Disclaimer: I own nothing. (PS: big shout out to my brother who reminded me that I needed to put this disclaimer.)
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When Raymond Reddington described Cuba, he always said that he found it to be a place of great relaxation… a place where time slowed down and the people slowed down with it. It was a place of endless laughter, endless partying, and endless food. Cuba was his kind of place.
If someone were to ask Elizabeth Keen to describe Cuba, she would only use one word… hot. It was hot. Sweltering, even. She didn't know how she allowed Red to talk her into flying out of the country with him, even if it was to do a little undercover work. Well… she was regretting it now.
Elizabeth tiptoed her way down the stairs of the rather large hacienda that Red had apparently owned for years and tiptoed again through the foyer to the front door.
"Going for a walk, Lizzie?"
Damn. Elizabeth froze with her hand on the door knob. She was so close…. She turned to find that Red had been seated in the large den just adjacent to the foyer and had probably been watching her futile attempt at escape the entire time.
"No. I'm going shopping. I have nothing to wear in this awful place because you forgot to tell me that it guards the entry to Hell."
Red's chuckle reverberated through the foyer as he walked her way.
"Don't you think you're being a little overdramatic? Sure it's a little on the warm side but it's nothing you can't handle."
"A little on the warm side? Red, my entire body is glowing. It's glowing with sweat! I have a permanent sweat sheen covering my body… and you look like you're not sweating at all. How is that even possible?"
It was at least ninety degrees outside and he was wearing slacks and a long-sleeve dress shirt. Not a drop of sweat on his body. It wasn't fair. Red ran his hand down the front of his shirt.
"Linen. Linen is your friend, Lizzie. Especially when you're in Cuba. Learn to love it."
Elizabeth could have slapped the smug look right off of his face.
"Fine. I'll keep that in mind. I've got to go now if I'm going to be back in time."
She took a step toward the door and Red stepped in front of her.
"I'm coming with you."
"Oh no. No! I will not have you dragging me to every high-end boutique in Havana and picking out my clothes like I'm a two year old. I'm going alone."
Red crossed his arms and Elizabeth squared her shoulders defiantly.
"Then you're not going."
Elizabeth was in no mood to play this game.
"Red… unless you want me to attend this meeting in shorts and a tank top, I suggest you move and let me do what I've got to do."
There was going to be a standoff. Elizabeth just knew it. They were going to stand there until it was time for them to leave and meet Red's broker, and then she was really going to be screwed. She wondered what she could do with a belt and one of Red's linen shirts. It could work. The women in Havana seemed to be okay with wearing a lot less…
"Fine. You can go. But I cannot let you go alone."
Red's bodyguard came out of nowhere, but Elizabeth wasn't surprised. Wherever Red was, Dembe was not far behind.
"Dembe, Agent Keen needs an escort for the afternoon. You up for a little bit of shopping?"
Elizabeth was mortified. She did NOT need a bodyguard.
"This is really unnecessary."
Red put his hands on her shoulders.
"It's him or me, and I promise you, he has no interest in picking out your clothes."
The face Dembe pulled was quite comical, and Elizabeth's embarrassment melted away.
"Fine. Dembe can take me shopping."
Dembe wove the car expertly in and out of the crazy Havana traffic. The streets were so close together that Elizabeth closed her eyes when they passed another vehicle. She was a bundle of nerves by the time they reached the first store.
"So what is this place?"
"To be honest, I don't know. It was just the first on the list Mr. Reddington gave me."
Elizabeth promptly turned and headed back to the car.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm not going anywhere on that list. First of all, I couldn't afford a pair of panties from any of those stores. Second of all, I don't see a dress in that window that would cover my ass, let alone anything else. And third, I really just don't want to give Red the satisfaction. So get in the car and drive me somewhere else, please."
It was hard to face down a stone-faced Dembe, but Elizabeth held her own. Then Dembe's face broke into a wide grin.
Elizabeth smirked to herself as they pulled back into the traffic. Red would not be allowed to micromanage this shopping trip. She might just show up at the hacienda in a bra and a leather skirt. Okay… probably not. But whatever it was, it would be her choice.
Dembe's voice pulled her attention away from her smug thoughts.
"What about this one? I don't think Raymond would approve, but that seems to be the point."
The shop they were stopped in front of was tiny and it looked very old. There was no name on the outside, and the only clue that is was a clothing shop was the dresses and scarves hanging in the doorway.
"This is perfect."
Dembe pushed his way into the store first, finding a chair in the corner and plopping himself down in it. Oh yeah, he was the perfect shopping buddy. Elizabeth browsed through the store, picking up a few summer dresses and piling them in Dembe's lap. He raised his brow slightly but folded the dresses into a neater pile while she finished browsing. She thought she was done, and was about to tell Dembe so when something caught her eye. It was a white linen dress that would hit around mid-thigh on her, with a tight bodice and a flowing bottom. It was not usually something Elizabeth would wear, but it was gorgeous. She slung the dress over her arm and perused the shoes… something else she usually wasn't interested in. She picked a pair of white, open-toed sandals and went to stand in front of Dembe, holding the dress and the shoes out in front of her.
"What do you think?"
Dembe nodded slowly, with a perplexed look on his face.
"It's missing something, isn't it?"
"It's not really my place to say… but yes."
"Maybe a bit of color?"
Dembe gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up and Elizabeth went back to her shopping. A scarf or a shawl wouldn't work with the look she was going for, and she was pretty sure that she didn't want a hair accessory. She walked the store until a brightly colored shelf caught her eye. Upon investigation, she found that it was a shelf full of nail polish, of all different colors. Perfect. She sifted through the colors and pulled out a bright red color. It was probably appropriate for the evening, but she wanted something different. A little wild, maybe. She moved the polishes around until she found exactly what she was looking for. Pink. Bright pink. Hey… it was Havana.
Elizabeth and Dembe arrived at the hacienda an hour and a half before they had to leave to meet Red's broker. She breezed past Red, who frowned at the plain brown paper bags on her arms. He shot a look at Dembe, and Dembe simply shrugged. She made her way into her room and shut her door, dropping the bags on her bed. She had a little time so she took a shower and curled her hair, pleased with the result. It went nicely with her new look. She put on a white bra and panty set and threw on a thin robe. A thick robe would have killed her.
The hard part was over… now for the nail polish. Elizabeth sat on the edge of her bed and pulled her legs up to her chest, trying to get a good angle to paint from. It was almost impossible. She had forgotten why she never painted her toes. This was why. She finished one big toe and sighed. This wasn't going to look right. She couldn't keep her hand steady, so maybe it was just better to take it off. She started to get off of the bed when there was a knock at her door.
Red poked his head into the room.
"I just wanted to check on the progress in here."
Oh, he just thought he was smooth. Elizabeth smirked.
"You just wanted to see what I'm going to wear."
Red's grin could have been guilty, but Elizabeth knew better.
"So I'm busted."
He walked completely into the room and shut the door behind him, peering curiously at her feet.
"Pink? I figured you for a dark purple or a dark red. Or, more than likely, no polish at all."
Elizabeth sighed, wiggling her big toe.
"I was going for adventurous, but I can't get it on by myself, so I guess I'm just going to take it off."
Red shook his head.
Elizabeth watched with interest as he pulled a chair from the corner of the room and positioned it in front of her. He sat down and reached for her foot, which she pulled closer to her chest.
"Give me the polish and give me your foot. Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
Well… she really wanted the polish…. She stretched her leg out to rest on Red's lap and handed him the bottle. This should be interesting. He shook the bottle expertly then started to apply an extra coat over her big toe. He laughed when her face crinkled up in confusion.
"Lizzie, you are good at a lot of things, but apparently this is not one of them."
"I've lived with men my whole life. You need to be taught these things, and Sam was NOT qualified to do so."
It was a horrible truth, but it was the truth. Her mother killed herself before she had a chance to teach Elizabeth anything worth knowing. Any makeup lessons came from high school friends who insisted that she take an interest in her appearance if she was going to hang out with them. They probably thought they were being nice. She was a little offended when Red started to laugh.
"You think that's funny?"
"What? No… no. It's not you or Sam. I was just thinking about something funny. Ignore me."
Red's shoulders started to shake from laughter and he pulled the wand away from her foot.
"I'm sorry… give me a moment."
"What's so funny?"
Red shook his head.
"Please? It would be rude not to share. Come on, Red. Pleeeease?"
"Fine. It's the bright pink polish. It reminded me of something. My daughter…"
He stopped short and ran a hand over his jaw. Elizabeth nodded her head in encouragement.
"Emma wanted to be a cosmetologist. And a ballerina. And an astronaut. You have to keep in mind that she was about six at the time. Her great aunt did hair and makeup and Emma thought it was just the greatest thing. She brushed her hair constantly, and was infatuated with nail polish, especially her mother's. Jenny finally broke down and bought her a bottle of bright pink nail polish and Emma went crazy. She painted her nails, her mother's nails, and finally wanted a crack at mine."
Elizabeth was captivated. Red never talked about his family. She assumed he found it too painful.
"Tell me you let her."
"Oh I did. My toes, at least. I drew the line at my fingernails. I was in the navy, after all. A man's man. Manly men do not polish their fingernails. But Emma batted her eyes at me and poked out that bottom lip and before I knew it, my toes were bright pink."
"How long did you keep it on?"
"That's the funny part. Jenny tore that house apart looking for fingernail polish remover and there was none. None. She had to run to the store and pick some up."
Red laughed and started to paint Elizabeth's toes again, still laughing all the while.
"That can't be it. What happened?"
A slight blush crept over Red's face.
"The only thing that could happen, I guess. I forgot about it. And then Jerry came for a visit."
"A buddy of mine from the navy."
Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hands and gasped.
"Oh yes. And he noticed right away. He never would let me live that down, but he also never told anybody. Said that he had weekly tea parties with his girls so he had no room to talk."
Elizabeth laughed so hard that she snorted, prompting Red to laugh with her.
"I'm sure your wife got a big kick out of that."
"Oh she did. So did Emma. I wanted to be mad about it, but they laughed and laughed until there was nothing left for me to do but laugh with them."
Red's voice trailed off a bit at the end, and Elizabeth could tell that he was a little sad. He swept the wand across her little toe and blew on it a little.
"There. Professional looking, right?"
Elizabeth nodded once.
Red sat her foot gently on the floor and started to rise from his chair.
"Wait. Hold on a minute and you'll get to see what I'm wearing tonight. It's not Chanel, but it's not bad."
She grabbed the bag from the bed and took it into her bathroom, quickly changing into her new ensemble. She examined herself in the mirror and was pleased. The dress fit perfectly, practically fitted to her chest and flowing around her thighs. And the polish on her toes peeked through her sandals, really setting the outfit off. She fluffed her hair one time for good measure and walked out of the bathroom, doing a little twirl for her one-man audience.
"Not bad doesn't describe it, Lizzie. You are really beautiful."
Elizabeth blushed hotly. Red stared at her with barely-contained lust.
"Wow. I was really just going for pretty."
"You will never be just pretty. Not to me."
Before Elizabeth had time to process that little bit of information Red stood and offered his arm.
"Are you ready to go?"
Elizabeth nodded and took his arm, noting the tension in his body. She laid her head on his shoulder.
"Are you okay, Red?"
"I don't know. Are you going to let me take you dancing after the meeting tonight?"
Nice change of subject. Elizabeth wanted to push, but she held back.
She might as well get some use out of that dress.
"Then I'm okay. Let's go."
Red slipped his hand into hers and tugged her out of the room, stopping to face her when they reached the landing of the stairs.
"Can you dance, Lizzie?"
She started down the stairs without him, not wanting to see his face when she answered.
"We'll find out!"