Read an Excerpt
Quilts of Love Series
By Lisa Carter
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Lisa Carter
All rights reserved.
Are you sure there's no message waiting for Laney Carrigan?"
Laney leaned over the information desk at the Kailua-Kona Airport. "I was supposed to be met here ..." She gestured around the rapidly emptying lobby. "By my Auntie Teah. Maybe she's been delayed and she left a note for me with instructions?"
The airport employee, a willowy blond, craned her head around Laney at the line of people queuing behind her. She pointed down the corridor. "You can rent a car over that way." She raised her gaze above Laney's five-foot-three-inch height. "Who's next?"
Laney tightened her lips. Dismissed. Again.
"Maybe an intercom page directing me to meet someone in Baggage Claim or Ground Transportation ...?" Laney sighed at the bored face of the woman and stepped aside as a middle-aged man wearing a flamingo pink aloha shirt shouldered past her to the front of the line. Grabbing the handle of her wheeled carry-on bag, she skirted past a group of Asian tourists who'd been greeted by hula girls bearing fragrant yellow leis.
No point in trying to rent a car when she had no idea where she was going. She paused in an out-of-the-way corner and fumbled in a side pocket of her luggage for her cell phone. Pressing the phone to ON, she waited for it to come to life.
Auntie Teah, whom she'd yet to meet, had assured her over the course of several phone calls that she would be here to welcome her long-lost niece to her ancestral home. An ances-tral home to which she'd not been given directions or an address.
Hitting the Rodrigues phone number she'd stored in her cell, she tapped her navy blue stiletto-clad foot on the shiny, white airport floor and waited for someone to pick up. And waited. After ringing four times, voice mail—a deep, rumbling man's voice—informed her that no one was currently at home—duh—and instructed callers to leave a callback number at the tone. Laney snorted, not trusting herself to speak, thumbed the phone to OFF and stuffed it into her bag. She stalked down the passageway toward Baggage Claim.
Laney pushed her shoulders back, trying to ease the tension of her muscles. As her brigadier father never failed to point out, when stressed, she hunched down like Quasimodo. And at her diminutive stature, there was no one Laney wanted to resemble less than that hunchback of literary legend. She scanned the dwindling crowd encircling the baggage carousel.
Where was her Auntie Teah? Her cousin, Elyse, or Elyse's sweet little boy, Daniel? They'd promised to be here. Laney glanced at her black leather sports watch, noted the time in addition to the barometric pressure and altimeter reading. Her own barometric pressure rising, Laney shoved her bag to the ground, threw herself on top and faced the doorway. Nobody had ever dared ignore Brigadier General Thomas Carrigan.
Apparently, his daughter not so much.
She'd told her dad this was a bad idea, but he'd insisted she answer the inquiry in response to the information he'd posted regarding the scant facts they knew of her birth twenty-eight years ago. The website, which specialized in reuniting adoptive children with their biological families, had been silent for months. And Laney was fine with that.
Abso-flipping, positutely fine with that.
She'd never been curious as to her biological family. She'd always known her real parents, Gisela and Tom Carrigan, adopted her when she was a few months old. They'd chosen her—as her mother had often reminded her. Loved, cherished, protected her. But Gisela succumbed to a lingering, painful death to cancer three years ago.
Then her dad—administrative guru to the five stars at the Pentagon, able to cut through bureaucratic red tape and leap over snafus in a single bound—had the bright idea to post a picture of the quilt in which she'd come wrapped on their apartment doorstep.
And voilá, a hit less than twenty-four hours later.
He did some checking—to make sure none of them were serial killers—and declared it would be good for Laney to plan a visit to their home on the Big Island. Good to connect with people who knew something about her family background. Good to fulfill her adopted mother's last wish that she one day reunite with her biological family.
Laney swallowed a sob. She'd believed she'd already found her forever family. She glanced around the claim area. Her lower lip trembled at the sight of a suitcase going round and round the carousel.
Unclaimed. Alone. Like her.
She squared her shoulders. Who needed these people? The ones who'd abandoned her, deserted her. Left her behind.
Laney closed her eyes on the hateful, treacherous tears that threatened to spill out from beneath her lashes and wondered how soon she could book a return flight to D.C.
This had been a very bad idea.
* * *
"I don't get why I have to be the one to go get this woman, Mama Teah. Why can't Elyse—?" Kai held the phone a few inches away from his ear.
When the roar on the other end subsided, he cradled it once again between his head and his neck as he negotiated a curve around the lava-strewn rubble dotting the mountain side of the highway leading toward the airport, a now dormant volcano's last little hiccup some two hundred years ago. He gripped the wheel of his truck and glanced to his right at the cerulean hues of the Pacific.
"Okay, okay. I get that Elyse was called into work and Ben's on Daniel duty, but I just stepped off the helipad and I didn't get your message until a few minutes ago." Kai frowned. "I'm on my way." He peered at the clock on the dashboard. "ETA in ten. But what aren't you telling me, Teah? Has something happened to you?" His voice caught. "Or to Tutu Mily?"
A pause on the other end.
"Teah? Where are you? You're scaring—" Kai banged his hand on the steering wheel. "I knew something like this was going to happen. I told you this was a bad idea to bring in an outsider at a time like this. I—"
"Kai Alexander Barnes." Teah's voice trumpeted in the truck cab.
Never a good sign when your foster mother used your full legal name.
Kai winced as Teah told him in no uncertain terms what she thought of his thoughts on her ideas. "But surely, there's another way, Teah. We take care of our own. We don't need some overprivileged East Coast socialite barging into our business. Family takes care of family. Like you and Daddy Pete took care of me." His chin wobbled.
A sigh on Teah's end. "You're family in every way that counts, Kai." Her tone toughened. "Laney Carrigan is family, too."
Kai made a right turn into the airport parking lot, willing himself not to relent. This woman—and you'd better believe he'd Googled her—was as elusive as an ice cube in a lava flow. Even with his connections, he'd not been able to blast through the security firewalls her prominent army dad raised for her protection over the years. Not a single photograph to his knowledge existed of the mysterious Ms. Carrigan.
He snorted. "Anyone can post a picture of a quilt. We don't know if that quilt is really hers or how it came into her possession. We don't know if that quilt is the quilt Tutu Mily made years ago for her unborn grandbaby before Mily's daughter ran off to—"
"Bring her to the house as soon as you can," Teah interjected. "I've prayed about this, Kai. Didn't know what to do to solve our dilemma and more importantly, with Tutu's condition worsening, I'm hoping this will bring Mily some peace. I'm still praying. But I believe God's going to work this out."
Kai heard the smile in her voice over the wireless.
Teah continued. "How else do you explain after all these years of wondering when Elyse met a tourist at the resort who mentioned how he'd found his biological parents through that website and then just one day later when Elyse logged into the site, Tutu's quilt appeared?"
He ground his teeth. "I'm parking now, Teah. I promise to deliver Ms. Carrigan safe and sound to your doorstep ASAP."
"You be sure you do that, son." Teah clicked off.
Kai stared at the phone in his hand. The dial tone echoed in the truck cab. Nabbing an empty space, he pulled to a stop and put the F150 in Park. Killing the engine, the door dinged as he thrust it open, swinging his boot-clad feet to the pavement.
She'd made up her mind. And when Teah Rodrigues got something in the bit of her teeth, she was worse than any stallion on the ranch. Unstoppable. Unquenchable. Unswerving.
A force of nature. A regular Typhoon Teah. And like a silent, offshore earthquake, the aftershocks of this unknown family prodigal—Laney Carrigan— returning to the fold might prove to be their undoing.
His face hardened. Just let her try.
No way, no how, he'd let some haole bimbo take advantage of his family. Not on his watch.
* * *
Feeling the whoosh of air over her closed eyelids and the sound of the glass doors of the terminal sliding open, Laney opened her eyes. A Caucasian man stepped through and stopped, his polarized sunglasses obscuring his eyes. As the doors swished shut behind him, Laney took in his appearance—the khaki cargo pants, the ocean blue polo shirt that stretched taut across broad shoulders, the rugged jawline in need of a shave. He searched the room for someone.
Lest he catch her staring, she dropped her eyes to the floor and noticed his scuffed boots.
Tall, dark, and cowboy.
Definitely not Auntie Teah or Elyse. Whoever he was looking for, it wouldn't be her. He wasn't here for her.
Guys like him never were.
Cowboy pushed his glasses onto the crown of his close-cropped dark hair revealing eyes as tropical blue as the waters off the Seychelles, her last assignment. His head rotated from side to side, scrutinizing the remaining occupants of the baggage claim area. His eyes eventually came round to her. With the intensity of an electric blue flash.
Resisting the urge to fan herself—was it just her or had the temps risen another notch?—she pushed her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose and sat prim atop her carry-on case. His eyes traveled over her from the top of her head to her best-interview pointy-toed shoes. Self-conscious, she tucked her feet under her body, smoothing the edges of her pleated navy skirt over her ankles. Cowboy's eyes narrowed before flicking away at the sound of a voice down the corridor, dismissing her as she knew he would.
"Kai! Wait up!"
Laney turned her head as did Cowboy when a leggy redhead strode across the room, latching onto his coiled muscular arm. His nose crinkled. Then a practiced lazy smile flitted across his handsome features. Those baby blue lagoon eyes of his dropped to half-mast. A whirring of the air around Laney fluffed her shoulder-length hair as another figure rushed forward.
The willowy blond from Information seized Cowboy Kai by his other arm. He inclined his head as the I-Can't-Be-Bothered airport employee whispered something for his ears only. Too far away for their conversation to register—and who cared?—she did catch Cowboy's deep-throated chuckle in response to whatever witticism Blondie had murmured.
Typical. She'd seen his macho, arrogant type many times following her father around the globe in the rolling stone life of Uncle Sam's army. Laney folded her hands in her lap. His kind loved the fluffy kittens of the world like Blondie and the redhead. He probably wasn't a real cowboy, either. Probably didn't know one end of a horse from a—
A mountainous shadow inserted itself between Laney and the fluorescent lighting of the terminal. She jerked at the sight of Cowboy looming over her.
"Ms. Carrigan, I presume?" A mocking smile flickered at the corners of his lips.
Laney's hackles rose, and she hunched her shoulders as she struggled to rise from her awkward position on the floor. The heel of her shoe caught on the handle of her bag and she fell—make that sprawled—into his arms.
Wishing she could sink into the floor, she felt the blush matching and mounting from beneath the collar of her pink shirtwaist blouse.
Great, elegant as always.
But she'd give him full kudos for quick reflexes.
In a full face plant against the blue fabric of his shirt, Laney noted—in the half-second before Cowboy pulled his own nose out of her hair—an enticing blend of smells on the man, a spicy aftershave like her father wore, cocoa butter, and something indefinable that belonged to him alone. Awkward ... this was long past getting out of hand.
Laney took herself in hand and cleared her throat.
Cowboy, his hands wrapped around her upper arms, set her aright upon her two left feet. His black-fringed eyes—eyelashes the envy of any girl—blinked. Not that there was anything remotely girlish about him.
His fingers lingered. Stepping back, Laney almost fell again over her suitcase. His hand shot out restoring her balance. He nudged her bag out of the way with the pointed toe of his boot.
Was it her imagination or did a rosy flush darken his sculpted cheekbones? "Carrigan, right?"
She shook free of his grip. "And you would know that how?" Settling her hands on her hips, she looked past him to where two fluffy kittens glared mayhem in her direction. "Who are you?"
He jammed his hands into the front pockets of his pants. "Kai Barnes. I'm here to perform a SAR for Auntie Teah. A search—"
"I know what a SAR is, Mr. Barnes. Search and rescue."
The full beam of his oceanic orbs lasered her. She extended her neck upward, refusing to let his six-foot height intimidate her.
"Sure." A derisive smirk crossed his too-handsome-to-live features. "I forgot about your military background."
"I take it you're military, too?" Should've seen it sooner, but the boots had thrown her off. She could spot 'em, all right. That distinct swagger, that I'm licensed to kill attitude, that ...
"Army pilot." His eyes shuttered again. "Former. Flew SAR in medevacs." He removed his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms over his chest. His mouth flatlined. "Search and rescue seems to be what I do best." His gaze raked her over. "I'll take you to Teah who's waiting for us at the ranch. My—"
"I'm not going anywhere with you." Laney's chest puffed out. "I was told to wait for my Aunt Teah or Elyse. I don't know you from Adam. You could be some psycho cowboy serial killer for all I know." She crossed her arms, mirroring his stance.
Kai raised his eyes toward the ceiling, his jaw working. An exasperated sigh rose from the depths of his being, rolling through the airwaves like a rumbling volcanic eruption. "Teah's not your real aunt." He stabbed Laney with a fierce look. "If you are who you claim to be ..."
Laney fixed him with a matching glare.
"She and your mother were first cousins, which makes Elyse, Teah's daughter, a more distant cousin. Auntie is a term of respect for elders in our Hawai'ian culture."
"Hawai'ian? Our?" She let her eyes roam up and down his muscular form in a deliberate repetition of his scathing perusal of her earlier. Kai flushed again. This time though—and she could tell the difference—with anger.
Muttering something under his breath, with a sudden move, Kai whipped a brown leather wallet from one of the ubiquitous pockets lining his pants. He extracted a driver's license and held it to her face. "Kai Barnes. My address—Franklin Ranch. Near Waimea. There's been a slight emergency with Tutu Mily so they sent—"
"Tutu? Mily?" Laney's arms dropped to her sides. "Do you mean Miliana Franklin, my grandmother? What's happened?"
"Your understanding of our culture underwhelms me. Tutu means grandmother. And yes, I refer to Miliana Kanakele Franklin, although whether she's actually your grandmother or not remains to be seen."
"Teah said she'd explain when we reached the ranch. Until then, if you want to meet your Hawai'ian relatives, then I suggest ..." His arm swept the room and pointed at the glass doors.
"Fine. Have it your way." Laney bent to retrieve her bag but found Kai to be quicker, his hand grasping the handle. She tugged.
He held on.
Laney let go.
So, he was a gentleman, too.
"This puny thing it?" He heaved it to his shoulder.
"I learned a long time ago to travel light."
Excerpted from Aloha Rose by Lisa Carter. Copyright © 2013 Lisa Carter. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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