The Marriage Rival by Kat T. Masen



Prologue





Haden

Five Years Ago…





“I need you to listen to me.”

David removed his reading glasses, rubbing both his eyes while trying his best to diffuse the heated argument, which had erupted between us due to my so-called work ethic.

“I love your mother, and I promised her you would somehow get your act together. But I also have a business to run, you understand?” Clearing his throat, the weight of his stern gaze laid firmly on my uninterested face across the table until he slammed his fist on the wood with frustration. “Pull your goddamn head out of the sand, Haden!”

I could see right through him. Mom could have done so much better. David treated her okay, but I was over this bullshit. I was twenty-six. It was a bit too late for the pep talk, dear stepfather.

“You’ve got talent, why you’re wasting away on frivolous activities like partying in Ibiza is beyond me. At your age…”

It was time to tune out. Got to love the whole at-your-age speech. I stared at him, blankly, nodding my head occasionally but sitting in complete and utter boredom. My expensive Rolex, a recent gift to myself, sat nicely on my wrist. My eyes darted over the time on my watch. Gee, it was almost lunchtime.

Eat from the Japanese place next block over, the girl working there is sexy as fuck.

It felt like an eternity, and David was still lecturing me, including his classic tale of how he worked hard and got to his position as Publisher at Lantern Publishing. How his father never lent him a dime. All the hours he spent churning away to be the greatest he could be without a lending hand.

He wasn’t my fucking dad, and kudos to him for trying to replace him, but Dad was fucking gone. No man could replace him.

And David needed to stop trying.

Ibiza was the perfect getaway. Hot women at my beck and call, begging to be fucked hard to escape some sort of mid-life crisis. Young and old but the same old bullshit—drink all day, party all night, get laid by some hussy claiming she’s never had a pierced dick in her.

It got old… real fast.

“We have a few projects you can work on. The Henderson Group is planning a sci-fi series. You enjoy sci-fi, don’t you?" David stared directly at me again, waiting for some sort of response.

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

“Or maybe you want to work with our romance authors? It’s our biggest financial investment and paying off quite nicely.”

Romance? The guy had lost his fucking old-person marbles. I couldn’t think of anything more mind-numbing than reading a romance novel. Woman meets rich billionaire. Man treats her like trash then fucks her with his big dick. Then man realizes he’s in love with said woman. Drum roll for the predictable ending—woman gets knocked up, and they live happily ever after.

Another hour passed by and more repetitive mundane you’ve-got-potential-son talk.

The moment he finished, I hightailed my ass out of there, not to get caught any longer, back to the sanctity of my cubicle, so I could finish watching this moto Grand Prix race I was in the middle of before he called me over.

Back at my desk, I leaned on my elbows and covered my face, drowning out the sound of David’s voice. He’d hit a nerve. Sure, I had no fucking clue what I was doing with my life. Days go past like one giant blur. Drunken nights and getting high on weed my cousin, Marcus, brought over. The only thing that brought me an ounce, okay maybe more than an ounce, of joy was playing the stock market. I had some nice wins recently, and my bank account was looking fucking solid.

“Oy, Cooper.” Russ, an intern, wheeled his chair over, stopping right beside me. The dude needed some deodorant, stat. I scrunched my nose, not immune to the body odor lingering as he shoved a Butterfinger in his mouth in one bite. The guy was a goddamn grub—dirty fingernails, and scraggy blond hair which could use some sort of product. I prided myself on wearing an ironed shirt each day, but this fucker, his shirt looked as if it was purchased from a clearance rack in Walmart. And don’t get me started on his pants, they were way too short.

“I’m got some interesting news for you,” he whispered, scanning the area around us.

“You finally got laid by someone other than your sister?”

“My sister’s hot, you wish you could fuck her,” Russ raised his voice, his bad breath lingered. He looked around again as if he’s about to tell me a government-kept secret. “Word in the office is your Ice Queen is officially single.”