Crash and Burn - Chapter 43: Kauwili

“Welcome to Lanikuhonua, where Heaven meets the Earth,” a senior member of the staff said with an appreciative glance down her body.

“Thanks,” Reena replied, resisting the urge to look down and see whether there was anything poking out of her dress. The dark-blue chiffon was perfect for the A-line gown, falling beautifully from the waist, but it was the lighter blue beaded strap on the empire waistline that extended up over her shoulders and crossed at the back that could present a problem, pushing her breasts up into the bodice. One wrong move and she might make a lot of guys here tonight very happy.

She surreptitiously tested her footing. There shouldn’t be any problems despite the height of her heels. She knew how to walk on such ‘stilts’, she could probably even run in them if need arose, and kick some serious butt. Which, of course, could not be said about the gown. It had been crafted for dancing, not fighting. The flimsy material of both the straps and the gown would probably not sustain any major distress.

She relaxed, threw up a little prayer for keeping the gown in one piece and letting it stay on her without flashing anybody, and smiled at the guy that was still staring. It was obvious he really liked what he saw.

“Thank you, that would be all,” Marc snapped from beside her, giving the man a pointed look, until the guy finally caught the drift and took off.

“Did you have to be so rude?” she asked as the few media members seemed to come out of a fugue state and started snapping pictures.

“He was staring.”

“That’s why we’re born with eyes, you know.”

“Not for that kind of staring.” Marcus blinked, trying to clear his vision, when the photographers finally retreated. “He was starving-staring.”

She laughed. “I don’t want to know.”

“He had all the reason, Reen,” he murmured as he placed a hand at the small of her back and steered her toward their table. “You look absolutely amazing.”

“You’re biased, but thank you.”

He chuckled. “I’m not the only one. There’s a certain someone there, on the edge of the dance floor, that has already stripped you with his eyes.”

She followed his gaze and her heart lodged somewhere in her throat at the sight of Steve McGarrett in all his Navy-uniformed glory complete with medals and honors pinned over his heart. She hadn’t been exaggerating earlier when she’d told him he always looked good in formal wear. He was drop-dead gorgeous.

And his eyes were blazing as he stared at her. Blazing with a mixture of emotions impossible to decipher. And he was so serious, his gaze focused as that of a predator upon its prey. It was making her uncomfortable, so she ventured a small smile.

Then the crowd parted just right and she saw who stood beside him. Her smile disappeared. Catherine Rollins looked incredible in the crimson strapless gown, the fair skin of her neck and shoulders contrasting becomingly with her dark hair scooped up at the back of her head.

Reena felt her stomach roll, felt her eyes sting, but she fought the nausea and tears back. What had her brother said earlier? Come what may, she’d bear it with her head held high. So she smiled again, gave them both a little wave, and turned back to her brother.

Marc smiled at her with pride. She was hanging in there like a champ. He only hoped the same could be said when the evening was through.

“What is he doing here?” she hissed.

Marc nodded to the man in question. “Well, he is our father.”

“That’s debatable.”

“Reen,” he admonished. “When will you stop with this pretend-grudge?”

“Pretend?”

“Yes, pretend,” he replied patiently. “Because we both know you’ve forgiven him. Quite a while ago.”

“There’s no reason to tell him that. I just love the suspense,” she whispered conspiratorially, making him smile.

Then his smile turned into a grin as he spotted his old school-mate over the top of her head. “Nate, it’s so good to see you.”

Reena turned and smiled at the newcomer. “Hey, handsome.”

Nathan Westin grinned at his two friends. “Look at you two, picture perfect as ever. And still inseparable, I see.” Then, in his usual exuberant fashion, he grabbed Reena around her waist, lifted her, and gave her a twirl. “You haven’t changed at all, Reen. Still short.”

Back on her feet, Reena prayed nothing had moved below her neck. “You haven’t changed, either. When will you stop grabbing people like they weigh nothing?”

“You do weigh nothing. And look good enough to eat.” He gave her a leisurely once-over. “That dress should be illegal the way it looks on you.”

She made a small curtsy. “Why, thank you. Always a charmer.”

Marc decided to intervene, feeling a little left out. That had always happened when these two were together, they just got back to their school-days camaraderie. They’ve been inseparable in school and it showed every time they met afterward. “Simmer it down, you two.”

Reena poked her tongue out at her brother, then finally really looked at Nate. “Golly, Westin, look at you. So dashing in your uniform.” She grinned at her brother. “I just love the Navy uniforms. Nothing like it.”

Marc would not take that bait. “But of course you do, Reen. Why is that, exactly?”

Nate nodded. “Well, from what I heard, this one would need a SEAL trident for you to really appreciate it fully. Unfortunately I can’t hold my breath for more than a minute.”

“When do we meet your date?” she asked quickly, rolled her eyes as the two men grinned like idiots. “I want to make sure she deserves you.”

Nate grinned. “Of course she does. And even if you think she doesn’t, I don’t care. I’ve waited three years for her and then it took me weeks to convince her to go out with me. You know, working together and all that crap. But I did it and I’m committed, nothing you could say would sway me.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Where is she?”

“She’s waiting for me to introduce me to some friends.” He nodded toward the edge of the dance floor. “There she is, talking to your buddy Joe. The lady in red.”

Reena blinked. The only woman in read currently talking to Joe—“Catherine Rollins is your date?”

“You know her?”

“You could say that.”

“That’s interesting,” Marc murmured beside her. “Very interesting,” he added, when Reena shot him a poisonous look.

“You said you waited three years for her?” Reena asked.

Nate nodded. “Give or take a couple of months. She was in a relationship, completely oblivious to my existence. Then she broke it off with the guy a month or so ago, and I seized the opportunity.”

She broke it off?”

Nate looked at her. She sounded like she was choking. “Yeah. Lucky me.”

Marc couldn’t believe his luck. This evening was shaping up to be a real success. Though looking at his sister, one wouldn’t say that. Sabrina looked ready to collapse.

“Anyway, as soon as she was back on the market I pounced. Of course, she needed some convincing, but—” Nate grinned at Catherine across the crowd. “—there she is. And if you two will excuse me, I have to go there before she comes to fetch me.”

“Very interesting indeed,” Marc murmured again, when Nate left them. “Reen, you look a little pale. Come sit down before you keel over.”

He pulled her toward their table, pushed her down into a chair and hailed a waiter for a glass of water.




When Nate joined her, Catherine quickly made the introductions, hoping to breeze him away before Steve quartered him. The look in those blue eyes promised murder. Nate was either blind or, knowing him, simply loved a challenge. So he lingered.

“It was great seeing Reen again, I’ll tell you that.” He looked at Catherine. “She told me she knows you.”

She nodded weakly, trying to think of anything to get him away from the group.

“God, that’s one amazing woman.”

“How come you know her?” Steve growled.

“Oh, we went to school together. Boy, was I crushing on her back then. Don’t tell her that, though,” he continued with a conspiratorial wink. “She’d feel bad for not knowing and I’d feel bad for making her feel bad and Marc would have my hide for making her feel bad and then she’d feel even more bad...And I’m babbling, sorry.”

“Protective, is he?” Steve asked.

Nate nodded, seemingly oblivious to what was going on between the lines. “Like a papa bear. Ever since school, I tell you. They’re inseparable.”

“They went to school together?”

Catherine frowned at Steve suddenly dejected tone.

“Yup. He even kicked my ass—pardon the language, ladies—for making her cry.” He smiled sheepishly. “And then she kicked his ass for kicking mine, because it hadn’t been me that made her cry. And she wasn’t crying because she was sad, but because she was angry, and I’m babbling again. Sorry, I can’t help it, I’m so happy to get to see them again.”

Catherine patted his arm affectionately. He was so sweet when he was embarrassed. And so cute. And unbelievably handsome. She couldn’t believe what she’s missed in the past three years. Now she could officially say something good has come from her breakup with Steve.

Then Joe White suggested they all go sit, apologized he wouldn’t be sitting with them—his friend Sebastian Hawthorne had invited him to the main table, and Catherine placed her hand in the crook of her date’s arm and let him escort her to the table. A table they were sharing with Steve and the rest of the crew.

She smiled. It was always good to have a familiar face sitting beside you, even if it was a sad one.

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