Authors: L. j. Charles
He came up behind me, rested his hand on my shoulder, and gently turned me toward him. "You can’t avoid this."
I sucked in a deep breath. "Oh, yes, I bloody well can. I can go back to North Carolina. Forget this whole Hawaii thing, and keep my grandmother safe."
He blocked the doorway into my room.
Intimidation didn’t work well for me. Not even when it was Pierce. Especially when it was Pierce.
I crossed to the balcony railing, looked down and slipped a leg over the edge. It made a great exit as far as escape routes went. Lots of finger and toeholds.
Strong hands caught me around the waist. "What the fuck do you think you’re doing?" he asked, hauling me back into the room.
I twisted out of his grasp and rammed my fist into his face. Pain shot through my knuckles. "Ouch! Oh, holy shit, I hit you." I stuffed my shaking hands into the deep terry pockets of the Ma Kai robe.
I ignored the blood trickling from his nose. "I was exiting the scene—" I hiked my thumb over my shoulder— "stage right."
He swiped at the blood and mumbled something in a strange language.
Should have scared me.
I grinned, snatched the folder from under his arm, and poured myself another glass of wine. I couldn’t afford to be predictable around Tynan Pierce.
There were no surprises about my background stuff—where I lived, what I did, my finances—all of that was routine. But the information about my parents was worse than I imagined, including details about their personal relationship, where they’d traveled, who they'd worked with and talked to.
And it was still incomplete. Didn’t tell me a thing about what my mother discovered, or what she was hiding from the government, which meant they didn’t trust me. Not surprising, but it put me firmly in the suspect category.
I tried to keep my face expressionless as I read, because a twinge of suspicion niggled in the back of my mind. It wasn’t but a few months ago that I’d learned my mother had hidden a box containing a toxic substance, had left it for safe keeping with Mitch’s brother-in-law's mother. It was a convoluted trail, but one that might well trace back to Pierce's invasion of my space.
No matter what, I couldn’t allow the doubt to show, not with so much as the flicker of an eyelash. I tucked the papers back into the folder and set it aside, then met Pierce’s gaze. "The bottom line, as I understand it, you want me to lead you to my grandmother."
He nodded. "To insure her safety, El."
I held up my hand, done with words. Especially with anything a government agent had to say. "We’ll discuss it tomorrow. Go away. I’m going to bed."
I woke to the sound
of the surf, and had a moment of fuzzy panic before my brain cells registered my location, and I was able to kick free from the heavy terry robe trapping my legs. I made a pass through the bathroom, and then wandered outside to watch my first Hawaiian sunrise.
It must have been too early for the beach crowd because the shore was empty except for a few dedicated walkers. I leaned against the wall and soaked up the sun beating down, warming my face. Pierce had thrown a volley of curve balls at me, and if I had any chance of leading him—make that The Government—away from my grandmother, I was going to need all my strength.
Best to start with breakfast. For two. I pushed away from the support of the wall, phoned for room service, grabbed some clothes, and headed for the shower.
Pierce strolled into my room as I stepped out of the bathroom. He was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and… "Are those flip flops on your feet?" I pointed to the brown leather sandals.
"Slippahs. You’re in the islands now, yah."
"You seem to be right at home."
"I’ve done some time here."
I raised my brows.
He gave me a shrug and headed for the door. "Breakfast?"
"Done. Should be here any minute."
"What’s next on your list?" His gaze trailed over my body.
"You’re gonna be hot unless you lose the jeans."
A rap on the door signaled the arrival of breakfast and gave me time to think.
"Food first, then shopping," I said, tipping the waiter.
Pierce caught my arm, and then wheeled the room service cart back into the hall. "I’ll treat you to a Hawaiian breakfast, and your first cup of Kona coffee. The hotels on Waikiki serve tourist food. It’ll kill you."
I figured he probably knew about the food since he had first-hand knowledge of the local dress code, and in this case it was probably best for me to follow along. He led me to a hole-in-the-wall cafe around the corner from the hotel, and ordered fresh fruit and steamed rice for two.
They’d put a couple hunks of unidentified meat alongside the fruit. I wrinkled my nose, pushing it aside. "What?"
He grinned, a flash of white teeth. "Spam. Island staple."
"Seriously? Now that stuff
And then I took my first sip of the coffee. Rich. Decadent. "It’s almost perfect," I said.
Pierce frowned. "Almost? It's Kona."
"It needs a dash of cinnamon."
He groaned. Pierce never says much of anything, and I’m
not good with quiet, but I managed to remain silent throughout the rest of the meal. It would be stupid to blurt out all the random thoughts careening through my head. No telling what I might say that would interest the government. Indigestion loomed.
He slid his hand into mine as we left the restaurant and intertwined our fingers. I started to tug free, but when images began to paint my internal video screen, I changed my mind. There were bits and pieces from his last job. Looked like it was in a jungle. "Central America?" I asked, trying to gage why he was deliberately offering me this invasion of his privacy.
He nodded, easing his hand free. "Not what I thought you’d pick up."
I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, and faced him. "You thought I’d see a specific image? It doesn’t work that way, Pierce. The touch-ee can’t decide what my fingers will see. They can influence it, maybe, if there's a strong emotional connection, but even I can’t decide what my fingers will pick up from someone."
I turned to cross the street, and there it was.
Staring me in the face.
I’d woven through four lanes
of traffic to reach the shop, and was thumbing through racks of clothes before Pierce caught up with me. Cinnamon was my all-time favorite flavor, and a clothing store named Cinnamon Girl had to be the best thing ever.
Made my toes curl.
And that made me think of Mitch. My guy. Who wasn’t around much, and probably the reason I allowed Pierce to get too close. He was safe in an odd sort of way. Unlike Mitch, who wanted a relationship, Pierce wouldn’t even consider getting emotionally involved with a woman. Too risky. Too dangerous. Which made him a good guy to hang out with while Mitch and I decided what to do about our relationship. But it was difficult, being so conflicted about the men in my life.
I clung to the pang of loneliness that came with missing Mitch, then shook it off and whipped out my phone. I sent him a text message while I sorted through a rack of dresses. No way could I afford to dwell on the emptiness he left behind when he traveled on assignments. Photography was a big part of his life, and loving him included accepting the downside of his work.
I babbled on with the sales girl as I selected a few dresses, shirts, and skirts to try on. The shop was about as big as a minute and Pierce didn’t fit. He'd stuck his head in once, and then backed out quicker than a gecko nabbing a mosquito.
Every once in a while I checked on him, standing in front of the shop, arms crossed, watching the world through his shades—a poster bad boy. I was going to need a hell of a plan to find my grandmother while successfully keeping him as far away from her as possible. I did a philosophical mental shrug. There wasn’t a convenient way to lose him while I was in the Cinnamon Girl shop—not with my arms full of clothes and no back door.
I was definitely going to need help with this. First, I’d need to lure him into a comfortable mental place that would quiet his super spy instincts. That part I could do alone. Step two would be dicey and required reinforcements. I slipped my cell out of my pocket and pushed speed dial for Annie.
She gave me a typical greeting. "Where the hell are you?"
Dead silence. Guess I’d surprised her. That almost never happened, and I had a moment of pure thrill that I’d slipped something through the Annie radar.
"Right." The steel in her voice could have sliced through a stack of bricks. "Keep talking."
"I found a letter—" My throat clogged with tears.
"Well, hell. Must be connected to your folks. You need me to catch a flight?"
"Yeah. Pierce is here," I whispered, sliding a look to where he stood. His cell was cradled next to his ear and he wasn’t watching me. Hmm. Reporting on what I was doing, maybe? Nope. His attention would still be focused on me, no matter what else was going on, unless…had he…?
"Well, shit." Annie’s voice cut through my thoughts. No one knew the amount of trouble Pierce could cause better than Annie.
"Yeah," I agreed. "That about sums it up."
"I’ll see what kind of transport I can pull. You
have to be half way around the world. It’s going to take some sweet talkin’ for me to grab a military flight."
"Wouldn’t commercial be faster?"
"Did Pierce beat you there?" she asked. It was a statement more than a question.
"Yeah. I wondered how he did that."
"The government. Sneaky organization." Having confirmed my thoughts on the subject, she rang off.
I strolled out of the shop in a white sundress with a pale green design. It suited my mood with its full, swishy skirt and spaghetti straps, plus the breeze floated under the fabric and cooled my legs. Next stop would be a shoe store so I could arm myself with several pairs of slippahs. It was definitely time to go native.
An hour later, big, bad Pierce ushered me into my room at the Ma Kai and watched while I stored my purchases. It was good to have Hawaiian clothes, but I hadn’t made any progress on a plan to slide under his radar and find my grandmother.
Time to throw him off balance. I picked up the room phone and made an appointment at the hotel spa for a manicure and pedicure. Pierce’s expression remained bland. Not even a flash of annoyance escaped those azure eyes as he listened to me arrange the details.
"They can take me right now." It was an unnecessary announcement since he’d been listening, but I couldn’t resist the extra dig.
He led the way to the elevator and pressed the down button with a gentle tap.
I slipped him a corner-of-eye glance. "You, um, go to spas on a regular basis?"
"No." Pierce’s voice came out more bark than brogue.
My inner imp did a silent huzzah. It was a big deal to annoy Pierce, especially when he had to work at controlling it. I hadn’t made a single move toward finding my grandmother and he should have been prodding me. And then I figured it out. Of course he was calm. Patience to a super spy must be like cinnamon to apple pie. Necessary.
Pierce held the door for me, and then trailed behind as the attendant, a petite Asian woman, led me to a pedicure station. Her gaze dipped to Pierce’s feet and with a flick of her chin, she motioned to the chair next to mine.
He nodded, then added a full out, eyes sparkling, laugh lines crinkling grin as he slid out of his slippahs and planted his feet in the tub of warm, soapy water.
The attendant took our beverage requests—mint lemonade for both of us—while I scrambled in my handbag for my cell, flicked it on and aimed the camera at Pierce.
He snatched it from my grasp. "Not a good idea, Belisama." His bark was back.
I made a gimme gesture at Pierce, allowing the syllables of the Irish goddess’s name to linger in my mind. Pierce had started calling me Belisama some time ago. The coincidence of it meaning summer bright, and Mitch calling me Sunshine, well, it rattled me. Probably it had to do with my red hair, but still… I inhaled, pushing all sunny thoughts out of my head. "Got it," I said, wiggling my fingers in another gimme gesture. "I promise no picture taking in the future."