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Carolina Garcia-Aguilera's
HAVANA HEAT
A Lupe Solano Mystery
 
First Chapter
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HAVANA HEAT
Chapter One
(Read or print)

I should have been born a man. I think like one, I act like one, I live my life like one. As a private investigator for the last eight years, I've worked in a field dominated by men. The men I've worked with, as well as the men I've been involved with, have always tried to ascertain who is the real Lupe Solano. Eventually they all discover that I have two sides: a gentle, feminine veneer that I display when I need to, and the ruthless heart and soul of a man underneath.

These idle thoughts flitted through my mind as I looked out the car window at the familiar scenery of Miami. Alvaro Mendoza, my current love interest, was driving, and we were heading north on Granada Boulevard toward the Biltmore Hotel to attend my niece Marianna's wedding reception.

Alvaro was actually more than just a passing liaison. He and I had been together for almost a year now, a record of sorts for me. And, another first, he was Cuban, the first Latino man I had ever been seriously involved with--Latino being the current fashionable word to refer to us Hispanics. One night I actually sat at the dinner table with my sister Fatima's twelve-year-old twins and concocted different possible terms that might be used in the future to refer to those of us who lived in the New World but had Spanish origins.

We came up with peoplissimos, taninos, sipersonas, and a few other ridiculous variations on the same theme.

I saw the lights of the Biltmore off in the distance and began to envision the scene at the party. Technically, Marianna wasn't my niece; she was my third cousin Mirta's daughter. Marianna was marrying into the famous Miranda cigar family. I had spoken with Tia Elena, the bride's grandmother, and learned that at last count the guest list was approaching one thousand. It was just your basic warm, cozy, intimate family wedding reception--Cuban style. The actual ceremony had taken place earlier that day, at the Church of the Little Flower, with only the immediate family in attendance--at the young couple's insistence and their families' displeasure.

I fidgeted in the front seat of the Mercedes, unable to find a position in which I wasn't being impaled by some article of clothing. Everything I was wearing seemed designed to divert my blood from where it needed to flow, from my emerald earrings with too-tight clasps to the Manolo Blahnick pointed shoes that I was certain had been designed by a conspiracy of podiatrists.

The drive from my home in Cocoplum to the hotel wasn't long-fifteen minutes the way Alvaro drove, seven if I had been behind the wheel. But it felt like an eternity, It had been a long time since I wore a long dress, and I was alternating between fits of pain and numbness. Ominously, I hadn't been tested by having to stand up for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

I tried to breathe slow and steady. My corset was rubbing against the girdle I'd been forced to wear in order to be poured into my form-displaying, not-one-inch-of-fabric-to-spare Helmut Lang dress. What the hell. All the pain and misery were going to be worth it. I looked gorgeous. The dress was black and backless, and it fit me like a second skin.

It was a triumph. The only problem was that the Austrian designer hadn't created the dress to be worn by a thirty year-old Cuban woman who had a weakness for chocolate and a backslider's approach to exercise. Although I hated to admit it, perhaps I had relaxed a little during my time with Alvaro and put on a couple of pounds. Alvaro said he liked me sexy and voluptuous, and he was always trying to get me to eat seconds when we had dinner together. So far I hadn't resisted his entreaties.

Achieving my look that night hadn't been easy. Nighttime assaults on beachheads seldom are. Colin Powell spent less time getting ready for the Gulf War than I had preparing for this wedding. At society gatherings such as this I always wanted to look my best. It was a matter of self-esteem, not to mention my professional standing. I knew the Cuban women there would be scrutinizing me like a jeweler looking for imperfections in a stone, searching for evidence that I was letting myself go and that my sleazy profession was catching up with me. My complicated personal life had given them plenty to talk about over the years; I sure as hell didn't intend to add to the rumor mill by showing up looking less than stunning, or as though my chosen lifestyle had taken its toll on my appearance.

My ensemble that night had been the result of a team effort--and Aida, our housekeeper, deserved special commendation. Her great achievement had been to close up my dress without embedding any of my epidermis in the zipper's teeth, no small feat for an octogenarian. There had also been a valiant young saleslady at the Saks Fifth Avenue lingerie department, who hadn't lost heart when she heard me yelling, cursing, and grunting in the dressing room trying to fit into my corset. Instead, she leaped into the fray, helping me wedge my way in, then stuffing my ample breasts into the cups. The price I paid for beauty. I hated to be reined in, physically or otherwise.

HAVANA HEAT
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