Connie answered. “The Epiphany. In January.”

“Oh,” he responded, although he still didn’t really understand. His family had never been into religion. Well, except maybe the religion of money.

Connie went on. “Anyway, Christmas Eve we get together and have our big meal and everything. If you don’t have any plans for tonight, I thought you might want to stop by.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said uneasily, but grabbed the present again, tracing the curling red ribbon with his finger.

Connie laughed. “That’s easy, Stone. We eat and we talk. Take a break and eat some more. Open a few small presents. The big ones wait for Santa. After the presents, we talk, eat even more.”

“I don’t know, Connie. Really, I appreciate the offer, but I’d probably feel out of place.”

Connie hesitated, then drew a business card out of her pocket, turned it over, and jotted something down. “If you change your mind, here’s my parents’ address and phone number. Please reconsider it, Paul. You’ll have a nice time.”

He smiled, appreciating her thoughtfulness. “Thanks, Connie. You don’t know how much this means.”

She leaned over and dropped a quick kiss on his cheek before walking away.

Watching her go, Paul thought of how lucky her new husband was to have a lady like her to love. He looked at the box again, hesitantly slipped off the bright ribbon, and carefully pulled apart the taped edges of the paper. Slowly he took the lid off the box, smiling when he saw the tie inside. Looney Tunes characters chased each other in a Keystone Cops kind of thing along the length of the fabric. She was always teasing him about his ties and how stodgy they were. It had become a running joke with them.

Chuckling, he closed the box, carefully rewrapped it, and resolved to wear the tie to work on Monday after the holidays.

What holidays
? the niggling voice inside his head snipped. He had no plans for the long weekend ahead. No one to visit. No one with whom to share the Christmas spirit. Paul wondered why? Even Scrooge had had family who cared.

He put the box into his briefcase, sat back up, and fingered the business card she had left on his desk. He imagined Connie and her family around the table, doing just what she had said. Eating, talking, laughing. He imagined himself at home, watching television, and eating another microwave dinner.

No way
, he thought, and tucked the card into his pocket. He rose, took a deep breath, and walked toward the interrogation room where the party was underway.

#

Paul stood before the door, hesitant, juggling the two boxes in his hands. For a moment he considered turning around and going back to his house, but that held little appeal for him. The prospect of entering this world, however, was just as daunting.

He looked around the neighborhood, one he had not been in before. His haunts were upscale, not these blocks of decidedly working class homes in the Cuban part of town. Still, the bulk of the homes on this street were clean and well-kept and boasted festive decorations for the upcoming holidays.

Fortifying himself with a deep breath and smelling something so delicious his stomach growled, he knocked on the door, hoping that someone would hear him over the noise of the music and conversation that came from behind the weathered wood. He waited for a few minutes and considered leaving again, but as he was about to knock once more, the door flew open.

The rather tall elf standing before him couldn’t be real
, he thought and checked the address again. It was the right one and he shrugged and asked, “Is this the Gonzalez residence?”

Carmen Gonzalez stared right back at him, thinking that this was one Anglo who was clearly in the wrong part of town. He had, however, asked for the Gonzalez residence although Gonzalez was kind of like Smith and it was still possible he was in the wrong place. “It is, but if you don’t mind my asking, who are you?”

“Paul Stone,” he replied.

Carmen bit back her immediate thought. This very handsome, seemingly polite man could not be the same Paul Stone who had broken her sister’s arm and been the bane of Connie’s existence throughout the FBI academy. That Paul Stone would have been staring down his nose at her and her family’s very simple home.

“Is Connie around?” Paul asked, and as the young woman turned to call out to someone in the mass of people in the house, he took his time enjoying the sight of her and realized she must be Connie’s younger sister.

She was taller than Connie, at least 5′6″ or so. Sexy in a way that Connie couldn’t be with her slight stature. This girl, for she was young as well, had all the right curves.
All of them
, he thought again, admiring how the red sweater clung to her breasts and her dress slacks hugged her ample hips and small waist.

She looked at him once more and he smiled, appreciating her elfin face. Connie had recently been bemoaning her sister’s decision to get what she had called a “Marine buzz cut”, but it was anything but that. Her dark brown-black hair was closely cropped to her head, which only helped to show off a face that wasn’t classically beautiful. It was the face of a sprite, sassy and inviting. Her lips were full, glossed with something shiny in a warm red. The nose was straight and small. Her brows and eyes, dark like sinfully rich chocolate, were her most attractive feature. They were expressive, giving away all that she was thinking. Like in this case, the fact that she clearly didn’t believe who he was and what he was doing there on her doorstep.

She blushed as she noticed his perusal. “Why don’t you come on in?” She held the door open wider and motioned for him to enter.

“Can I assume that you’re Carmen?” he asked and stood awkwardly in the foyer of her house, waiting for Connie to appear.

She nodded. “You assumed right.” Her eyes challenged him, seemingly saying, “Yeah and you want to make something out of it?” For some reason, and Paul actually could think of quite a few reasons if he took the time, this lady clearly seemed to dislike him.

He was spared from further conversation as Connie entered, walked up, and gave him a quick hug. “I’m glad you decided to take me up on my offer.”

Connie turned, inclining her head in the direction of her sister. “I’m assuming you’ve already met my baby sister, Carmen.”

Paul relished seeing Carmen squirm. “Actually, no. We haven’t been formally introduced.” He held out his hand, daring her to take it. “Paul Stone. I work with your sister.”

Carmen glared at him and the hand he was offering as if he was an alien being. She glanced at her sister, who nodded and said, “Paul and I have become friends over the past few months.”

Carmen considered what her sister had just said and found it hard to believe. Still, it had to be true if Connie had invited this man to her family’s celebration. Only friends and family qualified for invites to Christmas Eve. Carmen shrugged, took hold of Paul’s hand and found herself totally unprepared for the tingle as he shook her hand and continued to hold it long after it was necessary.

She stared up into his eyes, a deep blue with flecks of green like a tropical jungle pool, and fought the warmth his gaze created inside her. “It’s nice to meet you, I guess.”

He smiled, leaned close to her, and whispered, “Is it some special skill that I have, or are all Gonzalez women so prickly?”

The heat of his breath fanned her cheek, tempting her to turn her face the small distance it would be necessary for that warmth to be against her. Instead she pulled away. “Maybe it’s just that the Gonzalez sisters are smart enough to shy away from a pretty-boy Anglo like you.”

Paul straightened and chuckled. “Well, at least you think I’m pretty,” he said and handed Connie the boxes. “I couldn’t come empty-handed. The big one’s for your parents. The other one’s for you.” He grinned, shrugged, and motioned to Carmen. “I guess you’ve been a bad girl ’cause Santa left you off his list.”

Carmen glared at him and walked away into the other room.

He faced Connie, shaking his head. “I just don’t get it.”

Connie considered him for a second before she responded. “Make sure you don’t get
it
,” she stressed, coming close, and poking a manicured finger into his chest. “She’s my
little
sister and I want you to treat her right.”

Paul grabbed her finger and gave it a playful shake. “Now, Speedy. I can assure you that I am a perfect gentleman. If I ask your sister out, I assure you I will behave.”
Naughtily
, he thought to himself certain that the ‘if’ was more likely a ‘when’ despite her sister’s less than cordial greeting.

“Remember, Stone. I know where you live
and
I’ve got a gun.”

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