Leaning against a stanchion in the stern of the tug, she
tilted her head upward, her gaze sweeping over the brightly
dressed passengers crowding the rail on the deck of the
ship. One face stood out from the rest. A man, taller by far
than anyone near him, seemed to be staring directly at her.
Even at that distance his looks were arresting: not
classically handsome, but rugged in an interesting way. In
fact, he reminded her of someone, but his obvious study of
her made her nervous, and she turned away before she could
make the connection.
"See anyone interesting?" Carrie Brand spoke from her
seat on the wooden bench that butted against the tug's
wheelhouse. Like Dana, she'd ridden from Honolulu harbor to
where the cruise ship waited off Diamond Head. Soon they'd
board the larger vessel to greet arriving passengers and
hand out flower leis of orchid, ginger, and plumeria.
Still thinking of the handsome man on the ship, Dana
shrugged and swept her hair away from her face. "Just the
Carrie rose and came to stand beside Dana. "Just the
usual," she mimicked with a smile. "Is that a euphemism they
use for 'dull' back in Chicago?"
"Chicago?" Dana picked up her clear plastic bag of flower
leis. "I think that’s in another galaxy." Although she
deliberately made no mention of the man she’d seen a few
moments before, she let her gaze wander again to where he'd
been stationed at the rail. The place he'd occupied was now
filled by a gentleman of less height and considerably more
girth than his predecessor.
Carrie laughed, her short, dark curls jiggling. "You
should hear yourself. And after only three months in Hawaii.
Don't you feel the least bit guilty?"
"Hardly. It's probably snowing in Chicago right now."
Dana watched the two-man crew finish securing the tug, and
with practiced ease, as if she'd made that run forty times
instead of only four, she stepped over the side and into the
wide open doorway of the enormous ship poised at their side.
"I hope you never lose your enthusiasm for the islands."
Carrie followed Dana up the stairs to the main salon. "Or
the hotel business, either, which, as we all know, blows
like the wind. Hot one minute, cool the next."
At Carrie's reminder, Dana frowned. Had she traded one
problem for another? Only the week before, Tom Wilson, her
boss and the manager of the Ocean Breeze Hotel, mentioned
the possibility of it being sold to a real estate
consortium. If that happened, her dream job could evaporate
like snow in July.
Carrie turned her head briefly. "Tom told me that a
representative—Matt Hampton is his name, I think—arrives
tomorrow on the five o'clock flight from Los Angeles."
Dana sighed. As a member of the staff, she would treat
Mr. Hampton with the utmost courtesy. However, that did not
mean she had to like him. "I suspect if he recommends his
company buy the hotel, there'll be a good chance I’ll be
"You don’t know that for sure."
"Even so, I’ve already developed a distaste for the man,
"My advice is: don’t borrow trouble. It usually shows up
without any help from us."
Dana laughed at the cliché and navigated the narrow steps
up to "A" Deck, where she entered the main salon. It was
furnished only with a handful of tables holding large signs
neatly lettered in blue, and she found the one reserved for
the Ocean Breeze. Unfastening the ties that closed one of
the now steamy plastic bags, she let the leis tumble out
onto the table. They were still damp, and she lifted and
shook them gently, scattering tiny drops of dew that soon
evaporated in the warm air.
Then, abruptly, she stopped. An odd sensation came over
her; she was being watched. She looked up and found the same
man she’d seen earlier. As he approached the table, she
could see his face and neck were deeply tanned. Besides dark
wavy hair, he had a straight nose and square jaw with a very
distinct and attractive cleft in his chin. Then she knew who
he reminded her of. Except that he didn't have a mustache,
and appeared to be in his early thirties, he resembled the
star of a television series about a private detective.
When he reached the table. Dana stared. Good grief, he
was a giant, probably six feet four. But of course she
wasn't wearing heels that day. Then she noticed the
unabashed way he stared at her and the expression on his
face that made it obvious he was doing some thinking about
her as well. Her hand suddenly froze on an orchid lei and,
for the life of her, she couldn't seem to concentrate on
anything but the stray lock of hair that lay against his
forehead and his sensational smile.
"Aloha," he said, stealing her thunder, as it were, and
his voice and manner finally galvanized her into action.
She cleared her throat and prepared to deliver the pat
little speech she always used to welcome guests of the
hotel. "Welcome to Hawaii." She said it briskly, just as she
always did. "Would you like a lei?"
Her last few words hung in the air between them, little
leaden words that dropped with an embarrassing thud, and she
cringed inwardly. So much for pat little speeches when your
insides were dancing an Irish jig. She hated to think what
some men might make of that invitation.
However, before this particular man had time to do any
more than give her a slow-spreading grin, she added, "That
didn't come out at all the way I'd planned. Why don't I
He had a pleasantly deep voice. "It sounded fine to me,
but if you think you can improve on it, I'm game."
She wondered if he were patronizing her. She glanced up
into warm, brown eyes. His look seemed sincere enough.
She took a deep breath and began again. "Welcome to
Hawaii. May I offer you—" Again she stopped. Why—now of all
times—could she not make the greeting sound anything but
"You most certainly may." His gaze swept the length of
her body before returning to her face. His eyes, she
noticed, made no pretense of concealing his amusement.
She found it easier at the moment to address the ginger
lei in her hands than that very tall, very disturbing man
who towered above her. "Believe it or not, I've delivered
this speech at least fifty times in the past three months
and usually with a lot more finesse."
Regaining something of her poise, she glanced up.
"However, since that doesn't seem to be the case this
morning, would you mind very much if we skipped the
preliminaries?" With any luck at all, he would take the
flower lei and go back out on deck. If he stayed near her
any longer, he'd completely short circuit her brain.
His smile held more than a hint of mischief. "Ah, but if
we were to do that—" He shrugged.
His shoulders, she could hardly help noticing, were
nicely proportioned. She wondered if he worked out a lot or
jogged. He had a very athletic body.
"—you would have to forfeit something, or at least make
it up in some other way."
"Oh?" She didn't need any mixed signals this morning and
certainly not from him.
"Perhaps we could stop for coffee on the way to the
hotel. Then we could begin to get to know one another. I
can't think of a better welcome to Hawaii than that."
Well, that signal was clear enough. Attractive or not,
the man was a stranger, and a guest of the hotel besides.
"I'm sorry. I won't be going with you to the Ocean Breeze."
"You won't?" His disappointment was unmistakable.
"You have to claim your luggage and turn in those pesky
forms the state provides. Sometimes it takes a while."
That seemed to amuse him, because he grinned. "And you
won't wait?" He cocked his head sideways, sending a loose
wave of thick, brown hair over his forehead.
Surprisingly, everything about the man made Dana wish it
were otherwise. After a pause, she said, "I can't."
"I thought a good hotel did everything to accommodate its
guests. You know, roll out the red carpet, bring on a brass
band, even hold your hand while you claim your luggage."
"You don't want much." She laughed, giving him high marks
for persistence, as well as a king-sized measure of charm
and humor. At the same time a red flag went up in the back
of her mind. He was too much. "We do what we can, within
reason, that is. And there are rules."
"I thought rules were meant to be broken." His expression
turned serious, but his eyes were soft and warm, and
sparkled with suppressed laughter.
"Not this time."
"Perhaps bent a little?" He pantomimed the gesture with
"No." She said it firmly. It wasn't a mere rule that
checked her. She knew her sudden attraction to him was
strong enough to indeed bend rules. She'd bent a similar
rule in the past, even though she always thought it foolish
to date co-workers. She'd promised herself not to do
anything like that again.
He seemed to accept her refusal. "Do you go back to
Honolulu on the tug?"
"No, we dock with the ship. The pilot's aboard now, and
he'll guide us into the harbor." She pointed to the slowly
moving view of Diamond Head outside the windows. "We're on
our way now."
"So we are."
As his gaze turned toward the sea, Dana covertly studied
his face. The broad forehead and high cheekbones suggested
intelligence and strength, that he was very much his own
man. But it was the dark eyes that reminded her of soft
velvet, that gave him a human quality and made her pulse
He turned to her again. "Is this what you do primarily
for the hotel, ride out on tug boats to greet the guests?"
"That's the least of it. I'm the assistant manager of the
Ocean Breeze. You could say I do a little bit of everything,
but coming out here to meet the guests is one part of my job
I especially enjoy."
"Mmm. Me too." The side of his mouth curled up in a
lopsided grin, and Dana's heart did a roller-coaster drop.
"And are you good at that little bit of everything?"
"You won't have any complaints." She took refuge in shop
talk to quell her feelings. "The hotel is very well run.
Everyone, from Tom Wilson, the manager, on down, very
efficient. All the employees work as hard as if they owned
"Is that what you'd like to do someday, own a hotel?"
The question took her by surprise. "I'd like very much to
manage one. But to own a hotel? No. It sounds exciting and
glamorous, but there are too many pitfalls."
She thought of Carrie Brand, who owned the Island Sands
Hotel. She'd had to trim the staff to the bone, and for the
past two months had been operating without an assistant. The
obvious stress she suffered was beginning to mar her
youthful good looks.
"Still," the man was saying, "people brave those pitfalls
every day. If not, there'd be no Hiltons or Sheratons or—"
"Please." Dana admonished him with a laugh. "We don’t
mention the competition around here. It's strictly
"In that case, I give you my word their names will never
pass my lips again. Shall we shake on it?" He held out his
She hesitated a moment, caught between the desire to be
touched, even so briefly, by him, and her instinct that
warned her to be wary of a man who already had such an
effect on her. Then the moment passed. Dana gave him her
hand, feeling the strength in the fingers closing around
"This makes us conspirators," he said with a wink.
Reluctantly, she let her common sense return and slid her
hand from his grasp.
"Well." She adopted a brisk, businesslike tone. "I trust
you'll enjoy your stay in Hawaii." There was a conclusive
ring to her words, and she expected him to leave the salon.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" That same spark of
mischief flared in his eyes.
"If we can't have coffee together, I'll almost have to
insist on the lei you promised."
He would remember that. But, to his credit, the way he
worded the request made it sound, if not totally innocuous,
then at least only mildly suggestive. With a sigh of
resignation, she picked up a lei strung with ginger blossoms
and held it out to him.
He glanced at the strand of flowers, their heady,
perfumed scent filling the air around them. With a
surprisingly light touch, he fingered the pearly-white
petals, suggesting to Dana that those strong hands could be
gentle, as well.
"Aren't you going to put it around my neck?" The deep
timbre of his voice sent Dana's gaze upward to meet his. For
a moment, she remained motionless. Then, somehow, she found
herself moving around the table toward him, her pulse
beating rapidly in her throat, her hands damp with sudden
He moved closer, inclining his head. Still, he was so
tall--and Dana felt like a dwarf in her flat sandals—that
she had to stretch on her tiptoes to put the lei over his
bowed head and onto his shoulders. Next, her heart racing,
she brushed first one of his cheeks with her own, and then
the other. Her nostrils filled with the pungent aroma of the
flowers and the refreshingly cool scent of his cologne.
Finally, she stepped away, almost dizzy with the strong
emotions sweeping through her.
His grin managed to be both innocent and seductive at the
same time. "The aloha greeting needs a little more warmth.
May I show you?"
Before Dana could answer, he picked up a pikake lei and
placed it around her neck over her sleeveless flower-print
dress. His warm hands on her bare shoulders, he bent to her
upturned face. Bringing his lips to her cheeks, he kissed
each slowly, deliberately, as if tasting some sweet nectar
that lingered there.
In an instant, Dana felt as if the air had become charged
with an electric current. In spite of acknowledging the
intensity of her attraction to him, she pulled away. She
would put a stop to that, and the sooner the better.
She turned away from him, but he drew her back, seemingly
oblivious to the dozens of people who milled about the
salon. He raised his hands from her shoulders to her cheeks,
and this time his lips descended on hers. They were firm and
cool and for a brief moment her own clung to them willingly.
Her eyes closed automatically at his kiss, then good
sense overruled her emotions and they flew open. She pushed
him away. "That is not the way it's done."
"But my way is more fun, especially when, as in this
case, the recipient is so attractive."
"The aloha greeting, in this case, is strictly business."
She looked at him in what she hoped was a cold, aloof
manner. Yet her hands, her face, her entire body, felt
anything but cold.
"I'm sorry to hear it. Maybe I'll change your mind about
Dana nervously fingered the leis that remained on the
table. "It would hardly be worth the effort."
As he surveyed her body, his gaze was provocative, his
eyes frankly and pleasantly appraising. "Since I'm staying
at your hotel, I expect we'll be seeing a lot of each
Her lips felt tight, but she managed to answer. "I
wouldn't allow my expectations to get too high. The
management seldom mingles with the guests."
He laughed. "Not permitted to fraternize?"
"Something like that." That was no rule, but good sound
judgment. Lasting relationships, the only kind she wanted,
were not forged by becoming involved with hotel guests.
After all, they were tourists and business people, whose
stay rarely lasted more than a week or two. No electricity,
no chemistry, between them—and, heaven help her, this was
stronger than anything she had ever felt before—could
overcome her natural instinct that such a relationship
contained a built-in destruct mechanism.
In spite of her coolness, his smile remained open and
friendly, his voice teasingly warm. "Now that we've become
so well acquainted—" He emphasized the last two words, then
paused, "—don't you think it's about time you told me your
"I'm Dana Gifford."
"What a lovely name. It suits a very lovely lady. I'll
look forward to seeing you again, Miss Gifford. Until then,
aloha." With a parting smile, he turned and left the salon.
Dana stared at his retreating back, knowing he most
likely wouldn't see her again. So she was terribly attracted
to him: his kiss had sent her blood pressure soaring.
Nevertheless, she wouldn't let herself get involved. The
Ocean Breeze was not a very large hotel, only four stories
high, and most of her work was done in the office behind the
lobby. If she wished, she could avoid him quite easily, and,
she promised herself with finality, that's exactly what