Welcome to our third week of celebrations for the amazing
In today's post, we're looking at the Caribbean Tales, with exclusive excerpts and an introductory post from Taylor. There's also a giveaway - Taylor is raffling off one Kindle Fire 7" to one lucky winner!
Hello everyone! I’m Taylor, My Fiction Nook’s Author of the Month. *g* Today I’m here to talk a little about my new series, ‘The Caribbean Tales,’ but we can’t do that without covering my publishing history and María, the most intense hurricane to strike my hometown since 1928.
As you may or may not know, I live in NYC but I am from Puerto Rico, and it was my love for my terruño (my country) that got me writing again. I’ve always said that I am an accidental author. Writing was never a dream of mine. I certainly never thought I had the talent, but one day I agreed to co-write something with a dear friend as an exercise to keep her focused on her own writing, and it was then that I discovered I had a voice. Fast-forward a few months and I had ‘Six Degrees of Lust’ and ‘Six Degrees of Separation,’ the first two instalments in my ‘By Degrees’ Series. ‘Six Degrees of Lust’ was published. I wrote ‘Heatstroke,’ finalized ‘Six Degrees of Separation,’ and started working ‘Six Degrees of Agony.” Then I had some health issues and had to stop, as what little energy was left, I needed to fulfil my obligations at my day job.
The next time I opened a blank document, I wrote the first chapter of ‘Disasterology 101,’ a story that was released a week apart from ‘Six Degrees of Separation.’ “Hearsay,” the first instalment in my Bylaws Series was next. And that was that. My personal life took a hit and I had to go on hiatus. Writing wasn’t an option anymore.
Eventually, I finished writing ‘Six Degrees of Agony’ but things got complicated again. Not because I couldn’t write, but because I was a professional author now, ecstatic and humbled by the love ‘D101” and ‘By Degrees’ received but also scared and feeling pressured. You see, as much support as I was receiving from my core readers and SMac’ers (Sam and Mac fans), I was still affected by the aggressive emails from people who resented the fact I was taking too long to release another ‘By Degrees’ book. I’m going to keep it real, guys—that situation killed my mojo. Writing wasn’t relaxing anymore. It felt forced, and I seriously started thinking every word I put on paper sucked. So, I decided to sit on ‘Six Degrees of Agony’ to make sure I was 100% proud of the story, and that’s when some other crazy…crap happened to me. Serious crap, and it affected everything in my life, to the point I didn’t think I would write again.
As months went by and I started the process of healing emotionally, I forced myself to revaluate my writing career and recalibrate. I kept my hold on ‘Six Degrees of Agony’ and gave up on finishing ‘Six Degrees of Sorrow’ at that time. I simply didn’t have it in my to do justice to the characters and the ‘By Degrees’ world. I focused on my personal life. I focused on my family and daydreamed about the day I would go back home. I was homesick. I wanted my beaches and my mountains and my people and my culture, and I watched YouTube videos filmed in Puerto Rico almost obsessively. I was so focused on the images and the music and the sounds that I didn’t even realize I had started creating another fictional world in my head…not until I grabbed a notepad and a pen and got to work. Next thing I knew, Luca and Santi were fully fleshed out, and the opening chapter of ‘Heavy Hitters’ was done.
That was it.
The ‘Caribbean Tales Series’ was born. Naturally. Organically.
Writing with Puerto Rico as a background brought me joy again, and, while writing ‘Heavy Hitters,’ I found my way back to ‘Six Degrees of Agony.’ And ‘Gainsay’ from the Bylaws series. And ‘Living on the ‘Edge.’ And, last but not least, ‘Forces of Nature,’ a short (for me!) where Saúl and Orlando rekindle their relationship and rebuild their home.
‘Forces of Nature’ was inspired by the upcoming (at the time) anniversary of Hurricane Maria. That’s today. On September 20, 2017, that monster made landfall and swept across the island, causing destruction that it is still visible everywhere. The green was gone, as if a bomb had exploded. The coastline changed. No electricity. No water. No food. No communication. No idea if everyone was okay for weeks. No way to describe the aftermath other than hell. Yet the spirit remained.
I can’t properly articulate how proud I am of my people, as I get too emotional every single time, but this story is my tribute to them. My memorialization of their essence and their efforts. My way of bowing down to them and showing my respect.
A year later, we’re doing much better, gracias a Dios. We are resilient. When we look around, we see the green coming back, and we’re hopeful we’ll be better than ever by the time everything is said and done.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride for me, not even after I thought I was ready to publish again. I’ve tried twice and both times I had issues with Amazon, so I gave up. I’m Puerto Rican, you understand. All those glitches had to be a sign that I shouldn’t release the books, so that’s exactly what I did. Or didn’t. As simple as that. But I’m over it. I can deal with the fact that some of the places I mention in the stories are gone, and I really am ready to do this thing, now. 😊
I know ‘Six Degrees of Agony’ has been a long time coming, and many of you are disappointed I’m releasing something else. All I can say is, I’m back. I’m working on ‘By Degrees’ and, when you guys get ‘Agony,’ you will get a book I’m 1000% proud of. In the meantime, I hope you give ‘The Caribbean Tales Series” a shot, as each and every book carries my culture, my heritage, my traditions, and my heart.
#Puerto Rico Strong.
Let's look at the books!
First up, coming in October 2018, Forces Of Nature
Pushed out by a stagnant economy, lack of professional opportunities and his own ambition, software engineer Saúl Cartagena Toro migrated from his beloved Puerto Rico to New York City in pursuit of his dream job. He took his partner for granted. He left his family behind. A day hasn’t gone by without Saúl thinking he made the biggest mistake of his life, and now all he wants is to get his better half back.
Years after having his existence turned upside down, Orlando Figueroa Valle is still trying to bounce back from a broken heart. Unable to forgive or forget, he lives consumed by the sense of betrayal, undying love, and the need to detach from his frustration, his bitterness, and his pain. Only the ocean between them and zero communication with the one that got away will keep him sane.
Then Mother Nature intervenes in the form of a potentially catastrophic hurricane, bringing Saúl and Orlando together again. Hunkered down in the home they once shared, the only thing left to do is weather the storm and wait. For the torrential rain to wash away the hurt. For the waves of desire to erode the mistrust. For them to realize they will always be each other’s ray of light.
His worst fear had come true.
After a short, terse conversation with his boss, Saúl Cartagena Toro had been turned into another casualty of the ruthlessly competitive high-tech world.
Not because the multinational company he had spent almost four years busting his ass for had actually seen any decline in revenue, but because some financial analyst overseas had projected a softening in the market conditions for the next quarter. His report had prompted Corporate to take the simple preventive measure of restructuring its workforce to keep company costs low. That decision, in turn, had brought Saúl’s professional plans to a screeching halt.
“And here I am,” he muttered under his breath, ignoring his friend and former project manager’s watchful presence as he emptied the contents of his drawers into a cardboard box. “Clearing my desk.” While simultaneously trying to save face by keeping his emotions in check, pretending he wasn’t insulted by the fact his job had been outsourced to another software engineer in India, fighting like hell not to burn any bridges on his way out or hate on the people that got to stay, and doing his best to convince himself that his termination was the company’s loss, not his, and that he deserved better treatment and compensation from an employer than what he had received.
He could sense Nelson looking at him…feeling sorry for him…making him feel ten different kinds of self-conscious, which was quite an uncomfortable position to be in, to say the least. Knowing exactly why he’d gotten the short end of the stick didn’t change a thing. Saúl was overly sensitive and couldn’t handle pity from anyone for any reason, period. If he stayed here any longer, he would cry, so he had to get out—now. He needed to be alone for a while, then he needed a tight hug from the person that never failed to make him feel wanted and loved.
Head bowed and shoulders curled over his chest, he quickly threw an almost-empty bag of garlic plantain chips in the garbage, dumped a roll of Mentos, his phone charger, and a bottle of Excedrin Migraine in his watertight, abrasion-resistant backpack, secured his laptop in one of the fleece-lined protective compartments, and zipped it up with shaky fingers.
Come on, he mentally ordered himself, blinking back his tears as he ripped sticky notes full of codes he’d been working on off the cubicle walls. Keep it together.
A moment later, he rubbed his blurry eyes and dried and dried his wet cheeks with the back of his hand.
It was at mortifying times like this that Saúl hated being the type of man that took things too personally, wore his emotions on his sleeve, and got most of his self-esteem from impressing others and getting praised and validated by them. No matter the circumstances, he always faulted himself when things went wrong, a totally flawed reaction he couldn’t control.
“I’m so sorry this happened, man,” Nelson said quietly for the millionth time. “I truly am.”
Saúl grunted in response. The lump of bitterness, disappointment, and humiliation from not being good enough lodged in his throat made it impossible to talk.
He knew better than to doubt his skills, but he was prone to indulging in long bouts of self-pity, and he was utter shit at handling judgement, criticism, and rejection in any form. He couldn’t think of anything that reflected more poorly on a person than being fired from their gig, especially a gig they’d been doing almost for free to begin with. And fine, he wasn’t actually fired—he was laid off, but that made absolutely no difference to him. Out of forty people in his company, he was one of the five out of the job, and his pride was battered and bruised as a result.
I can’t believe this is happening to me.
The layoffs weren’t that big a surprise. Even though there had been no rumors and the pink slips came out of left field, the fact remained that outsourcing was a staple in the information technology industry, with more and more companies opting to develop their products on the cheap. But why would they let him go? Why?
He had been punctual, consistent, and dependable. He had helped develop software applications that had earned his employers millions of dollars, and he had kept doing it even after it became obvious he wouldn’t be rewarded with neither a promotion nor a substantial bonus. On top of that, he had often sacrificed personal time in favor of meeting deadlines and fulfilling his boss’s ever-changing needs. Like today! Saúl had braved the elements and come to the office on a stormy Saturday to take care of an emergency algorithm debugging, only to get canned anyway.
It wasn’t fair. It sucked. Yes, he understood the concept of seniority, but not getting preference over less talented coders did a number on his confidence, and he could not stop wondering how he’d messed up.
“Are you going to be okay?” Nelson asked in a worried tone.
“Yeah…” Pulse pounding in his head, Saúl took two Excedrin pills from the bottle and swallowed them down with the last of his Gatorade. “I’ll be fine.”
His failure to stay on the payroll was depressing but, at his core, he was a dreamer, easily distracted from the world of responsibilities and material needs by new ideas and the urge to develop the next viral thing. Additionally, he had the best support system at home, something he was immensely grateful for. His family was the best at cheering him on. Orlando, his life partner, was the rock that had kept him grounded since he was nineteen. Saúl had no doubt he’d overcome this career setback in no time.
That being said, he had no clue how he would get the small software solutions business he had started a year ago up and running once and for all. He’d been banking on one particular project to make it happen, but developing the mobile application he had designed required money he hadn’t gotten to save before becoming unemployed. To make a bad situation worse, because cuando llueve, truena and then it was up shit creek without a paddle, he had limited options moving forward. There were only a couple other tiny companies where he could look for work, and Saúl had heard through the grapevine that one of them was in the red, which meant he was fucked. His chances of finding a comparable position any time soon were slim to none.
Due to an economy that had been in recession for almost a decade, jobs were extremely limited in Puerto Rico and, as of fifteen minutes ago, Saúl had joined the ranks of thousands of college educated Boricuas that had no employment prospects in the Caribbean paradise they called home. Sadly, they faced the decision to leave for the mainland or stay put and work part-time at Walmart for a few dollars a month, a heartbreaking situation that had become the norm.
Second in the series, coming December 2018, Living On The Edge
Damián Laporte Ortíz is an expert at leading a double life. Most people know him as a war veteran and highly decorated cop working for FURA-SOU, a specialized police unit in Puerto Rico. Others know him as a crook. The truth is he’s morally ambiguous and willing to bend rules. He is also barely holding himself together by keeping his worlds apart.
Gay rights activist Gael Cisneros Beltrán dedicates his life to representing the marginalized LGBT community in a place he otherwise considers to be paradise. Fighting for their rights consumes his days. Going home to his closeted boyfriend replenishes him at night. Balancing their needs, goals, and responsibilities is a complicated act, but their commitment to each other continues to stand.
No challenge is too great to overcome. Nothing can tear them apart. Not until their carefully built parallel lives finally collide. Now they must decide what matters more—the common good or their love.
Damián Laporte Ortíz parked his SUV five blocks away from the Old San Juan Cemetery, grabbed his bags from the back seat, and headed toward the gated entrance. Not only did he not want his vehicle to be seen anywhere near the place, but the historic heart of the Capital city wasn’t built for cars. It had been designed with people on foot, horses, and carriages in mind. Easier and faster to walk through the narrow tunnel that lead to the cemetery, especially at one o’clock in the morning.
As expected, there were no security guards on the grounds, and the lone municipal police cruiser that drove by the area every half hour was currently near the access point to La Perla, on the east side of the road.
He didn’t wait until they had left.
Moving swiftly through the darkness, he climbed over the fence and raced across the land of the dead.
Damián barely registered the hundreds of ornate burial sites and marble life-size sculptures that made Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis one of the most sought-after resting places on the island. No need for that. People stayed away at night, so he didn’t think anyone would jump out from the shadows, and he knew the place by heart. Every statue, every tomb, every grave, plaque, and flower arrangement—every person buried in this beautiful oceanfront colonial cemetery. Besides, he wasn’t there to pay his respects or talk to the dearly departed. He was there to pay punitive damages to the good people of Puerto Rico…to balance things out a little…to take matters in his own hands and do what he thought was right.
The trade winds and the ocean waves disguised the squeaky noise of the wrought iron doors of his family’s mausoleum when Damián pushed them open and stepped inside. He didn’t turn his pocket flashlight on after closing the doors behind him. Instead, he let the moonlight beaming through the two small windows along the top of the freshly-painted walls guide his steps.
He dropped the duffle bag he had brought on the bench his grandpa had installed years ago for the family to sit on when they visited. He then bypassed the bust of Santa Gertrudes, the patron saint of the recently dead, and the niches containing the cremated remains of some of his eighteenth and nineteenth century ancestors before kissing his fingertips and pressing them to his sister’s crypt. Five more steps and he opened his backpack, pulling out a chisel, a hammer, and a pry bar as he kneeled in front of one of the twenty crypts.
“Hello, Great-Great Grandpa,” he whispered, making the sign of the cross and kissing the gold crucifix hanging from his chain necklace for good measure. Not because he was freaked out, but because he was about to sin, and he wanted to protect his own soul. “I promise I’ll be quick.”
Whereas most people found graveyards and mausoleums creepy, especially at night, Damián loved them. The inevitability of being entombed one day made his skin crawl, but there was something about cemeteries that he found peaceful and soothing.
That being said he had no qualms about disturbing the eternal rest of Anselmo Laporte Aragón. He had died of gangrene after sustaining leg and arm injuries during the Spanish-American War, and laid to rest in 1898. Damián figured his soul had to be long gone by now. After all, that was the reason this landmark cemetery had been built in its oceanfront location—to symbolize the journey over to the afterlife. If his great-great grandpa’s soul was still lingering around more than a century later, then that was nobody’s fault but his own.
Damián slid the chisel behind the seal of the crypt and gently hammered and scraped, careful not to break the concrete shutter. It should have been arduous work, made harder by the lack of lights, but opening the crypt only took seven minutes flat. Unlike newer crypts, which had inner and outer shutters made of metal and marble, his great-great grandpa’s only had one. Damián, who had opened and resealed it countless times in the past thirty months, could now do it with his eyes closed.
Using his leg for leverage, he pried the shutter until it was resting on his thigh. Once he had it on the floor, he pulled out the rotting wooden casket, lifted the lid, and removed one of the packages he’d hidden inside.
He had gotten them ready to be mailed out a week ago. Twenty small, carefully-wrapped boxes addressed to charities, senior citizen centers, day cares, after school programs, little league teams in extremely poor areas, HIV clinics, and Puerto Rico Diverso, the primary nonprofit advocacy organization fighting for inclusion and equal rights on the island. All containing twenty grand from the hundreds of thousands of dollars Damián had lifted from drug money couriers so far. All impossible to track.
This stunt he pulled regularly was risky. Dangerous. Against the law. But he had a system. He was smarter and slicker than los Burgos, the so-called Boricua Drug Lords operating from Damián’s neighborhood, so he went for it. Time after time. Taking money that would otherwise be used to finance illegal weapons and drugs and giving it to those who needed it most was his way of righting los Burgos’ wrongs.
Damián quickly filled up the duffle bag, dusted the floor, and grabbed the tube of caulking he needed to reseal the crypt from his backpack.
Then he slipped.
He did something he had never done before.
He actually looked at his great-great grandpa’s bones.
Heart racing from a mixed bag of emotions that included but were not limited to eagerness, anxiety, doubt, elation, smugness, and guilt, he took deep breaths of stale air that also smelled like dust. And burned candles. And roses. And death.
And unfairly dead people like his little sister, Eun Mi.
Shaking his head, Damián dropped the caulking and squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling and exhaling several times. He got lightheaded. He started hyperventilating. He couldn’t calm the fuck down, which made no sense. When it came to doing his job, he was almost like a robot—focused and detached. He was a cop. A soldier. His nerves were made of steel. He could handle danger and stress. His hands didn’t shake. His palms didn’t sweat. His heart rate didn’t go up. His mind didn’t waver from his goal.
But this wasn’t his job, was it? This wasn’t about securing the streets. It had nothing to do with arresting bad guys,’ and it most definitely wasn’t one of the phases of ‘Operation Trojan Horse,’ his PRPD-approved, DEA-sanctioned, FURA-green-lighted plan to destroy the drug trafficking organization he hated with all his heart. This was about his personal loss. About a bad case of bereavement exacerbated by his borderline obsessive personality. About being convinced he didn’t deserve to be happy until he had avenged his sister. About wanting to see los Burgos lose all they had ‘worked’ for. About making life better for himself by ruining someone else’s, and satisfying the need for revenge that had driven him to violate his oath of honor and desecrate several of his ancestors’ graves.
And book three, coming February 2019, Heavy Hitters
World boxing champion Santino Malavé González has been fighting since he was a kid. Poverty, domestic violence, and emotional abuse were early contenders. Guilt and self-loathing were beaten into him at an impressionable age, and now machismo, an integral part of the Latino culture, rules his existence. In the ring he’s undefeated, but being born with a nervous system genetically designed to be more sensitive to subtleties, emotions, and pain, life outside the ropes constantly hits him below the belt. Prone to hiding and protecting himself, it takes several sucker punches from his best friend to finally knock some sense into him and force him to face his true nature like a real man.
A natural born entertainer, Luca Jenaro Betancourt Ferrer has grown up serving God, performing, pursuing a career in music, and celebrating life among his tight-knit Catholic family under the scorching Puerto Rican sun. Singing the wrong note on stage is not a mistake the multi-platinum award-winning singer would ever allow. Falling in love with a man is not a transgression his devout family may ever accept. The ties that bind him are strong, but the pull toward his childhood best friend may just be enough to tear it all to shreds.
Anger, mistakes, bigotry, and the need to conform put up a good fight throughout their life journeys. Their religious and chauvinistic society constantly challenges their pursuit of happiness, and only time will tell if their relationship will survive the battles, or if they’ll lose each other by technical knockout.
The man, the myth, the living legend
“SM One…SM One...SM One…” thousands of fans chanted, clapping and stomping their feet to the tune of Queen, loud as thunder. “He will he will knock you out…knock you out…”
The thudding sound of his gloves connecting solidly with the punching mitts held by his trainer echoed the chants.
Jab, cross, hook.
Hook, hook, cross.
As he continued his warm-up routine, he silently promised himself to put on the greatest show in the history of the sport.
A good boxing match was like theater, and the guys wearing the gloves were responsible for bringing the drama. They were expected to put everything on the line. To be fearless and to show the world who wanted that title belt more…who had more heart. Witnessing such levels of animalistic aggression first hand was what appealed the most to the basic instincts of the fans.
“No one no one stands a chance…”
Jab, jab, twist.
Uppercut, twist, evade.
Cross, cross, jab.
“…career will never be the same…”
His heart thundered in his chest.
Around him, no one made a peep.
His team was there along with boxing officials, family members, and the Sports Illustrated reporter working on an exclusive, behind-the-scenes feature of him. He was surrounded by forty people—give or take a few—but the room was as quiet as a grave as everyone watched him prepare his muscles and organs for the most important match of his life.
Outside, the crowd grew louder.
It reminded him that, as recently as five months ago, he hadn’t been sure he’d be the able to step into the ring…that he hadn’t known if he’d ever be able to make his fans proud ever again.
Santi lowered the mental shields he’d learned to build when he was a teen and soaked it all in. It came naturally to him. He was, after all, an emotional sponge, and tonight he needed every drop of support.
“…he’s the greatest boxer you’ll ever face…”
That was a heck of a compliment coming from this crowd.
Boxing was important in Puerto Rico, both because most of their fighters excelled at it, and because there was a heroic nature to the sport that was undeniable. Every match was a possibility for tremendous loss—a combat of man against man, and everyone involved knew it all could be over with one punch.
People respected that kind of guts.
Twist, slip, jab.
Hook, evade, uppercut.
Jab, jab, cross.
“No one, no one can compare…”
Half-empty bottles of water and energy drinks danced on a nearby table. The Ponce Leones banners hanging from the ceiling whooshed with the vibration created by the stomping feet. Raw energy from a multitude of devoted, unconditional, fired-up fans seeped through the white cinder block walls of the locker room.
It put him in the zone.
“…and you know why?”
Jab, jab, cross.
Clap, clap, stomp.
“You know why?”
Santi increased the speed and power of his punches.
Hook, hook, jab, uppercut, bolo punch, jab, uppercut, hook,
Jab, jab, jab.
Santi nodded, but he refused to look at his uncle and trainer. Instead he glanced at the silent TV mounted on the wall. It was the first time in over fifteen years together that Tío Miguel asked him that before a fight, and Santi refused to acknowledge the reason behind it.
He didn’t want to see the worry in his uncle’s eyes.
He didn’t want to know if he had any doubts that Santi would win tonight.
On the TV, the camera man showed the roaring crowd before focusing on the ring. Tonight’s announcer was already there, surrounded by scantily-dressed ring girls and ready to introduce the singers of the national anthems.
“…it’s because…it’s because…it’s becaaause…” The distinct pitch of conga drums resonated above the chorus four times, clear and sharp, then his fans’ adaptation of ‘We Will Rock You’ changed to a Plena song. “Los de Ponce somos la Ó, viva la madre que nos parió. Somos la Ó, somos la Ó, y Malavé es nuestro campeón…”
Panderos, guiros, and requintos along with horns and sirens provided the background rhythm for lyrics that proclaimed people from Ponce were the bee’s knees, praised the mothers who gave birth to all of them, and proclaimed Santi their champion.
Simply put, his fans were having a party in the stands.
Never mind that most of the people that filled up el coliseo lived on low incomes, or that the economy was crippled and unemployment was an issue right now, or that religion was an obstacle for equality, which was something that had impacted Santi’s entire life. Puerto Rico still was la Isla del Encanto, and the locals took that to heart.
They focused on the good things. They were warm, family-oriented, easy-going, friendly… According to several studies, they were the happiest people in the world, and nothing kept them down for too long.
“Santi es Boricua, pá’ qué tú lo sepas…” the crowd yelled, not because they thought there was anyone left in the boxing world who didn’t know where he hailed from, but because they were proud Santi was one of them. They followed the proclamation with Puerto Rico’s signature celebratory word—a word that identified them and brought them together. “Weeeeepaaaaa!”
He grinned as smashed his gloves together.
Being a society deeply ingrained in—and proud of—their culture, there wasn’t much that didn’t get linked to their heritage, or that went without celebration, and Boricuas perpetuated that tradition wherever they went. Birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, dolls’ weddings, you name it. Everything was a reason to get together and have fun, and music and dancing were staples in every occasion, so much, that Santi wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few couples guayando la hebilla in the stands.
Minutes went by.
The music died down.
His trainer nodded and stepped back.
Santi dropped his hands and jumped in place. Rotated his neck. Threw a quick combination, then stretched his arms as he paced the locker room.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer said on the loudspeaker. “As we prepare for the ring walk of the two fighters for the main event, please rise,” he instructed the fans. “Here to sing the anthem of Puerto Rico…”
Santi glanced at the TV again. Swallowed hard at the sight of his man entering the ring, custom-made Starfleet insignia in-ear monitors in place, and microphone tightly held in his hand, dead giveaway he could barely contain his nerves.
I’ll be fine, corazón, Santi mentally told him. I’ll come back to you, like I always do.
But what if he didn’t? What if he wasn’t ready for tonight? What if he got hurt in the ring? What if his technique wasn’t the same after everything he’d gone through in the past year? What if he couldn’t focus? What if Hacine harmed him so much it caused irreparable damage? What if Luca got so scared, Santi’d feel it, and become unable to think about anything else? What if their time was cut short? What if Santi couldn’t be there for the people he loved…the people that needed him the most? What if—
Santi slammed the door on his fears and anxiety, stood still, and took deep calming breaths, right there in the middle of his packed locker room, and he refused to consider what anyone might think of him.
Inhale…exhale…inhale…exhale… Serenity is within your power…you can control yourself…you’ve got this…calm the fuck down…
One by one, he put up the mental walls that shut out the world and protected him from the onslaught of thoughts, emotions, and moods that could render a guy like him useless.
You’re in charge…you’re in charge…you control your mind, not the other way around…
His head stopped spinning. His hammering heart slowed down. His lungs returned to normal size. Little by little the sounds around him became words.
“…need to ask if he’s fine,” one of his brothers was saying.
“…make sure the post-fight conference doesn’t go on for too long,” his manager told someone, most likely his assistant.
“…tierra de Borinquen donde he nacido yooo…” Luca sang in the ring, his tenor weighty and perfect pitch.
“…been covering Santino Malavé’s career since his professional debut,” the Sports Illustrated reporter said, looking at the camera that had followed Santi around for the past month. “I’ve also covered Durán, Leonard, Tyson, Holyfield, Chávez, Márquez, De La Hoya, Camacho, Hopkins, Trinidad, Martínez…”
Santi put his gloved right hand over his chest and started jumping in place, his gaze fixed to the TV. He didn’t blink or miss a step as his oldest brother greased up his face.
“Professional boxing has been my life for over twenty years, and I had never, ever witnessed something like this before,” the reporter carried on. “SM One’s fans make themselves known wherever he fights, but the atmosphere here in his hometown is electrifying. The best pound for pound boxer in not one but four different weight divisions is their pride and joy. The excitement in anticipation of his return to the ring after a one-year absence, unsurpassable. Tonight, boxing fans all over the world are wondering if…”
He kicked his legs and gulped down half a bottle of water as his trainer secured the ties of Santi’s shiny red robe around his waist and adjusted the hood over his head.
“…del mar y el soool…” Luca’s voice when up an octave as he started bringing the Puerto Rican anthem to an end. “Del mar y el soool…” Santi rolled his shoulders back and forth, then stretched his arms out behind his back and above his head. “Del mar y el soool…”
The crowd roared.
Everyone around him patted his shoulder. His uncle and trainer kissed his head.
There were no last-minute instructions from him, and no talk about Hacine. They’d trained for months. From this point on, Santi was on his own.
His cousins and brothers grabbed his championship belts from a table in the far corner of the locker room and hung them over their shoulders, ready to carry them to the ring, as it was required.
Luca finished singing the national anthem and stepped out of the ring to thunderous applause. Thirty seconds later a hip-hop song blared out of the speakers, and Santi watched as Hacine, who was prone to theatrics and known for his over-the-top behavior, was walked to the ring by a live performer.
Santi’s fans drowned the song out. “Ay bendito, a Hacine le van a comer el culito, woo ha! Ay bendito, a Hacine le van a comer el culito…” And on and on it went.
Santi’s stomach churned as he listened to the mocking chant that pretty much said Hacine was about to get his figurative ass eaten, and people felt sorry for him. Clearly, they believed nothing more humiliating could happen to a man.
He strongly disagreed with that.
Santi always had a merry, good time when Luca buried his tongue deep in his ass.
But this wasn’t the time to think about that.
He needed to concentrate on the fight. He needed to get ready to walk out of the tunnel and to battle it out.
With the world.
With his mind, his demons, and his ultimate personal opponent—a motherfucker called ‘Truth’ that could free him forever or bring him down, taking everything he’d achieved in his life.
This was it. The time had come. There was no changing his mind.
Santi was resolved to let it play out.
“Time to go,” one of the organizers announced.
The sports reporter was still talking to the camera when Santi followed his team, his security detail, and the boxing officials out the door, the Pay-Per-View cameras broadcasting his every move.
‘Leyenda Vivienta,’ one of the five songs Luca had composed and produced for Santi throughout his boxing career, started playing. Jumping in place, he closed his eyes and took a calming breath.
After way too many years boxing for fame, glory, and money, tonight he’d finally fight for what mattered the most. He wasn’t here for a championship title belt alone—he was here to reclaim his identity and conquer his truth, and he was scared out of his mind.
But he had to transcend his fears. To keep his anxious mind under control. To search deep within his soul until he found the courage that’d see him through the shitstorm that would surely come his way after tonight. He had to find the emotional strength he wasn’t sure he had, because losing wasn’t an option for him.
It’d never been.
Not even when he was a starry-eyed little kid.
About the author:
Taylor V. Donovan is a compulsive reader and author of gay romance and suspense. She is optimistically cynical about humanity and a lover of history, museums, and all things 80s. She shamelessly indulges in mind-numbing reality television, is crazy about fashion, and passionate about civil rights and equality for all.
For more information please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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