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Authors: Lane, Aubree

Tahoe blues

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Tahoe Blues

by

Aubree Lane

 

 

 

Published by Aubree Lane

 

Copyright © 2014 Aubree Lane

 

All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

 

Special Thanks

 

My greatest appreciation goes out to my family. My husband and two sons are my life and my love for them is unmatched, even by my characters.

 

To the crazy ladies who support me almost unconditionally, and kick my butt when I need it. I’d say more, but what happens in the CLS, stays in the CLS.

 

To Colleen Hendon and the tiny seed she planted which grew into Tahoe Blues.

 

To my Street Team, Lane’s Lunatics. Ten of these awesome Looneys read an advanced copy of Tahoe Blues and gave me the confidence to keep going. Leslie Hansford, Tina Peterson, Robin Driscoll, Elaina Grambo, Danielle Peterson, Milissa Cheslog, Jan Murphree, Kimberly DeFabio, Nancy Overhiser Zerdin and Rochelle Pritchett. I love you ladies. Thank you.

 

To RE Hargrave for hooking me up with the great, JC Clarke, ofGrafix Mommawho designed my magnificent cover.Thank you JC!

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Connect with Aubree Lane

Also by Aubree Lane

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

The opulence of the Grand Ballroom of the Cascade Bay Resort and Casino jumped out and smacked Cara in the face for the very last time. Cara Lee Greene Alexander, soon to simply be Cara Lee Greene, had just arrived to host her final event as the wife of Duncan Alexander.

Duncanand the rest of the Alexander family had yet to arrive, and that suited Cara perfectly. She had several small details to attend to before the gala was scheduled to begin, and she wasn’t up for another round of Duncan’s soft voice beckoning, his bedroom eyes seducing, or another woman on his arm smiling her secret smile.

Duncan waspart of the wealthiest family on the Nevada side of North Lake Tahoe, and he was probably the hottest man alive. Unfortunately, it had been those same qualities which had brought about the end of their marriage. Women loved toassociatewith the newly crowned King of Tahoe and owner of the Cascade Bay Resort and Casino, and Cara’s privileged husband had become far too accommodating.

Duncan couldn’t keep it in his pants if his life depended on it, and Cara was tired of trying to make the best of a bad situation. Her self-esteem had taken a brutal beating. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t enough for Duncan, but that wasn’t what killed their marriage. It dissolved into dust the day Cara realized, Duncan was no longer enough for her.

The final strawcame crashing down when she walked in on him and the latest one of his Blackjack dealing Barbies. Inside the walls of the sacred family compound, the couple had been completely nude and quite energetic under the covers of the couple’s bed. As their only safe haven from the glitz and glamor of casino life, Cara thought would have been off limits.

The redhead was just one of a long line of immoral, insecure, boob-jobs willing to share her goods. But this time Duncan had made it all too clear he didn’t give a damn about how many foot prints he left on Cara’s back as he trampled across their wedding vows.

Cara hadalmost grown numb to his dalliances. She had checked out of their marriage ages ago, but Duncan’s blatant lack of respect for her or any aspect of their union rammed home, in more ways than one, the fact that their marriage was over.

Caracalmly walked over and pulled her suitcase out from under the bed and began packing. Through the groans and moans of passion, Cara was unobserved for several moments. When the couple came up for air and noticed she was in the room, the boob-job began to blubber, and Duncan scrambled to assure Cara the piece of ass under him didn’t mean a thing.

Stoic and silent, Cara ignored the commotion around her and gathered her belongings. By the time she hit the bathroom to dump her toiletries and cosmetics into a large beach tote, the redhead was history and Duncan finally had his pantspulled back on. Cara couldn’t help but notice how his thighs were pumped a little larger than usual due to the vigorous activity he had just engaged in.

He leanedhis six foot frame in the doorway, his pants loose and unzipped around his hips. Duncan had decided to go commando, and Cara let her gaze drop to the ‘V’ which led to the ‘P’ and released a disgusted huff. Those trim, tight muscles that ran along his hip bones were capable of driving way too many women crazy.

Hisarms were crossed over his bare chest, and his messy sun-tinted amber hair brushed the lashes of his golden eyes. Once upon a time Cara had truly loved the man standing so handsomely before her, but Duncan had destroyed it.

Somewhere inside Cara knewshe had to be partially to blame for their failed marriage, but for the life of her, she couldn’t fathom what she had possibly done to deserve this.

She shook her head andhuffed sarcastically, “You aren’t seriously going to try to convince me to stay?”

Duncan’s overconfident grin curved at the corners of his soft lips. His face hadbeen freshly shaven, and Cara knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the encounter with the Blackjack bitch had been planned and executed flawlessly. It left her wondering if he intended for her to catch them.

When he spoke his voice came outlike silk and it was laden with sexual overtones. He reached out and gently touched her cheek. “Babe,” he cajoled. “Don’t make me beg. You know I can’t live without you.”

Caranarrowed her eyes and glared at him. His overconfident, self-assured attitude made her ill. The urge to punish him for all the hurt and humiliation she endured during their marriage was overwhelming. Cara drew in a calculated breath and let the tension flow out of her body. Her gaze softened. She looked deeply into his eyes and stepped into his waiting arms.

Victory was written all over Duncan’s face. Hissultry eyes closed, and when he leaned his philandering lips down to meet hers, Cara grinned. Her eyes narrowed. She was now the predator, and she had him within her sights. Cara forcefully drew her leg up and bashed her knee into the heart of his cheating-ass groin.

Cara leftDuncan doubled over, clutching the source of his virility in pain and cursing profusely.

 

The following day she filed for divorce, and from that day forward, all contact with the Alexander family had been kept strictly on a professional level. Cara had already committed to running the annual charity gala for the Blue Tahoe Blue Foundation, and she agreed to honor that one final obligation. As a Biology Professor at the University at Tahoe City, located just over the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, Cara was in charge of undergraduate research of invasive species in Lake Tahoe. Keeping the lake healthy had always been at the top of Cara’s priorities and the gala had been responsible for raising an exorbitant amount of money for exactly that purpose.

Next year Duncan’s sister wouldbe called upon to carry the load.

Cara and Drew had never been close, and Duncan’s twin had taken Cara’s abandonment as a slap in the face to the entire family. Leaving the gala in her sister-in-law’s incapable hands made Cara uncomfortable. The charity function meant a lot to her, but she wouldn’t be surprised if Drew ended up deliberately sabotaging its success just to get back at her.

It didn’t matter if it was Drew’s intent or not. The reality was that with Drew in charge, the gala’s days were numbered, and Cara had to find a way to let it go.

 

Looking around the ballroom, Cara could see the crystal clear water and the tips of the snow-capped mountains out of every single window that banked the back wall of the stately room. It wasn’t the majestic view which took her breath away, it was her own reflection.

Carawas happy. The smile on her face would not leave. In a sudden burst of joyfulness, Cara twirled happily around in the gorgeous smoke-gray, above the knee cocktail dress. She ran her hands down the silky material and gave her best friend a mental high five for forcing her to wear one of her creations instead of the bare-assed beaded disaster Duncan had purchased for her.

Cara searched the room for thehigh-priestess of Tahoe’s fashion scene. Leah Jefferson Bailey owned a small boutique, which showcased her own designs. She carried other local wears as well, but she was queen of her own tiny castle. The months preceding the annual Alexander Gala was her busy season. Gowns from Leah’s shop were always in high demand, but every spring business boomed. The quarter preceding the gala was Leah’s Christmas. The business she did during that time dictated whether she would make it or break it for the rest of the year.

Her shopwas small, but it was also mighty.

Theonly other major player in town was Bellissimo Abito, where Duncan had purchased the extravagant, sheer, floor-length light blue number with the plunging neckline. Cara was pretty sure some glue would have been needed to keep the girls from falling out. Made mostly of mousseline, the majority of the wearer’s skin would be visible under the delicate sheer fabric. If it hadn’t been for the precise placement of a variety of sequins and beads cascading down the bodice in a C-shape, covering the breast and pelvic region, the wearer could probably be arrested for indecent exposure.

Thewhore gown was more suited for one of Duncan’s casino show girls and Cara suspected her loving husband had one particular Blackjack dealer in mind when he picked it out for her.

Bellissimo Albitohad been after Leah for the last several years to sell out and come on as one of their designers. If Leah had her way, it would be a cold day in hell before that happened.

Leah had paid a price for turning her nose up at Bellissimo Abito. They had a substantial amount of resources and had used their influence to turn up the heat and try to force Leah into accepting their offer.

Suddenly, Leah’s creditors were not quite so understanding if she happened to be a day or two late with a payment, and her advertisements in the local media wound up buried within the pages, smaller than ordered, or forgotten altogether. When she complained, her money was quickly refunded with an apology, but Leah knew that Bellissimo Abito had begun to play hardball.

Hard times were coming. Leah suspected that soon her suppliers would dump her or begin delaying her shipments. She had made it through the gala season practically unscathed, but Leah didn’t think it would be the same story next year.

 

All thoughts of Leah and the problems she faced disappeared when she caught sight of one of the artists who had created and donated a sculpture specifically for tonight’s benefit auction. Brett Boden was dressed in a pair of well-worn jeans and a white t-shirt. Cara and Brett had known each other for years and had become good friends. She suspected the good looking older man, with a penchant for old television sit-coms, who actually treated her with respect, might have a little crush on her.

After she walked out on Duncan, Brett had offered herthe use of his spare room above his studio. She had been tempted to take him up on it, but although she was very fond of Brett and had spent many recent evenings with him watching his favorite old-time black and white programs as she tried to stay out of Leah’s way, Cara knew moving in with another man would cause more problems than it would solve. Bunking with Leah until she found a place of her own was a far better option.

Over the past few weeks, when time constraints allowed, Carawas playing a subtle match-maker between Brett and Leah. She would call Brett over to pick her up from Leah’s to give them a few moments to get to know each other in a non-threatening environment, or when Brett called to ask Cara to lunch, she would have him bring enough food over for both her and Leah. The few hours Cara managed to wrangle for the three of them to spend together had successfully sparked Brett and Leah’s interest in each other, and although neither of her friends said anything, Cara suspected they had begun to spend a little time together on their own.

Carasmiled at the thought of a Brett and Leah union. She could envision them combining their studios and showrooms. In Cara’s humble opinion, the two were meant for each other. Leah would add structure to Brett’s chaotic lifestyle, and Brett would help loosen up Leah’s tight constraints. With his wealth and prestige, he would probably be able to help Leah with her suppliers as well.

When it came to his art, Cara gaveBrett a huge amount of leeway to accommodate his eccentricities, but wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the gala was taking it too far. He had an image to present this evening, and that of an unconventional renegade artist was not it.

“Brett Boden!” she called out, wagging her finger in his direction. “This is a formal event! Guests will be arriving soon and this,” she scowled, waving her finger up and down his apparel, “is not part of the dress code.”

Brett brushed off her rebufflightly. “Quit worrying about your little ball thing. My tux is in the car.” He shot her a cheeky smirk. “I’m just polishing my piece.”

Brett had a vernacular all his own, and Cara couldn’t help but smile at the latest of the never ending stream of sexual innuendos which fell out of his mouth. He loved to tease her about how seriously she took this event by calling the prestigious Alexander Gala aball thing, but Cara knew how to exact her revenge. She exhaled dramatically and rubbed the palms of her hands excitedly together. “Where’s your statue? I can’t wait to see it.”

Brett chuckled and nodded his graying temples appreciatively. “Mysculptureis right over there.” he corrected her with a grin. He winked, then bent long at the waist and sent a dramatic arm flourish in the direction of the auction enclave.

Carawas dying to see Brett’s creation. He had been uncharacteristically coy this year. No information about his sculpture had been forthcoming, which left the description in the program nonexistent. Cara was forced to write about his latest successes instead.

 

Internationally renowned sculptor, Brett Boden, first place in the annual Carve Tahoe snow sculpting contest for his rendition of Fire Goddess.

 

She ended it with a tease about how they would all have to wait and be surprised as to what Brett planned for the gala this year.

It irritated her, but no amount of coercion would get Brett to give heras much as a hint. To get his goat, Cara threatened to take the wordInternationalout of his description. His art was basically only known in the Western United States and Canada, but since that would defeat the purpose of acquiring the best price possible for his donation, she reined in her spite and let the program go to press unedited.

Of course, shedidn’t let Brett know she hadn’t followed through with her threat.

 

Immense disappointment made the smile, which had clung happily to her face, fall away the moment she walked through the ornamental archway. Cara could not believe the monstrosity in front of her was a Brett Boden design. She stood frozen, her mouth agape. The form in front of her was like nothing she had ever seen before. It was an amalgam of metals reaching skyward in a mass of swirls and curves.

Cara didn’t claim to bean art critic, but she knew as she studied the atrocity before her that Brett had hit a low point in his career. “Wow!” was all she could think to say.

Brett’s eyes twinkled, but instead of being insulted, he looked as though he was trying not to laugh. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like it? I used your eyeball door as inspiration.”

Cara nodded. The door at her new apartment was a sight. Gaudy described it perfectly. It was made of solid mahogany and carved under about fifty layers of glossy dark lacquer was a giant bulging eye, spying from both inside and out. The monster reminded Cara of an eerie nineteen-twenty’s fortunetelling machine whose marquee read,The Eye Sees All. The only good thing was it made her new apartment easily distinguishable from all the other units at Granite Gates Estates.

Carashot Brett an incredulous look, then stared blankly back at the statue. “I appreciate art, and I know what I like. For the sake of tonight’s success, I hope someone out there appreciates your work, but I have to be honest with you, this is not one of my favorites.” She looked a little closer and touched the smooth edge of the curves. “And other than the fact that they are both a piece of work,” she commented with her eyes slightly crossed, “I’m not sure I get the relationship to my front door.”

Brett choked back his mirth and tried to explain, “I know a hotel right down the road from the Santa Cruz, Beach and Boardwalk, where I’m sure your parents must have taken you when you were a kid. It’s just south of San Francisco on the California coast. Both the hotel and the boardwalk were built in the same era, and the hotel has the same exact doors as the one on your apartment.” Brett swiped his hand skyward. “If you look closely at my sculpture, you’ll be able to see my interpretation of the Giant Dipper.”

Cara knew the Santa Cruz area well. She and her parents had made it a frequent vacation spot while she was growing up in the Sonoma wine country of California. The Giant Dipper was one of the few remaining wooden roller coasters in the United States, and Cara had enjoyed many days racing up the enclosed ramp. Her child eyes had been in awe of the black and white portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, and many other celebrities whose names she could no longer recall.

Thethought of the Giant Dipper could still elicit the feeling of excitement. Cara loved being sandwiched between her mom and dad and watching the safety bar close down upon their laps. She smiled, remembering how she would scream joyfully at the top of her lungs as the ride chugged through the dark tunnel before it burst out into the sunlight and whipped them around the first curve.

Cara couldalmost feel her father’s hand on her shoulder, keeping her body safe inside the car. With her arms raised high in the air, she would squeal with delight at the surprise dip in her tummy when the ride plunged down from the highest peak.

Bythe third or fourth trip around the track, Cara’s head would feel woozy, and she would no longer be able to speak due to all the high-pitched shrieking and laughing she had done.

Caratilted her head and tried to see some semblance of her favorite coaster. If she really stretched her imagination, she could make out the curves and movement of the giant ride. “I kind of see it,” she struggled, “but what’s that thing in the middle?”

“It’s Laffin’ Sal!”

Cara shook her head at the frenzied mass. “Who?”

“Thatfreakazoid robotic laughing clown. She used to greet all the visitors from high up in the tower as you entered from the pier. Now she’s a valuable antique and is enclosed in glass near the miniature golf course.” Brett saw her confusion and shook his head. “Come on, how could you not remember her? She was really loud. The lady never stopped laughing, and its freckled face and missing tooth were a little creepy.”

Cara noddedin agreement. Brett had successfully captured the creepy part. “I know the Boardwalk. I’ve ridden the Giant Dipper, but Laughing Sal?” She shook her head. “We’ve never met.”

No longer able to contain his merriment, Brett spurt out, “Laffin’ Sal, not Laughing Sal.” He wrapped his arm across her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, art is subjective, but I bet my piece sells for more than any other item at tonight’s auction.”

His eyes practically sparkled with joy. Brett obviously had something up his sleeve, but for the life of her Cara couldn’t figureout what it could be. His design was hideous. She doubted it would even sell, let alone bring in the highest bid. “I’ll take that bet.” She reached her hand out to shake his. “How about five bucks?”

Brett’s graying temples and surprised green eyes rearedback. “Five whole dollars. We’re not feeling very confident are we?”

Her eyes narrowedsuspiciously and Cara snickered, “Somehow you have the inside track on this one, and since I’m pretty sure I’m being taken for a ride...” she paused and poked his ribs good-naturedly as she played off his roller coaster theme, “that is all I’m willing to wager. Take it or leave it.”

Brett grabbed her tickling fingers and gave her hand a quick shake. “Deal. I think I can almost buy a six pack with that.”

“Probably closer to a four pack,” Cara giggled, “but enough of this playing around, finish up and get changed. Guests are starting to arrive.”

Brett pulled out his phone. “I just needa few pics to add to my portfolio and I’m done.

Hopingbeyond hope, she looked at the statue one last time and prayed tonight’s guests would appreciate Brett’s artistic lopsided interpretation of a roller coaster. She walked away and prayed they would also be willing to fork over a ton of charitable cash for the privilege of having Laffin’ Sal and her missing front tooth stare back at them for the rest of their lives.

Leah rushed up beside her with a conspirer’s smilegrinning from ear to ear on her pixie round face. “Do you think she’ll show up?”

Caradrew in a quick breath and pursed her lips together. She didn’t want to think about that. Cara was typically a goody-two-shoes, but the day she tried on the gown from Bellismimo Abito for Leah, the devilish duo had come up with a fiendish plan. Since the see-through frock looked more like something designed for use in one of the shows the casino produced, Cara and Leah drunkenly decided it was far more appropriate for Duncan’s new redheaded girlfriend, and sent it over to Cascade Bay for her. They made it appear as if the gift had come from Duncan.

If Cara could do it over, she would have simply burned it in her new apartment complex’s communal fire pit. She and Leah had made their way through a couple of pitchers of margaritas, and it seemed like the perfect form of poetic justice. The note they enclosed with the gown did not mention Cara’s soon-to-be-ex in anyway, but the intent was clear. Duncan wanted Lisa Hill, Blackjack dealer extraordinaire, to come to the gala, and he wanted her to wear the gorgeous gown purchased from one of the most exclusive stores in town.

Caragrabbed Leah’s arm and pulled her into a safe corner and out of earshot of any of the catering and serving staff who milled around the ballroom. “Shhhh,” Cara whispered sharply. “The moment Barbie walks through that door, Duncan will know exactly what we’ve been up to. I wish we’d sobered up before we shipped it over to the tramp.” Cara lifted her chin and held her head high. “But since we didn’t, I hope Lisa, Blackjack, Hill waits until the dancing is in full swing before she makes her grand entrance. Then I can give Duncan one final sickly sweet smile and walk out of those ostentatious ten foot high doors and never cross the threshold again.” The two women walked back out into the main hall and Cara continued, “I’ll drop my keys off at the main desk and be done with this family forever. I’m not even waiting around to see how well the auction does this evening.”

Leah batted the long lashes of herviolet eyes in Cara’s direction. “You, relinquishing control? I’ve never seen that before,” she teased. Then she scrunched her nose and backed away. “Tell me you’re not going to do the First Couple dance with Duncan again. It was absurd when you were happily married, now it’s just plain ludicrous.”

“Sorry to disappoint you girlfriend,” Cara said consolingly, “it was a concession I made with Duncan’s mother. I would dance with her son one final time, and Inga would introduce me as herlovely Cara, and not as her daughter-in-law.”

Leah’s eyes turned bright. “Speaking of the family, where is that luscious Mark Porter hiding out these days? I’m sure he’s left Drew by now and is in need of a little comfort. I can hardly wait for you to officially introduce us.”

Cara shook her head and chuckled. “You aren’t going to like the answer to that question either. He and Drew are still trying to make a go of it.”

“Too bad,” Leah sighed. “He is one good looking security guard, and you know how I love a man in uniform.”

Cara suppressed the urge to roll her eyes.Mark was head of security at the Cascade Bay, and the only uniform he wore was of the three-piece variety. He was always meticulously dressed, and the only clue that he was anything other than a perfect gentleman was the occasional bruising on his knuckles.

Once in a great while, her brother-in-law’s rugged jawline would be slightly swollen when a rowdy guest was lucky enough to get in a punch as he was escorted out the door. But Cara knew, and apparently Leah did too, that under his slick exposure, Mark was a solid mass of muscle. He and Duncan worked out together, almost on a daily basis. While Duncan worked on perfecting his nearly flawless physique, Mark worked on gaining the strength and speed he needed for his volatile line of work.

Other thanDuncan’s mother, Mark was the only person in the entire Alexander family who understood her situation. Duncan and Cara had been idiotically referred to as Duncara by the local press, and their photos had been snapped a million times on their way to and from, the endless functions the hot Tahoe couple had attended. Months before their official split, the deterioration of their relationship had already been well documented.

Picturesof Mark escorting a visibly upset Cara home while Duncan stayed to play had dotted the gossip sites, blasted through the blogs, and trended on twitter. Mark had done his best to protect Cara from the paparazzi of the small town, but he had been defenseless against their new high-powered lenses and the distance they were now able to keep.

To his credit,Mark had never spoken a word against his brother-in-law, but the scowl on his face when Duncan instructed him to take Cara home, or his jacket draped over her chilly shoulders to guard against the mountain chill, and his warm comforting embrace when Cara could no longer hold it together, spoke volumes. Cara knew Mark would remain her friend and would be there for her if she ever needed him.

 

Cara tried to stem the hurt she suffered at Duncan’s hand from creeping in and spoiling the joy she felt earlier. She stood up just a little taller and squared her shoulders. She swore right then and there that she would never wonder about a man’s faithfulness again. The moment the thought crossed her mind that the hand placed in the small of another woman’s back was anything other than an innocent gesture, she would be gone.

Leahpulled Cara out of her mounting melancholy when she shouted, “Holy Mother Mary! That man cleans up nice.”

Cara looked to see who Leah was referring to and found herselfhaving to do a double take. “That’s the maintenance man at my new apartment complex!” The Armani suit he wore had been tailored to fit his form perfectly. Unlike Duncan and Mark, Cara knew TJ Reed’s muscles had been built on hard work, and Cara knew for a fact that the man knew how to use his tools. Cara found herself admiring his strength and grace on more than one occasion as he dug a flower bed in front of her elderly neighbor’s picture window, or as he renovated the empty unit across the way. His tight t-shirts hugged his chest, and the weight of his tool belt pulled his loose fitting jeans down a little lower than they would normally ride.