Evan Collins is the man with the Midas touch. Having left his hard childhood behind him, the financial genius vowed to one day have everything. But when he discovers that his marriage is built on lies, the only people he can trust now are the Mavericks—and the woman who has always been there for him: Paige, the sister of his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Paige Ryan has always loved Evan Collins, a secret she’s hugged close to her heart for nine long years. But when her sister’s devastating betrayal is revealed, Paige can’t keep her feelings hidden any longer.
Paige is a beacon of light for Evan. Despite believing he needs to keep the walls around his heart stronger than ever, he’s irresistibly drawn to her sweet, pure heart—and the undeniable sparks flaring between them. She’s the only one he trusts to help him face the darkness of his past head-on before it destroys him. But will their forbidden romance end up destroying them both?
Un amour sans réserve (Milliardaires Rebelles 4)
Keine Chance gegen die Liebe (Die Maverick Milliardäre 4)
What Readers Are Saying:
Irresistible in Love
Maverick Billionaires, Book 4
© 2016 Jennifer Skully & Bella Andre
It had all been lies.
From the moment Evan Collins met Whitney Ryan to the day their marriage ended a month ago, right after Thanksgiving. But that was all over now. He was setting his world to rights, reclaiming his life, moving on.
And he was home again.
Evan stood in the arched living room doorway of Susan and Bob Spencer’s Chicago home. Their house was fragrant with Christmas pine, mulled wine, and joy. The decorations still hung, stockings along the fireplace and brilliant poinsettias brightening the corners of the room, which was big enough to handle all of Harper Newman and Will Franconi’s wedding guests tomorrow.
When the money had started to flow for the Mavericks, the first thing the five friends had done was move the Spencers into a good neighborhood. At the time, this home was a palace compared to the apartment in the dreary, backwater neighborhood they’d grown up in. Now that millions had turned to billions, the Mavericks wanted to buy them a better and bigger house. But Susan and Bob insisted this was their dream home.
Now it would be the dream setting for Harper and Will’s wedding.
No one had noticed Evan’s arrival yet as he hung back, watching his foster family. For the past twenty-five years, they’d been a tight unit, going back to when they were kids out in the schoolyard. None of their childhoods had been innocent, and they’d each had their fair share of scars—both physical and emotional—by the time they left Susan and Bob’s home and headed out to conquer the world.
But only Evan had made the mistake of marrying the wrong woman.
Damn it, he’d already lost enough time over her—including the month he’d just spent in isolation in Europe beating himself up over his mistakes. It was long past time to move forward.
God, he’d missed his family and friends. All the people who were closer to him than blood. Closer than the wife he’d thought loved him.
Harper and Will would be married tomorrow, on New Year’s Eve, and tonight was the cusp of a new life for them. No matter how badly his life had imploded, he would never miss their wedding.
Harper was radiant in a burgundy dress that made everything about her shine—Will’s eyes certainly followed her everywhere she moved. He lit up with each of her smiles, every time she laughed. Harper’s brother, Jeremy, circled like a satellite, his usual enthusiastic, joyful self.
Sebastian Montgomery and his fiancée, Charlie Ballard, flanked her mother, Francine, who was perched in a wing chair. Francine’s lined face beamed with happiness—she and Charlie were a perfect addition to the Mavericks. Sebastian’s hand stroked over Charlie’s red hair, and she leaned into his touch.
Matt Tremont sat beside them, one hand on his son’s back, the other around the waist of his girlfriend, Ari Jones. Evan’s chest tightened at the sight of little Noah, who was almost six now, in Ari’s arms. Evan had planned to have his own kids by now, his hope growing with every passing year for the miracle of a healthy baby. Only to finally discover the horrible truth, a month ago, about why that had never come to be…
He put the brakes on the runaway locomotive of his thoughts. He’d deliberately left his raw, battered emotions behind after his European travels. From here on out, he was moving full steam ahead into a new world unmarked by his past.
Evan Collins had started over more than once in his life.
This time he vowed to get it right.
Thankfully, his friends had already gotten it completely right. Will had found his perfect match in Harper. Evan felt Sebastian’s joy in being with Charlie and was ecstatic that Noah now had a brand-new mother in Ari. Not for one minute would Evan let his own loss tarnish this celebration.
There had been so many moments during the last month when he’d wanted to punch in Will’s number, or Susan’s, or Matt’s, or God help him, call all his friends at once. To bare his soul. To tell them everything. And yet, in answer to all their queries after telling them a month ago that he was divorcing Whitney, the most he’d managed was a single curt text saying he was doing fine.
At least he’d sent them a response. Whitney’s sister, Paige, had reached out to him too.
Whitney just told me everything. I know you must be in shock right now. Call me as soon as you’re up to it.
But he hadn’t gotten to that point, not knowing what to say or how to say it. So he hadn’t replied at all, ignoring not only her texts, but her emails and phone calls as well.
Evan’s gut clenched as he realized Paige was nowhere to be seen tonight, as though she no longer felt welcome now that Evan and her sister had split up. As if she actually believed she was the “hanger-on” Whitney had always called her. He’d never felt that way about Paige. No one had.
At the very least, thank God Whitney hadn’t shown up. She’d been on the invitation they’d received before their marriage imploded, and he knew all too well how much she would relish causing her own special brand of trouble at the wedding.
At last, Daniel turned and spotted him. Evan could easily read the emotions on his friend’s face—shock, concern, maybe even a little anger. In a split second, however, it all disappeared beneath Daniel’s smile of welcome.
The Mavericks always accepted each other unconditionally. They didn’t take crap, but at the same time, they understood when a guy had to work things out on his own. And Evan swore that he had worked out all his emotions about Whitney. Even if it had taken a brutally lonely month spent halfway around the globe.
Separating from the group laughing at one of Bob’s hilarious stories, Daniel headed his way. “Glad you made it for the wedding.” He gave Evan a quick, hard hug.
Despite owning a home improvement retail conglomerate and hosting a DIY TV show, Daniel Spencer was the most muscular of the bunch. Making boatloads of money had never gotten in the way of his outdoor activities, which included personally building a cabin in Lake Tahoe.
“Glad to be here.” Evan glanced at Harper and Will. “I wouldn’t miss the wedding.”
“Some of us had our doubts. But we all know it’s been a rough month.”
Rough was an understatement. Evan’s mission in Europe had been about more than visiting his subsidiaries in London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Stockholm. The arms of The Collins Group, his investment corporation, reached out globally, and he believed in hiring local expertise. After all, they knew the markets, the economies, the politics, all of which affected investment decisions, and those people were the best at keeping him fully informed. He’d been determined to work himself out of the dark pit he’d fallen into when he’d learned the truth about the full extent of Whitney’s betrayal. At first, he’d fermented in that dark place, hating Whitney, hating himself for not seeing the truth. But now he refused to keep handing her that power over him, not when he’d just come home to his family again.
“It’s over now,” Evan said. “I’m moving on.”
Daniel smiled wide. “Sure you are.” But his next words belied the easy smile. “Need to talk? One on one?”
Evan drank in the laughter in the room before answering. “No.” He didn’t want to destroy the homecoming. Didn’t want to plunge back into darkness either. “I’m fine.”
Daniel nodded, and for a moment, Evan thought his friend might let it go at that. Until he added, “We’re here if you change your mind.”
Thank God for friends. They had always been there, since he was a skinny ten-year-old. They stood up for each other then and now. He knew they all thought he was better off without Whitney, that none of his friends ever really liked her. Evan was the one who’d made excuses for her behavior, who’d told himself that the Mavericks didn’t really know her.
Only to find out that he was the one who hadn’t known his wife.
Not at all.
Across the room, Susan laughed delightedly as Bob gave the punch line to his joke. They always laughed together—not at each other, but with each other. Over Bob’s shoulder, Susan finally saw Evan, her features freezing for a moment with deep motherly concern.
She whispered something to Bob, and he immediately pivoted. As if their moves were a signal to the rest of the group, the conversation fell silent.
Susan was soon enveloping Evan in a hug. He was transported back to childhood, to the heat of Susan and Bob’s kitchen, to the warmth generated by the unconditional love she and Bob showered on all the Mavericks. The Spencers had taken them in, fostered them, treated them like their own sons, giving them the same love they’d given to Daniel and his sister, Lyssa. In Susan and Bob’s house, there was always more than enough love to go around.
“I missed you, honey.”
“Missed you too,” he answered as he hugged her back, not wanting to let her go.
Bob knuckled his head, and Sebastian punched his arm lightly. “Dude, I knew you wouldn’t miss the food.”
Evan clapped his friend on the back. “It’s Matt who’s all about the food.”
Matt snorted. “Give me a break. Daniel’s the free-food king.”
As they all laughed, Evan’s heart clenched tight again. Only, this time it wasn’t out of pain—it was because he no longer had a doubt in his head or his heart or his gut that he’d been right to come home.
Noah squirmed out of Ari’s grip and launched himself at Evan. He scooped up Matt’s son, burying his face in Noah’s blond curls as the boy chattered excitedly. “I swam the pool end to end five times without stopping. It must be a whole mile.”
“You’re a superstar,” he said, giving Noah a high five before putting him back down on the floor so he could run off to play with Jeremy.
Turning to Ari, Evan asked, “Where’s your brother?” Evan had met Gideon only once, at Thanksgiving. The guy was enigmatic, having recently come back into Ari’s life after spending seven years in the military, and another nine years working construction all over the country. Evan wasn’t sure he trusted him, and he worried about Ari because of it.
“Gideon was so grateful for Harper and Will’s invitation to the wedding,” Ari replied, “but he wasn’t able to get out of work to come.” Evan knew that Daniel would have given him the time off, but he didn’t refute her.
The front door opened, and seconds later, a snow-dusted woman threw herself at him. Lyssa, Daniel’s sister, had always been a handful. She was the kid sister he’d never had, a toddler when he’d moved in with Susan and Bob a couple of years after his mother ran off. All the Mavericks felt like they’d raised her—and they would go to any length to protect her.
“You big lug. Where have you been this past month?” She smacked a hand on his chest. “I desperately needed to talk to you because—” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial murmur. “—I hate to admit it, but I detest my job. You’re my financial wizard, so I know you’ll give me good advice.”
“I’ll help you out any way I can,” he promised.
“Thank you,” she said, giving him one of her sunny smiles as she let him go. “I definitely need a sage old man’s advice.”
Lyssa loved to needle him about their ten-year age difference. And the truth was that he did feel incredibly old. The last month had aged him. Hell, the last couple of years had.
Working to keep the bleak thoughts from his face—and wipe them from his mind—he turned to Will next and pumped his friend’s hand, then pulled Harper into a hug. “You’re radiant, Harper. The perfect bride-to-be.”
She smiled, her cheeks pinkening. “Thank you, Evan.” Concern flashed in her eyes, just as it had in Susan’s, but thankfully, before she could press him on how he was doing, Susan guided him into the living room.
“Have you eaten? Do you need something to drink?”
“I’m fine,” he said, his constant refrain. “And I need to say hello to this lovely lady.” He hunkered down by Francine Ballard’s chair to give her a hug and let her know how happy he was to see her again.
Charlie’s mother’s fingers were gnarled with arthritis, her legs shackled in braces, and getting up and down quickly was hard work. But she still walked a mile a day.
If she could keep going, keep moving forward, so could he.
Evan’s family was full of smiles. Hugs. Unconditional love. But he could see that they were also walking on glass, with no one pushing. No one prodding. No one demanding to know how he could have left for a month with nothing more than a text to Susan, Bob, and the other Mavericks.
Getting divorced. I’m heading out to visit my European offices. I’ll be back for the wedding.
He’d answered their shocked and concerned texts with his new stock phrase, I’m fine. And then he’d gone dark.
“Honey, you must be starved after your long trip here.” Susan signaled him with a wave into the dining room. The sideboard was set with a spread of appetizers, casseroles, and salads. “Let me get you something to eat.” She loaded up a plate with his favorite dishes, then sat beside him at the dining room table. “Will insisted I use a caterer for the rehearsal dinner. And the wedding too. He said he didn’t want me exhausting myself with all the cooking. I wasn’t sure how well it would work out, but the food is good, don’t you think?”
“This curry rice is mouthwatering.” He wasn’t hungry, but he ate for Susan.
“You’ve lost weight.” She frowned in concern again. “How are you really doing, honey? We’ve all been so worried.” The Maverick chatter carried through the living room archway, with everyone careful not to intrude on their private moment.
“I’ve moved on. I’m not dwelling on the past. It’s over. I just needed a few weeks to figure things out, that’s all.”
She locked eyes with him for a long moment. One in which he tried not to squirm like a little kid under his mother’s all-seeing gaze. “We understand why you needed time to process what happened.” She put her hand over his, sorrow and fury mixing together on her face as she said, “Paige told us what happened. About the things Whitney did.”
He should have known Paige would spill the whole sordid tale to Susan and Bob, to the Mavericks. After all these years, she was family too—and family turned to one another when they needed help dealing with difficult issues. He should have done that too, but the deep shame of having been blind for so long to Whitney’s true nature had held him back…
He squeezed her hand. “You didn’t need to worry. You and Bob taught me to deal with the tough knocks and keep on going.”
“I have to admit you look better than I thought you would.” She shook a finger at him. “Except that you’re too skinny.”
He laughed for her, because she needed it and he wanted to make up for the worry he’d caused her. Then he made himself pick up his fork and eat a few more bites as Susan told him all about the wedding preparations. But he wasn’t really there with her.
Because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop himself from rewinding back four weeks, far away from this warm and loving family home…