SNEAK PEEK: TAKEOVER (A Billionaire Arranged Marriage Romance)



The wind whipped around me in a furious torrent as I eased open the balcony door, trying to get a reprieve from the noise at the benefit. I only needed ten damn minutes to myself. 

It was impossible after the catering fucked up, and I fixed the flowers, and I stopped a senator from getting into a fistfight with a D-list actor. But it was my mother’s birthday. Earlier, my sister Morgan had managed to sneak in a bottle of champagne, so I could do the ritual even without her. 

The blast of wind was strong enough to make me wobble a bit, and I sucked in a sharp breath as the wind snuck around the opening of my peacoat and wrapped me in its chilly embrace. 

I closed the balcony door behind me and dragged in a deep, frigid breath. It was March. Where was the goddamn spring weather already? I went out to the rail of the stone balcony and set the champagne down, sighing as I pulled out the little makeup compact full of  glitter. “Happy birthday, Mom.”

She would have been fifty today. I could still see her bright shining smile every time she saw me and Morgan. And the best part about Mom was that she always made time for each of us to have our individual identities with her. She and Morgan used to go to the park every time it was one of their birthdays, just the two of them for a couple of hours. 

For me and Mom, we always had a moment to make our glitter wishes. The one unimpeachable wish that we would share with each other and no one else. 

I uncapped the makeup pot, took a swig of champagne, and poured the glitter into my hand. “I miss you, Mom. And my wish for you, on your fiftieth birthday, wherever you are, is that you know you are missed and that you are surrounded by love.”

Then I opened my palm and blew the glitter into the air. 

Unfortunately, that was when another gust of biting wind hit, and much of the glitter hit me in the face and blew back onto the balcony. 

Somewhere in the shadows at my right, someone coughed. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, glitter?”

I whipped around, brandishing the partially drunk champagne bottle as a weapon. “What the fuck?”

A man stepped out of the shadows, and my breath caught. He was tall. Ridiculously tall. Tall enough to make me take a wary step backward. I could already see where the sparkly glitter had hit him on his sharp Italian-cut suit. There was even a touch of it on his sharp jawline.

His shoulders were broad, like a swimmer’s shoulders. The suit was tapered and fit snugly, showcasing his broad chest. And the fabric hung like a dream and looked like it would be buttery soft too.

“Start talking, or I’ll start whacking.”

He chuckled low. “You’re not going to do much damage with that champagne bottle, especially if you keep pouring it out like that.”

My arm holding the bottle had tipped over. And he was right. Champagne was spilling.


The bottom hem of my Christy Brown dress was wet, and I cursed. “Damn it, I said start talking.”

“You’re the one who came out and covered me in glitter. Who carries around glitter anyway?”

“None of your goddamn business. Tell me who you are before I show you how handy I can be with a bottle of champagne.”

“Well, aren’t you a violent little thing?” he murmured, his voice like silk down my back.

I held the bottle higher and his hands went out. “Relax. My name is Atticus. I was here first. I just didn’t let you know I was out here because… Well, you looked like you needed a moment.”

Holymotherfuckingshit. Atticus fucking Price. I’d glitter-bombed the Atticus Price. Freaking excellent. 

The man had only been on the cover of Forbes three times in the last year alone. Pendragon Tech was at the forefront of cutting-edge prosthetic technology, and they’d gotten into the renewable energy game three years ago when he’d taken over as CEO. 

I lowered the bottle. “You’re not here to attack me or something?”

Even in the shadows, I could see the hint of a smile as he stepped forward. And this time, the step I took back was pure self-preservation. 

One thing was glaringly obvious; the Forbes photographer should be shot. They hadn’t done the man justice. I didn’t have much else to go on because the man was usually a cipher. He attended these kinds of things, wrote a check, and vanished. You rarely saw him in a society page, and it was rare to see his name on any of the gossip sites.

Good Lord, even in the moonlight and shadow, I could tell the man was gorgeous. Like stupidly gorgeous, with a chiseled jaw that looked like it was cut from stone and the kind of cheekbones that would make any model jealous. He had deep-set, shrewd, ice-green eyes, a straight Roman nose that looked like perhaps it had been broken once or twice, complimented by a high brow only slightly covered by a curling lock of dark hair, and lips full enough to make you fantasize about kissing him. 

Sure, all of that made him handsome. On the verge of too handsome. But there was a rugged edge to him that made him intriguing. Still, it was a sharp-edged ruggedness that warned you to be wary. 

Everything, save the thick, softly curling lashes surrounding his cold, shrewd eyes, was both a magnet and a warning beacon that cautioned while he was pretty, he was also dangerous. 

“So you stood and watched? I might have saved my ritual for later.”

“Casting a spell on the rest of the world?”

“If I thought casting a spell would work on the nepo babies and sycophants in there to make them donate more, I might try it.”

He smirked. “Nepo babies and sycophants, huh?”

Easy. He’s here, so he’s likely one of those nepo babies. 

“Would you categorize anyone in attendance differently?”

His amused gaze swept over me. “Okay, so you’re not enjoying the benefit then?”

Enjoying was the wrong word. My family had put on the Hearts and Hope Benefit every year for the last ten years to honor my mother. At seventeen, I had been placed on the board and put in charge of pulling it off. I loved this benefit. The fact that Becks Incorporated would no longer be able to afford to play host sliced through my already shattered heart.

I didn’t tell him that though. Instead I feigned bravery.

“The benefit is great. It raised a lot of money for heart disease. I just don’t like the song and dance. I wish that the people in there actually cared and weren’t just here for an expensive meal, a tax write-off, and the see-and-be-seen aspect of it.”

He cocked his head as he studied me. “You certainly have a strong opinion.”

“I do have strong opinions. You seem surprised.”

“Let’s call it refreshing.” The corner of his lips tipped up into what could only be described as a slightly insolent smirk. It was like he didn’t give anything away without you working for it. I wasn’t interested in working that hard. 

“I want to go back inside,” I said. “If you’ll excuse me.”

The leash he kept on his oh-so-precious smile loosened, and one escaped, rooting me to the balcony. Christ almighty. It was better for the world that he didn’t release them that often. A smile from him was paralyzing. 

“Oh no, you don’t. You blasted me with glitter and then basically called me, what was it? A nepo baby and sycophant.”

Way to insult the donors, Gwen. “I mean, I don’t know you. So you tell me, are you a nepo baby or a sycophant?”

There it was again. Another smirk. “According to you, I probably fall under the nepo baby category. Can I ask who you are?”

I lifted my chin. “I’m Gwen.”

“Is that it? Just Gwen?”

Just my luck, he was probably one of my father’s business associates. And given the financial troubles we were in, I probably didn’t need to make it worse. “Just Gwen to you, Mr. Atticus Price.”

“You have my full name. How is that fair?”

“The world isn’t fair, is it now?”

He flashed me a grin, and my heart stopped. Hell, time stopped. That grin should be illegal. When he bestowed it upon you, everything around him went dead still and it was all you could see.

That made it easier for people like him to prey on you. Like vampires. Wasn’t that part of the lure? They stunned you with their beauty, and that made it easy to pounce.

I lowered my champagne bottle. “So, you’re not trying to take over my spot?”

He cocked his head. “Why do I get the impression that you wouldn’t ever wait for anyone to dismiss you?”

I stood up a little straighter. “You’d be right.”

“You are fascinating, Just Gwen.”

“I’m glad you approve. Enjoy the benefit.” Then I turned. I had a speech to give. The last one I was ever going to give in my mother’s memory. 

And instead of rehearsing a proper goodbye, I’d ended up bickering with some idiot on the balcony. 

Not just any idiot. Atticus Price.

I knew Pendragon Tech and their reputation for corporate raiding. I didn’t know anything about Atticus, but his company’s reputation was well earned. Which made him, despite his beautiful face and sexy godlike smile, firmly in the look-but-don’t-touch category. I had enough on my plate without salivating over a man, even if that man was somewhere between an avenging angel and demon all in one. Besides, I knew what shattering heartache men like that could cause, and I made a vow to stay away from the likes of him. Besides, I couldn’t go back if I wanted to. I had a speech to give in my mother’s honor.

And given all the buzzing from my clutch, everyone was looking for me.

I had messages from my sister, Morgan, my best friend, Lance, my father, and my stepmother. It was time to perform. I had to report for duty. It didn’t matter how I felt. 

I slipped my feet into the shoes I had ditched before going out to the balcony, and my toes were almost grateful because at least now they were covered. I still had the bottle of champagne in my hand as I hurried down the hall and made a hard turn and ran straight into my sister. The force of our contact almost knocked me on my ass. 

“Easy does it, Gwen,” Morgan said. “Come on. You have to go give this speech. I still can’t believe we won’t be doing this benefit anymore.”

“Yeah well, I think we’ve got bigger problems.”

I didn’t know how much Morgan knew about the trouble Becks Incorporated was in. Our dad had made a series of investments, attempting to grow too fast, and now we were struggling. I spent most of my days trying to find investors. Someone had to give us an influx of cash. 

Morgan was still in school, and I didn’t want to worry her. She’d struggled so much when mom died. She hadn’t spoken for a solid year. My father had been a useless wreck, so I’d had to take care of her. I’d been the one sitting with the nanny in her speech pathology appointments.

But we’d worked hard and with therapy, she was more and more like the Morgan I’d grown up with. She would survive a slight emotional jostle. At least I hoped she would. I might crumble under the weight of saving my company and having to go back to that terrified worried place emotionally.

Besides, our grandfather had left us trust funds. I’d used mine to start a small software company a few years ago, and much like my father, I had struggled. But once Morgan graduated, she’d have access to hers and she would never have to depend on my father for anything.

The tech bros had not exactly been supportive of a woman-founded software team. And finding other investors had been difficult, though the software was superb. Our pride and glory was our predictive AI algorithm. 

So much so that my father had decided to invest in us, pulling my company in as a subsidiary of his own. But he had over extended himself, and now he was trying to sell us off. So there was that.

“You ready?” Morgan asked, pulling me out of my haze of self-pity.

I found the strength to smile at my sister. “Yeah, of course.”

“That’s my Gwen, always prepared.”

I could hear the door of the balcony opening behind us, and I purposely dragged my sister along as she turned to try and look at who was coming off the balcony.

“Was there someone out there with you?”

“Nope.” I lied tightly.

Morgan laughed. “Okay, then why are you running from there? Slow down.”

“I’m just in a hurry to get on stage, okay?”

“Right. You don’t want to tell me who was out there?”

“Nobody important.”

“Oh my God, Gwen, did you meet someone out there?”

“Morgan, I have more on my plate than thinking about whether there’s a swipe left on someone or not.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s swipe right. And obviously, the fact that you don’t know that by now says a lot about your dating life.”

“Which we’re not discussing.”

“I know. I just want to see you happy.”

I turned to my sister and clasped her hands outside the enormous double doors into the rear of the ballroom. “I appreciate you, and I love you, but I don’t date.”

She sighed. “I know. I’m just saying it might do you good to have some fun. Your birthday is coming. Maybe it’s time to loosen up a little.”

“I will take that into consideration. Later. Look, go find dad and Clarissa. I’ll see you after I’m done.”

“Okay, break a leg.”

She whirled around again, and the doors opened. A waiter carrying two trays loaded with champagne narrowly missed Morgan, caught his toe on my foot, and went sailing down behind both of us. 

The clatter of glass and bottles made us both jump back. “Oh, shit.”

We both bent to help him, but Morgan shoved me away. “You have to get on stage. Go.”

“Fine.” Once I knew the two of them had it well in hand, I stepped around the mess and walked in, shoulders back, poised and ready.

But as I stepped out on stage, I couldn’t shake the prickle of heat dancing up my spine. I didn’t even have to look up to know I’d find an ice-green gaze on me.