We’re delighted to share the first chapter of Meet Me In Hawaii by the stunning Georgia Toffolo. This book explores themes of friendship, romance, loss and new beginnings all in the beautiful setting of Hawaii. Read on and let us know what you think!
Malie Pukui closed her eyes and raised her head to the setting sun. She took a long, soothing breath and smoothed her corkscrew curls back from her face, holding her hands either side of her head
as she bobbed on the surfboard and let the water lap around her knees. This was her favourite time of day. This and dawn. When it felt as though it was just her, her board and the beautiful ocean…
Peace. Calm. Tranquillity.
No expectations, no nothing.
Just me, she thought, me and Koa, against the world.
A bark from the deserted shoreline told her that wasn’t quite true. She had Nalu, her four-legged friend and the surf school’s honorary mascot with her. But he didn’t encroach on this time.
She’d chosen this stretch of beach because it was secluded by the natural flora that had overtaken the public access long ago. It meant she was free to surf in peace, free to reconnect with her late brother and take time out from her full-on schedule.
There was no need to put on a front, no need to be anyone but herself.
She lowered her hands to her board and turned to look at Nalu now, playing in the swash, his tail wagging as he pranced back and forth.
‘I’ll be back soon,’ she called out. And she would, really soon.
Just a few more minutes, one more perfect wave and she would paddle back in. She had a function to attend after all. A function that was important if her charity work was to grow and flourish like she hoped.
Still, she didn’t feel ready to be that perfect face again. To smile and be polite, to laugh and be merry with those that held the purse strings and likely didn’t do anything unless it rewarded them financially to do so. And she knew she had a mouth on her, that keeping it tight-lipped would be a challenge, but she’d do it if it meant she could help more people. People like her friend Zoe.
Now she smiled. The memory of seeing Zoe and her two other besties – Lils and Victoria – back in England last week. Learning of V’s engagement, a real bona fide one, and not the pretend shebang it had started out as. It had been lovely and had certainly taken some of the sting out of Christmas with her parents.
One week back in Hawaii and the strain of it was still hanging over her like a cold she couldn’t shake. And maybe that was the real reason she was sticking it out with the waves when she should be back at the apartment preening for tonight’s cocktail party.
‘Urgh!’ She thrust forward on the board and paddled, her well-trained eye on the water now as she sought the right swell, duck-diving and paddling until she was forced to accept it was more about avoidance of her life than it was the perfect wave.
England persisted. Her parents. When would they just smile and approve? When would they be able to talk about Koa without filling her with guilt at being the one still here, and the one that didn’t deserve to be?
Let it go, Malie.
It was as though her brother was in her head telling her to just chill, to enjoy the surf, the last for the night. And then she felt it, the familiar tug of the ocean beneath her; she could see the swell in the sea ahead, the perfect green wave. Here it comes.
She rose up and swivelled her legs beneath the water to turn her board. She lay forward, lifted her chin and paddled. A deep, outstretched motion tight with the board that had her gliding through the water. She checked the wave again, matched her speed and grinned wide. Wait for it. Wait for it.
Her board lifted with the sea. Now.
Up she popped. ‘Thank you, Mother Nature!’
Nalu barked, frolicking into the water at her excited yell.
This was why she surfed. This was why she couldn’t give it up, not for her parents, not for anything. Harnessing the power of the ocean, the adrenalin rush of being propelled along, of getting it right and flicking the board this way and that… taking control.
She glided with the wave, heading into shore and already she knew, she just needed one more.
It wasn’t like she’d spend that long getting ready anyway.
She turned and dropped down onto her board. The sun was settling on the horizon, beckoning her out, its orange glow stretching far and wide and mirrored in the sea. She fell forward and started to paddle, her eyes on the sun, her heart not ready to leave.
Nalu barked and her conscience pricked: You’re going to be late.
She ignored it. It was just one more ride.
She stopped paddling, the lull in the waves giving her time to sit and ponder, to take in the beauty before her.
The geographic gap fell away and she could just as easily be sitting on her board back in Devon, in Hawke’s Cove. Sunsets were much the same when you were staring out at the never-ending sea.
A longing came over her, an ache she couldn’t quite shift – if only she were back in the Cove. If only things were different.
It would always be home to her. Even if it wasn’t the right place for her anymore. She couldn’t be trapped by it again, by her parents and their fears, their disapproval of her surfing, their pain over Koa’s death. Hawaii gave her the freedom that she needed,
and she was so grateful to her godfather for giving her the job at his surf school.
And she loved it, really loved it. She got to surf all day, teaching others about the magic of the ocean, the power of the wave, the freedom.
As though sensing her mood lift, the waves started to swell before her.
Maybe one day her parents would accept her. She swivelled her board around. Maybe one day she could return.
She dropped forward, felt the rush of the ocean beneath her, behind her, as familiar as her own heartbeat. No, she would never give this up. And until her parents could accept it was a part of her, she would just stay away.
Crazy when she considered that it was them who had given her this addiction, the surf school they’d run once-upon-a-time being her home from home as a child. But that had all been before the unimaginable had happened, the—
Her thoughts quit, there was movement in the sea ahead, Nalu was in the water, barking. The sound was sharp, incessant, like the rise of an alarm.
The yell sounded male, an accompanying spluttering the unmistakable sound of a person taking on water. The lifeguard in Malie had her scanning the water, the hairs prickling at her nape.
The sea, the shore, was shrouded in darkness and she squinted into it as her eyes adjusted from the sunset. How long had she rocked out here for? How long had she sat—
Oh goodness, no.
She caught a glimpse of someone in the water, their strokes hurried, panicked. She could no longer make out Nalu, but they were definitely in trouble. Either side of them the waves were breaking, the perceived stillness of the water in which they swam telling her the person was caught in a rip current and instinctively fighting for shore.
‘Don’t fight it,’ she yelled. ‘Go with it!’
She was already paddling for them, her head raised and eyes trained on their position. They didn’t seem to hear her and she cursed, yelled again, ‘Hey, over here!’
The waves were picking up, getting bigger, but it worked in her favour, propelling her closer until she was almost parallel to the person.
‘Swim to me!’ she yelled, one hand waving at him to come her way.
Finally he saw her, his eyes wide as he flicked his hair off his face and continued to strike for shore. He was going nowhere and if anything, he was struggling more, fear making his strokes ineffective and sending him under.
‘You can’t fight the current.’ It was difficult to stay close to him now as each wave urged her into shore, but she couldn’t let it. She had to stay with him. ‘You need to get out of it, come towards me.’
She could see the disbelief on his face, knew the look of fear well. He wasn’t coming out. She was going in.
‘It won’t take you under, I promise.’
He shook his head, his mouth filling with water as he gasped.
‘If you can’t swim to me, float on your back, go with it and I’ll get you.’
It was as though he wasn’t listening now, just propelling his arms forward in a jagged front crawl that was too exhausting to watch, let alone deliver.
She cursed under her breath and thought quickly.
She couldn’t enter the current where she was, she’d only get swept away from him, but she needed to get him on her board before he lost his ability to stay afloat.
‘Please, trust me, stay calm, float, I’m going to come and get you…’
She kept shouting back to him, explaining what she was doing, not knowing whether he could hear or if he was even paying attention. People often didn’t when they were in a life-threatening situation. But maintaining that contact was crucial to getting him through this.
She paddled into the current closer to shore and let it take her.
‘Grab on,’ she ordered as she approached, slipping her own body off the board but keeping one arm over it as she helped him take hold. ‘Now grip it.’
She wrapped her arm around his back, which was so broad she had to pull away from the board a little and push her hip into his back to keep him up. ‘We’re just going to go with it for now.’
She spoke close to his ear, certain he’d hear her, even over his ragged breaths, and she wondered how much water he’d taken on, whether he was even lucid enough to stay with her.
Nalu barked from outside the rip current, swimming to keep pace with them; he wasn’t silly enough to join them, like Malie he was waiting for the strength of the current to ease, enough that she could power them both out of it.
If the guy had just done as she’d asked… But then what on earth had he been doing in the first place? Swimming where there was no lifeguard and at this time of day, without the knowledge it took to understand the water.
Foolish, foolish, fool.
And she’d tell him as much just as soon as they had dry land beneath their feet.
She felt the tug of the water start to ease and kicked out, each strike of her legs taking them further into safety.
He was bigger than her, muscular too, and… in a shirt? Who goes swimming in an actual shirt?
‘Thank you,’ he suddenly blurted, his voice rasping as he leaned forward to rake one hand over his face and look to her.
‘You want to thank me,’ she said, looking to the shoreline, ‘you can help swim us back in.’
It was a short, snappy retort, but then, he’d been an absolute idiot and he wasn’t dead, so he could pull his weight.
It worked to get them in quicker and as their feet hit the sand, she slid the board away so that he could crawl up the beach. She walked up behind him, the board hooked under her arm. He turned onto his back, his eyes closed as he laid one hand on his chest, the other by his side. He dragged in a shaky breath, then another.
She dropped her board down and stood over him, aware that she was staring but unable to look away. She was relieved he was OK, angry that he’d been a fool, but now that he was on dry land and not spluttering up half the ocean, she was struck by just how good-looking he was.
Considering that she dealt with ripped surfer dudes day in, day out, some novice in the sea shouldn’t really be touting this much appeal.
‘Hey, you OK?’ she asked.
His lashes fluttered as he gave a choked hum – they were thick, dark, almost feminine, if not for the fact they fanned cheeks that looked like they’d been chiselled from granite.
‘What the hell were you thinking?’
He wet his lips, lips that made her think of kissing. It was an impulsive reaction, it wasn’t rational. She’d just rescued him, for God’s sake. But they were so full, full yet firm, a flush of colour in his otherwise pale and clean-shaven face.
Was it the ordeal that made him so pale, or was it just the light of the moon? Either way, it gave him a sexy vamp-like edge, a total contrast to the tanned Adonises she was used to. Perhaps that was why she found him uniquely appealing. And then his throat bobbed as he swallowed, the move drawing her eye lower… and oh my, would her stomach just quit its fluttering.
He opened his eyes and the fluttering became a full-on typhoon.
It was too dark to determine their colour, but his eyes met her own with an intensity that took her breath away. He swept his hair off his face unveiling an angled brow that gave a surety to his features, a confidence that belied his fear of seconds ago.
‘I’m sorry I got you caught up in that.’
His voice rasped and her body positively purred over it. Was that how he always sounded, or was that just the effect of the sea?
He was English too; a Londoner, if she were to guess.
Well, English or not, hot-vamp or not, you should be rollicking him,
not standing here drooling like a sex-starved nymph.
Where’s your good sense, Malie?
Back out in the sea, it would appear…
Could this day get any worse?
When Todd Masters pulled himself up the beach on his hands and knees, thanks to his jelly-like legs that had refused to support his weight, he’d hoped he could feign passing out and she would just leave him to it. Let him regather his wits and his pride alone. If only…
Someone up there was clearly having a laugh at his expense today. First his father had refused to accept his help which had resulted in a phone call from hell, and then he’d tried to save a dog from drowning only to find himself the one in need – in need? He was never the one in need.
And now his rescuer was mad, real mad, judging by her silhouette that showed her hands were fisted on her hips.
‘Never mind sorry,’ she erupted – definitely mad. ‘You could have got yourself killed.’
He let his head loll back, his eyes closed again, like he could somehow magic away the whole situation. He’d been an idiot and he’d likely put her in danger too. It had been foolish, reckless, stupid even, and to his horror, he could feel a foreign surge of heat creeping into his cheeks.
Beside him there was a swoosh as she dropped to her knees, a soft curse falling from her lips as her hand fell to his chest. Her palm was warm despite the clinging wet fabric of his shirt.
He couldn’t peep, if he did, he knew the blush – a blush, for goodness’ sake – would spread. And he was trying to force it back.
He didn’t blush, he didn’t get embarrassed and he sure as hell didn’t need help. He was always the one to give help. And yet… the sea water swishing around in his gut, currently threatening to make a reappearance, and the way his knees almost knocked told him he’d definitely needed that help.
‘Hey.’ Her hand pressed into his chest. ‘Hey.’
Still he didn’t react.
‘Hey!’ There was nothing soft about it now, her palm was hard, urgent as it shoved at him. ‘Are you OK?’
He took hold of her wrist before she could shake the sea water out of him and gave a laugh. Not that he really felt like laughing. And that made it a nervous laugh and he hadn’t produced one of those since… well, for ever.
‘I’m OK, save for my ego. That’s taken a hit.’
He opened his eyes to look up at her and the whole world seemed to stop. For the briefest moment, all he saw were a pair of piercing eyes only a foot away, close enough to feel her harried breath mingle with his. They were cat-like, so dark as they glittered at him, captivating him, and he had the ridiculous notion that he was drowning all over again… until they narrowed and flashed with another surge of rage.
‘Your ego is the last thing you should be worrying about.’ She pushed off him, rocking back on her heels. ‘What on earth did you think you were doing out there?’
It wasn’t just her eyes. It was the angle to her cheekbones, her perfect almond-shaped face and lips that were plump in spite of their tight, grim line.
He swallowed. He really needed to get a handle on this situation.
He felt unsteady, rocked to his core, and now he wasn’t so sure whether that was from his near-drowning or her.
‘Are you going to answer me?’ She fisted her hands back on her hips and continued to loom, the angle drawing his eyes to her chest, the narrow slant to her waist, and swell to her hips… and he wasn’t overheating with pure shame anymore.
He scrambled up onto his elbows with a cough and she scuttled back, just a little, but the space was good, really good. It gave him the clarity he needed, to drag in air that wasn’t tainted by her coconut sea scent.
‘I’m really sorry.’
‘Wading straight into a rip current and refusing to listen to a single instruction I gave you.’
‘Hey, I listened.’ He raised a hand to ward off the onslaught of her words. ‘I just couldn’t understand why you wanted me to do that.’
She shook her head so fiercely droplets of sea water fired at him,
her mass of hair already springing up into corkscrew curls as they released her fury on him. ‘You never try and swim against it, no one can beat it.’
‘I just wanted to get back to shore before the riptide pulled me under.’
She laughed. The sound sudden, unexpected and glorious.
At least she wasn’t livid now. ‘For your information, you were caught in a rip current, and no one gets dragged under by it, you get swept out.’
‘OK.’ He said it slowly. ‘That’s not what I’ve seen on the TV.’
‘This is real life. So in future, you get caught like that, you do as I say and you either swim parallel to shore, or you go with it until you feel the pull soften. Then you get out of it before attempting to swim to shore. Understood?’
Understood? He couldn’t remember the last time someone had spoken to him in such a way and he had the ridiculous urge to roll his eyes. ‘Yes, Mum.’
‘This isn’t funny, dude.’
‘I didn’t say it was.’ But she’d just called him dude and now he really did want to laugh. How interesting it was to be stripped of his identity and just be one of the masses again, or the dudes, as she put it.
She was studying him intently and he realized too late that his amusement certainly wasn’t amusing her. He tried to straighten his
face, to look serious. Was there another lecture brewing?
‘You could have died out there,’ she admonished, but it was softer now.
‘Yes, I got that much, thank you.’
‘Unless that was your intention?’ She frowned and swept an eye over his length: shirt, chino shorts, socks… at least he’d had the foresight to toe off his trainers and drop his mobile in them before running in. ‘It’s not normal to go swimming dressed for dinner.’
‘Look, I was trying to rescue a dog.’
‘A dog? You ran in the water where there’s no lifeguard, the light is almost gone, to rescue a dog?’
She didn’t sound like she believed him. Great, did she now think he’d put himself in danger intentionally? His amusement morphed back into embarrassment just as swiftly. This was getting better and better. Where was the dog anyhow? He started to scan the beach and then a thought occurred to him.
‘Hang on, you were way out in the water when I got here, you’d gone in with no lifeguard, limited light… yada yada yada.’
She lifted her chin. ‘I know what I’m doing, plus I’m a qualified lifeguard.’
‘Oh, so you can rescue yourself when in difficulty, yes?’ He’d swear she was the one blushing now, and even if she wasn’t, it suited him to think she was. ‘That’s a cracking skill.’
She shook her head and shoved at his chest. ‘I wouldn’t have swum into the rip current for a start.’
‘No, I got that loud and clear.’ He looked back to the sea, to where he’d been making an idiot of himself minutes before and frowned. ‘Not that I understand how you spot one in the first place.’
She turned to look at the water too. ‘You see that channel you were in; you see how the waves are breaking either side, but that strip looks calm, virtually still…?’
He shifted higher onto his elbows and looked to where she motioned with her hand. ‘Yes.’
Her eyes came back to him, sharp, direct. ‘That is a rip current.’
‘Got it,’ he hurried out, which he did, and he would certainly remember it in future. ‘But at the time I was more focused on the dog that—’
As if on cue, said dog trotted up and like his rescuer shook off his hair, showering Todd in another layer of sea water. Only this time the effect wasn’t quite as appealing.
‘It was this one as it happens.’ He nodded his head in its direction and noted how the hound looked far too innocent and in no way in need of rescuing at all. The dog gave a sharp bark in agreement, or to rattle him further – he couldn’t decide.
‘Nalu?’ She still didn’t sound convinced.
‘Na-who?’ He stared at the dog like he could blame it for everything that had gone wrong that day.
‘Nalu…’ She leaned over and ruffled its great big head. ‘He belongs to the surf school further down the coast.’
‘Yup and that’s why he’s called Nalu, it’s Hawaiian for wave or surf.’
‘Very apt.’ He knew he sounded disgruntled, but he couldn’t help it. If it hadn’t been for Nalu, he wouldn’t have made such a complete fool of himself. ‘I take it he knows all about rip wotsits then?’
She laughed again, the sound even lighter and easy now. ‘Yup.’
Nalu gave a little snort and plonked himself down.
It really was time to bring an end to the whole emasculating experience, but the idea of just walking away from her was worse than enduring it.
Instead he found himself asking, ‘Well, now that I know Naaluu is safe and I certainly am, because of you, how about a drink to say thank you?’
Her eyes widened. ‘A drink?’
‘Yes… you know one of those things people do for fun?’
She nibbled her bottom lip, a move he found strangely contrary to the confidence she projected both in and out of the water.
‘I can’t, I already have plans.’ She glanced at her watch and gave a curse under her breath. ‘And I’m going to be late.’
She looked back to him as she shot to her feet. ‘Will you be OK getting home?’
Her obvious concern was sweet and frustrating – no, humiliating – at the same time. It would probably be better all round if they never saw one another again. His ego certainly thought so.
‘I’ll be fine, my place isn’t far.’
She hesitated, leaning on one foot then the other. ‘OK. But if you want to swim, maybe stick to the more common areas next time. This section doesn’t get many visitors with it being so overgrown.’
‘That’s what made it perfect.’
Her eyes narrowed and he knew she was trying to suss out his reasoning.
‘Well, next time, maybe just avoid the water and the acts of heroism.’
‘You’re on, I’ll leave those to you.’ He laughed as he said it,
expecting her to take that as her cue to leave. Instead she went back to chewing her lip as Nalu trotted around to sit at her feet.
‘You can stop worrying, you know, I’m not about to go back in.’
‘Of course, yeah…’ she glanced away and then back to him. ‘I’ll see you around… come on, Nalu.’
Then she was off, ducking to grab her board on the way and jogging into the foliage that bordered the beach. He was left with his ego in pieces but a strange excitement thrumming through his veins. The comedown of the adrenalin, he supposed, only he had a feeling it wasn’t just that…
And he hadn’t even caught her name.
He knew where she came to surf, though… if ever he wanted to engineer a future meet-up…
‘You need to move,’ he suddenly heard from the foliage, not that he could make her out. ‘The tide is about to take your designer trainers out.’
He shot up, she was right, the water was already lapping at his toes.
He launched himself at his shoes, his wet and sandy clothes making the entire move awkward and her soft giggle trickled through the air, tailing off as she went further into the greenery.
He found himself smiling down at the footwear now in his hands. Smiling?!
He could have died and instead of reeling from it, he was grinning like a fool.
He pulled his phone out of his shoes and checked his home screen, cursing when he saw the time.
No more grinning now, she wasn’t the only one about to be late.