Loving a Santini - Melissa Schroeder

Loving a Santini

Book 11 in the Santinis Series

Part of the Santini World

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Features Nando and Sunshine Foster

Being the youngest in my Marine family hasn’t always been easy. There’s a lot of expectations when your last name is Santini. And I was living up to that name, until my last deployment. I’ve been suffering from nightmares and insomnia and it’s gotten to the point I will do anything, including massage therapy.

Almost from the moment I meet Sunshine, it’s like I have found something I didn’t know was missing. One kiss and we’re both falling, and soon we’re in the middle of a red hot affair.

Only, she’s keeping a big secret from me, one she thinks will ruin our relationship. Once I discover what she’s been hiding, I have to prove to her that once a Santini falls in love, there is no changing his mind…or his heart.

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Loving a Santini

Loving a Santini

Book 11 in the Santinis Series
Part of the Santini World

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Loving a Santini

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Nando came awake in a rush, his lungs on fire. He gulped in huge breaths as he tried to calm his racing heart. He didn’t even try the breathing and counting exercises his doctor had given him. He was concentrating on trying not to pass out.

His heart started to calm, and his brain caught up with the panic attack he had been having. He started using the counting exercises—counting numbers in the wrong order—to get his brain back on track. The one thing he had learned in the last few months was that he could deal with just about anything if he took a moment and remembered where he was.

PTSD. It wasn’t something the Santinis were unfamiliar with. His sister-in-law had dealt with it, as had his brother Carlos. Both of them had reacted differently to it. Madison hadn’t been able to work as a Marine anymore, and his brother…well Carlos became a thrill junkie. Thankfully, Carlos had found his mission in life and now operated the ranch in Arizona that had helped him. Madison was a yoga instructor and had even given Nando a few helpful routines. They had, but every now and then, he’d have a nightmare that he couldn’t truly remember, except for the panic that forced him out of it. It was bad but wasn’t severe enough that Nando felt he had to leave the Marines.

He glanced toward the window. It was still dark outside, so he knew it was the middle of the night. Night was always one of the best times in Hawaii. Of course, his brother Anthony said anytime was always a good time in Hawaii, even in a hurricane.

With a chuckle, he slipped out of bed. After a quick trip to the bathroom, he grabbed some water and headed outside. He was lucky enough his cousin Marco had married a local girl, one with a stunning home right on the water. There was a guest house that various Santini friends and family had rented from her through the last few years. Hoping he didn’t disturb anyone, he walked passed the front door and headed to the pool behind the house.

His senses went on alert as he saw a figure by the pool.

Alana. His cousin’s wife had been having a hard time since Marco had deployed. He thought about leaving her alone, but he must have made a noise and she turned around.

“Nando,” she said, a welcoming smile. His cousin had definitely hit the jackpot with Alana. She was sweet, smart, and beautiful. It also helped that she didn’t put up with any crap from Marco. He knew it wasn’t easy being married to a Santini.

“Hey. Do you want me to leave you alone?”

She shook her head. “No. Eddie had a nightmare and I couldn’t get back to sleep afterward.”

He nodded and joined her at the table. She sat down, and he took the opposite chair. There was a baby monitor on the table.

“Does Eddie have them often?”

She shook her head. “Not too often, but they were pretty bad right after Marco left.”

“I know my mother had a time of it with us when Dad was gone.”

She rolled her eyes. “All the Santini cousins act as if their mothers are the strongest women on earth.”

“Because they are, including the current generation.”

She laughed but it faded. “You look tired Nando.”

He shrugged and took a big drink of water.

“You know I’m always here to talk to if you need.”

Her voice was filled with understanding, making him feel like a heel. She was only trying to help, and he knew from what his therapist told him that he needed to stop internalizing.

“I appreciate that, although I’m still seeing my therapist.”

“That’s one thing I appreciate about your family. There’s no shame in saying you need help.”

“It comes from one of our dad’s uncles. He returned from Korea not quite right. Committed suicide.”

“Oh. I don’t think Marco ever told me that.” She sat back in the seat and studied him. “I have a friend who might be able to help.”

“No dates.”

She laughed. “I think that you should definitely take any woman I throw at you. Look at what happened to Anthony.”

“True,” he said. His oldest brother had fallen for another military brat with local ties. Alana took full credit since she’d introduced them.

“But I’m talking about my friend, Sunshine.”

“Sunshine? What kind of name is that?”

“She named herself.”

He rolled his eyes.

“But, she’s very good at what she does. She works with a lot of people who suffer from PTSD.”

“What is it that she does?”

“Mainly, a massage therapist, but she is also a Reiki master.”

“I’ve heard of that. They’re using it in some research for PTSD. How did you meet her?”

“We’ve known each other for years. I think we first met at a benefit for the women’s shelter. She worked with domestic violence victims, giving free Reiki and meditation lessons.”

He thought about it. It wasn’t like it would hurt, and at this point, he’d try anything. It wasn’t affecting his work, but Nando was sure if he let it go too long, it would. “Okay. I’ll give it a try.”

She smiled. “Good.”

Then she looked in the direction of the beach. He knew she was probably thinking about Marco. Since his cousin was a SEAL, they never really knew where he was in particular. Alana had been strong, but he knew the nights could be tough.

“Do you need to talk?”

She smiled and rubbed her belly. She was just starting to show with their third child. “That’s sweet.” She looked him. “Why don’t you have a woman?”

“Because I take my role as the last free man in my family seriously.”

She giggled, then it faded again.

“Really, Alana. I know it can be bad at night.”

She looked at him again. “How do you know that?”

“Common sense. Also, I was the kid in a Marine home. When all my brothers started running off to join the military, I was left at home with Mom. Dad might have been retired from the military, but Mom had kids to worry about. She would pace the floor at night.”

“Your mother must have a spine of steel.”

“Takes one to know one.”

She smiled, and this time it reached her eyes. “Again, why are you single?”

“I haven’t met the right woman.”

“Because you are always deployed.”

“I’ve been here for three months.”


“Okay, I’m sort of out of practice. It’s been so long since I’ve been on a regular date, I wouldn’t know what to do.”

She rolled her eyes. “Show me a Santini who says he can’t romance a woman, and I say you’ve shown me a liar.”

He chuckled, but he hadn’t been lying. He hadn’t really had a date in almost a year. He didn’t count hookups. A bona fide date with dinner or something.


He looked Alana who was staring at him. “Sorry. My mind was wandering.”

She nodded. “I know the feeling. But really, I think a date or two wouldn’t hurt.”

“Probably not.” He cocked his head to the side. “Are you sure this Sunshine thing isn’t a date setup?”

“Absolutely not. She’s got a thing about dating military.”

“And what kind of thing is that?”

“She doesn’t do it.”


Alana rolled her eyes. “No. Date military guys. Plus, you would be a client, and she’s kind of a stickler about that.”

He grunted. “Good because things should just happen organically.”

“Organically?” she asked, her voice quivered.

He studied her and even in the dim light he could see her eyes were dancing.


“It’s just an odd choice of words for dating?”

It was his turn to roll his eyes. “I mean, I don’t want a setup. I never do well with those.”

“Again, you’re a Santini, so I know you’re lying.”

He shrugged. He’d had his share of dates in high school and throughout the academy. There was one girl he even talked marriage with, but for some reason, nothing stuck. At the moment, he wasn’t even worried about marriage. Sure, he was close to thirty, but he still had time—a lot of time.  Also, there was the problem with his career. While his PTSD didn’t keep him from serving, he wasn’t sure he wanted to spend twenty years in. He’d started to enjoy the work he was doing right now, even though he knew he was expected to go back into the field. Without a secure future, he couldn’t get serious about any woman.

“Hey, Nando?”

He finally focused on his cousin. “Sorry. Just thinking about the future and things like that.”


He nodded. “So, this Sunshine woman?”

She smiled. “I’ll call Sunshine and set it up.”

“Sounds good.”

“I think I’m going to turn in and try to get some sleep. Those boys of mine will be up at the crack of dawn.”

“Hey, I’ll hang out and help. I got my PT done yesterday, so I don’t have to be in until seven-thirty.

“That would be wonderful,” she said as she stood up. She stopped by his chair and leaned down to brush a kiss on his cheek. “You really are a good man, Nando.”

Then she walked off. He watched as she disappeared into the house. He turned to look out to the ocean. The house sat close enough to hear the surf, and he liked that. He liked a lot of things about Hawaii, more than he had expected to. He was enjoying this assignment, so there was no reason to screw it up with dating. Right now, he was happy just to be the way he was.

Serious relationships and dating could come later.

*  *  *

Sunshine Foster sighed as she parked her car behind her shop. Nothing like a car wreck at the turnabout to cause her to run forty minutes behind. If she had gone with her instincts and taken Haleiwa Road, she would have avoided it. Once she got stuck there, there was no moving anyone. Throw in the fact that she had overslept, and it was not a good start to the day.

“Hey, Sunshine,” Mary, her receptionist, said as Sunshine blew into the room.

She was an older woman, Hawaiian in blood, and always seemed to know just what Sunshine needed. Of course, that probably came from being what Sunshine considered her second mother—or auntie. She was also the only one who could put up with Sunshine and her crazy schedule. “Tina just said to call her to arrange her appointment.”

“Was she angry?”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Of course. She said she never wanted to see you again.”


“No. None of your clients get mad at you.”

“There was that one guy I turned down for a date.”

“Haole,” Mary said, using the term Hawaiians used for newcomers.

“I’m a Haole.”

“You were born here. You’re Hawaiian.”

Mary was Hawaiian and was convinced Sunshine was too; although, she was as white as a girl could get. With her red hair and freckles, she was probably the furthest thing from Hawaiian a girl could get.

“Any other messages?”

“Yes, that man called again.”

“What man?”

“The one you’ve been avoiding.”

She sighed. Of course. Her father. “I have nothing to say to him,”

Mary sniffed. “You should show your father respect.”

The old argument was getting worse now that her father was stepping up his calls. She didn’t know why it was so important for him to see her now. He’d never seen her in her life, so there was no reason to start now that she was twenty-six.

“He had a chance at being more than a sperm donor a long time ago, and he gave it up.” She knew Mary would argue until the end of time if she didn’t change the subject. “Anything else?”

Before she could answer Sunshine, Sunshine’s phone buzzed. When she saw Alana’s face on the screen, she smiled.  “Give me a second.”

Mary nodded, and Sunshine headed back to her office. “Hey, Alana, what’s going on?” she asked as she closed the door and dropped her purse on the chair next to her desk.

“Nothing much. I’m calling to see if you can fit one of Marco’s cousins in for a session?”

“I’m sure I can find time. What for?”

“He’s dealing with PTSD, although the case is mild. It’s causing him to lose sleep. I thought maybe you could work some magic on him.”

“I don’t know magic.”

“I disagree.”

“I have never pulled a rabbit from a hat.”

As she hoped, her friend laughed. “How are things without Marco around?”

“The same. But different. This pregnancy is throwing me out of whack.”

“I think he should go on more deployments. That way, you might not get pregnant so often.”

“Probably,” she said, a smile in her voice. Sunshine felt like a heel. She should have been checking up on her friend. Being pregnant and having two kids was hard enough.

“Should I come out there? I can do it today after I close up.”

“I think that would be fantastic. I’ll double check and text you if there’s an issue.”

“Great. And I get to see the munchkins. Oh, shoot, I didn’t have time to make them cookies.”

“I think they’ll survive.”

“When does Marco come home?”

“Twenty-eight days.”

“Not that you are counting,” she said with a chuckle.

“Are you kidding me? I have it down to minutes.”

She adored Alana—hard not to when she was such a sweetie—but she was also very envious of her life.  Marco adored Alana. Sunshine wondered how that felt.

She pushed those thoughts away. “So, this cousin, what does he need?”

“Not sure, but he’s willing to listen to you and I think it will do him good.”

“Okay. Why don’t I just meet with him tonight and then set something up? That usually works better. I can see if he is actually interested and if we would be a good fit.”

“That will work. We’ll do dinner.”

“You don’t have to cook, Alana.”

“I’ll make Nando grill.”


“Short for Fernando. He’s the youngest of the family. You know Anthony?”

“Yes,” she said. Another friend who had married a Santini.  “Wait, this isn’t a setup, is it?”

Alana laughed. “No.”

“What’s so funny?”

“He asked the same thing. I know your rules. I truly think some Reiki would help him.”

“He’s getting therapy?”

“Yep. Not sure if it is through the military, but I know he’s been seeing someone. And it isn’t anything like the hyper vigilance or anything. He just needs to clear out some of the bad mojo.”


“You know what I mean.” She sighed. “This pregnancy has zapped my braincells.”

“No worries. Let me check my schedule.” She looked over the clients she had for the day. “My last client is at three today, so I can head out afterward.”

“Sounds good. You’re still eating fish, right?”

“As long as there are veggies I’m fine, so make whatever.”

Sunshine was mainly a pescatarian—a vegetarian who sometimes eats fish.

“I can’t wait to see you.”

“Same here,” Sunshine said.

“See ya later.”

They hung up and Sunshine looked at her schedule. It was odd that she didn’t have a later appointment, but it was as if the Fates wanted to make sure she made it to Alana’s today.

Of course, the Fates worked for that. She’d been raised to believe in them, even though she excelled at science. Her mother, though, believed that things worked out the way they were supposed to.

Unfortunately, the Fates apparently only cared about Sunshine’s career. Her love life, that was another matter. That had been as barren as life on the Moon. Well, not always, but the last year had been kind of boring. Add in one irritating customer getting a little too attached to her, she had really been through the ringer.

Sunshine knew she needed to date again. It was just so hard to find a good guy. Her work schedule didn’t help. She’d only had the shop for eighteen months. In that time, she had saved every penny she could to put back into the business. Just last month, Mary had convinced Sunshine to stop seeing customers on Sundays. She worked only six days a week. Now, though, she spent Sundays cleaning her house and crap like that. The idea of getting dressed up and going out with a man just didn’t appeal to her these days.

How are you going to meet your fate unless you try?

Her mother’s voice echoed in her head. She snorted. If the Fates were so damned good at their job, they would throw a man in her path.

There was a knock at her door before it opened. “Hey, your nine o’clock is here. Jenny.”

She nodded and smiled. One thing she loved doing was pregnancy massages. The women always seemed to have the most pleasant auras. “Be right there.”

Mary left, Sunshine stood then grabbed her lotion holster. The name of the belt she wore to hold her lotions always made Sunshine smile. After grabbing the two lotions she would be using for the treatment, she slipped them into their slots, then she slid it around her waist clipping it.

She might not have help with her romantic life from the Fates, but they were doing a great job with her business.  And for now, that was enough.

End of Excerpt

Loving a Santini

by Melissa Schroeder

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