THE CURSE OF THE CARNAVAL…an Epic Nominee

 5 Stars!  “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter Adie returns once more to Cozumel for a friend’s wedding. Before the first toasts can be made in honor of the happy couple, Adie is being considered as the prime suspect in the brutal murder of one of the other members of the wedding party. Adie is in the worst trouble of her life and, despite her misgivings, she must seek the help of the very powerful and very sexy Diego Alvarez. Nothing would make Diego happier than to claim Adie for his own, but Adie has managed to fall completely for Wolf. Now she must sort out the mysterious murder of a man that nearly everyone hated, keep herself out of a Mexican jail, and wind up with the right man in her life.

I’ve really enjoyed the progress of Adie’s character and her relationships. I can’t wait for the fourth book.” Michelle Stinson Ross, Florida


“Adie’s back and it’s hotter than ever, way hotter. And far more dangerous.”

 I couldn’t wait to open up THE CURSE OF THE CARNAVAL and revisit Adie. Ms. Amor does exactly what a read should do…takes me away from everything. This time my escape is with heat, murder, mystery, and oh no he isn’t.

 It’s easy to retell what a book is about, but it can be extremely difficult to tell why you recommend it. This series is a fun getaway. There’s no pretense to being anything other than a good old-fashion romp…both romantic and adventure. I do hope Ms. Amor and her publisher takes this as the positive I mean it to be. For me a book should entertain me. I should be able to hear, smell, feel the environment and hear the characters. Ms. Amor is successful in all these. I’ve not been disappointed and I look forward to more of these energy-charged reads. Oh, and I’ve decided, I want Adie to pick Diego. He might only be interested in Adie because she won’t fall into bed with him, but I think there’s genuineness to him. Wolf, he’s a touch too easy with his dealings with those female barracudas chasing him. Thanks for the escape, Ms. Amor.ChrisChat Reviews  http://www.freewebs.com/chrischatreviews/


4 Stars ” Anastasia Amor has a way of writing that keeps you wondering just who is the murderer. This is the third book in the Adie Sturm Mystery series. If you have not read the first two, then I highly recommend finding them also. Her books  are… sensual…an excellent suspense read …” —Readersfavorite.com


 “If you haven’t picked up one of Anastasia’s books, do so. You won’t be disappointed. There’s all kinds of action, mystery, and romance!”  Carol DuBue, Ottawa, Ontario


THE CURSE OF THE CARNAVAL:  

SEDUCTION…GREED…BETRAYAL….Cozumel’s Carnaval—parties, sheiks and pirates. A killer behind a mask. Framed for murder, martial artist Adie Sturm is guilty until proven innocent.

When Adie investigates a nudist resort, a romantic get-away proves to be a treacherous set-up. The walls close in. The police want to pin it on Adie. Delicious men like chocolate battle to free her. But someone is lying. A friend could be a murderer and a lover could betray her. It’s a race against time as the killer pushes Adie into a tight trap with no way out.

 


Chapter  1

Dark-red blood dripped on my toe.

It rolled under the double strap of my sandal and hid camouflaged by the scarlet leather strap. Like a bottle of rich cab-merlot carelessly spilled, the blood pooled at my feet. Crimson droplets speckled the oak grain of the table. But there was so much more…on the couch…on the white marble floor. Puddles of red rain.

A sickly-sweet smell permeated the room. Someone had draped the man’s face and chest with a white fluffy towel the edges brushing the floor. A shroud no longer white. Blood-soaked terry cloth.

It wasn’t a question of whether help should be called. Not anymore. No one could lose that much blood and live. Gulping down the bile rising in my throat, I brought my hand to my mouth and backed away to the entrance.

* * *

Hours ago…

 I’d been standing with Janine on the powdery-white beach of the Primavera Hotel—the most exclusive hotel on theislandofCozumel.

“Not a problem,” I said. “I’m going up to change anyway. I’ll get the garter for you. Promise.” I was wearing the requested silver-metallic bikini—not the usual bridesmaid attire by a long shot.

“Thanks, girlfriend.” Janine grinned widely. “If you weren’t right next door, I wouldn’t have asked. Our rooms are in the other building. But take your time, no hurry. Dean said he’d take a nap before the real party begins.”

I touched her arm. “I’m so sorry I arrived too late. There was an engine malfunction inToronto. I was afraid I wouldn’t get here till tomorrow. When I got in, I rushed over to the beach but the ceremony was already over. You forgive me?”

“No worries, Adie. Everything else went as scheduled. It was out of your control.” Staring out at theCaribbean, she murmured under her breath, “Sometimes things are.”

When I’d met Janine a few months ago, I’d been entranced by her vivacious personality. She was like a beautiful colorful bird, flitting about, chirping happily. Now I sensed an underlying sadness. This wasn’t the Janine I knew.

I gave her shoulders a little squeeze. “Don’t think about anything except your happiness today, Janine. After all, it is your wedding day and we’re all here to celebrate it.”

Her fist tightly clenched her gold cover-up. Looking down at her hand, she loosened her grip. “I’m so lucky you’re here. Without you, I don’t think it would have been quite the same.”

 “We haven’t been friends long, but I feel a connection. Know what I mean?”

“Mm-mm, me too, Adie. Sam is a little jealous of you.” Janine glanced at my silver string bikini. “She wanted the silver. I had to persuade her that the bronze was better with her coloring.”

“You’ve known her a long time, haven’t you?”

“We went to school together, took trips everywhere, and now,” Janine frowned, “she works for Dean.”

“Well, don’t worry, we’ll get along fine, I’m sure. You and Jim couldn’t have picked a better time to get married.”

“Yep, it should be a great party. I heard the Carnaval is just like the Mardi Gras.”

I nodded. “Not quite as risqué but still a fantastic party. It’s perfect planning for me to be here now, Janine. My latest research for the agency is the Carnaval. If I see enough interesting stuff, I’ll be back next year with a tour group.”

“Interesting it’ll be.”

When she clenched her jaw, I started to worry. For a newlywed, she lacked the sparkle I would have expected. But what did I know? My last fiancé had run away with my money and given it to his other fiancée. Hopefully, my instincts about men had improved.

Janine’s clear gray eyes shot over to the reception hall where the sultry beat of a salsa drifted over. “Yep, the Carnaval will be a big bash. Should make the honeymoon fun. Tell Dean it’s on the table near the door, Adie.”

“Okay.”

“Got to go. They probably need me in there. See you in a while?”

I nodded.

Janine sashayed away in her glittery gold bikini. That’s what she’d worn for her wedding ceremony. In the end, Don, Janine’s uncle, had persuaded her to drop the idea of an all nude ceremony on the beach. Even he, a laid-back sort of teddy bear fromCalifornia, had drawn the line on that idea.

I dug out a translucent silver paraeo from my bag and tied it low on my hips. It was getting cooler with the sun near the horizon. The turquoise waters of theCaribbeanlapped the shore, sparkling lavender in the rays of the setting sun. Shadows from the palm fronds danced on the empty beach. Or was it empty?

A tall athletic man stood silhouetted near the water’s edge. As I drew near I saw him more clearly. My heart skipped a beat. A black, short-sleeved shirt covered his wide shoulders and hung open, displaying his strong chest and flat abs. Gold rays from the sun lent a glowing halo effect to his ruffled blond hair.

Wolf’s lips turned up into a slow smile that spoke of secret pleasures. “Adie,” he called out softly, “you made it.”

My pulse raced wildly.

He strode confidently towards me, an untamed panther inspecting his jungle territory.

Electricity filled the air.

“Flight delay,” I managed to whisper. I gazed up at a man who oozed sexuality with every breath.

His cool blue eyes met mine. “It’s been too long.” His voice was husky. With his finger he traced my lips. “We need to talk, but first…” He wrapped his arms around me and bent his head down to mine. His full lips pressed against my yielding mouth. Liquid fire surged from somewhere deep within me. I returned his burning message. My world ceased to exist. I lost myself in his kiss. Every part of me longed to remain in this state of borderless bliss—forever.

His tongue explored the tender inside of my lip, while mine caressed his in a soulful, slow rhythm. I felt the warmth of his body through his silk shirt. Under the thin material of my bikini my nipples swelled to hard peaks.

My hands had a will of their own. Stroking his powerful arms, I let my hands slide down to his narrow waist. Under his shirt my hand lightly skimmed over his velvety skin. His familiar scent of soap and balmy ocean breeze assailed my nostrils. I pressed myself against him. His energy flowed through my body until it almost hurt for me to release him.

Brushing my hair away, he breathed lightly in my ear. His tongue discovered the contours, teasing me with each touch. Delightful quivers raced down my spine. I sighed softly.

Taking my hand, he kissed my wrist and journeyed over the palm of my hand to my ring finger. “Missed you.” He pushed the tip of my finger into his mouth and sucked it.

Tingles ripped down my body. Wolf Du Lac was my sea god—unforgettable.

His sapphire eyes shot flames into my spirit. “I have a proposition for you.”

“Um-mm.” His words flustered me. It had been months since we’d been together. He was familiar yet strange. I tightened my arms around his waist again and felt the warmth of his body.

“Tonight,” he whispered in my ear, “I want to be with you.”

I closed my eyes, relaxing in his arms. “There’s the reception.”

“That’ll be over soon enough.” Wolf took hold of my face. “I want to give you pleasure, princess.”

My pulse raced at his nearness, yet I resisted. I let my brain take over. Having graduated from the school of hard knocks, I hesitated. “Wolf, we should go in. I’m already feeling bad, having missed the wedding ceremony.”

“Don’t. You made it here and even if you hadn’t, they still managed to get married without you.” Wolf grinned. “Forget them. Think about us. You’ve been away too long, babe.” He gazed seriously at me. “I’m making it my own personal challenge to see that you feel exceptionally good on this trip.” Taking my hand, he steered me up the path to the hotel. “From this point on we’ll have a good time.”

I was having a good time—now that I was with him. Lustful thoughts danced in my head. I wondered how I could make it through the reception without imagining that buff bod against me.

Through the patio doors, I could see the party crowd, wearing a mishmash of outfits from bathing suits to t-shirts and jeans. With the doors open, mariachi music blasted out. From the loud buzz of conversation I could tell the pitchers of margaritas served were having an effect.

Wolf searched the crowd before he brought his eyes back to me. “Before we go in, we need to talk…” He draped his arm around my shoulders. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

Someone brushed against me. I knew it was a woman from the light floral perfume that wafted in the air. I turned my head.

A brunette in a bikini covered by a gauzy sarong sidled up to Wolf. The kiss she landed on him was quick and friendly. “Wolf! The toasts have started. Where have you been?” Her forehead furrowed. “Janine and Jim have said their speech and I told them we’d be doing ours next.” Her brown eyes fixed on him. She sighed. “I hate this sort of thing, don’t you?”

It was obvious she knew him—perhaps too well.

“Yeah.” Wolf’s eyes flicked to me. “Adie, this is Sam—my ex.”

It was like a sudden blow to the head. Janine had told me her maid of honor was a school chum called Samantha but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined she was that Samantha.

“Sam, I’d like you to meet my friend, Adie,” Wolf said in way of introduction.

Samantha’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Nice to meet any friend of Wolf’s.” She gazed at his arm still draped on my shoulders. “So-oo,” she said brightly, “you’re dating again?”

“Adie and I go way back. Now that’s she back in Coz, I plan on spending as much time with her as I can.”

“Well, I hope you’ll have some nights reserved for me, too, honey.” She brought her hand to his windswept hair and pushed it back. “This is my first visit toCozumel. Remember? I haven’t seen any of the island. I would love to go dancing in the clubs.”

“I’m sure you’ll find any number of guides.”

Sam’s eyes shot to my silver bikini and matching paraeo. “Now I know who you are.” Her lip curled. “You’re Janine’s friend—the bridesmaid that didn’t show. Poor thing was so disappointed you missed the wedding. Where were you?”

I met her gaze steadily. “Flight delay.”

Samantha swept her dark bangs away with her shapely, long fingers. “Jan and I go way back—high school. When did you meet her?” She snatched up a cigarette from her bronze lamé clutch. Holding it between her teeth, she held up a lighter to her cigarette. Before she could click it on, Wolf took it from her and flicked it.

As she inhaled deeply, he answered her question. “We all met a few months ago.”

Samantha’s eyes pierced me like a knife. “Months? And she chose you to be a bridesmaid?” Smoke blew out through her nostrils in a hazy stream.

I didn’t feel much like it but I forced myself to play polite. “Janine and I hit it off at Don’s party and when she heard I was coming back to do some research for my job, she asked me to be her bridesmaid.”

“I was rounded up at the last minute too,” Wolf said, noting Samantha’s raised eyebrows. “Jim doesn’t know anyone here. That’s why I’m his best man.”

“I see.” She pursed her lips and took another drag, exhaling slowly. Her eyes took in Janine flirting with one of the waiters. “I was blown away when Jan decided to marry Jim.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s such a geek.” Sam placed her hand on Wolf’s arm. “When we were here together, she and JJ hooked up. Took off together for a few days—she stopped mid-sentence and shook her head as if in disbelief. “Jan’s a free spirit—always has been that way.” Sam turned to me. “You’ll excuse us, won’t you, er, I’ve forgotten your name.” Not waiting for a reply, she urged Wolf. “Come on. We’re wasting our time here. They want the maid of honor and the best man to start the toasts.”

Wolf kissed my lips. “Later, okay, Adie?”

I stared at him. Was that what he had wanted to tell me? Why hadn’t he e-mailed or phoned? I was cursed. I’d missed the wedding and even worse, the maid of honor turned out to be Wolf’s ex. Nothing had been right on this trip so far except for that special feeling I’d had in Wolf’s arms.

Watching them make their way to the center of the room, I wished I didn’t feel the way I did. Abandoned and alone. After all, Wolf and I were…”

Lovers? My Logical Voice laughed dryly. Only lovers, right? No matter how much you want him, it doesn’t matter, does it, if he’s not committed to you?

And watching them together was a definite slap-in-the-face—an unpleasant rude-awakening smack. But I wasn’t about to jump the gun on this. He’d just said he wanted to make love. They could be friends. People did manage that after a divorce.

At the front of the room, Samantha tapped her champagne glass. The crowd grew silent while she spoke imperiously about her very best friend, Janine. When she got to the part about being fellow cheerleaders, I zoned out. I had never been the popular type they chose for a cheerleader. It hadn’t even occurred to me to audition—I couldn’t manage a decent cartwheel. Besides, as far as I was concerned, high school was a cliquish hell-hole anyway.

“Have some champagne, Adelina,” a husky voice said softly into my ear.

I swiveled about. “Diego!” I was taken aback by mesmerizing brandy eyes in an exceptionally handsome face.

Hola, mi amor! You are radiant tonight! Silver is a beautiful color on you. But I’m not surprised. You would be resplendent in any color.” Diego placed a fluted glass in my hand and motioned. Like magic, a waiter appeared with a glass of champagne for him. Santiago Bolivar Alvarez flashed a show-stopping smile before he glanced at the speaker. “Samantha is an attractive woman,” he noted softly, “but not nearly a lovely as you, Adelina. Still, a man would have a hard time forgetting her.” He took up my hand and kissed it, his eyes sparkling with something indefinable. He added softly, “A divorced man like Wolf has baggage, mi amor. You don’t need him.”

I grimaced at the truth of his statement. I knew Wolf had been married for two years—two years I knew nothing about. I examined Sam’s confident demeanor, her hand tucked into the crook of Wolf’s arm. She was trying to prove a point to the women in the crowd. He was hers.

As he started his speech congratulating the happy couple, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Wolf was a sea god. His unbuttoned shirt displayed a muscular chest and taut abs. And he wasn’t top heavy either. Where his bathing trunks ended, his amazingly strong legs started. But it was his incredible face I was even more attracted to—irregular, rugged features combined in way that drew me in like a magnet.

“Perhaps they are too friendly, wouldn’t you agree?” Diego ran his fingers down a strand of my hair, lazily studying my face. “I, on the other hand, am available. No ties and a heart that beats only for you.” His hazel eyes sparkled hypnotically. “Are you staying at your condo tonight?”

His white silk shirt revealed a medallion that emphasized the shadows of his chest. Wavy dark hair fell on a high forehead. His face was perfect. In fact, the man was devastatingly handsome. I had to remind myself to breathe.

“Adelina?”

I shook my head, flustered by my body’s response. “No, I can’t. The bridal party is booked in here for tonight.”

Diego glanced around dismissively at the elegant décor. “It’s a reasonable hotel but surely you would be more comfortable at your condo?”

I did have a fabulous condo. Twice the size of my house back home and filled with expensive Italian furnishings, thanks to Diego.

You are so naive, My Logical Voice scoffed. Diego Alvarez is the richest man in Cozumel and you know what that condo means to him. He gave it to you conditionally. He wants to own you, along with his yacht, jet, and who knows what else. You’ve already got a man finer than chocolate and if you play your cards right he’s yours for keeps.

My mind bounced back to a man that ignited a flame inside me.

Diego slid his hand along my arm. “It has been readied for your arrival, mi amor.”

My Hormone Voice couldn’t help but take a jab at Logical: So what if she has Wolf? Any woman in her right mind would fall down on her knees and thank her lucky stars that a man like Diego wants her. This is Adie’s chance to taste Diego’s candy. Then she’ll know for sure if Wolf is the man for her.

I checked out Diego’s tight butt as he turned to say hello to a shapelyLatinain a green sundress. She smiled demurely and eyed him from beneath her lashes before she moved on.

“Delores Montalvo, my assistant,” he said, by way of explanation.

I nodded, wondering if he knew the woman had a thing for him. Across the room, Wolf raised his glass high for a toast. He called out, “To Janine and Jim. May they always be as happy as they are today.”

Diego clicked his glass to mine and whispered, “And to us.”

“Friends?”

Diego’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “Very good friends.”

There was a blast of music and a few guests hooted loudly as Janine and Jim took to the dance floor, grinding on each other in a wild merengue. Samantha pulled Wolf along with her to join them. The best man and maid of honor always danced next, didn’t they? But seeing Sam snatch him so possessively caught me off guard. I sipped my champagne a bit too quickly and a bubble of pain shot straight up my nose.

Massaging my forehead to ease the sensation, I watched them critically but could find no fault in the way they moved. Both tall and slim, they imparted style and grace to the merengue. Too bad the dance was meant to be crazy and fun.

“They’ll want you to join in. We shall dance together. Hopefully, they will be playing something else soon—something more romantic, but if not,” Diego shrugged, “we’ll dance and they’ll,” his eyes shot over to Wolf and Samantha, “take a back seat to us.”

“Hey, Adie!” a deep voice boomed behind me. Brown wavy hair and a cherubic face. Don Carrera—a man who gave teddy bears a run for their money. He squeezed me tightly to him. “What kept you, darlin’? Let me guess.” He chortled. “You met this buff dude on the plane and he wanted to start the Carnaval with a bang. So being a party girl yourself, you didn’t want to leave him sulking on a bar stool by his lonesome.” He nudged me. “Added him to your collection, did you?”

I rolled my eyes and was about to respond but Diego beat me to the punch.

“Adelina will set off sky rockets all right, my friend, but not till tomorrow. Picture it, Don.” Diego gazed dreamily into space, gesturing with one hand. “Adelina in a translucent gold costume. The spotlight on her—the other girls merely a backdrop to her beauty. In the center of the float, she stands, an angel—blonde hair flowing, those pouty lips smiling as she waves to the admiring masses. No woman on any float will equal her. The belle of the Carnaval.” Diego took my hand and kissed my wrist. “Will you honor me with your presence?”

I stared at him, puzzled. “You want me on your float? What do I have to do?”

“Help him drink his champagne and throw beads to the salivating men in the crowd.” Don guffawed loudly. “Diego’s got the best float in the parade. Royal Investments always does it up big time. He’s the sheik and I’ll bet you’re the lead harem girl!” He winked at Diego. “Am I right?”

Diego smiled apologetically. “Carmelita’s designer prepared the costumes and she had him prepare one especially for you. You’re not shy about showing your body, are you?” His eyes swept down my figure. “You shouldn’t be.”

“I’m not sure. I have to do some research for a tour group I’m bringing here for Carnaval.”

“Well, even more reason to say yes then, isn’t there?” Diego ran his fingers down a tendril of my hair and met my eyes. “Say you will, Adelinita. My sister will be so disappointed if you don’t join us. I know it’s last minute but Carmelita has gone to so much trouble…” He glanced over to Wolf and Samantha. “With this being your first Carnaval, what better place to view it than from on top of a float?”

I studied Samantha and Wolf’s movements—like graceful hawks, swooping high in the sky.

“My driver will pick you up at four and bring you to the Merida Hotel. Carmelita has reserved rooms 101 and 102 and one of the dining rooms. We’ll get dressed and have some dinner before the parade.” He ran his hand lightly down my arm. “Believe me, cariño, it will be a fiesta to remember.”

“I’ll be there too, darlin’, in my sheik costume. If I’m lucky one of those harem girls might be interested in sharing my tent, if you know what I mean.” Don winked. He turned to Diego. “Wolf comin’?”

Diego directed his gaze to the buffet table. Don was the first to spot my runaway lover. “My, my…” he remarked in amusement, “think he’ll have any hair left after she gets through with him?”

I had always loved the feel of Wolf’s blond hair—soft and silky. And now I wasn’t the one touching him. The cobra was cutting into my action, smoothing back a fallen strand of Wolf’s hair. Samantha wasn’t looking at the food either, unless she considered him one of the choices. I gritted my teeth in annoyance.

Don squeezed my shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry about her, Adie. She’s as fickle as Janine. Wolf isn’t rich enough for a gold digger like her.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“When my lovely sister, Terry, set her sights on Dean, Sam decided he should be hers. Those two fought tooth and nail for Dean and his mullah.”

“But Terry was the one who married him.”

“Yeah, she won the war, but she wasn’t enough for that bastard. He gave Sam a top-notch, executive job in his Woodbridge Branch as a consolation prize.”

Diego smiled at me. “What’s a man to do when he encounters two exciting women simultaneously?”

“Choose one?”

Diego rubbed my hand and smiled. “Sweet innocent Adelinita. Men would rather not commit unless they’re forced to. Dean wisely took both of them.”

“You’re saying Sam is Dean’s mistress?”

Don chortled. “You’ve got that right, darlin’. But she’s a free agent with a mind of her own.” He lowered his voice as he confided, saying, “Terry says the old dude’s a pervert anyway. She’s glad he’s got Sam. My sister’s way too civilized for his kinky scenes.”

“Oh?” Diego’s eyes traveled down the length of Sam’s slender frame.

“Where is Terry?” I asked, scanning the room for a curvaceous redhead.

Diego thrust his chin in the direction of the entrance. “There. See her? Beside the security guard.”

A lovely woman in a slinky red gown leaned against a bodybuilder in a black uniform in a way that suggested more than a casual acquaintance. Once again it surprised me how that dazzling Aphrodite and teddy bear Don came from the same gene pool.

“Excuse us, Don,” Diego said, taking my hand and leading me away to the dance floor where the music playing had changed to a slow rumba. “They’re playing this for us.”

The Cubans call the rumba the music of love. It is. As he swayed with the beat, Diego’s amber eyes glowed excitedly while he led me into a turn with the flick of his wrist. I felt my cheeks flush with his intense glances. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Wolf leave the buffet table without Sam.

“Adelina, you’ll come, won’t you? Everyone loves the Carnaval.” Diego pulled my hand to one side and I stepped smoothly alongside him.

He had a point. Why should I wait for Wolf to ask me out tomorrow? The way that snake slithered around him, I’d be lucky if I got to see him tonight. “Okay, Diego. I will.”

“Where’s that vivacious lady I know?” Diego swiveled around and pulled me close. “Come now, Adelina, cheer up. I’m not asking you to go to a funeral. You love a good party and you’ll never see a better one than the ones we have here. Forget about that selfish bastard. He doesn’t deserve you and you know it.”

Diego led me into an open step and I followed his lead, shoulder to shoulder, thinking all the while of Wolf. I wouldn’t let a little thing like an ex wife stop me—after all, I was a student of karate and one thing that was drilled into us from day one is the motto never give up. “You’re right,” I said, thinking of a plan. “I’ll do my research and have a good time.”

I glanced over at Diego when he suddenly stopped in mid-stride. Wolf was cutting in and Diego was letting him. I didn’t think guys did that sort of thing anymore. But Diego smiled slyly, like a cat with a canary, and said in an undertone, “Four o’clockin the lobby, mi amor? I’ll send the car around,” before he backed off into the crowd.

I stopped dancing.

“Princess?”

“I need to go to my room and change.” Weaving my way off through the crowd, I headed to the exit.

“Adie, wait!” Wolf’s long stride caught up to me as I entered the lobby. “Give me a chance to explain.”

I pressed the elevator button and turned to him. “Yes, Wolf? I’m listening.”

Wolf grabbed my hand as the door opened. “Look, Adie. I didn’t know she was the maid of honor until a couple of days ago.” In the empty elevator, he swung around to me, his eyes sincere. “Don’t be angry with me. It was Janine’s decision, not mine.”

I knew he was right but something inside me rebelled. Why had he ever married that self-righteous slut? Given the opportunity, we might have connected years ago.

The elevator thudded to a stop and the doors opened. A security guard nodded politely and got on. He swiveled around and faced the metal doors, his sturdy back towards us. He pressed the button for the eighth floor.

We stood silently. I didn’t want to talk in front of the man. This was way too personal.

On my last trip toCozumel, I was sure Wolf had been ready to explore his feelings. As a parting gift, he had handed me the lease for a house on the cliffs. It was a beautiful place—wild crashing waves on a powdery shore. There on that dream weaver’s carpet, we had lain in each others’ arms, a magic moment after making love.

The elevator shuddered to a halt. The guarded stepped off on the eighth floor and we rode up to the ninth.

Wolf took the opportunity to plead his case. “Listen Adie, there’s nothing between Sam and me. It’s all in the past. We’ve both moved on.”

When the elevator opened he followed me to my door. The wind blew my hair around wildly and I held it back as I turned away to dig around in my purse for my key. My emotions were jumping from anger to something else, indescribable. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to fall for this guy and then be hurt.

From below us, I heard the sultry beat of Santana. The familiar rhythm of Black Magic Woman. Music that evoked a mysterious stirring inside of me.

“Adie?” his husky voice spoke into my ear.

Why was it so difficult to find the key? It was a large piece of plastic. I fumbled nervously in my bag before I felt myself propelled around, looking straight at Wolf. His startling blue eyes were intense with desire.Sparksflew between us. He brought me closer, wrapping his arms around me, his hard body against mine.

Wolf bent his head, brushing his lips on my neck. I shuddered with his caresses. Leaning my head back against the door, I invited more, my throat exposed to him. The tip of his tongue found that tiny hollow and slowly licked the spot. A bolt of electricity surged to my core.

He lowered himself slowly, his lips pausing to kiss the rise of my breasts and linger at the valley between. I breathed out with a sigh filled with longing. As if reading my mind, his hands lightly slid over my silver bikini top. Fingertips set my peaks on fire.

As he dropped to his knees, his hands lightly lit on my thighs before they slid to my calves. Startled, I felt my purse slide out of my hands and clatter to the tile floor. The wind rearranged the flimsy material of my paraeo, exposing my bare leg. I unfastened it. Wolf took over, tugged it off and tucked it into his waistband. And not wasting a precious moment, he journeyed back down my thigh with his fingertips, slowly stroking my leg. I shivered. His tongue tantalized the back of my knee. Desire awakened my core. I threaded through his wild ruffled hair, my eyes closed, caught up in this delicious sensation.

He took my foot in his hands, slipping off my sandal. His lips sucked the tips of my toes. A moan flew out of my lips and I forgot everything and everyone.

“Wolf…” My voice was breathless and confused. I didn’t know what I wanted to say or how to say it and yet I had to tell him how his touch stirred my passion. My soul had waited for a man who could give me this incredible feeling. I was out of control, like butter melting on a hot stove. What was he doing to me?

His tongue flicked magically on the back of my calf as if in response to my question. I trembled as his tongue torched my thigh. His hot silken tongue sparked tremors down my body. Tiny teasing kisses.

Tinkling laughter trickled to us. Down the hall a door had opened. Wolf got up just as a couple came out from their room. He pulled me close, shielding me from them.

“Hey, man!” a burly man called out behind us as he waltzed by with a tiny brunette. I didn’t know them.

Wolf turned his head slightly. “How you doin’?”

“Great, man!” the bulky guy said happily. “And now for some serious partying. See ya there, dude?”

“Yeah, sure,” Wolf said into my hair, reluctant to let go of me.

From the glazed look in the stranger’s eyes, I assumed the guy had already started his party hours ago. It wasn’t easy for the little brunette to maneuver him into the elevator but she managed.

I watched the doors shut. My eyes shot to Wolf. His eyes held a silent question. But it was as if my brain had been wiped clean. I needed time.

Flustered, I pulled away, struggling to explain. “I have to get changed, Wolf. Janine wants me back there and I promised to get her the garter.” I slipped on my sandal, watching Wolf scoop up my purse from the floor.

“I’ll wait for you downstairs.” Brushing my arm, he handed me my things before making his way to the elevator. The contact singed my skin and lingered long after the elevator doors closed.

I felt sadly alone standing there. Again I searched for my key. This time I found it.

 

2

 

Dean had been generous when he’d booked the rooms for the bridal party. I had five days in this luxurious suite. A matching loveseat and chair were situated around a coffee table near the balcony and a king-sized bed took up space at the entrance. Very comfortable. I smiled. By the passion of Wolf’s apology, I’d guess that bed would be up for a test run—soon.

Wandering over to the glass doors, I undid the latch. It took quite a push to slide them apart with the force of the wind combating my efforts, but the view more than compensated for that. It was sensational. The bright lights of the restaurant sparkled lavender on theCaribbeanwaters. Shimmering waves rushed the shadowed beach. On the patio below people partied, their laughter carrying up with the breeze.

The wind was cool and a string bikini didn’t give me much warmth. I crossed my arms over my goose bumps, but I didn’t feel like going back in just yet. TheCaribbeanheld me in its grip. I couldn’t take my eyes off the waves rolling in. The surf was soothing. It made me forget all about the awkward situation I was in. The sea and shore were one of life’s constants. Only a hurricane could change its beauty.

Leaving the balcony doors open, I strode over to my suitcase. Janine had this crazy idea—she wanted us to wear red, the color denoting passion, while the men were to wear a virginal white. I smiled, thinking the males were not likely innocent, but Janine must have thought one of them had to be. That wouldn’t be Wolf and for Janine’s sake I hoped it wasn’t Jim.

I reached in for my dress but a strap caught on my umbrella hanging next to it. An impulsive purchase at the airport—a Burberry in magenta plaid. I’d been so pleased to find it in the duty free shop and with rain in the forecast, I thought I might be able to use it. Undoing it carefully, I lifted out my silky red gown and placed it on the bed while I searched for my bra and panties.

Some of my clothes were unpacked. I’d whipped out the important things before I’d changed into the silver bikini. In a way, it was a stroke of good fortune that I’d arrived late. Wearing a bikini for a wedding ceremony was really odd and not quite in my comfort zone. Jim must be a bit strange himself to go along with Janine’s bizarre idea.

After fastening my bra, I pulled on some lacy panties and donned my dress. In my closet I found my red stilettos and slipped into them before retreating to the bathroom. Quickly I tugged a comb through my hair and wiped a mascara smudge before I picked up my evening purse and stepped into the hall.

A strong gust of wind blew under my skirt. I needed both hands to bring it down. The scent of rain was in the air. Across the road bordering the golf course, palm trees tossed their fronds wildly. Up in the hills, a few lights flickered from a solitary house. The moist humid air straightened my hair. I shoved my bangs away, wondering why I’d bothered to do anything with my hair.

Most of the people on this floor were wedding guests. It wasn’t an enormous wedding, but considering Dean was footing the bill, a hundred guests in a five star hotel inCozumelwasn’t peanuts. In my case, he’d even included the air fare. I didn’t know what kind of business Dean was in, but whatever it was, it paid off big-time.

Wolf must have gone to his room to change. Before I’d leftToronto, he’d e-mailed me about staying in the hotel tonight even though he lived here in San Miguel.

In this last year, Wolf had made inroads with his resort project. Cottages and a restaurant as well as a cantina. His idea was to combine the flavor ofMexicowith the usual tourist amenities found in a hotel.

When I reached the elevator, I was about to press the button when it occurred to me I had forgotten the garter. I’d have to get it. Dean and Terry’s room was two doors down from mine. The hallway ahead was empty. My gaze wandered back to the alcove where Wolf had given me a taste of bliss. The memory had been so powerful it even now sent a wave of heat down my body. I closed my eyes, imagining what could have happened had we not been unexpectedly interrupted.

Lost in my fantasy, I came to their room. The door was slightly ajar. I didn’t know what to make of it. I knocked and waited. Hearing no one inside, I called out, “Terry?” but there was no answer. If Janine hadn’t needed that garter, I would have left, but I knew time was short.

Hesitantly, I pushed the door open and looked around. A table stood near the door and sure enough, just as she had said, the garter was there. I picked it up and dropped it in my purse. As I turned to leave, the smell stopped me. Weed. The room had that clingy saccharine scent of marijuana. I knew the whole family indulged. But there was something else. A sickly sweet odor overpowered the other. I shot my eyes over to the couch. I saw the top of a man’s head. Gray spiky hair. It had to be Dean.

My gut twisted uncomfortably. I stepped closer and called out, “Dean?” There was no answer. He could be asleep…or he might have passed out. My nose twitched from the smell in the room.

I glanced around. The suite was twice the size of mine. The bedroom would be behind the drawn oak doors. I was in the living area. Large still-life oil paintings hung on the forest-green walls behind the couch which was much like mine but larger—a green sectional with wedges of orange hibiscus flowers strewn over the fabric.

I shivered. The air conditioning had been set on high. Through the open balcony doors the wind blew in. The curtains swished erratically back and forth, rapping the glass in retreat as if in warning. By the steady rustling sound from outside, I knew it had started to rain.

I ventured towards the couch. The closer I came, the stronger the odor. I pinched my nostrils to block out the foul stench. Something wet dripped on my toe.

I froze. Blood was everywhere. On the cushions of the couch, no longer green and no longer floral. Red puddles pooled on the floor. A blood-splattered coffee table. The white beach towel covering the man’s face and body was soaked red. I gulped down the vomit rising in my throat and backed out into the hallway.

* * *

The front desk was in the other building along with the manager’s office. I should have gone directly there and asked for security. But I felt numb—like a sleep walker. What I saw hadn’t registered yet. My mind had stopped functioning.

I don’t know how I made it to the reception. Going down, I saw no one. In the banquet room, the guests were milling about eating and drinking as before. It was all a blur to me. It was as if I’d never left and somehow entered a time warp. The band was on a break but a hubbub of noise kept me from hearing the waiter. He handed me a glass of champagne. I took it from him, sipping it methodically. Had a nightmare entered my reality?

On the far side of the room, I spotted Terry and Jim, their heads close in conversation. Near the buffet table, Diego and Don were laughing, surrounded by an attentive slew of women. My eyes swept the room. He wasn’t here.  The strange trembling in my hands tipped my glass. The bubbles dripped on the floor. What I had seen was too horrible for words. My brain wouldn’t accept it. But I had to do something. Accept responsibility. A man had been murdered—most likely Dean.

The newspapers back home told stories of corruption in Latin American countries. If I reported it, they would take me down to the station. Once they questioned me, they’d arrest me. Mexican law said a person was guilty unless proven innocent.

I looked down to my foot where the drop of Dean’s blood had dried. I wasn’t a coward but I was a realist and not a fool—foreigners had been arrested without cause, accused of crimes they hadn’t committed. Tossed into jail, their families had to pay police for their freedom. Innocent people had been left to rot in jail. The consulate wouldn’t be any help, either. They had no authority here.

If Dean had been murdered as part of a robbery by a local thug, the Mexican government would want to pin the murder on a foreigner. Tourists needed to feel safe inCozumel.

From the beach entrance, Janine and Samantha, in identical red dresses, ambled in, giggling and jostling each other. They were wet and wasted.

Someone lightly stroked my arm.

“Princess?”

I spun around. “Wolf!”

He frowned. “You’re not still angry?”

I shook my head in confusion.

“What is it? Are you feeling all right, baby?”

My knees wobbled like jelly. I gripped Wolf’s arm tightly.

“Come on, Adie,” he said, steering me over to the open patio doors. “You need some fresh air.

He led me over to a rattan love seat. I let myself sink down. My stomach was doing somersaults as my brain kept reliving the scene in the hotel suite. The bloody towel, Dean’s spiky gray hair, the blood dripping down on my toe—all whirled in front of my eyes.

“Is it the champagne?” Wolf’s blue eyes showed concern. “You didn’t eat today, did you? Wait here, I’ll get you something.”

Before I could stop him he headed back in. I shivered not so much from the evening breeze but from my realization that I was in too deep. I had to let them know. It had to be reported to the police. And then there was the family. Terry and Janine had to be told. I rubbed my forehead in an effort to ease the built-up tension. From inside, the band lit into a soft rock hit. I didn’t realize Wolf was back until I felt his hand on my shoulder.

“Adie, here.” Wolf handed me a paper plate with miniature quesadillas. “Eat—you’ll feel better.”

I picked one up. My stomach tightened into a knot.

“Go ahead,” Wolf urged.

I bit into one and chewed. It was a good thing they were basically cheese. I couldn’t have swallowed meat. “Now talk to me. Did something happen? Is it Sam?”

 “No, nothing like that.” I set the plate on the table. I knew I could trust him but what could he do? “I had to go to Terry’s room to get the garter and…”

Wolf drew me into his arms. “What is it, baby?”

The warmth of his body calmed me. “Something’s happened, Wolf. Something horrible…” My eyes met his. “There’s someone dead in that room—I’m sure it’s Dean.”

His arms loosened. Wolf stared. “Dead?”

“He’s been murdered.”

“How?”

“I don’t know but there’s blood everywhere.” I glanced up at him. “I need to report it to the police.”

Wolf frowned.

“You think I’m in trouble, don’t you?”

“This is Mexico, Adie. Whether you had a motive or not, the police like a sure thing. And you,” he stroked my cheek, “might be just the target they need. It would be better if you kept out of it.”

Janine called out from the doorway. “Adie!” Her words slurred out. “Ya better come in. Ah’m throwin’ the bouquet.” She tripped but righted herself and stepped out. Janine was three sheets to the wind and her sail was blowing over. “I need the gartah, Adie. Give et to momma!”

From my bag, I pulled out the piece of frill and dropped it in her hand. Flipping off her shoe, Janine grabbed my arm for support. She tottered precariously in a high-heeled sandal. Her other leg wobbled unsteadily. Before she lost her balance and buckled down on the patio stones, Wolf seized her around the waist and propped her up.

“Wow! Thanks!” She smiled slyly up at Wolf and slid her hands down his biceps. “Mm-mm, nice guns. Just my luck I got myself hitched, today.” Pushing her dress high, she pulled on the garter, giving us a full view of her red lacy thong. Janine giggled. “He’d better not get these two mixed up, eh? Wolf, tell him he needs to pull the blue one off. Although, you could tell him the red one is for later. Poor guy needs some advice from someone in the know.” She gazed up at Wolf. “And that would be you.”

“Hey you guys!” Don boomed from the doorway. “We’re all in here waiting. Got the bouquet for you, darlin’.”

“Take her arm, Adie,” Wolf said quietly. “Let’s get her in there.”

As soon as Janine threw the bouquet I’d see the manager. In the meantime, I did as Wolf suggested and helped him pull Janine into the restaurant.

The guests had cleared the dance floor and the women stood on one side as Don announced the throwing of the bouquet. “Attention ladies…singles, divorcees, and widows. This is your ticket to marriage,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “Janine is about to throw the bouquet.” He pointed to a curvaceous female in the crowd. “Darlin’, come up here.”

The brunette flashed her wedding ring and shook her head. Don looked a little disappointed but went back to his job of hustling the ladies in for the toss.

Janine looked out at the group of females gathered in front of her. “Where’s Adelina Sturm? Adie!” she yelled. “Ya can’t avoid this ’un. Ah wantya right beside Sam and all these otha girls.”

Don trotted over, grabbed my arm, and propelled me over to the group. “Got her, Janine. You go ahead now, darlin’.”

Janine staggered as she swung around, her back to the assembled women. She waved the bouquet and raised her arm.

I made up my mind. As soon as this was over, I’d speak to the manager and get him to contact the police. I couldn’t let this go on any longer.

“Ready, ladies!” Don shouted. “Okay, Janine, throw!”

The bouquet of roses shot straight for my head. I was forced to catch it or let the thorns rip into my skin. If I hadn’t caught it, Diego’s enthusiastic assistant would have. As it was, I had to block her with my forearm or have her finger jammed into my eye. I scooped up the roses with my free hand.

Mierda.” Diego’s voluptuous assistant hissed the word at me.

It was hardly my fault they were flung into my face. If looks could kill, I would have been dead meat.

Don disrupted with a shout, “Bring your hands together for the lucky lady, Adelina Sturm.”

I stood there, a hot flush rising to my cheeks. A few guests hooted appreciatively.

Marriage was the last thing on my mind. I had to get out of here now. I pushed through the women and started for the door.

Don made a stop gesture with his hand. “Before this party ends, we need the groom up here for the garter.” He peered out into the crowd. “Jim?”

“He’s not heah,” Janine shouted. “But doan worry, Unca Don.” Janine giggled. “Wolf kin pull ahf my gartah.” She waved her hand. “Yoooo-hooo! Come up heah!”

Don waved to Wolf. “I guess you’ve been nominated, Wolf. I think…” In mid-sentence Jim appeared at the doorway. “Wait. Relax, big guy. Looks like the groom remembered his duties, after all. Come on, boy, we’re waiting for you.”

But Jim stood glued on the spot. His face was white, his freckles even more visible than usual. “Dean’s dead.  We need to call the police.”

* * *

The guests filtered out quickly—no one wanted to be there when the police arrived and security under direction of the hotel management decided it was bad publicity to detain anyone. Janine and I supported a hysterical Terry. She rushed up as soon as Jim made his announcement. But with the arrival of the police, all the family members were ushered away into a room on the ground level for questioning, and I was left alone standing in front of the buffet table.

“Señorita Sturm, you remember me?” the slim policeman in a tan uniform asked politely.

I nodded, recognizing Hernandez. He was one of the few fluent English-speaking detectives inCozumel.

“Is señor Du Lac part of the bridal group as well?” He glanced over to the doorway where Diego stood speaking with Wolf.

 “Yes, Detective.”

He frowned. “And señor Alvarez?”

I shook my head. “No.” I motioned to Sam speaking to JJ. “That woman is the other bridesmaid and señor Du Lac is the best man.”

Hernandez seemed relieved. “We will need the bridal party to wait in the other room.” He called out, “Señor Du Lac! I need your presence in room 107 immediately. Por favor, señoritas, come with me.”

I’d met Hernandez on my other trips toCozumel, always under unfortunate circumstances. I could see from the dark look he shot me, he was thinking he was cursed. Wolf caught up to us and took my hand.

In the suite, a uniformed cop stood by the door. Wolf and I took the couch while Sam slid into the armchair. Hernadez grabbed a chair and pulled it over to face us.

From his pocket, Hernadez tugged out a pad and pen. “I’ll need a statement from each of you.”

Wolf said quickly, “Señorita Sturm and I were together.”

“The entire evening?”

“Yeah,” Wolf said, meeting my eyes a moment before he returned his steady gaze to Hernandez.

I nodded.

Hernandez glanced at Sam. “I need your name, señorita.”

“Samantha Stevens.” She gave him a look. “This is an inconvenience, Detective. I’m tired and would like to go to bed. I don’t know anything about Dean’s murder, so instead of bothering me, you might find it useful to go after the killer.”

 “Murder, señorita? An interesting choice of words. What makes you think it was murder?” Detective Hernandez eyed Sam suspiciously.

Sam’s laughter sounded brittle to my ears. “I don’t think we’d be sitting here if he died in his sleep. Would we?”

“Where were you tonight, señorita?”

“Here, there, and everywhere. Not in his room, that’s for sure.”

Hernandez lifted one eyebrow, studying Sam intently. “Interesting you assumed señorFirenze was murdered there.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “Of course he was. Where else? Jim saw him dead in his hotel suite or did Dean get himself murdered in the honeymoon suite?” She threw Hernandez a disgusted look.

“Do you have any reason to suspect anyone?”

Sam snickered. “Maybe you should find out more about your victim, Detective. Dean Firenze was a wheeler dealer. Enemies? He had plenty.”

“You seem to know a great deal about the man, señorita Stevens.”

“I am, or should I say was, one of his managers.”

“I see.” Hernandez scribbled a few words in his notebook. He turned to Wolf. “And you señor Du Lac? What did you know of señorFirenze?”

“He was here during the summer on business. I met him then. He was staying with Diego Alvarez.”

“Señor Alvarez had dealings with him?”

“That’s a question for Alvarez to answer.”

Sam got up from the armchair. “I think it’s clear none of us had anything to do with Dean’s murder.” She stared at Hernandez who had also risen to his feet. “How was Dean murdered, anyway?”

“That is classified information, señorita Stevens.” Hernandez stroked his chin thoughtfully. “You will be allowed to return to your rooms for the time being. However, I will require your passports.”

Sam’s face flushed. “This is outrageous.” She turned to Wolf. “Surely you can do something, Wolf. You live here.”

Wolf stretched out his long legs and leaned back in the couch. “’Fraid not, Sammy. I’m sure the policia will have this tied up in no time. Right, Detective Hernandez?”

Hernandez pursed his lips. “We shall see. I will send an officer to each of your rooms for your passport.”

Wolf helped me up. “Mine’s in my house. I could drive over and get it.”

Hernandez clenched his jaw. “I would like you to stay. I need to speak to you further, señor Du Lac. Señoritas, you may leave.” He opened the door and called out to another police officer and spoke to him rapidly in Spanish.

At the elevator the young man caught up. “I’m Officer Sanchez. What floors are you on?” he said to us, but stared at Sam.

She thrust her chin up. “The second, 204. It’s not necessary for you to come. I can leave my passport with the front desk tomorrow.” She yawned delicately. “Go with her.” In the elevator, she pressed the button for the second floor.

The doors closed and I pressed nine.

“Sorry, señorita Stevens. I’m coming with you. Detective Hernadez would like those passports now. The capitan would jump to conclusions if you do not give it to me. You wouldn’t want that, would you, señorita Stevens?” The elevator thudded to a halt and the doors opened.

“You are being annoying.” Sam glared at Sanchez. “This way,” she tossed over her shoulder.

“I will see you shortly,” Sanchez said to me. “What room?”

“901.”

When the elevator thudded to a stop and opened on six, a darkly handsome security guard stepped in. He nodded and said, “Buenos noches,” before he pressed the button for the ground floor.

Buenos noches.” It suddenly dawned on me where I’d seen him. He’d been on the elevator with Wolf and me earlier. While he stared at the panel, I studied him. Strong and solid—tall too. A long narrow face and hooked nose. Spanish heritage with maybe a touch of Mayan ancestry. He was the guard Terry had been friendly with. Good looking. Had that Bruce Willis look—a shaved head that gave him an edgy appearance. I was a hair woman. I liked hair long enough to be a sensational experience for my fingers. Wolf’s silky waves always excited me. That and his clean soapy smell. The elevator shuddered, jolting me back to earth.

In the corridor, the wind tossed my hair into my eyes. Hotels inMexicooften have open air hallways. This one had the advantage of a spectacular view with the golf course stretched out past the Primavera gardens all the way to the Dorado Hotel.

I expected to see an officer outside the crime scene. What caught me by surprise was the maid who exited that room with a cart full of cleaning supplies and towels.

Dirty towels brought it all back. A bloody white towel. The pungent smell of weed mixed with the putrid odor of blood. Murder.

With trembling hands, I unlocked my door. Once inside I switched on the light. The entrance way lit up but the rest of my room was still dark. The patio doors were open the way I had left them, the moonlight flickering in as the curtains swayed with the wind. Where was the light switch? My eyes shifted to the wall but I couldn’t see one. There was a lamp on the table next to the couch. I crept over to the table and felt around for the button and flicked it on. My couch was in the same position in the room as theirs but mine was a green floral, clean and unblemished by splattered blood.

I felt a chill. The air-conditioning had been set on low. The last thing I needed was a reminder of those blasting, cold Canadian winds. But it wasn’t the room temperature that made me tremble. It was the memory of Dean. The tips of his gray hair pointing randomly in all directions gelled up for a party, unaware of what fate had in store for him. I shuddered at the memory.

A snappy ring tone went off in my purse. It was a text message: Baby, we have a problem. Be there soon. Wolf

What could that mean? Hernandez had dismissed me too easily. Had Hernandez cornered Wolf into admitting he’d lied? I knew now I shouldn’t have dragged Wolf into it. There was no doubt in my mind we’d both be arrested. I sat down on my bed and brought my hands up to my temples, circling my fingertips. I should have admitted to entering Dean’s suite while I had the chance. Hernandez was a fair man. He would have realized I had nothing to do with the murder.

I picked up the remote and flicked on the television. A cop movie in English with Spanish subtitles. Three quick raps on the door startled me. Could it be Wolf? I strode over to the door and peered into the peephole. Sanchez.

I let him in.

Hola,” he said, quickly peering around as he stepped into my room. He wasn’t the shy type, buzzing around touching things I’d left on the dresser.

“I’ll get my passport.” I watched him wander over to the bedside table.

He nodded and examined a book I’d started to read. “Are you staying here alone, señorita Sturm?” He glanced up from the paperback.

“Yes. The bridal party is staying here at the hotel.”

“So you must know most of the wedding guests?”

“Some,” I said guardedly. Knowing the only way to get rid of this bloodhound was to hand over my passport, I dug in the side pocket of my purse and came up with the key to the safe.

Sanchez regarded me intently. “An attractive woman such as yourself is seldom alone.”

I met his eyes. “As you can see, there is no one staying here with me.”

He smirked. “For now. Perhaps you have plans?”

I stalked over to the closet. The small metal safe inside contained my jewelry and travel documents. Snatching up my passport, I brought it over to him. “I’m assuming this will be returned promptly?”

Sanchez’s eyes flicked to my foot. “An injury?”

“What?” I said, puzzled.

“There’s blood on your toe.”

I felt heat rise to my cheeks. “Just a scratch. When do I get my passport back?” I opened the hallway door.

“We are thorough here inCozumel. Don’t make any plans to leave.”

I opened the door for him and watched him head over to Dean’s room where another officer stood on guard. Shutting the door, I realized my mistake. The blood had dried on my toe. I scooted over to the night table and snatched a Kleenex to wipe it off. How could I have forgotten that? What was Sanchez thinking now? I shook my head. The man was searching for anything to implicate me. I could see it in his eyes.

I dug out my cell from my purse and pressed Wolf’s number. His voice mail clicked in. “Don’t come tonight, Wolf,” I said tensely. “There are police everywhere. Meet you for breakfast at nine.” In the bathroom mirror I saw a pale, drawn face that didn’t look like the Adie Sturm I knew. A flight delay, a murder, and now a suspicious cop. The situation was going from bad to worse and I had no idea what problem Wolf was dealing with. I reached into my makeup bag and opened a bottle. A sleeping pill was exactly what I needed. I had them for emergencies and tonight definitely qualified. Washing it down with water, I breathed easier.

My red dress slipped off my hips. Bra and panties were next. I looked at them regretfully. Wolf would have liked to have run his hands over the silk of my dress and I would have been the happy recipient of his journey. He would take the lingerie off…ever so slowly. I imagined how I would have unbuttoned his shirt, running my fingers over his powerful chest.

I breathed in and emptied my lungs slowly. Wolf would not be mine tonight. I might as well face the facts. A shower and sleep is what I needed.

In the bathroom, I turned the faucet on. As the water adjusted to warm, I removed my makeup. After testing the water with my toe, I stepped in. The warm flow relaxed my tired shoulders and my tensed up muscles. My chocolate shower gel filled the steamy air as I smoothed it on. I sighed. If only I had bought some truffles at the airport instead of the umbrella. They always made me feel better. Creamy milk chocolate coating my tongue with the delightful flavor of cacao—Mayan gold.

Rubbing the shampoo into my scalp, I closed my eyes. My thoughts returned to Wolf. He was a master when it came to massage. His hands would magically work in the shampoo and then knowing his creative mind, he’d have other ideas. My very core would ache for his light, sensuous touch. But I had messed all that up. Right now he was dealing with a problem that should have been mine. If anything went wrong in that interview room, I would speak to Hernandez and confess. There was no way I would let Wolf get in trouble because of me.

After I rinsed off, I dried myself and walked into the bathroom and slipped on a robe. My skin was flushed pink from the hot water and readily soaked up the body butter I spread over my legs and feet. The blood stain on my toe was gone.

Feeling somewhat relieved, I switched off the light, padded over to the bed, and climbed in. By the time I drew the covers over my shoulders, my body cried out for sleep and in no time, I drifted into a heavy slumber.

The thudding on the door woke me. I picked up a thin silk robe, pulled it on, and tied the belt. With the urgency of the knocks increasing, I assumed it must be the police or Wolf. Unlatching the door, I pulled it slightly open. I was thrust back as a husky gray-haired man pushed by. With the lights off in my room, I didn’t recognize him at first.

Dean laughed. “Fooled ya, Adie Sturm.” His eyes glittered in the dim light.

“Dean?”

“Surprised?”

Dean was dead. What was he doing here? I pulled my robe together where it gaped open.

 “No need to cover up, honey. I’d like to see all of you.”

“Get out!” I tried to push him back into the hallway.

Dean stood his ground and whipped the door shut with his hand. He grinned. “Don’t do that…I have a treat for you.” He gripped my chin and pushed it high, forcing me to meet his eyes. “I’ve been dying to have some of your sugar.”

I jerked away from him and retreated backwards into the bedroom, holding up my arm to ward him off but he followed me in.

“Yea-hh! Now you’re thinkin’.” He chuckled. “Why waste time? Let the party begin, eh?” He reached over, swung me up, and abruptly dropped me down on the bed.

My robe loosened.

“I like the view, Adie.”

I sat up and tightened the sash. None of this made sense. I had seen him dead a few hours ago and now he was here hitting on me. “Stay away, Dean,” I warned him.

A laugh rumbled deep in his throat. “You don’t mean that, honey.”

A deep chill entered my body. Somehow I couldn’t move. I knew how to defend myself but it was like Dean had put a spell on me. His dark piercing eyes riveted into me. Frozen, I sat there as he sidled up closer and tugged on my sash, undoing my robe. His eyes ate me up. “Nice boobs.” With one finger he slid his finger over a mound. “So silky…” He gazed at me. “I know you’d rather have me than Alvarez. Admit it.”

I felt powerless, watching him. I wanted him to go but some force was stopping me from taking action.

Suddenly he stood up. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’ve been so selfish. Of course you want to see me.” He grinned slyly before he tugged his t-shirt up and pulled it up over his head.

Blood gushed out of his neck, flowed down his chest and onto the bed. A crimson river spread on the duvet, covering my feet. Wet sticky blood. Dean fell forward, his head landing in my hands, his gray spiky hair brushing my fingers.

I screamed—again and again, the cry echoing in my brain. Pearls of sweat coated my skin. I sat up searching the darkness but I was alone. Heavy banging brought my eyes over to the sliding doors of the balcony. Wind and rain rammed the curtains against the glass, rattling them erratically. I shuddered, remembering what I had just seen. I needed the comfort of human warmth but there was none to be had.

Groping for the switch on night lamp, I flicked it on. The room was empty. The light reassured me a little but not enough. I dragged myself out of bed and padded over to the heavy doors, shoving them shut. My eyes shot down. I had nothing on. Had Dean been here? Was he really dead?

 3

 

The mind can play tricks on us. We all know that. The heat and the bright tropical sun on the way to the open-air restaurant made the nightmarish image of Dean with his neck streaming blood seem ludicrous. It couldn’t have happened. The whole thing was impossible.

The bartender was busy setting up for the tourists having an early morning start, typical of an all-inclusive in Mexico. I was late. My eyes searched the restaurant. It was twenty past nine. Would Wolf be angry? I saw him before he saw me. He was sitting at a round table staring out at the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

A railing bordered the restaurant from the beach. His table was next to it. A few birds resembling blackbirds, flitted around, hoping for breakfast morsels. I figured the brown birds were the females when the black ones charged in, scaring away the others. They pecked at the crumbs from a plate left behind. Typical males always wanting to have theirs first. With a plastic covered menu, a waiter shooed away an overly assertive bird, while Wolf smiled in amusement at his efforts.

Seeing him happy like that was encouraging. Even though it was difficult to tiptoe in wedges, I approached him silently from behind before I popped out into view. I was good but he foiled my plan at the last second, swung himself around, and grinned a hello.

I dropped my beach bag into the empty chair and sat down across from him. “Sorry about being late but I forgot to set my cell alarm and couldn’t seem to wake up this morning.”

Wolf’s blue eyes sparkled like the waters of a fast moving stream. “That wouldn’t have been a problem, babe, if we’d been together last night.” He smiled a slow smile. “I would’ve happily provided that wake up call.”

Those irregular features and that smile made my temperature rise. In a black t-shirt that emphasized his wide shoulders and muscular chest, Wolf set my pulse pounding.

He leaned over and took my hand. “You look a little wiped, princess.”

“I had a bad night.” The nightmare was still fresh in my mind.

Wolf looked concerned. “That cop hassle you?”

My mind flashed back to the blood on my sandal. “Sanchez is suspicious with good reason.”

Wolf frowned. “I don’t like the sound of that.” He stood up. “I’d like to hear everything but first, why don’t we grab something to eat?”

We walked over to the buffet table. “By the way, I have a story for you, as well.”

Now I was worried.

“Food will make you feel better.” He stroked the furrow on my forehead. “No more negative thoughts. You need some food.”

A chef was preparing omelets. They looked delicious. The smells made me aware of how hungry I was but I was also conscious of the lean man standing next to me. And, yes, he was as appetizing as anything displayed on the buffet table.

Wolf was tall and powerful. But unlike those workout junkies in the gym, he was no stranger to physical labor, having worked hard for his father’s construction company. Formerly a manager at Blackberry, he was smart too.

I filled a bowl full of ham and onions and handed it to the man with a pin on his white uniform that read Jesus.

“If Jesus can’t make those omelets right, I don’t know who can,” Wolf whispered in my ear.

That brought a smile to my lips. And he was right. Jesus-the-chef did a bang-up job of the omelets. I had to search for ketchup but inMexicothat was par for the course.

But I couldn’t forget the fix I was in. I needed to know what happened with Hernandez after I’d left. If Wolf was in trouble, I was responsible and had to fix it.

While we sat down, a waiter appeared to pour us coffee. Reflectively, I spooned in some sugar. I was almost afraid to ask. “Tell me, Wolf, did Hernandez figure it out? Does he know I was there?”

Wolf’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he sipped his orange juice. “You’ve forgotten how smooth I can be.”

I laughed. Upfront, yes, mysterious true, but smooth? “You shouldn’t have told him you were with me, you know. I appreciate it but I don’t want you ending up in jail.”

“Hernandez is the least of our problems, baby.”

“Why? What are you talking about?”

“Well…” Wolf stretched out his long jean clad legs and sat back in his chair before he glanced over and said, “It’s Sam. She told Sanchez she saw me alone at the bar. It must have been after I took you up to your room.”

“How did you find this out?”

“Sanchez popped in to tell Hernandez. He’d just been with her. He didn’t know that I understand a fair bit of Spanish.”

“And did Hernandez ask about me?”

“I gathered he sent Sanchez to check out Sam’s story first before he dug into ours.”

“So she decided to put in her two cents worth.”

Wolf shook his head. “It was most likely accidental.”

With a woman like Samantha, I hardly believed she would just let something like that slip. But Wolf was a typical male—unaware of the devious nature of females. “So Hernandez wanted to know about me?”

“First it was all about Jim. What I knew about him. Hernandez was digging and wanted someone to bury.”

“And you told him what exactly?”

Wolf buttered his toast and said, “Jim was Dean’s CEO. The guy’s nerdy but brilliant. Dean would have done anything to lure Jim into running his operation.”

“How, exactly?”

“A six figure salary. Not too common for a guy his age.”

“Do you think that’s why he married Janine? To get in tighter with Dean?”

“He doesn’t strike me as the calculating type, but I might be wrong. Dean’s ventures certainly benefited from Jim’s expertise. If Dean expanded his acquisitions toMexico, Jim could hold the reins back inCanada.”

“So that’s why Dean contacted Diego.”

“Right.”

“I thought you didn’t know if he actually had a business deal?”

“I’m putting two and two together, Adie. Alvarez had a lot of deals going and Royal Investments is a growing company.”

“It doesn’t mean it’s bad or illegal.”

Wolf raised an eyebrow.

“Okay,” I conceded, “Diego’s dealings have been in the gray area in the past but that’s not unusual with billionaires, is it?”

“My point exactly and don’t forget he’s got the law on his side.”

“You mean, his cousin the captain of the police?” I leaned in. “Do you think Sam really did see you?”

“It’s possible but I didn’t see her.” Wolf stared out at the beach where the waves gently lapped onto the sandy beach. “Maybe she thought she was helping—establishing an alibi for me.”

“Or one for her?”

“Possibly. She might be worried about her relationship with Dean and a motive. I suppose she could be making it up.”

“She’d do that?” I frowned. Of course she would. She was one of those spitting cobras—the venomous kind.

My Logical Voice added: Giving Wolf an alibi helps her but not you, Adie. You’re the loser here. And let’s face it, she’d do anything to win. She’d make sure you get the Monopoly carddo not pass go, go directly to jail.”

“Hey, Wolf!” Jim called out from the interior of the restaurant. He sprinted over to our table, his pale face flushed. “Er-rr, Adie, hi!”

The guys brought their fists together in a handshake.

“Pull up a chair,” Wolf said. “How’d it go with the police?”

“Bad.” Jim sat down. “They had all of us cloistered in that room for hours. Hardly slept. Just took a shower and headed down here to get a bite.”

I bit into my toast. “Where’s Janine?”

“Don’t know. She was gone when I got up. She might have left with Terry for the airport.”

“Why?”

“To meet Dean’s brother. He was meant to come to the wedding but he was delayed.” Jim shook his head. “I still can’t get over all this. Gawd, you should have seen the blood in that room last night. Couldn’t believe what the hotel did though…”

Wolf shot him a look. “What do you mean?”

“It’s all cleaned up. Maids came in. Terry said there’s no sign of the blood at all.”

Shocked, I stared. “She’s back in there?”

“No, she wanted a new room and they gave it to her.”

Wolf stirred his coffee. “What about forensics?”

“No forensics. The room is corded off but the big boys from the mainland haven’t arrived yet.”

“Odd.” Wolf shoved his plate away.

I set my cup down. “They must think it’s bad for business to have a murder on the premises.”

“Yeah, that’s my take,” Jim said. “Stuff like that goes on in this country. I read they brought in a street cleaner truck when a tourist was killed in a supposed hit-and-run.”

“Here, inCozumel?”

“No. It was this club inAcapulco.”

“Drugs—Mexican mafia.” Wolf bit on his toast. “The club owner didn’t want any evidence left to implicate the local thugs.”

“Nothing like that here,” I said with conviction. “Hernandez is an honest cop.”

Jim shot me a look. “Then why didn’t they leave the crime scene intact? I’ll tell you why. They’re looking to blame it on one of us.”

I was afraid he was right. Sanchez wanted to pin it on me. I pushed my plate away, my appetite suddenly gone.

Further down the beach, I saw a familiar slim redhead strolling by. Janine. It had to be her. I glanced over at Jim. I wouldn’t tell him. Let him talk to Wolf. He’d let down his guard if I wasn’t around. “Wolf, I’m going to find a chair over there,” I said vaguely, gesturing to the beach.

Wolf caught my eye. “Okay, babe. I’ll catch up with you in a while.”

Good. We were on the same wave length. “See you,” I said, waving to them, before I headed through the restaurant to the entrance. It had emptied out fast. Most of the hotel guests were outside sunning or swimming.

I hiked over an arched bridge that brought me to a beach bar and looked around. Already, a few balding men with spare tires were ordering cervezas. One of them whispered something to the other dude and he called out, “Hola!” as I passed by.

I smiled and said, “Hola.”

The other guy chuckled. “See, dude, she knows what that means. Am I right or am I right? ” He banged his beer bottle on the bar. “That there is a smart blonde.”

“By golly, Bobby Ray, ah’ve been fooled agin.”

Men! I rolled my eyes. So now I was a blonde joke. It was hard not to take it personally. Could be that’s why Sanchez thought I’d make the best murder suspect. A stupid blonde tourist. And if he found out anything about my history with Dean, I was toast.

I stopped at the edge of the steps to look around for Janine. It wasn’t long before I spotted her. Topless. She was getting plenty of attention from the males deliberately passing by. What did they care if a woman was big or small—boobs and butt were all they were interested in.

I took off my wedges and carried them as I made my way through the beach crowd to Janine’s chair. Beside her there was an empty one with a book balanced on it. “Hey, Janine. Is it okay if I take this chair?”

“Hey, Adie.” Janine sat up, grabbed her bikini top and tied it on. “You can put the book on the table. I was saving it for Jim but he’s probably not coming. With those freckles of his, he’s not big on tanning.”

I laughed. What was that—the pot calling the kettle black? “I’d think with your fair skin you should be careful yourself. I hope you’ve loaded up on sunscreen.” I tugged off my tank top and shorts. Straightening the strings of my bikini, I stretched out on the lounge chair.

“Did that, but,” Janine added, “it’s not really about tanning, Adie, in case you didn’t notice.” She waved her cell. “Got a few phone numbers.”

I pulled out my towel and placed it on the chair, straightening the wrinkles before I stretched out beside her. “Reality check, girlfriend. You’re married.”

“And I’ll be single by the end of the week.”

I shot her a look. “What?”

“It was a big mistake, Adie,” Janine said, wiggling down further on her beach towel. “With all the money ol’ Dean’s left me, I’ll be free as a bird. And now that Dale’s here…”

“Dean’s brother?”

 “He arrived this morning. We’re just waitin’ for Dean’s lawyer.”

“The reading of the will?”

Janine nodded. “This afternoon.”

“So what happened with the police?”

 “They’re busy rounding up the usual suspects.” Janine smiled mysteriously. “Don’t worry. I didn’t tell them.”

I tensed up. “Tell what?”

“About you and Dean.”

“There was no Dean and me. Nothing happened, Janine,” I said sharply. Memories of Dean flashed back in my mind. “If he told you otherwise, it was a lie.”

“I believe you, girlfriend, but when he got stoned one night, he said the two of you hooked up.”

“That’s not true!” I felt my cheeks flush in indignation.

Janine smiled knowingly. “Nothing to be ashamed of. Sam said he was good in the sack.”

“We never hooked up, Janine. I wasn’t interested in him.”

“He said it happened in Cancun—at the beach house.”

“Nothing happened. You’d asked me to stay over that night, Janine. We had drinks. I was feeling strange so I went to my room and lay down. Dean came to the door, asking if I was all right.” A sudden flashback brought back the dreamlike state I had found myself in. “I’d left the door unlocked. He came in…”

 “I know what he was like,” Janine said tightly.

I had a sudden vision of Dean lying on the bed beside me, stroking my leg. Had he done more? “The drink was potent and I was out of it, Janine, but I’m sure he didn’t rape me.”

Janine nodded. “I can see why you hated him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He dropped a roofie in your drink. You didn’t figure that out?” Janine frowned. “He was always doing stuff like that. And he’d brag about his easy conquests.” Her eyes flicked to me. “Roofies are deadly. Makes you feel numb and spacey. You forget everything later. It’s so easy for a man to do anything he wants to you.” She pushed her sunglasses firmly back on the bridge of her nose. “So you don’t think you had sex with him?”

“I didn’t. I’d remember that.”

“Not with a roofie you wouldn’t, but he could have used GHB. It’s almost the same but you’d remember more.”

“I recall him coming in and touching me but somehow I worked up the strength and punched him.”

Janine giggled. “You hit him?”

I glanced at my friend. “I don’t know if you know this but I’m trained in karate.”

“Really? So you got him in the nuts?”

“No. I went for his eye. It was closer and I was wasted. Dean was furious and left.”

Janine pursed her lips as she considered my story. “So you didn’t find him hot?”

“Damn right, I didn’t!” I stared at her in disbelief.  “He said I did?”

“Later that same week we were all together at Diego’s nudist resort. He told us. When Terry and Sam started fighting over him, he said you were more woman than either one of them.”

“And he said I liked him?”

“Yep. Dean said after your initial resistance you pleased him like no other woman. He said if he’d had another night with you, Diego would be history.” Janine added, “He thought you were Diego’s mistress.” Janine waved a waiter over. “A margarita, por favor. Make it dos.” She studied me. “Looks like you need one, Adie.”

Once the waiter wandered off in the direction of the bar, I said, “But you knew I was seeing Wolf.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t bother clueing in the bastard. You were safe in Coz with Wolf, anyway.” She said hastily, “Not that Diego was there, either.” She grinned. “Too bad he wasn’t though. I wouldn’t have minded seeing him in the buff.” Janine shrugged her shoulders. “So what if Dean thought he could have you. In fact, I was hoping that Wolf would get wind of Dean’s plan and punch his lights out.” She laughed. “Or Diego. Now that’s a thought. He’d send one of his thugs over and cut his balls off.”

“I guess someone’s nose was out of joint—seriously. You know who that could be, Janine?”

“Plenty of people hated the creep, Adie.”

“Is that how you felt, Janine?”

For a moment, I wondered if she’d heard me. She stared out at the ocean. “What’s important is that he liked me, Adie. Me and Terry. We were afraid he’d leave it all to Sam.”

I was about to speak when the waiter arrived with our margaritas. “Was he thinking in that direction?”

From a small bottle, Janine squeezed out sunscreen into the palm of her hand. “He threatened Terry. If she didn’t do what he wanted, he’d leave everything to Sam.” She smoothed on sunscreen and passed the bottle to me.

“But he didn’t.”

A hint of a smile curled Janine’s lips. “No, and now it’s too late.”

Slowly, I stroked the lotion on my forearms. “So you’ll be independently wealthy?”

Janine sucked up the margarita with her straw. “I’m not the only one, Adie. Dean left shares of his company to Dale and Sam, too.”

“What about Jim? Why do you want to divorce him?”

Janine readjusted her bikini strap. “I like him and he likes me, Adie. He won’t suffer. I’ll let him work for the company.”

“Generous of you.”

“Do I detect a touch of sarcasm, Adie? Jim should be grateful for his highfalutin’ job.” She glanced at me. “I’ll do your back, sweetie.” Taking the lotion, Janine pressed a small amount into her hand. “Turn.”

I did as she said and she spread it over my back and shoulders. “Where’s that hottie of yours, anyway, or should I say those two hotties of yours?”

 “One’s with your soon-to-be ex and the other is probably making last minute arrangements for his float.”

Janine put the lotion on the table.

“Thanks.” I relaxed on the lounger, stretched out on my stomach.

“Royal Investments?”

“Um-mm. Don said Diego had a fabulous float last year.”

“I don’t know about his Carnaval floats but I’ve got the feeling the man has a habit of doing fabulous things.” Janine glanced at me slyly. “How’s he in bed, Adie?”

His bed—yes, I’d spent a brief time on his bed at his beach house. I thought of us together lying there on his king-size brass bed with a satiny cover and an erotic mural on the ceiling. But as far as his skills were concerned, we hadn’t ever gone that far. “Can’t tell you about that, Janine.”

“Can’t or won’t?” She scrutinized my face. “You mean you have never…” She smirked. “But I bet you wouldn’t mind finding out if a man can be both rich and satisfying.”

“Wolf is great. I don’t need to find out.”

“Wolf is successful and cream-your-pants hot. No denying that but you and I know that Diego is drop dead sexy besides being filthy rich and powerful. He snaps his fingers around here and they kiss his toes,” she snickered, “or higher.” Janine pulled her hair back into a ponytail. “But that’s not the problem is it? You aren’t ready for a commitment, are you, girlfriend? That’s your problem.”

“Problem?”

Janine giggled. “Oo-oo-hh, I see. You are more devious than I’d thought.” She pointed her finger at me. “You plan on having them both and then deciding, don’t you?” She laughed. “Good plan. That’s what I’d do.”

“Hey, hot stuff. I’m here!” Jim called out from the bridge.

“Shit! He’s back! Thought we’d have more time together. Just when you were about to reveal all to Auntie Janine.” She patted my hand. “We’ll need to continue our heart-to-heart later, sweetie.” She sat up, pointing. “Hey babe, grab that chair over there and bring it here.”

Jim followed orders to the letter. Dragging a lounge chair over the sand, he brought it next to Janine. He spread a towel over the chair. Unbuttoning his Hawaiian shirt, he whipped it off and sat down. “This is going to be one big happening day!”

I glanced over at Jim. His face was flushed with happiness. Janine had obviously not shared the divorce news with him.

“Yeah? You talk to the board of directors?” Janine asked.

Jim tugged off his shirt, revealing his strong shoulders and chest. “They know about the murder.” He propped himself on the arm of Janine’s chair. “I’m coming to the reading of the will. Targette, Dean’s lawyer, said I should be there.”

“When?” Janine asked.

Jim glanced at his watch. “We’ve got two hours.”

In my mind, Jim looked a little too smug about it all. I didn’t know him well but something told me he had a secret that he wasn’t about to share.

 “There’s something you’re not saying, isn’t there, Jimmy?” Janine said, confirming my suspicions. I had the feeling he knew something important about Dean’s will.

Rolling onto his stomach, Jim muttered into the towel. “Time will reveal all, Janine. Terry said we’re to get together in her suite.”

I pulled myself up on my elbows. “What happened to Wolf?”

Jim turned his head. “He had a phone call. Told me to tell you something’s come up.”

I’d been counting on Wolf to make me feel better, if not with good news, at least with his sexy smile. The sun beating down on my back and legs was uncomfortably hot. Any more of this and I’d be as red as an overly-ripe tomato. I stood up and gathered up my towel, folded it and pushed it into my bag.

“You’re going, Adie?” Janine asked.

“Um-mm. I think I’ll take a swim and have a shower. Diego invited me to be on his float tonight.”

Janine stroked her lower lip with her finger. “Does that mean what I think it means? Why don’t we meet for coffee tomorrow?”

“Sure.”

“Lorita’s?”

“Ten o’clock?”

Janine’s eyes twinkled. “Can’t wait!”

“See you!” I called out, heading up the stairs to the pool. I decided to place my things on an empty chair.

No one else was in the water. I stood on the ladder and pointed my toe into the water. The water was cool in contrast to the steamy air. From here I could see the beach—a few people snorkeling, but the rest of the guests were either in the restaurant or getting fried. This would be my workout. Sinking in bit by bit, I held onto the ladder. If I wanted to stay fit I’d have to suffer. There was nothing worse than an out-of-shape martial artist.

At the far end of the free-form pool my eyes lit on a shapely redhead stretched out on a chair. Terry. I was about to call out to her, when I noticed the handsome security guard from last night. He bent his head down and whispered something in her ear. Whatever he said had quite a reaction. She jerked up and grabbed her wrap. Quickly she tugged it on before she slipped her feet into flip-flops and took off in the direction of the elevator. He watched her a moment before he headed in the opposite direction.

Sliding into the water, I did a sidestroke, under the bridge towards the unoccupied chairs near the far end where Terry had been sitting. I had to swim hard or let the cold numb my extremities. This was twice now I’d seen her with the guard. Of course, the hotel management might have sent him. Her husband had been murdered and possibly they’d want to question her. I touched the end and swiveled around to swim back, slowing down a bit now that my body had acclimatized itself. I sank into a back stroke, relaxing in the water. What I wouldn’t give to go back to my room and have Wolf waiting for me in my king-sized bed. What was that goal of his—to make me feel better? Give me pleasure? I smiled, thinking of his sensuous lips on my body, making me melt faster than butter in the tropical sun. Soon. It had to happen soon.

I grabbed the ladder and climbed up. Grabbing my things, I started towards the elevator where Terry had disappeared. Too bad I couldn’t be a fly on the wall this afternoon when they read the will. I had the feeling there’d be some surprises for everyone. Hopefully, Don could tell me the details later. He’d said he’d be on the float—one of the sheiks. It was hard to believe Diego would allow other males up there. I could imagine Diego standing proudly on that float, knowing he was born to be the king of the Carnaval.

Sexy brandy eyes. I could hardly trust myself not to throw him down and kiss those succulent lips while I explored his svelte body with my fingers. Could I really believe he wanted me or was I just an ornament for his arm while he sat on his throne before the admiring masses? I’d have to be a fool to think this meant anything to him. Wealthy Santiago Francisco Bolivar Alvarez with tour group leader, Adie Sturm.

* * *

The bed was big, comfortable and sadly empty. That sexy man of mine was busy doing who knows what. I resigned myself to my second choice. Sleep. There was still time for a nap before getting ready to meet Diego’s driver in front of the hotel. I set my clock alarm and lay down. Sweet sleep—dreamless sleep. That’s what I needed. If only my bad luck would end. Through my open balcony doors, birds squawked noisily. Those were the last sounds I heard before I sank into a deep slumber. The drone of the alarm jarred me awake.

I pressed the button and sank back into my bed. I wasn’t feeling up to this whole Carnaval thing or those men. Ooops! Did I say men?

Yes, you did, My Hormone Voice whispered. You’re finally wisening up. Wolf is avoiding you, so take this as a sign. Diego will offer himself to you tonight and he doesn’t have a cobra hanging around—a definite advantage for you.

No it’s not! My Logical Voice chimed in. She’s always screwing up as far as men are concerned and let’s face it, Hormone, she’s getting closer to the big Three-Oh. Adie Sturm is no teenager. She has to consider a permanent relationship before all the good ones are gone.

Hormone chortled. Did you ever miss the boat! Diego is “The One”! Rich and hot doesn’t come along every day!

Right, Logical said dryly, she should go for a player! He’ll use and abuse her in no time. Besides, money isn’t the most important thinglove is.

“Shut up, already!” I said aloud in the room. I grimaced. I was seriously losing it. I needed food. Snacks. Diego had mentioned eating before the Carnaval parade. I glanced at my watch. “Hold on, stomach,” I said consolingly, “soon, twenty minutes max.”

From my dresser, I dug out a rose camisole and my denim skirt and slipped them on. High heeled, metallic sandals and the jade pendant that Wolf had given me, but nothing else. No need for jewelry since Diego would have me out of my clothes in no time. No, that wasn’t what I meant. I did have some common sense. What I meant to say is, his sister, Carmelita, a model with her own designer line, would have a costume for me and jewelry.

Romantic music. I headed over to the sliding doors. Enrique Iglesias crooning a song about his woman coming closer and hearing her breathe. Aa-ah, I sighed. To have Wolf breathe in my ear tonight and his body next to mine would be all I would need.

I glanced out to the area surrounding the pool below. It was quite a distance down from where I stood. So beautiful—the palms swaying, the Latin music and the warmth of the sun.

At the pool I spotted a lean, lanky blond guy sitting next to a brunette. Wow, I thought. He was hot—like Wolf. Such a lean yet athletic body. I leaned over the railing. If I had been holding a glass I would have dropped it. Luckily, for those people below, I was empty-handed. That man below so like the sea god was Wolf. And he was speaking to the viper perched on his chair.

 

Excerpt 

Dramatic black-liner rimmed slanty turquoise eyes. With sparkling gold eye shadow and glitter on her cheeks, the woman in the mirror had the unreal appearance of a wingless- fantasy fairy. The unfamiliar image frowned at me. My skin ached for moisture. Opening a jar of chocolate body butter, I rubbed the creamy lotion into my hands, thinking of the slut pirate wench, Sam. I smiled, pleased I’d wrenched Wolf away from the viper. She’d lost this one and I would get the spoils of the victory.

I glanced back up. The makeup was beautiful. No doubt about it, but it had to go. There was no use delaying it. That woman in the mirror wasn’t really me, anyway. “I have to wash this makeup off,” I called back over my shoulder to Wolf. Picking at a sequin on my cheek, I knocked it off. It flashed purple as it dropped to the floor. Taking a cleansing cloth from a package, I started wiping off the glitter around my eyes. Running some warm water, I filled the sink and rinsed my face, ridding myself of the remaining glue and grime. With closed eyes, I reached over and grabbed a towel to dry off. After dabbing my face, I looked up to check my cleanup job. Most of the makeup was gone but some sooty-black liner remained.

I reached over for another cleansing cloth. I felt rather than heard his presence behind me. I glanced in the mirror to see Wolf’s ruggedly asymmetrical face. From the mirror lights his bare broad shoulders and strong chest had a moist sheen. He wore black pirate breeches but that was all.

Standing behind me, he wrapped his arms around my waist and leaned down to kiss my ear. I bent my head away to allow him access to the curve of my neck, all the time watching him from half-closed eyes. His lips pressed softly, lingering with each kiss. His image oozed sexuality.

Seeing him in the mirror did strange things to me. It was as if he were a fantasy man and I was in a dream. When he pushed my hair aside for his mouth to nuzzle the hollow of my throat, fire blazed my body. His tongue and lips caressed me so sensuously I held my breath and let out a sigh that edged into a moan.

Slowly his hands left my naked waist and drifted up my sides. The journey of his fingers mesmerized me. I watched in wonder, my excitement mounting as they neared their destination. When the swell of my breasts received his light touch, my nipples stood to attention, waiting. His fingertips circled sensitively and with every movement I lost myself and entered his world.

Moving behind me, Wolf undid the tiny buttons of my gauzy top. His heavy-lidded eyes met mine. Quickfire surged down the length of my body. In the mirror I hardly recognized the woman whose eyes burned feverishly.

I shrugged off my gold top, letting it drop down to the tile floor. I stared back at his image as he pulled down the straps of my bra. My view was blocked for a moment as he moved forward, tenderly kissing my shoulder, while his hands lightly stroked my breasts through the silky fabric.

Behind me, he bent his head down. I could see his ruffled blond hair falling over his forehead. I felt him unfasten the hooks of my bra. Lifting my arms up to reach him, I ran my fingers through his tousled hair – smooth and silky-soft. I let my arms drop and my bra fell to the floor.

Delicious chocolate wafted in the air – the scent of the body butter lured me. Scooping out the thick balm, I brought my hands to my breasts and thickly coated them. He watched my fingers circle, slowly spreading the creamy lotion, stroking my palms over my nipples. Wolf pushed himself forward against my body, his eyes mesmerized by my hands gliding over my peaks.

Turning around, I gripped his pants to undo them but he took over and unbuttoned his breeches and pushed them down.

The aroma of chocolate lotion assailed my nostrils and again, I turned about and scooped some out. Still facing the mirror, I reached behind me to spread the thick cream over the velvety texture of his skin, staring at his face.

In the mirror, his blue eyes glimmered, like the waters of a fresh-water stream, so intense was his gaze. I was riveted to the pirate’s darkly lined eyes as he was to the reflection of the woman stroking…