$10,000,000 Marriage Proposal


By James Patterson

With Hilary Liftin

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A mysterious billboard from a wealthy stranger intrigues three single women in LA. But is he really the man of their dreams?

A creative, open-minded businessman doesn’t have time to play the field . . . so he offers a serious proposal of ten million dollars to find the right woman. But who is this Mr. Right? And is he the perfect match for the lucky winner?


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Chapter 1

It was a Friday morning and Janey Ellis was running late. As usual. She prided herself on being so low maintenance that she could make it from bed to car in twelve minutes flat. The only problem was the getting-out-of-bed part. This morning she could barely drag herself to the shower, having spent the previous evening reading scripts until midnight. Flowerpot Studios had three new TV shows going to series this season, and she was expected to give notes on all of them today—if she made it to work in time for her first call.

Sebastian, her ex, used to call her a lane-change demon, and it was true: she would never let some boring gray Prius slow her down. Indeed, she was weaving west on Sunset so fast she would have missed the billboard if it hadn’t usurped the one for her show. The bright-yellow ad was wrapped around one whole side of a fifteen-story building that until yesterday had promoted the cop drama Loyal Blue. Loyal Blue was the only successful TV show that Janey had developed to date—the one that looked like it was going to secure her job for the next few years. But it had been cancelled. The finale had aired.

It wasn’t her fault. Shows got cancelled all the time, and shows ran for years with worse ratings than Loyal Blue. It was a crapshoot. Nonetheless, as Janey’s boss had put it, “Money is money and failure is failure.” The towering building that had once showcased her success now displayed two-foot-tall Crayola-green letters reading: WILL YOU MARRY ME FOR $10,000,000?

The message was so bold and unexpected that it distracted Janey from wallowing in the sad fate of Loyal Blue. This was quite a departure from the TV ads that rotated through this prime Hollywood ad real estate. Janey slowed to gawk. It had to be another reality dating show, right? She cursed herself for not having been the one to come up with it. But then she read the rest of the sign: CREATIVE, OPEN-MINDED BUSINESSMAN WITH LIMITED TIME AND DESIRE TO PLAY THE FIELD. THIS IS A SERIOUS PROPOSAL.

Janey chuckled to herself. It was just weird enough to be legit. Dude obviously had some cash—she’d seen the budget line for the lease on that billboard, and it wasn’t cheap. Cars started to honk, and Janey realized the light in front of her was green. She hit the gas a bit harder than she meant to and hurtled through the intersection.

The billboard vanished from Janey’s mind as she dashed across the studio lot and hurried into the Flowerpot offices, but not for long. Inside she was a bit surprised to see that everyone—executives and assistants alike—was gathered in her boss’s office. Uh-oh. This couldn’t be good. After dropping her bag in her office, Janey went to see what was going on.

The roomful of people was staring out the window. “You can see the back of the building, over to the right,” an assistant was saying.

“Check out the gridlock,” someone else said.

“What’s going on?” Janey whispered to her assistant, Elody.

“It’s an ad,” Elody said. “A ten-million-dollar marriage proposal. It went up this morning and has already gone viral. Gawker says it’s caused three fender benders so far.”

“I saw it on my way in,” Janey said, feeling briefly proud that, for once, she hadn’t been the one in the fender bender. “It’s got to be some kind of hoax.”

“Or a publicity stunt,” her colleague Marco said. “Some wannabe actor decided to go big or go home.”

“I think it’s romantic,” Elody said.

A voice boomed over the rest of them. “It’s a waste of time and money. This isn’t a watercooler, people. It’s my office. Out.”

Inwardly Janey kicked herself at her mistake. Her boss, J. Ferris White, had been known to can people for taking lunch breaks. Not long lunch breaks. Any lunch break at all. And after the collapse of Loyal Blue she needed to get back on his good side. She ducked out of the office with everyone else, feeling twelve years old.

Chapter 2

At 11:00 a.m. on the dot Suze Lee allowed herself her first coffee break of the day. Redfield Partners, though a small venture capital group based in LA, prided itself on offering all the benefits of a big Silicon Valley tech company. Pool and Ping-Pong tables, a half court for basketball, a fully stocked kitchen. The free coffee was supposed to stimulate them to work longer and later, but Suze was pretty sure the excuse for frequent breaks had cut her colleagues’ productivity in half. She therefore limited herself to two visits to the café every day, twenty minutes each. Just coffee, no snacking. Today something was different. The café was strangely quiet. The persistent ping-pong of the game that never seemed to cease was silent for once. Instead there was a cluster of people around one of the café tables, where Kevin sat with his laptop.

“I’m sure the guy is sixty years old and ugly as a dog, looking for arm candy,” Emily said.

“No! People in the comments are saying that he’s a tech billionaire. Too busy to waste time dating,” Kevin said. “I mean, for all we know, he’s upstairs now, watching the Tweets roll in.” The second floor of Redfield Partners was home to the executive suites, where the investing and operations teams of the firm had their offices (open concept, of course, but still a floor above everyone else). There they met with eager start-ups, counted their millions, and worked out daily in the on-site gym. It was easy to fit it all in when you knew you were set for life. Suze, Kevin, the ten other “entrepreneurs in residence,” and the support staff were always encouraged to use the gym, but none of them ever did. Who wanted the hyperfit, life-balance-obsessed partners to see them panting on a treadmill at a slow jog? Instead they took ownership of the in-house café, some of them subsisting solely on its PowerBars and caffeinated beverages.

“Suze—you should totally apply,” Meredith said.

Suze practically spat out her iced coffee. “What are you talking about? Why me?”

“Don’t play dumb,” Meredith said. “I have walked down the street with you. Every man we pass drools, and those are the ones who don’t even know that you’re brilliant.”

“And you’re nice. Mostly. A little uptight, but in a nice way,” Kevin chimed in.

“Thanks?” said Suze.

“You’re the hottest catch in LA,” said Jeff.

There was an awkward silence. Jeff, the office IT guy, rarely spoke. When he did, it was always a little creepy.

“He’s right,” Meredith finally said. “A ten-million-dollar catch.”

Suze rolled her eyes. “If that were true…wouldn’t I have been caught by now?”

“For ten million dollars you might as well find out,” said Kevin.

Chapter 3

“Caroline! Where are you?”

Caroline Fried-Miller cringed. This was working out worse than she’d expected. She’d been living back at home for only two weeks, and already every word out of her mother’s mouth got on her nerves. It was not a large house. And yet her mother had to bellow from downstairs as if they’d been separated at an oversold general-admission concert. At this rate Caroline would never last long enough to get back on her feet. Losing her apartment had been an unexpected blow. It was nobody’s fault. It had been her roommate Angie’s apartment first. Angie had landed the sweet, low-rent beach pad in Venice through a family friend. The lease was in her name. She paid all the bills, and Caroline reimbursed her. That was why it was totally cool when Angie’s boyfriend, Bill, started living with them. It was fun, sort of like a super-crowded sitcom. But Caroline should have seen the writing on the wall. When Angie got engaged to Bill (Caroline was so happy for them! She really was!), of course they wanted Caroline out.

Finding a new place on her nonprofit salary wasn’t going to be easy. She needed a second job, or something. Meanwhile, stuck at home with her mom and little sister, she was determined to keep the peace. The indomitable Isabelle Fried wasn’t going to change. And Caroline was in no position to complain. She rolled out of bed.

“Be right there,” she said politely, but at a proper volume that quite possibly would not reach all the way downstairs to her mother. Caroline was willing to be respectful, but that didn’t mean she had to compromise her standards. She refused to turn into her mother.

“Hurry, look, you’ll miss it!” her mother urged as Caroline came into the living room. “This is it, honey, your golden ticket!”

Isabelle was staring at the TV, where the local news was covering a story Caroline had glimpsed on her phone on the way downstairs. Something about a billboard with a marriage proposal.

“Mom, I am not Cinderella. Please don’t fairy-godmother me.”

“Don’t be such a snob. It’s fun. This man, whoever he is, is obviously smart, or he wouldn’t be rich, and he’s obviously determined, or he wouldn’t be launching this impressive campaign. He knows what he wants and he’s willing to pay for it. You should try out, honey. You’ve got nothing to lose!”

“Um…thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not for sale.”

Isabelle shook her head. “Don’t be obstinate. He’s not buying you. He’s buying opportunity.”

Caroline laughed. “Okay, you win.”

“So you’ll do it. Great. The audition is tomorrow—”

“What? No!” Caroline shook her head. “You win that he’s buying opportunity. You don’t win entering me into the wife contest.”

“Are you sure?” her mother asked. “You know, you haven’t had a boyfriend since He Who Shall Not Be Mentioned. It’s not like you have a good track record with finding your own boyfriends. Might as well put it in the hands of fate.”

“Yeah. No.”

Isabelle stared at her daughter. Then she got a glint in her eye. “Five hundred dollars,” she said. “I’ll give you five hundred dollars.”

“Uh, Mom? I’m not an idiot. If I won’t do it for ten million dollars, why would I do it for five hundred?”

“Because I’ll give you the five hundred just for trying.”

“Do I get five hundred dollars, too?” Caroline’s little sister, Brooke, piped in from the doorway.

“Get ready for school, sweetie,” Isabelle told her second daughter.

Caroline said, “How about you give me five hundred dollars to clean out the garage, which I’ve been doing in my spare time for two weeks now? Isn’t that worth five hundred dollars?” She could really use the money. When she moved out, a landlord was going to ask for first month’s rent and a month’s deposit—cash she didn’t have sitting around.

“Five hundred dollars to take a chance with Prince Charming. Deal or no deal?” her mother said.

“No deal.” Caroline couldn’t be bought by a man, and she certainly didn’t want to be bought by her mother.

“I’ll do it for two hundred!” Brooke said.

“Get your backpack, we’re late,” Isabelle told Brooke.

Chapter 4

Three days later Caroline was navigating to the downtown address her mother had given her. Her laptop battery had died its last death three hours after their conversation about the contest. Between the shame of borrowing her sister’s babysitting savings to help pay for a new computer and the shame of auditioning for the role of a rich man’s wife, she had opted for the latter, and now here she was.

As she drove south on Figueroa Street, there were no big office buildings, nothing that looked like a place where a man could interview several potential wives. Nothing…except the Staples Center.

“You have arrived at your destination: 1111 South Figueroa Street.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Caroline said out loud. The goddamn Staples Center. She couldn’t help but laugh. This was so absurd that it might actually be worth it.


It was a cattle call. If it had been anywhere other than LA, Caroline would have assumed she’d walked into some kind of pageant or convention for models, or into any gym in LA, where you’d find a high ratio of sculpted bodies, chemically colored and straightened blond hair, and obscenely long eyelash extensions. Caroline instinctively reached to her own hair. It had been honey blond when she was a kid, but now the best she could do was to beg her colorist to try to replicate the color she’d once had naturally. When she could afford it. Which, as anyone who saw her roots would know, was about six months ago.

The women were lining up by last name. Caroline found A–F and took her place at the back. The tall, skinny blond woman in front of her caught her eye and smiled.


On Sale
Oct 4, 2016
Page Count
144 pages

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

Learn more at jamespatterson.com

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