The Tate Brothers were raised to protect what is theirs…
Navy SEAL Wolf Tate is on a mission of vengeance. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to infiltrate the lair of his arms-dealing enemyand rescue the mother he never knew. To do this, he’ll need more than his father’s fortunes or his brothers-in-arms.He must find a way to kidnap his enemy’s daughter for leverage. There’s just one problem: She is also one of Wolf’s closest friendsand the only woman he’s ever loved…
For years, Olivia de Santis has been waiting for Wolf to take her in his arms and make her dreams come true. But she never imagined that he’d sneak into her bedroom one night…and take her as his hostage. Olivia knows she should resist himand stay loyal to her own family. But how can she deny the burning justice of Wolf’s mission, and the blazing desire in his eyeseven if giving into the heat of the moment can put her in grave danger?
Jackie Ashenden’s novels are:
“Sexy, emotional.” Laurelin Paige, New YorkTimes bestselling author
“Tantalizing . . . explosive.”Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Mine to Take
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About the Author
Jackie Ashenden lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband, the inimitable Dr. Jax, and their 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 writes dark, sexy contemporary romance for St Martin's Press, the titles Mine To Take, Make You Mine, and You Are Mine.
Read an Excerpt
Wolfgang "Wolf" Tate's three favorite things were, in no particular order, fighting, fucking, and blowing shit up. Sometimes he was sad he couldn't do all three things together, but then blowing shit up while fucking was not only dangerous, but stupid. Fighting and fucking, well, he wasn't averse to that.
Kidnapping, though, did not rank highly. In fact, kidnapping wasn't featured at all, yet here he was, standing in Olivia de Santis's bedroom at four in the morning, ready to put his hand over her mouth and haul her up out of her bed and over his shoulder.
He didn't want to do it, he just didn't. But fucking Cesare de Santis, her father and Tate enemy number one, had denied Wolf's perfectly reasonable request to hand her over just days earlier, leaving him with no choice but to go grab her himself. She was a vital part of his takedown plan, which was why he was in her bedroom, watching her still, small figure sleeping deeply under her white comforter, preparing to take her with him by any means necessary.
The woman in the bed sighed and turned over, a bar of dim light from a gap in the curtains illuminating her face.
Wolf let out a silent breath, taking a second simply to look at her, because it had been a long time since he'd seen Olivia de Santis in the flesh, over ten years, all told. He'd been eighteen, ready to enlist in the Navy, and she'd been sweet sixteen and never been kissed. Yeah, a sweet kid, he remembered that clearly, and she still was, given the emails he'd received over the years from her. Though at twenty-eight, not a kid any longer.
It was probably a dumb thing to watch her like this, since every second he stayed in her room was another second he could be discovered, but shit, he wanted to look at her. The photos she'd sent him didn't really convey the changes since that brief moment outside her father's study, a week before he'd left to join the Navy.
They'd met when Wolf had been seventeen, the first time de Santis had invited him into his house, celebrating the fact that Wolf had agreed to work for him in secret, turning traitor on Wolf's own family, the Tates. Olivia had been fifteen, a quiet, self-possessed young girl, who'd viewed him with suspicion initially — understandably since their families were enemies. But over the course of that year, Wolf's frequent and secret visits to the de Santis mansion had meant they'd run into each other quite a lot in the library outside her father's study, and slowly her distrust had melted away and a certain friendship had formed between them. It shouldn't have worked. She was shy and quiet, and frighteningly intelligent, while he was loud and brash, and certainly not known for his brains. Yet for some reason it did. And when he'd left to join the Navy, she'd stayed in touch, emailing him regularly while he responded where and when he could.
Her face had matured, losing that teenage roundness and revealing a small, determined chin and slightly upturned nose. She had the same rosebud mouth he remembered and the dark, de Santis winged brows, but she'd missed out on the rest of the showy de Santis good looks. Not pretty, yet not unappealing either.
Not that it made any difference what she looked like. He wasn't here for fucking. He was here because of his dead father's last letter to him. A letter given to him two weeks ago at the meeting with his brothers at Leo's alehouse, a military bar.
A letter containing a promise. The same promise his father had always made him — if Wolf completed the mission he'd been given, he'd finally, after years and years of hope, get to meet his mother. Because Noah had finally located her. Unfortunately, with Noah being dead and all, Noah wouldn't be able to be there for the happy reunion, but if Wolf completed his mission, he'd be sent his mother's location.
It was all Wolf had ever wanted ever since he'd been small. A family. A real family. And that letter ... fuck, that letter was promising him that at last.
His father. His mother. Him.
All he had to do was kill Cesare de Santis.
Easy. No problem. He'd been training for that his whole goddamn life. It was going to mean a few sacrifices along the way, but his father had always told him that. "Nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice, Wolf," his father had said. "Nothing worth fighting for is taken without blood."
Wolf had accepted that the way he'd accepted everything his father had told him. Because he knew a secret that no one else knew.
He wasn't the foster son everyone thought he was.
He was Noah Tate's real son.
Not that his father ever treated him that way. He'd told Wolf early on that he couldn't afford to be a real father to him, not while the de Santis threat was hanging over their heads. But that if Wolf would do what he was told, become the weapon his father wanted him to be, then when it was all over, he'd get the family he deserved. Noah could finally acknowledge him.
It wasn't that Wolf wanted the company or his father's billions. Money had never meant anything to him. No, all he wanted — all he'd ever wanted — was for his father to tell the world that Wolf was his son. And then they'd find his mother.
But none of that would happen unless Wolf killed the man who threatened the entire Tate legacy. His father had been clear. Until Cesare was dead, Noah couldn't risk bringing Wolf's mother out of hiding and he couldn't acknowledge his son.
Unfortunately Noah's death had changed things. He wouldn't be able to formally acknowledge Wolf now, but he'd told Wolf that his name was on Wolf's birth certificate. So even if his father wasn't around to see it, once Wolf had completed his mission, he would have all the proof he needed to show everyone that Noah Tate was actually his father. After he'd killed de Santis and gotten his mother out first.
Sacrifices. Yeah, Wolf was okay with sacrifices to get what he wanted.
Even if that included sacrificing his friendship with Olivia de Santis.
A twinge of regret hit him at the thought, but he shrugged it off. It was what it was and how he felt about it made less than no difference at all. She had access to Cesare's schedule and he needed that if he was going to make a successful hit. The guy's security was insane and Wolf had no intention of getting himself killed, not after all the years he'd spent waiting for his reward. It was why he hadn't taken out de Santis when he'd met him in his limo a couple of days earlier. All this had to be done without it being traced back to him, to anything Tate in fact.
Which meant that becoming familiar with Cesar's schedule, his movements every day, was a must. And the only person who had access to that was Olivia. Oh, she wasn't going to want to give him the information willingly, not given how protective she was over her father, but he'd figure a way around that. He'd get that information by any means necessary.
Sacrifices and all that shit.
Moving soundlessly, he went around the side of the bed and crouched down beside it. He'd wondered whether he should have had a backup in case Olivia resisted, a rag soaked in chloroform or something, but in the end he'd decided that was too fiddly. He preferred to keep things simple. If she didn't want to come with him, there were a few ways he could make her — without unconsciousness being part of the deal.
Still sleeping deeply, Olivia made another small sound and turned over onto her side so that she was facing him, nestling her cheek down into the pillows. One small hand had crept up to curl beneath her chin. She looked like a child, fast asleep and dreaming of fairies or whatever magical bullshit it was that children dreamed of.
That twinge of regret hit him again, which was annoying. Christ, it wasn't as if he was going to do anything to her. He was only going to pick her up and take her away where he could get what he wanted from her without interference. Once he'd taken Cesare out, then he'd let her go. He just had to be careful not to let slip any of his plans. Of course, she'd probably guess in the end that it was him who'd killed her father — she was a smart girl after all — but if he was careful, she wouldn't have any evidence pointing to him.
Or there were other ways to keep a woman quiet that didn't involve death or violence. He knew a few. If it came to that.
He just had to make sure that kidnapping her wouldn't blow his cover with de Santis. It was irritating that the night he'd told de Santis he wanted Olivia in return for taking out that arms dealer, de Santis had told him she was already promised to someone else, someone very powerful and very dangerous. He'd argued for de Santis to break the agreement, give Wolf a little something in return for fourteen years of being a Tate spy, but it soon became clear that de Santis wouldn't. Or couldn't, at least not without serious repercussions.
The man she'd been promised to was in the Defense Department, an alliance that de Santis needed in order to keep his gun-running on the down-low.
Wolf had had to make a small adjustment in his plans after hearing that. It was yet another reason the guy had to die. He'd been subverting good American sailors to do his dirty work for him, and Wolf couldn't let that go.
He was a SEAL through and through. Loved his team. They were the family he'd never had and he'd defend them with his life, and the thought that de Santis had used one of them to sell his weapons on the black market had made Wolf want to break something. De Santis, if he had his choice. And shit, he'd take down de Santis's Defense Department contact too.
Hence the kidnapping.
Olivia wasn't going to like it, but that was too bad. He was on a mission, a mission he'd been working toward for fourteen years, and nothing was going to get in his way.
Wolf laid a hand across her mouth and held it there, then leaned in and whispered in her ear. "It's me, Liv. It's Wolf. Don't scream."
She didn't immediately move and he wasn't surprised. As far as she was concerned, she was sleeping in her own bed, in her father's very well protected Upper East Side mansion, and probably the last thing she'd be expecting was an old friend come to kidnap her.
He waited patiently, keeping his hand where it was, over her mouth, feeling her warm breath against his palm. She gave another sigh, murmuring something and trying to turn over, her long dark lashes fluttering. But she must have realized something wasn't right, because her lashes fluttered yet again then slowly lifted, her eyes dark in the dim light of the room, staring blankly at him.
He stared back as sleep began to clear from her gaze and realization hit.
Right on cue, her whole body stiffened, her eyes going wide with terror, her mouth opening under his hand, all ready to let out one hell of a scream.
"It's me, Liv." He pitched his voice low and hard to cut through her fear. "So don't scream. I'm not here to hurt you."
She ignored him, her hands shooting out from underneath the comforter, her body twisting, trying to get away.
Fuck, he didn't need this shit. He'd thought she'd take one look at him, recognize him, and then be cool about it. Sadly it didn't look like she was cool about it at all.
Cursing, he firmed his hand over her mouth and moved so he was leaning over the bed, using his weight to pin her to the mattress, stop her thrashing around and making noise.
She made an outraged squeaking sound, twisting like an eel, and he could feel her begin to draw her knees up to her chest in a classic self-defense move, all ready to shove him away with her legs.
Fucking hell. Perhaps he should have bought the chloroform after all.
Sure enough, she shoved at him hard, and maybe if he'd been a smaller, weaker man, that would have worked. But Wolf had spent ten years in the Navy, eight of them as an elite SEAL, and no one had ever defeated him in hand to hand, let alone a small, bookish woman who happened to be his friend.
Gently, because he was a big guy and she was very small in comparison, he eased his weight over her, pinning her entirely so she couldn't move no matter how hard she tried. Then he lowered his head so his mouth was near her ear. "For fuck's sake, Liv," he hissed. "It's Wolf. Calm the hell down."
She struggled a second longer, then stilled. Her breathing against his palm was frantic and ragged, and he could smell a soft, sweet scent. Strawberries or something. Had she always smelled like that? He couldn't remember. The important thing, though, was that she wasn't struggling anymore. Perhaps she'd finally realized who he was.
"You going to be quiet now?" he whispered. "Nod if you are."
She gave a jerky nod.
"Good. Okay, here's the deal. I'm going to take my hand away and then I'll tell you why I'm here. But no screaming, understand?"
Another jerky nod.
Wolf raised his head and looked down at her. The light was dim, her features indistinct, but there was no mistaking the wide darkness of her eyes staring up at him. Yeah, she was still scared, wasn't she?
Slowly, he took his hand away from her mouth.
"Get off me, you asshole," Olivia de Santis gasped on a rushing breath. "You're crushing me to death."
Huh. Maybe she wasn't so scared after all.
He shifted, easing his weight off her, moving to sit on the side of the bed.
She scooted away from him until her back hit the headboard, her hands gripping the comforter and pulling it after her, holding it in front of her like a shield.
A long moment passed where she simply stared at him and he wasn't sure whether she was scared or shocked or pissed, or a combo of all three. Not that it mattered. He didn't have time for explanations, not until he'd gotten her to the safe house.
"What are you doing here, Wolf?" she asked at last, her voice slightly shaky. "I mean, how did you get in? The last I heard from you —"
"I can't explain now," he interrupted, glancing at the door. "We have to get out of here." Was that a footstep he heard? He knew the security de Santis had on the mansion inside out. He also knew that since his brother Van had rescued their adoptive sister Chloe from de Santis's clutches not two weeks earlier, de Santis had doubled said security. Which meant at least a couple of guards would be out in the house somewhere.
"What do you mean we have to get out of here?" Olivia glanced at the clock on the nightstand. "Oh my God. It's four in the morning. What on earth are you —"
"Now, Liv." He stood up, grabbed the comforter, and jerked it out of her grip. "Come on. We'll go out the window. Don't worry, all you have to do is put your arms around my neck and hang on."
She didn't move, staring at him with wide eyes, obviously in shock. She was wearing the most ridiculously prim nightie he'd ever seen — long and white, with a high neckline and lots of little buttons. Very Olivia and no doubt really fucking annoying when it came to climbing out of windows.
"Well?" He frowned at her. "What are you waiting for? Let's go."
"You're kidding right?" She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "I'm not going anywhere. Not until you tell me what the hell you're doing in my bedroom."
Shit, he really didn't have time for this. Should have brought the damn chloroform.
"I'll tell you, I promise. But we need to leave before someone discovers I'm here."
Her expression turned concerned all of a sudden. "Are you feeling okay? Something's not wrong is it?"
Jesus Christ. She thought he was sick.
Rapidly losing what little patience he had — and he never had much to start with — Wolf leaned down and circled his fingers around her upper arm, holding her firmly. Then he jerked his head toward the window. "Out. Now."
Then she opened her mouth and screamed.
* * *
It was clear to Olivia that Wolf Tate had gone stark raving mad. Not only was he in her bedroom when the last email she'd had from him had mentioned being in Wyoming for his father's funeral, but he was also trying, for no good reason that she could see, to get her to escape out the window with him. That was after lying on top of her, all huge and muscular and frightening the living daylights out of her.
That wasn't the Wolf she knew. The Wolf she knew was a quiet, respectful, and genuinely nice guy, not to mention way more intelligent than he often thought he was. He was her friend. And friends didn't sneak in through windows trying to get her to come with them.
Excerpted from "The Undercover Billionaire"
Copyright © 2018 Jackie Ashenden.
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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