Home > Claiming the Billionaire (Seattle Bachelors #4)(2)

Claiming the Billionaire (Seattle Bachelors #4)(2)
Author: J.M. Stewart


Okay, so that wasn’t really what she wanted. She’d intended to spend tonight alone, wallowing in her self-pity, but Gray had waylaid those plans. He’d shown up at her apartment two hours ago, demanded she get dressed, and dragged her out to his car. He hadn’t told her where they were headed until they were halfway here.

Cassie had known Christina McKenzie, now apparently Christina Blake, in high school. Christina ran a charity auction that had become famous over the last few years. This year, she’d turned the tables a bit. Instead of bachelors, they were auctioning the ladies. Gray had talked her into signing up as one of the bachelorettes. Any other time, this would have been exactly her style. An evening with a potentially hot guy? Yeah, she’d have been all over that. Tonight all she really wanted was a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a really big spoon.

Gray rolled his eyes as he came to a stop beside her. “Some things haven’t changed, I see.”

“Actually, I’ve decided you’re right, Gray. This is exactly the distraction I need tonight. Besides, you only live once.” She playfully nudged him with an elbow. “You should have volunteered Maddie. You can make a Maddie sandwich.”

“I don’t share.” Gray glared at her, but the corners of his mouth twitched with his effort to hold back a grin.

Okay, so it wasn’t nice to tease him, but Grayson Lockwood had been her best friend since high school. Since that tenth-grade English class she’d only passed because he’d taken pity on her. They teased each other as easily as they confided in each other. Besides, it’s what he got for storming her apartment.

Luckily for her, the gleam in Maddie’s eyes told her she’d gotten the joke. Maddie winked, covered her mouth, and let out a girlish giggle. Cassie bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. She and Maddie might have had a rocky start, but they were becoming fast friends. Maddie had a wicked sense of humor and a heart of gold. She also made Gray happy.

Gray jerked his gaze to his wife. “And what are you laughing at?”

Maddie blinked up at him, innocence personified. “What? I kind of like the idea. Didn’t you say you wanted to try something different?”

Gray turned his head, shooting Cassie a glare. “Touché, Cassandra. Touché. Consider us even now.” He jerked his gaze back to Maddie. “You, however, I can spank.”

When he backed Maddie against the nearest wall and set his hands on either side of her head, Cassie turned away from the newlyweds. She was damn happy for them. She really was. After a long, painful road that had nearly taken Maddie and Gray away from each other and the dangerous childhood he’d endured, Gray deserved to be happy. She needed him to be.

Seeing them together, though, made her chest ache. She’d had that once, and every time they nuzzled each other, she was reminded of how much she missed it.

“Don’t take too long. You guys only have five minutes.” Cassie shot a sassy wink over her shoulder and turned, striding for the ballroom entrance at the end of the hall.

She came to a stop inside and took a moment to gather herself. She’d only get through tonight by smiling and pretending life was a party. If luck found her, maybe she’d fake herself into believing her chest wasn’t caving in.

Inside, the place was more men than women, every one of them dressed to the nines. The men gorgeous and debonair in their black tuxes, the women regal and glowing in their finest gowns and jewels. Each face lit up with the promise of the evening. A feeling she wished she shared. The whole evening exhausted her. She wasn’t in the mood to put on the act tonight.

“Don’t think I didn’t see what you did back there.”

Gray’s deep voice sounded behind her seconds before his hand settled on her shoulder, warm and heavy and supportive.

Cassie darted a glance at him. “Shouldn’t you be whisking Maddie off to a dark corner somewhere?”

As if on cue, Maddie stepped up beside Gray.

“I’m going to go find Christina and say hello.” Maddie lifted onto her toes, kissed him softly, and turned to Cassie. She took one of Cassie’s hands, offering a sympathetic smile. “All kidding aside, I’m glad you’re here. Don’t be too mad at him. This part was my idea. I hated the thought of you sitting home alone, feeling miserable, so I told Gray to go over and get you. Hannah always did that for me, those three years Gray and I were apart. Forced me to get up, to live. It was hard, but she was right.”

She’d come to adore Maddie. Turned out, they had a lot in common. They both had pasts they regretted, and like Cassie, Maddie tended to put on a front, to avoid feeling things. More to the point, what Maddie had gone through with Gray meant she understood the moment Cassie had arrived at—knowing she needed to move on but not knowing how.

Cassie plastered on the best smile she could muster. “Thank you. I’m not mad. I’m just not sure I’m up for this.”

Maddie squeezed her fingers. “Smile like it’s the best night of your life. Besides, whoever it is you end up with, you’re only required a single date. At the very least, he’ll keep your mind off your heart.”

Cassie watched Maddie’s fiery hair disappear into the crowd before glancing at Gray. “I really like her. She’s good for you.”

She had to admit, she was grateful for a moment alone with him. Only with Gray did she feel comfortable letting down her walls. Even her father put pressure on her to be someone else. Someone more perfect. With her baba, nothing she did was ever enough. “When are you going to get serious, Cassandra? You can’t play like a child all your life. I’m not going to be around forever. Who will take over the restaurants when I die?” Her father had said the words so many times she could hear his Greek accent echo in her head even now.

She was her father’s biggest disappointment. He and her mother had opened Ariana’s Greek Café before she and her brother, Nick, were born. Authentic Greek cuisine, with recipes that had been passed down for generations. She and Nick had been raised in those restaurants and Daddy insisted they learn the business, to take over when he and Mom could no longer run them. Now that they’d lost her mother to that car accident and Nick to the war, the heavy burden had fallen to her. Cassie wasn’t a restaurateur. She designed jewelry, custom-made pieces. She had the soul of an artist. Creations by Cassie was doing better than ever. A handful of large stores had even commissioned pieces. All of which displeased her father no end.

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