New York Times Bestselling Author
From the moment she jumped on his back during a training exercise, Kenna had Marshall “Aleck” Smart’s attention. He wants to know more about the gorgeous, bubbly waitress who tried to “save” him. A lot more. In fact, he wants to know everything. A little hypocritical, since he plays his own cards close to the vest. Experience has shown once women learn about his trust fund, it’s often game over…even as instinct tells him Kenna may be the exception.
Kenna Madigan is mortified she almost landed on the hot Navy SEAL’s head when jumping into the ocean to “rescue” him. In her defense, she’d thought he was drowning. Luckily, he wasn’t mad. Exactly the opposite—he promptly asked her out on a date. Their connection is intense from the start, and Kenna suspects he’s too good to be true. As it turns out, she’s right. Marshall has a big secret, and the discovery causes her some humiliation…partly because of her own judgmental assumptions.
They no sooner weather that bump in their relationship when they find themselves facing an even bigger challenge—an unforeseen life-threatening situation. Turns out, Kenna may get a chance to rescue her SEAL, after all…
** Finding Kenna is the 3rd book in the SEAL Team Hawaii Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
“Let me get this straight,” Carly said with a huge shit-eating grin on her face. “You jumped on the poor man? You couldn’t figure out anything else to do to try to save him than literally jumping on top of him?”
“Shut up,” Kenna grumbled with a small grin. “I mean, it wasn’t like I meant to land on him. I misjudged.”
“Apparently,” Paulo said wryly as he leaned on the edge of the bar.
“And they were SEALs?” asked Kaleen, on duty behind the bar with Paulo.
“Yup,” Kenna confirmed. “I was running along the Ala Moana Park out by the Magic Island Lagoon, minding my own business, when I looked over and saw him floating facedown in the ocean. I didn’t think. I took off my shoes and shirt and jumped in to save him. But, as you all know, he didn’t need saving. He was watching his friends under the water, who were doing some sort of military training. I was embarrassed as hell and couldn’t believe I’d actually done that.”
“I swear that’s like the best meet-cute ever,” Kaleen said.
“What’s a meet-cute?” Paulo asked.
“Seriously?” Kaleen asked.
“I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t serious,” Paulo returned.
Kenna smiled at her coworkers’ ribbing. She loved working at Duke’s. The other waiters and waitresses were all pretty cool and it felt like working with a large family rather than coworkers. The restaurant was located in the heart of Waikiki on Oahu and was pretty much always crowded. It was at the back of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, situated right on the beach.
The restaurant was named after Duke Kahanamoku, who was a native Hawaiian, six-time Olympic swimmer and water polo medalist, as well as the father of modern-day surfing. There were three of the restaurants in Hawaii and three in California, all well known for their cocktails and decadent hula pie dessert.
It was Friday night, which was always busy at the restaurant, and that meant great tips.
“A meet-cute,” Kaleen explained patiently, “is when a guy and a girl meet in a super cute and unique way.”
“So only a guy and girl?” Paulo asked.
“Well, no, I guess not.”
“I mean, is it a meet-macho if it’s two guys who are into each other? Or a feminine-frolic if it’s two women?”
“Shut up,” Kaleen said, rolling her eyes at her coworker.
Kenna had always enjoyed the banter between the two bartenders. They were reason one thousand and twenty-two why she loved working here.
It was also well-known around Duke’s that Paulo really wanted to find a serious boyfriend, so they all tried to set him up at least once a night. So far, everyone—including Paulo—had struck out. A shame, because he was one of the best guys Kenna knew. Always volunteering to walk someone to their car and insisting all the waitresses text when they got home.
“What’d I miss?” Charlotte, another waitress, asked as she rushed up to the bar with her tray and drink order from one of her tables.
“Kenna was about to explain why she thought inviting the Navy SEAL she jumped on top of to hang out here tonight was a good idea,” Carly helpfully offered with a grin.
“It wasn’t that I thought it was a good idea, but he asked if he could see me and my brain kind of short-circuited,” Kenna defended.
“He said seven, right?” Kaleen asked.
“Well, it’s seven-fifteen. He’s late,” Paulo said with a frown.
“The traffic down here sucks,” Kenna said, defending Marshall despite not even knowing the man.
“You gonna ask Vera to put him in your section?” Charlotte asked.
“Not sure Alani would like that,” Paulo said.
Alani was the manager on duty tonight. And while she was pretty cool, she had a thing about the servers chatting up friends and family who came into the restaurant. Kenna couldn’t blame her. They were usually always busy and work was work. Which was why it had been the worst idea ever to invite Marshall to come to Duke’s tonight. It wasn’t as if she could hang out and get to know him.
“Tell Vera to put him here at the bar,” Paulo said with a gleam in his eye.
“Yeah, we’ll vet him for you,” Kaleen agreed.
“No way,” Kenna said with a laugh. “You guys’ll scare him away for sure.”
“Fine. But maybe if I’m lucky, he’ll bring his SEAL buddies with him,” Paulo said. “We could use some eye candy around here.” He placed a mai tai and a lava flow cocktail on Carly’s tray.
“I hope he does bring his friends. And that they’re single,” Charlotte replied with a wink.
“Not me,” Carly said as she balanced her tray. “I’m done with men.”
“Just because Shawn didn’t turn out to be the one doesn’t mean you should give up dating altogether,” Kaleen told her.
“Men are dogs,” Carly retorted before turning and heading for the table with the couple who’d ordered the drinks.
Kenna watched her friend walk away with a frown on her face.
“What did her ex do to her, anyway?” Paulo asked.
“Treated her like shit. Made her feel guilty for coming to work or hanging out with her friends. Talked down to her. And when Carly had enough and told Shawn she was done with the relationship, he pouted, begged, cried, and did everything he could think of to get her to stay. Then, when she didn’t fall for it…he got mean,” Kenna explained.
She and Carly were pretty close, even though the other woman was five years younger than her thirty years. They’d talked a lot about Shawn, and Kenna had never been so happy as when Carly had finally broken up with him. Or tried to.
“That sucks,” Paulo muttered as he wiped down the bar.
“Definitely,” Kenna agreed.
“Holy mother of God. Please tell me one of those perfect specimens is your Marshall,” Charlotte muttered under her breath.
Turning, Kenna saw a group of men, and a couple of women, being led into the restaurant by Vera. It seemed as if everyone they walked past did a double take. It wasn’t just that they were good-looking, it was more the air of confidence that seemed to ooze out of their every pore as they followed the hostess to their table. It might be fanciful, but they even looked like men who could absolutely be counted on if shit hit the fan.
“Woo-wee,” Paulo said, fanning himself with his hand.
“So? Is one of those guys him?” Kaleen asked.
“Yup. And I’m gonna go tell Alani that I quit,” Kenna quipped. “I’m too embarrassed to talk to him. I’m moving to a deserted island.”
Charlotte laughed. “You are not. You love this place too much.”
She was right…but damn.
Kenna normally had pretty high self-esteem. She wasn’t a beach bunny, but she worked out and did her best to keep snacks to a minimum. She loved her long hair, which was light brown, but she frequently experimented with fun colors. Sometimes a streak, sometimes just the tips. She was five-eight, so fairly tall, had toned arms and legs, and people always told her that her smile lit up her face.
All in all, Kenna was satisfied with her looks…but at the moment, she couldn’t help the pang of insecurity that hit upon seeing Marshall again.
He wasn’t wearing a scuba suit this time, and it was more than obvious the man was in shape. His age was hard to guess, but she supposed he was probably around the same age as her. He was taller by a few inches, and the five o’clock shadow on his face was sexy rather than scruffy. He had on a black T-shirt that showed off his huge biceps and wide shoulders.
Yup, it was official. Kenna was intimidated.
“I’m guessing your Marshall isn’t either of the men holding those women’s hands,” Kaleen observed wryly.
“No. He’s the last guy,” Kenna said. He was looking around the restaurant as if taking in the ambiance…or perhaps looking for someone.
“Well? Go say hello!” Charlotte said as she nudged Kenna.
“Nope. I think I’m gonna pretend I have no idea who he is.”
“Um…but he knows who you are,” Paulo said in confusion.
“Shit,” Kenna mumbled.
Kaleen laughed. “The unflappable Kenna Madigan is flapped.”
“What does that even mean?” Paulo asked. “That makes no sense.”
“Yes, it does,” Kaleen insisted.
“It looks like Vera put them in Carly’s section,” Charlotte said, interrupting the bartenders’ banter. “You need to go say hello.”
Taking a deep breath, Kenna nodded. She’d been the one to invite Marshall to come here tonight after almost landing on his head in the water during her morning run. It would be rude to ignore him. And Kaleen was right, even if she wanted to pretend she didn’t know him, he knew her.
“I’m going,” she told her friends.
“If he orders any of our frou-frou drinks, he’s a big fat no,” Paulo said under his breath. “Although…he might be worth it anyway.”
Paulo had a bad habit of judging people based on the kind of alcohol they ordered. Kenna supposed it was a job hazard—and she didn’t think it would help the poor man find a boyfriend.
Taking a deep breath, Kenna headed toward the table of six men and two women. Vera had sat them in the huge circular booth the servers called “the stage.” It was on a slightly raised platform at the back of the room, facing the beach. It gave the people sitting there a good view of both the entire dining area and the sunset. Normally, ten or so people could easily fit around the expansive table, but with Marshall and his friends’ sizes, there wasn’t much free space.
“Come on, you can help me with the table,” Carly said, materializing out of nowhere.
Kenna chuckled. “The day you need help with a table of eight is the day I quit to become a hula dancer.”
Carly winked. “You can’t dance worth shit, so that wouldn’t work. But don’t worry, I’ll report on anything I overhear that would indicate your Marshall’s a douche.”
“He’s not my anything. And he’s not a douche.”
Carly merely smiled.
Kenna shook her head in exasperation.
“Come on,” Carly said. “He’s totally looking for you and you need to explain what’s going on.”
She did. Kenna knew it. But she dreaded seeing the irritation that he’d likely feel when he realized she couldn’t hang out with him. That she was working.
But then again, he’d shown up with seven other people. He couldn’t really have been expecting any kind of intimate date, could he?
Marshall continued to surprise her. In a good way. He hadn’t gotten pissed when she’d interrupted his training that morning. Or bitched that she could’ve really hurt him if she’d landed on his back or something. He’d brought his friends along tonight, which was…unusual. Kenna didn’t know what his reasoning was, but she was relieved he hadn’t arrived with flowers and dressed to impress.
Oh, she was impressed with his jeans and black T-shirt all right, but it didn’t look like he was trying too hard, which was a relief. While she wasn’t opposed to dating, she was happy with her life the way it was. She didn’t need a boyfriend to be happy or content. She loved her job, her apartment was cozy, and she had some great friends.
But something about Marshall had her doing things she wouldn’t normally do. Like inviting him to come to Duke’s while she was working.
Please don’t be a douche, she thought as she approached the table.
* * *
Marshall “Aleck” Smart saw Kenna from across the restaurant as he walked toward their table. She was near the bar, laughing at something one of the bartenders said. He was struck immediately by her smile. He wanted to find out what was so funny. What had her looking so happy.
“That her?” Jag asked as they arrived at a large circular booth. As Elodie and Lexie scooted around the table to sit in the middle, Aleck nodded.
Aleck whipped his head around to glare at his teammate.
Jag simply laughed. “Easy, tiger. I just didn’t get a good look at her this morning. Besides, she looked different with wet hair.”
“Your waitress will be with you soon. There’s a cocktail menu on the table, and we have wine, as well as beer on tap. I highly recommend Duke’s blonde ale, if that’s your thing, or a traditional mai tai, or perhaps a coconut mojito for an island flair. Aloha!”
Aleck didn’t even look twice at the blonde woman as she walked away from their table. He only had eyes for one person.
“Here she comes,” Pid said from next to him.
Aleck had already noticed Kenna walking toward the table with another woman. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see from their uniforms that both of them worked at the restaurant. Aleck was confused for a split second, and he couldn’t help but feel a small pang of disappointment that he obviously wasn’t going to dine with her and get to know her as he’d planned.
“Hi! I’m Carly. I’ll be your waitress tonight,” the smaller woman said.
“And I’m Kenna. I was the woman who jumped on your friend this morning. Well, not jumped on him, but almost.”
It was clear Kenna was nervous, but Elodie beat him to reassuring her.
She stood up as best she could in the booth and reached her hand across the circular table. “It’s so good to meet you!” she gushed. “When Scott came home this morning and told me what happened, I could seriously picture it in my head.”
“And I swear that’s something I would’ve done,” Lexie said with a wide grin. She shook Kenna’s hand as well.
Kenna smiled at them both. “Thanks. But it was so embarrassing. I’m sure poor Marshall was wondering what the hell was going on. One second he was supervising all you guys, and the next there was a huge splash and I was there.”
Aleck slowly stood and held out his hand. Kenna smiled shyly up at him, and he couldn’t help but notice how smooth and soft her hand was when he shook it. His own was covered in calluses from his job and working out. “I was surprised for sure,” he told her. “But once I realized what had happened, I was impressed. Not many people would do what you did. Get involved. In fact, no one has ever done what you did before today.”
She blushed, and it made her even prettier. Her high ponytail had a cute flip at the end and her dark brown eyes were so expressive. He loved that she was only a few inches shorter than he was, so he could see her gaze clearly. Right now, he could tell she felt awkward and maybe a little embarrassed about how they’d met.
“Which just means everyone else is smart enough to realize you were in the ocean for a reason and that you weren’t actually drowning,” Kenna said.
Everyone chuckled, and he could see Kenna visibly relax.
“I’m Jag,” his teammate said, making Aleck realize that he needed to introduce Kenna to the rest of his friends. But when he turned, he saw that Jag wasn’t looking at Kenna.
He was staring at the other waitress.
“I’m Carly,” she replied, staring back at Jag as if they were the only two people in the restaurant.
Knowing he’d give Jag shit later, Aleck quickly introduced his other friends to Kenna. “This is Mustang and his wife Elodie. That’s Midas and his girlfriend Lexie. Jag already introduced himself, and that’s Slate and Pid,” Aleck told her.
“Hi,” Kenna said, waving a little self-consciously before turning back to Aleck. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Of course,” he said without hesitation. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, he reached for her elbow. There wasn’t much privacy in the busy restaurant, and Aleck heard Carly asking the others what they wanted to drink as he led Kenna into a small hallway that connected the dining area to the reception podium.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I worked here,” Kenna said without hesitation. “I wasn’t trying to mislead you or anything. Honestly, you threw me off guard by asking me out, and when you asked when and where, Duke’s just kind of popped out. Probably because I’m here a lot.”
“It’s okay,” Aleck told her. “I’m sure you didn’t expect me to show up with all my friends either. But when I told Midas that I was meeting you here tonight, he invited himself and Lexie along. Lex told Elodie, and the next thing I knew, everyone had invited themselves to our date.”
She blushed again, and Aleck had to force himself not to reach up to cup her cheek.
“I wish I could hang out and get to know everyone, but I really am working tonight,” she apologized.
“It’s okay. We’ll just have to plan something for another night,” Aleck said, the words coming easily and naturally. He wasn’t just saying them to be polite; he really did want to see her again.
“I think I’d like that.”
“Good. Me too.”
“Kenna! Table thirty-five wants their check,” a man said from the end of the small walkway they were standing in.
“I’ll be right there, Justin. Thanks,” Kenna told him.
The man waved and disappeared into the dining area once more.
“I guess I need to go take care of that,” she said, looking up at him.
“If it’s all right…I’ll stop by to talk as much as I can.”
“It’s more than all right,” Aleck said.
“And…at eight-thirty, I get a fifteen-minute break,” she added. “If you’d be interested in hanging out with me?”
“Okay,” Aleck echoed.
They stared at each other for a long moment before Kenna chuckled and scrunched her nose. “This is weird. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not. It’s fine,” Aleck reassured her. “Elodie and Lexie were thrilled to have a girls’ night out. I’m guessing they’ll bail on us guys at some point and go hang out at the bar.”
“Paulo will love that. He’ll probably grill them about all of you. I don’t suppose any of your friends are gay?”
Aleck laughed. “Sorry, no.”
Kenna shrugged. “It’s probably better. Paulo is kind of a man-whore. In a good way, of course.”
“Of course,” Aleck agreed, even though he had no idea what that meant.
“And now I’m babbling. Anyway, thanks for coming tonight. It’s nice to see you.”
Aleck knew his gaze was raking her from head to toe, but he couldn’t stop himself. He’d gotten an up-close look at her ass that morning as she’d climbed up the rocks to get out of the ocean, and he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t admired the view. But somehow, seeing her in a pair of khaki shorts, a Duke’s T-shirt tied in a knot at her waist, and a sensible pair of tennis shoes was even more of a turn-on than her running shorts and sports bra had been.
Shaking his head slightly, he realized that he’d been staring at her without saying a word. “You intrigued me this morning,” he said. “I wanted to see you again.”
“And now you know I’m a simple waitress who sometimes doesn’t think before she acts,” Kenna quipped.
“And I’m even more intrigued,” Aleck admitted. “Go on,” he urged, knowing he could stand in the hallway and talk to her all night, which would surely get her in trouble. “You’ve got people waiting on you.”
Kenna took a step backward. “Thanks for being cool about tonight,” she told him.
Aleck nodded and watched as she turned and walked away from him.
He stood there for a moment longer, then headed back to the table. Things weren’t turning out as he’d expected tonight, that was for sure. He’d planned on asking if Kenna wanted to sit at a table away from his friends, so they could get to know each other before joining the group again. He hoped she would get along with Elodie and Lexie, as well as his team.
While he was disappointed he wouldn’t get to talk with her like he’d hoped, he couldn’t be upset about spending the evening with his friends.
“So?” Pid asked when he returned to the booth.
“So, what?” Aleck asked.
“What’s her deal? She’s obviously working tonight. Did you know she’s a waitress? Are you gonna get to talk to her at all?”
“Jeez. I had no idea you were that interested in my love life,” Aleck quipped.
“I’m not,” Pid protested. “It’s just weird that you asked her out and she suggested you come here, and now she can’t spend time with you.”
“It’s not weird,” Elodie said, breaking into the conversation. “It’s smart. I mean, think about it.”
“Yeah,” Lexie agreed. “I think it’s hilarious how you guys met, but you’re still a stranger. And having you come here, where she knows everyone and you don’t, is much safer than meeting you at a random restaurant.”
Elodie nodded in agreement.
“It’s fine,” Aleck said. “She said she’d pop by as much as she could. Besides, now I get to hang out with you guys.”
Jag rolled his eyes. “Right, because we haven’t gotten to see each other in soooo long. It was, what, an hour between when we last saw you on base and when we met up to come here?”
“I wonder how long it’s gonna take for food to come out. It looks pretty crowded,” Slate muttered.
Everyone laughed at his mild grumpiness. It was hilarious how their friend was so impatient about everything. Even his food.
“I’m sure you won’t waste away,” Elodie told him with a smile. “Carly will be back with our drinks soon. We’ll order some appetizers to tide you over.”
Aleck tuned his friends out as he watched Kenna, who smiled at a couple as she passed their table on the other side of the restaurant. She moved quickly and gracefully and seemed to be in her element. Her body language definitely showed that she enjoyed her work.
As he was watching, she glanced in his direction. Aleck gave her a small chin lift, and she smiled at him in return, before turning her attention to the patrons at another table.
Damn. He may not be sitting next to her, but seeing her in action and observing from afar was kind of fun. And Aleck couldn’t help but love that her gaze kept straying to him. There was something to be said for flirting like this. It was…interesting. And different. Kind of like Kenna herself. He definitely liked it.
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