The Billion Dollar Alternate Reality Sneak Peek!

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Meet Dorian, Pierce, Sebastian and Adam, four brothers who own the largest privately held company in the world: Marchand Global. Obscenely rich and equally handsome, the Marchand brothers have everything any man could ever want – except love.

Sebastian Marchand, talented musician, reluctant billionaire and even more reluctant CEO of Marchand Records, is convinced that no man could ever be interested in him for anything other than his bank balance. When he meets employee Charlie MacGuire on the very day his own decision has led to the charismatic man losing his job, Seb vows to do whatever it takes to keep Charlie from finding out the truth of his identity. Unfortunately, he didn’t count on the seductive pull of the alternate reality he builds to deceive Charlie… Or on the seductive pull of falling in love…

Chapter One

Matters of the heart are confusing to Charlie McGuire.

He puts his heart into everything he does; his work, his friends, every paragraph and keystroke of the novel he swears will see the light of day at some point in the future. He doesn’t know what powers his heart, what encourages it to get off its backside and work, but he isn’t a quitter, and if everything needs an explanation to be real, how could anyone explain dreams? Or hiccups?

There are a large number of phrases about the heart; hearts on sleeves, the heart wants what it wants and, of course, home is where the heart is. Charlie is no longer sure where to find his heart. It isn’t in the bathroom cabinet, nor is it tucked in the pocket of his winter coat. He knows it isn’t in those places because he’s checked them both this morning as he dressed himself for work. He checked them again before he took the tube to his office in the headquarters of Marchand Records, somewhere in an expensive building on an exclusive street in Canary Wharf.

Maybe he left it, tossed carelessly into the nightstand of his recently vacated flat in Hammersmith, tangled up with iPhone charger cables and pairs of socks. That’s exactly the sort of place he wouldn’t have looked when he packed up his belongings and his life. Charlie is lonely.

His introspection is scuppered by the clatter of a coffee cup at his elbow. Jane — department manager, late forties, glamorously twice-divorced — glares at him, resting her weight on one hip as she stares him down over a cup of corporate macchiato.

“You’re moping,” she accuses him, very unfairly. Not because he isn’t moping, but because she says it in a tone that implies he shouldn’t be. Judge, jury and executioner of his emotional well-being dressed to kill in nine-thirty couture.

Charlie raises his shoulders in a shrug, sips delicately at the scalding contents of his mug and lies shamelessly. “I am not.” Technically, she’s his boss. This means that, technically, she should now leave his desk and let him pretend to work. She does neither. “Can I get something for you?”

“I have news,” she says, leaning in to share conspiracy theories across four feet of cheap oak veneer. Charlie leans right along with her; Jane has the very best gossip in the company, hands down, without fail, and he adores gossip.

“Go on…”

She leans impossibly closer — close enough that Charlie can smell the synthetic scent of her lipstick and a hint of Dior perfume — and whispers, “We have a new boss.”

He immediately adjusts his previous statement. Jane usually has the best gossip.

“Jane,” he whispers back, “we’ve had at least fourteen emails circulated to the entire mailing list telling us about this over the last six months. This doesn’t qualify as gossip.”

“Apparently, he’s completely gorgeous,” she perches at the edge of Charlie’s desk, backside planted directly over his complimentary copy of Jaxon James’ new album, the press release for which Charlie is supposed to have written by the end of the day, “looks just like his brother.”

She means Dorian Marchand, captain of Marchand Global, Jane’s preferred candidate for the role of Husband Number Three and, until very recently, their CEO. Charlie heard rumours he was passing off the record label to a new executive but, admittedly, didn’t know it was his younger brother. Not like it makes a difference; Charlie caught a passing glance of Dorian leaving a meeting once during his first year at Marchand Records and literally hasn’t seen him since. He imagines the new and improved version will be similarly elusive.

“No pictures?” he prompts, recalling the hours lost to the pros and cons of various men called up on Google images. The afternoon of naked Tom Hardy photos remains the highlight of his time at Marchand Records. “‘Like his brother’ is a little bit vague.”

“None at all, he’s very mysterious, never gets photographed with the other three. Apparently he’s some brooding musical genius. Musicians,” she sighs wistfully, “They always have the nicest hands.”

“I’m honestly not sure what to do with this information,” he ushers her purposefully from his desk, “were you hoping he’d grope you in the canteen? Wait, is he gay? Can he grope me in the canteen?”

“Well, he is single, and if he looks like Dorian…” she trails off. It sounds vaguely threatening.

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted to learn he has an active fan base already accumulating on floor twelve.” If she catches his sarcasm, she chooses not to acknowledge it. “Can I work before you fire me for, you know, not working?”

“Cheeky,” she bops him on the head with a stack of paperwork and heads off for more enraptured audiences.

Charlie looks down at Jaxon James’ handsome face and cracks his knuckles with a sigh, booting up a Pages document and beginning to type. He may not find his job particularly inspiring, but he knows exactly how to do it.

***

Sebastian Marchand has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.

The good news is that there are a lot of terribly well-qualified people clustered around the boardroom table who definitely do know what they’re doing to make up for his baffled silence. The bad news is, as the Chief Executive Officer of Marchand Records, he should at least pretend he’s in charge.

He clears his throat. No one glances in his direction. He goes back to staring out of the windows and wondering precisely how disappointed Dorian might be if he were to attempt to throw himself onto the pavement fifty stories below.

“Uh…” he begins. No one glances at him. “Hmm.”

“Something wrong, Mr. Marchand?” His Vice President — Rupert Lacey — swivels in his ergonomic boardroom chair. He’s a snake of a man; sharp face, sharp teeth, sharp eyes. Seb shakes his head.

“No, no. Just, well, you know. It’s a big issue, isn’t it? The meeting? I’m letting it all sink in. I — uh, this coffee is fantastic, isn’t it. ”

“Excellent, Mr. Marchand.”

Beyond the glass in this, the most exclusive office space in Canary Wharf’s most illustrious high-rise, the January sky looks like the porridge they used to serve in school; grey, lumpy, vaguely threatening. Childishly, Seb hopes it might snow.

Maybe, if he’s particularly lucky, he might have time to steal an hour or two in the music room before Dorian arrives home and demands his presence for dinner. It’s not that Seb doesn’t love his eldest brother — he does, very much — it’s more that he’s convinced that Dorian doesn’t really see the point in him. Seb doesn’t have a natural head for business and, due to the pesky issue of being entirely gay, he hasn’t even had the good grace to find himself an attractive wife and produce a few more Marchand men for the collection.

“What do you think, Mr. Marchand?”

Seb hurries upright in his seat, realising with a bolt of embarrassment that he was awfully close to sliding under the desk entirely. There are at least two dozen pairs of eyes fixed on him, familiar heat creeping up from the collar of his beautifully tailored suit. It’s clear from the polite, expectant silence that his input is needed. He hasn’t listened to a word anyone has said for the best part of five minutes and has absolutely no idea what the correct answer might be. He clears his throat and prays for a sinkhole to open under his chair.

“I think,” he pauses, assumes an air of authority, the kind of grimly determined clench of his jaw he’s seen Dorian use, “if that’s what the board thinks is best, then that’s the course of action we should take.”

In the seat next to him, Rupert’s smile oozes across his features. “Excellent, Mr. Marchand. We’ll get right on it.”

Immediately, Seb is sure that whatever he just agreed to was categorically not a good thing. He rises to his feet with everyone else and forces himself not to make an immediate bolt for the door, shaking hands and nodding enthusiastically at invitations to the golf club. He almost certainly has a membership at a golf club somewhere in the world — in fact, between them, the Marchand brothers probably own at least half a dozen — he just can’t for the life of him remember actually setting foot in any of them.

In the solitude of his office, he shrugs out of his suit jacket, removes his tie and ruffles a hand through his hair. Once his top button is popped, he can take a breath, hold the scent of oak furniture and expensive business decisions in his lungs for a second and then relax. He presses a button on the expansive telephone display at his desk.

“Mr. Marchand?”

“Ah, hello! Yes, um,” he pauses, never entirely comfortable with speaking to staff, even though he’s spent every one of his twenty-seven years with them on hand, “I was just wondering — and if it’s a bother, don’t worry at all — if maybe Steven could bring the car around? Please?”

“Of course Mr. Marchand, he’ll be there in a moment.”

Coat on and scarf wound around his neck, Seb is hurtling towards the elevator and the delicious possibility of freedom. He can feel the bite of guitar strings under his fingers, lost already in the selection of vinyl he’ll pull down from the shelf whilst he waits for Dorian to conquer the world before awkward dinnertime conversation about when Seb is going to bring a nice girl home. Of course, it’s completely typical that Rupert appears from nowhere in the second before the elevator doors slide closed.

“Mind if I ride down with you?” he asks, entirely rhetorically since he’s a) already inside and b) perfectly aware that Seb is too polite to say no. Seb smiles anyway, small and professional, shoulders raised in a shrug. “Excellent input at the meeting today, very tactical, viewing the long-term benefit to the company rather than short-term pain. Not many executives your age,” and he manages to make sure this is very much an insult, “would have the forethought to think like that.”

Sebastian Marchand is a man caught in a paradox. On the one hand, he absolutely wants to clarify what, exactly, he agreed to in that meeting. On the other, he very much does not want to admit he’s winging it and has no idea what he’s doing. He bites his lip and refuses to be impolite. But he does stop smiling. That’ll show him.

“You remind me a lot of your mother,” Rupert says. Seb hears that a lot — he grunts. Undeterred, and apparently unaware of how to pick up on social cues, Rupert continues. “Not like your brothers at all, are you? They’re Marchands through and through but you’re — different, aren’t you, Sebastian?”

The elevator begins to slow down, the flashing number on the bank of lights to their left indicating that someone has summoned it on the twelfth floor.

“My stop!” Seb sing-songs brightly. It absolutely is not his stop.

“Really? I thought—”

My stop!” he repeats, as though he can make it more believable by nothing more than enthusiastic repetition. “Take care, Rupert, see you tomorrow!”

Seb barrels from the elevator and out into the open plan office space. He thinks, briefly, that he isn’t cut out for this, for the insidious way his associates and staff at the label attempt to ingratiate their way into his personal life, the way Rupert looks at him like he knows every one of Seb’s poorly-kept secrets. All reasonable and rational thought is, however, stolen from him as he crashes headlong into something solid.

Frozen, suspended in the carbonite of his own ritual humiliation, he hopes it’s not a wall. Running into walls in front of his newly acquired workforce would be awful, mortifying, the very worst. However, when the immovable object to Seb’s unstoppable force lets out of soft, wounded ‘oof’ and scatters an avalanche of paper across the floor, he decides a wall wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Seb has, in an act of unkind and unprovoked poor humour by some unseen deity, not crashed into a wall at all. Instead, he’s hurtled headlong into the warmth of a broad chest that smells of clean cotton, spicy cologne and undeniable, dizzying masculinity. If Seb could find a candle that smells of these, this trifecta of seduction, he will pay whatever price commanded to burn it in every room he enters. The papers flutter around them like confetti, scattered white as snowfall on the beige carpet. Sebastian blinks and considers the wisdom of bringing his heels together three times; there’s no place like home.

“I — I’m so sorry,” he mumbles; the man is staring. Everyone in the office is staring. The entire population of London is staring. “Let me get those for you.”

Because Seb’s very own personal hell isn’t complete, they manage to bump foreheads and touch hands in their effort to reach for the same piece of paper first. Seb — his face roughly the same temperature as the ninth circle of hell — would like, very much, to die right now. He glances up through his lashes, miserable with humiliation, his stomach cramping tight at the tiny smirk curving the corners of the most incredibly thick, lush-lipped mouth he’s ever laid eyes on. Above it sits a strong, straight nose, wide brown eyes and a tangle of bedroom-chic curls. Whoever he is, he’s stunning. And tall. God, he’s so tall. Seb bites his lip and wonders if that’s the stirrings of attraction or the early stages of a stroke he can feel in the base of his skull.

To recap; not only has he bolted from his Vice President like a naughty schoolboy, not only has he crashed into a stranger and knocked every piece of paper in the building into the air, but that stranger is, unfairly, both gorgeous and laughing at him. He resolves to charter a private jet to an uninhabited island immediately. He’s sure Dorian must have one lying around somewhere that he’s not using for anything in particular.

“I didn’t see you, which is mad as you’re rather a solid chap, aren’t you,” it’s not that he wants to keep talking, but he can’t seem to stop, “oh god, not fat, I don’t mean fat, you’re just — broad. Toned. Muscular. Not that it would matter a bit if you were fat! Terribly sorry, I should’ve been watching where I was going, this is my fault, I’m so sorry, I—”

A warm, rough hand closes over his, a squeeze so brief it could be nothing more than the result of an overactive imagination. Seb’s skin tingles with the shadow of heat left behind, with the thought of those hands elsewhere. He firmly reminds himself of the pointlessness of developing a crush on an employee he’ll never see again, an employee who is, through the likelihood of basic statistics, most probably straight and with a wife or girlfriend waiting at home for him. Finally, his internal pessimist points out, people like Seb do not crash headfirst into the life and underwear of attractive men on a cold Monday afternoon in January. That is the sort of thing that happens to his younger brother, Adam, although he’s far more adept at landing in the underwear of beautiful women.

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” he slides Seb a subtle wink conjured from effortless charm and unshakeable confidence, his smile turns devilish, “can’t help but fall for me, eh? Not to worry, just — get me a coffee next time you see me in the canteen, yeah?”

“I — yes, of course!” Seb stumbles back to his feet, shoving haphazard handfuls of paper onto the nearest desk and ignoring the way his heart is attempting to bruise his ribs from the inside. Coffee? He’ll buy this man a brand new car if he promises to keep looking at him like that. “Uh — nice to meet you. Terribly sorry about all of this.”

With that, he hurries away, the weight of every eye in the building burning blisters into his back as he staggers for the relative safety of the stairwell. If his driver is surprised to see him bursting from the fire escape rather than the front door, he does a commendable job of hiding it. It’s only when he’s halfway across the city, rolling north towards Kensington in the calm silence of a town car that Seb realises he didn’t ask the man’s name.

“Steven,” he begins softly. In the front of the car, Steven inclines his head to demonstrate his willingness to indulge whatever nonsense Seb is about to blurt out. Steven is very accomodating like that. “Is it very unprofessional to look up employees in the HR records?”

“I’m not a lawyer,” Steven reminds him, flexing his hands in their dark driving gloves as if to emphasise his point, “but I’d imagine it’s not exactly de riguer, Mr. Marchand.”

“Please, call me Seb. Do HR records mention if someone is, say, married? Did anyone ask you?”

“I don’t think it’s the done thing anymore, sir.”

Seb. Did anyone ask you if—”

“Whoever they are,” Seb notes the ambiguity with pronouns and wonders, panicked, why Steven doesn’t say ‘she’, “have you considered the possibility of doing something entirely outrageous and — oh, I don’t know — asking them out for a drink?”

Seb blinks. This is not a possibility that occurred to him at all. He can’t just walk up to this stranger and humiliate himself. “In the nicest possible way, Steven, you’d make a terrible therapist.”

“I suspected as much. Home, then?”

Seb nods and collapses back into the chair with a sigh. Realistically, where else does he have to go?

***

Marchand Brothers Book One: The Billion Dollar Alternate Reality is available now! Find it at the retailer of your choice!

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