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Table

of Contents
Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Epilogue
SAVING RED
A NAUGHTY BEASTS & FILTHY PRINCES ROMANCE
CARTER BLAKE
Copyright © 2017 by Carter Blake
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical
means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written
permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
CONTENTS

Epigraph
Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Epilogue
More Naughty Beasts & Filthy Princes
PREVIEW: Thunderstruck
PREVIEW: The Nanny and the Beast
PREVIEW: Hot Takeover
PREVIEW: Pretend to be Mine
About the Author
Also by Carter Blake
EPIGRAPH

“Never trust a stranger friend


No-one knows where it may end
As you’re pretty, so be wise
Wolves may lurk in every guise
Now as then, ‘tis simple truth
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.”

Charles Perrault
PROLOGUE

ASH

A girl’s scream pierces through my sleep. Heart racing, I


jump from my bed, tearing down the stairs from my
apartment above the five-car garage. Cold air bites at my chest
when I step outside, snow and wind whipping harshly around
me.
Another cry. Followed by the distinct sound of growls and
barking.
She’s close.
Ignoring the sharp pain that slices through my bare feet as
they scrape against ice and snow, I grab the first weapon I see, an
axe, and move quickly towards whatever crisis lies ahead.
A flash of red through the white blizzard is my focal point.
The girl’s pale face and large brown eyes meet mine when I
barrel through the trees towards the edge of the Redmond’s
large property.
Ella.
The hood of her red jacket is caught on the steel fence. A
silver wolf surrounds her, lips curled back over large fangs that
drip with saliva. It crouches low, moving forward, and lets out a
threatening growl.
Terror strikes through me as I watch the animal position itself
to pounce, eyes flashing gold when they catch the light of the
moon.
Adrenaline pounding through my veins, I bound over the
fence, dropping in front of her and swinging the axe towards the
snarling beasts.
“Watch out,” she screams, when the animal lunges at me.
The blunt end of the axe hits the animal with a sickening
crunch.
A snap.
A snarl.
One wrong move and the beast sinks its fangs into my calf.
I grit my teeth, and strike out with the axe, sending it
whimpering backwards. I swing again, hollering madly and
driving the wolves back into the shadowed forest.
When I turn back to Ella, her eyes are wild, her breathing
rough and uneven.
“You… you were amazing.” Her gaze trails down my bare
chest, then back up to my face, and her tongue darts out across
her bottom lip.
Fuck.
“Are you hurt?” I demand, moving towards her, reaching out
to unsnag her hood from the fence.
“I-I don’t think so.” Her lips tremble, dark auburn hair
whipping around her heart-shaped face.
I give a harsh nod. “Can you climb?”
She glances at the fence. “I think so.”
Hands on her hips, I help her over. Then, with less agility
than I had before, I climb over myself, grunting when I hit the
ground as pain shoots up my leg.
“Was that… was that a wolf?” She asks, voice wobbly.
My nostrils flare at the innocence behind her dark eyes. How
many years has the girl been coming here to visit her
grandmother, and she still thinks this place is as safe as the
boarding school she attends ten months of the year.
“Yeah, that was a fucking wolf, and it would have devoured
you if I hadn’t heard your screams.”
She flinches.
“What the hell are you doing out here?”
The quick glance away, and the red that creeps into her
cheeks tells me everything I need to know. There’s a boy
involved.
Every protective bone in my body goes on high alert. Not that
I have any right to feel that way. She’s nobody to me. Just the
stubborn, over-pampered granddaughter of the woman I work
for.
The girl is beautiful, yes. But she’s young. And way out of my
league. Not to mention that she seems terrified every time she
comes into my presence. Even now, her eyes dart apprehensively
over the ink that marks my bare chest.
But right now, it isn’t fear I see in her eyes, instead I see
something that shouldn’t be there—lust. The pure, innocent
hunger that could have even a grown man on his knees begging
for one taste.
Shit.
My cock twitches, but my brain screams danger.
“Let’s go.” I grip her arm, and start to pull her towards the
house.
I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all feeling in my feet. My leg is
pulsing, blood caked into my ripped jeans and freezing against
my skin.
“You’re bleeding,” she says, concern in her voice.
“I’ll be fine.” After a few stitches, and half a bottle of
bourbon.
At the garage, I release her and toss the axe up against the
side of the building.
She glances up the hill toward the main house, then back to
me, fingers twisting together. The wind still whips around us,
cold and daunting, but the way she’s looking at me sends fire
blazing through my veins.
“What?” I growl out.
Another small flinch, then she straightens her shoulders and
meets my gaze with more confidence than a girl her age should
have. “Thank you.”
I grunt. “Get inside before you freeze to death.”
Turning towards the door that leads up to my apartment, I
don’t wait to see if she obeys. I’m fucking freezing, and the only
thing that’s going to warm me up tonight is the bottle of
Jameson waiting for me upstairs.
The crunch of snow behind me warns me she’s following me.
Shit.
“You’re…” She breathes out a shaky breath and follows me
up the stairs. “You’re not going to tell on me, are you?”
Flinging open my apartment door, I make a beeline for the
kitchen cupboards, pull out a bottle of whisky, and take a deep
swig, before slowly turning and leaning against the counter.
Ella stands in the doorway, eyes roaming around the large
room. She’s never been up here before, at least not since I’ve
lived here. And she shouldn’t be here now.
“No, kid. I’m not going to tell your grandma that you snuck
out in the middle of the night and almost got yourself killed by a
pack of ravenous wolves.”
She pulls her hood back, exposing her flawless features, the
thick mane of dark auburn hair falling over her shoulders, and
juts her chin out. “I’m seventeen. I’m not a kid.”
“You’re acting like one if you have to sneak out.” I rake my
fingers through my hair and take another swig straight from the
bottle, the liquid finally starting to warm the cold from my
bones. My lips pull up over my teeth, and I snarl, “When you
don’t have the common sense to protect yourself from danger.”
Usually my prickliness sets her running in the opposite
direction, but not tonight. Tonight, she seems dead set on
driving me insane.
She moves into the room, hand reaching out to trace the edge
of the wooden footboard of my bed. It’s the only piece of
furniture I brought with me when I moved here. An antique piece
that used to be my parents when they owned the ranch on the
northeast side of the property.
Back when my family actually had something more than a
black cloud of debt hanging over their head.
It’s why I’m here now, working like a dog for minimum pay.
But it’s a job. And I need the money. Rancher turned
groundskeeper. It’s not ideal, but at least I have a roof over my
head, and enough money to send to my sister each month.
The work is easy. At least it is when Ella isn’t here distracting
me and making me question every reason why I hate the
Redmond family.
The girl is standing at the foot of my bed, big, looking around
with those innocent eyes like she has no fucking idea what I
want to do to her. And if I wasn’t a better man, I might give into
those dark, wicked cravings.
I take another long swallow, not taking my eyes off her.
“Ca-can I have some?” Her gaze is on the bottle, and she
takes a few steps towards me.
Yeah, the girl didn’t know danger when she was standing
right in front of it.
I hand her the whisky and she takes a deep swallow, her eyes
water as the burn hits her throat and she hisses, “God, that’s
awful.”
Grunting, I take the bottle from her hands, ignoring the
warmth that spreads up my arms when my fingers brush against
hers.
“The wolf… it bit you.” She’s close now, her gaze darting
across the ink on my chest and arms, and I can see her fingers
itching to touch me, to trace the patterns.
I swallow the groan that vibrates in my throat.
“It’s just a flesh wound,” I lie, knowing I’m probably going to
need a couple of stitches, which I’ll do myself once she finally
leaves me in peace. “I’ve had worse.”
Her brows draw up. “You’ve been bitten before?”
“My family owned a cattle ranch. It was part of my job to hunt
down the predators that threatened our herd. I had a few run-ins
with wolves, coyotes, even a few mountain lions, and the odd
bear.”
“Wow.” She’s looking at me like I’m a fucking superhero, and
not the predator that wants to devour her whole.
The pull between us is almost tangible.
Fuck. I need to get her out of here before I do something
stupid.
“You should go,” I growl out, glaring at her.
“Do you want me to look at it?” She bites her bottom lip and
glances down at my leg. “If you take your pants off—”
I groan, and her eyes widen. She licks her lips, and leans in.
Like a moth to the flame, she has no idea how close she is to
getting burned.
Yeah, too fucking innocent.
The girl is a goddamn siren sent to tease me.
I wrap a tendril of her hair around my fingers and give a small
tug. “You want to tell me why you were out there all alone?”
She glances down, pink infusing her cheeks. “I was supposed
to meet someone.”
“Supposed to?”
“He didn’t show.”
“A boyfriend?” Every muscle in my body tenses at the
thought.
“No.” She shakes her head. “I mean. Well, I thought…
maybe. I met him a couple nights ago at a soiree my
grandmother was hosting.”
I have no clue what a goddamn soiree is, and I’m pretty sure I
have no desire to. Most likely it was just another name for one of
those god-awful parties the rich throw for any excuse to dress up
and flaunt their wealth.
She’s fidgeting now, dark eyes downcast. “He…”
The small shaky breath she exhales tugs at something in my
chest.
“What?” I demand, making her flinch, and her gaze pulls
back to mine.
She gives a small shrug and more pink floods her cheeks.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
I grunt, “Try me.”
Her shoulders straighten, and her face goes serious. “I
thought he might be the one.”
“The one?” Possessiveness flares.
She sucks her bottom lip between her teeth, a flash of
uncertainty crossing her expression, before saying, “My first.”
“First?” I fucking hope to hell she isn’t saying what I think
she is. “First what?”
“First everything.” She lets out a frustrated breath. “I’ve
been stuck in that horrible prison my grandmother calls a
boarding school for so long that I never get to do anything. Do
you know there’s no guys there… at all? Except for the principal
and a few teachers. But they’re old, and…” She lets out a deep
sigh. “I’m the only one of my friends that’s never been kissed.
That’s never been…”
“I get it.” Leaning back against the counter I drag a rough
hand through my hair.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
I don’t know why either, but every word that tumbles from
those lush lips only intensifies the ache in my cock.
A low, muted growl rumbles up in my throat. “That’s not
something you give away to just anyone, Red.”
Raw energy pulses between us. Because the primal part of me
wants to claim her innocence. To devour her and make her mine.
“Why not?” Her hand reaches out to touch the ink on my
chest, and I catch her wrist.
“Because you deserve better.”
“Everyone’s always telling me what I need. What I should
want. Maybe I just want to choose for myself.” Her other hand
snakes up, palm flattening on my abs, then she leans closer, her
body pressing against mine. “What if I want danger…
excitement?”
My cock is rock hard, pressing painfully against the denim
that restrains it.
Only a fucking saint could resist an offer like that. And it’s
been a long time since I’ve had my halo.
I skate my hand around the back of her neck, my fingers
tangling in the hair at her nape and I tug, just hard enough to
make her chin tilt up, her gaze meet mine.
“Is this what you want, Red?” I say roughly against the shell
of her ear, sending a tremble through her body. “You want me to
bury my cock inside of you? To lick that sweet pussy until you’re
screaming my name?”
A small whimper is her only reply. And I can feel the fear that
mixes with innocent yearnings.
“Run away. little girl, before I decide to take you up on your
offer.” I inhale her scent, closing my eyes and struggling for
some control. “But trust me, sweetheart. I don’t play childish
games.”
Her breath hitches, and I feel her body tense, like she finally
has a clue about how much danger she’s actually in.
Good.
I release her, dropping my hand, and watch as she takes a few
quick steps backwards.
“I-I should go.”
“You should,” I agree, keeping my expression hard. No way
I’m going to let this girl know just how much she’s gotten under
my skin.
“Tha-thank you for saving me.” She stumbles towards the
door, pulling her hood over her head.
“Red.” The command in my voice is clear, and she stops,
glancing nervously over her shoulder, brown eyes wide when
they look at me. “Be safe. There are more than just wolves out
there ready to devour you.”
Confusion washes over her expression. So young. So naïve.
Again, something primal inside of me growls, wanting to
protect her. To keep her. To make her mine.
Foolishness. She belongs to a different world. One that I’ll
never be a part of.
She shoves her hands in her coat pockets and nods, then
disappears down the stairs.
I grab the bottle of whisky and down half the bottle because it
isn’t just my leg that’s throbbing now. The ache in my cock is
going to be a hell of a lot harder to get rid of.
CHAPTER 1

ELLA

Six Years Later…

M
estate.
y heart aches when I walk through the large wooden
doors that lead to the foyer of my grandmother’s

I was in France when I got the call that she passed.


Since then, the house has been left empty, except for the
staff.
The staff. A small shiver races down my back when I think of
Ash Hunter.
The man has done an exceptional job avoiding me over the
years, but the news I just received from my grandmother’s
attorney, placing me as the sole beneficiary of the estate, means
that I’m currently his employer.
A position I doubt either one of us is happy about.
“Would you like me to take your bags to your room?” The
butler who’s decked out in the whole penguin suit as to my
grandmother’s preference, stares down his nose at me, thin lips
pressed together severely.
“Thank you, George,” I say, trying to be as amiable as
possible. Already the staff are eyeing me warily, and I know what
they’re thinking. They’re wondering how a twenty-three-year-
old woman, who is supposed to be finishing up her last year of
under grad in art history, is going to manage an estate this size.
I’m trying to figure that out myself.
Because right now, I don’t have even the first clue as to where
to start.
I’m supposed to be meeting with another of my
grandmother’s lawyers later today to go over the finances, and
my stomach is twisting at the thought.
Walking through the foyer, I exit through the back doors,
taking in the huge estate.
Winterberry trees line one side of the house, the red berries
striking against the fresh white powder that has recently fallen.
A loud crack makes my heart nearly jump out of my chest.
Another whack.
The sound echoes around me.
“What in God’s name?” My feet crunch through the snow,
then stop cold when I see him.
Ash.
Axe flung over his shoulder, he picks up a log with his free
hand and places it vertically on a tree stump, then steps back,
and with perfect precision brings the axe down hard, splintering
the log in two equal halves.
Through the red flannel shirt, I can see his heavy corded
muscles bunch and tense. His large thighs strain at the denim,
and his ass… my god, but the man has the most perfect
backside.
His hair is longer than the last time I was here. Shaved on the
sides and hanging thickly over one half of his ruggedly
handsome face.
As if sensing my presence, he turns; blue eyes, dark and
intense as they land on me.
Flames lick at my flesh, burning through me, setting my
entire body on fire.
I feel the heat warm my cheeks, and when I start to take a
step backwards I lose my footing on a patch of ice and go
sprawling, landing hard with a sickening crunch.
Pain—sharp and hot—slices through my head as it bounces
off what I assume is an icy patch of concrete.
My vision darkens instantly even though I can hear and sense
the world moving around me.
A few deep, growl-like curses, are muttered above me. Hands,
big and strong, are touching me. Calloused fingers stroke my
face, and for a moment I don’t want my vision to return,
prepared to spend a few more moments of bliss in the man’s
embrace.
“Damn it, Red, open your eyes,” he demands roughly.
I blink several times, until the pinprick of light expands,
revealing the smoldering blue eyes that have haunted my
dreams for the last six years.
“What the hell were you thinking, wearing heels out here?”
His tone is harsh, his expression brooding, but there’s a
tenderness to his touch as he studies me, that makes the pain
seem to dissipate, replaced by an aching hunger that clenches
my core.
“Always my savior,” I try to joke, grinning up at him.
He grunts. “Because you’re always getting in trouble.”
I try to sit up and groan when the world spins.
“Here.” One arm snakes under my knees, the other behind
my back, and he hoists me up against his god-like body.
As much as I hate being the damsel in distress, I’m not about
to complain when he’s touching me.
As I inhale his scent—all male and woody—the butterflies in
my stomach start to do a little dance of joy.
He’s intoxicating. Reeking of pure primal masculinity.
Compared to the guys on campus—even the football jocks
who are gym buff—Ash is one hundred and ten percent sinew
and muscle.
I rest my cheek and palm on his chest as he carries me back
up to the house, squirming to get closer to him.
He lets out a harsh breath. “Stop that.”
“What?”
“You know what.” His tone is laced with frustration.
“I’m not seventeen anymore.” I blink up at him and reach out
to run my fingers across the ink along his neck that peeks out
from his shirt. “You don’t have to be such a… gentleman all the
time.”
“You think that’s what I am, Red?”
“That…” I know I’m pressing too hard when I say, “Or a
coward.”
A feral noise rushes from his lips, and my feet hit the floor
with a hard thud when he releases me. The only thing stopping
me from falling, one large arm wrapped tightly around my waist.
He doesn’t say anything, no brooding remark like I usually
get, just a concentrated look that makes me wonder if I went too
far.
Hunger.
Lust.
Stubborn determination to stay the hell away from me. That’s
what I see when I look in his eyes.
A man’s cough makes both of us tense. Ash drops his hold
and takes a step back.
“Miss Redmond?” A deep, velvety voice says almost lyrically
behind me.
Frustrated by the stranger’s rotten timing, I turn to face the
intruder, only to be met by a pair of striking light brown eyes.
Eyes the color of honey, framed by thick black lashes.
The man is devastatingly handsome, in the typical blueblood
way. Chiseled features, strong jaw, straight nose, dark hair just
long enough to give him a sexy mussed look that would make a
woman beg to run her fingers through it.
One side of his grin tilts up higher than the other in a smirk
that tells me he knows exactly what kind of effect he has on
people.
“I’m Jared Wolfe.” He takes a step towards me, hand
outstretched. “I’m the lawyer from Wolfe, Perrault, and
Associates, who’s handling your grandmother’s estate.”
I take his hand, and stammer, when I feel the slice of energy
that sizzles between us, “Ri-right. Sorry, I didn’t think you were
coming until later.”
He doesn’t let go of his grip, just keeps those hypnotizing
eyes focused on me. “If it’s a bad time—”
“No. It’s fine.” I shake my head, glancing at Ash from the
corner of my eye, who’s standing all dark and brooding, glaring
between us. Ignoring him, I turn back to Jared and grin up at
him. “Why don’t we go into the study?”
The man’s smile broadens, and he gives a small nod.
I swear I hear a low growl come from Ash’s direction when I
turn and start to walk away.
The man is so hard to read. I swear, one minute he’s looking
at me like he wants to tear my clothes off, and the next he’s
treating me like I’m a child that needs protecting, or worse—a
spoiled rich girl he can’t stand being in the same room with.
In the study, I glance around the giant room with its unread
books, and antique furniture, and suddenly feel extremely self-
conscious.
The large mahogany desk where my grandfather used to sit
and drink bourbon and smoke cigars, while I colored on the floor
beside him, is another reminder I’m just playing grownups; that
I really have no idea what I’m doing.
As if sensing my unease, Jared motions to one of the leather
chairs. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Okay.” I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants and sit down.
He follows suit, sitting in the adjacent chair and placing his
leather case on the desk. Leaning back, he steeples his fingers in
front of his mouth and studies me.
I shift uncomfortably under his intimate gaze. “What exactly
did you want to talk about?”
He gives me a sympathetic look, one that makes my stomach
flip flop, because I know what it means—trouble.
“You’re aware that the estate has been left solely in your
name?”
I nod, sitting straighter and bracing myself for the but that I
know is coming.
“As trustee of the estate, my law firm is legally—”
“What do you mean, trustee?”
“Your grandmother entrusted my firm to oversee the estates’
finances while she was ill or incapacitated. Now that it’s in your
name, my company holds the right to oversee the estate until
you turn thirty.”
“Thirty? But that’s years away.”
“Yes.”
“I don’t understand. Why would she give you that much
power?” I don’t even know the man. And I’m pretty sure my
grandmother never mentioned him.
“She trusted me.” His grin is dark and full of hidden
meaning. “And I hope you will too.”
An unsettled feeling stirs in my stomach. But my
grandmother was a smart woman, she wouldn’t have given just
anyone that much power without fully trusting them.
“Okay,” I say, uncertainty making my voice catch. “So, what
happens? What do I do?”
“You don’t have to do anything. I’ll take care of paying the
staff, and any bills that ensue, and you’ll be given an allowance.”
“An allowance?” Each word he utters makes me feel more
and more like an incompetent child.
“It’ll be enough to let you live the lifestyle you were already
living. You can go back to school and finish—”
“And if I want to stay here?”
He frowns. “It’s your house, legally. If that’s what you want,
you can stay.”
Then why do I feel like I suddenly need permission from him?
“And you?”
He cocks an eyebrow. “And me, what?”
“Where do you stay?”
A deep chuckle rumbles in his chest. “Not here, if that’s what
you’re suggesting.”
“Right.” Heat warms my cheeks, once again I'm feeling
foolish.
He tilts his head that same seductive grin playing on his lips.
“Can I make a suggestion, Miss Redmond?”
“Of course.”
“You’re a very beautiful, young woman, who has recently
come into a great amount of wealth. You need to be aware that
there will be many men who will take an interest in you.” He
nods towards the door, and I know where his mind wanders.
Ash.
Defensiveness steels my spine. “I’m perfectly capable of
handling my own love life.”
Again, that grin. “I’m sure you are. I just want you to be
careful.”
Careful. I hate that word. What I want is to be wild, to ride the
wave of danger. To live and love and not worry about the damn
consequences.
What I want is Ash.
“Thank you for your advice, Mr. Wolfe.” I start to stand and
he takes my hand.
“Jared,” He says, thumb stroking across the back of my hand,
sending small bolts of electricity sparking through me.
“Jared,” I repeat, unable to break from his mesmerizing gaze.
He leans closer, his expression full of intent, and his gaze
drops to my mouth.
Hot.
Intense.
The man is all charm and raw sexuality, and it’s nearly
impossible not to respond to his touch.
It’s not the same all-consuming, carnal desire that I get with
Ash, but it’s something. I just can’t think straight enough to
figure out what.
“Would you like to have dinner with me?” he asks, not
loosening his grip.
“Dinner?” I repeat. My voice is weak, shaky, and annoyingly
childish, even to me.
He keeps watching me, lips quirked up in a sexy grin.
“Tomorrow night?”
“Oh… all right.” I give a small nod. “Tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you then, Ella.” His voice drips with promise.
I watch his back as he exits the study, seeing Ash still
standing in the foyer, all fire and broodiness, with his dark
scruff, and plaid shirt rolled up, exposing his inked forearms. A
striking comparison to the cool and collected man who just
asked me out on a date.
It was a date, right?
I haven’t been on one in months. Too busy with school. Or at
least that’s what I tell myself. It has nothing to do with the fact
I’m obsessing over a man that doesn’t want me.
Maybe Jared Wolfe is exactly what I need to get my mind off
Ash Hunter.
CHAPTER 2

ASH

“W hat did he want?” I demand, when Ella walks out


of the office, her cheeks flushed.
Her eyes widen slightly at my outburst. “It’s none of your
business.”
I rough my fingers through my hair and try to contain the
anger that bubbles up in my chest. “Do you have any idea who
that man is?”
“He is… was my grandmother’s lawyer, and now he’s mine.”
She starts to turn away, and I move between her and the door.
“What do you mean yours?”
With a heavy sigh, she says, “He’s in charge of the estate, for
now. I guess my grandmother didn’t think I was old enough to
handle all of this.”
I can hear the hurt and resignation in her voice, but there’s
also something more… relief?
“So, what does that mean?”
“It means you still have a job. And I can go back to my old life
and not have to worry about any of this.”
“You’re leaving?” A lump sits heavy in my stomach.
“I haven’t decided yet. When I have dinner with Jared
tomorrow, I’ll—”
“You’re having dinner with him?” My voice is rough, edged
with the frustration I can’t hold back.
“Yes.” She holds my gaze, chin jutted up stubbornly as if
daring me to protest.
“You need to be careful around him.”
“Funny. He said the same thing about you.”
“I’m sure he did,” I mumble, then catch her arm when she
starts to walk away.
Instant heat pulsates through me, and I see it in her eyes too.
As if burned, I release her quickly, which only gets me an eye
roll and a frustrated sigh.
“I mean it,” I warn. “The guy is a predator. If he asked you to
dinner, it’s because he wants something.”
“I know what he wants.” Her words are confident, but her
expression is filled with uncertainty.
“You sure about that?”
“I’m not as naïve and innocent as everyone seems to think I
am.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You don’t have to. I can see it in your eyes.” She takes a step
towards me, finger jamming in my chest. “The way you look at
me. Like I’m some fragile, over-privileged child that can’t take
care of myself. I’ve been on my own for a long time.” There are
tears in her eyes when she continues, her palms now on my
chest giving me one solid push that doesn’t even make me
flinch. But still she continues, “Yeah, I have money. A lot of it.
But that doesn’t mean my life has been easy.” Another shove
against my chest. Her words laced with all the heartbreak and
anxiety she’s obviously been bottling inside of her. “I just wish
for once in my goddamn life, someone would treat me like an
adult.”
I capture her wrists when she goes to shove me again. She
looks up at me, desperation pouring from her eyes. I can’t help
my reaction. The only thing I’ve ever wanted for her is to keep
her safe—especially from me. But I’m starting to wonder if by
keeping my distance I haven’t left her exposed to even more
danger.
“You want to be treated like an adult?” I dip my head, so close
I can feel her uneven, ragged breath against my lips.
“Yes,” she whimpers, gaze dropping to my mouth. “Please,
Ash.”
That’s all it takes for me to lose all self-control. My lips crash
against hers, taking the kiss I’ve been so desperate for.
She sucks in a small breath, her mouth parting and allowing
me entrance. I sweep my tongue against hers, and devour the
little moan she gives.
Her hands are on me, fingers curling in my shirt, pulling
desperately until they snake underneath, her touch skating
across my abs.
Tangling my fingers in her hair, I take what I’ve wanted for so
long, feeling the softness of her body melting against mine.
All control gone, I know there’s no holding back. Not now
when I’ve actually had a taste of what I’ve been missing.
“Red,” I growl against her lips when her fingers move to the
buckle of my pants.
Shit. If I don’t stop now, I’m going to end up fucking her right
here in the front hall where any one of the staff could walk in on
us.
This is wrong.
I’m all wrong.
I do this and there’s no way in hell either of us are walking
away whole. There’s too much between us. Too much heat. Too
much history. Too many secrets.
I pull back quickly, regretting it the second I see the hurt in
her eyes.
“Red—”
“No more excuses. Either you want me or you don’t.”
“It’s not that fucking simple.”
“It is that simple,” she says, eyes full of challenge.
When I don’t respond, she shakes her head, swollen lips
clamped tight, then storms up the stairs without another word.
CHAPTER 3

ELLA

T he restaurant Jared chose is a small little bistro that


my Grandmother used to take me to whenever I
visited. It’s my favorite place to eat in this city, and I wonder if
Jared knew that. If that’s why he chose it. And if he does, what
else does he know about me?
“You look beautiful,” Jared says, standing and taking my
hand, then pulling out my chair for me to sit when I approach.
He’s dressed in a black pin-striped suit that accentuates his
lean, muscular physique, and narrow hips.
I fidget with the black clutch that matches the dress I chose
for tonight. “Thank you.”
“Wine?”
I nod, letting him pour me a glass from the bottle that’s
already open on the table. McManis Cabernet Sauvignon.
Another of my favorites. Unease settles in my stomach.
Throughout dinner, I can’t help but squirm under his cool
gaze.
“You’re been studying art history,” he says, tilting his wine
glass against his lips, then taking a small sip while watching me.
“Yes.”
“Your grandmother told me you have a talent for oils.”
“She did?” I frown, because my grandmother had rarely
complimented me, and never about my art. She called it
frivolous child’s play.
“She showed me some of your pieces.”
“I didn’t realize that she kept them.” Or that she was close
enough to this man to share them with him.
My grandmother was a quiet woman, preferring her own
company to that of other people.
“She gave me one,” he says, long fingers tapping on the
table, eyes never leaving mine.
“One of my paintings?”
“A watercolor you did of the estate.”
I chuckle, mostly from nerves. “She was probably happy to
get rid of it.”
“Actually, I asked to buy it.”
I frown at him. “Why?”
“I wanted something, a piece of the incredible young woman
Annabelle was always talking about.”
Confusion rolls through me. “I’m surprised she spoke to you
about me.”
“Really? Why?”
“She just…” I laugh. “She never acted like she liked me very
much. After my parents died, she sent me to boarding school. I
lived there most of the year, and when I came…” Home isn’t the
right word, because the estate always seemed more like a prison
then a home. “…back for summer and winter break, she
appeared glad to see me. In fact, she was never particularly
happy to see anyone. I’m surprised she took to you the way she
did.”
“Annabelle was a hard woman to get to know, but we had two
things in common.”
“What was that?”
“Keeping the Redmond Estate from falling into the wrong
hands.”
That was my grandmother’s greatest concern. She loved that
house more than she loved anything.
“Why do you care what happens to the property? You get paid
either way.”
He chuckles. “I do. But I’ll be honest, I do have a vested
interest. My family owns the property northeast of the estate.
For years, contractors have been buying out the surrounding
land, turning it into commercial property.”
“And that would be a bad thing?”
“It would be a terrible thing. All that land—the forests and
green spaces—turned into a suburban playground.”
I can almost hear my grandmother’s voice as he speaks.
“My grandmother always worried that I’d turn the old house
into a bed-and-breakfast when she passed away.”
A deep frown draws his brows together. “Have you thought
about that?”
“No.” I laugh. “I don’t have the organizational skills for
something like that.”
“But you have thought about selling the property?” He’s still
frowning.
“I don’t know… I guess. I never really saw myself living there.
It’s just a lot more than I can handle myself. But I’m assuming
my grandmother wrote something into her will stopping me
from selling?”
“She did.” He takes a sip of his wine. “But as with any
contract there are loopholes.”
“What kind of loopholes?”
His lips twitch. “I want to be honest with you, Ella. You’re a
very beautiful young woman. But that’s not the only reason I
asked you to dinner.”
The lump that’s been in my stomach all evening gets heavier.
“Then why did you ask me?”
“Because I think we can help each other.”
“How?” I lift my glass to my lips and take a small sip.
“Marry me.”
I choke on my wine. Because of all the things I thought he’d
say, that was the furthest thing from my mind.
“Hear me out before you say no.” He leans towards me, and
captures my hand that rests on the table. “In the will, your
grandmother stated that you wouldn’t obtain the full rights to
the estate until your thirtieth birthday. Marriage would rectify
that. You would be able to claim your inheritance now.”
“And what do you get out of it?”
“You.”
I shiver under his hypnotizing gaze. “You barely know me.”
“I know you better than you think I do. I’ve been watching
you all these years. Waiting for the right time to tell you how I
feel. I know it’ll take time for your own feelings to catch up, but
I’m a patient man. Like I said earlier, Annabelle, and I had two
things in common: our mutual affection for the land, and for
you.”
This is insane.
“I—”
“Think about it.” He grins at me, still clutching my hand.
“That’s all I ask.”
“Okay,” I say, draining the rest of the wine in my glass in one
fell swoop. “I can do that.”
Jared ogles me like a predator would his prey. He brings the
linen napkin to his face and wipes away at nonexistent smudges
of food around the corner of his mouth, never breaking eye
contact. He curls his lips back, exposing a little too much teeth
in his smile.
“Excellent,” he says.
A shiver runs down my spine. There’s something about him I
can’t put my finger on. It’s like he’s on the wrong side of wicked.
The glint in his eyes and the sharp edge of his smile scream
danger. It’s unsettling and heady, but I can’t help but be drawn
to it.
Jared’s exhilarating.
“Looks like you’re low on wine. That won’t do.” In one swift
motion, he tops up my glass. “An occasion like this calls for a
toast, though I’m far more partial to a private celebration later.”
I give him my best seductive smile and sip on the wine. Jared
talks a great deal for the rest of our meal and I struggle to keep
up. My attention is divided because my mind’s swimming with
the possibilities of his offer.
I’m powerless to a man who can intrigue me into submission
with little more than a few firmly spoken words. I wish I had a
frame of reference to know what’s in store for me with a tall,
dark, and enticing man, on my heels. My imagination is in
overdrive. I picture Jared trailing his massive hands all over my
body. What his weight would feel like pressing down on me, our
skin to skin contact as he ravishes me.
Jared’s pull isn’t the same as Ash’s. I don’t feel any passion
for him, but my body reacts to his magnetism.
Physical.
Animalistic.
I’m certain he wouldn’t treat me like a helpless little girl, but
rather like a woman. When I’m with him, I’ll command respect.
Exude sophistication. No one will deny me anything I desire,
least of all him.
Freedom. The promise of the world at my feet is a temptation
I’m willing to give into.
Yes, his offer is one that demands careful consideration.
CHAPTER 4

ASH

W hen Ella steps through the gates of the estate, I’m


on her. Not in the way I wish I were, but on her all
the same. If Jared Wolfe is sniffing around, it can only mean he’s
thick in his schemes, and plots to take advantage of her.
He might have her wrapped around his slippery fingers. He
might even be able to captivate her with every deceitful word
that slithers out of his mouth. But if he’s dropping her off at
home intact, there’s still time to change that.
She’s not his yet.
I let go off the rake I’m holding. It drops to the ground with a
heavy thud. All it takes is two large strides and I’m towering over
her. “What did that bastard want?”
Ella looks up at me with those big doe eyes. Her posture
immediately turns vixen. Back straight, shoulders square, and
breasts threatening to explode out of her form-fitting shirt.
She notices my gaze on her body and gives me a slow,
maddening smile. “You were saying?” Her voice is throaty. Raw.

My cock stiffens against my work pants.


It’s ridiculous, the hold she has over me.
“I asked you what that bastard wanted,” I growl out.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but it was a proposal.”
Ella’s tone is casual, but it doesn’t fool me. Whatever it was that
he proposed, it was bad news. She saunters away, heading to the
estate.
I plan to follow her, but before I do, I take a moment to
appreciate the view. The contrast between her slim waist and
shapely hips is enough to make any man ravenous. I have to
remind myself that there are more important matters to attend
to. Shifting my focus from Ella’s ass to the issue at hand, I hurry
after her.
“What kind of proposal?” I call.
Ella can’t hide the amusement that’s taken over her
expression. She’s taking pleasure in making me wait in
anticipation, which tells me that whatever she’s about to say is
sure to be a doozy. “The marriage kind,” she says, and then
she’s climbing up the winding stairs that lead to her bedroom
and impromptu studio.
“He what?” My voice carries and reverberates throughout the
empty house. I take the stairs two at a time, chasing after her.
She turns to face me just as she reaches the threshold to her
room. “Jared asked me to marry him. And I’m inclined to say
yes.” The theatrical way she bursts open the double doors does
nothing to diminish my anger.
I stop dead in my tracks. “You can’t be serious?” It’s the only
thing I can muster. “You are not going to marry him.”
Ella throws her purse on the thick covers that dress her bed
and kicks off her shoes. “And why is that? Because there are so
many other suitors clamoring to marry me? No. There aren’t.”
I bridge the distance between us. “Listen to me, Red,” I say
through clenched teeth, my face an inch away from hers.
“You’re going to turn him down and report him to his firm. He’s
a snake.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” she snaps. “I don’t even know
why you care. You couldn’t have been clearer about your lack of
interest in me than you were yesterday.”
“You are not going to marry him,” I repeat.
Ella doesn’t back down. “Make me a better offer then.” She
comes even closer, so close that I can feel her breath. Her
heaving chest is barely touching mine.
I groan. Before I can control myself, I’m grabbing a fistful of
her hair and bringing her mouth to mine.
The electricity between us is searing. Ella parts her mouth,
inviting me in. I take the inch she’s giving me and stretch it to a
mile. My tongue meets hers, deepening the kiss. She sighs and
melts in my arms. Pushing her on the bed, I allow my hands to
explore every inch of her in a frenzy. When touching doesn’t cut
it anymore, I rip her top open.
Her breasts spill out of a bra that’s clearly not equipped to
handle them. I catch the faintest hint of a nipple peeking out.
My cock throbs. I bury my face in her chest, only lightly teasing
her nipple with the tip of my tongue. It’s enough to make it go
rigid.
“Take it off,” Ella breathes, guiding my hand to the front
clasp of her bra. I open it with ease, exposing her bare breasts.
Gooseflesh spikes her skin and seeing what I did to her with
minimal touching makes me delirious.
My hands roam the length of her body. I part her legs, hike
her skirt up, and see only a flimsy fabric standing in the way of
my mouth and hands accessing her wetness. She’s soaked
through her underwear, which fuels my desire. I tear her panties
off. Ella gasps, clearly not expecting that. It’s my turn to flash
her a devious smile.
I use my fingers deftly, first teasing her with light caresses
that make her buck beneath me. She looks at me with hungry
eyes, her lust thickening the air around us.
Two fingers inside her. I move hard and fast. Ella writhes on
the bed, her moans getting closer together and more urgent. It
drives me wild that she’s so ripe, so ready for me to take her.
Without any warning, she props herself up while I’m still
fingerfucking her and reaches to unzip my pants.
I don’t need any more encouragement to take action. I stop
touching her body to take off my own clothes, starting with my
shirt. It goes over my head and on the floor in record time. I feel
Ella’s hands on my crotch, rubbing the length of my shaft. The
faintest whisper of a touch from her makes me harder than I
knew I could get.
I begin to unbuckle my belt while Ella pulls back and proceeds
to remove her skirt and whatever remains of her shredded
underwear. Staring at her naked body is a revelation. Smooth,
soft skin, as far as the eye can see. Only the sparsest patch of
hair between her legs, a tiny detail that reminds me that she’s all
woman, all temptress, and she’s looking at me with dirty in her
eyes.
Cock unbridled, I move to take her. I remember what Ella said
about taking that asshole’s proposal into consideration. My
anger flares up again, but I direct it toward her. Despite how
forward she’s been so far, she’s pressing her legs together.
Tentatively, I pull her knees apart and take in the sight of her,
stark naked and swollen, while her legs are up in the air in a V-
shape.
Just as I’m about to thrust into her, I notice she’s tense.
“Ash, can we... take this slow?” she asks. Her voice is barely
audible. Between the sudden shyness and how nervous she
appears to be, it suddenly dawns on me.
Is she a virgin?
“Are you…?” I ask, my voice trailing off. I wait for her to
answer my implied question with bated breath. The tension in
my cock overwhelms me.
If she says she wants to stop, I don’t know what I’ll do besides
have a serious case of blue balls.
“Yes.” She averts her eyes. “I don’t want to stop. I can’t stop,
not now. Not when I want you this badly.” She licks one of her
fingers and lowers it to her pussy, expertly touching herself. I
see she’s getting even wetter and groan. “But I want to explore
your body first.”
Ella stops the little show she’s devised to torture me, pushes
forward on her knees and, next thing I know, she takes my cock
in her hands.
She wastes no time.
No sooner than she’s got me in her mouth, a wave of pleasure
rushes through me.
If she hadn’t all but confirmed she was a virgin, I never would
have guessed. The way she strokes my cock, while her tongue
licks and twirls around the throbbing head, makes me lose
control. She takes more and more of me in her mouth until she’s
deep throating me. I clench every muscle in my body, so close to
the edge while there’s still so much more I want to do. After a
few thrusts in her mouth, I stop her.
“I want you on top,” I tell her, expecting to hear her protest
and say she doesn’t know what she’s doing.
What I get is a mischievous look that materializes on her face.
She pushes me on the bed, taking control of the situation. I’m
flat on my back, cock upright and positioned for her to ride me.
She straddles me, knees on either side of my hips, and grinds her
wetness against my shaft. Without further delay, she mounts on
top of me, slipping just the head in at first.
Her gasp and the sensation of being inside of her overpower
me.
Hands on her hips, I press her body down until I see and feel
my cock disappear inside of her. She widens her eyes in surprise
and I feel her clench, her pussy tight around me.
“Oh my God,” she moans.
I thrust my hips up again, and again, and again, with
increasing speed. Ella rides me with careless abandon, her half-
lidded eyes lost in the ecstasy I know we both feel. Her breathing
becomes shallow and the mewling rolling over her tongue is
labored.
Ella’s gaze locks with mine, right as she climaxes, and she
clamps down on me. I explode inside her with an orgasm so
intense that my eyes roll back in my head.
“Wow,” she says falling across my chest.
We lie next to each other, her head nestled in my chest.
“That was…” Her voice is a whisper. “Just… wow.”
“You were amazing,” I tell her. We’re breathing heavily after
the physical exertion and both spent, so I close my eyes. Sleep
will claim me soon.
“Was I really?”
The timid tone of her voice prompts me to open my eyes.
“Yes. That was incredible. Have you really never done this
before? At all?”
“No,” Ella says, blushing. “I’ve only ever wanted one person
and, until now, I thought he didn’t want me.”
Sidestepping the subject of her crush on me, I launch into the
topic that started everything. “What about Jared Wolfe?”
“What about him?”
“You were about to say yes to becoming that asshat’s fiancée
and soon-to-be wife.”
“Don’t you get it? I was hurt because of what happened last
night and wanted to get under your skin. Well, I got as far as
under your clothes, so I’ll consider this a win.” Ella beams.
I feast my eyes with the image of her: all unkempt hair and
wild eyes. I’ve never seen her more beautiful.
“Red, I like you.” It’s not the whole truth. I’m head over
fucking heels for her. I tilt her chin up and stroke her bottom lip.
“But I’m not sure I’m good for you.”
She’s an heiress and an innocent girl, and I’m bad news. She
deserves someone with means, who’ll give her the stability she
craves; who’ll be there to adore her every day without also
dealing with their demons.
Which means someone with better social standing than me.
Her brows furrow and she says softly, “I’m all for taking this
slow, so long as you stop rejecting me. I can’t deal with that after
what we just did.”
With that, she cuddles next to me. In no time at all, she’s
sleeping. Her rhythmic breathing lulls me in a deep, dreamless
slumber.
And I know there’s no way in hell I can ever reject her again.
She’s mine now.
I’m just not sure what that means.
CHAPTER 5

ELLA

B y the time I wake up after the glorious sexcapade with


Ash, it’s late in the afternoon. I can’t believe how long I
slept. The sun is starting to go down, and the rays of
light seeping through the window give a soft glow to my
surroundings. I’m almost bursting with excitement just thinking
of the mind-blowing sex we had.
I notice I’m not resting on top of him anymore. Confused, my
head shoots up, scanning the room for any sign of him. He’s not
next to me in bed, but his socks and underwear are still strewn
across the floor.
Yawning, I get up and fetch a robe to cover myself. It’ll be
chilly outside soon, but I don’t want to get dressed yet. With a
robe, I can easily slip it off and jump back on the saddle for
another ride.
I’m a little sore, but not enough to deter me from wanting
more of Ash.
The fact he’s not there worries me a little, but not enough to
cause alarm. He probably has to take care of something on the
grounds before it gets dark. He’ll be back soon. Of that, I’m
certain.
I might not have much experience, but I know enough to feel
confident in how I did. His moans echo in my mind and images
of the way he looked at me when he’d removed my clothes
consume my thoughts. A tingle runs through my body.
The canvas with my latest work in progress sits on the easel
to my left. I haven’t made progress in days. I don’t have a clear
idea of where I’m going with it, so I remove the painting from
the easel and put a blank canvas up. The color palette in my
hand, I start on the edges by mixing the oils to create vibrant
tones to use. The landscape scene is of a meadow near the estate,
a place without manicured lawns and well-kept gardens. The
plants grow thick and wild, yielding an uproarious surge of color
in the woods.
It’s that image that I associate with Ash. I’m in a trance of
creative spark when I hear someone open the doors.
When I turn around, I see Jared. His feral smile doesn’t charm
me this time.
“Mr. Wolfe!” I let out a nervous laughter, suddenly self-
conscious about the thin, revealing attire I have on. “What are
you doing here?”
“Mr. Wolfe? I thought we were past that point,” he replies.
“People who’re engaged should call each other by their first
names.”
Jared approaches me in slow motion as if he’s taking pleasure
in cornering me. The edge of sadism in his actions send a chill
down my spine. It’s different from the shiver I felt earlier, when
his innuendo was welcome.
“I didn’t say I would marry you,” I say, my voice shaking.
“How did you get in here?”
“The butler,” he replies smoothly, like it’s the most obvious
thing in the world.
For a brief moment, I panic at the thought that one of the
staff saw or heard me with Ash. That concern quickly evaporates
when I see Jared is still inching toward me. “I’m not dressed. Go
outside and wait for me to get decent.”
“You’re perfect just the way you are,” he says and grabs my
arm. His wolfish grip on me makes my heart thump hard against
my chest. Adrenaline pumps through my veins, heightening my
senses. “Come here.” He ropes me closer, invading my personal
space. He puckers his lips and leans in for a kiss.
“Let go of me!” I push him away, but when he doesn’t let go, I
slap him. “I told you to get out of my room. Ash is going to be
here any second. For your own sake, you want to stop right there,
turn around, and go.”
Jared reels back, visibly shocked at my outburst. I must’ve hit
him hard, because he’s pressing his hand to his face. He quickly
recovers and stalks in my direction. This time, there’s no hint of
anything other than rage on his face. I try to worm my way
around him to reach the door and call for help, but he grabs me
by the waist and throws me down on the bed.
I scream at the top of my lungs. My cry is cut short when he
shoves his hand in my mouth. I bite down as hard as I can,
drawing blood. Jared whisks his hand away and glares at me.
“Jesus, Ella,” he snaps. “Why are you being like this?”
“You’re scaring me. Go away. I can forget this ever happened
if you leave now.”
It’s all bullshit, of course, but it’s my best shot to get rid of
him and get out of this situation unscathed.
Please, please, please, Ash, come back.
“I’ll do no such thing. This estate will be mine as soon as we
get married, and I won’t retreat like a coward.”
Ash barges through the door with a feral growl, and next
thing I know, Jared is on the floor with Ash above him, fists
flying.
I watch for a few moments before yelling, “Ash, stop.”
Jared is the trustee in charge of my estate after all. I need to
play somewhat nice. If I can diffuse the situation before causing
further damage to our working relationship, there might be a
chance I can set things straight with him later.
Ash doesn’t seem to hear me.
“Stop! Both of you!” I shout. “Jared, I told you to go. Leave
right this second. Ash, let go of him.”
Ash is the only one who listens to me. After twisting Jared’s
arm behind his back and incapacitating him, he lets go. I can tell
he’s apprehensive because he’s standing like he’s still ready to
pounce. His eyes never leave Jared.
Jared seizes the opportunity to attack Ash. He sucker-
punches Ash, who’s only a couple of feet away. Ash’s response is
to throw down the savagery. He’s merciless this time, nailing
Jared to the ground and delivering blow after blow.
“You’ll leave,” Ash says in a clipped tone, “right now, if you
want to live to see tomorrow. You heard Ella. Get out, Wolfe.”
Ash stands over Jared, who just lays there, not moving. He
stretches the hand he used to strike Jared, opening and closing
it. I’ll have to ice it later.
I’m worried Jared lost consciousness, but he springs up before
I can go check on him. It’s just as well because the thought of
getting close to him creeps me out. He looks at me and then at
Ash, alternating his gaze between the both of us. His hatred is
plastered on his face.
For some men, defeat is humbling. They learn their lesson
and don’t commit the same mistake again. I know in my bones
that Jared isn’t one of those men. Ash besting him isn’t a minor
nuisance, it’s a declaration of war.
His wrath will cause us more problems down the road. Still,
it’s only a waiting game. I’ll bide my time and be patient until
my thirtieth birthday comes around. Until then, I would live on
the allowance I know is rightfully mine.
Jared hurries out the room. As soon as he does, Ash rushes to
me.
“Are you okay?”
I’m trembling, as Ash envelops me in his arms. His embrace
soothes my mounting nerves.
“I can see what you mean now. He’s scary.” I take a deep
breath. “Maybe he was drunk? I don’t know why he’d act like
that.”
Ash shakes his head. “Believe me, Wolfe has never been
soberer or more in control of how you’re seeing him. I told you
he’s up to no good. He never is.”
The tears that start streaming down my face come out of thin
air. I don’t know why I’m crying, except that the magnitude of
the situation and the danger I was in seem to hit me all at once.
If Ash hadn’t entered the room when he did, who knows how
much longer I would’ve been able to keep Jared at bay before he
hurt me.
“You’re all right. I’ve got you.” Ash hugs me again, only it’s
tighter this time.
But it isn’t enough to dispel the distress I feel.
My weeping stops but the sensation that a thousand-pound
elephant is sitting on my heart doesn’t go away. “Can we lay
down and you just hold me?”
“Yes,” Ash says. “Anything you want. You might want to
dismiss the overnight staff, though, in case they get wind of the
fact I’m here and start rumors.”
“No, let them stay,” I say. “I feel better knowing the house is
fully manned. It’s better that way, in case Jared decides to pay us
another visit. But could you make sure the doors are all locked? If
he does come around, I don’t want to make it easy for him to pull
a stunt like this again.”
Ash nods. “I’ll be right back.”
I use the minutes that he’s gone to put the lids back on my
paints and turn my easel away from direct sunlight, so it doesn’t
damage the painting I started that afternoon. I’ll want to frame
it and put it up somewhere in the house as a personal reminder
of the greatest day of my life.
That’s what today is, despite Jared’s antics.
Ash is mine.
I don’t know for how long. But I’m going to relish every
minute I have with him.
Once my painting supplies are stowed, I get back into bed.
Jared still has me shaken, but the biggest effect of his actions
is my sheer exhaustion.
The thing is, I don’t want to waste a single second that I could
otherwise spend with Ash. His remark about how he’s not sure
he’s good for me gave me pause when he said it. I want to
disavow him of that idea.
The first step is to avoid springing anything on him. To take
things nice and slow. Which doesn’t mean I’m game for a casual
arrangement, of course. He just needs to see that a romantic
relationship between us is the natural progression of things.
I hear light footsteps in the room. I turn and check who it is,
the scare of Jared popping in unannounced still on my mind.
It’s Ash, so I relax. I’m on my front and he mounts me,
supporting himself on his knees. He tugs on my robe, signaling
for me to take it off, which I do. I open my mouth to ask what
he’s doing, but he answers that question when he flips me over
and starts massaging my back. It’s sexy and intimate, which is
just what I need to make my concerns and problems melt away.
I feel the callouses on his palms and am reminded that he
does backbreaking work all day around the estate. I’ll have to
find a way to remedy it, but it’s a conversation for another
moment.
“How’s that?” Ash asks.
“Pretty good, but it could be better.”
“Yeah?” he whispers in my ear, his breath hot on my neck.
The tone he uses is indecent and salacious, and I silently will all
of his future interactions with me to follow in that vein.
“Mmhm.”
He trails light kisses down my back, setting my skin ablaze.
He stops near my ass, nibbling just under my cheeks. My
sensibility increases and every tiny bite he gives me sends
another jolt of electricity rushing through my body. I curve my
body upward, giving him access to the place where I want to feel
him.
He uses his tongue to provoke me ever so slightly, licking in
the fold between my legs.
He taps my pussy, giving it a playful but decisive, open-
handed slap.
“Give me a pillow,” he orders.
I obey, and he folds it under my pelvis. I spread my legs, and
the elevation puts him face to face with my pussy. Ash explores
every inch with the tip of his tongue, reaching every sensitive
spot with finesse. He’s not slobbering his way through like I’ve
heard my friends say some guys do. Instead, his approach is so
targeted, so incredibly on point, that I start backing into his face,
grinding my pussy to his lips.
When he starts going down on me for real, he’s everywhere at
once, putting just the right amount of pressure on my clit and
tracing every line of my pussy with his tongue. My moans are so
loud that I’m sure the house is wobbling along with each of
them.
A hard smack on my ass is the final push I need to start riding
his face, going in the rhythm that I want. He keeps spanking me
until my ass stings, blurring the line between pain and pleasure
until the only thing left on my mind is that I want more, I need
more. I need his crescendo to stay the course.
Ash is the only one who can give me the release I crave, and
his touch is getting me closer and closer to that edge.
“I want to feel you.” I’m almost out of breath. “Inside of me.”
Smack again, one on each ass cheek.
Desire.
Lust.
First, it’s his tongue, reaching further inside than I imagined
was possible; then his fingers; and then, when I have enough, I
beg him to fuck me.
“What do you want?” he asks, one finger still buried in me
while he uses his other hand to open his trousers. The head of
his cock rests on my leg, a weight that drives me further in
temptation. I hear as he starts stroking it, a wicked sound that
makes me wetter. “Tell me what you want.”
“I want you to fuck me,” I say, gasping for air.
He adds another finger, stretching me out. “What do you
want?”
“Fuck me,” I whisper.
He grabs my hair, forcing my head back. “Say it so I can hear
you.”
“Fuck me.” My voice comes out desperate, so very desperate,
because the sweet torture he’s putting me through needs to end.
I can take the teasing and the torment, I can take him prepping
me to take his thick cock, but I can’t wait any longer.
“I’m already fucking you.”
“With your cock,” I say, the anguish palpable in my voice.
“Fuck me with your—”
Ash plunges in me all at once, and for a moment, I’m quiet,
lost in the sensation of how tight a fit it is. His hands on my
hand, he goes at his own pace. His thrusts turn to pounding, and
our skins crackle as our bodies collide.
I’m past the stage of contained moans. My whimpers bounce
off the walls.
I hit the peak and then I’m overtaken by an intense, raging
orgasm that feels like it lasts for hours. Ash thrusts two more
times, reaching the same bliss as me seconds later.
After the sex is over, he crashes next to me on the mattress.
We lock eyes and he gives me a passionate, tender kiss that
makes me tingle all over again.
I can get used to a lifetime of this.
CHAPTER 6

ASH

T he weeks pass, and I spend my days on the grounds


of the Redmond Estate and my nights with Ella.
She’s the same person as she’s always been, but we now exist
without the edge that the sexual tension between us built.
Chemistry is still at a record high—and steadily climbing. We
try to be as discreet as possible but it’s not foolproof.
We don’t care. Not when the sex is this hot. Not when we
can’t keep our hands off each other.
I know I can’t. From the moment I wake up to the second I
close my eyes to sleep, usually with Ella next to me, she’s there,
provoking me.
Ella dresses her small frame in tight clothes that leave me no
option but to watch her, study her, consume her with my eyes.
And every chance I get, I take my sweet time getting her off in
every imaginable way possible. She’s only too happy to oblige—
if there was ever a more uninhibited girl, I would be surprised to
hear it.
Her body is mine. And I’m starting to think her heart might
be too. Which is both exhilarating and fucking scary as hell.
I’m in her room and it’s noon, so even with my stealth in
coming to her, I’m sure some of the staff noticed.
That’s not what worries me.
Wolfe’s conspicuous absence has me worried. He hasn’t come
back around since the day of what we’ve taken to calling The
Incident. But I know him. I know what he’s capable of. He ruined
my family, made my sister fall from grace, and it’s just a matter
of time before he’s back knocking on Ella’s door.
But this time I’ll be here to make sure he never gets his claws
near anyone I care about again.
And I care about Ella. More than that. I’m pretty sure I’m just
as much hers as she is mine.
Ella’s been on a creative bender for the last few weeks. After
taking time off from school, she makes up for it by painting
night and day, regardless of whether I’m there or not.
It’s like watching a maestro lead a world-class symphony.
Her mastery, her skill, and her talent can’t be overstated.
And that’s what’s hard to swallow. She wants a future
together. Of course, I want her by my side. But Ella lives in a
world where the sky’s the limit. If she stays with me, the
firmament will fall closer to earth. I don’t want to stand in her
way. Not when she’s blossoming and ready to take the world by
storm.
Nevertheless, I can’t stomach the thought of not having her
close by, if only because being able to keep an eye on her gives
me peace of mind. Wolfe can’t prey on her if there’s someone
keeping an eye out for his trickery.
“Where’s your mind off to?” Ella asks, pouting because I
stopped paying attention to her stream-of-consciousness
narration of everything going on in her head. I don’t mean to do
that, and she knows it. And yet, I still do it from time to time.
“Just making a mental list of things I have to get done
tomorrow,” I say. It’s only a tiny fib, preparing for the event of
Wolfe’s deception is a task I take upon myself to do every single
day. It tops my list without fail.
“Do I need to put in more effort to hold your focus captive?”
She’s smiling that million-watt smile she wears only for me.
I like where she’s going with this, so I roll on top of her and
kiss her. “Yes, do that. Come up with cruel plans and punish me
when I fail.”
“Hmm,” she breathes, planting a kiss square on my lips. “I
can do that, and I can do it well.”
It’s easy being with Ella, and when I’m caught up in the
moment, everything else just falls away.
There’s a knock on the door. Ella ignores it but whoever’s on
the other side is persistent. Ella rolls her eyes and calls out,
“Yes?”
“Ms. Redmond, you have a visitor.” It’s the butler who still
regards Ella with an air of disdain because she’s such a far cry
from her late grandmother.
Ella looks at me, eyes wide. She doesn’t get many visitors and
if someone shows up on a day as uneventful as this, well, it
doesn’t inspire confidence that the day is going to be relaxed and
easygoing. Ella’s been sourcing the income to pay the staff’s
wages and keep the estate running from her own savings. She
didn’t know when the 'allowance', as Wolfe called it, would kick
in and she never talked money with me, but I knew she was
worried.
“Did you happen to catch their name?”
“It’s Mr. Jared Wolfe.”
We’re both silent when we hear the name. Ella stares at me,
her eyes pleading for me to have a solution that’ll make that
wretched man keep his distance, but I’ve got nothing to offer
except brute strength and the dedicated ass-pounding only I can
deliver if he tries to mess with Ella again.
I know the last beat down wounded his pride, so I doubt he’ll
go that way a second time. Jared Wolfe is a parasite and parasites
learn to adapt to hostile environments. They wouldn’t be able to
survive otherwise.
Ella leaps off the bed and starts to put on clothes that make
her look presentable. She signals for me to stay quiet, but it’s an
unnecessary gesture because I had no intention of making a
sound. When she goes to open the door, something she finds
makes her jump back about ten steps. It prompts me to get up,
too.
“Jared. Hi, how are you?” she says with a stilted cadence and
nervous tone.
I dress myself quickly and get ready to position myself
between her and that asshole. Ella made me promise to behave
myself. She now shares my opinion that he’s a card-carrying
creep, but she still wants to be civil to him in the hopes that he’ll
come to his senses and start conducting himself in a
professional manner.
“I’m good. Just paying you a house call to see how things are
going on in your corner of the world,” he replies. He’s smooth as
a snake crawling through the ground, ready to attack.
He steps into the room with an envelope in his hand, takes
one look at me, and laughs. “It’s a good thing you’re here,
errand boy. I have some news that also concerns you.”
I suppress every instinct in my body, all of which are telling
me to kick him out. Sadly, Ella’s right. With the financial
situation what it is, she has no choice but to keep a little
professional proximity to that rat.
“Out with it, Wolfe,” I growl.
He’s amused, and that’s the only proof I need to know that
whatever news he’s going to break won’t be pleasant. In fact,
it’ll likely be downright disastrous.
“I’ve brought with me all the legal documents that finalize
the arrangement Ella’s grandmother set forth. I control all the
finances pertaining to Redmond Estate. Ella, here’s a check for
your allowance, which should be used to cover all of your
personal expenses. I know I’ve been slow to get this to you. For
that, I apologize.”
No, he wouldn’t hand a check that addressed Ella’s needs
without tying firm strings to it.
Ella reluctantly takes the check, looks at it, and scowls. “This
is my monthly allowance?”
“Of course not! You’ll see the amount is well above what you
need to get by. That’s a lump sum to cover for the past few
months. You know—since your grandmother’s death. We at the
firm have every confidence that you’ll be satisfied.” His words
drip with venom.
Ella glares at him. “This doesn’t pay for anything. Do you
realize that my bank accounts are all overdrawn from trying to
keep Redmond Estate afloat these past few months? Surely the
trustee can see how none of this is in the estate’s best
interests.”
I know this ordeal took her by complete surprise. To me,
however, it’s par for the course. Wolfe is a smarmy bastard
who’ll take every opportunity he can get his grubby paws on a
deal if it boasts the potential to screw over those who’ve crossed
him.
“Ella, that’s a serious accusation. As an attorney, I have to
advise you to be careful when throwing around such loaded
language. You never know what someone with legal knowledge
might find actionable. Just imagine being hit with a lawsuit or,
worse, being removed from your position here at Redmond
Estate.”
And now he sees Ella as the enemy. Or maybe he’s just toying
with her for the sadistic thrill he gets out of it.
Ella has an expression on her face like she’s about to cry or
yell or break something. But I know she won’t, which is why I
don’t step in. There’s no need to trot out the chivalry when Ella
has a handle on things.
In the time we’ve spent together, it’s been a pleasant surprise
to learn just how concerned she is with keeping her composure
in check in difficult situations. She might have a larger-than-
life personality and a playfulness that borders on inappropriate
at times, but she also knows what’s at stake. Despite the way she
felt when she first got here—all of what she said about how she
couldn’t see herself spending the rest of her life in her family’s
ancestral country seat—she recently discovered a new-fangled
passion for running the estate.
Ella rips the check and throws the confetti in Wolfe’s face.
“Are you threatening me; you sick son of a bitch? Get out.”
Scratch that. She used to have self-restraint. Those days are
over.
I can relate. This is Wolfe’s effect on most people. The
triumphant grin on his face is nothing short of smug with a hint
of gloating. I want to strike, but if I do anything that offends me,
he might withhold Ella’s funds indefinitely.
That’s the sick irony of this situation. He holds all the cards. I
wonder if Ella’s grandmother knew just what she was doing
when she left Wolfe with the keys to her kingdom. The terms of
the inheritance make no sense.
“If you keep being this rude, I won’t be able to reissue the
check you tore up just now. Is that what you want; when your
financial situation is as precarious as you’ve described?” he
taunts Ella. She doesn’t reply, so he turns to me. “And you.
You’re mighty quiet over there, errand boy.”
Guess it’s time to change my profession from groundskeeper
to whipping boy. Let him try. If he puts so much as a hand on me
or a finger on Ella, he’ll come to accept that the last time I beat
his ass to the ground was nothing compared to the damage I'm
capable of inflicting.
I relax my stance and stretch my hands. “You picked the
wrong fucking day.”
“Is that how you speak to your superiors?”
I have to remind myself over and over just how disastrous it
might be for Ella if I don’t keep my rage in check. He tsks and
shakes his head like he’s putting on a performance in front of a
captive audience. Which he is. Everyone here is beholden to him
whether they want to be or not.
“Get to the point. You’ve overstayed your welcome.” I say
through gritted teeth. Knowing all I do about him, means that
having to stand there and do nothing while he shits on Ella and
me is torture.
“The point is that your employment at the Redmond Estate is
terminated, effective immediately.”
He continues talking but I’m not paying attention. It never
occurred to me that he might abuse his power like this. Doesn’t
he know the only reason I keep my mouth shut about his soiled
reputation is that I need the money from my job? If he fires me,
what keeps me from…
Ella’s brusque words cut into my thoughts. “You can’t do
that! You can’t do any of this. I know I’m not lawyer, but I refuse
to believe my grandmother would grant you so much power
while leaving me defenseless in the event you might let it get to
your head. I want to talk to your superiors.”
Wolfe’s unwavering self-satisfied smile stays plastered on his
face. “There’s no need. That’s why I brought the papers, in case
you wanted to take a peek. I knew you might. And you”—he
points at me—“be a good lad and don’t make a fuss. I trust you’ll
be wise enough to grab your things and go. We don’t want any
trouble here, do we, Ash?”
He has my attention. The lilt at the end of that sentence all
but flashed a neon sign declaring that it was a threat.
“You can’t tell me how I’ll run the estate. You’re in charge of
the financial details. Ash isn’t going anywhere, and that’s final.”
“You already have access to the reigning document that lists
everything I can and can’t do, complete with your grandmother’s
signature at the bottom. Feel free to take a look.”
I know she’ll spend many sleepless nights trying to find a way
to get out of it.
He beckons me with a patronizing hand gesture. “Ash and I
will go outside to have a man-to-man talk.”
Ella lurches forward, about to intercede, but I stop her. “It’s
okay. Take a look at those and I’ll be right back.”
She doesn’t agree to it, but she doesn’t stand in the way,
either. Wolfe leads the way down the stairs and I follow him,
hating myself every step of the way.
The problem is, Ella has a vague idea he’s dangerous. I have
concrete proof. But there’s a lot he could still do to make matters
worse for my sister, so my hands are tied no matter who it is that
I want to protect.
“I’m only going to ask this one more time before I treat you to
the same perks you received the last time you were here,” I warn
him. “What do you want?”
Wolfe pulls a cigar from his inside pocket and lights it. It
seems to me that this is neither the time nor the place to be
doing that, but in the grand scheme of things, it would be petty
to point that out.
“Ella needs bigger nudges to make the right decision. You,
not so much. I don’t have to sugar coat anything, so I’ll give it to
you straight. All that unpleasantness with what happened to
Amber?” The urge to punch him for soiling my sister’s name by
saying it almost overpowers me. “And your family?”
It’s time to keep my head down. “I’m listening.”
“I wouldn’t want to besmirch Ella’s honor, but my
reservations won’t stop me. She’s been shacking up with you.
That’s misconduct and if I bring evidence to support that fact—
and believe me, there is plenty of evidence—Ella stands to lose
everything.”
A ball of fury builds up in my stomach for the stupidity of my
actions. Of course, he wouldn’t come and find me in Ella’s room
with her bed unmade in the background and then take a beating
from me without hitting back.
I can’t decide who I’m angrier at, him or myself.
“I see you’re being reasonable. Learning how not to hit people
is a crucial step to living in society, you know. Not that you’ll be
doing any of that anytime soon. I want you to disappear. You’re
not good for Ella and you never will be.”
“I’m not going to do that,” I say, defiant. “You tried to force
yourself on her the last time I saw you. I’d have to be fucking
stupid to leave her when there’s a psychotic asshole looking to
wolf her down the second everyone’s guard is down.”
Wolfe chortles, billows of smoke coming out of his mouth.
“Oh, you think you can protect her? Let me save you from your
fantasy. You’re nothing but a glorified social experiment. She’s
slumming it just so she can feel the exhilaration of going against
the grain. Then, she’s going to mature and realize you’re far
beneath her. Women like Ella stick to their kind.”
What he says tears into me because, on some level, I know
he’s probably right. Not that I believe Ella is that calculating or
would throw people away like they’re disposable. She isn’t. But
enough time in this world, and her upbringing might rear its
ugly head. She would doubtlessly feel ashamed to have me by her
side.
I had nothing to offer her. Not protection, not clout to keep
the bad guys away, and no influence that an heiress of her
standing required.
“I can tell this is a difficult moment for you, so let me
sweeten the pot. If you leave and stay away from Ella for good,
I’ll gradually increase her allowance. Your sister and her bastard
son will also be taken care of.”
After he finishes giving me his terms, we both fall silent. It’s
become a game of chicken. The first one to open his mouth
loses. It’s the way of the world, and I know that better than
anyone.
I debate both sides in my head. If I stay, he can arrange for
something awful to happen to Amber and my nephew. He can
also make life for Ella increasingly difficult.
But if Ella ever decides to cast me aside of her own volition,
I’ll lose everything. If I go, everyone wins.
The only issue that remains for us to discuss is what
assurances he’ll give about Ella’s personal safety. I tell him as
much, thereby tacitly admitting my own defeat in our game of
chicken.
“You agree that the only thing that motivates me is my self-
interest, right?”
Truer words have never crossed his lips, and I doubt they ever
would again. I nod.
“Well, then, that’s easy,” he says. “Hurting Ella won’t do me
any good. It’s much better for me if she starts responding to
honey. Vinegar is too messy.”
He finishes his cigar—though it’s me who has a bitter taste of
burned ashes in my mouth—and holds out his hand. “So, do we
have a deal?”
Satisfied that I only have one real course of action—to leave
and stay alert to news of any misdeeds—I shake his outstretched
hand. I’ll hear it through the grapevine if anything happens to
Ella. Even if he manipulates the situation to make it seem like
she brought whatever disgrace on herself, I’ll know the truth.
I’ll kill him with my bare hands if it comes to that.
CHAPTER 7

ELLA

W hen Ash comes back, alone, his fallen expression


digs a hole in the pit of my stomach. I know what
he’ll say before he even opens his mouth, and when he does
start his monologue, it’s a second blow that I’m not ready for.
“Red, I have to go.”
“Are you serious?” I say, incredulity laced in my every word.
“Are you seriously going to leave me with him? Weren’t you the
first to say he’s a predator and I should watch my back when he’s
around?”
“He fired me. There’s nothing we can do.”
I can tell Ash doesn’t buy a word of what he’s saying because
he stares at his feet the entire time. It’s such a weak position and
I don’t understand what he’s doing. Just a few minutes ago, he
was on my side.
He goes outside with Jared for all of twenty minutes and
comes back a spineless lackey?
“You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Ever since my grandmother died, it feels like the world is
collapsing around me. No one left me a master guide to how to
hold down the fort when you’re the heiress but someone else has
all the power. My family was never close-knit but being
abandoned by everyone I knew or had a connection to in the
space of three months does a number on a girl.
He works up the courage to meet my gaze. “Actually, I don’t.
You think I like being your errand boy?”
“That’s Jared speaking, not me. I never called you any of
that.”
“Look, I don’t want to be your little experiment. You’ve
always had this fixation with me, ever since you were a teenager,
and I know I’m a conquest to you. Nothing but a lowly worker
here in your empire. That worked for a time, but with everything
else that’s happening, I need to look out for myself.”
I feel like he just slapped me. Tears well in my eyes, but I
won’t give him the satisfaction of watching me cry. I’m no fool
—I know that if Ash is breaking up with me, it’s because Jared
has something to hold over his head.
And Ash is most certainly breaking up with me.
“So, you’re leaving, then? That’s your answer? To flee like a
coward just because the big bad Wolfe said a few choice words to
you? What did he threaten you with?”
I’m grasping at straws, I know. With each passing moment, I
feel the gravity of the situation. Ash isn’t telling me this and
leaving me a margin to convince him to change his mind.
He’s informing me, and that’s it.
“He didn’t threaten me. He just made a few good points. No
one is forcing this on me. Being fired is never good, but this time
it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
A single tear spills over and falls down my face, hot and fast.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this.”
“You and I were never going to last. This shouldn’t come as a
surprise to you.” His eyes are blank. It’s like talking to a corpse,
one with an impeccable gift for speaking in an emotionless
monotone.
“So, what, that’s it? That’s all you have to say to me?”
My lip is quivering and I’m sure Ash thinks I look ridiculous.
My reaction confirms what he told me all those years ago; that I
was a little girl. I had been an easy lay but now it was no longer
convenient, he was kicking me to the curb.
Whether Jared has something on Ash or not, it doesn’t
matter.
He doesn’t answer me for several minutes. To keep this going
any longer would be to subject myself to even more humiliation
than I’m already facing.
“Well, if that’s how you feel, you should just fucking go
then,” I snap.
He doesn’t even flinch at how acidic I’m being and doesn’t
have the balls to look me in the eyes as he conveys—in no
uncertain terms—that I was just a fun pastime.
When Ash exits my room, I fall to the floor and cry.
Noiselessly, of course. I can fall apart in private, but I’ll be
damned if I let him know he’s breaking my heart.

I ASK one of the servants to clear my room of any of the canvases


I made when Ash still worked here. They’re painful reminders of
how special he was to me. Looking at them day in and day out
keeps me bedridden and adrift, and I refuse to succumb to that
any more than I already have.
No man is going to hold me back.
Not Ash and not fucking Jared.
There’s a little ritual that I perform every single day, soon as I
wake up. I pull out the loose pages of the documents Jared left
with me. I crumpled them in the many times I read every word
contained in them, scouring them to find hidden loopholes. If
my grandmother’s plan left the one about me getting married
and no longer needing a trustee, then there has to be another.
But no matter how many times I pore over that godforsaken
legal text, nothing jumps out at me. I don’t know any lawyers
who I can trust with this information so it’s up to me to get to
the bottom of it.
“Ms. Ella,” the butler says softly. I have no idea how long he’s
been standing at the door. He used to knock but I get so lost in a
vortex of desperation to rid myself of this horrible set of
circumstances that I never hear when any of the help is milling
about.
“Yes?” I say, not looking up from the pages.
“There’s talk of the staff walking out by the end of this
week.”
I can’t blame them. After shredding the check Jared gave me,
I don’t have the means to pay them. They had been willing to
wait for me and give me some leeway for a week or two, but that
quickly turned to nearly a month of work without compensation.
Everyone has mouths to feed and financial responsibilities to
uphold.
Working for the beggar heiress won’t pay the bills.
“Is there anything you can do?” I ask.
In the midst of all the hardship, he emerged as the shining
beacon of loyalty I have in this estate. He worked with me to get
the staff to agree to a little more time before I could pay them.
He never brings up the fact he hasn’t received his paycheck,
either.
As soon as I get myself out from under this, I plan on
rewarding him for his faithful service.
If I get out from under this that is. A prospect that’s looking
more and more unlikely to materialize.
“I’m afraid not, Miss,” he says, his head down. “They don’t
hold any ill-will toward you. Everyone is aware that you’re doing
the best you can. But this isn’t a safe job anymore and they…”
“They have to move on,” I finish for him. “I understand. I’ll
go downstairs and talk with each one of them by this evening. If
you could pass on that message so no one leaves before then, I
would really appreciate it.”
“Very well, Miss,” he says and excuses himself.
Between my broken heart and my impending empty home, I
know I’m a sitting duck. A target. Jared won’t keep his distance
for much longer. Destitution might just be a strong enough
motivator to make me swallow my pride and my sense of self-
preservation and agree to see him.
Suddenly, an idea strikes me. I never went through my
grandmother’s personal effects when she passed. I kept
meaning to but once I got lost in the adventure that was being
with Ash, I just put it off. Then he left, and it completely slipped
my mind.
There might be something there. Maybe a little note she
wrote to herself. Maybe something else. It was the only lead I
had now, and I was willing to do just about anything.
I cross the house fast. I’m on a mission. My relationship with
her wasn’t ever stellar, but there was no way she would leave me
with no recourse. There has to be some money stashed away.
Something.
Anything.
I don’t know if the desperation is clouding my judgment or
not, but I’ll cling to any ray of light in this dreary situation.
My grandmother’s room is exactly as she left it. A Rembrandt
hangs over the mantel and there’s a Monet over her bed. I
immediately discard the possibility that I might be able to fence
them to get some relief funds. There’s an itemized inventory
with the documents Jared gave me, and those two paintings are
on it. I can’t sell them without his express permission, which he
won’t grant me.
After all, there’s nothing like financial dependency to keep
me under his thumb.
I explore every inch, nook, and cranny in the room and find
nothing that looks promising. Damn it. Maybe my grandmother
did trust Jared so completely and I was shit out of luck. I have to
get used to that possibility because false hope won’t help me and
it won’t save Redmond Estate.
In her closet there are piles of boxes lining one of the upper
shelves. One of them boasts a label that reads Family Pictures. It
bothers me for some reason, but I can’t put my finger on it.
I reach for every box and bring them down to the floor. The
first I look through are filled with mementos, napkins with
illegible scrawls that my grandmother used to jot down things
she needed to remember, and other miscellaneous useless pieces
of paper.
Then it hits me. All the family pictures we had are on display
in Redmond Estate’s long corridors. My family isn’t the sort that
would have personal and casual pictures hidden in the closet.
Hopeful that this might be the answer to all my problems, I
remove the lid at once. Inside, I find neatly folded documents.
The first page tells me what it is: Last Will and Testament. The
date on it is of the week prior to my grandmother’s death.
Jared’s papers are all dated to a month before her death.
I scramble to leaf through all the pages, reading faster than I
ever have before. My heart pounds on my chest as I see the
carefully detailed plans that specify that upon her death, all of
my grandmother’s properties, family holdings, and belongings,
are to pass to me.
There is no provision with restrictions. No mention of a
fucking trustee.
The sum of my inheritance is well over eight figures. So, not
the pittance I thought. And it’s all mine to control as I see fit.
The best part is what I find on the last page. My
grandmother’s signature is different from what I saw on Jared’s
documents.
It dawns on me that this is it. This is the smoking gun I
needed.
I knock a few of the boxes over, spilling their contents across
the floor, as I make my quick getaway to go tell the staff what I
found.
CHAPTER 8

ASH

A mber’s home is cramped, but no more so than my small


accommodations at the Redmond Estate had been. The
difference is that it’s filled with love and laughter, especially
little Bailey’s. My nephew might have the misfortune of being
the son of a charlatan, but his upbringing is all Amber.
As soon as I arrived, Wolfe started paying child support. He’s
skirted his responsibilities for years but now that I’m here, he’s
honoring his part of our bargain. I keep my ears to the ground
and see what information I can glean about what’s happening at
the Redmond Estate. The purse strings shut pretty tightly on
Ella, but I know that Wolfe won’t let it stay that way for too long.
He’s pinching the pennies for now because it’s a scare tactic.
Once Ella has had enough, he assumes she’ll go crawling to him.
Then he’ll be her savior and he’ll have an in with her again.
For a man who spent so many years working on Ella’s
grandmother and being in close proximity to know how Ella
works, he’s clueless. The day I left, I broke Ella’s heart. But it’s
for the best.
Once Wolfe makes his move, I’ll find a way to get in touch
with her and share my suspicions.
It might just be that she’ll end up with him. He’s scary,
controlling, and an all-around asshole, but he orbits her world.
He’s on her level.
The thought alone makes me itch to kick someone’s ass.
I spend too many hours of the day thinking about Ella. Her
hair, her pale skin, her full lips, and her body.
God, that body.
It’s enough to make my cock hard even though I know I
shouldn’t be thinking of her that way anymore.
“Are you any closer to finding a job?” Amber asks.
“No.”
Yeah, that’s another lie I told Ella. There’s no job. There’s
nothing except what money we’re receiving from Wolfe. If not
for the fact that it’s his money that keeps us off the streets, I
know there isn’t a person in this little apartment that would
accept it. Even little Bailey is smart enough to know his father is
a deadbeat.
Once upon a time, my family wasn’t in such dire straits. That
all changed when Wolfe came into the picture. His family
swindled us for all we were worth, leaving us penniless and
Amber in trouble.
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that she once went
to bed with him without any threats hanging over her head. How
anyone can mistake any act of his as benevolence or decency is
beyond me. But I can’t hold it against Amber because she has it
hard enough already.
“I don’t want to take that man’s money forever,” she says.
Amber avoids saying his name because she doesn’t want
Bailey to know when she’s talking about Wolfe. I haven’t told
her I suspect Bailey knows everything that happens. Kids are like
that. They pick up on everything and are far more aware than
most adults give them credit for.
“I know,” I say. “I’m trying but there just isn’t anything. You
know how it is, with this economy. And besides, as much as I
hate him, that money is for Bailey. Bleed him dry if you can.”
“I can’t believe you gave up your job,” she says.
She’s doing the dishes while Bailey plays with his toys on the
floor. I’m reading the paper, looking at the classifieds to see if I
can find anything that might pan out. It’s slim pickings out
there for us unemployed folk.
“Well, believe it.”
I avoid this subject as much as I can because I don’t want to
face Amber’s wrath when she finds out how I left things. She’ll
call me a coward just as Ella had. Maybe that’s what I am. Maybe
I should’ve fought harder.
There’s a knock at the door—a quick tap tap tap. Bailey jumps
up to answer it. He’s at that age when he wants to take on as
many adult tasks as he can. It’s adorable but also dangerous if we
don’t know who it is. It’s not like he’s tall enough to check the
peephole and tell us.
“Hold on, buddy,” I say. “Let me get this one.”
The look he gives me makes me feel like I kicked his puppy. I
make a mental note to make it up to him later.
Forgetting to check the peephole myself, I open the door. On
the other side stands Ella.
“Red,” I say.
“We have to talk,” she says, barging in without waiting for
my invitation. I shake my head, but I’m smiling because it’s
typical Ella.
“Ella, this is my sister, Amber.”
Amber dries off her hands and looks at me quizzically. Ella
isn’t looking at me but rather at Bailey, shocked.
That’s probably because he’s the spitting image of Wolfe. I
mouth, It’s okay to my sister.
Ella just looks at Bailey for the longest time. “Is he…?”
“Yeah. Unfortunately.”
“God.”
She takes a deep breath. She remembers her manners and
greets Amber, getting all the pleasantries out of the way.
“You won’t believe what I uncovered,” she finally says. “He
lied. There’s no trustee for the estate. He made it all up. The
money is all mine. Everything is mine. He played me for a fool.”
I want to say all of this blows my hair back, but the truth is, it
doesn’t. Ella’s grandmother was a kooky old woman, and it’s not
outside the realm of possibility that she really did leave things in
that nonsensical state when she died. Nevertheless, it did strike
me as odd. I just couldn’t prove my suspicious at the time.
The fact his actions don’t shock me doesn’t mean I’m not
angry.
“Who did?” Amber asks.
There are a lot of blanks she’s not aware of, and there’s no
time to bring her up to speed with Ella here.
“Jared Wolfe,” Ella replies. “He—he’s a crook.”
Ella launches into the whole sordid tale, starting with the
very first day she got back to the Redmond Estate and ending
with how she found everything out. Amber is riveted throughout
the whole thing, even gasping at some of the hairier parts. Little
Bailey doesn’t pay us any mind, lost in his playacting.
It’s probably for the best.
“So, I want to talk to you,” Ella says. She’s shy all of a sudden.
Turning to Amber, she adds, “And it’s the kind of thing I would
like to do privately, if possible.”
Amber takes the hint and carries Bailey over to her bedroom.
“Red, I am so sorry,” I begin saying.
She shushes me. “No, I am. I was so hurt when you left the
way you did. I cursed you in my mind for days. Weeks. I never
stopped to consider that…”
“It’s okay. This is all my fault. I never should’ve left you
alone.”
“I’m glad you see it that way.” She clears her throat. “I want
you to come back. I want to give you your old job, with a sizable
raise, of course.”
That takes me aback. “Red, look—”
“No, you listen. You didn’t have to leave, and you yourself
said just now that it was a mistake. So please come back.”
She looks so fucking beautiful, with the loose strands of hair
framing her face. She’s wearing no make-up, but her lips are
still rose red. So kissable. If I hadn’t fucked it up with her…
“I can’t go back. Not as an employee. It’s not what I want.”
“I don’t understand. Now, with Jared gone and everything
perfect, you don’t want to come back? Am I that repulsive? Did it
really mean nothing to you? Did—”
“Red, listen!” That gets her to shut up. “I don’t think I could
go back to just being a worker on your estate. I know I said a lot
of mean things when I left, but it was only because I thought that
me distancing myself from you was ultimately in your best
interest. But you have no idea how fucked up it left me. It made
me realize that…”
“What?” She’s hanging off my every word, and that gives me
hope.
“You’re… You’re everything.”
I hold my hand out, giving her the option of taking it or not.
She does and comes close to me. Our faces are mere inches away
from each other.
The urge to kiss her is intoxicating.
But I don’t dare. I need to get through what I have to say.
“I want more,” I say. The room gets very quiet, so quiet that it
would be possible to hear a pin drop. “I want forever with you.”
“You’re serious?” she whispers.
“Yes, I’m serious,” I say. I take her response so far as leave to
bring her closer. “So, what do you say?”
“I say yes!” she cries.
“Yes?” I ask again, this time just teasing her.
“Yes, you moron. It’s always been you.”
I waste no more time. There’s a lot of time I could’ve spent
with her the past month to make up for.
I start with a kiss.
There’s forever to get to all the rest, and I plan to make good
use of every moment.
EPILOGUE

ELLA

T he first snow of the year falls on my wedding day.


We’re on the clearing that served as inspiration for
my painting after the first time we slept together. It’s like a
scene out of a fairy tale. The snowflakes float like there are a
thousand wizards hiding behind the curtains with their wands
out, levitating them with an ancient incantation.
Ash is a handsome groom. I ended up opting for a tuxedo
wedding, and though the formal attire makes him feel out of his
element, he never complains. He also doesn’t let go of me for
the entire evening.
Our first dance is a gift to me. He took lessons in the strictest
secrecy, and I only found out when he dragged me out to the
dance floor. The string ensemble we hired to perform starts a
slow waltz which makes me squeal.
I’m a sucker for these little things. Which don’t feel so little
when I’m with him.
For the first time in my life, I have everything that I could
ever wish for.
My gorgeous home is an idyllic country estate.
I’m like a princess.
I have my prince.
And we both got the justice we deserved.
Shortly after I discovered Jared’s deception, the authorities
took over. It goes way beyond unethical behavior perpetrated by
a soon-to-be-disbarred attorney. His family had an entire house
of cards built on the backs of honest people like Ash and his
family. The investigation turned up a pattern of fraud and abuse
going back several decades.
And Jared was dumb enough to leave his fingerprints all over
it.
I’ll say one thing for him, never has a person been so
dishonest and so clever about it, while also setting themselves
up for failure. He never imagined his little plan to strip me of my
birthright and force a marriage down my throat wouldn’t be
fruitful. It all hinged on me being a dumb girl.
His arrogance was his downfall.
Now there’s poetic justice.
Their plan to monopolize the area surrounding the estate had
gone perfectly. Then my grandmother died before Jared conned
her into leaving it all to him or at least making it very difficult
for her next of kin—me—to access.
Faced with the prospect of losing all his family worked so
hard for, he created the charade with me. If they managed to
trick so many folks for years, what would a spoiled young woman
who hadn’t even finished her undergrad be?
Easy as pie. Or so they thought.
Stupid, stupid people.
Turns out the entire Wolfe clan is shady. Now they’re getting
what they deserve.
I’m now convinced my grandmother was right. Selling off the
land for commercial development would be a sin. Which is why
Ash and I will take up residence there, just as soon as we return
from our honeymoon. With his sister only a couple of miles away
in a comfortable home of her own, it couldn’t have worked out
better.
Wolfe’s in jail, where he’ll remain for years to come. Even
longer, if I—or, better yet, Ash—have anything to do with it.
Ash twirls me around, and my full skirt swells around me.
“What are you thinking about?” he whispers in my ear when
he spins me back to face his front.
“Oh, nothing,” I say with a teasing smile.
“You have this intense, kinda turned-on look, and I just want
to make sure you know that the Redmond Estate is very, very
close to here, in case you want to slip out…” He trails off, leaving
so much to my imagination.
We don’t break eye contact for several beats. He leans in and
takes my world by storm with a magical kiss that leaves me
breathless.
Heat.
Passion.
Wicked pleasure.
I can’t wait to let my husband ravish me the way only he
knows how.

The End.
MORE NAUGHTY BEASTS & FILTHY PRINCES

Book 1 Saving Red (Little Red Riding Hood)

Book 2 Guarding Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)

Book 3 Craving Snow (Snow White)

Book 4 Owning Swan (Ugly Duckling)


PREVIEW: THUNDERSTRUCK

Sixteen Years Old

THUNDER
The air ripples between us.
A spark of energy. A sizzle of light.
I promised myself years ago that no one would ever hold the
power to hurt me. But this girl has the power to destroy me.
“It’s cold out here.” Kennedy shivers and rubs her bare arms.
“Here.” I tug off my hoodie, then help her into it.
She’s tiny, barely coming up to my chin, and the sweatshirt is
huge on her. I let my hands linger a little longer than I should.
“Thanks,” she says, looking up at me. The nervous tension
between us is palpable.
“It’s almost midnight. You don’t want to miss the fireworks.”
At least that’s my excuse for dragging her out here, away from
the New Year’s Eve party her parents are hosting inside. What I
really want to do is pull her into my arms and crush my lips
against hers.
Not happening.
“We should be able to see them from here.” I pull away and
take a sip of the beer I stole from my father's stash.
When I offer her one, she scrunches her nose up at it, instead
snuggling into the warmth of my sweatshirt. Her eyes go wide
when she notices the new ink covering my forearms. “Oh my
God. Is that real?”
“Yeah.” I grin, proud of the web of patterns I designed
myself.
“Your dad let you?”
“Like he cares,” I sneer, which isn’t exactly true. He beat the
shit out of me when he saw it.
“How?” She takes my arm in her hands and begins tracing
the patterns.
Almost instantly, I’m rock hard.
“Three hundred dollars and a fake ID.” I shrug, like it’s not a
big deal, like her touch doesn’t send a thousand bolts of
electricity pulsating through my body.
“It’s…” she bites her lip, fingers still playing across the ink,
sending more sparks of heat thrumming through my veins,
“beautiful.”
I lean in, mesmerized by her perfect mouth, and wanting
nothing more than to taste those lips.
“Beautiful,” I murmur, brushing a lock of blonde hair off her
cheek and tucking it behind her ear.
So fucking beautiful.
That’s what she is.
And so much more.
Kind.
Sweet.
Pure.
All the things I’m not.
I’ve known Kennedy Harper my entire life. She’s practically
family. So why the hell can’t I control my thoughts around her?
“Ten, nine, eight…” Inside, people start the count down to
the New Year. “…seven, six, five…”
I drain the last of my beer, then place it on the railing.
“…four, three, two…”
In the distance, the first flashes of light brighten up the night
sky.
Kennedy stands against the railing, and I move behind her.
When she shivers, I go against all common sense, and pull her
back towards me, wrapping my arms around her body, and
leaning down so that my head rests on top of hers.
I dip my head towards hers, breathing in the scent of her;
watching her eyes light up as the fireworks go off.
She leans back into me, like she wants my touch.
I should step away, but instead I press in closer. I’m so far out
of my comfort zone with all these emotions twisting in my chest.
I’ve got a lineup of girls that are more than happy to jump
into my bed. Meaningless sex. It should be enough. But it’s not.
Not when there’s Kennedy.
“Happy New Year.” I murmur in her ear and feel a small
tremble go through her body.
She turns slightly, her mouth parted as if she’s about to say
something, but before she can utter a word, my lips are on hers.
Just a single touch.
Soft.
Gentle.
But it’s enough to rock my world—or destroy it.
“Liam.” My father’s rough, slurred voice barks out behind
me.
“Fuck.” I push Kennedy away from me a little too roughly,
and her fingers go instantly to her mouth, eyes wide.
I should never have touched her.
She’s off limits. I don’t need him, the asshole who’s now
staring at me with murder in his bloodshot eyes, reminding me
I’m no good for her. Because I know it’s the truth.
Kennedy looks up at me like she doesn’t know what she
should do.
“Go inside.” My tone is cold, harsh, because I know what the
single kiss is going to cost me.
She blinks, not moving, like she’s still trying to decide if she
should leave me. She knows my father’s temper. Not the full
extent of it—but she’s seen the bruises, heard his vicious words.
“Liam?” she says softly, concern in her hazel eyes. She’s the
only person who uses my real name without causing my stomach
to curdle.
I prefer the nickname the boys down at the gym started
calling me after my first fight—Thunder. A single blow to the
temple knocked my opponent out ten seconds into the first
round.
At just sixteen, grown men tremble when I walk into the ring.
Yet here I am, ten consecutive wins later, and I’m still scared
of the man staring daggers at me now. Every second Kennedy
stands there, a shield between us, I know his anger grows.
“Go,” I growl, then lean closer so that only she can hear.
“That shouldn’t have happened. Understand?”
A small nod is her only response, but I can see the tears
gathering in her eyes.
Shit.
When Kennedy is gone, my father stumbles towards me. He
grips my t-shirt in his fists and shoves me up against the side of
the house. “I’ve told you to keep your hands off her.”
I could easily dart out of his grasp; instead I stand there and
accept the first shot, a blow to my ribs.
Pain splinters through my chest, and I cough out a rough
breath.
Fuck.
He’s still sober enough to make each hit count.
I’ve learned from experience that the more I fight back, the
worse the beating.
Could I take him? Yeah, I could kill the motherfucker. But
then what? The asshole is still my father, and for another five
months, he’s the roof over my head.
“She’s too fucking good for scum like you.” His breath reeks
of beer, and spittle hits my face when he hisses out each word.
I don’t need him reminding me. I know he’s right. Everything
I touch I destroy. Kennedy would be no different.
“Everything okay out here?” Tom Harper, Kennedy’s dad
opens the sliding glass doors, brows drawn down.
“Yeah, just having a little father-son talk.” Like fucking Dr.
Jekyll, my father’s expression changes, an easy smile spreading
across his face as he turns to meet his friend.
Tom doesn’t smile back. “It’s freezing out here. Come
inside.”
Like nothing happened, my father follows him, leaving me
alone, my ribs aching. But the pain is nothing compared to the
hollowness inside my chest.
Empty.
Raw.
Alone.
I breathe out heavily when they’re both gone and pull up my
shirt to take in the damage.
The one good thing about having a drunk for a father, is his
memory is shit. I doubt he’ll remember seeing me with my lips
plastered against Kennedy’s.
I drop my shirt and wince.
Uncapping my last beer, I drown the contents. My thoughts
are chaotic, and I’m not sure how long I stand there, but my
fingers are practically numb when I turn to go inside.
Instead of going through the house, I take the back stairs to
get to the basement where Kennedy and her friends were
hanging out before I pulled her out here.
Opening the sliding door, I freeze when I see her. Or rather
them.
My brother is stretched out, legs in front of him, a giant smirk
plastered on his face, because curled up next to him fast asleep is
Kennedy. His arm is wrapped around her shoulder, possessively,
and the way she burrows closer to him in her sleep makes my
stomach twist.
If she wasn’t practically attached to his body, I’d punch the
smirk right off his face.
“Got a problem?” Colin’s eyes narrow on me.
Yeah, a huge one. Him.
Emotions from the darkest part of my soul well up inside me.
Resentment.
Jealousy.
Hatred.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Colin swooping in.
The white knight.
The good brother.
That it wouldn’t feel like a rusty nail to the heart seeing him
with her, knowing he’d probably comforted her when she came
in here with tears in her eyes—because of me.
My father would have no problem with Colin touching her.
Shit, he’d no doubt encourage it. But with me, nothing I do will
ever be good enough.
Not for him.
Not for Colin.
And especially not for Kennedy.

CHAPTER 1

Present

THUNDER

I hate being back in the city.


Mostly because everything reminds me of her. Especially this
damn café.
We used to come here after school—Kennedy, Colin and me.
It was just a donut shop then. Now it’s one of those fancy shops,
where the cup sizes are written in French and it takes ten
minutes to brew a damn cup of coffee.
It’s only the beginning of November, and already trickles of
laughter mingle with the faint hum of Christmas carols being
pumped through the shitty sound system, the smell of cinnamon
and peppermint another reminder of Kennedy.
She loved this damn holiday. Even after her father’s death,
the foreclosure on her house, and her mother’s unsteady mental
health, she still found joy in the small things, like decorating a
Christmas tree, or baking cookies that she’d force Colin and I to
eat.
“Sir?” The pink haired barista with multiple piercings and
tattoos looks at me impatiently.
“Thanks,” I mutter, taking the paper cup she hands me.
Five minutes home, and I’m already torturing myself with
memories I’ve spent the last several months trying to forget.
I need to get back to my apartment. Unpack. And try to figure
out what the hell I’m going to do with my life, now that fighting
is no longer an option.
One bad kick, and my career is over, my knee permanently
fucked up.
My manager insists that it’ll just take time to get my strength
back. That if I give myself some time to heal, I’ll be back in the
ring.
The thing is, I’m sick and tired of fighting.
I mean what’s the fucking point? I’ve already got more money
than I know what to do with—and no one to fucking share it.
“Careful,” I growl, my coffee sloshing over the side and
burning my hand, when a woman carrying two armloads of
shopping bags bumps into me.
“Sorry,” she says in a sing-song voice that only annoys me
more.
The place is packed with Christmas shoppers, and I scowl at
the happy faces that look up at me when I pass.
“Holy crap.” A balding, middle-aged man corners me before I
can make it to the door. “You’re Thunder Forrester.”
A few heads turn and look in my direction.
Shit.
“Wrong guy.” It’s not really a lie. The guy he thinks I am, that
Thunder Forrester died along with his career. I try to push past
him, but he sidesteps me and places a hand on my shoulder.
“Sorry to bother you. But I’d love to get an autograph for my
son. He’s a big fan.”
A quick glance at the freckled-faced kid staring wide-eyed up
at me, and I cave.
“Fine,” I mutter, taking the pen and paper the kid hands me,
and scribbling my name.
“Thanks, buddy.” The man slaps me on the back. “What’re
the odds meeting both the Forrester brothers on the same day.
“You think I could get a picture with you both? I’d really…”
The man keeps prattling on, but all the noises of the café turn
to static when I follow his gaze towards the far corner booth.
Bent over a cup of coffee, forearms stretched out on the table,
my brother frowns at the woman sitting across from him.
Even though I can only see the slight profile of her face, I
know it’s her.
Kennedy.
Yeah, what are the fucking odds?
They haven’t seen me, and if I was smart, I’d keep it that way.
But my feet feel like they’re glued to the floor, and despite the
twisting sensation inside my chest, I can’t move.
The man is still hammering on, and I turn and give him a
scathing look that has him raising his eyebrows and taking a
step back.
Of all the fucking coffee shops in the city, Colin and Kennedy
happen to be in this one. It’s like fate has it in for me. I didn’t
even think the two of them were together anymore. At least
that’s what the tabloids reported.
Two months ago, Colin was photographed making out with
one of the Nelson twins; Abby or Gabby, it didn’t matter which
one. The media loved the torrid affair between the country’s
most famous bad boy hockey player and the Barbie doll cloned b-
list actress.
I’d thought about trying to contact Kennedy when I read it,
but what was the point? She’d made her choice. Time to live with
the consequences.
My fingers form into knuckles at my side as I watch them. The
two people that I loved most in this world. I wonder if they know
what a fucking mess I’ve been since our last encounter?
How shredded I was when I found them in the hotel room
together.
If they even cared.
Colin passes a small brown envelope across the table.
Kennedy shakes her head vehemently and pushes it back.
“Don’t be so stubborn.” My brother's words, clearly laced
with frustration, are loud enough for me to hear.
With her back to me, I can’t make out what she says, but
whatever it is only makes Colin more irritated.
“I know what I promised, and it’s complete bullshit. This
whole situation is fucked up.” He leans in and says something
that makes her shake her head. “I’m done.”
She scoots over on the bench, and Colin reaches out and grabs
her arm. “Please, I need you to—”
“No.” The way his nostrils flare, the curl of his lip, I can read
what he’s feeling—disgust. “I won't be part of this.”
Something primal stirs in my chest, and despite my brain
telling me to get the hell out of there, to let them deal with their
own shit, I start towards them.
Tossing my coffee in the trash can, I push through the line of
people waiting to order, then freeze when I see Kennedy more
clearly. She leans over to collect her bag, then stands so I have a
perfect view of her profile.
My breath catches in my throat, because underneath the
layers of clothing, the oversized jacket, I witness the rounding of
her stomach.
Fuck. That one, small sliver of hope that she’d ever be mine…
gone. Just like that, my memory flashes, and I’m back, standing
in the doorway of my brother’s hotel room, watching as Kennedy
comes out of the bathroom wearing only a white towel wrapped
around her perfect body.
That was months ago.
Fuck. Me.
I blink. Once. Twice. Not able, or willing to accept the reality
in front of me.
She’s leaving, headed through the crowd towards the door,
and all I can do is stand there and watch her walk out into the
bitter cold of the city streets before disappearing around the
corner.
She’s pregnant.
Those two words play over and over in my head like a broken
record. I know little about pregnancy, but she must be maybe
seven or eight months with how big she is.
My brother’s baby. That’s why she was here with him. My
entire body is numb, humming with emotions I can’t even place.
To think she’ll be connected to him like that, forever, it stirs a
jealousy inside of me so strong that my body shakes.
She’s not yours, I remind myself, knowing logically that I
have no right to feel the way I do.
But fuck right and wrong. Right now, all I want to do is the
one thing I should have done months ago. Beat the living shit
out of my brother.
“Liam?” Colin’s voice breaks through the static that’s kept
me paralyzed.
My head snaps to where he’s standing, only a few feet from
me now.
Face pale, dark brows drawn down, he looks confused.
“You’re back?”
Anger. Red-hot and blinding blisters through me.
“You fucking asshole.” I lunge at him, my fist connecting
with his jaw before he has a chance to brace himself.
Built like a tank, my punch doesn’t have the same impact it
would have on any other man.
Colin stumbles back a few paces, but remains standing.
A woman’s shriek, the screech of chairs sliding back, and
chaos ensues as people do their best to get out of our way.
I’m about to take another swing when Colin comes at me,
hitting me with the full force of his two hundred and twenty
pounds.
My fist lands a kidney shot, and he retaliates with an
uppercut to the jaw that leaves me seeing stars. I grunt as my
back connects against the wall.
“What the hell is your problem?” He’s got me pinned.
His fists grip the collar of my shirt, and he looks like it’s
taking all his strength not to hit me again.
“She’s pregnant,” I hiss, tasting blood.
His grip loosens slightly, and I see it. The guilt. A quick
sideways glance, the way his lips purse. There’s no denying it’s
his.
“I wanted to tell you. But she asked me…” He shakes his head
and sighs.
“To what?” I shrug him off, then push him away. “She asked
you to what? Keep it from me?”
With a small shake of his head, he looks over his shoulder,
and groans. Multiple people have their phones out, recording us.
Normally I would care. Right now, I don’t.
“You’re a real jackass, you know that?” I spit out.
His eyes narrow on me. “You’re the one who took off.
Wouldn’t answer anyone’s calls.”
“I was dealing with some shit.”
“Yeah. You always are, aren’t you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
He stares at me for a long moment, the muscle in his jaw
clenching, his nostrils flared.
When he doesn’t answer, I ask tightly, “What are you going to
do about it?”
His eyes narrow and his chin tilts down. “About what?”
I have to clear my throat before I can say the words, “The
baby.”
“What am I going to do about it?”
I can tell he’s trying to keep his cool because one eye twitches
like it always does before he loses his shit.
“You plan on marrying her?”
He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. Just pure, undiluted
anger. “No. I’m not going to fucking marry her.”
“You think this is a joke? You think you can just walk away
from her? From your child?”
“That’s what you think of me?” He sucks his bottom lip back
over his teeth. “You’re unbelievable, you know that?”
“She deserves better than this, than you.”
“Screw this. I’m done.” He turns and starts to leave.
“That kid needs a father, and—”
“You’re right.” He turns back, and despite the throng of
people watching he gets in my face again. “But it sure as hell
won't be me.”
“I always knew you were a coward.” I keep my voice low,
steady, despite the seething anger that rolls through me.
Digging my finger into his chest, I egg him on, “A no good piece
of shit just like Dad. The kid’s better off without you.”
He doesn’t come at me like I hope he will. Instead, he stands
there watching me, his expression unreadable.
The tension between us is practically tangible. His mouth
twists, and his breathing comes out in small bursts, but I still
can’t read what he’s thinking. Or maybe I don’t want to because
what I think I'd see would gut me if I let it.
Screw him. He doesn’t get to be hurt. Not after everything
he’s done. Everything he’s taken from me.
“Here.” Colin pulls the manila envelope from his pocket and
shoves it against my chest. “Give this to her. Maybe she’ll take it
from you.”
From the heaviness of it, I know it’s cash.
“You think you can buy your way out of this?”
“Yeah.” The corners of his lips twitch up, but there’s no
humor in his eyes. “That’s what I’m doing. Buying my way out of
this fucked up relationship.”
It’s impossible to miss the sarcasm that drips from each
word. The hidden meaning I clearly don’t get.
“You’re an asshole,” I spit out, only wanting to see him as the
villain in all this.
“I’m your brother. Maybe one day you’ll remember that.”
He turns and walks away. And I let him. Because he may be
my brother, but he’s also the man that stole the only woman I’ve
ever loved.
CHAPTER 2

Sixteen Years Old

KENNEDY

“Let me see.”
“Come on, Kennedy.”
The Forrester brothers hover over me, their matching blue
eyes full of mischief. Their sole purpose to obtain the small
spiral notebook I clutch to my chest.
“No.” My cheeks burn with humiliation with what’s written
inside.
“You always make us read your stories.” Liam—or Thunder as
he insists on being called lately—sits on the couch beside me
and places one arm around my shoulder. Dark, unruly hair falls
over his forehead in waves, and he gives me one of his rare
smiles. “Why not this one?”
“It’s personal.” My heart beats a little faster at the contact,
which is silly because he’s practically family.
Our fathers had been friends since they were kids. And there
wasn’t anything my dad wouldn’t do for the man and his sons,
including pretty much adopting them after their mother passed
away eight years ago.
Liam and Colin would stay with us when their father had to go
out of town for work. Now they came by whenever he was on one
of his benders.
Like right now.
Steve Forrester is a difficult man to like. My mom insists he
wasn’t always so severe, that it was only after his wife’s death
that he changed, became the insufferable ass who’s constantly
yelling at Thunder, pushing him to be as good as Colin at
everything, especially hockey.
Which is ridiculous because Liam is good.
Really good.
The problem is Colin is better. At seventeen, he’s already
being scouted by some of the top teams, and will most likely be
the first draft pick next year.
Most people think they’re twins because they’re in the same
grade, but there’s actually eleven months between them.
Irish twins, my mom calls them.
And with Colin being born in January and Liam in December,
it means they’re constantly competing against each other—at
everything.
Hockey.
School.
Girls.
To call their relationship volatile is an understatement. I’ve
never met two people who butt heads more often than they do.
The only thing they seem to agree on is that no guy is or will ever
be good enough to date me.
Not that I want to date just any guy. The one I want to date is
sitting right beside me.
The one that is completely and utterly off limits.
Forearms already covered in ink, muscles tensing and
rippling under his tight black t-shirt, Liam Thunder Forester
doesn’t just look bad.
He is bad.
At least for me.
He’s everything I’m not.
Dark.
Dangerous.
And so damn sexy.
He’s already broken more hearts than I can count.
I sigh, still clutching the notebook to my chest. “Can we just
watch a show or something?”
“Why all the secrecy?” Colin moves towards me, and I can tell
he’s not going to let up. “What do you have in there? Your
confession of who you’re crushing on?”
Liam grunts beside me.
I shake my head, but I know the heat that creeps up my
cheeks gives me away.
“Shit. I’m right.” One blond eyebrow goes up, and Colin
chuckles. “It’s about me, isn’t it?”
I feel Liam tense beside me, then he pulls away slightly, so
that he’s no longer touching me.
“How d'you guess?” I roll my eyes. “Who isn’t in love with
you?”
“True.” Colin gives me a dimpled grin, the one that all the
girls swoon over.
Everyone but me.
I love Colin. But not like that. He’s the closest thing to a
brother I have. I know I should feel the same way about Thunder
—but I don’t.
What I feel for him is… complicated.
“Leave her alone.” Thunder stretches back, clearly over
teasing me, and turns on the television.
With a snort, Colin sits on the other side of me, sandwiching
me between the two of them.
They’re both huge, almost an entire foot taller than me, and
neither one has any qualms about taking up more than their
share of the couch.
I know every girl in school would be jealous of me right now.
My best friend Kiley lets me know at every opportunity how
freaking lucky I am to be so close to the Forrester brothers.
What she and everyone else doesn’t believe is that there’s
nothing but friendship between us.
I’ve been the subject of some pretty raunchy rumors because
of my relationship with them, because of how much time we
spend together.
But hell, I still haven’t even kissed a guy. Not really. Not
unless you count New Year’s Eve.
Best night of my life.
Who needed fireworks when they’d shot off inside me like a
million volts of electricity sparking every nerve in my body when
Thunder’s lips had brushed against mine for a millisecond.
It was just once, and he’d been drinking. I doubt he even
remembers it happening.
Me on the other hand, I can’t forget—no matter how hard I
try. And I’ve tried. Because I know that nothing will ever happen
between us.
Ever.
Thunder hates when anyone assumes we’re more than just
friends. He gave Jeremy Hudson a black eye and bloody lip last
year when the douchebag told half the school that I was having
sex with both brothers.
Jeremy was just mad that I kept turning him down, but
Thunder saw red, and it took five guys to pull him off the
asshole.
He’s always been overprotective with me, which is why I
know he’ll never see me as anything more than a friend; or
worse, a little sister.
The three of us sit there in silence, watching the stupid
football game that Thunder turned on.
I should be studying for mid-terms, or finishing my English
assignment, but their father’s been on a four-day bender, one of
his more violent ones, and I know neither one of them wants to
go home.
With a heavy sigh, I snuggle into the couch, my notebook now
thankfully forgotten.
Thunder’s knee touches mine. Barely. But I can feel the heat,
the crazy electricity that pulses between us.
I freeze.
Butterflies.
My breathing speeds up and my palms start to sweat.
Get a grip, Kennedy.
Biting my bottom lip, I pray that he doesn’t notice my
reaction. But I’m pretty sure the temperature in the room just
raised ten degrees, because the back of my neck begins to sweat.
I wish I could go back to the way things used to be, before my
body turned into an uncontrollable inferno of hormones around
him, but the more I try to ignore my feelings, the worse they get.
Luckily, he hasn’t seemed to notice. And I plan to keep it that
way, which is why I continue to clutch the damn notebook to my
chest.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“This game is boring,” Colin says, and before I know what
he’s doing, the book is snatched from my grip, and he’s jumping
from the couch.
“Give it back!” My voice comes out in a shriek.
Colin laughs and starts flipping through the pages.
Fear burns a path up my throat. I never should have written
what I did, but my English teacher asked us to make a detailed
list of the people that have made the biggest impact on our lives,
and what makes them unique.
The people I chose were my mom, dad, Colin, and…Thunder.
“What I like about Colin Forrester,” Colin reads, a cocky smile
spreading across his face. His gaze meets mine, and he winks. “I
knew it was about me.”
“It’s just an assignment for school.” My skin burns so hot, I
swear it’s going to blister.
“Right.” He continues to smirk, then starts reading. “He’s
kind. Funny. Always willing to help…”
I jump from the couch and try to snatch the book back.
Colin lifts it above his head and continues to read, “Smart.
Confident. A good listener.”
“Don’t be a jerk. Give it back.”
Thunder continues to sit on the couch, not moving, gaze
glued to the screen.
“I never knew you thought so highly of me.” Colin winks,
teasing.
“Stop being an ass.” I hit his chest, praying that he doesn’t
turn the page.
Too late.
His eyes go wide.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I know what he’s reading, and I want to crawl into myself
What I like about Thunder Forrester:
He’s my best friend
And I’m in love with him

The last line is scratched out, but it’s still legible.


Colin looks at me, brows lifted. “Love? Really?”
“Don’t.” I swallow hard, praying that he won’t say anything
more.
“She said give it back.” Thunder jumps from the couch, rage
in his voice.
For a heartbeat, the two of them stand nose to nose, the
tension between them almost tangible. Thunder’s hands are
fisted at his side, and I have no doubt that he’ll use them on
Colin if he doesn’t do what he says.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
As light, and easygoing as Colin is, Thunder is as broody and
temperamental.
You always know where you stand with Colin, but Thunder
hides his emotions behind a mask of indifference, until he’s
pushed too far and then you never know what he’s going to do.
But it usually involves fists flying.
“What are you going to do about it?” Colin smirks, edging
Thunder on.
“You want to find out?”
“Stop.” I get between them, which probably isn’t the
smartest move, but I know they’ll be in an all-out brawl in ten
seconds if I don’t. With a hand on both of their chests, I try to
push them apart, which is really a stupid move considering I
don’t even come up to their shoulders. I look up at Colin, who’s
usually the more reasonable of the two. “Just give it back.
Please?”
“Fine.” Colin hands the notebook back to me, but his gaze
remains on Thunder as if expecting him still to strike out.
“Thanks,” I mumble, closing it before Thunder sees what’s
written there.
I have no idea what passes between the two of them, but
whatever it is stirs an animal-like growl in Thunder’s chest.
Colin just chuckles in response, then places a heavy arm over
my shoulder, which only makes Thunder’s face turn a darker
shade of red.
“Don’t worry.” Colin leans down, and whispers in my ear, “I
already knew.”
Oh. If it’s possible, I swear I blush even harder.
He shakes his head at both of us, then saunters out of the
room leaving me alone with Thunder, who continues to scowl
after him.
When Thunder turns back to me, there’s blue fire in his eyes.
He looks angry. Really angry.
His nostrils flare, and his mouth presses into a hard line
when he glances down at the notebook in my hand.
“What?” I chew on the inside of lip.
“Nothing.” He drops back on the couch heavily.
When I sit beside him he doesn’t put his arm around me like
he usually does.
“It was only an assignment,” I mumble. “It didn’t mean
anything.”
Did he see what I wrote about him?
“What do I care?” His gaze is sharp and as cutting as his
words. “It’s just a stupid crush.”
A stupid crush.
Something inside my chest shatters. And I know in that
moment that not only did he see what I wrote about him, but
that he’s right, what I feel for him is nothing more than a stupid
crush. And in that second, I hate him for it.
CHAPTER 3

Present

THUNDER
Standing outside the rundown apartment, I glance up at the
third-story window with its sunflower yellow curtains, and
inhale roughly.
I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t my damn problem. But I can’t
stop the voice in the back of my head demanding that I go to her.
To make sure she’s all right.
A shadow darkens the window, then disappears.
Kennedy.
My pulse begins to race, and I curse myself for it.
She doesn’t want you, asshole.
I drag my fingers through my hair and exhale, then start up
the cement steps towards the building.
Pressing the buzzer, I wait, but she doesn’t answer. I press
again. Nothing.
I pull out my spare key, the one she gave me when I helped
her move into this dump. I know I’ve lost my right to use it, but
right now all I care about is getting the answers I should have
asked months ago.
Instead, I’d left, went off the grid completely. Because seeing
her with my brother, knowing she chose him over me, was like a
knife to the gut. A soul-crunching agony that was far worse than
any physical pain I’ve ever been in.
The elevator is out of order, so I walk the three flights of
stairs. The place smells of mildew and rotting garbage, and
there’s graffiti spray painted on the cement walls.
How the city hasn’t condemned this place is beyond me. But
it’s cheap rent and with the shit salary Kennedy gets working at
the Animal Shelter, I know it’s all she can afford.
It pisses me off that the animals she takes care of live with
more luxury than she does.
But she’s too damn stubborn to accept help, even though I’ve
offered multiple times.
Staring at the rusted metal numbers on the door, I grind my
back teeth and give one brief hard knock.
The door opens slowly, and I see the shock in her gaze when it
meets mine.
Dark hair frames her delicate face, falling over her shoulders
in waves. Everything about her is perfect, almost fragile in its
beauty. Soft, full lips, flawless skin, but it’s her eyes that have
always intrigued me. The lightest brown rimmed with thick dark
lashes. The color of caramel.
Those eyes hold my gaze now.
“Thunder?” A flash of something that looks like hope crosses
her expression, then quickly vanishes, replaced by a mask of
indifference. Her shoulders straighten, and her knuckles whiten
on the door that she’s holding half-open in front of her. “What
are you doing here?”
It’s a good question. One I haven’t figured the answer to.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
A small exhaled breath leaves her. “He told you?”
No, he didn’t fucking tell me. Which pisses me off even more.
“Can I come in?” I rough a palm over my jaw, then rub the
back of my neck, praying she doesn’t slam the door in my face.
With a small sigh, she opens the door wider. It’s then I see
the baby bump that’s almost hidden under her baggy, gray t-
shirt.
I grind my back teeth together as a fresh wave of red-hot
jealousy rolls through me.
She should have been mine. The child growing inside her a
part of me.
Colin doesn’t deserve her.
The thought of him touching her, kissing her, makes my
insides turn to molten lava. I’ve never hated my brother as much
as I do now.
An awkward silence stretches between us as I follow her into
the bachelor apartment.
It’s exactly how I remember it. One room that consists of a
living area-slash-bedroom, and a small kitchenette in one
corner. Despite how meticulous she keeps the place, it’s hard to
ignore the cracks in the plaster and the stains that she could
never get out of the carpet no matter how much she scrubbed
them.
The thought of her raising a child here twists my stomach.
“Do you want something to drink?” She moves to the far side
of the room, clearly trying to keep as much physical distance
between us as possible.
“No. I’m good.” I sit down on the futon that’s been folded to
resemble a couch. I forgot how uncomfortable the damn thing is.
It must be a nightmare to sleep on in her condition.
Her body language is stiff, forced, and she won’t meet my
gaze when she sits down on the only real piece of furniture in the
room, a brown recliner I bought for her two years ago. She’d
fought me on it, until I convinced her I’d found it at one of those
god-awful yard sales she was always trying to make me go to.
A white lie, but at least she took it.
She bites down on her bottom lip, hands moving protectively
over her stomach.
I don’t know how far along she is, but there’s nothing to her.
If anything, she looks like she’s lost weight.
Concern overrides my own unease.
“Have you been eating?”
Her gaze snaps to mine, and anger flashes there. “Is that
what you came here to ask? To see if I’m capable of taking care of
myself?”
“That’s not what I was implying. I just…”
“Just what?” With some effort, she stands, her back towards
me. A quiver of emotion laces her words, “Don’t come here and
act like you care. Just tell me what you want, then leave.”
The futon creaks when I stand. “I came… to…”
“To what?” She twists around, gaze hard on mine, almost
daring me to say what I desperately want to.
When I don’t answer right away, she shakes her head.
The stubborn set of her jaw, the hurt and hostility emanating
from her, tells me I should go, that she doesn’t want me here.
If I didn’t know her better, I’d believe the act.
Underneath the façade, I can tell she needs me. Even if she
doesn’t want to admit it, she wants me here.
Her eyes are glassy from the tears she’s trying her best to
hold back, and the small quiver of her chin tells me that the
moment I walk out that door she’ll fall apart.
Not happening.
“I’m not leaving.” Despite her small protest, I remove the
distance between us.
Cupping her jaw in my hands, so that my thumbs brush her
cheeks, my fingers tangle in the silky, dark hair at the nape of
her neck.
Forced to look at me, she sucks in a breath, and I see it—the
spark.
The acceptance.
It’s real.
Always was.
I can’t believe her connection with Colin was ever this strong.
Or I don’t want to.
I tamp down the jealousy that threatens to boil up at the
thought of him.
This is about her. About making sure she’s taken care of.
“I can’t…” Her eyes close and when they open again, I see the
wall she’s built between us. She raises her hands, and places her
palms on my chest like she’s going to push me away, but instead
they just rest there.
“I’ve missed you.” It’s the truth. Despite everything, I can’t
deny how much I care for her. How much I need her in my life.
Even if it’s just as friends. I know that now.
Her body tenses, fingers curling into the fabric of my shirt,
and a small, almost silent sob escapes her lips. She buries her
face in my chest, and I hold her until she finally lets the tears
fall, and she melts into my body with the familiarity that has
always been ours alone.

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CHAPTER 1

Lucas

“Who the hell is Eliana?” I shout into the intercom to my


secretary when I scan my day’s agenda. I just have a note in my
diary: Meeting with Eliana, 10 a.m., with a goddamn smiley face
next to it.
If I could get help—any help—in this office, I would be a
fucking trillionaire, rather than a billionaire.
“I am,” a feminine voice says, making me look up.
Shit.
At first glance, the woman looks like a typical all-American
college student, dressed in a baggy Notre Dame sweatshirt and a
pair of old jeans. Nothing special, until my gaze lands on her
face.
She’s gorgeous. Not the typical runway-model, I-only-eat-
salad-with-no-dressing look like my ex-wife, but the striking
beauty of a woman confident in herself, and her curves. Lush,
bee-stung lips that practically beg to be wrapped around my
cock. Large, doe-like eyes that could have any man melting in a
pool of romantic mush with a single look.
Thank God, I’m not any man. I’m Lucas fucking Philip. Cold-
hearted son-of-a-bitch whose emotions are locked behind a
steel cage.
The woman fidgets as she moves across the large room
towards me.
My cock says, Hello Eliana.
But my mouth says, “What do you want?”
She doesn’t flinch like most people would. Instead, she says
calmly, “Your assistant said you’re free to talk.”
I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes because I don’t
have the time or patience for whatever my secretary said. I’ve
fired the woman three times, but HR keeps insisting that it’s
unlawful dismissal.
Bullshit.
She’s useless. How is that unlawful?
I’m pretty sure my father put something in her contract that
makes it impossible to get rid of her – he's the one who hired
her. For what reason, I have no idea. Sometimes, I get paranoid
and think that she's some kind of spy for him. Even though he’s
semi-retired, the man is constantly in my business, never fully
trusting me, despite the billions I’ve made this company.
But it’s never enough.
Not for him. And not for me.
This is where I thrive. Work. Making money.
Business is what I know. And I’m fucking good at it. Better
than good. I’m the best at what I do.
It’s people that I have a problem with. Either they’re
spineless cowards with no independent thoughts of their own, or
they’re backstabbing cheaters who are willing to throw away six
years of marriage and the love of a five-year-old girl, all for a
meaningless fling with the pool boy.
My stomach twists when I think about my ex-wife. It’s been
over a year since she left, but it’s still a fresh wound to my ego.
Just now, instead of pain, all I feel is anger and bitterness.
And that’s what I project when I growl out, “Don’t just stand
there. Tell me what you’re here for, so I can get back to work.”
Dark eyes narrow on me and her lips purse slightly before she
says, “I came to talk about Lily.”
Shit. She must be the new help. The woman my mom hired on
my behalf when the last nanny walked out. My cock hardens
almost painfully when I think about the beauty standing in front
of me sleeping under my roof for the past three weeks.
How the hell had I not seen her before now? Guilt creeps into
my chest. I know how. Because I work too damn much.
Has it really been that long since I’d seen my daughter?
Fuck. I’m not getting any father of the year awards, that’s
certain.
“And?” I ask, dragging my fingers through my hair and
breathing out a deep sigh.
“Well, I’ve been working with her for almost a month, and
you and I have never met.”
I raise an eyebrow in expectation for some better excuse for
her interrupting my day.
“And?” I repeat.
For the first time since she entered my office, I see a trace of
hesitation. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other and
says, “I thought it would be good for us to meet.”
I’m not sure why she thinks it’s so important. I have no doubt
she’ll be gone by the end of the month –– or sooner. One month
seems to be the breaking point of the previous nannies I’ve
brought in to take care of Lily.
My daughter didn’t just inherit my good looks, she also got
my cunning ability to manipulate and control. She’s driven the
previous hires away through brilliant little tactics that would
wear down even the most patient of saints. As much as I hate to
admit it, I have to admire the kid’s gusto. And, in all honesty, it’s
my opinion that if you can’t outwit a six-year-old, then you
should probably find a new line of work.
Eliana is watching me expectantly. Her tongue darts out
across her lower lip, and I have to suppress the dirty thoughts
that pop into my head when I think about what I want that
mouth doing to me right now.
She’s my daughter’s nanny. Completely off-limits.
“We’ve met,” I say stoically, hardening my gaze and my
thoughts. “Anything else?”
“I wanted to talk about Lily. I’ve noticed that she’s been…
struggling, and I thought–”
“I appreciate your concern. Now, if you don’t mind, I have
work to do.” The last thing I need is some stranger to come in
here, telling me what she thinks is wrong with my daughter. I
know exactly what’s wrong. Her mother left her, and her father
is a selfish bastard who has no idea how to raise a six-year-old
girl on his own.
Unfazed by my dismissal, Eliana continues. “I’m taking Lily
to the zoo tomorrow.”
“Fine,” I mumble, keeping my gaze down and shuffling
through the files in front of me.
“I thought you could come with us.”
I grunt and look up at her. “Why?”
“It would be good for Lily. It's a school trip. There was an
option for the parents to go.” She licks her lips, and adds, “And I
put your name down.”
My gaze jerks to hers. “You shouldn’t have done that. I have
work to do. Important work–”
“More important than spending time with your daughter?”
Who the hell does this woman think she is?
If I say no, I’m an asshole for not going, and if I say yes, I’m
just an asshole.
I may have met my daughter’s match for manipulative
behavior.
“Since you asked, yes, I have a meeting with the mayor in the
morning and multiple meetings in the afternoon.”
And, as if right on cue, the useless secretary that I’ve been
trying to get rid of walks in and blurts out, “Actually, the mayor
cancelled that meeting, and I booked you out for the rest of day,
so you can go.” She places a coffee on my desk, then turns to
leave, just as fast as she walked in, saying, “You could do with a
break. We all could.”
“Sara, get back here,” I holler. But, as usual, the woman
ignores me and disappears down the hall.
Fucking hell.
She booked me out so I wouldn’t come to the office. And she
calls herself a secretary? Right. Another thing to go to HR about.
Eliana is smiling at me, and there’s triumph glistening in her
dark eyes. “Looks like you’re free.”
“Looks like it,” I grumble.
“Great. Lily is going to be ecstatic. We can take the car, or we
can go on the school bus with the rest of the class.”
“Hell no.”
She laughs, a light, playful sound that has my balls
tightening. “I didn’t think so. Lily said there was no way you
would come at all, let alone ride the bus. At least I can prove her
wrong on one of them.”
“Is there anything else, Miss…”
“Sanders,” she offers. “But you can call me Elly.”
I grunt. “Miss Sanders will do fine.”
She gives a small nod, then her expression turns serious.
“She’s a good kid. Your mom said she has some behavioral
issues, but honestly, I just think she needs more positive
attention.”
“Are you a psychologist, Miss Sanders?”
Her cheeks turn a shade of red. “No.”
“Then I’d appreciate you keeping your opinions to yourself.”
Her nostrils flare slightly, and she opens her mouth before
clamping it shut on whatever snippy little comment popped into
her head, then gives a curt nod. “Thank you for your time, Mr.
Philip. I’ll see you at home.”
At home.
A small groan bubbles up in my chest.
She turns to leave, and I can’t help but watch her firm,
perfectly shaped ass as it leaves my office. And I’m almost
tempted to follow her – home.
I shove a hand through my hair and curse the dirty thoughts
that pop into my mind. It’s been too goddamn long since I’ve
been with a woman. At some point, I’m going to need to move
past the pain of betrayal that my ex has left me with.
But not now. Not yet. And especially not with the nanny.

CHAPTER 2

Eliana

“We did it,” I say to Sara, Lucas’ secretary, when I walk out of his
office, still trying to shake off the bolts of electricity that race
through my body.
I’d seen pictures of the man, but they hadn’t prepared me for
the effect of being in his actual presence. Lucas Philip is power.
It rolls off him in waves. It’s not just his size, which is
impressive. Six feet of pure muscle. Or his chiseled jaw, the
rough, almost primal features, or the scorching blue eyes that
sear me with an intensity that makes me want to drop my
panties and fuck him right there in his office. It’s something
more. A confidence that screams, I can make all your most
wicked fantasies come true.
He’s your boss, I remind myself. Not to mention that he’s at
least ten years older than me, a billionaire, and way out of my
league.
“I can’t believe it,” Sara says, coming around her desk and
peering over my shoulder as if expecting the man to come
tearing down the hall at any time.
Not that I blame her. The man is more than intimidating.
He’s scary as hell. But I grew up with two older brothers, and I
know how to deal with men like him. Hold your ground, and
never, ever, show fear.
“I thought he’d come up with some other excuse.” Sara
smiles and shakes her head. “The man is so stubborn."
“Just like his daughter.” I chuckle, thinking about how
similar they actually are. Right down to the sandy blond hair and
blue eyes.
“I’ve never met her, but from how quickly she’s gone through
nannies, I can only imagine. You must have the patience of a
saint to still be working with her.”
“It’s been…interesting.” I laugh, thinking about the pranks
the kid has pulled. The first night I was there, all of my shoes
disappeared. The groundskeeper found them in the pool the
following morning. I knew then I was going to have my hands
full.
It’s been a rough few weeks. But Lily’s behavior has been
better, and I feel like I’ve actually started to connect with her.
“She really is a great kid. She’s just starved for affection. It
can’t be easy not to have either parent around. I feel sorry for
her.” I glance over my shoulder towards Lucas’ office. “And for
him.”
The man is snarly, arrogant, and obviously angry at the world.
But behind the cool mask he wears, there’s pain and rejection.
It’s the same thing I see in Lily’s eyes. The same thing that stirs
something in my chest and makes me want to help them both.

CHAPTER 3

Lucas
Lily is asleep when I get home from work. I tried to get home
earlier, but I got stuck in a conference call with a client in Tokyo.
Guilt spirals in my chest when I open the door to her bedroom
and glance in at her.
One tiny fist clutches the pink, stuffed bunny I bought for her
last birthday. I reach out and stroke my knuckles across her
cheek and sigh.
I’ve been a shitty father this past year. I know it. Hell,
everyone knows it. But I honestly have no idea what I’m doing.
At least at work, I can control things. With Lily, I feel like
everything I say and do is wrong.
“Daddy?” Her lashes flutter open.
“Hey, Princess.” I crouch down beside her.
“Are you really going to the zoo with us?”
“I am.”
Her face lights up.
More fucking guilt punches through me. I lean over and kiss
her forehead, brushing her curls away from her face.
“Go back to sleep.” I stand and turn to leave.
“Daddy?”
“Yeah?” I drag my fingers through my hair and glance back at
her.
“I like Elly.”
It takes me a second to realize she’s talking about the nanny.
“Can we keep her?”
I can’t help the smile that pulls at my lips. It’s the first time
she’s shown any real connection with someone since Stacey left.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
She gives a small nod, then curls back under the covers.
“Goodnight, sweetheart.” I close her door when I’m back in
the hall, then start towards my room, stopping when I hear the
soft beat of music coming from the other end of the corridor.
The guest room door is slightly open, light spilling out into
the hallway, and a shadow darkens its path for a brief moment.
Eliana.
I tug at my tie, loosening it, and will myself to walk in the
opposite direction.
Don’t even think about it, asshole. But I am thinking about it
– thinking about her. And my feet ignore my brain’s warning.
I need to ask her about tomorrow’s agenda. At least, that’s
what I tell myself as I stalk down the hall towards her room.
Raising my hand, I’m about to knock, when I catch a glimpse
of the woman through the crack in the door.
Fuck.
Wearing only a tight t-shirt that leaves little to the
imagination, and a pair of lacey, pink panties, Eliana dances
around the room, her dark hair cascading over her shoulders,
and across her breasts.
My balls tighten and I’m immediately rock hard.
Walk away.
The woman is young. I did some research on her after she left
this morning. She’s a student, just finishing up her last year in
Epidemiology through online courses. Smart. I like that. But
she’s only twenty-two. Almost ten fucking years younger than
me.
And she’s Lily’s nanny.
As tempting as that sweet, curvaceous ass is, I need her
taking care of my daughter more than I need her taking care of
my aching cock.
If she saw me creeping around her bedroom, I’d probably end
up with a sexual harassment suit on me.
But then, she’s the one who left her door open while she’s
bouncing around half naked.
As if sensing my presence, Eliana stops dancing and looks
over in my direction. Her eyes go wide, her cheeks infusing with
color, and she lets out a small squeal before grabbing for a pair of
pajama bottoms that lay at the end of her bed.
Shit.
“You should keep your door closed,” I growl out, unable to
tear my gaze away as she struggles to get her pants on.
“I…I didn’t know you were home. I’m sorry.”
“Do you make it a habit of dancing around half naked in front
of my daughter?”
“I’m not…I wasn’t…” Obviously flustered, she takes a
steadying breath and straightens her shoulders before saying
more calmly, “Lily has been asleep for hours. I was just getting
ready for bed. And if you must know, I keep my door open
because Lily has nightmares, and I want to make sure I hear her
if she needs me.”
Since when has Lily had nightmares? I rub the back of my
neck and wince. I’ve been gone too damn much.
“Just close it from now on when you’re changing,” I bite out,
more harshly than I intend.
She gives a curt nod.
I should walk away, but instead I just stand there staring at
her like a goddamn stalker, my balls aching, and my cock harder
than it’s been in years.
Why the hell does this woman have such an effect on me? It’s
not like I don’t have my pick of women. It’s just my luck that I
want the only one I can’t have.
“Is there anything else, Mr. Philip?” she asks, eyeing me
suspiciously.
I cough. “I came to ask about the itinerary tomorrow.”
“We leave at nine.” A small smile spreads across her
gorgeous face. “I think you’re really going to enjoy it.”
I doubt that. In fact, spending time with her and not being
able to touch her seems more like torture than fun.
On the nightstand beside her bed, her phone lights up with an
incoming text. I glance down and frown when I see the
screenshot that’s saved as her background.
It’s a picture of her and Lily. But that’s not what gets my
attention. It’s the smile on my daughter’s face that makes my
heart skip a beat, because it’s the first time since her mother left
that I’ve seen that look on her face. She’s smiling so big that
both her dimples are showing, as well as the huge gap where her
two front teeth should be.
I pick up the phone and study the photo. “She lost her front
teeth?”
“Last week,” Eliana says, moving towards me.
“I didn’t know. The tooth fairy?”
“She was very generous. Who knew that a tooth was worth so
much nowadays?” Her lips quirk up in a small smile.
I nod, and hand her the phone. Our fingers brush when she
takes it from me, and I see the small tremor that races through
her.
“Goodnight, Miss Sanders.” Better to walk away now before I
do something I’ll regret.
“Goodnight, Mr. Philip.”
I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long night, because I
have no clue how the fuck I’m going to fall asleep knowing the
woman is only a few rooms away.

CHAPTER 4

Eliana

Lily comes bounding into my room just as the sun peeks through
the drapes. Jumping on top of me, she gives me a dimpled smile
and says, “Wake up, Elly. It’s time to go to the zoo.”
“Okay, okay. I’m up.” I tickle her and she laughs. “Why don’t
you go wake your dad up?”
Her little face turns suddenly serious. “He doesn’t like when I
disturb him.”
“I think today will be okay. He took the whole day off work
just to be with you.”
Her eyes brighten again, and she quickly changes the subject,
“Macy said there’s a new baby giraffe. It was only born last week,
but it’s already as tall as Daddy.”
“Wow.”
“Did you know that giraffe’s are the tallest animal in the
whole world?”
“I did.”
“Except for whales,” she continues to ramble on. “But
they’re not really tall, just long.”
I try to keep a straight face as she spouts off more facts.
“Are you two still in your pajamas?” A deep voice says from
the door. Lucas stands there looking hot as sin in his white t-
shirt that stretches tight against his powerful chest, and
designer jeans that look like they haven’t had much wear.
I’m surprised he even owns a pair.
I immediately flush when I think about what happened last
night. Him seeing me half-naked. Then his brief touch when he
handed me my phone. The heat of his fingers on my skin. I’ve
never felt anything lie it.
Had he felt it too?
The way he’s looking at me now, all cool and aloof, I doubt it.
Maybe it was all in my head.
“Daddy,” Lily says, jumping off the bed and running to him.
My heart practically melts when he scoops her up and presses
and kiss against her cheek. For a moment, his gaze softens, and I
see something almost vulnerable in his expression.
He loves her. That much is obvious. So why does he pull
away?
“Go get dressed,” he says, putting her down. “We don’t want
to be late.”
Lily nods, and disappears down the hall, leaving him standing
in the doorway of my room, once again.
“Do you always sleep in, Miss Sanders?” His blue gaze is
narrowed on me.
“It’s barely seven o’clock.” Is he serious?
He grunts, and turns, leaving without saying another word.
So much for the softness I thought I saw. But he doesn’t have
to be nice to me. That’s not why I’m here. As long as I can get
him to spend more time with Lily, I’ve done my job. It may not
be the job he hired me for, but it is the one he needs me for.
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PREVIEW: HOT TAKEOVER

CHAPTER 1

Alicia

“Alicia, did you hear me?”


I set aside the design I’m working on and look up at the
woman who’s currently hovering over me, blonde hair pulled
tight in a bun, green eyes filled with malice as they rake over me.
Cynthia Briggs.
My boss.
The one that ignores every design I send her.
“Yes?” I force a smile, but one look at the woman’s pinched
face and all the frustration that I let go of during this morning’s
yoga session, slams into me.
I breathe out through my clenched teeth and try not to show
my agitation.
The company I work for is Love Lace. The name implies that
we sell sexy lingerie. Yet, she insists on proposing the same
designs, season after season.
Boring. Unenticing. Granny-panties made from spandex,
rather than lace. Not the racy, provocative pieces that I believe
our customers are craving.
The ones I design.
There are others in the room, a couple of senior managers and
designers, and I see them stiffen and turn away as not to incur
her wrath. They all know that her vision for the company is the
reason we’re in the red. But no one is willing to risk their necks
to do anything about it. And because of that, we’re all probably
going to be out of a job by the year’s end, if not sooner.
“In my office, now.” Cynthia’s voice is shrill and sends a
shiver down my spine.
I’m in trouble. And I know why. She’s angry about the designs
I sent her for the upcoming holiday season.
Slowly, I push my chair back and stand up, then follow behind
her as she clicks and clacks down the long hallway toward her
office.
She could have had her secretary call me instead of making a
scene in front of my co-workers. But that’s not Cynthia’s style.
She likes – no loves – to assert her power whenever she can.
Especially with me. And humiliating me in front of my
colleagues is the perfect way to do it.
When we’re in her office, she slams the door shut, then stalks
across the room, sitting behind her large mahogany desk, with
her fingers steepled as she glares at me.
“Sit down,” she demands, a small, wicked smile catching the
corners of her lips.
Now, I’m afraid. No, I’m petrified. Because Cynthia is only
happy when she’s doing one thing – making other people
miserable.
Is she going to fire me? She’s been hinting at it for months.
Always making empty threats.
I love this job, and it would gut me to lose it.
“Is there a problem?”
“I want to talk to you about the designs you submitted,” she
says, still watching me with narrowed eyes. “You still seem to be
confused about the company’s vision.”
I spent two weeks working day and night on the designs. But
with a simple flick of her wrist she rejected each and every one of
them.
The company should just change its name to Underwear For
The Dead, because no one with a pulse would buy the new
designs that Cynthia suggested.
I bite my tongue and try not to lash out at her, but it’s so
damn hard. The woman is insufferable.
My parents, friends, everyone that knows me, says I should
get a new job. They don’t understand why I stay. Some days I
don’t understand myself. I’m going nowhere fast. I should quit.
But every time I go to give my resignation, I can’t bring myself to
do it.
This isn’t just a job. It’s my passion. I love designing. Love
creating beautiful pieces and knowing that a small piece of fabric
can change a woman’s mood, bring out a confidence in her that
she didn’t even know she was lacking.
Every woman deserves to feel beautiful, and the fact that I can
help that happen means everything to me.
I know what it’s like to be insecure about my body. I’ve
struggled with my weight since I was thirteen. Never living up to
the image my mother had for me.
Even now, at almost sixty, my mom is slim without even
trying. Me, I splurge and eat a bowl of rocky road ice cream, and I
gain five pounds the next day.
It’s only since I started designing lingerie that I started
feeling comfortable in my skin, because I could create pieces that
aren’t only comfortable for a full-figured woman, but also
incredibly sexy.
“Alicia.” Cynthia’s sharp tone breaks through my thoughts.
Arms crossed over her chest, she glares at me. “You’ve worked
here for a couple of years–”
“It’s been four, actually.”
I didn’t think her expression could get any more disdainful,
but it does.
“We need to be able to sell fashionable pieces. We’re not
designing lingerie for brothels.”
Brothels? Is she serious? “I think if we surveyed–”
Again, she ignores me. “Our customers want class, style, not
trampy pieces that are practically pornographic.”
I feel like stripping off and showing her that not everyone
wants spandex panties that start at the waist and stop mid-leg.
Neither do they want bras that start at the shoulders and end at
the waist.
What century is she living in?
Hung around the room in frames are the certificates and
awards from the fancy design school she attended. I’m tempted
to prove one day that they’re all fake. She can’t be qualified,
because she doesn’t have a clue about fashion. Or about what
women want.
“Your time here is over, Ms. Parker.” The words come out
cold, and emotionless.
“Excuse me?” I feel as if the air is being sucked out of the
room, because I can hardly breathe.
The company that I felt was my lifeline to fashion is being
taken away from me. I have no social life, no love life, and I gave
it all to Love Lace and she wants to take it away from me because
I don’t believe in spandex.
If that was the case then it should be called, Spandex Love.
But, we’re not, because we’re supposed to be selling sexy, lace
lingerie.
“Cynthia, please–”
There’s an abrupt knock on the door, which stops me from
saying exactly what’s on my mind.
“Cynthia Briggs?” A man’s deep voice rolls through the room
as the door opens.
I glance over my shoulder and freeze.
Oh. My. God.
Standing in the doorway is the most beautiful man I’ve ever
seen.
Tall, dark, and handsome doesn’t even begin to describe him.
Dressed in a fitted suit, with a sky blue tie that matches his
pale eyes, the man is gorgeous. So gorgeous that for a second I
forget that my boss literally just sacked me.
There’s something familiar about him. I shake my head
thinking that I’ve seen him somewhere before. I know that I
haven’t, at least nowhere other than my dreams.
For a long, intense second he holds my gaze. Dark. Intense.
Smoldering. I swear the man is practically undressing me with
those hypnotizing eyes. Normally I’d be offended, but with him
I’m just freakishly turned on.
My heart begins to race, and my palms actually start sweating
with the force of my reaction to him.
Then he clears his throat and looks away, all business.
“Ms. Briggs?” He asks, eyes darting to Cynthia.
She clears her throat and stutters, “Ye-yes.”
He’s even got her tongue tied, which is quite the feat. The
woman never shuts up.
“I’m Killian Scott. You were told that I’d be coming in.”
She seems confused or maybe she’s anxious as she sways her
head to the side, and for the first time since she’s started
working here, I see a weak side to her. One that I didn’t know
existed.
“I-I thought that you were coming tomorrow,” she manages,
regaining some of her ice-queen composure.
“I decided to come in today,” he says unapologetically, and I
have a feeling like things are about to get interesting, because
never in the two years that Cynthia has worked here have I seen
her squirm like she’s doing now.
His eyes fix on me once again, but he’s cooled the intensity of
his gaze, and all that I see there now is curiosity. “And you are?”
“Just leaving.”
Cynthia hasn’t actually fired me, and if I can get out of here
quickly, maybe she won’t have the chance, and I’ll be able to
come up with some miracle plan of how to keep my job.
I start to walk out while he walks in, fully aware that his gaze
never leaves me.
“Mr. Scott, what can I help you with?” Cynthia’s brittle words
pull his focus away from me, and I’m left both disappointed and
relieved.
Who is this man?
Someone powerful that’s for certain. And someone that
clearly makes Cynthia nervous.
As I’m about to close the door behind me, I notice that
Cynthia’s secretary isn’t at her desk. Leaving the door open a
small crack I stay and listen.
Is it right? No. But then I need all the help I can get if I have
any hope of keeping my job. Maybe this Killian Scott has
something on Cynthia that I can use.
“I think you know why I’m here, Ms. Briggs.” His voice is that
deep baritone that makes a girl’s panties melt right off her
without a single touch. Pure, hot, sexy, velvet.
“I didn’t think you were coming in until tomorrow.”
“It doesn’t make a difference. I’ve seen the designs that you
sent me. I’ve also taken in a detailed account of everything
you’ve done over the past two years. This company isn’t going to
make it if you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over
again.”
Amen to that.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“For some reason I got two emails. The first one had designs
that I thought were perfect for the company. Lacey and sexy,
exactly what the Love Lace needs to start getting back into the
black.”
Cynthia blurts out, “They were sent by mistake. I didn’t know
my secretary sent them to you. The moment I found out, I sent
you the right documents.”
“That’s the part that worries me. The fact that the designs,
which were perfect, were sent by mistake and the spandex
collection is your new proposal. It’s just not going to work. I’ve
talked with management and they’ve agreed with my decision to
let you go.”
“No. You can’t do that. I’m–”
“You were given a lifeline and I think it’s safe to say that
you’ve blown it.”
“Do you know who you’re speaking to?” Her voice is two
octaves higher than it normally is.
“A woman who needs to start looking for a new job.”
I hear Cynthia’s sharp intake of breath, then the click-clack
of her heels coming towards the door.
Not wanting to be caught eavesdropping, I quickly move away
from the door and down the hall towards my work area, unable
to stop the grin from spreading across my face.
With Cynthia gone, and my new boss a total hottie, maybe
today is going to be okay after all.

CHAPTER 2

Killian

“I’m not fucking leaving here.” Cynthia slams the office door,
causing one of the certificates on the wall to crash to the floor.
The one that after a single day of investigation, I discovered
wasn’t real. Like most of her credentials.
“If you don’t calm down, I’ll have to call security.”
When the lamp comes flying at my head, I make the quick
decision to not make it an empty threat. I’ve been around
enough women to know bat-shit crazy when I see it. Pulling out
my cell, I make the call.
“Bastard,” she screams, sending a stapler zipping across the
room.
A small warning about the woman’s unhinged mental status
would have been nice before the owners sent me here to deal
with her.
I usually love my job. And then there are days like today when
I wonder why the hell I still do it. It’s not like I need the money. I
made my first million at twenty-one, and my first billion ten
years later.
I know business and I know money. Give me one and I’ll
produce the other.
At thirty-five, I own my own jet, a yacht, and several estates
across the globe, none of which I’ve made a home.
I hate being anywhere for more than a few months at a time.
Never liked any place enough or been given a good reason to stay
longer than that.
It’s why I enjoy what I do so much. The thrill of taking
something that’s broken and fixing it. That’s what drives me.
And once I work my magic, I move on.
Love Lace is a smaller company than I usually work with. But
Bernard Turner is a friend of my father. And I’m doing this more
as a favor for him and his wife than anything else.
Like most of the companies I work with, the root of the
problem is poor management. The problem with Cynthia is that
she’s not just bad management, she’s just not good for the
company. She has shares in a company that produces spandex,
and that’s been the reason for her pushing her God-awful
designs.
“Ms. Briggs, if you don’t leave the office peacefully then I’ll
have no choice but to expose your investments in Spandacare.”
Her face goes pale. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking
about.”
The woman is terrible liar.
“The company has been very gracious with your severance
package, but I can just as easily make sure that all disappears.”
I’m usually not an ass, but she’s pushing my fucking buttons.
There’s a knock, then two security guards come into the
office.
“Ms. Briggs,” I say, her name a warning on my lips. “This can
go one way or another. Either you leave with these men
peacefully, or they drag you out.”
Were at a standoff. Gazes locked. But I have no intention of
losing this battle.
“Fine,” she hisses. “This company is pathetic anyways. I give
it two months, maybe three, and it’ll be bankrupt. You’re doing
me a favor.”
She walks out with her head held high, limping as she tries to
balance herself on one shoe. The other one, thrown at my head
in her anger, lies discarded in the corner of the room. She
doesn’t even try to claim it.
When she’s gone, I drag my hands through my hair and take a
seat in the large leather chair behind the desk, and glance
around the office. The one that I’m supposed to be working in for
a short time, trying to sort out the mess that Cynthia created.
I sigh as I think about the challenge that I’ve been given at
Love Lace.
She’s right. The company is in trouble. Big trouble.
But I’ve always loved a challenge. And this one’s no different.
Plus, there’s the red-haired beauty that was here when I first
came in. The woman is one of Love Lace’s mysteries that I have
every intention of unravelling.
I need to hold a meeting with the top managers. Not only so
that I can introduce myself, but so that I can find out her name.

CHAPTER 3

Killian

I’m holding my first company meeting, and like every first time,
my adrenaline is spiked. I should be used to these types of
meetings. The ones where I have to tell the staff about the
changes I’ll be making. The only difference this time is usually
top management leave amicably. Especially when they get their
severance package.
Everyone here must know what’s going on. Cynthia was
shouting loud enough that rumors had to have already spread
like wildfire.
And judging by the scared, doe-like eyes that meet me when I
walk into the conference room, I know exactly what they’re
thinking.
Who’s he going to fire next?
And in all fairness, it’s a good question. Because it’s what I do
– weed out the unproductive. Get rid of what doesn’t work, and
replace it with what does.
But it’s more than just that. It’s also my job to find the rare
gems that haven’t fully maxed their potential.
That’s my favorite part of this job.
Not that shit that went down earlier today.
But there was no helping it. I just hope it doesn’t go against
me when dealing with the staff members that are left. I learned
early on that fear isn’t always the best motivator. Praise and
rewards work much better in the end.
Then again, judging by the round of applause that took place
as Cynthia hopped down the hall with one shoe, escorted by the
security team, it’s clear she wasn’t liked or is going to be missed.
I clear my throat. “Good afternoon.”
Silence meets me.
Blank stares blink back.
They stare at me like wasted zombies.
Dull.
Drained.
No fire or passion.
I expect reactions like this from nerds who spend too much
time behind the screen, who aren’t used to human interaction.
The geek squad as I like to call them. The only time they’re used
to communicating is if it involves sending a message via their
phone or whatever electronic device they’ve decided is their
lifeline.
I clear my throat and start again, “Good afternoon, my name
is–”
Before I can finish my sentence, she walks in. The red-haired
temptress. The woman who I haven’t been able to stop thinking
about all day.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says, trapped between the door and me.
I watch her every move. Soft. Feminine. Not fully aware of her
beauty. And yet still confident, and incredibly sexy.
More than a dozen pair of eyes are on me, and the only thing
on my mind is, what’s your name?
She’s wearing a tight black number that leaves nothing to the
imagination, and yet still shouts class. It hugs her body in all the
right places. And those curves. She’d put any of those Victoria
Secret supermodels to shame.
In a world where skinny is the rage, she wears her curves with
confidence.
Damn.
She’s probably the type that’s breaking hearts all over the
office. Then again, judging by their vacant expressions, I find it
hard to believe that any of them even have pulses.
“I didn’t catch your name earlier.”
“Alicia Parker,” she reaches out to shake my hand, and as
soon as our palms connect, a flash of energy burns through me
so hot that I swear I’m going to combust. But I don’t want to let
go. I can’t help but hold her small hand in mine, stroking the
soft skin with my thumb.
A small tremor races through her. I see it. Feel it. The
attraction mutual.
My God, but I want this woman.
There’s a small rumbling in the room, a couple awkward
coughs, and I let her hand go, noticing the red that’s creeped
into her cheeks.
Shit. Nice move asshole.
She moves a strand to the side and I can’t help but notice the
subtle tattoo on her neck – a butterfly. Interesting.
“And you’re our new boss?” she asks when I keep staring.
I’m blowing this.
“No.” I shove my hands in my slacks and take a deep breath
before continuing and making sure to look anywhere but at her.
“I’m here to help the company get back to what it was. After
that, a permanent manager will be hired to take Ms. Briggs
place.”
Again, no reaction from the rest of the room, just more blank
stares.
The only reaction is from Alicia. A small, almost happy grunt.
“Is there something you’d like to share?” I ask.
“Cynthia leaving is the best thing that could happen to Love
Lace. I know that’s probably not nice to say, but it’s the truth.”
She bites her bottom lip, stopping herself.
“Go on.” I nod at her, wanting to hear more.
She looks around the room, but when she doesn’t get any
reaction, those gorgeous gray eyes turn back to me, and she says,
“I’ve been trying to get Cynthia to approve my new designs, the
‘Charlotte Range.’ But she said…” Her tongue darts out over her
lush lips before continuing, “She said that it was a range that
belonged to hookers and I was way out of my league. But I think
if we surveyed our customers, we’d see that what women want is
not only comfort, but pieces that make them feel sexy.” She
glances down and says softly, “Even if it’s for their eyes only.”
I don’t say anything, because I’m blinded by her beauty, and
by the fact that she pretty much read my mind. There’s also the
hint in her words that suggests she not only enjoys designing
sexy pieces, but also wearing them.
God, what I wouldn’t do for a glimpse of that image.
“Sorry, I said too much.” Shifting nervously, she drags her
palm down her skirt.
I remember the original designs that Cynthia’s secretary sent
me.
“The Christmas designs. The ones that were sent by mistake.
Those were yours?”
She nods, “Guilty.”
I sit down and say, “So, why do you think Ms. Briggs didn’t
approve them?”
She shrugs, “I don’t know. I’ve never understood her
management style.”
I don’t want to put their manager down, especially because I
don’t know anything about this Alicia. Yes, she’s hot. And sexy
as hell. But until I’ve done my homework on something other
than her measurements, I’ll have to keep everything strictly
business.
She licks her dry lips, and I think to myself that it’s going to
be fucking hard.
Probably near impossible.
But I’ve never been one to mix business with pleasure, and
even for this delicious little temptress, I’m not going to start
now.
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CHAPTER 1

Ross

The moment Brooklyn Walsh walked into my office I wanted her.


No, scratch that, I wanted to fuck her. To pull up that tight little
skirt she was wearing and drive myself balls deep into what
would no doubt be the sweetest pussy I’ve ever had.
But damn if it didn’t go against my one and only rule – never
mix business with pleasure.
Despite the way my cock protests every time she walks into
the room, my sweet little assistant would have to stay that.
Sweet. Untainted by my perverse desires. Assisting me in every
need except the one I can’t stop thinking about.
Today, Brooklyn’s curvy little body is snug in a little black
dress, that while modest, screams fuck me, please. Hell, I swear
the woman could make a burlap bag look sexy.
She tucks a strand of her long blonde hair behind her ear, and
studies the tablet that she’s holding.
I’ve thought about firing her. That would solve my problem.
But from the small details I know about her, she needs this job.
And in all fairness, she’s a good assistant. One of the best I’ve
had in the five years since I took over the company.
But with Brooklyn it’s like my cock has a mind of its own. Like
I’m some hormonal teenager and not a thirty-two-year-old CEO
millionaire who can have any woman he wants.
Any woman except Brooklyn Walsh.
Transferring her to another department crossed my mind. But
I haven’t been able to make the call. The torment of having her
around is nothing compared to having her assist anyone else.
She’s looking at me now, brows drawn down when she takes
in my appearance. I can only imagine what she sees. Still dressed
in yesterday’s suit, I run my hand across the scruff on my jaw,
then through my mussed hair.
“What?” I bark, making her jump slightly.
She glances across the room towards the black leather couch
and rumpled blanket, and frowns. “Did you sleep here last
night?”
I grunt, refocusing my attention to the paperwork in front of
me. Yeah, I’d slept here. Because the only thing that takes my
mind off the tortuous ache in my balls is work. That and the
bottle of bourbon that’s half-empty in the bottom drawer of my
desk.
“Coffee?” The lilt of her voice makes me look up.
Bad move. She’s standing in front of me, and when she
reaches over to place a cup in front of me, I can see straight down
the front of her dress to the pink satin bra she’s wearing.
Holy hell, I’m one hundred percent screwed.
I groan, and her gaze flashes to mine, eyes widening. So
innocent, and yet so damn inviting, I swear my cock is going to
burst through the seams of my pants.
Down boy.
“Sit.” The word comes out harsher than I intended.
She bites on her bottom lip and sits in the chair across from
me, adjusting her dress nervously.
I know full well that I scare her. I’m a hard man to work with,
but with her I’ve been even more demanding. More callous. I’m
surprised she’s lasted as long as she has. Most people would
have quit weeks ago.
But not Brooklyn. Despite the sweetness about her, she’s
tough. Like there’s a steel iron inside her, under all those
luscious curves.
“Your father called.”
My head jerks up at that, because I know the second part of
that sentence will only fuck with my life one way or another.
I’d hoped he would take it easy when he handed over the
company’s reins to me. With his high blood pressure, retirement
was exactly what the doctor ordered. Not to mention that he’d
let the business slip.
It took two years to get it out of the red, and another two to
clean up the mess he’d created. So, when my father said that he
was running for office, I thought it was some kind of a joke.
“And?” I demand, tapping my fingers on the edge of my desk
waiting for her to drop the bomb.
“He wanted to make sure you were still going to the
Gladstone Charity Event tonight.”
Shit. I’d forgotten all about it.
“When I spoke with him, he sounded pretty persistent that
you be there. And…” She winces and looks away.
“And what, Miss Walsh?”
“That you bring a date and not the same…” She bites back a
small smile. “…floozy you brought to the last one.”
I grunt and lean forward, forearms resting on my desk, and
mentally go through my backlog of women. But the thought of
spending time with any of them is as appealing as shoving my
hand in a blender.
Work is the only relationship I have time for. The last thing I
need is another female trying to dig her claws into my bed and
bank account. And that’s exactly what will happen if I invite any
one of the women in my little black book.
I need something simpler.
The thought of calling an escort feels desperate. And I’ve
already had one humiliating experience that I’ll never live down.
The last time I hired a companion for the evening, most of the
men at the event had rented her out before. She spent more time
handing out cards than actually being my date.
She wasn’t the most expensive escort on the books because
she was good. She was the most expensive one because she was
popular. The whole fucking thing was embarrassing. The idea
that everyone knew that my date was an escort is one scandal
that my father has never let me live down.
I could go without a date, but that will only tempt the cougars
and gold diggers to think I’m still on the market. Which I’m not.
I’ve married myself to this company, and for now that’s all the
companionship I need.
“Mr. White?” Brooklyn’s watching me. Her tongue darts out
across her plump bottom lip and I almost groan out loud.
The little temptress doesn’t know what she does to me.
“What?” I snap, looking away and trying to think of anything
but her.
“Would you like me to call one of your…female friends to
escort you?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Because the solution to my problem is staring straight at me.
No fucking way. I shake my head and focus on the contracts in
my hand. Taking Brooklyn anywhere outside of this office is a
very bad idea, because the minute I allow myself one touch, I
know I won’t be able to hold back from consuming all of her.
She looks at me with those big green eyes, and I know she has
no idea what I’m truly capable of. What kind of man is under the
designer suits, and cold, calculated mannerisms.
I am the big bad wolf that her mother warned her about.
The girl is too fucking innocent.
And she’s my goddamn assistant.
Keep your paws off her, my brain screams, despite the
persistent pulsing bulge between my legs.
But damn, as I’m giving her notes, watching her pink lips
pout as I spill out a ton of chores for her to do by lunch time, I
can't get the thought out of my head that her sweet little body
was made for me.
I need to go through my black book. Try and figure out
someone else to take to this damn party.
“Can you do all this before twelve? I need to leave early
today.”
She sighs, but tries to hide her frustration at my tight
deadlines.
My phone buzzes and I curse under my breath when I read my
father’s text. Ella, my ex. The one that never seems to get the
fucking message that we’re over is coming tonight. Even more
reason why I need to find a date, and fast.
I was furious when I found out my father had hired her to help
him run his campaign. But then he never could resist a pair of
long legs and a pretty face. And Ella had both going for her. What
she didn’t have was a heart.
Or if she did, it was made of pure ice. The woman was as cold
and calculating as I am. The only difference is that’s all there is
to her. She’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants, and what
she wants is me on a leash, and a ten caret ring on her finger.
So not happening.
Another text pops up on my phone.

Please don’t disappoint me, son.


See you at eight.

I’m stuck going to this damn party, and playing the part of the
dutiful, adoring son. And that’s all it is, a part to play. If I didn’t
need to keep up appearances for the business, I’d tell my father
exactly what he could do with invitation.
But the man’s put himself center stage, once again.
Trust dad to want to run for office.
I shake my head as Brooklyn stares at me. When I don’t look
away like I usually do, her brows turn down and she starts to
fidget, nervously.
“What?”
“Are you free tonight?” The question comes out before I have
a chance to stop myself.
“I can be.” She frowns. “Is there a project you need me to
work on?”
I take my time to word this carefully, because for the first
time in my life, I am worried about a rejection, something that
I’m not accustomed to. But I’m fucking desperate, and I know
that I can’t demand it of her. Because I need her help.

CHAPTER 2

Brooklyn

To say that I'm exhausted is an understatement. I start at eight


every morning and if I’m lucky I leave by the same time in the
evening, but I suspect that tonight's going to be different. The
way he’s looking at me, tells me he wants something more than
my usual twelve hour shift.
I'm tempted to say, ‘Yes, sir. Do you want anything else? Like
for me to drive to Chicago and back before the end of the day?’
But sarcasm doesn’t go over well with my boss. Actually no
type of humor does. He’s the most serious man I’ve ever met.
Dark.
Brooding.
And sexy as sin on a stick with whip cream on top.
Focus, Brooklyn. The man is way out of your league.
I smile at him, the same way that I do every single time he
asks me to do the impossible.
The man’s a slave driver. Always wanting more than I can
give.
He’s obsessed with work. Maybe that’s the role of being a
CEO, being on top of everything. Or maybe it’s the perfectionist
in him, driving him to always achieve more.
But how much more can one person seriously need? Or want?
He has staff. A lot of them, nearly two hundred employees
and he is obsessed with micromanaging nearly everyone.
Including me.
But I won’t quit.
Because leaving means going back home or even worse, back
on the road.
I haven't been home since I graduated from high school and
I’m not about to go back now. It isn’t an option. Ever.
Getting another job seems like the easiest solution, except
that it took me six months to land this one. Before that, I was
working in a coffee house, barely able to pay my half of the rent.
Prices in the city are outrageous.
I need this job. And working with Ross White isn’t completely
terrible. When he isn’t growling at me, or shouting orders, he
can actually be kind of sweet. Well, maybe sweet isn’t the right
word – more like civil.
It also doesn’t hurt that he looks like he’s been plucked off a
GQ magazine cover. Dark hair that’s always mussed just right.
Clear, intelligent blue eyes that smolder with promise.
Just not for me.
He’s made it very clear that our relationship is one hundred
percent business. I’ve never had a man go so out of his way to
make sure he doesn’t touch me.
It’s fine. I don’t do relationships. Or sex.
I’m just starting to get my life on track.
Nothing, not even Mr. Tall, Dark, and Deliciously Brooding
will get in my way.
CHAPTER 3

Ross

“I need your help, Miss Walsh. But it’ll mean going beyond what
I pay you for.”
Her expression goes from guarded, to intrigued, to full out
suspicious.
“I want you to escort me tonight to the function.”
Her mouth drops open slightly. “You want me to be your
date?”
“Strictly business, of course,” I add quickly.
“Of course.” Her tone is an echo of mine, stoic and reserved.
But I can practically see the wheels spinning inside that pretty
little head of hers. She thinks I’m up to something.
And I am.
“Why me?” Her green eyes narrow, regarding me.
“I don’t have time to call anyone else.” Knowing the words
are a little too curt, I add, “And I think my father would
appreciate you over the floozy I took to the last event.”
That causes a small smile to play on her lips.
I shake my head thinking about the reason that I’ve kept our
relationship merely professional. She’s my assistant and apart
from not wanting a sexual lawsuit on my hands, she’s way too
young. Christ, the woman is practically a decade younger than
me.
“If you’re busy–”
“No.” The word comes out in a rush, and her cheeks turn a
shade of pink. “I mean, I’m free. If you need my help.”
This feels like a bad idea.
Because no matter how hard I try to deny it, I know this can
only end one way. With her in my bed and my cock buried balls
deep inside her.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A good ol' Canadian boy, who loves hockey, maple syrup and beavers! I also love to
write sexy stories about strong alpha men who would do anything to protect the
women they love.

Stay in touch!
authorcarterblake@gmail.com
ALSO BY CARTER BLAKE

The Nanny and the Beast


The Teacher and the Beast
The Law of the Beast
Awakening the Beast
Pretend to Be Mine
Say You’ll be Mine
Hot Takeover
Thunderstruck

Naughty Beasts & Filthy Princes


Book 1 Saving Red (Little Red Riding Hood)
Book 2 Guarding Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)
Book 3 Craving Snow (Snow White)
Book 4 Owning Swan (Ugly Duckling)

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