It doesn’t happen very often that a book makes my mind spin in such a way that it takes me weeks to collect my thoughts, rein in all my initial reactions, and get over my inherent reflex to just scream at it. Because this book was just…whoa! And while a taboo scenario such as this one almost always makes my skin quiver from the forbidden allure of it all, Lucky and Belén’s tale redefined everything I thought I needed in a love story in order to walk away happy, it crashed all my preconceptions to smithereens, and it left me reeling in a haze of second thoughts. This is not a traditional romance by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a romance nonetheless, and a very poignant one at that. It is undogmatic in its approach, bold and broad-minded in the way it presents this unconventional love story to the reader, and it pulls us in like a whirlpool, regardless of what we keep telling ourselves we should be thinking, or feeling. Skillfully written, the unique prose as much a part of the story as the evocative scenes it describes, this is a book that was difficult to walk away from, nearly impossible to stop thinking about, and I’m still mulling over it, dissecting it in my mind and slowly coming to terms with the fact that some love stories hurt until the very end. And beyond.
“I’ll die without you. There will never be anyone else for me, Lucky. Ever. I don’t want there to be.”
Raised in one of the poorest New York City neighbourhoods by two first-generation immigrant sisters from the Dominican Republic, Luciano ‘Lucky’ Cabrera and his cousin Bélen have been close since birth. Their earliest memories of falling asleep in the same crib, of always being there for one another, and of loving each other for as long as they can remember, have shaped the way they felt about each other all throughout childhood, making their unbreakable bond something that equally confused them as well as gave them comfort.
“Belén. My cousin. My own heat wave. The flame to my fire.”
We follow them through adolescence and into early adulthood, we witness all the ways such a unique bond between two first cousins could become an inextricable part of their emotional makeup, ultimately playing a key role in whom they end up falling in love with—each other.
“My glass heart sits trapped at the bottom of a honey jar with Lucky’s name permanently written all over it.”
But loving one another has always felt like a curse for Lucky and Belén, their hearts and bodies drawn like magnets, but their minds telling them that such a love is wrong, abhorrent, and never to be. We feel their struggle from the moment they become aware of those feelings, we see them hide them, battle them, succumb to them, hate themselves for them, and that struggle continues to define the way their perceive relationships, love, and even their own sexuality. For Bélen, Lucky has always been the only man in her life, someone who made her feel safe and loved, and the only man who has always ignited her body in a way no one else could. But while Bélen expresses her feelings towards her cousin openly, her innocent heart always winning over reason, Lucky tries to deny his heart what it desires the most, knowing that Bélen is the only woman who could ever quench the ever-raging fire coursing through his veins.
“Belén had a way of opening me up that was addictive. I wanted to f*ck her. Jesus Christ, did I want to f*ck her! I wanted things from her that I never wanted from a girl.”
And yet, he keeps fighting her advances, wanting her to have everything in life—children, a husband to feel proud of, a proper family—everything that he could never give her.
“I’ll keep pushing you away, Belén, a million times if I have to. All that means is that I love you better than I love myself.”
A story of tremendous passion, of a love that should never be, of a bond that endures no matter what in all its tortuous beauty, and ultimately, shines selflessly and for all eternity. But do not expect to be able to predict its fate, because the author keeps throwing curveballs at us from start to finish, and the sting of them never stops hurting. Often in the best possible way. This is a book I will recommend wholeheartedly to anyone wishing to have their mind stretched, prickled, aroused, shocked and even stunned into silence in the end, at least for a moment, because this is a story that will leave you agonizing over a million different feelings, pondering over a million possible aftermaths, and if you’re anything like me, eventually feel at peace with it all.
“What happens if one of us moves on and the other can’t move at all?”
For those who have already read Maldeamores, this is a deleted scene that takes place after the first kiss, but before the night of Lucky’s graduation…
If I’m being completely honest, getting my dick sucked was the real reason I came to this party. Plus, I had to get out of the house. My ma had her man over and fuck if I’m gonna sit there and listen to the two of them argue. Smoke in here is thick enough to give you a free contact buzz just from walking in the joint. House party in the Heights, the reggaetón beats sound out into the night like a fog horn; one that warns everybody on the block they ain’t getting to sleep ‘til six in the morning.
I do two shots of Cuervo with some hick from the corner who won’t shut up about all the honeys on the island. I could care less what he thinks, but I nod, tip my beer back and scan the room for Yari. I see Jaylee instead, he parts from his group and throws his hand out in greeting. Somebody passes me a spliff and I got no choice but to smoke the damn thing.
“You just get here?” He asks me holding in his hit, his voice chopped and swallowed, coming tight from his chest.
“Doing shots with some guy who just arrived from the island,” I say nodding in the direction of the newcomer who seemed eager to make friends. Too bad for him; round here we roll in brotherhoods that go back to the cradle.
I toke deep and cough out the burn that stings my throat and my lungs. I reluctantly swig from the bottle of Henny they been passing around. I get fucked up by default, without even trying to. Leaning against the wall I knock my head back and close my eyes for a second. I don’t want to be here, but it helps me to get physically away from her. Being in the same building is wearing me thin. I got to keep my defenses up all the time and the stress is a bitch.
Belén. I know she’s home. Studying or reading, maybe already asleep in her bed. I can’t explain how just thinking about her calms me down. Knowing she’s doing the right thing, somehow makes up for the both of us.
Belén is my better half, the sweet and good gravitate to her like a magnet. I can’t hold back the bad from hunting me down no matter how hard I try to shake it. But, Len is innocence. She’s pure gold to my lump of black coal and I want it to always stay that way. I sure as hell won’t ever let it be me who corrupts her.
I scan the room again for Yari and spot her saddled up with some chicks from the block. Yari’s ass in jeans is distracting, Yari in a skirt—it’s impossible to keep my hands off her.
I whistle at her because I’m too messed up to walk across the room. She shoots me a dirty look and gives me her back. I laugh at her trying to play me like she’s hard. In a minute she’ll be stripping for me más rápido qu’el diablo.
“Lucky is your cousin coming? Esa tipa is fucking fine,” the guy beside me says, catching me off guard.
“I know you didn’t just say that to me!” I roar, sticking my face in his and jabbing at his shoulder.
“What the fuck, man? Calm down. I think Belén is hot. I see her at school. Why you got such a problem?”
I feel Jay tug on my shoulder and I shrug his hand off.
“Say it again, mother fucker,” I shout as I jab two fingers into his ribs. “Say it again to my face!”
“Fuck, man, calm down!” he says leaning in like he’ll fight.
“It’s cool, bro. I’ll take care of it. Luck, go find your girl. They were just hanging out on the fire escape,” Jaylee says.
He pushes me away. He blocks the asshole with his body and I stagger toward where I last saw Yari.
“Don’t bring up his cousin, yo,” I hear Jaylee explain. “It’s a sensitive subject.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” the guy says and I got a mind to turn around and punch him. But I’m too drunk to land a good fight and I’d rather fuck instead.
I sneak up behind Yari and grab her around the waist and pull her up against my chest.
“Get lost, Lucky,” she says dryly.
She doesn’t mean it. That’s just Yaritza, always trying to act tough. I let my thumb graze over the bottom curve of her breasts and hug her into me tightly. Then I gently bite her earlobe through the fan of her hair.
“Yari, come fuck me,” I whisper smiling, but loud enough so all her girlfriends can hear.
Their grins are smug. They all know what I come looking for.
“Ladies,” I say, dragging Yari away backwards.
“Prick,” Yari says, escaping my hold.
“Precisamente eso,” I say, yanking her into a dark bedroom.
I stumble around until I find the edge of the bed. I’m usually smoother than this but my head is swimming from the booze and the thick joint I smoked with Jay. As soon as we’re alone she throws her arms around my neck. She might front for her girls, pero es un cuero la nena, Yari’s always down for a quick fuck.
She kisses me and I devour her lips grabbing the back of her head. I run my hands through her thick, dark hair and pull her tongue into my mouth.
“Suck me off, Yari,” I say into her ear. She lets out a sigh like she’s annoyed but her hands are lightning quick to open my fly. She slides my jeans down with her as she kneels in front of me, her hands immediately grabbing my shaft. I’m used to Yari going down on me, she’s been doing it for years. Her nails are fake and feel like intruders, interrupting my skin against her skin. Yari’s mouth is hot, I fuck her face hard the second she swallows my dick all the way in. With my hands on her head, I fist her long hair—silky, thick, dark hair that reminds me of Bey’s.
I find a rhythm and let my head relax back. I don’t even remember to touch her tits cause my thoughts took a detour just imagining Bey’s hair. How it smells when I’m close enough to her to feel it on my face. I think about her little ears and slope of her jaw. Her sweet, full lips and her pink tongue, when I first pulled it into my mouth. The sound of her breathing when we used to sleep in the same bed. My whole body absorbs the memory and my legs almost give out from under me. I love the idea of her asleep, of just having her close to me.
The more turned on I get, the more the memories flood me. Her round ass in sweats, a white T-shirt stuck to her skin once when we got caught in the rain, mascara dripping down her cheeks—God, how I wanted to take her. Throw her on the ground and make her mine before anybody else ever got the chance.
The night I caught her with him. Humiliated in the elevator, the heated flush of her face. Her wet panties in my hand, the blue dress falling off her shoulder. The swell of her breast, how the material grazed her hardened nipple. The smell of her sweat, the taste of her lips, the slip of her tongue, so timid, when I first pulled it into my mouth.
Its insistent beat.
That look in her eyes when she wants to do more than just touch me.
Her complete trust in me.
Fuck. That day when I had her up against the refrigerator. So innocent, but desperate to rub herself all over me.
“Belén, I’m gonna come, baby,” I say, my voice strained from desire.
Yari stops. She slaps my dick away from her face.
I open my eyes in the dark.
The visions slip away. Yari stands and shoves her feet back into her shoes.
“Lucky, I hate you! Don’t you even try to explain!”
I close my eyes and let my body fall back onto the bed, not even bothering with my pants.
She’ll be the end of me if I’m not careful.