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"Please fasten your seat belts in preparation for landing. Please remain seated until the captain has unlocked the forward cabin doors and turned off the Fasten Seat Belts sign."
Carrie Evans locked her tray table into position, shifted in her seat and reached up to twist a wayward lock of hair back into the casual upswept knot she'd anchored atop her head with a chopstick. Not just any chopstick—a hand-carved rosewood piece with an enamel design—a new item she was featuring at Time After Time, her upscale, all-things-beautiful eccentricities shop on La Cienega in L.A.
Then she returned to reading a Spirit of Aloha complimentary in-flight magazine article that had caught her eye.
Ho'ailona, she read, was the Hawaiian word for signs and symbols, omens sent from the world of spirits to those discerning enough to recognize that they were far from natural occurrences.
"In Hawaii, it's believed that nature provides signs and omens that sound a warning for danger, misfortune, or trouble ahead on one's intended path."
Signs and omens.
Good thing she didn't believe in such nonsense. If she did, she might see the fact that her fiancé, Kurt Rowland, hadn't been able to make the flight for their wedding trip as a very bad sign.
Tossing the colorful airline magazine into her carry-on bag, she left the comfort of her first-class seat behind and smiled at an exotically lovely Hawaiian flight attendant in the doorway. The young woman's makeup was flawless. She wore a vanda orchid tucked behind her ear and both the flight attendant and the orchid looked as fresh as when they took off from L.A. five hours ago.
Carrie wishedshe could say the same about herself.
The young woman smiled. "Aloha and welcome to Kauai," she said, handing Carrie a map of the island.
"Thanks." Almost in disbelief, Carrie added, "I'm getting married on Saturday. On the beach. At sunset."
"Congratulations." The flight attendant wished her much happiness.
Southern California seemed light-years away as Carrie stepped out of the jetway and into the air-con-ditioned comfort of the waiting area at the Lihue, Kauai, airport. Exiting the building, she bumped along with the crowd toward the baggage claim, enveloped by the heady scent of plumeria blossoms floating on a blanket of sultry humidity.
Reality hit her as hard as the tropic heat.
I have a wedding to pull off in four days.
A wedding that was taking place two thousand miles from home.
And her groom, who should have been at her side, was still on the other side of the Pacific.
"It's not every day a guy gets the opportunity to be featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine," she'd reminded him that afternoon as he drove her to Los Angeles International Airport. She was proud and happy that Kurt been chosen for the honor, far more than she was disappointed that they couldn't be on the same flight.
After years of struggling as an unknown artist, Kurt's bold, primitive work was in high demand, but they were both realistic enough to know that fame was fleeting. However, right now he was hot and the Times article would really put him on the map. His massive creations graced upscale hotel lobbies and corporate offices all over L.A. Even A-list celebrities were commissioning him to work his magic on their mansion walls.
Carrie made her way to the baggage carousel and edged closer, braced to grab her bag as soon as it trundled past.
Ten minutes later, all but four people had exited the baggage claim area and those left behind were beginning to look forlorn. Carrie's suitcase hadn't come tumbling down the chute onto the carousel as expected. It wasn't oversize. It wasn't overweight. She had the claim tag.
But she had no bag.
Just then, her cell phone rang as if on cue. She glanced at the caller ID and smiled when she saw that it was him.
"You made it." He sounded as if he were right beside her and not an ocean away.
She glanced around at the nearly deserted baggage claim area. Across the carousel, some very pale tourists were helping themselves to complimentary Kona coffee from an air pot on a shelf against the far wall.
"The flight was easy. I took a nap, watched Spiderman 3 again and went through my folder of wedding plans. Now, here I am."
"Great. The photographer's assistant promised that he'd take care of getting me on the very next plane to Kauai. I'll catch the red-eye and meet you in the morning. Have some champagne on ice and we'll have mimosas and breakfast in bed."
"That sounds fabulous. There's only one little hitch. My bag is missing." She glanced at the ramp that was no longer spewing luggage.
"It'll show up." Kurt's optimism was one of the things she loved most about him.
"I know." She glanced around the baggage claim area. It was only March, but Kauai was extremely hot and muggy. Her parents didn't do hot and muggy well. "I'm beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea after all," she mused aloud.
There was a sudden, ominous silence on the other end of the line. Then Kurt said, "You're not having second thoughts, are you? Look, honey—"
She realized what he was thinking and cut him off. "Oh, no! No. I'm not talking about getting married. I was just wondering if having the wedding all the way over here was such a good idea. I mean, destination weddings are in, but I feel so far away."
Everything was set. Their immediate family and her best friend, the maid of honor, had purchased their airline tickets and reserved rooms. Still, she couldn't help but worry.
"What if my bag doesn't show up? My wedding gown is in it." Simple, elegant ivory silk, her gown was a Vera Wang. It fit her like a glove. "So are the place cards and the photos of arrangements I wanted to show the florist."
"No turning back now. Your bag will get there. Don't worry.You're just exhausted from the long flight. Get some sleep. Things will look better tomorrow."
She sighed. He was always so positive. He made things sound so easy. "You're absolutely right. I love you, Kurt."
"Love you, too, hon. Keep your eye on the goal."
They said their goodbyes. She hung up. She was tired. But everything would work out.
She'd never failed at anything in her life and she wasn't about to start now. The sunset wedding on a secluded stretch of beach—the prelude to their marriage—would come off without a hitch. With the help of the Hawaiian event coordinator she'd found on the Internet, she'd planned everything in minute detail.
A destination wedding had been her idea. Having Kurt's bohemian father and brother meet her conservative parents on neutral ground was a far better plan than what would surely become a horrific scene from an unscripted When Worlds Collide if she'd opted to hold the reception at her parents' country club outside Chicago.
She didn't have to remind herself that Kurt Rowland was a dream come true. He was not only her fiancé, but her lover, the man of her dreams, her best friend. Just the sound of his voice over the phone had worked its magic.
She was calm. She was refocused now. Everything would be fine.
She'd never believed in love at first sight until the moment her eyes had met Kurt's across a crowded gala in the upscale lobby of L.A.'s latest boutique hotel. The hotelier had ordered gift baskets for VIP guests from Time After Time, and Carrie had received an invitation.
The hotel's automatic door had whisked closed behind her that evening and she'd barely stepped inside the lobby when she'd recognized Kurt, the celebrated artist who had created the floor-to-ceiling mural in the lobby across from the reception desk. His stare was so intent, so sizzling hot, that her high-heeled pumps seemed to have suddenly been Gorilla-glued to the terrazzo marble floor. She couldn't take another step.
It was a second or two more before she even realized he had a woman on each arm, bracketing him like well-placed bookends. One was a striking brunette, the other an icy, glamorous blonde. Both, Kurt explained later, were models. Their attendance was set up by his publicist so that he made a statement walking into the reception.
Barely breathing, she watched as he smoothly left the two women, snagged two glasses of champagne off a passing waiter's tray and carried them across the room to her.
He wore his dark wavy hair long enough to tease the collar of his black Armani T-shirt. He was the only man at the gala in jeans, yet he looked perfectly at ease. He was male-model handsome, but exuded a bad-boy roughness around the edges. Once she got to know him, she found that he laughed easy, loved hard and was a hopeless romantic.
The mural behind him depicted the settlement of L.A., from its early history to the present, the diverse mix of the city's ethnic groups, the grandeur of the miles of sparkling coastline and the lavender, snow-covered mountain peaks that rimmed the L.A. basin.
One glance at his work and she knew they were from two different worlds. She was traditional: classic white on white, vanillas and crèmes, calm on the exterior but a cauldron inside.
He was eclectic: bold colors that bordered on neon, bright blues, reds, sunset oranges and purples, primitive and earthy. He wore black, took chances with his art and his business dealings. Inside, he was as tranquil as a tropical shoreline at sunset.
From that night on, when they weren't hard at work establishing their careers, they were inseparable, forging a relationship that both hoped would last a lifetime.
She learned his parents were back-to-nature hippies from Vermont who'd pledged their undying love to one another while standing naked under the summer solstice moon. Though they'd never bothered with a legal ceremony, Trini and Bogie had devoted their lives to each other and their twin sons until Kurt's mother passed away three years ago.
But unlike his parents, Kurt held traditional beliefs when it came to marriage.
Carrie was the woman he wanted to share his life with—he told her he'd known it from the moment he'd seen her walk into the hotel lobby—and he wanted a legal and binding union.
Two weeks after the gala, they moved in together. A month later, he proposed.
It had taken her nearly two years to say yes. She was fearless on all fronts—except when it came to the idea of marriage. Her parents' marriage had lasted nearly forty years, but only because their mantra was "divorce is not an option."
It wasn't love that frightened Carrie. She knew how much Kurt loved her. It was the notion that marriage would somehow change everything that frightened her. It had taken him over a year and a half to talk her into accepting his proposal and setting a date.
To the casual observer, her parents, Dorothy and Edward Evans, had a marriage as picture-perfect as their privileged lives. But only Carrie knew the truth. Behind closed doors, her parents coexisted in a cocoon of polite, icy exchanges. Any passion, laughter or love had died long ago. As far back as Carrie could recall, they hadn't even shared the same room.
Kurt had finally convinced her that just because her parents hadn't had a loving relationship, that didn't mean their marriage wouldn't be as successful as everything else she'd ever attempted in her life.
Now, as she tried to ignore the humidity in the Lihue airport, she tucked her cell phone back into the outside pocket of her carry-on, looked around and thought, By week's end, we'll take our vows on a beach on this romantic, magical island.
But first, she had to track down her bag.
The man behind a Dutch door beneath the Lost Luggage sign wore the placid expression of someone who had heard one too many complaints and was no longer listening.
"Fill this out," he mumbled as he plunked down a form in front of her. "Sign here, and here."
The sheet was covered with drawings of numerous styles and sizes of bags. Many looked exactly alike. Finally she chose what she hoped was her bag type, checked the box, signed and handed back the form. Behind the man in the door, a heavyset woman in a purple- and yellow-flowered muumuu had her back to Carrie as she worked at a computer. Images of bag identification pictures filled the monitor.
"My wedding dress is in that bag." Carrie sighed.
The woman in the muumuu shot her swivel chair around. "Wedding dress, eh? Congratulations, den."