Excerpt: Duty At What Cost?

Excerpt: Duty At What Cost?

Contemporary Romance

Unedited excerpt from Chapter One

‘There’s a woman stuck on the south wall, boss. What do you want us to do with her?’

Wolfe pulled up in the middle of an arched hallway of Chateaux Verne and pressed his phone a little tighter to his ear. ‘On the wall?’

‘The very top,’ Eric, one of the more junior members of Wolfe’s security team, repeated.

Wolfe tensed. Perfect. Most likely another interfering journalist trying to get the scoop on his friend’s extravagant wedding to the daughter of a controversial American politician. They hadn’t let up all day, circling the chateaux like starving buzzards. But none had been brazen enough to go over the wall yet. Of course he’d been prepared for the possibility – the reason they now had this little intruder in hand. ‘Name?’

‘Says she’s Ava de Veers, Princess of Anders.’

A princess climbing over a forty foot brick wall? Wolfe didn’t think so. ‘ID?’

‘No ID in her handbag. Says she had a car accident and it must have fallen out.’




Wolfe considered his options. Even from inside the thick walls of the chateaux he could hear the irritating whine of distant media choppers as they hovered just outside the established no fly zone. With the wedding still three hours away he’d better extend the security perimeters before there were any more breaches.

‘Want me to take her back to base, boss?’

‘No.’ Wolfe shot his hand through his hair. He’d rather turf her back over the wall than give her even more access to the property by taking her to the outer cottage his men were temporarily using. And he would – after he had established her identity and satisfied himself that she wasn’t a real threat. ‘Leave her where she’s perched.’ He was about to ring off when he had another thought. ‘And Eric, keep your gun on her until I get there.’ That would teach her for entering a private function without an invitation.

‘Ah, you mean keep her on the wall?’ When Eric hesitated Wolfe knew right then that the woman was attractive.

‘Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.’ For all he knew she could be a political nutcase instead of an overzealous journo. ‘And don’t engage in any conversation with her until I get there.’

Wolfe trusted his men implicitly, but the last thing he needed was some smoking Mata Hari doing a number on their head.

‘Yes, sir.’

Wolfe pocketed his phone. This would mean he wouldn’t be able to start the pre-wedding game of polo Gilles had organised. Annoying, but it couldn’t be helped. He’d offered to run security for Gilles’s wedding because it was what he did and the job always came first.

Once outside Wolfe found Gilles and his merry band already waiting for him at the stables; the horses groomed and saddled and rearing to go. Wolfe ran his gaze over the roguish, white Arab Gilles had promised him. He’d missed his daily gym workout this morning and he had been looking forward to putting the stallion through his paces.

Hell, he still could. Taking the reins from the handler he swung easily onto the giant of a horse. The stallion shifted restlessly beneath his weight and Wolfe automatically reached forward to pat his neck, breathing in the strong scent of horse and leather. ‘What’s his name?’


His mouth quirked and Gilles shrugged. ‘Apollo was taken and he’s a bloody contrary animal. You should enjoy each other.’

Wolfe laughed at his toffy-nosed friend. Years ago they had forged an unbreakable bond when they had trained together for selection on an elite military task force. They’d been there for each other during the tough times and celebrated during the good. Inevitably Gilles would start sprouting reams of poetry and Greek myths to stay awake while they spent long hours waiting for something to happen. By contrast Wolfe, a rugged Australian country boy, had used a more simple method. Sheer grit and silent determination. A trait that had served him well when he had swapped special ops for software development and created what was currently the most sophisticated computer spyware on the planet.

Wolfe Inc had been forged around that Greenfield venture and when his younger brother had joined him they had expanded into every aspect of the security business. But where his brother thrived on the corporate life, Wolfe preferred the freedom of being able to mix things up a little. He even kept his hand in on some of the more hairy covert ops government’s called consultants in to take care of. But then he had to get his adrenaline high from something other than his beloved Honda CBR.

‘Always the dreamer, Marquis,’ he drawled.

‘Just a man who knows how to have balance in his life, Ice.’ Gilles countered good-naturedly, calling Wolfe by his old military nickname. He swung onto the back of a regal looking bay. ‘You should try it sometime, my friend.’

‘I’ve got plenty of balance in my life,’ Wolfe grunted, thinking about the Viennese blonde he’d been glad to see the back of a month ago. ‘No need to worry your pretty head on that score.’

Achilles snorted and tossed his nose in challenge as Wolfe took up the reins. ‘I won’t be joining you just yet. I need to check on an issue that’s come up.’ He kept his tone deliberately bland so as not to alarm his friend who should be concentrating on why he was signing his life away to a woman in matrimony rather than why a woman was currently sitting on one of his outer walls. ‘Achilles and I will join you in a few.’

The horse pulled against the bit and Wolfe smiled. There was nothing quite like using all his skills to master a difficult animal and he wondered if Gilles would consider selling him. He already liked the unmanageable beast.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that much easier to scale a high brick wall as an adult, Ava conceded. In fact it had been downright scary and shown her how unfit she was, her arm muscles aching in protest. It didn’t help when the ancient chestnut tree she had been relying on to help her down the other side had been removed and then two trained security guards wielding machine guns had happened upon her.

She hadn’t considered that Gilles would have hired extra security for the wedding, but in hindsight she should have done. Naturally the men hadn’t bought her accident and now all she needed was one of those media helicopters she could hear to zero in on her and her joyous day would just about be complete.

It was all Gilles’ fault, she grouched, eyeing the uneven terrain at her feet where the magnificent tree had once stood. And surely they’d raised the height of the wall since the last time she’d climbed it as a tearaway twelve year old.

Shifting uncomfortably she eyed the two killers camouflaged in street clothes below, glad she was conversant in English since she knew no self-respecting Frenchman would ever be seen mixing flannel with corduroy. ‘If you would just check a couple of hundred meters up the road you would find my car and realise that I am telling you the truth,’ she repeated, struggling to hold back the temper her father had often complained was as easy to strike up as a match. Which actually wasn’t true. It took special powers to induce her to lose the plot.

‘Sorry Ma’am. Boss’s orders.’ That from the one who looked slightly more sympathetic than the other – although that was like saying snow was colder than ice.

‘Fine. But I have a headache and I’d like to get down.’

‘Sorry Ma’am-’

‘Boss’s orders,’ Ava finished asininely, wondering what the two men would do if she decided to jump. Not an entirely practical option since she would likely break her ankle.


It had clearly been a major oversight on their behalf as children to only whittle footholds on one side of the wall. A mistake no self-respecting spy in their right mind would have made!

Ava briefly closed her eyes and gently tested the injury on her forehead that felt so large she was sure the House of Faberge would weep to get their hands on it.

A wave of irritation threatened to topple her off the wall and impale her on one of those raised guns and as much as she told herself it was irrational to be irritated with these men since this whole situation was her own fault she couldn’t dispel her growing agitation. In truth, she felt like a fool sitting atop Gilles’s wall like a silly bird.

‘And where is this boss of yours?’ she queried, injecting her voice with a calm she was far from feeling.

‘Coming soon, ma’am.’

So was Christmas in four months’ time.

A low rumble of thunder brought Ava’s head around as she tried to locate the sound. Her view was hampered by soaring parkland trees and wild shrubbery and the only thing visible in the distance were the rounded red brick towers of the chateaux and a picture perfect blue sky beyond.

Then a flash of white amongst the trees caught her attention and she couldn’t look away as a pure bred stallion galloped into view. Ava’s eyes drank in the beautiful creature and then she felt slightly dizzy as her eyes took in its handsome rider.

Sandy, windswept hair was brushed back from a proud face with a strong nose and square jaw; wide shoulders and a lean torso rippled beneath a fitted black polo shirt, and long muscular legs were outlined to perfection in white jodhpurs and knee high black riding boots.

She sensed he was absolutely furious even though he hadn’t moved a well-honed muscle, his narrowed – light coloured? – eyes boring into hers with the intense focus of a natural hunter. Even when the horse stamped impatiently beneath him, its nostrils flaring and tail flicking with irritation, the man remained preternaturally still.

Ava’s heart pounded and she found her fingers gripping the stone wall for support; heat turning her limbs soft. Of course it was the sun making her hot, not the ruthless looking warrior staring at her with an arrogance that bordered on insolence.

‘Are you the reason I’m still on this wall?’ The confrontational words were out of her mouth before she’d known they were in her head and she could have kicked herself. She had meant to be pleasant to make sure this ordeal was over as quickly as possible. She knew instantly from the firm jut of his jaw that she had well and truly put paid to that.

Wolfe didn’t move a muscle as his eyes swept over the fey gypsy on the wall. He’d been wrong. She wasn’t attractive. She was astonishingly attractive and his soldier’s eyes noted everything. High cheekbones, honey-gold skin, eyes as dark as night, and thick sable hair pulled into a ponytail, wisps of which floated around a lush, sulky mouth that looked like it was waiting to be kissed.

By him.