When We Left Cuba Page 2


The thing about people telling you you’re beautiful your whole life is that the more you hear it, the more meaningless it becomes. What does “beautiful” even mean anyway? That your features are arranged in a shape someone, somewhere, arbitrarily decided is pleasing? “Beautiful” never quite matches up to the other things you could be: smart, interesting, brave. And yet—

He’s beautiful. Shockingly so.

He appears as though he’s been painted in broad strokes, his visage immortalized by exuberant sweeps and swirls of the artist’s brush, a god come down to meddle in the affairs of mere mortals.

Irritatingly beautiful.

He looks like the sort of man who has never had to wonder if he’ll have a roof over his head, or fear his father dying in a cage with eight other men, or flee the only life he has ever known. No, he looks like the sort of man who is told he is perfection from the moment he wakes in the morning to the moment his head hits the pillow at night.

He’s noticed me, too.

Golden Boy leans against the railing, his broad arms crossed in front of his chest. His gaze begins at the top of my head where Isabel and I fussed with my coiffure for an hour, cursing the absence of a maid to help us. From my dark hair, he traverses the length of my face, down to the décolletage exposed by the gown’s low bodice, the gaudy fake jewels that suddenly make me feel unmistakably cheap—as though he can see I am an impostor—to my waist, hips.

I take another step back.

“Am I to call you cousin?”

His words stop my movement, holding me in place as surely as a hand coming to rest on my waist, as though he is the sort of man accustomed to bending others to his will with little to no effort at all.

I loathe such men.

His voice sounds like what I have learned passes for money in this country: smooth, crisp, devoid of even a hint of foreignness—the wrong kind, at least. A tone of voice secure in the knowledge that every word will be savored.

I arch my brow. “Excuse me?”

He pushes off from the railing, his long legs closing the distance between us. He stops once he’s close enough that I have to tip my head up to meet his gaze.

His eyes are blue, the color of the deep parts of the water off the Malecón.

Without breaking eye contact, he reaches between us, his thumb ghosting across my bare ring finger. His touch is a shock, waking me from the slumber of a party I tired of hours ago. He quirks his mouth in a smile, little lines crinkling around his eyes. How nice to see even gods have flaws.

“Andrew is my cousin,” he offers by way of explanation, his tone faintly amused.

I find that most rich people who are still in fact rich manage to pull this off as though a dollop more amusement would be atrociously gauche.

Andrew. The fifth marriage proposal has a name. And the man before me likely has a prestigious one. Is he a Preston or merely related to one like Andrew?

“We were all waiting with breathless anticipation to see what you would say,” he comments.

There’s that faint amusement again, a weapon of sorts when honed appropriately. He possesses the same edge to him that everyone here seems to have, except I get the sense he is laughing with me, not at me, which is a welcome change.

I grace him with a smile, the edges sanded down a bit. “Your cousin has an impeccable sense of timing and an obvious appreciation for drawing a crowd.”

“Not to mention excellent taste,” Golden Boy counters smoothly—too smoothly—returning my smile with another one of his own, this one even more dazzling than the first.

He was handsome before, but this is simply ridiculous.

“True,” I agree.

I have little use for false modesty these days; if you’re not going to fight for yourself, who will?

He leans into me a bit more, as though we share a secret. “No wonder you’ve whipped everyone into a frenzy.”

“Who? Me?”

He chuckles, the sound low, seductive, like the first sip of rum curling in your belly.

“You know the effect you have. I saw you in the ballroom.”

How did I miss him? He doesn’t exactly blend in with the crowd.

“And what did you see?” I ask, emboldened by the fact that his gaze has yet to drift away.


My heartbeat quickens.

“Just you.” His voice is barely loud enough to be heard over the sound of the ocean and the wind.

“I didn’t see you.” My own voice sounds husky, like it belongs to someone else, someone who is rattled by this.

My gaze has yet to drift from him, either.

His eyes widen slightly, a dimple denting his cheek, another imperfection to hoard even if it adds more character than flaw.

“You sure know how to make a guy feel special.”

I curl my fingers into a ball to keep from giving in to temptation, to resist reaching out and laying my palm against his cheek.

“I suspect plenty of people make you feel special.”

There’s that smile again. “That they do,” he acknowledges.

I shift until we stand shoulder to shoulder, gazing out at the moonlit sky.

He shoots me a sidelong look. “I imagine it’s true, then?”

“What’s true?”

“They say you ruled like a queen in Havana.”

“There are no queens in Havana. Only a tyrant who aims to be king.”

“I take it you aren’t a fan of the revolutionaries?”

“It depends on the revolutionaries to whom you refer. Some had their uses. Fidel and his ilk are little more than vultures feasting on the carrion that has become Cuba.” I walk forward, sidestepping him so the full skirt of my dress swishes against his elegant tuxedo pants. I feel him behind me, his breath on my nape, but I don’t look back. “President Batista needed to be eliminated. In that, they succeeded. Now if only we could rid ourselves of the victors.”

I turn, facing him.

His gaze has sharpened from an indolent gleam to something far more interesting. “And replace them with who, exactly?”

“A leader who cares about Cubans, about their future. Who is willing to remove the island from the Americans’ yoke.” I care little for the fact that he is an American; I am not one of them and have no desire to pretend to be. “A leader who will reduce sugar’s influence,” I add, my words a break from my family’s position. Despite the fortune it has brought us, it’s impossible to deny the destructive influence the industry has had on our island no matter how much our father attempts to do so. “One who will bring us true democracy and freedom.”

He’s silent, his gaze appraising once again, and I’m not sure if it’s a result of the wind, or his breath against my neck, but goose bumps rise over my skin.

“You’re a dangerous woman, Beatriz Perez.”

My lips curve. I tilt my head to the side, studying him, trying desperately to fight the faint prick of pleasure at the phrase “dangerous woman” and the fact that he knows my name.

“Dangerous for who?” I tease.

He doesn’t answer, but then again, he doesn’t have to.

Another smile. Another dent in his cheeks. “I’ll bet you left a trail of broken hearts behind you.”

I shrug, registering how his gaze is drawn to my bare shoulder.

“A proposal or four, perhaps.”

“Rum scions and sugar barons or wild-haired, bearded freedom fighters?”

“Let’s just say my tastes are varied. I kissed Che Guevara once.”

I can’t tell who is more surprised by the announcement. I don’t know why I said it, why I’m sharing a secret not even my family knows with a total stranger. To shock him, maybe; these Americans are so easy to scandalize. To warn him I am not some simpering debutante; I have done and seen things he cannot fathom. And also, perhaps, because there’s power in the lengths to which you will go in a misguided attempt to secure your father’s release from Guevara’s hellhole of a prison, La Caba?a. It makes for a good story even if I inwardly cringe at the young girl whose hubris made her think a kiss could save a life.

“Did you enjoy it?” Golden Boy’s expression is inscrutable, a clever and effective mask sliding into place. I can’t tell if he’s scandalized, or if he feels sorry for me; I far prefer society’s scorn to his pity.

“The kiss?”

He nods.

“I would have preferred to cut his throat.”

To his credit, he doesn’t flinch at my bloodthirsty response.

“Then why did you do it?”

I surprise myself—and perhaps him—by opting for truth rather than prevarication.

“Because I was tired of things happening to me, and I wanted to make things happen for myself. Because I was trying to save someone’s life.”

“And did you?”

The taste of defeat fills my mouth with ash.

“That time, I did.”

The wave of power brings another emotion with it, the memory of the life I couldn’t save, of a car screeching to a stop in front of the enormous gates of our home, the door opening, my twin brother’s still-warm dead body tumbling to the ground, his blood staining the steps we once played on when we were children, his head cradled in my lap while I sobbed.

“Is it as bad as everyone says?” His tone is gentled to something I can hardly bear.

Prev page Next page