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***10 months later: Russell

Russel watched as the tropical sky turned a brilliant orange and pink and the hills of the crescent bay darkened to blue. Hanalei – he was home.

The surf lapped at his feet and he leaned back on his hands in the warm sand. He couldn't quite get used to being alone. It had been over a month since he left Beth in Denver. Days melted into restless nights of tossing in sweaty sheets, but he counted every one of them. They were all eternities, each and every one.

It had started here with Beth. Or perhaps it had truly started when he accepted her offer to come to Hawaii that night of the party in Denver, but their first night together had been in Hanalei. He threw a stone at the oncoming waves. Sea foam glistened pink and deep blue and the water was slate grey in the late evening.

It had started here. He ached with loneliness, although he should be used to uninterrupted silence by now.

He shrugged and rolled his sore shoulders a few times, working out the tension he built up while renovating the bungalow. Just the thought of the things he had done in there with her and to her drove him mad.

Footsteps swished on the sandy beach off to his left. Despite the late hour, there were still dozens of people enjoying the evening and sunset, but none of them were alone as far as Russell had noticed. He had that special privilege to himself.

A hand snaked over his shoulder and into the top of his tee-shirt. He grabbed it.

"Whoa! What the—" He was ready to throw the person on the sand.

A woman laughed, hugging him. Beth?

"Well, I'm happy to see you would defend yourself against unwanted female attention!" Beth said, covering his face with kisses as soon as it was safe.

He went ahead and threw her over his shoulder and into the sand. So he could he kiss her properly. Wrapped in his arms and entirely his prisoner.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Surprising you."

"But you don't have tickets until three weeks from now," he said. "What about the magazine?"

"Poof. The magazine." She made a motion of flicking something off her shoulder. "No, I made a deal with Jerry. I offered him the photos for an anniversary tropical edition for the cost of a one-way ticket to paradise. He saves a bundle on travel, food and hotel expenses. The men upstairs couldn't say no; not after the sales they made on our last trip here. He wants a special beaches and beach-front living edition, and he's prepared to hire a certain freelance journalist he knows who lives in the islands to write several articles to go with my photos. So, I said yes. I didn't tell you because it wasn't sure until a few days ago. Ray helped me pack, I still wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her."

"Then I owe your sister another big favor. Listen, there's a secluded corner I know of. I think we should go and celebrate—"

She laughed as he pulled her upright and pretended to drag her down the beach.

"No way! You are full of sand and there really are places it shouldn't get into, besides, I seriously need a shower after that plane ride," she said.

He placed his feet on either side of hers and put his arms around her waist. She grinned up at him. "This is it then, you are here to stay."

"This is it. I'm yours."

"You aren't disappointed to leave your work and dreams behind. You just got a raise, after all," he said.

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