Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember our fallen soldiers and sailors, those who have given their life in service for our nation. It’s also a time to reflect on our near and dear who are gone. That’s the first and foremost reason but it’s become the unofficial kickoff for the summer season. It’s a time when many folks make a little trip. I’ve often done it myself. Sometimes I’ve gone “home” to my hometown, other times I’ve gone somewhere for fun or play. I’ve been known to go back to a place I’ve known before although this year I made my little breakaway trip last weekend!
Heart of the Ozarks is set in the popular resort community of Branson, MO. It’s not a travel advertisement but a story told in a very real setting, from a different perspective from the average tourist. My heroine, Maggie, makes her home on the shores of Lake Taneycomo and my hero, Cole, returns to a place where he once knew happiness. Here’s the cover, blurb, and an excerpt!
After St. Louis TV weathercaster Cole Celinksi loses his almost estranged wife and three children in a car crash, his boss orders him to take a leave of absence. Against his will, Cole leaves the city in late May to find the rest and relaxation everyone else thinks he needs. Without anywhere else to go, Cole heads for Lake Dreams, a resort on the quiet side of Lake Taneycomo in the Ozarks he visited each summer as a child with his grandparents. Some of his best memories were made in the lakeside vacation haven with his summer friend, Maggie.
Upon his arrival, Cole learns Maggie now runs the place. Twenty years have passed but from the minute he returns, they reconnect and soon their mutual attraction ignites. He fishes in the lake, takes Maggie to visit some of the places he remembers and begins to find out who he truly is. Before he can heal, he must learn to deal with his loss and to see if he can create a new family with Maggie and her children. It’s a task he’s not sure he can handle but if he wants to be with Maggie, he must. A near tragedy brings them all together into a close knit unit and afterward, Cole may be able to make his dreams reality.
Heart of the Ozarks “kiss” excerpt
Cole’d almost forgotten how pleasant kissing a woman he cared about could be until he kissed Maggie.
Her lips yielded to his unexpected kiss, warm and silky beneath his mouth. Something sparked between them, old and familiar but new too. The kiss kindled desire, his want surging strong and rich through Cole’s body and with it, he felt renewed. Fiery electricity danced through his nervous system, tingling and reviving him. When Maggie touched him and placed her hands on his body she stirred the embers almost faded in the ashes of his soul. His living force within soared, catching fire with a whoosh rocketing from his feet to his head.
Cole didn’t think, just experienced. He inhaled the essence of her shampoo, caught a whiff of her perfume, and tasted lingering coffee on her lips. Her slender body shifted so she stood so close a thin sheet of paper couldn’t pass between them and warmth filled the space. His years, the months of tragic induced agony, the maturity of his third decade, more than halfway to his fourth melted like candy in the rain until Cole felt the wild, heady intoxication of youth. A carnal yearning rose in him like a wild animal’s need to mate and yet something else tempered, a caring sense of connection. He wanted to ravish her and yet nurture her, all at once. He ached to use her like a whore and own her but deeper, Cole longed to become one with her, to twine not just bodies but merge souls.
He deepened the kiss until his tongue worked into her mouth and Maggie moved the rest of the way until her breasts rubbed his chest. She made a soft little mew of pleasure and he knew he could have her, take her there on the living room couch, her body supported against the pillows she’d chosen at Wal-Mart or JC Penney’s. He didn’t doubt it and because he knew, he didn’t. Cole let the kiss wind down, slow and easy. He allowed one of his hands to crawl from her back to fondle her full breasts with a gentle caress. He almost lost control again when she arched her back like a satisfied kitten but he eased back to normal, his breath a little quick and grinned at her. Maggie smiled back with an unfocused gaze. She looked the way he felt when he came out of a movie he’d really gotten involved with, dreamy until he walked into the sunlight and a jolt of reality.
“Oh, Cole,” she breathed, her tone filled with appreciation and what he thought might be affection.
“I guess you liked it,” he said, without planning. “I’m glad. I thought you might slap my face for that.”
Maggie laughed with a musical quality so sweet it ramped up his blood pressure a few notches. “I wouldn’t,” she told him, “But, oh, Cole.”
She shook her head and her hair floated around her shoulders in a cloud. “I’ve been ready for you to kiss me again for twenty years but I don’t know if you are.”
His scarred heart skipped a beat. Hell, he wasn’t sure either but he wanted to be and just that alone equaled a miracle. “If you’d asked me a week ago,” he said, “I’d have said no way. Yesterday I’d thought maybe in a distant future.”
“What about now?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “But I want to find out.”
She’d always been mercurial, a creature of many moods and faces so he wasn’t surprised when she put her hands against his chest and said, eyes smoldering, “Kiss me again and see what happens.”
Cole almost did but rational thought stayed him. “If I do,” he told her, without any bullshit, “I won’t be able to stop this time at just a kiss.”
Maggie’s eyes met his and hers were filled with the naked yearning of a hungry bird and the innocent trust of a pet bunny rabbit. “I don’t care, Cole. I want you.”
Everything he longed for in this moment she offered but he shook his head. “I want you, Maggie, in every way a man can want a woman but it’s not the right time. If we do this now, it’ll end up bad. You’re vulnerable and the last thing I want to do is hurt you, honey.”
“I might without meaning to do it,” he said, his voice husky with emotion. “We’ve brought something to life so let’s don’t ruin it before it has time to grow. We’ll be together when its right, I promise.”
Tears shimmered in her eyes and he thought she’d cry but Maggie didn’t. She nodded and put her fingers against his cheek. “You’re being sensible, I guess, Cole. Just tell me it’ll be soon.”
“God, yes,” he said with feeling, enough she laughed.
Book trailer: http://youtu.be/ODVN6JBH-Xo