Sep 27, 2022
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How to Marry a Bad Boy
Book Three in Dynasties: Tech Tycoons
He needs a temporary marriage. She needs an investor for her start-up. Let the negotiations begin in this new Dynasties: Tech Tycoons novel by New York Times bestselling author Shannon McKenna.
Step 1: Draw a random name.
Step 2: Propose…
Playboy Marcus Moss is the only sibling who hasn’t fulfilled his grandmother’s decree: marry or lose the family company. So he draws a name from all the single women working on special projects for MossTech: Eve Seaton. A brilliant, beautiful geneticist who can pretend to be his wife while he finds investors for her groundbreaking work. Win-win.
Eve can’t resist Marcus’s promise to launch her start-up—or their sizzling attraction! But will the truth about Marcus’s motives derail their arrangement?
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“You’re pranking me, right?” Marcus Moss demanded. “Tell me it’s a prank.”
Gisela Velez, his office manager, clucked her tongue. “Any woman on my list could easily play your temporary wife. Please. Consider it.”
“What do I have to do to make you all understand?” he roared. “I will not play this game! I refuse! Get it through your heads!”
“You’re not the only one in the game, Marcus,” his sister-in-law, Tilda, reminded him. “A lot of careers are on the line.”
Marcus Moss, chief technical officer of MossTech, shot to his feet with a murmured obscenity, shoving his chair back from the huge, cluttered desk.
Afternoon light filled his big corner office. He glared around at his sister, Maddie, Tilda and Gisela, all of whom were breaking his balls today. Ruthlessly.
Gisela had been with him since he began working at MossTech, before he made CTO. She was knowledgeable and competent, and managed his Seattle office with an iron hand when he was out of the country dealing with the far-flung MossTech satellite labs. He had great respect and affection for her, usually. But not today.
Gisela folded her arms over her large bosom, frowning as if he were the unreasonable one. “We’re not asking you to fall in love on command. We’re asking you to cut a deal.”
“You don’t have much time before the ax falls,” Maddie said. “Your thirty-fifth birthday is in seven weeks, and if you’re still unmarried, controlling shares go to Uncle Jerome, and MossTech is screwed.”
Marcus closed his eyes, cursing under his breath. The specter of his great-uncle Jerome Moss getting a controlling interest in MossTech was the price of non-compliance with his grandmother’s ill-conceived marriage mandate. Even after retirement, Jerome still itched for executive power over MossTech. He’d wanted it ever since he and his brother, Marcus’s Grandpa Bertram, had founded the company. It had been an uneasy power struggle for the past fifty years of the company’s existence, and Gran was using that fact now, ruthlessly. At the risk of hurting herself and MossTech, a company she co-owned, and where she had been chief executive officer for decades. Getting them married, at all costs, meant that much to her.
But it was a nightmare for her three grandchildren. Or rather, just for him, at this point. Caleb had gotten lucky last year. Maddie, only a few weeks ago. They were home free, by the grace of God. Good for them.
“So?” Maddie prompted. “Earth to Marcus. Pick up the pace, buddy.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” he protested. “I’m trying to protect as much of our work as possible before Jerome trashes everything we’ve built over the last several years since we took over. Stop distracting me!”
“Our suggestion buys you time,” Tilda urged. “Make a mutually beneficial arrangement with someone from Gisela’s list. You don’t have to pretend it’s a real marriage. Gran knows better than to complain at this point.”
“Like it’s so easy,” he retorted. “But I’m not like Caleb, Til. I’ve made it clear to everyone I ever hooked up with that I’m not interested in long-term commitment. I don’t want the real thing. And I certainly don’t want a fake thing.”
Tilda’s green eyes narrowed. “Come on, Marcus. Women drop at your feet like overripe fruit. You snap your fingers, and they jump.”
“For a hot weekend fling, sure! That’s not what’s on the table!”
“You’re sulking because the burden of Gran’s marriage mandate has fallen on you now, right?” Maddie said. “You hoped Caleb and I would crash and burn before you, and you’d be off the hook. But no. Amazingly, it worked out for us.”
“That’s great, and I’m glad for you, but you shouldn’t have indulged Gran like that. Now she thinks she’s solved your lives. That it’s my turn for her magic touch.”
Tilda and Maddie exchanged guilty smiles. “I wasn’t calculating Gran’s wishes when I fell in love with Jack, Marcus,” Maddie said. “I was suiting myself.”
“Same here, with me and Caleb,” Tilda added.
“Yeah, and so will I,” Marcus snapped. “I won’t comply. You knew I wouldn’t, Caleb knew it, and Gran should have known it, too.”
“She’s trying to compensate for past mistakes,” Tilda said. “She thinks she’s helping you, in her clumsy, bossy way. She’s really not trying to punish you.”
“She’s been trying to manage me since I was a toddler,” Marcus said. “She could never do it then, so what makes her think that I’d behave now?”
“Do you remember that video call you made from that rice paddy in Indonesia?” Maddie asked. “The screaming argument heard round the world?”
“The one where Gran tried to pick out my date for your wedding? Oh, yes. I remember that conversation all too well.”
“You said that you’d pick someone randomly out of a hat before you’d go with one of her choices,” Tilda said. “And guess what? It gave us an idea.”
“I was joking, Til,” he said through his teeth.
“Yeah, well, we’re not. Draw a name, Marcus. See who comes up. C’mon. It’ll be fun.”
“I started with the MossTech personnel and narrowed it down to women who’ve been hired for temporary special projects,” Gisela told him. “They’re smart and ambitious. They have already signed NDAs for the company, and we can write a specific contract for this. They aren’t permanent MossTech employees, and we’re making the limits clear. They can also refuse without any harm to their jobs. I even checked it out with HR. I wrote an algorithm to sort out eligible single women of a certain age, and I asked around to make sure they weren’t engaged or living with their boyfriends. It’s the best networking opportunity that they will ever get. It’s weird for everybody, I admit, but desperate times call for desperate measures, right? And who wouldn’t want to be the MossTech Hottie Dreamboat’s temporary wife?”
“That’s Caleb’s title, not mine,” Marcus growled.
“Nope,” Tilda informed him. “You inherited the title when Caleb married me. Now poor Caleb is just a regular harried family man, frantically juggling family and career. Earn the name, Wonder Boy.”
The smiles she was exchanging with Maddie and Gisela set his teeth on edge. “Do not yank my chain,” he warned them.
“Lighten up, bro,” Maddie soothed. “I know from experience how hard it is to power-shop for a spouse with brutal time constraints. Caleb only had a month to find someone last year when Gran came up with this mandate. We’re trying to give you a jumping-off point.”
“Yeah, right off a cliff!”
“Speaking of cliffs, if Jerome takes over, he’ll do serious damage to the terms of the merger with my dad’s company, which will hurt Riley Biotech’s employees,” Tilda said. “Help me out here, Marcus. Please. It’s not just about you anymore.”
“Talk to Gran,” he said through his teeth. “I didn’t create this mess.”
“Buy us time,” she pleaded. “Eight hundred people in Riley Biotech are counting on me to protect their livelihoods. Make an effort. Keep Jerome guessing. You have an escape route, remember? The marriage won’t be forever. I’ll show you the contract Caleb and I used. Use it as a guide. Tweak it however you like.”
“No. I won’t turn cartwheels for Gran. It’s humiliating.”
“So’s getting your ass fired,” Gisela said sourly.
“Come on, Marcus,” Maddie coaxed. “You never intended to marry anyway, right? It’s not like you’re giving up anything real.”
“My pride, my dignity, my integrity?”
Gisela rolled her eyes. “Pah. My cousins set me up with Hector at Uncle Luiz’s wedding, and we were engaged two days later. It’s been thirty years, and it worked. Aside from his snoring, anyhow. How is this any different?”
“At least you can be sure that any person contracted to do a special project for MossTech has been vetted for smarts,” Maddie encouraged.
“Did Gran demand a DNA swab? Inspect their teeth? Request their medical records?”
“I didn’t speak to Mrs. Moss about this at all. And they’re all nice, respectable young women, so be polite.” Gisela’s gaze challenged him as she pulled a spreadsheet from a file and plucked an empty gift bag made of brocade-textured midnight blue paper out of her purse. “I don’t have a hat, but we can use the bag from the Dior J’adore perfume you gave me on my birthday. I simply love the stuff, by the way.”
“Glad to hear it,” Marcus said grimly. “It wasn’t enough to keep you on my side, though, was it? What do I have to give you, Gisela? Emeralds? My own heart’s blood?”
“It’s in all of our best interests to stave off the apocalypse,” Gisela lectured. “You know that Jerome will fire your administrative staff the minute he fires you, right? We’ve been sending out résumés for weeks. The stress is very bad for morale.”
Marcus had not, in fact, thought of that. He was appalled. “No way!” he said blankly. “Why would he do that? He’d be shooting himself in the foot to fire you!”
“Jerome’s never been known for his good sense,” Maddie observed.
“You know this place inside out,” Marcus said to Gisela. “Our operations, our engineers, our history, the labs worldwide. Jerome would be insane to cut you loose!”
“He’ll never trust me,” Gisela said, her voice resigned. “I’ll be out the door the day he fires you. And I’d really hoped to get all the way to retirement with this job. I don’t want to roll the dice again at my age. So you’re not the only one with skin in the game, okay? Sebastian!” she bawled through the door. “Bring me some scissors!”
A young assistant scurried in with a pair of scissors clutched in his hand, eyes wide and curious behind his glasses.
Gisela handed him the spreadsheet. “Chop those up, drop them into the gift bag.”
Sebastian scanned the list as he snipped names. “Is this for the bride drawing?”
Marcus winced. “The whole admin staff knows about this circus?”
“That’s none of your business, Sebastian,” Gisela said sternly. She gave Marcus a guilty glance. “I had to ask around for the candidates’ relationship status, so word got around. I was as discreet as I could be, but…”
“Right,” Marcus growled. “I get it.”
Sebastian waved a scrap of paper. “Nix Barb Jennings,” he advised. “She met a guy at a conference in Vegas. Now she’s got stars in her eyes and can’t stop giggling.”
“Thanks for the tip.” Gisela twitched the scrap from him and tossed it in the trash.
Sebastian stuffed the strips of paper into the bag and placed it on the desk in front of Marcus, his eyes bright with anticipation.
“Out you go, Sebastian,” Gisela said briskly. “Chop, chop.”
Sebastian slunk out, crestfallen.
“You’re telling me, with a straight face, to pick a name out of this bag, walk up to some random woman I don’t even know, and ask her to marry me,” Marcus said.
The women all spoke in unison. “Yes.”
“Bro,” Maddie said. “If anyone in the world can, it’s you. Not to be crass, but you’re rich, you’re smart and you’re smoking hot. Whatever this woman’s professional aspirations are, you can sweeten the pot. She’ll say yes. Unless she’s in love with someone already, in which case, no harm, no foul. Just draw again.”
“You enjoy the thrill of uncertainty, right?” Tilda said. “Aren’t you the guy who loves extreme sports? This will break the spell. Get you moving in the right direction.”
“Yeah. To another continent, maybe.”
Gisela sniffed. “I’ve always gone over and above for you, Marcus. You owe me this. Just try before you kamikaze all of our careers, okay?”
“Do not guilt-trip me,” he snarled. “I’m not the one piloting the death plane!”
Gisela held out the gift bag. “That changes nothing for the rest of us. And I’m not afraid to piss off my boss, since I’m about to be fired anyhow. Pick a name.”
Screw it. He was outmaneuvered, and they all knew it. He shoved his hand into the bag, rummaged around…and around.
“Stop stalling,” Maddie said.
“Stop nagging,” he retorted, yanking out a strip of paper.
“Who is it?” the three women all demanded, all at once.
He gazed at it, frowning. “Eve Seaton,” he told them. “Never heard of her.”
Tilda let out a gasp. “Oh! I know that name! Caleb was talking about her. Everyone wanted her, but she’d only accept a short-term contract. Caleb would mortgage the farm to get her on his team, though. He’s still hoping that she changes her mind.”
“What’s her specialty?”
“Genetics.” Gisela sat before his computer, typing with blinding speed. “She’s brilliant, they say. They hired her to lead a team that’s genome sequencing some kind of fast-growing root-rot fungus. Let me …yes. Dr. Eve Seaton. Here. Take a look.”
Marcus circled behind Gisela and leaned to look at the personnel photo on the screen. The shot had been snapped for her lanyard. She was brunette, and her dark, wavy hair was scraped back severely into something, a bun, a braid, a ponytail, who knew. The observer was given no clues about the rear details from that squarely frontal pose, just a faint fuzz of curling wisps around her forehead. She wore harsh, black-framed glasses, a white lab coat that blended in with the white background in the overexposed shot so that her hands and face seemed to float in an otherworldly sea of white.
He leaned closer. Her eyes pulled him, in spite of the glasses that somehow did not obscure them at all. Big, deep-set, a bright, light-catching gray. Full of calm challenge.
He leaned closer and inhaled a choking whiff of Gisela’s J’adore. He teased what oxygen he could out of the air and tried not to cough.
Eve Seaton’s other features were too washed out to make much of them, but she looked serious, prim. She had a heart-shaped face, delicate points to her jaw. Her lips were pressed tight, so it was hard to tell their true shape. In this picture, her eyes dominated.
After a moment, he realized that the women were exchanging smug looks.
“I bet this one’s as smart as you, bro, if not smarter.” Maddie had that little-sister nyah-nyah taunting tone. “Maybe you should draw again.”
“Don’t jerk me around,” he growled. “I outgrew that garbage in kindergarten.”
Their smothered giggles put him over the top. He was done with this interchange.
“Ladies, it’s been real,” he said curtly. “Talk to you later.”
“Wait!” Gisela clicked with the mouse. “She’s in the genetics lab on the fourth level of the Rosen Building, and her office number is 450. Take this.” She rummaged through files and held one out. “This is everything I could collect on her. Educational bona fides, CV, professional organizations, scientific articles. You can make her dreams come true…in exchange for this insignificant favor that costs her nothing. Hmm?”
Marcus took the file. There was no way to remove those women from his office other than throwing them out bodily, so he left himself, striding through the cubicles outside. Their occupants looked away quickly as he passed, sensing his volcanic seething.
Unfortunately, the hapless Sebastian hadn’t gotten the memo. He jumped up from his desk. “Hey, Mr. Moss! So how did it go? Who’d you pick?”
Marcus jabbed his finger in Sebastian’s direction so savagely the kid jerked back, though he was ten feet away. “Not. Another. Word.”
Sebastian recoiled, blinking rapidly. “Um, ah, yeah. Sorry. Sorry.”
Marcus strode on, ashamed at himself for snarling at a bumbling dweeb like Sebastian. He headed straight for the door to the courtyard in search of air, sky.
It’s not just about you anymore.
You’re not the only one with skin in the game.
Just try before you kamikaze all of our careers, okay?
Goddamn Gran for dumping this mess on him. If he had only himself to consider, he’d walk away from MossTech without a care. Even if it had been his brother Caleb’s career on the line, he’d have cut loose. He was confident that Caleb would thrive. His brother was doing great. Wildly in love with Tilda and his newly discovered little daughter, Annika, high on the euphoria of getting his best friend Jack Daly back from exile. Jack’s name had been cleared of all wrongdoing, thanks to Maddie, who was Jack’s new true love.
And all the love and devotion around here was putting him in a sugar coma.
But the thought of Gisela and the rest getting fired…damn. And there were Tilda’s people from Riley Biotech as well, all of them hanging on his conscience. It would be a bloodbath.
Marcus stopped in the center of the garden courtyard at the enormous fountain. Water ran smoothly over a huge, gleaming black granite globe.
Marcus opened the file. It was full of articles from scientific journals, co-written by a group of researchers. Eve Seaton’s name always led the list.
He was caught by a photo of Eve Seaton on a stage a few years ago, receiving an Oskoff Prize for excellence in biotechnology. Smiling, surrounded by beaming colleagues, holding a crystal plaque. She wore an embroidered charcoal gray silk gown with a high Chinese collar. It fit her body like a glove. Nice body.
The prize had been for the genetics in a project called Corzo. He scanned the documents. She and her team had engineered a fast-growing perennial grass that never needed to be aerated, and was genetically tweaked to sequester huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. After two years, a field planted with Corzo could suck more carbon from the atmosphere than a similar-sized plot of primeval rain forest, while also producing a very protein-rich seed that could be eaten by humans and livestock alike. Endangered honeybees also thrived on its flowers. Nice touch. Corzo multitasked like a boss.
The articles Gisela had gathered touted Corzo as being not only edible, but tasty. There was one about how Eve Seaton and her team had partnered with local bakers to develop Corzo recipes. A local magazine touted the Corzo Holiday Tasting Basket with an article entitled “Merry Christmas! Toothsome Treats for a Hopeful Future.”
There were photos of her and her team in the article, next to a huge table with an array of baked goods, baskets of pasta, cakes, cookies, pastries. One picture showed Eve dipping a Corzo cracker into a cheesy dip. In another, she wore a little black dress and bright lipstick, laughing as she lifted a piece of what looked like a cinnamon roll.
Lovely smile. Pretty, soft, full lips. Nice figure. Tall, willowy. Stacked.
He pulled out his phone, hit Gisela’s contact. She answered. “Boss?”
“Does Eve Seaton’s Corzo project have funding?” he asked.
“It did, but it fell through last year for some reason,” Gisela said promptly. “Great project, huh? You could get Caleb behind that in no time. He’ll want her on board for the Greenroofs urban planning projects he’s doing with Maddox Hill Architecture.”
“Yeah, right. Bye, Gisela.”
The other phone in his other jacket pocket rang, and he cursed under his breath. He should have left it in the drawer where it wouldn’t bother him. It was the phone he kept for his sex life, which was rigorously separate from his work phone. Lately, with all the gossip about his need for a wife, he was being hounded by everyone he’d ever slept with.
The display read Teresa Haber. A weekend fling from several months ago. Not someone he particularly wanted to talk to again.
Might as well nip it in the bud right now. He put the phone to his ear. “Hi, Teresa.”
“Hello, Marcus.” Her voice was low and seductive. “I heard some shocking gossip about your grandmother forcing you to find a bride. Is it true?”
“Yes, but it’s covered,” he assured her. “Have a good evening, Teresa.”
“Oh, so you found someone? Who did you—”
He closed the call. None of her damn business.
He looked at the article in the file, at Eve Seaton’s laughing face. On the other side of the fountain was the Rosen Building, and in that the genetics lab. Office 450.
At this hour, the courtyard was nearly empty. People with families were hurrying home to their personal lives. Eve Seaton had probably left the building. Maybe she was out getting a drink with girlfriends, colleagues, who knew. But his feet carried him inside, to the central elevator bank. He got inside, hit the button for the fourth floor.
The elevator opened, and several people got onto the elevator he’d vacated. He strolled through nearly empty halls until he saw Office 450. Locked.
He continued on to the lab Gisela had specified. Inside, a tall Asian guy was emerging from clean room airlock.
Marcus approached him. “Excuse me. Is Eve Seaton still here?”
“Yeah, in the clean room.” He pointed at a lone, heavily swathed figure at the far end of the clean room, visible through layers of protective glass beyond the airlock.
“Thanks.” Marcus walked over to the window.
Eve Seaton’s back was to him. She was slim, she had regal posture, and that was all he could tell about her, dressed in all that protective gear. She could have been an astronaut, with the gloves, the booties, the hood, the goggles, the mask.
Which made it harder to justify to himself. He was staring at a person swathed in a coverall, peering into a microscope. A person who had no idea he was there.
As spectacles went, it was as interesting as watching paint dry, yet here he stood, contemplating his possible future wife.
Not bored at all.