The key to being a good investigator is having a keen sense of observation. My Uncle Bert had it. He honed it behind the counter of his tavern. He'd tell me, "Tommy, my boy, I can always spot 'em. That one's a whisky man. The next one is bourbon. And that one there is scotch." Nine times out of ten, he was right.
I learned a lot from ole Uncle Bert. While sweeping up the place and helping him keep track of inventory, I honed my observation skills. I learned how to watch without staring, smell without sniffing and listen without being too obvious. On a night like this, those skills are coming in handy because let's think about it. How inconspicuous can a guy be while doing a stakeout in a shiny, red Ferrari?
The pale, golden beams of moonlight shone down from the cloudless night sky, shining its natural light onto all it touched. The current center of attention for Thomas Magnum was the Anglo-Hawaiian Lineage Foundation, housed in a two-story office building. The building had the look of a house complete with shutters and a swing on the porch. Thomas guessed that it had once been a family home. Framed by orchids and other plants, the Foundation was able to maintain the building's homey appeal.
The Foundation's chairman of the board, Henry Akada, had hired Thomas to investigate a break-in that had occurred a few days before. According to Akada, nothing had been taken but the Foundation housed sensitive materials and he wanted assurance that his clients' privacy had not been violated. As well as being a cultural entity, the Foundation often assisted in genealogy research. Blue bloods and blue collars alike utilized them and Akada would not have the Foundation's reputation disgraced.
After conducting a thorough investigation inside the building, Thomas had decided to do the same outside. Just because the intruder hadn't taken anything the first time didn't mean that he--or she--wouldn't return for a repeat performance. Staking out the place from a semi-secluded spot behind a dumpster, Thomas had both the front and the back entrances covered. All he had to do now was sit and wait.
Five hours into the stakeout around ten o'clock, a dark figure appeared, lurking near the back door before stooping out of sight. The person was slight in stature and from Thomas' distance, he wasn't sure of gender or age. When the intruder disappeared from view, Thomas double-checked his firearm and then slid out of the Ferrari. Using the shadows as cover, he reached the back door right after as his prey had unlocked the door and slipped inside.
Thomas' nose twitched as the faint airy scent of perfume filled his nostrils. The soft, sensual fragrance lingered in the doorway and answered one question he had about the prowler: gender. Apprehending a woman would be a piece of cake, he quickly decided, as he followed her inside. But just in case, he released the safety and held the gun firmly in his hand.
He could have called out to her, stopping her in her tracks but instead, he hung back and watched her every move. No movement was wasted. She knew her way around the place and quickly entered the back office. When she moved behind the desk, Thomas raised his weapon and flipped the switch with his elbow. As light flooded the room, he called out, "Raise your hands and come from behind the desk."
Surprise and fear registered in her dark, brown eyes as she looked at him and the piece of iron in his hand. Her chin jutted upwards boldly as she shook her head. "No," she told him in a low, husky voice before she turned her attention back to the desk. Pulling violently on the handle of the middle desk drawer, she ignored both Thomas and his demands.
Amazed by her defiance, he simply stared at her for a moment. His eyes missed nothing as they roamed over her. He guessed that she was in her mid-to-late twenties. A plain, black baseball cap adorned her head, matching the black coveralls that she wore. Black, leather gloves stretched perfectly across her slender hands that worked furiously to open the drawer. Despite the masculine attire, her beauty was impossible to ignore.
Her café au lait complexion was smooth and creamy. Dark brown eyes radiated with intelligence and tenacity, but it was her sensual, full mouth that captured Thomas' attention. For a brief moment, he wondered if her lips were as soft as they looked. A few muttered oaths of frustration broke him from his reverie, reminding him of his responsibilities. Deepening his voice to sound tough, he said, "I tripped the alarm when I came in after you. Do you really want the cops to find you with your hands in the cookie jar? Come from back there and keep your hands up."
"You didn't trip the alarm," she told him calmly. She reached inside her pocket and pulled out a small velvet bag. As she pulled out a small silver pin, she continued to talk to him. "I'd know it if you did. Listen, I know why you're here," she said, working the pin into the lock. "They hired you to stop me." The lock clicked open and she focused her large, brown eyes on him, staring at him openly. "You can try, but you'd have to kill me to make me give up."
"They hired me to investigate a break-in and to prevent it from happening again," Thomas informed her as he engaged the safety and stuck the gun into the waistband of his jeans. "How do you know I didn't trip the alarm? And since I'm not gonna kill you, could you please stop going through that desk?"
"I know you didn't trip the alarm because you didn't have time to." She paused to look up at him. "You were right behind me the entire time. Also, the alarm can be tripped only at the receptionist's desk or the big ali'i's office next door. And no, I can't stop going through the desk. Not until I find what I'm looking for."
Indecision gripped Thomas. He knew that he should apprehend her, but he couldn't. Something held him back. And it was the same something that had stopped him from calling out to her. Maybe it was the aura of calm assurance that surrounded her. Or maybe it was the determined set of her jaw and the barely concealed rage that he saw reflected her in her eyes. Whatever the reason, he couldn't make the move to stop her. He wanted a few more answers first.
"What are you looking for," he asked, "and why would they hire me to stop you?"
"What you told me before about investigating a break-in...is that true?"
Thomas nodded. "Yeah."
"And they didn't tell you about me?" she further questioned, turning the tables on him.
Mildly irritated that his questions had been ignored, he shook his head. "No. Should they have?"
"I thought they would," she said more to herself than to him. "I thought Henry knew it was me. Maybe he didn't."
"So you know Mr. Akada?" Thomas asked, pleased to be in control again.
"Yeah, I know the sorry SOB," she muttered.
Thomas' impression of Henry Akada hadn't been too favorable either. The man tried to hide his ruthlessness behind a veneer of sovereign grace. Figuring that the investigation would be simple, Thomas hadn't allowed his impression to overrule his decision to take the case. Besides, he needed the money. Now, looking at the young woman and sensing that there was more to her story than what Akada had told him, the warning bells in his head sounded. Before he would raise a hand to stop her, he wanted details. "Maybe if you told me what this was all about...."
A wry smile lifted the corners of her full lips. The hardness in her eyes faded to reveal amusement. "Ready to switch teams so soon? What if I am a robber? What about the cops finding me with my hand in the cookie jar?"
"What about it?" Thomas countered. "It could still happen. Don't press your luck."
The laughter faded from her eyes as the smile disappeared. Chewing on her lower lip, she asked, "How do I know you won't kill me? For all I know, this is a set up. Akada could have hired you to trap me. To kill me."
"I'm a private investigator. I'm not a hired killer." Thomas raised his hands, revealing that he had no secret weapons, before he folded them across his chest. "I won't kill you. You have my word on it."
Her voice faded to a hushed stillness. "That's what Kevin used to say."
She looked away, but not before Thomas noticed that her eyes had suddenly become glassy with unshed tears. Keeping her gaze averted, she sniffled once or twice.
"He was my husband," she responded in a hoarse whisper.
"Was?" he repeated.
She nodded again. "Was. Kevin's car was forced off the road and into the Pacific. Akada was behind it."
Firm conviction sounded proudly in her voice. Thomas couldn't help but admire it. But what if she was wrong? "How do you know? Why would Akada kill your husband?"
"I know because I was in the car, too and so was our two-year-old son. I saw the license tag just before I was thrown from the car and I know that the car was Henry's. I don't know why Henry wanted to kill Kevin, but I know that Kevin feared him enough to grab our son and me and run," she explained. "I know that this desk was Kevin's because his initials are carved underneath it and I'm hoping that the proof I need is in here somewhere. So, I guess if you are going to kill me, now would be a good time to do it."
With her quiet confession, Thomas realized why he hadn't been able to stop her. He'd been where she was and understood her 'do or die' arrogance. His instincts about Akada could prove correct as well as his observation of her. The telltale signs of lying had been absent from her admission. Sorrow mingled with rage could not be so easily fabricated. Speaking quietly, he said, "I gave you my word."
Seeming to accept that, she murmured, "Very well then." She pulled the middle drawer free and dumped its contents onto the desk's clean surface. She then removed a secret panel and pulled out a sealed manila envelope. "This is it."
Partners in Crime
I know what you're thinking. I won't say you're wrong exactly, but you're not necessarily right either. I mean, sure. She's sitting here in the Ferrari beside me and I'm dropping her off at her place because her car wouldn't start... Yeah, I know that I'm walking a fine line here, but my gut says that it's gonna be worth it.
And if I can't trust my gut, what else is there?
A single-story frame house complete with a white picket fence and a colorful array of flowers, ranging from orchids to birds of paradise surrounded it, sat in the middle of a cul-de-sac. Glancing at the quiet woman beside him, Thomas wondered if she would continue to live and raise her son there. Or if the envelope she clutched in her hands didn't contain the answers she wanted, she'd pack up and move on. But he already knew the answer to that one. She was determined to find the truth no matter what it took.
"Thanks for the lift," she said as the Ferrari rolled to a stop in front of the adjacent garage.
"No problem." Thomas turned off the engine and climbed out of the driver's seat. He strode around the car to open the door for her. Under the faint glow of the street lamp, a blush colored her tawny cheeks to faint dusty rose as Thomas extended his hand to her. A tingling sensation coursed through him as her fingertips skimmed the palm of his hand. His breath caught in his throat and he coughed to dispel the awkward moment.
"I think we put everything back. No one should know that I was there. I was a little careless and nervous the last time. If anything should come of this," she said, indicating the still sealed envelope, "I won't mention your name. Henry's vengeful. I wouldn't want him to come after you."
"I can take care of myself," Thomas assured her.
She nodded. "We always think that until something happens that makes us question our abilities. Even so...this night never happened. Thank you again."
She stepped around him to go towards the stone walkway that left a trail from the garage to the front door of the house. Thomas fell into step beside her and nearly stumbled when she stopped abruptly and stared at him.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm seeing you to the door," he explained. "Not that I'm questioning your ability, but I figure that it'd be better to be safe than sorry."
"Touché," she murmured, accepting his offer with a slight nod of her head. "Here's the key, Sir Galahad."
"Thank you." He took the key from her and proceeded her up the walk.
After removing his firearm from the waistband of his jeans, he inserted the key inside the lock. Moving cautiously, he opened the door and stepped inside. She followed him in and closed the door behind her. The click of a light switch echoed in the dark room. Two lamps came on and Thomas left her in the living room as he checked the rest of her house.
The house possessed an air of silence and mourning. The atmosphere wasn't foreign to Thomas, as he knew a good deal about both. Time healed most things and he wondered how she would fair with that prescription. Would it take years for her grief to subside, fading into her past instead of invading her present? He had needed almost three decades to come to terms with his father's death. He hoped for her sake, and maybe his own, that she would need less time than that to come to term with Kevin's demise.
Thomas' movements were quiet as he searched each room carefully. The master bedroom and its adjoining bathroom appeared to be untouched. Pausing for a moment, he looked at a silver-framed photograph of the woman and her husband, Kevin. The picture was possibly a wedding photo or taken in celebration of some achievement as the couple were dressed very nicely. Kevin's white suit complimented his tan, Hawaiian features. The smile on his face was wide with pride and the arm he curved around her shoulders seemed strong and possessive.
Her smile shone just as brightly as Kevin's did. Berry-colored lips parted to reveal even white teeth. Curly brown hair brushed against her heart-shaped face. The ivory strapless dress curved against her shapely body and accented her smooth bronze shoulders. She leaned against Kevin as if there was no place she'd rather be.
Another framed photo rested on the nightstand. Inside was a picture of a baby who laughingly revealed two small teeth. The child resembled the woman and the man in the other photo and Thomas surmised that this was a photo of their son. The baby was beautiful and had the best of his parents' features—large brown eyes, high cheekbones and a button nose. He'd be a real heartbreaker when he was a little older.
Thomas left the master bedroom and continued his search in the adjoining nursery and bathroom. When he didn't find anything amiss, he joined her at the dining room table. He wasn't surprised to find the envelope unopened and her fingers clenched in her lap as she stared at it.
He coughed softly to announce his presence without startling her. Then he said, "Everything seems to be fine. No one's here and I don't think anyone has been here."
"They wouldn't come back here. They did their damage while I was in the hospital."
Thomas sat down and quietly asked, "What happened?"
"When I came home from the hospital, this place looked like a hurricane had swept through it. The cops tried to explain it as a burglary attempt, but I knew better. They were looking for something and tore up our home to find it. They didn't know that they had everything they needed all along." She rested her hand on top of the envelope. Smiling at him, she said, "I feel like I've given you my life story and I don't even know your name. I'm Jolie Ikawa."
Thomas shook the hand she extended towards him. "Nice to meet you, Jolie. I'm Thomas Magnum."
"I thought you looked familiar. I've seen your name in the papers. No wonder Henry hired you. You're good at what you do...or so the papers say," she said, continuing to smile.
"Or so they say," Thomas shrugged. He felt warm under the weight of her unwavering gaze. Her smile unnerved him even as it drew him to her. Normally, he kept himself in check around strangers but as the minutes passed, he relied more heavily on his instinct that screamed to him of her integrity. He slid his chair closer to hers. "I saw the pictures back there. You and Kevin...and your son... He's a very handsome little boy. Is he staying someplace safe while you're looking into this?"
Her smile faltered slightly. Her fingers trembled as she took hold of his hand. "Mr. Magnum, my son is in a very safe place. Charlie is with his father. I am the only survivor of Henry's attack on my family."
A parent's love for her child is a remarkable thing. Warm, comforting, and protective. A child will bask in the glow of that love, never afraid that her love will fade or disappear. But there is another side to parental love, a darker side. It can be almost violent in its intensity and infinitely ruthless should any undue harm come to that child. Although I may never know for certain that Lily is mine, I will always love her as if she were. And I can certainly understand what Jolie is feeling. She still loved her son and desperately needed to protect him. Even after death.
The sun rose in bursts of orange, red and pink over the Pacific Ocean. Inside the frame house with its white picket fence, Thomas listened as Jolie talked through the night and into the morning. Some of what she said was irrelevant to the case. Kevin liked working with wood and had been working on a wooden train set for their son. Charlie loved to sing "Row, Row, Your Boat" and would often follow Jolie around the house, singing at the top of his lungs. Jolie was ticklish and both Ikawa men loved to wake her up with pokes and squeals of laughter. The family she described made Thomas smile and saddened him, too. By the time Jolie excused herself to dry her tears behind closed doors, he had already decided to help her.
When she returned, he informed her of his decision. To his surprise, she didn't try to dissuade him. They agreed to meet later at the guesthouse. He gave her directions to Robin's Nest and left. It was only after he had showered and crawled into bed that he realized that the envelope still hadn't been opened. He fell asleep wondering what secrets it held and hoping that the proof Jolie needed would be inside.
"I'm not your answering service," the older man quickly informed Thomas before he could say more. "You have an answering machine. T'would be helpful if you would use it."
"I do use it!" Thomas sidestepped the Dobermans as he entered Higgins' study. He sat down on the soft, leather sofa and while eyeing the plate of scones that were just within reach on the coffee table, he asked, "Who called?"
"Rick, TC, and Carol for starters."
"What did they want?" Thomas asked. A rumble erupted from his stomach and he decided that he couldn't resist the scones, butter and jam a moment longer.
Rolling his eyes, Higgins watched as Thomas helped himself to tea. "To speak to you."
"You didn't take their messages?" Magnum mumbled through a mouthful of food. "You said for starters. Who else called?"
"Henry Akada just rang. He was quite disturbed-"
"Did he say why?" Thomas abruptly stood up, ready for bolt for the door. Visions of further retaliation on Kevin Ikawa's widow flashed before his eyes. He had to warn her.
"He wanted to know if there was resolution to your investigation. Really, Magnum, the man is chairman of one of the most prestigious organizations on the island. I would expect you to treat his inquiry with more respect-"
"Higgins," he interrupted through gritted teeth, "did he say anything else? Has there been another break-in or anything like that?"
"I thought you had the place under surveillance last night."
"I did," Thomas said, irritated by Higgins' close scrutiny. "Something came up and I wasn't able to stay there the entire night. If something happened after I left..."
Higgins shook his head. "He made no mention of further vandalism. Magnum, when I recommended you to the Foundation, I had hoped you would be more responsible-"
"I am being responsible!" His voice rose an octave in indignation. "Something came up that required my immediate attention. If there was no sign of a break-in, I don't see how this is a problem."
"What came up?" the older man demanded to know.
"How well do you know Henry Akada?" Thomas countered.
"He is a man of impeccable credentials and contributes to many of the Island's charities. He has strong ties to Hawaii and can trace his family back to King Kamehameha-"
"I didn't ask you about his credentials and lineage, Higgins. How well do you know the man? Do you like him?"
Frowning, Higgins sat back against his chair. "Do I like him?" he repeated. "No. No, I don't like him. He's arrogant and uses his position in the community to further his own agendas."
Confident that Jolie's and his actions at the foundation hadn't been discovered Thomas relaxed. Sitting down again, he reached for another scone. As he prepared it, he asked Higgins more questions. "What kind of agenda?"
"An agenda that propels him further into certain restricted organizations...as the saying goes." Higgins rose from behind his desk. He paused for a moment to stare out of the terrace doors. His hands were linked behind his back and without turning to face Magnum, he asked, "Why are you asking about Akada now after you've taken this case? Have you discovered something about him?"
"I can't really go into the details, but I have good reason to believe that he might have been involved with a murder. I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention this to anyone."
Higgins turned to face Thomas at the mention of murder and moved to stand in front of him. "Agatha volunteers at the Foundation. Is she in any danger?"
"I don't know. It might be better if she called in sick until I find out more."
The older man nodded in understanding. "I'll ring her straight away."
Thomas stood up and headed towards the door. Behind him Higgins picked up the telephone receiver and then something clicked. "Higgins," he said, moving to face the man. "You mentioned restricted organizations. What did you mean by that?"
"Mind you, this is all conjecture, but I have heard mention that there is a group whose members must have proof of lineal, blood line descent from the King Kamehameha line to belong. Similar to the Daughters of the American Revolution, I believe. At any rate, Akada is deeply immersed in this organization and seeing that it is recognized as a powerful entity. He also vehemently opposes any union that would blemish the authenticity of the blood line."
"Is he a racist?" Thomas asked with a frown. He thought back to the framed photograph of Jolie and Kevin. In Akada's eyes, their marriage would have been in direct opposition of his beliefs and their son would have been living proof of their union's success.
"I believe he considers himself a purist," Higgins told him.
"And you associate yourself with this man?"
"I believe in the necessity in knowing and understanding one's ancestry," Higgins explained. "However, I do not believe in radical notions of preserving a specific bloodline. It is impossible to declare that race, religion or creed should be the determining factor in matters of the heart. The Anglo-Hawaiian Lineage Foundation has done good work for the community and has aided many in their search for answers to questions about their forefathers. My association with the man begins and ends there."
Thomas nodded as he turned towards the door. "Thanks."
"Yeah?" he asked without turning around.
"Should you require further information...or assistance..."
He smiled. "I know. Thanks, Higgins."
As Thomas headed back to the guesthouse, he glanced at his watch. He had time to make a few phone calls before Jolie arrived. By the time she arrived, he hoped to have more information to add to the table. He'd have to return his friends' calls later. He knew they'd understand.
The first person he called was Agatha. Since she volunteered at the Foundation, she would have known Kevin. Maybe Kevin said something to her that could prove useful. "Hello, Agatha," he said with a smile that was sure to cross the airways and reach out to her. "This is Thomas. How are you?"
"Mr. Magnum. Why, hello!" she replied in her proper British accent. "I am well. I trust that you are, too, and Jonathan?"
"Oh, Higgins?" he repeated, responding to the concern in her voice. "He's fine. I was calling to ask you about the Anglo-Hawaiian Lineage Foundation. You know that I'm investigating the break-in..."
"Oh, yes," she said. "It was quite unfortunate and unexpected. There is nothing of any monetary value there. We were all surprised by the incident. Have you any leads?"
"I am not at liberty to say, you understand. I've reviewed the employees' files and I have a few questions. Do you think you can help me?"
"I can try," Agatha said. "I've been a volunteer with the Foundation for about a year or so. If the person was there during that time, I may know something. With whom will we begin?"
"Well, actually," Thomas said slowly, "I only have questions about one employee. His name was Kevin Ikawa. I understand that he was involved in a fatal car accident."
"Oh, yes," she murmured sadly. "It was most tragic. His small son perished along with him. His poor wife was in hospital for quite some time."
"Yes, from what I've gathered she was in the car with them."
"She was," Agatha agreed. "They were a beautiful family. I felt so dreadfully sorry for what happened. She is a very lovely woman and volunteered occasionally at the Foundation, too. Mr. Akada didn't seem too fond of her so her visits became less frequent. I often wondered if that led to the separation."
"What separation?" Thomas asked. He had begun to grab the discarded clothes that were strewn around the living room. Standing with an armful of shorts and shirts, he paused in the doorway to his bedroom.
"Kevin and his wife. He didn't speak about it, of course, but some of the others knew. It was quite possible that they were about to divorce when the unthinkable happened. The accident really was most unfortunate. Kevin was so young and so very generous with his time. The Foundation will not be the same without him."
I know what you're thinking and this time, you're right. In less than twenty-four hours, I'd become more involved than I should have and more affected by Agatha's revelation than I had a right to be. I shouldn't be concerned about the Ikawas' marital status prior to the accident. It really isn't any of my business. It shouldn't even matter to me, but it does. On one hand, I'm not unhappy to know that their marriage wasn't as airtight as I thought it was. And on the other hand, I am pissed that Jolie hadn't told me this herself. Of course, she has no reason to tell me. She doesn't know that I think she's beautiful and am attracted to her.
"Thanks again for the use of your shoulder last night." Jolie smiled her thanks as Thomas handed her a glass of pineapple juice. "I don't know what came over me. I hope I didn't embarrass you."
"I wasn't embarrassed," he responded quietly. He sat beside her on the sofa, twisting slightly so that he faced her. "It's understandable. I understand."
Thomas looked down at the envelope that rested on her lap. It was still sealed and its secrets were still safe. An odd silence settled around them and noticing it, Thomas looked up to find that she was watching him intently. As their eyes locked a vaguely sensuous light passed between them, electrifying the silence. Without so much as a gesture or an innuendo, the excitement of physical attraction crackled the air.
"Thomas..." she said softly as she leaned towards him. When she began to move, the envelope began to slip from her lap. He caught it before it reached the floor and handed it to her. "Thanks. As you can see, I still haven't opened it."
He nodded. "I noticed it. Maybe you're not ready to see what's inside."
"I'm ready," she told him. "I can't put this on hold any longer. I need to know because if it's not here then I have to look someplace else-"
"We'll have to look someplace else," he quietly said. "I want to help you."
"You really mean that, don't you?" she said. "I think I knew before you said anything that you wouldn't hurt me. After you left the house, I thought about the situation I had put myself in. If Akada had hired anyone else, I'm pretty sure that I'd be dead right now, too. Death doesn't really scare me anymore, but I want Akada to pay before it's my time to go. You know? I wouldn't rest too peacefully on the other side, knowing that he killed my child and nothing happened to him."
"Would you kill him?" he asked her.
She looked down at the envelope, running her hand across the sealed clasp. "I don't know. I think I could, but that wouldn't make me any better than him, I guess. It certainly wouldn't bring Kevin and Charlie back. And hemming and hawing won't give us any answers. Do you have a letter opener?"
"Sure," Thomas said with a smile. He rose from the sofa and headed to the bathroom. He grabbed the letter opener from the medicine cabinet and took it to her.
Her hands shook as she tried to insert the blade into place. Without saying a word, Thomas took both the opener and the envelope from her and broke the sealing for her. He then handed the envelope back to her. Giving her the privacy he felt she needed, he took the opener back to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. When he returned, the envelope was on the coffee table and a sheet of paper was in her hands. She held the paper out to him when he returned.
Frowning, he read the words that were on the sheet. "'Chattanooga-Choo-Choo'. Does that mean anything to you?"
The smile she gave him answered his question. "Yeah, I think it may be a lead. Remember the train set I was telling you about? Kevin named it the Chattanooga-Choo-Choo."
"Oh!" Thomas returned her smile. "Well, let's go."
At the end of most cases, I'm left in limbo. Not like the coma. This is different. Let me explain... I feel a sense of accomplishment when everything is resolved. It's over. I did a good job and my client is satisfied. I have money in my pocket and some bottles of Düsseldörf in the fridge. I can take pride in a job well done.
But then, there's the downside. The case is over. Done. Even though I'm a little concerned about whether or not I'll get another one, I'm still oddly tied to the old one. I guess it's the Sullivan in me coming out. The part that has a hard time with letting go. Maybe that's why I still keep in contact with a few of my clients and even consider a few of them as friends. Hell, maybe that's why I'm meeting Jolie for dinner at the King Kamehameha Club months after we found the proof to put Akada away for a very long time...
It turns out his ties to Hawaiian royalty weren't as 'pure' as he had claimed. While doing research for a client, Kevin had found that Akada's great-great-grandfather was a cousin to one of the Big Five who had helped to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy many years ago. Apparently, Akada decided that the secret of his true ancestry was more important than Kevin's life.
"Thomas? Is that you?" TC questioned with a teasing grin when Thomas joined him and Rick at the bar.
"The height's right, but the clothes are all wrong," Rick added. "Check out these threads. A jacket, a tie and the jeans are pressed."
"Maybe he's going on a job interview." TC laughed. "Hey, Rick. Maybe he's meeting with the board and he's going after your job."
TC and Rick both laughed heartily at their jokes. Even Rosene, acting as bartender, chuckled softly as she passed a beer to Thomas and a glass of juice to TC.
Thomas frowned at all of them. "Now, cut that out. I'm meeting someone here tonight and I expect you all to behave yourselves."
"Well, excuuuuuse me, Thomas." TC could barely hide the smile on his face as he raised his glass to his lips.
"I'm always on good behavior. I manage this joint," Rick informed him with a straight face. He laughed again when Thomas' frown darkened. "Seriously, what's up with the fancy duds? Who are you meeting? You didn't give me a name when you called to make reservations-"
"He made reservations, too?" TC sputtered with a chuckle.
"I'm beginning to wish I hadn't," Thomas mumbled. "Listen guys, I'm meeting someone here and would like for this to be an enjoyable evening for both of us. She's been through a lot and well, I just want her to have a good time."
TC's laughter faded and he nodded his head. "Okay."
"Is she pretty?" Rick asked, his eyes sparkling with interest.
"She's beautiful," Thomas answered softly.
TC's eyebrows raised at that, but he didn't say anything. Rick refused to be silent. "So, is this a date?"
"C'mon, Thomas. You haven't gone out in a while. Of course, we're concerned. We're your friends," Rick explained. "How well do you know this woman?"
"I know her well enough to know that I'd like to get to know her better," Thomas answered him. Movement near the entrance to the restaurant caught his eye, proving that his instincts were on a roll where Jolie was concerned.
She stood in the opening, looking even more exquisite than she had in the framed photograph. For their dinner, she wore an amazing dress. It was black, short and as sexy as it was tasteful. Her dark brown curls were pulled back from her face and diamond stud earrings sparkled in her earlobes. Black hose clung to her shapely legs, and when their eyes met and she smiled, Thomas' mouth watered.
Not taking his eyes from her, he set the bottle of beer on the counter. "There she is guys. Remember best behavior."
She came towards them then. Her gaze remained locked on Thomas. When she reached him, she took his hand and said, "Hello."
"Hi," he murmured. Lost in her, he forgot about his friends until they both started to cough. He pulled his gaze from her and looking at his friends, apologized. "Sorry. Jolie, I'd like for you to meet TC and Rick. They won't be joining us."
The beach at Robin's Nest was well lit by twinkling stars and beaming moonlight. Walking barefoot through the sand, Thomas held Jolie's hand as he led her to his favorite spot. Their dinner had been pleasant and fun. Neither mentioned Akada, preferring to focus on getting to know each other. Jolie laughed as Thomas told her funny stories about some of his cases and Thomas listened intently as she told him about her aspirations to be a chef. When Kai appeared with the check, Thomas quickly asked Jolie if she'd like to go for a stroll along the beach. She said yes and there they were.
"This is nice," Jolie commented looking out at the rolling surf before looking up at Thomas. "You must love living here."
"It's Paradise," he replied. "If it weren't for the dogs, it would be perfect."
"Dogs?" she repeated. She squeezed his hand as she stopped walking. Looking around, she asked, "What dogs?"
"Two Dobermans. Don't worry," he said, gently cupping her face with the palm of his hand, "I won't let them near you."
"I'd appreciate that," she said with an embarrassed smile.
"This is it." Thomas shrugged out of his jacket and placed it on the sand. He gestured for her to sit and then settled beside her. "From here, you can get the full effect of the sunrise."
"We'll be out here that long?" she asked with a teasing smile.
"I hope so," he replied honestly. She took his hand and pulled it into his lap, lacing their fingers together. He looked down at their hands and admired the perfect fit. Closing his other hand over hers, he asked a question that had bothered him for months. "Why didn't you tell me that you and Kevin were divorcing?"
"I was scared."
He frowned. "Of me?"
"No," she said, shaking her head. "Of me. On the night we met, I looked at you and that gun and I knew that you had the power to change my life forever. Lucky for me, it turned out for the better... I was attracted to you, Thomas, and I was afraid of it. Kevin and I met in Vegas on a Sunday and by Saturday, we were married. The whirlwind is incredible, but the fallout can be painful. I needed to face what happened to Kevin and Charlie before I could even consider your effect on me. I used Kevin as a buffer, and I apologize for that."
He had prepared himself for many different answers, except for the one she gave him. The attraction was mutual. They both had known that and had ignored it until now. With it out in the open, Thomas was relieved and encouraged. Leaning towards her, first he kissed the tip of her nose, then her eyes, and finally, his mouth covered hers hungrily. Jolie's mouth was as soft as he imagined and the kiss lingered until they were both out of breath.
"Oh, boy," she murmured after a few moments.
He brushed his mouth against hers again before moving to sit behind her. His back rested against a large rock and he encircled her within his arms so that her back rested against his chest. She sighed as he placed a kiss on top of her head.
"When Henry threatened Kevin," she said speaking softly in the quiet stillness of the early morning, "his first thought was protecting Charlie and me. Even though our marriage didn't quite work out right, our friendship was tight. We were best friends. I don't think I'll ever love anyone quite the way I loved him..."
"I know," he murmured, his arms tightening around her. Her relationship with Kevin reminded him of the one he had with Michelle. Whenever she called, he would come. There were no second thoughts, no hesitation. If she needed him, he was there. A bond like that voided out second thoughts. A man couldn't resist that kind of draw even if he wanted to. He never had and it seemed that Kevin hadn't either.
"It's your turn," she said, turning her head so that she could look up at him. "They say that confession is good for the soul."
Thomas smiled as he kissed the tip of her nose again. "I don't have anything to confess."
He bent forward to claim her lips, but she moved, dodging his attempt to kiss her. "Not yet," she told him with a smile. "Maybe confession is the wrong word, but I can see that you're hurting. I'd rather that whatever happens between us would be more than just sex between strangers who care about each other."
"We'll become lovers?" he asked, giving her his most devastatingly charming smile.
"I hope so." She curved within the circle of his embrace until she was more on his lap than between his legs. Resting her head in the curve of his shoulder, she sighed contentedly as his hand stroked the silky length of her thigh. "Thomas, I am enjoying what you're doing to me..."
"Good because there's more..."
"But," she said as removed his hand from her thigh and held it, "it would be better for both of us if there was more healing and less hurting. You don't have to tell me everything that's ever happened to you if you don't want to. I can it make easy for you. You can tell me about the one who got away."
Tears stung the back of his eyes at her innocent request. Swallowing hard, he looked towards the pink fireball that peeked from the horizon. The sun was preparing itself to open up. Maybe he should do the same. Resting his gaze on her again, he asked her in a husky, teasing whisper, "And…then?"
The soft pads of her fingertips caressed the dark stubble along his jawline. "Yes. And then."
Smiling faintly, he tightened his hold around her. He rested his chin against her forehead and spoke quietly as the sun began to rise. "Her name was Michelle...and later, there was a little girl named, Lily..."