Chapter 8

Arilin Thorferra

“Good lord!”

Danny had taken the plane in a lazy circle around Uli Hahape, the flight less than an hour from Honolulu. He’d expected the island to be breathtaking but the photographs—even Kailani’s descriptions—hadn’t done it justice. While he’d known the island was an extinct volcano, the caldera was huge, magnificent, verdant green trees along its slopes merging into a thick forest covering much of the island. A white beach outlined the entire perimeter, widening at several points into small coves and, on the south side, a huge crescent-shaped beach which became a clearly cultivated meadow dotted with thatched huts and wooden houses. Dozens of otters sprawled on the beach or frolicked just offshore.

It hadn’t been the beauty that had caused Russell’s exclamation, though. It had been the barges. Just as Bennett had promised, there were six, the closest less than a half-mile out, each loaded down with construction material. And a startling amount of that beautiful beach had been taken up by the hotel’s poured concrete foundation and a wooden frame. All of the frame had been constructed, and at least three-quarters of it had been covered with the exterior walls.

Danny dipped low. “Looks like the other guys have landed, yah?” He pointed at a section of the shore toward the island’s west side rather than the cove—the one place on the island a pier had been built, Russell suspected for the use of that first research team. A clear, wide path led toward a small, squat concrete structure about a quarter of the way up the volcano’s slope; a smaller path branched off closer to the shore, heading toward the cove. Nearly two dozen men made their way toward the hotel. “A lot of other guys.”

“Yes.” The cougar picked up the binoculars Danny had lent him, looking through them, and cursed under his breath. “At least half of them have rifles.”

“Aiâ. They brought an army?” The mongoose brought the plane lower, making a final circle of the island.

He growled. “I knew Bennett was after me, so I assumed that whoever he sent to Palekaiko would be trying to stop me from getting to the king. But he’s planning something else.”

“You don’t think they’re going to attack, do you?”

“I don’t think even he’d get away with that without repercussions. I bet—ah. I bet he wants to protect the construction site. Damn it all. Can we land in the cove?”

“Sure, easy. Long as they don’t shoot at us.” He banked the plane, altitude dropping faster. “We’ll come in from the east side, yah?”

“Got it.”

While Danny dropped Lily down so fast Russell couldn’t help tensing, claws digging into the seat’s armrest, the plane touched down on the water more gently than the Clipper had early this morning. As the mongoose eased back the throttle and adjusted—whatever that knob did—the otters on the beach turned toward them. No, only some of the otters did. Other otters were occupied by the men with guns approaching. Russell stared incredulously. “Bennett’s with them!”

“Is that worse?”

“I—don’t know. It might be better.”

Danny gave the cougar a doubtful look, but nodded, cutting the engine as the plane reached the beach.

Four of the otters had already waded into the water; they pushed the plane by its floats up partially onto the sand, each greeting Danny by name, each giving Russell a cheerful wave. Compared to the otters, he might as well still be in suit and tie. None of them wore shirts, and their shorts barely qualified as swimwear.

“Didn’t think you’d be back yet!”

“Good to see you, Danny!”

“But this is a bad time for tourists!”

“I’m not a tourist.” Russell climbed out of the plane. “I’m here to stop the hotel.”

All four otters looked at him sharply. “What?”

“I need to speak to King Aremana. Please. He and I have met before.”

They looked at one another. “I think he’s seeing Mister Bennett now,” one said.

Russell scowled. “I have words for Bennett, too.”

The otters looked at one another again, this time with an oh, this is gonna be good kind of shared look. “Okay, come on this way.”

As the group crossed the beach, Russell surrounded by the otters and Danny following close behind, the king was in an animated discussion with Bennett. The rabbit had dressed casually, too, but for a day on the links rather than the beach. His lupine bodyguards remained as dark-suited as ever. A dozen of the men, all rats, looked disquietingly like soldiers: bearing rifles and decked out in brown and green camo. A few others looked like secretaries or advisors. A dozen or so construction workers stood or lounged behind the high fence surrounding the project.

One of the wolves caught sight of Russell and his eyes narrowed. Before he could say anything, though—or at least before the cougar saw him say anything—an otter abruptly stepped in front of him, blocking his line of sight and growling. “You are not welcome.”

Prince Tua.

“Listen to me, your highness. Please.”

“I do not want my sister to see you. You will make her sad. Again.” He snorted. “Or angry. Then you will not want her to see you.”

“You don’t understand. The hotel is being built illegally. You can stop it.”

Tua clenched his fists. “It is being built because of you.

All the other otters—and Danny—looked at Russell as if he’d just kicked a puppy.

Russell took a deep breath. “It was a mistake. I told someone about the research facility here, and he told Bennett. But I didn’t know they’d try to twist the lease into letting him build against your wishes.”

“What is done is done.”

“No, it isn’t!” The cougar raised his own voice in frustration. “That’s why I’m here! We can undo this!”

Tua scowled more deeply. “Come,” he finally said, heading toward his father.

As they approached, Bennett crossed his arms, cane still held in one hand, and gave the cougar a smug look.

The prince and king talked in quick, low voices in their own language for several seconds. Then the king looked at Russell appraisingly. “You are the one who broke my daughter’s heart.”

Danny and the other otters looked at him as if he’d just kicked two puppies at once.

Russell stepped forward. “Your highness, I’ve helped Cornelius Bennett commit an injustice against you, and I deeply apologize. I’ve been fighting to stop it, because I don’t believe this is legal. And as Mr. Bennett knows full well, as of yesterday the American courts agree with me.”

The king frowned, and looked at Bennett. “What does he mean?”

“He means he’s unhappy with the way we’re using the University’s lease. Just like you are.” Bennett snorted. “It means he wants his island girl back.”

“As Mr. Bennett knows full well, it means there’s an injunction against him, and continuing any construction from this point is illegal.”

The otters broke into excited murmurs.

“I am not sure if I understand.” The king looked directly at Russell.

“It’s about the lease your father signed with Bennett University and what rights it gives them. It may cover a lot of land—frankly more than it should—but it doesn’t let them put anything they want here just by calling it a research facility.”

“He said that it is exactly what it lets him do.”

“He lied.”

“‘Lie’ is a very dangerous word.” Bennett put his hands on his hips. “The islanders may not like me, but they don’t have reason to put much stock in you, Rittenhouse. Your word against mine.”

Russell kept his eyes on the king. “I came here to bring a copy of the injunction to you. I’ve been through…a lot to get it here. And as Bennett also knows full well, the reason I don’t have that copy now is because his men stole it from me this very morning.”

“Keep talking.” Bennett’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll have you in jail for slander.”

“It’s true,” Danny piped up. “It was them.” He pointed at the wolves.

“I trust Danny,” one of the islanders said. Others started to nod.

The king nodded slowly. “I do as well.”

“And I think I do have proof, Mr. Bennett.” Russell looked back at the rabbit levelly. “You.”


“King Aremana, did you know Bennett was coming today?”

“I did not.”

“And that he would bring armed men?”


“So that’s all a surprise.” He turned back to the rabbit. “My proof is that you’re here. Personally. Right now. If what I was saying wasn’t true, why would you bother? You’re here to stop me.”

The king’s frown grew. Tua’s withering glare focused on Bennett, finally.

A new voice spoke from the side, low, full of doubt and hope and anger. “Russell.”

His eyes widened. “Princess. Kailani. I…” He trailed off, suddenly out of words, then dropped to a knee in front of her, looking up. “Please forgive me.”

She looked down at him, as if he were the only one present. Her expression remained disquietingly unreadable. “Is all this true?”

“No,” Bennett roared. “It’s not to stop you, you idiot, it’s to stop them in case you convinced them to do something stupid.”

Kailani sucked in her breath. Tua bared his teeth.

The king, though, simply shook his head slowly. “Cornelius, if the injunction is real—”

“For God’s sake! We’ve already started. The barges are here. So I bent a few rules! I’ll get fined and rebuked. You should thank Rittenhouse.” He glared at the cougar venomously. “Because of him I’ll pay you a lot more money.”

“You lied. And you are still lying even today.” Aremana set his jaw. “We do not want more money. You no longer have permission to build here.”

The otters began to cheer. Bennett’s eyes narrowed. As the cheering increased, he pointed his cane at Russell. “That was convincing them to do something stupid.” He swung the cane around to point at the hotel’s partially built structure. “Go.”

Jogging forward, the soldiers took up positions around the fence.

“Those men,” Bennett yelled over the din, “are here to protect my construction site. They will shoot anyone who approaches within ten yards of that fence.”

The cheering died down quickly.

“You cannot do that,” Tua protested.

“It’s my property and I have every legal right to protect it.” The rabbit gestured at Danny and the cougar as he turned to one of his bodyguards. “Keep these two on the island until I say otherwise. When the barges come ashore I’ll have crews working ’round the clock, but we need to get construction past the point where demolition would be more expensive than finishing.” He grinned humorlessly. “With any luck, that should only be another three or four weeks. We’re quite far along.”

Russell leapt to his feet, fists clenched. “You’ve lost the legal right to keep building it, you old bastard, and you know it.”

“Hearsay, Rittenhouse. Without a copy of this alleged injunction, only hearsay.”

The king sat down on the sand, looking dejected. “We will all know what you have done.”

Bennett looked down at him and lifted his brows. “So what?”

When Kailani laid a hand on his shoulder, Russell nearly jumped. “If he has been given notice to leave,” she said softly, “what would his recourse be were he to…lose his property?”

“He might be able to sue. But he knows the injunction does exist.” He glared at the rabbit. “And I suspect he’d have an awfully hard time convincing a court he deserved damages.”

She nodded, then stepped toward the rabbit. “Mr. Bennett, my father—the king, and rightful ruler of Uli Hahape—has denied you permission to continue. I would request you instruct your construction crews to start dismantling the work they have already done, and that you instruct the barges to return.”

He stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. “I’m sure you would.”

She simply tilted her head, hands clasped in front of her. When he said nothing further, she prompted, “You refuse to do so, then?”

He continued to stare, eyes narrowing. “Are you making some kind of threat?”

“I am making sure we understand one another.”

“I think we do.”

She nodded slowly, gravely, then turned and walked away.

The rest of the otters had fallen silent. Tua had a grimly smug expression now; the king looked worried. Bennett looked around at them, then raised his voice. “I don’t know what you’re up to, Princess. Don’t try anything you’ll regret. Or your family will.”

She called back, “I am going for a swim.”

The rabbit’s eyes narrowed, and he looked out at the barges, the closest one under a quarter-mile out now, then back at Kailani. “I don’t want you or anyone else in the water.”

The princess stopped, now about ten feet from the shore, and turned around. “Do you think I may be swimming out with a bomb for each ship?” She reached behind her, and in a smooth motion her dress dropped to the sand. “Where do you think I am hiding them?”

Russell made an audible glrk noise. So did Danny. The otters, used to casual nudity—perhaps they all swam without clothes—didn’t look startled, but some of the men grinned.

“Very cute. Stay close to shore, where I can see you.”

“Seeing me will not be a problem, Mr. Bennett.” She turned and sprinted into the water, diving before it looked deep enough for even an otter to do so.

“Keep an eye on her,” Bennett snapped to one bodyguard.

The wolf grunted. “How we gonna do that, boss? Dive in after her? She can swim circles around us.”

“Keep an eye on the water, you idiots!”

With a sigh, both wolves turned to face out to sea. After several more seconds passed, Bennett turned away and started walking up the beach, addressing two rats dressed similarly to the wolves. “I think we can stay in the old research facility.”

Russell squinted at the water, at ripples that looked like waves but heading out rather than in, like the wake of a boat. Something large. One of the wolves muttered, pointing.

Bennett, still facing the other way, continued speaking. “It won’t be comfortable, but—”

The water by the closest barge—now less than a quarter-mile off shore—erupted.