Book 5 of the California Coast Romance Series
Alicia is an 18-year-old single mom with a young child on the Asperger’s scale. Pediatrician Raul Mendez’s entire family was deported when he was 14. They have nothing in common.
Or do they?
Alicia Fuentes wants to create the best life she can for her son, Luis, but his strange behavior makes it difficult for her to find caregivers so she can go to school and work. And she isn’t even sure what’s wrong with him. In desperation, she takes him to one more doctor to see if he has an answer.
Born in a Salinas Valley fieldworker’s cabin, Raul has fought to overcome his poor beginnings the horrors of his childhood to become a pediatrician. His residual anger at the man who raised him after his parents’ deportation and the system that took them away from him drives his goal to obtain his family’s legal return.
Hope of a new life arises for them both, but fate and prejudice could threaten their newfound bond. Can their blossoming relationship withstand the political and personal battles that lie in wait?
A timely and gripping new adult romance, California Sunrise is the final book in the California Coast Series that will appeal to fans of contemporary romance entwined with today’s problems.
Read an Excerpt
Dr. Raúl Mendez entered notes on his last patient, a six-month-old girl with respiratory problems, into the laptop, his large fingers crowded on the keyboard.
“Your next appointment is ready.” Graciela Torres stood in the examination room doorway, her black skirt shorter than he preferred in an office setting. Her low-cut, red blouse revealed ample cleavage.
He’d have to remind his OB/GYN partner, Hadiya Patel, of their agreement: she dealt with the female staff, and he handled the more manly pursuit of hiring a plumber when it was needed.
“Thank you, Graciela. I’ll be there in a minute.”
As he headed down the hall to the next patient, his irritation with the receptionist diminished and his satisfaction returned. The clinic, designed to help mothers and children, particularly farmworkers, provided a safe, warm haven for the sick. His partner, Dr. Patel, emitted an aura that comforted even the most distraught mothers-to-be, while he was there to care for the newborns and young children. He was lucky to have her as a mentor in his newly opened practice.
The trim, peach walls were lined with offerings from local artists, and the gleaming equipment was the best they could afford. He’d insisted on a good, computerized medical records system from the beginning, and the time savings had paid off in their ability to see more people during the day.
His lungs expanded with pride. Who would have thought that a Mexican kid who’d grown up in a house with a dirt floor, chickens and pigs in the yard, and Christmases provided by well-meaning strangers would have the guts to make it all the way through medical school?
Now there was only one more thing to achieve: the return of his deported parents and siblings.
Raúl pushed open the door to the examining room.
The petite woman standing by the child on the examining table turned.
The strong bones of her face, full lips, and dark eyes matched the structure of her body. Attractive. Not that he was looking for anyone right now.
“Are you Dr. Mendez?” she asked.
“Sí. And you are”—he checked the chart—“Alicia Fuentes.”
The boy on the table squirmed and let out a howl.
Raúl glanced back at the chart. No medical problem stood out, but the young woman had been to several doctors, including specialists at Stanford. Was it some type of Munchausen syndrome, or was there a legitimate illness?
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked.
“Luis is difficult.”
He was tempted to tell her all children were difficult, but the set of her jaw stopped him short. “In what way?” He leaned back against the counter, his interest piqued by what she might have to say. If the child wasn’t simply a fussy baby, it might be a chance to increase his behavioral development experience.
“He mixes up his days—sleeps during the day and wants to be up all night. He’s a fussy eater. I practically have to hand-feed him. He doesn’t seem to sit up well. And temper tantrums! I know all children have them, but his seem worse than other kids’. My grandmother says she’s never seen anything like it.” Snapping her mouth shut, she stared at him, as if defying him to tell her there was nothing wrong, that her child was normal.
In that instant, he knew there wasn’t anything normal about Luis.
Although he hadn’t seen a wedding ring, he asked the question anyway. “How is he with his father?”
“I’m a single mom.” Her chin went up. “He never sees his father.”
A too common answer. His heart crinkled with sadness for her and anger at the boy’s father. “He has no contact with his son?”
The finality in her voice warned him not to pursue the subject.
He ignored the warning.
“It must be very difficult for you, especially so young.”
“I’m eighteen.” She made her age sound as if she were in her mid-thirties.
He hid a smile. “The baby is twelve months, correct? What have the other doctors told you?”
“They don’t know what’s wrong. He’s too young for certain tests. They can’t help me.” Defeat crept into her words, and her shoulders slumped, but then she rallied and looked him straight in the eye. “I’m told you can.”
He hoped her confidence wasn’t misplaced. “Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll take a look at your son?”
“Do you have children, Dr. Mendez?” She moved toward the chair but didn’t sit.
“Me? No. I’ve never been married.”
“Brothers and sisters?”
“Yes. Older brothers. Why do you ask?”
“It seems odd for a single man to be a pediatrician.”
“Like many of us, I come from a large, extended family. Lots of cousins. Lots of different problems—some the normal hazards of being a kid, some brought on by poverty. Giving kids a healthy start is a way to help our people.” He looked down at Luis and put his stethoscope in his ears. “Now let’s see what’s up with you, little man.”
The phone rang.
Yanking the tubes from his ears, he turned back to the desk and stabbed one of the buttons. “I told you not to interrupt me when I’m with a patient.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but your next patient is here, and her baby looks very sick,” Graciela said.
“She’ll need to wait.” He put the brakes on his temper. “Thank you, Graciela.”
He glanced at Alicia. Her face seemed paler. Had the call bothered her? Or had it been his short display of temper? “I’m sorry about the interruption. I tell the ladies out front each patient is as important as the next, but they have their own priorities.”
As if sensing something was going on, Luis began to stir and wail. Raúl touched the boy’s arm to comfort him, but the noise increased in volume.
“I see what you mean about being difficult.” He took a penlight from his pocket and waved it in front of Luis’s eyes.
The boy’s gaze followed the moving light, and he calmed down.
“Good boy.” Raúl patted the boy’s shoulder, then clicked off the light.
Luis’s gaze locked on the ceiling tiles, his eyes moving as he traced a pattern visible only to him. Raúl went through the vitals and tested the child’s reflexes. No scars or bruises marred his skin.
“Hi, Luis.” Raúl waved his hand in front of the boy.
He tried again. Luis squirmed and fought his way around the table so he could see the ceiling again.
Suspicions formed in his mind, but the other doctors were right: it was too early to confirm them. And if he was correct, Luis would always be difficult for his mother. She was young, but would never be able to share the freedoms that other women, even other single mothers, would have.
How could he support her?
“What’s wrong, Doctor?” the hovering mother asked. “How can I help my son?”
“Tell me how Luis acts at home.”
“I’m not with him most of the day. He stays with my grandmother while I go work in Costanoa. I was hoping to take a few business classes at Costanoa College to learn how to manage a store.” She looked at Luis. “But he’s getting more difficult for my grandmother to handle. No one else seems to be able to deal with him.” Her smile didn’t fully materialize. “I can’t stay home with him for the rest of my life.”
Like he had, she wanted to better her life, but she had an extra burden he hadn’t been forced to carry. He hated to tell her that her path to her dream was going to be a rocky one.
“What do I do with him?” The question held the same overtones as Luis’s wail.
“He’s too young to do the kind of tests it will take to determine what I think is the problem. He has some of the characteristics of Asperger’s, but I won’t be able to say definitively until he is about eighteen months or so.”
“What is Asperger’s?”
“It’s on the autism scale but not as severe.” He watched for her reaction, scrambling in his mind for words to reassure her that there were things she could do, even if he had no idea what they were.
The palpable drop in her energy saddened him. She’d been so determined to do right by her son.
And she still could.
“Many children with Asperger’s do well. They learn to live independently or in a halfway house.” He smiled. “Some are even lucky enough to find a spouse who will help them be the best person they can be.”
“It doesn’t sound easy.”
“What can I do right now? How can I help him?”
“I have a book that might help. It has suggestions that will help you and your grandmother care for him. Un momento.”
As he strode back to his office, the people and artwork he passed were blurs. How could he help Alicia and her son? For one, working with her more closely as she learned different strategies would enable him to apply the same strategies to other patients. She seemed driven to do the best for her son. Maybe she’d make a good partner in his exploration.
He grabbed the book from a shelf and returned to the examining room, excited by the possibilities.
Alicia was standing by one of the photographs he’d taken during a hike in the coastal redwoods. The scene showed a deep forest with sunlit fog whispering through needled branches.
“Did you take this?” she asked.
“Yes. Are you interested in photography?”
“I went to an alternative high school. One of the teachers taught a class about different photographers and showed us some techniques to take good pictures, even with our phones.” She looked back at the photo. “This is nice. It reminds me of Ansel Adams.”
“Adams is one of my favorites.” He was flattered by the comparison and intrigued by her knowledge. He cleared his throat and gestured to the chair by the desk. “Why don’t you sit down, and we can come up with some strategies for you to put into practice? Your son seems occupied.”
“Do you have time? There was that other patient …” She pointed to the phone.
“I have time.” He flipped open the book and pressed his finger to a spot on the page. “Routine is the most important thing for difficult children. If you and your grandmother can establish definite times for eating, sleeping, playing …” He shook his head. “Of course, part of the challenge is to get these children to play. Let him have some comfort with the things he likes to do, but stimulate him with new things, too. These are good habits for him to have as he grows and goes to school.”
“Will he be able to go to school?”
“He’s going to need special help. Once we’re able to make the diagnosis, it would be good to start checking into schools in the area to see what they can do. Unfortunately, it varies from one place to another. I’ll help you however I can.” He touched her hand, a gesture meant in comfort.
Instead, the warmth of her skin seeped through his, directly into the marrow of his bones.
Startled, he withdrew his fingers and pointed back to the book. “This is also important. Parents with difficult children need to make sure they have time for themselves.” He smiled at her, struggling to regain his professional demeanor. “You need to take care of yourself, too.”
She smiled at him, but the expression held uncertainty and didn’t fully form.
He shut the book and handed it to her. “Bring him back to see me in a few months. If things get too difficult, we can talk again before that. I—I don’t want you to feel alone.”
After scribbling on the charge slip, he handed it to her. “Just show this to the front desk.”
“Call me if you need any help in the meantime, Alicia. I’m not going to kid you. Luis will probably never be easy, but if you learn some of those strategies, it will help you both.” He stood and walked to the door.
For a few moments he stood outside the room, his hand still on the doorknob, intrigued by the young woman before him. She reminded him of himself at that age, making the first steps to create the life she desired.
He gave her another smile and turned away, wondering how her story would end.
End of Excerpt
““Casey Dawes tackles two important social issues: autism and the plight of young Hispanics, while adding a nice dash of romance.” ~ New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin