"Ri!" I whisper, stepping further out on the lanai and hoping I don't wake Bella, who's still sleeping peacefully in our master suite.


"Yeah, it's me. I have to ask you something."

"Ask me something? At this hour? What the fuh—?"

"I know, I know, it's early. But—"

"Yes, it is. And that's saying a lot considering we're Marines who normally live for this shit."

"If you'd shut up for a second, I could ask my question and let you go."

I hear Riley mutter some obscenities before coming back on the phone. "Just…just talk."

"Do you guys want to go to a luau when you're here this weekend?"

"Edward…are you kidding me with this? Nalani is a Polynesian luau dancer. You know this. Do you really think she wants to spend her mini vacation at some other luau watching the competition's moves?"

Huh. He's got a point. Of course it's a different island, so her luau doesn't technically compete with this one but…yeah.

"Gotcha. Wasn't thinking clearly."

"Of course you weren't. It's fuckin' quarter after four in the morning and I have to wake up in a half hour to PT, asshole."

"Sorry, I'm just excited and trying to make plans for me and Bella."

"Well, make them during the daylight hours, wouldja? And don't be surprised if I greet you with an eye jammy for this stunt."

"Duly noted. Go back to bed."

"I'll try."

No goodbyes necessary. I guess being on vacation has me out of whack with the real world. I can't apologize, though. My next step is to do research to find the best luau on this island and dazzle the hell out of Bella.

I hope she's not freaked out by what I plan to do. It's a big step for a normal person, but it's enormous for me. The kind of move that puts a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach, and I have to wonder if those bald eagles Bella used to speak of have taken up residence in my gut, too.

As anxious as I am, though, I also know that if I don't make this move, I'll end up regretting it. And I promised Bella this trip would be without regret.

We still have no idea what the hell is going to happen after August, but for now, my plan of attack on this next hurdle is crystal clear.

And I can't fucking wait.


After an early morning trip to the grocery store, a day of lounging by the pool, and then sunning ourselves on our lanai, Bella and I take off for the Old Lahaina Luau, just ten minutes down the road.

The setup is much different than the luau we attended on Kauai. Tonight we're given the choice between sitting on chairs at a table further back in the audience or on cushions at a low-lying table in the first row that surrounds the stage.

I put my fears aside for the moment and agree to sit on the cushions down front. I only pray they don't recruit me to dance on the stage. One life-altering move at a time, please.

The hostess presents us with leis and confirms our reservation.

"I need to use the bathroom before we're seated," Bella murmurs in my ear.

"Okay, I'll wait for you here."

She walks off toward the resort that's hosting the luau, and I take a minute to explain to the hostess that we just need a few minutes before she seats us.

With Bella gone, I take the opportunity to go over to the vending area to make the purchase I've been thinking about for the past two weeks. I spot the one I want and hand over my money to the gentleman, still keeping my eye on the building where Bella will be exiting. I thank the man and walk away whistling, hiding the gift behind my back as Bella approaches me with a smile.

"All set?" I ask as she grasps my outstretched hand.


The hostess leads us to a table down in the front row, just left of center stage. Bella takes the cushion closest to the stage, and I kneel down next to her. A waiter delivers rum runners as we're getting comfortable, and Bella squeals in delight.

"Mmmm, these are soooo good. Take a sip," she offers her cup. I keep my eyes on her and taste the fruity concoction. It's decent, a little on the sweet side, but the rum's definitely present and not at all watered down.

"I have something for you," I speak softly, trying to keep this moment as private as possible. We're the only guests at our table so far, but the tables around us are filling in as the dinner hour approaches.

"Really?" she squeaks, smiling brightly. "I love presents."

"Well, I'll have to remember that." I grab the small, plastic container from under the table and show it to her, popping the top off. The fragrance instantly reaches us, and we breathe in the scent of the dark pink plumeria I selected.

"Aww, a flower ornament for my hair. It's so pretty." She kisses me chastely. "Thank you. Help me pin it?"

She turns her head to her left, which is exactly what I'd hoped she'd do. It gives me the perfect opportunity to gently grasp her chin and turn her face back to the right.

"If you don't mind, I think I'd like it better on this side…closer to your heart…like that lady instructed back on Kauai." I swallow tightly as my jaw tenses, waiting for her reaction. I suppose this is the Hawaiian equivalent of a thirteen-year-old passing a note to his crush that says, "Will you be my girl? Circle 'yes' or 'no'." I'll be thirty-four years old in a week and I've never asked this question before. I've never had a reason to...never had a desire to. But with Bella…well, everything I've ever known to be right and ordered in my life is out the window. Bring on the chaos…I've never felt more alive.

I want this. I want her. I want us.

Her eyes get a little glassy and she hedges, "A flower placed behind my left ear means I'm spoken for."

"Aren't you?"

"Edward—," she sighs, looking down, "Are you sure?"

My back stiffens with the unease in her words and tone.

"I mean," she looks back up at me and grabs my hands in hers and squeezes. "Please, don't get me wrong, there's pretty much nothing I want more than for you to put that flower on my left side, too. It's just…there's so much to figure out. Let alone your convincing arguments against relationships when we first started spending time together less than a month ago…I just— I want you to be sure…for both of our sakes."

My stomach twists hearing her reasoning. The mantra I've lived by all my adult life coming back to haunt me. I inhale deeply, my eyes pinched shut, nodding, knowing I've made this bed and in turn, Bella is tentative about lying in it. And rightfully so.

I clear my throat, ready to face the music.

"You have every right to be cautious. At the end of the day, you have to protect yourself, I know that…but… I'm here now. You said it yourself last night, this vacation has surpassed everything you had hoped for; well, it's the same for me, Bella." I look right in her eyes, my tone is sure. "I want to believe this can work."

"Even with me in Korea and you in Japan?"

I shrug with a hopeful smile. "Why not? Couples in the military don't break up because one of them gets deployed. And hey…what's to say you can't ask for another transfer after the school year ends?"

Her look is wistful. "Making plans a year in advance?"

"You know me." I try and lighten the moment. "Supply and logistics are my specialty,"

She reaches forward and wraps her arms around my shoulders. My heart is racing because I still don't have an answer from her yet. Is this hug a yes or a no?

"So this is you asking me to be your girlfriend, Cap'n?" she whispers, her warm breath radiating across my neck, instantly sending chills down my body.

I swallow, trying to bring back some moisture into my mouth, which is suddenly dry as the barren desert. When I pull my head back and search for her eyes, my resolve steadies.

"It is. I'm crazy about you…so much it terrifies me. And like I said, I know the future seems sketchy with the distance and stuff. But I promised you back on Kauai that there would be no regrets during this vacation. And this is me…being honest with my feelings and living without regret. Being with you is the most natural, incredible feeling in the world. So, whaddya say? Will you wear the flower on this side?" I tuck her hair behind her left ear, "…for me?"

She leans forward, her soft, wet lips capturing my top one in a kiss that has my heart beating out of my chest.

"I'd love to."


Riley and Nalani arrive at 11:45 in the morning on Friday, and Bella and I are there to greet them at the airport with hugs and handshakes. We decide as a group to take it easy for the remainder of the day and just lounge on our lanai, going downstairs for a few dips in the pool to get us through the warm afternoon.

Nalani and Bella act like old friends who've known each other for years. They're laughing and hugging; they seem so comfortable together. It excites me even more to see my now-girlfriend getting along so well with people who are incredibly important to me. I met Nalani the second week I arrived on the island almost three years ago and actually introduced her to Riley when he PCS'd to Kaneohe two months after I did.

He's completely smitten with her, and I can't rib him at all. Although it shocked me last month when he first told me things had gotten serious for them while I was deployed, now it seems to make perfect sense. Even as an outside observer, I've always known there was a meaningful connection between them. Sure, I saw him go out with other girls when we were stationed together back in North Carolina, but here, even when he was hanging out with other girls, Nalani has always been a constant. Maybe she's been more like his conscience…his best friend. They just fit. Even I can see that he's connected to her in a way that's never been there before.

It doesn't hurt that my heart and head have suddenly done a one-eighty, either. Ever since the luau when Bella agreed to be my official girlfriend in an official relationship, I may as well be a character in a Disney movie. I'm surprised little birds, bunnies and other woodland creatures haven't walked up to me and broken out into song. I've seriously felt high as a kite…and never happier.

Escaping the reality of military life— along with the painful moments that often accompany my side responsibilities as a CACO— has done wonders for my psyche. I know things won't always be so sunny…but I want to believe that with Bella next to me, none of that will tear me down anymore. Every once in a while, that nightmare I had about Bella and kids and death creeps into my head, but I'm doing my best to ignore it. I can't dwell on that right now. We've been nothing but blissfully happy for the last three weeks, and there's no reason to doubt that things can't remain that way. I'm not ruining this time with her by borrowing trouble.

"So, you've achieved the status of sugar daddy, huh?"

I laugh and chuck a peanut at Riley's head. We're lazing around on the lanai while the girls are down enjoying another swim.

"Yeah, yeah…let's hear it. Lay it all on me; I know the jokes have been building up for the last ten years we've known each other. But hey, it takes one to know one."

He shakes his head with a smile and takes a pull from his Corona. "I'm not gonna bust your chops, man. I'm happy for you…I am. Bella's the shit."

I huff and pop a few cashews in my mouth. "Well, I'm not going to argue with you there." I pause and think for another minute. "It just feels right." I shrug, looking off at a sailboat in the distance, sliding across the sparkling water.

"You don't need to explain. Trust me…you know my track record. I spent years having loads of fun, but when it's right, it's right, and you're ready for the games to end."

I raise my brows listening to Riley wax lyrical about the status of relationships. Never thought I'd see the day, honest to God.

"I mean, hell, Nalani had me watching that chick-flick, When Harry Met Sally the other night, and I swear to God that dude's final speech was right on the money!" He grabs another handful of mixed nuts and shakes them in his hand. "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you just want to do it right then and there…no more waiting."

I smile and chug the rest of my beer.

"I'm gonna pop the question…I have it all planned out. Fourth of July."

My eyes widen and I stare at him, frozen. "Are—" I jut my head out. "Are you fuckin' serious?"

"As a heart attack."

My mouth opens and closes a couple of times until I shake myself out of stupidity.

Married. Riley Biers is going to get married.

Holy. Shitballs.

"Blew your mind, huh?" Riley chuckles through his words. All I can do is nod.

"Understatement." I look out at the Pacific as intelligent words continue to fail me. Am I not happy for him? No, that's not it. He's one of my best friends. He deserves to be happy, and Nalani is terrific. Is it too fast? I don't know. Who am I to say what's fast or slow? He's been spending time with her for two and a half years. That's hardly fast. But he has seen other people in that time. He was a total player before I left for Afghanistan.

Whatever. This isn't my life to figure out. I'm in no place to judge. Not after the about-face I've done recently.

"I'm happy for you, Ri. You just shocked the shit out of me."

Riley barks out a laugh, standing from his lounge chair. He slaps his hand down on my shoulder before grabbing another beer from the cooler we have between us.

"Thanks. I know it's crazy. But…" he shrugs with a sincere smile. "I'm in love. She's the one. I think I've known it for a really long time, I was just fighting the tide." He shakes his head. "Stupid, really. I don't know why I waited so long."

"Fear." I interject without even thinking twice. "All-consuming, mind-numbing fear."

Riley looks over at me and nods once. "Yeah, we've talked about this. I know what you've gone through and what you still wrestle with." He takes a swig from his bottle. "You're gonna have to give that shit up eventually, though, brother."

He raises his eyebrows pointing down at the pool. We have a perfect view of the girls sunning themselves on deck chairs.

"She's pretty special. I've been in her company for a total of, what, twenty hours since she arrived in this state? Even I know she's worth it."

I smile pensively, inhaling. "I know. We're an official couple as of two nights ago. That was the first step in a path of many."

Riley raises his beer. "Well, here's to us taking those first steps in the right direction."

I mirror his pose and clink his bottle with mine. "Cheers."


Rather than cooking in the suite, Riley insists on treating us all to dinner downstairs at Duke's Beach House.

"So, what's on the roster for tomorrow, traveling twins?" Riley directs his question across the table to Bella and me.

"What do you guys think about a zip-line?" Bella asks with a twinkle in her eye.

"Sounds awesome to me. I've been a couple times on Oahu, but never over here," Nalani offers. "Whaddyou think, babe?"

Riley leans in and plants a smack of a kiss right on Nalani's lips. "Can't wait. Anything you want, love."

While they're all googley-eyed with each other, Bella turns to me with a beautiful smile that melts me. I grab her palm and place a soft kiss in the middle.

She turns back to the other happy couple. "I was also looking into a sunset cocktail cruise for tomorrow night. Figured we could do that, then go dancing. Sound okay?"

"Well, that's a jam-packed day if I ever heard one, Bella!" Riley teases. "Has she been running you this ragged the whole time, Masen?"

I grin and pick at the label of my beer. "We've definitely kept busy, that's for sure." That gets a laugh from the crowd, and I respond with a wink at Bella.

"Okay, so let's call it a night when we're done here and get started first thing in the morning. The cruise leaves from Maalaea Harbor at 5:30 in the afternoon. The sooner we get to the zip-line place, which is an hour away from here, the better."

"How long are the zip-line excursions?"

"The website advertised as little as ninety minutes or up to three hours, with the number of lines varying, depending on how much we want to spend."

"You've got yourself the perfect travel agent, dude." Riley says, raising his beer to Bella.

Bella laughs it off and nudges me with her shoulder. "Oh, I don't know. Captain Masen here has made some pretty great choices and surprised me here and there."

"Awww, Edward. I knew you were a softy, we just needed to find you the right girl to bring it out. God answers prayers," Nalani finishes with a nod and a smile, sipping her margarita.

I'm intrigued. "You prayed for me, Nalani?"

"Of course I pray for you. I certainly did while you were in a war zone, and I still do. But even before that, you've been in my prayers pretty much since the day I met you."

I swallow tightly, hearing this intimate news for the first time. I glance at Bella who's smiling at me with a deep and dreamy gaze.

She turns to Nalani. "Why did you pray for him?" Bella follows up with the question I'm aching to ask.

"I think he's the sweetest man I've ever met," she answers without a beat and then turns to Riley. "Sorry, babe." He just laughs and shakes his head, motioning with his hand for her to continue…almost as if he's heard this story many times before.

"He helped me immensely that first day we met. Remember that?" she asks me directly.

I nod, not looking for accolades, but assuming we're heading in that direction. Nalani turns to Bella and shares her personal journey.

"I was born and raised in Fiji. Lived with my mom and stepdad until I was fourteen but then my mom died during childbirth delivering my baby sister."

Bella reaches for my hand underneath the table and I thread my fingers through hers.

"My dad was devastated and sent Kalia and me to live with my grandmother over on Oahu. I acclimated pretty quickly. Was a busy high schooler helping to raise my sister, but we did all right for a while. Right after my seventeenth birthday though, my grandmother was diagnosed with ALS, and I had to drop out of school. I took care of her till we lost her two years ago. That's when I met Captain Masen, here."

I smile, studying Bella's hand in mine.

"I was enrolling Kalia in the summer camp program on the base and I was trying to get my ID card processed in order to have base access and work in the PX. Nothing was going right, these little punk lance coolies were giving me the run-around," she shakes her head, "It was awful." Riley and I can't help busting out laughing. Nalani can be fierce when she wants to be.

Bella jumps in. "So what did you do?" she asks, turning my way.

"I happened to walk into the office wearing double silver bars," I shrug. "They were making things way more difficult for her than was necessary, and they knew it. I guess I just threw my weight around. Told them to get their acts together and get it done. I wouldn't leave until she was taken care of."

"Thirty minutes later, I came out of there with everything I needed to work on base, park on base…and, as if that wasn't enough, he handed me his home, office and cell phone numbers in case I ever ran into trouble with half-assed Marines again." She looks over at me. "My hero."

"I ran into her later that week at the PX, and she insisted on taking me out for ice cream with Kalia. I couldn't refuse."

"Aww, Cap'n," Bella runs her fingers over the hairline behind my ear. "Is there another little girl out there who has you wrapped around her finger?"

I smile. Kalia is pretty damn adorable.

"How old is she?"

"She'll be eleven at the end of the summer, and she's already giving me gray hair," Riley interjects.

We all laugh and suddenly it registers that Riley will be taking on a very father-like role when he and Nalani marry. Kalia will be living with them for years before she's ready to leave the house.

Wow. Mind blown again.

"Anyway, you were my very own personal hero. Ever since then, I've only ever seen you bring out the best in everyone who surrounds you."

I scoff at her delusions of my grandeur.

"Wait, I'm serious, Edward!" She starts marking off her fingers. "You're courteous, kind, you listen well, you're hilarious, you'd give somebody the shirt off your back if you could…there aren't many people like that in the world. But at the same time, I always knew there was a hint of sadness or longing. You've been great about hiding it…but I know you," she adds with confidence. "And so I prayed that look would vanish. That you'd find the person who fills in those gaps perfectly."

Bella squeezes my hand once more.

"You don't have that look anymore…at least not since you've been back from your deployment." I watch Nalani wink at Bella. "Like I said, prayers were answered."


Once we arrive at the Piholo Ranch Zip-line in Makawao, we all decide to splurge and purchase the six-line canopy zip tour. Although Riley and Nalani have both been on similar excursions before, Bella and I are popping our proverbial zip-lining cherries today.

We spend a good chunk of time hiking trails through the woods and across suspension bridges and the rest of the time flying through the air above ravines and the lush forest floor with a hundred different shades of green I didn't even know existed. It's a spectacular rush, literally and figuratively.

I find that I have a smile plastered on my face the entire time. Aside from the fact that we all look slightly ridiculous wearing our crotch harnesses and safety helmets, zooming through the tree canopy is an experience like no other. In between lines, Bella and I hold hands, stealing kisses from time to time…consistently earning a smug look of satisfaction from Riley. True to his word, though, he doesn't bust my balls about my public displays of affection with Bella.

It seems that he and I have done quite a bit of growing up in the last month or so. I chuckle to myself at one point during my deep self-analysis; Riley and I maturing— now there's a terrifying thought.

By two o'clock, we're back in the car on our return trip to the resort when I get the wind knocked out of me.

"Hey, E. Wasn't Ateara a junior Marine from your supply shop in Cherry Point?"

I look in the rearview mirror to catch Riley's eyes. "Uhh, yeah. A real hard charger...I remember him. Why? Must be staff sergeant by now, huh?"

I see Riley's brows rise quickly before he lands the blow. "Would've been. Just heard through the grapevine that he was one of the ones in the Chinook that went down during that training mission in Yuma three days ago."

I turn my attention back to the road muttering "fuck" under my breath. Bella reaches for my hand and rubs her thumb across my knuckles.

"Where'd you hear that?" I ask Riley, not that it really matters; I'm just errantly filling in the gaps of silence.

"Em told me. Ateara's fiancée works in his shop…that's how he found out, and he mentioned it to me.

"Sucks that he was engaged." Again, filling the awkward silence. If I don't, my fears will give rise to the negative emotions and I'll be right back where I started, totally panicked and ready to deep-six any thoughts of commitment.

"Brand new daddy, too," Riley adds. "Like, really brand new. Weeks old, apparently."

My jaw tenses hearing about another folded flag, another fatherless child.

"I'm so sorry," Bella whispers softly, picking up on my mood, which has suddenly turned sour. All I can do is nod in response. If I give this any airtime, I'll start turning bitter again. And I'm not about to ruin my vacation with my friends, let alone this precious time with Bella.

I squeeze her hand back in reassurance, and croak out, "I'll be okay."

Now I just have to believe it.



The dinner cruise is held on the Pride of Maui, a luxury catamaran. While the captain of the ship sails us into this awe-inspiring sunset, we dine on bountiful fresh food, hot off the grill. I'm convinced that I could die a happy girl after eating the guava-glazed baby back ribs, but Edward convinces me to stick around for dessert after he snags a piece of melt-in-your-mouth Kona coffee cheesecake and feeds me in between kisses until it's devoured. The food is mouth-watering, and we enjoy every single morsel. Another great thing about this excursion is the endless supply of drinks. Rather than a standard selection of a few choices that are often found on these types of side-trips, we're offered a premium open bar for the duration of the cruise and boy, do we indulge.

My cheeks are warm, my legs feel like jelly and I'm giggling non-stop. Normally I'd think it was only due to the effects of the alcohol in my system, but I also have my incredibly sexy boyfriend whispering all sorts of dirty things in my ear while we dance on the upper deck of the ship with the stars shining above.

"I'm not kidding, Bella. This dress is sinful." It's my favorite red halter. It clings to me perfectly and does wonders for my perky boobs, which Edward suckles like pacifiers these days. "You feel what you're doing to me, don't you?"

I love the bubble we've created for ourselves. I feel like it's impenetrable at times. Although I did grow concerned this afternoon when he got word that one of his former Marines was killed. Even though he still tried to carry on some casual conversation, I felt like I was watching a stage performance. His demeanor changed instantly, he lost some color in his face and he got a far-off look in his eye. It scared me, a harsh dose of reality that crept into our dream-like vacation, and we were powerless to stop it. It makes me think that the demons that he fights off are only waiting in the wings to try and take him back down again…even though he's come so far in word and action in the last month.

I shake off the fear and return to the here and now. All I can do is hum contentedly into his neck as he trails his hands down my back, while the crowd whoops and hollers around us. Apparently, we chose the cruise that a wedding party booked as well for their post-rehearsal dinner celebration.

Riley and Nalani manage to elbow their way through the crowd to find us. Riley is equally schnockered while Nalani tries to keep him from molesting her on the dance floor.

"WE'RE GETTING MAUI'D TOMORROW!" Our heads whip around as the crowd cheers at the announcement from the guy I assume is the groom. We all laugh and raise our glasses. Well, I raise my glass; Edward continues to grind his erection into my belly and pepper wet kisses below my ear.

"Isn't this boat docking yet? I need to be with you, Clementine. I haven't been inside you for nearly twenty hours. I'm pretty sure that's a record for us since we started this sexcapade back on the Big Island."

I twist my head and whisper. "Just hold out for a little while longer, Cap'n. I'll be sure to take care of you back at the suite."

"I vote we go back to the resort and just have our own party there instead of going out for more dancing," Nalani interrupts. "This one is getting all handsy." She squeals again as Riley practically face plants himself into her cleavage. "Look at you three…what am I going to do with you?"

Edward and I are laughing at Riley's antics while we tickle and tease each other between kisses and hugs. I think our state of intoxication has reduced us to acting like a bunch of horny, goofy teenagers at an unsupervised house party.

After we dock, we gather our things and try to muster enough decorum to thank the crew for a fabulous time. Edward wraps his arms around me, and we walk sloppily to the car as one congealed being.

"I don't think I can live for a whole year with you in Korea and me in Japan, Clementine." He's trying to whisper but I hear Nalani, our designated driver, "aww" from behind the steering wheel. Clearly, his drunkenness is affecting his volume control.

"Well, what do you suggest?" I whimper into his neck, trying to smash my thighs together for some form of friction as Edward ghosts his fingers over my nipple, his hot breath sending me soaring.

"Maybe we should get Maui'd before we leave the island."

"Duuuude, didjoo just perrpoze?" Drunk Riley. Guess he's not asleep, even though his head has been tipped back on the headrest since he fell into the car twenty minutes ago.

"Hey! Eyes on the road, Marine!" Edward barks back, not even realizing that Riley's not the one driving. Oh, my poor, sweet drunk boy.

He won't remember this at all in the morning, but I'll sure have a ball reminding him!

I kiss his neck. "Honey, that was really sweet…and as much as I'd like to Maui you, perhaps we should be officially dating for a little more than four days before we take that step."

He huffs and clicks his tongue. "You're no fun. Where's your sense of adventure, huh?"

I snort, listening to his pouty reply. "I'm plenty adventurous. I'm just the one who's slightly less drunk than you and therefore being more level-headed."

"I'm telling Bailyn you turned me down," he threatens causing me to gasp.

"You wouldn't! I'm calling your bluff, Cap'n."

"Meb—be you should Maui me to be sshhhure." He's maneuvered his body so that he's lying down, his face now buried in my lap. His words are coming out slowly and completely muffled. I'm pretty certain I'm going to have one passed-out boyfriend in the next few seconds.

I thread my fingers through his hair. It's funny to see that it's gotten a bit longer on this trip. I like it. It's great to be able to give it a tug from time to time when he's…well, no sense in fantasizing about something that definitely won't be happening tonight, what with Drunky McDrunkerton already a member of Snoozeville.

Nalani safely delivers us back to the resort. We're quite a pair, attempting to steady our men as we gracefully stumble our way through the lobby and into the elevator.

"Thanks for a fun night, Bella. This weekend's been a terrific getaway."

I smile at her genuine sentiments. "Oh, it was our pleasure. I've loved getting to know you better. It's no wonder Edward cares about you guys so much."

She reaches out and squeezes my hand. "We really love him, too. We're so grateful to you, truly." I fumble with the key card, but we make it inside without Edward or Riley sliding to the floor. Thankfully, the wall has held them up nicely.

"Okay…time to put these turkeys to bed."

Nalani laughs in agreement. "'Night!"


Once inside our bedroom, Edward collapses face first into our bed as I tug his shoes off his feet. I have no energy to wash my face, so I just slip my dress off and remove my bra, snuggling up next to my man.

My man. His gorgeous face is the picture of peace as a deeper slumber claims him.

I think I've been on cloud nine since Edward asked to pin the flower behind my left ear, signifying that we were in an official relationship. Beyond just the status of being a legitimate dating couple, I feel like it's more of a testament to how far he's come since we started this vacation.

I have to continue to remind myself that things will probably change once we get back to Oahu and even more so once we have to tough out the distance of being in two different countries. I mean, I certainly don't desire to dwell on the negative, but I need to try to keep a hold on some semblance of reality. I still have to use my head a bit while ruling with my heart.

And that's exactly what I've done and what I'll continue to do…rule with my heart. Because I'd rather continue to hope for the best than prepare for the worst.

That's no way to live. And right now, I'm enjoying living every moment with Captain Edward Masen, my traveling buddy, my boyfriend…and maybe, possibly, hopefully my future.

Military Terms:

PT- Physical Training; going for a workout.

PCS'd- Permanent Change of Station; the location where a service member is placed for a specified amount of time; can be sent with or without family members, depending on the service member's choice.

CACO- Casualty Assistance Calls Officer; Edward's been trained to be the officer who informs a family in the event that their loved one goes missing or is killed in action.

PX- Postal Exchange; military store located on a base which carries everything you could need (usually) bandaids, books, shoes, stereos and everything in between. You want it, the PX probably has it. The size of the base will dictate the size of the PX and the selection of items that it carries, but in a pinch, it almost always comes through!

Lance Coolies- A Lance Corporal might sometimes be referred to jokingly as a "Lance Coolie", due to their often being picked for work details or chosen to perform menial tasks not related to their actual MOS (Military Operational Skill), especially in units that don't have many Privates or Privates First Class.

Double Silver Bars- Edward refers to these which symbolized his rank as a Captain, making the enlisted Marines working in the office immediately snap to attention and complete their task, no longer giving Nalani the runaround.

Harrier- Family of military jet aircraft, capable of vertical and/or short takeoff and landing operations.

A/N: Big thanks as always to the incomparable Team Cabana: BetaNazi: LaMomo, and the prereading Cabana Girls: Born, Cejsmom and Jules! So much love for my ladies!

I caught up on review replies over the weekend...of course the fanfic site wasn't working so who knows if you even got it! LOL, oh well, I tried! Thank you to all my readers, reviewers, alerters, favoriters, tweeters, pimpers and lurkers. I can't tell you how much your support means!

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xo, Jen