LAUREN, Silicon Valley Billionaires, Book 1
by Leigh James
Two Headstrong, Driven CEOs. One Undeniable, Scorching Attraction.
Being a scientist gives Lauren Taylor a purpose in life. At twenty-five, she’s the CEO of a billion-dollar biomedical company, Paragon Laboratories. On the brink of a major discovery, Lauren lets nothing interfere with her work. Until she meets Gabriel Betts, the gorgeous and brilliant CEO of another Silicon Valley startup, and is forced to face her inconvenient and overwhelming attraction to him.
Billionaire Gabriel Betts is a successful scientist in his own right. He’s made his way in the world by being an early adapter and never losing focus. Captivated by Lauren’s brilliance and unselfconscious beauty, he’s determined to win the reclusive female CEO over at any cost.
But what neither Gabe nor Lauren are prepared for is the white-collar danger that’s lurking in Silicon Valley… The danger that threatens not only their companies, but their very existence.
* This is an update to the previously released High Interest and contains significant edits.
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The day began as both ordinary and extraordinary. The sun shined through the windows of my office as I assembled my lab kit—special gloves, laptop and notes. All of it would have to be decontaminated before I entered the lab, but that was part of my daily ritual. The California sunshine and the fact that I had work to do were normal, but to me, that didn’t make them any less remarkable. I brushed my long blonde hair until it hung neatly over my shoulders, and smoothed my black sweater under my lab coat, preparing myself. Today would be the day my prototype finally worked.
Nodding at Stephanie, my assistant, I headed briskly to the lab. We were running another test that day. Hopefully, this would be the test that proved my invention could do what the world so desperately needed it to do.
But there were one thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine failed tests before it.
I went through the doors to the enclosed space, where I would be sprayed down with decontaminants to ensure the sterility of the lab. Everyone who worked at Paragon Laboratories entered through this space. The entrance was similar to the tube travelers walked through at airport security, where they were asked to put their arms over their heads to be scanned. At Paragon, people put their arms over their heads and were sprayed with an odorless sanitizer, ensuring no fibers or bacteria from the outside world invaded our precious testing ground.
My lab workers greeted me as I entered. At eight in the morning, most of them had already been here for hours. They were running preliminary tests, assembling data, and generating the reports necessary to keep our investors and the FDA apprised of our research.
At the end of the day, I would review all the new material, compile it, then have it electronically locked on my laptop so no one could access it without my direct permission. I always made sure our technology, valued at eight billion dollars, stayed secret. But the dollar amount associated with my invention didn’t interest me, even though I owned the majority stake in Paragon. My invention was my life’s work, my life’s mission, and its ability to help people was the only thing that mattered to me.
I headed directly toward Eva, our head researcher, deep V forming between her eyebrows as she read the data on her computer.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She looked up, startled. “Nothing. Sheesh, Lauren, you scared me.”
I looked past her to her screen, searching for signs of trouble. “Why are you frowning like that?”
“Because my eyes are tired, and I’m scrunching up my face to compensate, okay? Nothing’s wrong. We haven’t run the test yet. We set everything up. We’re just waiting for you.” Her face relaxed into a smile. “Are you excited?”
I shrugged. “I think I’m more anxious than excited.”
“It’s going to go well. All the signs have been pointing to this.”
We’d run thousands of tests on our prototype, a patch that would scan cells in the human body for signs of disruption, doing the work of a CAT scan and other expensive tests for a fraction of the price, in a fraction of the time.
A thousand tests on our prototype, and not one had worked. Not yet.
Still, every one of those failures had brought me closer to success. Our most recent round of trials had come close. Since then, we’d been working around the clock to update the prototype. I knew what didn’t work, and I was so close to finding what did.
So close, I could taste it.
Eva tucked one of her curls behind her ear and looked at me expectantly. “Are you ready?”
I nodded. “Let’s begin.” I licked my lips nervously, then set up my own computer. I had a private one, separate from the network, on which I kept my own calculations and observations, as well as the most up-to-date configurations of the patch. I maintained this information off the grid to protect it from internal and external hacking threats.
My sister, who knew me better than anyone, said I did it because I was a paranoid control freak. She wasn’t wrong.
I grabbed a small headset off the table and turned on the microphone. “Finn, go ahead.” My directions were piped into a sealed room where the prototype would be tested. The room was adjacent to ours and visible from the lab.
Finn, one of my long-time lab workers, gave me the thumbs-up. He put his gloves on, hit a button on the wall, then a door automatically opened. Test Subject 1,201 entered the room, wearing a johnny. Finn had the man sit down, then assembled the various wires and suction cups on him that would monitor his breathing, heart rate, and stress levels. The test subject sat patiently as Finn arranged the myriad devices.
Finally, Finn seemed satisfied and turned toward us, waiting for instruction.
“Go ahead,” I ordered.
I held my breath as he picked up the patch, removed the backing, and gently placed it on the test subject. Screens lit up above the testing room, ready to display the information from the patch to the rest of us.
“Are all his signs normal?” I asked Eva as data from the monitoring equipment scrolled down her screen.
“He’s perfect. Everything is steady. Nothing should interrupt the output of information.”
I watched the screens above the test room. Finn sat, calmly monitoring the report on his computer. Eva continued to watch her screen. Test Subject 1,201 sat back with his eyes closed. He didn’t know the specifics of the trial, but he knew we were testing a medical diagnostic device. Per my legal team’s protocols, he’d signed a ten-page nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement. Still, he looked relaxed, probably happy to earn an easy thousand dollars for his participation.
I wished I could relax. Instead, I stared at the monitors and waited. A full minute passed. I grimaced, hating the feeling of disappointment forming in my stomach—a feeling I knew all too well.
It’s just another problem you need to eliminate. I tried to soothe myself as the seconds ticked by. If it doesn’t work this time, it’s still something you can fix. You’re so close.
The monitors flickered and came to life. Data suddenly started streaming—the data I’d been waiting for.
“Oh my God.” Eva moved to stand beside me. “It’s working.”
The patch read the test subject’s cells. Any red flags would be highlighted. Once I perfected the reports to weed out imperfect but harmless mutations, I would be able to tell whether this man had cancer, pre-cancer, or any other number of diseases.
For the first time, after years of research, testing, FDA compliance reports and one-hundred-hour work weeks, the patch finally worked.
“Yes, it’s working.” I wrapped my arms around my chest as if I were trying to give myself a congratulatory hug. “It’s finally working.”
* * *
I went back to my office and watched the sun make its way across the sky. I looked briefly at the picture of my parents on my desk, thinking how thrilled they would be with my success.
Thrilled, but not surprised.
That was how I felt too. I’d been working toward this day for six years. I’d pushed everything else to the side—school, sleep and any semblance of a social life. I’d dropped out of MIT my junior year because I’d known then that I was meant to do this work. Before taking on investors, I’d used a large portion of my inheritance to fund my research. It was worth it—creating this technology to help people would make the world a better place. That deep belief and single-minded determination had gotten me through the past six lonely years.
Stephanie buzzed through on my intercom, interrupting my reverie. “Your sister’s here to see you.”
“Send her in.”
Hannah, my younger sister, bounded through the door and pulled me in for a hug. “So excited.”
“Uh. Hi.” I laughed and tried simultaneously to breathe through her tight hug. “I guess you heard about the test.”
“I ran into Eva and accosted her.” She pulled back and studied my face. “Don’t be mad, okay?”
“I’m not mad. Eva knows it’s okay to tell you. You and only you.” I smiled at Hannah fondly. Three years younger than me, with the same blonde hair and blue eyes I had, she was also highly intelligent—but that was where our similarities ended. Our co-workers found me reserved and cerebral, while outgoing and chatty Hannah charmed them. Her personality was why I’d hired her as Paragon’s director of publicity. She gave Paragon’s interviews, which were few and far between, and closely monitored any stories about us in the press.
“Are we going to take this thing public finally?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Not yet. We need to do more extensive testing to confirm these findings. We need to be sure that we have enough successful clinical trials completed to obtain all the necessary FDA approvals. After that, we need to do another round of fundraising with our investors and raise the capital to bring the patch to market. Then we’ll finalize a plan about announcing the technology to the rest of the world.”
“But our secret won’t be a secret for that much longer.” Her eyes glittered. “It’s so exciting—the whole world’s finally going to know what a genius my sister is!”
“Calm down.” I patted her shoulder. “We still have a long way to go. And I’m not really keen on sharing anyway.”
Hannah tilted her head, scrutinizing me. “But that’s what you want, isn’t it? Why aren’t you more excited?”
I smiled, trying to reassure her. “I am excited. I just want to take it one step at a time. And the prototype’s been my baby for so long, it’s going to be hard to let it out into the world.” I got up and walked over to the window, looking out at the acres of carefully maintained lawns surrounding our building. “I like being under the radar. You know that. Once this goes public, everyone’s going to know who we are.”
Unlike other entrepreneurs, I didn’t crave the spotlight. I shied away from fundraisers and promotional opportunities. I’d never given an interview, and I refused to comment publicly about Paragon and the research we did.
Still, I loved running my company. It had been difficult for me to reach out to our board members and the venture capitalists that funded our research, but I’d known it was necessary to make my vision a reality. I’d built an amazing team of investors, directors, and employees. We prided ourselves on the work we did there. We all wanted to make the world a better place.
I would do anything for Paragon and for the prototype. But fame didn’t interest me, and money only did to the extent that it could fund my research.
Hannah came up beside me. “Maybe you can…relax a little now?”
I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. “What on earth does that mean?” Of course, I knew precisely what she meant, but I wasn’t about to take the bait.
My sister frowned. “You could…take a vacation? Go to a spa? Go on a date?”
I snorted. “I can’t do anything frivolous like that. It would be a waste of my time, and you know it.”
“Enjoying life isn’t a waste of time. You haven’t taken a vacation in six years. You should go to the Caribbean and drink adult beverages, preferably the fruity ones with little umbrellas. And you should bring a hot guy.”
“Enough,” I snapped, then immediately felt bad. I turned to her and forced myself to look conciliatory. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so sharp with you. My baby sister.” I tucked a stray hair behind her ear.
She frowned again. “I’m serious. The phrase ‘you need to get out more’ has never been more on point.”
“This is the only place I want to be. If I took a vacation, or even if I just went home early, I’d still be wishing that I was here. This is where I’m meant to be.”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Well, lucky for you, it’ll be here when you get back.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
She smiled, mischief in her eyes. “Oh yes, you are. You have a lunch today, remember? With Gabriel Betts.”
“What?” I pulled up my schedule, and there it was, for today at one o’clock. I cringed. “Can’t you do it? I don’t have time.”
“I can’t do it. He wants to talk about technology, remember? That’s why we agreed that you’d be the one to meet with him.”
I held my cell phone and looked at her pleadingly. “But that was three months ago. Today of all days, I can’t leave the lab. Call him and cancel. Please.”
She grinned. “Actually, today of all days, you can leave the lab. Your prototype worked. For the first time ever. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t go to lunch. Besides, Gabriel Betts is hot. He’s a billionaire technology geek too, so who knows? You two might really hit it off.”
I glowered at her. “Stop it.”
“One o’clock at Grove in the Valley. Take a driver. Take security. You might wanna put on a little more lip gloss.” She smiled sweetly as I seethed. “He really is gorgeous. Google him and see for yourself.”
She sashayed out of the room, and I went to my computer, furiously googling Gabriel Betts, the CEO of Dynamica, a Silicon Valley-based company that produced lab-related technology that was used all over the world. I’d never met him before, but based on the pictures I found of him online, my sister was correct. He was absolutely gorgeous.
Still seething, I went to put on more lip gloss.