By Seija Rankin
June 25, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
The Lion's Den
Credit: Grand Central Publishing

Picture this: A yacht. The Mediterranean. Six friends. All expenses paid. It sounds like, well, an impossible dream at this point. But it's the setting for Katherine St. John's debut novel, The Lion's Den, a thriller following protagonist Belle as she joins her best friend, Summer, for a getaway courtesy of Summer's billionaire boyfriend — and quickly realizes they're being held prisoner on the yacht, and that the trip is not at all what she bargained for. Below, read an excerpt from the engrossing first chapter before the book hits shelves on June 30.

Day 1

Saturday afternoon—Los Angeles

I've always thought myself immune to the dizzying effects of fabulous wealth, but the sight of sleek jets lined up on the tarmac ignites an unexpected giddiness in me. How liberating to be able to move about the world so easily, without the inconveniences of mass transportation. No lines at the ticketing counter, no taking off shoes and disassembling carry-on bags, no body scans, no cramped leg space or short connections, no luggage belts or lost bags.

Yeah, I could get used to that. Summer certainly has.

I'm reminded of when I was first introduced to caviar at a swanky dinner party many years ago. My date was a pretentious bore, but I'll never forget his voice in my ear as I stared with wonder (and perhaps a shade of apprehension) into the little glass bowl of tiny black eggs carefully balanced on a bed of ice before me.

"It's easy not to crave caviar if you haven't tasted it," he said.

He went on to warn me as I put the opalescent spoon to my lips that once sampled, the delicate taste is not so easily forgotten. He was right. I could see how if the opportunity arose to make it a regular part of my diet, I might come to require it. I suppose the trappings of wealth that seem indulgent at first soon become necessities.

But I'm only a guest in this world, and I figure a week is not enough to develop a dependency on grandeur, so: I will not be turning down any caviar.

Nor will I be turning down any bread, cheese, butter, chocolate, or gelato. Or, for that matter, any of the other delicious foods I've been denying myself for an entire month. I've kicked and punched and crunched and starved myself into the best shape of my life in anticipation of a full week in a bikini, and I am ready to indulge.

I rip my eyes away from the spectacle on the runway to rummage through my bag one last time. Passport, check. Wallet, check. Phone, check. Watch. S--t.

"What is it?" my sister asks as I dump the contents of my purse into my lap.

"My watch," I moan. "I swear I had it this morning, and now I can't find it."

"Do you really need a watch on a yacht trip to the Riviera?"

"Just help me find it," I beg.

She tucks a wisp of blond hair behind her ear and paws through the junk in the center console. Lauren is the spitting image of our mother, petite and blond, while I'm our father, lanky and brunette. And yet our faces are similar enough that she could always get away with using my ID in the four years before she turned twenty-one. Not that she needed it—my little sis spent even more time in the college library than I did. All that studying paid off, because she's starting law school in the fall, and I couldn't be prouder.

Finally, I unzip the side pocket of the little round crossbody Gucci insignia bag Summer gifted me and wrap my hand around the watch, right where it should be. "Oh." I breathe a sigh of relief. "Got it."

Lauren studies me. "You're kinda wired this morning. You have too much coffee?"

I fasten the watch on my wrist. "I guess I'm just a little nervous about this trip," I confess. "I'm not totally sure why I'm still invited. I've hardly seen Summer recently."

"But you guys have been BFFs forever," she says, surprised. "Didn't she just give you that ridiculously expensive bag a few weeks ago?"

I nod, fingering the red-and-green stripe down the middle. It's the most expensive bag I've ever owned, and despite myself, I love it.

"What happened?" she asks.

"I don't know." But I do.

I unload my roller suitcase from the trunk of my beat-up Prius and give Lauren a hug through the open window. "Thanks for letting me borrow your car," she says with a smile. "Have fun. And please don't come back with a boyfriend twice your age."

"Haha," I return. "I'm not Summer."

She gives me a wry smile. "I've never understood what you see in her. But the most exotic place a friend has ever taken me is Lake Michigan, so I guess you win."

"Okay, now get out of here before anybody sees me with this beater." I slap the roof of the car for emphasis. "Ow!" I jerk my hand away from the blazing-hot metal.

"Keep me posted!" She blows me a kiss.

"Give Grannie my love!" I shout after her.

As she drives away, I feel a twinge of regret I won't be road- tripping with her to see Grannie perform the title role in Mame for the community theater at her new retirement condo in Lake Havasu. I blame Grannie for passing on to me the acting bug and always relish an opportunity to see her in her element. But as sad as I am to miss her in the part she was born to play, sometimes life demands that you sacrifice senior dramatics for a week on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

I roll my bag past the rows of expensive cars baking in the summer sun to the two-story stucco building that serves as the waiting room for the small private airport and ring the buzzer. The woman on the other end politely informs me that the crew for my plane has not yet arrived and the passenger list has not yet been published, so she can't yet let me in. "I'm sorry," she says. "New security measures. Check back shortly."

Fantastic. I'm three minutes early and clearly the first to arrive, already sweating in the impractical vintage sundress I was so excited to find at a garage sale in Beverly Hills last week. The fabric is too thick for this weather, the bodice too tight. I wish I'd worn something loose and cotton, but I was doing my best approximation of stylish on a shoestring budget, so here we are. At least I have the purse.

Desperate for shade, I haul my suitcase over to the curb and stand in the strip of shadow cast by a lone palm tree, watching the activity on the airfield through the chain-link fence. Shimmering waves of heat rise from the tarmac, distorting the horizon. Past the line of jets, a yellow twin-engine Cessna takes off. Helicopters come and go from a couple of helipads in the distance.

Out on the runway, I count twelve men in suits descending the steps of one of the jets, holding their jackets closed against the wind, and watch an NBA player I recognize but can't name board another with what must be his wife, three kids, two people who look to be assistants, and four big dogs.

I wonder if that woman is happy. She surely must be comfortable. Certainly more comfortable than I am, melting here in my stupid dress. Money has never been a part of the dating equation for me, but suddenly I have to wonder: What if I'm wrong? What if love doesn't conquer all and money can in fact solve all your problems? Summer's clearly placed all her chips on that bet.

Excerpted from The Lion's Den, by Katherine St. John. Copyright © 2020 by Katherine St. John, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

Related content: