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Ruthless Acquisition: A Dark Billionaire Romance by Piper Stone – Sample

Chapter One


“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”

Raymond Chandler

Run. Run! Keep moving.

I flew up the stone stairs, panting from the exertion, every muscle in my body aching. I had to get away. I had to survive. I’d never felt such a burst of adrenaline before, my heart thudding to the point sounds echoed in my ears, terror implanted in my mind. If I couldn’t get away, they would kill me.

As my bare feet scraped across the rough stone, pain shifted into my legs, but I ignored it even though my skin was bloody and raw. I had to find a way out of the building. There was no other chance at survival. Panting, exhaustion powered through me, stealing my energy as well as my breath. I’d been confined in that dark, dingy place for far too long. Prickling sensations washed down the back of my legs as I tried to catch my breath.

The fuckers wouldn’t capture me again. I refused to allow that to happen.

Even with my heightened determination, I knew escape was impossible. but I would not give in. No fucking way. They would have to kill me first.

Three fucking assholes.

Dangerous men.

All of them determined to break me. That just wasn’t going to happen.

I’d been caught in a vicious trap, yet one I’d allowed myself to succumb to. I’d been stupid thinking I could win. Now I was about to lose everything.

Including my life.

My heart ached at the thought but not for that reason, but for the burning need that I’d allowed to overcome all rationality.

I willed myself to move, powering up the remainder of the steps, bursting onto the roof of the building and into the wonderful air. Joy filled my heart as I was finally able to take a deep breath. It seemed so long since I’d experienced anything but stale air, chains wrapped around my wrists in an attempt to keep me their prisoner. Now I was free.

If only for a little while.

As the light breeze filtered across my skin, I closed my eyes briefly, envisioning my life before the nightmare. Anger boiled deep inside, the kind that had allowed me to do the unthinkable. I’d escaped, nearly beating a man to death, but I felt no guilt, no remorse for doing so. After all, everything was fair in love and war.

The thought almost made me laugh as I raced toward the opposite side of the terrace, trying to find a place to hide. The monsters would attempt to find me soon, storming through the single door with weapons in their hands. Little did they know I’d secured one of my own, able and ready to use it when necessary. When I hid behind one of the air conditioning units, I said a silent prayer.

I couldn’t imagine surviving this, but the bastards were never going to force me to submit to their vile, filthy needs, no matter the circumstances. I lowered my head, doing everything I could to steady my nerves.

I heard a noise only two minutes later. Steel slapping against steel.

They were coming for me.

They’d found me.

And they were never going to let me go.

All because of a game. The vicious game of revenge.

Suddenly, all was quiet, only the sound of the whipping wind echoing in my ears. My legs ached from the awkward angle, my rage only increasing. I gripped the gun with both hands, perspiration rolling down both sides of my face. I continued envisioning the last few days, wary of trusting anyone including myself. How could this have happened? Why had I fallen prey to such brutal monsters?

The questions wouldn’t be easy to answer. Not now.

Maybe never.

I continued clutching the weapon, listening for any sounds.

Then I heard his voice, so dark and demanding that I shivered to my core.

“Oh, Scar-lett. We’re here.”

What a fucking son of a bitch. If he thought that he was going to encourage me to expose myself freely, the asshole was dead wrong.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

God, how I hated his singsong lilt, the deep, sensual baritone doing little but creating a wave of nausea.

I held my breath, doing everything I could to keep from making a single sound. Within seconds, I could tell the bastard was exasperated, huffing and puffing like some creature in the wild. I couldn’t help but smile. The three assholes had underestimated me.

Another noise caught my attention, the scuffling of boots on the craggy stone surface. The men were covering all sides of the building, searching every hole and hiding spot. It was only a matter of time before I was found. At least the weapon I’d stolen from the man who’d dared try to accost me had enough ammunition I could defend myself for a little while.

Although I wasn’t certain how much good that would do.

However, I was fully prepared to die instead of being taken again. My teeth were chattering as a chill rushed through me. I couldn’t see where they were coming from, but I knew they were close.

Too close.

I rarely prayed but that’s all I could think about, begging for forgiveness for my sins as well as my merciless nature. I’d learn to become a better woman, if only I could escape their tyranny, a horrible game I’d never intended on playing.

But I’d accepted the wager, never expecting the horrific turn of events. No one was coming to save me. There wouldn’t be any heroes to keep me safe.

They were…

“Boys. It would seem our guest no longer wants to play with us.”

His voice reverberated in my system, creating a wave of terror and jerking me out of the disparaging memories. The man was unhinged, drunk on his power. My body swayed, my legs cramping from the horrible position I was in.

Don’t give in. Don’t give in!

I had to listen to my inner voice. I had to keep fighting.

After another few seconds of silence, I dared to peek around the compressor unit. Seeing no one, I eyed the door that could still lead me to freedom. Maybe the fuckers had gone around to the other side of the terrace, thinking I might have attempted to jump to a building in close proximity. When I heard nothing for another ten seconds, I took the chance, easing into the shadows, shifting my fully extended arms from one side to the other.

No one was in sight. Very carefully, I padded toward the exterior door, remaining in a crouched position, my breathing ragged.

“Not so fast, sweet angel.”

I yelped, immediately doing everything I could to bite back another sound, but it was too late. I’d failed. Every time the man spoke, he placed the fear of God into me. I rose to my full height, sucking in my breath.

Then another wave of fury tingled every one of my muscles. When I swung around, I made certain I had a smile on my face.

“You won’t take me again,” I said in a husky whisper.

“If you think that, you’re a fool, which surprises me, Scarlett. I thought you were more intelligent than that.” He took several steps in my direction, the weapon he carried firmly planted in one hand. Even in the slender light of the moon, I was able to catch his expression.

One of satisfaction.

One of evil determination.

And one of possession.

The fucker believed he’d won.

I raised the gun in my hand, doing everything I could to shut down my emotions until I was no longer shaking. “Don’t come any closer. You won’t like what I do.”

He laughed at the fact I’d defied him.

“I have every intention of coming closer. All three of us do.” He motioned to the other two who flanked his sides. “Then we’re going to have a nice, long chat about your disobedience.”

As the three men walked in my direction, all perfectly attired in their expensive Armani suits, I narrowed my eyes. There was no turning back. “I said stop. If you don’t, I will shoot you.”

Laughing, he threw out his arms, still swaggering toward me. “Sweet pet, you better be prepared to kill all three of us, which you don’t have the talent to do. Anything less and you’re going to spend the rest of your life in a cage.”

“You don’t get to call me your pet.”

“We get to do anything we want, our sweet, beautiful Scarlett. You now belong to us.”

When all three monsters converged, inching toward me with grins on their faces, I swallowed hard, ignoring all the things I’d been taught as a child. Right and wrong. Good and bad. None of that mattered.

Then I gave into my rage, jerking to my full height. “No!”

As I prepared to fire, all I could do was pray.



Pop! Pop! Pop!

Chapter Two

Two weeks earlier


Like father, like son.

The verbiage stuck in my mind even now, at a time when the company my father had spent his entire life building into a billion-dollar empire was ready to enter into another contract that would take us to an echelon few competitors could reach. I should be ecstatic, gloating as I usually did. Somehow, I knew the outcome wouldn’t be as planned and that brought a kind of formidable rage that was crushing to my soul.

If I still had one.


My partners and I had crushed several like bugs, destroying not only their hopes and dreams, but the ability to regain any of their losses. In turn, Worth Dynamics, the company I served as CEO and the one started by my father years before had risen significantly in value as well as standings in the ranks of the robotics industry over the years. While I’d allowed two men that I trusted to purchase large amounts of stock, Alexander serving as CFO and Trent as VP, the company’s reputation relied heavily on how I handled business transactions, following in my father’s footsteps. That had led to all three of us becoming rich beyond our dreams.

But it hadn’t been without personal sacrifice or heartache, the ugliness of the wretched incidents shutting down my emotions, both customers and competitors calling me a cold-hearted bastard. Some even used the term evil. I took pride in the terminology, feeding it by taking everything I wanted without hesitation.

My position allowed me that right. After all, money could buy anything. Cars. Yachts. Houses. Hell, I owned several villas in tropical locations that I hadn’t been to in well over a year. Having billions even bought loyalty. However, being worth that kind of money hadn’t secured the one thing I’d hungered to own for over two years.

Scarlett Prestwood.

I’d wanted nothing more than to take over her company, but that wasn’t the only thing I craved.

I hungered for her luscious body writhing under mine, her sweet moans filtering into my ears. No one was going to stop me from getting what I deserved, even if I would have to use dark and demanding tactics. Snickering, I took a deep breath, still envisioning what I would do to her naked body.

I remained at the conference table, barely listening to my partners as they bantered on about the last movie they’d watched or perhaps a sports event, neither of which I cared about. All my attention was drawn to the oversized monitor and to Scarlett, the teleconference we’d both been asked to attend yet to start.

My mouth watered as I studied her body language, her attempt at acting as if she couldn’t care less about the meeting. I knew better. We’d butted heads on more than once occasion since both our firms were vying for the same space. She was certainly a creature of beauty, able to capture any man’s attention, which she often used to her advantage. I would never forget the first time I’d met her, a young woman determined to make mincemeat out of what had been an old boys club, suggesting a different way of doing business. She’d defied the odds, securing deal after deal as she’d clawed her way to the top, her actions almost as ruthless as mine. Maybe I should admire her.

Instead, I wanted to crush her.

Use her.

Own her.

And I always got what I wanted.

I was a keen observer of people. Her smugness meant she wholeheartedly believed she was going to win the contract. I found her search for power beguiling, although my desire had nothing to do with her business tactics.

My partners had expressed the same interest, which had led me to a decision, one that would alter our future.

What the stunning redhead didn’t know was that she’d soon belong to the three men of Worth, a cherished pet to do with what we pleased.

My cock ached just thinking about the idea, something I’d envisioned far too many times over the last few months. Given the wait, I allowed my filthy visions to take over, if only for a few precious minutes.

“Why are we here?” Scarlett asked, her plump lower lip trembling as she glanced at the cold steel table positioned in the middle of the room.

“It’s a surprise, my little pet,” I said, keeping my tone husky and dark.

“You know I don’t like surprises, sir.”

I raked my finger back and forth across her stiff training collar before cupping her face, rubbing my thumb up and down her cheek. “And you know you’re required to follow the rules. We’ve talked about this. Now, be a good little pet and undress.”


“Right here. If I have to ask you again, I’ll pull off my belt. I don’t think you want me to spank you in front of the employees or my customers. Do you? Would you enjoy being humiliated, your voluptuous body put on full display? I’m certain they would. I could make that happen with a single phone call.”

“No, sir. No.” Her lovely face turned bright red, matching the dress I’d insisted she wear. If she persisted, her bottom would match perfectly.

“Good girl.”

I nodded toward the screen covering a small portion of the concrete room. When she slipped behind the partition, I glanced around at the space. While everything was sterile, something I’d insisted on, the cold bleakness was unappealing as fuck. Couldn’t the asshole owner hang some colorful pictures? Sighing, I realized the tattoos were usually handled in another section of the building, this one meant for piercings only, but it appeared more as a prison clinic than a well-respected company. Nevertheless, the owner was being paid very well for his services, adhering to my specifications without question.

And I would enjoy every minute of watching the procedure.

Since she hadn’t earned the right to wear panties, I didn’t need to command her to remove them. When she finally appeared, holding her arms by her sides as required, I gave her a nod of approval. I approached slowly, indulging in a few precious seconds of gazing over her voluptuous body. My body. Every inch of her belonged to me.

“You are almost perfect, my little pet,” I said in a tone as soft as the touch of her skin. When I cupped her breasts, she shuddered, her lower lip quivering. “Yes, almost. Soon you will be.” I adored the way her lips pursed every time I touched her, the light sheen creating an almost translucent glow across every inch of her skin. I especially loved her rosy nipples and the way they remained fully aroused at all times.

“Yes, sir.”

Chuckling, I flicked my fingers back and forth across her hardened buds before taking them between my thumbs and forefingers. I watched her carefully as I pinched and twisted them, enjoying the way her eyes reflected light from the nuance of pain. I couldn’t wait to see the sterling silver chain that would always remain dangling from her nipple piercings. The thought was delicious as well as sinful.

Very slowly I lowered one hand, digging my nails into the skin of her stomach as I inched closer to ‘my’ pussy. She didn’t like when I called her most intimate body parts mine. Her eyelids fluttered as I neared her slickened mound, her irregular breathing matching the hard thumping of my heart. When I eased my hand between her legs, her body reacted as it always did, her back arching as she pushed her rounded hips in my direction.

I took my time toying with her clit, swirling my finger in aimless circles. She was wet, hotter than usual, and a part of me wanted to bury my cock deep inside. To have her dripping with my cum just before the piercing was the ultimate in dominating her, but certainly wouldn’t be allowed. I almost snorted at the thought. As if the owner of the shop could stop me from doing any damn thing I wanted. I thrust my finger deep inside, shoving past her swollen folds. The sound of her single moan was like sweet music to my ears.

“I suggest you go and stand in the corner while we’re waiting. That will give you time to reflect on your need for obedience.”

While she darted a look toward me, the single glance suggesting her rebellious side remained, she followed my orders. I took several deep breaths, glancing at my watch. If the man was even a minute late, I would refuse payment. He was well aware of my requirements as well and knew better than to cross me.

I slipped my finger inside my mouth, savoring her sweet flavor, my cock pushing hard against my trousers. I couldn’t wait to fuck her like the savage I truly was.

As expected, he entered the room at precisely two in the afternoon.

“Mr. Worth. It’s good to see you.”

“And you as well, Andre. I assume everything is in order.”

Andre chuckled. “Just as you requested. This must be Scarlett.”

“Scarlett, come and meet Andre.”

She held her head high as she shook his hand, fighting the embarrassment I could tell she was feeling. God, I did love the rose-colored tint on her sweet cheeks.

“Get on the table, my pet,” I further instructed.

The way she was staring at the stirrups and shackles meant she knew exactly what she was about to face. I remained hard, my balls aching. I couldn’t wait to see the finished results. She would look even more dazzling than she did wearing my collar.

When she hesitated, I reacted instantly, forcing her to lean over the edge of the table, swatting her naked bottom several times. Andre didn’t say a word, nor did he make any sound. I moved from one side to the other, making certain I covered every inch of her rounded backside. She did her best to keep from whimpering, her nails clawing at the table.

“I’ll be good, sir,” she promised.

When I pulled her back to her feet, she blinked several times. “Then I suggest you climb onto the table.”

I could almost taste her anger, which only excited me even more.

When she was in position, I backed away, watching as Andre placed her feet in stirrups, strapping her ankles in place. Then he moved to her arms, pulling them over her head, securing both wrists. Only when he repositioned her legs, altering the position of the stirrups until her glistening pussy and most of her buttocks were fully exposed, her legs open wide, did she make any sound.

“What’s happening?” she finally asked Andre.

“I’m going to pierce your nipples as well as give you a VHS.” When her eyes opened wide, he smiled. “I’m piercing your clit vertically. After that, I’m going to tattoo your inner thigh. Don’t worry, the procedures will only hurt for a short period of time. First, I’m going to check your temperature to ensure that you’re well enough to have the procedures.”

As Andre pulled away, rolling a cart closer then sliding into a pair of gloves, she pursed her lips. When he slid a rectal thermometer into her asshole, she closed her eyes.

I moved to a chair, ready to observe the glorious moment. After this, she would completely belong to me.

Body and soul.

Yes, I was one evil man.

All three of us were powerhouses, the kind of men who controlled everything and everyone around us. Money was the key, influence a close second. We were wealthy beyond our means, relishing the kind of lives most people could only dream of. I enjoyed that power tremendously, which made me exactly like my hardhearted father.



Capable of destruction.

“Earth to Randolph.”

I opened my eyes, shifting in my seat. The fantasy was the filthiest yet, delicious in every way. I turned my attention toward Alexander, a grin on the man’s face. “What?”

“You were zoned,” Alexander answered.

“Yeah, well, this is taking far too long.”

“It’s time you paid close attention, partner,” he retorted.

“You should listen to him, Randolph. We might have issues,” Trent said as he leaned over the table.

“What issues?” I huffed. Everything had to go perfectly. If not, I just might unleash my wrath. We’d worked far too hard on this particular deal. Anything less than success was unacceptable.

“I know you’ve been concentrating on making more money, but it appears someone is purchasing large portions of our stock,” Alexander said as he kept his eyes on the monitor. His tone was full of disdain.

“What do you mean, someone? That’s your portion of the business to watch out for as CFO, for Christ’s sake.” I heard the heavy contempt in my voice, something he didn’t deserve, but at this point I didn’t care. I had been paying attention, but more to my instincts. Something was brewing that could alter the course of our future and I had yet to find the reason why. That pissed me off almost as much as being forced to vie for this damn contract like amateurs.

“They were purchased under what appears to be a fictitious name.”

“That’s bullshit. A legitimate name of an entity or company must be on the paperwork, not some made-up company.” We were set up as a typical corporation with publicly traded stock, although the three of us owned a significant majority of shares. While we had certain protections in place to avoid a hostile takeover, there were methods to make that happen. If a large enough portion was owned by someone else, that entity could cause issues within the company. Even the safety measures in place weren’t effective one hundred percent of the time.

“Oh, it’s a company, although I haven’t been able to find out much about them. Does Southbound Industries ring a bell?” Alexander was a whizz at getting any kind of information we needed. His admittance surprised me.

I shifted my attention toward the monitor, leaning in. “No.”

“Never heard of them either. Do you think Scarlett is behind this?” Trent asked.

“I certainly wouldn’t put it past her. She is that cunning, but it would take time and extensive planning to create a company, an offshore account, and all the other items necessary to fool the Securities Exchange Commission.” Alexander’s answer didn’t shock me. From what I knew about Scarlett, she was quite capable of doing anything she put her mind to.

I remembered something my father had told me years before.

“You have to be cautious around women even more than men. The reason? They are capable of seducing you in bed while destroying everything you’ve worked your entire life to achieve.”

While he hadn’t been talking about my mother, I could tell he’d had some personal experience with the scenario. Scarlett certainly had reason to hate me, but would she stoop this low? Southbound Industries. The name had no special meaning and it certainly wouldn’t draw any attention in the robotics industry. “How much are they purchasing at a time?”

“Small increments, although the last purchase was more significant.” Alexander inched closer. “So far they haven’t contacted the other shareholders.”

“But it’s only a matter of time,” Trent murmured.

“Exactly,” Alexander said quietly.

I rubbed my jaw, my blood pressure rising. Maybe I should have acted on my desires regarding her months before. If she believed she could best us in such an underhanded method, then there were no holds barred as to what I would do to her.

Not one.

All three of us studied her. Finally, I shook my head. “Find out who is behind Southbound, Alexander. I don’t give a shit what you have to do, or what favors you need to call in.” Hell, I didn’t care if he used extortion at this point. My instincts told me we were in for a rough ride and I couldn’t allow that to happen.

“Don’t worry, buddy. I will.”

While I appreciated his confidence, I knew I’d have to formulate a plan B just in case. One way or the other, Scarlett Prestwood, her company and her soul, would belong to… all three of us. That’s the only hostile takeover that was going to happen. The thought was even more enticing than the fantasy.


That’s another term I’d heard more than once to describe my tactics. Scarlett and all the others who sought to take Worth down a notch or two would soon learn the true meaning of the word.


“Be careful, Ms. Prestwood.”

The caller had yet to identify himself, his husky tone one I’d never heard before.

“Who the hell are you?” I demanded, pulling the phone away from my face and staring at the screen. The ‘unknown’ caller had somehow managed to find my private number.

His laugh sent a shiver all the way down my spine to my legs.

“Let’s just say someone you should listen to. Or else.”

“Are you threatening me, asshole?”

“Don’t worry, Ms. Prestwood. I never make threats. However, I do make promises. Stay away from Worth Dynamics. This is your final warning. You won’t receive another. The sins of the fathers will be repaid.”

What in God’s name did that mean? The fucker ended the call, leaving my mouth dry and my pulse racing. I’d received two other similar threats, although both had been by email, the sender making certain I hadn’t been able to track down the address.

“Prick.” I tossed my phone, snarling under my breath. What kind of a terrible game was being played? I rubbed my eyes, refusing to allow it to bother me. I needed to focus. This was a very important day.


I’d been called that several times in my career, including by a handful of my employees. I never made apologies for my actions, nor did I accept anything less than perfection from everyone on my team. In turn, my hard work had paid off, pushing what a been a small company into a multimillion-dollar successful venture. That had provided my employees with a substantial benefits package, including bonuses at the end of the year.

Every year.

However, the robotics industry was merciless by nature, smaller players shoved aside even if their products held merit.

I refused to be pushed aside by anyone, including the largest player in the field.

Worth Dynamics was an unscrupulous organization, the three men running the billion-dollar company true piranhas. However, they’d ignored the shark circling the deep waters surrounding them, pretending as if I didn’t exist.

They would soon learn that in doing so, they’d lost their edge.

I had every reason to hate them, even if the prodigal son acted as if he didn’t know why. That was horseshit. He’d followed in his father’s footsteps so much so that he even dressed like Sampson Worth had. Perfectly coiffed, not a hair out of place. Randolph Worth looked like he’d stepped out of a GQ magazine, for Christ’s sake. I bit back the bitter memories of the meager beginnings of my company, determined to shove aside my anger.

At least for now.

Revenge was best served cold after all.

What continued to be almost hysterical to me was that the first time I’d met him, I’d thought he was one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen, his powerful aura and utter dominance of everyone a huge turn-on. I’d even had a few delicious fantasies about him, ones I couldn’t share with anyone lest they think I was a very sick woman. As I waited for the teleconference to begin, I allowed one of the visions to slide into my mind.

“Fuck you,” I hissed just seconds before tossing the entire glass of wine in his face. He was a bastard, the kind of man you run away from instead of being lured into his darkness. I was certain other women had fallen for his lines of bullshit, but I wasn’t like any other woman. I was strong, capable of shoving aside mongrels who were determined to best me. I stared at him defiantly, allowing a dark laugh to slide past my crimson-stained lips as I enjoyed watching him wipe the remnants of a luscious five hundred dollar bottle of wine from his gloriously chiseled face.

He said nothing, nor did he react in any other way. The asshole merely blinked several times until his vision was clear, taking a sip of his gin and tonic, the colorless liquid now stained from the deep, rich color of the cabernet. Seconds later, he lowered his tumbler to the coffee table, adjusting the ruined lapels on his expensive white tuxedo.

I continued laughing, savoring every moment of causing him discomfort.

With only two strides, he had me pinned to the wall, yanking my arms over my head and securing my wrists with a single hand. I should never have underestimated him, gloating on my small win. A coy grin crossed his face just seconds before he raked his fingers past the bodice of my dress, easily able to rip the front all the way down, exposing my naked breasts as well as the thin lace of my scarlet thong.

Undaunted, I kept a smug look on my face, refusing to give in to his tyranny. “As I said, Randolph. Fuck. You.”

He tilted his head, his lavender eyes more luminescent than before. “That’s a very good idea, my beautiful little pet. I think I’ll do just that.” Another laugh filtered into the room, the two bastards sharing ownership of Worth Dynamics gawking in the background, clapping their hands in encouragement as he unfastened his belt.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t getting away. My heart thumping, I struggled in his strong hold, my anxiety building as his fingers dug into the thin skin of my wrists. “Let me go, you bastard.”

“You can call me anything you’d like, Scarlett. That won’t change a thing. In fact,” he murmured as he lowered his head, “that only makes me crave you more and I always get what I want.”

I lowered my gaze, sucking in my breath when he released his cock. His thick, throbbing cock. A slight whimper threatened to give away how horrified I was, but I managed to purse my lips, holding my head high. The second I attempted to jam my knee into his groin, he threw his other hand around my throat, squeezing until breathing became difficult.

“I suggest you learn that you will obey me.” His smile remaining, he added additional pressure then shifted his long, well-manicured fingers to my panties. With a single snap of his wrist, they were tossed aside. “We’ll start with the fact I plan on fucking you as often as I desire.”

After forcing one of my legs around his hips, he thrust the entire length of his shaft into my tight channel.

And a single moan escaped my lips.

I wrinkled my nose to keep from making a single sound, shifting in my chair as I felt my pussy juice trickling into my lace thong. Randolph Worth thought he was Prince Charming, God’s gift to women. The man was nothing but a monstrous excuse for a man. I dragged my tongue across my lips, loathing how aroused I’d become from the ridiculous fantasy. The asshole would certainly never have a chance to touch me. If he dared to try, I would unleash a wrath like he’d never experienced.

I sat casually in my leather chair, wearing my signature power red suit as I waited for the bidding war to end. While I wasn’t a fan of Zoom meetings, the man holding all the cards had insisted he present his decision with everyone on teleconference. I fingered my cup of coffee, keeping a smile on my face. The war zone had been narrowed down to three bidders, including Worth. All three rulers of Worth were present, crowded around the end of a beautiful mahogany conference table. Yeah, they thought they were kings. I couldn’t wait to make them paupers.

What I enjoyed was the fact Randolph Worth was irritated as hell, his rich lavender eyes piercing the camera. I could almost swear he was contemplating all the nasty things he’d like to do to me.

He’d have a fat chance in hell. I could eat the bastard for breakfast.

While the man had always acted like I wasn’t any kind of threat, he was learning just how wrong he’d been. I’d never been one to use unprincipled tactics before, but after losing the last bid to Worth Dynamics, I’d remembered something my father had told me years before and it had changed my way of doing business.

“When you know your true enemy, you will stop at nothing to get an advantage. Find out all the secrets he or she holds, the kind kept in dark closets and under lock and key. Once you do, you’ll be the queen of your domain.”

I’d never forgotten his words of wisdom again and he’d been right.

All three men who ruled Worth Dynamics held secrets. One was deliciously dark and deceptive. And in my mind disgusting as well. I’d learned everything I could about the three strapping men to use against them as necessary.

And as often as possible.

I hadn’t always been this way. When I started the firm, I was determined to keep my head above murky waters, maintaining a heightened level of integrity. But thing changed over the years, the ugly insinuations that I’d stolen intellectual property almost costing me two contracts. All because the boys of Worth hadn’t been able to handle the heat of having a woman as a tough competitor. So I’d learned to become more like them, including believing enough in myself that I’d scheduled a press conference for… I glanced at my watch, allowing a sly smile to cross my face. For exactly thirty minutes from now. I planned on announcing the glorious details of the contract with Dockett Industries.

Then I was planning on driving a stake right through the heart of Worth. They were such bad boys after all. They deserved to be knocked down a peg or two.

Or ten.

They belonged to an exclusive club, not the brick-and-mortar kind frequented after a long day at work, although it was my belief the members held regular, secret meetings on a bi-monthly basis. From what I could tell, the club was exclusive, highly secretive, and by invitation only.

That meant only the richest men could apply, deviant fantasies brought to life by one rich and powerful owner. Of course I hadn’t been able to find out anything about him either. Hmmm…

If what little I’d learned was true, the club was also very kinky, although I’d found nothing on the internet regarding it myself. The private investigator I’d hired had only found limited details by checking Randolph’s bank accounts and asking a few friends, or so he’d told me. It would seem Randolph had been careless in making a payment, but only once. At least I had a name of the organization.

The Clubhouse.

The name meant nothing, which was the point, but I’d kept my PI active, also drilling down on anything I could find. In truth, I wanted to bury the three men. Maybe I was taking their merciless behavior too personally. Then again, I’d had dealings with Randolph and his nasty father years before.

My PI had managed to follow a short trail with an abrupt end, unable to garner the special invitation himself. I planned on using the information at the right time if necessary, and I had no doubt it would be.

While enemies had attempted to thwart my success more than once, only the men of Worth Dynamics had the chutzpa to carry through with their implied threats.

“We will devour you in this industry.”

“You’ll never succeed in making it to the upper echelon.”

“Be careful who you trust, Scarlett. You’re a neophyte in an industry ruled by men.”

Such arrogant pricks.

I’d heard more unsavory words and felt more intimidation from low level players, but Randolph had the means to carry through with his… promises.

I yawned, as if I didn’t have a care in the world and settled back against my seat. Meanwhile, the third player was fidgety, sweating profusely. I almost felt sorry for the poor guy. If my reports were correct, the man had lost a significant portion of his business over the last year. If he failed to win this contract, his business would go under. What a shame. However, all was fair in war and business.

I took a sip of my bottle of water, calculating what winning the contract would mean to my increasing bank account. As expected, Mr. Dockett, the man awarding the bid, was late to the scheduled meeting. Of course, he’d done so on purpose just to see what the three bidders were made of.

While it was likely the decision had been made long before this gathering, that didn’t mean bad behavior couldn’t influence his announcement. While waiting, I took the time to study the other two owners of Worth.

Alexander Drummond had the sexiest dark eyes I’d ever seen. They were so black they almost glowed an iridescent blue depending on the light. He always seemed to wear a smirk on his face, as if business amused him. However, I’d learned early on his tactics were… questionable. I almost laughed at the thought. He was originally from Australia, his parents moving to the US when he turned twelve. He’d kept the accent, using it to his advantage with women. There was something hidden behind his obsidian eyes, as if he’d seen the worst of humanity.

A man not to be underestimated.

Trent Roark was formidable, although his fun-loving nature allowed him to get away with treating others badly. He had a boyish look about him with his sandy-colored hair and intense green eyes. It didn’t hurt he had a hint of a cowboy twang from growing up in Texas. I’d also heard he had a dark, sadistic side that women couldn’t stand. I had to admit the dichotomy intrigued me.

And of course, Randolph, son of the famous patriarch who’d changed the world of robotics for generations to come. He had something to prove, which made him extremely dangerous. He’d grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, wanting for nothing even as a small child. His aristocratic features and chiseled jaw added to his don’t-fuck-with-me persona. What I wouldn’t give to ‘fuck’ with him my way.

And it had nothing to do with sex.

What a shame they were all so damn good looking, sexy in a deliciously divine way. I was aware they’d used their fabulous looks to their benefit on several occasions. However, I refused to succumb to the temptation even if they were scrumptious to look at.

If I lost the contract in question, I had other ways of establishing more of a reign in the industry. I snickered at the thought. I’d have the three men eating out of my hand by end of the year. Hell, I’d already been hailed as the woman to watch by several of the leading industry magazines, which I’d known had kept me from being on Worth’s Christmas card list.

Exhaling, I glanced at my watch, curious how long the dog and pony show was going to take.

I wasn’t a patient woman, but today I would wait as long as necessary in order to win the prize.

Then I’d celebrate my win with a tall glass of champagne and a luxurious bath. Maybe I’d even purchase a few trinkets; a nice piece of jewelry or a new car. Hmmm…

After five minutes, Mr. Dockett finally entered the room along with his sidekick attorney. After easing behind his desk, he took his time before lifting his head.

“Good afternoon. Thank you all for being present for my decision.” He didn’t bother acknowledging the players greeting him.

I remained silent. At this point, I had nothing else to say. I’d worked on the account for three months, preparations taking me long into every night. My employees hated me for being so diligent, but they’d revel in their upcoming paychecks if everything worked out the way I knew it would.

My instincts were never wrong.

“I’ll cut to the chase. I’m certain all of you are very busy,” Mr. Dockett continued. “I’ve taken into account all aspects of your companies, including your business ethics and determination to succeed. That made my decision much easier. And so…” he paused, finally staring into the camera, “I’m awarding the contract to Prestwood Automation. I believe Scarlett’s company can best serve our needs. Thank you all for participating and Scarlett, I’ll expect a call from you in two days. We need to finalize details prior to signing the contract.”

I remained quiet, reveling in the moment, unable to take my eyes off Randolph’s reaction. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the pompous asshole was going to throw a temper tantrum.

Aww. Too bad.

“Thank you, Mr. Dockett, for your vote of confidence. You won’t be disappointed.” I clicked off before I was forced to watch the men crumble. Then I eased my arms behind my head, swiveling my chair.

Maybe it was time to break out the champagne for my entire staff. What the hell. I was only going to live once.

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