A few minutes later, their plane touched down at Kahului Airport. They disembarked, Parker rented a shiny red BMW convertible, and they took off for the Honoapiilani Highway, heading for the west side of the island.
The sun was low in a wide, wispy sky as they rounded the twisty road, passing snatches of yellow and red and purple flowers and the deep, never-ending green of what Parker pointed out as banana trees, coffee trees, and coconut palms.
Her wild hair whipping around her face, Miranda squealed with delight as through gaps in the foliage, she caught glimpses of the bluest body of water she had ever seen. She’d traveled the US, but had never seen the ocean before. And she hadn’t had a vacation since…she’d never had a vacation.
The luxury resort turned out to be one of the best on the island. No economy hotel for these newlyweds.
Parker drove to the entrance of a tall, sprawling white building and past a tropical palm-and-rock garden with a babbling brook. At a series of arched columns, he dropped off the car to a valet and led her inside a palatial lobby.
After the bellhop delivered their bags to their eighth-floor bridal suite, Parker swept her up in his strong arms and carried her across the threshold, making her break out in laughter.
“Did you forget you’ve already done this?” she snorted. He’d carried her over the threshold of the Parker mansion master bedroom every night since their wedding.
“Have I?” He grinned as if he didn’t remember.
“It’s fun, but isn’t this overkill?” she giggled as he bounced her in his arms.
Parker scowled as if offended. “You can’t do it too much. The ancient tradition is to keep the bride from being kidnapped, from tripping, from unwanted intrusion of bad spirits.”
How did he know all that? Maybe from his first wife who’d been a college English professor. Parker had lost her to cancer over three years ago.
“I don’t see how there could be any bad spirits in this paradise. But if there are, I’ll just kick their asses.”
He chuckled. “I’m sure you will.” He spun her around and set her down in the middle of a large, well-lit living room.
Still laughing, she took in the space. Of course this wasn’t a simple hotel room. It was a huge honeymoon suite, complete with artwork, glass coffee table and bamboo chairs and couches, all tastefully decorated in chocolates and tans and muted tangerines, all reflecting a subdued island motif. She glimpsed a marble kitchen counter near the back.
Despite the elegant island décor, she intended to make a beeline for the bedroom until the tiki-framed glass doors at the far end of the room caught her eye.
With another squeal, she skipped across the teal Berber carpet, flung open the doors, stepped onto the veranda and gasped at the breath-taking view of the ocean.
Parker came up behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders.
She leaned her head back against his strong chest and sighed. Below her palms trees swayed on a sandy beach that stretched out to white foam and endless turquoise waves. She sighed at the dazzling beauty of the place he’d chosen to delight her with, as tantalizing as the moves he chose to delight her with in the bedroom. “That’s amazing.”
“Isn’t it?” He nuzzled her neck with his lips, and she started to shiver and close her eyes despite the incredible view.
“I guess you’re right. I won’t be finding any dead bodies in this paradise.”
“No, you won’t.” His mouth moved to her clavicle.
Okay. She’d have to gawk at the view later. “So which way to the bedroom?” she murmured on another sigh.
“To the left. There’s something for you on the bed.”
“Oh, yeah?” Breaking free of his embrace, she hurried inside, through the door he’d indicated and switched on the light.
What did he have up his sleeve? she wondered. Parker could surprise her like no other man could. Not that any man had ever tried. Except maybe for the bloody lips Leon used to surprise her with.
The bedroom was done in clean tans and hushed greens, accented by mahogany. A huge bed dominated the room. On the tropical print comforter lay a large white box that looked suspiciously like it contained something to wear. Parker loved picking out her clothes.
She ran to the bedside. “What’s this? A sexy negligee?”
“You’ll see.” Parker strolled through the door and leaned provocatively against the post to observe as she tore open the package.
She tossed the lid on the floor and rustled the paper as she reached inside. It was something colorful and—frilly. “Uh oh.”
“Uh oh?” Parker echoed, concern in his voice.
She pulled out a long, bright red cotton dress dotted with Hawaiian flowers down the front and back. Layers of ruffles dominated the short sleeves.
She held it up to her and wrinkled her nose. “Are you sure this is for me? You know I don’t exactly go for girly girl.” All those ruffles on the sleeves would make her look like a Barbie Doll with wings.
He scowled. “That isn’t what I ordered. I said sleeveless. Qianna got it wrong.”
“Qianna?” She cocked her head. The dress looked handmade by an islander. “You know a seamstress here by first name?” She thought Parker had never been to Hawaii before. She was pretty sure he’d given her that impression.
He ignored her question. “I’m so sorry, Miranda. You don’t have to wear it.”
He looked so disappointed, she decided to drop the subject of the dressmaker. Turning to the mirror, she held it to her chin and had a look at herself. “I can still wear it to bed.”
A slow, wicked grin spread over his handsome face as he moved behind her and stroked her bare arms. “I don’t think you’ll be needing anything to wear to bed. This is a dress. It was supposed to be for dinner tonight.”
“Dinner?” she breathed, tingling sensations dancing over her skin at his touch. “Seems awfully casual for your taste in restaurants.” She turned her head and nuzzled her cheek against his jaw. “Why don’t we just call room service.”
Parker nibbled her ear, pleased at the way she looked, even if the dress wasn’t the one he’d chosen for her. She’d made herself strong, her body had always been trim and lean, but in his opinion, she’d lost too much weight since her latest ordeal. As much as he desired her, he was going to make sure she was well fed before the physical rigors he had planned for later on.
“Trust me,” he told her softly. “I’ll let you have the shower first, but you’ll have to hurry.”
“What?” Miranda turned around with a scowl. Her hungry husband wasn’t in the mood? On the first day of their honeymoon?
Wait a minute. Now it clicked. Her mouth opened in a happy gasp. “Are we going to—?”
Reading her thoughts—again—his eyes sparkled with delight. “Yes. We’re going to a luau.”
“A luau? In Maui? Hot dog.” She didn’t know why that made her so happy, but just now it sounded like the coolest thing she’d ever done in her life. Holding the dress in both hands, she did a little dance, then raised on tiptoe to give Parker a kiss. “I’ll wear this with bells on my toes.”
“Hurry,” he chuckled. “We don’t want to be late.”
“I will,” she promised as she scampered into the bathroom.
It was better than an Elvis movie.
On a stretch of lava rock overlooking the ocean, Miranda and Parker were greeted by smiling, scantily clad natives who adorned them with colorful leis of fragrant blossoms. Miranda couldn’t help casting a wary glance at the three Polynesian beauties who swarmed around Parker, giving him more aloha-ness than the average customer.
She couldn’t blame them. His well-formed body garbed in a blue-and-white island shirt and dark designer shorts, a demure outfit next to her fire engine red dress, Parker was the sexiest man she’d ever laid eyes on. Still, it gave her a thrill to watch his handsome face turn dark when the grinning, bare-chested young man in the orange-and-white hibiscus-print shorts ogled her in turn as he led them to their table under a row of mango trees.
As the smell of fresh flowers gave way to the delicious aroma of exotic foods and the flirtatious waiter plied them with Mai Tais, Miranda sat back with a smug grin and gazed out at the vast blue ocean and the mountains of the neighboring island beyond.
Absently, she picked up her lei and put it to her nose.
“I knew there was a way to bring out your feminine side,” Parker murmured beside her, a smile in his voice.
Turning, she arched a brow. “Pretty expensive outing just for that.”
Ignoring her reference to money, he fingered the petals around her neck. “Did you know a lei represents love? And that it’s often given with a kiss?” His intense gaze made it sound exquisitely sensual.
“Good thing those greeters didn’t try to kiss you. I’d have had to belt them.”
Parker laughed and brushed his lips against her cheek. “Ever the dainty one.”
Miranda opened her mouth to reply, but before she could, the waiter returned and began placing dishes before her on the white linen tablecloth. “Pohole ferns and heart of palm salad, mahi-mahi with mango sauce, and kalua pig.”
Oh yeah? She eyed a small round dish containing something with a muddy, raspberry colored tinge. “What’s that?”
“Ah, that is poi. A staple of the islands. Happy dining.” And with that, he bowed and turned his attention to the next table.
Parker began heaping food onto a plate for her with tongs. “I thought you would enjoy the more intimate experience of table service over a buffet and this luau serves dishes from all over Polynesia.”
She pointed at the plate of meat. “Is that the famous roasted-in-the-ground pig?”
“It is indeed.”
She studied the side dish. “I don’t know about that stuff.”
“It’s not a luau if there isn’t poi. Try it.” He picked up her fork, speared a bite of pig, dipped it in the sauce and held it up to her.
“Anything for love.” She parted her lips and squeezed her eyes shut as he slid it in. “Oh my,” she said with her mouth full when the exquisite flavor hit her tongue. Moist, smoky pork, melt-in-your-mouth tender. The poi was hardly there and seemed only to enhance the taste. She savored and swallowed. “That’s delicious.”
“I thought you’d like it, though it lacks the habaneros you prefer.”
“For once, I don’t miss them.” And she dug in.
The mahi-mahi was delicate and tasted like it had just jumped out of the ocean. The mango sauce was delish. The salad had a juicy snap to it. And when they were finished, the waiter brought more. Sea bean duck, lomi-lomi salmon, mussels and scallops, chicken with taro leaf in coconut milk. It was the biggest feast she’d ever had, and she’d had some darn good meals since she’d met Parker.
When she thought she couldn’t hold another bite, the waiter—whose ever-present grin was beginning to look a little sadistic about now—brought dessert.
Miranda rubbed her stomach and groaned. “I don’t think so, Parker.”
“You can’t pass up this.” He picked up something dark and gooey, held it up to her mouth.
“What is it?”
“Oh, Lord.” She scarfed it down with a moan of pleasure at the rich satiny taste.
Parker picked up a fork and scooped up a bit of fruit salad. “This is to cleanse the palate.”
“My palate’s been thoroughly scoured.” But she let him shove it in and bit into an amazing coconut and mandarin orange concoction that came with the sweetest, freshest pineapple she had ever tasted.
She took the fork from him and finished it all. “Okay, that’s it. I’m ready to fall into bed now.” To prove the point, she sat back and closed her eyes.
“You can’t sleep now. You’ll miss the show.”
Her brows shot up. “Show? As in hula dancers?”
His handsome gray eyes twinkled. “You’ll see.”
The sweet sound of singing and Hawaiian guitars gave her the answer as a row of barefoot, costumed dancers appeared on a stage that ran along the edge of the dining area and overlooked the ocean and sky. Nice backdrop.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” a deep voice with a light Polynesian accent announced over the intercom, “for your viewing pleasure.”
The five beautiful, longhaired women wearing colorful leis and wreaths on their heads and wrists, moved their hands and swayed their grass-skirted hips as they danced to the exotic song in the native tongue.
Miranda stole a glance at Parker and saw delight in his eyes. A streak of jealousy shot through her as she watched the dancers shimmy.
She leaned over and whispered. “You’d better not be thinking what I think you’re thinking. Or else.”
He raised a brow. “Or else what?”
“Or I’ll have to teach you a lesson when we get back to the hotel.”
He only grinned. “Looking forward to it.”
The audience applauded and the dancers moved off the stage but were immediately replaced by a troupe of men in red-and-orange loincloths and green wreaths on their heads. Chanting, they twisted this way and that, wagging their thighs back and forth in time to a lively drumbeat.
Open-mouthed, Miranda stared.
Beside her, Parker cleared his throat. “Perhaps I’ll be the one who’ll have to give the lesson when we get back to the suite.”
Soon the men were replaced by more women. These wore bold diamond-print outfits and slapped bamboo sticks in time to their song. Then came men and women in spiky headdresses, all in red and black, brandishing noisy gourd rattles. These dancers brought on more gyrating hips and rhythmic drumbeats.
Miranda let herself get caught up in the spell of it. She was as mesmerized as a little girl at the circus. She’d never seen a live show before, except for her singer friend, Coco. Or the time when she was fifteen and snuck out to a Pearl Jam concert—for which her fun-loving mother beat her and locked her in her room for two days.
“And now for all of you honeymooners with us tonight,” said the voice over the intercom.
The music slowed to a lovely Hawaiian melody that sounded distinctly like a love song. Parker gave her hand a squeeze as a woman with yellow flowers in her gorgeous waist-length black hair danced and sang. As she sang her hair and body swayed, and the sunset behind her gently evolved into a magnificent swirl of purple and coral.
Miranda sighed with delight. It might have been the prettiest sight she’d ever seen.
The sun went down. Torches were lit and there were more songs and colorful costumes until suddenly the stage went dark and the audience fell silent.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the performance you’ve all been waiting for. The master of the fire dance…Keola Hakumele.”
Miranda gripped Parker’s hand in anticipation. The drums began to beat again. Louder. Louder. Louder.
Then they stopped and a lone figure leapt onto the stage, a blazing torch in his hand. The audience cheered.
A handsome Polynesian, he looked younger than the other performers, maybe early twenties. He took a long dramatic sweep of the crowd with his gaze, then the drums began to beat. Legs spread, he took a stance and began to move the flaming torch slowly across his body.
Behind his head, across his back, over his arms, between his legs. Then rising, he touched the blaze with one hand and set the other end of it on fire.
The audience applauded and Miranda joined in with enthusiasm.
Like the other dancers, he was barefoot and wore diamond-print shorts—with no dangling loincloth to catch fire—and a string of what might have been shark’s teeth around his neck. Around his calves hung what looked like mini grass skirts. His hair was dark and long and as wiry as her own. As he knelt, tossed the torch in the air, caught it again, she worried that hair or the skirts would go up in flames.
The drums went into a frenzy and he began to spin the torch. One hand. Both hands. Over his head as he bent backwards, balancing himself with one hand on the floor of the stage. He touched the flame to his lips and fire shot into the air.
Hoots came from the crowd.
He danced over to the side of the stage and grabbed another baton, this one also with flames at both ends.
He bounded back across the floor, spinning both sticks furiously. The drums went into double time. At center stage, he turned and twisted and played with the torches. Under one leg. Under the other leg. Between his legs. Across his arms again.
He tossed both flaming batons into the air and caught them again.
The crowd was about to break into applause when the drums stopped.
The dancer held both torches above his head as a chorus of men appeared behind him in the shadows. Each of them held a flaming firebrand above his head. Their faces were painted in frightening designs. In unison they chanted a warrior chant of long ago armies.
He Inoa No Kahekili.
He Inoa No Kahekili.
The young dancer gazed out at the audience and spoke in an ominous tone.
“Listen to my story of Huaka’i Po. The Night Marchers. They are the ghosts of ancient warriors. They roam the islands. You can know them,” he pointed to the flame above his head, “by their torches. They roam the islands, the ancient battlefields seeking, seeking, seeking.” He moved across the stage and pointed at various members of the audience.
“If they look you in the eye, beware. You will disappear.”
Just then, his eye caught Miranda’s gaze.
Terrified and lost in wonder, Miranda gripped the seat of her chair as she stared back at the young man. And then the strangest thing happened.
He seemed suddenly familiar. As if she knew him, somehow. As if she had some kind of cosmic connection with him. His hair, his angular jaw line. She almost felt as if she were looking at her own reflection in the mirror.
Or her own soul.
And then he brushed back his hair and she saw it.
A round, dark spot on the side of his neck.
Cold chills skittered up the back of Miranda’s neck. Her hands gripped the seat of her chair. She wanted to gasp, but couldn’t utter a sound.
The drumbeat started again. It sped up. The chorus chanted. The young dancer spun his torches faster and faster. Until on a feverish crescendo, he tossed them both into the air at once—and they disappeared.
And the stage went black.