Friday, 26 November 2010
Author Spotlight week - Excerpt from Aloha, My Love
Our story so far: Adam Whitford, smarting from being rejected by the woman he pursued, has been deputized to go over to Delaine Bishop's home and find out why she isn't at church. The singles group is about to take off for a winter holiday in Hawaii, and he can't understand why she didn't show up...
Delaine answered his second ring, wearing jeans and a ski jacket. "Good, you're ready," Adam said. " Come on, the bus won't wait."
She lifted her chin. "I'm not going."
"Sure you are." Easily he lifted the single duffel bag sitting ready-packed by the door. "You're all set. What happened, you lose your bathing suit?"
"Adam, I don't want to go."
"'Course you do. Everybody who's fun is going." He gave her one of the goofy expressions that never failed to win a laugh from her. She stared solemnly at the floor. "Even me."
He didn't get the chuckle he hoped for. Instead, her fair complexion turned a shade whiter. Adam peered more closely. Why wouldn't Del meet his eyes?
"A lady has the right to change her mind."
"Aw, come on. It'll be great." He let his voice soften, getting to yes. "Sherril and Brad are already there. Ellen and Aubrey are going. Mike's coming, and that new guy is there, and Terry decided to come. It'll be a riot with that bunch. You can't tell me you'd rather stay here and shovel snow when you could be drinking pineapple punch with us."
He followed her into her kitchen where she fiddled with the stove knobs. It was unlike her to say nothing, so he filled an awkward silence. "Good. Checking to see if the gas is off is a good idea. It's off, so let's rock. I told 'em I'd have you back there in ten minutes."
She whirled. "Nobody says no to you, do they?"
Nobody except the woman I loved. "I try not to let that happen too often." He gave her his best grin. "Tends to inconvenience me when I don't get my own way."
She chewed her lower lip, a characteristic Del-gesture when thinking something over. That lower lip she abused had a soft curve, a pretty pale pink color. For an insane moment, he wondered about its flavor. Oh sure, he'd kissed her, carelessly, usually over some witticism, occasionally for a friendly good night. Why couldn't he remember how her mouth tasted?
That image softened his voice. "Come on, Del."
She stayed frozen for a moment, then lifted one shoulder in a helpless shrug. "Okay, then."
"Attagirl." He flashed her an encouraging grin, wondering what had put her into such a snit. Probably the money. Health care didn't pay beans unless you had M.D. behind your name. "You'll have a good time, we all will. Hey, you finished scuba classes last summer, right?" She nodded, turning off lights in the front room. "You certified yet?"
"No. All I need is my open-water dive."
"Great. I got a magazine. Look here. Sport Diver. Says there's lots of good places off the Big Island. Want to dive with me?"
Finally acquiescent, she turned off the hall light and snatched her small purse off its hook. "Maybe."
He threw her duffel into the back of his SUV. "Aw, come on. What's got you in the dumps?"
She allowed him to open the car door. This acquiescence in being treated as a lady by a gentleman was also new. What on earth was bugging her? His concern grew.
"Maybe it's just the winter." Del shivered. "It's dragged on too long. Too cold. Too much snow."
"Gotten any skiing in?"
"Not as much as I'd like, with all these blizzards. We're doing a computer conversion at work, so I've put in some really brutal hours."
"Then you owe yourself this trip." He slammed her door and bounded around to his own side. "I decided I owe myself, too."
Now why say that? Too revealing. I keep going like this, she might figure out that I'm a little sore over Stephany.
"Working a lot?"
He turned the heater to high, put the SUV in gear and pulled out of her driveway. The rear wheels slid a little then regained traction. "Not the long hours I did in my old job, would you believe it? Working less and making more."
Her laugh sounded more natural. "Sounds like a dream come true."
He nodded, signaling for the turn from Coventry onto Kensington. "Too bad everybody can't do it."
"I sure can't. The more complex things get, the more hours I need to be there. The department's going well, it's not that, but I'm salaried."
"Another promotion? Good for you."
"I'm called manager now." Her smile seemed genuine, this time. "That just means more accountability without an equal amount of authority."
He laughed. Her mood appeared to lighten -- but not enough. He decided that during the trip he'd get to the bottom of that long face. After all, just because she'd spent the last four months avoiding him, didn't mean their friendship was over.
All women had their flighty times, or so Noah claimed. He grinned again as they pulled into New Hope's parking lot. "Ready to fly?"
"Guess so." Her back straightened. He grabbed her duffle and slammed the trunk. As she approached the church hall, her determined expression called up a woman steeling herself for some huge and terrible trial. He wondered why, as they burst through the doors.
Yells of joy greeted them. "Del!"
"Thank goodness you're here."
"Now can we get on the bus?"
Terry encircled Del's slender shoulders with a big burly arm. Adam didn't often have to look up at anybody, but at Terry he did. At six-five, the new assistant pastor topped him by two inches. Adam watched, grinning in triumph as Del gave Terry a helpless look somehow mixing gratitude and apology. "Sorry. Got cold feet."
Terry squeezed her comfortingly. "In this weather, I can't hardly blame you. But those feet will be warming themselves on a white sand beach before long. Besides, we took a secret vote. It was the whole group or none of us. We decided not to budge an inch toward Hawaii without you." He waved for their attention. "Let's have a word of prayer." The group bowed in silence as Terry offered thanks for the trip. "Okay, Jared. Get that bus open, and let the loading begin."
Adam grabbed a seat on the bus next to Kee-Yung, a fellow businessman he liked to chat with. Kee-Yung ran his own computer consulting firm. Adam often picked his brain when refining his hunter-killer software. Del found a seat far back near Pam and Aubrey. Sherril and Brad occupied the spot in front of the girls. Del had thanked Adam gracefully for coming to pick her up and persuading her to make the trip. He scowled at the distance. It looked as though she wanted to put as much real estate as possible between herself and Adam.
He'd discover the reason for that, too.
On the jumbo jet, the group deployed in much the same way. Except Adam made sure to take the seat right in front of Del's. That way he'd overhear if she mentioned her strange reluctance to go on holiday. It wasn't eavesdropping if it helped his friend out of whatever quenched her sunny nature. Unlikely he'd be able to do any serious snooping anyway with Kee-Yung chatting about wireless access, DSL lines, and ferret programs.
"Hey." His seat mate poked him. "Buckle up. We're about to take off."
"Oh, yeah." He settled his long legs as well as he could in the insufficient leg room, anticipating the thrill of take-off. No matter how often he traveled on business, he never grew tired of gaining the air. He said as much to Kee-Yung. "Someday I'm gonna get my pilot's license and see what the real thing feels like."
"I'd like to do that. You need perfect vision, though." Kee-Yung tapped his glasses. "It doesn't stop me from doing everything else."
"You dive, don't you?"
"Yep. I put my prescription goggles in my bag. So I can see the fishes." He laughed. "People tease me about diving at the ocean and missing it, without my specs."
"Great. We'll get some diving in." Adam pulled Sport Diver out of his carryon bag. Kee-Yung was fast becoming a friend. A second generation American of Taiwanese origin, his parents had tacked Keith onto his Chinese name. He'd chosen the latter, explaining that with his Western upbringing and speech, he felt American enough already. He used his Chinese name to honor his ancestors' hunger for freedom. Adam liked the idea. Maybe he'd honor his Scottish heritage that way, if ever he had a son.
Yeah, as if that's likely to happen. Not too enticing a prospect, for Noah's to be the only Whitford genes carried forward into the future. He thrust that melancholy idea down alongside others that hurt too much to examine. Paging through the magazine, he found the article about wreck diving. "Look here. Up to try it?"
"Sure! Maybe we can get some of the girls to go along." Kee-Yung winked. "Give it a little flavor."
Adam waved a hand in the air. "Most of them won't want to get their hair wet. Might be one or two who are woman enough to try it, though. Del's all but checked out on scuba, maybe Pam is, too."
"We'll find out. Run a test. Mention seaweed in the hair and see whose nose wrinkles up. The ones who don't, why they're the ladies for us."
More laughter. Later on, talk turned to computer systems and Adam's own business. Kee-Yung planned to build his own PC, so they discussed that. As the flight stretched out, Kee-Yung opened a novel. Adam closed his eyes to doze off.
"So what gives?" He had trouble hearing Pam's quiet voice. If he breathed soundlessly, he could catch her words to Delaine sitting alongside. "Why did you change your mind?"
"I didn't change it. Not quite." Del's voice sounded too quiet. "Then a Mack truck crashed in and changed it back for me." He grinned in secret amusement at the simile. It wouldn't be the first time he'd been accused of lacking subtlety. "Oh, I did want to go, still do. I need a vacation, I've been going at the job too hard. It's just -- the wrong timing really."
"Because of--" Pam dropped her voice further so he couldn't make out the rest. He squirmed in frustration.
"Yeah." Delaine's voice flattened on an unusual note, almost sorrow. No, that couldn't be. Basically Del was a light-hearted type, now like always. Right? Sorrow didn't suit her voice. "Mostly that, I suppose."
"You said you're over it."
"But not quite."
He disciplined himself to close his ears and listen no more, but he couldn't help speculating. Some guy, no doubt. He knew she hadn't been seeing anyone when he'd left for Jacksonville. Who had she dated since? Plainly it hadn't worked out, and she'd been hurt. Just getting past it. Grief flattened her voice, stupid grief for some klutz who'd breezed into her life and then just as easily out of it. Heartily Adam wished the unknown man engine failure at five-thirty on the Kennedy expressway.
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