Seven years since their breakup, Jolene Kualoha spotted Danker Donahue, ambling from the parking lot toward the store. She recognized him by his height and long gait. Wind from the north ruffled his hair and brought a bone-biting chill to her heart. Nuts, here he was, ducking his head to miss the bell overhead. It tinkled, and a strange twisting sensation hit her in the stomach.
This happened at the Kalua-Kona Food Emporium on a Sunday morning in July. She stared from where she stood near the avocados. His dangerous edge drew her in, but she turned her back to him. Her body reverberated like when her cell phone was on vibrate in her pocket. Stunned with minor electric shock, she froze. Maybe he wouldn’t see her. Wouldn’t recognize the back of her head or the once familiar shape of her ass.
Was someone waiting for him in the parking lot? Someone like Louella, the baby’s momma who’d summoned him for an immediate DNA test? For a split second, she craned her head around but didn’t see her with him.
She and Danker were a couple when the test confirmed his fatherhood. Her heart ached at the memory. Love hurt, but that wasn’t all. Loneliness hurt. Losing someone hurt. Decision-making hurt when you force yourself to do the right thing.
She’d pulled away, giving him space to work on his previous relationship for the sake of their child. The most shameful thing a woman can do is take parents away from a baby, and this began her year of stubborn steadfastness.
I did the breakup rituals. Got the dramatic haircut. Engraved a piece of jewelry he got me with a new message. Deleted the photos that made me cry.
To have been his woman was like living where the air flowered with jasmine, and the weather day after day was flawless, but the forecast was a hurricane.
Older didn’t mean wiser. All this time she’d dreaded running into him, sometimes dressing in expectation of it. If she did see him again, she wanted to look good. Today she looked like crap, but what did it matter? His reason for being on the Big Island had nothing to do with her, not in a personal way. Tomorrow they’d meet at the FBI field office to collaborate on a serial kidnapping case. She’d wear a sleeveless linen dress, open-toed pumps, and bring the accordion file full of notes and newspaper clippings she’d gathered.
The perpetrator targeted wealthy Hawaiians with social capital, the kind of people seen on television or featured in newspapers when they donated money to charities. The latest missing person, Pua Iona, owned Iona Hawaiian Rugs and was an acquaintance of hers. Not that they shared the same social strata, but they’d volunteered together at an artisans’ market to boost Hawaiian crafts. After Pua went missing and fit the criminal’s modus operandi, Mayor Billy Kim, frustrated with police progress, contacted Jolene’s former boss from California, FBI Agent Gary Guhleman, cowboyish in dress but wise in judgement.
Guhleman didn’t need to tell her Hawaiians resisted outside intrusions. “You know everyone,” he’d said. “Witnesses will share what they know.” The agent and his wife had retired, rather semi-retired, here in Kona. Soon after she and Guhleman had spoken, he called in Danker Donahue to consult. “You remember him, right?”
“Gosh, let me think.” She and Danker went hot and heavy after the Long Beach case that ended with the arrest of mobster Seamus McGinn.
Just then Danker spoke to someone with his rich Midwestern drawl, typical of California transplants. It was the first time she’d heard his voice in seven years after hearing it every day for ten months. She hardened like a turtle on a rock except for a slight turn of her head. He removed an earbud from his right ear and placed it in a protective case.
His longer dark hair, broad shoulders, and square jaw evoked an intense mix of emotions. A car crash of desire. There was nothing more frightening than desiring a freefall. It wasn’t just the sex. Her heart had burst with happiness making her believe love conquers all. It hadn’t.
In profile, the skin of his face was not as smooth. His craggier appearance reflected who he was, a loner with little concern about his well-being. The work he’d chosen reinforced his inclination toward secretive and wary, trusting few people.
She sighed at his beautiful elegance. So beautiful in a manly way, and he was once hers.
She’d let him go.
No, she’d pushed him away and cut all ties. The right thing to do was the hardest thing. She expected Danker to be different, not just older but still having an immensely handsome face. Worst case, with the risks he took, she expected he’d be dead. What she saw was what she’d hoped for. Alive. Succeeding as a top investigator called on by the FBI. She also hoped he’d found happiness with the child he’d fathered.