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Relapse in Paradise
A Long Shot Romance Novel
By Roxanne Smith
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Roxanne Smith
All rights reserved.
Boston rubbed his forehead and let his exasperation show plainly in his tone. "Hani, I don't have time for this, man."
Even doubled over with his head stuck inside the cold oven, the overgrown Hawaiian took up most of the space in the dark galley kitchen. The one narrow window set above the porcelain sink had been scrubbed just last week. Boston had watched Akela bring down the threadbare curtains and take a sponge to the glass pane with his own eyes, but the room seemed to stay gloomy.
Boston blamed Hani's giant body blocking out the sunlight. Or scaring it away.
Hani's head came out of the oven and cocked to one side in annoyance. Despite it, his clear, dark eyes held only concern. Maybe a hint of fear. "Don't push me, haole. If we don't get this stove working, we ain't feeding nobody. Akela's bringing plates she made from home, but that won't get us through the day. And if Mama finds out she's helping here, Bos, it won't be good."
Fair point. Hani's sister did a lot around the shelter, without her family's consent or knowledge. Since Hani had left home and landed on the streets, they'd had little to do with him. Less so after he took up running The Canopy with Boston. Except Akela, who refused to disown her only brother.
Boston pulled a wad of bills from the side pocket of his maroon cut-off shorts with tired reluctance. The frayed end of his shorts tickled his shins and got caught in his leg hair, but they were his favorite pair.
Probably because Hani hated them. Boston figured he'd picked them out this morning in a subconscious effort to antagonize his business partner.
He held the fat wad of cash aloft to give Hani a better view. "Relax, big guy. See this? It's my paycheck from the job I picked up last week. Money just came down the wire."
His friend didn't appear impressed. Hani had never much cared for money. It was hard to work up a whole lot of concern for something they never had. "Whatcha gonna do, huh? Hand it out? We're trying to give these poor folks a decent plate of rice, not send them back to the liquor store."
Boston put zero effort into hiding his impatient groan. "Your brain's as thick as your barrel chest sometimes. Hell no, I'm not about to sprinkle cash on a bunch of homeless guys. But I bet I've got enough right here to pick up an old used oven at the appliance yard downtown. Relax, man. We're in paradise, remember?" He gave Hani his best cheesy smile, the one he might use on folks if he ever turned to selling cars to make a buck.
The big man stopped fooling with the lost cause of an oven to put a hand over his large belly and laugh lazily.
Like Boston knew he would. If the famous Chef Hani of The Canopy, Honolulu's poorest and smallest soup kitchen, didn't have a sense of humor, no one did.
He shook his head, a slight smile on his wide mouth. "You're funny, Boston. Real funny. You try that paradise talk on the next straggler who finds his way in here. Wait till I can watch, though, 'kay? It's been too long since I seen you get your ass handed to you. In fact, I think it was Jordan who gave you your last shiner, huh? A girl, even."
Boston's insides seized up in his gut like a bad toe cramp. Not the result of nostalgia, loss, or even heartbreak, but fear. Happened every damn time Jordan's name found its way into a conversation. Or into his head. Or he caught a glimpse of the tattoo in his reflection. He absentmindedly rubbed the spot on his ribcage where the ink etched into his skin, barely visible through the threadbare white T-shirt he wore.
A hui hou, it read. Until we meet again.
So much for that.
Hani must've caught his expression. He ran a flat palm over his face as if to wipe away the grin he'd already dropped. "Hey, man. I'm sorry."
Boston waved him off and forced a smile. "Don't be. We've got bigger problems."
Hani was back to fiddling with the knobs of the broken oven. "Damn thing." He sighed. His shoulders drooped. "I like to see the money but hate to see it spent before you even go over the books. Tell me about this new job you got before I call Thompson down here to help me move this thing." He kicked the bottom of it. "Stupid piece of junk."
"What about Kale? Did he finally do the right thing?"
Hani grunted. "Whatever that is. Like either of us would know."
They were certain Kale was an AWOL soldier from the army base at the center of Oahu, but neither of them felt any compulsion to turn him in. Boston would be damned before he'd do it.
The Canopy was a soup kitchen/sometimes shelter when weather hit and they brought a few poor souls inside, not a halfway house or rehab facility. They fed people a couple times a day, as many as they had rice for and nothing more. Hot food, no soapbox talk. Guys like Kale and Thompson relied on the place for a safe haven, and Boston relied on them for help maintaining the shelter. Damn hard to make payroll without liquid assets.
Hell, without any assets. The building itself wasn't worth the broken industrial oven they were about to toss on the curbside.
Hani's thick, black eyebrows drew together in a concerned wrinkle. "I ain't seen Kale in a while, but something tells me he didn't turn himself in at the base. His face would be all over the news if he had."
"How would we know? You see a television in here?"
Hani rolled his eyes. "I may not get out much, but you do. You would've seen something, heard something. One of the boys would probably know."
The boys. That's what Hani called them even though a few women made their way into The Canopy from time to time. The stragglers, the panhandlers, the bottom-feeders. Sometimes, in his more poetic moods, they were the lost souls or the forgotten.
Boston ran a weary hand through his shoulder-length hair. "Nothing I can do for a street kid on the run from the Army. But I can tell you about the job. About two years ago, when I first started doing the guide thing, this couple came from London on their honeymoon." He scratched his chin. The lady was American, he recalled. "Or was it California? Can't remember. Anyway, great couple. Totally laid back." He snapped his finger. "Jack, that was the husband. Jack and Quinn. If all my clients were as chill as these two, I'd love my job."
Air blew from Hani's lips with a rude noise. They called it a raspberry back on the mainland, but there was probably some Hawaiian word for it Boston didn't know. "Whatever, man. You know you love dragging mainlanders all over the island. Don't lie."
Okay, yeah, so he loved it, but what wasn't to love? Oahu did the work; Boston only had to drive and point. "Well, they called last week. They're surprising some family member, a cousin or something, with a plane ticket and hired me to meet her at the airport and show her around the island."
Hani finally gave up on the oven dials with a disappointed, thin-lipped grimace. "You'll probably have it easy if you liked Jack and Quinn so much, eh?"
Boston sucked in air through his teeth. "Nah, I don't think so. Quinn booked this lady's room at the Hilton. Right on Waikiki. She and Jack, they were down for the full experience, you know? They stayed in a little cottage on North Shore that didn't have air-conditioning or sealed windows. Given that, the lofty hotel reservation gives me the impression their cousin — aunt, sister, whatever — isn't made of the same stuff. You smell what I'm cookin'?"
"Oh, I smell it, brother. Smells like you got a rough job ahead." Hani stopped short of whatever he'd been about to say next to give Boston a lingering head-to-toe appraisal. "She's gonna dig for spare change when she sees you, man. Then, when she finds out who you are, she's gonna call the lady who hired you and ask her what the hell she was thinking. Then she's gonna go straight to the Hilton Village and hire one of them real guides. The ones who wear the mint green polo shirts and have official stuff like clipboards and name tags."
Upper crust business rivals. Well, not really rivals. The people who came to Boston were usually the ones intent on avoiding things like client rosters, preplanned lunch menus, and name tags. Especially name tags.
Boston ran a critical eye over his shorts, which were doing their job offending Hani. "She'll get used to me. She'll have to. If Quinn's buddy ditches me, I'll owe her back the deposit. Since I'm about to spend it on an appliance we need to operate this place, I'd better have something up my sleeve, huh?"
An anxious grunt escaped Hani's lips. "Damn right, you better. Hey, you heard what happened to Ryder, didn't you?"
Boston nibbled the inside of his cheek and thought hard. Ryder ... Ryder, sure.... Or, wait. No, that was Robert. Wasn't it? He scratched his neck. "Too many, man. Not enough time for me to get to know them all." At the rate their homeless patrons came and went, who but Hani could keep track? He had the benefit of both working and living at the shelter. Boston's part was making the money to keep it going. On a good week, he'd get to The Canopy once or twice. During a bad week, he made it daily, but it meant no money coming in. "Remind me."
"Guy could've come straight from some bank downtown. Like he might be the CEO or something. Suit and tie."
"Oh, yeah, I remember him. Expensive haircut, trimmed nails, tailored slacks. As recent as they come." Boston had spotted him twice. The first time had stopped Boston in his tracks. His heart had thudded in his chest, stupidly hoping some benevolent rich dude had discovered their operation and came to donate. Until Boston saw him chowing on one of Hani's rice plates. The second time, Ryder hadn't looked so fresh. His button-up was wrinkled, his slick black hair a little less slick. "What happened to him?"
Hani's flat gaze stilled on Boston. "He got arrested last night." A pause. "In Kalihi. I was thinking if bail is set low enough, maybe we can pull something together. Ryder's a good dude."
Boston checked a sigh. Hani reminded him of a spoiled wife sometimes, asking for a new car at the same time Boston was breaking his back just to pay the mortgage. He shook his head slowly. "Kalihi is bad news, man."
Hani's plaintive stare didn't waver.
Boston ran a hand over his smooth cheek. Shaving. His only concession to societal niceties. He tended to get more business when clean-shaven, like facial hair was some sort of trustworthiness gauge. "I don't know, Hani. Guy like that, maybe he developed an expensive habit — the kind of habit that takes a man to Kalihi in the middle of the night. If that's the case, I'd just as soon not get involved." Kalihi had no shoreline, no draw for tourists. Just a working-class neighborhood with the crime and drug problems encountered in any city. It had to go somewhere.
Hani didn't let go. "You can't assume nothing. We don't even know what he was arrested for. One of the boys let me know about the arrest, but he didn't have any other info."
Boston hated to let Hani down but couldn't promise the money was enough. "Let me see what I can do about the oven. Maybe I can pick up a used one. If there's anything left, we'll talk about what we can do for Ryder."
Hani beamed. "You'll come through, haole. That's what you do." He wiped his hands on the apron tied around his expansive waist and turned back to the stove.
Haole. It had taken Boston years to get accustomed to Hani's familiar use of the word, Hawaiians' not-so-nice name for white people. Whether or not it had prejudice connotations depended largely on who was saying it and how. Hani used it as a term of endearment these days, but that hadn't always been the case.
He hesitated to say it, to give Hani hope, but maybe ... "I might be able to squeeze a little more out of Quinn."
Hani had started sorting through a shelf of pots and pans on the far wall. He didn't look up but raised his voice over the clunks and clangs. "Oh, yeah? How you gonna do that? Be a real guide after all? I got a clipboard 'round here somewhere." He hefted a huge stainless steel pot into the sink.
Boston grinned at Hani's doubtful expression. "Hell, no. This lady's vacation is open-ended. No departure date is set. I got a two-week advance. If she stays longer than two weeks, I get to charge for it. The longer she stays, the more I get paid."
"Why can't you just tell them your rates went up? Insurance companies pull that crap all the time. Inflation, man. I'm just saying." Hani's innocent shrug almost made Boston laugh.
"I'm not successful because I gouge my clients. You know that."
Hani gave the stove a frustrated kick and muttered something unintelligible and probably offensive under his breath in Hawaiian. He smoothed down a long strand of hair that had escaped from his braid. "Don't try to sell me your credo, Boston. I think we both know why you're so damn good at this private guide business, and it ain't nothing to do with prices."
Was Hani about to berate him for giving away Oahu's local secrets to tourists? He thought they were past this.
Hani's grin came slowly. "It's them long, golden locks. Akela knows what I'm talking about. You're like a Barbie doll, man. You're so pretty it's confusing sometimes."
Boston refused to be baited. Hani constantly gave him a hard time about his "pretty boy" looks. Maybe he should grow a beard after all, his clients be damned. "Flattery won't convince me to marry your sister." It might be playing with fire to tease Hani about the mean crush Akela had on him, and the pink hibiscus tucked perpetually behind her right ear, a status symbol declaring to anyone in the know that she was both single and available. Unfortunately, Akela didn't merely resemble Hani — they were practically identical. They even had matching braids, big thick black ones they wore straight down their backs.
He hadn't noticed the blue speckled stovetop coffee urn sitting atop the broken stove until Hani reached for it and poured the dark contents into a mug, disgruntled. "Cold coffee, man. How do you like that? I was gonna offer you some brew, but I guess compliments are all I can afford. You'd make a terrible prince, anyway. Don't know why I bother."
Boston's eye roll didn't do the situation justice, but he didn't have time to groan and walk away.
Hani bobbed his head like he knew what was coming. "I know, I know. You don't believe me, but I'm telling you, brother. We're descendants of the royal Hawaiian family. Kemahameha the Great, man. He's my great, great, great, great something. With the conquest of O'hua in 1795, he became the founder of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. Fifteen years and a few concessions later, bam! You've got a unified country, my friend." He poked Boston in the chest with a large, stubby finger. "Until your people showed up, anyway. I'd be living at Iolani Palace right now if it weren't for you haoles."
On an island where dialects and languages came in many flavors, Boston appreciated the universal. He flipped Hani the bird. "I have to go. Keep an eye out for the delivery guy from the appliance yard. We'll have rice flying out of here by lunchtime."
Hani grimaced after taking a sip of the cold half-brewed coffee. "Hey, you never said what this lady's name is. How you gonna find her at the airport if you don't know her name?"
Boston dug around inside the outer pocket of his frayed cargos and came up with a crumpled yellow note. He unfolded it. "Emily Buzzly-Cobb. That's one hell of a name."
Another grimace from his friend. "I'm starting to feel sorry for you, brother. She even sounds like a stick in the mud."
Boston smirked. "I'll just have to knock her loose."
* * *
Some places on the Web described Honolulu International Airport as the busiest U.S. airport.
Emily glanced around and doubted it. A seasoned traveler, she'd seen far worse at LAX, O'Hare, and JFK. Perhaps Hawaiians weren't morning flyers. She checked her watch. Six hour flight plus a three hour time difference in her favor meant she'd only lost three hours.
If she didn't calculate for jet lag.
Which she wouldn't. She could sleep when she went back to California. On Hawaii time, it was seven in the morning. The perfect hour to begin her first official day in paradise. First, she needed to get to her room at the Hilton her sister, Quinn, had reserved for her stay.
Her completely open-ended stay.
Excerpted from Relapse in Paradise by Roxanne Smith. Copyright © 2015 Roxanne Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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