It’s their pleasure to serve . . .
Made up of former soldiers, the men of the 11th Hour play by their own rules to protect the innocent, capture the guilty, and stay in fighting shape for whatever—and whoever—comes their way . . .
Jacob Night, ex-Black Ops, owner of a billion-dollar security company, and leader of the 11th Hour, spends his life completing dangerous missions for others. But there’s one personal mission he has yet to complete: Finding his missing brother, who was betrayed by the woman he should have been able to trust. But when he finally tracks down his brother’s ex, there’s one surprise: she can’t remember a thing.
Faith has no memory of who she is. She can’t remember life before she came to work for Jacob Night, and she’s not sure she wants to. But when she and Jacob are ambushed by men who have come to kill her for sins she can’t recall committing, she has no choice but to face the past. Yet once she does, and Jacob’s identity—and her own—come to light, they may not survive with their lives intact, let alone their hearts.
Praise for Jackie Ashenden
“Ashenden tells a powerful story of two tormented souls finding each other in this good, fast read with rough, graphic, and enjoyable sex. A winning start of a very interesting series.”
—Booklist on Raw Power
“An intense scorcher of a story that is sure to delight fans and win her a legion of new
devotees. . . . Unforgettable.” —RT Book Reviews, Top Pick, on Dirty for Me
“Tension and heat pervade the frequent sex scenes . . . Readers will eagerly anticipate future installments in the series.” —Publishers Weekly on Dirty for Me
About the Author
Jackie Ashenden lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, the inimitable Dr. Jax, two kids and two cats. When she's not torturing alpha males and their stroppy heroines, she can be found drinking chocolate martinis, reading anything she can lay her hands on, posting random crap on her blog, or being forced to go mountain biking with her husband. Jackie also writes the dark, sexy contemporary Tate Brothers romance series for St. Martin's Press. Visit her at jackieashenden.com.
Read an Excerpt
Faith Beasley was a mystery inside an enigma, wrapped in a tight black pencil skirt that did very good things to her delicious ass.
Jacob Night watched her from the privacy of his town car as she made her way up the stairs to the bar at the top of them and disappeared through the doorway.
Christ, that ass had been taunting him for the past five months at least and he wasn't a man who denied himself anything. Yet he was also a man who never let himself be at the mercy of his baser desires, either, and there were too many reasons why going there with the exquisite Faith was a bad idea.
Not the least being that even after six months she still had no memory of who she was.
Then there was what he'd learned very recently from Phillip Blake, Kellan Blake's father. Many fascinating little facts and tidbits that went into the jigsaw that made up Faith Beasley.
Such as her real name. Parts of her background. A man she'd been involved with before Jacob had brought her home from the hospital and into the 11th Hour team — a paramilitary organization that did special "jobs" for people. He'd set it up six months earlier, and since then Faith had operated as his go-between. She didn't need her memory for that, turning out to be one of his team's best assets. Cool, calm, and totally professional.
He'd been in possession of these facts for a couple of weeks now and as soon as he'd learned about them, he'd wanted to tell her, especially since they could be the key to unlocking her memory.
Unfortunately, though, Ms. Faith Beasley had not wanted to hear about them. In fact, she'd flat-out told him that she wasn't ready to know.
That had been a surprise since she was a very strong woman and hadn't struck him as being a coward. But although he might have small pieces of the puzzle, he didn't yet have the whole picture, and upsetting her needlessly would only make her recovery longer. So he'd kept up the fiction that he was her cousin — even though he was pretty sure she knew by now that he wasn't — and that he was taking care of her until she was better, keeping his real motivation secret.
He hadn't pushed.
But he wasn't going to put it off forever.
Deep in her memories somewhere was the knowledge of where his brother was, the brother he'd been searching five years for, and he wanted it.
And after six months of waiting, he wanted it sooner rather than later.
"Is it okay if I take a break for a smoke, Mr. Night?"
Jacob flicked a glance at his driver. "Keep it short."
"Yes, sir." The man gave him a brisk nod before getting out, digging around in his uniform pocket for his cigarettes as he did so.
Jacob checked the street again, an automatic reflex so ingrained that he could no more stop doing it than he could stop breathing.
The San Diego street was quiet, traffic at a minimum, which was odd considering it was in the middle of the day. The sun was out, summer just a few months away, and there were a few people sitting in the café next to the bar that Faith had vanished into, enjoying the sunshine.
They didn't look like threats so Jacob ignored them.
After a couple of minutes, Faith reappeared out of the bar. The expression on her lovely face was neutral, giving nothing away.
As she came down the stairs toward the car, her straight, ink-black hair gleamed in the sun, glossy as crow feathers.
She was a small woman, and when she'd first come home from the hospital with him, she'd been far too thin, her muscles wasted. But the program of good food and lengthy gym sessions he'd put her on had helped to build those muscles up and round her out. She would never be very big or muscular, but now she was toned and athletic. Her hair was no longer lank and dull, and her cheeks had lost that sunken look.
Physically, she was healed.
Now all he needed was for her mind to do the same thing.
Faith came down the steps, moving gracefully on her high heels. There were many things she'd had to relearn and moving in heels was one of them — her choice. All of the clothing she wore had been her choice. He'd thought her little pencil skirts and blouses were more suited to a legal office than a paramilitary organization, but fundamentally he had no issues with it. He was a control freak, yes, but she'd been adamant about her clothing choices and he hadn't seen the point of arguing.
She pulled open the door and slid onto the seat next to him, arranging herself in a series of small, precise movements. "I think it went well," she said, folding her hands in her lap. "He seemed interested."
Faith had gone to the bar on a recruitment mission, following up on a former Green Beret with a reputation for being a stellar marksman. Jacob needed a sniper to add to his collection of specialists.
"Good." Jacob made another reflexive check of the street outside. "We'll give him a week to think about it and then do another follow-up."
"We might not even need a week. When I left him my card he pocketed it immediately."
"What about the psych report?"
All new recruits were thoroughly vetted by both Faith and himself, psychologically and physically. Loose cannons who wouldn't do what they were told were not welcome, no matter how attractive their skills were.
"It's clear." Faith pulled a tablet out of her briefcase, delicate fingers moving over the glass surface. "The physical was clear too. He'd be an asset, I think."
Jacob went over the team as it stood: Jack King, their former marine and all around badass. Kellan Blake, helicopter pilot and former Navy SEAL. Isiah Graham, team leader and ex-Army Ranger. All proven members of the field team with solid skill sets. Then there were their nonmilitary members: Sabrina Leighton, their tech expert and what she couldn't do with computers wasn't worth talking about. And Callie Hawthorne, who hadn't been actively recruited but had joined by dint of being Jack's fiancée. She had no military background to speak of, but she came from a rich, political family and her knowledge of that world and her contacts had proved useful on more than one occasion.
The potential recruit's success or failure would lie with how well he fit into the team as it stood. All current members were essential and had developed a good rapport with one another, and it was always tricky adding a new recruit since they changed the team dynamic.
Maybe, given the delicacy of the mission he was about to send them on, it would be a mistake adding someone new. Isiah had some sniper skills, so it wasn't as if they had no marksman at all.
"I'll take that under advisement," he said, dismissing the issue of the recruit as he noted Faith's pale cheeks and the dark circles under her eyes. "You look tired. How are you sleeping?"
Her normally full lips thinned. She didn't like his questions about her health, but he made no apology for them. Since the day he'd taken her from the hospital she'd become his responsibility and it was a job he took very seriously indeed. Especially since her continued good health was vital to her regaining her memory.
"Fine." Her voice was crisp and clear, her gaze sliding away from his. "Thank you."
She wouldn't often look him in the eye. Sometimes she did, but it was rare and not for very long. Most of the time she gave him sidelong glances, or brief, fleeting looks. Or would focus on a point directly behind him. She didn't get too close to him either, as if he was a strange dog and she was wary of his temperament.
He knew why that was. He'd felt it as soon as she'd started to regain her health. They had an undeniable physical chemistry, which clearly made her both suspicious and uncomfortable. As if she didn't know what it was or how to handle it.
He could have given her a few ideas, but that wasn't and wouldn't ever be in the cards. Not with her. Too many reasons not to and all of them ironclad.
For the last five years he'd been consumed with finding his brother and now that he was getting close, or at least closer than he'd ever been, the last thing he needed was to get distracted.
Not that he'd allow himself to anyway.
Especially not with his brother's lover.
"Bullshit," he said. "I know you're waking up in the middle of the night and have been for the past week. What is it? Nightmares?"
She was sitting close, filling the car with the delicate scent of the lavender bath gel she used. When she'd first come to live with him, he'd asked her what kind of toiletries she wanted and she'd told him she had no idea. So he'd gotten everything a woman might potentially need and in a variety of scents so she could choose which one she liked.
Lavender bubble bath was apparently her favorite.
"No nightmares." She shifted minutely, putting a subtle distance between them, which amused him since he hadn't moved once since she'd gotten into the car. "I'm not sure why I'm waking up. But broken sleep is all part of it so I'm assuming it'll resolve itself." Her attention returned to her tablet. "Now, as I was saying about the new recruit —"
"You think I don't know?" Jacob watched her face carefully. "I can hear your breathing change. I know what fear sounds like."
Faith looked up and this time she met his gaze head-on, a blaze of dark blue flame. "If you're spending time listening to my breathing at night on those monitors, then you might need to find yourself a hobby."
No one else talked to him the way she did. Everyone was too afraid. But not Faith. For all her wariness and distance, she didn't seem to have any problems with giving him a tongue-lashing if she thought he deserved it.
He enjoyed that about her, got off on the little challenges she threw at him, which was probably a bad thing. Especially when she got off on them too, though he thought she probably wasn't aware of that herself. But he knew. Her pupils would dilate and her delicate cheekbones would flush, and on more than one occasion, he'd seen her nipples push against the fabric of her blouse, the hard tips giving her away.
On another day he might have teased her, messed with her a little since it had been a while since he'd allowed himself time to play with a beautiful woman.
But not today. Not given how close he was to the end of his mission. And definitely not when all that was standing between him and finally finding Joshua was this woman's fears.
So he ignored her dig and instead said, "Nothing at all to do with the fact that I know who you really are?"
She gave him a look. "Aren't I supposed to be your cousin?"
So he'd been right. She knew he'd been lying.
"And when did you realize I wasn't?" he asked.
"When you insisted on calling me 'Ms. Beasley.'" She made another flicking motion on the screen of her tablet. "By the way, if you're looking for hobby suggestions, you could start by playing hide and go fuck yourself in the parking lot."
That startled a laugh out of him despite himself. "You've been spending too much time with Mr. King. Marines are assholes."
"So are ..." She gestured to him. "Whatever it is you are."
No one knew his background. He'd made sure of it. But it wasn't difficult to figure out that he, too, was ex-military.
Not that it was relevant. At all.
"Thank you for the suggestion, but I'll pass. There's another question I'm far more interested in." This time he allowed a hint of steel to bleed through into his voice, so she knew. So she was aware of exactly whom she was playing with. "If you know I'm not your cousin, then don't you want to know who you really are?"
* * *
Faith looked down at the tablet in her hands, trying to ignore his intense, black stare.
Being in a car with Jacob Night was like being in a very small box with a very large lion.
A very large, hungry lion.
She didn't like it. She didn't like the question he'd asked her either. Because the answer was no. She didn't want to know who she really was. She even felt cold at the thought.
What she did know was that she'd spent the last six months building up an identity for the person she was now. A familiar identity that she was only just starting to be comfortable with and the thought of finding out that she was someone completely different ... scared her.
So yes, she was scared about it.
She'd already lost one identity. She didn't want to lose another.
"Can we have this discussion later?" She brushed her finger over the screen of the tablet to get rid of the document she was looking at, pleased that it didn't shake. Pleased too that her voice was steady. "I have a few important e-mails to send."
The driver's door opened, their driver starting to get in.
"We're not ready." Jacob's deep, rough voice was curt. "Go have another smoke."
The driver obeyed instantly, shutting the car door once more.
Faith focused hard on the tablet screen as the tension in the car climbed, trying not to be aware of it or the man sitting bare inches from her.
He was very long, very muscular, and very, very powerful. So much bigger than she was, so much stronger in just about every way.
She didn't know why she found that exciting or why he scared her, a combination of feelings that should be mutually exclusive but weren't. There was also a familiarity to him that she'd sensed the moment she'd woken up that morning in the hospital to find him bending over her, which was why she'd never questioned being told he was her cousin.
Except, as the days had gone by, she gradually realized that he couldn't be her cousin. He never talked about their supposed family, plus cousins generally didn't call each other by their surnames. Of course, that left her with no explanation for that sense of familiarity, though it did suggest she'd known him or met him before she'd lost her memory. Whatever, it was ... disturbing.
Basically, everything about him disturbed her.
In the six months since she'd been living with him, he'd been nothing but kind. Nothing but generous. Taking care of her and making sure she had everything she needed. Yet, that threat sense went off whenever he was around and so she made sure there was always distance between them, both physical and emotional.
She checked her physical distance now, surreptitiously from beneath her lashes. His powerful thigh, wrapped in black wool, was near hers, but not too near. Not touching. Even so, she could feel his heat. He radiated it like a furnace.
Her breath caught and she glanced up at him, again through the protective veil of her lashes, unable to help herself.
He wasn't at all pretty, not like Kellan, one of the other 11th Hour team. No, his features were too strong, like a boxer's or a warrior's. Hard jaw, a blade of a nose that looked like it had been broken not once but twice. Scars on his cheeks and deeply set eyes that were the blackest she'd ever seen. An undeniably compelling face, if not strictly handsome.
He was watching the way he always did. Intense. Sharp. Like an X-ray searching the contents of her soul.
Well, if he could see it, then good luck to him. Maybe he could tell her what was in it because she hadn't a clue.
He can tell you, remember?
A rush of cold iced her veins.
She tore her gaze away, looking back down at the tablet and trying for calm. Getting emotional was a mistake. It brought back those horrible days after she'd first gotten out of the hospital, when she hadn't known who she was and there was nothing but a black hole where her memory was.
It had taken her months to overcome her terror of finding nothing familiar and everything strange, but overcome it she had. Taking comfort in a new identity and a new life, finding familiarity in a new routine.
She didn't want anything to put that at risk.
Like finding out her real name, for instance.
Jacob said nothing. Waiting.
Faith gritted her teeth.
There was an exercise that the psychologist she'd seen in the first month after leaving the hospital had recommended to her, where she paid attention to her body, focusing on her muscles and the way she was sitting, the movement of air across her skin. It was a grounding exercise, designed to make her feel more present in her body and in the moment, and she liked it because it calmed her.
She practiced it now, letting herself become aware of the stiff fabric of her blouse and how it felt against her skin, the tightness of her skirt around her thighs, reminders of the armor she wore every day, the shell of her identity.
Faith Beasley. Who worked with the 11th Hour team. Whose boss was Jacob Night. Who liked lavender bath gel, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and good Earl Grey tea.
Who was very, very conscious yet again of her boss's thigh near hers, and his heat. And of the strange, compelling, magnetic quality to his presence that she tried daily to ignore and failed to most of the time.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hard Night"
Copyright © 2018 Jackie Ashenden.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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