Book 2 in The Youngers Series
A free-spirited artist and animal activist, Thea Younger only wants to make the world a better place. She’s a lover, not a fighter—except when it comes to people like the ruthless billionaire Anthony Bertram.
Anthony represents everything that she detests, no matter how handsome or rich he is. When Thea has the opportunity to take part in a social media campaign to hurt his company, she jumps at the chance.
Merciless and driven, Anthony Bertram built his company from the ground-up, dedicating every waking moment to creating one of the most powerful corporations in the world.
Yet he almost lost it all when his marriage fell apart. Embittered from his divorce, Anthony knows from experience that love only makes you weak.
When his company is threatened a second time by a slanderous social media campaign, Anthony vows to discover who is behind the lies and to take that person down.
But then fate intervenes. Thea’s much-needed vacation takes a turn when she finds herself trapped in a cabin with none other than Anthony himself.
Thea wants to hate Anthony, but as she gets to know the man behind the mask, she realizes he isn’t a monster at all. He’s all man—and one whose kisses she can’t resist. Desire flames between them until both surrender to exquisite temptation.
But as secrets loom over them, Thea and Anthony must look inside their hearts and find the courage to take a chance on love.
Read an Excerpt:
Thea has arrived at a cabin for her much-needed vacation, only to realize that the man she hates most in the world is there, too…
Thea shivered as she peeled off her sodden jacket, trying to find a light switch inside the darkened cabin. The rain continued to fall, pounding on the roof above. Thea finally gave up on trying to find a light switch and turned on her phone to use as a flashlight. Her bladder was about to explode, and it didn’t care one bit if she couldn’t see to find a bathroom.
Luckily there was a bathroom with just a toilet and sink on the first floor. After relieving herself, Thea ventured into the kitchen. She switched on the oven light, which provided enough illumination that she could get a better idea of her surroundings.
It was close to midnight. She’d planned on arriving earlier in the evening, but a late start coupled with a rainstorm that had turned the twisty forest roads into mud had slowed her down considerably. She’d almost thought about turning back, but her four-wheel drive SUV and her own stubbornness had forbidden her.
Her stomach growled, although fatigue pressed on her more than hunger. She wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for an entire day. Why was it that sitting on your butt in a car was so exhausting? Yawning, she went and brought in the groceries she’d brought with her and began to put them away.
It took her a long moment to realize that there was already food in the fridge. And food on the counter. Thea frowned. Had Ted, the cabin owner, not cleaned up after the previous people? Considering she’d had to put down a deposit in case she trashed the place, that hardly seemed fair.
She wrinkled her nose when she saw that whoever it was had left breadcrumbs all over the counter. And was that deli meat in the fridge? Gross. She threw it into the trash along with some cheese, mayo, and everything else she never, ever ate. Good riddance.
After she’d put her food away, she wandered into the living room. She finally found a light switch, and when she flipped it on, she saw that there were books on the side table. She frowned. The books were all boring nonfiction tomes about economics, which sounded like terrible choices to provide your guests. Or the last guy was the most boring person ever and had left them behind.
It was when she saw the boots by the front door that she froze. They were huge compared to hers, so clearly they were men’s boots. She crouched down to inspect the boots, and her blood turned cold when she touched the mud on the boots and found it wet. If the mud was still wet, then the wearer had been outside fairly recently. And if the wearer had left them here within the last few hours or so…
She stifled a scream when she heard footsteps upstairs.
Oh God, what the hell? Who would be out here in the middle of nowhere?
Thea’s mind whirled, her heart pounding so fast that she felt dizzy. What if some serial killer had come to kill her? But then why leave his stupid boots right there for her to see them? Maybe he knows it doesn’t matter once he slashes my throat.
She’d unconsciously moved backward toward the kitchen, when she heard footsteps at the top of the stairs. Her heart seized in her throat. If she ran out the front door, he’d hear her and if he caught her—
Sprinting as quickly and quietly as she could, she grabbed a butcher knife from the knife block in the kitchen before hiding inside the pantry. Her only hope was that the intruder didn’t notice her things everywhere. Or at the very least, he wouldn’t think to open the pantry door.
Thea held her breath when the kitchen light turned on. She heard the fridge door open and then the intruder muttered something. She frowned. Why was he rifling around in the fridge?
“What the hell?” a male voice said.
Thea heard his footsteps depart into the living room, but to her horror, he returned to the kitchen. She clutched the knife. She could call 911, but she was so far away from civilization that once the cops showed up, she’d be long dead, her body thrown into the nearby creek.
Oh God, this was supposed to be a relaxing vacation!
When the pantry door was thrown open, Thea screamed and launched herself at the intruder. He yelled, surprised, pushing her off him before grappling with her. The knife clattered to the floor. As the intruder held her still, she looked up into the eyes of the man who was going to kill her.
And when she recognized him, she was so shocked her voice failed her.
It was Anthony Bertram.
She gaped up at him, her mouth opening and closing like a fish. He frowned down at her like some ferocious predator. He was significantly taller than her, as she only came up to his shoulder. His grip was firm to the point of hurting, but she hardly felt it. Was this some kind of bizarre nightmare? Had he found out what she’d done and decided to kill her himself? But why drive out here to do it? Her mind raced as she started shaking.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Anthony demanded in a voice like thunder. Thea flinched. He continued, “Why are you hiding in the goddamn pantry? And more importantly, who are you?”
If he wanted to kill her, he would’ve done it already. Realizing that she wasn’t in any actual danger, she inhaled, trying to find the words to explain.
And then, to both their surprise, she started laughing.
Anthony let her go like she’d thrown acid on him. Thea kept laughing, knowing she sounded like a lunatic and not caring. It was so ridiculous, and she was so jacked up on adrenaline, that laughing was the only way she could calm herself down.
Anthony just stared at her, and it only made her laugh harder.
“Oh my God,” was all she could keep saying. “Oh my God, you scared the shit out of me.”
“I scared the shit out of you?” He shot her an incredulous look. “What the hell are you doing here? I’ve rented this cabin for me and me only. Are you homeless?”
At that question, Thea’s laughter faded. She was wearing old sweats and her hair needed a good wash, but she hardly looked homeless.
“You’ve rented this cabin? I think you’ve made a mistake. I’ve rented this cabin for two weeks. So you’re the one intruding,” she said.
Anthony shook his head, his jaw clenching. She couldn’t help but notice that her nemesis was even handsomer in person: his jaw was practically cut from marble, his hair dark as the night outside. His eyes were dark, too, although if she looked more closely, she could see specks of gold in them.
Not that she was looking. No way.
And then she realized he wore nothing but boxers. She’d been so terrified that his near nakedness just hadn’t registered. Her face heated as she took in his muscular torso, his chiseled abdomen and pectorals. His chest was covered in dark hair, while more dark hair pointed straight down to the waistband of his boxers.
She swallowed, mouth dry. As if he’d known she was ogling him, Anthony just crossed his arms and raised one dark eyebrow.
“Who. The. Hell. Are. You?” he asked slowly, raking her with his gaze. “If you aren’t homeless, then why the fuck are you in my cabin?”
Thea sighed. The adrenaline leaving her system made her feel shaky, and it was difficult to put the threads of all of this together. And it didn’t help that Thea didn’t know if she should tell Anthony her name. What if he knew exactly who’d started that campaign against his company?
She had no idea how they’d know—she and Mittens had been careful—but Anthony had contacts and money. That alone should make her wary. Then again, if they did know, he would’ve sent his lawyers after her already.
But his angry gaze told her he wasn’t about to let her keep silent. Deciding to stick with the truth, she said, “My name is Thea. And who are you?” She knew who he was, obviously, but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of her recognizing him.
“Anthony Bertram. Now my next question,” he said as he went to the fridge and opened it. “Where the hell did all of my food go?”
Anthony had come downstairs to have a midnight snack because he couldn’t sleep, only to find a damn crazy woman in the kitchen. He still wasn’t totally convinced she wasn’t going to stab him. But considering she was half his size and hadn’t tried to stab him a second time, he had a feeling she’d been as surprised as he’d been.
The knife on the floor gleamed up at him. Picking it up, he sent Thea an ironic glance. He placed the knife back in the knife block and once again gestured to the fridge. “What happened to my food?” he asked again. Because really, he’d come downstairs for something to eat, and his food had disappeared. Had she eaten it all while he’d been upstairs?
She said, “That’s what you’re worried about here? Your deli meat that’s filled with sodium and that will make your heart explode someday?”
Oh God, she was one of those people. He groaned, shutting the fridge. His appetite had disappeared, anyway. He needed to get this woman out of the cabin. Right now.
She was crazy, yes, but when she’d launched herself at him, he’d felt that she was a pleasant armful of womanly curves. She wasn’t his type in the slightest: her hair was too short, she had a septum ring in her nose and a sleeve of tattoos all along her right arm. She was also obnoxiously short. He preferred women tall enough that he didn’t get a neck ache from kissing them.
Not that he wanted to kiss her. He didn’t kiss crazy.
He’d driven up to the cabin earlier that day, looking forward to being alone for the next two weeks. Amid the PR fiasco, he’d forgotten about his reservation until Cara had reminded him. He’d considered canceling, but he didn’t want to give Bruce and the other members of the board the satisfaction. Bruce would see it as weakness, would think he’d gotten to Anthony.
Anthony would still be working anyway—that couldn’t be avoided—and he’d made certain that the cabin he had chosen had reliable Wi-Fi. Besides, Cara was a phone call away, and he could get back to Seattle within three hours if all else failed.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, Anthony crossed his arms. “How about you explain why you’re here?” he said. First, he needed to take care of this woman.
“Because I’m renting this cabin for two weeks.” Her expression turned mulish. “So why are you here?”
Pulling out his phone, he brought up the email from Ted, confirming his reservation. “You must have gotten the dates mixed up.” He showed her the email.
But to his dismay, she pulled out her own phone—one with a cracked screen that he could barely read off—and he read that she’d gotten the same confirmation email. You’re confirmed for the Peaceful Waters Cabin at Mighty Pine, April 3–17. They were the exact same dates as in his confirmation email.
He thrust her phone back at her. “Then there’s a mix-up. I’ll call Ted in the morning, get you a refund.” He wanted to wring Ted’s neck. How could he have let this happen? Who booked two strangers at the same time?
“Why should I leave?” Thea countered. She mirrored Anthony by crossing her arms, which only made her small breasts more obvious. He decided to ignore that. “I have as much of a right to stay here as you. Besides, you’re rich. You can go anywhere. I’ve saved up for this trip, while I’m sure this is just a drop in the bucket for you.”
“Who says I’m rich?” he said, despite it being completely true.
“Because you have the face of a rich douche, and you’re wearing an expensive watch. Pretty easy to guess everything else.”
“I’ll have to do something about being so obvious.”
He called Cara, needing to get this sorted out. Cara was used to getting phone calls at all hours of the night. If anyone could get this crazy woman a hotel room or find a new cabin for her, it was Cara.
“What are you doing?” Thea demanded.
Anthony ignored her.
“Cara, there’s a situation. I need you to find me a hotel room for tonight. Somewhere near the cabin. Yes, tonight. No, it’s not for me—”
Before he could hear Cara’s reply, Thea took the phone out of his hand and ended the call. Anthony stared down at her, immense irritation filling him.
“Give me my phone back,” he said in the same tone of voice he used with people he was ten seconds away from eviscerating. The same voice that made employees quiver in their boots. He’d made more than one intern cry when he’d used this particular voice.
Thea, however, didn’t look like she was going to burst into tears. She merely tipped her chin up in defiance.
He towered over her and slowly began to force her backward until she bumped into the wall. So close to her, he could smell her—something citrusy yet also spicy—and he could see that her eyes were a dark grayish green. He was so close that only an inch or two separated them.
She’d put her hands behind her back, the phone still clutched in her grip.
“I’m not leaving,” she said with obvious bravado. “I have as much a right as you to be here. I paid for my reservation. I’m not going to let you ruin my vacation.”
Anthony smiled, but there was no humor in it. “I don’t give two shits what you paid for. I don’t care if you’re the goddamn queen of England. I’ve wanted to be alone in this cabin, and I’m not about to have some crazy hippie woman ruin that.”
Thea bristled. “I’m not crazy.”
“You tried to stab me.”
“I thought you were going to kill me!”
“I’m seriously considering it now.”
She didn’t waver, and Anthony couldn’t help but be impressed. Most women would’ve started crying already. Elise certainly would have. She used tears like a soldier used a gun, and she could employ it at the most opportune time to get what she wanted.
He reached to get his phone, but Thea pushed it higher up her back. He’d have to turn her around and rip it from her grasp, which meant touching her again. He wasn’t going to touch her a second time.
“Give. Me. My. Phone. Back,” said Anthony through clenched teeth.
“I will if you promise not to kick me out.”
“Then we’ll stay here all night.”
He placed his hand on the wall above her head, effectively caging her in. Her chest rose and fell, and he could tell she wasn’t as calm as she’d like him to think.
“I have all the time in the world,” he said softly. “And I never lose.”
Since intimidation wasn’t going to work, Anthony decided that he’d try another tactic. There was always something that caused a person to let down their guard. Fear, greed. And lust. Trailing his fingers down her arm, he encircled her wrist. He brushed the soft skin there with his thumb. When Thea shuddered despite her best efforts, he exulted.
“If you’re going to stay here,” he murmured, his mouth near her ear, “then you might as well give me a good reason to let you stay.”
She froze. He stroked her forearm. Then she shuddered.
When he raised his head, his gaze landing on her rosy mouth, he suddenly wanted to kiss her. Right then and there.
Thea licked her lips.
And then a sharp pain radiated from his foot, and he swore as Thea ducked under his arm. She’d stomped on his fucking foot, the little bitch!
She laughed at his pained expression. If she’d broken his foot—
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said and ran upstairs, his phone still in her hand. When he heard a bedroom door shut with a bang upstairs, he knew he’d been beaten.
He swore, long and low.
Thea might have won that battle, but by God, he’d win this fucking war.