Before Ben

April 30, 2019 – Wilde Ways, Book 3

Enemies make the best lovers.

It was a one night stand with her worst enemy. Ben Wilde was cocky, charming, and sexy as the best sin. He was also Courtney McKenna’s weakness. Every single inch of his muscled perfection was trouble and temptation. They’d sparred in the courtroom more times than she could count, and the tension between them had always been red-hot. One night should have been all she needed to get the guy out of her head and her dreams. Only…it wasn’t.

Because before Ben, life was easy. Life after Ben? Hot. Dark. And dangerous.

Courtney tries to fight her scorching desire for Ben even as they plan to face-off in court once again. Even as they fight for power. But once you cross some lines, there is no going back. And Ben doesn’t plan to let her go anywhere.

He’s had a taste, but Ben wants a whole lot more.

Ben Wilde has never believed that opposites attract, but there is something about button-downed, prim and proper Courtney that has always driven him wild. And when he gets her in his bed, the attraction he feels for her changes into a sensual obsession. Sure, they can be enemies in the courtroom, but in the bedroom, they are meant to be something else entirely.

Be careful what you want…

Someone out there doesn’t want Ben to have Courtney. Someone who will do anything to stop their attraction. But that predator in the dark is messing with the wrong man. When it comes to Courtney’s safety, Ben will break every rule in the book. He will stop pretending to be nice and show the world just how wicked and dangerous he can truly be. Because Courtney is his, and Ben will play dirty, he’ll play rough, and he will destroy anyone who threatens her.

Author’s Note: BEFORE BEN is a complete, stand-alone novel (no cliffhangers). It features one cocky but charming hero who will be brought to his knees, one heroine who will fight fiercely for exactly what she wants, and plenty of dark danger and twists thrown in for fun. Like a sexy story with chills and thrills? This is for you.

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Chapter One

“You ever had a hate fuck?” His voice was low and rumbling and, dammit, sexy. “Because I have heard they’re incredible. You get out all of that rage…all of that desire. And the only thing left is pure pleasure.”

Courtney McKenna slowly lowered her appletini. The bright green liquid jostled a bit, spilling over the edge of the martini glass and dribbling onto her wrist. What a waste of a good drink. She eased out a slow breath before she glanced at the cocky SOB who’d sidled up beside her.

Ben Wilde flashed his killer grin. The absolutely killer one. The one that made the twin dimples he possessed dig gorgeous groves into his cheeks as the smile revealed his perfect, white teeth.

That was the thing about Ben. Physically, the guy was perfect. Tall, built, with shoulders that stretched and stretched. Dark blond hair, deep blue eyes. Golden skin. A straight nose, square jaw, lips that were—

“Come on, Court,” he said, shortening her name to the dreaded Court that she hated. “Is that a yes…or a no?”

“It’s a hell no.” Time for another calm-down breath. She had to take a lot of those when Ben was near. She blew this deep breath out very, very slowly. “Besides, you aren’t serious.”

His eyebrows rose. “Of course, I am.”

“No, you’re not. I’ve known you since law school. You’re an arrogant prick who thinks it’s fun to mock me.” Her eyes narrowed on him and his stupid, too well-fitting suit. “There are plenty of women in this bar who would be happy to jump your bones. Go find one of them. Leave me alone. I’ve got better things to do.”

Instead of backing away—like a normal man would do when he’d been shot down so hard—Ben laughed. And, not shockingly at all, Ben’s laugh was as sexy as the rest of him. Deep and warm. And designed to get right under her skin.

I totally hate him.

“Better things?” He put his hand on the bar and leaned in close to her. So close that she caught the crisp scent of his cologne. It was a lickably good scent, not that she would ever tell Ben that fact. “Court—”

“Court-ney. Court-ney. My name has two syllables. Use them both.”

Those dimples came again. “Courtney.”

Wow. He’d just said her name all deep and rough and sexy-like. The way he’d probably say it if he was, in fact, in bed with her. Having the hate fuck he’d just mentioned…

Maybe she should have stuck with Court. Why did the nickname irritate her so much? And why had he always gotten under her skin so easily?

His warm gaze slid over her face. “There is no one better when it comes to sex. Come with me, and I will give you a night you will never forget.”

“You have been hitting on me since the first year of law school.” She could only shake her head. “Doesn’t the routine get old?”

“Trust me, nothing about you gets old to me.”

Courtney sighed. “You didn’t mean it back then. You don’t mean it now. You’re just messing around with me, and I don’t have time to waste.” Her gaze slid over his shoulder.

His brow furrowed. “Are you looking for someone else?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m not here to meet you.” Her stare shifted back to him.

He put a hand to his heart, as if she’d grievously wounded him. Bull. “And all this time,” Ben said dramatically, “I thought you were mine.”

The bartender frowned at them.

“Ben,” she gritted out.

He winked. “I love it when you say my name.” He hopped onto the bar stool next to her. Didn’t even seem to notice the admiring stares coming his way from the ladies who were close by. “I’ll love it even more when you—”

“Do not say scream it,” she snapped at him. “I am so over your crap—”

With a wave of his hand, he motioned to the bartender. “I wasn’t going to say scream.” He seemed to consider the matter a moment. “Do you want me to say scream? Do you want to scream my name? Is that a fantasy?”

Her cheeks were flushing. Good thing the lighting in the place was so bad.

“I was just going to say…” He cleared his throat. “I love it even more when you get all pissed with me in court and you kind of…snarl my name. Snarl, not scream. There’s a distinct difference there.”

She wanted to put her head down. He wasn’t being serious. Had he ever been serious? “Everything in this world comes easy to you, doesn’t it?” The question slipped out. Hell, the bartender had already brought him a beer. Instant service. Meanwhile, she’d had to wait twenty minutes on her drink. “You flew through law school and opened up your own firm immediately. You have every woman you want begging for you—”

“Not everything is easy.” His voice wasn’t mocking. It seemed dead serious. “I’ve never had you.”

She reached for her drink again. “And you never—”

“Why?”

Her fingers tightened around the stem of her glass.

“I’m a reasonably attractive guy.”

Uh, no, he was drop-dead gorgeous.

“I have a successful practice. I pay my taxes. I hold the door open for ladies and children, and, hell, everyone. But you…you just don’t like me.”

She lifted her drink. And downed it too fast.

When she choked, he helpfully patted her on the back.

Only…when she stopped choking, his fingers lingered. Her head turned toward him. When she’d started to choke, he’d bounded off the bar stool and crowded in all close to her. Oh, damn. His scent was teasing her again.

“Have you ever wondered, Courtney? Come on, tell me. Have you ever thought about what would it be like between us?”

Only a time or twelve.

“Maybe we should start with something simple.” His gaze dropped to her mouth. “Like a kiss.”

They were in the busiest bar in Atlanta. One that was packed to the brim on a Friday night. Normally, bars weren’t really her scene, but she’d decided to swipe right and give the date tonight a try. Only…

I’ve been here for thirty minutes and my swipe right is a no show. That would teach her to try and hook up with a guy online.

Courtney realized that her gaze was on Ben’s mouth. That delectable mouth of his. Her stare whipped up so that she focused on his eyes. Did he know that he had flecks of gold in the depths of his eyes? The gold could get all warm when he was arguing a case. Almost blazing. And it probably blazed when he was making love to a woman, too. Not that she was going to find out.

His powerful shoulders rolled in a shrug. “We’re two mature, consenting adults. A kiss wouldn’t hurt anything.”

He was so tempting. Too tempting. She dug some money from her bag so she could pay her tab and run out of there. “I have to see you in court almost every single day. And, usually, we’re fighting each other.”

“No, our clients are fighting. Not us.”

“Getting involved personally would be a mistake.” Because she’d sleep with him and then have to see him move on to the next woman in line. That wasn’t how she worked. She didn’t do one-night stands.

Or at least, she’d never done one before.

“It could be a mistake,” he agreed. “Or it could be the best sex of your life.”

Laughter came from her. She simply could not help it. “You are so cocky.”

He shrugged again. “You can be the judge.”

“No, not happening.” Just like her date for that night wasn’t happening. Time to go home, ditch her heels, find some chocolate ice cream, and slip into some comfy PJs. Ben could romance someone else.

She ignored the pang in her heart. The pang that had been there for a very long time.

Too long, at least as far as Ben was concerned. She could bluff a good game, but the truth was when it came to Ben…

He’s always tempted me a bit. Tall, strong, and gorgeous with a mind that was freaking insane…

Walk out slowly and casually. Ben never needs to know that you’ve had a ridiculous crush on him for years. He never needed to know just how hard it was to say no.

When she really, really wanted to say yes.

She brushed past him.

“He’s one lucky bastard.”

Ben’s voice was…different. Rougher.

Not quite so perfect and charming any longer. Very un-Ben. She looked back at him.

His eyes were different, too. The gold had started to blaze in his blue depths. “The guy you’re looking for tonight.” A muscle jerked in his jaw. “He’s one lucky bastard to be meeting up with you.”

It actually sounded like he meant those words. That was—

She didn’t know what it was. Courtney turned away from him and pushed her way through the crowd. Her date wasn’t coming, and she needed to get out of there before Ben realized she’d been stood up. How humiliating would that be?

But…

She risked a glance back at him. You ever had a hate fuck?

She didn’t hate Ben. Never had, never—

Oh. A blonde had already taken Courtney’s spot at the bar. A blonde who was sliding a well-manicured hand up Ben’s arm. Courtney’s back teeth ground together. She whipped her head back around and stormed for the door. Moments later, she was outside, and the hot, Atlanta night air slammed into her.

Her heels clicked over the pavement as she hurried for the parking garage. The sooner she got home, the better. The sooner she—

Footsteps rushed behind her.

Courtney automatically glanced back, but a woman was just running toward a man, with her arms outstretched for him.

Couples were everywhere. Like she was in the mood to see everyone else being happy. Once more, Courtney marched forward, picking up her pace, and soon she was entering the garage. The security guard gave her a friendly wave, and she smiled back. A horn echoed in the distance. Her car was on the next level up. Getting a spot in downtown Atlanta required some serious maneuvering, but she’d done it.

She entered the stairwell. Automatically, her hand shoved into her purse because a woman learned early on to be careful. And dark stairwells? Um, yeah. Not fun. Courtney gripped her keys between her knuckles just like she’d been taught in self-defense class, and she rushed up the stairs. Hello, cardio. Soon she was on the next level and heading for her car and—

“You fucking bitch!” A man in a black hoodie launched at her.

Courtney screamed even as she yanked her hand—and her make-shift weapon—out of her bag.

***

He’d struck out again. At this point, Ben couldn’t remember the number of times that Courtney McKenna had shot him down.

Straight down in a blaze of glory.

He took another long pull from his beer.

“I like dancing,” the blonde next to him said as she trailed her fingers up his arm. “And I like beaches. But I don’t like the water because you know, there are things in the water. I like country music. And some rock. I like dogs. Like, really big dogs that are super fluffy.”

Okay. He slanted a glance toward her.

And that was when he noticed that Courtney had left her ID on the bar. Hell, yes. The excuse he needed. “Sorry.” He swiped up the ID. “My friend left this. Got to give it back to her.” Then, yes, he hauled ass out of the bar. So he looked desperate. He was. Mostly because he always tended to say the wrong stupid shit to Courtney.

He bounded after her as fast as he could. He saw her as she ducked into the parking garage, and, damn, the lady was moving at a clip. An impressive feat considering the heels she wore. Courtney usually stuck to sensible shoes, but tonight, when he’d spotted her in the bar, he’d realized she was wearing three-inch, spike, black heels.

On another woman, he might have called them fuck-me shoes. On Courtney…

Those shoes just made him want to drool. Make men beg shoes.

When he ran into the parking garage, the guard surged toward Ben. “You following that woman?” The fellow was immediately suspicious probably because, yes, indeed, Ben was following her.

Ben held up the ID he still clutched. Courtney was out of his sight. “I’m trying to return this to my friend.”

The guard looked at him with even more suspicion.

“We know each other,” Ben muttered. “She left her ID at the bar, and I wanted to give it back to her.”

The guard’s eyes were narrowed and his beefy body was tight with tension. Obviously, he wasn’t buying the story that Ben was trying to sell.

“What the hell, man?” Ben finally threw out in disgust. “I park here every week. I know you’ve seen me before.”

The guard grunted.

“I even brought you coffee once. On that really cold-ass night.”

Finally, the guard relented with a long exhale and a wave of his hand. He also stepped back. Ben didn’t waste more time. He was pretty sure Courtney had gone up to the next level. He lunged for the stairs. Tried to get a less desperate look on his face as he bounded up, and when he reached the second level and shoved open the door—

Courtney.

The sight that greeted Ben made red-hot fury fire through every cell of his body.

Courtney was fighting with some asshole in a black hoodie. The bastard had his fist drawn back to hit her, and even as a bellow of rage exploded from Ben, he saw Courtney pound her fist—and her keys—into the guy’s stomach.

Her attacker staggered back. He reached down even as Ben bounded forward. The piece of shit was digging into his boot—and pulling up a knife. “Courtney!” Her name escaped Ben as a roar of absolute fury. He grabbed her arm and yanked her back, hauling her behind him as he faced off with the SOB.

The attacker swung his knife. Because Ben’s father had dragged him to martial arts classes for far too many years—and because Ben’s older brother owned the best security company in Atlanta, no, on the whole East Coast—Ben was ready for the attack. He kicked out, sending the knife clattering to the pavement, and then he launched at the jerk. He hit him hard and low, plowing his shoulder into the guy, and Ben took that dumbass down.

But the punk was a fighter. He drove his fists into Ben, twisted and heaved, and he managed to get in a vicious blow to Ben’s ribs.

Heels clattered close to them. Courtney’s heels. Shit. “Get back!” Ben blasted. The last thing he wanted was for her to get hurt.

He saw her bend to scoop up the knife.

Ben lunged to his feet and put his body in front of hers. And the sonofabitch in the hoodie—he turned and ran. Oh, hell, no. Ben leapt forward.

Freeze!

That somewhat shaky command came from behind him. Behind him and Courtney. Ben risked a glance back to see the security guard emerging from the stairwell. The guy had a taser in his hand, and he was closing in fast on Ben.

“I’m not the attacker!” Ben snarled.

The guard barked, “Drop the knife, lady!”

Courtney dropped the knife.

Ben moved, making sure he was between her and that taser. No way was the guard about to send bolts of electricity through her delicate body. “You’re letting the bad guy get away!”

“I’m getting the cops here,” the guard snapped right back. “They can sort this out. They can—”

An engine growled. A black motorcycle came speeding toward them. The driver wore a black hoodie, tattered jeans, and a black helmet that completely concealed his identity. And he was driving straight for them.

Ben grabbed Courtney and yanked her into his arms, pulling her out of the way. Her body shoved hard against him, every single perfect inch of her feeling like heaven.

Her eyes stared into his. Her dark chocolate eyes were wide and huge. Her lips were parted. Her full lower lip trembled a moment as the growl of the motorcycle echoed in the garage.

“Ben?” Courtney whispered.

He shook his head. Managed to drag his fool gaze off her and onto the motorcycle. “Told you he was getting away!” Ben fired at the guard who was gaping.

There was no tag on the motorcycle. Nothing to stop the guy. He zoomed down the exit ramp even as they all gave chase. But it wasn’t like they could catch a motorcycle. By the time they reached the gate, he was long gone.

Fucking sonofabitch.

***

“I’m following you home.” Ben’s voice came out rough and angry. A side effect of the situation. A situation that made him feel rough and angry.

Courtney turned her head toward him. She’d been talking to a uniformed cop, giving her statement, and looking so gorgeous that she made Ben ache.

She could have been hurt tonight. He kept seeing the image of that jerk with his fist drawn back, ready to hit her in the face. Ready to attack her.

“He didn’t take anything, ma’am?” the cop asked. “You’re sure?”

She shook her head. “No. I-I think he was going for my purse, but I hit him with my keys. Punched him in the stomach.” She lifted her hand, and Ben saw that she had her keys arranged so that the sharp points slid through the lines between her fingers. A nice weapon.

One that had saved her ass.

Ben edged closer to her.

“We’ll check the security feeds here,” the uniform assured her. “There have been some snatch and grabs in the area. Probably the same guy.”

Was that supposed to make it better somehow?

“It would have helped if you’d gotten a better description of the guy…”

“Sorry,” she bit out. “I was busy fighting him. His hood was up, it was dark, and everything happened so fast.”

“You’re not getting on to her because she couldn’t get the guy’s ID?” Ben’s voice held barely banked rage. “I didn’t get a look at the jackass, either. His hood covered him, just like she said, and the asshole was sticking to the shadows. Courtney fought him. She’s okay. You need to be telling her what a fucking awesome job she did.”

“You’re safe.” The cop nodded. He didn’t follow Ben’s order and tell her that she was fucking awesome. Loser.

The cop caught Ben’s glare, winced, and quickly added, “That’s what matters.”

Damn straight it was what mattered. Ben cleared his throat. “I’m going to follow you home,” he said again to Courtney.

The cop wandered away. He’d bagged the knife as evidence, but hadn’t seemed to think any usable prints would be recovered. Way to be optimistic.

Courtney’s gaze slid to Ben. “Following me home is not necessary.”

Uh, yeah. It was. His hand lifted, and he brushed back a lock of her hair that had fallen forward. He loved her hair. A mix between red and brown. Most times, her hair would look totally brown, but when the light hit it just right, the red shone through. Burned so deep and rich.

His fingers lingered against her cheek. Her skin was silky soft. So delicate. “If he’d punched you, I would have killed him.”

Her eyes widened.

Whoops. Had he just said that part out loud? He needed to dial back the rage, but that was hard. Because this was Courtney.

“I didn’t expect you to be a white knight.” Her voice was low. Husky. He thought Courtney pretty much had the sexiest voice in the world. Sometimes, when they were in court…

Focus, dumbass. He cleared his throat and dropped his hand. She’d called him a white knight. She was way wrong on that score. “I wanted to beat the shit out of him.”

Her lips—plump, red—curved just a bit. “You did.” Her fingers reached for his. Courtney winced as she caught his hand and lifted it up. “Your knuckles are already bruising.”

When she touched him, his body reacted. Every muscle tensed, and he wanted. Typical Courtney McKenna response. He was usually in hyper drive where she was concerned. Not that she ever seemed to notice.

Her fingertips slid over his knuckles. “I’m glad you were there.”

He raised a brow. “Careful, or I’ll think you actually like me.”

Her hand immediately jerked back from his. Shit, he’d said the wrong thing. For a guy who was normally so smooth with the ladies, he sucked when he was one-on-one with Courtney.

“I, um, I should get home.”

His eyes narrowed. “I thought you had a date.”

“Canceled.” Her dark gaze darted around the garage. “So I need to head home, climb into a shower, and forget this mess.”

He would not think of Courtney in the shower. If she wanted a white knight, he’d give her one. For the night, anyway. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Her breath expelled in a long rush. “You don’t need to do that.”

“I want to. Look, if I don’t see you home safely, I’ll worry about you all night. I won’t be able to sleep. I’ll just be thinking about you.” Like he hadn’t spent other nights doing the same thing. “Save me some misery and let me tail you, okay?”

The ghost of a smile slid across her lips. “Thank you.”

His chest burned. He didn’t want her gratitude. “It’s what any friend would do for another.”

He headed for her car. She still had her keys—keys that had proven to be a very fine weapon. She unlocked her ride with a press on the key fob, and Ben opened the door for her. But Courtney didn’t slide inside. Instead, she paused, tilted back her head, and stared up at him. “I didn’t think we were friends.”

“No? Colleagues, then?”

“Enemies. Isn’t that what you said back at the bar?”

“No, ba—” He caught himself before he let baby slip out. “No, ah, Courtney, I said hate fucks were great.” He flashed his smile, deliberately using dimples because they often worked when he needed to get out of a sticky situation. “But when I was talking about hate, I wasn’t talking about how I feel for you.”

Her brow furrowed. Her delicious scent teased him. And when her tongue snaked across her lower lip…

Ben swallowed.

I don’t hate you,” she said, voice even huskier.

Huh. That was progress. Not friends, but she didn’t hate him. “Then how do you feel about me?”

She didn’t answer. The little furrow between her dark brows deepened, and she slid inside the car. He slammed the door. Headed for his Benz. A few moments later, they were out of the garage. Heading through the streets of Atlanta. He kept her vehicle in sight, and when they parked at her building, he was out and at her side before she could even open her door.

She slid out of the vehicle, those sexy shoes of hers and that short dress putting her legs on perfect display. But he didn’t let his gaze linger on the heels or her legs. White knight. He offered his hand to her and helped ease Courtney out of the vehicle. He was being on his best behavior because this was so important—

“I want you.”

Ben blinked when she said those words, certain that he’d just straight-up imagined them. Hello, auditory hallucination.

“You asked me how I felt about you.” She inched her body closer to his. “That’s how I feel. I want you. I’ve wanted you for years and hated myself because I did.”

His heart thundered in his chest, and the pants he was wearing became even more uncomfortable as they stretched over his dick.

“I thought the desire would go away eventually. It hasn’t. So maybe I just need to work it out of my system.” She stared straight into his eyes. “Will you come upstairs with me, Ben?”

What the ever-loving—“Hell yes.”