US Marshal Dean Honeybone and his lover, Jean-Luc, are in Tasmania visiting Kaia Pendleton, the little girl who, along with Dean, is the only survivor of a plane crash off the coast of eastern Australia. Kaia, who now lives in Launceston, is not coping well with her new life with her strict grandmother, romance novelist, Kat Pendleton. Kat calls Honeybone and Jean-Luc, hoping a short visit from them will help Kaia settle down in school…however, it is soon clear neither man experiences the problems with Kaia that her grandmother does.
Both men long to take her home to the US with them, but Kat Pendleton refuses, citing Honeybone's dangerous job. Meanwhile, Cho Paek, a beautiful young Korean immigrant student has vanished on a trip to remote Bruny Island. At the request of his boss, Honeybone, takes part in the search for Cho, leaving Jean-Luc to deal with Kaia…
THIS BOOK IS A PREVIOUS RELEASE
Kaia glanced up at me, just as my lover, Jean-Luc, urged her to make a wish. Everybody waited. Kaia held her breath a few more seconds before blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. Her gaze stayed on me, warm, certain, loving. I hadn’t seen that look much since we’d arrived in Launceston, but I returned her smile. I knew what she was wishing. She’d wished it aloud more than once. I wanted it to come true. For her. For all of us. I just knew she was wishing that she could come back to New Orleans with Jean-Luc and me and live with us.
The smell of extinguished flames and the small puffs of smoke hung in the air, heavy with expectation. Everybody applauded. Kaia glanced from me to Jean-Luc, her two favorite touchstones, and grinned.
“Good girl!” Jean-Luc hugged her and handed her the huge knife he’d decorated with pink ribbons. I loved my man’s attention to detail. Kaia’s gaze returned to my face as he helped her slip the knife into the cake.
“Only halfway,” he said. “For good luck.”
Our little girl was turning ten. I couldn’t believe it. Three days we’d been in Australia and Jean-Luc had spent most of it in the kitchen working on her desired strawberry cake with pink frosting. Most people would have bought one, or used a cake mix. Not Jean-Luc. He’d labored over a le Fraisier, a traditional French strawberry cake, after spending hours on the Internet with Kaia picking out the perfect recipe. He’d put so much love into the cake, the most gorgeous concoction I’d ever seen. It consisted of a sponge cake on the bottom—what had he called it?—a genoise.
He’d spent some time at the store choosing the perfect, whole strawberries that filled the middle portion of the cake in pale pink, mousseline cream. He’d topped the frothy fantasy with a thin layer of pink marzipan icing, so delicate and exquisite it was translucent. Everybody was agog, anxious to try it.
“Candy gets the first slice,” Kaia said, squeezing her new best friend, Candy Aire. She passionately loved Candy, a little Aboriginal girl whose father had been killed in the line of duty as a police officer in Sydney. Candy and her mother had moved to the island state of Tasmania to start their lives again. It was no wonder to me that the two girls gravitated toward one another. Theirs was a painful legacy of loss.
I felt a pair of lips at my ear, seduced by my darling’s presence. Jean-Luc surreptitiously squeezed my butt cheek and licked at my lobe.
“She’s fine,” he said, handing me a huge piece of cake.
I wasn’t so sure. Our sweet girl could be chirpy and happy one minute, crying hysterically the next. To be fair, the hysteria usually happened when her grandmother admonished her. She was strict, that old bird. I’d thought I was tough, being a US Marshal, but Kat Pendleton took the cake. Speaking of which…
“Babe, this is delicious.” I paused a moment to savor all the flavors. The strawberries were still crisp and juicy. I tasted vanilla cream, strawberry cream, the thin layer of pastry just under the icing, giving way to full flavored strawberry and almond.
“I miss my mom.” Kaia put her plate down suddenly and began to cry.
What had I missed? What had Kat said to upset her?
Jean-Luc put a restraining hand on my arm and rushed right over to Kaia. She was so upset when her grandmother attempted to hug her that she ran past Kat and Jean-Luc and hurled herself into my arms.
“Don’t leave me,” she implored. She broke my heart. I held her tight, glancing at Jean-Luc, who looked bewildered and devastated.
Kaia begged each of us a thousand times a day not to leave. We discussed it constantly. Could we do it? Could we move to Australia? Coming here for her birthday was one thing. We’d taken a couple of weeks off work to be here. Jean-Luc’s restaurant was in a crisis back home thanks to the oil spill in the gulf making New Orleans seafood specialties a recent memory. I’d barely passed my last stress test and was supposed to be resting. I wasn’t supposed to be drinking coffee or dealing with any undue pressure.
All this emotion was not exactly restful.
“It’s okay, baby,” I said, rubbing her back. I caught Jean-Luc’s gaze and tilted my head toward Kaia’s bedroom. He nodded, following me as I led her away from the table. She clung so hard to me that it shocked me. I picked her up. She still weighed light in my mind, yet the kid ate like three starving men at a cheap buffet.
Her tears did not subside.
“This is real,” Jean-Luc said as he closed the door behind us.
Yeah, he wasn’t kidding. I still had flashbacks to the moment I’d rescued her in the plane as it crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes when I held Kaia, I could feel the waves washing over me. I could feel the power of the sea. I’d fought hard, for my life and for hers. She asked me about it often. This trip was the first time she’d really asked about her parents and why I hadn’t saved them, too.
Her tears subsided. Apart from Candy, there was one other girl at the party from her new school.
“Candy likes Elizabeth more than me,” Kaia said, her voice muffled against my shirt.
Jean-Luc and I glanced at one another.
“That’s not true, baby,” I said. I led her gently to the bed. We sat on either side of her, Jean-Luc stoking her back as I spoke.
“They both came here today for you. They’re your best friends. Aren’t you happy they like each other, too?”
“No,” she said, then when she realized how silly she sounded, she began to laugh.