An Excerpt From: SOLACE IN SCANDAL
© Copyright KIMBERLY DEAN, 2013.
Someone was stalking around the property and, from the way he moved, he was up to no good. For a moment, he stepped into a space where the branches were bare and she could see him more clearly. He wore a fleece jacket with the hood pulled up over his head. His feet were swift and sure as he moved along the path with hardly any sound.
Elena took a step back.
Someone was trespassing. A photographer? A journalist? Something worse?
Her heart began racing.
Quickly, she evaluated her options. He hadn’t seen her yet, or at least she didn’t think so. She looked down at herself. At least she wasn’t wearing bright colors. She rubbed her hands over her arms. Goosebumps dotted every patch of exposed skin, and a shiver ran down her spine. She glanced back along the path. She could go back the way she’d come, but she was on the main hiking trail around the lake. If others were sneaking around in these woods, she might run into them.
Her teeth worried her lower lip. There was a fishing spot down on the shore not far from where she was. From there, another trail ran right along the edge of the lake. She could move quickly there. It was the shortest path back to the cabin.
She watched the figure and the silent way it moved until the gray sweatshirt blended in again with the fog. Keeping her steps quiet and her breaths quieter, she took the fork in the path that would take her away from him. Only the way was slick. She slipped once and had to catch a sapling to keep from falling. By the time she made it to the clearing along the lake, her legs were quivering.
She stepped over a fallen log and bent at the waist to take a steadying breath.
It choked off in her throat when she realized she wasn’t alone.
The man with the hood stood lakeside with his back to her. As she watched, he side-armed a rock over the surface. It skipped three times before sinking into the dark depths.
Elena took a cautious step back and then another. She’d just about made her escape into the trees when the heel of her boot knocked against the fallen log. She tensed as the man turned.
And she found herself looking into Alex Wolfe’s silver-gray eyes.
She sucked in a surprised ‘Oh!’ but then her mouth snapped shut. Fight or flight caught her smack dab in the middle of the chest, but she found she could do neither. Instead, her heart beat like a drum roll as she stared face-to-face with the man she’d sworn to avoid.
She waited for him to say something, but he watched her as warily as she watched him. He was taller and bigger than her, by nearly a foot and way too many pounds, all of them muscle. He had the fleece zipped close, and it emphasized the lean mass of his body.
Elena’s mouth went dry. He was an impressive figure, yet nothing could have prepared her for the astuteness in those silver-gray eyes. It was like looking into the eyes of an actual wolf.
A hungry, sexual wolf.
Her entire body gave one delicious pulse. There was so much to see in those eyes. Hunger, anger, determination, and desperation – but the emotions were there for only a moment. He blinked and when he looked at her again, it was as if shutters had come down over his soul.
Only the hunger remained.
That was the one thing he couldn’t hide, and a muscle in his jaw ticked. He wasn’t happy to see her or he wasn’t happy that she’d seen him.
It was difficult to tell which.
She pressed her lips together, unsure of what to say. ‘Hello’ would just sound stupid. ‘I’m sorry’ was better, but she refused to say the words to a man who had more to apologize for than anyone she knew. In the end, she just nodded. She started to turn away, but he moved then, pushing off his hood.
His hair was mussed. Without the hood, the shadow of his dusty beard seemed darker. Those silver eyes were still bright, and that face… It was a face that had graced magazine covers from Fortune to Business Week to GQ, but if he photographed well, he was even more beautiful in person.
Her stomach squeezed, but this time the sensation was deeper and more resounding.
God, why did he have to turn her into mush? Why couldn’t he be smelly and hideous? It felt like a betrayal to be so attracted to him.
She wanted to step forward. She made herself take a step back down the trail instead.
Her gaze snapped up to his face. The word had been soft, but the authority made her even more aware of him.
He reached for the zipper on his fleece. ‘You’re cold.’
He shrugged the hoodie off his shoulders before she knew what he intended to do. Stepping forward, he held it out to her. She looked at the offering. It was such a simple gesture. Nothing flashy or inappropriate, but like her attraction to him, she didn’t want it.
Yet looking at the jacket made her unbearably aware of the chill that had seeped right down to her bones. The low-hanging fog had coated everything from her clothes to her skin and hair. Unlike him, she hadn’t dressed for a hike. Her boots were flats, but more for fashion than for traipsing along the underbrush. They were zipped over her skinny jeans, and her lightweight sweater didn’t provide much warmth. It clung, but its ¾ sleeves didn’t fully cover her arms. She shivered as she looked at the fleece he was holding out to her. Her wrists ached and her fingers felt numb.
‘You can give it back to Leonard when you’re done with it.’
He watched her, those entrancing eyes becoming more guarded. Who was the wild beast being tamed here?
Elena was proud, but she wasn’t rude. She was freezing, and they both knew it.
‘Thank you.’ She took the final step forward that put her in reach. She stayed there only long enough to take the jacket. He was watching, so she sorted out the hood and the arms. Swinging it around her shoulders, she pushed her hands into the sleeves.
A fierce shudder went through her when she felt the warmth.
The heavy sweatshirt material felt soft and substantial. That, alone, would have been enough, but it still held his body heat. Her hands began shaking more as she realized just how cold she was. Her fingers were clumsy as she tried to catch the zipper. The two of them stood uncomfortably, feet apart, as she tried to start the metal tab. He’d just moved towards her when it caught. Shying away, she yanked the zipper all the way up to her chest.
It was only then that she realized another tell-tale sign she’d been giving off. Her face flared. Her nipples were hard. Their outline was clear against the light blue sweater she was wearing. The dampness made the material even more clingy, and the chill didn’t help her condition. The hard peaks were still obvious with the bulky sweatshirt covering her.
Her chin snapped up, but his head came up much more slowly.
He’d seen. Obviously, he’d seen.
When he finally dragged his gaze to her face, the heat was back. It smacked into her like the air coming out of an oven on a cold winter’s day.
Elena wanted to be angry and offended, but then she saw how he looked in his hiking boots, jeans, and gray T-shirt. He didn’t look like any billionaire she’d ever seen before. He looked like lust felt. Helplessly, her gaze scraped over him. The T-shirt was the soft kind that took the shape of whatever it was draped across, and there were all kinds of arcs and valleys she wanted to explore more. His biceps were thick, and his shoulders were wide. His chest was powerful, tapering down to a narrow waist. As she watched, the dampness in the air seeped into that dry material and the delineation of his muscles and tendons became more defined.
As did his masculine nipples.
Her mouth watered, and she jerked her gaze away. The heat in her cheeks was now a raging fire. It was time to go. With a nod, she dipped her head and turned. She didn’t look back as she walked shakily down the path that ran along the lake.
The chill coming off the water was worse, even though the air stood like bated breath. She tugged the hood up over her head and pulled her hands into the sleeves. The hoodie was way too big for her, yet the extra material was appreciated. It hung down to her thighs and bundled her up.
She shuddered again, the warmth almost hurting.
Giving in, she glanced over her shoulder. She was disappointed to find he’d turned away. Another stone went skipping along the surface of the lake. He’d forgotten her as quickly as he’d noticed her.
The ball of heat building in her belly turned hard. That was the Wolfe she expected.