alina jacobs

I HATE, I BAKE, AND I DON'T DATE!

A Romantic Comedy (Manhattan Svensson Brothers Book 1)

OUT AUGUST 24!

Yeah, my billionaire boss did it to me in his office twice in one day.

I even screamed when it happened. The whole office heard me.

No, not that.

He fired me.

Yep.

Beck Svensson fired me right before rent was due and in the middle of a rainstorm.

That’s why he’s at the top of my hate list, along with pickles, people who steal other people’s lunches out of the office fridge, and trying to fold a fitted sheet.

But you know what? It’s fine—totally fine. It’s freedom! I could do anything! I could start a bakery or farm the mushrooms growing in my soggy apartment carpet.

Or I could just show up at the temp office at hate o’clock in the morning for a new assistant job.

I hope my new boss will be less of a buzzkill than the last.

Except guess who is waiting for me when I show up in the lobby of a swanky office building.

That’s right, Mr. Grumpy Boss himself.

Beck is appalled that I’m back in his life. Again.

I can tell he wants to fire me. Again.

Except now he has two little surprise sisters bouncing around him and no one to watch them except yours truly.

While I strongly dislike kids and actively hate my boss, I’m willing to abandon my principles for a big paycheck and a hefty expense account.

But when Beck needs me to pretend to be the love of his life to keep from losing his sisters, I’m not sure a big windfall is going to cut it.

After all, I bake, and I don’t date. Ever.

Besides, I hate Beck. No way am I pretending to be his girlfriend.

…but I love the little girls.

I also love the huge kitchen in Beck’s swanky penthouse that I claim as mine when I move in.

And I really love running my hands over his washboard abs and that thing he does with his tongue.

Wait! No! I hate it, totally absolutely hate it, right? Right?

 

This is a full-length, enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy, complete with hot, snarly guys with hearts of gold, a heroine who you’ll want to be besties with, and a happily ever after better than a giant slice of chocolate cake! Though this is intended to be a stand-alone book, it does take place after the recently completed Svensson Brothers series.

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REVIEWS

Beck and Tess have a wonderful witty, snarky and underhanded banter that only gets hotter and hotter as the story progresses. –LF, Amazon

As someone that really enjoys the enemies to lovers trope, snarky comedy and bad attitudes, this book was perfect. –Gladys, Goodreads

Alina Jacobs has started out with a winner, with a cute, laugh out loud romantic comedy. –SEpran, Amazon

Hilariously funny romantic comedy I found hard to put down! –LeMiliere, Amazon

This fake relationship romance is the perfect book to curl up with and get absolutely lost in the pages. –Melinda, Goodreads


READ AN EXCERPT

Chapter 1

Tess

You’re fired!

My boss’s deep voice rang out over the floor. It was 8:57 in the morning, and the firings had begun.

I scrunched down at my desk.

“Glad it wasn’t me,” I whispered. “I literally cannot afford it.”

Maeve snorted. “Holly and I both told you that your emergency fund is for financial emergencies only, such as getting fired, not drunk online shopping.”

“But they were the most adorable cake pans!”

“No one needs ten different cake pans shaped like bunnies,” Maeve hissed as Beck, dirty-blond hair perfectly parted to the left, strode by.

Tall, like really tall, with broad shoulders and a chest that tapered down to narrow hips and an ass that was chef’s kiss in that bespoke suit, my boss was hot—way hotter than my last boss, who would literally wear a corset to contain his beer gut.

“I need those changes made for the AstraDrone presentation,” he ordered me. “Don’t disappoint me. This meeting is important.”

“And I, as a lowly assistant, am not,” I quipped.

Beck’s mouth turned down, but he didn’t respond. He prowled into his office, the glass door shutting behind him with a soft, metallic click. The office floor let out a collective sigh now that he was gone. Only the quiet sobs of the girl who had just been fired cut through the silence.

“He’s like a wild animal,” I whispered to Maeve. “If I didn’t hate him so much, I would totally let him play Tarzan to my Jane. But the Disney version.”

Maeve raised an eyebrow. “If you had him half naked, then why would you want to do anything G-rated with him?”

“I just meant I didn’t want him unwashed with a sunburn and matted hair.”

Goose bumps rose on the back of my neck. I turned around slowly.

Steel-gray eyes caught mine through the glass wall.

Oops.

Beck’s eyes narrowed, and he pointed to his watch.

I saluted.

“You keep poking the bear in the suit you’re going to get bit,” Maeve told me as I opened the email from Beck that had just appeared in my inbox.

“He hasn’t fired me yet!” I said breezily. Then I groaned when I saw all the changes Beck wanted. I looked back at his office, but he was pacing while on the phone.

“The man is a lunatic,” I said to Maeve, standing up. “Also, I need sustenance if I’m going to finalize everything before the meeting at two this afternoon.”

My lunch from yesterday was still in the fridge. I had baked a quiche Lorraine earlier in the week. I would have eaten in yesterday, but Beck had yelled at Maeve for not catching a typo in a memo, and she had needed a cocktail over lunch to keep it together.

The quiche would be a perfect second breakfast.

Except it wasn’t there.

My Hello Kitty lunch box was still in the fridge, along with the matching thermos, but someone had taken my food.

“The hell?” I grumbled, grabbing the lunch box and stomping back to my desk. There were a number of things I hated—children, Cressida the HR skank, the guy who lived above me and blasted his music to cover up the sound of his dog barking, my stepdad, dating, pickles, my boss, folding fitted sheets—but right there, at the top of the list, were people who stole other people’s food.

“The nerve!” Maeve exclaimed when I showed her the empty lunch box.

“What’s worse is I have to make all these changes on an empty stomach,” I grumped, opening the InDesign presentation file.

Designer stilettos clicked on the polished concrete floor of the Quantum Cyber office. When I had originally accepted the job, I had thought I was going to work in a swanky high-end tech office, ogling my hot boss, and getting paid enough to make rent while supporting my baking habit. I didn’t realize the job also meant dealing with the HR lady from hell.

Cressida, with her SoulCycle toned legs and her perfect blowout, dropped a large cardboard box on my desk. She pursed her mouth.

“Now that Ashley has been fired, you are going to take over all her work,” Cressida said haughtily. 

“I’m actually really busy with my actual job being an assistant to the CFO, you know,” I said in a mock-friendly tone.

Cressida glared at me. “We’re all a family here at Quantum Cyber, and you need to step up. I just told IT to forward you all of Ashley’s emails. There are several critical items that need to be done this morning.”

“Oh?” I said, voice sweet as syrup. “Are we splitting them up?”

She gave me a sour look. “You need to do it. It’s your job now. I’m the director of human resources, and that’s how I’ve decided the workload will be divided.”

“You mean dictated,” I said snidely.

“Are you giving me lip?” she asked. “Maybe Beck needs to fire you too. Should I get him involved?”

We looked into his office.

Beck was cursing someone out on the phone.

“Nope.”

Cressida gave me a triumphant look. “Don’t leave today until all of Ashley’s work emails have been cleared out.”

“The lion, the witch, and the audacity of that bitch,” Maeve said, shaking her head as I scrolled through the emails that had begun to pour into my inbox.

I had to finish Beck’s presentation before tackling my newly increased workload, but first, I needed to know if there were any ticking time bombs in my email and diffuse those before I returned to the presentation.

There were a number of them. I fired off messages, feeling very corporate girl-boss.

One email came back with an almost immediate response.

I idly opened it while in the middle of photoshopping an image of a little girl coding while wearing a shirt with the Quantum Cyber logo.

“The hell?” I muttered, glaring as I read the email. It started off with the phrase, ‘Listen, princess,’ and went downhill from there.

The client, Chad—because of course he was named Chad—had not liked my ruling that it was not, in fact, Quantum Cyber policy to hack into a mistress’s account and delete the horny messages they had exchanged.

I typed back an angry response. I was a grown woman! He might have gotten away with calling Ashley ‘princess’, but he wasn’t going to address emails to me like that anymore.

“And you’re lucky I don’t report this to your wife myself,” I finished and sent it off.

I was working my way through the changes on the next image when Beck banged on the glass behind me.

I smoothed my skirt and opened the office door.

Beck was furious. But he was always furious, and I wasn’t too concerned.

“Are you out of your mind?” he raged.

I spread my hands in a WTF gesture. “Your notes said you didn’t like the guy in the pink pants, even though it is a very trendy look, so I’m changing them to black. The color was a little off in the crotch area. That’s why it’s so big on my computer screen.”

Beck growled, exposing his teeth.

Definitely wild.

“This email,” he said, turning around his monitor and making a knife hand to the screen, “is inappropriate. You’re threatening to tell the wife of one of our clients that he’s cheating!”

I bristled. “He wanted us to break the law! I was just explaining company policy.” I crossed my arms. “Besides, he was a sexist asshole!”

“So?” Beck roared. “He is a client. You have to use more tact. Not to mention, that client isn’t any of your business. Why are you even answering that email? No one gave you authority to answer those emails.”

“Actually, Cressida did.”

“You should have come to me,” Beck snarled. “Honestly, all you’ve done today is fuck up. You’re slouching at your desk with a bad attitude, you’re still not done with the presentation, you’re slurping your tea, and now you’re costing us clients. Get it together, Tess. I don’t want dead weight at my company.”

I was shaking as he railed at me. It was like when my stepfather used to relish using every opportunity to put me down. I had sworn when I’d left I wasn’t letting anyone treat me like that ever again, least of all some asshole named Beck.

“All the things I’ve done wrong today?” I countered, my voice sounding screechy to my ears.

Beck’s nostrils flared, and he rounded on me, but I didn’t back down. I was hangry and done with his shit.

“How about all the things you have done today—the terrible attitude, the fostering of a hostile workplace, the yelling at your employees, the fact that you have a thing against the color pink, and to top it off, you fired Ashley. Sure, she wasn’t the most competent, but now I have to pick up the slack because you think being a good boss is keeping people in fear and randomly firing people for no reason instead of helping them improve.”

I stepped into his personal space. I could smell the faint masculine scent of his aftershave. Not that I cared that he smelled amazing. I was on a roll.

“You think you’re tired from dragging my dead weight around?” I stabbed a finger into his very firm chest. “Guess what, I have news for you buddy. I’m tired of covering for you and your terrible decisions. You need to shape up!”

And that was the story of how I taught Beck the true meaning of corporate Christmas, and we all lived happily ever after, singing team-building songs.

Lol, not!

The corner of Beck’s mouth curled down. I could practically hear his teeth grinding, then his perfect lips parted, and he hissed, “You’re fired.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Beck

“Good riddance!” Tess yelled and stormed out of the office. I heard her shrill voice outside, talking with the other office assistant who sat next to her as she gathered her things and stomped to the elevator.

I sat on the edge of my desk and pinched the bridge of my nose. It had not been a good morning.

Ashley had sent a very explicit message to my younger brother, who was interning at the company, and I had to fire her. Then the presentation Tess had sent me needed changes. Usually, her presentations were fine, but I wanted to win this contract and needed perfection.

Then Tess had riled up one of our worst clients, and now, instead of concentrating on the important meeting with AstraDrone, I had to stroke that cheating asshole’s ego to keep him from suing us.

“Dude, what the hell?” my brother, Walker, said, coming into my office. “You fired two girls on the same day? That’s a lot, even for you.”

“They are grown women who were failing to fulfill their job descriptions,” I said curtly.

“I guess I should have expected it. Tess has been here three months. That’s a record for your personal assistant.”

“Because, for some reason, we only seem to hire incompetent people,” I retorted, giving him a pointed look.

“I’m not incompetent! I’m a great COO.”

“No, you’re not,” I said, “or you would have been taking care of the Ashley situation instead of me. Instead, you were where, exactly? Did you just arrive?”

“Yes, but I had an early morning meeting at Platinum Provisions,” he said, waving me away. “I’ll tell HR to find you another assistant.” Walker smirked. “Hunter said he wants to have more of our little brothers intern here. Maybe you could take one of them as an assistant and show him the ropes.”

“Not going to happen.” I adjusted my cuff links. “I already have to work with you.”

“Family is important,” Walker said and took out his phone. “Speaking of. What do you think Greg’s message was about?”

I had ignored the text from my older brother in the group chat.

“I refuse to jump every time Greg says so,” I said. “I have a company to run, and the Q3 earnings report deadline is coming soon.”

“I bet he’s going to do something crazy like buy a small country.”

“I’m not contributing any money to that,” I warned.

“Maybe he got someone pregnant!”

I glared at Walker. “Do you have anything useful to say, or are you here in my office to harass me?”

“Just being brotherly.”

Owen, the CEO, popped his head in.

“Dude,” he said, walking over and placing the back of his hand to my forehead. “Are you feeling all right?”

“He does seem a little warm,” Walker said, also coming over to try and touch me.

“Get away from me!” I batted their hands off.

“You have the whole office whipped into a froth,” Owen said. “There are rumors going around that layoffs are happening.”

“For the love of…”

“And we have that big presentation to AstraDrone, and your assistant is gone,” Owen continued.

“She’s not supposed to be at the meeting,” I said, massaging my temples.

“Did she finish the presentation before she left?” Owen asked.

Fuck.

***

“Your new temp is here,” Owen said, appearing back in my office. Mark Holbrook and Finn Richmond from AstraDrone would be arriving in an hour. The presentation still was not finished.

Owen peered over my shoulder at the presentation I was working on and whistled.

“If Tess made that, I see why you fired her.”

I shoved him away.

“I made it; we needed an extra slide.”

Owen bit back a snort.

“Fortunately, the temp knows all those design programs,” he said, waving in a willowy redhead.

“Hi! I’m so happy to meet you!” my new assistant gushed. “I’ve heard so much about you and your company, and I really enjoyed your TED Talk on efficiencies and—”

“This is the presentation,” I said, handing her Tess’s old laptop. “These are the changes. You need to have it done within the hour.”

She blinked at me.

“Now,” I snarled. “There is a multimillion-dollar contract on the line.”

“Of course.”

I needed my tea. Usually, I sent Tess to fetch a very specific tea order at the café in the lobby of our building. But we needed the presentation done first.

The temp settled at Tess’s desk and started slowly flipping through the pages of notes. I was really regretting firing my old assistant.

I stood over the temp’s shoulder and ensured she was making all the changes I required. The young woman seemed flustered.

“No,” I barked as she started moving images around. “I need that chart to show the growth rate projected out for four quarters, not three.”

“How do I do that?”

“You need to fix it in the Excel file.” I tried to relax my jaw. I was going to crack a tooth. “I thought Owen said you knew how to do this?”

Tess at least had known enough about finance that I could just hand her a spreadsheet and she could take care of it.

The redhead slowly opened the Excel file.

I checked my watch. We had thirty minutes. A tension headache settled in behind my eyebrows.

The temp made the changes. Slowly. So slowly.

My phone rang.

“Mark Holbrook and Finn Richmond are here,” Owen said when I answered.

Shit.

“Finish that,” I told the temp. “All of it. It better look nice. Have it up on the conference-room screen when I return.”

I met Mark and Finn at the front desk of our office.

Quantum Cyber occupied the upper half of the tower. The view of the city was spectacular, though with the rain today, the skyline was obscured.

“We appreciate you coming by,” Owen said as we led them back to the conference room. “We’re excited to show how we can make blockchain work for your business.”

“We’re interested in seeing how we could tie it into the new drone line we’re doing,” Finn said. “I saw your talk at the TechBiz conference, and it seems legit.”

I tried to remain calm. Was the presentation okay?

Shit, I didn’t remind the temp to get waters or coffee, I realized when we were in the conference room.

Tess would have remembered. She also usually ordered food.

“Do you all want anything to drink?” Owen asked, looking at the back of the conference room, where the snack array usually was.

Of course, there was nothing.

I forced myself not to grind my teeth.

“I’ll grab one of the secretaries,” I said. I opened the door and almost ran into the temp.

“I have the presentation,” she said breathlessly. “Do you boys want coffee or tea?”

I tried to keep the aggravation off my face.

“Finn, you want a coffee?” Mark Holbrook asked his cofounder. 

“Oh!” the temp said, staring at him. “Oh my god, Finn?”

Oh no.

“You’re the guy I hooked up with over the weekend!” she blurted. “Why didn’t you call me?” Then she seemed to realize what she had said. “I meant… coffee or tea?”

Finn’s eyes narrowed.

I opened my mouth to fire the temp, then Finn said with a grimace, “I think you were with my brother. He likes to pretend to be one of us to avoid situations, well, like these.”

“No,” the temp said stubbornly, “you are him. I swear it.”

“I assure you, ma’am—” Finn began.

“Stop lying!” the redhead shrieked.

Owen gave me a What the fuck? look.

I bit back my profanity-ladened response, plucked the USB drive from the girl, and shooed her out of the room.

“It was him.” She pouted.

“I don’t fucking care,” I snarled. “Do you not have any sense of professionalism?”

Her chin wobbled. She was about to cry.

I was unmoved. I had an excessive number of little brothers who constantly tried that shit on me, and it never worked.

“Get your things,” I ordered. “You’re fired.”

I brought back the water and coffee myself.

“Apologies,” I told Finn. “We’ve been having turnover issues. The woman has been escorted out of the office, of course.”

“Three in a day!” Walker quipped. “Must be a record for you.”

Finn laughed. But when the presentation was pulled up, he and Mark almost choked on their waters.

Tess could make a great presentation. It was one of the reasons I had overlooked more of her obnoxious and fireable qualities. However, between myself and the newly fired temp, we had somehow turned a presentation that just needed a few tweaks into an unmitigated disaster.

Owen was furious, though he was trying not to let it show.

Mark and Finn politely listened as we went through the spiel. The temp had, for some reason, converted the whole PDF into a PowerPoint and added little songs and moving clip art. Even worse was how the text kept flying around on the page.

After the presentation was over and Owen had shown the two men to the elevator, I slumped in my chair.

“That was… not great,” Walker said after a moment.

I closed my eyes.

Owen came back in, his displeasure settling over the conference room like the storm raging outside the glass windows.

“Beck.”

I sighed. “It was the temp.”

“No,” Owen said. “It wasn’t the temp. There wasn’t anything wrong with Tess, and if you hadn’t fired her on the day of a big presentation, we wouldn’t have just lost the contract.”

“We don’t know that!” Walker protested.

Owen pointed to the final slide of the PowerPoint. For some reason, the temp had animated it so that the words “the end” bounced around on the screen like an accordion. The annoying thing? The temp hadn’t even fixed the fucking typo in the name Quantum Cyber at the footer.

“We’ll go after a new contract,” I said, standing. I felt bad that I had been partially responsible—okay, mostly responsible—for the disastrous showing today.

Though I tried to remain cold and dispassionate, as someone who worked with numbers should, I still had moments of extreme rage. Aside from my looks, it was the only thing I had inherited from my horrible father.

I went back to my office, expecting my tea to be waiting for me.

Except it wasn’t.

Right, because I had fired my assistant.

I loosened my tie and stared out the floor-to-ceiling glass window at the storm. I needed that tea.

My employees cowered as I walked through the office to the elevator to take me to the lobby. There was a café in the middle of it that all the employees used for lunch and breaks. They had a particular tea blend that I had, I hated to admit, become addicted to.

“Hi!” the girl at the counter chirped when she saw me.

“I need my usual,” I told her.

She gave me a blank look.

“He wants the Nordic blend in freshly boiled water from the espresso maker because it gets hotter and the water is pure, with a teaspoon of freshly zested lemon, no sugar. Steep the whole thing for exactly five and half minutes then strain,” a familiar voice said.

I turned around, and Tess blew me a kiss.

 

Chapter 3

Tess

“It’s a bit early for his usual,” Holly called from behind the counter at the Sparrow and Thyme café where she was prepping for the lunch rush. Another of her employees was making a tray of espressos for a waiting Quantum Cyber assistant.

“He’s not getting shit today,” I said, slumping with my empty lunch box and my oversized bag at a table. I dropped the cardboard box holding my meager collection of office desk accessories, including a small magnetic note board, a coffee cup warmer, and my pink-and-gold desk organizer.

“Oh no!” Holly said, noticing my box. “Are they laying people off? I just saw another girl run out crying.”

“It’s just Beck being a jerkface.”

Holly gave me a sympathetic look.

“I thought you all had a big presentation today,” she said. She was CEO Owen Frost’s fiancée. He must have told her.

“I guess it wasn’t as important as we all thought, considering the presentation isn’t done,” I said.

Holly came from around the counter with a sausage roll and a cup of tea for me.

“I really can’t,” I said. “I am now jobless and will probably be homeless soon.”

“Then you not only need these but a slice of opera cake too,” she said. “And a lemon tart. On the house.”

I cut off a piece of the sausage roll. The spicy filling and the flaky, buttery pastry melted on my tongue.

“So good.” I sighed and scarfed down the rest. Thunder clapped outside, and rain started coming down in sheets.

“I should probably go out and search for another job,” I said, staring out the window.

“Temp agencies want you there early,” Holly informed me. “Trust me, the day is a wash.”

“At the very least, I should go home and put some pots out to collect the water that’s going to be leaking from the ceiling,” I said, pulling the cake toward me.

“I thought you put all your stuff in plastic bins after the last rain,” Holly said, sitting next to me with her own slice of cake.

“Yes, that was a lesson learned.” I grimaced.

“I’m surprised Beck fired you,” she said. “Owen said he thought Beck really liked you.”

I burst out laughing, sucking up tea in my nose.

“Hot, hot!” I fanned my mouth. “No, he doesn’t like me! He barely tolerated me. But whatever. That HR skank can have him.”

“Is Cressida still sniffing around him? She’s so thirsty.”

“Probably wants her very own billionaire husband,” I said dryly, cutting off a piece of the multilayered confection of sponge cake, mousse, and ganache. “She’s tired of harassing people for her money and wants a good-looking husband to harass instead.”

“Beck is good-looking!” Holly said with a snicker. “Maybe now that you don’t work for him, you could date him.”

“No way,” I said flatly. “You know I hate dating.”

Holly rolled her eyes. “You hate everything.”

“Not cake!” I said defensively.

“You hate the city, you hate the country, you hate working—”

“Everyone hates working.”

“You hate men.”

“I don’t hate men. I love all the men in my books,” I said primly.

“Romance novel men don’t count,” Holly retorted.

“Fine. If Chris Evans in his Captain America costume just appeared right in front of me, I’d totally do him.”

Holly raised an eyebrow. “He’s an inaccessible man. That doesn’t count.”

“You can’t blame me,” I argued, waving my fork around. “All the men in my life are backstabbing, entitled circus monkeys. My stepfather betrayed me. Beck fired me just because he could, and because he would rather protect his precious disgusting pig of a client than his employee. And don’t get me started on Kaden.”

Holly looked concerned. “He hasn’t contacted you, has he? You should file a restraining order.”

I shook my head. “Hopefully he’s lost interest. Of course, now that I am unemployed, I should probably cut my losses and move to Michigan. At least then Kaden really couldn’t find me.”

Holly patted my arm and went to grab me another cup of tea. She placed it and a pretzel stuffed with cream cheese and chives in front of me.

“You’re going to find a new job, a better job,” she assured me. “A lot of temp positions in the city are trial runs for full-time employment.”

The lobby door opened, and a willowy young woman with bottle red hair practically danced in.

Glad someone’s happy to be here.

I angrily ate the rest of my opera cake and moved on to my pretzel.

“Hiii!” the redhead drawled to Holly. “I’d like a double-shot caramel macchiato. Starting a new job—just got the call from the temp agency. I’m going to be a billionaire’s assistant!” She squealed. “His name is Beck Svensson!”

I hunkered down with my pretzel. Sucks to be you, sister.

“I hope it all works out for you,” Holly chirped as she ran the young woman’s card.

“Oh, I fully intend to have a ring on this finger in six months.” She held up her hand.

I couldn’t help myself and barked out a laugh.

She turned to glare at me. “You don’t know me!” my replacement screeched. “I’ve been working up to this moment ever since I moved to New York. God, get a life.” She grabbed her coffee and walked to the elevator, heels clacking.

Holly came over with more cake. “Want to take bets on how long she lasts?”

“I won’t be here,” I said dejectedly, “so you could just lie.”

Holly hugged me and kept me supplied with cake during the rest of the afternoon. While I ate my weight in delicious cake, I watched well-dressed people come through the lobby, either to head up to the hotel, the condos in the building, or to the Quantum Cyber offices.

“You could go after one of the Richmond brothers,” Holly said, jerking her head to the tall man chatting with Mark Holbrook while they waited for the elevator.

“I bake. I don’t date,” I reminded her.

I was eating my bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwich on thick, homemade, toasted bread when Maeve sat next to me.

“God, Cressida is so awful,” she complained, grabbing the other half of the sandwich.

“Hey!”

“Girl, I know Holly has been giving you all the pity snacks. I had to listen to Cressida parading around the office, talking about how if the new temp doesn’t work out, she’s going to have to be Beck’s new assistant since it was such a hard job and how she felt so sorry for him that he didn’t have anyone competent to support him.”

“How long do you think the new assistant is going to last?” Holly asked Maeve. “We’re taking bets.”

“I bet he fires her in a week,” I said. All the food had made me feel better. I was going to find an awesome job. Maybe it would pay better, and I could move out of my crappy apartment. Maybe this was the change I needed! You just had to look on the bright side. And of course, eat more cake.

“I bet she lasts a month,” Holly said. “She was telling us all about how she was going to marry Beck.”

Maeve shook her head. “I bet that’s why Cressida was being extra bitchy. She knows she’s got competition in the office. She’s going to do everything she can to push knockoff Emma Stone out ASAP. I bet she doesn’t even last the day.”

I took another crunchy bite of my sandwich. “I just hope Beck fires Cressida along with her.”

“We can dream!” Maeve said, toasting me with her sandwich half.

When we had moved on to Maeve’s first round of dessert and my fourth or fifth—I had been fired today, and dammit, fired calories don’t count!—the elevator dinged, and the redhead stumbled out, crying, wailing, and clutching her bag.

“I win!” Maeve said happily.

Even though the girl hadn’t been the nicest, I still felt sorry for her.

“Hey,” I called. “We have cake if you want to join us in our misery.”

The girl wiped her eyes, smearing her mascara, then scowled at me.

“I have a date tonight with a finance guy. I’m not going to eat cake,” she said, turning up her nose. “Some of us have standards.”

“Well then,” I said to the redhead’s retreating back, “have a nice life.”

“She could use some cake,” Maeve remarked. “It would make her a more pleasant person.”

When her lunch break was over, Maeve left, and Holly had to go actually work at her café. Quantum Cyber employees usually came down for coffee and snacks around four in the afternoon, and Holly’s famous cheese straws were in high demand.

While she worked, I slumped at the table, head resting on my hand, looking through job listings on my phone, wishing the rain would end so I could go home and bake a cake.

“I’d like my usual.”

A deep voice rocked me out of my joblessness and excessive cake-eating stupor.

Beck.

He was standing at the counter, demanding his usual hot-tea drink. Then he turned around to glare at me when I helpfully recited his order.

Defiant, I stared into his gray eyes and blew him a kiss. That really set him off.

“Why are you still here?” he demanded. “You were supposed to be escorted off the premises.”

“I’m a customer at the Sparrow and Thyme cafe,” I replied. “I’m allowed to be here.”

He frowned, then said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

I raised an eyebrow.

Beck blew out an annoyed breath.

“I need an assistant; you’re rehired. Get my tea and bring it up. I don’t have all day.” He abruptly turned on his heel and headed back to the elevator.

Da fuck?

I waited for the girl to make the tea then corrected her when she messed up the overly complicated process and begged her to redo it. As I stood there, I seethed, growing angrier and angrier.

How dare he? How dare Beck be arrogant and entitled and yank my chain!

He thinks I’m just going to come crawling back to him, grateful for whatever crumbs he tosses me.

Well, he had another thing coming.

 

Chapter 4

Beck

Tess arrived with my tea as I was ending another call. I had to admit, I was looking forward to having her back. At the very least, she would be able to put together a presentation that wasn’t seizure inducing.

Tess set the steaming paper cup on my desk.

“Your laptop is waiting at your desk,” I informed her, still typing an email response. “I just sent you several files that I need formatted, printed, and bound for a meeting in the morning.”

“What do you mean?” she said in a fake ditzy voice.

I looked up from my screen, my hands paused over the keyboard.

Tess batted her eyelashes at me.

“Just put the spreadsheet information into a nice booklet form like you’ve done a million times before,” I said, confused.

Tess let out an obnoxious giggle. “Oh, I don’t know how to do that, Mr. Svensson. I’m new here! This is my first day!”

My blood pressure started to rise. “You’ve worked here for three months,” I snarled. I opened one of the spreadsheets on my screen. “Just format and print and stop wasting my time.”

“I don’t know where the printer is. Can you show me?” she asked.

What the fuck.

“And we didn’t use InDesign at my last job,” she said, twirling her hands around then pressing them to her cheeks and pretending to be confused. “I know you’re doing big, important work here, Mr. Svensson, and I don’t want to mess anything up. Can you please tell me what I’m supposed to do for my brand-new position?”

I closed my eyes.

“Is there job training?” she added in an obnoxious baby voice.

“You already know how to do the work!” I yelled at her, jumping up and slamming my hands down on the desk. “Just do it!”

Her mouth made a little O.

“Do you even want this job?” I asked, coming around the desk to loom over her.

She looked up at me, lips slightly parted. Her hands came up to her blouse and unbuttoned the top two buttons.

My brain short-circuited from the stress and the sight of the perfect mounds of her tits.

“I didn’t come here because I wanted a job, Mr. Svensson. I’m here because I want to land a billionaire husband and live happily ever after in a fairy-tale castle, tee-hee!”

She undid another button then turned, hopped onto the corner of my desk, and arranged her body in an exaggerated pinup-girl position.

My brain made alarm noises as she pushed up her tits so they were almost spilling out of her half-undone blouse.

“There, isn’t that better? Now,” she said, still using that fake falsetto voice, “can you pwetty pwease show me how to use a laptop? I want to please you and be the best assistant ever.”

“What the—” I took two steps back, turned to the door, and grabbed the handle, still shocked at what was happening.

Did she want me to have sex with her?

I turned back around to confront Tess. But my assistant had lost the fake persona and crossed her arms. She still hadn’t buttoned her shirt back up, part of me was happy to notice.

The rest of me was furious.

Tess had a smirk on her face like she had the upper hand. Which she did not. It was my company. Tess worked for me.

I took two steps toward her. “You think you’re going to come here and make a mockery of me and waste my time?” I roared.

Tess’s jaw was set, defiant.

“Well, guess what,” I hissed at her. “You’re fired.”

“Good,” she spat, “because I hated every minute of working with you. I hope you have a terrible life.” She grabbed her purse and stormed out.

I sat back down at my desk.

Tess hated working with me? I had thought we’d had a somewhat good rapport.

What do I care?

Cressida, the human resources director, hurried into my office. “I thought you wanted me to add Tess back into the system?” she asked.

“No. She’s been fired.”

Cressida looked up at me from under her lashes. “That’s too bad. I know you’re a busy man and need an assistant. I am happy to fill in while you work on finding a new one.” She licked her lips.

“No, thank you,” I told her firmly. Cressida had always given off predatory vibes. I wasn’t sure if it was just my paranoia that had been instilled in me by my older brothers or because of my own issues with my mother.

“Please just find another temp. Make sure she’s well qualified. She needs to show proof that she knows all the software, can work a spreadsheet, and has some sense of design.”

“Of course!” Cressida chirped. “The temp agency sent me a whole list of people. Maybe we can grab dinner and go over them?”

“Can’t,” I said, grateful for once that I actually had to go see my brothers. “I have another commitment.”

 

Chapter 5

Beck

The rain had reduced to a drizzle as the town car dropped Walker and me off in front of the Svensson Investment tower. My brothers were waiting for me in the conference room on the eighty-seventh floor.

While all of us were the products of a polygamist cult-leader father and his many wives, only my full brothers were assembled in the conference room today. Leif Svensson’s genes were strong, and he also only took blond women as his wives. As a result, my brothers and I all looked eerily similar. Our existence was one of the great ironies in my father’s life—in a polygamist cult, girls were preferred for obvious reasons, but my father seemed to only be able to produce sons.

Fortunately, as of Tuesday, he was in jail. Unfortunately, however, our little sisters were still missing.

My younger half brothers lived with my older half brother Hunter in the small town of Harrogate. I could only take the little ones in small doses. Having the college-age kids interning at my company was bad enough without having two dozen Fortnite-obsessed little boys crawling all over my condo.

The adult brothers I had to interact with on a daily basis were barely tolerable. The youngest, Carl, who worked as an account manager at Svensson Investment, was arguing with Liam, the second youngest, who was the COO of Platinum Provisions and had a dessert addiction, which I was forever trying to break him of.

Then came Walker, who I worked with at Quantum Cyber and who liked to pretend that he was the reason the company ran so smoothly even though I did all the work. Mike, cofounder of Greyson Hotel Group with our half brother, Archer, was anal and logistics obsessed, always trying to optimize his business, his life, and mine. Then there was yours truly, who, in addition to making sure Quantum Cyber didn’t go off the rails, also helped my other brothers with their financials.

The oldest was Greg. Arrogant and self-aggrandizing, he was obsessed with money and power and amassing large quantities of each. He was the reason we were here today, and I could tell by the self-satisfied smirk on his face that he had another of his schemes in the works.

“Carl,” Greg barked. “Just go get Liam some water.”

“No, I want a cappuccino with chocolate sprinkles.”

Greg narrowed his eyes at Liam. “Chocolate. Sprinkles.”

“Dude, it’s a life changer,” Liam said, leaning back in his chair. “Way better than that health poison Mike is selling.”

“I’m not selling it,” Mike said in annoyance, looking up from his tablet. “We’ve partnered with an upscale juice bar to offer their cleansing juices at our hotel spas. They’re very popular.”

“It’s just overpriced lemon water.” Liam scoffed.

“No, there’s a special spice blend in it.”

“It’s cayenne, and it’s nasty,” Walker interjected, setting his bag down. “They sell it for like thirty dollars a pop. It’s criminal. I know why Archer thought it was a good idea. He’s a walking bag of terrible decisions. But why did you get suckered into it? Are you sleeping with the juice-bar founder?”

“You better not be,” Greg warned. “You all have the worst taste in women.”

“Unlike you,” I said nastily before I could help myself.

My younger brothers all sucked in a breath as Greg turned his ire on me.

“What are you implying?”

“Nothing.”

“If you’re implying that it’s because Belle has stolen not one but now two huge accounts from us, you would be correct. I did make a terrible miscalculation.”

I eyed him warily.

Greg bared his teeth at me. “But I have now found an opportunity to reclaim the throne, so to speak. And you all are going to help me. Carl.”

My younger brother tapped a button on his tablet, and the image of a tall, sparkling glass tower overlooking Central Park appeared on the screen at the front of the conference room. The tower soared over the skyline, crystal glass reflecting the blue sky and the green of the park.

“Belle’s tower is bigger than yours!” Liam said with a laugh.

Greg’s shoulders tensed. “Which is why it’s about to become my tower.”

The next slide on the screen showed several floor plans.

“These are the condos in the 101 Park Place tower I have purchased for all of you.”

“I want the biggest one,” Liam insisted.

“I’m older, so I should get the biggest one,” Walker shot back.

“How did you buy these without her noticing?” I asked Greg.

My older brother smirked. “Shell companies within shell companies, and then I hired actors to pretend to be the buyers. Belle’s not going to know what hit her. The plan, gentlemen, is that we will all have voting rights in the HOA. The tower hasn’t been filled up yet, and besides, hardly anyone attends those HOA meetings. We’re going to infiltrate the HOA then change the bylaws to make it even more difficult to buy a unit. Then when Belle and her firm are hemorrhaging money and the banks come and want a return on their loans, we will purchase the rest of the units for below market rate. Then the tower is mine.”

“This is devious and underhanded, even for you,” Mike said after a moment. “It also seems like a terrible idea.”

“I don’t expect little minds to comprehend my greatness.”

“She’s never going to forgive you,” I warned Greg. “You won’t have any hope of getting back together with her.”

“I have no desire to,” he said, though he was fiddling with the corner of his notebook. He saw me staring and slammed it closed.

“We will win. Any questions?” The way his eyes glittered made it seem like he did not want any questions. But Walker raised his hand.

“Can I have the penthouse?”

“No, the penthouse is mine.”

Greg’s assistant knocked on the door.

He waved her away.

She kept knocking then opened the door.

“We’re done in twenty, Marnie,” Greg stated.

“Twenty more minutes of this?” I asked. “I didn’t come all the way over here to listen to you all complain about who gets what apartment.”

“Fine, then you can have the smallest one,” Liam said. 

“Greg,” Marnie said, voice urgent. “Your family is here. They brought your little—”

“Tell them to wait,” he said. “We’re in a meeting. I can’t deal with the kids right now. Hunter needs to keep them under better control; those boys are feral.”

But it was too late. The patter of little feet racing down the corridors and the exclamations of surprise from Greg’s employees rushed like a wave through the office to the conference room.

High-pitched voices shouted in the hallway.

“It’s so beautiful!”

“It’s like a movie!”

“Can we go shopping?”

I froze.

Greg and I looked at each other in shock and disbelief as eight blond, gray-eyed little girls streamed into the conference room, inspecting the high-end furniture, crowding around the window to admire the view, and snapping selfies.

Liam’s mouth hung open. Walker slowly knelt on the floor, and several little girls crowded around him, offering him cookies and telling him all about how they had decorated them.

“What the hell, Crawford?” Greg said when our half brother, with his military short hair and a ragged scar over his eye, followed the crowd of giggling girls into the conference room. He had his hand on the shoulder of another girl. She looked like the oldest and was maybe about twelve. Unlike the others, she seemed wary.

Our half brother Remy followed him in.

“Special delivery,” Remy bellowed, practically bouncing up and down, he was so happy. Even Crawford, who normally had a sour attitude, was grinning.

“Where?” I said, unable to form the words.

“They just appeared in Harrogate in the middle of the night, hiking down the street,” he said.

One little toddler crawled up my leg, into my lap. I hugged her close to me, admiring her adorable little cheeks and big gray eyes.

“They can’t stay in Harrogate, though,” Remy explained with a grimace. “There were some… issues. Isn’t that right, Enola?”

The girl next to Crawford scowled. In that moment, she looked just like Greg.

“Those boys are filthy and uncivilized. They eat off the floor and don’t shower.”

“Sounds about right,” Greg said.

“We can take them,” I assured Crawford.

“Can we?” Greg said with a scowl. “The kids are supposed to live in Harrogate, not here. That was the deal.”

“But they’re so sweet,” Liam cooed, reaching out to pat the head of the girl on my lap. She promptly bit him on the hand, scrambled up onto the table, and yelled, “I’m the princess!”

“No, I am!” another girl said, scrambling onto the conference table to tackle her sister.

A slightly older girl grabbed the carafe of coffee on the sideboard and began to chug it, egged on by three sisters.

“Liam, make them stop!” Greg ordered as another girl picked up a jug of water to throw it at her sister who had stolen her cookie. She missed, and Greg and his laptop were drenched.

“You ruined his stuff!” Enola yelled at her sisters, joining the fray. “Stop it, all of you! Stop it this instant!”

Her sisters ignored her, and a brawl broke out under the conference table. My brothers and I scattered. Crawford and Remy watched in amusement as Greg dripped indignantly on the carpet.

“We’re going to just leave you all to get acquainted!”

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