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Billionaire in Wolf's Clothing
By TERRY SPEAR
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Terry Spear
All rights reserved.
Jade Ashton had made a lot of mistakes in her life, but returning to her brother's pack topped the list. She should have known the pack members wouldn't accept her son, the product of a love affair with a human, despite pretending they were fine with it. She glanced at her three-year-old son, napping on the daybed in her office in her brother's home where she alternated between sketching new designs for intimate apparel and for a new baby and toddler wear line she had developed when her son was born.
Toby had just fallen asleep, looking angelic with his blond curls resting on his cheek, his dark brown eyes closed as he licked his lips. No way would she ever give him up, despite how everyone in her pack viewed him as a grievous error in judgment.
She felt a little dizzy, probably because she'd been so busy that she hadn't had anything to drink in hours. She got up from her chair and headed out the door, practically running into her twin brother moving silently down the hall like a wolf. She fell back and gasped softly when he grabbed her arm to steady her.
"We need to talk." Kenneth started to guide her to the den, his blond hair much darker than hers, his amber eyes focused on her in a way that said he had serious business to discuss.
Did he know she intended to leave the pack, again? Or did he want to tell her he didn't think her being here was working out? "I need to get some water. And we can't talk long because Toby will be waking in a half hour or so."
"This will just take a minute."
It had better, because she wasn't going to be drawn into any long-winded discussions with her brother. She hadn't told him she was leaving first thing in the morning. She wasn't sure how he'd take it. She had to admit she was afraid he'd try to talk her out of it. But she was determined.
Every time he and the others had looked at her son in judgment, she'd been annoyed. Not only that, but she'd caught Kenneth and the others having secret conversations and then abruptly stopping whenever they saw her approaching. The pack members pretended to tolerate her son, but she saw through the facade. They didn't like her having a human son who couldn't shift. They believed he could be a danger to the pack.
Which was one of the reasons she had left just after her son was born. She had also wanted to save his human father from her brother's wrath. But raising Toby on her own had been tough. When her brother had promised that the pack members wanted her to live with them and have the backup they could provide, she had agreed. She and her son had left southern Texas far behind, so she figured she'd never run into Toby's father again. And Kenneth had sounded sincere in wanting to ensure her protection — just like a pack leader should. She wanted to be part of a family again. She didn't have a lone wolf personality.
She didn't believe Toby would be welcome in any other pack either.
Clearly, the members had changed their minds about having her and her son there. Unless they had never wanted her back and it was all her brother's idea. He was the pack leader, so ultimately, it was his decision — one he was apparently coming to regret. He was just being stubborn, didn't want to admit he'd made a mistake, and didn't want to have to tell her to leave.
Then again, maybe he realized she was planning to leave. Being twins, they sometimes sensed things like that before they really shared with each other. She hadn't packed anything yet. She planned to tell him in the morning, before he left for work at his auto body shop. She thought it would be easier on all of them that way. She'd call him when she got settled and let him know where she was staying. It was for the best — for her son, for her, and for Kenneth and the pack.
Having detoured from the direction of the den to go to the kitchen so she could get something to drink, Kenneth leaned against the granite counter, his focus on her, his expression still ultraserious. "I have a job for you."
She raised her brows, then grabbed a glass from the kitchen cabinet. Between raising Toby and running her own businesses, she didn't have time for a whole lot else. But if this was something quick that she could do this afternoon, she would, to thank Kenneth for taking her in — and then she was through with the pack.
"It's simple. And hell, you might get real lucky."
She snorted, pouring water into the glass and adding crushed ice. "Lucky?" She drank several sips of the water.
The front door shut, and she figured Kenneth's girlfriend, Lizzie, was running out for something. She was a wolf too, which meant they were sleeping together, but he hadn't decided to mate her yet so they hadn't gone all the way. If they did, he'd be stuck with her as his mate for life. Jade didn't know why the she-wolf put up with her brother. If Jade was in a situation like Lizzie's, she'd tell the wolf that either they mated or she'd look elsewhere. But Jade supposed Lizzie wanted to be a pack leader's mate and was sticking around in case Kenneth decided she was it. Total beta wolf.
"You're living off me so you can put more money into your apparel business that isn't making enough to really sustain you and your son. So, I need you to do this job and —"
"Like hell my business isn't making enough money." She was extremely tight with her money. No fancy food for either of them. No special entertainment. No expensive clothes. Since lupus garous lived so long, she had worked other jobs to help pad her bank account before Toby was born. She wasn't wealthy, but she got by just fine. As long as she was frugal. "That's okay. Being here with the pack isn't working out for Toby and me anyway."
Kenneth's eyes widened. "You're not leaving."
"Listen, Kenneth, you know no one wants my son here. And they barely tolerate me. You make Lizzie babysit Toby sometimes when I really need someone to watch him so I can work, but it's not fair to her. The rest of the pack worries about him. I appreciate all you've done for me. I really do." She shrugged. "But ... I know this is the right thing for me to do. And for you and the pack too. I'm leaving tomorrow, and we can get together from time to time ... later." She really didn't believe that would happen, but she'd make the gesture anyway.
"Like I said, I have a job for you."
What part of she was leaving did her brother not get? He was so stubborn! Or did he feel it was his place as pack leader to decide if she was leaving? He hadn't decided things for her since before she left the pack nearly four years earlier, and she wasn't going to allow him to start now.
Even so, she'd humor him because she was leaving tomorrow, with or without his consent. "What's the job?"
"Do you remember when that doctor was taking blood samples from us last week?"
"Yeah, Dr. Aidan Denali. He wanted to take some of Toby's, and I said no. What of it? He's not asking to take blood samples from Toby again, is he?"
"No, but here's the thing. I looked into his background, and his brother is Rafe Denali."
"So?" She'd never heard of the guy. Not that she'd heard of Aidan Denali either before she'd met him at Kenneth's house. Since Toby wasn't a shifter, there was no reason for Aidan to take blood from him. Though she hadn't given the doctor that reason since he hadn't needed to know.
"Rafe Denali's a billionaire. Real estate mogul."
"So?" Her brother was usually much better at getting to the point.
"The good doctor told me he's close to finding a cure for our longevity issues."
"Okay. What has this got to do with me? Or you, for that matter?"
"I need you to find out where he's living. Where he does his research."
"What?" She narrowed her eyes. "Why?" She was getting really bad vibes about this.
"His brother is ruthless. Hell, he's the reason our grandparents lost their manufacturing business."
She closed her gaping mouth. She had never known anything about her grandparents. Since her brother had taken over the pack when their parents died, he'd been the one interested in all things family. She'd been rather a wild card growing up. She'd always known she would never run the pack, so she'd done her own thing. After her son was born, she'd thrown herself into her work and raising him. No room for getting into any further trouble. She was faced with enough already.
"Okay, so I don't get the connection between what happened with our grandparents and what you want me to do. Or why you want to know where the doctor lives."
"Rafe is well-known —"
She opened her mouth again to tell Kenneth she had never heard of Rafe, so he couldn't be that well-known.
"— in financial circles. The kind that you don't belong to. I know where he lives. He and his brother are close, but Aidan lives somewhere else. I want you to befriend Rafe and learn where Aidan lives."
"Why would you want to know that? Besides, I don't run in billionaires' circles. You already said so yourself."
"He's a bachelor wolf. He's not dating any she-wolves. I've checked. If he sees you, and you intrigue him, you can cozy up to him and learn where his brother lives."
"I'm not interested. Besides, didn't the doctor give you his business card and tell you to contact him if you have any concerns?"
"It has his phone number. That's it."
"Why do you want to know this anyway?"
"I told you. Rafe is ruthless. When he gets hold of a cure for our condition, he'll sell it to only those who can afford it. What if lupus garous begin to age even more rapidly than we are now? What if we don't just end up with a human's life span, but our bodies begin to age rapidly to match all the years we've already lived? Hell, your boy would lose you, and he'd have no one to raise him. Think about it."
She had thought about it. But she wasn't one to live with a fatalist viewpoint on life. She hadn't thought her brother was either. Until now.
"If you really want this information, ask Rafe yourself. Or call his brother. You have his phone number."
"As if either would tell me."
"Send Lizzie." Jade turned to leave, and her brother seized her arm. She rounded on him, yanking her arm away from him, and said, "We're family, Kenneth, but that doesn't give you the right to make me do things that go against what I believe in. If the worst-case scenario ever comes to pass, I'm sure wolves can unite and make the brothers see the right in this."
Kenneth folded his arms. "Lizzie isn't right for the part. She's not as classy as you."
"Oh, wow, give me a break. I hope you didn't tell her that." Jade started heading back to her office, but she hadn't taken more than a few steps when her brother cleared his throat.
"I need you to do this. Whatever it takes. After that, you and your son can be on your way. You really don't have a choice."
"Nothing would make lying to the Denalis worthwhile, no matter why you want this information. Toby and I will be leaving tonight." Sooner — once she could get her car packed and Toby ready for the journey. She'd have to plot a course too. Had her brother known about the wolf geneticist before he'd asked her to return to the pack? She whipped around. "How long have you known about Aidan? Is this why you asked me to return to the pack? So I could be your spy?"
When Kenneth didn't deny it, she swore under her breath. "I thought you were concerned about me and my son. Or at least me. Thanks for letting me in on the truth." Furious with her brother, she stalked off toward the office and had nearly reached the doorway when Kenneth let his breath out in a huff.
"You will do this for me, and then you can have your son back."
His words made her stomach fall and her head spin as she rushed into the room.
Toby and his soft leopard blanket were gone. All that was left on the daybed was his blue rainbow-colored teddy bear.
Lizzie! She must have taken him when Jade heard the front door open. Lizzie was the only one who was close enough to Toby that if she woke him while taking him from his bed, he wouldn't cry out. He'd settle in her arms and go back to sleep. Kenneth had stalled Jade long enough for Lizzie to gather up Toby and leave.
Shocked at what he had done and angrier than she ever thought she could be, Jade hurried out of the room, ready to kill her brother — but only after he told her where her son was. "Where is he, Kenneth? I swear I'll —"
"You'll do this one thing for me, and he's yours. And then you can damn well leave the pack. But if you ever cause any trouble for our kind, I'll kill both of you."
So furious she couldn't think straight, she beat on her brother's chest with her fists, cursing at him until he grabbed her wrists and slammed her against the wall. "I'm serious about this, Jade. Do what I say, and your son won't meet his father's fate."
"What?" Tears filled her eyes, but she tried to get a grip on her emotions so he wouldn't see her as weak. Kenneth had promised he would leave Stewart alone if she left the area before he even knew she was pregnant, and she never had anything more to do with him.
She felt sucker punched. "Why? You said ..." It didn't matter now. All that mattered was Toby's safety. "Damn you, Kenneth."
She kneed her brother in the crotch with one good shove as a final comment on how she felt about him taking her son hostage. Kenneth collapsed to his knees, swearing that he'd make her pay if she didn't do what he said.
Maynard Myer — one of the men who worked in Kenneth's body shop — interrupted them, red-faced. He was a redheaded bulldog of a man who had brazenly shown his contempt for her and Toby when he dropped by the house. She suspected Maynard didn't want to intrude on this scene, but the news had to be serious enough for him to do so.
"What?" Kenneth growled at him, still on his knees on the floor and holding his crotch.
"Grayton wants his money now. You've got two weeks to pay up or ..." Maynard glanced in Jade's direction.
She didn't know who Grayton was, although the name sounded like he might be a wolf. If he had loaned Kenneth money, and now her brother was in arrears ...
"What are you involved in, Kenneth?" she asked. "Gambling? The horse races? I've got money —"
"Get out of here, Jade. You want to see your son in one piece, leave and do what I told you to do."
No matter how angry she was, she knew she didn't have a choice. She had to get her son back before her brother killed him. She grabbed Toby's rainbow bear and hurried into her room to pack, praying she could pull this off without getting her son killed. If Grayton was threatening her brother, what if he took out Kenneth's debt on his closest relations? Her and her son?
What would the Denalis do if they learned what she was up to?
* * *
Jade had driven by Rafe Denali's house numerous times, watching for Rafe to leave so she could run into him wherever he ended up going. Accidentally. The palatial mansion was set back off the road, a long circular drive visible beyond the gates and providing a glimpse of the white stucco house with its ocean view, but not much more.
This was the first time she'd seen him leaving the estate. He was alone, driving a bright-blue Maserati with the top down, and she followed him to a farmers market and parked several cars away.
Wearing a pair of blue shorts, sandals, a pale-blue T-shirt, and mirrored sunglasses, he climbed out of his car. He didn't look like he was a billionaire, except he had a hot car, but otherwise, he just blended in with the rest of the shoppers.
She hurried to catch up to him. She couldn't imagine what he'd be buying. Wouldn't he have someone else buy his groceries? If she were shopping, she'd get fresh corn and tomatoes.
He stopped at a colorful booth filled with flowers, a bright-red canopy shielding the bouquets and shoppers from the afternoon sun.
In all of the research she had done on Rafe, she hadn't seen one thing that indicated he had a girlfriend. She let out her breath. Just her luck.
She hesitated, feeling jittery and uptight, but she had to run into him, making it look real and not faked, and then apologize. He'd smell she was a wolf and maybe get interested. God, how she hated this. But she had to do it for her son.
Excerpted from Billionaire in Wolf's Clothing by TERRY SPEAR. Copyright © 2016 Terry Spear. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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