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A big, handsome cop on the injured list, a private paradise threatened by a malicious prankster, a restless shark god who makes regular appearances --nobody told her Hawaii would be like this!
Newcomer Casey Ward hesitates before accepting an unusual temp assignment, to play half of a troubled couple with her boss's nephew. Her temporary Significant Other is a handsome cop on the emotional and physical injured list, and Casey came to Hawaii to heal after her LAPD ex-fiance's infidelity and assault. But it's heads up when Kit Kahana's sky-blue eyes, mega dimples, and private detecting kick start Casey's zany personality and zest for life.
Kit's mission, once he gets Casey in restraint mode, is to unmask a malicious prankster among the guests and staff at a macadamia nut farm/cattle ranch on Lokelani, a private island off Kauai. Superstition and mystery involving Puhi, a restless shark god, surround the pranks.
Kit and Casey watch together through some long Lokelani nights to expose those who would desecrate the tiny paradise. And on its lovely shores, they find a powerful, healing love.
"Two weeks of work on Lokelani? With your nephew?" Casey Ward echoed her employer’s words in a toneless voice. She hadn’t lived in Hawaii long but she’d heard of the small, privately owned island.
Patty Kahana, a tiny woman with upswept salt and pepper hair and an hourglass figure, looked uneasy for just a moment. "Perhaps longer. All quite innocent and above board, I assure you. It’s highly unusual, I know, but Christopher is a reliable family member who needs some rather unusual help right now.
"I’ve had a chance to study you these four months you’ve worked for me, Casey, and I think you’re just the kind of woman Christopher described to me for this assignment."
And the only one you dare ask, I’ll bet, she thought to herself. "And what kind was that?" she asked sweetly, her curiosity barely overcoming her anger at the man who had ordered up a woman, not a female temp.
"Attractive, sedate, level-headed, and not fanciful." A reassuring smile was tacked onto the words.
Casey thought about that for a moment. Should she at last tell Mrs. Kahana that she felt as if someone else had been living inside her skin since she moved to Hawaii four months ago? And that she was the least sedate person known to her friends on the mainland? Or that she was up for a good fairy tale or ghost story anytime? Or that being betrayed by her LA police lieutenant fiance, then physically assaulted by him, had made her lose the laughter in her life and she was desperate to find it again?
She looked at Mrs. Kahana’s kind, expectant face. Bad idea right now. "If these aren’t executive secretarial duties, just what would I be doing?" she asked instead.
Patty Kahana got up and came around the desk. She always wore a holoku, a long, fitted Hawaiian dress, and a white hibiscus in her hair. Even with her small stature she managed to look regal.
Casey nearly fell out of her chair when the dignified woman hopped up onto the corner of her executive desk to sit. Confidence time, Casey silently told herself. Oh heavens, what was wrong with this guy and did her boss expect her to fix it?
Mrs. Kahana sat on her precarious perch with her back ramrod straight. "Christopher took a leave of absence from the Honolulu Police Department after he was wounded for the second time in the line of duty. While he decides what he wants to do, he has agreed to quietly look into some incidents on the island for a family friend who owns most of it.
"Christopher thinks it’s best for him to blend in as a guest who will be staying at Lokelani Farms. So, he asked me to find someone to pose as the other half of a reconciling couple. Separate accommodations, of course. You’ll be his ‘cover’ for snooping around the island. He assures me there’s no danger involved or I would have refused our services." She looked at Casey expectantly.
Casey groaned inwardly. Just what she needed right now, a hot shot who’d been shot and was still hanging off the edge of law enforcement. After what Luke had put her through, it would serve this one right if she went disguised as a snag-toothed hag who called it a May/December marriage.
When Casey opened her mouth to refuse, Mrs. Kahana quietly added, "If you decide to accompany him, you’ll be paid Kahana Temps’ highest rate, plus a bonus because of the unorthodox nature of this assignment. And you’ll have my deepest appreciation for helping me out in a difficult situation. You’ve already demonstrated your discretion and tact, Casey. Christopher and I will depend on your practicing both on this assignment."
‘This assignment, should you choose to accept it....’ Mission Improbable, Casey thought quickly to herself. But this job was different, at least, and she needed a change. Again. Maybe this new experience would shake loose the nothingness inside her. Better to come back to life all over the boss’s nephew than the boss.
"I’ll take it, thank you, Mrs. Kahana," she said meekly.
Mrs. Kahana let out a sigh of relief that ruffled Casey’s blonde hair. "Thank you, Casey," she said as she hopped off the desk and returned to the high-back leather chair behind it, all business again.
"Lokelani Farms is a working ranch and macadamia nut farm that takes a few paying guests at a time. The guests may help out in the grove, I understand, so you’ll need mostly play clothes and a few work clothes, as well as several evening outfits. They’re not formal but they do change for dinner. Some sturdy boots wouldn’t come amiss for riding and hiking. Christopher will pick you up at eight o’clock tomorrow morning at your apartment."
She had Casey’s sharp, unwavering attention when she hesitated then spoke as if she had come to a decision. "Life has dealt my nephew some severe blows, but he continues to be a nice man. He’ll take good care of you."
A persistent, heavy pounding on her apartment door the next morning dragged her up from the depths of dreamless sleep. She’d finally managed a few hours’ rest near dawn. The ruffled elastic band she’d worn to bed had come out of her hair in the night, and she finger-combed the full, wavy, shoulder-blade length stuff out of her eyes as she tumbled out of bed. One glance at the clock told her she’d overslept. It was probably Christopher Kahana trying to break down her door.
Opening the door as far as the security chain permitted, she was immediately impaled by eyes the color of the Hawaiian sky. Their huge owner wore white pants and a muted aloha shirt in pale blues. With one big hand, he removed his wide-brimmed straw hat with its tapa cloth band, freeing a shock of thick, shining brown hair so dark that it was almost black.
While she gathered her thoughts and her excuses together, she waited for him to speak. Instead, he studied her face, eyes, and hair with quiet intensity.
Oh heavens, she probably did look like a snag-toothed hag this morning. Her eyes, no doubt, resembled two blue-green marbles dropped into a can of spaghetti. Oh well, couldn’t be helped. She studied him back and liked what she saw. He reminded her of someone, or something, she couldn’t place.
He stared at her a moment longer then shook his head, as if to clear it. "Casey Ward," he finally said, accusing tones in his deep, soft voice. "I’m Christopher Kahana and it’s eight o’clock." He consulted a watch on his wrist, a timepiece that looked complicated enough to run a small city.
She blinked and mentally snapped her fingers when she caught the resemblance that had eluded her. Christopher Kahana looked like a Hawaiian tiki god come to life.
His broad forehead, high cheek bones, and wide, expressive mouth, looked as if they had been carved from warm, light brown hapa wood. He even wore the glower of a hapa wood tiki. There was, however, a redeeming hint of dimples in each cheek, and this angry tiki was big, with muscle all over. And tall with it, at least six feet four inches.
When she didn’t answer him immediately, he inquired in an insulting tone, "You do speak?"
Casey shook herself out of her tiki fantasy and nodded. "Frequently. And I can tell time, too. But I can’t sing a note," she told him, her voice soft with sleep. "I was up late packing and I must have gone back to sleep. I’m sorry."
Her old oversize LAPD tee shirt covered her to mid-thigh, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the disturbing eyes of this stranger who was suddenly doing some looking. She pulled farther back until nothing but her face showed, sideways, around the edge of the door. Her shining hair with its white-gold highlights swung free and the tiki god’s eyes followed its swaying mass.
Now, when he didn’t answer her, she jumped into the gap. "I apologize, Mr. Kahana. I’ll meet you in the lobby in fifteen minutes," she said hurriedly and tried to close the door.
He deftly slid one large white running shoe into the gap and his soft-timbered, deep voice took on the patient tone of a keeper. "Open the door. I can brief you while you get ready."
He was using cop talk already. What a great start to this day, she thought to herself as her gaze skipped from his face to his foot. "Okay. If you’ll remove your size twelve, I’ll remove the chain. That’s how it works." She mimicked his long-suffering tone perfectly. Then she added in a no-nonsense voice. "But first I want to see some ID, please."
His stormy look deepened, his mouth a thin line as he flipped open an ID wallet, sans badge. "By the way, it’s a fourteen," he said and slid his foot out of the gap.
She bit her lip in frustration as she closed the door to undo the chain. Some first impression he must have of her, his aunt’s hand-picked choice for her own nephew’s assignment. And now she’d smart-mouthed the man to boot.
She got her face in order and opened the door wide. "Come in. I’m really sorry, Mr. Kahana. The late Casey Ward, that’s me."
Suddenly conscious of her long, tanned bare legs and of his eyes on them, she backed away when he took two steps inside and closed the door behind him. He filled to overflowing the width and height of her tiny hall. She scuttled into the bedroom and left that door half open, since she would be out of his line of vision, so he could ‘brief’ her.
His growl followed her. "Yeah, and you just might be the ‘left’ Casey Ward."
She froze. How could he possibly know? she wondered for one wild, brief moment. Was ‘Luke Trace reject’ stamped on her forehead? When she finally understood his meaning, she mentally shook herself and got on with what she had to do, at warp speed.
He didn’t waste any time. She recognized the tone and lack of inflection in the words. It was cop talk again. Luke used to sound the same way when he filled her in on the few cases he decided to tell her about.
"Paul Malo is the controlling partner in the Lokelani Farms operation, a macadamia nut farm and cattle ranch on a small island off the coast of Kauai," he began. "Some weird stuff has been happening and he wants me to quietly check it out." By the fading then strengthening of his voice, she knew he was pacing around her small living room.
She paused to listen to his deep, soft tones. She liked his voice, kind of like being beat about the ears with great big feathers. When she caught herself standing still, she rushed through the rest of her morning routine. Lipstick and blusher would have to do. She simply tossed all her cosmetics, lotions, and scents into her overnight case.
The tee shirt went into the clothes hamper. She would cut it up for dust cloths when she got back. She stuffed a white sleepshirt with a gecko on the front into her case.
"How weird?" she asked cautiously as she pulled on the white cotton slacks she’d laid out the night before, after she’d showered and washed her hair.
He didn’t answer immediately and when he did his voice was muffled as though he was turned away from her and bending over. The family pictures on the end table, she guessed. Luke was not among them.
"Simple stuff at first. His partner, Kimo White, was swimming in the bay and his clothes disappeared from the beach shack. The same for the girl who works in the house and a young male guest who was with her. Then someone broke the tools that the workers use in the grove, and the saddle girths on three saddles were cut. Their foreman and ranch hands had falls. Luckily, they weren’t hurt." His voice told her he was standing upright now and he was close to her door. She glanced at the opening in alarm.
She hurriedly shrugged on a Hawaiian print turquoise silk shirt, and slid her feet into matching espadrilles. "The pranks are escalating, then."
"And then some. Paul called me this morning from Ohelo, the little town on the other side of the island. That’s where the only phone is located. Cell phones won’t work in the valley. Last night someone slashed the tires on the Jeep they use to get around the island."
She was tying her hair back from her face with a narrow turquoise scarf as she walked into the living room. "Does Paul Malo have any idea why this is happening?"
Christopher Kahana, after a quick but thorough inspection of her, effortlessly picked up her heavy suitcases that stood ready by the front door. "He’s hoping the ‘who’ will tell him the ‘why.’ I’m willing to look at it from either direction."
Casey saw warm approval in his startling eyes as his gaze skimmed over her. She felt her face grow warm in response. When they reached the street, she was equally aware of the sidelong glances he received from passing women, tourists and residents alike.
She couldn’t believe it when he stopped beside a beat-up old station wagon. She walked from the back end to the hood examining the peeling paint. "Is it contagious," she asked and grinned.
"I left my good car at home. She’ll get us where we’re going." He patted a fender. It moved.
Casey climbed in while he put her cases in the back with his. She watched in fascination as the door on the driver’s side opened and a large foot and one long, hard-muscled leg joined her, followed by the rest of him. For a big man he moved with an economy of motion.
The car was clean inside and the powerful engine was fine-tuned so that it thrummed when he turned the switch. He smoothly slid them into the stream of traffic.
"We’re going to be late anyway, so how about some breakfast? I’ll join you." He looked at her and, finally, smiled.
Casey blinked at the now-smiling tiki god. His white teeth and sky-blue eyes almost glowed against the contrast of his tawny skin. And, boy, did he have dimples. Mega. A girl could lose herself in them they were so deep. Suddenly, in an intuitive flash, she knew exactly what he had looked like when he was eight years old, and now that dimpled smile was an open invitation to join him in this adventure.
"Kona coffee, please," she managed in a voice that was almost normal.
Deep inside her something snapped, then opened wide. She felt the laughter of a child and her own love of life quietly pour into the void when she took a deep, cleansing breath. She’d given the faithless cop on the mainland all the head time he deserved, and then some. It was time to move on. She embraced her journey back to life, which was beginning now. She felt like a volcano that was about to erupt beside him on the seat.
She realized that Christopher Kahana didn’t have a clue about what was happening to her as he drove them through the sun-filled, morning-fresh streets of Honolulu to a shopping center. In an open courtyard cafe ringed with palm trees and other tropical plants, he ordered two breakfasts of macadamia nut muffins with sweet butter and a pot of Kona coffee.
She’d fallen in love with Kona coffee the moment she first tasted it. When their pudgy, red-haired waitress brought their meal, she immediately poured out two cups of the dark, steaming brew, sweetening and lightening hers.
Closing her eyes, she took three tiny sips, savoring each before swallowing. After the third sip she gave a little shiver of delight at its sweet richness. When she opened her eyes, Christopher Kahana was watching her closely, his beautiful lips slightly parted.
She put down her cup while she looked back. "So, we’re a couple trying to reconcile. What’s our problem?" One of the warm, tender muffins split apart with just the lightest pressure from her long fingers.
He gaze had dropped to watch her hands at their work and he looked up in surprise. He shrugged. "I don’t know. You’re just cover, a reason for being there, and in separate rooms. The pretense of spending time together will give me a chance to go everywhere, do everything, see everything. Paul wants to keep it low key until he finds out who’s doing this and why."
Thoughtfully, she buttered a piece of her muffin. "I refuse to be unfaithful. You were unfaithful. You’re an absolute hound when it comes to women. I really don’t know why I ever married you."
He gaped at her, a stunned expression on his handsome features. She watched him gather his wits and leap to his own defense. "I am not a hound when it comes to women," he declared in injured tones.
"We have separate rooms. We took off our wedding rings. It looks bad." She looked past him to their red-haired waitress with the overbite who stood frozen beside his chair, their bill clutched in her right hand. "And it’s all because you can’t keep your hands off redheads. They’re your weakness, and I refuse to dye my hair red or wear a red wig when we make love. That’s what set you off this time, Kit."
The waitress twitched and the movement drew his attention. He muttered something rude under his breath when he found the woman, agog, beside his elbow. He quickly told her they didn’t need anything else and grabbed the bill out of her hand. She reluctantly left them, casting glances over her shoulder.
He sent Casey a quelling look. "That was not funny. And my name is Christopher," he hissed at her across the table.
She allowed herself a devilish grin while she gave him a considering stare. "Too long."
He looked alarmed. "Chris, then."
"Too ordinary. You look like a Kit. Besides, Kit and Casey Kahana has a nice ring to it." She looked at him brightly over the rim of her cup as she sipped more of the delicious Kona brew.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You’re not going to be a problem, are you?"
She was a picture of wide-eyed innocence. "Me? I just like my ducks in a row, especially now when you’ll be lying through your teeth and I’m along for the ride. That’s not unreasonable, is it?" She smiled at him as if he really was eight years old and she was his patient partner in crime.
Frowning, he reached up and tugged on his left earlobe while he stared into his cup, as if the answer to what he was getting himself into might be written there. She noticed his cup was half empty, so she refilled it from the pot.
Apparently, he decided to take her reasoning at face value, her odd behavior as a temporary aberration. "You’re right about the rings. We’d better stop and buy a set."
"Size six. Tell me about yourself." When he didn’t answer immediately, she quickly added, "No big, dark secrets. Just everyday stuff. We’re not joined at the hip, you know. What if we’re apart and someone asks questions? I see you take your coffee as it comes."
When he decided to speak, the words were again in expressionless cop talk. He could have been reading off his grocery list to her. "My name is Christopher Allan Kahana. I’m twenty-nine years old. I was born on Kauai. My parents still live there, both teachers. I have three brothers and two sisters spread out all over the Islands. Besides Uncle Allan, who’s married to your boss Patty, I have an Uncle Matt on Hawaii, the Big Island. He has a ranch there.
"I was with the HPD six years. I was wounded two separate times in the line of duty and I’ve taken a leave of absence to decide whether I still want to be a cop.
"Not married, present company excepted, but I thought about it once." There was a little hiccup in his voice just there. "Favorite color, blue. I’ll eat almost anything except squid. I don’t smoke. I drink a little. I swear a little more. I sleep in my underwear. I boogie board, surf, and hike in my spare time."
When his voice stopped, he slowly leaned toward her, something in his eyes making her lean back. "If I tell you about me, you’ll tell me about you. That’s how it works," he finished quietly.
She felt her eyes open wide. Oh, he was good, throwing back her own words from earlier. This looks more and more like fun, she thought to herself, pausing to wonder where ‘wounded in the line of duty’ was located exactly on that long, firm, sturdy body.
A slow smile began as she leaned forward, her eyes boring into his across twelve inches of Hawaiian air. Now it was his turn to lean back one inch at a time.
She adopted his tone of voice precisely, or Luke’s, she wasn’t sure which. Kit Kahana was in her sights but Luke Trace was in her mind.
"As you can see, I take my coffee light and sweet. My name is Casey Anne Ward. I’m twenty-six years old. I was born in Washington state, a Navy brat. Parents dead. They hitched a ride on the wrong Navy transport plane. One brother, a computer systems analyst in Seattle. I moved to LA when I was 21, moved to Hawaii four months ago. Never married but I came close." Her voice ground to halt and she swallowed, despite her determination not to acknowledge the memory. His eyes narrowed but he didn’t comment.
She cleared her throat and continued. "I’m an executive secretary. A good one. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I swear mildly. Favorite color, turquoise, because it makes my eyes, which are blue-green, look turquoise. I’ve sworn off peanut butter, ask me when we know each other better." That was another memory that stopped her cold. She knew his eyes wouldn’t miss the color warming her cheeks.
"You know what I sleep in. All those things you do in your spare time sound physically painful. When I’m not working, I read, volunteer at a shelter for battered women, and I swim and walk a lot."
His eyes snagged hers, a question and a warning in them. "My aunt thinks very highly of you." he said softly.
She met his gaze with all the honesty and sincerity she could muster. "Point taken, Mr. Kahana. I like her, too. A lot. And I owe her a lot. I came here with just my clothes and no job prospects. Hers was the first temp service I tried because I liked the way Kahana looked in the telephone book--and I could pronounce it. She administered proficiency tests on the spot, hired me, and got me my apartment. And she didn’t ask any questions about why I was here with just my clothes and no job prospects." Her mind skittered around the reason it took her only two weeks to leave her old life and come to Hawaii.
"She put me to work right away and it’s been steady for four months. When I do something, I give it my best shot. And I’m loyal. I think she knows that by now."
He nodded, still holding the check in his hand. "Come on, Ms. Kahana. Time to fly."
He paused when she said, "I prefer Mrs. Kahana, if you don’t mind."
Window shopping in Honolulu was her only real vice. They started out side-by-side to walk to a jewelry store in the shopping center. Soon he was in the lead when her steps slowed so she could admire the many goods on offer. When he found himself walking alone, he strode back to where she stood goggle-eyed beside a display window, took her hand, and pulled her away. And he didn’t let go until they reached the jewelry store.
He stopped outside and dropped her hand. "No funny stuff in here, or so help me, I’ll do something you’ll regret."
"Promises, promises," she muttered. At his threatening look she said meekly, "Whatever you say, dear," and slid her hand back into his because it felt like it belonged there.
"And stop scowling like that," she whispered. "This is supposed to be a happy time. If I have to behave, you have to behave."
She pulled him inside then froze. A luscious redhead stood behind the counter, waiting to help them. Casey was aware of Kit’s eyes swiveling in her direction, but it was the intense, bordering on painful, pressure on her fingers enclosed in his that made her swallow her giggle and any reckless words that might follow on its heels.
He stepped up to the counter with her in tow. "We’d like to buy a set of wedding bands, please. Lower end of the price range. Sizes six and thirteen."
One of the woman’s arched brows rose into her forehead and she looked at Casey with pity in her eyes. Now that Casey was closer, she could see that the woman was pregnant and just starting to show beneath the attractive maternity dress she wore.
"Maybe something in sterling silver rather than platinum or white gold?" Casey suggested.
She felt Kit’s body tense beside her. He let go of her hand and casually circled her waist with his arm, pinching her lightly on her side.
She flinched. "We’re pinching pennies. On a tight budget," she said quickly when she felt his fingers move again, at the ready.
"I understand perfectly," the woman said, smiling and pulling a tray of silver band rings out of the display case in front of them. "Broad or narrow?"
Casey looked up at Kit, letting the decision be his.
In no time they had tried on the sterling silver rings, the woman rang up the sale, and Kit paid the bill.
The woman handed Kit the fancy little tissue bag with the ring boxes inside. "There you are, sir. Priced right for tight budgets."
Casey couldn’t resist when she heard the woman’s inflection and saw her false smile. "Thank you for your help." She placed both hands over her flat stomach. "I’m sure you understand how it is when there’s a baby on the way."
She saw Kit’s jaw go slack, so she threaded her arm through his and hurried him outside, the woman’s hasty congratulations floating along behind them.
"I’m sorry, Kit." She pulled him along beside her toward the lower level and the parking lot, where he could kill her in private. "I almost made it."
He was making noises like a tea kettle coming to a boil. "Almost doesn’t count!"
"Well, she thought you were being cheap, not thrifty, so-so I gave her a reason she could identify with," she finished lamely.
He pulled her into a niche with a bench that was tucked between two stores, then swung her around to face him. "Now listen to me, Casey Anne Ward. You will play it straight on Lokelani. Or I’ll--I’ll--tell my Aunt Patty."
She crossed her arms over her chest, laughter in her eyes. "Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll tell my big brother and he’ll come over here and beat you up."
His dismayed stare held her eyes. "I knew it. You’re crazy and my aunt doesn’t know."
Her smile vanished. Time to get serious and soothe his fears. "No, I’m not crazy, Kit. It’s just...well, I haven’t had much to laugh about for the past six months. And there’s something about you or this assignment, maybe a combination of both, that brings out the devil in me. Anyway, I apologize if I embarrassed you."
He let out his breath. "This isn’t a game. You do understand that? If you can’t handle it, I want to know right now."
She shook her head and caught her lower lip between her teeth. His intent stare moved to her mouth. "I’ll behave and I’ll play my part well. I promise to be an asset rather than a liability to you, boss."
He looked worried again. "Don’t go too far the other way, now. Be yourself, but with--restraint. Okay?"
She nodded and smiled gently. "Restraint in place, dear."
A subdued Casey sat quietly at his side as he drove them around Diamond Head and through affluent residential districts to a small airstrip.
A mechanic in greasy, cut-off bib overalls waved to them, and there was a uniformed cop sitting in an unmarked car. He got out and came over to them when they got out of the station wagon. She saw the long, curious look he sent her way.
Kit briefly introduced her to Officer Dan Hatala and Moki. He explained that Moki kept his plane and the station wagon in running order.
On his introduction Moki gave her that startling big Hawaiian grin. "Hey, Koa, she’s ready to fly," he said to Kit and gestured toward a plane sitting poised at the end of the short runway. Then he ambled away.
"What’s going on, Dan?" Kit finally asked the officer.
"Security is tight on all outgoing flights, especially from small airstrips like this. You hear on the grapevine about the big robbery two days ago?" he asked Kit.
Kit shook his head. "I’ve been off-island, Kauai way, visiting my folks. Just got back. What went down this time?"
"A priceless collection of carved jade figurines being transported in an armored car from a bank vault to a museum for a limited showing. We’re keeping a lid on this one for as long as we can."
"This makes the fourth major art theft in the city in two years, doesn’t it?" Kit asked.
Dan nodded. "Sorry, Chris, I’ll have to check your bags and the plane. Where you headed?"
Kit told him while he unloaded everything from the station wagon onto the ground. Casey opened her suitcases for the officer. She was surprised at how thoroughly he went through everything. Moki helped Kit unload the things that were already in the plane. Officer Dan did the same with those items then checked the plane itself. She noticed that the pile of cargo included four new tires for Lokelani’s Jeep.
The only thing that got any reaction or comment was the rings. Officer Dan raised his eyebrows when he opened the boxes in the jewelry store bag and saw the matching bands.
"Don’t ask," Kit said quickly, looking uncomfortable. "I’m on a private job."
The cop looked aside at Casey. "Yeah, tough work for guys on leave." He did a double take when she closed one twinkling eye in a broad wink.
Kit saw it and she waited tensely for his reaction. Had she gone too far? Was her idea of ‘restraint’ too loose for his tastes? He simply shook his head in silent surrender while the corners of his mouth lifted upward, then he changed the subject.
With a little smile to herself, she closed her suitcases and the three men loaded them and the tires into the cargo hold of the red and white plane. When they finally taxied away, she returned Dan’s and Moki’s shaka signs and was rewarded with two big grins.
She had quickly learned that the shaka was a side-stretched little finger and jutting thumb, with the three fingers in between folded against the palm. Presented with a twisting motion of the wrist, it meant ‘hang loose’ in the special language of Hawaii.
The lingering smile slid off her face when she realized they had lifted off. She gasped while Kit spoke briefly into the radio.
"Are you all right?" His eyes remained straight ahead.
She was ashamed of her tiny, breathless voice. "First time in a small plane. White knuckles and sweaty palms."
He glanced at her then. "It’s safer than a car. If you’re going to be sick, there’s a bag in the pocket on the side of your seat."
"I didn’t move to Hawaii to throw up," she came back at him. "I might even enjoy the ride. Eventually."
Fifteen minutes later she released the sides of the seat from her strangle hold on them and wanted to talk. "Why did Moki call you Koa?"
He smiled and she got half volume on the dimple in his right cheek. It was a shame to waste them on the windshield like that, she decided.
"I get the nickname because of my build. There’s a tree called a koa."
Nodding in agreement, her gaze slid down over him, taking inventory of his long, powerful limbs, wide shoulders, and hard-muscled body.
He continued. "A lot of Hawaiian words have two meanings. It also means ‘bold and fearless.’"
"And Lokelani, what does that mean? Sometimes I have trouble pronouncing Hawaiian words," she confided. "Your aunt gave me a book to study. It helped."
"Lokelani means ‘heavenly rose.’ There are only twelve letters in the Hawaiian alphabet. Just pronounce each letter in the word."
"Easy for you to say, Hawaiian born and bred. Oh, before we forget." She dug in the jewelry store bag for the ring boxes. She opened hers and slid the ring on. "Left hand, please" she told him. He let go of the yoke with his left hand and held it across his body. "With this ring, I give thee cover," she said and slipped it onto his ring finger.
"Let’s hope we blend in," he answered.
She put the ring boxes inside the bag and stuffed it into the pocket on the side of her seat. "You know, there are still things we need to discuss, things we should know about each other if we’re married."
She almost laughed at his cautious tone. "Well, unless you admit to being a cop, you’ll need an occupation. It has to be high income or we couldn’t afford to come here or rent or fly this plane."
He was quiet for a second. "The trip could be a present from a rich parent. The plane could be theirs."
She nodded. "Okay, a patch job by the in-laws, your side. You’ll still need a career. I can stick with mine. The less we invent, the better. How about owner of Kahana Temps, making plans to open branches on the other islands, maybe even the mainland? You can clear it with your aunt."
They used the rest of their air time to go over their stories, including details. For simplicity’s sake, they decided to use her four months in Hawaii as the length of their shaky marriage. Supposedly, Kit had met and married her in LA. They shared everything from where they had gone to school, to siblings’ names, to their tastes in music.
"Kauai, dead ahead," he said shortly after they fell into a companionable silence. "Have you visited the other islands yet?"
"No, I haven’t been off Oahu." Her voice sounded wistful even to herself. "I can’t afford it."
She was surprised at his response. "Well, the next time I fly to one of the other islands, I’ll give you a call first. You can come along for the ride. I’m sure I have a relative or two or six who would be happy to have you stay with them."
"Great. Thanks," was all she could think of to say.
They flew along a shoreline where lacy white waves gathered around the bases of green vertically pleated cliffs and edged golden, sandy beaches.
"The cliffs are called the pali," he told her. "Some of those valleys are so steep and narrow that only one person can stand in them, if they can get to them. Uluhe fern is all that grows on them."
Casey gazed, entranced, at the undulating folds with their green velvety covering. She turned in her seat and leaned closer to Kit to look out the window on his side. "It’s so beautiful, I could weep," she whispered.
At her quiet words, he suddenly turned his head in her direction. They were almost nose to nose.
She gasped and jerked back, surprised at the jab of fear she felt. She hadn’t been that close to a man in four and a half months, and she wasn’t in a hurry to change that. She saw the question in his eyes.
"Sorry," she muttered from her seat.
Kit eventually banked the plane away from the island and Casey held onto her seat again, despite the fact that she hadn’t unfastened her seat belt.
"That’s Lokelani up ahead in the haze," he told her.
It was farther away than it looked. As they slowly drew near, Casey drank in the beauty of the little island, a miniature version of the green-cliffed Kauai, but with lusher growth on the cliffs.
"The pali is all that’s left of the cones of two small volcanoes that formed the island. They surround the island and cut right through the middle. Lokelani Farms is on the other side of the island, in the crater of one of them. The little town of Ohelo is on this side, in the other crater," he explained to her.
She cleared her throat then spoke. "These volcanoes are extinct, right?" she asked carefully.
Kit laughed, a sound that startled her in a nice way, a sound as rich as her morning coffee, a sound he should make more often.
"So far, so good. They’ve been quiet for hundreds of years."
Casey scarcely heard because she had looked away from him to stare ahead. They passed over Ohelo and were flying straight at the pali on Lokelani. Although they cleared it with a couple hundred feet or so to spare, her stomach still felt as if she’d left it on the ground floor.
"Oh my," she heard herself say faintly, when she saw what was on the other side.
Roads of rich red earth outlined open grassy areas and circled a grove of dark-leafed trees on the crater’s patchwork quilt floor. A wide curve of white sand and a line of trees were the only things that separated the oblong, bowl-shaped valley floor from the vast Pacific Ocean.
They circled the valley, passing a long, low house just as the plane’s engine began coughing and cutting out with frightening regularity. Frowning, Kit fiddled with something on the instrument panel in front of him.
Casey watched, feeling the blood drain from her face as she gripped the edges of her seat, her parents’ deaths in a plane crash foremost in her thoughts.
After a short, steep bank, Kit settled the plane lightly on Lokelani Farms’ earthen runway.
"I’ll have to check into that," he said calmly, apparently unaware of the fear that still held her breath in a painful grip as they taxied to a halt. "I hear there’s a great lunch buffet for new guests. Macadamia nut cake for me. What will you have?" He cut the now belatedly smooth-running engine.
"An ulcer, I think," she croaked weakly. He stared at her, deadpan, until she added, "And two slices of cake, please."
Laughter danced through his eyes but never made it to his beautiful mouth where her wide-eyed stare ran aground. Against her will, her eyes took a bumpy ride across the chiseled peaks of his upper lip and finally came to rest on his full lower one.
A pickup truck pulled up beside the plane. With his eyes still on her, Kit’s left hand made a scrabbling sound on the door panel, searching for the door handle. Finally, he slowly turned away and climbed out. Casey, unfolding herself from her painfully tense position, eased open her door.
A small, slim man wearing jeans, a denim shirt, and a disreputable looking straw cowboy hat, ran to help her down. He grabbed his hat off his head when she finally stood on solid ground. His hair was brown with flecks of gray, and his eyes were warm brown.
"I’m Paul Malo. Welcome to Lokelani Farms," he said, extending his hand to Casey.
His handshake with Kit included a vigorous thump on Kit’s right shoulder. Casey saw him wince. The discomfort disappeared in a smile when he answered Paul’s questions about his parents, brothers, and sisters.
Kit introduced her as his associate, a.k.a. Mrs. Kit Kahana. Casey glanced sharply at him when she heard him easily use the nickname she’d given him. He gave Paul a thumbnail sketch of their cover story, ending by asking Paul to drop heavy hints about their strained marriage to explain their separate rooms and any tension between them.
"Any more trouble today?" Kit asked, opening the cargo door.
When Paul shook his head, Kit asked him for a complete rundown on the other inhabitants and guests of Lokelani Farms.
Casey offered to help with the luggage. Kit handed her the overnight case she’d packed that morning and told her to get into the truck. She set her case in the truck bed then leaned against the passenger side door so she could hear Paul’s voice.
"There are two guests with us, besides yourselves. Adam Hiroki is a friend of my partner Kimo White. He visits a couple of times a year. He’s the owner of Heavenly Chocolates based in California.
"James Dale owns a chain of travel agencies with his parents. He’s trying to convince me to allow him to bring small tours here.
"Malama is my housekeeper and has been with me for twenty years. Saito is my foreman. He’s been here for three years. Ilima helps Malama in the house. She’s from Ohelo and I’ve known her family all my life.
"There are two hands on the place. Harry is the newest, from Ohelo. Been here a year. Lono is from the Big Island and has been with me five years."
The men transferred the luggage and tires into the bed of the truck while Paul talked, Kit listened, and Casey eavesdropped. When they were finished, Casey climbed into the small truck’s cab and slid to the middle of the seat to wait, listening to the quiet around them. It was broken now only by an occasional word, the sounds of the sea and wind, and the cries of sea birds.
Kit climbed in and slid his left arm across the back of the seat behind her. It was close quarters so Casey hesitantly shifted sideways then reluctantly leaned into the curve of him, allowing more room for Paul to use the gear shift.
It was the first time their bodies touched, except for their hands. This was different, she noticed in nervous surprise. Very, very different. At five feet eight inches tall she fit against him as though his six-feet-four-inch frame had been molded and shaped just for her. Somehow his body felt warm and safe and comforting to her, yet dangerous, all at the same time.
She forced herself to relax against him. There would be times they would have to touch and she couldn’t nervously react every time they did. However, she diligently avoided looking at him after one upward glance showed surprise and a warm awareness in those startling blue eyes. And she was positive she felt his nose in her hair for one brief moment when the truck started to move.
The dirt of the road was as red as the exposed earth she’d seen from the air on the pali of Kauai. Long, thick green grass, swaying in the steady wind, grew right up to the edges of the road. Grazing groups of sleek, fat brown cattle broke up the expanse of green grass in irregular patterns. Paul, talking as they went, drove across a cattle grid that allowed the farm’s vehicles to cross over from the ‘inside’ road, inside the fence, to the ‘outside’ road, which ran parallel but outside the fence.
"Do the cattle just roam free?" she asked Paul during a pause in his running commentary.
He seemed pleased by her interest. "They do until we round them up to cull the herd. The fence separates the center of the valley from the edge where the house, grove, garden, and beach are. The beach path isn’t fenced because it’s too narrow and winding for cattle to walk.
"There are a couple of stiles in the fence, like in England, that we can climb over, and gates for access for the paniolos, the cowboys, and their horses, and metal cattle grids for the vehicles. This road outside the fence goes almost the whole way around the valley."
Off to their left, beyond the cattle and grass, Casey could see blue layers of sky and sea. Paul noticed.
"We have one of the loveliest beaches in the Islands. It’s wide, clean, and protected by a reef and a breakwater. Stay inside them, though, because there’s a wicked undertow just beyond."
Casey wondered why Paul Malo and his partner hadn’t sold out to developers by now. She had worked for one through Kahana Temps and she knew how persistent they could be. It would be a shame when it happened because Lokelani was as beautiful as it was peaceful.
Soon Paul turned off onto a short lane lined with palm trees and small, sweet-smelling pink, white, yellow, and red flowering trees. Casey looked at them with delight, lifting her face and closing her eyes while she drew a deep breath that was heavy with their strange, exotic scent. When she opened them, Kit was watching her intently. She quickly looked away.
"Plumeria?" she asked Paul.
"Right." Again, Paul seemed delighted with her. "Malama usually wears a lei made from them or has a blossom stuck in her hair."
The dazzling, alternating shadow patterns of solid palm then lacy-leafed plumeria made her senses swim. She caught steadying, tantalizing glimpses of the house through the greenery. At last, it appeared.
A wide, deep verandah protected by a sloping red tile roof provided deep shade for the three visible sides of the one-story house. Behind and soaring above it, like a folding curtain, was the green, sharply fluted pali. Paul drove the truck around a circular planting and parked at the foot of wide wooden steps.
Suddenly, weariness washed over her like a wave. Kit gave her his hand when she stepped out onto the hard brown pieces of material that covered the driveway. The ground beneath the trees was mulched with it also.
Then, something moving in the shadows of the verandah caught her eye. She turned toward it, the last movement before an eerie stillness settled over everything around her. Even the steady wind from the sea ceased its restless motion.
It was a woman, her brightly patterned red muumuu standing out from the shade as she glided to the center of the verandah. She stood six feet tall in her bare feet, because she wore no shoes, and she weighed at least three hundred pounds. Yet she floated forward as if she defied any force that bound her to the earth.
Casey felt herself moving toward the woman, up the steps, yet she wasn’t aware of giving her feet orders to climb them.
A creamy white and yellow plumeria blossom broke the coarse darkness of the woman’s hair and complimented the light brown shade of her skin. Over her right arm she carried two leis made from pink plumerias.
Casey’s gaze moved from the wide, mobile mouth curved in a peaceful smile, past the broad nose, to the shining dark eyes. Like a Hawaiian deity, Malama, for this was surely who it must be, opened her arms and Casey’s feet took her forward into them. It was an unnerving experience.
"Welcome to Lokelani," the woman said in a low-pitched, soft voice that rumbled beneath Casey’s cheek. She held Casey away from her, slipped a lei over her head, and kissed her on both cheeks. "I am Malama. Aloha, keiki. That means child," she whispered and looked Casey up and down until she squirmed. "You eat something then you sleep."
Casey blinked in surprise then nodded in agreement. "Thank you, Malama, for making me feel so welcome on Lokelani."
Three men came out of the house and lined up beside but a little astern of Malama. Casey felt Kit’s presence near her and, feeling shy, she was thankful he was there. He had gotten the lei treatment from Malama and was moving down the reception line, too.
"This is Kimo White, my partner," Paul said, introducing her to a silver-haired man with nut-brown skin.
Kimo White looked nervous and twitchy. He had bags under both eyes, and he wore a soft leather pouch of the same color around his neck on a thin leather strip. He was smoking a pipe full of sweet tobacco. His hand shook when he took the pipe out of his mouth to greet them and shake hands.
"And this is Adam Hiroki," Paul went on. "He owns Heavenly Chocolates in California."
Casey gave him her hand. "I’m familiar with your products, Mr. Hiroki. My mom was crazy about your Dream Creams and handed them out as if they were rationed. Now I buy a whole box just for myself."
Mr. Hiroki’s mouth spasmed in a quick smile and he shook her hand with a firm grip. He was short and chubby with sleek black hair and a tiny mustache, almost like a shadow, on his upper lip. She wondered if that was the best he could do or if he really wanted it to look like that.
He was casually dressed in white from head to toe so that he almost glowed. And he wore a cologne, something Oriental and thick, that went right to her sinuses and made them close ranks in protest. Her head pounded at first sniff.
But it was his eyes that held her in thrall. They were black and dead, cold and impenetrable, like a stretch of water after an oil spill.
The third man waited for her with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his stylishly baggy pants and with a cocky grin on his face. He wasn’t as tall as Kit, a good six feet to Kit’s six feet four, but slim and sandy haired, and altogether too handsome for his own good. His light blue eyes reminded her forcibly of her rogue ex-fiance.
When Paul introduced Casey to James Dale, the younger man raised her hand to his lips, watching for her reaction as he did so. It was more of a taste combined with a lingering kiss, and she knew he was trouble. Here was a true hound when it came to women. Luke Trace and even the fictional personality she’d slapped on poor Kit, would look like inexperienced puppies beside this master hound.
She withdrew her hand at the same moment she felt Kit’s arm drape possessively around her waist, making her jump. James gave Kit a perfunctory handshake, still smiling confidently.
Another man, an inch or so shorter than her but muscular, stood at the foot of the verandah steps. He wore jeans, boots, a plaid shirt and a Stetson. A huge belt buckle glinted in the afternoon sun. In it Casey could make out the shape of a squat, ugly tiki god. The man and the tiki were both short on smiles.
"This is Saito, our foreman," Paul told them.
He nodded to both of them and tipped his hat to her. "Welcome to Lokelani Farms," he said, his gleaming dark brown eyes watchful, yet taking in Casey from head to toe in a measured glance intended for her alone to understand. She felt her skin crawl before he turned away to unload the truck.
"Come inside," Malama said, making shooing motions at the men with her hands. "I have a late lunch for everyone then I show you your room. The bathroom is this way."
Skirting the others who were filing inside, Saito disappeared around a corner of the verandah, carrying several of their bags. Casey made a little sign to Malama, who was waiting for her, then hung back to wait for Kit.
Kit and Paul had wandered over to the edge of the verandah where it turned another corner of the house. They were looking at something and discussing it quietly. She walked over to them.
Sitting in the shade of a parking area was a bright yellow open Jeep with extra seats across the back and a canopy with a neat white fringe around it. It looked like a lemon with a lid. The jaunty little vehicle was sitting at an odd angle, however. It didn’t take her long to see why.
Its tires hung in cleanly cut ribbons on its wheels, like something with razor-sharp claws or teeth had sliced neatly through the heavy rubber, again and again and again.
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Lokelani days offer Casey more than she planned on, with
mysterious happenings anddownright danger, but it's those Lokelani Nights that steal her breath and reasoning away. This
is a story that brings the world of luscious Hawaii right to
your fingertips. Ms. Garner's descriptions make you feel as if
you are right there among the flora and fauna. A charming read." The Romance Studio, Barbara Hodges
"...a well written and fast paced story with believable
characters and settings. Very enjoyable!" 4 Stars! --Just Views
"Danger and romance are a dynamic combination and Lokelani
both." --Romance Communications
"...will have the reader on the edge of her seat." 4.5 stars! --Word Museum
"Ms. Garner paints a vivid picture of Hawaii while being careful
romance and mystery. The romance is hot, and the mystery is
tight, and all
is nicely wrapped up in a neat Hawaiian package." 4.5 stars! --Affaire de Coeur
"Oh, wow. ...I wanted to read it again. Right away. And I did. I
believe just how enjoyable those two were to read about. Great
great romance, and really, really great characters in the
-- Beverly's Book Sanctuary