Greetings book-lovers! Today we’re featuring Cafe y Chocolate by Johnny Miles! Read on for the blurb, cover, excerpt, and more!
(The excerpt on this one is a little long, but it’s good!)
Sereno Hidalgo, newly divorced from his husband, flies to San Juan, Puerto Rico to reconnect with Esteban, an estranged cousin who owns a coffee plantation. But with Hurricane María only days away, the reunited Hidalgo cousins—together with Esteban’s wife—are forced to prepare for the worst storm to strike the island in a century. As with any natural disaster, there is invariably something to grab you by surprise, something to take you by storm. For Esteban, it’s the shock of a family scandal long kept secret, but revealed by an unusual acquaintance. For Sereno, that surprise is Augusto Toro, the splendid personification of African, Native American, and Spanish cultures that produce the great majority of Puerto Ricans.
As María churns in the Atlantic, ever closer, Sereno finds himself inexplicably attracted to the handsome man everyone calls Chocolate, pronounced Cho-koh-lah-teh. Sereno was never noted for detecting red flags in his affairs. The only thing he was ever good at was running away once trouble become clear. Now he can’t. He’s too far gone, in too deep, and the hurricane is way too close to run. Sereno must find a way to cope with both the fear of loving a bisexual man and handling the mind-numbing, horrifying impact of the ravaged land called La Isla del Encanto.
An oppressive wave of heat struck me like a wet, hot towel as I deplaned at Luis Muñoz Marín airport in San Juan. I had forgotten how muggy Puerto Rico could be, especially in late summer.
I shrugged the backpack on my shoulders and scurried past the slower passengers on the gangplank. Esteban would be outside, by the curb. I didn’t want to keep him waiting. With so much to do, he would need help to prepare for the storm. Which made me wonder… where wasMaría? I reached into my jeans pocket and pulled out the phone. After tapping the settings icon, I switched off airplane mode and launched the weather app.
I grew cold with fear.
What had been a Category 3 less than six hours ago, was now a Category 4. Expected to increase to a Category 5, hurricane María set course for Puerto Rico. The last storm to sweep the island had left many without power or running water. In some areas, service still hadn’t been restored. What would María do to those already lacking necessities?
I’ll confess I had considered canceling the trip. My cousin had even given me an out when he’d called the night before to confirm the time of my arrival.
“So you know, I would understand if you changed your mind and canceled the flight,” Esteban had said.
“No, Esteban. I need to get away. Get out of New York for a while. It reminds me too much of Mitchell, and the divorce.”
“Was it that bad, Sereno?” Esteban had asked. I held on to the way he pronounced my name, the way it was supposed to be—Seh-reh-noh—as opposed to non-Latinos who either couldn’t say it or preferred to anglicize my given name to Serene-oh.
“Papers were sent to both parties. I signed mine. We’re just waiting on him. If he weren’t being such a dick about it…” I had let out a heavy sigh. “Oh, well. Any day now. At least that’s what the attorney says.”
Once Mitchell signed on the dotted line, I would receive a onetime cash payout, which he had fought to lower, and the 1-bedroom apartment in Chelsea would be mine. Mitchell fought me on that as well but my attorney had countered: at least I hadn’t demanded Mitchell’s 6-bedroom house in Connecticut. My conditions were a small price to pay considering what he had put me through. Frankly, I was glad to be free of Mitchell. Still, the finality hurt. Deep down, petty or not, I wanted to see him hurt. I wanted to see his pain. Oh, I knew Mitchell would eventually get his comeuppance, but I had had to accept I might never witness it firsthand. The settlement would probably be as close as I would ever come to witnessing his pain.
“It’s a pretty big hurricane,” Esteban had said, almost teasing. He had never been the type to back down from a fight, argument, or hardship. “Are you sure about this?”
I swallowed back my fear and could have sworn I heard him smile when I replied in the affirmative. “Yes, Esteban. I’m sure. Hurricane or no hurricane, I’ll be there.”
Forcing myself back to the present I picked up the pace. I rushed through the odd configuration that took travelers through a maze of gift and duty-free shops, similar to Walt Disney World, where the rides exited into merchandise-filled stores.
The phone vibrated as I got to baggage claim. I knew it was Esteban.
Primo, I’m almost there. Traffic is terrible!
The conveyor belt creaked to life as I read the text, except the carousel seemed powered by an aging, begrudging hamster. The first suitcase pushed through the vertical, clear plastic flaps and a bull of a man jostled past to grab his belongings.
“Fucking asshole,” I muttered when he walked away without excusing himself or apologizing for nearly knocking me over. When my suitcase finally emerged, I grabbed the handle and yanked it from the gray, warped rubber. Then, careful not to knock anyone over, I weaseled through the throng, breaking free of the crowd.
Outside, the heat and humidity were worse. The black tee shirt I wore clung to my skin. Another color might have been more suitable. Black was fashionable in New York, no matter the weather, but not at all comfortable on a tropical island like Puerto Rico.
A big black muscle truck vroomed through a sea of cabs and private cars picking up passengers. The truck stopped and the driver’s door swung open. A fit, pensive-looking man with thinning hair and distinguished specks of silver and gray in a thick goatee climbed out and stood on the running board.
Esteban scratched his head and gazed out over the people. Then our eyes met. He grinned and jumped down to the curb as I weaved through the crowd. And suddenly, after nearly twenty years of not seeing each other, we embraced and y mind played a funny trick. Esteban and I were once again children, supporting each other against the cruelty of the inner city, his parents, my mother. He had been my defender in school, on the streets, and at home. It was one of many things I admired about him, growing up in the Brooklyn ghetto. He had been more than a cousin. Esteban had been the brother I had always wished for.
Someone honked, bringing me back to the present. Esteban and I stepped back.
“Ay, primano,” Esteban said in Spanish. I smiled at the made-up word. At an early age, we had combined primoand hermano, cousin and brother, to describe our unique bond. We were cousins, but the relationship was that of close brothers.
“It’s good to see you,” I said.
“You too. But when did you get this?” Esteban patted my belly.
“You know I’ve always been pudgy. Besides, I may have put on a few pounds but at least I still have all my hair.” I ran my fingers dramatically through my soft curls.
“Ouch! Touché.” We shared a laugh and hugged once more. Another honk made us part. “Vámonos.”
Esteban grabbed the case and tossed it onto the high flat bed with ease. He jumped up and tied it to one side with a bungee cord to keep my luggage from flying out. Esteban then jumped down, ran to the driver’s side and scrambled up into the seat while I climbed into the passenger side.
“So, what’s with the truck?” I asked, closing the door and fastening the seat belt.
“What do you mean?” Esteban cranked the engine, checked the side mirrors and maneuvered the vehicle from the pickup area, into the flow of traffic.
“Well… it’s so… big.”
Esteban laughed. “That’s what shesaid!”
“Oh, God.” I rolled my eyes in mock annoyance. “That’s so… 2008.”
Esteban scoffed, focused on driving away from the airport.
“Seriously, though. The pre-requisite for owning a truck this size is having a small penis. You know that, right?”
Esteban guffawed. “I hate to disappoint you primano but… you should know. We took enough baths together as boys. And we didshare a room. How many times didn’t we see each other naked?”
“Oh, God,” I replied as heat rushed up my neck and into my cheeks. “I don’t think I needed that reminder.”
Esteban laughed, then continued. “Well, you might think it’s big but the roads are shit in the mountains.”
“Well, at least it’s not one of those monster trucks with the humongous wheels. Or one of those cars that bounce.”
“Ugh!” Esteban exclaimed with feigned disgust. “Now, those drivers reallyhave little dicks.” He chuckled as we hit the highway. Esteban gunned the engine, and I gazed out the tinted window, looking beyond the warehouses and industrial parks, to the mountains, and an intense foliage, saturated with green. I lowered the window. The colors were even more vivid. I stuck my head out and enjoyed the wind through my hair. When the exhaust fumes became too much to handle, I pulled my head back inside and raised the window.
“So?” Esteban asked with an amused smile. “Does it look the same as you remember?”
“No. It all looks different. More crowded. And I don’t remember this highway. I remember being closer to the beach. Is that possible? Was there a road that followed the coast? I don’t know why but… I think there were people selling food, ice-cold drinks, coconuts and piraguas?”
“Christ,” Esteban chuckled. “How you loved those damned snow cones. We must have stopped, what? Three… maybe four times before we got to abuela’shouse. But you’re not wrong. There was a road closer to the beach. It’s still there. Few people use it though.”
We drove in silence a while before Esteban spoke again.
“When were you last here?”
“The year your father died. 2000? 2001?”
“Ah, yes. That’s right.” Esteban nodded. “Just before I left for the military. I assumed you had made it back to Puerto Rico after that. While you were with… you know.”
“No. Mitchell was more interested in places like Thailand. India. The Philippines.” I cut off for fear of what I might give away. I cleared my throat and looked away. An uncomfortable silence filled the space between us.
“So? You up for making a trip to Rincón? Or would you prefer to go straight home? Are you tired from traveling?” Esteban asked after a few awkward moments.
“Rincón? I’m not sure I’ve ever… Did we go there as kids?”
“No. Good thing, too. We never would have wanted to leave. Rincón is about 3 hours from here, depending on traffic and speed. Well worth the drive. You’ll never see a more beautiful spot. Key West comes close by comparison but… I’m partial to Puerto Rico.”
“Uhhh. I guess. But… what about the things you said we needed to—?”
“Plenty of time,” Esteban assured me.
“Won’t your wife be upset? What with the hurricane coming?”
Esteban hesitated. “Please, Sereno. I need to go. It’s my, how do you say? Happy place. And before the madness truly begins…”
I waited for Esteban to finish. When he didn’t, I agreed.
“Okay. Sure. Why not? Let’s go.”
“You’ll love it.” Esteban pulled out his phone “But do me a favor. Scroll through my contacts and find Wife. I need to tell Miriam so she doesn’t worry.”
“You have her in here as Wife?” I took the phone from Esteban and scrolled through his contact list.
“It’s okay. She has me listed as Husband. Just dial the damn number.” I did as he asked. The phone rang. “Hold it up for me. I had one of those rubber things stuck to the dashboard but it fell. I’ve been too lazy to fish for it. It’s probably under your seat. No, leave it,” Esteban said when I reached beneath the seat to feel around. “It’s not that important.”
Esteban’s wife answered.
“Wife? It’s Husband.”
“Ay, Esteban. You can be such an idiot.” Miriam chuckled. “Where are you? Did you pick up Sereno?”
“Yeah. He’s in the truck with me now. Primo, say hello to my beautiful wife.”
“Hello, Miriam. How’s it going?”
“Hello, Sereno. Not bad, thanks. I’m looking forward to finally meeting you.”
“Thanks. Same here.”
“So, did you have a good flight?” Miriam asked. “Are you hungry?”
“The flight was good. And, yeah. I can eat.”
“Well, I made a big batch of arroz con habichuelas. With tostones y pollo frito. Esteban said you like rice and beans with fried chicken and plantains?”
“Uhhh—” I looked at Esteban who shook his head and mouthed the words: Don’t worry.
“About that. Negra?” Unlike the United States mainland, where the word might have had negative, racist connotations, on the commonwealth island, the word was sometimes used as a term of endearment, pronounced neh-groh or neh-grah—depending on the person’s sex—as opposed to knee-grow. “I’m taking Sereno to Rincón.”
Esteban winced, as if expecting to be yelled at. There was a long moment of silence.
“And what about all this food?”
“Serve it for lunch tomorrow. Besides, you know I like leftovers.”
I could hear Miriam take in a deep breath before speaking again.
“Esteban, I made… a lot.” She sounded miffed.
“Well, you won’t have to cook for the workers tomorrow.”
“And you know there’s a hurricane coming. Right?”
Esteban’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. “Yes, my love. I haven’t forgotten. I need to do this. Just in case.”
Miriam sighed. “You better be glad I like you—”
“Likeme?” Esteban teased.
“And that you’re cute or I would have divorced you by now.”
“Ha! You wish. You can’t live without me.”
“Hunh. You mean, you can’t live without me.”
Esteban chuckled. “I love you, negra. See you tonight. And thank you.”
“I love you, too. Be careful. Please don’t drink too much.”
The call ended.
“Engancha, primo. Engancha.” Hang up, cousin. Hang up.
I handed the phone back to Esteban. He slipped it back into his pocket.
“So… why Rincón?” I asked. Esteban hit the gas, his eyes glassy.
“I can’t explain it but Rincón is… a special place. Almost holy. Yeah, I know how that sounds. But if there’s such a thing as former lives… I’m sure I lived there once. I dunno. I just need to see it before the hurricane comes. In case it’s the last time. You understand, don’t you?”
And though dread tugged at my bowels because of the approaching hurricane, I swallowed back my fear and let Esteban take charge, as I’d always done when we were younger.
It was well past midnight when, after getting emergency hurricane supplies—fuel, kerosene, and batteries—we exited the highway onto a main road. From there, we turned onto a two-lane rural, winding country road that was far too narrow for two cars to pass at once. The higher we climbed, the narrower the road became. My heart would have been in my throat if I had to find my way home at night. At least I understood now why Esteban drove such a humongous truck. In any other car, the road would have been less navigable than it was already.
My cousin drove with high beams on as there was little lighting. Every so often he would honk the horn.
“Why do you keep doing that?” I asked.
“Doing what?” Esteban kept his eyes on the road. His face, partially in shadow because of the dim dashboard lights, seemed to have aged in the several hours it had taken to get from Rincón to the outskirts of Ciales.
“Honking the horn.”
“Oh, that.” Esteban scoffed. “You really are a city boy, aren’t you?”
“I don’t deny it. But maybe you’ve become more of a rural boy.”
“I guess. New York is a part of me but I’ve now lived here longer than I lived on the mainland. At any rate, in answer to your question. We have turnoffs and driveways difficult to see. In some places the foliage is so overgrown they may as well be hidden. Anyone can shoot out onto the road without warning. We’d be fucked if they did. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re pretty high up and the mountains here are steep. I honk so other drivers hear me coming.”
“I can’t even see some of these driveways. Or the turnoffs. How can you tell where they are? Or the other roads? It’s pitch black out there. If it weren’t for your high beams—”
“Years of living up here, I guess. You get used to it.”
And just then, a car barreled towards us. Their lights blinded me. Esteban brought the truck to a stop and pulled over as he clicked off the high beams, but the other driver did not return the favor. They continued along the serpentine road at the same speed. I wasn’t sure what was worse, that we could have been in a head-on collision on a dark country road, with little light and no bars on my phone, or the black abyss that fell away to my right.
“Pendejo.” Esteban muttered, shook up. Seconds later we were on our way again.
“My God. If you hadn’t had the high beams on… I can’t see more than three feet in front of me, let alone road signs.”
“Yeah, well.” Esteban switched on the radio. A deep baritone voice announced, in Spanish, that María was now a category 5 and still on track. The time to prepare was NOW. He then reminded listeners of the last hurricane that ripped through Puerto Rico.
“Maybe we shouldn’t play the radio, huh?” Esteban hit the power button and, except for the rumble of the engine and the song of the coquí—the native frog found only on the island—the truck was silent once more. “Besides, we’re almost there.”
Moments later we turned off the narrow, and onto a primitive road barely wide enough to accommodate Esteban’s large truck. This was a bump and grind type of road, the kind that, if your shock absorbers weren’t in working order, your teeth would clatter. Esteban slowed to lessen the impact as we bounced along.
A large brick fence about eight feet high appeared before us. The high beams illuminated the double-wide wrought-iron gates, and the luxurious—some might say overgrown—vines that clung to the wall. Above the entrance, in a rounded display of scrolled lettering, the name of the plantation.
“Hacienda María,” I read.
“Home, sweet home.”
“You never said. Why this specific name? Was there a real María here?”
“The previous owner. And a force to be reckoned with.”
“How so?” I asked.
“According to Doña María’s eldest son, Jesuíto—he inherited the hacienda when she passed—she married and widowed twice, and was left with, get this, eleven children between both husbands.”
“Eleven children? Are you kidding? That’s a damn litter!”
“One or two kids would have been difficult enough. Can you imagine eleven? All of them needing food and clothing? Add to that, a woman alone. That would have been… late 1910? Early 1920s? She would have had to do whatever she needed to make sure she and her kids survived. She needed money, and she needed it fast, so she turned to making pitorro.”
“And that is?”
“It’s an unprocessed rum,” Esteban explained. “Think moonshine. Strong, lethal and illegal. It’s also what I sold to Margarita.”
“What? Are you kidding me? And you didn’t think to tell me? What if something had happened?”
“But nothing did, Sere. Calm down. It’s fine.”
“I can’t believe you!” I laughed nervously. “So you picked up where this María left off?”
“Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. I came across a couple of bottles after the restaurant owner and I had talked. I thought he might like it.”
“You always did have an air of underworld about you. Another time, another place, who knows? You might have given Al Capone a run for his money. So, what happened to María? Sounds like she was a tough old broad. It couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t. But that generation had balls. Doña María sure did. From what I understand she did well but others in the area were nothappy. Rumor has it they wanted to make an example of her. Lock her up. But by that point, she had raised enough to buy the property and do what she truly wanted. According to her son, coffee was her true passion. Pitorro was a means to an end. Oh, she still made the stuff, but on the down-low. And twice, when the police came sniffing around, her sons covered for her. The boys did time, but she never saw the inside of a prison except to visit her sons.”
“Nevertheless, she persisted, huh? Fuck. That’s awesome.”
Esteban stopped the truck and opened the door.
“When I open the gates, slide over and drive through.”
Esteban landed with a crunch on the barely graveled road. I slid behind the wheel and pulled the door close. Once Esteban gave me the go-ahead, I drove through the gates then stopped. He scrambled back up into the cab as I slid back to the passenger side.
“Once upon a time…” He started as he put the truck in gear and drove. “According to Doña María’s son, the gates to this place never closed. He said they used to leave even the door to the house unlocked. That was a different time though. People weren’t as desperate as they are now. And with the hurricane coming… at any rate, that was Doña María.”
“Well, she sounds amazing. You should write about her,” I suggested.
“That’s what Miriam says. Maybe I will. One of these days. Anyway, I considered changing the name of the property to reflect ourpersonality but it would have been like erasing the memory of a woman who has accomplished so much, on her own. Plus, they had already established the brand on the island.”
After passing through the gates, we drove for close to a mile, on land that, even at night, seemed lush and dense. It had been like driving through a tunnel of giant roots. Suddenly, the trees vanished. We emerged onto an open area with clusters of palm and other large trees, most of them lit with spotlights for dramatic effect. Along the road, miniature, old-fashioned lampposts illuminated the way as the road—better maintained here—wound towards the front of the main house. At the center of the circular driveway a majestic flamboyán—a royal poinciana—bloomed, its canopy obscuring the second floor of the two-story home. In daylight, beneath the rays of a burning sun, the tree would have cast incredible shade.
Esteban parked the truck and killed the engine. I jumped down and took in my surroundings. Though much of the property was dark, I made out the outlines of things, thanks to lights strategically placed to illuminate without putting the entire place on display. The house dripped with old world Spanish charm.
“My God, Esteban…”
“You like it?” He came around the truck and stood beside me.
“It’s… I don’t have the words.”
“Wait until the sun comes out.” Esteban said, a hint of pride in his voice. At that moment, the front doors opened. “Here comes my wife.”
Seconds later, a woman with big breasts and—as Esteban had always been fond of saying—curves in all the right places, embraced me. Hugging Miriam was like coming home.
“Finally.” Miriam smiled as we parted. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she added, casting a gaze at my cousin.
“We both are, Sere.” Esteban put an arm around her. They kissed and her anger seemed to flitter away. “Did you get everything?”
“As much as possible,” Miriam replied. “The supermarkets were packed. You’d swear Armageddon was coming.”
“It might well be.”
“And yet you thought it wise to drive to—”
“I’m sorry, Miriam. I should have told Esteban no.” I blurted, hoping to diffuse any confrontation that might arise.
“Did you see the size of that thing?” Esteban jumped in.
“Not since the last time you called,” Miriam replied. “I had to turn it off. The weather people seem to live for this sort of thing and they were scaring the hell out of me.”
“Well, I’ll fill you in,” Esteban climbed up into the flatbed and tossed down my backpack. “That fucking bitch is now a category 5.”
“The graphics were impressive.” I said as I shrugged into my backpack. “They had the television on at the gas station.”
“Winds at 155 miles per hour,” Esteban added. “Wind gusts expected to be higher. And… we’re right in the eye.”
“Dios mío.” Miriam crossed herself. “Will we be okay, Esteban? Should we evacuate to a shelter?”
“No. We’re as prepared as we can be. The house was built with reinforced concrete and the windows are hurricane impact. We have the shutters, just in case. The solar panels for when we lose power. The rainwater collection system. We have supplies and we have our faith. There’s not much else we can do but ride this mother out.”
In the silence that followed I noticed how much cooler it was in the mountains. More so than Rincón. The coquí echoed through the night, louder than they had been when we drove up the mountain. Thousands of the little creatures played, like an orchestra.
Co-quí! Coquí, coquí! Co-quí. Coquí, coquí, coquí!
In the overwhelming stillness, beneath the ample starlight I had forgotten existed outside the city, I felt as I always did—small and insignificant—only more so. But the country had always affected me that way. Just as it reminded me that, despite this crazy thing called life, we had an impossibly wondrous place we called Earth.
In that moment, I did something I never did anymore. I offered a silent prayer, asking the universe to shift the hurricane and avoid the island altogether. Only I didn’t hold out much hope. My track record in the prayer department wasn’t exactly… stellar.
“Come, Sereno. I’ll show you to your room. You can clean up and get some rest if you like. Tomorrow there’ll be a lot of activity on the hacienda, as we prepare. By nightfall, María will make her presence known.”
“I’m not that tired. Not yet, anyway. Besides, I was kinda hoping you guys would show me the house.”
“Oh, I’d love to!” Miriam beamed. She seemed grateful to do something other than prep for the inevitable.
“Está bien. I’ll take your suitcase to your room, Sere. Meet you guys in the kitchen.” Esteban walked into the house. I followed, as I’d done my entire life. Miriam brought up the rear.
The foyer was an open space with polished, terra cotta tile and a large, round wood table with rusted ironwork for both, decoration and structural support. Beyond, on either side, two sets of staircases led to the second floor.
“So, this room on the right,” Miriam pushed open a set of double doors. I stepped in, behind her. “This is the den slash living area. In the mornings, when we have guests on the property, this is where we lay out the continental breakfast. We serve bagels and croissants, fruit pastries we make here ourselves, with actual fruit from our trees. We serve our own coffee, along with assorted teas and juices, also from our own fruit trees.”
A three-person couch beckoned from about halfway between the two walls, flanked with overstuffed armchairs that didn’t quite match but gave the space an eclectic look. A heavy-looking wooden surface caught my attention.
“I love the cocktail table, Miriam.”
“Esteban made it. From an old railroad cart. He got the idea from one he saw in an antique shop in the Carolinas. I wasn’t sure about it at first. I thought the styles would clash, but he proved me wrong. First Esteban bought this huge piece of wood and sanded it down. Then he beat it with a chain, re-stained and polished it, added new hardware and… there you have it.”
“I didn’t realize he was so handy.”
“You have noidea. Most of the furniture in this house, including the guest rooms, is store-bought. The woodwork, however—nightstands, tables, shelves—that’s Esteban.”
I nodded, impressed.
Across from the sofa, mounted to the wall, was a 60-inch flat screen television. Beneath it, another example of Esteban’s handiwork housed a Blu-ray player, sound bar, and other electronic equipment. A patterned floor rug pulled the space together.
Behind the sofa, between two long, narrow windows, a pair of chairs that looked like thrones faced one another. Between them, a game table awaited.
“Did Esteban do these, too?” I fingered the detailed carvings.
“No. He hasn’t quite mastered that type of carving yet. We found these in El Viejo San Juan. At an estate sale.”
At the far side of the room, another set of double doors opened onto a small terrace with bistro type tables and chairs.
“That’s where we serve our guests lunch or dinner, when the weather is nice enough. It’s limited in space but we don’t have many people stay for long periods of time. Most are here overnight after the coffee tour. Sometimes we get people who come for a romantic weekend. Once, we even had a writer come spend an entire month with us! He would wake up every morning, have his breakfast out there, then sit with his composition notebooks and write longhand. With pencil no less! Straight through lunch sometimes. Then he’d stop for dinner, go to bed and start all over again the next day.”
“What was he working on? Did you ever ask?”
“Oh, I did. He just smiled and said it was a romance. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sending me a copy, but…” Miriam shrugged and moved from the room. She stepped back out to the foyer and I followed.
“That’s Esteban’s office. It’s also where we check guests in.” Miriam waved a hand towards the room across the foyer. She continued walking, towards a doorway in the back. “The stairs lead up to our bedroom, plus two other guest bedrooms. We added the upstairs when we bought the property. Before, it was all one big room. The previous owner never got to build… Did Esteban tell you the history of the house?”
“You mean, Doña María?”
“Oh, yes.” Miriam nodded. “Fascinating woman. I’d kill for a time machine to go back and meet her.”
Miriam walked past a half bath, to the left, and a formal dining room on the right.
“Now this… thisis my office,” Miriam bragged as we stepped into a large kitchen. About two-thirds of the space, to the left, a U-shaped prepping area, cooking station, double wide gas range, microwave and stainless steel appliances. The marble counter continued onto a bar-like counter, with stools, where I imagined one might have a glass of wine and chat with Miriam as she cooked, or with other guests. The eat-in area to the right featured a large wooden table with benches—another of Esteban’s handiwork—for those that might want a family style meal. Beyond that, another set of double doors led out onto a patio that spanned the width of the house. A stone and concrete wall about 4 feet high—with ornate openings—divided the patio from a sloping part of the mountain and led down to what looked like small houses. Something about the gentle curve of the road made one want to stroll the grounds.
“Those are the guest rooms,” Miriam confirmed. “There’s a walkway that takes you down there. It’s really pretty. And I’m not just saying that because it’s our place. There’s no way to know if Doña María had planned for any of the things we’ve done. Even her sons don’t know what she had planned but… I get the impression she didn’t confide much in men after being widowed a second time.” Miriam glanced about. “There’s no doubt María had vision. I mean, the entire place just seems suited for what it is today. There’s been little land alteration. I just hope we did Doña María proud.”
Miriam turned towards me.
“Are you hungry? Would you like to eat something? I can whip up a nice omelet for you, or if you want, I have all that rice and—”
“No, no. Please,” I replied. “I’m good. In fact, I’m still stuffed from dinner at Tamboo.”
“Oye,” Esteban stuck his head out and called to us. “Dejen de estar chismeando y vengan a tomar sangría.” Stop gossiping and come drink. “Miriam makes a sangría you’ll swear you’re drinking grape juice. It will put hair on your chest.”
“Well, it’s a bit too late for that but I’ll definitely have some.”
“Bien,” Esteban clapped me on the shoulder. Suddenly, a toilet flushed. I heard running water and a moment later, hewalked into the kitchen.
“¡Ahhh! Aquí está. Finalmente. El famosoSereno Hidalgo.” Here he is. Finally.
The man spoke in a deep, baritone voice that made my pulse race. He came towards me with a wide, welcoming grin, a hand outstretched to shake my hand. My heart skipped a beat, and my breath hitched as we shook. His grip was firm and sent shivers up my arm, along my spine, and down to my cock.
“Sereno,” Esteban started. “This is my best friend and right-hand man…”
I all but forgot anyone else was in the room as I drank in the dark brown skin, with an unmistakable reddish hue. He glistened with a light sheen of perspiration. Several inches taller than my height of five feet and six inches, the man was an amazing—and smoldering—embodiment of the rich cultures that made-up modern-day Puerto Ricans, the perfect blend of Spanish, African, and Caribbean Native American blood.
“Chocolate,” Esteban said.
At the same time I muttered, “Chocolate.”
Except Esteban pronounced the man’s name in Spanish while I said it in English.
I realized what I’d said and, flustered, quickly apologized.
“Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. I—I shouldn’t have said that. That’s so racist. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“You’ve been living in the States too long, primano.” Esteban teased. “People there get so upset over something as simple as a nickname.”
“But it’s not just a nickname,” I protested. “Is it?”
“To be fair,” Miriam interjected. “We’re not exactly politically correct here in P.R.”
“That might be but… isn’t it derogatory to call someone—?” I started.
“Wow. All this concern over a nickname I’ve had all my life?” The man finally spoke, somewhat sardonic. “I love it.”
“No les hagas caso,” he said, which translated to don’t pay them attention. “Augusto Toro. A su servicio.” Augusto Toro, at your service. “You can call me Augusto if you prefer. But if it makes you feel any better, my mother gave me that nickname when I was a baby. She’s called me Chocolate all my life. She used to say I was her little bombón de chocolate.” The way he spoke made my insides quiver. He seemed enthralled as I gazed at him, losing myself in his deep-set eyes, the color of brown sugar. His eyebrows were dark and heavy, almost but not quite a unibrow.
“I know women who would kill to have your eyelashes,” I said, not thinking, and blushed suddenly.
“Oh? Is that right?” He spoke in accented English. His nostrils flared as we continued to shake. The tip of his tongue flicked out, moistening parted lips that were full and thick and pink. I wondered what it would be like to kiss him.
“I’m so sorry, Señor Toro. I mean… Augusto. I don’t know why I… I guess I’ve just… never seen such thick, long eyelashes on a man before.” A deeper heat rose within me and I thought it might be best to shut up. He chuckled and the baritone sound seemed to melt me from the inside out.
“You really cancall me Chocolate, you know. I appreciate your concern about the… how do you say… political correctness? But for me it’s more about the intent in your speech. Malice can come from the most beautiful of words. Don’t you think? Besides,” he continued with a sigh. “They called me far worse things when I was in the military.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear,” I replied, unsure of what else to say.
He shrugged. “It’s all in the past. We’re in the present. Now, call me what you like but if you’re going to call me by nickname—”
“Chocolate?” I cut him off, not meaning to.
“No,” he said with polite patience. “Not chock-lit, like Americans pronounce it. This is how you say it. Choh-koh-lah-te. Say it right.”
“Choh-koh-lah-te.” I repeated. I had to admit; it sounded a hell of a lot more exotic in Spanish. Pity the word was spelled exactly the same as it was in English, with no accent mark to distinguish between the two languages.
It was a nickname worthy of the flavor and euphoria connected with the savory treat, not unlike the difference between saying chocolate in English and in French. The result, to my ear, was like night and day. One pronunciation made the nickname simply another word, the other, a call to sensual bliss. How could it be wrong? I wondered.
“Chocolate,” I said his name again, enjoying how it involved my throat, tongue and lips.
“Sí. Así es. Chocolate. Mucho gusto.” He beamed, his teeth big, even and incredibly white. He wore a plain white tee shirt—which emphasized broad shoulders—and a pair of faded blue jeans. His feet were bare.
“The pleasure is all mine,” I replied. “And I appreciate you wanting me to pronounce your name correctly. People never know how to say my name, either. They always call me serene-oh.”
Beside me, Esteban cleared his throat. I dropped Chocolate’s hand as if he had suddenly burned me.
“Your sangría,” Esteban said in a tone that made me look at him. “Serene-oh.” He arched an eyebrow as he handed me a red plastic cup. Stop flirting, he seemed to say. I smirked. Like he was one to talk.
“It’s delicious,” Chocolate said in English. “Miriam makes the best sangría. I won’t have it anywhere else.” He then raised his glass. “Salud.”
“Salud,” I replied as he took a long, sensual swig. His gaze locked with mine. I watched his Adam’s apple bob. Mesmerized, I watched as he then licked his lips with a large pink tongue. Something gushed inside me and I knew I’d just leaked pre-cum.
“Well… it’s late,” Chocolate said, his voice throaty. “Tomorrow will be a long day, so… Esteban. Miriam.” He turned towards me and gave me a sweeping up-down. “Sereno.” The way he said my name was like whispering sweet, dirty things into my ears. “Buenas noches.”
“Good night, Choco,” Esteban replied.
“Sleep well,” Miriam added.
Chocolateturned and walked away.
“¡Hasta mañana!” I called out. Seconds later, the front doors closed.
“Tongue back in your mouth, Sereno.” Esteban patted my shoulder, his tone sympathetic. “He’s straight.”
“He is? But…he flirted with me. Didn’t he?” I looked from one to the other. “Wasn’t he flirting with me?”
Esteban chortled and shook his head while Miriam laughed.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
“No, thank you, Miriam.”
“Vamos, primo. El día ha sido largo pero mañana será más largo todavía. Trae la sangría. Te ayudará a dormir.” Let’s go, cousin. It’s been a long day but tomorrow will be longer. Bring the sangría. It will help you sleep.
Several hours later, except for the occasional whir of the refrigerator and the tick of a clock, the house was quiet. Outside, lightning and thunder had stopped. Even the wind, whipping around the house like something evil, died down.
Esteban and Miriam had excused themselves and gone to bed, laughing and holding each other up as they went.
All I could think of was Chocolate.
Without realizing what I was doing, I stood and pushed my chair back. The domino tiles lay on the table in disarray. I poured a shot of pitorro—liquid cockiness, or truth serum, to me—and swallowed the liquid. It no longer burned going down, or perhaps I’d gotten used to it.
I walked towards the front door and unlocked it. The click resounded, echoing like a gunshot. I doubted Esteban and Miriam could hear from their bedroom but I remained still. When no one yelled or tried to stop me, I opened one of the double doors. Twigs and leaves rushed into the foyer, riding the wind. I kicked most out and shut the door.
I’m just going to stand out here a moment, I told myself.
A sharp, strong gust of wind nearly pushed me back into the door and I almost turned back, but a steady rumble caught my attention. I peered into the darkness. Beams of light grew larger as the vehicle came closer.
Chocolate stopped his truck and stepped out. The wind howled, but he came towards me. He stepped onto the porch without a word and took me in his arms. His tongue sought mine. I tasted pitorro but it could have been mine. His urgent need spread through me like wildfire, as if I had taken another shot of the moonshine rum. He pulled his lips off mine long enough to lick my neck, kiss, then clamp down on the fleshy part of my neck and shoulders. He snorted, not unlike a pig, as he pulled me closer, his hands squeezing the plump roundness of my ass.
“I know I said I’d wait until you came to me but I can’t. Not tonight. I can’t stop thinking of you. I want to be naked and inside you. I have no right to ask but… will you come with me? I want you. I need you. No talk. No excuses. Nothing between us except Mother Nature in all her ferocious beauty. Can you feel her? She’s all around us. And she wants us to be together.”
I knew he’d been drinking, but I didn’t care. Instead, I reached into his pants. Chocolate was already hard and throbbing.
“I will take that as a yes.” Even in the dark I could see him grin. He picked me up suddenly—as if we had just gotten married and he were about to carry me across the threshold—and deposited me into the passenger seat of his vehicle.
We drove away from the concrete safety of the hacienda, to the romantic sexiness of his wooden home. There, bathed in light from the hurricane lamp, he stripped me, licking, kissing, and caressing my lips, my face, my neck. He tweaked my nipples even as he muttered, “Goddamn, Sereno. I fucking love your titties.” It was childish, something an awkward straight man might say, but it aroused me all the same. He shoved a hand down my pants, cupping my ass. He then found what he wanted. I gasped as the tip of the rough digit circled and pressed.
“You’re as tight as a virgin, papi.” Chocolate grinned.
“Yeah, well… I assure you I’m not… but it’s been so long I might as well—”
“I don’t care.” He stepped back. “Turn around. Slow.”
I did as he asked.
I obeyed, my back to Chocolate. It might have been the pitorro, or the fear of what was yet to come, but I could’ve sworn his gaze burned a track down my spine to my ass.
“Goddamn,” he whispered. “Ese culo. Estás rico, papi. Now… turn around and face me.” I obeyed. Chocolate licked his chops like a wolf about to eat his first kill.
“Undress me.” He tucked his lower lip behind his upper teeth as I reached for his shirt. He leaned over so I could pull it off him. His thick, wavy black hair got rumpled and flopped forward. He ran his fingers through his locks as I undid the top button of his jeans and unzipped him. The sound—one I’d always associated with a mysterious excitement—sent a shiver down my spine. I held my suspense a moment longer but then, unable to resist, I dropped to my knees. I peeled off his jeans, pulling them past his hips and let them drop to the floor.
Chocolate stood, hands akimbo, his large cock thick, hard and proud.
He was perfect, about 8 inches, uncut, and as dark as the rest of him, if not darker. The pink glans peeked out from the foreskin. The shaft grew thicker closer to the root. His cock jumped and throbbed as I wrapped my fingers around the base. He was hot in my hand. I pulled the skin back, and the head swelled even larger. A pearl of pre-cum dribbled out.
“Taste me,” Chocolate commanded. I obeyed without question.
Sticking my tongue out, I licked the tip, tasting the sweet, clear fluid. The flavor struck me like a hit of poppers. Closing my eyes, I lost myself in the urge to please him. Chocolate gasped as I took him into my mouth. I opened my eyes and looked up. He had thrown his head back. I kept my eyes open and continued to gaze at him as he looked into my eyes. I could see his lust as he licked his lips, clearly enjoying his point of view.
“You look so beautiful on your knees, mouth open, lips stretched.” Chocolate held the back of my head and thrust, sinking more of himself in my mouth and down my throat, his balls slapping my chin. But I could only handle so much. I gagged and nearly choked.
“Levántate.” He helped me up. “A la cama, Sereno.”
I climbed into bed, beneath the mosquito netting.
Outside, the rain fell once more. It pattered on the metal roof, steady and hypnotic as the wind blew.
“Wait.” Chocolate clutched the bottle still on the table, along with the glasses. He filled them, then offered one to me. “Here. This will help. Salud, papi.”
We kicked back the pitorro and the buzz that had left me earlier rushed back like a friend who didn’t want to leave my side, a friend who lived vicariously through me.
Chocolate climbed into bed and pushed me back, beneath him. I sighed and hungrily kissed him while the wind gusted. He flipped us into a 69 position, with me on top.
“Sit on my face, Sereno.” Chocolate harshly whispered. But even as he gave the command, he positioned me as he wanted. He nudged me forward, towards his cock. From that angle I took more, eventually taking all of him to the balls while he performed magic with his tongue.
I pulled off his cock and sat up, wriggling and grinding down. My body tingled, every nerve ending alive as tension, apprehension and inhibitions caved to the excitement of desire. Faster and faster I moved… back and forth… side to side. He spanked my bottom, and I raised myself off his face.
“Carajo. That is one sweet ass.”
Chocolate flipped me onto my back and knelt before me. His gaze connected with mine, boring into me with his desire. As he grabbed my ankles and lowered himself to eat me once more, I would have sworn horns sprouted and grew from his head. At least, that’s how it looked as our shadows danced on the opposite wall. Even if he were a demon, or the devil himself, I wouldn’t or couldn’t stop. I wanted what Chocolate wanted and, after another detour south, after rimming me, after spitting and getting me as wet as he could, he pressed the hot head of his cock against me. I sharply sucked air into my lungs. I wanted to close my eyes, turn my head from the pain, but his gaze never left mine.
“Look at me as I enter you. As I break past the first ring.”
I did as he commanded and groaned as he pushed. I tried to look away but he wouldn’t allow it.
“No. Don’t look away. Look at me as I push past the second ring.”
I bit down on my lower lip and whimpered as he penetrated me. My body broke out with goosebumps as fire spread once again inside me, this time from the strain and pressure of his cock working through me, his words turning me into liquid heat as he spread me open, inch by agonizing inch. I wanted to pull away, to turn my head and cry. My vision doubled, then trebled. Tears came. I cried, but it wasn’t only from pain. His love filled me as surely as his cock, but it felt good to be taken, wanted, and needed. I felt cleansed and prayed to the wind, the rain, the universe, that Chocolate never stop.
I choked back a sob.
“I’m sorry, baby.” Chocolate tried to pull out.
“No. Please don’t.”
“But, papi… you’re crying.” He kissed my tears. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It doesn’t. I mean, yes. It hurts but… it’s not… that’s not why I’m crying.”
“Then why?” Chocolate kissed my lips.
How could I tell him that even as he penetrated and entered me, the ghosts haunting my past seemed to leave? That the past seemed far away, like it had belonged to someone else?
“It doesn’t matter. Just take me. Do whatever the hell you want. Just don’t… unnnhhh!”
He sank the remaining length inside me, taking my breath away. He remained still, allowing me to get used to the girth of his cock. Eventually I nodded, and he moved with a rhythm I’d only ever experienced with Latin men. Chocolate varied his pace, fucking long and deep at first, then slow, with shallow thrusts. At one point he pulled out almost all the way. I felt my hole clutch at the throbbing shaft as if with a mind of its own. I wanted him inside me forever.
“I had hoped to make love to you the first time we had sex but tonight… as the storm rages… as it gets closer… it changes everything. Tomorrow we may not—”
“To hell with tomorrow. We’re here now. So shut up and fuck me!” My voice sounded husky and demanding to my own ears. Chocolate gave a wicked grinned and teased my prostate with the head of his cock. He rubbed and pressed, using only his hips, then pushed in and out, sending me into orbit.
I tried to keep my gaze locked with his but I rolled my eyes back into my head and bit my lower lip. My cock, which had gone soft, now throbbed, flat against my belly. The sticky wetness matted the swirl of hair around the recessed hollow of my belly button and filled it with pre-cum.
“My God. You’re going to make me… I’m so…”
Chocolate stopped teasing my prostate and slammed into me. I gasped and would have cried out, but he leaned forward, lips on mine, his tongue thrusting into my mouth as he silenced the scream welling up within me. Faster and faster he went, fucking me into ecstasy. I raised my legs, wrapped them around his waist, clawed at his back. I groaned and grunted with every forward thrust, raising and lowering my hips to meet him.
“Así, papi. Así te quiero. Como la puta que eres. Ay, chulo. Qué rico.” That’s the way, baby. That’s how I want you. Like the whore you are. Sweet thing. So good. Chocolate muttered in my ear, his breathing harsh and ragged.
He pulled out abruptly.
I groaned and whimpered, abhorring the emptiness, but Chocolate didn’t waste time. He flipped me onto my belly and I groaned as he pinned me down and slid back inside with one fell swoop. He fucked me slow, then fast, using his legs, arms, and weight to keep me in place.
My breath became quick and shallow. I was aware Chocolate had touched something primal, unleashing a hidden desire. I wanted him to destroy, dominate, and own me. I wanted to be his bitch. And even as the thought struck me, as we rutted like animals, I pushed back on all fours. I growled and might have even barked as Chocolate fucked me doggy style—fast, hard, furious—while the wind howled and buffeted the walls of his house.
“Ay, papi. Me vengo. ¡Me vengo, Sereno!” Oh baby. I’m coming. I’m coming. His voice was deep and breathy.
“Do it. Do it! But I… want to… look… in your eyes…” I managed between his thrusts. It was as if he were actually fucking the words out of me.
He didn’t let me finish. Without pulling out he moved me like a rag doll, spinning me around so I lay on my back once more. I looked into his eyes. He was feral, a mad man unhinged. His thick black hair flopped around his face as he glistened in the flickering light of the hurricane lamp. His nostrils flared. He pulled his lips back and grit his teeth.
“You ready for this? ¿Quieres mi leche, puto?” Do you want my milk, whore?
“Oh God, yes. Yes!” I cried as my cock twitched and throbbed with a life all its own.
“Say my name.”
“Augusto. Augusto Toro,” I whispered.
“No, baby. My nickname. Taste it. Feel it.”
“Cho… Choco… Chocolate!”
I came without touching myself, my body convulsing. I was vaguely aware of my hole, doing what it always did during climax. It clenched and relaxed, a reflex of orgasm, clamping down tight on the thick shaft entrenched inside me. Chocolate’s cock throbbed maddeningly and, at my most violent spasm, he cried out, releasing his seed.
“¡Toma, puta! ¡Toma!¡Coge toda… cada gota… de mi leche!” Here, whore. Here. Take it all, every drop of my milk.
He collapsed on top of me, his body slick. His sweat mingled with mine and the cum that had pooled on my belly, cemented us together. My body felt warm and gooey as if he had spread chocolate syrup all over me.
As our heavy breathing abated, as his furious heartbeat slowed, my own seemed to match his. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply the scent of our lust, relishing in our closeness.
And as I drifted to sleep, with Chocolate still inside me—rain battering angrily at the roof, the sides of the house—the wind howled as though jealous of our sex.
About the Author:
Johnny Miles began his writing career in 1985, when his first erotic short story was published by Numbers magazine. His work has since then appeared in various adult magazines, including Blueboy, First Hand, and Honcho.
After working in varied careers – from typesetting and graphic design to massage therapy, from customer service to copywriting – Johnny re-entered the world of erotica in 2008 with the release of his first full-length novel, Casa Rodrigo. The controversial story was followed by Lauderdale Hearts,Learning To Samba, The Rosas of Spanish Harlem, Yuletide Knights and Yuletide Knights 2: A Spring Frost, all available from Loose Id, as well as The Last Stop: USA, released by MLR Press. Non-erotic titles include Christmas Baby and My ABCs.
In 2015, Casa Rodrigo was released as an audio book. With four and a half hours of pure aural entertainment and 12 outstanding actors, the story is richly layered and textured with sounds effects that will stimulate your senses. It’s an immersive experience not to be missed!
Johnny lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband of 22 years and a grumble of pugs.