Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Billionaire’s Reluctant Fiancée : Chapter 1

Chapter One
“So, we’re agreed?” Will Harris winced as he readjusted himself in the bed. His skin had gone yellow and paper-thin. Last month, he’d been healthy, sharp, unbeatable on the golf course. Now, he was days away from death.
“I will take care of Lily. She will have everything she needs.” Even if she’ll probably fight me every step of the way.Jake Tolliver had been drawn to Lily Harris the first time he’d laid eyes on her. Unfortunately, the more he cared for her, the more she avoided him.
“You’ll marry her.” It was a strange statement coming from the man who wouldn’t give his blessing two years ago when Jake had asked permission before pursuing Lily.
“Will, she’s a grown woman who can make her own decisions. As much as I’d like to tell her we’re getting married, it wouldn’t go over well.”
“But you have to.” Agitation worsened the tremors in Will’s hands, so foreign to a man who’d solved problems for a living. He had an amazing ability to look at any building and see possibility. What he’d taught Jake in the last four years of their partnership was priceless. It gave him a passion and skillset for architecture he’d always hoped to have. Tolliver-Harris was renowned for their ability to rehabilitate dilapidated buildings, to turn schools into hotels, churches into restaurants, the tunnels beneath Portland into a nightclub. That was the legacy Will Harris deserved to be remembered for.
Unfortunately, gossip and derision had taken hold. Will had made some horrid investment decisions, buying in to companies with little hope of return, spent money on gambling and women until his credit ran dry. A few years of frugal spending and completed projects would have corrected it. He just hadn’t planned on dying.
“Jake, you have to marry her. She is too vulnerable. Someone will take advantage of that, hurt her in ways…”
“She’s not the fragile flower you think she is. Lily is a brilliant woman.” Her intellectual confidence was second to none. It was everything else that had fallen behind.
Will’s head shook with the same twitching pace of his hands. “You don’t understand. She doesn’t have the experience someone her age needs to know who to trust. There hasn’t—”
“I’ve known her as long as I’ve known you. I know exactly what you mean, and I promise you, no harm will come to her. You know how I feel about her, but while she might spend hours inside the pages of Victorian society, she doesn’t live there.”
“No, she doesn’t. I have kept her so close to me, sheltered her, protected her. She’s my life’s work, Jake. And this—” His pale eyes went glassy as he gestured to the hospital bed, the bottles of pills lined neatly on the bedside table. “I’m leaving her with nothing but a mess to clean up. I’ve failed her, and for what? Selfishness.”
“Lily will always think of you as devoted. Bank accounts won’t change that.” Jake stood and turned to the window, unable to watch his mentor crumble. He’d long ago learned to quiet his emotional responses.
“She deserves to be happy.” Will’s voice thinned and slowed with each word, as if he were plucking them out one by one from his soul. “She’s lost so much, and now, even more. Even with how much you paid for my share of the firm, the house will have to be sold.”
He’d never realized how many stalled projects Will had invested in, how much credit casinos would sign over to a man who owned an estate this size. Will had bought the land, built the house, and then designed an exclusive set of neighboring estates. It had made him rich and made him a gambler. Many of his investments would have amazing returns in time, but Will’s had run out.
“You could make her happy.”
“I’d love nothing more.” Absolute truth, and not likely to happen. He took every opportunity to get closer to her, just as she did her best to keep her distance. She was guarded with everyone, but more so with him. Or she tried to be. There were times her walls slipped, and he caught a glimpse of absolute perfection.
Will’s voice had weakened to barely a whisper. “She needs someone who understands her. And I know how you feel for her.”
Jake turned back to his friend, wishing the older man hadn’t been so hung up on the age gap between him and Lily two years ago. Everything would be settled by now, and he could go in peace.
“You’ll marry her. Make sure she’s loved.” His eyelids drooped, the pain meds having kicked in enough to let him sleep.
“You have my word.” An easy promise. He’d love her, always. Marry her tomorrow if she wanted. But she didn’t.
At least, not yet.

The Billionaire’s Reluctant Fiancéeby Jenna Bayley-BurkeFebruary 12, 2018Entangled Publishing, Indulgence

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