Shauna and Zach’s dream honeymoon—turned nightmare.
Having narrowly avoided tragedy in their hometown of Lavender Tides, Washington, Shauna and Zach Bannister are finally on a honeymoon cruise through the Hawaiian islands. Lost in the glow of their newfound love, they eagerly anticipate basking in the warmth of the lush tropics.
But soon the newlyweds begin receiving mysterious threats. After Zach survives two attempts on his life – staged as freak accidents – Shauna ominously receives flowers from a stranger.
The lovers become unwitting detectives in an urgent pursuit to discover the identity of their murderous stalker.
Set against the spectacular Hawaiian landscape, Colleen Coble’s lightning-paced novella is a haunting journey into a world as remote and hidden as it is beautiful, as spellbinding as it is wondrous.
About the Author
Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author and RITA finalist best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series. Connect with Colleen online at colleencoble.com; Instagram: colleencoble; Facebook: colleencoblebooks; Twitter: @colleencoble.
Read an Excerpt
The first time he saw her, he stopped and stared with his mouth open, absorbing the aroma of the f lower lei around his neck. Hawaiian music floated through the hotel lobby like a movie track, and his vision narrowed until all he saw was her beautiful face framed by her black hair. Even from this distance he could see the vivid green of her eyes and the planes of her high cheekbones. He could almost feel the soft texture of her creamy skin and smell the scent of her, something sweet and wonderful for sure.
She was a vision from another world, and he wasn't sure she was real until she turned and looked at him. It was as if she could see straight into his soul, down to everything that made him who he was, and she loved every speck. They'd had some good times together, and he'd thought he lost her. This was his second chance to do it right, to hold her close and never let her go.
A porter came for her luggage, and she broke her gaze with him. With her luggage gone she glanced around with a smile that reached down and seized his heart. The sweet curve of her neck drew his attention when she tilted her head back to look at the ornate ceiling in the lobby. He'd kissed that neck many times, and he thought never to see it again, yet here she was. Tourists and hotel staff f lowed past him as he stood rooted to the spot.
The love on her face took his breath away. A smile split his face and he opened his arms. He took one step toward her, then realized her smile wasn't directed at him but at another man. She didn't see him at all.
His smile fading, he stood staring after her as she walked away. He wasn't aware he'd crumpled the rose in his hand until blood dripped onto the floor from where a thorn had pierced his skin.
She'd see him — soon. She would remember the love they'd shared and would share again.
* * *
The Honolulu sunshine warmed Shauna Bannister's skin as she stood at the balcony railing beside her new husband and waved at the crowd on the pier. A few clouds drifted lazily overhead in a perfect blue bowl of sky. The sweet aroma of the lei around her neck wafted to her nose and added to her sense of well-being.
Back home in Lavender Tides, Washington, the leaves would mostly have changed, and the October temperatures would be in the fifties instead of this wonderful eighties weather.
Zach's warm lips nuzzled her neck. "I have you all to myself for the next eight days."
A delicious shiver went up her spine, and she leaned against Zach with a contented sigh. "It sounds wonderful. I've always wanted to see Hawaii." She turned and peeked into the spacious suite. "This must have cost you the earth."
She still couldn't believe this wonderful man was all hers. His dark good looks attracted plenty of appreciative female glances wherever they went, but his blue eyes watched only her. Thoughtful, strong, brave, and committed were words that all described Zach Bannister, but his most admirable trait was his steadfastness. How he'd gotten to be thirty-three without being snagged by another woman was a mystery.
He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "The cost wasn't bad. One of the cruise line's bigwigs is one of my longtime customers. He gave me a great price."
She followed him into the penthouse suite and marveled again at the huge bed topped with crisp white linens accented with a pop of aqua. Spacious windows and sliding doors let the Hawaiian sunshine stream into the space and revealed an impossibly blue ocean. It was far from the cramped cabin she'd expected.
"As beautiful as this is, I want to see the rest of the ship. Let's go get some coffee."
"My thoughts too." He held open the door for her, and they stepped out into the hall and found their way to the deck with the coffee bar.
She looked around as he ordered them both black coffees. The casino machines faded to a dull roar as she noticed two older men staring at them from the casino next door. One was almost as round as he was tall with a balding head that gleamed in the overhead light. He was probably in his sixties. The other one had an aging surfer look with tousled brown hair streaked with blond like he might have worn it in the sixties. His tailored khaki slacks and crisp white shirt gave off an expensive vibe, and she guessed him to be in his midsixties as well. Both men were smiling as if they knew them.
The portly gentleman gave a half smile and waved as if he expected her to recognize him. When he approached her with the other guy behind him, she clutched Zach's arm. "Do you know these guys?" she whispered.
Zach turned around and a smile lifted his lips. "Otis, I haven't seen you in ages!" The two men shook hands, and Otis clapped Zach on the shoulder as he pumped his arm.
Otis drew the other man forward. "This is Raul Jackman. We met here in Honolulu a few days ago. Raul retired a few months ago after an impressive career in Silicon Valley. He's forgotten more about computers than I've ever learned."
Zach shook his hand. "Good to meet you, Raul. Zach Bannister. Otis was my favorite professor in college."
The tension drained from Shauna's neck and shoulders, and she stepped toward the men with her hand extended. "I'm Shauna, Zach's wife."
The aging-surfer guy reached for her hand first. "Raul Jackman." His smile widened. "Good to meet you, Shannon."
His smile faltered. "Sorry, I misheard."
Shauna felt an instant pull toward the man. "It's nice to meet you." She shook Otis's hand too.
His blue eyes gleamed with appreciation as he took her hand. "You're a cute little thing, aren't you?" She hated to be reminded of how short and petite she was. Shauna let him keep her hand until the handshake felt a little too personal, then pulled away with an apologetic smile. She didn't know him well enough yet for this kind of effusiveness.
"On vacation?" Otis asked.
"We're on our honeymoon," Zach said. "What are you guys doing here?"
Raul shrugged. "It's my retirement reward."
Otis looked away. "I'd always planned to take my wife to Hawaii for our thirty-fifth. She died six months ago, but I decided to come anyway."
Zach winced and clapped his hand on the man's shoulder. "I don't know what to say, Otis. I'm really sorry." He slipped his arm around Shauna in a protective embrace.
She felt incredibly selfish at the thought that she might not have Zach to herself this trip. His friend Otis obviously needed some support after losing his wife, and she should be glad they were there to give it, but the balloon of her anticipation suddenly deflated. This might not be the honeymoon she'd hoped for.CHAPTER 2
His wife. Zach's gaze lingered on Shauna's smooth tanned arms, bare in her vibrant turquoise dress. Her black hair was in an elegant updo that revealed her neck and shoulders and made her look a bit taller, which she probably liked. Her hands were in motion as she talked with Raul and Otis, who'd joined them for dinner. Crystal chandeliers glittered overhead, and the murmur of conversations around the dining room filled the air.
It was going to be a great honeymoon, and maybe they'd be able to let go of all the terror they'd gone through in the past month.
He realized Shauna and Raul were staring at him. "What?"
"Raul asked you a question three times." Shauna's green eyes held a teasing light. "Thinking about that bike ride in the morning?"
He grinned. "It's going to be fun."
"Getting up at three is not going to be fun." Her green eyes smiled at him over the rim of her water glass.
"Hey, that's five our time. I'm not on Hawaiian time yet, are you?"
"That's its only saving grace." She glanced at Otis. "What are you fellows doing tomorrow on Maui?"
"I thought about that Haleakala ride, but I'm not sure I'm up for that. I might sleep in, then head for the beach and snorkel, maybe take in a whale-watching excursion in the afternoon."
Zach focused his thoughts. "Sounds good. We're doing dinner at Leilani's on the Beach tomorrow night. Want to join us?" Shauna's smile dimmed. He should have kept his mouth shut, but he'd seen the loneliness in Otis's face.
Otis raised his brows in mock alarm. "That's okay. You guys are on your honeymoon. You need to hold hands and gaze at the sunset. I might cruise the bars and look for a cute tourist."
Raul let out a careless laugh. "All these couples make me want to have a woman on my arm too."
Saved by their good sense. Zach grinned. "Good luck, buddy."
Over dinner Raul had talked about all his travels. The man had made millions with a start-up dot-com business. He'd shown them pictures on his phone of him standing at a temple in India with his wife some years back.
Raul stared off into the distance. "We didn't go on beach vacations. She was afraid of water, and she much preferred cultural experiences. A new wife could never measure up to her."
Zach's gaze cut to Shauna. If anything happened to her, he didn't think he could ever remarry either. She was irreplaceable. But she'd remarried him after losing the love of her life, his best friend, Jack.
For a year they thought Jack had fallen accidentally while climbing, an event Zach blamed himself for. They'd found things were not what they seemed and that the danger was far from over. Together they'd obtained justice for Jack, and now the future was a bright ribbon in front of them.
The servers began to clear away the dessert plates, and Zach realized it was nearly seven thirty. People would probably be waiting for their table since the cruise line did freestyle dining. "Guess we'll head out of here."
Shauna rose as if she had been waiting for him to say that. "I wanted to go to the comedy show tonight, but I'm really beat. It's ten thirty our time, and I don't think I can stay awake for it."
And he was eager to have his bride all to himself. He took her hand and smiled at the men. "See you later, guys. Have a good evening."
A shadow passed over Otis's face but was quickly gone. "You too."
As they got out of earshot, Shauna rose on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. "They probably wanted us to hang around with them longer. I just couldn't do it." She produced a big yawn and sighed.
He squeezed her hand. "Me neither. We need some time alone."
A blush made its way up her creamy neck, and she nodded. "We need to protect our time together. I don't want to get home and regret how we spent our honeymoon."
He kept possession of her hand as they made their way to the cabin. He locked the door behind them and saw a cute towel bunny on their bed. It guarded a sprinkling of chocolates. "They really know how to make us feel special." He scooped up two squares and handed one to Shauna.
His cell phone dinged with a message, and he dug it out of his pocket to glance at it. "We know your brother's name. It's Grayson Bradshaw."
Shauna had been searching for her brother and sister ever since she discovered they didn't die in an earthquake like she'd been told.
"Grayson, not Connor?"
"His new parents gave him the name. Since no one seemed to know who he was, they were free to name him whatever they wanted."
"It'll be hard to quit thinking of him as Connor." She lifted her head and smiled up at him. "I'm glad we have this time here first. It gives me a chance to roll around the different scenarios in my head. Like how will he react when we find him?"
"Let's try not to expect anything. It's going to be a shock."
She nodded. "I'm trying not to obsess about it. We have other decisions on our plate too. The upgrades to the airport have to be determined, and we've been talking about hiring another helicopter pilot if we have a baby."
Having a child was high on their list of creating the perfect life together. Her son, Alex, was five and a joy to both of them, but they'd love to have a child together. Shauna had inherited a good chunk of money from her mentor, and he had a hefty amount still in savings, but the ideas for expansion of Hurricane Roost Airport held challenges they'd have to work out.
All good reasons to keep this time for themselves. A lot of things would distract them once they left the cruise. He pulled her closer and found her eager lips.
* * *
Zach's breath fogged in the frigid air at the top of Mount Haleakala in Maui. The tour operator had provided them with coats, but the blowing wind cut right through him. He kept his arm around Shauna, though it wasn't much protection from the cold.
"You doing okay?" he whispered in her ear. "I feel a little light-headed."
"Me too, but I'll be okay."
The parking lot looked like a volcanic moonscape filled with swirling fog that periodically parted to reveal people bundled in coats and gloves. The van had picked them up just before three in the morning to drive them to this spot just below ten thousand feet.
He caught his breath. "Look!" The sun burst over the horizon in a showy display of magical golden light.
The chatter of the other tourists fell silent as the sun put on a display that had been unfathomable when he'd first heard about it. The sun was above the clouds and painted them in a golden orange that took his breath away. Shauna's, too, for she gasped beside him.
Haleakala means "House of the Sun," and watching the sunrise burst out of the darkness explained the name. Legend said the demigod Maui had captured the sun and forced it to slow its journey across the sky to lengthen the day.
"It's unbelievable." Shauna slipped a cold hand into his.
"It's about time to start biking. That will warm us up."
Once the sun pushed into the blue sky, they piled into the van and drove down to sixty-five hundred feet, where the tour guides handed out bicycles and helmets. "Sure you're up to this?" he asked Shauna.
"I just drank a bottle of water. That will help this headache that's starting." She shivered as she took possession of her bike, a sleek red one. "I thought this was a tropical honeymoon."
"Our steward told me this was an experience we would never forget. He was right."
The tour guide, a young woman with long black hair, waved for their attention. "We've had people killed on this road. Accidents are not uncommon, so I need you to pay attention. No gawking at the sights when you're going around hairpin curves or against oncoming traffic. Space yourselves out and be aware of what other bikers are doing."
Killed? He exchanged a long glance with Shauna. He'd never heard it was that dangerous, though he understood how accidents could happen with the volcanic outcroppings and rough terrain. He and Shauna were both excellent bikers, but he planned to keep her in his sight at all times.
Once she was mounted on her bike and pedaling down the mountain, he fell into place about four feet behind her. The view of green valleys and blue ocean invigorated him, and the last of his fatigue blew away. The way they'd go around a curve and seem to drive straight into a cloud was exhilarating.
The grade of descent went steeper as they approached a curve up ahead. He applied the brakes to avoid running into Shauna, but the grips went all the way down. He frowned and tried to slow again with the same result. The bike accelerated as he reached the curve, and he swerved to avoid Shauna.
"Sorry!" he shouted as he flew past her.
The wind rushed past his cheeks and down the neck of his jacket as the bike sped up as he came out of the curve. The grade down looked steeper yet, and he searched around for a soft landing where he could change out his bike, but jagged black lava lined both sides of the road.
He clutched the bike grips and looked ahead to where a truck was gearing up to lumber past in the intersection. If he was gauging the speed right, he would hit the side of the vehicle unless he did something.
He lifted both feet from the pedals, then began to use his sneakers as a brake against the pavement. The bike lurched to the right, but he managed to keep it from crashing into the volcanic shale along the shoulder.
He thought he heard Shauna shout, but the wind snatched away her words. Most of the group probably knew by now that he was in trouble. He dug his toes harder against the pavement, and the bike finally began to slow. The intersection drew near much too fast, and the truck driver hadn't noticed Zach was struggling.
He had to stop now or he was going to slam into the side of the truck. He dug in with his sneakers hard enough that the tops of his toes started to burn, then he set both feet down f lat on the pavement. The bike rocked, then toppled over to his right. He put out his hand to catch himself, but his palm skidded in the shale, and his shoulder and cheek slammed into the rocks.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Leaving Lavender Tides"
Copyright © 2018 Colleen Coble.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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