Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
This high-concept series brings together the glamour of Park Avenue and hot Navy SEALs in dark, smoldering contemporary romances.
The Tate Brothers were once orphans and they have been raised to do one thing only: protect what is theirs.
As a trained sniper and Navy SEAL, Lucas Tate found the courage to distance himself from the wealthy, wicked patriarch who adopted him. Instead, he’s devoted his life to the elite band of brothers from his unit. So when the widow of one of his former comrades finds herself in apparent danger, Lucas makes it his job to protect her against all enemies. . .and not let her out of his sights.
Grace Riley feels overwhelmed by Lucas’s presence, but the cold-eyed marksman will do anything to keep her safe. Soon the special attention he pays her becomes a wild romantic distraction—one that troubles Grace, since Lucas was so close to her deceased husband. Still, how can she resist Lucas’s intense, ice-blue stare? All she knows is that a life without strong, passionate Lucas is one not worth living. Can Lucas can find a way to honor his former brother-in-arms by saving Grace. . .and loving her, too?
Amount of sex 2.5 / 5
How explicit 3 / 5
Story 4 / 5
Overall: 4 / 5
The Wicked Billionaire is the second book in the Tate Brothers series by Jackie Ashenden and a complete standalone. I have not read the first book, The Dangerous Billionaire, and had no difficulties with following along. I was intrigued with Van and Chloe, who was mentioned a couple times and will most likely go back to read it, but know it’s not essential for the plot.
In this story, Lucas Tate is a Navy SEAL sniper and has learned to become detached and cold from an early age. After the death of his foster father, Lucas and his foster brothers, Van and Wolf, each receives an envelope from their late foster father. Lucas’s contained an assignment to protect Grace Riley, the widow of his deceased friend and Navy SEAL teammate.
The story was suspenseful and the sexual tension was off the charts! Lucas is such a complex man that I wondered how and when he would break his cold outer shell. Glad Grace and Lucas finally got their HEA!
Copyright © 2017 Jackie Ashenden
If there was one thing that Lucas Tate fervently wished it was that wherever his father had gone to after he’d died it was Hell and that he was currently burning in it.
It wasn’t that Lucas hated his old man. That would assume some level of caring and Lucas had approximately zero level of caring. No, he felt nothing for the guy, and feeling nothing was pretty much Lucas’s usual modus operandi.
But standing on a New York sidewalk, with the tiny ripped-up pieces of Noah Tate’s last letter to him in his pocket, staring through the plate-glass window of the art gallery opposite, he almost felt the faintest stirrings of hate.
It wasn’t because he was now one of the reluctant directors of the billion-dollar family company Tate Oil and Gas. And it wasn’t because it was starting to look like he wasn’t going to be able to get back to base and resume his career as one of the Navy’s best SEAL snipers as quickly as he wanted to.
It was because of the woman standing in that gallery opposite, having what looked like an argument with someone else.
The woman who in his last letter to Lucas, his father had ordered him to protect.
If it had been any other woman Lucas probably would have found someone else to do his father’s dirty work for him, since he wasn’t in the least bit sentimental about women in general. But it wasn’t any other woman. It was Grace Riley, the widow of one of Lucas’s fellow SEAL team members, Griffin Riley, a man who had once been the closest to a friend Lucas got and who had been killed in a terrorist operation in Europe some six months earlier.
A man who’d turned out to be a traitor, having been discovered supplying illegal experimental weaponry to international arms dealers, which was also the reason his widow currently needed protection.
It was a mess, a fucking mess, and if there was one thing Lucas hated more than any of the above it was messes.
He stared through the art gallery window at the woman inside, watching as she lifted a hand, making some emphatic gesture with it as she argued with the very well-dressed man standing opposite her and looking defensive.
Lucas had met Grace Riley on a number of occasions, at various ceremonies and other military gatherings, not to mention once up at the Tates’ place in the Hamptons when Lucas had invited Griffin to one of Noah’s infrequent summer garden parties. He’d also seen her a few times at her and Griffin’s place, when he and Griffin had been on leave and Griffin asked him around for the odd barbecue or dinner.
Lucas didn’t like her. In fact, every single time he met her he found himself thinking about exactly how much he didn’t like her. It wasn’t anything specific, there was just something about her that rubbed him the wrong way. She was opinionated and fiery and passionate in her views, and didn’t hesitate to let people know all about whatever she was feeling at the time, all of which were traits he found extremely distasteful.
Nevertheless, for some completely inexplicable reason, whenever he was in her general vicinity he found himself drawn to her very much against his will, in a way he couldn’t explain even to himself.
He still couldn’t now.
Grace made another gesture, waving her hand, the many bracelets she wore sliding up her arm. The man she was arguing with took a step back as if he was slightly afraid of her.
No, Lucas really didn’t understand his own fascination, because she wasn’t beautiful. She wasn’t even pretty. Not that beauty had ever been a big drawcard for him anyway, but Grace certainly didn’t possess it. Her nose was far too long, her jaw too strong, and her chin too decisive for a start. Her hair was a pretty color, like fresh apricots, but it fell in long, frizzy untamed waves almost to her waist, and what with the scattering of freckles over her forehead and cheekbones, she kind of looked like Pippi Longstocking. And not in a good way.
Nevertheless, despite all of that, he had to admit there was something compelling about her all the same. Something he really couldn’t put his finger on.
It had always annoyed him and now it looked like it was going to continue to annoy him.
Lucas closed his fingers around the pieces of that fucking letter he’d torn up three days earlier in Leo’s Alehouse, the bar he’d met his brothers, Van and Wolf, in after scattering some of their father’s ashes off the Brooklyn Bridge.
All three of them had gotten a letter each from their father, and if Van’s and Wolf’s letters had been anything like what was in the contents of his, Lucas couldn’t blame them for the past three days of silence.
They were probably doing exactly what he was doing now, wondering what the fuck they were going to do. Not that there was any doubt in his mind about what he was going to do.
He respected Noah Tate, the man who’d adopted him and Wolf and Van from the St. Mary’s Home for Boys all those years ago. But respect was the only emotion Lucas allowed himself. Certainly he felt nothing else for the guy.
So no, Lucas wasn’t going to protect a woman he didn’t particularly like for his foster-father. Lucas was going to protect her because this was a mission he’d been given and he’d never refused a mission yet. Plus she was a civilian and it wasn’t her fault that her husband had been negotiating with a number of international arms dealers and apparently now owed those dealers a shitload of money. Money that he couldn’t pay back because he was dead.
But Grace wasn’t. And if Lucas’s father’s letter was correct those dealers would be coming to get that money from her.
Lucas couldn’t let that happen, no matter how he felt about his erstwhile buddy or his foster-father. No matter how Lucas personally felt about her. Because if she couldn’t give them their money they’d kill her, no two ways about it. Hell, they’d probably kill her anyway.
Lucas might have taken lives himself, all in the name of freedom, but he wasn’t about to let an innocent civilian die. If she was innocent, that was. Maybe she’d known about Griffin’s little deals? Then again, from what Griffin had told him about their marriage and from what he’d seen himself, he knew that wasn’t likely.
There was only one thing Grace Riley cared about and that was her art. Everything else was just noise.
Across the road, Grace flung out her hand again, bracelets glittering in the dull winter light, then curled her hand around the long fall of her mermaid hair and shifted it over one shoulder in an unconscious, reflexive gesture.
Another thing he didn’t like about her. Damn woman could never keep still.
A cold wind had started up, the gray sky above him lowering. Snow was in the air.
Lucas ignored all of it the way he ignored most things when he was on reconnaissance. Because that’s what this was. Reconnaissance for a mission. Intelligence gathering on a target, Grace being his target. He’d been planning on visiting her anyway before he went back to base, simply to pay his respects and offer his condolences about Griffin, because it was the right thing to do. But then Lucas had gotten his father’s letter and so the courtesy visit had instead turned into three days spent shadowing her, learning about her and her daily life. What she did, where she went. Where she lived. Where she worked. Who she associated with, the usual. All of it was all very mundane, nothing special.
She lived in a tiny apartment in the East Village with absolutely no security whatsoever, worked three nights a week in a local bar, and from the looks of her financial details—which he’d hacked with relative ease—she paid the extortionate rent with Griffin’s military pension. She had a few friends whom she met once a month to drink and bitch with in a cafe near Central Park or called and texted with every few days—her phone records too had been relatively easy to hack—but she didn’t have a boyfriend from the looks of things, which wasn’t unsurprising considering she’d only been widowed recently. She had some family—her mother—but judging from those phone records, Grace had no contact with her whatsoever. The only other detail of note was that Grace spent most of her meager wages on art supplies. Typical struggling artist, in other words.
All up, it was a relatively boring life for a relatively boring female.
There were no signs she was being followed or anything else suspicious, though, which was at least one blessing, since Lucas had been hoping to deal with anyone coming after her without her knowing. Dealing with her personally was something he wanted to avoid, especially when it would lead to painful explanations, messy scenes, and would probably further delay his return to base.
Interacting with people was not Lucas’s favorite. Most particularly hysterical females, and if he could get away without actually having to explain to her that Griffin had been a traitorous asshole selling high-tech weaponry to people who shouldn’t have it that would be good.
In the pocket of Lucas’s motorcycle leathers, his phone buzzed with a text. He grabbed it and briefly glanced down at the screen. Of course it would be Van, his older brother, breaking the silence of the last three days. Lucas even suspected he knew what it was about too: being one of the directors for Tate Oil and Gas.
Problem was, he didn’t give a shit about his father’s company, had never been interested in it, and although he’d agreed to be a director, he didn’t particularly want to have anything to do with it now, so he left the text unanswered and put his phone back in his pocket. Van could wait. Right now, Lucas had more important things to take care of.
Grace was now throwing both hands in the air in a dramatic gesture, the man she was arguing with slowly shaking his head in response. Clearly she was having trouble with something and maybe, given this was an art gallery and she was an artist, it had something to do with an exhibition or a potential exhibition.
Lucas went back over the information he’d managed to glean on her over the past couple of days. He couldn’t recall that there had been anything in her phone records to do with this particular gallery or in her e-mails, though that didn’t mean she didn’t have something going on here. She was having financial difficulties, though, as he could see from her last couple of bank statements. Basically all her money went on art supplies, which weren’t cheap.
He narrowed his gaze as she pulled her hair over her shoulder in that reflexive movement again. Crazy woman What kind of person put art supplies over food and utility bills? The logical thing, if she was having money troubles, would have been to move out of New York and go somewhere much, much cheaper, not stay here.
Not that he cared. He didn’t give a shit what she did with her money or her life for that matter. The only thing he cared about was that she kept her actual life, since it was pretty damn obvious she had no means to pay the people who were after her.
In fact, his initial response had been to doubt the veracity of his father’s facts about Griffin, especially since the man was a friend and fellow SEAL and the accusations leveled at him were pretty fucking serious.
But the day after Lucas had gotten Noah’s unexpected letter, an e-mail had arrived in his in-box with a heavily encrypted file attached. After running the decryption program suggested in the e-mail, Lucas had opened the file to find all sorts of financial information, photos, copies of e-mail conversations, copies of texts, and all about Griffin. Who’d apparently been recruited to work for a man called Cesare de Santis, the erstwhile owner of DS Corp, one of the country’s biggest weapons designer and manufacturer, and who also just happened to be the Tate family’s biggest enemy. Cesare and Noah had once been friends until it had all gone bad, and Noah had drummed it into each of his boys that one day Cesare would come for the Tates.
Certainly Cesare had come for Griffin. He’d been trying to get DS Corp experimental weapons onto the illegal arms market and had been paid very well for his efforts by Cesare de Santis himself. Until Griffin had been blown to bits by an unusually well-targeted missile strike.
Across the street, Grace made another emphatic gesture with her hand; then quite suddenly, as if she’d heard a sharp sound, she turned her head.
And Lucas found himself staring into a pair of intense amber eyes.
It had never happened before, a target seeing him before he was ready to reveal himself, and he couldn’t think for the life of him what he’d done to give himself away.
And then as if being spotted weren’t bad enough, Grace abruptly made things worse by starting toward the art gallery front door, leaving him in no doubt as to what she was going to do.
She was coming to confront him.
* * *
Grace had been feeling an odd itch to the back of her neck for the past day or so, and the sensation had been aggravating her even before she’d gone to see Craig at his pretentious SoHo gallery. Then he’d refused to allow her to change the dates for her exhibition, which had only aggravated her further.
Not that she actually wanted to change the dates, it was just that she was having real difficulty with the final piece she was working on, the piece that would tie her entire exhibition together.
The piece she hadn’t actually started yet, because she’d seemingly run out of inspiration.
Yeah, and that too had been aggravating. In fact, more than aggravating. Her lack of inspiration was anxiety making in the extreme and she was doing her best not to think about it, hoping that Craig would be at least a little understanding and move the dates to give her some breathing space.
Sadly, Craig was not understanding.
And that annoying prickle on the back of her neck was getting worse, like someone was watching her. Like she was being followed.
“I understand it’s difficult,” Craig was saying, condescending as always. “But the schedule is what it is. And it’ll affect a whole lot of other artists as well, you do understand that, don’t you?”
Momentarily forgetting her argument, she turned her head sharply, squinting through the big plate-glass windows of the gallery and studying the street outside. A steady stream of people went by, heavy traffic moving beyond them.
Then she spotted a tall figure, dressed in black motorcycle leathers and standing very still beside a streetlight. At first glance he looked like a bike courier, and there was nothing very suspicious about that, yet something kicked hard in her gut, an instinct she never questioned.
She squinted harder. His features were indistinct, but that instinct was telling her she knew him somehow. That he was familiar. And that quite definitely he was the one who’d been following her.
A jolt of electricity went through her and she had to stop herself from saying his name aloud, because of course it wasn’t Griffin. He was dead and had been for six months, and if there was one thing this man wasn’t it was her deceased husband. He was too tall, for one thing.
A thread of grief wound through her in the way it did whenever she thought of Griffin, bringing with it a flare of unreasonable anger at whoever the hell was standing out there, reminding her of things she didn’t want to be reminded of. Clearly she needed to go out there, find out who it was and why he was following her, then give him a piece of her mind.
Craig was still going on about something, but Grace wasn’t listening. Turning back to him, she held up a finger. “One second. I’ll be right back.”
Without waiting for a response she turned and headed straight for the gallery doors.
Outside the weather was being its usual crappy winter self, the wind whipping under the leather trench coat she’d found in a flea market the year before and cutting straight through the gold wrap dress that had been her thrift-store find the month before that.
Ignoring it, she strode straight out into the traffic, dodging a few cars and shrugging off the sound of car horns, still squinting at the tall, dark figure standing by the streetlight and trying to figure out who it might be, because she still couldn’t quite make him out.
The man didn’t move, simply stood there watching her come, and as she got closer his features became more and more distinct, arranging themselves into a familiar pattern.
Deep gold hair shorn close to his skull. Silver-blue eyes. A very singular, intensely masculine beauty. And cold. Cold as the icy wind that was whipping around her booted ankles right now.
Oh yeah, she knew him. You didn’t forget a face like that.
It was Lucas Tate, one of Griffin’s SEAL buddies and the most beautiful man she’d ever met.
Her anger melted away as quickly as it had come, replaced instead with a small shock of surprise. Because what the hell was Lucas Tate doing here?
He and Griffin had been good friends and Lucas had been included in a lot of the social gatherings she and Griffin had organized—or rather Griffin had organized, since she wasn’t much of a socializer. Whatever, she’d never understood why Griffin had been Lucas’s friend, because her husband had been warm and easygoing, a laid-back, chilled-out kind of guy, and Lucas was … none of those things. He was icy, emotionless, had apparently no sense of humor at all, and was a complete control freak. Basically the opposite of Griffin in just about every way.
At first she’d wondered whether the attraction for Griffin had been because Lucas was one of the Tate brothers, the adopted son of one of the country’s richest and most powerful oil billionaires, and somehow Griffin had been dazzled by that. Except Lucas never talked about his family or flashed money around or, in fact, gave any sign that he even had much of a personality to start with.
Grace found him intensely uncomfortable to be around, not the least because not only was he cold, he was also the most physically perfect human being she’d ever met, a fact that her artist’s soul found absolutely fascinating.
Then there was that other part of her, the free-spirited part, that always had the oddest urge to mess with him. Poke at him. He was like a frozen lake, all pristine white ice that she wanted to get on and skate across, cut great lines over, gouge holes in. Dig under to see what was underneath.
Probably more ice.
Yes, well, there was that. Though there had been times, once or twice, when she’d caught his silver-blue gaze on her and seen something else. Something that she thought might have been actual, honest to God emotion, though she couldn’t imagine what it was and when she’d looked again it had gone.
Anyway, the last time she’d seen him had been at Griffin’s funeral, where he’d offered her the world’s stiffest sympathy speech before turning around and walking off before she’d been able to say a word.
“Lucas?” She came to a slow stop on the sidewalk right in front of him, shock still coursing through her. “This is a surprise. What are you doing here?” And then, remembering that prickling sensation on the back of her neck, she narrowed her gaze. “Have you been following me?”
He remained absolutely still, looking neither pleased nor particularly unhappy at seeing her, studying her with a detached kind of intensity, as if he were a scientist watching an experiment that he wasn’t particularly invested in yet was curious about the results of anyway.
“How did you spot me?” His voice was as deep and cold as the arctic sea.
It sent chills through her, made her feel like someone had slipped an ice cube down her back.
Ugh, yes, now she remembered why she never liked it when he came round for dinner or joined Griffin for a beer sometimes on the weekends. That icy voice of his and his detached manner, coupled with the restlessness that seemed to grip her whenever he was near. A restlessness she could feel beginning to set in now.
She didn’t like it. Not one bit.
Grace shifted on her feet, folding her arms across her chest, trying to ignore the familiar urge to simply stand there and stare at him like a teenage girl in front of a poster of her favorite pop star. “It wasn’t hard. I looked out the window and there you were.” She let out a breath and asked again, “What are you doing here?”
His heart-stoppingly beautiful features betrayed no emotion whatsoever, his jawline so perfect and sharp it was as if she might cut herself if she touched it. Not that she was going to touch it. He was like King Midas, except he didn’t turn things into gold, he froze them solid instead.
“No one sees me if I don’t want them to.” He ignored her question completely, his gaze focusing on her like a laser beam. “How did you?”
Grace folded her arms tighter, resenting his stillness and the weird effect he always had on her. It was probably the way that he loomed over her, even though she wasn’t standing all that close to him. She wasn’t used to having men tower over her, since she was a good five nine in her bare feet and six foot in heels. Maybe it was all that black leather he was wearing, the way it molded to his long, leanly muscled body, making him seem big and powerful and somehow dangerous.
Ugh. She didn’t like dangerous.
“Well, you can’t have been trying that hard, because it wasn’t very difficult,” she muttered. “Also, it’s not like there are a million guys hanging around in black leather watching me through the windows.” She frowned at him. “And you didn’t answer my question. You’ve been following me, haven’t you?”
He didn’t move and he didn’t say anything, that focused stare of his taking in every inch of her, from the top of her head to the soles of her Victorian-style lace-up black boots. It was so dispassionate, as if she were a map he was studying, or a set of instructions he was trying to decipher.
It made her even more uncomfortable, which in turn made her even more annoyed.
She’d never been pretty and she knew it, and she was fine with it. But being in the presence of such a beautiful man, with those uncanny silver-blue eyes studying her so intently, she was suddenly very aware of every single one of her physical failings. Her long nose and big jaw. Her squinty eyes and her long frizzy hair. All the things her father had constantly picked on and that she was self-conscious about.
Yeah, she didn’t appreciate that little reminder, that’s for sure.
“Can you answer the question, please?” she said more sharply than she intended to, flinging out a hand to emphasize her point. The collection of gold, silver, and beaded bracelets jingled on her wrist. “Have you been following me?”
He didn’t answer her question. Or, at least, not immediately, his icy gaze continuing to take her in without any hurry.
God, he was so still it made her feel like she needed to pace up and down, climb out of her skin, do something.
“What makes you think I’m following you?” he asked after a moment.
“Just a feeling.”
His blond brows drew down. “A feeling?” He said the word like he had no idea what it meant and wasn’t interested in knowing either.
But by this stage Grace had lost what little patience she had, and she’d never had much to start with. “It’s something to do with Griffin, isn’t it?” It had to be. Why else would his buddy be hanging around watching her?
Despite the progress she’d made over the last six months, as soon as she said the name a small needle of grief caught underneath her ribs.
Damn. Actually, she didn’t want it to be about Griffin, because the last thing she felt like doing was discussing her dead husband with this icy statue currently masquerading as a man. Especially not when what she should be doing was getting out and finding inspiration for her last piece, so she could meet her deadline for the exhibition she had scheduled in Craig’s gallery.
It had taken her months of calling and badgering to finally get him to agree to let her show, and even though she knew it was only because of some vague connection to her grandparents, she didn’t care. It would be her very first exhibition, the realization of a dream.
Not that she was expecting to sell a lot of paintings, because God knew making it as an artist in Manhattan was next to impossible. It was the exhibition itself that was important, to show her grandparents they were right to have faith in her, as well as give the big middle finger to the memory of her father, who hadn’t had any faith in her whatsoever.
Lucas’s eyes narrowed slightly as if he knew exactly what the sound of her husband’s name had done to her. Yet when he spoke, his voice was the same, devoid of anything even remotely sympathetic. Devoid of anything but ice. “Yes. Of course it’s something to do with Griffin.”
Great. Well, there went any hopes she had of not feeling crappy for at least one day.
She let out a breath. “Okay, can it wait till—”
“No,” he cut her off without a second’s hesitation. “It can’t wait. I need to talk to you now, Grace.”
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|Amount of sex|
|Overall:||4 / 5|