Sunlight glinted off the cerulean blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, gentle swells crashing to the shore on the beach across from the diner where I was waiting for Kole. All around me, people were dressed in light Hawaiian garb. Most of them were vacationers or honeymooners who’d come to Honolulu from a break from their real lives.
Staring out at the view while waiting to have breakfast with my best friend, I understood why they chose this island to get away from it all. It truly was beautiful around here.
Nine years had passed since I’d moved out here when I first joined the Navy and I could still just sit and watch the calm water, soak in the island vibe. The sizzling smell of bacon filled the air and music from a ukulele being strummed flowed over the speakers.
The relaxed atmosphere in the diner was disturbed when the door burst open and Kole strode in wearing his full Navy uniform. A hush fell over the patrons as they took in his six-foot-four frame built of pure muscle clad in the official uniform.
I rolled my eyes and saluted him by lifting my middle finger discreetly to my forehead as he dropped into the seat across from mine. “Lieutenant Commander. Good of you to make time to have breakfast with a civilian.”
Kole narrowed his sky-blue eyes at my middle finger. “Jesus. What a fucking welcome. Could you be any more obviously disrespectful?”
I arched an eyebrow and threw one hand out to my side to indicate the room. “No one saw it but you. I made sure of it. Lighten up, dude. You may be the newest Lieutenant Commander on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, but to me, you’re still the same jackass I grew up with.”
I’d never have made my little joke if I thought someone else would see me. Contrary to what he might believe, I wasn’t disrespectful. I only liked aggravating him from time to time, especially when he turned up twenty minutes late for breakfast.
Everyone around us had gone back to their own conversations. No one around here was any stranger to seeing men and women in uniform, even if the vacationers had taken a moment to stare when he’d first come in.
His piercing glare lifted to the ceiling as if he were praying for patience, but then he chuckled, and his shoulders relaxed. “You’re an asshole. You know that?”
“I do.” I grinned and flicked a finger at the new insignia on his uniform. “But I’m an asshole who’s proud of you for the promotion. Congratulations. I know how hard you worked for that and I’m glad you finally got it.”
Kole thumped a fist on his chest. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it, especially since it never would have happened without you.”
“It would always have happened for you.” My intervention might have made it a little easier for him to progress, but I really didn’t want to talk about all that right now. “I got you a celebratory coffee, but I drank it because it was getting cold.”
“I got held up on the base.” His eyes slid to the side and he ran a hand through his midnight-black hair, a quiet sigh falling from his lips. “I really would have been able to use you right around now if you hadn’t left. Are you sure it was the right thing to do?”
“Yes. It was.” Kole and I had never seen eye to eye on my decision when I received my Honorable Discharge. I held his gaze and nodded firmly. “I was tired of traveling and I have everything I need right now. I’m happy to be out.”
“But you were good,” he argued, his jaw tightening in frustration. “Really fucking good.”
“Hence the Honorable Discharge.” I signaled the waitress for another round of coffees before turning to him with one elbow propped on the back of my wicker chair. “I did my time, served out my commitment, and got out. I know you don’t agree with me, but it’s done. Let’s just drop it, okay?”
Going another round with Kole over this wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I’d invited him out to breakfast. His jaw clenched just before he huffed out a breath. “You’re working on a fucking pineapple farm, man. How are you finding that fulfilling? How is that having ‘everything you need in your life’?”
I let my head drop back as I sighed heavily, closing my eyes for a second. “I do have everything I need. I’ve already told you. I saved a lot while I was serving and I’m happy for the change of pace.”
His fists clenched on the table, releasing only when the waitress approached us to deliver our coffees. “So you say, but you shouldn’t be picking pineapples. You’re better than that.”
“How?” I lifted my chin and caught his eyes. “You know as well as I do that I would never have progressed or been promoted. All that shit was taken off the table for me, Kole. So no, I’m not better than that. I like working at the pineapple farm. Can we please just drop this?”
If he didn’t, our breakfast was going to end before we’d even ordered food. Half the reason he was pushing this at all was because of misplaced guilt, the other half out of loyalty. It wasn’t like he needed me back in the service for anything. He just couldn’t deal with the decisions I’d made.
Inhaling a deep breath through his nostrils, he nodded and picked up a menu. “What are you going to have?”
“Pancakes.” Relief undid the knots of tension that had been forming in my muscles and I shook my fingers out underneath the table before taking a sip of my fresh coffee. “With syrup, bacon, and eggs with cheese. The works.”
Kole groaned, but the corners of his lips twitched upward. “Are you still getting in some exercise every day? Because if not, you’re really going to need to start watching your diet.”
“Thanks, Dad.” A smirk appeared on my mouth. “I think I’ll be okay. I am working on a pineapple farm, after all. It’s not exactly a cushy desk job.”
Plus, after all my years in active service, there wasn’t exactly a switch I could flip to forget the routine that had been ingrained in me. “Just so you won’t worry though, you should know that I am still exercising every day.”
“Good.” He managed a smile before he went back to the menu.
Kole had been in the fatherly role for so long that it was as ingrained in him as the routine was in both of us. He’d grown up without a father but had stepped into those shoes for his younger sister at a very young age.
As such, being protective of her and everyone else he cared about was pretty much the foundation his personality was built on. Our entire unit used to call him “Dad” and, while he pretended to get riled up about it, I knew he didn’t mind. It was something of an honor for him to be seen as the responsible one.
The residual annoyance left behind after our argument bled out of me while we placed our orders. By the time the waitress left our table, I was relaxed again and ready to get back to the actual purpose of having invited him out for breakfast.
“Thanks for meeting me this morning,” I said. “I know you have a really busy schedule now, but I wanted to take you out to celebrate. How’s the new job treating you anyway? Is it everything you hoped it would be?”
Kole flashed me a smile. Evidently, he’d also let go of whatever irritation had remained with him. That was one of the reasons why Kole was, and pretty much had always been, my best friend. We were both alpha assholes, and we could clash hard, but we cooled down fast and could both acknowledge when an argument had run its course.
Neither of us expected the other to concede, so we knew when it was time to simply back off. Kole was still smiling at me, but he suddenly seemed tired. “It’s been good. You’re right about the busy schedule, though. That’s why I would have been able to use you if you’d still been there, but I’m managing. The hours are longer than I would like, but I knew they would be.”
“It’ll be worth it,” I said. “Besides, it’s not like you’ve got a wife and kids waiting for you to come home every night.”
“True.” Kole smirked. “Likely to be true for years yet, but I will have someone I’ll have to make an effort to spend some time with soon.”
“Who?” I cocked my head, my eyes searching his. “You got a new fuck-buddy you haven’t mentioned?”
“Nope.” He laughed, his exhaustion gone as genuine happiness shone from his eyes. “Elyse is actually moving here soon. My little sister? Do you remember her?”
I stilled, blinking at the shock of even hearing her name. Elyse Dennis, Kole’s little sister. “Yeah, I remember her.”
I’d never forgotten about her and I didn’t imagine I ever would, even if I hadn’t just learned we’d be living in the same place again after a decade apart. I cleared my throat and schooled my expression before Kole read it too closely. “Why’s she moving out here?”
“She wants to be closer to me.” He shrugged, but his smile revealed that he really did care about this development. “I’ve been asking her to move here for years, but she never wanted to. Apparently, she’s ready now.”
Warmth shot through my veins at the thought of her, but at the same time, a cold pit formed in my stomach. Unbeknownst to Kole, I had some experience in waiting for her to be ready for something.
Although to be fair, she’d waited for me too. Elyse was three years younger than us, and by the time I’d turned eighteen, I’d finally realized that she wasn’t just some lanky kid anymore.
I wouldn’t have done anything about it, but then I started noticing small things about her that a guy really should never notice about his best friend’s little sister: the way her silky black hair framed her delicate chin, the sparkle in her powder-blue eyes, how she’d filled out in all the right places.
Since I’d started paying more attention to her, I’d also noticed that she looked at me too. Often.
I guessed that meant she’d caught me looking at her more often than usual, too. A month or so after all this started, she’d cornered me one day when Kole had been at football practice.
Whenever I thought about that day, I still smiled. Ten years after the last time I’d seen her and the memory had the same effect on me that it’d had the very next day.
Elyse never had been like me. She was a rule bender, not a rule follower. She followed her heart and let life take the lead, whereas everything for me was rigid, structured. Or at least it had been until that day. The day I’d broken the oldest, most sacred rule in the book. Thou shalt not fall in love with thy best friend’s sister.
I’d tried to resist her. I really had. But then she’d walked right up to me one day after months of furtive looks and secret desires, told me she’d noticed me looking at her like I wanted to fuck her, and then kissed me. It had come as such a surprise that by the time I realized what the fuck I was doing, she had already stepped away from me.
Elyse had raised a dark eyebrow and told me she wanted the same thing I did and that it was okay if I wasn’t willing to admit it yet. She said she’d wait for me, and she had.
A few months later, both of us had finally gotten what we wanted. In those few months though, I had broken that fucking unbreakable rule. I’d gone and fallen for her. Then I’d given her my virginity and taken hers.
Kole still didn’t know, and I wasn’t about to let him find out about it now. It was over anyway and it had been for a long, long time. So I did the only thing I could do now. I forced a grin to my lips and lifted a fist to bump into his across the table.
“That’s awesome, man. I know you’re going to love having her around.”
Kole nodded and touched his knuckles to mine, a smile the size of the island we lived on spreading on his face. “Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve missed her. It’s also going to be good to be able to keep a proper eye on her again. Lord knows how much I’ve worried about her since we’ve both been gone.”
Because oh yes, I’d almost forgotten about that. Way back when I’d been the lucky idiot to be the first she allowed inside her, I was also supposed to have been watching out for her. Kole had trusted me that much, and I’d betrayed him.