I’m working on a new book in the Telesa Series – that picks up the story of Teuila, Keahi and a few of the other characters, about eight years after ‘The Bone Bearer’ story finishes. I don’t have a title yet and its very much a work in progress, but I’m excited about the new direction for some of my favourite characters and wanted to share an excerpt. Enjoy!
That’s when he sees her. It’s her but it isn’t. He knew she wouldn’t be the kid he’d left behind, but he’s not prepared for this. For her. She’s listening to some man who’s standing way too close to her. She’s smiling up at him. A surge of anger. Why is she smiling at him? Followed by confusion. Why does it matter? He downs the glass of tepid wine. Ugh. Wishes it was a bottle of Vailima beer instead. Studies her.
She’s cut her hair short so it barely skims her neck, so that the line of her back is clearly visible in that emerald green dress she’s wearing. A muttered curse under his breath. What kind of dress is that anyway?! It clings to her body in fascinating ways, a body that has a ripeness to it that wasn’t there eight years ago. The man beside her leans forward to whisper something in her ear and she laughs.
A slice of fury cuts him deep. This was a mistake. He shouldn’t have come. Should have just phoned in his auction bid from the hotel. Better yet, he should have stayed in Los Angeles and had his agent deal with it. He didn’t need to be here. He didn’t need to see her, talk to her. What did they have to say to each other after all? He grabs a bottle from a passing waiter and takes a gulp of the fiery liquid, savouring its bitterness. Eyes still locked on this girl – no, this woman – he has come so far to see.
A crowd buzzes around her, wanting to congratulate her. She greets them all with a quiet confidence and surety, thanking them, flushing lightly at their compliments. A warm heat builds in him then and not from the alcohol. He is proud of her. His gaze sweeps the room, lingering on the art pieces that bear her name on the placards. She’s done all this. She has worked hard, come so far. He’s kept track of her. The international art awards, the accolades for her solo shows in Sydney and New York – he has it all committed to memory. He remembers the darkness that used to live inside her,a darkness he understood all too well – and he is happy. No, he’s done the right thing coming here tonight. He’s going to celebrate her journey, toast her achievements, add his congratulations to the others. And then he’s going to turn around, walk right out of here and go straight to the airport where a private jet waits for him.
Well, that was the plan anyway…
Keahi had become a master of self-discipline. One doesn’t rise through the ranks of the UFC and the world of MMA cage fighting without discipline. He’d come here tonight with a plan and he was going to stick to it.
Until the man beside Teuila brought his hand up to lightly dance his fingers along the bare skin of her spine. A confident caress of possession. Which immediately had her stiffening and shifting away. It was slight, but it was there. No-one else noticed it, only Keahi. But it was the look in her eyes which had him clenching his fists. The fear and panic that she tried to clamp down and replace with lightness. It was only a fleeting glimpse but it was enough to take him back to a long ago day when a sullen, fourteen year old girl had asked him if he could teach her how to fight back.
‘What do you want kid?’ His words were harsh but his tone wasn’t. Keahi had spent enough years as a beat up little kid to recognize another.
‘Can you teach me?’ The request took supreme effort. She didn’t like asking for anything, especially not from a boy.
He stopped his rhythmic blows to the workout bag. ‘Teach you what?’ He looked at her. Just a slight figure of a girl, wiry hair pulled back into a thick braid and dark eyes that hinted of hurt. He’d noticed her in his classes here at the Center. Always hovering on the edges of the lessons, pretending not to pay too much attention but every nerve attuned to his instructions, her eyes greedily memorizing his every strategic throw and twist. And now here she was. Still cautious. Still poised for flight at the first sign of threat.
He took his time unstrapping his gloves, not making any sudden movements. It came instinctively to him because he had lived a lifetime in her shoes after all. She waited till he was done. Until he had tossed the gloves lightly to the side and she had his complete attention.
‘Teach me how to kill someone.’
If she thought to shock him, she was disappointed. Keahi gave her a casual shrug. ‘Sure. Be here tomorrow afternoon. I’ll give you lessons three times a week.’
Then he got his bag and left. He didn’t see the way she looked at him, the almost-reverential awe. He never did. He wouldn’t have recognized it even if he had seen it. Keahi didn’t know what gratitude looked like. He was a stranger to hero worship. All he ever saw in Teuila was the fear that fought with the strength and the angry courage that had been beaten down far too many times.
Here now in this glittering, colourful night of celebration, Keahi didn’t like seeing that relic of the past in Teuila’s eyes. It had him gritting his teeth, jawline tensed taut and his gaze locked on the scene before him. Teuila sidled away from her male companion but he was oblivious to her discomfort because he only moved closer. He reached again for her, this time to take her hand in his, bring her fingers to his lips.
Keahi didn’t breathe. Just ground his frustrations into the bottle he was holding. The sound of glass shattering had the entire room catching their breath. Heads turned his way. Keahi swore – which only added to the spectacle. A passing waiter leapt to assist him. ‘Sir, your hand. Let me clean that up for you.’
Keahi knelt beside the helpful attendant who was cleaning up the broken glass. “Sorry about the mess.”
The conversation in the room resumed and everyone turned back to their party chatter. Everyone that is, except Teuila. She looked and their eyes met, caught. A flash of recognition and all emotion drained from her face. “It is you,” she whispered. She was no longer listening to the crowd around her, her gaze was locked on the man across the room, on his knees amidst a scattering of glass. Keahi was caught. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. For a moment he was lost and a rush of memories assailed him. Memories of a young girl who’s soul sang with butterflies and called to the living earth. A girl who stood with him on a scorched battle field and set him alight with her strange gifts. A girl scarred yet still defiant, a girl who didn’t exist anymore because there she stood now, a grown woman.
An achingly beautiful woman in an emerald green dress, staring at him with shocked recognition.
And then the moment was gone. The waiter handed Keahi a napkin for the blood on his hands. A petite woman in sky-high heels and a pink slip dress tugged at Teuila’s arm, demanding her attention. Teuila turned away unwillingly.
‘Can’t put it off any longer. Here it goes…’ Keahi muttered under his breath. He rose to his feet and strode towards the center of the room. He was oblivious to the admiring glances from the women in the crowd and the murmur of questions. Samoa was a small place and strangers always stood out. Especially strangers who looked like Keahi.
He wasn’t overly tall but he moved with a compact power and strength that simmered of restrained fury. Tonight he wore dark slacks and a red patterned elei shirt. The jewelled tones emphasized his cinnamon skin tone and close cropped dark hair. Eyes lingered on the muscled symmetry of his arms and neck covered in tattoo markings and if you studied him closer, you could see the faint scar tissue underneath. Even dressed in casual island elegance – no-one could mistake Keahi for anything but a man of wrath. One who had fought, bled and hurt others. He smiled as he came up to his target, but it was a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. It was a smile of calculating confidence as he made his way towards Teuila – and the man who had sparked fear in her eyes with his touch.
But before he could reach them, a woman exclaimed, “It’s him! I don’t believe it. It’s Keahi Meredith the actor.” An excited buzz as others joined in her admiring chatter. Keahi’s path was blocked now as a cluster of women surrounded him.
A woman in a ruffled purple sheathe grabbed at his arm with sweaty fingers. “I told my friend it was you but she didn’t believe me. What would he be doing here in Samoa, she said! But it’s you. I loooove your movies.”
The tight smile on Keahis face was automatic as he shifted into celebrity mode. It was second nature to him now. Ever since his success in the UFC had led to his first breakout role in a gritty prison drama, his acting career had been on hyper-drive. The past seven years had been an often bewildering journey which so far, spanned five movie roles and even netted one surprise awards nomination. Polite chatter and ready grins were what these women wanted. It’s what they always wanted. That and more. Sometimes he gave it to them. But not tonight. He answered questions, signed autographs and obligingly posed for photographs – when all the while his every nerve was poised on edge, aware of the woman across the room.