Burning up the Rain (Hawaiian Heroes)

BOOK: Burning up the Rain (Hawaiian Heroes)
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Dedication

This book is dedicated to three women.

 

The inimitable Jessica Smith,

to whom the Rose City Romance Writers and I owe so much.

Jessie,

for all the hours

you’ve given to welcome new writers,

encourage those who need it,

plan events to bring writers and readers together,

and for your interest in this series,

Mahalo nui loa, Hoapili.

 

To Carol Hughes,

teacher extraordinaire.

Your ideas and teachings on Deep Story made this one

so much better.

 

To Linda Ingmanson,

editor emeritus.

Thank you for your humor, attention to detail

and for not letting me get away with

using that one word

when there are fabulous synonyms waiting in the wings.

Chapter One

August 22nd

The scene before her was like a Hawaiian postcard—blue sky, palm trees, white surf and turquoise water. Beautiful, bright and balmy, full of the promise of fun, whether on the shore or one of the many boats plying the sea.

It all made her want to hurl.

Lalei Kai-Ho’omalu stood at the end of the public pier in Kailua Harbor, Kona, Hawaii. Around her, tourists chattered happily in various languages as they snapped photos of each other against the backdrop of Kona Town and the sunlit expanse of the sea. Many of them would be from the cruise ship anchored just outside the harbor, a white bulk against the azure sky and sea.

She was probably the only person in Kona who would rather be anywhere else but here. Her stomach tightened as a white catamaran motored slowly toward her across the harbor, tall rainbow sail snapping in the warm afternoon breeze, white wake churning. At the wheel, a young Hawaiian kept a watchful eye on the pair of long outrigger canoes crossing the harbor before them. Another crewman waited at the forward rail.

Lalei curled her toes in her strappy sandals, bracing her legs against the urge to bolt, ditch her expensive luggage and run as far and as fast as she could. Once she was on that boat, there would be no escape.

“Lalei,” said a voice in her ear, sharp and sweet as broken sugar candy. “You are ignoring your guest.”

Lalei turned just enough to see her mother standing behind her, carefully away from the wave-splashed edge of the pier. Suzy Kai-Ho’omalu was the picture of Hawaiian chic in her wide hat and coral linen dress, a big flowered scarf over her arm. Her nails were glossy red, her thin hands ornamented with heavy gold jewelry. Her chin length dark hair accentuated her lovely face. Behind her designer sunglasses, narrowed eyes watched Lalei.

Lalei flicked a glance at the man standing guard over their luggage. Benton Choy stood with his feet braced apart, hands in the pockets of his slacks. His square face was bland behind his sunglasses. In his black slacks and black-and-white Hawaiian shirt, he looked smooth and successful, like a shark patrolling the island waters. And she was the tasty little fishy.

“Sorry, Mama, but I think of Benton as your guest,” Lalei answered, careful to keep her voice light. “You two always have so much to talk about.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Suzy’s voice sweetened further, in the tone that always made Lalei want to check for syrup dripping from her mother’s carefully lip-sticked mouth. “We talk about your future, you foolish girl. Which will be bright if you put a little effort into it, instead of pouting here.”

“I’m not pouting. Just…enjoying the scenery.” Searching for a handy coral formation to dart behind.

Her mother flicked her hand, her scarf fluttering. “You are my daughter. I know the difference. You’ve been pouting all the way from Oahu, and it had better stop now. There are plenty of pretty girls who would love to catch Benton’s eye.”

Not that they had a chance, with Suzy shoving Lalei in front of him at every opportunity. But Lalei knew better than to argue—it would only set off another tirade about the precarious state of their finances. Followed by how Benton would be happy to save their home, their bank account and shower Lalei with luxuries besides. All she had to do was marry him.

She swallowed as her stomach knotted, as it did whenever he got too close. Didn’t bode well for the time when he would want to kiss her…and more.

The catamaran eased to a stop beside them, and one crewman leaped off, grabbing the bow rope as the big boat bounced lightly against the rubber bumpers fastened around the pier. The logo on his white T-shirt matched the larger one on the side, a dolphin leaping through the encircling words
Hawaiian Dive
. The boat belonged to Frank Lelua, employee and friend of her cousins.

“Time to board,” Lalei said, taking a step away from her mother. “Don’t want to be late for the wedding.”

Her mother grasped her bare arm, her manicured nails digging into Lalei’s flesh. “Stop evading me, young lady. You will do as I say, or—” Her voice died abruptly, and she smiled past Lalei, cocking her head like a hungry bird spotting a juicy worm. “Ah, Benton. Lalei was just telling me how excited she is to introduce you to her cousins.”

Lalei tensed as Benton’s expensive shaving cologne filled her nostrils. As usual, he smelled as if he had bathed in the stuff. She’d contrived to sit on her mother’s far side on the flight from Oahu, but she’d still felt inundated by his scent and his smug, possessive gaze.

“I look forward to meeting them.” His hand, hot and damp, settled on the small of Lalei’s back.

Her lips curved up in the polite smile ingrained by a lifetime of social training, although the knot in her stomach was so tight she felt truly nauseous, and her arm hurt where Suzy had grasped it.

“Yes, I can’t wait.” She crossed her arms, rubbing the sore one surreptitiously, and stepped away from Benton’s hand.

Beyond Benton, another couple stopped by the boat. The woman was small and slim in a chic purple sundress and hat. Her stocky husband let go of the handle of a huge suitcase to put a solicitous arm around her. She smiled at him, and he bent under the brim of her hat to kiss her.

Lalei recognized them. Gabe and Sara Paalani were friends of her cousins from Maui. Happy and in love. She’d heard some couples were—just didn’t get to witness it that often.

Those in her set seemed to marry to consolidate business empires and fortunes, or save them. As her mother expected her to do.

Then another man sauntered onto the pier. Tall, broad-shouldered and athletic in his blue polo shirt and casual shorts, sunglasses on his tanned face, blond hair lifting from his forehead with the afternoon breeze. He greeted the Paalanis, his handsome face creasing in a smile.

Lalei recognized him, too. Jack Nord, college friend of David and Daniel. He’d played football with them at the University of Hawaii. Now he lived in California. He was in sales of some kind.

Whatever. He might be handsome enough to be mistaken for a film star, but he was here for only a few days, then gone. She had enough problems without acknowledging the unwelcome curl of attraction his tall, athletic body and deep, lazy voice roused in her.

Besides, unless she could break free of her mother’s plans, he and every other attractive single guy on the planet were off limits. If she married, she wouldn’t seek solace in any arms but her husband’s. She knew how much cheating hurt.

 

 

Jack Nord walked out of the Kona airport’s open-air luggage claim, duffel in hand. He liked the little airport and the novelty of deplaning into the open-air pavilion complete with the bronze statues of hula dancers. No air-conditioned isolation here. He was already perspiring in the damp heat of Hawaiian late summer. Pausing on the sidewalk outside the terminal, he saw a familiar figure. Frank Lelua, friend and employee of the Ho’omalus, waved from his silver SUV under the short palm trees lining the airport drive.

“Aloha,” the wiry, silver-haired Hawaiian called to Jack, leaning over to speak through the open passenger window. “Toss your duffel in the back and hop in.”

Jack settled back in the truck’s passenger seat as they waited for a shuttle to chug by toward the rental car lots, spewing diesel exhaust. “How you doing, Frank? Heard you were hurt in that gunfight out at Na’alele last month.”

Frank pulled out into traffic and shrugged. “Nah, just took a hit on my hard head. I’m fine. How you doing?”

Jack summoned a smile. “Man, I forgot you’re an ex-cop. Take everything in stride.” Most of the men he knew would have been describing the injury in minute detail, exaggerating their brush with death and the stages of their long recovery. “I appreciate you picking me up—I could have grabbed a taxi. I thought you’d be on your boat.”

“Nah, my guys are on board,” Frank said easily. “Had cleanup to do from the dive group yesterday. I had to come out to Honokohau Harbor to pick up a new fishing rod. Couldn’t see someone else driving to the airport when I was so close.”

“How’s Bella? She was knocked out by a tree in the windstorm at Na’alele, huh?”

Frank nodded, watching the road ahead. “
‘Ae
, yeah. She’s good now, though. Spending her time with her new fella. Boys tell you she’s gonna stay here, farm up
mauka
, on da mountain?”

“Is that right?” Jack was surprised. “Thought she worked for DelRay Sporting Goods.”

Frank chuckled. “She did. But she’s a Ho’omalu; gonna live here now. Ho’omalus always come back to da Big Island.”

Jack could see the appeal. The bougainvillea bushes blooming along the highway were a brilliant counterpoint of fuchsia, orange and pink to the charcoal lava rubble. And out across the lava plain, the bright blue ocean pounded against the rocky shore, white spray shooting up in the sunlight. The air blowing in the open windows was warm and damp. Ahead loomed the volcanoes that had built the island, green and verdant, wreathed in sheltering rainclouds.

“Not a bad place to settle,” he agreed. He imagined just staying here, surrounded by laid-back Hawaiians, instead of getting back on the plane in a few days and flying home to his California realty and all the problems that waited for him there. The market was down, the hot, dry Santa Ana winds were blowing, and everyone was braced for fire season in the canyons outside the city. Not a great time to be hawking million-dollar properties, even if he’d been on his game, which lately he hadn’t. Just the thought of work made him long for a cold beer.

He leaned against the headrest and tried to stifle a jaw-cracking yawn. Man, he hadn’t slept well for weeks. He hoped he could relax here in paradise.

Frank turned on the radio to a lilting Hawaiian song, a soothing lullaby for the weary traveler. Jack closed his eyes as the vehicle rolled along the highway.

He jolted awake as Frank hit the brakes. “
‘Aue,”
Frank complained under his breath. “Sorry, Jack.” A skateboarder veered in front of them, waggling his thumb and little finger in the “hang loose” sign.

Jack scrubbed a hand over his face and looked around, recognizing the main street in Kona Town, thronged with people clutching cameras and shopping bags. “Lots of tourists in town.”

“Cruise ship just came in.” Frank jerked his chin toward the harbor ahead as they rolled through the green light. Beyond the stone breakwater and the tour boats clustered on the pier, Jack saw the white bulk of a cruise ship moored in the wide mouth of the harbor.

They reached the Kailua Pier as Frank’s boat nosed alongside the cement pier, piloted by a young man in shorts and a white T-shirt with Frank’s Hawaiian Dive emblem. Frank parked the SUV, and Jack stepped out and stretched, glad to be on his feet after hours of plane travel. His shirt and shorts were damp with sweat, sticking to his back and legs. The tropical sun was a hot weight on his head and shoulders, but at least he was finally outdoors. He couldn’t remember if he’d packed a baseball cap. He wished he had time to buy one at one of the shops clustered along the main street along the harbor.

“Grab your bag, and come aboard,” Frank invited, already jogging toward the cat.

Jack pulled his bag out of the back and carried it along the pier toward the boat, threading his way through a group of excited Asian tourists lining up to board a double-decker day cruiser and locals watching a rowing lesson in the shallow waters to the right of the pier. Several teams of Hawaiian kids sat in long, narrow outrigger canoes while coaches waded among them, demonstrating proper paddle placement.

BOOK: Burning up the Rain (Hawaiian Heroes)
7.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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