Sara Chandler, a successful artist from Massachusetts, comes to Hawaii in search of a “Paradise” in which to escape her troubled past. She soon runs into her first obstacle in the person of Lucas Henshaw, whose promise to his deceased wife drives him to possess the land Sara has purchased.
Over the next few months, menace and peril plague Sara, yet she cannot divest herself of her attraction to Lucas, the man who very well may be responsible for her newest troubles. His six-year old daughter, mute since the death of her mother, and maliciously meddling sister add to the emotional conflict.
As they dance around their feelings—and their fears—the past comes exploding back into their lives with deadly consequences. Sara and Lucas’ only chance of survival depends on their unacknowledged love, in their last fight with a devil.
Write Words, Inc
Outrage. Peril. Secrets. Strength and passion . . . and love to last a lifetime. Put this all together on the big island of Hawaii, and you have Dark Paradise - suspense and romance in the heart of Paradise.
Lucas Henshaw was bullheadedness personified. Sara wondered if she could get away with tripping him, sending him face down into the dust cloud he was kicking up with his angry pacing.
But to do something so aggressive she’d need some of the spunk that had deserted her these last seven years, ever since her horror of a marriage to a controlling monster. The divorce had been final for four years; she hadn’t come far in developing a spine. Her rational mind and emotional self were constantly engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
“You could lose your real estate license for this!” Lucas raged at Wade Mele. With his arms gesticulating wildly, he was creating the only breeze present on this hundred-degree day. Sara felt her own temperature rise in response to his ire. But it was fear that made her heart shudder.
A wave of frustration overwhelmed her. Was she to go through life giving into any man who intimidated her? She was so easily intimidated, too. A cross look, a harsh remark could send her scurrying, for she knew what could follow. She had learned from the best.
She couldn’t take her eyes off Lucas. Every step tightened a wire around her heart, cutting into her, releasing the fear that would seep from her pores. He’d be able to smell it. He’d take advantage of it like a wild animal hunting its prey.
Lucas slammed a fist into his palm, and she flinched. Her dread fluttered inside her head like a frightened bird while familiar words thickened in her throat, choking her. Please. Stop. She fought her automatic response to run or hide. It depleted her mind’s energy.
She met Wade’s gaze in hopes of eliciting a helpful response. She screwed her face into a frown, but Wade looked as though he had just run from a classroom of screaming five-year-olds. His eyes shifted back and forth as though he were looking for a way out. She shook her head. It seemed like she was not the only one feeling the fiery discomfort of Lucas’ behavior. She stepped back, but kept her eyes on the two men standing like fighters in their own corners, waiting for the bell to start the next round. Sara exhaled a low growl of frustration.
Wade whipped his handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the perspiration on his brow, suddenly appearing older than his confessed forty-two years. He seemed to wilt inside his short-sleeved white shirt as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
She could not remember the Hawaiian man ever appearing distressed before, not in the last four months of their search to find the perfect parcel of land for her home. But Lucas was like a wristwatch wound too tightly. One more twist and the mainspring would snap, damaging everything near it. Her insides tangled with the cold dread of déjà vu.
Her heart dipped, searching for a safe place to ride out this confrontation, since it seemed Wade may feel as intimidated as she, worried about things spiraling out of control. Sara took a step further away from Lucas. He has no control over me. I’m not married to him. He has no rights more important than mine. He’s just a man, and Lucas isn’t David. He couldn’t be worse than David.
Lucas clenched his fists. “I thought you were a man of your word, Mele, but it seems you conveniently forget your promises when the price is right.” He shot a searing glance at Sara.
She wished her eardrums would stop reverberating with his indignation. “You are the most—I don’t go around throwing cash at people just to get what I want, mister!”
Lucas raised his eyebrows but did not respond to her outburst. He turned back to Wade. “This is one hell of a treacherous thing you’ve done. It’s underhanded.”
His rumbling voice was an earthquake in her head, separating her brain from the rational world. Lucas Henshaw’s angry words tore at her sensibilities as effectively as the San Andreas fault tore at California.
“Nobody’s gonna take this land away from me—especially not some woman.” Lucas’ lip curled as though the word was distasteful.
She swallowed the gasp rising in her throat. “Mr. Henshaw, how dare you insinuate my gender is somehow a detriment to my business dealings.” Her voice was steady, building her confidence. “And I’ll thank you to remember I’m not ‘some woman’. I am the legal owner of this land.” She almost smiled her satisfaction with her level-headed response.
Lucas growled, but stopped speaking. He raised his eyebrows at her.
She felt a small surge of confidence. The mind-quake eased off. Clearer paths of thought were opening up. Maybe rationality wasn’t a complete loss.
“I am in the right here. I have signed all the papers and followed all the rules. Isn’t that so, Wade?” Sara knit her brow, puzzled why this argument was occurring at all. She was in the right here. Why couldn’t Lucas understand that? And why wasn’t Wade more adamant?
“We’ve done everything by the book. Nice and legal.” Wade shrugged.
Lucas’ voice thundered with renewed fervor. “I shoulda made you sign some kind of paper, an agreement, but I trusted you to stand by your word.”
Wade put his hands on his hips and shook his head.
“I’ve known you a long time, Wade. You knew I’d give you a down payment, soon as I could raise it.”
“Have you come up with it yet?” Wade stared squarely at Lucas’ face. He rubbed his palms on the sides of his spotless khaki Bermuda shorts.
“I’m working on it. I’ll have it soon.” He lifted his cap and ran his wrist across his forehead. He replaced his hat with an extra pull on the brim.
“Lucas, we had no deal, not even a handshake—which wouldn’t hold up in court, anyway.” Sara felt encouraged by that statement. No deal. Not ever.
“Miss Chandler has every right to purchase this property. I know you’re disappointed, but she has given me a substantial deposit and signed—”
“I don’t care if she left her first-born with you, she can’t have this land. End of discussion.”
“Mr. Henshaw.” Both faces turned in her direction. She squared her shoulders, trying to shore up her nerve, but didn’t want to further agitate the man. She rued the fact she was born with mushy insides. “I’m sorry you’re disappointed but you have shown me nothing that proves you are entitled to this land.”
Lucas folded his arms tightly across his chest and looked up to the sky.
She shifted her gaze to Wade who continued to blot at his face; she wasn’t sure all his perspiration was due to the intense heat of the day. She wished he’d defend her with the same level of enthusiasm he had when he described the property to her the first time.
She’d fallen in love with it; the place had already taken over her artist’s soul. She had worked with an architect and developed plans for an estate that would make the most of the natural beauty here. Her studio would open to a view of the hills on one side, and the Pacific on another. There would be a lot of glass, natural light. The scent of the wild orchids would drift into her dreams at night.
Like Georgia O’Keefe, the flora would become the essence of her work, her self. The volcano, Kiluea, on the south side of the island had already imparted a soul to her brush. Peace and change. Two life forces. She knew there was no limit to the inspiration she’d find here, and no doubt she belonged here.
This was the first time she had ever owned land in her own name. The deed was her declaration of independence.
Her gaze shot over to Lucas when he tossed a rock over the edge of the hill. He seemed to be venting some ire, but at least he wasn’t throwing rocks at her. She looked at him with her artist’s eye for detail. He reminded her of Clint Eastwood in his early days. In his cut-offs, tee shirt, and work boots, he looked carved from a redwood. The sun-drenched streaks in his brown hair made it obvious he spent a lot of time outdoors. Under other circumstances she may have wanted him to pose for one of her “Americana” portraits. She could picture him in Stetson and gun belt. Rugged, weather beaten, a throwback to the American West, though she was glad he wasn’t currently carrying any firearms.
He turned a stony face in her direction. “You know, I may not have the papers, or the written legal right to this land, but there’s still a thing called “ethics” that I believe in.” His voice was calm, but his words held a cold edge. The honey-brown eyes tossed a glare her way that was anything but sweet.
“There’s another lot, down the road. Spectacular view, same acreage…”
Lucas’ cold stare, a golden glint from a stalking tiger’s eyes, froze the words in her throat.
“Lady, why don’t you buy that other lot, the one just down the road with the spectacular view and the same amount of acreage? What business have you got, grabbing land out from under native Hawaiians?”
Lucas’ insinuation that what she was doing was somehow unethical, was a slap at her upstanding conscience. She had always behaved honorably, made sure her ethics were above reproach. How could she defend herself against an irrational accusation? She had to hold back the words clogging her throat, they’d be just as irrational as his. She gritted her teeth against any sort of breakdown. She wouldn’t go down that road again.
“You’re no native Hawaiian, Lucas. Your family came here from the mainland.” The decibel level of Wade’s voice rose considerably from its previous point, the only rise Sara had seen from him this day.
“I was born and raised here and you know it. That makes me a native of this state, this island. I’ve got just as much right to this place as you do, Mele.”
Wade took a deep breath and exhaled through his teeth.
She searched her mind to find the right words to defuse the situation; she summoned the courage for one last try at reason, like the geeky kid on the playground believing the bully would stop hitting him when presented with logic. She turned back to face Lucas, whose scowl displayed his impatience.
“You can argue all day, but it doesn’t change the fact I have purchased this piece of property. I’m sorry you are so upset you can’t see the legality of the situation.” She still clung to her last hope this would all end up cordially, though she knew with someone as belligerent as Lucas, that wasn’t likely. She didn’t like the idea of having him as an enemy. He looked indomitable. But backing down meant backing into her past. She wouldn’t let that happen.
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, feeling the beginnings of blisters where her sandals rubbed on her toes. She crossed her arms. The rock in the pit of her stomach was getting harder, but she stared at Lucas without letting him intimidate her into capitulating.
Lucas evened his tone. “Listen, Wade led me to believe he wouldn’t put it on the market, that I had dibs on it.” His eyes seemed to soften. He had nice eyes when they weren’t aimed at her like a couple of six-shooters.
“What kind of businessman would I be if I did that? You can’t deposit promises or hope in the bank.” Wade snorted. He walked away from Lucas.
Sara gentled her voice, still acting like the kid on the playground trying to keep the bully from stealing her lunch. “I’m sorry for that misunderstanding, really. But I am the legal owner of this land. And that’s the final word.” One vertebra set in her new spine.
“Let me tell you something, lady. I’ve spent my life building my family’s ranch into something to be proud of. I’ve wanted this lot for I don’t know how long.”
So much for placating the man. He glared down at her from half-closed eyes. A stabbing memory of another pair of eyes peering at her the same way caught her off-guard. She took a small step back, automatically preparing for an explosion of some sort.
“And now you waltz in here with your fancy car and fancy clothes, coming from practically another world on that mainland. You plunk down a wad of cash, and act like you own the place.”
“I do own this place!”
“What do you want here? A winter home you can use for two months out of the year? A place to get over your problems? An addiction, a possessive lover?” Sara gasped as her heart fell through the floor of her stomach. The muscles in her face tensed, she narrowed her eyes.
“Lucas! That’s enough!” Wade swooped to Sara’s side, apparently trying to stop Lucas’ tirade.
A possessive lover? Was that the wild guess of a raving lunatic or am I that easy to read? She felt dizzy. Maybe it was the heat. She swallowed the choking urge to answer his accusations, defend herself…but against what? I’ll not be reduced to a screaming child.
Everything fell silent except for the call of a few mynahs.
Despair tore at the heart of her new resolve. Why didn’t she walk away? There were other lots, other places. Even other islands. But she resented another man walking in, taking charge, telling her what she could and couldn’t do. Her mind recoiled with the thought that even though she followed all the procedures, obeyed the rules, her desires were of no consequence. She’d have to change. She’d have to suffer.
Not this time.
“Mr. Henshaw, you know nothing about me or my circumstances. If you think you can bully me or intimidate me with your asinine insinuations, be prepared to be disappointed.” She pulled the sunglasses from her face and let her eyes glare her outrage at Lucas. Her insides shook with the unfamiliar feeling of facing down the bully.
Lucas looked surprised. He put a hand on his chest in a ‘who, me?’ gesture.
She slapped her glasses back on; the glare of the sun bouncing from the Pacific was increasing the burning in her eyes, threatening to make them tear. “I will not tolerate being spoken to like that, nor will I stay one more moment in your presence.” She noticed how much he towered over her as she stepped closer to him to emphasize her words. She felt like a flea trying to intimidate a dog. Only the feel of her bite would convince him to take her seriously.
Turning to the Realtor she continued, “Wade, I want to go over some things about my house. Please call me as soon as possible.” With a nod, Sara stepped away from the men and, on rubbery legs, walked back to her Porsche Cayenne. At least he hadn’t resorted to violence.