ACQUISITION PROLOGUE

Not many people can say that they’re living their dream. I started on this path when I was only knee-high, but I never let anything stop me from achieving everything my father had planned for me.

When I was a little girl, my father and I would lie in the field behind our house for hours and stare at the night sky. He’d hold me close and point to the stars, twinkling like diamonds against black silk above us.

He dreamed of touching the heavens and visiting the vast reaches of space. He spent years studying to be an astronaut and almost achieved his goal. Tragically, within weeks of finishing training, a horrific car accident killed my mother and left him in a back brace for a year.

His career ended before it even began, and he changed his focus to me. He didn’t force me onto the path I’m on now. No, my father taught me that I could achieve anything and believed I would touch the very reaches he’d always dreamed he would but never did.

“Lauren, your future is there,” he’d say with wonder and excitement.

I’d look up, staring at the stars twinkling above us, and wonder what else was out there. Childhood curiosity and the love of my father drove me toward my destiny…toward today. Not into space, but to the inside of the boardroom, where I could make the dream a reality for others.

Although I didn’t have the guts to become an astronaut, I knew from a young age that I wanted to make it possible for others to go where no man had gone before. My father believed in me and said I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I studied science and business at Boston University, graduating with a bachelor of science in aerospace and an MBA by the age of twenty-four.

It didn’t matter that I was a woman in a male-dominated industry, the only limitations I had were those that others had placed on me, underestimating my drive and determination to reach the top.

Five years ago, I became the CEO of Interstellar Corp—one of the world’s cutting-edge producers of aerospace technology. They are the second-largest company in the field, behind only Cozza International, the oldest company in the field. I never thought that within ten years of stepping through the door, I’d be head of the multibillion-dollar corporation.

I’d achieved a small piece of my father’s dream before the age of thirty, but my father never got to see me take the helm. Three years before I was appointed the head of Interstellar, he died of a stroke

Although he wasn’t standing by my side, I thought about him watching me from above, finally going to all the places he’d always dreamed of seeing.

It happened.

I’d made it.

Lauren Bradley, CEO of Interstellar Corporation.

But being a businesswoman and running a company had some major hurdles that I never expected.

But like with anything else in life, I didn’t let it stop me.

I couldn’t.

I always knew the business world would be cutthroat, but I never expected the betrayal to be from those closest to me.

I braced myself for it. There’s always competition—both from inside the company and from other businesses in the same field.

Years before I became CEO, I made a mistake.

One that can be especially devastating to the career of a female executive.

Not a what, but a who.

Trent Moore.

We’d worked long hours together on the development of a new engine technology, and the lust became undeniable. It was my first big assignment for the company and the launching pad that catapulted me to the top. Between Trent’s rugged good looks and MENSA-level genius, I couldn’t help but be attracted to him.

He flirted.

I blushed.

He smiled.

I swooned.

After months of going back and forth, I gave in to him.

Relationships were a complication I couldn’t afford, especially not in the beginning of my career. My mind knew it, but my body led me down the path of a sinful office romance that ended as spectacularly as a test rocket exploding before reaching the stratosphere.

Eventually, I came to my senses, feeling boxed in after he became possessive, which had me backpedaling and looking for a way out. After I was able to break off our relationship, I asked if we could be friends, but Trent refused to believe that we were over. He did everything in his power to get me back, and every time I told him no, he took it to mean yes.

I refused his every advance, but he bided his time and thought I’d come to my senses—but I never did.

The one thing I know about myself is that once my mind is made up, I never go back.

Trent was a hard lesson to learn—never mix business with pleasure. Interoffice romances spell disaster and should be avoided at all costs. I couldn’t just walk away from him entirely. We worked together. And that there is the rub.

When I became CEO of Interstellar, he became the head of research and development, not because of me, but because of our work on the project that had pushed us together. We had a common goal—a new engine technology that would revolutionize the industry, and we were so close.

I knew that, as a company, we needed him, even if I didn’t want a damn thing to do with him.

He had a brilliant mind, and Interstellar needed him just as much as they needed me. We were trapped together in a symbiotic relationship, even though it was toxic. He needed me to back his projects and give him free rein, while I needed him to create something so magnificent it would make Interstellar the leader in the aerospace industry and allow me to leave my mark on the universe. Like it or not, our lives were intertwined.

He pulled off the impossible, creating something that would solidify Interstellar’s dominance over the entire industry.

Maybe he wasn’t my biggest mistake after all.