Read an Excerpt
The Geek Billionaire Makeover
A Sexy in Seattle Novel
By Theresa Meyers, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Theresa Meyers
All rights reserved.
Through the haze of fragrant jasmine and steam, a persistent phone kept ringing. After the fourth time, Caroline gave up trying to ignore it. She turned off the shower, popped open the glass door, and stepped over the pile of workout clothes on the cool tile floor. Her big, plush dark green towel slipped and she tucked it tighter around herself as she ran into the bedroom.
There was something wonderful about working for yourself, but there was also a dark side. She never stopped working. If the phone was ringing off the hook, it was because her assistant, Alexa, had something pressing that required her immediate attention or her father was in trouble at the VA hospital.
She took a deep breath and released it, then snapped up the phone. "Hello?"
"Caroline Parker?" said a deep male voice she didn't recognize.
Definitely not Alexa. "Speaking. Who is this?"
"That's not really important. What is important is that I'm about to make you a very rich woman and give you a chance to get even in the bargain."
The soft downy hairs at the nape of Caroline's neck prickled. When an offer sounded too good to be true, it always meant trouble. Big trouble. Instinct shouted at her to hang up, but a healthy dose of entrepreneurial curiosity got the better of her. "I'm listening. You have two minutes before I have your number traced and call the police."
There was an amused chuckle, the sound of someone used to being in total control who saw her threat as empty and useless.
"You're not going to do anything of the sort, because I'm hiring you."
Caroline sighed, brushing the thick, dark strands of her wet hair back over her shoulder, and stared out over the Seattle skyline to the deep, blue waters of the Puget Sound backed by the snow-capped peaks of the Olympics. It was a hell of a view and worth every expensive penny. "I don't take on clients I haven't met." As an image consultant, she'd found this to be imperative. While you could do a lot of things to modify a person's image, you couldn't turn charcoal into diamonds.
"Oh, but I think you'll be willing to make an exception in this case, especially since I'm offering up Joshua Martin to you on a silver platter."
The phone slipped in her damp hand and she nearly dropped her towel as her grip on it slackened. "I'm sorry. Say that again?"
"Joshua Martin. The Joshua Martin."
"As in the reclusive multibillionaire software genius?" At twenty-eight the guy owned Softech and half of Seattle, and was rumored to be investing in a private space exploration venture. He'd changed the course of her life once — and not for the better. Perhaps this was her chance to change the course of his.
"Yes. I want you to be his image consultant."
Her heart crawled up into her throat. This was big. Huge. Okay, who was she kidding? This was ginormous enough that if she landed Martin as a client he could propel her image consultation business into not just another universe, but another dimension. Fleeting glimpses of shaking hands with movie stars, senators, and international royalty flitted through her mind. This gig could at the least make her very rich. "And what exactly were you expecting out of my consulting services?"
"I want you to get inside Softech and get close enough to him to find out where he hides the things most important to him. I want you to find me something he took and return it."
That sounded reasonable enough. "And how would this possibly benefit me?"
There was a rasp of stubble against the phone. "I know you want revenge. I can give you that and pay you very well for returning my property." It was true. She did want revenge, but not at the cost of being anywhere near Joshua Martin ever again.
"I suppose Mr. Martin could pay me just as well."
"Oh, I highly doubt that. At least not as much as what I had in mind."
"And if I'm not interested?"
"Then you can kiss your image consulting business good-bye."
Caroline contemplated the threat and decided it wasn't enough. Few people could carry through on such a thing. "Still not interested."
"Then perhaps you'd be more inclined if your brother was about to be framed for murder."
Caroline instantly tensed all over. "What are you talking about?"
"Connor Parker, the good little engineer working for the government, could easily lose his security clearance, his job, his home, his wife, and his family — all gone. All I have to do is make a call."
The threat seemed all too real now, draining the flush of the hot shower from her skin. "You don't leave me much choice. Fine. I'll do it. I'll get into Softech and get whatever it is you want."
She could almost hear the man smile on the other end of the phone. "I knew you could be agreeable. You have two months. A package with directions will be delivered to your apartment."
"My apart —" The line went dead.
The doorbell rang and Caroline jumped, clutching her towel closer. She went to the door and checked the peephole, but saw no one. Caroline cracked open the door, letting it slide back on the chain lock. Through the narrow slit she spied a package on the floor. Great, now she had confirmation that whoever this psycho was, he knew where she lived. Not hard to do when he already knew her phone number, but unsettling all the same.
She retrieved the plain manila envelope and ripped it open. Inside was an invitation to a party that night with a typed note attached that read:
Go tonight and make contact with Antonio Carvales. He is Martin's VP of Public Relations and is looking for an image consultant for Martin. Convince him to hire you.
She shook the envelope, but nothing else came out.
Great. Just great. What exactly had she gotten herself into?
* * *
"As much as you've already sunk into this new company, you can't afford to let the launch go sideways. Josh, are you even listening to me?"
In truth, Josh Martin was only half listening to the nagging of his head of public relations and longtime best friend Antonio Carvales. Beyond the plate-glass windows of Softech, shadows stretched long, tenacious fingers across the manicured green lawns of the business complex and moved toward the sapphire waters of Lake Washington. Shadows meant one thing when you lived near Seattle: sunshine.
He knew he should go get a dose of vitamin D while he could, but more important matters were claiming his attention. How many years had he put business before pleasure?
"Do you realize how much you've invested in Aeon Industries?"
He watched two of his techs on the lawns below remove their jackets; their steps slowed so they could enjoy the rare burst of sunshine. He wanted to be out there with them, the sun on his face, no responsibilities. For an instant, the lure of being just an average guy, with a girlfriend who liked him just for who he was, pulled at him.
"About one point five billion, more or less. Check with Eric in accounting."
Carvales sighed. "You can't be just the pocketbook of this venture. You've got to be the face of it. I'm telling you, no one is going to buy into living in space if they think the company of the future is run by a bunch of guys old enough to be their grandfathers. They need you. You've got the clout as a techie genius and billionaire."
Josh turned and speared his best friend with a glare. "Then what's the problem?"
Carvales pushed his fingers through his thick black hair and gave a mirthless chuckle. "You're a geek. A billionaire, but a nerdy geek, man. A little chic, maybe, but still. There's no other way to say it. If you want this to work you'll have to be the face of Aeon Industries, and to do that you've got to be not just a rich, smart guy with passable looks who's a workaholic, you've got to have the 'it' factor that'll bring in the celebs and high-paying customers into the venture. You've got to make living in a luxury space community the hottest trend out there. You've got to get people talking, raving about it. This isn't just some app you're selling. This is a lifestyle and you've got to make people want it, which means they've got to want you."
Josh sat down, slouching into his leather executive chair, propped his high-top Converse up on the expensive black marble top of his desk, and stared at his autographed collector's-edition Star Wars posters on his wall. He'd never let anything stop him before, especially anyone's opinion of him. "No" was just an invitation to try harder.
"What do you want me to do?" Not that he wanted to do whatever Carvales suggested. He was just curious what the guy would come up with.
"I want you to work with an image consultant, someone who can get you on the cover of magazines or television as one of the hottest billionaires around."
"And if we don't find someone to help me get the 'it' factor we're looking for?" Not that he believed anyone could bestow the magical "it" that made people popular. His "it" factor was in other areas.
"Then the chances of getting Senator Wymer to sign off on the regulations for privatizing space exploration and settlement we've been lobbying for are screwed and the investment in Aeon's IPO will tank. Basically, you'll have pissed away one point five billion on a daydream. Unless ..."
Josh noticed the twinkle in his friend's eye and smiled. "Unless we get Senator Wymer's daughter on our side."
"You're scary sometimes, you know that?"
Carvales grinned. "You got to be one step ahead, man. And to that end, I've already secured the services of an image consultant. She'll be here in half an hour."
* * *
This was her chance to take Joshua Martin down. The weedy little geek deserved it, especially after what he'd put her through. It might have been ten years ago, but the humiliation and isolation transformed her life. One letter from Josh to her uptight military father and she'd been packed off in April of her junior year to a boarding school in Eastern Europe without getting to explain her side of things, or even ask Josh why he'd done it. Only her boarding school hadn't been like the movies. It had been more like a prison, with twelve-foot-tall concrete walls topped with razor wire, where no one spoke English and the military-style command felt physical abuse was the rule, not the exception. It had been hell. Then there was the matter of robbing her brother of his share of billions as an original founder of Softech. She traced all of it back to Josh, blamed him really. And when she'd finally cobbled together enough of her life and frayed nerves to confront him a few years after she'd returned to the States, she'd been brushed off by some low-level secretary. He was too important, too busy to deal with a blast from his past. But that was then, and she planned on making now count for all she was worth.
She gripped the handle of her Coach purse a little tighter and glanced out the glass walls of the rising elevator at the impressive spread of manicured grounds that hugged the headquarters of Softech. The compound was nestled in a velvet emerald blanket polka-dotted with vibrant bursts of pinks, whites, reds, and purples of blooming rhododendrons beneath islands of tall fir trees. Just past them she caught a glimpse of the lapping deep blue waters of Lake Washington. This all could have been Connor's — at least a third of it.
The lush scenery did nothing to ease the butterflies attempting a Cirque du Soleil performance in her stomach. While this was potentially the biggest client of her life, she had no intention of seeing the venture succeed.
Oh, she'd give him a makeover, all right. She'd ensure he got on every magazine and TV show, then when his efforts to launch Aeon tanked and his starlet girlfriend — the one he didn't have yet, but she would fix that soon enough — dropped him, his failures would become a feeding frenzy for the paparazzi. There were two things the media liked: covering who was hot, and covering their downward spiral. She was going to take Josh to dizzying heights, then watch as he crashed and burned. Payback was a bitch.
But right now she intended to strip Joshua Martin down to nothing and see what she had to work with. Even though she'd already researched the reclusive high-tech billionaire, it was hard to know precisely what she'd need to do to remake the image of a client until she met them face-to-face. After all, she hadn't even laid eyes on him in ten years. And she couldn't exactly ask Connor about the man he'd once considered closer than a brother. Joshua and her brother hadn't spoken since college. Contemplating revenge and actually getting this close to making it happen were two different things.
Her stomach bobbed up into her throat as the glass elevator bounced, stopping at yet another floor on her way to the top-floor offices of Mr. Martin. The doors spread open and a woman with long, straight dark red hair, dressed in olive-green cargo pants and a faded rock band T-shirt, stepped into the elevator. She offered Caroline a brief, friendly smile, and a sideways glance.
"You here for a job interview?"
"Sort of. Why?"
"Because no one here dresses up that nice unless they're here for a job interview or they work in accounting or PR."
Caroline ran a hand down the side of her black wool pencil skirt. The simple string of pearls around her throat suddenly seemed overkill. But what exactly did a girl wear when she was planning on hunting down a CEO? "I'm here to meet with Mr. Martin," she said, as if that explained everything. Surely people didn't meet with the CEO in jeans and T-shirts.
"You here for Aeon?"
From what little Caroline had dug up on the fledgling company Josh was starting as a side venture, Aeon was about to become the biggest player in the aerospace industry, even though it hadn't even officially opened its doors yet.
All she remembered of Josh was that he was an annoying little sneak. He'd not only managed to ruin her last two years of high school, and change the direction of her adult life as a result, but had ignored her brother's rightful claim to his share of Softech. Connor and Josh hung out together during high school and the first years of college at MIT, but when Connor opted to stay in school rather than drop out and chance everything on a tech start-up they'd dreamed up together, he'd been left out in the cold when the venture actually succeeded.
Josh made his first billion by twenty-three and now Softech was one of the big kids on the block. Connor was pulling down a comfortable income as an engineer, but nothing like what she believed he was entitled to. But obviously Josh's success wasn't enough. Now he was restless and starting another company in a different industry. She was here to get justice for her brother and find the plans for Aeon's first major living development for her anonymous employer she had dubbed Mr. X in her head.
Caroline clicked her teeth together as the thoughts rushed through her mind. "No. Just here as an image consultant."
The girl whipped her head around and snapped her pale green gum, the mint scent of it filling the air in the elevator. "For Mr. Martin?"
Caroline nodded and the elevator bounced again, followed by the soft mechanical hiss of the doors opening. "Good luck with that. You're going to need it," the girl said as she strode out of the elevators. The doors slid shut behind her.
What did she mean by that? Caroline tapped her index finger against the smooth leather handle of her purse. Perhaps she'd taken on a bigger challenge than she expected. She didn't plan on blackmail, although she'd considered it. Problem was, a botched blackmail attempt could tank her image consultation company completely. No, straight-up blackmail was out. But she did intend to set Josh up and let him fall on his own and take his precious plans away from him, giving them back to the original owner.
Two more floors and she exited at the top level of Softech's headquarters. A secretary, who looked far more conservative than the girl in the elevator, greeted her and led her to the impressive double doors of the corner office. So far, so good. Everything in this area of Softech looked professional. Her heartbeat elevated as the doors to the large corner office at Softech opened before her.
Excerpted from The Geek Billionaire Makeover by Theresa Meyers, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2014 Theresa Meyers. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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