Authors: Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Going for Kona
by Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Copyright 2014 Pamela Fagan Hutchins
All Rights Reserved
2011 Winner of the Houston Writers Guild Novel Contest
2010 Winner of the Writers League of Texas Romance Contest
2012 Winner of the Houston Writers Guild Ghost Story Contest
2012 USA Best Book Award Winner
2013 USA Best Book Award Finalist
2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Quarter-finalist
Going for Kona:
.” – Terry Sykes-Bradshaw, author of
Spellbinding.” – Jo Bryan, Dry Creek Book Club
“Highly recommended.” – Nancy Katz, Reader
“Fast-paced mystery.” – Deb Krenzer, Book Reviewer
“Can’t put it down.” – Cathy Bader, Reader
“Full of real characters and powerful emotions.” Rhonda Erb, Editor
“Beautifully written.” – Ginger Rees Copeland, Reader
The Katie & Annalise Series:
“An exciting tale that combines twisting investigative and legal subplots with a character seeking redemption…an exhilarating mystery with a touch of voodoo.” – Midwest Book Review Bookwatch
“A lively romantic mystery that will likely leave readers eagerly awaiting a sequel.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A riveting drama with plenty of twists and turns for an exciting read, highly recommended.” – Small Press Bookwatch
“Katie is the first character I have absolutely fallen in love with since Stephanie Plum!”
– Stephanie Swindell, bookstore owner
“The characters are completely engaging, and the story catapults us into action, adventure and mystery. Hold on to your hats!” – Hanna Dettman, voice actor
“Engaging storyline…taut suspense, with a touch of the jumbie adding a distinct flavor to the mix and the romance perfectly kept on the backburner while dealing with predatory psychopaths.” – MBR Bookwatch
Clever, funny, and a page-turner from the very beginning.” – Rebecca Weiss, attorney
Thanks to these generous sponsors for giving so much support to
Going for Kona
Rhonda Doyle Erb
Mandi Godwin Wellborn
To Eric, who inspired this story by ticking me off, and then telling me to go home and write
Going for Kona
is a work of fiction. Period. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, things, or events is just a lucky coincidence.
The best-looking man in the River Oaks Barnes and Noble had his hand on my thigh, and with the weight of hundreds of eyes on us, I snaked my hand under the table, laced our fingers, and slid mine up and down the length of his, enjoying the contrast of rough against soft. My index finger bumped into the warm band on his ring finger, and I let it stay there, worrying it in semicircles, first one way and then the other.
A Barbie-doll lookalike in form-fitting hot pink strutted into the spot vacated moments before by a tittering fifty-something woman. The bleach blonde brandished a plastic glass of champagne in one hand and held out a copy of our book,
My Pace or Yours? Triathlon Training for Couples
, in the other. Without letting go of my leg, Adrian took it from her and opened it to the title page, where a yellow sticky bore her name.
“Hi, Rhonda. I’m Adrian, and this is my wife, co-author, and editor, Michele.” He scribbled his signature and scooted the book over to me.
“I know that, silly.” Her little-girl drawl burrowed under my skin like a chigger.
I released Adrian’s fingers to sign, then held the book back out to the woman. “Hello, Rhonda. Nice to meet you.”
“I loved your talk, Adrian,” she said, ignoring me. I bristled. We had opened that night with a reading and Q&A. The book gets a little steamy at times, which is easier to write than to read aloud, so Adrian read those parts. “It’s wonderful to see you again.”
He studied her, eyes narrowed a fraction. “Thanks. Have we met?”
Maybe he didn’t remember her, but I was sure I had seen her recently. She didn’t exactly blend in here with Khaled Hosseini on her left and John Irving on her right. I set the book on the table and fought the urge to chew a fingernail. I was well trained by my mother, the one woman in Texas who could give Ms. Manners a run for her money, and Southern Women Do Not Bite Their Nails.
A slim man with a strained, too-cheerful smile stepped forward. He held up $3500 worth of Minolta. “Miss, around here for your photo.”
Rhonda swooped around the edge of the table and leaned over Adrian with her hand on the back of his neck, gripping the slice of shoulder that showed above his round-necked shirt.
The photographer held up his hand. “Look this way, please.” Adrian and I dutifully swung our faces in his direction and smiled. The flash blinded me for a few seconds, but as my vision cleared I got an eyeful of expensive cleavage. Rhonda Dale remained draped over my husband.
She dropped her voice, but I was six inches from Adrian and could hear her and smell her. I live with a teenage girl, and I’d recognize Urban Outfitters’ roll-on Skank perfume anywhere. “Of course we’ve
,Adrian, and I’ll never forget it.”
Where hot pink was before, I now saw red. Time to assert matrimonial authority. “Rhonda?” She glanced at me, barely, and her mouth tightened. I inclined my head toward the double-door exit and smiled as big as I could.
Rhonda released Adrian’s shoulder, leaving crimson fingerprints behind, and took one step back. She bit her lip. She ran her fingers through one side of her bleached hair. She shifted her weight, cocked her right hip, and reached into the white pleather bag slung over her shoulder. I tensed. This woman tripped my switch.
“You’ll be wanting this, Adrian.” She flipped a pink business card onto the table. If Adrian were a rock star, she’d have thrown her panties and bra instead. The card sucked less. A little, anyway. She turned and walked, hips slinging and champagne sloshing, toward the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble Café and the aroma of Starbucks coffee. I could hear her heels clicking across the floor even after she disappeared from view.
Adrian turned to me and shrugged his eyebrows.
I drew mine together in return. “What just happened here?”
“No comprendo.” He drew circles with an index finger beside his temple. “La señorita está loca en la cabeza.” He took a sip of his Kona coffee—cup number six of the day, no doubt—a nod to his quest for the triathlon world championships in Hawaii.
My eyebrows lifted. “Was that even Spanish?” I reached for his hand under the dark green tablecloth again and squeezed hard enough to do minor damage. I whispered sotto voce so the next customer in line couldn’t hear, “If you promise not to talk in that horrible accent, you’ll get a nice reward later.”
He shot me a grin. “Maybe you can show me what’s under that necklace, Itzpa.” Sometimes he used my papa’s nickname for me, which was short for Itzpapalotl, a clawed butterfly with knife-tipped wings, and an Aztec goddess of war. Usually he just called me Butterfly.
I reached up to the locket suspended from a long gold chain around my neck. Adrian had given me the brilliant enameled monarch at our second “wedding,” the secret B&B family affair he threw in La Grange on our first anniversary to make up for the original quickie at city hall without our kids. When we were pronounced “still man and wife,” Adrian put the locket around my neck and told me I was his butterfly. I’d stashed a picture of us taken on that perfect day in the locket and had never changed it since.
I scrutinized it. “This old thing?” I dropped it and stretched my shoulders, catlike. Or rather, like a cat would. There is no feline quality to my short frame. At best I am probably a Pomeranian; at worst, a Pekingese.
He laughed and mouthed, “Thanks a lot, baby,” and held his hand out toward the customer at the front of the line.
I signed the next few books on autopilot, trying not to grind my teeth over Miss Boob Job In Hot Pink strutting her stuff for my husband. I could take the Rhonda Dales of the world in stride, mostly. I’d known ever since I was assigned to edit his column for
that Adrian attracted groupies. His following, and the fact that we were working together, were the reasons I’d resisted him at first. He tricked me into going out with him, though—research over a cup of Kona, my ass—and I melted like a butterscotch chip into a warm, sweet cookie.
Soon after, Adrian coaxed me to “just try” triathlon, something I had never aspired to do. Never, meaning no effing way, ever. Swim, then bike, then run? I didn’t think so. I’d rather curl up with a novel, when I had any free time at all as the single parent of a tween. Still, I was that butterscotch chip, and it turned out that I was made for triathlon, like I was made for Adrian. It spoke to the parts of me that like rigor and suffering. I signed up for one, and then another, until here we were at Barnes and Noble, at our book launch.
“I’m Connor Dunn,” a man’s voice said. Something about it made me flinch and brought me back with a bumpy reentry. A certain pitch. A heaviness of import. My gaze lifted to his face and I read the creases around his eyes like rings on a tree: forty-five-ish. Dark hair, freckled, light skin. Toned, as was to be expected at a triathlon book launch. Pressed Dockers and a collared shirt: earnestly conservative. No champagne cup.
Connor Dunn was still speaking to Adrian. “We haven’t met in person, but—”
My husband interrupted him, brightening. “Sure, I know who you are.” Adrian turned to me. “Allow me to introduce my wife, Michele. Michele, this is Connor Dunn.”
“A name I know well from Adrian’s column,” he said to me. “Nice to meet you.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Eva Longoria?”
I nodded. “Nearsighted people.” Eva Longoria doesn’t have the butt I got from the short, curvy Mexican women on my dad’s side. My blonde, Caucasian mother has no butt, but her genes passed me by in the looks department.
Adrian shook his head. “Not a chance. You look better à la natural on your worst day.”
“My husband is biased,” I explained to Connor.
He laughed and nodded at Adrian. “Hey, congratulations on your Kona qualification.”
“Thanks. There’s nothing like aging up to give you a boost.” Adrian was playing it cool, but he was over the moon about the Kona Ironman world championships. At forty-five, he had qualified by winning his first race as a forty-five to forty-nine age grouper, at the Longhorn Half Ironman in Austin last fall. “Will Angela be racing?”
“Yes. She qualified in thirty-five to forty.”
“That’s great.” Adrian turned to me. “Connor’s new bride is a tri-beast like us.”
Connor broke in. “I think we saw you guys last weekend at the Goatneck ride in Cleburne. I was going to introduce myself, but things got crazy.”
My skin went cold. A hit-and-run driver had killed one of the cyclists during the race.
Adrian put down his black Sharpie and sighed, sagging like a deflating balloon. “Yeah, that was horrible. Michele and I were one Brahman away from it.”
Connor’s voice and eyebrows went up. “Brahman?”
“Adrian hit a cow. It knocked him off his bike and left him with a flat tire.” I sucked in a quick breath. “I think it slowed us down just enough that we weren’t the ones hit by the car, you know?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s scarier and scarier out there on the road.”
“We were the first ones to get to him after he was hit.” Adrian’s voice grew raspy. “I ended up doing CPR on him while Michele called 911.”
It was a surreal picture: Adrian and the fallen cyclist were mirror images of each other, one upright and one prone, both covered in blood. They were dressed alike and had similar blue bikes. It freaked me out, big time. I couldn’t keep their images from returning to me over and over.
Adrian continued. “This guy had been riding maybe a quarter mile behind the leaders—he passed us when I hit the cow—and then this car just came out of nowhere off a little dirt road and smashed into him.”
“You saw it happen?” Connor leaned in, his voice a mix of dread and morbid curiosity.
I started to speak but realized both of my hands were over my mouth. I pressed my palms together and lowered them. “We heard it.”
“Oh my God,” Connor breathed.
It was a sound I would know anywhere. Adrian had hit a car head-on two years ago. I still don’t understand how he walked away from the wreck—his bike didn’t—and I will never, ever forget the sound. A thud, a wrenching of metal, a thump, then a crack as driver and bike hit the road separately. Groans. And in Adrian’s case, the squealing of brakes as the driver came to a stop. Not that time, though. Not that time. That time there was silence, except for Adrian screaming “Rider down, rider down” at the top of his lungs.
I forced myself to keep talking, to expunge the rest of the memory. “We saw the car driving away. White, a small sedan, like a Taurus or a Camry or something.” I shook my head. “We couldn’t get the license plate number, though, and we didn’t see the driver, so we were practically no help at all to the police.”
Just then, our publicist put a manicured brown hand on the table in front of Adrian. It startled me. I had forgotten we were in a bookstore, that there were other people around—worse, in line watching us, listening to us, waiting for us. Scarlett—that was both her name and her nail color—said, “Only thirty minutes to go, and you’ve still got a line out the door. I hate to break in, but we need to keep it moving.” She’d coached us on this earlier. The line must move no matter what. A moving line means book sales.
We nodded, and she backed away with her smile pointed toward the queue, a “Nothing wrong here, folks, nothing to see” smile.
To Connor, Adrian said, “Sorry, man.”
Connor pulled at his collar. “Absolutely. I understand. Um, I’m going to hang around and do some shopping. Could you spare five minutes when you’re done? I have something I need to talk to you about. It’s the reason I came, actually.”
There. That was what I’d heard in his voice. A purpose for his presence, and a threat to our plans for the evening. A post-signing tête-à-tête wasn’t on the schedule. My throat tightened. “Wound so tight, she springs when I touch her,” my ex-husband Robert had said about me. Well, not tonight. I breathed in and held it. I would not be rigid. I would roll with it and everything would be okay. I exhaled.
“Sure. I’ll meet you in the café when we’re done.”
Bam. I saw spots in front of my eyes. My internal tension meter was only about a 6 out of 10. Really, it’s no big deal, I told myself. Just five or ten minutes. We probably wouldn’t even be late for the eight thirty reservation at Oxheart I’d made two months before. My fingernail ended up in my mouth, but I snatched it away before I could bite it. This wasn’t exactly unprecedented. Adrian was a constant challenge to my need for order on his best days, just as I was to his need for flexibility. I called these opposing traits our growth opportunities when I was feeling Zen.
“Perfect. Michele, a pleasure.” Connor extended his hand to me.
I shook it, and his touch jarred my nerves. We posed for the obligatory picture and he walked off toward the biographies. Nice guy, even if he was a plan-buster and a bringer of bad memories, but something else was wrong with him. I could feel it. “Do you know what he wants to talk to you about?”
“No idea.” Adrian pursed his lips for just a moment. Then his expression shifted. Big smile, maybe a little less big than before, but big enough. He greeted the next person. “Sorry about the wait. I hope you’re having a good time.”
Half an hour later, we bid goodbye to our last customer and stood up.
“Congratulations. You did it.” Scarlett beamed so wide the store lights reflected off her perfect white teeth. “This was a very, very successful event. The manager is thrilled. I’ll have you guys on the TV interview circuit within a week.” She rubbed her cherry-tipped hands together. “You’re so perfect for this, it hurts.”
“Thanks, Scarlett.” I nestled into the crook of Adrian’s arm as he slipped it around me.
“I’ll say goodnight now and go close out with the manager. You kids have a fun anniversary.”
“We will. Thanks again.”
As she walked away, I heard her muttering, “Gorgeous, just gorgeous,” to herself.
I lifted my face toward my husband. “I’m so glad to get the first one over with. Now we can relax and have some fun. You’re meeting that stalker fan guy in the café first, though, right?”
“Yes, but Connor’s a friend. I’ve corresponded with him more than a year. He’s all right.”