Authors: Maureen A. Miller
Maureen A. Miller
All rights reserved.
Copyright @ 2013 by Maureen A. Miller
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
If only she could take her shoes off. Granted the heels were low enough, practical for the site survey she was about to conduct, but Briana Holt wanted to ditch the business veneer and delve her toes in the sand.
Anxious, she shoved her sunglasses atop her head and studied the construction from this perspective. Some of the houses were already up, and several lots were still being excavated. The project seemed to be going off without a hitch.
So, why the nerves?
Briana let the beach wash away the stress. Turning her back on the development, she scanned the shoreline with a hand over her eyes.
A herd of children charged the surf, their peals of laughter louder than the flock of seagulls eyeing a nearby picnic. A couple strolled hand in hand in the distance, their silhouette a virtual Hawaiian postcard. And a man stooped near the water’s edge, combing his fingers through the sand in search of shells.
Certain that she was far enough from view, Briana reached down and yanked her sandals off. With them hooked
on her finger, she took a few steps closer to the ocean and planned out her strategy for the afternoon.
Concentrating on business matters, Briana was nonetheless fascinated by the man that crouched where water met land. When he gradually stood erect, his
height climbed past six feet. It was impossible not to stare at the long legs in khaki trousers, and the crisp white shirt with sleeves rolled up over bronzed forearms. Her trek rose to short, dark hair whipped frenetically by the wind. She watched the fluid, but powerful way his hand reached up to massage the back of his neck, and wondered what had him so engrossed.
It was odd to see someone obviously dressed for work out digging for seashells. But, then again, glancing down at her
own flowery ensemble—maybe he wasn’t the only one to seek escape.
The profile exuded strength, yet his stance suggested indecision. Entranced, Briana advanced for a closer glimpse, surprised to hear him talking to himself. She nearly tumbled backwards as he spun around and pinned her with deep brown eyes, shadowed wells that enticed her to dive in.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
His voice was a soft rumble like the surf, emitted from a mouth that curled up appealingly at the side.
Briana stooped to retrieve the sandal she just dropped. She rose and sought composure. “You didn’t. I—I was just wondering who you were talking to.”
He shook his head and reached for the back of his neck again.
“Myself. A somewhat enlightening conversation, but it was interrupted by your shadow.” Dark eyes swept the length of her. “Curiosity got the best of me. I had to see who you were.”
Certainly having never succumbed to pure attraction as a means for frivolous banter, Briana felt awkward, compelled to run. She glanced over her
shoulder, surprised to discover how far she had strayed from the development.
Startled, Briana realized that he was still talking to her. She turned back so abruptly, her tawny locks lashed her face. Drawing them away, she managed to say, “Excuse me?”
“Are you out here for lunch?”
“More or less. And you? You don’t look like you’re out sunning yourself.”
. She sounded like a complete fool.
Briana couldn’t resist a glimpse of the healthy tan at the collar of his white shirt. When he
followed her gaze, she wished the dark lenses were covering her eyes instead of resting uselessly atop her head. Still, they could have done nothing to conceal her flushed cheeks.
“I’m working.” His low voice was intoxicating, his dusky glance an equal stimulant as it swept her body.
An eyebrow elevated in frank approval of the whimsical floral outfit. “And you? When I turned around I expected to find someone asking for their beach ball, not—”
, Briana wondered, watching his lips.
“I’m working too,” she sighed. Not a sigh
—actually, trapped air. “But I couldn’t keep away from the ocean.”
hh, now that is something I can relate to.” The man dragged his gaze from her to settle on the milky green surf. “The ocean is like a woman. Charming. Beautiful—and capable of such wrath when she wants to.”
A quick grin softened the faint wrinkles abo
ut his eyes. “And,” he added, “just like a gorgeous woman, she seems so unattainable.” He shrugged and smiled at Briana. “Or maybe I just don’t have the right pickup line.”
Their eyes locked for a moment, but he jerked his gaze back to the sea. He seemed mesmerized by the gentle swells that rolled into methodical rows of froth before spilling onto
That sense of peace extended to her, and remarkably Briana felt the stress of the morning slip away. Silently, they stood side by side, listening to the sounds of children at play, and the subtle effervescence of the tide.
Briana relaxed and closed her eyes, but a deep murmur of frustration broke the spell.
“There’s such tranquility to this beach,” he hesitated, “yet, I can’t figure out what’s gone wrong with—”
“Briana!” Naoki Takanawa hollered down from a sandy hillock, waving his arms to draw attention.
With a slow turn of his head and the heft of an eyebrow, the stranger repeated in a soft whisper, “
Briana felt the trade winds tickle her bare arms. Under his smoky gaze, she
was exposed in such a manner that sun-screen lotion could never protect.
“I-I have to go
,” she stammered.
would have said more—asked this man’s name—promised to bear his children—Naoki’s emphatic shout alerted her of trouble.
As this contract was her primary focus, and not some gorgeous guy out digging for seashells, she had no choice but to answer the plea.
A tentative flutter of the hand, and a furtive smile was all she could bestow on the man before she jogged up the shore.
At the crest of the sandy knoll, she paused to slip on her sandals, and resisted looking back.
But she felt it.
In the tingling at the base of her neck, she felt his gaze. It was like a physical caress, and her body responded with a glow that had little to do with the midday sun.
“What?” Briana reached the gutted shell of a sidewalk, wary of her associate’s meditative expression.
Naoki cocked his head, squinting behind tinted lenses as he scrunched his nose. “They’re saying the grade of this land is greater than two to one. Too much slope.”
An expletive slipped from Briana’s lips before she could check it. “I beg to differ. Who told you this
, our engineers?”
“I think it was one of the site inspectors.”
“This property meets all the specified requirements. Its irrigation system will prevent flooding, and the bay is docile compared to building on the North Shore—” Helplessly her hand swept towards the sedate water dotted by small crafts either docked or on their way out to sea. “It is sheltered in this cove.”
Naoki nodded, but was cut off by her continued outburst. “There’s a seawall that spans about five hundred feet, and where that drops off, the development is set back way past standards.
is going to be a safe, intimate alternative for native Hawaiians.”
“Okay, okay,” He held his hands up in defense. “You don’t have to convince me, Bree.”
Briana focused on a burrowing orange bulldozer, its clawed arm swinging like the reptilian limb of a dinosaur. She rolled a shoulder to relieve tension, and then uttered quietly, “I’m worried, Naoki.”
“I’ve forgotten something critical,” she said. “You know Hawaii has been my only home. It offered me roots when I would have had none. All my work the past ten years has been to repay that debt. Now, with
I’ve finally been given the opportunity to do that.” Her head dipped so that she could look at him over the rim of her glasses, “but I’m afraid I’ve neglected something.”
Naoki shrugged off her discouragement. “Hey, it’s just one inspector’s opinion, don’t worry about it.”
One inspector’s opinion
What if she did fail? Would she have the courage to start over? Would she ever be given the privilege again?
Crossing her arms against a coldness that was in her mind, Briana tipped her head to the gentle breeze and looked up toward the crag-like shadows of the
cliff, the great mountain face of the Ko’olau, verdant and strong. The mountain had watched over her since youth—a docile giant, protecting her.
“Everything’ll be fine.” Naoki assured. He rolled onto the tips of his loafers, using the relaxed gesture to elevate to Briana’s height. A breeze disheveled his short black hair, and his nose wrinkled in concentration. “Did the builders give you an estimated completion date?”
“Ten of the twenty-eight lots should have the structures finished by the end of the month.” Briana started down the beach, focusing on three of these bayfront properties. “The inspectors have to come through before anyone can move in, though.”
“Okay,” Briana added, her nerves in overdrive. “I’m going to go confront those inspectors. Take over here, and I’ll catch up with you later.”
Engaged in a debate with an opinionated builder, Briana stooped over an unfurled floor plan pinned at the corners by cement blocks. She was aware of Naoki’s annoyed voice behind her. He, too, seemed occupied in a confrontation and was serving as her front line of defense while she tackled each issue in a first-come first-served basis.
“Look,” Naoki’s high-pitched tone penetrated over the hard-hatted builder before her reciting codes.
“That’s a public park,” Naoki admonished. “It has nothing to do with our property.
I don’t care what you say.”
Her assistant was several yards away and stood blocking the muted voice that responded in subtle
tones until she heard Naoki’s hand slap on his thigh in frustration. “No, you may not see who’s in charge here. Everyone is extremely busy right now.”
Briana sighed, sensing she was about to be pulled into another battle. As if on cue, Naoki turned around and pleaded, “Bree?”
Abandoning the builder with an apology, she climbed back up the embankment to determine the source of Naoki’s agitation. In doing so, she jolted at the sight of the man arguing with her assistant.
Dark brown eyes widened in recognition and then settled back with fine lines around their corners in a revised appraisal.
Only minutes ago when the stranger had whispered her name it sounded like the gentle pitch of an ocean breeze rustling the coconut palms. Now those trees stood motionless under the terse
Naoki glanced curiously between the two as he pushed the black frames of his glasses further up the ridge of his nose. His frown settled on the tall man.
“You two know each other?”
“Actually, no.” Briana recovered and extended her hand. “Briana Holt, General Contractor. How may I help you, Mr.—?”
A raised eyebrow, a hint of a grin, and the obvious raking of that shadowed gaze down the length of her body left Briana aware of the heat of the sun in her face. In any other venue the languid assessment might have felt belittling, but his dark eyes were not demeaning—rather, inquisitive.