Chapter One

 

Rand tossed a baseball cap into the bag on top of his shorts, then pulled some lube out of the bedside table. Shit. Wishful thinking. He stared at the giant pink vibrating dildo he’d used about five times last night. The prospect of a fucking—or more accurately, no fucking—week with his parents in their idea of tropical paradise drove a man to masturbation. He grabbed the dildo, closed the drawer, and stashed it in the pocket of his winter coat in the closet. Letting the maid see it? Not happening. Still, he tossed the lube in the bag. Might need it for emergency jerkoffs.

He pulled out another long-sleeved shirt with studded snaps. What the hell did he own that worked in Maui? Better question, how did he work in Maui? The buzz of his cell underscored the question. Coming, Mother. He grabbed the phone. “Hi. I’m on my way. Almost.”

“Randall, move your butt. We’re practically at the airport. If we’re going to meet in Kahului for the flight to Hana, you can’t be late for your plane.”

“I’m going. I’ll be there. Don’t worry.”

“You know how much your father and I are looking forward to the holidays with you—for a change.”

Right, play the loving mother card. Of course, she was a loving mother, which was the only fucking reason he was rushing to get on this flight. Considering how terrified he was of flying, he loved her more than life. Of course, she didn’t know that heights terrified him. She didn’t know a lot of things. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Can’t wait. Kiss, kiss.”

He took one last look at the duffel and zipped it shut. Whatever he had was good enough. After grabbing his boots from the corner of the closet, he sat to pull them on. Somehow he’d survive this “family vacation”—the first one of its kind in sixteen years, since he was ten and they’d gone to Walt Disney World. Man, he’d hated that trip. He’d wanted to go to a working ranch so badly—but his mom couldn’t believe he wouldn’t adore Mickey and pals. Mom intuition? Zero. After the mouseland disaster, they’d shipped him off to horse camp every year and taken their own vacations while he was gone. Those summers set his course in life—both positive and negative.

He flipped off the bedroom lights and pulled the soft, rolling duffel to the front door. He automatically took the Stetson from the hook and clapped it on his head. One look back. Bye, house. See you later—if I survive.

He strode out into the cold morning air, left the bag on the porch of his ranch house, and hurried to the stables. Manolo and Danny curried the horses for the morning riders.

Short, stocky Manolo barely showed over the back of the big gelding. He peeked up with his dancing eyes. “Morning, patron.”

Rand leaned over and cuffed the wiseass on the shoulder. “So, we’ve got Scot and his mom coming this morning, and then the Andersons later. The rest of the week is pretty light, so hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’ve warned all our students and their families and haven’t scheduled any guests for the week. They were pretty understanding since it’s Christmas.”

Danny grinned—dimples for miles, sandy hair, long legs, and brains, as some movie said. The ultimate cowboy cutie. Kevin Costner in Silverado—wiseass and ass-beautiful. Ever since he’d hired Danny, Rand worked to see him as a friend and nothing more. Danny fed a carrot to Star Sight, the big palomino. “No worries, man. We got this. Of course, Mrs. Anderson will be way disappointed you’re not here, but I doubt she’ll pull her darlin’ out of lessons over it.”

“Just be gentle with Ricky, okay? The kid’s got skill, but he’s really high-strung.”

Manolo winked. “He’s really gay is what he is.”

Rand frowned. “Regardless, the kid thinks he’s crap. Take it easy on him.”

Manolo nodded. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be an asshole. We’ll take good care of him.”

“Thanks. Both of you. If you need extra hands, call in Judy and Beth. They’re both dying to help out.”

Manolo snorted. “They’re both dying to stare at Danny’s ass. Or yours, if it happens to be available.”

“They’ll have to live without my ass this week.” Rand frowned. Or any week.

Danny wiped an arm over his handsome face and led Star back to the stall. “Get goin’, boss, or your mom’s gonna have kittens.”

Manolo nudged Rand. “She’ll settle for kittens till she can get some kids out of you.”

“Yeah. Shit, I get a whole week of hearing her whine about me settling down so she can have grandchildren. Don’t be envying me this trip. Call me if you need me—although I hear the cell service isn’t much. So I’ll send you the hotel number in case of emergency.”

“You’re just hoping we have one so you can come back early.” Manolo chuckled.

“Don’t tempt me.” He turned, ran for his bag, and then hopped in the truck. He’d made the life he wanted here—pretty much. Why, oh why did he have to go to Hawaii?

An hour and a half later, he pulled into long-term parking in Sacramento. After hauling his ass onto a bus, paying twenty-five ridiculous bucks for his bag, and getting semi-strip-searched in security because the rivets on his jeans made the security wand beep, he finally sat at the gate and waited, his hands busily tying knots in his carry-on strap.

“Group three may now board. Group three.”

Instantly, his heart beat so fast he could pass out. Dying, he didn’t mind. Falling farther than the back of a horse? Nightmare. He grabbed his hat and got in line. Look indifferent about flying. You know, like you do with everything else.

He dragged his big body down the aisle until he got to his seat, stashed the bag in the overhead, and tipped his hat at the elderly lady sitting next to him before he put the Stetson on top of his bag. “Ma’am.” She was probably eighty, so she’d gotten to preboard. Still, her hair might be gray, but her eyes danced with humor and life.

He sat and fastened his seatbelt so tight it was a wonder his dick didn’t complain from lack of circulation.

The lady grinned and stuck out her hand. “My, aren’t I the lucky one. I’m Althea Orwell.”

“Rand. Rand McIntyre.”

She chatted amiably while half his brain listened to every whir, thunk, and rattle the plane made as they loaded. When the flight attendant gave them emergency instructions, he grabbed for the card in the seat pocket to read along. Mrs. Orwell looked at him quite seriously. “Most of these instructions don’t amount to much. Truthfully, if we ditch in the water, we don’t have a lot of chance despite what they say. Still, it’s good to notice where the exits are and how to put on the life vest.” Her finger traced the steps as the recording read them off.

He took a deep breath. Did her candid admission make him feel better or worse? Strangely enough, better. He nodded.

As the plane revved and took off, her old hand slid onto his tense arm and just rested there. How bad do you feel getting comfort from an old lady? His lips quirked. Not as bad as I’d feel without it.

Five and a half craptastic hours later, he swallowed hard for the fiftieth time as the plane hummed its way over the trade winds toward Kahului. Mrs. Orwell, it turned out, was visiting her daughter in Maui. Thankfully she hadn’t stopped talking since before they took off, which meant he didn’t have to think about the condition of his stomach. He’d heard about her daughter’s bad marriage to a military man who’d mistreated her, and then she’d gone ahead and married another one of those warrior types, but, thank God, this one seemed to be a good man and a good provider and took care of her and her three kids—when the husband wasn’t out on a ship, which he happened to be now, and so she was going to help out with the little ones and—

“You married, dear?”

His head snapped up. “Oh, uh, no, ma’am.”

“Big, handsome guy like you. I’d think a lot of women would have fixed a homing beacon on your pretty face.”

He reached up to touch the brim of his hat and realized it wasn’t there, so he touched his forehead instead. “Thanks most kindly, ma’am.” Cowboy talk got him off the hook every time. “Just haven’t met the right one yet.”

“How old are you?”

“Uh, twenty-six.”

“It’s time. Settle down and produce some kids to keep you company in your old age. Gets lonely otherwise.”

Shit, you don’t have to be old to be lonely. “Good advice, ma’am. Thank you.” The plane jerked; he grabbed the arms of the seat until his knuckles turned white.

Mrs. Orwell patted his arm. “Don’t worry. That kind of bumping is perfectly normal. Nothing to worry about.”

He swallowed. “Just took me by surprise is all.” One finger at a time, he tried to release his hands, but then the plane bobbed and weaved again, and ice-cold instinct took over. He clutched. Breathe. Can’t! Once again, he stood on the edge of that fucking cliff, staring into more than enough nothing to kill him, while that taunting voice counted down the moments until he’d die. Three. Two. One.

But I thought—I thought—

“Rand, breathe, dear. It’s perfectly normal. Not all humans like to fly. Just hold my hand and take a deep pull on this God-awful recycled air that’s more likely to kill us than a crash.” She squeezed his hand hard, and he let her. “Hey, it’s not every day I get to hold hands with such a handsome devil.” She put a warm finger on his chest just over his heart. “Relax right here and inhale.”

Are people watching me make a fool of myself? Nobody seemed to be. He focused on the warmth of her touch and expanded his belly. Air. Good.

She took her hand away. “There you go.”

He smiled. “Thank you very kindly, ma’am. I had an, uh, accident as a kid that made me skittish in high places.” Jesus, his mother would smack him if she heard that “exaggerated cowboy nonsense,” but his customers loved it.

“We all have our fears. Nothing to be ashamed of. So, I’ve been doing all the talking. Where are you visiting on Maui?”

“Uh, Hana.”

“Well, of course.” She slapped his leg. “Hana Ranch. Makes perfect sense. Cowboy like you. You going to be doing some roping and riding?”

“No, ma’am. I’m visiting my folks. They’re staying at the Hana Maui Hotel.”

“Well, isn’t that nice? Spending time with family. I’ve heard that’s a beautiful hotel. I imagine you’ll be doing more sunbathing than cowboying.” She chuckled. “Not that I wouldn’t give a lot to see that.”

“Mrs. Orwell, I’m blushing.”

She laughed. “One of the fun things about being my age is you don’t have to give a damn what you say.”

He grinned at her. “I look forward to that.”

The plane lurched, and she reached for his hand. He grabbed hers and squeezed. When the turbulence stopped, he said, “Do you have a cell phone?”

“Sure.” She smiled. “You want to call me to fly back with you?”

“That sounds good. But no.” She handed him her phone. “I’m putting my cell number in your phone. If there’s ever anything I can do to repay you, you just call, okay?” He handed back the phone.

“My, my, it’s nice to have a lifeline.” She held his hand for the rest of the bouncy landing in Kahului.

When he stepped off the plane, he restrained his desire to kiss the ground and settled for a deep breath of sweet, moist, fragrant air. Hauling Mrs. Orwell’s two carry-on bags, he walked to the outdoor baggage claim with her beside him, holiday tinsel decorating the tropical flowers and bushes.

“Randall.” His mother half jogged across the small space crowded with people. She sported white linen pants and a flowing blue silk shirt—ever the fashion diva. She threw her arms around his neck. “It’s so good to see you, darling. Did you have a good flight?”

He looked over his mother’s head toward Mrs. Orwell, who winked at him.

“It was fine. Mom, this is Mrs. Orwell. I met her on the plane.”

His mother extended a gracious hand. “Good to meet you, Mrs. Orwell.” Rand’s dad finally caught up to his wife. She took his hand. “This is my husband, Elson.”

Mrs. Orwell shook hands with Rand’s dad. “That’s a mighty nice boy you’ve got. He made me feel very comfortable on the plane.”

Rand snorted, then coughed to cover it. He gave his dad a hug.

“Good to see you, Rand.”

“Likewise, sir.”

A small horde of females descended on Mrs. Orwell, including her harried-looking daughter.

“Mama.”

“Grandma.”

After introductions all around, the daughter and two oldest girls took the carry-ons from Rand. Mrs. Orwell turned and reached up to touch his cheek. He had to stoop a little to let her do it. “I hope you have a wonderful vacation, dear. Who knows, maybe this is the time when you’ll find the right one. I hope you do—no matter who that might be.”

“Not likely, ma’am, but thank you for the thought.”

“Well, okay, but remember, the best way to find the one is to not assume who that person is in advance.”

“Have a wonderful holiday with your family.”

She chuckled. “I know when I’m being brushed off. Take care, Rand. Somebody out there will be lucky to get you.”

As she walked off with her grandchildren hanging on her, his mother said, “She’s a quirky one.”

“Yep.”

“She seems pretty free with her advice.”

He smiled. “Yep.”

A half hour later, he desperately wished he had Mrs. Orwell and her advice back as the little six-seater plane to Hana bounced all over the sky. He sucked his breath, bit his tongue, and stared out the window so no one could see his skin, which had to be snow white—since he felt cold as ice. Thank God they only dropped and shimmied for half an hour before landing on the tiny Hana airstrip. He managed not to throw up as he deplaned, but he swallowed a lot. “I hear the road to Hana is a sight to see. Maybe we should drive back?”

His mother nodded. “What a good idea. We’ll have them pack us a picnic and take it slow and easy.” Slow and easy he didn’t mind. Low and easy sounded better.

His dad patted Rand’s back. “Let’s have our vacation before we end it.”

“Yes, sir.”

At the tiny terminal building, they found their bags and spied a burly Hawaiian man holding a sign that said McIntyre. His shirt was emblazoned with a Hana Maui logo. Rand’s mom waved, and the man came over. “Hi, are you the McIntyres?”

“Yes.”

He pulled three leis made of purple orchids from a bag and put one around each of their necks. “Aloha. Welcome to Hana and to Hana Maui. I’m George.”

Rand smiled.

“You were expecting Kamehameha, maybe?” George chuckled.

“Exactly.”

“No worries, brah. You’re looking at Noelani Uluwehi, at your service.”

“More like it.”

“Call me George. Now let me take you to your home away from home.”

George tossed their bags into the trunk of a town car like they were full of feathers, then helped Rand’s parents in. Rand slid in the front passenger seat and stared out the window as George drove north, the rolling Pacific shining past green land and small buildings on the left. Rand’s mental picture of flowers, waterfalls, and lush foliage didn’t come true. Hana spread out in rolling pastures, like home, but a lot greener with way more trees. “They don’t call it Hana ranch for nothing.”

“Right, brah. Fourteen thousand acres of land and a herd of Herefords from Molokai got started here in 1946. Been through a lot of owners since then, man. If you look hard, you can still see some evidence of the ranch, but mostly it’s a hotel.”

It only took about fifteen minutes before George pulled into the drive of a low-slung, rock-studded building directly beside the road on the ocean side. A discreet sign said Travaasa Hana Maui Hotel.

Rand loitered with his dad as he tipped George and negotiated the transfer of their bags to a bellman. Across the street and a little back from the road, a rustic wooden building sat quiet and clearly closed, although the beer signs in the windows promised a good time.

George followed Rand’s line of sight. “It’s a cowboy club, brah. You’ll fit right in. Only open weekends, though. Tomorrow night.”

“Hawaiian cowboys?”

“Yeah, the originals. Paniolo.”

“No shit?”

“We got our cowboying straight from the Mexican vaqueros. You mainlanders got it later.” George smiled at the club. “Only a few real paniolos left, but anyone’s welcome at the club. It’s a nice break from the more upscale restaurant at Hana Maui.”

Rand glanced back at the silent building. Who knew? As his father dealt with the bellman, he followed his mother into the open-air lobby. A handsome Asian man dressed in black trousers and a Hawaiian shirt came from behind the desk. “Mrs. McIntyre, how good to see you and Mr. McIntyre again.”

“And you, Mr. Yamata. This is my son, Rand.”

He shook hands, his mother completed the check-in, and his father arrived in time to hop on the bell cart that took them out the back door. Okay, man, this is Hawaii. Elegant cottages built of wood and clustered in a dense copse of trees, bushes and flowers faced a wide expanse of green lawn, all leading out to a precipice looking directly down to the ocean. A pool decorated the lawn.

“No beach?” He cocked his head at his mom.

She shook her head. “The beach is a short walk or an even shorter drive down the road. It’s black sand. You’ll love it.”

The bellman gave him a glance over his shoulder. “You want to go to the beach from here, you gotta take off your clothes.” He laughed, and Rand’s mom joined in.

She grinned. “There’s a nude beach—a pretty little red sand cove—just down the hill from here. You don’t have to take off your clothes—but you better be okay with everyone else doing it. As for me, I like a good fish sandwich at the hotel beach with my bathing suit on.”

The bellman pulled the cart up to a lovely cottage perched on the edge of the precipice with a stunning view. “Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre, since this cottage has the best view, Mr. Yamata wanted you to have it. It’s not large enough for three, however. Mr. Rand would have that cottage.” He pointed to a smaller building slightly behind the larger cottage. “If you’d prefer to all be together, there’s a two-bedroom family cottage available on the other side.”

Rand held his breath. His mom looked at his father. “What do you think, dear?”

His dad shrugged. “Rand’s a big boy. I expect he’d enjoy a little privacy. Plus, it’s tough to beat this view.”

His mother nodded. “So it’s done.”

Rand slowly exhaled as the bellman began unloading his parents’ bags from the cart. He walked over to the edge of the drop-off and stared at the restless ocean. A cowboy bar and a nude beach—Hana was definitely looking up.