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La Cena

The Wild Rose Press

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 80,132
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Carol Champion is unsure she wants her late husband’s chair in a four-couple gourmet group to be filled by Mark Wilson. Mark is her best friend Megan's husband's new business partner. Megan dies hosting a dinner party weekend. No one in La Cena quite believes the death was accidental, and Megan’s passing affects all the group members. Carol inherits her executive job. Mark’s partnership with her husband is threatened. Trust fund money passes to Megan’s brother.

Carol and Mark soon find strong mutual attraction competing with suspicions Megan’s death raises as La Cena members turn on one another. The new lovers must unravel a tangle of financial affairs and a secret sexual liaison centered on a murky investment scheme if they are to come to fully trust each other and learn how Megan died.

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Forty-eight short hours later, Mark’s voice was hoarse from yelling to Carol Champion as the wind-driven spray of Lake Huron water chilled his face. They were in eleven and twelve-foot kayaks and in trouble. He was a dunce. For the last twenty minutes, he was too busy stewing over the impression he made at lunch, especially the impression he made with her, to notice the developing storm. “Carol, you have to go into the waves at forty-five degrees. If you go head-on your kayak will be full of water. If the wave hits you sideways you’ll tip.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do. The wind won’t let me.”

It was true. This was an evil, threatening wind. Fear tinged her words, his too. After picking her up this morning, he was struck with how strong and self-assured she acted. At lunch, he’d added charming to the assessment. He flinched as more water splashed into the cockpit of Jeremy’s kayak. At any moment, they might get their narrow one-man boats flipped over, and he was guilty of bringing them out here and daydreaming as the storm gathered. He paddled his craft furiously to get between her—in Megan Hart’s smaller boat—and the wind.

Mark gauged the swimming distance to the shore. She was a swimmer, had a swimmer’s body, had rushed to the bluff to greet the lake like an old friend when they arrived at the Harts’ vacation home this morning. He was broad rather than lanky, with more of a wrestler’s build, and swimming was scarcely his strong suit, especially in a sweatshirt and jeans chosen for a crisp seventy-degree day. Still, he prepared to go in after her if her kayak tipped.

She called to him again, but he couldn’t make it out. If he cupped a hand to his ear, he’d lose precious forward strokes. She saw he couldn’t hear her and took the risk he was about to. She sacrificed a pair of left and right strokes to make a pointing gesture with her paddle. He turned his head, the wind resistance making him conscious of the effort involved in even that small thing, and got her meaning. There was a small, rocky point ahead of them, home to two grizzled and weather-beaten pine trees. If they could get around it unscathed, there might be calmer water on the far side. Not a guarantee, but the only shot they seemed to have.

He nodded in vigorous agreement and shouted, “Okay.” He got between her and the stinging wind, and now she was able to keep up with him. At the tip of the point, her kayak missed a vicious tilting outcrop by two feet. Taking a couple gallons into each boat as they faced the wind directly, they made the sweeping turn into still churning but manageable water.

They were safe. But so much for Jeremy’s promised sunny and relaxing outing on the water. If today’s activities marked the start of his social relationship with the Hart’s gourmet dining group, it was a dubious beginning. On the other hand, Carol was smiling now, a victory smile, aimed at him. He managed a return grin as they beached the kayaks.

“My hero.”

“Nah, your navigation plan got us out of trouble.”

The air was at least five degrees warmer off the lake and out of the wind. They fell to earth twenty feet from their landed boats, spent from paddling. Mark appreciatively took in the sweet, fresh smell of the tall grass. He stared up at the nearby vacant octagonal tower of the lighthouse and turned his gaze to Carol. She was attractive in repose, thick wavy blonde hair and a classic profile. She might be a gourmet cook, but it hadn’t damaged her waistline. He tightened his.

She had done well in the kayak. They had done well. It had been pleasant until the east wind started, grew, changed direction to north, and began maliciously pushing them away from the boulder-strewn shore. But they had beaten it and reached his destination. He waved at the tower built of now-discolored red brick and rusticated stone. “That’s what I wanted us to see. What do you think?”