Scarlet Drake is an insurance fraud investigator hot on the heels of the thief who stole a multimillion-dollar art collection from tycoon Michael Vandenberg’s Hamptons estate. Unfortunately, the sexy Wolf of Wall Street is also her prime suspectalong with his equally mouthwatering stepbrother, Montana rancher Sam Reed. Scarlet quickly finds herself tangled up in the two devilishly handsome men, and ensnared in a web of family lies.
Michael is used to getting what he wantsand he wants Scarlet in his bed. Sam had no intention of getting emotionally or romantically involved with a woman again, but he can’t deny the sizzling chemistry with Scarlet. And when the three of them cave to one sinfully delicious night of sheer decadence, their sexy ménage becomes a fiery affair of the heart. But they don’t stand a chance at a happily ever after unless all of the absolute truths are finally revealed…
This is a standalone ménage romance with an HEA.
Don’t miss these other two standalone ménage romances THE BILLIONAIRES and THE BILLIONAIRES: THE BOSSES.
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"I don't appreciate being stood up." Scarlet Drake dropped her small clutch on the table of a semi-circular booth tucked into a corner of the lounge in San Francisco's newly opened Crestmont Hotel in the Financial District, showcasing the Bay Bridge and glittery skyline through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The man occupying the booth had agreed to meet with her two nights ago in Chicago and had never shown up. He'd never even checked into the suite that had been booked for him.
Now he slowly lifted his gaze from his iPhone and let it linger — mostly on her breasts.
Scarlet's agitation would have flared, except that Michael Vandenberg was hotter than hell. Rich as sin. A wolf of Wall Street, though he wasn't a stockbroker. He was a real estate mogul who also dominated the commodities market.
And was, quite possibly, a brilliant art thief.
Which made her pulse race a bit faster. Not exactly a sensible reaction, because she could very well be staring danger in the face. A face that boasted prominent angles that had her internal temperature rising in a heartbeat.
Jesus, why does he have to be so damn good-looking?
Scarlet bit back a lustful sigh. This evening — this meeting — was mission critical. Therefore, Michael Vandenberg's chiseled-to-perfection appearance needed to be the absolute last thing on her mind.
"You must be Miss Drake," he ventured, breaking into her errant thoughts.
She gave a slight nod, hoping to remain neutral, indifferent. Not so innately affected by him — all tall, dark, and devilishly handsome, with smoky gray-blue eyes and thick, lush obsidian hair.
"You are impressively persistent," he told her. "Tenacious, even."
His gaze unabashedly raked over her, from her sleek dark-auburn strands, along the curve-hugging one-shouldered red minidress she wore, to her five-inch black stilettos — and moved just as slowly back up.
Flashing a pearly grin that dripped wickedness, he added, "I'm flattered that you've followed me from coast to coast. Had you thought to email me a photo when you first contacted me for a meeting, I likely wouldn't have evaded you these past few months."
His tone was rich and sensual. The kind of arousing bedroom voice that would remain ingrained on her brain, to be called upon in the future when she indulged in midnight fantasies with her fancy seven-speed-plus-thrusting-action vibrator. The kind of intimate voice that seeped deep into a woman's soul. Made heat rush through her veins.
Scarlet tried to calm her raging pulse as she hitched her chin and said, "I'm not here for you to ogle, Mr. Vandenberg."
So why were her nipples tightening and her clit tingling?
Setting aside his phone, Vandenberg reached for his cocktail and took a sip. Scarlet slid into the booth, uninvited, and crossed her legs. The lounge was dimly lit, upscale, crawling with people. But there were plenty of nooks and crannies for privacy, this being one of them.
He told her, "You're much too beautiful to be an insurance fraud investigator."
"Thank you, though that sentiment won't make up for you ditching me in about ten different cities." It was impossible to contain her excitement. Despite the runaround she'd gotten from Vandenberg and his people, she'd remained in hot pursuit of him. And had finally caught up with him.
Admittedly, Scarlet loved the thrill of the chase. Her doggedness had paid off in spades tonight.
Yet she strove for a professional air as she inquired, "What were you expecting, anyway?"
His daring gaze eased over her again like a warm caress. He said, "Someone all buttoned up and stuffy, who looks like they work for the IRS."
She couldn't help but smile. "So I've disappointed you."
"Indeed. It'd be much easier to tell you to go the hell away if you looked like you were from the IRS."
"My apologies. Now ... I have questions for you that —"
A server suddenly appeared at Scarlet's elbow and cleared her throat to announce her arrival, the intrusion cutting Scarlet off.
The young, attractive blonde smiled suggestively at Vandenberg as though Scarlet didn't even exist. "May I bring you another Bombay Sapphire martini, sir?"
Several seconds ticked by before the other woman dragged her gaze from the handsome billionaire to ask Scarlet, with decidedly less enthusiasm, "And for you?"
"Grey Goose martini, extra olives."
"Excellent." Her eyes snapped back to Vandenberg. Scarlet resisted the urge to roll hers. The man did not lack for female attention; that was for damn sure.
"Put it on my tab," he amiably said.
"Of course, Mr. Vandenberg." The blonde gave him a flirty look and then flounced off.
He took note of the deliberate sway to her hips, but only briefly. Then his smoldering gaze was on Scarlet again. "Where were we, Miss Drake?"
"I have questions that —"
"Ah, yes. Right." He sat back in the seat and rested his arm along the top of the booth, his long, tapered fingers mere centimeters away from brushing against her skin. Bizarrely tempting her to slide a half inch his way to make physical contact.
Was that his intention? To distract Scarlet from her grilling? Perhaps that was how he'd gotten away with such a light interrogation and minimal testimony when the FBI had quizzed him. After all, the agent had been female, Scarlet had learned. Vandenberg had probably drawn her into his sticky web from the get-go and she'd taken his "Scout's honor" without a dubious thought.
Scarlet couldn't fault the agent. Even she felt the intrinsic pull. She tried to convince herself that it had little to do with the enigmatic man himself, was more likely the result of having gone so long without a quick romp to curb some hormonal tendencies.
Scarlet really did work too much.
But her seemingly never-ending dry spell needed to take a back burner to her investigation. Easily would, if Michael Vandenberg didn't spark all kinds of riotous emotions within her. So effortlessly. So quickly. And she had a feeling he sensed her ardent response to him, hence the reason he'd gone straight for the jugular, knowing exactly why she was interested in speaking with him and countering it by taking advantage of the instant and obvious sexual chemistry between them.
With a mischievous crook of his brow, he said, "You finally have me where you want me."
Hardly. But the two of them naked and tangled in rumpled sheets was not a notion she could afford to entertain at the moment.
Regardless, a shiver cascaded down her spine and she squirmed uncomfortably in her seat.
His voice was still low and sexy as he added, "For a few minutes, anyway."
Scarlet's body betrayed her further. Her stomach fluttered and the throbbing between her legs radiated deep in her core.
This mysterious man possessed a magnetic, potent presence that kept her charged and breathless. She'd seen enough photos of him during her initial research phase to know he was gorgeous, broad shouldered, powerful. A force to be reckoned with in business ... and, without doubt, pleasure.
She should have been well prepared for the full impact of him. But clearly was not.
Yes, Scarlet was a thrill seeker. One of the reasons she was so good at her job. But the sort of buzz that hummed through her because of Vandenberg's penetrating gaze was the most enticing thrill of all. Causing her usual tunnel-vision concentration to wane.
Eye on the ball, Scarlet.
Eye. On. The. Ball.
"So you'll answer my questions?" she asked.
"Singular — just one. After you answer mine."
"You want to know why I'm investigating a cold case," she mused.
"No." His smoky eyes held her captive. "I want to know if you always wear short, tight dresses when you confront potential criminals."
Not missing a beat, she told him, "Well, potential is the operative word here, correct? And besides, the venue warrants the attire."
"Hmm. Does it?" He leaned in and boldly rested his free hand on her bare thigh, while his arm remained draped along the back of the booth, keeping them in cozy proximity to each other. "This particular dress does everything to evoke a man's desire. Are you sure your plan isn't to seduce a confession out of me for a crime I didn't commit?"
"An arrogant assumption. And that's two questions," she said, her chest rising and falling faster than normal as her heart rate accelerated with the tantalizing sensation of his thumb absently sweeping over her skin.
"I figure I'm entitled," he told her. "You've placed dozens of calls to my office, trying to track me down. Why are you so fixated on an art collection that disappeared over five years ago? The statute of limitations for prosecution has run out."
"There's still time to file a civil suit."
"Only if you can prove the collection wasn't stolen and that my family fraudulently reported the theft to the insurance company."
The adrenaline pumped as they got down to business.
Well, almost down to business.
There was the matter of his palm on her thigh. This time, she was convinced it was on purpose, to sidetrack her.
It was too damn bad his gaze was so sizzling, his touch so electrifying.
But she had something much more important to focus on. And she needed him to back off so she could do her job.
She waited for the server to deliver their cocktails. Then Scarlet said, "I carry a gun, Mr. Vandenberg. I'm also a certified Krav Maga instructor. I can break your hand without even breaking a sweat. And what I can do to your balls will put you in traction for a week. You're playing a very risky game with me right now."
His wicked grin returned. "Feisty and fiery. You live up to the traits associated with your hair color and your name." He reached for his drink. Took a sip.
Despite her hands-off warning, she instantly missed the heat of flesh on flesh, his smooth, supple skin, the strength in his fingers. The nearness of him.
She groaned inwardly. Scarlet was typically a much more controlled person, solely engrossed in her work as an independent investigator. She had a stellar reputation in the insurance industry and a phenomenal success rate. She'd recovered numerous stolen items that in most cases helped companies to recover erroneous claims paid to clients — and send thieves to jail.
But her attention was definitely divided this evening.
So, too, was Vandenberg's. Only he seemed a tad annoyed by the new development as three men in suits walked into the lounge.
He took another long drink from his glass before telling Scarlet, "I'd love to continue sitting here with you, staring into those beautiful green eyes of yours —"
"This isn't a date, Mr. Vandenberg."
"However, my associates have just arrived," he said, ignoring her comment. "I have a dinner meeting."
"It's a little late for dinner."
"I'm sure I can persuade the kitchen to whip something up. I'd invite you to join us, but we're plotting our next big coup."
"Of course you are."
"So what do you want to know, Miss Drake? Aside from the obvious — did I do it? To which I vehemently reply no. I did not steal eighteen million dollars' worth of artwork."
"I wouldn't expect you to simply say yes. What I want is for you to tell me what you were doing at eleven o'clock that night, which is the point of time identified by the FBI that the collection was reported as missing from the mansion."
"I already gave my alibi to the FBI. Nearly six years ago."
"I'm asking you to provide it to me. Tonight."
She held his now-steely gaze, not cowering in the least. Though her heart continued with its staccato beat and she wondered if he could hear the erratic cadence.
Vandenberg leaned close again, his palm flattening once more on her thigh.
Her breath caught — over the searing touch and his audaciousness.
In a deep, measured tone, he murmured, "My father and his new wife were throwing a party on the south lawn of their Hamptons estate. At eleven that evening, I was in the guesthouse with a wildly passionate brunette and a luscious Scandinavian blonde, both of whom were enjoying multiple orgasms while, unbeknownst to me, someone was robbing the gallery."
One corner of the rogue's mouth lifted. He moved away from Scarlet and scooted out of the booth. Snatched his black suit jacket that lay neatly across the top and slipped into the garment.
"I didn't have anything to do with the theft. Stop chasing your own tail, Miss Drake."
He turned away, but Scarlet didn't give up. She asked, "What about the five mil that was deposited into one of your accounts right around the time the insurance company released a check on the claim? That wasn't your cut of the heist?"
Vandenberg glanced at her over his shoulder, his expression an ominous one. She'd struck a nerve. He slowly faced her, lifted his cocktail from the table, and drained the glass. Seemingly refraining from slamming it back down, he set the crystal tumbler aside and told her, "It was an inheritance, Miss Drake. And I'd appreciate it if you kept that pretty nose of yours out of my finances."
She mustered a polite tone — somehow keeping a provocative one at bay as her body burned — and said, "Not until I discover exactly what happened to those paintings, where they are today, and whether your family falsified the claim."
"That's a very risky game for you to play, Miss Drake." He gave her a pointed look. Then stalked off.
Leaving exhilaration and a hint of foreboding thrumming in her veins.
An oh-so-scintillating combination for an adrenaline junkie such as herself.
And equally dangerous ...
* * *
Michael couldn't get the feisty redhead out of his mind, despite how brief and rapid-fire their encounter had been. Even as his chief operating officer, chief general counsel, and chief financial officer discussed the various impediments inherent to the multibillion-dollar deal he was this close to signing, Michael continued to peer into the lounge, toward that dark corner where he'd left Scarlet Drake.
He couldn't actually see her from his spot in the empty dining room, but he could envision her sipping her martini, sliding the toothpick into her tempting mouth, and sucking off a fat olive.
His groin tightened at the thought of her sucking him off.
Damn, she was sexy. Drop-dead gorgeous, with long, sculpted legs and a curvy hourglass figure. She'd sent his pulse into the red zone with her beautiful face, shimmering emerald irises, and those full, plump, crimson-colored lips he desperately wanted to feel wrapped around his cock.
He hadn't been kidding when he'd told her that if he'd known what she looked like, how sultry and sassy she was, he wouldn't have led Scarlet on a wild-goose chase. He hadn't wanted to deal with her at all when he'd learned she was an insurance fraud investigator — and had known instinctively the exact case she was probing into.
But he really didn't give a damn now about her profession or her cause. Now all that registered was her silky skin, the soft hitches of her breath, and the tremors along her spine when he touched her.
The woman had him hot and bothered — from the moment he'd glanced up from his phone and found her standing defiantly in front of his table. He wanted her, plain and simple.
And Michael Vandenberg was a man who always got what he wanted.
So while his COO, CGC, and CFO hashed out details of this next investment, debated contract terms and conditions, and each gave their two cents' worth on the pros and cons of the latest acquisition, Michael let all the background noise and advice simmer in his head as he typed out an e-mail message to his personal butler at the Crestmont and shot it off, wondering if Scarlet Drake would take the bait he'd intrepidly offered. ...
Scarlet had just walked into her hotel room at the St. Francis and was slipping off her high heels when there was a soft knock on the door.
"Delivery for Miss Drake," came a male voice from the other side.
At nearly twelve o'clock at night?
She frowned. But her inquisitive nature couldn't resist. She peered through the peephole to find a uniformed employee patiently waiting for her — cap, gloves, name tag, and all. Official looking enough, yet she kept her purse in hand, where her 9mm was concealed, as she pulled back the security latch, flipped the lock, and opened the door.
"My apologies for disturbing you," he said. "The front desk alerted me that you'd arrived back at the hotel." He handed over a formal white envelope and added, "This is for you. Have a nice evening."
He turned to go, but she hastily said, "Wait." And tucked the packet under her arm so that she could retrieve a tip from her clutch.
"Thank you, but that's not necessary," the deliveryman told her as she fished out the cash. "The gratuity has been taken care of." He whirled around in his polished shoes and marched down the hallway toward the bank of elevators.
Scarlet closed the door and engaged the dead bolt. She set her handbag on the entryway table and then eyed the envelope with her name elegantly scrawled across it in thick black ink.
Excerpted from "The Billionaires"
Copyright © 2017 Calista Fox.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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