Authors: Crystal Jordan
This one is for the Professor Moriarty, who took me to Hawaii for Christmas and bought me Hong Kong buns and pineapple floats. Without you, this book would never have been written.
And for my librarian colleague who shall not be named to protect his innocence—thanks for recommending we check out Olomana on that island holiday trip. Great music!
Half Moon Bay, California
“Julie?” Karen called from the front of the shop. “Julie, where are you?”
“In the back.” A bittersweet sensation swamped Julie as she gazed around Purl Moon Fiber Arts. Wooden shelves held stacks of every imaginable color and fiber of yarn—a beautiful, touchable rainbow. An old-fashioned spinning wheel dominated one corner, and the basket beside it contained a long braid of roving wool just waiting to be spun. It was the last batch of wool she’d hand-died with her great-aunt. She hadn’t been able to make herself finish it.
Tears stung her eyes, but a smile curled her lips. Damn, she missed Auntie Eloise. The feisty old woman had taught Julie to knit and crochet in this very shop. She’d learned to spin on that wheel. Lovely memories.
“Here you are.” Karen came around one of the display shelves. “Are you ready?”
Reaching over, Julie unplugged the lights on the miniature Christmas tree. Crocheted snowflake decorations graced every branch, most of them Auntie’s creations. Putting up the tree had always been something Julie and Eloise did together, but this year she was on her own. It was too much, too painful. She’d held it together during the worst of the holiday shopping rush, but it was four days before Christmas and she was closing up and getting out of town. She just couldn’t bear it.
Clearing her throat, she turned to her friend. “Ready as I’ll ever be. Is Tate with you?”
Karen’s face fell a little before she pasted on a wide grin. “He couldn’t make it, but he said to tell you happy holidays and have fun. He’s busy with work today.”
And every other day, but Julie didn’t say it. Things weren’t golden in Karen’s marriage, which was a shame. Julie liked Tate, always had, but he was a workaholic who wasn’t giving his wife what she needed. If things didn’t improve soon, she wasn’t sure what would happen, but the shadows in Karen’s eyes said she was reaching the end of her tolerance.
Stepping forward, Julie gave her friend a hug. They both could use one right now. It had been a rough year. “Hang in there, sweetie.”
Karen squeezed her tight. “You too.”
The bell jangled over the shop door. Anne shouted, “Are you two about done? Meg’s out here worrying about Julie missing her flight! You know how I hate listening to Meg nag. Get a move on!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Julie rolled her eyes and let Karen go. She pointed to a big suitcase, her purse propped on top. “Grab my bags, will you?”
A quick check of Purl Moon showed the windows and doors were closed and locked. She switched off the lights, set the security system and motioned Karen ahead of her. Once they’d exited, she secured the deadbolt on the front door.
Cool air wrapped around her, the salty hint of the Pacific Ocean curling into her nose. Tidy little shops like hers ran up and down Main Street, looking like a scene from a postcard, all festooned with Christmas lights and wreaths to celebrate the season. A season Julie wanted to escape.
“It’s about time you got out of town,” Anne barked. “You need a vacation.”
“Well, what do you think the baggage is for?” Julie winked at her friend, who stuck out her tongue in return.
Julie watched Anne wrestle the enormous suitcase she was taking to Hawaii into the back of a subcompact car. She wasn’t sure how the other woman managed that feat of engineering, but she wasn’t about to question it either. Anne was tall, wiry, athletic, and as sarcastic as she was opinionated. Even luggage and the laws of physics bowed before her tenacity.
The four of them—Meg, Julie, Anne, and Karen—had been a tight-knit group since elementary school. Julie was grateful for their friendship, but never more so than the last year. They’d been a solid support as Julie watched her great-aunt’s health fade. They’d all been there in the hospital with her when Auntie Eloise had passed.
Hot grief poured through Julie, making her clench her fists at her sides. It wasn’t fair. Eloise had still been so
, so active. She’d run her own business right up until she’d had a series of small strokes that had left her struggling to walk and speak clearly. Julie had been living in San Francisco at the time, working as an office manager, but she’d come back to help out, taking over Purl Moon until the spunky old lady could get back on her feet.
It had never happened.
Two months later, a massive stroke had stolen Auntie Eloise’s life. Over. Done. Gone. Just that quickly. Julie tried to tell herself that Eloise had lived a long, full life, that she’d had a lot of years to do all the things she enjoyed. But it didn’t help much. It still just
“I’m really glad you’re getting a break. You need it, honey.” Meg walked up with a carrying container filled with two cups of coffee from a café across the street. She glanced at Karen. “Finn’s saving us a table for when we finally get rid of these girls.”
,” Anne sang out. “I hooked you guys up, don’t forget it. You’d still be giving him a case of blue balls if it weren’t for me.”
Julie had to bite her lip to keep from chortling like an immature teenager. Karen rocked back on her heels, her green eyes dancing with mirth.
“How could anyone forget your act of daring in convincing me to have a wild week in Vegas? My hero. I’ll have Finn start writing thank you cards every time he gets some. Just to show how happy he is to be less blue.” Meg sighed dramatically before she handed the liquid ambrosia to Julie, then popped open the passenger door of Anne’s car to set the remaining cup in the console. When she straightened and their eyes met, there was enough sympathy in her friend’s gaze to make Julie’s throat tighten, and any urge to laugh died away. Meg said softly, “It’ll be good for you to have some time to yourself.”
“You should hook up with a nice Hawaiian cabana boy. Get him to teach you the hula…in bed.” Anne slammed the trunk closed and did a bad imitation of the hula, with a less than subtle bump-and-grind move thrown in.
“Oh Jesus. Don’t ever do that in public again.” Karen shook her head. “And you teach impressionable children.”
“It is amazing they let me loose around kids, isn’t it?” Anne ruffled a hand over her shock of red hair.
Julie tightened the belt on her coat and gave Meg a look. “Are you sure you and Finn want to do Christmas with her?”
“Her, her three whacky sisters, and her drama mama, you mean?” Meg waggled her eyebrows and brushed an unruly curl away from her face. The cold, misting winter rain did nothing to help her tame her hair. “We’ll survive. Probably.”
Julie wrapped each of her friends in a quick hug before sliding into the car. Karen held the door for her and shut it after Julie drew her legs in. She heard Karen’s muffled voice through the glass. “Okay, Anne. Try not to kill anyone on the way to the airport. Auto accidents make for bad vacation starters.”
Bouncing into the driver’s seat, Anne pushed the button to roll down the passenger window and leaned across Julie to blow a raspberry at Meg and Karen. “For the record, I am a fantastic driver, and my family is
during the holidays. We put the fun in dysfunctional.”
The four of them burst into giggles before Anne gunned her little car down Main Street. It felt good to laugh. Julie hadn’t done enough of it lately. Anne had offered to have Julie over for the dysfunctional fun, but she needed to get out of Half Moon Bay. She needed to get away from anything that reminded her of Aunt Eloise. Honolulu was just the ticket. A week of lounging on the beach sipping cocktails sounded like heaven right now. No worries, no stress. A little grin tugged at her mouth. Who knew? Maybe she’d even find some nice cabana boy to teach her the hula…in bed.
It was official. She was lost.
Julie’s sense of direction had never been great, but Waikiki Beach wasn’t all that big, so she should have been fine. She executed a slow pirouette, trying to see if she recognized any landmarks or street signs. Nope. Nothing.
“Awesome.” She snorted at herself. Ah, well. She was on vacation, right? There was no hurry.
She’d forgotten to bring a pair of nice shoes to go with the fancy dress she’d brought for Christmas dinner. She’d made reservations at the Royal Hawaiian, and showing up in sequins and flipflops would just be tacky, so she’d found her way to the nearby mall and scored a fantastic deal on some strappy heels. The excitement had lasted until she realized that she’d exited the large shopping center in a different place than she’d entered. And now she wasn’t entirely certain where she was—the map on her cell phone just confused her—and though it was blissfully warm, the sky was starting to take on an ominous shade of gray. This was not a good sign.
Glancing up, she saw a massive metal and glass building with a sign that said
Hawaii Convention Center
Forget trying to find her way back. A convention center had to be an easy place to catch a cab. She jogged across the street just as the clouds opened up and rain pelted down on her. Laughing, she shot forward to make it under the overhang, only slightly soaked. She shook the water droplets out of her hair and then headed toward a crowd of people milling near the entrance. The front curb teemed with taxis, buses, and airport shuttles. It looked like some kind of event had just let out. Not great, but she’d live.
A few minutes later, she found someone who looked like they worked there. “Hi, I need to get to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Which one is the cab line?”
“Would you care to share my taxi?” a deep voice called from behind her. “We’re going to the same place, it seems.”
Turning, she saw a tall man holding open the door to a cab. He was…sexy. Dark hair, serious blue eyes, angular features that contrasted with a sensual mouth. She took a few steps forward, her feet moving without any direction from her brain. Seriously, anyone that good to look at deserved a closer inspection. She had to tilt her head back to meet his gaze by the time she stopped. And he looked even better from this angle. Something about him made her heart skip a beat.
He leaned toward her, closing some of the distance between them. She didn’t back away. Somehow, it felt just right to have him in her personal space. His eyes crinkled at the corners, though he didn’t smile. “Should I take your coming over as a yes?”
“Yes.” The word came out throatier and more inviting than she meant it to.
His gaze dropped for just a moment to where her damp T-shirt clung to her breasts, and her breath caught, a shiver of utterly sexual awareness passing through her. Her nipples tightened. She wanted to tell herself it was from the breeze on her wet clothes, but it would have been a lie. Her reaction to this man was hot, instantaneous—a lightning strike of sheer need.
. She could only hope she wasn’t drooling. A flush burned her cheeks. Wow, she hadn’t realized she was this hard up. Okay, so it
been a while since she’d let herself enjoy the company of a man. Not since before Auntie’s first stroke. She lifted her chin. It was time to get on with living her life, even if it would always be a little bit emptier without Eloise.
Tilting her head, Julie looked the dark-haired man over one more time. Maybe not the most gorgeous guy she’d ever seen, but definitely the sexiest she’d been around in a long time. Hello, animal magnetism. She knew her attraction showed in her expression, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. The tingle of warmth spreading through her felt pretty good.
She cleared her throat, recognizing that she’d been staring a little too long. “Thanks for sharing your ride.”
“No problem.” His gaze did a slow slide down her body, the perusal deliberate and as obvious as her inspection of him had been.
Her shoulder brushed over his chest as she bent to climb into the car. Just that simple touch made her shudder, and a wave of sweet heat sluiced through her. Holy Jesus, this was crazy. She had no idea who he was, but she hoped he was single. It would be a damn shame to be this drawn to a guy who was taken. She dragged in a deep breath, and realized that her heart had leaped into a pounding rush.