Here is an excerpt from One Night in Havana, 99cents/99pence on Amazon this week. A New Yorker and Cuban compete for the same grant at a marine biologists' convention in Havana.
Dr. Carlos Montoya placed a five-peso coin with a brass plug on the counter and whirled it. The spinning motion mirrored a dizzying attraction going on in low parts of her belly.
Veronica Keane cleared her wayward mind and nodded toward artwork on the opposite wall. “I plan to buy a painting tonight.”
“Don’t buy anything unless the seller gives you a certificate. You’ll need one to take art from Cuba. Artists deal in euros in case you don’t have pesos.”
She’d come prepared but said, “Thanks for the info.”
His coal-black eyes widened as he gazed from her head down to the tiny straps around her ankles as if she wore high heels and nothing else. “You give off a Barbie doll image,” he replied and stood up.
“Where’s Ken, anyway? Kenneth Morton. He came with you to the talks in Antarctica. Five years ago.” He grinned, and the mortification in her belly gave way to a longing which she had no business feeling toward her competitor.
“Ken and I broke up.” She hesitated for a moment. “You have a gift for remembering names. Like a salesman.”
“A person’s name is, to that person, the most important and sweetest sound. Back then I introduced myself to Ken in the men’s room.”
“I remember now. Didn’t you give a talk on a specialized pigment in the octopus?”
“Ahh, si.” He splayed his fingers over his chest. “A pigment in their blood is—”
“—called hemocyanin. Turns their blood blue and helps them survive subfreezing temperatures. Were you awarded something?”
“The antifreeze protein grant? No. It went to a deep-diving photographer. He wasn’t chicken about getting lost or trapped under the ice.”
She slid from her stool and strutted around, jutting her chin in and out like a chicken. “Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock, begowwwwk.”
He chuckled. “Cute chicken dance. Very cute in that skimpy black dress.”
Her cheeks heated, and she clutched her necklace. He’d seen plenty of women in body-fitting attire. In Cuba, women wore dresses to meetings. If she'd harnessed sexier mojo, she’d have livened up presentations. Her presentations with an abundance of dull data went south. She slid back against her stool and clutched her purse to her stomach as if the small satin bag could calm the nerves playing deep down kickball. She belonged in her tidy New York office filled with computers, modems, and research manuals. Not in this softly lit café where passion oozed from a man’s pores, and artists displayed their canvases. Here was where Havana’s trendsetters congregated, and Ernest Hemingway wrote about desire.