Two to Mango

Two to Mango
Jill Marie Landis

June 2012 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-131-9

Book 2 of the Tiki Goddess Mystery Series
Our PriceUS$13.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Forget the grass skirts. Some of the Island's top hula dancers are pushing up daisies.

Everyone at Em Johnson’s famous North Shore Kauai hang-out, The Tiki Goddess Bar, knows that the bar’s irrepressible Hula Maidens take their hula dancing seriously. So when famed hula instructors from a rival dance troop start dropping like over-ripe passion fruit, Em and the Hula Maidens go undercover at the Kukui Nut Festival Hula Competition to uncover the killer. Em is once again up to her okole in danger and mystery, not to mention the seductive challenge of working with hunky detective Roland Sharpe, who moonlights as one of the island’s sexiest fire dancers.

The hula is lively, the luau is smoking, the mai tais are delicious, and a killer is looking to get away with murder in paradise.

Praise for Book One of The Tiki Goddess Mysteries

"Fun, charming and full of atmosphere, Mai Tai One On is a delightful beginning to what promises to be a terrific mystery series." -- Susan Mallery, New York Times Bestselling Author


JILL MARIE LANDIS has written over twenty-five novels, which have earned awards and slots on such national bestseller lists as the USA TODAY Top 50 and the New York Times Best Sellers Plus. She is a seven-time finalist for Romance Writers of America's RITA Award in both Single Title and Contemporary Romance as well as a Golden Heart and RITA Award winner. She's written historical and contemporary romance as well as inspirational historical romance, and she is now penning The Tiki Goddess Mystery Series, which began with MAI TAI ONE ON.


"Fans of Stephanie Plum will enjoy this series, a colorful, entertaining, light and playful read!" -- Allie Bates, NovelSpot




Wardrobe Malfunction

"Thanks to you and your nipple, Lillian, we’ll never dance in this town again.”

Mournful silence filled the Tiki Goddess Bar on the North Shore of Kauai as Kiki Godwin pinned Lillian Smith with a cold, hard stare.

As the self-appointed leader of the aging troop of dancers known as the Hula Maidens, Kiki had gathered the women for an emergency meeting after their recent disastrous appearance at the Happy Days Long Term Care Center.

A recent transplant from Iowa, rhythmically challenged Lillian squirmed on the sticky seat of the red vinyl banquette. She had the sense not to argue, but when a telltale tear slipped from behind her black rimmed, rhinestone encrusted glasses Kiki went in for the kill.

"I’m afraid you have single handedly ruined us, Lillian.” Kiki shook her head and let go a long suffering sigh. "There’s nothing else I can say.”

Lil let out a wail and leapt to her feet. Her hot pink rubber flip flops slapped an even tattoo against the floor as she ran out of the bar and onto the front lanai. Unfortunately, her sobs were still audible.

Kiki kept the troupe of not-so-talented over-the-hill dancers on a tight rein. They danced for free, but it was still hard for them to get gigs. Audiences expected lovely young Polynesian dancers, not a bunch of wrinkled old haoles with underarm bat wings.

If Lillian’s shocking wardrobe malfunction truly had ruined their already questionable reputation, they would no doubt be confined to dancing solely at the Tiki Goddess Bar. No more appearances at pancake breakfasts, shave ice wagon blessings or the Annual Hanalei Valley Slug Festival. No more invitations to dance at the occasional private party.

The four other Maidens attending the emergency meeting watched Lillian’s hasty departure in subdued silence. The bar didn’t officially open until eleven, so no one outside the group of dancers was there to witness Lillian’s shame except Sophie Chin, the twenty-two-year-old bartender.

In the mid-morning light, the place looked as tired as an old drunk after a night of heavy binging. The painted plywood floor was scuffed down to bare wood. Foam padding oozed from the stained upholstered seats of chairs that once graced a nearby hotel banquet room. Small round cocktail tables were unevenly spaced along a narrow vinyl banquette beneath the open windows.

Before the lunch crowd rolled in, Sophie filled the ice bin beneath the bar and then stocked fruit juices for the tropical concoctions the place was famous for. The minute Lillian started bawling Sophie dried her hands and tossed down the dish towel.

"A little harsh, don’tcha think, Kiki?” She called across the bar.

Kiki considered Sophie for a moment. Younger by forty years, the girl still had enough gumption to stand up to her. The kid was nice enough, but she had no class. Her jet black hair was short, spiked, and sported neon green tips, but she changed the color on a whim. A row of silver rings pierced her right brow, and if that wasn’t bad enough, a fairly new and colorful tattoo of an Asian mermaid was entwined around Sophie’s left wrist and forearm.

Not to her taste, but Kiki still couldn’t help but be a little jealous. Sophie was everything Kiki wasn’t anymore: young, healthy, and one heck of a hula dancer. Born and raised on Oahu, Sophie could claim a stew pot of mixed heritage. She was what the natives called "local.” All Kiki could claim was that she was a haole,but her heart was Hawaiian.

"You think that was harsh?” Kiki tried to subdue the girl with a look. It didn’t work.

"The poor woman is in tears,” Sophie pointed out.

"That poor woman is always in tears. I told Lillian how to tie her pareauso that it wouldn’t slip off. Halfway through our tribute to Elvis medley at the old folks’ home, I looked over, and there she was with her right nipple sticking out. The left was close to peeping out too. If I hadn’t danced over and blocked her from view she wouldn’t have noticed until her pareau had rolled down to her ankles.”

"Kiki? Oh, Kiki?” Suzi Matamoto, short, Japanese American and an aggressive realtor, waved her hand.

Kiki took her time, slowly cocked her left brow and tried to stare Suzi down.


Suzi cleared her throat. "I’ve always thought we’re kind of old to be wearing sarongs anyway.”

Kiki took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. She started to count to ten but only made it to five.

"Actually, Suzi, I’ve always thought you were a little old to wear your hair down past your hips. I’m the costume designer,” she reminded them all. "If I say pareau then that’s what we wear. If I say paper bags, we wear paper bags. Got it? And stop using the word sarong. It’s pah-ray-oo.

By now they should have it in their hard little heads; she was in charge of costuming. Kiki stared down each of the women gathered around the rickety cocktail tables and caught the dangerous glimmer of insurrection in their eyes.

"That may be.” More headstrong than the others, Suzi went on undeterred. "Lillian doesn’t have anything to hold her par-eh-ooo up with.”

"Nochi chis.” Flora Carillo shook her head and sighed. The hefty Hawaiian who owned the local trinket shop in the Hanalei Village was seated at the far end of the banquette. "She get nut’ting up top.”

Another pitiful wail floated in from the lanai.

"Next time I’m in town I’ll buy her some double sided tape out of the treasury,” Kiki said.

Before the agenda got away from her, Kiki turned to Little Estelle Huntington. The ninety-two-year-old was perched on her electric Gad-About scooter gumming the celery stick garnish from her cocktail. Though she didn’t dance anymore, Little Estelle never missed a chance to accompany her daughter, Big Estelle, to all Hula Maiden meetings and performances.

"Little Estelle, go out and tell Lillian to cut the waterworks get back in here,” Kiki said. "The sound of sniveling floating on the trade winds is driving me crazy.”

Little Estelle polished off the dregs of a Shark’s Tooth Frenzy, the closest thing to a Bloody Mary on the four page Goddess drink menu, then revved the battery powered engine and did a one-eighty on the scooter. She used the empty tables as a slalom course, weaving her way out to the lanai.

Kiki noticed Sophie was no longer lining up hurricane glasses but headed around the open end of the bar. Kiki liked Sophie as well as she liked anyone and was usually careful not to piss her off—especially since Sophie had voluntarily coached the Maidens through a particularly complicated new hula for the Annual Hanalei Slug Festival.

Truth be told, they could use Sophie as a full time choreographer, but they were all too stubborn and outspoken. They never had any luck keeping hula teachers longer than a month. Kiki knew it was best to stay on Sophie’s good side and ask for help only when it was vital.

Legend had it Sophie had once danced at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the Olympics of hula held on the Big Island of Hawaii every spring. Even so, Kiki didn’t appreciate the young woman running interference for the other Maidens. She’d hate for there to be rebellion in the ranks, but she doubted the others could get it together enough for them to put Sophie in charge.

As if anyone else would ever even attempt to corral such a mixed bag of nuts.

Sophie handed Suzi a Goddess coaster for her mimosa then picked up Flora’s empty rocks glass. Kiki was almost convinced the kid was going to stay out of it until Sophie paused, fingered the front of her neon spiked hair and planted a hand on her hip.

"Kiki, I don’t think you need to worry about Lil’s accidental striptease at Happy Days. The doctors and nurses are used to exposed body parts. Besides, it’s not as if the patients are going to remember anyway.”

Suzi looked up from texting long enough to clarify. "They call them guests, not patients.”

"Guests?” Big Estelle looked at Suzi. "Why? Because they at their last big luau?”

"Lined up for that all-expense paid vacation to heaven,” Flora added.

"Guests,” Suzi said, "as in hotel guests. Or residents.”

"Hotel? You can check in, but you can’t check out,” Kiki mumbled.

"Unless you’re my mother,” Big Estelle sighed. Little Estelle had managed to escape the California retirement home her son left her in, charged a ticket to Kauai and moved in with her seventy-two-year-old daughter. Big Estelle’s handicap modified van was scooter accessible. She wasn’t allowed to drive off without her mother and the Gad-About locked and loaded.

Sophie might be right, but Kiki still wasn’t convinced they wouldn’t all be ostracized for indecent exposure. Showing some chi chis in public was one thing, but not when the chi chis in question were over sixty years old.

"We can’t afford any more gossip,” she said.

"Too late for that,” Suzi mumbled.

Just then, Trish Oakely came strolling in with her camera slung over one shoulder and a backpack full of photography equipment dangling off the other. As the official photographer for the Tiki Goddess luau and catered events, Trish was an unofficial Maiden. Work demanded she miss too many practices for Kiki to allow her name on the active roster anymore.

Kiki greeted Trish with the price of being tardy—a cool nod. The others greeted her with alohas and exchanged air kisses and hugs all down the line. Big Estelle slid over to make room for Trish on the banquette.

"You’ll never guess what I just heard.” Trish slipped her camera strap over her head and carefully set the Nikon on the seat beside her. "Mitchell Chambers died last night.”

Kiki had opened her mouth to take up where she left off before Trish’s big news broadcast. When the announcement registered, Kiki snapped her mouth shut and choked down a sob that bubbled up from deep inside. The wave of emotion surprised her as much as Trish’s shocking news.

Hula was the only thing that ever moved Kiki to tears. Hula was life. She wasn’t afraid to die, but the thought of never dancing hula again was the most terrifying thing she could imagine. Pulling herself together, Kiki grabbed her clip board and pen.

"When’s the funeral?”

"I’m not sure. Mitchell just died last night. They found him dead in the taro patch behind that new Thai restaurant in Hanalei.”

"Yeah, I hear the food’s terrible.” Flora was digging around in a huge lauhala straw bag. She pulled out a Gatorade bottle and took a swig and then drew out a ball of yarn. She was constantly knitting toilet paper covers to sell at island craft fairs, or "crap fairs” as far as Kiki was concerned.

Flora was also famous for refilling her plastic Gatorade bottles with emergency alcohol so she didn’t have to pay for extra drinks at the bar.

"What happened?” Kiki asked.

"You know his heart was really bad. Mitchell wasn’t ever in the greatest shape. Probably a heart attack.” Trish shook her head.

"That’s an understatement,” Suzi said. "Probably a heart explosion. He must’ve weighed four hundred pounds.”

Flora’s knitting needles stilled. "Mitchell was my cousin’s sister’s uncle’s nephew.”

"Great!” Kiki shot a fist into the air and then scribbled a note on her clipboard. "Call and tell them we’ll be more than happy to dance at the funeral.”

Lillian was trying to sidle back into her place without attracting attention. As Little Estelle rolled in from the lanai, her scooter careened off of one of the carved tiki barstools.

Little Estelle squinted at the carved face on the stool.

"Excuse me, buddy,” she said before she parked next to her daughter’s table. She signaled Sophie to bring her another Shark’s Tooth Frenzy.

"You really should slow down, Mother,” Big Estelle warned.

"I was only in first gear.”

Big Estelle sighed.

Lillian was delightfully cowed, but her eyes were red and puffy. She wore a perplexed look behind her bejeweled glasses as she patted her cotton candy hairdo into place and then raised her hand.

"What Lillian?” Kiki figured it was best to let her have her say so that they could move on. "What’s the matter now?”

Lillian whispered, "I was just wondering... do people actually dance hula at funerals?”

Kiki could almost forgive her. The woman still had Iowa corn silk between her teeth, which also accounted for the pink tint of her hair.

"Yes,Lillian. People dance at funerals. Do you think I would have volunteered us if it wasn’t done?”

"Oh. Sorry.”

"Right.Sorry. Now Flora, will you please call the family and tell them we’ll be there?”

"Mitchell was a kumu. He had his own halau...”

"I know he had his own hula students. I also realize he wasn’t just any kumu, he was renowned. One of the best teachers in Hawaii. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dance at the memorial as a sign of respect. Time is of the essence, though. I want us on that program before it fills up. Plenty of hula halauwill come from all over the islands and probably even the mainland to pay tribute.”

"Do you really think they’ll want us?” Suzi asked.

Kiki thought about it for a moment.

"Flora, tell them Kimo will donate three trays of his famous miso mahi mahi for the memorial luau.” Kiki wasn’t above bribes. Her husband Kimo wasn’t only head chef of the Tiki Goddess, but half Hawaiian, or hapa haole, depending on who you were talking to. He was as well known for his spectacular pupu platters, entrees, and island style cuisine as Louie Marshall, owner of the Tiki Goddess, was for his legendary cocktails.

"Whywouldn’t they want you all to dance?” Little Estelle piped up from the Gad-About. "Once word gets out that Lillian was flashing her boobs at the Happy Days Care Center, they’ll all be lining up for the show.”




Call to Action

Em Johnson emerged from the crystal clear water off Haena and paused to take in the deep blue sky and sun-kissed morning and thought, lucky I live on Kauai.

She wrapped her long blond hair around her hand, twisted the water out, and, as the surf lapped around her calves, she looked for her beach towel. She’d left it on the sand somewhere.

Movement drew her eye to the curved trunk of a coconut palm a few feet from the waterline where Detective Roland Sharpe was holding her aqua striped towel. Tall dark and handsome, he looked like a page out of one of the Studly Hawaiian Men calendars that tourists bought by the dozens.

Roland was a man of few words who rarely smiled, but Em figured that might be out of self-defense since one glimpse at his rare smile could be devastating. It didn’t help that he moonlighted as a fire knife dancer, tossing flaming knives to the sensual beat of native drums at parties and luaus. The sight of him all oiled up was enough to tempt her into forgetting the vow she made when her divorce was final; she was through with men.

Roland’s gaze skimmed her bikini. Dripping wet and self-conscious, Em picked her way around the worn coral and rocks lining the beach in front of her Uncle Louie Marshall’s cottage on the beach. It was just a coconut’s throw from the Tiki Goddess Bar. He had owned the local gathering place and watering hole since the ’70s.

When she reached the tree, Em held out her hand, and Roland handed her the towel. She whipped it around her body and tucked in the ends.

"Taking the morning off?” He crossed his arms across a bright aloha shirt. She tried not to stare at his biceps beneath the hems of his short sleeves.

"Sophie came in early to set up. I’m hoping to get some office work done; pay some vendors and take care of catering bookings.”

Leisure mornings were few and far between since she’d taken over the management of her uncle’s bar. She had no intention of staying on Kauai when she first arrived, but the island had slowly worked its magic on her. The lush green mountains with their silver ribbons of waterfalls, the sound of the surf lulling her to sleep at night, the crystal clear ocean and laid back lifestyle of perpetual summer were all too much to resist.

She’d met Roland a few months ago when their next door neighbor’s body had been dumped in the luau pit behind the bar. He’d been assigned the case. Not only had she met Roland, but another perk of having a dead body turn up on the premises was that business had doubled overnight. Thanks to all the media coverage, the Tiki Goddess was the happening place to be, not just on the North Shore but on all of Kauai.

"Looks like Kiki’s got her gang assembled,” Roland said. "I saw all the cars in the lot when I came in.”

"Honing your detective skills?” Em headed across the sand toward the screened-in lanai that fronted the house. Roland followed along, the thick rubber soles of his utilitarian black shoes sinking in the soft sand. She knew he’d rather be barefoot.

"Are they practicing?” He sounded hopeful. Everyone on the island knew the Maidens were hula challenged.

"Kiki called an emergency meeting.” Em hadn’t paid much attention when Kiki told her why. "Something about a wardrobe malfunction. Lillian’s pareau slipped and exposed her...”

"Stop.” His hand shot up to cut her off. "I don’t need to imagine any of those women naked in my head.”

"Don’t worry. I don’t know all the details, but it’s probably not that bad. With that bunch there’s always an emergency.”

Following island custom, Roland slipped off his shoes when he reached the bottom step. Em brushed the sand off her feet before she opened the wood framed door to the screened in lanai. He followed her inside.

"I heard they’re dancing here every night now,” he said.

"Thank heavens they don’t all show up. Get too many of them on the stage and it turns into a wrestling match. There’s not enough room for all of them in the front row.”

Roland was careful not to let the screen door bang.

Uncle Louie’s parrot, David Letterman, was in a wrought iron cage in the living room just off the lanai. The red macaw started pacing back and forth on his perch. Bobbing his head, he shrilled out a garbled, "Where’s the jigger? You wanna another jigger full, Dave?”

Dave taste tested all of Louie’s tropical concoctions.

"That would drive me nuts,” Roland winced. "Does that thing ever shut up?”

"Only when he’s passed out or watching TV.”

"Awk! Awk! This one’s a keeper, Dave!”

"Why is he talking to himself?” Roland glanced over his shoulder. The huge cage took up one corner of the spacious living room beside a bamboo tiki bar on wheels.

"He repeats whatever my uncle says to him.”

Roland looked around the interior room. "I didn’t see Louie’s truck in the lot. Is he gone?”

"I’m pretty sure he’s at a sleepover at Marilyn Lockhart’s.”

She tried not to worry whenever her Uncle Louie stayed out all night without calling. A seventy-two-year-old shouldn’t have to check in, but since their neighbor’s murder, even though the killer was behind bars, Em liked to know when her uncle was going to pull an all-nighter with his significant other.

"That explains the frown.” He pressed his forefinger against the crease between her brows. "I knew Kiki had a beef with her, but I didn’t think you did.”

"Kiki doesn’t like her because Marilyn left the Maidens for another hula group. They call her the Defector. I personally don’t have a problem with Marilyn as long as she doesn’t hurt Louie.”

"What makes you think she would?”

"I heard she’s a serial bride. We’ve lost count of how many husbands she’s had.” Em frowned and pressed her finger against the frown lines between her eyes. "According to Kiki, until Marilyn came along, Louie hadn’t dated a woman seriously since Auntie Irene died.”

The former Irene Kakaulanipuakaulani Hickam, Louie’s Hawaiian wife, had been instrumental in helping Louie establish the Tiki Goddess. And though he was often broke, Louie kept the place limping along as a tribute to her memory. A life-sized portrait of Irene still graced the wall behind the stage, and every night at the end of the hula show, Louie led the crowd in a song he’d written to his late wife.

He hadn’t changed a thing in the bar in the eleven years since Irene had been gone—which accounted for the dilapidated condition of the place. His habit of lending money to people who rarely paid him back curtailed any improvement projects. But his generosity was something Em was trying to curtail. Admittedly, without much success.

Em added, "Kiki is more worried about the bar than Louie. She’s afraid Marilyn will get her hands on the place and turn it into an upscale restaurant. If she ever did, there goes the Maidens’ main venue for performing.”

"Kiki’s always worried,” Roland noted.

"So what’s up?” She didn’t mind him showing up unannounced.

Roland smiled. "Maybe I came by just to see you.”

"Maybe not. You’re on the clock. I saw the KPD issue cruiser in the driveway.”

It would be great if he had come by just to see her, but he never stopped by on the county’s dime.

They’d had an encounter on the beach one night shortly after she and the Maidens had helped solve the murder/kidnapping case. Not an encounter, actually. It was only a few long, hot kisses and some pretty determined groping on a moonlit beach and was as far as they’d gotten before she put the brakes on and told him it was too soon after her divorce for her to get involved.

At first she thought maybe she could, but she couldn’t. And she hadn’t.

"It’s not official business,” he insisted.

She cinched up her towel and tried to concentrate on what he just said instead of the way his gaze kept slipping down to her towel.

"Oh, really?”

"I need your help.”

She tried not to sound disappointed. "You need some catering done?”

He could have called for that. Stuck out on the far reaches of the North Shore, the Goddess wasn’t exactly centrally located.

"I never in a million years thought I’d be saying this after what happened the last time you all got involved, but I need help with a case.”

"With a case?”

"Case of rum!” David Letterman shrieked. "Unload another case of rum!”

Em fantasized riding alongside Roland in his unmarked squad car, pulling drivers over for seat belt infractions and expired car registrations. That was as close as she wanted to get to crime solving after what happened before.

"I need you and, unfortunately, Kiki’s bunch of coconuts.”

"TheHula Maidens? You have to be kidding.”

"Mostly you. But I could use them as a diversion.”

She started to laugh, but he was wearing his stoic detective face.

"You’re not kidding, are you?”

"Nope,” he said.

"You made me promise to drop the Nancy Drew act, remember? Besides, last time the Maidens tried to help you solve a murder, I ended up kidnapped. If it hadn’t been for Kiki and the girls I’d have been shark bait.” She’d never forget the way the women had come to her rescue in the nick of time.

"I had all it figured out. I was on the way,” he reminded her.

"They got there first, remember? I’m not a cat. I only have one life.”

"Hear me out, okay?”

"Do you want some coffee?”

"No, thanks.”

Saltwater was pooling on the lauhala mat at her feet. "Well, I need some. And I need to change. Have you got five minutes?”

He glanced at his watch. "Sure.”

"Have a seat. I’ll take a quick shower and get dressed. I’ll think better after a mug of coffee.”

"Don’t get dressed on my account.”

"Ha ha.”

She was back in eight minutes, showered, changed and towel drying her hair with one hand, a mug of coffee in the other. She took a sip of the dark Molokai brew.

"Sure you don’t want some?” she asked.

"No, thanks.”

"Okay, so go ahead. What’s up?”

"Last night a guy named Mitchell Chambers died in the taro patch behind Fit to Be Thai-ed.”

"I heard the food is awful.”

He shrugged. "I doubt it was the food that killed him.”

"I’ve never heard of him. Did he live around here?”

Roland shook his head no. "He was thirty-five, a well-known kumu hula who lived on the West Side. According to his friends, he was feeling really down after a visit to his doctor. He had congenital heart failure, and his prognosis wasn’t good. They took him out to eat in Hanalei. In the middle of the meal he started sweating profusely and was nauseous and said he wasn’t feeling well and stepped outside for some air. When he didn’t return, they went to get him and found him dead.”

"Dead in the taro patch.”

He nodded. "He’d been under a doctor’s care and died within twenty-four hours of an exam at the clinic. He was morbidly obese and on various heart medications. The coroner declared it a coronary, and there will be no autopsy. The family is dead set against it since the coroner deemed it unnecessary.”

"You don’t sound sure about it.”

"I can’t shake the feeling there was some kind of foul play involved.”

"You think he was murdered? Why?”

"Six weeks ago one of his female dancers, Shari Kaui, died. She was barely thirty. Same halau. What are the odds two of them would drop dead so close together?”

"She just dropped dead?” Em snapped her fingers.

"She suffered from an autoimmune disorder, and her symptoms were pretty severe.”

"But you think she may have been murdered?”

While Em waited for an answer, Roland turned to face the porch screen. Em followed his gaze. They watched the ocean roll slowly over coral worn into flat slabs in companionable silence.

"There was no sign of foul play. Her symptoms were normal for someone with hemolytic anemia that had worsened: fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and eventually, heart failure. The toxicology report didn’t show anything suspicious but then again, you have to know what to test for if you’re looking something out of the ordinary in her system. I’ve got nothing but a hunch to go on,” he admitted. "But it won’t go away. It all seems too coincidental to me.”

"That’s all you have? A hunch?”

"My grandmother was what you’d call psychic.” His expression dared her to laugh.

"You think you’re psychic too?” She couldn’t believe it. He was the most no-nonsense guy she’d ever met.

"Let’s just say I’ve learned not to ignore a hunch.”

"We don’t need any more murders up here.” Em ran her fingers through her damp hair. She sat down on the rattan sofa and curled one leg under her, drank more coffee.

"After that last fiasco, are you sure you want the Hula Maidens involved?”

He had to be totally desperate to even think about it.

"I need someone who can get close to Mitchell’s students. I don’t want the Maidens to know you’re snooping around, though. It would be great if they signed up for the hula competition that Mitchell’s halau is sponsoring so I have someone on the inside.”

"Won’t they cancel the competition now that he’s gone?” Em could only hope. The Maidens were only loveable to those who knew them well. Most of them were as contrary as old nanny goats, not to mention too rhythmically challenged to carry off a competition hula.

"I heard some of his dancers talking outside the morgue last night. They were all full of the-show-must-go-on and he’d-want-it-that-way kind of talk. Will you talk Kiki into it?”

"You want me to have Kiki enter the Maidens in a hula competition and then slink around looking for a killer? They’re going to wonder what I’m doing there.”

"They can’t know what’s up. I’d like you to blend in, work behind the scenes, just see what you can pick up.”

"But I can’t hula.”

"I’m willing to bet you could dance as well as they do after an hour lesson. But don’t worry, all you have to do is hang around. Help with costumes or something and keep your eyes and ears open.”

"Be part of their entourage?”

"Exactly. The Maidens will make a perfect diversion without trying.”

"What about Sophie? She’s younger, tougher, and she can hula.”

"I don’t want her in on this.”

"Because she was your number one suspect last time?”

"You believed that right up until the end, too. The less we broadcast it, the better. You know there’s no such thing as a secret on this island.” He got up and walked to the sofa, totally focused on her. He was the first and only man she’d been attracted to since she’d dumped her husband in a messy divorce in Orange County, California.

She was getting warmer and not from the coffee. Em smiled up at him.

"I’d rather work with just you,” he said.

"Really?” He was six-two, and Em had to tip her head back to meet his serious dark eyes.

"Really.” He was staring intently now. "But you can let Sophie in on it if you absolutely have to.”

Slowly, he reached toward her. Em held her breath.

Roland slipped his hand beneath her coffee cup, tipped it upright and stepped back again. "You were about to spill that on your lap.”

"Thanks.” She cleared her throat, stared down into the coffee mug to hide her embarrassment. "So what do I do?”

"First you have to convince Kiki to enter the women in the kupuna division of the Kukui Nut Festival Competition.”


"Senior division. She’ll probably jump at the chance.”

"And then?”

"Get them signed up, and we’ll go from there.”

"I’m on a need to know basis, is that it?” She wished he’d move back. She was starting to sweat, and it wasn’t from the humidity.

"All you need to know right now is that you’re about to spill that coffee again.”


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