Taken By The Raider
Signed, sealed, defiant…
The first time Aubrey Hargrave was “acquired” by corporate raider Griffen Woodlock, she was unable to resist his potent sexuality. She made the fatal mistake of mixing business with pleasure, but had to end their passionate affair to save her father’s reputation–and her heart.
At 20, Griffen pushed his abusive father out of his CEO position to take the chair himself. Aside from indulging his passion for beautiful women, Griffen hasn’t made an emotional decision since. When Aubrey cuts short their white-hot affair, he tells himself she can easily be replaced. Except she can’t.
Discovering Aubrey’s family secret gives Griffen the power to force a second take-over, but he intends to seize more than her business. He wants her.
Taken By The Raider
"I take advantage of every opportunity. You know that."
— Griffen, Taken By The Raider
When the fabulous team at Tule Publishing asked me if I wanted to write a Bad Boy short story, I said, “Sure!” It was coming up to the holidays, I had two other books I wanted to finish by the end of December, but I thought, It’s short.
Writing short does not make writing a story any easier! I have to thank my wonderful editor Sinclain Sawhney for helping me find the places that needed a little extra love and attention.
As for making Griffen a corporate raider from Chicago? I always look for things that are fresh to me. It keeps me excited about my own work. Thus, I now know way more about hostile takeovers than I ever needed to—or that made it into the book!
I hope you enjoy this hot, fast-paced story. If you like the hot books, be sure to check out Playing The Master, Mastering Her Role, and The Secret in Room 823.
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Taken By The Raider
Griffen Woodlock’s skin prickled with sexual awareness before he’d even turned his head from his monitor. Her voice did that to him. Always had. Even when she spoke with muted disdain.
Oh, Aubrey Hargrave was satisfyingly fuming, not that she expressed it beyond those two sharp words. He read it in the way she stalked into his office through his kitchenette—uninvited—her rain coat open and lightly gusting to reveal her pleated, black skirt and cashmere top in pastel pink. She wore plain black office pumps, which was a shame, since he preferred stilettos that showed off her beautiful ankles. He’d kissed them more than once when they’d been shod in designer footwear, accessibly propped on his shoulders.
She flushed as though she read his thought. As though she experienced the same flare of sexual energy as the distance closed between them. When did either of them not think about sex when they were anywhere near each other?
Self-consciousness had her tucking back a wisp of brunette hair that had been pulled by the spring wind from her ‘chignon.’ He only knew that word because she used it. She was class from head to pedicured toes. With some exquisite curves in between.
And she’d made him wait. He had expected her at least two days ago, but here she was, finally, in all her deeply anticipated, furious glory.
Ultra-contained, of course. A senator’s daughter had more breeding than to stoop to emotion-driven acts the way his mutt bloodline did. She looked rather pale, though. Her makeup was always tastefully applied, but today it seemed to stand out against her porcelain skin. Her honey brown eyes were a tad glassy, too. Tears? From a woman who controlled her feelings even more ruthlessly than he did?
His PA, Una, rushed in behind Aubrey like one of those high-strung, little purse dogs some women carried.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Woodlock. She barged past me.” The front of Una’s dress was soaked.
Aubrey set an empty pink water bottle on his desk and pointed at the logo. It was a women’s fitness gym. “Really?”
“That’s my line.” He eyed her, thinking maybe she wasn’t above fits of emotion after all. “You assaulted my PA?” Interesting.
“It was a coincidence that she was in the path of the water when I accidentally knocked over the bottle. Just like it’s a coincidence she works out at the same gym as my b—boss’s assistant.”
His gut told him that tiny stammer was significant, but he was too intent on getting rid of Una so he could have Aubrey’s surprising explosion to himself. It was incredibly provocative.
“Take the rest of the day off, Una. Buy a new outfit on your expense account and start locking all the doors into my office so this doesn’t happen again.”
Lock them now. He definitely did not want to be disturbed.
He didn’t take his eyes off Aubrey as he waited until he heard the latch click. His blood was thundering in his arteries like a spring runoff, making him hard. He leaned back to relieve it, affecting mild interest, but he was disgustingly thrilled to see her.
“The last time you were braced on my desk like that, I had your skirt up to the middle of your back.” He twirled the pen he held then let his fingertips skim to the end of it. “I take advantage of every opportunity. You know that.”
Aubrey did know, all too well. If he had any idea that she needed the support of his desk to stand up right now, he would brush her aside and go for the throat of her brother’s company without compunction.
And yet she felt herself warming at the image he thrust into her mind, which she was sure was as deliberate as everything else he did.
She took in his pin-striped shirt and dark brown pin-striped pants—both tailored to showcase his ripped physique to perfection. In his heart, Griffen was a border raider, primed and ready to fight to the death for whatever booty he had decided he wanted.
Tingles of anticipation swirled up her inner thighs. Memories of his touch, his endurance, the passion he incited in her, made her head rush.
“You’re slipping,” he told her, gaze knowing and amused. “You’ve already forgotten why you’re here. I expected you to notice right away that I was buying up stock. Were you afraid to come? Or afraid you would?” He added the last with a suggestive slide of his gaze down to her chest. His mouth quirked with undisguised appreciation.
She’d been unconscious in hospital or she would have noticed the first transfer on Monday. Her primary role at Cutting Edge was vigilance against hostile takeovers. The medical research and development start-up was a tasty morsel she’d been quietly guiding through pirate waters.
And, yes, she had been afraid to come here today. She was weak in more ways than one when it came to this man.
“How much do you want?” she asked, grasping for clear thought. “For the stocks,” she clarified, before he twisted her words into another sexual innuendo.
“Please,” he dismissed, as though her offer insulted him.
She hadn’t expected him to accept greenmail. He was more of a blackmail kind of man. This whole set-up felt like blackmail, from her half-brother’s mother who had decided her son deserved his share of the Hargrave fortune to her father’s emotional plea for Aubrey to help him keep his past in the past.
“What then?” she demanded. “Why on earth would you target a minnow like Cutting Edge?”
“Why wouldn’t I? They turned a very nice profit with that surgical laser tool last quarter.”
“Exactly. This isn’t pots and pans, Griffen. It’s instruments that save people’s lives. You can’t push products to market because you are ready to make money. The general public doesn’t buy them from an online cart with a coupon.”
“You’re still sore about that? I kept you on and gave you a very good job after that acquisition. Frankly, I would have thought you learned enough you wouldn’t be in this position with your boyfriend’s company now. Of course, you were on vacation without him so perhaps there’s trouble in paradise?”
Aubrey literally couldn’t stand any longer. She carefully straightened, then seated herself in the chair behind her, setting her bag on the floor as she did. She tried to make it seem as though she was only getting comfortable for negotiation, but her limbs were trembling and her leg felt too heavy to lift and cross over the other.
In other ways, she felt alive like she hadn’t in months. From the moment Griffen had invaded her claustrophobic office above the Campbells Home Goods flagship store two years ago, he had been delivering this kick of awareness every single time she was in his presence.
“I’m your new boss,” he had informed her then. “Tell me why I should keep you.”
She had needed to catch her breath that day, too. His sex appeal was an assault to the senses from his arrogant height to the way his tailored clothes hugged his powerful shoulders to the scent of his aftershave, lingering against his precision trimmed stubble. The direct way he looked at her, which was both indifferent and filled with masculine appreciation, had made her ultra-aware of her erogenous zones.
“I get the facts before I react,” she had said, mostly because it was one of her father’s stock phrases when he was swarmed by media. “Tell me how the company changed hands.”
“It’s called a takeover,” he had said dryly.
She had been looking for more detail than that, but okay.
His gaze had flicked around the room in ruthless assessment, taking inventory of the dated equipment. He’d read the white board where she had brainstormed ideas for staying afloat and there had been fresh appraisal in his gaze when he returned his attention to her.
“That last one might work. Put together your best plan for making it happen. Meet me in my office in two hours. I want hard numbers.”
One hour and forty-nine minutes later, he had rejected her proposal without more than a superficial glance.
“I wanted to see what you could do on a short timeline,” he had told her after flicking through her slides, not even making it to the end. “We’re going to push everything online. You can execute it.”
‘Execute’ had been the appropriate word as she cut the staff down to a third and watched him close all but one brick and mortar store so he could sell off the very excellent locations. She had remained working for him because someone else would have done everything he directed her to do without sitting in this chair, more than once, to fight for this or that person to keep his job or receive a severance package.
“You want the real estate,” she surmised now, licking her lips.
She held back explaining that Drake was not her boyfriend and that she had not been on vacation.
“The property interests me,” he agreed.
Well, it had a very nice fail-safe that wouldn’t prevent his takeover, but it would make him unhappy when he saw how much extra the acquisition would cost him. For the moment that was enough to keep her spine strong. Breathe. Think.
That was never easy in his company. The man completely undid her.
“What are your plans for the actual company?” As if she didn’t know.
“Restructure, sell off what isn’t necessary.”
“Job loss and quick profit.” Her thready blood pressure began to pound. “Everyone and everything at Cutting Edge is necessary. I know how to run a tight ship. It’s a company that needs to exist.” She was living proof of that.
“You’re here to fight for it? I assumed you’d been sent.” His mouth twitched, but he was watching her the way a hawk watched a bunny, tracking it before he bothered to drop off his perch and snag her soft fur in his talons.
“You thought I’d beg for clemency?” She scoffed. “For old times’ sake?”
It had never occurred to her until this conversation that he would think she was involved with Drake. Maybe it was a mistake to let him continue believing that, but she had so few defenses otherwise.
“You’re a lot of things, Griffen. Sentimental isn’t one of them. Appealing to our history would never work with you.”
“You don’t know that.” His gaze swept the side of her face like a caress, then went down to her chest.
She looked away, trying not to think of the things he’d done to her in this office.
He stood and came around to lean his hips on the front of the desk so he faced her. “Why don’t you try?”
Her gaze wanted to look at his fly, to see evidence that he still felt something for her even if it was only desire. Coming here had been a bad idea. She had just been so mad. He had let her walk away, hadn’t called, hadn’t acted like he’d even noticed her departure, then he snuck up and did this? When she was at her rock-bottom lowest?
And taunted her to try squeezing some kind of leniency out of him with sex?
“Sex with me didn’t mean anything to you eight months ago.” She hid her devastation by reaching for her bag. It only held her wallet and phone, keys and a lipstick, but it felt as though it weighed a million pounds. Standing took nearly everything out of her. “I’m quite sure it won’t be enough to stop you doing whatever the hell you want now.”
She lifted her gaze in time to see something flare behind his own. Something hard and metallic that flashed like sunlight off a slashing sword.
“She kissed me,” he said with a flinty smile. “It lasted all of three seconds. You saw the whole thing. Does the good doctor know you’re still nursing jealousy over that?”
She snorted, looking out his floor to ceiling windows, across the tops of lesser skyscrapers under the gray skies of Chicago. Jealousy didn’t come close to how much she wanted to murder all women with bronze lipstick and catty eyeliner who wore knowing smirks and tennis bracelets gifted to them by the man before her.
“You let it happen even though you knew I was watching,” she said, working to keep her voice flat. “To demonstrate that I had no claim on you.” She had to lift her chin to look down her nose at him, which spoiled the effect, but she gave it her best. “You wanted me to know I had no real influence over you or your actions. So what would be the point in trying to exert any today?”
He didn’t contradict her.
A barely acknowledged flame of hope—maybe that he’d been trying to make her jealous—gutted and doused.
“Is that the real reason you left?” He wasn’t an easy man to read, but she’d made a study of it in the time she had worked for him. When he was very still like that, it meant she had his full attention. That was always a little unnerving. “Because I did try to persuade you to stay.”
Her heart was aching like an overworked muscle. It jammed in her chest as a choked-back laugh. He had offered her money, not something worth staying for.
“I left because it was a good career move.” One that also protected her father’s political career. “You just made it easy to leave.”
“Not a mistake I’ll make again,” he vowed.
She had to remind herself he wasn’t talking about her or them and made herself break the eye contact, ignoring that her face warmed.
“Look.” She shouldered her purse strap. “I just came to tell you that I’m onto you. I’ve put the rest of the stockholders on alert. I have learned and I will not make this easy for you.”
“I would be disappointed if you did. No, no,” he added, catching at her arm as she started to turn away. “Allow me to demonstrate that I’m a quick study.”
“You’re not going to make it easy for me to leave?” she guessed, delicately removing her arm from his light hold, trying not to reveal that he’d sent tingles of awareness all the way up her shoulder and into her breast. “That’s called unlawful confinement.”
“Only if you don’t want to be here.” His gaze came up as though he’d followed that streak of sensation all the way to her tightened nipple. “I’m going to make it easy for you to stay. Come back, all the way back, and we’ll talk about what will happen to Cutting Edge.”
“‘All the way,’” she quoted. “Into your bed? It’s crowded there.”
“Come on. You know your wild enthusiasm never left room for anyone else.” He smiled like a shark. “Not many women match my appetite. I always liked that about you.”
Her strained veins rang with the staccato beat of her treacherous pulse.
She had always thought her insatiable hunger for him was a little vulgar, but he never stopped praising it—maybe because he knew what an advantage it gave him over her.
Because she was tempted, barely managing to sound disparaging as she said, “Please tell me you’re not threatening to destroy a much needed medical start-up so you can get laid. You’re not that hard up.”
“True,” he allowed with a shrug. “But I’m going to acquire it either way. We might as well enjoy ourselves while we hammer out the fine points.”
So much for the hope that he was targeting Cutting Edge to manipulate her back into an affair. Of course he wasn’t. Griffen didn’t have to go to these lengths to get a woman. Usually he just snapped his fingers. That was why she’d been so devastated when he’d let her go. It wouldn’t have taken much effort on his part to keep her, but he hadn’t put himself out at all.
He sure as hell wouldn’t go to this trouble to get her back.
“How did Cutting Edge even wind up on your radar?” She hadn’t told him where she was going. On purpose. There was too much at stake.
He adopted his poker face. “I was curious.” He glanced down to move the water bottle away from its position near his hip. “You’re smart and so am I. I knew that whatever you were doing would be a growth situation, somewhere that you knew you could have an impact. It is and you have. You’ve tended it into a nice, plump piece of fruit. How could I resist picking and eating it?”
“So I led you there. And then you”—she waved at the offending water bottle—“sent in a spy and acted while the guard was asleep.” Only Drake and her assistant knew she’d been in the hospital. Everyone else had been told she was on vacation and working online, hoping to ward off a stealth move like this. Drake had promised to monitor the stocks, but he was hopeless once he was in the testing phase at work. “Damn you, Griffen.”
Now she felt like this was her fault, not because Griffen wanted her, or even Cutting Edge. He was Griffen, genetically programmed to want and to get. She had left tracks to the treasure and now he was plundering.
“Don’t feel too guilty,” he chided, reaching across to tuck two fingertips beneath the narrow strap of her purse, easing it off her shoulder. “If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. At least you know this devil. Come here. Get reacquainted with him.”
Damn. Oh, damn. She knew she should tell him to go to hell, but she just wanted one taste. It had been so long. If she was honest with herself, she’d admit that was why she was here, not on the end of a phone. She had wanted to see him, see if the reaction was still there. No one made her feel the way Griffen did. She hadn’t even bothered finding someone to try.
Griffen remembered every little signal of desire she had ever projected. He had injected them like heroin—all those parted lips and panting breaths and quivering lashes. The pebbled nipples and soft swallows. The dampness he would bet every last cent he owned was showing on her French lingerie under her skirt.
Her posture made tiny adjustments, shoulders softening, neck exposing a fraction more, pheromones releasing between them so they started to feel drunk. He wasn’t imagining it. She was staring at his mouth like it was her last chance at salvation.
He didn’t even have to touch her. He started to lean in and she met him, releasing a little sobbing noise as she stepped forward and dug fingertips into his shoulders, came up on tiptoes and crushed her mouth under his.
These plump, bee-stung lips of hers haunted his dreams. He claimed them without reservation, hooking a hand behind her neck and feasting.
Then, as he felt her surrender, he straightened off the desk and pulled her into his body, relishing the press of her full breasts, the soft give of her stomach against his wood, the way she leaned in as though too weak to stand.
He didn’t know what it was about this woman that drew him so inexorably. Her fastidious demeanor, her cool intelligence, her sharp wit? The way she was wound up tight most of the time, but brought all that same passion to bed? All of it made for a heady package. And this—the way she shivered under the stroke of his hands like he gave her untold pleasure. She made him feel like a god.
It had been way too long.
He was a pillar of want, ready to turn and push her back onto his desk the way he had dozens of times before. The return to the familiar fostered both a laugh of triumph and a kick of danger.
He had made it easy for her to leave. He had been feeling stifled by that search in her eyes for something deeper, something he wasn’t capable of, so he’d sent a message that she needed to adjust her expectations.
Her quitting had blindsided him.
He had told himself it didn’t matter. Sex was available anywhere with anyone. It didn’t have to be her.
But he hadn’t found another woman who did this to him. She licked at his tongue and moaned and rubbed her pelvis into his with invitation, making the world recede so all he wanted was to penetrate.
Unless this was manipulation.
Ah, hell, he was forgetting this wasn’t a social visit. He had gone after Cutting Edge; confident she would show up and offer herself. Here she was and here they were.
But he wasn’t a man who borrowed or shared. He took. Owned.
She really should have remembered that about him.
Pulling back was an effort, but he did it. His nostrils flared to take in as much of her scent as he could. Better than perfume. Spring wind and tropical shampoo and her. All pressed up against him like she’d been ironed onto his shirt front.
She fluttered her eyes open, lips parted and shiny as she panted to catch her breath. He loved that look. She wore it when she was coming back from orgasm.
Confusion dimmed her golden-brown eyes. Recognition.
She started to pull away, but he tightened his arms, keeping her exactly where he wanted her.
“Call him.” He sounded like a barbarian, voice guttural. “Tell him it’s over. Then we’ll get back to ‘negotiating.’”
“Let go,” she insisted, and pushed with more determination, but in a weak way that was a mixed signal.
He reluctantly loosened his grip and she staggered against the edge of the desk, leaning there, head hanging, forehead in her palm.
“Forgot about him, did you?” He was trying for mockery, but he listened intently for confirmation.
He had to fight the urge to yank her back, feeling barely this side of civilized as he wondered whether the good doctor provoked that same incendiary reaction in her.
Going after Cutting Edge was supposed to be a lark. Griffen was asserting his dominance for the simple reason that he hated to lose to anyone. Aubrey had taken her talents elsewhere, both in bed and out, and he still hadn’t found suitable replacements. That was annoying so he had arrogantly set out to prove he could get her back, both professionally and personally. He hadn’t counted on how much it would mean to him.
“Why—” She lifted her head to glare at him like their sexual explosion had surprised her.
How could it? It had always been like this.
“Why do I react to you like that?”
“Why do you resent it?” Then, because the idea pleased him so much, he asked, “Am I correct in assuming he doesn’t make you feel the same?”
Her expression blanked and he almost thought she was going to say, Who?
He was about to leap on that, but she winced and her hand went to her brow again. She struggled, expression growing distressed.
He felt a tug on his conscience, but made himself ignore it. “Call him.”
“I can’t do this, Griffen.” Her voice was so faint he barely heard her.
“Break up with him? Why the hell not?” He unconsciously shifted his weight into a balanced battle stance, mind fracturing with responses to whatever reply she gave.
“I can’t—” Her voice hit a wall and her gaze lost focus. Her hand fell like it was an object she discarded. She blinked, white lips parting, trying to say something while her face drained of what little color had been there, eyelids fluttering—
She was passing out.
He swore, leaping forward to catch her.
In the ring, where he’d seen men knocked unconscious, they fell like redwoods. Not Aubrey. She was vapor thin, light and insubstantial, crumpling into a limp, ashen pile that he gathered in his arms then eased to the floor.
The slamming feeling in his chest was his heart, he noted distantly. His limbs burned with adrenaline. He couldn’t remember ever being scared like this. Scared for someone else, not himself.
He forced himself to take measured breaths as he gently adjusted her so she was supine, then he blindly reached to his desktop, feeling for his cell, unable to tear his gaze from her grey complexion. He felt sick. Clammy and sick. What was wrong? Had he done something? Come back, Aubrey.