Mar 1, 2021
His Perfect Fake Engagement
Book One in The Men of Maddox Hill
Can this bad boy keep to the terms of their fake engagement? Find out in this Men of Maddox Hill novel from New York Times bestselling author Shannon McKenna!
When it comes to bad boys,
the rules of engagement are made to be broken…
While not all of starchitect Drew Maddox’s playboy reputation is deserved, a recent scandal means he has one last shot to stay CEO of his family’s company. He has to settle down. Bright, beautiful and squeaky-clean Jenna Somers will make the perfect fake fiancée. Drew promises Jenna whatever she desires…but what she desires is him!
From Harlequin Desire: Luxury, scandal, desire—welcome to the lives of the American elite. Love triumphs in these uplifting romances, part of the Men of Maddox Hill series:
Read an Excerpt
“I was set up.”
Experience had taught Drew Maddox to keep his voice even and calm when dealing with his volatile uncle, but nothing was going to help his cause today.
“The damage is the same!” Malcolm Maddox flung the crumpled handful of cheap tabloid magazines he’d been clutching in his fist onto the conference room table. “For anyone who looks at this, you’re just a coke-sniffing scoundrel with a taste for eighteen-year-olds! Why in God’s name were you at a party at that lowlife degenerate’s house in the first place? What in holy hell were you thinking?”
Drew let out a breath, counting down slowly. The photos in the tabloids were of him, sprawled on a couch, shirt ripped open, looking clouded and disoriented, while a young woman in a leather miniskirt, large breasts popping out of her skin-tight silver top, sat astride him.
“I was trying to help a friend,” Drew repeated. “She found out that her younger sister was at that party. She couldn’t get in herself, but she knew that I used to run with that guy years ago, so she asked me to check up on her sister.”
“We were supposed have dinner with Hendrick and Bev tonight!” his uncle raged. “Did that even cross your mind before you got into this mess?”
“I do remember the dinner, yes,” Drew said.
Hendrick Hill was Malcolm’s longtime partner and cofounder of their architecture firm, Maddox Hill. Drew had always liked the guy, uptight and humorless though he usually was.
“Then Bev reads about your drunken orgy at Arnold Sobel’s house at her hairdresser’s!” Malcolm stabbed the tabloids with his finger. “She sees the CEO of her husband’s company in these pornographic pictures. She was horrified, Drew.”
“It wasn’t a drunken orgy, Uncle, and I never—”
“Sanctimonious bastard,” Malcolm growled. “He had nerve, sputtering at me about morals and appearances. As far as Hendrick is concerned, it doesn’t matter how many architectural prizes and honors you’ve won if you can’t keep your pants zipped. He thinks you’re a liability now, and if he persuades the rest of the board, he has the votes to oust you, no matter what I say.”
“I know,” Drew said. “But I was set up at that party. Someone played their cards carefully.”
Malcolm let out a savage grunt. “You’re the one who’s playing, from what I can see. And if the board fires you, all of our clients will smell blood in the water. It’s humiliating!”
I was set up. He had to stop repeating it. Uncle Malcolm didn’t want to hear it, so at this point he’d be better off just keeping his mouth shut. PR disaster or not, he couldn’t have done anything differently. When his friend Raisa found out someone brought her sister Leticia to one of Arnold Sobel’s famously depraved parties, she’d been terrified that the younger woman would fall prey to a house full of drunken, drugged-up playboys.
Then Leticia had stopped answering her phone, and Raisa had completely freaked out. If Drew hadn’t intervened, she would have forced her way through Arnold’s security and into Sobel’s party by herself—with a gun.
It would have ended badly. Certainly for Raisa. Maybe for everyone.
Drew couldn’t let that happen.
Of course, as he discovered afterward, Leticia had never been at the party at all. He and Raisa had been played. The target had been Drew all along. But Uncle Malcolm didn’t want to hear it.
“I was set up.” He knew the words wouldn’t help, but he couldn’t stop repeating them. “They staged those pictures. The photographer was lying in wait.”
“If there’s one thing I hate more than a spoiled ass who thinks the world only exists for his pleasure, it’s a whiner,” his uncle snarled. “Set up, my ass. You’re a Marine, for God’s sake! Taken down by a pack of half-dressed showgirls?”
Ava, his younger sister, jumped in. “Uncle Malcolm, think about it,” she coaxed. “Drew’s not a whiner. A rebel and a screwup, maybe, but he always owned it. And this is so deliberate. The way those girls ambushed him—”
“Doesn’t look like an ambush to me. It looks like a damn orgy!”
“Someone’s telling you a story, Uncle,” Ava insisted. “Don’t be a sucker.”
“Ha. All I see is that your brother couldn’t care less about the reputation and the future of the company I spent my life building! If Hendrick uses his muscle to get the board to remove you as CEO, I can’t stop him. So start brushing up your resumé. As of today, you’re job hunting. Face Hendrick tonight like a man. He can tell you his decision then. But as for myself, I’m done, boy. Done with your crap.”
Uncle Malcolm stomped out of the room, cane thudding. He tried to slam the door for effect, but the expensive hydraulic hinge, made it sigh gently closed after him with a delicate click.
Drew leaned forward, rubbing his aching temples. “I’ll skip the dinner with Hendrick,” he said wearily. “No one needs me there to make that announcement. I’ve reached my humiliation quota for the day.”
“No, don’t. That looks like an admission of guilt,” Ava said thoughtfully. “You need to come to dinner, Drew. I have an idea.”
Drew gave his sister a wary look. “If anything could make me feel worse right now, it’s those four words coming out of your mouth.”
“Don’t be a wuss,” Ava scolded. “This place needs you here as CEO. You’re the new face of Maddox Hill. Hell, you’re the new face of architecture. Nobody else has what it takes to head up all those big carbon sink building projects you got going. You’re the one who won the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, and the AIA COTE Award—”
“You don’t need to flog my résumé to me, Av. I know what’s on it.”
“And the Green Academy competition, and that’s just the eco stuff,” Ava persisted. “You’re, like, Mr. Cross-Laminated-Sustainable-Timber-Is-Our-Future. Maddox Hill can’t stay relevant without you. Everyone will line up to thank me eventually. You’ll see.”
It didn’t surprise him that she would think so. His sister had curly blond hair, huge cobalt blue eyes, a drop-dead figure, charisma to burn and a very, very high opinion of herself. She could bend people effortlessly to her will, especially men. He was the only one who could resist her. She was his little sister, after all.
The whole thing was still sinking in. How much he stood to lose today, all in one fell swoop. Control of all his design projects, many of which had been years in the making. Most notably of all, he hated the thought of losing the Beyond Earth Project. He’d put that together with the collaboration of the robotics research arm of the Maddox Hill Foundation, opening up the field to young architects and engineers to problem-solve the obstacles to human habitation on the moon and Mars.
That project would have just rung all of their late father’s bells. Dad had been a dreamer.
“I’m not proposing that you charm Hendrick, or even Uncle Malcolm,” Ava said. “That’s a woman’s job. Your fiancée will do the heavy lifting. You just smile and nod.”
“What fiancée?” Drew asked, baffled. “I have to find a fiancée before dinner tonight? That’s setting the bar high, Av, even for a wild, carousing playboy like me.”
“No, big brother, the finding’s done for you already. It came to me like a beautiful brain-flash while Uncle Malcolm was ranting. We need to fight this false story—and I have the perfect counter-story. And she happens to be right nearby today, right now!”
“What the hell are you talking about? Who’s here?”
“Your future bride,” Ava announced.
Drew was struck silent, appalled. “Av, you’re joking, right?”
“Nope! A temporary engagement, of course. Just a few months, to get you over the hump. You met her once, when you were on leave from Iraq, remember? You stopped to visit me at my dorm in Seattle. Remember Jenna, my roommate?”
“The little red-blonde with the glasses? The one who dumped a pitcher of sangria all over me?”
“That’s the girl. I was supposed to meet up with her for coffee before her Wexler presentation over at the Curtis Pavilion this afternoon, but Uncle Malcolm was in such a tizzy, I had to reschedule so I could calm him down. Not that it helped much.”
“Jenna’s a biomechanical engineer, and she started her own bionics company a few years ago. She designs prosthetic mechanical limbs. Brain activated, artificial nerves, sensory feedback. Real space-age stuff. I have been doing their PR, and she’s up for the Wexler Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Engineering. She gave her introductory presentation to the committee today. Her mission is to make affordable, high-functioning mechanical arms available for everyone who needs one. She’s brilliant, she’s focused, she cares…in short… She’s perfect.”
“But why?” He shook his head, baffled. “Why would she do this for me? And why would anyone buy it? And what the hell is the point?”
“They will buy it, and they will love it,” Ava said. “Underestimate me at your peril, bro. I am a genius.”
“I don’t want to tell a pack of lies,” Drew said. “It makes me tense.”
“You have to fight fire with fire,” Ava told him sternly. “You’d rather just give in and torpedo Uncle Malcolm’s company rather than try something bold and risky? Someone is pushing a fake story about you. That you’re a spoiled, entitled asshat who uses and discards vulnerable young women. Ouch. My story is much better. Handsome bad boy, redeemed by love, his social conscience shocked to life—”
“I have a social conscience already,” he growled. “I’m not a complete tool.”
“Shhh, I’m just brainstorming. The cynical rogue with the secret hunger in his heart who falls for the smart girl in glasses. Humbled by the power of love. Oh, yeah.”
“Secret hunger in my heart?” Drew tilted an eyebrow. “Really, Av?”
“Just roll with it, bro. This woman is making artificial arms for people so they can hug their kids again. See where I’m going? Pathos. Warmth.
Connection. We all crave it.”
“I get it just fine, and you’re still nuts,” Drew told her.
Ava picked her tablet up from the table and tapped the screen a few times, passing it to Drew. “This is Jenna. I had my assistant go over to the Curtis to record her presentation to the Wexler Prize committee, and he already sent me the video. Take a look.”
In the video, a young woman was spotlighted on the circular stage at the Curtis Pavilion, one of the newest high-profile Seattle skyscrapers that Drew had designed. She wore a microphone headset. A sleek fitted short gray dress. She had nice legs. Her strawberry blond ringlets were twisted up into an explosive messy bun, ringlets sproinging out in every direction. She still wore glasses, but now they were cat-eye style, the frames a bright neon green.
Drew held up the tablet. The camera zoomed in on her face. The pointed chin, the tilted hazel eyes. A sprinkle of freckles. Her mouth was full, with a sexy dip in the pillowy softness of her lower lip. Painted hot, glossy red. He tapped the tablet for the sound.
“…new nerve connections, opening the doorways to actual sensations,” she was saying, in a low, musical voice. “Holding a paintbrush. Braiding a child’s hair. Dribbling a basketball. We take these things for granted, and don’t see them for the daily miracles that they are. I want these daily miracles in arm’s reach for everyone. Thank you.”
There was enthusiastic applause. He muted it. Ava took her tablet back. “Her company is called Arm’s Reach,” Ava said. “She’s won a bunch of awards already. Most recently the AI and Robotics International Award. That one was a million bucks. But she needs more, to develop ways for people to access the specialized nerve surgery that goes with some of her tech.” Ava paused. “She’s cute, too. Though I’m sure you noticed.”
“Av, I’m sure this woman is too busy helping people with real problems to participate in your little theater project to solve mine,” Drew said absently, still gazing down at the tablet. “Would you send me that video?”
“Sure thing.” A smile curved Ava’s mouth as she swiped and tapped the screen. “Done.” She picked up the phone on the table. “Mrs. Crane?” she said. “Is Ms. Somers there? Excellent. Yes, bring her in. Thanks so much.”
“Jenna Somers is here, now?” Drew was alarmed. “Ava, I never agreed to—”
“Don’t be silly. She’s here right now, Drew. What’s the point of wasting any time? Hers or ours?”
A knock sounded on the door. “Come in!” Ava sang out.
It was too late to answer Ava’s question the way it deserved to be answered.
The door was already opening.