Over the next few weeks Dani and the brides-to-be finalize all the details of the upcoming nuptuals. Ranger and Yutaka have very wisely remained in the background, neither having any firm opinions about the wedding other than their eagerness for it to take place. Invitations are sent out, and a buzz of anticipation fills the town.
As the date of the wedding nears, both Ranger and Yutaka visit “Violet’s Vistas” for help planning their honeymoons. As close as their brides are, the men agree that they do not want to make it a double honeymoon as well as a double wedding, and each has his own idea of where he would like to take his bride. Now that his father is out of the picture, there is no reason for Maile to avoid Hawaii, so Yutaka plans a trip to their homeland. They will stay in a charming beach house in a very isolated spot. Yutaka smiles, wondering why he is spending so much money on the cottage when they will very likely never leave the bedroom.
Ranger, on the other hand, plans a trip to a mountain retreat. He has always loved the mountains, and Etsuko has expressed a desire to see them, although Ranger also wonders whether they will see anything outside of their lodge.
A few days before the wedding, Maile’s brother Akemi arrives from Hawaii, carrying a mysterious large box.
He checks into TEK Hotel.
He asks the concierge to recommend a restaurant, as it has been a very long flight and he is ravenous. One of the establishments recommended is the sushi bar, but although Akemi is fond of sushi, he knows that his sister’s childhood friend Etsuko is a server there and he wishes to avoid her for the time being. He opts for the local diner, as the food comes highly recommended.
When he arrives at the diner, all of the tables are full.
One, however, has only a single occupant, and his eye is drawn to her immediately. On an impulse, he approaches her table and waits until she looks up from her book.
He smiles. “Excuse me, miss. I’ve just arrived from Hawaii and I’m starving. Would you mind if I shared your table?"
Piper appraises Akemi critically.
An astute judge of character, she is not displeased with what she sees, and after a moment’s hesitation, she nods. “Please . . . sit.”
After the incident in the sushi bar several weeks prior, she has a pretty good idea who this man must be, and she is curious about him.
“Thank you! My name is Akemi. What do you recommend?”
“Hello, Akemi. I’m Piper. Everything is good here.”
Surprised at the obviously English accent with which her words are spoken, Akemi looks more closely at his table mate. “What brings you across the pond to this god-forsaken little village, Piper?”
He smiles up at Spencer as she hands him a menu.
“It’s a bit of a tale, I’m afraid. The short version is that I came here to visit my cousin and found myself staying.” Piper shrugs, thinking that the long version isn’t something this stranger needs to know anyway. Suspecting that she may already know the answer, she asks, “And what brings you here, Akemi?”
He sighs. “My sister is getting married and wants me to give her away.”
“And . . . is that not a good thing?”
“It would be . . . if she were marrying anyone else.”
“So you don’t approve of the groom?”
“You could say that.” Akemi changes the subject. “What do you do for a living, Piper?”
“I’m a travel writer. You?”
“I’m a supervisor at a sugar plant.” He shrugs. “The pay is good, but it’s not very challenging.”
They continue to get to know one another until Akemi’s order is delivered. As he digs in, he continues to ask and respond to questions between bites of his burger.
By the time he pushes his plate away, Akemi has already decided that he wants to know this enigmatic Brit better.
“Is there anywhere in this town to get a decent tropical drink?”
She smiles. “My taste runs more toward Scotch whiskey, but yes, there’s a bar just down the street that makes a mean Mai Tai, or so I hear.”
Akemi signals Spencer for the check.
“Would you care to join me for a cocktail? I won’t make you drink rum, I promise.” He winks.
Piper considers for a moment, then shrugs. “Sure. I don’t have anywhere that I need to be.”
The bar is only half full as it is mid-afternoon and the after-work crowd hasn’t yet shown up.
Akemi surveys the bar with a critical eye and guides Piper by the elbow to one of the booths in the newer section.
Jenna appears promptly and takes their orders – a Glenmorangie on the rocks for Piper and a Mai Tai for Akemi.
They admire the newly renovated space and the New York-themed artwork while they wait for their drinks.
Jenna returns quickly and delivers the drinks with a flourish, eyeing Akemi appreciatively.
Piper takes a slow sip of her Scotch – although she would call it whiskey – and settles back with a satisfied sigh. “Ahhh, the taste of home!”
Akemi looks at her questioningly. “But aren’t you from ‘jolly old England’?”
She smiles in true amusement. “Yes, but I spent a lot of time with my cousin Morgan at her family’s home in Scotland as a youth and developed a discerning taste for the local brew. Most people are taken aback by my taste in alcohol, assuming that I’m a ‘fair flower’ who drinks nothing but tea and the occasional hot toddy.”
Akemi grins. “How did you know what I was thinking?”
Her smile grows broader. “They say I’m ‘fey’ – a throwback to my Celtic ancestors, I suppose. You were kidding, but a lot of the time I really do have a pretty good idea what people are thinking and feeling.”
Yikes, Akemi thinks to himself. I’d better keep a tight rein on my lustful thoughts!
The look on his face requires no ESP to interpret, and Piper laughs out loud at his discomfiture.
Blushing furiously, Akemi changes the subject. “Where are you staying?”
“At my cousin’s apartment. You?”
“The local hotel. I’ve only just checked in so I don’t have a good feel for its quality, but the concierge was very helpful.”
“I stayed there on my first visit to the states. I had no complaints. The newly renovated wing is very nice.”
“You’ve been here before, then?”
This is a subject that Piper would rather not go into in any detail. She shrugs. “Yes, I visited my cousin a couple of years ago and helped her out with a . . . problem.”
Akemi is intrigued. “Problem?”
Piper struggles to pull the conversation back onto safer ground. “Yes, but I’d rather not discuss it. It was personal.”
Akemi reels in his curiosity, not wanting to put her off with any undue prying. “What do you think of the town?”
Piper considers carefully before replying. “It’s . . . incestuous, if you know what I mean. Everyone knows everyone else and is involved in everyone else’s business. It’s very hard to be a private person here.”
She seems to harbor a lot of secrets, he thinks. She’s very intriguing. I wonder what she’s like in . . .
Remembering her seeming ability to read minds, Akemi immediately shakes that thought off. Whoa, Akemi. Don’t go there. Remember what happened to Maile when old man Kawase dwelled too long on lustful thoughts. You certainly don’t want to come off like HIM.
Thrusting aside his randy thoughts about his companion, Akemi impulsively asks, “Do you have dinner plans, Piper? I’m in no hurry to meet with my sister and her fiancé and would prefer not to eat alone.”
Piper considers the offer thoughtfully.
He continues. “Perhaps you could suggest a good restaurant. Being a newcomer, I’d appreciate your input.”
Piper smiles at his persistence. “I don’t have plans, and I’d welcome an opportunity not to have to cook for myself. Thank you, Akemi. The best restaurant in town is run by Coco St. Clair, who also has a cooking show on the local TV station. She’s an incredible cook, and the buffet at her restaurant is supposed to be out of this world."
“Sounds wonderful! Why don’t I walk you home so I can see where you live, and then I’ll pick you up for dinner at 6:00.”
Piper agrees to this course of action, and after settling his tab with Jenna, they amble down the street together toward Morgan’s apartment, continuing their conversation as they walk.
At the steps of the apartment building, Akemi restrains himself and is the perfect gentleman, much as he is tempted to take the fair Piper into his arms. He promises to return precisely at 6:00, then continues down the street toward the hotel with a decided spring in his step.
Once back in his room, Akemi calls the restaurant to make reservations and inquire about the dress code. Pleased to hear that a jacket is expected, he dresses carefully, glad for the opportunity to try to impress the lovely Englishwoman.
To be continued . . .