Her boss needs a bride… Can she step out of the shadows and down the aisle?
Discovering her boss, billionaire tycoon Andreas Kostas, must marry is devastating for Kayla. Until Andreas proposes that Kayla wears his ring! Having experienced the incandescent pleasure of his touch, she’s hidden her yearning for him ever since. It’s the proposal Kayla’s always dreamt of, but dare she risk her body and heart to become a convenient wife?
Kayla Jones hop-rushed down the hall toward Andreas’ office, buckling her denim wedge sandal as she went. She’d stripped out of her clean-room bunny suit in less than a minute, but redressing took longer.
Late for a high priority meeting with the Type-A, ultra-alpha president of KJ Software was nothing Kayla wanted to be.
Even if he was her business partner. Technically.
He’d been weird lately. Cranky. Even more exacting than usual.
Andreas’ twenty-something, super-efficient male admin made a stopping motion with his hand. Kayla stopped but let her own widened eyes let him know how little she wanted to.
“I know,” he mouthed, sympathy imbuing his expression as some complicated sign language finally clued Kayla in to the fact that her peach cardigan knit jacket was on inside out.
She flipped it with rushed, jerky movements and then Bradley waved Kayla through with a significant nod toward her waistband. She looked down and realized the button at the top of the zipper on her peach damask-on-denim skirt was undone.
With a harried smile of thanks, she quickly fastened it as she opened the door to the big man’s office. “Sorry I’m late, Andreas, I was supervising tests on Dolphin.” She preferred to name all their projects after marine life and Andreas indulged her whimsy.
Kayla stopped abruptly as she realized her boss wasn’t in his usual spot behind his big chrome and glass desk, but sitting at one end of the eight-person smoky glass topped meeting table.
A woman was with him. Blonde hair piled in a sleek, professional up-do and wearing a stylish white suit, she gave Kayla an assessing look.
“This is your business partner?” she asked Andreas her tone tinged with disbelief.
“Yes.” Andreas frowned at Kayla. “I told you this meeting was high priority.”
“Technically, my smart phone told me. You flagged it.” Who was this woman and what kind of meeting were they having?
Andreas gave her that look, the one that said Kayla was being a tad too literal again. She stifled the urge to apologize. She’d been working on that.
Not apologizing for being herself.
“Well, she’s here now,” the other woman pointed out. “I presume we can get started now?” Her words were take-charge, but her expression toward Andreas was nothing but deferential.
“Get started on what?” Kayla asked as she settled into one of the leather high-backed chairs on Andreas’ left, across from the stranger.
Apparently, he wasn’t done glowering about Kayla’s tardiness, because he did not answer.
Kayla rolled her eyes, absolutely refusing to utter the, “I’m sorry,” on the tip of her tongue. While he had marked the meeting as a priority, he’d had Bradley insert it into Kayla’s schedule when she’d already blocked off the time prior for the Dolphin tests. She could wait out Andreas’ snit. She’d done it before.
With a sound of impatience, the other woman spoke. “We are here to discuss how Andreas’ search for a wife will impact his business.”
Everything around Kayla came into sharp focus. The sound each of them made as they breathed in the quiet of the room. The floral musk of the other woman’s perfume that smelled out of place. The fingerprint smudges on the glass in front of the blonde that indicated she’d pressed her hands on the table for some reason. Kayla wanted to wipe them away, erase the evidence of the woman’s presence, even as she sat there.
Kayla shook her head. Denial a scream inside her. That could not be right.
Andreas was no help. He still sat there with his stony, you-were-late expression on his handsome, angular face, his green eyes snapping with disapproval.
“Search for a wife?” Kayla’s breath ran out on the final, her entire body going cold and then hot with the implications.
Andreas finally deigned to nod, not one strand of his dark hair going out of place with the short movement. “It’s time.”
“It is?” Kayla hadn’t noticed Andreas being any less focused on business. Any more open to interpersonal relationships.
She would have noticed. She’d been watching for just such a change in him for the past six years.
In fact, lately, he’d been more driven and working even longer hours than usual and expecting her to do the same, wanting Dolphin’s launch on time and without a single hiccup.
“I’ve exceeded my father’s net worth. A wife and family are next on the list.” He didn’t shrug, his perfectly tailored suit clad shoulders remaining ramrod straight, but the sense of dismissal was there in his voice.
Like this decision wasn’t something life changing, monumental and the one thing Kayla had been hoping for since they broke up to become business partners.
Kayla looked at the woman who had informed her of Andreas’ plans. Who was she? And why did she know Andreas’ personal plans when Kayla, a friend, had not?
A truly horrifying prospect popped into Kayla’s mind. Was this woman a matchmaker? It would be just like Andreas to hire a professional to find him a wife.
Not that he needed one.
While Kayla had been practically celibate the past years, the same could not be said of Andreas. He’d taken many beautiful women to his bed, each and every one a risk to Kayla’s hopes for the future. But he’d never gotten serious, his heart and Kayla’s deepest desires remaining unchanged.
“That’s what I’m here for,” the sleek blonde said confidently, clearly thrilled to have a client of Andreas’ stature on her roster.
“You’re a matchmaker?” Kayla asked for confirmation, still trying to come to terms with that possible reality.
The woman nodded. “I own the Patterson Group.”
It sounded like a firm of lawyers, not a service designed to bring people together in wedded bliss.
“She specializes in millionaires,” Andreas added, like that was important.
“You’re a billionaire.” On paper anyway.
KJ Software was obscenely successful, just like Andreas had said it would be. The company, of which he owned 95% was valued at over a billion dollars. Not bad for six years of blood, sweat and sleepless nights working.
The matchmaker nodded, her expression showing how much she appreciated the distinction and the fact Andreas was her client. Kayla knew being a billionaire rather than just worth millions mattered Andreas, too. A lot. That valuation was what had spurred this particular move toward domestic harmony after all. He was finally worth more than his father, but still had more to prove.
Andreas was giving Kayla that look again. “Don’t be so literal. The point is Miss Patterson–”
“Genevieve, please.” The blonde’s smile was all polish, no substance.
“Genevieve…” Kayla wondered if Genevieve noticed the short pause and the way Andreas’ square jaw tightened when using the more personal address. “Specializes in matching wealthy men with women who will make them the ideal wife.”
Kayla was appalled and made no effort to hide it. “I don’t think it works like that.”
She wasn’t opposed to matchmakers, was sure that there were plenty in the business who really believed in matching two people meant to be together, but this woman? She was every bit as predatory in her way as Andreas. Kayla had learned to read people very young.
If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have survived her childhood.
Genevieve of the Patterson Group did not read as caring about long-term happiness or emotional harmony by any stretch of the imagination.
“My track record speaks for itself,” the woman said now, superiority in her tone and the tilt of her head. So, impressed and happy to have Andreas as a client, but arrogant and utterly sure of herself as well.
“If it didn’t, I wouldn’t consider your twenty-five-thousand-dollar retainer.”
Kayla gasped. “I’m pretty sure you can buy a bride who looks like a super model for that kind of money.”
Or you know, marry the woman who had loved him for the last eight years and waited in hope for the past six.
“Your employer isn’t looking for a trophy bride, he’s interested in finding someone to share his life with.” The matchmaker’s self-righteous rhetoric would be a lot more convincing if she’d protested as vehemently at Andreas referring to finding a wife as the next item on his goal list.
If Andreas was really looking for a soul-mate, he wouldn’t look beyond the one woman he’d called friend for nearly a decade. Would he?
They hadn’t broken up because they weren’t good together. They’d ended their sexual relationship because Andreas had very strict views in regard to business and personal relationships. They’d never had what one might term a romantic relationship.
It had been friends with benefits.
Kayla had thought that was changing, that their relationship was morphing into something deeper.
She had been wrong.
Andreas had wanted to morph it all right, but not into something more personal. He’d wanted her senior project software design as the cornerstone for his new digital security company. And he’d made it very clear that he valued her skills as a programmer above her willingness to share his bed.
The six-year-old rejection she thought dealt with and dormant erupted with the power to leave her heart in ashes.
She had to get out of there.
Forcing her emotions behind the blank face she’d carefully crafted during a childhood bouncing from one foster home to another, Kayla asked, “Why am I here? What do you need from me?”
“You are my business partner,” Andreas said, like that explained everything.
“Five percent ownership hardly makes me a material partner.” It was an old argument, one Andreas had never given in on.
The expression on the matchmaker’s face said she agreed with Kayla though.
Andreas frowned. The man didn’t like being corrected and barely tolerated it from Kayla, but she never let that stop her from saying what needed saying. At least when it came to the business.
“You are my partner and this change in circumstance will affect the business and therefore you, by default.” Andreas tone brooked no argument.
Kayla was still confused though, something she was used to when it came to interpersonal relationships, but not their company. “Why?”
She wasn’t in the running. This whole pay a matchmaker ridiculous amounts of money thing made that very clear. And it hurt. Badly.
But she was confident Andreas had no clue. So, why was he so convinced Kayla’s life was going to be impacted?
Once again he was giving her a look that said she’d missed something. Since he’d missed the fact she’d been in love with him since the beginning, she didn’t feel as badly about that as she usually would have.
Genevieve spoke, her tone one you might use with a small child. “Marriage brings about significant changes in a person’s life and since Andreas is the heart and blood of this company, it stands to reason his marriage will have a significant impact on the company and its higher level employees.”
Andreas’ eyelid twitched at the familiar address, or maybe it was the reference to employees rather than partners, but he didn’t correct Genevieve.
“Are we going public then?” They’d been discussing it, or at least Andreas had been telling her he was thinking about it for the past year.
Doing so would make him a billionaire for real, not just net worth. Kayla wouldn’t do badly out of it either. She’d be able to fund an entire chain of Kayla for Kids facilities, instead of the single local group home for foster children, with neighborhood after school activities, she currently did.
“No.” Andreas frowned. “I answer to no one.”
Now, that didn’t surprise her. While she might have dreams of funding Kayla for Kids houses in every major city, she knew how unlikely that really was. Andreas did not want to answer to shareholders, or a board of directors. His father had dictated things about Andreas’ life when he’d had no way to stop the overbearing Greek tycoon and no way would her Greek-American business mogul ever tolerate someone else having major say in his life again.
“Perhaps you should consider selling the company outright as you spoke about at our first meeting. It would free you up to make your search for the right marital partner,” Genevieve suggested, her tone implying she thought it an imminently practical solution. “Being a liquid billionaire wouldn’t hurt your chances in the dating pool either. I’m sure we could snag you royalty.”
So much for not looking for a trophy wife.
Kayla couldn’t get a full breath. “You want him to sell the company?” So he could buy a princess?
“It is one solution.”
“To what?” So far, Kayla didn’t see a problem that needed solving.
Except the whole, buy a bride thing. And Andreas had plenty of money to do that without selling their company. Without ripping everything she’d spent the last six years building out from under her.
“Andreas cannot continue to put in twelve to sixteen hour days. It’s part of the agreement with my firm.” Genevieve tapped her tablet with one long fingernail.
“You signed an agreement?” Kayla asked Andreas.
He gave her that look. The one that implied she was a few steps behind in the business side of a discussion. It had happened before.
But this was crazy.
“That limits the number of hours you work?” she clarified.
“That doesn’t mean you have to consider selling the company.” Andreas wouldn’t give in on this particular issue, would he? It was too important.
He might not love Kayla. Heck, maybe he’d never even really cared about her as anything but a brilliant programmer with a new idea, but he cared about their company. It wasn’t just Kayla who’d found stability and a purpose with KJ Software.
Andreas had had always been crazy protective when it came to the company and pure predator in his role as president. The idea that he would even consider selling it should be ludicrous. Only the calculating expression in Andreas’ green gaze made Kayla’s short nails dig into suddenly sweaty palms.
No. He’d made comments over the past year. Sarcastic one offs about selling KJ Software that she’d given the credence they deserved.
Andreas might be the life-blood of the company, but Genevieve had got it wrong. Kayla’s job might technically be Director of Research and Development, but she was KJ Software’s heart and she couldn’t be that when her own stopped beating. Didn’t they realize that?
“Are you all right, Kayla?” Andreas asked, handsome features etched with concern.
She stared at him, not sure she could answer. Her entire world was imploding.
“We’ve done what we set out to do with this company.” Andreas leaned back in his chair, his big body relaxed, his tone satisfied…like his words weren’t slashing jagged wounds right into her heart. “Sebastian Hawk has approached me about a merger with his security firm.”
“A merger or a buy-out?” she demanded.
Andreas winced, perhaps recognizing his news was not as welcome as he’d expected it to be. “A buy-out is the most likely final scenario.”
“Why?” Owner of one of the largest security firms worldwide, Sebastian Hawk was one of their biggest customers and had been since the beginning. “He already licenses our software.” For his own company and in a secondary capacity for his own clients.
Andreas replied, “He wants to own it.”
“He’s a control freak, like you.”
Andreas shrugged. “He has three children and a legacy to leave them.”
“What about your children?” Presumably if Andreas was ready to get married, he was looking forward to parenthood as well.
He had often said the only reason he would ever marry was to have a real family. Didn’t he want a legacy for his own children?
“I’m thinking about going into venture capital investments.”
“You’ve been watching that show again, haven’t you?” she asked, referring to a favorite reality television show of his.
They’d watched the show about venture capitalists, who invested in and mentored startup businesses, together many times. Andreas prided himself on being able to guess which entrepreneurs were going to get multiple offers from the sharks and which would leave the “tank” without a single offer at all.
“As fascinating as all this is, we need to wrap this meeting up.” Genevieve’s voice grated in unwelcome reminder of her presence as she glanced at her designer watch. “I have another client meeting.”
Really? Lots of super wealthy guys were looking for bride pimps? “How many clients do you take on at a time?”
“That is privileged information,” Genevieve informed her haughtily.
But Kayla had spent most of her life in the foster care system. Haughty wasn’t going to intimidate her. “Not with the kind of retainer you charged Andreas.”
“I was under the impression you paid out of your personal account?”
Andreas’ expression filled with annoyance. “Of course I did.”
“Then, I do not see where this is any of your business.” The matchmaker’s condescending tone might have annoyed Kayla, but she had concerns much closer to her heart right now.
She stood on shaky legs. “You’re right. It’s not. In fact, I still don’t know what the heck I’m doing here at all. If you’re going to sell the company, my tiny minority percent isn’t going to stop you. If you want to pay this woman more than a lot of people make in a year to find you some dates when I don’t see you struggling for company now, that’s none of my business.”
The cold inside her grew with every word, but so did Kayla’s resolve. “I do not appreciate being called away from my work for something you could have handled in a text.” I’m hiring a matchmaker.
“You expected me to tell you I was selling the company in a text?” Andreas demanded, sounding shocked.
“I didn’t expect you to sell the company at all, certainly not to tell me about it as a fait accompli in a meeting with a third-party.” Dismissing Genevieve’s presence, Kayla met Andreas’ gaze. “But I’m realizing now I’ve been wrong about a lot of things.”
He’d said this meeting was about the matchmaker. The selling of the company had come up as part of the discussion. Or, that was how it had seemed. But apparently, it had been part of his agenda all along.
Kayla turned on her heel and walked out of the office, the numbness spreading with the cold. She been like this a few times before in her life.
The day she realized her mom was not coming back. She hadn’t spoken for two years after.
The day her foster mom died and she was placed in the first of another string of homes.
The day she realized Andreas wanted her for her programming skills more than her place in his bed, or even their friendship.
Andreas’ personal assistant stood up as Kayla came out of the office. “Are you okay?”
She just shook her head.
“What’s going on?”
“He’s getting married.” Kayla wasn’t going to mention the possibility he was going to sell their company. After all, that wasn’t supposed to have been the reason for the meeting.
“To her?” Bradley’s eyes widened, his face going slack.
“She’s the matchmaker.”
Bradley laid his hand on Kayla’s arm. “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t say anything else, but he’d been working for Andreas from the beginning. Other than Andreas, Bradley knew Kayla better than anyone else alive. Maybe better, because he’d realized the first year they worked together that she was in love with the oblivious Greek.