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Dating A Cougar


SERIES: Never Too Late Series, Book 1
GENRE: Romantic Comedy, Military
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After)
WORD COUNT: 75,000 to 99,999 (large book)
HERO’S AGE: 30-39
HEROINE’S AGE: 40-49
HEAT LEVEL: Very Sexy (Let Me Show Exactly What I Want)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Some (The occasional “F” bomb, lots of smack talk, some explicit sex)

*****

They say you marry a person and not a family, but tell that to a Larson bride.

A year has passed since his ex-wife remarried. Now Will Larson’s adult sons have decided he needs their help to start dating again. His growing desperation to date retiring high school art teacher, Jessica Daniels, makes Will think suffering their help might be worth it.

He admires Jessica for her courageous art and for how she has dealt with the trauma of her life. Jessica assures Will she is incapable of lasting love, but he refuses to believe it’s true. Will is sure the only part of Jessica truly damaged by her past is her heart.

The skilled sculptor carves masterpieces from stone but soon discovers that he has a lot left to learn about the art of love.

READ AN EXCERPT

Casey frowned at the proof that Seth was as disconnected from reality as he feared. Though Seth did redeem himself slightly later by offering to do the dishes. When his cousin had removed the last evidence of their meal and left for good, Alexa reached over and patted his hand. Casey looked at her in surprise.

“Come on, Marine. The mission was not a total waste.”

“Mission? That obvious, huh?”

Alexa smiled. “The only thing obvious to me is how very proud of Seth you are. And well you should be. Top of his class at Harvard? That’s pretty impressive.”

She was relieved when Casey sighed and got more comfortable in his chair. She nodded in approval. “Dinner was great, by the way. You really can cook.”

She lifted her wine glass for another sip. It was very clear how much Casey loved Seth and wanted him to be happy, as any parent would want their child to be. And a parental figure was obviously how Casey saw his role in Seth’s life.

Setting down her wine, she smiled at Casey, trying to communicate a level of understanding she hoped he would find one day. Maybe the big Five-O birthday had brought some wisdom after all.

“Have you ever considered Seth is just being the person Seth needs to be right now? He’s driven to succeed. Some would say that kind of ambition is a positive trait.”

“Not Jenna,” Casey said bitterly. “And not me—I know how short life is.”

“Well, my daughter is just as focused in some ways. She’s entering the prime of her life. Right now Jenna’s hormones are driving her every bit as hard as Seth’s ambition is driving him.”

Alexa shrugged. There was little to be done about her daughter bending to mother nature. Her twenties and thirties had been just as challenging.

Casey sighed and nodded. “Would you believe Seth is the fun-loving one in our family?”

“No. I will never believe such a thing. You are a lot more fun,” Alexa said easily.

“I swear it’s the truth.” Casey protested Seth’s good traits, even over Alexa’s choked laughter.

He watched her lean her elbow on the table and put her chin in her hand.

“So tell me about your life, Casey Carter. I have a policy never to conspire with men I don’t know.”

He wondered if she had any idea how appealing she was leaning forward to listen, all her attention focused on him. He drank a bit of wine and shifted his leg into a more comfortable position.

“For years, I was every bit as focused on the military as Seth is right now on his business. Both Seth’s parents died in a car accident when he was twelve. Susan and I were living in Japan at the time. My parents had been killed in a boating accident a few years before his. Seth and I ended up being the only family either of us had left. So he came to live with us. It was an adjustment.”

Casey paused his story, remembering for a moment how it had begun.

“Susan and I never had children of our own. My career made that a challenge. For a long time after Seth came, we didn’t know what to do or how to deal with him. Susan was great. We probably didn’t do much real parenting, but we gave him love and support as best we could. Seth has turned out okay in most ways—stupidity about females notwithstanding.”

When Casey paused a second time, Alexa could see good memories of his wife and Seth softening his face. She felt an admiration for Casey and envy for the woman who had shared his life. She couldn’t help wondering what it felt like to be loved so much. “You and your wife did a great job, Casey. Seth is a good man, just self-absorbed, as many men tend to be at his age.”

“I guess that could be true,” Casey said, shrugging.

Alexa smiled. “So what happened to your wife? Divorce?”

“No. Death. Cancer,” Casey answered flatly. “When we got Susan’s diagnosis, they gave her less than two years. I had severely injured my leg while on embassy duty. I was medically discharged right after we found out. Susan lasted less than six months. Cancer’s a vicious disease. Worst combat I ever engaged in, and worst fight I ever lost.”

“All that pain at once. I’m really sorry, Casey.”

Alexa spoke softly, all laughter gone. She couldn’t even imagine watching someone she loved die.

“I’m sorry too,” Casey admitted, genuinely realizing how sorry, and that he hadn’t said those words to anyone quite as honestly as Alexa. He missed his wife, missed the military, and in fact, missed the entire life he gave up. He knew he was still coming to terms with losing all of it in such a short period of time.

For some reason Casey couldn’t yet explain, receiving genuine sympathy from the woman across the table was helping tremendously in easing the resentment that always seemed to ruin happier moments. Maybe it was the comfortable silence between them while they sipped their wine.

“So how about you?” Casey finally asked.

Alexa sighed and laughed a bit at the question.

Seeing her hesitation, Casey decided prodding was in order. “Come on now. I’ve spilled my guts. What’s the story for Alexa Ranger? I need to know if you are friend or foe in my campaign.”

Alexa leaned back and stretched her legs out under the patio table. Had she ever been this comfortable just talking to a man? Had she ever been this interested in one? Surprised but content to trust her instincts, Alexa found she wanted to tell Casey her story, which really was far more worrisome than merely wanting him sexually. It meant she liked him. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d genuinely liked a man other than Paul or Sydney.

“You want to hear about my business or the other stuff?” Alexa asked at last.

“We’ll save the business for another time.”

Alexa nodded, feeling a little buzz at thinking Casey really did seem interested in hearing her story. “Well, the personal and business stories are kind of linked anyway. I was a model at seventeen and did well at it. I gave up modeling a few years into it when I got pregnant at twenty-three with Jenna.”

She sighed as Casey’s gaze stayed on her face while she talked. “Jenna’s father and I married shortly after I discovered the pregnancy. He left me for someone else a couple of months before Jenna was born. We officially divorced before she was a year old. Sounds bad, but really it was for the best. We’ve been good parents together, but are much better friends than we ever were lovers.”

Casey nodded. “Jenna is great, too. You and her father did good work.”

“Thanks. After she was born, I took some of my modeling money and opened a lingerie store. I brought Jenna to work with me every day when she was younger. It was a very good life for a single mother.”

“Did you ever marry again?” he asked.

“No.” Alexa looked at Casey while she wondered how honest she dared be. The older she got, the less she wanted to play the “good woman” role for a man. She sighed heavily before continuing what she considered to be the crux of her life’s story.

“Throughout my twenties and my thirties, I kept looking for one man who would love me madly, and who I would want in my life all the time. In my thirties, I developed quite a reputation for my search because I dated so much.”

She sighed and shook back her hair.

“During my most active dating period, I was an up-and-coming businesswoman. When Jenna hit her teenage years, she and I had some problems because of my dating. I was not always discreet and saw no reason why I should be. A friend sent me to see Dr. Regina Logan.”

“I think I saw her on TV once. Isn’t she a . . .” Casey hesitated as he remembered the two women he’d seen Alexa with in the bar. It suddenly dawned on him Dr. Logan had been one of them.

“Sex therapist? Yes. That’s what Regina does for a living.” Alexa lifted her chin and met his gaze dead on. “She told me I was using men to make me feel better about myself. I spat swear words at her, yelled at her, and we’ve been friends ever since. She was right of course. I don’t think Regina is wrong very often about anything or anyone.”

Alexa drained the last of her wine for courage, not looking to see if Casey was shocked or not. She decided to just spill it all to him. “By the time I hit my forties, I was dating less. In the last few years, I haven’t cared about dating at all. With the exception of my ex-husband, whose company I still like, most men my age are boring to be around. I have more fun with my friends.”

“Don’t you miss the sex?” Shocked at the boldness of his own question, Casey was relieved when Alexa only laughed. “Sorry. I meant to say—don’t you miss the companionship.”

“No, you didn’t—and yes is the answer to your question. Sometimes I miss the companionship,” Alexa admitted on a laugh, using his euphemism. “How about you?”

Hell, yes,” Casey stated firmly, crossing his arms over his chest. “Susan died two years ago, but I’m too busy trying to figure out what to do with myself to move on. Walking is a challenge some days. My retirement is meager in this economy and I don’t have a new job yet. Up until just recently, it seemed like kind of a minor thing to worry about a lack of—companionship.”

“I hear you,” Alexa said, smiling in sympathy. “Sometimes it’s just all about timing, isn’t it? That becomes more obvious to me with every passing year.”

Casey believed Alexa really did hear him. He also saw that she somehow understood the hurt of his life, accepted how he dealt with it and thought well of him. His short conversation with her made him feel a hell of a lot better than the weeks of therapy he’d endured through the veteran’s center. The bottom line was that Alexa Ranger looked at him with more approval than Casey had received from anyone in a very long time.

“I’m sure you’ll be moving on soon. You seem to be a good man, Casey Carter. There are a lot of women out there looking for a good man. I have a feeling all the companionship you’ll ever want is just right around the corner waiting for you.”

“Sounds good. What about you? Are you still looking?”

Instead of answering, Alexa laughed softly and got up to leave.

Casey started to stand as well, but was afraid he’d be too slow. In a panic to detain her, he reached out and grabbed Alexa’s wrist, practically pulling her across the patio table. It was a reminder of when they first met. He could see in her expression the action had reminded her, too. But this time he wasn’t letting her go without letting her know how it affected him.

Alexa tried to pull away, but Casey wouldn’t let her. She felt his firm grip on her wrist pretty much everywhere. She sighed and swore softly. She didn’t know whether to thank Casey for making her feel excitement again or run like hell from him because he was too young to be making a move on her. She tugged her wrist trying to break free.

“No. Don’t run away this time,” Casey said, moving to stand in front of her. “Are you still looking? I would really like to know, Alexa.”

MEET DONNA MCDONALD

Donna McDonald published her first romance novel in March of 2011. Fifty plus novels later, she admits to living her own happily ever after as a full-time author.

Her work spans several genres, such as contemporary romance, paranormal, and science fiction. Humor is the most common element across all her writing.

Addicted to making readers laugh, she includes a good dose of romantic comedy in every book.