Ruthless Bastard


By Stacey Kennedy

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USA Today bestselling author Stacey Kennedy delivers a riveting story about a former army ranger who will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves.

He has what it takes to protect her from everyone . . . except himself.

Bar owner Kinsley Knight knows exactly what she wants: Rhett West. How could she resist over six feet of hard, trained physical perfection? Never mind that she’s been in love with the guy since high school, or that she’s the “kid sister” of his best friend. Never mind that one unforgettably intense and heated night they shared-and the unexpected consequences. Because Kinsley’s determined to have Rhett . . . and she’ll do anything to prove they’re meant to be.

But Rhett can’t afford to get distracted by the mind-blowingly hot night he spent with Kinsley, or the insatiable hunger he still feels for her. She’s off-limits. Especially now that Rhett’s been investigating the members of a vicious biker gang who have invaded his town, and they’re intent on putting Kinsley out of business-permanently. Suddenly, all of Rhett’s protective instincts have taken over. Because no one threatens Kinsley on his watch. Not now. Not ever. And Rhett’s ruthless enough to protect Kinsley no matter the cost. Even if it means risking his heart . . .


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Kinsley Knight’s lush body was temptation. Her pouty lips, pure seduction. And the lust in her eyes pulled Rhett West in until she left him dizzy.

She was also totally off limits.

The blistering heat on the tropical island remained, even though the sun had gone down hours ago. Rhett’s entire inner circle of friends were celebrating tonight. His two childhood friends, and fellow detectives, Boone Knight and Asher Sullivan, were standing at the bar ordering up another round of drinks. On the beach, twirling on the makeshift dance floor, was Asher’s wife, and Kinsley’s best friend, the vivacious Remy, with her bright green eyes and sunny blond hair. The gorgeous blonde with hazel eyes full of happiness, and wearing the white wedding dress, was Peyton, Boone’s new wife. And among them were all of Boone and Peyton’s family, as they’d all come to witness the intimate ceremony, which also included a week-long trip in the tropics. Tomorrow they’d all leave, while Boone and Peyton stayed for another week to enjoy their honeymoon. Rhett was counting down the hours. All week long, Kinsley was getting in his head, making him want things he shouldn’t.

With the bulb lights twinkling off the trees they were hung in, Kinsley spun, her arms in the air, when suddenly she caught him looking at her. A slight smile curved her lips. The temptress knew exactly what she did to him and played on that, and the fun way she danced shifted. She held his gaze, slowing rolling her hips, her dress flowing with the curves of her body, hardening Rhett to steel.

He shouldn’t take the bait, but he couldn’t help himself either. He leaned back in his chair and sipped his scotch, watching every sexy move she made. She spun around, her gorgeous ass moving slowly, the satiny dress revealing every perfect curve. When she turned back again, and gave him a little smile, he groaned and polished off his second glass of scotch.

For the past three years, after retiring from the military, he’d worked as a detective for the Stoney Creek Police Department, and he took pleasure where he could find it, ensuring he kept Kinsley at arm’s length. But it was this damn tropical island. Seeing her strutting around in a string bikini with barely anything covering her had fueled his desire for her. He wanted a taste of her sun-kissed skin.

And she knew it.

“Something caught your eye?”

“Shut up.” Rhett snorted, glancing at Asher. His friend’s light green eyes were all but twinkling as he took a seat beside him. No one except Asher knew that Rhett had a soft spot for Kinsley. Rhett had never told him, but Asher always had a way of reading people. Those people skills made him a damn good detective. Luckily, Asher only hinted that he knew; he never came outright and said the truth Rhett wanted to avoid. “Shouldn’t you be dancing with your wife?” Rhett asked, giving him a shove to go away.

Asher grinned. “And miss this fine show happening over here?”

Rhett scowled, lips parting to spew a few choice words when Boone dropped down in the chair on Rhett’s other side. Both Kinsley and Boone shared their father’s brown hair and blue eyes.

“She’s handling this well,” Boone said before taking a swig of his beer.

Rhett’s chest tightened, heat flushing his already warm skin beneath his white button-up. “Handling what well?”

“Our mother being here.” Boone gestured toward the bar.

Rosemary, along with her husband, were talking to her ex-husband, Hank. Rosemary looked a lot like Kinsley, just an older version with a bob instead of long hair, and dark eyes instead of blue. But the biggest difference between them was on the inside, not their physical appearance. Kinsley was loyal and kind, whereas Rosemary was a horrible person, who’d walked out on her family, leaving them behind. She should not even be there as far as Rhett was concerned, but Boone had made peace with his mother, something that Kinsley never wanted.

Rhett wondered if that’s why their inner circle of friends was always so tight. Boone, Asher, and Rhett’s friendship had been born from hard times. Boone’s mother left. Then Asher’s mother died. It brought them together in a way that forever bonded them, leaving no room for anyone to break them apart. Until Rhett returned from the military and found Kinsley all grown up. No longer was she the kid that drove them crazy; she was a beautiful woman who drove him crazy with desire. And she was certainly the one person who could break their friendships apart.

Laughter from the beach drew Rhett’s gaze. The women were now sitting in the sand, obviously having fallen over in their dancing.

Boone chuckled and rose. “And that’s my cue to take my wife to bed.”

Rhett got to his feet as well, pulling Boone into a rough hug. “Congrats, man. Couldn’t have been a better day.”

“You’re right about that.” Boone smiled before making his way toward his wife.

Rhett vaguely watched Asher go and collect Remy. The night was wrapping up and the few remaining guests began leaving, but something else caught Rhett’s eye. Rosemary was no longer at the bar; she was approaching Kinsley. Rhett felt himself take a step forward before he forced that foot back down.

Seconds passed like long minutes as Rosemary touched Kinsley’s arm, garnering her attention. Kinsley turned around, facing her mother with the bravery he’d come to expect from her. Rosemary’s mouth moved. Kinsley simply blinked and then walked away. The hurt crossing Rosemary’s face made Rhett’s blood turn red-hot.

He strode forward. Now that Boone had left, he finally felt free to say his piece. He stopped next to Rosemary. “You’re lucky that one child forgives you,” he told her. “Respect her wishes not to talk to you.” Rosemary’s tears only enraged him more. He stood with Kinsley on this. Her leaving them as children and barely even keeping in touch with them now were unforgivable.

His head screamed at him to stay put, but his feet were moving, almost against his will. A minute later, he found Kinsley standing on a rock, her high heels dangling from her hand. The warm breeze fluttered in the night. “All right?” he asked, slowly approaching her.

Kinsley glanced over her shoulder, tears in her eyes. She eventually nodded and turned her gaze back to the dark water.

Rhett settled in next to her, staying quiet, not even knowing what to say.

Kinsley finally filled the silence. “It’s funny, you know. I wasn’t sure what I’d feel seeing that woman.”

“It’s understandable if seeing her upsets you.”

She looked up at him with those crystal blue eyes that pierced right through him. “Seeing her only upsets me because it reminds me that my grandmother isn’t here. The people who really loved Boone should be here, not the one who never mattered.”

An unusual rush of warmth washed over him. His fingers twitched to reach out to her, as a tear brushed down her cheek. Her strength blindsided him and her beauty engulfed him with an intensity he couldn’t extinguish. But her emotion, seeing those eyes fill with sadness, broke down any wall he had up against her.

He wasn’t thinking about repercussions when he reached out and brought her into his arms, only that he needed her close. She wrapped her arms around him, and he heard her high heels fall against the rock as her chin lifted. He looked into those eyes that penetrated places no one had before and he turned his mind off. His lips met hers, and there was no thought anymore. There was only her and him and the perfection of a long-awaited kiss that made him only want more.

So much more that somewhere between kissing her on the beach, finding their way back to his suite, he’d thrown caution to wind, forgetting why he should stay away from her.

Up until the next morning when he stood over her, while she lay sleeping in his bed, her dark hair curtaining the white pillow.

Stark naked, he glanced at the floor, finding three open condom wrappers.


“Why are you staring at me?” Kinsley groaned, her face buried in the pillow. She turned her head a little and peeked open an eye. “Ugh. There’s two of you, and both of you look really pissed off.”

Rhett thrust his hands into his hair. “Please tell me this is a nightmare and we actually didn’t sleep together last night.” But every moan, every hot kiss, was burned in his memory. He remembered just how she tasted while his tongue trailed over her flesh, the amazing floral scent of her stuck in his nostrils.

She rolled over then and Rhett caught a full view of her incredible breasts. You’re so goddamn beautiful…he’d practically purred at her last night after she’d bared herself to him. The lustful eyes she gave him after that comment had him quickly turning around now, as he desperately tried to scrub the memory from his mind. “Get dressed,” he told her.

“You’re naked too, you know,” she said with a smile in her voice. “And it’s quite clear you still want me.”

He frowned at her over his shoulder and then scowled at his hard cock. “Get dressed. Right now.” He went to his suitcase, took out a pair of shorts, and slipped into them. When he turned back around, he found her sitting up in bed with the blankets covering her chest. His mind stuttered at the sight of her. Long, dark tousled hair and gorgeous blue eyes, both of which were a stark contrast against the white pillows and sheets. “Jesus Christ,” he said aloud, moving to the chair, wanting to be as far away from her as possible, considering he was contemplating climbing back into bed with her. “What the fuck have I done?”

“Me,” she said with a laugh. “And damn, it was good.”

He dropped his hands and frowned at her. “Kinsley,” he said in a warning tone.

Instead of responding, which was what he’d expected, she pushed away the sheets and rose from the bed. Rhett’s cock went from hard to rock hard so fast, he grunted.

Harder…faster…God, yes, Rhett…more…Her husky voice echoed in his head. No, hell, in his goddamn soul. She was perfect last night. And she was perfect now. Every single inch of her. Curves in all the right places. Her skin smooth and creamy. But those eyes of hers—filled with heat and sass and something he couldn’t put a name on—unraveled him. “What are you doing to me?” he grumbled.

“Making this as painful as possible.” She grinned and reached for her bra and panties on the floor, turning her heart-shaped ass to him as she bent over.

He groaned. Every stroke inside her body still burned against his flesh. “It’s working.”

She quickly dressed in her sexy thong panties and black lace bra, then slid into her slinky bridesmaid dress, reminding Rhett that they were there at the resort for her brother’s wedding. He was a fucking terrible friend.

Kinsley finally turned around and gave him a sexy smile. “You can relax. Boone will never know about this.” She walked over to Rhett and stared down at him, her pretty hair curtaining the soft lines of her cheekbones.

Rhett clenched his fists, fighting against his desire to tangle his fingers in their strands and pull her right back onto his lap. “This shouldn’t have fucking happened.” He stood up abruptly. And as he did, he saw the way her pupils dilated. The same way they always did when he got close. It was why he kept his distance. She deserved better than him. Kinsley was sunshine and light; she radiated warmth. She deserved a man that had his shit together and knew how to commit to a woman. Rhett was not that man.

Bold as ever, she took a step forward, closing the distance between them. “We both knew this eventually would happen. Now it has, and we can finally get over this push and pull thing we’ve been ignoring for years.” She gave him a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Don’t worry, West, you can go back home and let everyone keep thinking you’re a ruthless bastard.” She made her way to the door.

He balked. “I am a ruthless bastard,” he called out to her.

Her hand froze on the door handle and she glanced over her shoulder. She didn’t need to say a word. With just that warm and soft look, she slayed him. “Rhett,” she said slowly. “We both know that I could never think that.” Then she walked out, shutting the door behind her, and all that was left was a breathless, weightless feeling deep in Rhett’s gut that whatever they’d done last night wasn’t going to change just them; it was going to change everything.

Chapter 1

“Gimme another whiskey, tits!”

Kinsley let the drunk’s rude remark roll off her back. He’d never been in her jazz club, Whiskey Blues, until tonight, and since today was her twenty-ninth birthday, the last thing she wanted was to deal with this jerk. As the owner of one of only two bars in Stoney Creek, a small town hugging the coastline in Maine, she was used to a rowdy customer every now and again. She’d purchased the dive bar with the inheritance her grandparents had left her right after college, and she had redecorated right away. She’d left the bar’s original flagstone walls, but she’d brought in burgundy velvet chairs and added an abundance of gold accents to the space, as well as four large crystal chandeliers to bring warmth and class to the bar. It had taken more than a few years to get the bar off the ground and running, but now she had a waitlist of jazz singers to play on the shiny black stage set in front of the round tables. Every single part of this bar was her heart project, and she’d never been prouder of what she’d built there and the success the bar had seen in these last six years. Therefore, a few vulgar slurs and drunken fools she could handle.

“Hey, blue eyes, did ya hear me?”

Kinsley finally sighed and acknowledged the man. She took in his lost dark eyes, the deep wrinkles set in his face. It didn’t take much to see that the man had been through hard times. It looked like he’d lived three lives already. She swallowed back the verbal lashing sitting on the tip of her tongue and met the gaze of the head bartender, Benji. He stood at the far side of the bar, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with WHISKEY BLUES written across his chest. Benji obviously caught the conversation, his mouth set in a tight line, and his sharp green eyes locked on to Kinsley. She gave a quick nod, and Benji disappeared into the back, only to return a few moments later with Justin, the cook, who did MMA fighting as his hobby.

As the sweet and tender voice of Annabella, a new singer to Whiskey Blues, filled the room, entertaining the crowd, Justin approached with a powerful stride and a body packed full of hard muscle. “Problem?” he asked, sidling up to Kinsley, his stern gaze roaming over the man sitting on the stool.

“This gentleman needs to go home now,” she said. “He’s not using his nice words.”

Justin’s mouth twitched but any and all amusement fled when he looked at the drunken man again. “Do I need to help you leave, sir?” His voice was polite but also laced with a warning. “Or can I stay here and watch you leave?”

The unruly man gave Justin a hard look, taking in the corded muscles on his forearms and the size of his biceps, then cursed and stumbled toward the door, giving them a rude gesture on the way out.

“His nice words?” Justin laughed, turning back to Kinsley.

She shrugged and grabbed a rag near the sink. “It must be a full moon or something; that’s the third rude person tonight.” She’d seen it time and time again. Full moons made people act…wild.

“Well, let’s hope that’s the last,” Justin said.

She nodded. The shadow beneath his eye was a reminder of the tourist from last weekend who had decided Justin was his mortal enemy. Luckily, Boone had been in the bar that night, stepping in when Justin took the powerful punch. “Thanks for coming to get him on his way.”

Justin saluted her. “It’s what you pay me the big bucks for.”

She laughed. He wasn’t lying. She did pay him more than she would a short order cook, but she was glad to have the extra muscle on staff.

While Justin headed back to the kitchen, she took away the man’s empty glass and wiped down the bar.

“If that’s not your cue to get out of here,” Benji said, stepping in next to her, “I don’t know what is.” He leaned a hip against the side of the ice bucket and folded his arms. Being a few inches taller than her, Benji could certainly hold his own. “Do I need to remind you that you own this bar? You make the rules. Why the hell are you working on your birthday?”

Why, indeed?

Lately, all Kinsley had been doing was keeping herself busy. She didn’t even try and pretend she didn’t know why…Rhett. “What can I say, I just love you so much, Benji. Why would I be anywhere else but here with you?”

Benji flashed his charming grin, his unruly blond hair falling down over his brow. “I am pretty lovable, aren’t I?” He nudged her in the playful way they were accustomed to ever since they’d spent two hot weeks together—long before she hired him as head bartender.

“Truly.” She smiled.

Benji’s grin fell. “Seriously, though, get out of here. Lola and I’ve got the bar tonight.” Lola was the other bartender on staff, whom Kinsley had hired after Remy quit to open up her own New Age magic shop next door.

She knew she needed to face tonight. Another birthday…alone. “I’ll help until Lola comes then I’m outta here,” she said.

“Good.” Benji flashed her his cute grin that always won over the ladies. It had made an impact on Kinsley too, until the lust died between them and all that remained was a good, solid friendship. “Any big plans for tonight?” he asked.

Kinsley tried not to flinch. And failed. “Does watching reruns of Friends and eating a bag of chips count as big?”

Benji frowned. “Kinsley, you’re twenty-nine, not dead.”

She certainly wasn’t dead, but she wasn’t sure what she was anymore. Bored, lonely, and everything in between. She tried not to feel emotional that no one had dropped in today to greet her—not her brother or Peyton or her father or Remy. They’d all been so busy with their lives, it seemed they’d forgotten her birthday. “I’m sure we’ll end up doing something next weekend.”

“You better,” Benji said, right as the bar’s front door opened.

Three men entered. All tall and wide in the shoulders. The one leading the group held Kinsley’s gaze as he approached. Shaggy brown hair, dark eyes that held little warmth, and lips that curled at the corners like he had some wicked insight. “I’ll grab these guys,” she told Benji. “Wanna make sure we’re all stocked up before things get busy tonight?” In two hours, the bar would be packed full because of the headline singer coming in from Nashville.

Benji’s attention stayed with the men entering the bar before he looked at her and nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

When he disappeared into the back room, Kinsley closed in on the three men sliding onto the stools at the bar, catching the RED DRAGON crest on the arms of their leather jackets. The biker gang hailed from Whitby Falls, the larger neighboring city to the north. They were bad news, a ruthless, dangerous motorcycle gang, who killed often, and never asked questions. Her dad, brother, and late grandfather were all cops, and growing up, Kinsley had heard stories of these guys. Terrible stories of murder, greed, and more murder.

“Welcome to Whiskey Blues,” she greeted them, placing three circular coasters down on the bar with the club’s logo of a guitar in neon blue and WHISKEY BLUES written in a bold yellow. “What can I get ya?”

The man who’d led the group inside ignored her question. Instead, he said, “Cute place.”

“Thanks.” She forced a smile, even though his tone made it clear that he meant to insult, not praise. “What can I get for you?” she repeated.

“Whiskey. Neat. All around.”

She turned away, fighting against the slight tremble of her fingers before she forced herself to get it together. Men like these got off on scaring the public. She’d never give them that satisfaction. She reached for three shot glasses then grabbed the whiskey bottle behind her bar, feeling their gazes examining her every move.

She poured the shots. “Enjoy.”

The same man grinned darkly, sending a chill straight into her bones. With his gaze set on hers, he lifted the shot glass in salute then downed it. There was something disconcerting in the way he watched her. A little too closely, knowingly almost. Though what truly worried her was the gun she saw resting beneath his leather coat.

After a lifetime around cops, Kinsley knew to trust her instincts, and her inner alarms screamed at her. While the other two men polished off their shots, she quickly moved to the other side of the bar, the hairs on the back of her neck rising with every step. She grabbed her cell phone from her back pocket and dialed her brother.

No answer.

“Dammit,” she spat.

She tried Asher.

Again, no answer.

The room began to swallow her up. A quick look back, and the leader smiled at her again. Not a nice smile, but more of a I’m-going-to-eat-you-my-dear grin. She really didn’t want to make the next call. For two weeks she’d been trying to get in touch with Rhett. He’d never returned her call. Not once. She’d even showed up at his house one night. He didn’t answer the door, even though she knew he was inside.

But the tightness in her gut and the steady thumping of her heart had her texting Rhett: 911. That was their code for call immediately.

Her phone rang a second later. “What’s wrong?”

Rhett’s low smooth voice sent goose bumps racing across her arms. “Wow. You actually called me back.”

There was a pause. A long pause. One that went on and on, with all the awkwardness that had been present between them ever since that hot night in the tropics. And yet…and yet…Kinsley wouldn’t go back and change a thing. It didn’t matter that Rhett could barely look her in the eye anymore, or that he never came into the bar, that night had changed her life. In good ways that she’d never regret.

“Are you in trouble?” he finally asked, breaking the heavy silence.

“Maybe. Are you busy right now? There’s some guys that just came into the bar—”

“I’m on my way.” The call ended.

She released a breath and slid her cell phone into her pocket then shuffled back to the bar. Neither of the three men had moved, still watching her with their creepy eyes.

“Sweetheart,” the leader said in a voice that stole any warmth from the word. “Another shot for me and my guys here.”

She avoided the coldness in his stare and grabbed the whiskey bottle on the back wall then refilled the shot glasses. “Let me know if you need anything else,” she told them.

“Oh, I definitely need something else,” he purred, a scary edge rising in his gaze.

Kinsley sighed heavily, making sure he heard. There was one thing she hated more than drunk rudeness, and that was arrogant cockiness. “Listen, I’ve already kicked out one person tonight. Wanna be number two?”

The guy’s wink sent off warning bells in her mind. “Now that sounds like an interesting night.”

And just like that, she’d had enough of men tonight. She craved her bed and some peace and quiet to have her pity party over her terrible birthday. But right as she went to turn away, the man latched on to her wrist. Hard. She whirled back to him, but any insults she planned on yelling at him died. His stare penetrated her, practically stripping her skin off and peeling back the layers until he found her weak spots.

“Remove your hand.”

The sharp order snapped her attention up. She released a shuddering breath, both in relief to find Rhett had arrived and surprise at the venom in his voice. But too soon all she felt was a heady warmth brought on by his closeness and the dangerous glint in his rich chocolate brown eyes and black hair. Rhett was intimidating. He’d left for the military as a kid and come back home stronger and all grown up. Now thirty-three years old, Rhett’s body was made up of solid muscle from dedication to being in top form. He was a bit too rough to be called handsome, but Rhett was pure masculine perfection, and Kinsley was there for all of it.


  • "One of the best contemporary romances I've read this year!"—Fresh Fiction on Dirty-Talking Cowboy
  • "A kinky, sexy kick off to the Filthy Dirty Love series!"—Meghan March, New York Times bestselling author, on Heartbreaker
  • "With explosive chemistry and a hero to swoon for, Restrained Under His Duty is a perfectly kinky romance to get lost in!"

Skye Warren, New York Times bestselling author

On Sale
Apr 14, 2020
Page Count
288 pages
Forever Yours

Stacey Kennedy

About the Author

Stacey Kennedy is an outdoorsy, wine-drinking, nap-loving, animal-cuddling, USA Today bestselling romance author with a chocolate problem. She writes sexy contemporary romance full of heat and heart, including titles in her wildly hot Kinky Spurs, Club Sin, and Dirty Little Secrets. She lives in southwestern Ontario with her family and does most of her writing surrounded by lazy dogs.

Learn more about this author