The Billionaire Laid Bare

By: Avery James

CHAPTER 1





CATHERINE





“Catherine Carlisle, I’m on the list.” I say this with confidence because I’m always on the list. I can walk right into any club in Manhattan, eat at any restaurant without a reservation, and attend any party I want. Or at least I could until my father threw away our vast family fortune and bankrupted the company my great-grandfather founded a hundred years ago.

The bouncer at the door shakes his head. “I’m sorry, miss. You’re not on the list.”

“Check again,” I say. It has been three months since I lost everything, three months since almost everyone I knew turned on me. Every casual acquaintance, every hanger-on, they all acted like I was radioactive. But getting held at the door of my best friend’s party? This is a new low. I look at the bald mountain of muscle in his black T-shirt and repeat my name. “Catherine Carlisle,” I say. “Felicity will be expecting me. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. I haven’t missed one of her birthday parties in over a decade.”

He looks down at his clipboard and shrugs. I get the sinking feeling that this isn’t some oversight and that my name really isn’t there. Moreover, I think he’s been told to turn me away. Three months ago, I’d have torn the doorman a new one for making me wait, but now, I’m not sure what to do.

“Can you just let me talk to her?” I say. The doorman gives me another shrug as if to say it’s above his pay grade. I try to tell myself that it’s not his fault, that either there was a mistake or Felicity is dead to me, but I can’t help it. I blame him. I blame the meat-headed doorman. His eyes meet mine with a weird expression of pity and annoyance.

“There’s nothing I can do,” he says.

I turn and look up the street as I wonder what the hell I’m supposed to do now. It’s early summer, and it’s a warm night. I could walk back and enjoy one of my last remaining nights in my loft before I have to move out. I could open a bottle of wine and pretend for a while that none of this is real.

Then I feel a firm hand on my shoulder. “She’s with me,” someone says. The voice almost sounds familiar, but I can’t place it. It’s low and cool and confident.

“Of course, sir,” the doorman says. He nearly trips over himself as he rushes to open the door.

The hand slides across my back to my other shoulder and ushers me inside. I catch a glimpse of the knight-in-shining-armor who decided to save me from the doorman. He’s tall and handsome. As soon as we’re through the door, I pull his hand off. “I could have taken care of that myself,” I say.

“You’re welcome to go back out and try your luck.” He grins as he looks at me. He holds his hand out. “I’m Blake. And you are?”

I look at him. He’s wearing a dark gray suit. Judging by the cut, it’s Armani. New money. Probably a Wall Street guy. He’s dressed a little formally for a birthday party, but his suit hugs his shoulders well enough that I’m not about to complain. I take note of the rest. Five-o’clock shadow. No tie. Top two buttons on his shirt open. By habit, I look down at his ring finger. Single. Or at least unmarried.

“You’re here for Felicity’s party and you really don’t know who I am?” I ask.

He’s still grinning. “Apparently the doorman doesn’t either.”

I take a moment to decide whether or not to let that one go, but I can’t help but crack a smile. “It’s been a day,” I say, shaking my head. It’s not worth being a bitch to the only person who’s helped me in any way at all in months. Maybe I should take this as a sign that it’s time to get over myself.

“Well, now it’s night. Why not give yourself a fresh start?”

“Ha. Not really in the cards for me. I’m Catherine, by the way,” I say. I make eye contact with him. For a moment, I don’t notice the color of his eyes, just the intensity of his stare. “So how do you know Felicity?”

We get in the elevator and ride up to the party. Blake checks me out and says, “Honestly, I have no idea who that is. So where are we going, anyway?”

“You’re telling me that I get turned away from my oldest friend’s party and you just waltz right in without even knowing her?”

He grins. “I guess you’re the one who should know who I am.” The elevator doors open and Blake steps off. “Join me for a drink, and maybe you’ll find out.”

“Are you really crashing this party?” I ask.

“No. We are crashing this party. Now come on, I want to see why you were so desperate to get up here.”