Release Day: The Reluctant Billionaire

About the book

With her husband’s ultimate betrayal, and the finalization of her divorce, Jessica Palmer’s dreams for her life go up in flames, leaving her devastated and lost. Now, she’s leaving Chicago and moving back into her parents’ house in an effort to rebuild her life. Longtime neighbor and friend, Liam Engstrom, is the only reason she hasn’t completely fallen apart, but the closer they get, the more she realizes the depth of his feelings.

Liam has loved Jessica since they were teens, but she never noticed him as more than a friend. Now that she’s single, he’s determined to show her how much he cares and that not all men are like her ex-husband–if she’ll let him.

Jessica is reluctant to trust again after what her husband did to her, and Liam refuses to be the rebound guy, but their attraction is hard to deny. So, together, with a little help from God, they decide to give love a chance. But between Liam’s recent inheritance and an unwanted public billionaire status that has people lining up with their hands out, and Jessica’s ex-husband monitoring her every move, their relationship is off to a rocky start. And when tragedy strikes, Liam pushes everyone away—including Jessica. Can they both learn to forgive and grow, or are they doomed to be alone?

Chapter 1

Jessica took a last look at the apartment that’d been her home for less than a year. She and Paul had upgraded from an affordable one-bedroom apartment to this spacious downtown one last summer. They even purchased new furniture when they moved in. Most of it was staying behind for Paul, including their king size bed.

She was taking the antique bedframe and dresser that’d been her grandparents. After all, she was the one who’d been using them since last fall. The marriage counselor she and Paul had seen suggested they sleep in separate bedrooms while they were working through their differences.

She’d reluctantly moved into the guest room.

The counseling hadn’t solved the problems in their marriage. Her divorce had become final a couple of weeks ago. At the age of thirty, she was moving back into her parents’ house until she could decide the next steps in her life.

“Ready, Jess?”

She turned toward the door. Her brother, Hunter, waited, jangling his keys in his hand. His tall, lean runner’s body and blond hair were in startling contrast to the dark-haired man beside him. Standing just under six feet, his broad shoulders and muscled chest filled out his gray T-shirt.

She hadn’t been unaware of those muscles as he lifted and carried her furniture.

Liam Engstrom.

Her friend since childhood. Today, he’d been a source of strength.

While Hunter had grumbled about the heavy lifting and made comments about Paul’s shortcomings, Liam had quietly shouldered the burden of loading the van.

Jessica slung her purse over her shoulder. “I’m ready.”

She followed the men into the hallway. They waited while she locked the door. As they walked down the hall, the elevator opened. Her ex-husband walked out. Paul’s golden-boy good looks had once caused her heart to flutter, but now, anger burned in her chest. For the first time in six months, they faced each other outside the courtroom. The tension nearly crackled between them.

“Do you have your key?” he asked.

She dropped it into his outstretched palm, careful not to touch him.

“Jess—”

When she glared at him, he clamped his mouth shut.

Jessica spun away from him. Tears blinded her, and she stumbled, reaching out for something hold onto. A firm hand grasped her elbow, steadying her. She stood still for a moment until her vision cleared.

“Ready to go, Jess?” Liam’s soothing voice was like a beacon as he guided her onto the elevator behind Hunter.

Hunter punched the button for the lobby with force. “Good riddance to that jerk.”

If Jessica’s heart wasn’t breaking in two, she’d agree, but she felt like she was leaving all her dreams behind. She and Paul had been high school sweethearts, gotten engaged during college, and they’d been married for seven years. It was hard to think that all those years were wasted, and she’d ended up alone.

Once outside the apartment building, Hunter walked toward the moving van that was parked on the street.

“You’re driving the moving van? I assumed Liam would.”

Hunter stopped and looked at her. “Why would you assume that?”

Liam folded his arms across his chest. “Yes, why?” Liam smirked.

“Well, I mean—” Heat rushed into her cheeks.

How did she say Liam was more muscular and looked tougher without hurting her brother’s feelings and embarrassing herself even more?

“Because he drives a pickup while you drive—” She fumbled for an answer.

“I know. I drive a foreign car. But I’m hurt you don’t think I can handle this. Don’t you remember all those holidays during college when I drove a delivery van?”

Jessica could barely remember what she’d eaten the day before, much less what had taken place years ago. Going through the divorce had been like navigating through a fog. “I guess I do, now that you mention it.”

Jessica expected Liam to follow Hunter to the moving van. Instead, he walked with her to the carport. She started toward the driver’s side of her car, but he reached out his arm and blocked her way. She paused and stared at him.

“I’ll drive.” He held out his hand, but she didn’t relinquish the keys.

“No, I’ll drive. You’re not used to Chicago traffic.”

Liam’s dark brown eyes twinkled “I remember a certain girl who totaled her car when she found a bee inside. I want to arrive home in one piece.”

“Ha! That was a long time ago.”

The memory made Jessica smile, which she hadn’t done much of recently. He was right, though. She probably shouldn’t be driving in her present state of mind. She tossed him the keys and walked to the passenger’s side. She slid in and shut the door.

Liam got in behind the steering wheel. His eyebrows drew together as he looked at her. “Are you ready to go home?”

She nodded, not wanting to tell him how she questioned her decision to leave Chicago. She didn’t really want to move back into her parents’

house, but her downtown apartment was too expensive to keep up without Paul’s income.

Liam turned the key in the ignition and shifted the car into reverse.

He backed out of the parking space and waited for the moving van. When Hunter pulled away from the curb and onto the street, Liam exited the parking lot and followed. Although Jessica had questioned his ability to drive in the Chicago traffic, Liam seemed at ease behind the wheel.

His broad shoulders made her car feel smaller. She remembered how she’d cried on those shoulders last October.

Her dad had suffered a heart attack, and she’d flown home. Paul hadn’t gone with her. He’d told her he had a big trial he was working on.

Liam had met her at the airport, and she’d fallen apart in his arms. Not only was she worried about her dad, but she’d been afraid her marriage was over.

Jessica still tortured herself with wondering if her marriage could have been saved if she hadn’t left Paul alone in Chicago. When she returned to her apartment after her dad was released from the hospital, she’d found Paul in bed with his colleague.

Jessica hadn’t wasted any time filing for divorce. Irreconcilable differences was the reason listed on the judgment of divorce. In her mind, that reason had a name: Cynthia.

Her thoughts came back to the present as Liam followed the moving van away from the downtown area. Jessica watched through the window as the buildings grew smaller. A tear rolled down her cheek.

Liam picked up the box of tissues from the console and handed it to her. “It’s okay to cry.”

His comforting words opened a floodgate of tears. She was heartsick over the breakup of her marriage. Their wedding day had held so much promise. Paul was starting his first year of law school, and she’d just graduated with her nursing degree. She worked at the hospital while he finished law school. After he was hired into a law firm, she’d changed her job to work in a doctor’s office so she’d have her evenings and weekends free. Once Paul made partner, they would buy a house and start a family.

Only, their plans hadn’t worked out that way.

“I don’t know what he saw in her when he had you, Jess.”

Liam’s words were a balm to her low self-esteem. “Thanks for saying that. Sometimes I think if I’d been a better wife, he wouldn’t have cheated on me.”

“You were a good wife. Don’t let what he did to you doubt yourself.”

That was kind of Liam to say, but the divorce had killed Jessica’s confidence. For the past thirteen years, she’d been Paul’s girlfriend, then fiancée, then wife. Now, she wasn’t any of those things.

She lowered the visor and checked the mirror. Her eyes were red and swollen. She was glad she hadn’t worn makeup this morning. She hadn’t worn much makeup since her marriage had ended. Paul had liked her to look model-perfect. After they’d separated, she hadn’t bothered with makeup. Mascara and foundation streaked when she cried, and she’d done that often enough that applying them seemed futile.

She flipped the visor back up and watched out the window as Liam followed the moving van out of Chicago. When they got on the open freeway, Jessica’s phone rang. She swiped the screen. “ Hi, Hunter.” She put the call on speaker so Liam could hear him, too.

“Hey, guys. How’s it going?”

“Admit it, you’re hungry,” Liam said.

“I’m starving. All that hard work, you know.” Hunter gave an exaggerated sigh. “I’m exhausted.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re soft. That’s what sitting at a desk all day will do to you,” Liam teased.

Their easy banter reminded Jessica of their teenaged years. Laughter was something she hadn’t done much of for the past few months.

“Jess, aren’t you going to stick up for me?” Hunter asked. “You’re hungry, right?”

Her laughter faded. She hadn’t had an appetite for months. “Not really.”

“Liam?”

“Yeah, I could eat.”

“Great,” Hunter said. “I’m going to pull off at the next exit with a fast food sign. You guys can follow me.”

They traveled for a few miles before Hunter turned off the freeway.

Liam followed the van to a fast food restaurant that used to be Jessica’s favorite

Liam parked and opened the door. Jessica’s mouth watered at the thought of a deluxe burger and crispy fries. She hadn’t eaten fast food for a long time.

She got out of the car and met up with Hunter and Liam. The scent of grilled burgers was in the air. “I love this place.” The words were out before she could stop them.

“Good, then you’ll eat.” Hunter’s critical tone put her on the defensive. Rather than argue with him, Jessica chose to ignore him.

Hunter opened the door, and Jessica brushed past him. The three of them waited in line to order. She wanted to get her favorite meal, but she’d been denying herself fast food burgers and fries for a long time.

The chicken salad would be the better choice.

“I’ll buy yours, Jess,” Hunter said.

“I should be buying yours. You carried all that furniture, after all.”

Money was tight for Jessica, but she could afford a few dollars for her brother’s meal.

“Nah, you can get mine next time.”

Since there probably wouldn’t be another time when Jessica accompanied her brother to a fast food restaurant, she hesitated. “Are you sure?”

When Hunter nodded, Jessica stepped up to the counter. “I’ll have a chicken salad with fat free Italian dressing,” she told the cashier.

Hunter’s lip curled. ‘“You’re kidding, right?”

She lifted her chin. “No, I’m not very hungry.”

Hunter added his order to hers. Then he paid, and he and Jessica stepped aside to wait.

Like what you see?

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About the Author

Carol Underhill lives in rural Michigan a few miles from the farm where she grew up. She is mom to three adult children and a spoiled Lab. Her household also includes several rescued cats. She likes finding new authors on Kindle and binge-reading all their books. Carol rewards herself for meeting deadlines with a cup of fudge-flavored coffee. She enjoys quiet mornings and spending time with her family.

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