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Unforgettable Nights (Book 5)
Two weddings. Two strangers. One romance.
In Hawaii for a destination wedding, bridesmaid Amy Pratt is thrilled to finally reconnect with her long lost brother. But paradise has a few surprises for the serious young woman with a sensible life plan. One thing she hasn't counted on is a handsome, heroic, former football jock.
Between jobs, with no other plans than to visit his sister, Ray Varner becomes her last minute escort to a wedding in Hawaii. The last thing he expects is to find paradise in the eyes of a captivating woman constantly chaperoned by an overprotective big brother.
Can madcap mix-ups, wedding chaos, and a week on Waikiki beach make the impossible seem possible?
For Chris Keniston fans who’ve read Doug and Emily’s love story in Dive into You and have been waiting for Doug’s sister Amy’s story, WAIKIKI WEDDING is the answer.
For readers of Linda Steinberg’s Unforgettable Nights series, this is book #5, which follows One Night with the Best Man, and brings the gang to Hawaii for Courtney and Drew’s wedding.
“So this is paradise.”
Ray Varner handed his rental car key to the valet and, grabbing his sister’s suitcase as well as his own, stared in wonder at the palm trees, the beach, the ocean nearly close enough to touch. The almost-winter sun warmed his bare forearms like June in Oklahoma. If this wasn’t paradise, it was damned close.
Apparently oblivious to the splendor, Tish texted on her phone. “Courtney’s coming down to the lobby to meet us,” she said, shoving the phone into the pocket of her white pants.
Courtney. The bride, if he remembered correctly. Waving away the bellman’s help, Ray wheeled the two-roller bags through the glass doors of the imposing hotel and barely avoided colliding with a trio of bronzed bathing beauties. He breathed in the coconut scent of sunscreen. He could get used to this.
“Welcome to the Aloha Hotel.” The stunning native woman at the desk wore a sarong and a large flower in her hair. He’d heard that Polynesian women were the most beautiful on earth. So far, the claim seemed well-founded.
Ray eyed the murals painted on the walls—colorful scenes of Hawaiian history—as Tish handed the reception clerk their printed confirmation. The woman quickly found the reservation on her computer and produced two key cards.
“First visit to Hawaii?” The receptionist spoke to both of them, but her gaze was clearly focused on Ray.
“Yes.” Not counting his brief stop in Los Angeles, this was his first visit anywhere that didn’t grow corn or wheat. “It’s beautiful.”
Though she probably heard that a dozen times a day, the woman beamed as if he were the first person to ever compliment her island. “Enjoy your stay, Mr. and Mrs. Webster.”
“About that.” Tish placed her key card on the reception desk. “I believe I requested a king bed. Can we change that to two doubles?”
The woman stole a quick glance at Ray before answering. “Certainly, Mrs. Webster. But it will take a few moments before another room is ready. Would you mind waiting in the lobby? Or you can grab something to eat on the terrace. We can hold your bags for you.”
“Thanks,” Tish answered. “We’ll wait here.” Grasping the handle of her own bag, she led Ray toward an arrangement of comfortable chairs.
“Tish! You made it.” An attractive brunette coming from the elevator headed their way. The two women hugged as if it had been months since they’d seen each other instead of days. “And Brady—” With her arms already poised to embrace him, the woman stopped and backed away. “You’re not Brady.”
“This is my brother Ray.” Tish linked her arm around his waist. “The director called Brady back to India at the last moment to shoot a few extra scenes. So Ray is filling in as my plus-one.”
“We’ll miss Brady, but I guess that’s the glamorous life of an actor.” The brunette shrugged, then smiled at Ray. “Nice to meet you. I’m glad you could join us.” She extended her hand for a shake, then, thinking better of it, opened her arms again and wrapped him in the hug she’d originally started.
“Nice to meet you, Courtney. I’m honored to attend your wedding.”
“Oh, I’m not the bride.” The brunette moved out of Ray’s arms.
“This is Lisa,” Tish explained. “She’s the groom’s sister. And the maid of honor.”
“Sorry.” Ray hoped his smile made up for his mistake. “I’ll study harder for the quiz.” He’d need a cheat sheet to remember all the names of Tish’s friends and their husbands.
“No problem.” Lisa waved away his embarrassment. “I just came down for a snack."
But, apparently in no hurry, the brunette—Lisa, maid of honor, he reminded himself—continued to chat with his sister about the bridesmaid’s dresses, the bachelorette party, and all things wedding.
Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Ray watched the hotel guests milling about as if they had no place to go and time had no meaning. A middle-aged man wore the Hawaii tourist uniform: shorts, tennis shoes, and a floral shirt. His wife balanced a huge floppy sun hat on her petite head. A young couple, obviously honeymooners, took every step in rhythm, arms locked around each other’s waists, gazing into their beloved’s eyes.
At the lobby bar, a couple of young guys cased the female population, like wolves on the prowl. The Aloha lobby was a great hunting ground. Almost everywhere Ray looked were bikini-clad women of assorted sizes and shapes, all of them beautiful in their own way.
But the woman who caught Ray’s eye sat at a table on the terrace, fully clothed, wearing a bright yellow blouse and a flowing white skirt. Lost in her own space, she tapped away on her phone, then studied the tablet in front of her, her gaze darting every few seconds to the lobby. Unlike the relaxed tourists, she seemed intense. Focused. The only person in his view who didn’t blend in with the scenery.
Suddenly her gaze shifted and met his, followed by an embarrassed smile. He grinned back. Her attention recaptured by her phone, she started tapping again.
Ray stretched his shoulders. “You know, while we’re waiting, I think I’ll check out the beach.”
His sister and her friend nodded without a pause in their conversation.
Ray walked slowly toward the shore, even slower as he crossed the terrace where the serious, attractive blonde sat. But she didn’t look up from her phone. Shrugging, he continued on toward the rolling ocean waves.
His tennis shoes sank into the soft sand, creating small craters wherever he stepped. Ray bent to untie his shoes, slipped out of them, and then took off his socks. He wanted—needed—to feel the sand between his toes. Clutching the laces, tossing his sock-stuffed shoes over his shoulder, he dug his feet deep into the gritty warmth. Oh, man. For a guy from the center of the country who’d never seen the ocean, this was like a trip to heaven.
He shuffled past rows of beach chairs and blankets packed with sun worshipers, tots with pails and shovels, kids building sand castles. Salty air filled his nostrils. When he reached the strip of darker, harder, cooler sand at the water’s edge, Ray dropped his shoes and rolled up the cuffs of his jeans—and glanced back at the terrace.
The woman who’d smiled at him still sat at the corner table. As Ray tried unsuccessfully to catch her eye, she jumped up from her chair, nearly knocking it over. With a delighted squeal she sprang toward a handsome young man sprinting toward her and fell into his arms.
Ray let out a long breath. Gotta figure she wasn’t here alone.
He turned back to the ocean. A light mist sprayed his face, teasing, inviting. Shading his eyes from the sun’s glare, he gazed into the endless blue expanse. The Pacific Ocean. He was standing at the edge of the freakin' Pacific.
A bald older man with his belly extending over his Speedo waded a few feet from the shore. Farther in, people floated on rafts, and kids roughhoused in the water. Bracing himself for icy wetness, Ray stepped into the ocean.
The water was pleasant. Hiking up his cuffs all the way to his knees, he waded in and let the rivulets wash over his ankles, then his shins. He sighed. This was paradise. He couldn’t imagine anything more relaxing, more peaceful.
The two boys playing in the waves ahead of him were splashing and shouting in some foreign language. So much for the idyllic sense of peace. Wait a minute. Only one of the boys was screaming now, and the other was … Shit. The boy’s head disappeared underwater, then bobbed up and went under again.
Ray forged into the water with long strides. It should have taken seconds to reach the drowning kid, but the tide pushed him back. Using his arms as oars, he sprinted forward with his fastest gait from his running-back days, fighting his way through, as if the waves were a pack of defensive linemen.
He reached the boys just as the smaller one went under and didn’t bobble back up. Ray wrenched the young boy from the ocean’s arms and threw him over his shoulder, pounding his back, moving at top speed to the shore—this time helped by the waves.
Laying the boy on the sand, Ray heard unintelligible shouts all around him. He straddled the kid and applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Breathe, dammit. Receiving no immediate response, he pressed his hands against the boy’s chest. When he heard a gurgle, he placed his ear to the boy’s heart and heard it beat. Yes!
He turned the boy’s face to the side. Water trickled, then streamed, from his mouth. Ray heaved a huge relieved sigh. Not until the kid actually sputtered and coughed did he notice the shrill shrieking voice and look up.
An Asian woman tore down the beach, holding an old-fashioned sun parasol, yelling something he couldn’t understand. She made a beeline toward Ray, and, before he could stand up, the petite woman closed the parasol and pounded him in rhythm with her shrieks.
What the hell? “Ma’am, please.” She must be the boy’s mother. But, instead of thanking him for rescuing her son, the woman continued swatting the side of his head. Ray rolled onto his back. Sunspots blinded his eyes.
The woman raised her umbrella again.
From a blanket nearby, a swarm of screaming Asian women ran toward them. Ray covered his face to fend off the aggressors, but, instead of attacking, the women grabbed the umbrella lady and pulled her away before she could land another blow.
Ray lifted himself on his elbows to make his escape, but here came the umbrella woman back to his side. Shit. He’d never struck a woman before but …
The woman fell on him, wrapping her arms around his neck and smothering him with kisses. “Aregato, aregato. Hi-ro.”
Clasping the petite woman by the waist, Ray stumbled to his feet. What a strange place this paradise was.