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 of 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 jeans shopping 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.”
Release Date: Nov. 14, 2016