Thanks for stopping by and celebrating the unofficial holiday of romance novelists — Valentine's Day. This year, more than 20 authors have joined together for the Valentine's Rewind blog hop. Today I'm revisiting Chris and Annie, my couple from "The Wedding Week" in One Week in Hawaii. I hope you enjoy!
"A Day All Their Own"
Annie Kalani stood in her kitchen, coated in flour, and wondered what the hell she’d been thinking. In front of her lay the scraps of her second failed attempt at handmade pasta. The first was half on the floor and half in the brushed stainless steel trashcan that sat to the side of her island.
She pushed a hand through her hair, no doubt leaving streaks of white through her haphazardly pulled back ponytail that was starting to escape its elastic. It had looked so easy when Chris had made her pasta last Valentine’s Day. He’d kneaded the dough with smooth, confident strokes and fed it through the hand-crank machine almost lovingly. Food seemed to come to life in his hands.
The same couldn’t be said for her.
Annie was a competent cook—she’d give herself that much. On nights when Chris worked late at his restaurant and she was too tired to drive down to join him for a meal at one of the tiny back tables, she could whip up something for one with the usual efficiency she employed in the rest of her life.
But apparently she needed more than competence to make what was supposed to be a stunning Valentine’s meal.
Annie braced her hands against the island’s glossed stone countertop. “Okay, you win,” she muttered, admitting defeat. She had a backup plan — steaks grilled on the little barbecue that sat on her balcony — she just hadn’t wanted to use it. But Annie could tell when she’d been beaten.
Her hands were full of broken pasta strands when she hear keys jangling outside her door. Her eyes darted to the clock. How was it ten already?
She dumped the pasta in the trash and brushed her hands off on her apron as best she could as Chris pushed the door open. He hadn’t even crossed the threshold when he stopped, his eyes fixed on her.
She spread her arms wide, more than a little sheepish. “Dinner may be a disaster.”
Without breaking his gaze, he set his keys down in a bowl on the side table and let the messenger bag she knew would be packed with his clothes for the next day fall to the floor. He closed the gap between them in a few steps, and her whole body flushed with warmth. After a year and a half he could still make her blush like a sixteen-year-old girl with a crush.
His hands slid around her waist, and she tilted her chin up to catch his lips. He kissed her like he hadn’t seen her in months, his tongue slipping between her lips. She tasted sweet basil and the sharp tang of vine-ripened tomatoes, the ghosts of the dishes he’d been preparing at the restaurant.
Annie sighed against his chest, the tension in her shoulder relaxing just a little. This was where she wanted to be. Always. This was where she belonged.
“Hi,” he whispered against her lips as he smoothed a lock of her hair back behind her ear.
She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his. “Hi. How was work?”
“Busy. We’re getting ready for the big day tomorrow.”
They’d long ago reconciled themselves to the fact that theirs was never going to be a conventional Valentine’s Day. Chris was a chef and she was an events planner. Love was good for business, and they’d both be working at least a sixteen-hour day on Valentine’s. He would man the kitchen at the restaurant, and she would be caught up in coordinating a seemingly effortless romantic wedding at one of the island’s resorts a Los Angeles-based couple. If Chris and Annie were lucky, the might stumble into bed at the same time the following night.
That’s why February 13th was their day—a fake Valentine’s that meant so much more because they had it all to themselves.
“So what’s this disaster?” he asked, pulling back to peer over her shoulder.
“Remember that beautiful saffron-infused pasta you made me last year?”
“Apparently I’m not very good at making pasta. It keeps flaking and breaking apart,” she said.
He reached up and brushed a thumb over her tawny beige cheek. “I’ve always liked my women covered in flour.”
She swiped at her cheeks and her forehead. “Damn, I thought it was just in my hair.”
He laughed. “Babe, it’s everywhere.”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Are you hungry yet?” he asked.
“I’m not starving yet, but I could get steaks going if you are.”
“And give up on this? Not a chance. We’ll need to let the dough rest, but if you don’t mind a midnight dinner—”
She laced her fingers through his. “I’m not tired.”
“Come on.” He tugged her by the hand toward the island. “Let’s do this together."
Chris reached for the oversized mason jar of flour Annie kept on the counter and began mounding flour in front of them. “How about beating a few eggs?”
She nodded and pulled three eggs out of the refrigerator, cracked them into a bowl, and whipped a fork through them until they were a uniform golden yellow. Then she handed him the bowl and watched as he poured the eggs into a well he’d made in the flour. Keeping one hand clean, he mixed and gradually pulled more and more flour into the eggs until the dough formed.
“Could you take over kneading for a minute?” he asked, throwing a glance over his shoulder. “I’m just going to change my shirt. I smell like a kitchen.”
She raised an eyebrow. “If you think you can trust me not to destroy the pasta.”
He brushed his lips against her cheek as he switched spots with her. “Always.”
She focused on kneading, enjoying the slightly giddy sensation of happiness that had wrapped itself around her. The dough was already silky to the touch, the apartment smelled like cooking and food and home, and Chris was here with her. It was enough.
Annie was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t realize he was behind her until his arms circled her waist. Instinctively, she let her head fall back to his shoulder as he dropped a kiss to her collarbone.
“You’re good at that,” he said with a nod to the pasta dough in her hands.
“Now you’re just flattering me because it’s almost Valentine’s Day.”
A laugh rumbled through his chest.
“Besides, do you know how much pressure it is cooking for a chef?"
“Even in your own kitchen?” he asked.
“It’s easier here than at your place,” she admitted. “At least I don’t feel like I’m invading your space.”
His left hand stroked down over the soft cotton of her top and along the side of her stomach, just glancing over the hem. “What if your space was my space?”
Her hands paused. “What do you mean?”
He held up his right hand and uncurled his fingers. Two brass keys hung from a simple silver key ring. Her stomach jumped to her throat in anticipation.
“So I’ve been thinking—”
“You’re asking me to move in with you?” she asked in a rush, spinning in his arms and planting two doughy hands on the front of his shirt. He didn’t seem to care.
“I know we haven’t talked about it much, but I have a patron at the restaurant who’s a real estate agent. He’s been keeping an eye out on the market for me and took me around to see this place before prep today.” He let out a breath and shook his head. “Annie, it’s amazing but if you don’t like it we can have him keep looking. That is, if you want to live together.”
She looked from him to the keys and back again. Her new business, his restaurant, their growing relationship — things had been going so well for the last eighteen months that she hadn’t wanted to disturb their flow. But now Chris was standing before her with keys in his hand. Moving in with him would be a huge leap of faith but, in some ways, hadn’t they already done that? She’d given up the security of her wedding coordinator job at the Kuhio Resort & Spa and he’d walked away the opportunity to man a five-star restaurant at the same hotel. In some ways, they’d committed to one another before they’d even said “I love you.”
“Where is this dream apartment?” she asked.
Her brows shot up. Kolohala Street ran through the heart of Waialae Kahala — an affluent neighborhood of older Hawaiian homes and newly built beachfront mansions. It was the sort of place where people put down roots. Where people started families and carved out lives together.
“Really? A rental in Waialae Kahala?” she asked.
Chris cleared his throat. “It might be a rent-to-buy property.”
“Is that right?”
He shot her a sheepish grin. “And I should probably warn you, it’s actually a dream house and not a dream apartment.”
“And when do we have to let your friend know?” she asked, inwardly smiling at how much he was trying to reign in his enthusiasm and failing.
“We have the keys until Monday. I figured since both of us will be off, we could drive over in the morning.”
It was all so simple. So straightforward. She could imagine them driving up, looking at the house, and just knowing. There would be paperwork and budgeting and all of the complications that came along with moving, but in some ways none of that mattered. She was already sure of one thing: Chris.
“Well then,” she said with a smile, “it looks like we’ve got a hot date to see a house.”
“Really?” he asked, practically vibrating with excitement.
She looped an arm around his neck and brought him down to her. “I’d be happy to move in with you, Chris Benson.”
He grinned a little wider. “This dough has to rest for at least an hour. Want to go makeout?”
She brushed her lips to his. “I think we can get a whole lot more creative with an entire hour ahead of us. Besides, it’s Valentine’s Day.”