Billionaire Liam Manning has been too busy building his internet security empire to care about romance. So when a death-bed promise to his brother forces him to prove he can properly seduce a woman, Liam relies on his strengths. Hacking into an online dating site to find a suitable “love tutor” is as easy as it is logical.

 

All Lorelei Torres wants is a family and an honest man to love. After falling for one-too-many Mr. Wrongs, Lorelei’s mother signs her up for an online dating site. Maybe it’s time to let an impartial computer chose a man for her—especially if that computer plans to match her with sexy men like Liam.

 

But Liam’s made a critical error. Lorelei has breached the firewall around his heart, and if he falls for her, he’ll have to reveal his real identity—and his deception—to the only woman who’s ever made him question why love isn’t on his to-do list.

 

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Copyright © 2014 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

 

Excerpt From Played by the Billionaire:

 

 Chapter One

 

 

“Oh man, you are so screwed.”


Liam glided the Aston Martin into his reserved double-wide parking space before glancing over at his friend. He couldn’t really argue with David’s statement. It was exactly how he felt.

“I have to do it. I promised Marcus.” His chest tightened at the mention of his brother. Two weeks hadn’t lessened the burning pain he’d experienced as he held Marcus’s hand and watched him slip away. All his money and he hadn’t been able to save the one person in the world who loved him unconditionally. Liam unclenched his hands from the steering wheel.

“So you’re going to take a leave of absence from being CEO and Chairman of IWC Security to finish your brother’s book? Go from king of the Internet security world to a writer?” The incredulity in David’s voice couldn’t have been greater if Liam had said he was going into space next week.

“It’s the only thing he’s ever asked me to do. I promised I’d finish it within three months and I can’t do that if I’m running the company. He has a publisher ready to look at it, but it has to be on his desk by the end of September. Marcus said it was his best, his life’s work—his legacy. He wants to be remembered for his writing, not his rare heart condition.” Liam flung open his door and stepped from the low-slung sports car.

“I still don’t understand why you have to write the rest. Can’t you hire someone to do it? What about Marcus’s wife? Why can’t Crescy write it?”

They climbed the concrete stairs to the main level of IWC Security corporate headquarters. Instead of taking the door to the lobby to go up to the offices, Liam exited left, onto the street.

“I promised Marcus I would write the rest personally. It was important to him that someone who loved him saw it through. Crescy is devastated and has gone back to Saint Lucia. Besides, she’s only been part of his life for four years. I had thirty-two years to get to know how his mind worked. I’ve got an editor lined up to fix my bad grammar, and I’ve read all of Marcus’s writing books. I’ve written stuff before, you know.”

“You write security programs in a variety of languages, English not being one of them. Are you going to write the novel in Perl?”

Liam ignored his friend. Writing the book was the least worrying part in this whole stupid situation. It was the romance aspect that had him waking in a panic every night since he’d made the promise to his brother.

“By the way, where are we going?” David was breathless. He had to jog to keep up with Liam’s long strides.

Liam slowed, seeing his friend start to sweat despite the chill in the air. It might have been July in San Francisco, but that didn’t mean it was warm. “To do some research,” he said.

“What kind of research?”

Liam stopped and punched the pedestrian cross button. A young man, wearing a black hoodie with his pants halfway down his backside and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, took a step sideways out of Liam’s path. A sardonic smile crept over Liam’s face at the punk’s movement. Why couldn’t he have been this size in high school?

Growing nearly a foot and developing muscles after he finished school hadn’t made up for all the years Marcus had had to play protective big brother. That’s why he had to do this now. Marcus had always been his champion, the only person to understand and love him. He’d do anything for his older brother. Liam’s chest squeezed again and he sucked in a huge lungful of air, hoping to relieve the pressure.

The shrill chirping of the crossing signal, indicating it was safe to walk, broke through Liam’s misery. “Marcus was writing a mystery novel with romantic elements. The hero is an everyday guy who gets caught up in some intrigue. Along the way he meets a girl and falls in love. The mystery bit I can write with no problem. Marcus outlined his plot on that one. The romance element is another thing. I’m not exactly out on dates every night. And evidently for the emotion of a scene to come across I have to be familiar with it. So I need a girlfriend.” Liam spat out the last word as though it were poison.

“Why don’t you call up one of the women you’ve gone out with before?”

“Trust me, I thought of that. According to Marcus, it has to be a real relationship. Not one based on my wealth. All my previous girlfriends hung around for the expensive dinners, exotic holidays, and nice jewelry.”

“What about that Latvian girl, what was her name? Svetlana? You dumped her as soon as the words ‘I love you’ came out of her mouth.”

“It was Iliana and she was a model from Lithuania.” Liam heaved a sigh. “Once a woman says she loves you she expects marriage and babies. I don’t do marriage and babies. It was better to end it with an appropriately expensive present than for anyone to waste any more time on the relationship. For the story, the hero is an everyday guy. So I have to pretend to be a regular guy and get a regular girlfriend. No flashy dates, no trips on the private jet to the Caribbean, regular guy stuff. None of the women I’ve dated before would go for that.”

“And how do you expect to get a girlfriend who doesn’t know who you are? OneGoogle searchand she’ll spot you in twenty seconds.”

“That’s why I’m going to shave off my beard, get a makeover, and use my middle name. Even if she searches she’s unlikely to think William Manning rich guy is the same person as Liam Mackenzie, regular guy. I’ve set up a couple social media profiles as regular guy Liam, and some mysterious virus has temporarily eaten any photos of William Manning on the Internet. There’s a limited life span on the virus so they’ll restore in a couple of weeks’ time, save me having to go back in and fix them later.”

He pushed open the door to a small coffee shop. There were ten people waiting in the order line. Signaling to the barista behind the espresso machine, Liam bypassed the long line and picked up the two coffees she placed on the counter. He smiled at the woman, whose cheeks turned pink, before leading David over to a small table in the corner.

“Hold on. Did you just say you were going to shave? Has anyone ever seen you without your beard and mustache?”

“No, and that’s exactly the point. No one will recognize me, and I can play the regular guy until I finish this stupid book and get back to my real life.” He ran a hand over his beard, a bit longer than usual as he hadn’t trimmed it since Marcus went into hospital for the final time. He’d never shaved since sprouting his first whisker at the age of sixteen.

“What are we doing here? Are you researching what normal people do in the morning?” David took a gulp of his coffee. A flicker of surprise crossed his face as the rich flavor passed over his tongue. “God, this is so much better than the crap I normally drink.”

“That’s because it’s hot and freshly made. By the time you remember you ordered a coffee it’s cold with scum on the top. Not that I’m complaining, you’re the best programmer I’ve got. I appreciate your single-minded dedication to your work. To answer your original question, I’m here to see a woman.”

“What? You’re going to pluck a woman out of the lineup here?” David scanned the row of people waiting to order.

“Of course not. I’ve made arrangements.” Liam sat back in his chair. He tried out the deep breathing technique Marcus had used to cope with pain. If it had been anyone other than his brother who’d come up with this idea, he’d have shot him down in an instant. Liam had spent the last ten years avoiding love and relationships.

The two times he’d let himself feel something for a woman had ended in absolute betrayal. He was smart enough to know his limitations. He wasn’t love material. Iliana might have said she loved him, but what she really meant was she loved his money and was willing to put up with the rest of him for the sake of a cushy life. The fact that she’d hooked up with another rich guy within a month of their breakup proved it. Forcing a smile to hide his discomfort, he glanced at his oldest friend.

“Spill, Liam. That’s the look you get when you’re about to crack a competitor’s system.”

“I did some research last night.” Liam waved his hand in a vague gesture.

“In other words, you hacked.”

“Shush, not so loud. You’ll freak people out.”

“Chill, man, people think hackers are pimply teenagers who live in their mothers’ basements. You’re wearing a suit. No one would ever believe you know more tricks to bypass security systems than anyone else on earth.”

“I don’t know more than anyone else on earth, just the vast majority. Anyway, I went onto a dating site and found a woman. She’s going to be my fake girlfriend. According to her bank statement, she comes here for coffee every morning. I want to make sure she’s appropriate. The photo on her profile seemed too good to be true.” Despite his best effort to remain calm, his heartbeat accelerated.

“Does she know about this?”

“Of course not. The emotion has to be genuine, on her part at least. So I can’t tell her.”

“What if she falls in love with you?”

“Unlikely—I’m not all that lovable. And even if she does, she’s falling in love with a regular guy, not me. After I finish the novel, I’ll let her down gently with a nice piece of jewelry or a trip to Antigua.”

“And if you fall in love with her?” David sat back in his chair as though making sure he was out of range of Liam’s fist.

“Not going to happen, man. Not going to happen.”

A bus stopped out in front of the café; the passengers got off. The majority trudged down the street toward their day jobs, looking bored already. Two walked into the coffee shop—an older man in a stained raincoat and a young woman in a dark-gray fitted pantsuit. The drab color didn’t hide her curvaceous hips or full breasts. Light-brown hair, more golden in places, was pulled back into a long, thick ponytail. Her face was very pretty with full, pink lips, glass-cutting cheekbones, and light-green eyes. She had the sort of face that lingered in the memory long after she left.

Liam took a long swig of his coffee, hoping to drown the niggling sensation of pending doom in his stomach. “There she is.”

David swiveled and nearly fell off his chair. “Her photo didn’t lie. I’ll say it again, my friend. You are so screwed.”

~~~

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