Hawaiian Reunions #1
May 23, 2023
Available in: Paperback, e-Book, Large Print
Her Island Homecoming
If she stays, will he stay too?
From sand in his shoes to a gecko eating his dinner, Theo Fairfax is way outside his comfort zone in Hawai’i. Sent to convince pilot Sydney Calvert to sell the tour company she just inherited, he finds himself being won over by the tight-knit community, the natural wonders and Sydney’s free-spirited beauty. Could exploring their growing feelings lead to a future as magical as a tropical sunset?
Book 1 in the Island Homecoming series
Theo Fairfax was not made for the tropics. It didn’t take him much longer than a walk through the airport on O’ahu on his way to grab a puddle jumper the size of an anemic flea to confirm that fact. He hadn’t been on the islands for more than a few hours, and he was already anxious to get back home to the cool, fog-capped air of San Francisco.
It wasn’t just the heat, which made him feel like an over-zapped microwave TV dinner. Or the humidity that coated his skin instantly with a thin film of sweat the second he exited the airport terminal on what, back home, had been a rather dreary Thursday. It wasn’t even the gray clouds tumbling over each other as if in a race across the warm sky above Hilo International Airport.
No, his conclusion was reached logically by combining all three of those things and adding in his deep-seated acclimation to air-conditioning, his sixteen-story office in the heart of the city and his well-broken-in office chair.
With his carry-on garment bag slung over one shoulder, Theo stood at the curb, a bit unnerved at the lack of typical hustle and bustle at any big city airport. “Not a big city,” he reminded himself as his hand tightened around his laptop bag.
The signs to the pickup area seemed clear enough, but the truth was he wasn’t entirely certain where he was supposed to go. His fellow travelers were few, and what people he did see appeared to be used to their surroundings. The instructions he’d received from his interim boss had been as opaque as the cardboard container holding his paltry and expensive airplane lunch.
According to the online map, the town of Nalani was about a thirty-mile drive south-ish. He’d been obsessively checking his email throughout his flight from San Francisco to O’ahu, hoping to hear from the new owner of Ohana Odysseys as to what he could expect upon arrival on the Big Island. But there was nothing.
To confirm he hadn’t missed a message, he checked his phone once more. No email. No text. He sighed.
He poked a finger under his collar as anxiety settled in that empty space between his lungs. He was not a man accustomed to winging it, and so far this entire excursion was one big unknown. Plans. Schedules. Expectations firmly in place. These were the things that made the world go round and, as far as Theo was concerned, were the most efficient way to live a life. Doing so, however, allowed little —if any—room for the unexpected.
If only his usual supervisor hadn’t broken her leg two days ago attempting to outrun an escalator at the mall, Theo wouldn’t have found said schedule completely upended and himself on a plane less than twelve hours later.
Nope, if she’d won that particular sporting challenge, he’d be in his office right now, slugging down his third cup of coffee and closing out his second annual audit of the marketing division of Golden Vistas Incorporated.
Coffee. Theo felt his system zing at the mere thought. The promise of Kona coffee straight from the source had been the only selling point when he’d been substituted in as the primary contact for this acquisition evaluation. Paradise, as far as Theo was concerned, was subjective and overrated. Coffee? Not so much.
His nerves were already tingling, something that always happened when he was thrown off-balance. He took a deep breath, let it out and dropped his thoughts into the mantra he’d created back in college.
Professionalism plus planning plus practicality equals success.
The equation had yet to fail him. It had gotten him through college; into his first job; promoted into his second; and then, finally, just a few years ago, landed him on one of the higher rungs of the financial ladder of GVI.
Boarding that plane this morning, going along with what his bosses asked of him, could be a blessing in disguise and would, hopefully, put him firmly on the list to replace GVI’s latest chief financial officer. Whenever the current one retired, of course. As usual for Theo, opportunity had presented itself and he was prepared.
This major business acquisition was exactly what his résumé needed for him to begin the next phase of his life. GVI had survived a rough couple of years and, while it wasn’t common knowledge, they needed a big boon of some sort to keep their heads above water and stave off a wave of layoffs. With layoffs came publicity, and in this case, publicity about a fifty-year-old company potentially circling the drain wouldn’t help them gain that new foothold they were desperate for.
They needed a big win, something new and exciting to tout to their shareholders and solidify their faith. An investment with growth potential. Personally, Theo didn’t see what a small tourist business was going to do to accomplish that, but, as he’d been reminded before he left, he was only a numbers guy. Analyze the data, create a statement and report back. He was not now, nor had he ever been, a creative thinker.
Theo rolled his shoulders beneath his dark blue blazer, smoothed one hand down the thin blue tie that seemed to be perpetually dancing in the muggy afternoon breeze. He could smell the sweet hint of flowers above the combination of gasoline and exhaust. In the distance, he heard an odd rumbling as he approached a line of three bright white cabs at the end of the walkway.
A short, dark-haired young man broke away from the group chatting and laughing by the taxi sign at the end of the walkway. “Aloha!” he called. Beige board shorts and a brightly flowered shirt screamed Hawai’i as he offered a smile filled with an exuberance Theo couldn’t remember ever possessing. “Welcome to the islands. Where are you headed?”
“Ah, Nalani.” Theo hoped he was pronouncing that correctly. He’d tried to read up on the area when he hadn’t been working on the plane.
“Brah, that’s my home!” The young man shouted a farewell to his friends, then held out his hand for Theo’s garment bag. “I’m Hori.”
“Theo.” The ease and familiarity shouldn’t have surprised him. The islands were notorious for their hospitality and warm welcome. “I’m here on business.” Why he felt the need to explain escaped him.
“That’s what they all say,” Hori said with a hearty laugh as he led him to the first white cab in the line. “We’ll get you acclimated to island life in no time. I’ll give you the lowdown on all the goings-on while we drive, yeah?” He no sooner had the trunk open than a light brown Jeep circled around and came to a quick stop right in front of Hori’s cab. The magnetic sign on the side door displayed an advertisement for Ohana Odysseys: Tour with Family, along with a website listing.
The quirky, amusing font seemed in keeping with the curvy, disheveled woman who popped up and out of the top of the car. “Theo Fairfax?” She rested her arms on the overhead bar and shoved thick sun-kissed blond hair out of her face.
Theo blinked. “Yes.”
“Aloha. Caught you in time.” She didn’t bother to open her door; she simply grabbed hold of the bar and jumped out and over. “Hey, Hori.”
“You stealing my fares now, cuz?” Rather than sounding irritated, as most cabbies Theo had ever encountered probably would have, the younger man seemed amused as he set Theo’s garment bag into the back of the Jeep before giving the woman a quick fist bump.
“Howzit? He one of yours?”
“All good, thanks. And yes, he is.” She patted Hori on the shoulder before heading toward Theo. “Welcome to the islands, Mr. Fairfax. I’m Sydney Calvert.” She stuck out her hand. “Okay to call you Theo?”
“Ah, sure.” Theo blinked once more and accepted the greeting. This was Sydney Calvert? The Sydney Calvert who had inherited Ohana Odysseys from her late brother? The Sydney Calvert his bosses had tagged as a flighty pushover and easy sell? The Sydney Calvert Theo had imagined as being far older, more desperate and less...lively? He nodded, mainly because it was the only thing he could think to do. “Yeah, Theo’s fine.”
His voice squeaked, hadn’t it?
She was quite possibly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. That thick, lush blond hair of hers hung loose around her shoulders and halfway down her back. She wore cute cutoff jeans and a loose-fitting tank the color of ripe mango; below the thin straps peeked out thinner turquoise ones, indicating a swimsuit underneath. Her skin wasn’t as tan as he might have expected, but he could see where the heat of the sun had been getting to her.
The clips in her hair weren’t doing much to keep it out of her face, as she caught a good portion in one hand and made his fingers itch to do the same. “I’ve got him from here, cuz,” Sydney said.
“If you say so.” Hori stepped back. “See you next Wednesday night?”
“I’ve got my hula skirt warming up in the closet.” She swung her hips in an advanced preview and ended on a laugh. “Might need to do a bit of practicing before the luau.”
Not as far as Theo was concerned. He dragged his gaze back up to her face.
“Let’s hit it, yeah?” She reached for his laptop bag, but he stepped back.
“Your call.” She batted her startling blue eyes at him and grinned. “Jump in. Let’s see if we can beat the—” Thunder rumbled overhead as a new bank of gray clouds crested the edge of the horizon. She opened the passenger door and stood back so he could climb in. When she closed the door, she leaned in close enough that he could smell the ocean on her skin. “Top’s busted on this baby. It’ll be a wild ride. I’ve got a raincoat in the back if you—”
“I’ll be fine.” While he didn’t embrace the unexpected, he liked to think he could adapt when necessary.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. May as well christen you first off.”
She shouted to Hori once more and, in the side mirror, Theo watched the man return her enthusiastic goodbye. After she hopped into the driver’s side, she slammed her foot on the gas and threw the car into Drive so fast, he nearly got whiplash. “Sorry for the late pickup.” She sped past the terminal pickup area and circled around to the main highway, bumping along with the traffic. “I didn’t get the email you were arriving until I got into the office a few hours ago.”
“Is that what they call island time?” He hadn’t meant to sound snarky but realized immediately his question could be taken that way.
“Not exactly.” If she took offense, she didn’t show it. Hair still blowing around her face as the wind picked up along with the Jeep’s speed, she shot him a playful grin. “Tehani usually opens it up in the morning. I had a training exercise with the local search-and-rescue teams. Figured as long as I’m here, I might as well lend a hand doing what I’m good at.”
“Search and rescue, as in water—”
“Air assistance,” she hollered over the rushing wind. A new tumbler of thunder rattled and made Theo’s ears twitch. “Hikers, kayakers, swimmers and boats. I’m a pilot. Been flying ever since my feet could touch the pedals.”
“So you’re in charge of the helicopter tours for Ohana Odysseys.”
“Among other things, yes, sir.” She shifted gears in a way that made Theo wonder if she thought she was in the air now. “There’s no better way to see the islands, if you ask me. You ever take one?”
“A helicopter tour?” There he went, squeaking again. “No.” He hoped his tone this time was unmistakable. Beneath the laptop bag he hugged against his chest, he gave a quick tug on the seat belt just to make sure it was functioning. “I’m not exactly adventurous. More of a homebody, really.”
“That right?” Sydney gave him a side-eyed glance. “Could have fooled me. Blazer and tie? Buttons all the way to your throat? That all but screams tourist around these parts. Makes you stand out, just so you know.”
His lips quirked. “My sister, Beth, calls me an acquired taste.”
Sydney laughed and the sound sent a jolt racing along his spine. “Sisters have a way of keeping you down-to-earth.” Her smile slipped —just a touch but enough to remind him she’d recently lost her brother. He glanced to his right, uncertainty coating his throat. He never knew what to say about loss, so more often than not, he said nothing.
“Can I assume this is your first trip to Hawai’i?” she yelled into the wind.
“You may and it is.” He pressed his feet flat on the floorboard, hoping she’d take the hint and slow down as brake lights appeared ahead of them. “Sun, sea and sand aren’t on the top of my list of things to experience.” He neglected to add he didn’t have an experience list at all.
“Well, we’ll just have to see about changing your mind about that, won’t we? The email your bosses sent didn’t say how long you’d be staying.”
“Normally, a financial examination of this type takes about a week.”
She shook her head. “Nothing normal about Nalani or Ohana Odysseys.” She glanced over her shoulder, then shot across two lanes of traffic. “There’s more to the business than what’s been recorded in data. Or is that all GVI is interested in? The financial bottom line?”
“That’s what my primary job is.” He frowned and gave up trying to keep his hair out of his eyes. “If Elise had been the one to come—”
“Elise Barbera. She’s my immediate supervisor in my department. She normally conducts these kinds of evaluations.”
“Does that make me your first?”
The heat in his cheeks scorched his skin. “Ah—”
“That was a joke, Mr. Data Man. Or maybe I’ll call you Abacus.”
His lips twitched. “I’ve been called worse.” A fat drop of water landed right on his nose. He swiped at it even as dozens more landed right on the windshield of the Jeep. “Is it really going to rain?”
“Yep.” She lifted her chin. “Island time,” she teased. “Kidding. We get a good soaking usually about once a day. Cools things off.
Resets for the rest of the day.” She shook her head. “Tried to warn you.”
“I do better with specificity.”
“You sound like a spring that needs to be sprung. You’re wound a bit tight, aren’t you?”
“If by wound tight, you mean professional—”
“Professional’s one thing,” she shouted as the rain pelted the highway, the car and them. “You look like you’re getting ready for a meeting with the queen. Relax, Theo. You can’t enjoy the islands if —”
“I’m not here to enjoy the islands. I’m here to work.” And the sooner he got down to it, the sooner he could head home and back to his nice, air-conditioned, dry apartment. Plump drops of rain landed on his shoulders and face.
“Right.” Her smile seemed to be gone for good, replaced by an odd twist to her mouth that noted irritation. “Work.”
“I’d like to start auditing the books—”
“Auditing?” She gripped the steering wheel and cast him a sharp look. “It’ll be that in-depth?”
“Examining is probably a better word.” He needed to choose his phrasing more carefully, but he was distracted by the fact she’d finally reduced their speed now that the roads were slick. “I need to present a full reporting of the company’s finances, along with my recommendation to the board. That is what I’ve been sent here to do.” He turned toward her slightly as the rain continued to fall. “You
are interested in selling Ohana Odysseys, aren’t you?”
“I’m interested in seeing what a final offer might be.” She seemed to hesitate. “Beyond that, I am firmly in the undecided lane. I’ve got a lot to think about when it comes to the business, and I’m not taking any options off the table until I have a full accounting, so to speak,” she added with a grinning glance, “of what’s possible. Ohana means a lot to me, but it means even more to the people of Nalani. I’m not
jumping into anything without looking at all the potential outcomes.”
So his trip here could be completely futile. Worse, his inability to seal this deal could tip GVI even further into the danger zone. He pinched his lips together. Well, that wasn’t going to suit his future, was it? He needed a good showing here to earn him the standing in the company he wanted—no, where he needed to be. Climbing the financial corporate ladder wasn’t just about ascending; it was about maintaining.
If Sydney Calvert was on the fence about selling her business, he needed to come up with a strategy to push her over to his side of things. If for no other reason than to ensure he didn’t backslide.
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