In her designer shoes and power suits, Vivien Monroe couldn’t be more out of place in the video game company she inherited from her eccentric father. Not only does she have to sort out her father’s last request and deal with a younger sister she barely knows, she has to go toe-to-toe with her father’s protégé—a man who makes her think about the last thing she should be thinking about right now.
With his thick-framed glasses and graphic tees, Liam Hale is the exact opposite of what she needs right now. His relaxed, out-of-the-box attitude reminds her too much of her father’s more exasperating quirks, but his dedication and quiet stubbornness begin to drive her crazy in a completely different way.
All Vivien wants is to get back to her life in New York, but someone is stealing the company’s best game ideas, and an FBI agent is sniffing around. She’ll save her father’s legacy for her sister and then she’s out of there—if she can leave Liam behind.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
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Vivien Monroe suppressed a shiver. Ten years ago, she had sworn she'd never set foot in Dallas again, let alone this building. Now she had little choice in the matter. Tears — she wasn't sure if they were from frustration, fatigue, or an inexplicable sadness — stung her eyes, but she quickly tamped them down.
Monroe Tech — hallowed ground to gamers worldwide — the company her father poured every ounce of himself into. The company she'd run like hell to get away from. Yet here she was.
The main atrium stood deserted except for a security guard seated at a massive desk to one side and a guy leaning against the wall beside the elevator. From what she could see, he fit the mold of an MT employee perfectly, the quintessential geek, the opposite of the Wall Street tycoons she'd left behind to come down here. When she approached, he straightened, and she had to reevaluate the geek label.
He was a hot geek.
Like, Clark Kent hot. A long, lean swimmer's body disguised by wrinkled clothes better suited for a coffee shop than a boardroom.
His scruffy, dark hair curled slightly around the collar of a faded, corduroy blazer he'd probably left on the floor of his bedroom overnight. The jeans covering his long legs had seen better days, as had the red Converse sneakers on his feet. Thick glasses like those worn by her dad's favorite singer, Buddy Holly, framed the prettiest blue eyes she'd ever seen on a man.
Then her gaze caught on something at his feet. Was that — a dog?
"Ms. Monroe?" He held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Liam Hale, VP of Game Development."
She started forward to shake his hand, but before she got close enough, the dog — an Australian shepherd — started frolicking around her feet, begging for attention. Leaning down as best she could in her tailored pantsuit, she scratched the dog's head. How long had it been since she'd played with a dog? Right now, disappearing to cuddle this puppy and ignore the day stretching ahead of her appealed more than it should.
"Sorry about that. Flynn's still a puppy. We're working on the whole manners thing." He snapped his fingers, and the dog reluctantly moved to stand by his master.
"Liam." The name tugged at her memory, and any warm feelings she had toward him disappeared. "As in Jed's boy genius Liam?"
This was the guy her dad had replaced her with. The oldest child Jed Monroe had always wanted, the son he'd never had.
"Um. Yeah, I guess you could say that." He shoved his hands in his pockets, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. "I'm glad you could come down on such short notice."
"It's not like the board — or my father — gave me much choice. Or notice, for that matter." She leveled a cool look at him, shifting her white Birkin bag higher on her shoulder.
Liam pressed the button for the elevator. "Jed liked his secrets. No one knew his plan until the reading of the will at his wake. Your sister told you when it was, didn't she?"
"While I was in Dubai." Fatigue pounded through every cell of her body. Three weeks in Hong Kong, Dubai, and London, holding the hands of her firm's wealthiest investors was bad enough, but to come back to this? Damn her bosses for making her finish all the meetings before they'd let her come back to the States. She and Jed might not have gotten along, but she would have liked to have made it back for the funeral instead of being stuck on a never-ending business trip.
"Hey, I fought them to delay the reading of the will, but the board's got a bug up its butt to make sure you could assume your responsibilities the second you got away. Why do you think your uncle spoke to your employer and convinced them to give you as much bereavement time as they could?"
Vivien clenched her teeth. Her temper still hadn't cooled from that piece of news. Uncle Richard had no business interfering in her life, CFO of the company or not. "Right. So, you seem to be up to speed. What do I need to know before I get to this infamous board meeting?"
"What makes you think I know what you need to know?" Liam asked.
"Because usually the VP of Game Development wouldn't have been sent to meet me, which means you volunteered."
He shrugged as the doors of the elevators opened. "Maybe I wanted to be the first to meet Jed's oldest daughter. He talked a lot about you."
Walking through the halls she used to play in as a little girl, she acknowledged the numbness keeping the fatigue company. It had been there since her father's death two weeks ago. She'd always believed her father would die doing some stupid stunt. He'd almost broken his neck the last time he'd gone BASE jumping — at least according to the blogosphere. They didn't speak for most of her time in college, and she hadn't done more than exchange a few terse emails with the man since she'd earned her MBA and refused to come work for him.
"Did he really die in a motorcycle accident? It seems so ... "
"Tame?" Liam supplied. "Yeah. The police aren't sure what happened. It was late, one of those old country roads around Haven. They're still investigating, but they think someone came around a curve too fast. Didn't see him and wiped him out or something like that. They sure as hell didn't stick around to see if he was okay."
She took a deep breath, working to keep back the jet lag and the unexpected sadness that washed over her. She pictured the old man sitting up in heaven, raising hell, and laughing at the last great joke he'd played on her.
"Life as his daughter was never easy, but I always thought he'd outlive us all."
She wanted the numbness back. It was easier to deal with. She'd been in Hong Kong when she'd gotten the news, and she hadn't had time to dwell on regret or pain or any other emotion that should have come from a parent dying.
"Me, too." Liam's voice came out hoarse, and he blinked back tears.
Seeing his grief brought some of the numbness back, brought back the cold she needed to be able to make it through this. He mourned her father. Hers. She hated that he got to do that when she couldn't. There was too much between her and Jed for her to feel anything but numb. She was supposed to have more time to find out answers. For the last few years, Jed had been trying to have a relationship. She hadn't been ready, but she thought she might be. Eventually.
Tightness crept into her chest, and she struggled to catch her breath. Glancing around, she spotted a small room with colorful chairs and glass walls. Without a word to Liam, she ducked inside, bracing her hands against the far wall. The puppy came to lean against her leg, his presence a small comfort in the shitstorm engulfing her.
"You okay?" Liam asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.
A small jolt went through her at his touch, along with an inexplicable wave of calm. Except it was calm mixed with ... desire? She wasn't sure. It'd been a damn long time since a guy affected her so quickly. Her whole body became intensely aware of him, his very male presence behind her. For a second, she let herself savor his touch, focusing on the quiet it brought to the whirlwind consuming her rather than the attraction, but then she remembered who he was and where she was. She shrugged it off, missing the peace as soon as it was gone.
"No. How would you feel if you came back from the international business trip from hell to find that your estranged family has taken over your life?" She took a slow breath, then another. "Break this down for me again. My uncle explained it, but it still doesn't make sense. I inherited a majority ownership in the company? Why me? Greer was supposed to get MT."
Liam took a seat in one of the chairs, bracing his forearms on his knees. "Jed's will says you get controlling interest. Greer gets a sizable portion of shares when she turns twenty-five."
"And per the company bylaws, the majority shareholder is the chairperson of the board and acting CEO until a new CEO is chosen." The glass under her palm was cool, bringing her back to reality slowly.
"Or until you decide to stay in the job," Liam pointed out.
Vivien snorted as she straightened, tugging on the peplum hem of her suit jacket. "What if I refuse to accept it? Does the company go to Greer then?"
She hadn't spoken to her sister in years, but she knew enough to know that Greer loved this company as much as their father did and way more than Vivien ever could.
Regret darkened Liam's expression. "If you refuse, then both your shares and your sister's will be sold to the highest bidder and the money will be donated to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create the Jed Monroe Memorial Scholarship Fund."
God, her father had been an asshole. She couldn't believe any of this was happening. She should be at home in New York, sorting through her mail and arranging for meetings with her in-town clients. Her sister should be the one inheriting all of this.
"How much time do I have before this board meeting?"
"Ten minutes. I told the board members that your flight was held up due to the weather in New York, but your uncle insisted that the time couldn't be pushed back. You'll have time to go to your father's office — er, your office, I guess — afterward."
"Okay." She nodded, taking a seat so she could scratch the dog's head. "He's cute."
"And he knows it." Liam's expression held a lot of sympathy, which Vivien didn't know how to handle. She wasn't used to anyone paying as much attention to her emotions as this man was. She thought she was ready to face this, her family, this company, everything, but less than ten minutes in the building and her control on her emotions was hanging by a thread. She needed to focus on something else, anything else.
"Was there something you wanted to tell me before the meeting?" Vivien asked, looking up from the dog.
Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again, his reluctance clear. She wondered what her father had told him about her — probably all sorts of horror stories. "We don't have time right now. You're jet-lagged and getting hit from a lot of sides, and need a minute to process before the meeting starts, but there are things I think you should get a handle on before you make any major decisions about who should run the company."
She stared at him in surprise. As much as she didn't want to like him, she was starting to — hot and unexpectedly thoughtful could prove dangerous for her willpower. Then she focused in on his words. She didn't need any sort of complications. Her plan was to get out ASAP. She didn't want to stay, but from the sound of it, she might have to. Damn it.
"I'll see you in there," she said and waited until he left, dog on his heels, before she sagged back in the chair.
There was too much going on in her head. She needed to focus on the board meeting. Meetings like this were her specialty. She knew where she stood in the corporate setting, knew how to stay in control and get shit done. But here? In the place that had eaten up every waking moment of her dad's life from the day her mother died? She'd spent so long resenting this place she didn't know where to begin.
* * *
"What's the verdict, boss?"
Liam gave his assistant, Antonio, a weary smile as he returned from the board meeting. "Looks like Ms. Monroe is going to be sticking around, for a few weeks anyway."
"That's good, right?" The young man asked, an uncertain smile creasing his tan cheeks.
"Yeah. It's more than I expected, that's for sure."
While he was the one who'd asked her to stay, Liam still didn't know how he felt about his new boss. She certainly didn't fit his idea of what Jed's oldest daughter would be like. In his head, he'd built up this picture of a cool, calculated businesswoman with money in her veins, like Richard Barton, Vivien's uncle and the top contender to replace Jed as CEO. And on the surface, that image fit. But there was a vulnerability lurking under that cold, and there was also a beauty there that knocked him on his ass.
He'd convinced himself before the meeting started that she wasn't as pretty as he thought she was when he first saw her striding through the main entrance, body hugged by a killer, white suit that showed off every luscious curve.
He was wrong.
A New York power player from the tips of her pointy-toed — and expensive — shoes to the top of the fiery hair she pinned back in a sleek twist. The body of a 1940s pinup girl paired with the shrewdest gaze he'd ever seen. And — worst of all — the cool facade was in place. The second she entered the boardroom, he'd seen that the vulnerable, sad woman he'd left only an hour ago had donned her Wonder Woman armor and was ready for battle.
"I'll need you to reach out to Ms. Monroe's assistant and get me a meeting as soon as possible," Liam said, leaning down to pet Flynn, his blue merle Australian shepherd, who'd been keeping Antonio company while Liam sat through the meeting.
"Um." Antonio hesitated. "You might want to wait until after you talk with your two o'clock. She's waiting in your office now. I tried to make her wait out here, but she flashed her badge and well ... "
"No worries, man. I'll deal with her."
Liam let himself into the glass-walled office he'd moved to the day Jed had made him Vice President of Game Development, stumbling a little as the dog got tangled up trying to attack the laces of Liam's sneakers. Two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows looked out onto the Dallas skyline, morning sun glinting off the glass-clad skyscrapers. The other let him see his department. There weren't any cubicles, and most of the walls were glass, but to add color and interest to the place, Jed had developed see-through screen panels that scrolled through MT's greatest hits, starting from its inception in 1982. They'd even incorporated the panels into their advertising at stores in the last few years.
His various teams set themselves up in clusters around the football field — size room, based on their current projects. The programmers and art designers for each game worked together along with the writers, everyone collaborating and building the product together. When they switched projects, the desks were rolled into a new configuration. Each person's desk reflected their own style — family pictures on some, a ridiculous number of action figures from every fandom imaginable on others, all surrounded by state-of-the-art computers and drafting tables.
Sitting casually in one of the red, metal chairs positioned on one side of his desk was the source of more than a few of his recent headaches. "Agent Calhoun. I could have sworn we agreed that I would call you if I had any new information to share. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Sophia Calhoun raised one dark-blonde brow, a lock of her messily arranged hair falling in her hazel eyes. "Can't an old girlfriend stop by and visit her college sweetheart when she's in the neighborhood?"
Old feelings stirred inside him. She was the first girl he'd fallen in love with, and they'd made their peace with her unceremoniously dumping him years ago. Still, she was the last person he wanted to see right now.
"Cut the crap. You want to know how the board meeting went and didn't trust that I'd call you."
"Gee. I wonder why." Sophia crossed her long legs, her dark pantsuit highlighting the contrast between her slim, almost boyish build and the woman who'd dominated Liam's thoughts for the last hour. "Maybe because you laughed in my face when I told you about the case Jed Monroe brought to my office."
"You show up at my mentor's funeral, after being too busy to even call me in two years, and don't expect me to be skeptical that Jed reached out to your office for help?" Liam's gut churned at the memory. He'd already been shell- shocked by Jed's death, especially given the police couldn't tell them what really happened, and Sophia had dropped another bomb on him.
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever. The phone works both way, Hale, and it's not like you didn't miss me."
"Like a toothache," Liam shot back. The friendly, if acerbic banter was their default now. They had too many mutual friends from college to stop speaking altogether, but it helped him to keep her at arm's length.
"So? Did she appoint Barton the CEO?" Sophia got right to business, her pleasant, poised smile firmly in place.
"Nope." He took a seat at his desk, letting his dog jump up onto his lap just because he knew Sophia disliked dogs. "I talked to her before the meeting and asked her to stick around, and she did."
"Excellent. When can you set up a meeting for me to fill her in on what Jed brought to us?" Sophia straightened in the chair, pulling out her smartphone to type out a message on the screen.
He gritted his teeth. Just like in college, Sophia's attention was only half with him. She'd always prioritized half a dozen things at once.
"I don't want this shit anywhere near Jed's daughters." He kept his voice even, but his ex didn't miss his don't-fuck-with-me face.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fair Game"
Copyright © 2018 Taylor Lunsford.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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