Authors: Reon Laudat
“We just met!”
Kendra blurted, eyelashes aflutter.
“Yes,” Brody said, putting his sunglasses in the
side pocket of his backpack. “There were three empty seats on this bus. One
near a beautiful lady. Which one do you think I’d choose? No brainer, wouldn’t
“I hear ya.” Dominic dropped into the seat
directly across the aisle from the pair—effectively cutting off their
Brody was so cool.
So why was Kendra feeling flustered and
wondering if Dominic had peeked through the windows and spied them sitting
Had he left a prearranged
tour with Haleakala One to join Haleakala Two in an attempt to protect his
turf? Or was she projecting?
“So, you’re a friend of Dominic’s?” Brody asked
“I would not say a ‘friend,’ more like a business
.” Her pulse raced.
“Emphasis on acquaintance.”
Brody came to his feet. “Excuse me a sec. I have a
question for one of the tour guides before we take off.”
planned to stare out the window, affecting great interest in the activity
outside the bus until Brody returned.
“So, here we are. Together again,” Dominic said,
his deep voice bouncy. If he was suspicious about finding Brody and Kendra
together, he did not let on.
Kendra looked away from the window to take in his
wide grin. “Are you following me, Mr. Tobias?”
Tobias now?” He suddenly moved from his seat to Brody’s.
she prodded. “You didn’t mention anything about a tour at breakfast when
I told you I was leaving for mine.”
“You didn’t give me a chance. You think I’m
following you? Maybe you’re following me, Ms. Porter.” His lenses gradually
turned clear so she could see mirth in his eyes.
“But I saw you standing in the line for the
Haleakala One tour.”
“Just getting information on a beach I want to
check out while I’m here. So, how’s that aloha spirit holding out?”
“Fine!” Kendra replied too quickly. Her gaze
darted everywhere but in his direction. As she spoke, his hard thigh brushed
against hers, making her tingle.
looked shaken when I walked up on you and Brody.”
“Not shaken, just a little surprised is all.
Again, I thought you were on the Haleakala One bus.”
“And you walked right by without saying hello,” he
said with a playful tsk-tsk. He moved closer, his voice and warm breath caressing
her ear, making her shiver in a Pavlovian response.
“Interesting fragrance you’re wearing, Ms.
Porter,” Dominic whispered. “It’s different. What
But she wasn’t about to tell him that when he smelled as divine as usual.
She was grateful when Brody returned
with Zoe trailing him.
Dominic moved back to his seat.
“See, you lucked out,” Brody told Zoe. “You get
the last seat, and it’s next to Dominic.”
Zoe gave Kendra a friendly nod and then focused on
“Well, hello there, you!”
she said, regarding him adoringly.
“But I thought you were attending the
Art of War in Publishing
Dominic said to Zoe.
“And miss out on this tour?”
Zoe replied. “Besides, I can always
watch the podcast.”
Brody reached for his backpack, opened it, and
searched through one of its many compartments. “Energy bar?” he asked Kendra,
signaling the unspoken agreement to resume their previous discussion later. He
offered her one of two foil-wrapped bars.
“No, thank you.” Kendra willed herself not to gawk
at Dominic and Zoe, who were engaged in their own private conversation.
Kendra would use the time to get better acquainted
with Brody. “What are you reading?” she asked, referring to the thick tome she
noticed inside his backpack when he removed the bars.
Book of Gun Values
“Ah, just a little light reading,” Kendra said
with a nod and a smile.
“Research. I have a Griffin & Howe sporterized
30-06 Springfield rifle I want to unload.”
The bus pulled away from the resort, and Kendra
admired the beautiful scenery.
“There’s something so incredibly enchanting about Maui.”
“Yeah and there’s nothing like zipping in Maui,”
Brody said, chewing a huge bite of his bar.
“No zipping around for me. I manage to pack in a
lot, but at a nice steady pace.”
Brody chuckled. “I mean zip-lining, where we’re
this is a hiking tour.”
“It’s a hike with zip-lining tour,” Brody said.
Panic raced through Kendra as she recalled a
zip-lining segment she’d seen on one of those adventure cable channels. The same
show had featured segments on bungee jumping, spelunking, parasailing, and
other death-wish craziness. Zoe had stopped flirting long enough to eavesdrop
on Kendra’s conversation with Brody. “You didn’t know this was a zip-lining
“I thought the zip-lining part was, um, tomorrow,”
“It’s fantastic! I did it last year and the year
before,” Zoe said. “Like riding the wind.”
“Yeah, no, better rush,” Dominic added.
“I find zipping relaxing, actually,” said Brody.
“If you want a
what heli-skiing in the Himalayas is for. Instead of using a lift, this
helicopter drops you at the top of a snow-covered mountain with
un-manipulated-by-man terrain, and then you’re off on some of the longest,
fastest, and steepest slopes in the world.” He made a grand swooping motion
with his hands. “Swish!”
“How very James Bond,” Kendra said as she
white-knuckle gripped her waist pack. “Must put that one on the bucket list.”
about you? Ever zipped before?” Zoe asked Kendra.
“Call me ‘Zippity-Do-Dah,’ ” Kendra sang.
Zoe chuckled, poking at Dominic with her elbow.
Dominic regarded Kendra. “I’d totally
pegged you as the pineapple-plantation-tour type.”
Kendra gave him a clenched-teeth smile.
Pineapple plantation indeed.
She’d show him.
The amplified voice of a guide detailing various
touristy points of interest filled the bus. Kendra spotted the tour booklet
poking out of Brody’s backpack so she asked to borrow it. She flipped through
until she found a little blurb about the Haleakala Two tour.
Tarzans, Janes, and Cheetahs!
scenic hike, imagine yourself soaring over gulches, cliffs, and towering trees
along the slopes of Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano. You’ll ride
five of the fastest and most amazing zips attached to swinging bridges.
you are in for rides of a lifetime!
Kendra’s stomach lurched with all that
extra bacon she’d eaten. While her discomfort with heights was hardly at phobia
intensity, she hated that wobbly sensation that often seized her on Ferris
wheels, glass elevators, ledges, and all bridges from the Golden Gate to the
She looked around.
The rest of her group brimmed with anticipation.
If they could do this, she could, too.
The bus stopped near the
bottom of Haleakala and a tourist rest station before they reached the fringe
of a heavily wooded area. One of the three tour guides suggested a quick
restroom run for everybody.
would be plenty of time to purchase memorabilia at the park’s official visitor
center after the hike and zip-line rides, he promised.
Kendra was in a state. During the bus
ride through thick traffic, her fear had escalated, blinding her to the sights
along the way. Perspiration trickled down her spine though it was sixty-two
Kendra raced to a restroom stall to put some
distance between herself and the rest of the psyched-up bunch. Leaning against
the door, she sucked in long, deep breaths to calm her jangled nerves. Plenty
of stalls meant the line moved quickly so she could linger there away from
curious eyes. Finally, she heard someone call out, “Ladies, five minutes until
the weigh-in! The hike begins immediately after!”
“You can do this. You can do this. You can do
this,” Kendra mouthed after she’d peeled herself off the door and stepped out
of the stall.
Alone, at last. She
wasn’t ready to leave, but at least she didn’t feel like hurling her breakfast
at any moment.
splashed cold water on her face at the sink and then dried it and her hands.
She moved toward the exit and then paused when she heard soft sobs coming from
the stall on the far right end.
Kendra tapped on the door. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” a woman replied between sniffles. “Thanks,
“I have a travel pack of extra soft Kleenex with
aloe. I can slip them to you if that recycled sandpaper they call toilet paper
is the problem.”
“No, I’m fine,” the woman replied with a light
“If you’re part of the Haleakala Two tour you’d
better get a move on,” Kendra said. Then she added, more for herself than the
woman in the stall, “Actually, getting left behind might not be such a bad
When the stall door opened, Corinne Ostertag, whom
Kendra had first met at the Dallas conference, stepped out.
“Ms. Porter!” Corinne shrieked, one hand flying
her chest. She wore that daisy-printed jacket and cap Kendra had noticed when
she’d boarded the motor coach.
“Hello! But call me Kendra. You’re on the
Haleakala Two bus? I didn’t see you.”
“Yes, I got on, but I stepped off to make another
quick trip to the ATM.”
dabbed at her watery eyes. “I’m here for the craft workshops. I read you were
attending, and I’d hoped to see you again. But I didn’t want to be a pest or
anything. I appreciated how nice you were to me and Mother at the Romantic
Corinne had written the excellent
Corinne and her
mother had driven all the way from North Carolina to the Dallas romance
novelists’ event hoping for the chance to meet Kendra.
Or so they’d told her.
“After I returned home, I appreciated the email
you sent letting me know you’d received the full manuscript.”
“Yes, I’m still evaluating it. And thank you for
the opportunity,” Kendra said, not wanting to express her strong interest
in representing it until she’d completed
her fourth read and made more notes. “Where’s your mother?”
She slanted discreet glances under the
“Back at the hotel, lounging around a pool.
Said she wasn’t feeling well. Funny how
her gout always manages to flare up when she has to do anything the least bit
I was looking forward to
the hike and the zip-lining. It’s the big weigh-in I’d like to skip. I didn’t
read the brochure’s fine print until after I boarded the bus.” Corinne walked
to the row of mirrors over the sinks.
removed tissue from her waist pack and passed it to Corinne, who checked her
noticed the no fatties-clause during the ride over here,” Corinne said.
“You know, the no ‘Fatty-Fatty-Two-By-Four. Can’t
get through the bathroom door, so she did it on the floor.’ As in there’s a
“I don’t think it’s a public thing. They wouldn’t
dare. I’m sure it’s just one person working with the tour group who checks
“I’m not sure I want that person to see how much I
“There’s a weight minimum, too.”
“Yes, no small children. I thought I had learned
to love my full-figured fabulousness, but reading about the weigh-in brought
back a lot of issues I thought I had dealt with already. I don’t think I can
deal with failing to make the cut.”
“It’ll be okay,” Kendra said, thinking she was no
While she had her
days when she believed dropping a few pounds couldn’t hurt, she appreciated her
grown up bombarded with images depicting the epitome of female beauty as
blonde, ultra-lean, and leggy, she was particularly proud of her thick,
espresso-colored hair and lavish bottom and breasts accentuated by her small
Kendra also had little use for a scale, instead
gauging whether or not to cut back on carbs or saturated fat based on the way
her clothes fit. Nor was she efficient at guesstimating other people’s weight.
Corinne had more generous curves, but she appeared to fall well within the
weight requirements. “You’re immobilized by the weigh-in. For me, it’s the zip
lines. I’m no good with heights.”
Kendra could see Dominic and Zoe, maybe even Brody, having a good
chuckle at her expense.
“Back home, I exercise. I power walk every day,
and I try to eat right, with one cheat meal per week, when I eat whatever I
want. Had I known about the weigh-in, I would not have overindulged at that
luau last night.” Corinne shook her head. “What was I thinking? All that
Kendra flapped her hand. “Who worries about
portion sizes on vacation? Tedious, Type-A people, that’s who!”
The petite blonde tour guide stepped inside the
restroom again. “Ladies, you don’t want to get left behind.” She must have
noticed the reluctant expressions on their faces. “If you two are having second
thoughts about the zips, it’s all right. You can do the hike and watch the
This ignited Corinne’s determination. “That’s the
story of my life—always the big fat girl, standing on the sidelines watching
everyone else have fun.
to hop on the scale with the sureness of the heavyweight champion of the
world—even if I break the damn thing.”
“I’m with you!”
Kendra declared, shoring up her own
resolve. “I won’t display the agility and moxie of a Cirque du Soleil performer
on those zips, but I promise you I won’t pee my pants!”
“Yes!” Corinne cheered.
two women raised their fists in solidarity.
Corinne and Kendra joined their group, which had
formed a single file line to sign the tour company’s cover-its-ass waivers:
If the line (or your neck) breaks, we ain’t
After reading about all the things that could
possibly go wrong, Kendra was hardly reassured by the tour company’s claim that
no one had ever been seriously injured on its tour.
After all, there was a first time for
Corinne and Kendra brought up the rear as their
group made its way up the sloping, uneven trail terrain toward the zip
Dominic, Brody, and Zoe
stayed together. The guides took turns wowing everyone with their knowledge of
the famous silversword plant and other indigenous flora and fauna.
Kendra and her hike partner enjoyed a nice
get-acquainted chat. Corinne, who had a bachelor’s degree in history and an MFA
from a well-respected program, now worked for her father’s apparel and custom
printing and embroidery company while she wrote on the side. Her mother Elnora,
who taught high school English at a private school, encouraged her to continue
pursuing a fiction-writing career.
“Is that who I think it is?” Corinne whispered and
Kendra wasn’t so engrossed in her conversation with Corinne that
she’d forgotten all about him. She glanced in his direction more than a few
times, admiring his hunky back view. Nice wide shoulders, strong diamond
calves, and the butt of a god. The man was truly a physical wonder to behold.
Brody, carrying a small notebook to scribble notes, had pulled ahead to quiz
their guides, leaving Zoe with Dominic, who’d been bumping his gums since the
hike began. But whatever he was saying clearly enchanted Zoe.
“My mother and I have read great things about him
and his agency. I knew he was going to attend this conference, but I didn’t
expect to see him on a tourist outing,” Corinne said as if she’d spotted a
“Did you send
to him, too?”
Kendra asked airily, though she’d felt somewhat uneasy about Corinne’s
starstruck reaction to Dominic.
“No, I’m giving you an exclusive,” Corinne said
with a big smile. “I like you.”
“I like you, too. But that’s not required at this
stage, you know,” Kendra said, though she was pleased Corinne was committed to
working with Porter Literary Agency. “Why my agency?”
The Orchid Keeper’s Secret.”
“Books I acquired and edited when I was at
“Yes, brilliant,” she rhapsodized. “The lyricism,
structures, and elegance. These complex tapestries were pure perfection, in my
humble opinion. After taking in the last pages, I rushed to read the
acknowledgments and saw your name in both. Right then, I knew when I was ready,
I wanted to submit to you. Those are two of my all-time favorite modern novels.
When I started researching agents, I discovered you’d left Winn-Aster to open
your own agency. I had to track you down.”
“I’m flattered.” After all these years, Kendra
still blushed when hearing such praise.
“I’m so happy we had this time to talk and get
better acquainted,” Corinne said. I’m even more certain I want to work with
you, that is, if you decide to take me on.”
“We’ll see. I’m hopeful. I’ll contact you as soon
as I complete my evaluation.”
“Not to rush you or anything, but do you think
you, um, could let me know what you think. Share your first impression, I mean,
before we leave Maui?”
“Mother criticizes me for not speaking up more,
but it’s difficult when she’s around. She’s like one of those automatic flush
toilets, always cutting me off before I’ve finished my business. But
I love her. And her heart is in the
right place, though she can be overbearing at times.”
But Kendra only offered an empathetic smile.
Zoe lost her footing on a buried piece of rock, she tumbled into Dominic’s
Oldest trick in the book, but
still a decent move, Kendra thought. And she’d executed it flawlessly, holding
on to Dominic much longer than necessary. Kendra silently cheered Zoe on,
though her heart squeezed just a bit. But she had no right to be…
Hadn’t Dominic invited Kendra
to spend time with him? She’d declined
You can’t have it both ways,
Kendra had willed Dominic to turn his attention to
pretty, vivacious Zoe who was clearly in his thrall. He hadn’t looked in
Kendra’s direction since the hike began. Mission accomplished.
After a two-mile trek along fern-covered cliffs
and slopes, the group arrived at the first zip station, where Corinne passed
Corinne and Kendra high-fived.
The happiness blooming on Corinne’s face
almost made Kendra forget her own terror. The guides provided step-by-step
instructions about the way zipping works, breaking down the anatomy of the
seatbelt-like harness attached to a clip-on pulley fastened to a cable.
Group members stepped up to form a line to the
first launching pad. Everyone—including a boy who looked no more than
twelve and a much older woman with poufy blue-rinsed hair—appeared eager
to begin. After zip operators fitted helmets, distributed safety gloves, and
secured harnesses, each member of their group whooped and hollered while taking
off, one-by-one zipping across the first line. This “practice” line, as the
tour guides referred to it, stretched a hundred and twenty-five feet long and
hung thirty feet above ground. Then Kendra’s turn rolled around. She stalled,
taking her gloves off, putting them back on, and taking them off again to stuff
her sunglasses inside her waist pack. The guide hooked the line from her
harness to the cable overhead. Her smile and knees wobbled.
Kendra put the safety gloves on again, tipped
forward on the platform, took a deep breath, and squeezed her eyes shut.
“Don’t forget to enjoy the majestic view!” someone
called out to her.
Next thing Kendra knew, there was nothing solid
beneath her feet. Airborne, she zoomed across with the wind rushing in her
face, roaring in her ears, and whipping through the hair streaming out of the
She couldn’t see a thing because she refused to
open her eyes as she hurtled toward the next platform, knocking over the zip
operator stationed there.
What a rush!
She’d done it! She’d actually done
She leaped at the operator as
he came to his feet and gave him a big smooch on the cheeks.