Lexi Blake Ruthless.jpg


A Lawless Novel, Book 1

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About the book

The first in a sexy contemporary romance series featuring the Lawless siblings—from New York Times bestselling author Lexi Blake.

The Lawless siblings are bound by vengeance. Riley, Drew, Brandon, and Mia believe the CEO of StratCast orchestrated their parents’ murder twenty years ago to steal their father’s software program. And there’s only one way Riley can find some solid evidence...

Heir to the StratCast legacy, Ellie Stratton hires a new attorney to handle a delicate business matter—and she’s shocked by her attraction to him. Over the course of a few weeks, Riley becomes her lover, her friend, her everything. But when her life is threatened, Ellie discovers that Riley is more obsessed with settling an old score than in the love she thought they were building. And Riley must choose between a revenge he’s prepared for all his life and the woman he’s sure he can’t live without...

Smart, savvy, clever, and always entertaining. That’s true of Riley Lawless, the hero in Ruthless, and likewise for his creator, Lexi Blake. Both are way ahead of the pack.
— New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry
With Ruthless, Lexi Blake has set up shop on the intersection of Suspenseful and Sexy, and I never want to leave.
— Laurelin Paige, New York Times bestselling author
This introduction to the new series is an excellent combination of corporate intrigue and family drama — with good dose of seduction.
4 Stars RT Book Reviews
Talk about a book that has a little bit of everything. This book is filled with lies, secrets, betrayal, romance, and extremely steamy sex scenes 😉 This storyline will have you on the edge of your seat for the majority of the book. Lexi did an amazing job keeping her readers guessing. I loved all the twists and turns that were thrown at us during this story.
Jennifer H, Book Bitches
I love Lexi Blake. Read Ruthless and see why.
— New York Times bestselling author Lee Child
Ruthless is full of suspense, hot sex, and swoon worthy characters — a must read!
— New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Probst
I knew this new series by Lexi Blake was going to ROCK my WORLD, I just didn’t realize HOW MUCH! This book was just EVERYTHING! It pulled emotion after emotion out of me…there was NO WAY I was putting this one down for one second. Lexi Blake continues to give us characters (new and old) that are so easy to fall in love with, characters that you just want to stand up and root for, and characters that you connect with on such a deep emotional level. These characters become a family to you, and you can’t help but want to dive into the book and live a happily ever after with them.
Shayna, Shayna Renee's Spicy Reads
Ruthless was a wonderful read that I couldn’t put down once I started it!
Kim, Oh My Growing TBR
Ruthless is an amazing first book in Lexi Blake’s new Lawless series. The storyline is full of suspense, secrets, and sex, which keeps readers guessing how the Lawless’ revenge plot will play out and what will happen when the tables turn in others’ direction.
Rebecca, Fairest of All Book Reviews
Ruthless was an extremely intense novel that had all the feels. I loved the McKay-Taggart connection and the Lawless family dynamics. Riley and Ellie’s journey was just the beginning of an intricate story line and I can’t wait for it to continue in Brandon and Andrew’s romances. Another great read from Lexi Blake and a perfect choice for lovers of steamy romantic suspense.
Ang, Ang's Sizzling Pages Reviews
This book is very much a romantic suspense. The romance is just as hot and steamy as all the drama, thrills and suspense thrown at you. Trust me, you’ll love it. Lexi has put together another amazing series and I look forward to seeing more from these Lawless men.
Courtney, Read-Love-Blog
I’m so excited for the next book in the series! Looking forward to seeing what will happen next!
Pavlina, Read More Sleep Less


Mr. Lang? Can I get you anything? Anything at all?” 
Riley Lawless looked up at the pretty blond receptionist and got the distinct feeling she really meant what she said. She was staring at him like she could eat him alive.

“I don’t think we have time for what she has in mind,” he muttered under his breath. Drew chuckled beside him, lounging back.

Riley shook his head because his brother was right. He needed to focus on one thing and one thing alone, and that was making an impression on Ellie Stratton. “Thank you, but I think we’re fine.”

The blonde blushed and handed him her card. “If you change your mind, Mr. Lang.”

She walked away, her sky-high heels clacking against the marbled floors. It had been years since Riley had started using the name Lang professionally, and he still wasn’t used to it. They’d decided on the name to give him distance from the Lawless history. He and Bran went by their paternal grandmother’s maiden name so they wouldn’t be easily associated with Drew. He still hated not sharing a name with his parents.

He had a bunch of very official documents proclaiming him to be Riley Lang, but that didn’t make him forget that he was a Lawless.

“I do not get that. I’m obviously more attractive than you. How do you get all those women?” Drew watched the receptionist’s very nice ass sway as she walked back to her desk.

Riley snorted. They had this discussion at least once a month. “You scare the hell out of women. It’s like they can sense the predator in you.”

Drew gave him a smile. “See. I can smile. I’m utterly harmless.”

It was Riley’s turn to laugh. “Dude, even smiling you look like you’re ready to hunt someone down. You need to take after me.”

“So I need to be a brainless himbo?”

“Yeah, tell that to Harvard Law. No. You need to look friendly. You need to look normal. Normal men don’t look like they’ll sprout claws and fangs at any given moment.” His brother got more than his fair share of female attention, but years of growing a company and raising his siblings had killed any light in Drew’s eyes. Riley straightened his tie and put on his game face.

When the mission required man candy, they went with Riley. He was the charming one, the one who had figured out how to shove down all the dark stuff and give people what they wanted. Drew was too predatory and Bran . . . there was always something dark bubbling under Bran’s surface. Women seemed to be even more wary of Bran.

So Riley was the go-to guy when a little seduction was needed.

“Are you ready?” Drew’s eyes were on the hallway that led back to the two executive suites. Riley was certain Drew knew the whole layout of the office, though he hadn’t been inside it before. Drew never left anything to chance. Anything.

“I am.” He was ready to meet Ellie Stratton. Daughter of Phillip Stratton and business partner of Steven Castalano.

Phillip Stratton and Steven Castalano had been involved in their parents’ deaths. They were murderers, and finally they were going to pay. Unfortunately, Phillip Stratton was dead.

The sins of the father were about to be visited on the daughter’s doorstep. Ellie Stratton would have to pay her father’s debt.

“Here we go.” There was a wealth of satisfaction in his brother’s voice as Steven Castalano strode down the hallway.

It made sense because this was the beginning of a game Drew had been working on for twenty years. It was a game Castalano wouldn’t know he was playing until he’d already lost.

“You the lawyers?” Castalano didn’t waste time on politeness. He was a man past his prime, and the photos Drew had of him hadn’t done his florid face justice. Craggy and lined, his face bore the marks of long nights spent partying. According to everything they knew about the man, his love of women and booze had cost him two marriages and the majority of the fortune he’d come into exactly two months after Benedict Lawless and his wife had been murdered. Riley wondered if wife number three knew the truth about her husband’s cash. Castalano had made his money the old-fashioned way—he’d murdered and stolen for it.

An IPO had been much more important to Castalano than a good man’s life.

Yeah, that was going to cost him, too.

Riley got to his feet and put out a hand. The thought of touching the man disgusted him, but he was willing to do just about anything to get his foot in this particular door. “Riley Lang. This is my associate, Andy Hoover. I thought we were meeting with Ms. Stratton.”

Castalano studied them through narrowed eyes. “Yeah, well, I always like to know my enemies.” He stopped on Drew. “You look familiar.”

Drew looked most like their father, though not a single one of the kids was a carbon copy. Drew and Mia had inherited their father’s sandy hair coloring and blue eyes while Riley and Bran had darker hair and green eyes.

It was more likely Castalano had seen one of the few photographs reporters had managed to take of the infamous Andrew Lawless, reclusive billionaire software developer. At the tender age of twenty-three, Drew had built the firewall system almost every corporation now used, including StratCast. Drew had used the money to put them all through college, and he’d used the teeny-tiny backdoor he’d left in his software to spy on his enemies—starting with Castalano. 

Drew remained perfectly cool. “I’ve been told I look an awful lot like that actor who plays Thor. I promise not to throw a hammer your way, though.” 

No, Riley was sure Drew would much rather use a knife on the man. 

Or leave him to burn to death. Like Castalano had left their father. Castalano shrugged. “Right. I appreciate that.” 

“And I thought this was a friendly buyout.” Riley was ready to do anything to turn his attention away from how familiar Drew looked. They’d done their level best to keep his profile as low as possible, but a few shots had gotten out. 

“It is,” Castalano assured them. “The company is in good hands with Ellie, but I need a comfortable retirement. It should be an easy transition, but I want to ensure everything is done properly and above-board. That’s why we’re getting two sets of sharks involved. I mean lawyers, of course. I don’t want anyone to be able to challenge Ellie for what’s rightfully hers. She’s been through a lot in the last year, and I don’t want this to be stressful for her. My own lawyers will be here this afternoon, and I wanted to warn you, I’m paying for the best.” 

He wasn’t. He was paying for a middling firm because according to the information they’d accumulated on the man, he was damn near broke. This man had killed Riley’s father over a public stock offering, made millions of dollars off it, and then wasted it on booze and hookers. 

Riley was going to make sure he didn’t make millions more. And he intended to make sure StratCast was completely ruined at the end of this game. The company had been founded with blood money, and he was going to bring it down. “Well, I’ll consider myself warned.”

Castalano’s eyes narrowed. “Here’s another warning. Take care of Ellie. Like I said, between her father’s death and the divorce she went through, she’s had enough to deal with. This was her idea to hire you. The attorney who had represented her dad retired recently. He recommended you. I’ve never heard of you.”

Her father’s attorney had happily given in to their blackmail scheme. Once Robert Danford, Esquire, had realized they had evidence that he’d cheated his partners out of more than a million dollars, he’d smiled and agreed to everything Drew asked for.

They already had so much blood on their hands.

“I assure you, we’ll do everything we can for Ms. Stratton,” Riley replied.

“She’s special.” Castalano sighed and for a moment looked like he gave a shit about something. “I want to make sure she’s solid. Ellie got screwed over in her divorce. Her good for nothing husband took half of everything. She had to spend a ton of her own cash to buy the stock he got in the divorce so she could keep her shares. Everything Ellie has is tied up in StratCast and it’s going to stay that way until we get through this buyout. She loves this company. Make sure no one can take it from her.”

Ellie Stratton? Castalano seemed awfully concerned for her. He wasn’t a man who cared about his fellow employees. So maybe there was another connection between them. Was it possible she was sleeping with her elderly business partner?

“We’ll make the deal airtight.” And then they would tap the first domino in their chain and watch it all fall down.

“Hello, I see you’ve met my business partner.” A soft feminine voice caught his attention.

Riley turned and got his first glimpse of Ellie Stratton. Pictures didn’t do the woman justice. In her pictures she was serious, even somewhat severe. She’d had them done to go out with newsletters and in business journals. He’d found her to be a bit boring, a couple of pounds overweight.

Those extra pounds were in all the right places. Ellie Stratton had that brownish blond hair color that looked dull in photographs because no picture could catch the subtle variations of color that the midmorning light could. Her hair was down, flowing past her shoulders. Blond and chestnut and sable strands vied with a few shades of mahogany. She’d ditched the severe suit she wore in pictures in favor of a wrap dress that clung to her curves. No pantyhose. Her legs were round and feminine, descending to four-inch heels that would look nice wrapped around his neck. 

Where had she been hiding that rack? 

His brother cleared his throat, a sure sign that Riley was fumbling the ball. 

“Ms. Stratton, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He was going to have to figure out how to handle her. He needed to get close, to gain access to the building and the offices and, more importantly, to the data Drew hadn’t been able to find. He needed access to everything Strat-Cast had to offer, and the closer he could get to Castalano, the better. 

Revenge was only one part of their plan. Justice was another. 

He held out his hand and she took it. She had a firm grip, but when she was about to pull away, he placed his other hand over hers, trapping her. He looked right into her eyes. They were brown with flecks of gold in them. Pretty eyes. Another thing she tried to hide in those business pictures. She wore glasses, likely trying to make herself look serious. “I want to assure you that we’re here for you and you’ll be satisfied with our services. We’re dedicated to our clients, and I’ll make sure this buyout runs as smooth as clockwork.” 

Her eyes widened and he saw a flare of awareness go through her. 

It was a revelation to meet her in person. It was likely difficult to be the female boss in a male-dominated industry. She would have to hide her femininity, to cloak it in a coat of chilly intellectualism in order to be taken seriously. It was obvious that she felt at home here in her own office.

In the real world, she likely had very carefully placed walls.

Poor Ellie. He was going to have to break them down.

She smiled at him, and it turned her face from serious to stunning in a second. When Ellie Stratton smiled, it was like someone had turned a light on in a previously dark room.

“Thank you.” She seemed to realize what she’d done and pulled her hand out of his. Her cheeks had a pretty blush to them. She was divorced, according to the dossier their security firm had worked up on her. He would know more this afternoon when Mia got back from Dallas for their briefing. “I’ll be honest, I’m actually quite happy to have found a new firm. My father’s lawyers were oh-so-stuffy. I’m not sure they knew what to do with me.”

Castalano smiled her way. “You’re a force of nature, sweetheart. They should let you do what you do.”

She smiled for the disgusting old man, and Riley felt his heart rate tick up. “You’re too nice to me, Steven. And not everyone thinks the same way you do.”

“Then they can take a long hike,” Castalano said with a smirk. “You’re going to do great here. And don’t worry about the lawyers. This will all work out. I promise.”

“It’s only a formality.” She stepped back and nodded Riley’s way. “If you’ll follow me, we can get started. Steven, if you’ll excuse us. I hope your day goes well.”

Castalano suddenly seemed bright. Well, as bright as his craggy, florid face would allow. “It’s already wonderful, Ellie. I’m going to grab my clubs and meet my friend at Chelsea Piers for our weekly session. You look like you’re in good hands with these two. See you later, dear.”

She gave him a wave and then began walking toward the executive wing. “If you’ll follow me, gentlemen. I was so grateful you could take me on. I know it was short notice, but I’m very appreciative.”

Riley walked slightly behind her and wondered if she knew how the dress she was wearing clung to her backside. She had a spectacular ass. Little Miss Prim and Proper turned out to be someone entirely different than he’d thought, and she had some serious junk in her trunk. What had seemed like a mission of sexual martyrdom suddenly looked like something else entirely. He might very well enjoy the next few weeks.

“Come on, brother,” he said quietly. “Let’s get this thing started.”

They’d waited twenty years and it was finally here.

Drew was watching Steven Castalano walk away, and there it was—that dark, predatory look that scared all the women away.

His brother turned and joined him. Drew’s eyes found Ellie Stratton’s backside. “Hmmm, that’s unexpected. You sure you want to take point on this?”

Oh, his brother wasn’t going to take over. Not now that they’d discovered the mission might be so very pleasurable. “I think we should stick with the plan.” He looked forward and Ellie had stopped, looking at them with expectation in her eyes. He remembered that she’d made a statement. One he should reply to. “We were more than happy to have the business, Ms. Stratton.”

She shook her head, nose wrinkling. Yeah, even that was cute. “Ellie, please. I’m not very formal.”

“Ellie, then. And you should definitely call me Riley.” He followed her, suddenly optimistic about the next few weeks.

* * * *

That was totally professional, Ellie. You damn near melted at your new lawyer’s feet. Way to make an impression.

Why had she chosen this week to debut the new her? She was going to throttle her best friend. Lily had been the one to convince her to toss out all the black she had. Black business suits, she’d found, covered up the fact that she wasn’t a teeny-tiny size four, like the rest of New York. Lily had been the one to convince her she could be sexy and it wouldn’t hurt her professional image.

Lily didn’t have to deal with Lawyer McHottie and his drop-dead-gorgeous friend.

Who the hell went to law school when they looked like that? Riley Lang and the other dude—whose name she’d forgotten because looking at Riley Lang apparently made her drop a couple of IQ points— should be on a billboard in Times Square selling menswear. Or anything else. What they shouldn’t be doing is using their what she was sure would be rock-hard abs to pound out a buyout deal between her and the man who’d been her father’s partner for years.

“I hope you found the place all right. Did you take the subway? The street can be pretty trafficy at this time of day.” Wow. That made her sound smart.

She could hear her father. It doesn’t matter that you graduated at the top of your class at Wharton. If you act like a moron, you’ll be a moron in their eyes. No one will take you seriously. You’ll be nothing but a nice set of tits and a fat ass to them.

Her father had really wanted a boy.

She didn’t dare look back. The last thing she wanted to see was her new lawyer and his superhot associate laughing at the dowdy businesswoman.

Professional. She needed to be superprofessional. That was the only way a woman at her level could be. And that meant not putting y’s on the end of words, because whimsical didn’t play in the business world.

“It was definitely trafficy.” Riley Lang was suddenly right beside her, his long strides easily allowing him to catch up to her. “We happily took the subway. After all, where else could we get our morning started off right with a homeless man’s recitation of Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’?”

She couldn’t help but smile because she actually knew what he was talking about. “That would be Oscar. We like to call him the Ninety-sixth Street Crooner. He’s gotten very modern. Sometimes he sings One Direction. He dances, too, but that can get ugly. Not very coordinated.”

His grin ticked up a notch, showing off the most adorable set of dimples. “I’ll remember that.” He gestured to the windows. “You have a hell of a view.”

They were walking by a bank of windows that showed a spectacular view of the Upper West Side. Riverside Park was in the distance, followed by the Hudson. She’d often stood at those windows as a kid and dreamed about working here one day. Standing there, overlooking the city, made her feel twelve feet tall. 

Riley’s hot but really intimidating associate walked beside him. The man had to be six and a half feet, with sandy hair that contrasted with sapphire-blue eyes. He was a striking man who looked like he should be off playing linebacker somewhere, but it was Riley’s lean body and softer good looks that called to her. Not that he was really soft. It was simply that he was standing beside a lion. The associate looked like he might kill someone and soon. 

“Thanks.” She had to remember her words around him. Like a toddler. That was how much he disconcerted her. She wasn’t sure she liked the feeling and decided that she would utterly ignore it. He was a lawyer. She needed a lawyer. She’d argued that they could use the same counsel, but Steven had vetoed the idea. Just because this buyout was a friendly one, he’d explained, it was still a delicate business matter that required solid legal advice to make it run smoothly. “My father and Steven bought this space about seventeen years ago when they founded StratCast. My office has the same view. If you’ll follow me.” 

If Riley Lang was as good as he was supposed to be, StratCast would be all hers in a matter of weeks. 

She wondered what else Riley was good at. Sex. She was thinking about sex. Lily would be thrilled that she even had a libido. Since she’d divorced Colin, she’d put her entire sexual being into the deep freeze. Not that there had been much of one to start out with. Lily kept trying to set her up with guys she thought could defrost her. Ellie had been hiding behind work. 

And that was exactly what she was going to do now because if she couldn’t handle Lily’s cop, bank teller, or that writer guy who she was fairly certain simply wanted a free meal in exchange for dating her, then she really couldn’t even consider fantasizing about the Greek god Riley Lang. He would make a good one. He would be the god of justice, balancing the law and truth and wearing nothing but a toga that would slide down his hips, almost revealing what was hidden underneath.

“Did you want to go to your office?” The deep voice of the associate pulled her out of her daydreams. What was his name again? She’d seen it on her appointment book but couldn’t for the life of her recall it now.

She stopped. God, she’d walked right past her office. She felt her cheeks stain with embarrassment. She was acting like a teen at a boy band concert. There was nothing to do but blaze right through. She gave them what she hoped was her most professional smile. “I thought it would be better to conduct this meeting in the conference room. It’s not far.”

Riley was staring at her as though he knew exactly what she was doing. A smile curled his ridiculously sensual lips up. “I would prefer your office, actually.”

The guy who looked like a sexy human lion nodded. “Definitely your office. We need to explain how we work things, and it would be best to do that in the most intimate of settings.”

Intimate. He probably meant the smallest space possible, but her brain went to a bedroom. Her bedroom.

She shook it off. She wasn’t sex obsessed. Normally. Hell, she was the girl who could go a year and not mind. She strode back to her office and opened the door, gesturing them inside.

“This is nice,” Riley murmured as he walked past her.

He even smelled good. Sandalwood. It must be his aftershave. Whatever it was, her body reacted to it. Damn Lily. She’d told Ellie the dress looked amazing, but she hadn’t mentioned the material was so thin her nipples poked out. “Thank you. It was my father’s before he retired. I haven’t done much to redecorate. I haven’t had time.”

That wasn’t the real reason. Her father’s office was masculine. It made a statement. The officers of the company, and the entire board of directors, were made up of fifty-year-old and older males. Until she could start breaking that glass ceiling and hiring more women, it was best to play their games. The minute she owned the majority share of StratCast, there were going to be some changes for the better. She was going to bring the company into the twenty-first century. Kicking and screaming, if she had to.

She reached for her sweater, drawing it around her frame and hiding the fact that her nipples looked like they were stuck in a snowstorm.

Unfortunately, she was fairly certain it was heat and not cold that was making her nipples go all crazy.

“Feel free to have a seat. I’m going to turn the air up a bit. It’s chilly in here.”

Riley and the lion stood, watching her.

“I thought it was rather warm myself,” Riley murmured as she turned the thermostat up. “How about you, Andy?”

Andy. That was his name. It was a very fifties-sounding name for a lion. Maybe he thought if he had a defenseless-sounding name, he could hide the fact that he looked so damn brutal.

“I don’t notice things like that,” Andy said, setting his briefcase on her desk. “Should I start, or do you want to?”

She moved back to her desk. Her father’s desk. When she had the cash, she was going to strip all the dark wood away and open the place up, making it lighter, brighter.

She’d been in the dark for far too long.

“Did you get the contracts I sent you? We don’t really have to go over them right now. I thought this was a brief, get-to-know-you meeting. I haven’t taken a look at the contracts yet.” She’d thought she had a little time, and she’d been dealing with other problems.

“Oh, we have the contracts. You don’t need to read them,” Riley explained as he opened his briefcase. “That’s what we’re here for. Andy, feel free to begin.”

She would still read them, but she hated all the legalese. She was much better at dealing with people. Her father had always told her that she was soft, but even he had admitted she got more work and better ideas out of the employees than anyone else.

What would he do if he knew what she planned on doing to his company?

She hadn’t breathed a word of it to anyone. Not to her father before he died. Not to Steven Castalano. Not even to her lawyers. She knew what they would say. Eventually she would bring them in, but when she did she would have all the power and no one would be able to stop her.

She’d known exactly what she was going to do the minute she’d realized her father was a monster.

Andy pulled a small device out of his briefcase and began to run it over her bookshelves.

“What is he doing?” Ellie asked. The last thing she’d expected was that the lawyers would want to peruse her collection of business books.

Riley sat down in the chair across from her desk. “He’s checking for bugs.”

She got the feeling he wasn’t talking about cockroaches. She felt her eyes widen and her jaw drop a bit. “Why would someone be listening in on me?”

It was ridiculous. And slightly embarrassing since sometimes when she worked late and no one was around, she turned on the music and sang while she worked. She was pretty sure she did not sing as well as Ninety-sixth Street Oscar.

While his associate made a thorough sweep, Riley shuffled through some papers, seeming to search for the right one. “This is a multimillion-dollar deal. We have to take security very seriously.”

Thank God. He was being a paranoid weirdo. “I know this is a lot of money on the line, but it’s also kind of like a family business. Steven wants to sell his half of the company to me. He always planned to when he retired. He has a son, but Kyle is not the business type and honestly, they’re not close. He didn’t even know about Kyle until he was already in high school.”

“Yes, you’re talking about Kyle Castalano. Mr. Castalano’s illegitimate child,” Riley said, not looking up from his notes.

That came off a little judgey. And there she went again. “Kyle’s a good guy. He just came up rough, and Steven is trying to do right by him. I’m hoping they can get closer once Steven’s retired. Look, Mr. Lang.”

His eyes came up, staring at her. “Riley.”

Next time she hired a lawyer, she would make sure he wasn’t so gorgeous he flustered her. “Riley, I understand that you’re some sort of a shark. I’ve heard you’re in-house counsel for 4L Software. I know you’re used to working with paranoid people.”

Riley laughed. “I assure you, Mr. Lawless is one of the least paranoid people I know. Everyone really is out to get him. He’s quite an asshole.”

“He also has ears everywhere,” she heard Andy mutter under his breath.

4L Software had revolutionized Internet security. She was completely fascinated with the head of the company and his reputation for being a complete recluse. But this wasn’t the time for gossip.

“I’m simply saying, I’m not on the same level as Drew Lawless. You can relax. This is a mutually beneficial deal. I really just need you to look over the paperwork and let me know if it will hold up.” Maybe she’d made the wrong call. When she’d realized her father’s personal attorney was closing up shop, she’d called the number of the man he’d recommended. She hadn’t realized how high-powered he was until she’d already made the appointment with him. She’d had the head of StratCast’s legal department look over the contracts, but she’d been convinced she needed an outside opinion as well.

“I don’t ever relax, and if I’m your attorney, I won’t let you, either. You need me for far more than the buyout contract. Now let’s talk about what I can provide for you,” he offered. “I want you to consider me a general in the war you’re about to find yourself in. Your general.”

“This isn’t war, Mr. Lang. I need a lawyer to make sure the transfer of all assets is handled in a smooth manner and after that I need you to basically oversee the legal department.” She’d read over his employment demands. They seemed a bit steep to her for what she needed him to do. “That’s why we really should negotiate some of the finer points of your contract as well. I thought we might go over that.”

“Of course, Ms. Stratton, though you do understand that dealing with the preliminaries of the buyout is my way of showing you how helpful I can be so why don’t we get right to it.” The smile on his face was gone, and he slid a stack of papers her way. She recognized the contract. From the flurry of sticky tabs denoting pages Lang had comments about, it looked like the man had a lot of problems with it. “This current contract will very smoothly transfer all intellectual property rights for the new cooling system straight to Mr. Castalano.”

She felt her jaw drop. She suddenly couldn’t get those contracts in her hands fast enough. “What?”

The new cooling system currently in development was supposed to double the running time of computer batteries and reduce overheating by two hundred percent. It was the jewel in StratCast’s current development crown. It was also a project she’d been shepherding.

“You heard me correctly. He’s trying to walk out with your biggest project in his back pocket. It’s buried on page seventy-nine as a part of his retirement package.” Lang sat back, crossing one leg over the other. “Andy, did you find anything?”

Andy placed a tiny disk on her desk. “That is a listening device. It was under the frame of your Wharton degree, so I think we can safely say it’s recent or you would have found it when you moved into this office. I’ve disabled it, but they’ll know we have it. The rest of the place is clean, but I’ll teach you how to use this device to make sure anyplace you have private conversations is bug free.”

She stared at the tiny bug. Someone was listening to her? Steven? She couldn’t believe it, but then there was the issue of the contract. How could he try to do that to her? “I don’t understand.”

It made her sick to her stomach.

“Ms. Stratton, this is business, and business at this level is always war.” Riley shrugged as though finding a bug in a client’s office was no big deal. “Now they’ll know we know. They’ll know that you are no longer unprotected. In some cases I would have left the bug in place and used it to our advantage, but you are right about this being fairly straightforward, and we need a show of strength.”

Had Steven done this to her? Had he been listening in on her conversations? She knew he had a reputation for being ruthless, but he was a man she’d called Uncle Steven for most of her life. He’d been sitting by her father when she’d graduated from Wharton. He was the man who advised her.

The ground seemed to be shifting under her feet. She counted on Steven, and now she had to question everything he said and did.

She had to try not to cry. God, she couldn’t cry. “He’s the one who insisted I get outside counsel.”

“Perhaps he intended to try to pay me off. Or send you to another lawyer. Or this could all be a mistake. Perhaps his own lawyers are being too aggressive and he doesn’t understand what they’re asking for. I don’t know. All I can tell you is the clause is there and we’re not going to agree to it.”

She forced down the pain the betrayal caused her. Yes, it was buried, but he had to have known she would find it. Perhaps he was uninformed. Maybe. “No, we can’t agree to that.”

“I’ve made notes on the contract,” Riley said, his voice softer than before.

She looked up and the lawyer was looking at her with sympathy in his eyes. That was the last thing she needed. She hardened her resolve. “Let’s go over them.”

“Ms. Stratton . . . Ellie, why don’t you take some time and read through them. You could probably take the afternoon off. I understand that what we’ve pointed out to you is probably quite disturbing. It’s easy to see you’re unsettled.”

Weak. She looked weak. She schooled her expression. If there was one thing a woman at her level wasn’t allowed to do, it was show any weakness. It was better to be the bitch than show any softness. “Not at all. I’m perfectly fine. Now obviously I won’t sign away rights to what will be the company’s most profitable development. How do we counter? Should we counter?”

“Oh, we’re going to counter. I’ve hired a firm that will help us with information gathering about your opponent. I’m meeting with them after we leave here. McKay-Taggart is one of the world’s leading experts on security and intelligence.”

She’d certainly heard of them. They were all ex-military or CIA agents who handled twenty-first-century security problems. God, it boggled her mind that she needed a firm like that to look into a man who had treated her like family.

“Excellent.” At least it seemed like Riley had a firm grip on the problem. Though she was embarrassed by her naiveté, she seemed to have made the right call by bringing them in. “I’m going to spend the afternoon firing the head of my legal department. He okayed this deal.”

It would be fun. She would have him escorted from the building. She really hoped he gave the big guards trouble.

“I would advise against that.” Andy took the seat beside Riley.

That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. “That man went against the best interests of this company.”

“Until you buy him out, Castalano is the company. He can outvote you. Your father left you in a perilous position. He left your sister some of his stock.”

She still shuddered at the thought. Her dad had left Shari a voting share of StratCast. Shari didn’t have a brain in her head. “I vote my sister’s shares. Don’t worry about dealing with her.”

Riley’s brows climbed up as though he was confused. “From what I understand, she recently sold her stock.”

“What?” For the second time that day, she felt her stomach take a deep dive. Shari only owned five percent of the company stock, but that voting share was something Ellie counted on. “Who? Who did she sell it to? Why wouldn’t she tell me? I don’t have control without that five percent.”

He held a hand up. “You can easily build a coalition. I can help you with that. Your sister sold the stock to an individual. I haven’t run that name down yet. It won’t matter if you successfully buy out Castalano.”

He had her paranoid. She needed to calm down.

Riley closed up his briefcase and looked down at the Rolex on his wrist. “As to firing the head of your legal department, in this case, it’s better to go with the devil we know. You can fire the man after we finish the deal. I would actually advise you to fire anyone who you suspect was loyal to Castalano, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is going to take a while. I need to go and meet with Taggart. What do you say I pick you up for dinner at eight and we can talk about what he discovered?”

Dinner? With him? That seemed like a bad idea. A really bad idea. “I think we should probably meet back here at the office.”

“Where someone planted a bug to listen in on you?” Riley asked, standing and giving her a bland smile.

Put like that, it did seem like a bad idea. “All right. Um, let me give you my address.”

The blandness was suddenly gone and there was a certain heat in his eyes. “Don’t worry about it. I think I can find you. Eight o’clock.”

He turned and walked out, Andy hard on his heels.

The minute they left, it felt like Ellie could breathe again.

Then she caught sight of the defunct bug, and her stomach was in knots. How had everything turned upside down over the course of one morning?

“Ellie? Are you all right?” Her assistant walked in with a mug in her hand. “I saw the male models walking out the door and decided you could use something to calm your nerves. They looked intense.”

Lily Gallo was her personal gal Friday and all-around best friend. Her father had advised her not to hire a friend, but they’d been close since college and she wasn’t sure what she would do without Lily. Sometimes Lily was all she had.

“My sister fucked me over.”

Lily set the mug down. “That is her way. You no longer have a husband, so she can’t be sleeping with him. What did she do now?”

“Sold the stock Dad left her.”

Lily’s eyes went wide. “That bitch.”

It felt like more of a betrayal than Shari having an affair with Colin. After all, Ellie loved the business more than she’d ever loved Colin. “It gets worse. It looks like Steven is trying to walk away with the cooling system.”

Lily slumped into the chair in front of her desk. “No. Oh, Ellie. I’m so sorry. And that’s not tea. It’s vodka and cranberry. Like I said, I thought you would need a drink.”

She took a long sip. This was why they were such a great team. Lily always knew what she needed.

Business is always war, Riley had said.

“You want to split this up with me?” She handed Lily half the contract.

Lily might not have graduated from Wharton, but she had a hell of a business mind. “Yep. Let’s go over this with a fine-tooth comb.”

Ellie took a deep breath and forced herself to focus on the contract in front of her.

It looked like it was time to join the battle.

Copyright 2016 DLZ Entertainment, LLC