Her Enemy Protector
Tempt Me #2
Publication Date: November 14, 2016
Genres: Adult, Entangled: Indulgence, Contemporary Romance
By-the-book secret agent Lucas Bendtsen will do anything to keep his country safe—even if that means blackmailing the stepdaughter of a notorious mobster who is about to sell guns to a group of terrorists. The plan? He’ll pose as her fiancé in order to access her stepfather’s guarded compound and find out the location of the arms deal. The problem? Despite her reputation as a heartless femme fatale, Ruby Macintosh is not at all what she seems.Only a fool would double-cross the Organization, but Ruby doesn’t have any choice—not if she’s going to save her brother and mother from her stepfather. So she places her life in the hands of a man who turns her on as much as he ticks her off…
The fake engagement may be the beginning of a high-stakes game of subterfuge, but when their hearts get involved, Lucas has to decide whether to break the rules or break Ruby’s heart.
Blackmail was first up on the agenda today. It wasn’t nice, but then again, neither was he.
Major Lucas Bendtsen got out of his BMW Roadster parked in front of the three-story manor house and surveyed his new home that went along with his recently bestowed title, Earl of Moad. The manor house stood on a fjord overlooking the North Sea; the water crashed against the rocks. Five hundred miles to the east lay Norway. Roughly four hundred miles to the south was Scotland. In between it was just the deep blue ocean.
It wasn’t the bright lights of Harbor City on the American East Coast or the constant crush of people in London, but he could get used to it. After growing up on the streets of Elskov’s capital and doing whatever it took to survive, he’d learned the hard way that he could get used to anything and rise above it. The millions in his bank account proved that.
A gentleman spymaster, that’s what the addict’s son who’d grown into a criminal had become, with a country house and a title. An aristocrat. His mother would have died of surprise if the needle hadn’t gotten to her already. His father? Well, if he knew who the fuck that bastard had been, maybe then he’d worry about his reaction.
His phone vibrated in his suit pocket, a reminder that while he might be lord of the manor, he was also the secret head of the Silver Knights, an elite intelligence and fighting arm answerable only to the Queen of Elskov herself.
He took out his cell and glanced at the caller ID. Agent Talia Clausen headed up Operation Family Jewels. Whoever had picked that name deserved a kick in his.
Lucas pressed the talk button. “Yes?”
“Sir, we have her. She’s on her way to you now.”
Adrenaline spiked in his system, and he began pacing in front of the manor house. “Does she know why?”
“Negative. She thinks you are interested in having her design a jeweled family crest befitting your new station in life.”
God. That made him sound like a total knob. People actually did that? He shook his head. “And the brother?”
“Good. Don’t let him go.” The scumbag deserved a nice long stay behind bars for bringing two kilos of cocaine into Elskov, but the asshole was still useful, so instead of jail he was sitting in comfort in a safe house on the isolated south shore. “He’s our best leverage to get her to do what we need.”
“Are you sure this is the best plan? There are risks.”
Lucas stopped in his tracks. This wasn’t the best plan—it was the only plan. They had one shot, and he wasn’t about to let the sexy little jewelry designer, Ruby Macintosh, get away without agreeing to his terms. The number of men who ended up the victims of jewel theft, murdered during a robbery, or never heard from again after tangling with the mobster’s stepdaughter was in dispute, but fifty was probably in the conservative range. The only question was, did the bombshell lure the men into her stepfather’s web or do the dirty deeds herself?
Not that it mattered. He’d use her to protect Elskov from attack by the tattered remains of the Fjende. With their leader, Walther Henriksen, dead, most of the men behind the coup that had taken over the country for the past decade had scattered and disavowed their treasonous acts, but not everyone.
“You’ve read the same reports as I have,” he said, not bothering to keep the icy clip out of his voice. “Walther Henriksen’s son, Gregers, came out of hiding just long enough to put the word out that he wants to buy enough weaponry from the Macintosh organization to take over a small country. Three guesses about which country that is. Blackmailing Ruby Macintosh is the fastest way to stop an attack before it happens.”
“Just be sure you don’t fall under her spell. She has a reputation.”
“So do I.” He grinned. If the woman on the other end of the phone could have seen it, she would have taken three steps back. “Be at my office at six tomorrow morning for a briefing. This operation is a go.”
Lucas hung up the phone and turned toward the mile-long driveway. Ruby Macintosh would arrive within minutes, and then, one way or another, her life would change forever. He’d see to it.
Where in the hell was her brother?
Driving through the Earl of Moad’s guarded gate, Ruby Macintosh followed the winding driveway through what seemed like a million miles of perfectly manicured lawn dotted by the occasional massive, old yew tree as the never-answered ringing of her brother’s cell phone trilled through her Peugeot RCZ Sport Coupe’s speakers. The sound drilled right down her spine, partnering up with the worry eating away at her stomach lining to make her see red. He always did this. Always. One of these days he was going to pay for all the shit he pulled trying to get on their stepfather’s good side, even she’d figured out by the ripe old age of eleven that the old man had nothing but a bad side.
“You know the drill,” her brother’s voice came over the speaker. “Here comes the beep.”
Her grip tightened on the steering wheel as she followed the bend in the driveway, and the pale yellow manor house appeared ahead. “Jasper, you better hope I find you before Rolf does. He’s got the Sparrow ready to mobilize. I can’t cover for your scrawny ass—again—unless I know what I’m up against. Call me.”
She punched end call on the car’s Bluetooth.
Her best friend, Ilsa Jakobsen, kept asking why she had no interest in settling down with Mr. Right and popping out some kids. She had two very good reasons that Ilsa knew already. One, Jasper was enough of a responsibility. Two, her darling stepfather had a literal trigger finger when it came to anyone who might pull her even a tad bit further away from his control—especially when he had Joey Brotzka waiting in the wings with a tacky-ass engagement ring in his pocket, which is exactly where it was going to stay—no matter how much bitching Rolf did.
That was a catastrophe for another day, though. Right now she had to meet her newest design client and then fix Jasper’s latest disaster.
Easing her lead foot off the gas pedal—what a sad thing to have to do—she went over an honest-to-God moat that crossed in front of the large three-story house and came to a stop outside of the manor’s double doors. There was a BMW parked off to the side but not a single other sign of human inhabitance. The whole estate had an overly-structured, demanding, and hard beauty to it. It wasn’t unwelcoming, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of being judged and found lacking.
Ruby parked and grabbed her kit from the passenger seat then got out of the car. Even though it was spring, there was still enough of a chill in the air to make her thankful for her favorite black moto jacket. Out of habit more than need, she locked her car before heading for the steps leading to the front door.
It opened before she had her foot on the first step. A man stood in the doorway wearing jet-black suit pants and a white shirt undone at the collar with the sleeves rolled halfway up his sinewy forearms. Dark hair, aquamarine eyes, and a five o’clock shadow that only emphasized the sensual curve of his lips finished off the package. Making sure to keep her jaw from hitting the floor, she thanked the fates for giving her a little bit of eye candy to go along with what was sure to be a pain in the ass job.
In her experience, the aristocratic types in high-maintenance homes rarely knew what they wanted in their one-of-a-kind jewelry and jewel designs but sure as hell knew what they didn’t want, which translated to days wasted on about a thousand design proposal sketches that would be turned down.
“Ms. Macintosh, I’m Lucas Bendtsen” he said smoothly. “Thank you for coming.”
“But of course,” she said slipping into the soft consonants and rounded vowels of her upper-crust clients. She’d found out early that speaking in her normal hard-edged, non-Elskovian accent didn’t exactly give them confidence in her taste level as a jewelry designer. “I’m excited to be a part of this project, sir.”
“Please, call me Lucas.” He held open the door for her. “I have tea set up in the sitting room.”
“Lovely.” After spending all night searching Jasper’s favorite Faroe City haunts she could really go for an espresso or twelve, but tea would have to do.
She glanced up—way, way up—at him as she walked inside. He had to have more than a foot on her five feet two inches. Not for the first time in her life she wished she had that tall, willowy thing all of the Elskovian girls that she’d gone to boarding school with had. Instead, she had football player shoulders and an ass that could not be contained—not that she didn’t love that last bit, even though it did make shopping for jeans a nightmare.
Crossing the threshold, she passed into a large foyer dominated by a circular marble table. Two men stood on either side of a door off to the right. Hands clasped in front of them, nondescript suits, and with their faces wearing matching blank expressions, there was no missing that they were muscle.
Apprehension snaked it way up her spine, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake. She’d grown up at the knee of a master when it came to subterfuge and double-dealing. Had it made her paranoid, or should she be regretting that she’d left her Beretta in the car’s glove box?
Normally, she would have done her homework on the new earl, but with the last minute request by his assistant and the late-night search for Jasper, she hadn’t. That was a mistake she’d correct as soon as she got back to her tiny apartment in Faroe City. Still, she suppressed her Nervous Nita reaction. The earl’s assistant had come with a reference from one of her best clients when she’d booked the appointment. With her history, who was she to judge someone else’s quirks?
He strode over to the door between the guards, his long, lean legs closing the distance in only a few strides. “Right this way.”
She squared her shoulders and followed him into a room that took her breath away. One wall was made up entirely of windows that overlooked the manor house’s formal French-style garden. Boxwood hedges, elaborately shaped shrubs, and precisely planted garden beds lined stone paths that lead to a large fountain. Beyond it was a gorgeous expanse of lavender, made even more heavenly by the appearance of several teak lounge chairs where a person could sit, read, and inhale the scent in the spring sunshine.
“It’s beautiful.” She sighed.
The dark lines of his eyebrows squished together. “What is?”
She nodded toward the windows. “The garden.”
He looked out the window for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. “I hadn’t really noticed.” He sat down on one of the small couches that faced each other on opposite sides of the richly colored tapestry rug.
Okay then. She was going to work on a design with a possibly blind, paranoid rich guy who just happened to be super hot. This was going to be awesome. She took out her portfolio from the large canary yellow bag that housed everything she needed in her traveling design kit and sat down at the other end of the couch from the earl. It was as far away as she could get from him and still be able to show him her portfolio, but it was too close. There was something unsettling about the way he was looking at her with those blue-green eyes, like he very much enjoyed the view even though he didn’t want to. Men liked her. She liked them. That was never a problem…unless her stepfather found out and decided they could be used for his own gain.
She flipped the portfolio open and handed it to him. “I’ve brought several examples of other Elskovian family crests and some initial ideas for the new Earl of Moad crest.”
He didn’t look down at the intricate drawing of a jeweled swan sitting atop a golden crown. “That won’t be necessary.”
There it was again. That sliver of worry mixed with an excited anticipation dancing across her skin. “You already have something in mind?”
“No.” He dropped her portfolio onto the coffee table, barely missing the pristine tea service. “I have no interest in getting a crest made. What I want is the unlimited access to your stepfather and his criminal empire that only you can give me—and you will because you don’t have a choice. Until the operation is finished, you are mine.”
He watched her wide-eyed gaze flicker to the door before snapping back to him, fury simmering in their gray depths.
“I wouldn’t recommend it. Gustav and Mads aren’t known for slacking on the job.” He paused. “And I promise you, Ms. Macintosh, neither am I.”
Despite knowing he shouldn’t like anything about her, he couldn’t help but admire the way she schooled her features into a look of superior disdain. God, he loved a challenge.
Instead of yelling or crying or making a mad dash for it, like so many others would have, her lips curled in an icy facsimile of a smile, and she reached for the delicate porcelain teapot on the coffee table. Like every other household item here, it had come with the manor.
As she filled one of the tiny cups with tea, he took the opportunity to better size her up. She was not what he expected. Creative types were always a little bit…different, but she was a study in contradictions. She’d kept her natural honey-wheat colored hair, but it was streaked with thick swaths of pink, blue, and purple. The prim and proper white dress she wore managed to hug her every sinful curve but was set off with a worn leather jacket and the hint of a tattoo starting on her wrist and disappearing up her sleeve. Then there was her face, with its almost innocent beauty punctuated with glossy, hot-pink lips that would give a priest dirty thoughts.
“Do you take sugar?” she asked, interrupting his perusal and giving him a knowing look.
Blood rushed to his cock in anticipation. “No.”
“Too bad.” She handed him the cup on a saucer, brushing her finger across his in the process and making his skin tingle. “I think you could use some sweetness in your life.”
Obviously she was toying with him, playing the games that had always netted her a prize before. No woman—no matter how tempting—would ever tug his attention away from his ultimate goal. Elskov’s safety hung in the balance. Lucas wouldn’t be responsible for the chaos that would ensue if Gregers Henriksen got his hands on enough weapons to start an ugly, guerrilla-style war.
Sitting back and crossing one ankle across his knee, he kept his face neutral. “Are you lecturing me or trying to taunt me into changing my mind?”
“Neither,” she said. “I was making an observation.”
He took a sip of tea, which did taste more bitter than usual—a fact that only annoyed him more. “Well, you can keep them to yourself during this operation.”
“That will be easy.” Her posture perfect and her chin tipped upward at the exact angle to deliver a nonverbal “fuck you,” Ruby took a drink. “I’m going to finish my tea and then walk out of this house forever. I won’t be a part of whatever it is you have planned.”
“Yes, you will.” He set his cup and saucer down and picked up the black folder next to the tea service. “If you don’t, your brother is going to spend the rest of his life rotting in jail.”
Her hand shook as she put her teacup down and took the folder from him. This time there wasn’t any accidentally-on-purpose touching or coy looks from under her thick lashes.
The first page was taken up almost completely by Jasper Macintosh’s mug shot. He’d had another agent enlarge the photo so Ruby would be sure to see every millimeter of the dark circles under her little brother’s eyes and the worry lurking behind the bravado. Her jaw tightened, and she swallowed hard but didn’t say anything before flipping to the next page. Much of it was blacked out because the case was ongoing, but she would be able to read the basic facts. Jasper had been caught with two kilos of cocaine in the trunk of his rented Ferrari after police received an anonymous tip. Had someone set him up? No doubt. Lucas didn’t care if the caller had been a disgruntled Macintosh crew member or someone from a rival gang. All he cared about was that the arrest gave him the leverage he needed.
After a few minutes, she closed the folder and tossed it onto the coffee table. It landed half on top of her abandoned cup of tea but managed not to knock it over.
“Who are you really?” she asked, anger making her shed the formal accent she’d put on earlier. The hard-edged, lightly accented alto fit her better than the fake upper-crust thing she was using before.
“Exactly who you think.” He lied as easily as he breathed, a skill learned by necessity at too young an age. “Lucas Bendtsen, the newest Earl of Moad.”
She arched one eyebrow. “The rest of it now.”
Challenge made the tiny green flecks in her gray eyes brighten. She had some serious spirit, this one, and an excellent bullshit detector. Considering with whom she’d grown up, that wasn’t a surprise. Still, he was a little too pleased by the discovery.
“I’m head of Silver Knights.”
She flinched. It was small, imperceptible to most, but he’d seen the flash of apprehension at the name of Elskov’s version of the CIA, FBI, MI6, and Interpol all mixed together into one badass operation with only one goal: to protect Elskov and its queen, who’d been recently restored to the throne after a bloody coup that had nearly destroyed the country.
“Good to see you know of our reputation and now realize the seriousness of your situation—and that of your brother.”
Her cheeks flushed. “You’re a right bastard.”
“Literally and figuratively. I’ve learned to live with it, so should you,” he said, glad to finally have the upper hand. Usually, that wasn’t a problem. With Ruby? He had a feeling he was going to have to expect the unexpected. “We’re under a tight deadline and don’t have time for petty personality problems. Your stepfather is selling a large cache of weapons to a very bad man who wants to do horrible things. I will not let that sale go down, and you’re going to do whatever it takes to help me ensure it doesn’t.”
He wasn’t about to give her names—not until he had to—but she had to comprehend the seriousness of the situation.
She huffed out a frustrated breath. “And how am I supposed to do that?”
So glad she asked. It was about time they got down to it. “By providing access to your stepfather and helping to gain insight into the deal’s location.”
“One problem with your plan,” she said with a smirk. “I’m not involved in any of Rolf’s business. For the past year I’ve kept as much distance between us as possible. You’ll notice I’m here in Elskov, and he’s still holed up in his private fiefdom on Fare Island, surrounded by goons and sycophants.”
Oh he knew. He had satellite imagery of everything happening on that island. If Henriksen ever came anywhere near that island, he’d find his every twitch photographed, logged, and documented before he ended up in maximum security prison.
“Not to worry,” he said. “We have a plan. It’s time for a family reunion.”
She blanched. “You don’t understand. He trusts no one. Not me. Not Jasper. Not anyone.”
That didn’t matter; in fact, they were going to use that to their advantage. “We have a can’t-miss cover story.”
“I’m telling you,” she said, her low, sultry voice getting louder with each word. “There’s. No. Way. It. Will. Work.”
“There’s always a way.” If he didn’t believe that, then he’d still be living in a rented room above the Ensom Pub surviving on his wits and the scraps of information he could steal and sell to the highest bidder. Instead, here he was the literal lord of the manor charged with protecting Elskov. “There’s always a way, and if there’s not, I make one.”
She considered him for a moment, her gray eyes focused on him as if he were a safe she was cracking, then she sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t suppose I have a choice.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Then it looks like we have a deal.” She held out her hand.
He took it, shaking on the agreement. The feel of her small hand in his sent a jolt straight from his palm to his already half-hard dick. He couldn’t deny the woman’s sex appeal, but he couldn’t fall prey to it, either. The men who had were either broke, in jail, or dead. He’d managed to successfully avoid all three up to now and that wasn’t going to change.
“Of course,” she said, pulling her hand from his and looking down at her own hand in half wonder and half concern, as if she’d experienced that zap of attraction, too. “I do have two conditions.”
He almost laughed. She didn’t give up, a quality he couldn’t help but admire even if it meant she was going to be a real pain in his ass. “And those are?”
“One, you get Jasper out of jail and into protective custody.” She looked him dead in the eye without a flinch, her neutral poker face in perfect order. “My stepfather has many enemies, and while he may not trust my brother, he would see any harm done to Jasper as a personal affront. His enemies would be thrilled to exploit that vulnerability.”
Not a problem since they already had him squirreled away under twenty-four-hour guard with two of his most trusted agents. “Done. And the other?”
“Give me the space I need to get whatever information you need.” She held up a finger. “No wires.” She held up a second. “No cameras. I’ll bring you back the information you want, but I have to do it in my own way.”
“No.” Not even if hell froze over.
Her hand dropped like a lead weight into her lap. “No?”
“No.” He leaned forward, close enough that he could smell her exotic perfume and see the way the vein in her neck stood out as her pulse picked up from his nearness. “You see, I’m your cover story and the reason for your return trip to Fare Island. We’re officially engaged and about to invite your mother and stepfather to our wedding. As long as those weapons are out there, Ms. Macintosh, there won’t be any daylight between us.”
Lucas and Ruby seem complete opposites on paper, but as they are forced to spend time together on as part of Lucas' mission, they both discover there is more than meets the eye. Their attraction is instant, the chemistry is great and their close proximity along with the danger they are in makes the insta-love real for me. There is a lot going on in the story and there were some things that seemed like they were mistakes, but that may be because I was reading an ARC. Overall an entertaining read that can be read as a standalone.
I voluntarily reviewed an advanced reader copy of this book. I was not compensated for this review, all conclusions are my own.
Award-winning romance author Avery Flynn has three slightly-wild children, loves a hockey-addicted husband and is desperately hoping someone invents the coffee IV drip.
She fell in love with romance while reading Johanna Lindsey’s Mallory books. It wasn’t long before Avery had read through all the romance offerings at her local library. Needing a romance fix, she turned to Harlequin’s four books a month home delivery service to ease the withdrawal symptoms. That worked for a short time, but it wasn’t long before the local book stores’ staffs knew her by name.
Avery was a reader before she was a writer and hopes to always be both. She loves to write about smartass alpha heroes who are as good with a quip as they are with their *ahem* other God-given talents. Her heroines are feisty, fierce and fantastic. Brainy and brave, these ladies know how to stand on their own two feet and knock the bad guys off theirs.