An Excerpt From: SOLACE IN SCANDAL
© Copyright KIMBERLY DEAN, 2013.
Published by Mischief Books
Peace and calm.
Elena focused on her breathing as she tried to quiet her mind. She’d thought she’d been making progress towards that goal, but she’d worked too long on her dissertation today without taking a break and the effects were showing. She should know better by now.
Focusing on the tall trees across the lake, she inhaled fresh air through her nose and felt her lungs expand. It was that mystical part of the day where the sun sat fat on the horizon behind her and the night waited impatiently to move in. The beauty of nature surrounded her: a dense forest, a secluded private lake, and aromatic earth. Tranquility was practically reaching out to her, if only she could let it in.
Exhaling, she bent at the waist and planted her hands flat on the dock in front of her. The position lifted her hips and she felt tightness in her hamstrings. The disquiet in her mind was seeping its way into her body. She lifted her hips higher, pushing carefully against the tension, before dropping flat and arching up in the Cobra pose. The position opened her chest and released a kink in her back.
‘Mm,’ she sighed.
The leaves were heavy on those trees, she noticed, turning in color but not yet ready to fall to the ground. Some looked as if they were hanging on for dear life.
She knew how that felt.
From the prone position, she swung back up into Downward Dog. She blew the air in her lungs out through her mouth until her chest ached. The need for oxygen brought her concentration back and she relaxed her shoulders. She couldn’t let herself get worked up like this. She was safe here, hidden and protected. She’d come here to find answers to all the questions running around inside her head, but she’d found something she hadn’t expected. A haven.
In this, the unlikeliest of places.
Twisting into Warrior pose, she looked up to the house. It sat perched atop the hill behind her. The trees around it had been cleared, making sure there were no distractions from what was important. Wolfe Manor.
The sun was level with it now, making it almost glow, but it was impressive no matter the lighting. Built in the late 1800’s, the residence was a testament to human ingenuity and grit. Thick limestone walls stood four-stories tall, with a stair tower taking precedence out front. Turrets overlooked the corners, while two larger-than-life wolf statues guarded the main entrance. It was a mansion that made a statement.
Although that statement was being questioned after recent events.
Elena stretched her arms high overhead and felt the knot in her shoulder pop. It was ironic how she felt here, on this property. By all rights, she should feel anger and distrust. Outrage. The Wolfe family represented everything that the 99% hated – greed, opulence, excess, and unscrupulous entitlement. Yet while the manor stood proud and stately, its owners’ house of cards had finally fallen down. Deservedly so.
Although their deception had nearly pulled her down, too.
She shivered a bit under the cooling breeze. She didn’t understand that kind of ruthlessness. What made some people think they were better than others? That they could push the less fortunate down and not allow them to breathe? She never would have come here if she hadn’t been in dire straits, but Leonard had offered her refuge. The Wolves wouldn’t be needing the residence for some time, and the lake house had been empty before she’d moved in. Only the staff and groundskeepers remained.
Dear, sweet Leonard. Out of everyone, he understood the position she was in and how powerless she felt. He’d come to her rescue when she’d needed him most, and she didn’t know how she’d ever repay him.
She could start by taking better care of herself.
She focused on the lake again as a breeze stirred her hair and was surprised to see a thousand diamonds glittering back at her. The sun was glinting off the surface of the water now, making it appear as if lights were dancing on its surface. The beauty was undeniable. Pure, spiritual, and unexpected.
Yet that wasn’t what made her breath catch. ‘What?’
The air. It had just changed.
It felt heavier… pricklier… It was subtle, but the hair at the back of her neck rose. It was the sensation one got in a quiet old house when a floorboard squeaked and nobody else was supposed to be home.
She was being watched.
The awareness destroyed her rhythm and the inner peace she’d fought so hard to obtain. Her first thought was predator. She scanned the area around the lake and the rocky beach behind the dock. What roamed these woods? Coyotes? Red foxes? Deer? She couldn’t think of anything dangerous, yet the feeling remained.
She finished the sequence she was going through, but turned reflexively when she felt the air behind her snap. ‘Ah!’
Looking up, she spotted the source of the disquiet. Suddenly, the benefits of the yoga disappeared. She recognized him on sight. Alex Wolfe. In the flesh. The most dangerous predator of all.
‘Oh, dear God.’ What was he doing here?
Their gazes connected and she felt a jolt. Even with him hundreds of yards away and up the hill, she felt his attention and it was solely on her.
Her stomach tightened and, for the first time, she felt the chill of the evening. With the sun going down, it was getting brisk. Too brisk to be wearing a skimpy sports bra and thin pants. She pressed her hand against her bare stomach, but was surprised to find her skin hot. Tingly.
Sweet heavens, he was something.
His hair was shorter than it had been in the last newspaper picture she’d seen of him. So short, it was almost spiky. His face wasn’t as clean-shaven, either. He had that rough stubble that only male models and movie stars could seem to pull off.
And, apparently, billionaire felons.
His expensive shirt and pants fit him impeccably, yet the power radiating from him wasn’t only the power associated with wealth and status. The disgraced entrepreneur was lean and chiseled. He’d done more on the inside than read books.
Warning signs flared in Elena’s head, and she knelt to pick up her yoga pad. She’d learned to listen to her gut. The exercise usually sped up her pulse, but right now, it was racing. He shouldn’t be here – or she shouldn’t. Her hands felt clumsy as she rolled up the springy foam. When she looked up again, he was still staring. Energy crackled in the air between them. She could feel the charge all the way down to her bare feet and her toes curled against the sensation.
Sex. The man practically radiated it.
Goosebumps rose on her skin.
She didn’t know him. She’d never even met him, but she wasn’t stupid or naïve. Men found her attractive, and she recognized lust when she saw it. With the way he braced his hands against the marble railing and leaned towards her, the wolf seemed ready to pounce. When he uncoiled from his ready position and folded his arms across his chest, her stomach sucked in even further.
‘Mm,’ she whimpered. She also recognized when the feeling was mutual.
Her response was inappropriate – unthinkable – yet she couldn’t stop staring at him. Her nipples tightened, and she held her yoga mat against her chest to hide her reaction. The sun was gone, and its trailing streaks of light were dimming fast. The noises coming from the woods were getting louder. The chirps of crickets… The hoots of owls… A hot shiver went down her spine, and she started moving to the lake house.
She’d come here to retreat, but had she just ended up in the wolf’s den?
One last time, she cast a glance up towards the main house. Her ponytail swung over her shoulder with the movement and she felt the caress of a hot look slide down her bare back. He was still there. Watching. Wanting.
Quickly, she moved inside and locked the door.