Jake Wolfe has a dark past and a criminal record. At the age of twenty-seven he thinks it might be time to put all that behind him and make a fresh start. But when a strawberry-blond chef who looks like an angel serves him a slice of her warm apple pie, he notices an unmistakable bruise around her left eye and knows exactly what caused it. Can Jake handle this newfound obsession and control his lust long enough to save her without destroying her?

Sugar Malone spends every waking moment cooking, baking and working to make her new restaurant among the best in New York City. But when her mother's fifth husband assaults her, she runs – literally – straight into the arms of the gorgeous dark-eyed stranger who could turn out to be either the devil or a saint. Is Jake Wolfe the dangerous convict she’s read about, or the white knight lover she never expected to find?

JAKE stars some of the same characters as the BILLIONAIRE series and HONEY GIRL but is a safe, sweet, sexy stand-alone. JAKE contains insta-lust, insta-love, a HEA and lots of hot sex. No cliffhangers, love triangles or cheating. Safety gang: this one's for you :)

Fuck.

I’ve held back my rage for a long time but today I feel like pummelling someone – anyone – into next goddamn week. When I find out who screwed me over … I just hope I can control myself long enough not to kill the fucker and end up in a goddamn jail cell. Then again, getting convicted for a crime I actually did commit might be a whole lot more satisfying than getting burned for one I didn’t. I walk through the door of my penthouse office and shut the door. What I feel like doing is slamming it, smashing the place to smithereens and punching up the asshole who put me in this mess. But those days are long gone. I’m not an amped-up punk any more. I’m a level-headed over-achiever with a number of Ivy League degrees under my belt, five luxury properties to my name and a net worth of more than three hundred million dollars. I am – was, until earlier this afternoon – CEO of a Fortune 500 investment company and Chairman of the Goddamn Board of Directors.

I make a point of keeping my cool.

Barely. 

I run a hand through my hair. I need a haircut. Hell, maybe I won’t even bother. I won’t be seeing the inside of a boardroom anytime soon. I stuff my $5,000 Armani jacket into one of the cardboard boxes now sitting in my office. I roll up my sleeves and yank off my tie. My shirt feels too tight, possibly because I’ve been working out like a goddamn maniac lately. I start packing a few things from the shelves into the boxes. Usually I don’t show my tats at work but who gives a fuck? Today it doesn’t matter.

My phone rings. 

I almost don’t answer it but I see my brother’s name flash up on the screen. We have a deal: we always answer. No matter how shitty our day might’ve been. And today pretty much takes the cake.

Alexander launches straight into it. “Home detention’s no reason to bail on me. Come out to dinner with us tonight.”

“No. The restaurant you booked isn’t in my zone. I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

“Jake,” he says. “I’m getting married tomorrow. I need my best man there tonight to help me celebrate. Besides, I found another place. It’s new. And it’s right around the corner from your office. We’re heading down there now. Me, Lila and a friend of hers. Her maid of honor.”

I got convicted of insider trading today and my brother bailed me out on the spot. Instead of a jail sentence, I’ll be serving a three-month stint of home detention. I’ve been fitted with an electronic bracelet which, if I happen to step outside my jurisdiction, will blow my fucking head off. Okay, maybe it won’t. But it might as well. I’ve been ordered by the judge not to leave the three-block square where my apartment and my office are located. I can walk between the two, or drive my Ducati, or any of the other six cars or twelve motorcycles parked in my private garage. If I get caught outside the zone I’ll get thrown in jail for at least a year, and probably more like two. I’ve also been ‘asked’ by the Board of Directors to take a break from my job as CEO of my brother’s largest investment company.

I’ve been fitted with a bracelet – not an ankle device, which would be a hell of a lot more discrete – because the judge thought it would serve me right. Help me learn my lesson. So people can see the deviant I am.

I don’t really feel like dinner but, hell: I owe him one. In fact I owe him a lot more than one. Two million to be exact. “Shit. All right,” I say. 

The only reason I’m agreeing to meet my brother and his fiancée is because they’re about to get married. I want to see them. But I wish it could be the three of us and not a foursome with some bimbo friend who’s guaranteed to drool over me all night. I’m really not in the mood.

I haven’t been in the mood for a while.

“I didn’t do it, by the way,” I say. “And I just deposited two mil into your Bahamas account.”

“Didn’t do what?”

“Leak the info.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean someone framed me.” I could have told him before but there was no point. There’s zero evidence to back up my claims. A stack of emails written from my private account was presented to the court, making an airtight case against me. “Someone hacked into my account and sent the emails. I didn’t give out any insider information. I’m clean as a goddamn whistle.”

Alexander’s silent for a couple of seconds, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Why didn’t you tell me this?”

Because it’s my word against theirs. I knew I didn’t stand a chance in court. And I didn’t want to draw it out.” I have a long list of criminal offenses. Mostly minor shit I did when I was younger. Even though I’ve spent the past ten years working my ass off and heading several major companies, I have enough of a record to skew any judge’s opinion of me in the wrong direction. I know what I look like to a judge: a badass. A shady delinquent with a history. The kind of guy the law has a problem with.

Alexander knows all this.

“I have a few ideas about who might’ve framed me,” I tell him, “but there’s no point naming names until I have proof.”

“You should’ve told me,” Alexander says again.

“I didn’t want it to look like we were trying to cover something up. Then the whole company looks dirty. This way, it’s just me.”

“Jesus, Jake.”

“I’ll figure out who did this. And when I find him, I’ll nail him.”

When you’re dealing with the kind of money we throw around on a daily basis, it’s dog-eat-dog, everyone knows this. I earn ten million dollars a year working for my brother, plus commission, which is usually double my salary, sometimes more. Everyone who works with me wants my job and they all think the only reason I’m there is because my brother owns the company. Which used to be true. Not anymore. I’m good at building companies and I’m good at making money. It took me a while to get on track in life but these days I can spot a winner from a mile away. 

“Until then,” I add, “I’ll be taking a little hiatus from the office.”

“I own the damn company, Jake. If you want to stay you can stay.”

“We both know it’ll hurt business if I stick around. I can still advise the brokers. Don’t sweat it. I need a vacation anyway.”

“I’ll fucking slam whoever did this.”

“Yeah, you and me both.”

Being out of a job doesn’t worry me. Letting my brother down does. Those days are over.

His sigh is pissed-off. “At least let me buy you a beer.”

“Fine, then. I’ll see you in twenty.” I end the call and set the phone on my desk, which is strewn with court orders and legal documents. Irate letters from clients questioning my ethics and calling for my dismissal. 

I’ll clear my name if it’s the last thing I do. I swore a long time ago I’d never get another criminal conviction, so this one stings a lot more than I’d like to admit.

I pick up a pink envelope from my stack of mail and rip it open. It’s from a girl I had dinner with few months ago. I met her at a charity function. I’d donated a shitload of money to a charity that helps down-and-out teens get into college. I was a down-and-out teen once so I understand how much the help of one person can make a difference. So they sent me a free ticket to the event and I’d ended up going. The girl saw me from across the room and confessed she moved the seating arrangement so she could sit next to me. So it hadn’t even been a date. Just a conversation that was almost entirely one-sided. She’d gotten drunk and asked me to go back to her place. I’d declined. By then I was desperate to put as much distance between us as possible. There’d been something stalkerish and creepy about the way she just wouldn’t take no for a fucking answer. So I’d left, as politely as I’d been capable of at the time, and that was it.

I never gave her my number but she knows where I work and keeps writing me these long, gushing letters about how I broke her heart. Jake, please call me. Please. I need to see you one more time. I know I’ll be able to change your mind. I’ll make you feel so good, Jake. I’ll do anything. ANYTHING. Please. I miss you so much. We’re meant to be together, I feel it in my heart. Please call me. All my love and a million kisses, Camille.

Jesus. I toss the card into the shredder.

I don’t get it.

Women love me, for some reason.

Love me. 

I don’t dwell on it but it’s just one of those things.

I guess a few of them are bound to want me. They know I’m rich. They know I’m at the top of my game. What they don’t know is that I have a ten-inch cock that gets rock-hard at the drop of a hat. In my former life, I got told I fucked like a superhero on steroids, a porn star on ecstasy and/or a mythical creature who’s half stallion, half South seas pirate (I thought that one was particularly creative). Those are their words, not mine, and you tend to remember descriptions like that. Anyway, those days are long gone. 

Long gone. I haven’t even touched a woman in … a very long time. I’ve forgotten how it feels.

It’s been more than three years. Actually, more like four.

Four years.

Hell.

Not that I haven’t had plenty of opportunities. But it’s always the same.

I’ll meet someone. She’ll talk me in to having dinner or a drink. I’ll think to myself: do it. Go out, you loser. Get out of your goddamn office for a few hours and act like a normal person.

I try to feel that spark. I want to feel that spark. The one that means you’re supposed to be with someone for more than one night. Maybe even for – I don’t know – a month, maybe. Or even a whole goddamn lifetime. People do that shit. But then by the end of dinner or halfway through the second drink I always know it’s going nowhere. That if I were to take them to bed, I’d wake up in the morning regretting everything. The entire scenario makes me feel lonely as hell.

So I use some excuse. A late night conference call to L.A. or Hong Kong. I get up to leave and tell them goodnight. And that’s when they start begging. Pleading with me to stay. Crying. One martini and they act like I’m the answer to all their sad prayers.

If they know where I work, it happens sometimes: they stalk me. Sometimes they camp outside my door or tell me they love me. I have no idea why. I’m probably the least lovable person I know. I’m broken, and unfixable.

So I’ve made a decision. I’m giving up dating. Because it’s ridiculous to keep trying to find something that doesn’t exist.

From now on, I’m keeping to myself.

I leave a note for my assistants to finish packing up my stuff and to have it all sent to my apartment. I close up my office and grab my worn black leather jacket. I walk down to the street. It’s a warm night for late October. There are a lot of people strolling around Fifth Avenue. 

Even women who are arm-in-arm with their boyfriends or husbands check me out as I walk past. I ignore this. I’m not proud of what I am but I’ve gotten used to it.

Mostly they like my looks. That, combined with some other draw I seem to have makes me practically irresistible to them, fuck knows why. Maybe I have the aura of someone who can do things to them like no one else can. Who’ll take them past some pleasure threshold no one else will. Whatever it is, they watch me. They call me and pursue me relentlessly, which I do my best to avoid.

I know what all this sounds like: I’m ungrateful or I’m an arrogant prick who’s completely full of myself. 

Not exactly. My problem isn’t that every woman I meet wants to sleep with me. My problem is that I don’t want to have sex with someone I’m not head over heels in love with. I’m going to mention this once and once only: I used to be a manwhore of the worst kind. I used to use my looks to my own twisted advantage. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but it was a dark phase I went through. After a while, though, it left me feeling like the lowest piece of fucked-up pond scum on earth. So one day I just quit and I’ve been living my monk-like workaholic existence ever since. 

There’s no point crying about it but I’m well aware that I’m a lost cause as far as relationships go. I’ve been coming to terms with all that for a long time.

I catch up to Alexander and Lila as they’re walking into the restaurant. Alexander slings his arm around me like he’s happy to see me. He’s always happy to see me. We have the kind of bond a lot of brothers don’t have. We’ve been through a lot together, me and him, and we know we’ve got each other’s backs. The truth is, he’s bailed me out a lot more times than I can count but I feel like that’ll start to change.

Lila gives me a hug. My brother’s fiancée is a catch, no doubt about it. She’s gorgeous and is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. “Hey, sweetheart,” I say as she kisses my cheek. I laugh when Alexander eyeballs me. He’s got some control issues when it comes to Lila but we’re cool.

“Thanks for venturing into my jurisdiction,” I say. “Sorry to mess up the plan.”

“Jake, this is Eva,” Lila says.

The friend does what they all do: checks me out. Stares. First at my face then my body, like I’m a big piece of meat. “It’s so nice to meet you, Jake,” she purrs.

I smile but I’m so not in the mood for this. “Eva. The pleasure’s mine.” I feel so bored with this exchange I have to suppress a yawn.

“I love your … jacket,” she says, touching my arm, where my muscles are clenched for no particular reason. Possibly because I’m still wound up from getting convicted of a federal offence a few hours ago and escaping a prolonged prison sentence by the skin of my goddamn teeth and two million dollars. I’m rich enough now but when you grow up as poor as we did, you still think about what two million can buy. How far it can go when you’re down and out. How many people you could help out with that kind of dough. How easy it would’ve been for us to escape if we’d only had that kind of money when everything turned to shit all those years ago. 

“Oh my God,” says the girl, who’s now fawning over my biceps, feeling them with her hand. I have my leather jacket on but even so, the fact that she’s touching me makes my skin crawl. I stop myself from brushing her fingers away, harshly. “Jake, you’re soo –”

“Eva, let’s go sit down,” Lila says, thankfully steering the subject, and Eva, away from whatever it is she thinks I am. As soon as her fingers drop away, I exhale, releasing a miniscule shred of the ocean of tension and despair that hounds me.

Lila’s eyes meet mine, as though she’s gauging my state of mind. She’s making sure I’m okay. I am, barely. I blink at her. She leads Eva further into the restaurant, giving me the distance I need. “This place is so cute.”

I guess it is. It’s got a lot of brick and exposed wood and mirrors. The ceiling’s been decorated with thousands of yellow fairy lights, giving the place a festive atmosphere. And it’s busy. I have no doubt Alexander would’ve thrown plenty of money around to get us the prime table in the window.

I’m taking off my leather jacket when the hostess walks up and says something about showing us to our seats. The bell-like tone of her voice makes me look up.

She has red hair and the cutest, most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. Her hair’s not red but strawberry-blond: a warm, golden color with fiery copper highlights. There’s something so eye-catching about her I can’t pull my gaze away. She radiates light. Her face is angelic, exquisite. Dazzling.  

I realize I’m staring. 

Her eyes hold mine. She’s waiting for me and her expression is intrigued but slightly hassled. They’re busy tonight and I’m holding her up. She has other things to do besides stand there and wait for me to follow her.

But I take my time. I can’t help it: I want to watch her a little more. Check out the soft, silky colors of her. The deep shade of her violet-blue eyes that are dark-rimmed and cat-like. The sprinkling of freckles across her perfect little nose. The pinkness of her soft lips and her pale, clear skin. She’s slim but curvy in all the right places. 

Damn. All the right places. The combination of her outrageous beauty and her innocent charm are almost more than I can take.

Maybe I’ve just gone too long without and am suddenly suffering the hellish consequences of my self-imposed celibacy. My cock – fuck – goes instantly steel-hard. My chest feels tight and my heart’s pumping fast. She’s wearing a tight black top and black pants and a wide black belt to carry waitress stuff in. On anyone else the outfit would look nondescript but on this girl it looks sexy as hell. Part of the reason she’s sexy as hell is because you can tell – absolutely no doubt about it – she has no idea she’s sexy. She’s not trying to look sexy, not at all. She just is. More cute and sexy and beautiful and sweet than anyone I’ve ever seen. And it’s that differential that floors me, for no particular reason.

I’m completely star-struck. Riveted by her luminous perfection and her golden glow.

I decide right then and there to change my plans.

One more date.

Just one.

One incomparably sweet, glorious, violet-eyed, strawberry-blond, spectacularly dazzling date. 

Or maybe two.

No. Two won’t be enough.

Ten.

Ten thousand.

Ten fucking million, all strung together so there’s no separation between them.

Starting right now.

Damn.

 

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