The Dangerous Billionaire
Commander Sullivan “Van” Tate hated a lot of things about New York, but Leo’s Alehouse in the East Village was not one of them. Most especially not after an afternoon spent scattering all that remained of his father from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Leo’s had been serving military men for over a century and a half, and from the dark, smoke-stained, low-hanging ceiling to the walls covered in military photographs to the dusty, grimy wooden floor, it reeked of stale beer, sweat, decades-old cigarette smoke, and long nights spent getting absolutely shit-faced.
No, Van might have hated New York, but he fucking loved Leo’s.
His father would have approved too. Noah Tate had never despised his Wyoming roots, no matter how rich an oil tycoon he’d become in the end, and his three foster sons holding a wake in his honor in a military dive bar would have appealed to the rebel in him.
Besides, where else were three Navy SEALs supposed to go to raise a glass to their father in this shitty city?
“Cocksuckers,” Wolf muttered, glowering at the bunch of drunken marines currently propping up the bar. Van’s youngest brother was built like a tank and moved like one too—he just rolled right over people who got in his way and if you were one of those people, then too bad. Wolf had had a boilermaker or four and was spoiling for a fight. Then again, Wolf was always spoiling for a fight. Drinking, fucking, and fighting were Wolf’s three favorite pastimes and if he could combine all three, then he was in heaven.
Sadly for Wolf, the bar was full of men, which left him with only drinking and fighting, and since he’d taken their father’s death pretty hard, he was jonesing for both.
Also sadly for him, Van wasn’t having any of that shit, not when the media had been hounding them pretty solidly for the past week. The unexpected death of an oil billionaire was big news however you looked at it, especially when that death had occurred in “mysterious circumstances” if the press could be believed. Which they couldn’t.
Van wasn’t having any of that particular shit either. Their father’s body had been found way up on the side of Shadow Peak, the mountain behind the Tate family’s Wyoming ranch, with a broken neck. His horse had also been found nearby, which made it pretty clear to Van at least, and the local coroner, that the whole thing had been an accident. Nothing mysterious about it.
Still, the press loved a story and they loved the Tate brothers’ story in particular. Van could see why: three orphaned boys adopted by an oil tycoon was the stuff of Hallmark fantasies, especially when all three boys were promptly sent into the military at the age of eighteen. And now their father had died? Well, interest was at an all time high and, quite frankly, Wolf getting into a bar-room brawl and bringing down that media on their heads was the last thing Van wanted.
Van was the head of the Tate family now and getting all that shit on lockdown until the situation had been handled was his job.
“No,” he said flatly to Wolf, meeting his little brother’s gaze, making it clear he knew exactly what Wolf was thinking. “We’re not here to fight. We’re here to give Dad a send-off.”
Wolf scowled. “Don’t recall you being my commanding officer, bro.”
Van gave him a grin that had only a little bit of teeth in it. “No, but I’m head of the goddamn family now and that makes me the next best thing.”
“Here’s what I think of that.” Wolf tipped his chair back and raised his hand as if to run it through his dark Mohawk only to fold down all his fingers except the middle one.
“Expressive as always,” Lucas murmured dryly. “You have such a way with words, Wolf. I’m impressed.”
Lucas, Van’s middle brother, was a sniper and one of the most controlled people Van had ever met—which, considering he included himself in that statement, was saying something. Lucas was the very definition of patience, but even he didn’t have much of it when it came to Wolf’s particular method of dealing with his emotions, not when Lucas preferred to have no emotions at all—which was okay with Van because it meant he had one less person to worry about.
“Yeah and fuck you too.” Wolf gave Lucas a belligerent look, baring his teeth in a grin that was just a hair short of feral.
“Lock it down,” Van said flatly, injecting all his authority—which was considerable—into the order. “Or do you really want the world’s media watching you beat up a couple of jarheads?”
Wolf glowered at him for a long moment, his weird eyes—one blue, one green—full of banked aggression. Then he glanced sourly back at the Marines for another moment before letting out an explosive breath, his chair landing on all four legs with a thump. “Fuck it. I’ll go get laid instead.”
Thank Christ for that. The last thing they all needed was Wolf going apeshit in a bar. Especially after a mother of a day like today.
Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain, emptying Noah Tate’s ashes into the East River, the icy rain soaking their dress blues, hadn’t been physically demanding—that shit they all had no problem with. It was the emotional toll that was the issue—especially for Wolf, who’d been closest of all to their dad.
Noah Tate had been the man who’d given them a proper home, the first that any of them had ever had. He hadn’t been a particularly loving father, at least not to Van, but he had been a father to them. And even if what he’d wanted from Van had been more than Van had ever been able to give, his death had been a blow that none of them had seen coming.
Wolf’s expression cleared and he grinned in one of his usual quicksilver changes of mood. “Hey, we could take the jet to Vegas. Go play some poker, spend a little quality time with the ladies. Shit like that.” He raised his beer and took a swallow. “Fuck knows I could do with some shore leave before I go back to Virginia.”
Lucas shook his head. “I’ll pass. I’ve got a few things I need to in New York.”
Wolf raised his eyebrows in sudden interest. “What things?”
“None of your damn business, asshole,” Lucas said pleasantly.
Van eyed him. His middle brother had been a cagey bastard since they’d all arrived back at the Tate ranch two weeks ago to prepare for their father’s funeral. Van had tried to find out what was going on with him, but it had been like trying to open an oyster with a piece of wet spaghetti—pointless.
Then again, maybe it was the falling back into his old role as big brother and protector that was the pointless thing. None of them were boys anymore. They were fucking SEALs and each had been in the military for over ten years. No one needed protecting, not these days.
Still, Van had always been the one who’d looked out for the other two ever since they’d all been in the St. Mary’s Home for Boys together, and old habits died hard.
“Got anything you want to tell us?” Van gave Lucas a meaningful look. “Or rather me. Ignore the little bastard in the corner.”
“Fuck you,” Wolf muttered, offended.
“No,” Lucas’s silver-blue eyes gave Van back absolutely nothing.
Irritated, Van put his beer on the table with a thump. He couldn’t make his brother tell him anything if the guy didn’t want to, but that didn’t make Van any less pissed. Especially not with that damn envelope burning a hole in the pocket of his jacket.
His father’s lawyer had handed it to him just before he’d stepped on the plane to New York, after the funeral, and then turned around and walked away without any kind of explanation. It was only when Van had opened it as the plane climbed into the sky that he’d realized what it was.
The last will and testament of Noah Tate.
And that wasn’t all. There were three more envelopes inside, each one addressed to one of Noah’s sons.
Van hadn’t given those envelopes out yet and he hadn’t read the one addressed to him either. He was still trying to get his head around the fact that his father had left the entirety of his massive fortune to Van, including the huge oil and gas empire he’d founded.
He’d had to read the damn thing three times before it sunk in and then, once it had, he’d spent the remainder of the flight trying to master his towering rage, because yet again—as he always seemed to do—his goddamn father had managed to get in the last word.
Ever since his father had adopted him at the age of eight, Noah had been very clear what Van’s purpose was, what the purpose of all the boys were: they were to protect the Tate legacy.
Van, as the oldest, had been earmarked as Noah’s heir, and for years, that’s all Van wanted to be. He wanted to work hard, show the old man how grateful he was for everything Noah had given him. Be the kind of son Noah would be proud of.
Then Columbia had happened. On a mission to smash a sex-trafficking ring, he’d fucked up, lost a woman he was supposed to protect, and suddenly being Noah’s heir hadn’t looked so shit hot after all. What was money compared to woman’s life? Compared to all the lives he could save as a SEAL that he couldn’t save as some dick in a suit?
So he’d stayed with the SEALs instead of joining Noah at the helm of Tate Oil, something that had pissed Noah off no end, and something they’d argued endlessly and bitterly about.
Now, though, it was Noah getting his own back and Van’s turn to be pissed off. And the worst part was, there was nothing he could do about it.
He hated the damn city. Hated the suits and the fucking skyscrapers. And he hated being stuck behind a desk, no matter that said desk was in a corner office in a historic old building that housed Tate Oil and Gas in Downtown Manhattan.
He preferred the military. Loved the danger and the thrill of armed service, the comradeship and the loyalty of his team. He was a protector at heart, and protecting people in general and his country in particular were more important to him than protecting the Tate bank account.
Apparently his father hadn’t agreed.
Yeah, even though a day had passed since Jeffrey Taylor, the lawyer, had handed Van the will, Van was still as furious about it as he had been on the plane. So furious in fact that he’d been tempted to drop-kick Noah Tate’s urn into the East River instead of reverently scattering the ashes.
“Problem?” One of Lucas’s dark blond brows rose.
Shit. Van was pretty good at keeping his emotions hidden—as a commander he had to—but the fact that Lucas had picked up on his anger meant he wasn’t keeping it quite as under control as he thought. Always a worry.
Then again, being almost preternaturally observant was what made Lucas one of the best snipers in the forces, so maybe it was just his brother being a giant pain in the ass.
“No,” Van said, mimicking Lucas’s earlier flat denial. “But no one’s going anywhere or making decisions about anything until we finish dealing with stuff in New York.”
“Seriously?” Wolf was back to glowering. “You two can do whatever the hell you want with the rest of your leave, but if we’re not going to Vegas then I’m catching the next flight back to base.”
This was unsurprising. Joining the Navy had been all Wolf had wanted to do since he’d watched his older brothers enlist and he didn’t have many interests outside it. Unfortunately for him, now that their father was dead, things had changed.
Van gave Wolf a hard look, the look that had always had the men of his team shitting themselves whenever it was directed at them. “You’re not going anywhere. Not today.” Van shifted his gaze to Lucas. “That includes you too.”
Wolf gave a short laugh. “Christ, you’re so fucking full of it. Who died and made you God?”
“Dad, apparently,” Van said, deadpan.
Lucas ignored this, his icy gaze focused and intent as a laser. “For once I agree with the little bastard. We’re not your men, Van. We’re your brothers. Which means, with respect, that you can go to hell.”
Van didn’t even flinch. He stared down harder men than Lucas every damn day and he wasn’t about to put up with insubordination. Especially given that they now had other responsibilities. Because it wasn’t only him who’d been named in their father’s will.
“Yeah,” Van said, staring hard at both Wolf and Lucas. “You are my brothers. And just because Dad’s dead, it doesn’t mean we stop being Tates. We’re a team, and you know what that means.”
“Jesus,” Wolf muttered. “Next you’ll be telling us we even have a mission.”
“We do.” Van reached into the pocket of his jacket, brought out the envelope and slapped it down on the table in front of them.
He’d debated about when was the best time to deliver the happy news to his brothers. Looked like that time was now.
“What the fuck is that?” Wolf demanded. “A lottery ticket? Hate to break it to you, Van, but we kind of don’t need lottery tickets.”
Lucas narrowed his gaze at Van for a long moment. Then he glanced down at the envelope. “Quiet, Wolf,” he murmured, reaching out to pick it up and open it. “Little boys should be seen and not heard.”
Wolf muttered something incomprehensible and very rude, but Lucas ignored him, sliding out the paper inside the envelope and unfolding it.
Van said nothing. The shit was about to hit the fan any second . . . now.