Summer is right around the corner, which means soon enough, your social media feeds will be filled with photos of friends and strangers taking vacations all over the world. Even if you're stuck at home, you can feel like you're visiting some of the most iconic cities in the world, too, inside of Amber Brock's newest novel, Lady Be Good. An exciting romp through 1950s Manhattan, Miami, and Havana, this enchanting coming-of-age story doesn't hit shelves until June, but Bustle has an exclusive excerpt, so you can start reading right now.
The spoiled heiress to her hotel magnate father's fortune, Kitty Tessler finds few things as important as status. That is why she spends so much time perfecting her "look," and it is also why she is determined to secure her place on the social ladder through a carefully plotted marriage. But when Kitty meets Max, a member of a band visiting from her father's club in Miami, her plans take an unexpected turn. Together with her best friend Henrietta and the man her father wants her to marry, Andre, Kitty follows Max to Miami and Cuba for an adventure of a lifetime. It's only when she is exposed to the big wide world that exists beyond her sheltered and privileged life in Manhattan that Kitty can truly start to see who she is, and who she wants to be.
A spellbinding story complete with captivating characters, sweet romance, and fascinating female friendships, Lady Be Good is a must-read this summer. And, luckily for you, there's no need to wait until it hits shelves June 26, because Bustle has an exclusive excerpt you can start reading now, below:
Kitty took a step toward the screen door in front of them, but Max caught her arm. He and Sebastian walked around to the side of the building, guiding the girls around a few broken bottles, then entered through an open door on the side. The row house’s lower floor had been converted into a single large room, and brightly painted columns remained where walls had once stood. In the far corner, a dinged-up refrigerator sat behind a woman at a card table filled with liquor bottles and glasses. The music Kitty had heard drifting into the street now blared from a trio of musicians in the opposite corner, near the window. About a dozen people crowded near them, dancing. No one took advantage of the handful of mismatched chairs against the wall.
Over the music, a voice rang out. “My boys, you are back at last,” the woman at the table called. She rushed over to Max and Sebastian as fast as her tight skirt would allow.
Max hugged her. “Good to see you, Marcela.”
The woman and Sebastian began speaking Spanish, though she did pause to plant a bright red kiss on Max’s cheek. The tips of his ears turned pink, and he rubbed his face with his handkerchief.
“You two sure are favorites,” Kitty said.
Her voice caught Marcela’s attention, and the woman’s hazel eyes widened. “You brought girlfriends!” She rushed forward and took Kitty’s hands. “They never bring girls to me, never. Let me get you a drink. You like rum?”
“Ah . . . sure.” Kitty forced a smile. A glance at Hen revealed that she was equally overwhelmed. “How much do I owe you?”
“For you, free.” Marcela dropped ice from the refrigerator into two glasses, then filled them halfway with brown liquid.
“We drink for free now?” Sebastian asked.
“Not you. The girls. For you, ten cents.” Marcela held the drinks out to Kitty and Hen, paying no attention to the boys’ groans of protest. Kitty liked the sugary smell of the rum. She took a gulp to help settle her nerves and wished she’d worn something else. Hen was the only other woman in the room wearing a full swing skirt. Some had curve-hugging skirts like Marcela’s, and a few wore similarly snug capris. All of them had bare shoulders, and most had long hair piled high. At least Kitty’s layer of eye-catching lipstick fit the scene. She edged to the window where Hen had claimed a chair, hoping to feel a wisp of the cool night air. Though they had just come in, the warmth of the packed bodies had already caused sweat to break out on Kitty’s skin.
She sucked an ice cube out of her glass and let it melt on her tongue.
Max paid for his drink and crossed to where Kitty stood. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Kitty didn’t answer. She was fixed on Sebastian, who was asking Hen to dance. “I hope she doesn’t stumble too much. Dancing was never Hen’s greatest talent.”
“She’ll be fine with him. He’s good enough for both of them.” Max tapped a finger against his glass. “What about you? Do you want to dance?”
“With Sebastian? Absolutely.”
“With me. I know you’re good. I saw you showing off that night in New York.”
She thought about how Max had looked at her as she left the dance floor that night, and the back of her neck tingled. Just as quickly, she recalled their odd interaction in her apartment. Still, she couldn’t say no; it was her job to distract him. She placed her drink on a nearby chair and held out a hand. They went closer to the musicians but still kept a little distance from the other dancers. She marveled that only three musicians could make music so loud. The sound pulsed under her skin.
Max laid a hand on her waist and pulled her close. He smelled like Burma-Shave and pomade. She could feel his hip bone against hers, and this time the heat in her face had nothing to do with the crowded room. He pressed his cheek against hers and whispered in her ear, “Just move with me.”
Then he moved—one long, languid stride followed by a few staccato steps. His hand felt unexpectedly strong through the fabric of her dress. He guided her so effortlessly, she felt as if she’d known the dance her whole life. She pulled back.
“Where did this come from?” she asked.
“Years of practice. I’ve been coming to this place for a long time.” There was a wicked look in his eye. “Why? Do you like it?”
“I’m surprised you wanted to dance with me,” she said. “Last time we talked you didn’t seem so interested.”
He reeled her out, holding her at arm’s length for a beat before pulling her close again. “But now it turns out you’ve got brains under all that style. That changes things.”
She touched her cheek to his once more, speaking softly in his ear. “You like me better because I’ve read a couple of books, huh?”
“Does that bother you? I’m betting you like it when a guy’s interested because of your looks.” His hand slid from her waist to her back. “A cute girl doesn’t do it for you?” She tightened her grip on his shoulder.
“A pretty birdbrain doesn’t do it for me.”
“And what are you going to do if I am a birdbrain? Then you’ll only be interested because of my looks. I’m betting that would bug a guy like you.”
“Then I’ll have to get to know you better. Find out which you are.” The song came to a dramatic end with a final pounding flourish from the bongo player. Kitty held Max’s gaze for a moment before going to retrieve her drink. So he is interested, she thought. Good. One more box checked off on her list. A little more interest, and she might be able to separate him entirely from his wayward friend.
An idea came to her so suddenly that she was shocked she hadn’t thought of it before. One of those intimate moments with Max might be of more use to her than simply throwing Hen in Sebastian’s path. Max would be the perfect person to get her off the hook with Andre. She could talk Max up, ask when he would be coming back to New York, little tidbits like that. Then, when Andre started to suspect her interest, she could arrange a little romantic interlude with Max near the end of their time in Miami for Andre to stumble upon. He’d know he never had a chance, and he’d probably think the whole trip was Kitty’s way of seeing Max again. Only a dope would want to go after a girl who’d used him that way.
At last, all the major elements had come together. Max would get Andre off the table and solve the problem of her father’s demands. If Andre wasn’t interested, Kitty’s father could hardly insist that she marry him then. He’d have no choice but to change his ultimatum, maybe to something more palatable, especially if she had an alternative husband lined up. And she would. Sebastian would help her separate Hen and Charles and, once Hen approved, Charles would be hers for the taking. All she had to do was arrange the proper timing, and soon everyone would have exactly what they deserved. Kitty would have her new social sphere, Hen the right match, and Charles all the payback he could handle.
Flush with excitement, Kitty eagerly agreed when Sebastian asked her to dance. She expected him to be the superior dancer of the two men but was surprised to find that he and Max were evenly matched in terms of skill. Every so often, she threw a glance over Sebastian’s shoulder to be sure Max still had his eyes on her. Even though he’d asked Hen to dance, Kitty was pleased to find that he was, indeed, watching her every chance he got.
“Are you having fun?” Sebastian asked when they took a break.
“I am,” Kitty said, taking another sip of her drink. She liked rum, as it turned out. “It’s different from how I pictured Miami.”
“There is more than one Miami,” he said. “Which one is this?”
He grinned. “This is cubano. So much like Cuba. Although Marisol there—” He pointed to a tall, dark-skinned girl with a green print dress. “She is dominicana. Alonso is from the Dominican, too. But the sounds, the flavors, the people creating a party out of nothing . . . it’s so much like my home. Well . . . some parts of the island.” A cloud flickered over his expression so quickly, Kitty thought she’d imagined it.
“Cuba’s easy to get to from Miami, right? Maybe Hen and I should go while we’re here.”
He shook his head. “You may not want to go there right now. There was some . . . trouble this summer. Some people are unhappy.” He paused. “It might not be over.”
Before Kitty could respond, Sebastian stood. “I’d better ask Marcela to dance,” he said. “She doesn’t like to sit for long. Excuse me.”
She nodded, still puzzled. The only things she’d ever heard about Cuba involved movie stars and tropical drinks. She couldn’t picture movie stars sweltering in a converted living room, though. There was a more glamorous side to Cuba; Kitty had seen it in magazines. Sebas- tian must have grown up in the wrong part, she concluded. Perhaps that was why he was in Miami now.
Hen sat down in the chair next to Kitty, panting slightly. “Who would’ve thought Max could dance like that? Wowee.”
“He’s made an impression on you, has he?” Kitty swirled the few slivers of ice that remained in her glass.
“Nothing close to the impression you’ve made on him.” Hen leaned in. “Don’t look now, but I think you’ve still got his eye.”
Kitty flicked her gaze over to the makeshift bar and found Max watching her. “He thinks he’s hot stuff.”
“After dancing with him, I’m inclined to agree,” Hen said. “I thought Sebastian was your guy.”
“You know very well that Charles is my guy.” Hen’s expression dark- ened. She sat up and brightened once more as Max approached with a fresh drink in each hand.
“Thought you two might be thirsty,” he said. The girls accepted their drinks, thanking him. As he sat on Kitty’s other side, Hen raised her eyebrows at Kitty. Kitty resisted the urge to swat Hen. Even though she had been trying to hook Max, she didn’t want Hen teasing her about her success. Or worse, believing that Kitty actually liked him. Fortunately, Sebastian returned from his dance with Marcela a few minutes later. He asked Kitty to dance, but she declined, and Hen took her place.
“Are you waiting for me to ask you again?” Max said.
“I’m enjoying my drink and the music, thank you.” Kitty dabbed at an errant drop of condensation that had landed on her skirt. “So where does Marcela find all these people? Surely she doesn’t hire a trio for every house party.”
“She’s what you might call a talent finder,” Max said. “Marcela loves music, and she has back-of-the-house connections at pretty much every club and venue on the other side of the Causeway. She’s been helping people find jobs so long, now people send musicians to her.”
“Is that how you and Sebastian met her?”
“Actually, she introduced us. I met her through a friend at a show down at the Lyric, and she had me an audition at the Imperium within a week. Practically everyone here either plays at the resorts or will soon enough.” He pointed across the room to a balding man. “Marcos there plays the trombone at the Park Avenue. The girl beside him is Daniela. She sings, but she hasn’t found a gig yet. I think Marcela has big plans for her. Bigger than the clubs.”
Kitty studied Daniela’s cream-colored skin and wide brown eyes. “She’s certainly pretty enough to be a star.”
Max stood. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
Though she began to feel more at ease, especially after meeting some of Max’s friends, Kitty couldn’t shake the sensation that she was more of a curiosity than a guest. She didn’t fit in, despite the warm welcome, and she felt it acutely. When they finally climbed back into Sebastian’s car to return to the hotel, she felt a relief that was also, in a way, uncomfortable. She stepped into the lobby of the Imperium, resolved not to think about it any further. After all, she’d never see that place or those people again.