Authors: Aubrey St. Clair
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and everything else are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people or events, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Note: This book was originally published as the 3 part novella series: GAMBLE
Aubrey St. Clair
Coming Summer 2015
Silver & Chrome
Join my mailing list to find out exactly when it becomes available, get updates on future projects, or become part of my advance reading team!
"If I win, I get the girl."
It was said so matter-of-factly that it didn't register with me until I heard it a second time, after Harrison asked him to repeat it.
"You're in over your head, kid, that much is obvious," the other man continues, eying the small stack of chips left in front of my boyfriend meaningfully. He had just shoved a large stack of his own chips into the pot that more than eclipsed what Harrison had in front of him. "Instead of risking what you have left, which isn't much, I'm suggesting we change the stakes. You win, you get everything in the pot."
With the chips he had just added, that would more than cover the heavy losses Harrison had accumulated in the last couple of days. "But if I win, the girl comes home with me."
This time I knew I heard what he said and it sounded just as ludicrous as it did originally. Obviously he was joking, or crazy, if he thought Harrison would agree to something like that.
The man lifts the dark sunglasses he's wearing up and off his face as he shifts his gaze up to me. His eyes are a cobalt blue, sitting beneath short blond hair and above a finely chiseled, unshaven jaw. Under normal circumstances he'd be drop dead gorgeous, but the fact that he is calmly trying to negotiate a price for my ass makes him decidedly less so.
I glance down at Harrison who is also looking up at me. I expect to see a familiar grin on his lips, the one that tells me we are both sharing the same joke. But what I see is something else entirely. One of his eyebrows is raised, and his green eyes are staring at me intently, as if he is either considering this ludicrous proposal or asking for my permission.
I shake my head slightly with a frown, annoyed that I even need to give my opinion on the matter.
Harrison looks back at the poker player across from him. "Deal," he finally says.
It's just a single word, but it's the only one needed to crash my whole world.
So many things seem to happen at once in the moments that follow, my senses seem to jumble with time itself and I don't even know in what order everything occurs.
There's a collective gasp that comes from onlookers, both those sitting at the table and others who are just standing around watching. For some reason, a lot of people are drawn to this game, despite the fact that until this particular bet, the stakes haven't been abnormally high.
Cards are flipped, but I'm no longer paying attention to what they are. Despite Harrison's love of the game, and gambling in general, I've never taken any big interest in poker. The important point is, once the hand is over, the reaction from everyone around us tells me all I need to know.
Harrison has lost.
As soon as the cards are turned he's on his feet, explaining the unexplainable. "Unbelievable! There's no way I thought he had a boat there, baby. I thought for sure I had him, and then all of our troubles would have been solved. I'd have won all my money back in one hand!"
troubles? He convinced me to come with him on this trip using a lie about working on our relationship, but ever since we've landed he's spent all of his time at the poker tables. He lost money yesterday, and I'm pretty sure he went back after I fell asleep and lost some more.
Harry is still talking, still trying to explain, but I'm too stunned to listen as I stare down at the table and the stranger sitting across from us. The dealer has shoved the huge pile of chips toward him in a messy assortment of hard, plastic, primary colors, but he's ignoring them as if they aren't worth thousands of dollars. Instead, he's watching me behind an expressionless mask of blue eyes and blond stubble. I wrench my gaze away and back to Harrison. He's still talking. Still explaining. I haven't heard much, but I don't need to. I've had enough. I don't need to listen anymore. I've spent too long listening in the past. I can recite the excuses by heart.
"You gambled me away," I say simply. It isn't any more complex than that.
He shakes his head, still in denial over what seems so undeniable to me now. We're done.
"Lila," he begins, but I shake my head again.
I can't imagine a single thing he can say right now to change the way I feel. In my mind, the last few months have been leading up to something like this. An inevitability that I've been trying to ignore, but now that it's here, I already feel strangely calm about.
Of course, in my mind I hadn't imagined it would go down like this. Thousands of miles from home, having my boyfriend of the last seven months casually gamble me away to a complete stranger for the equivalent of a few thousand dollars. Yet in a way, it makes sense. At least in terms of my relationship with Harrison.
But it leaves me without a plan forward. Our flight home isn't until Monday morning and it's only Friday night. I have no intention of going back to the hotel with Harrison now. It would give him the wrong idea. This needs to end, and I have no intention of letting him talk me out of it again. This betrayal is the final straw. He's hurt me for the last time and, despite being at peace with the decision, I'm still so angry I want to hurt him back.
I look over at the other player. He's still watching me with that handsome but expressionless face. Still ignoring the pile of money in front of him. Other people are watching as well, many of them whispering to each other. I just want to get out of there.
"What's your name?" I ask, finally addressing him.
The whispering grows louder, a few people exchanging questioning looks as if my question is any more ludicrous than the rest of the last 15 minutes have been. The corner of his mouth curls up into a little half smirk, and his blue eyes continue the smile.
"Chase," he says. "Chase Anderson."
"Okay, Chase Anderson. Get me the hell out of here."
"I'm not sleeping with you," I say as I step inside the doorway of Chase's penthouse suite. It's actually the second time I've said that to him, although the first time I remember there being more conviction behind the words. It would be easier if he wasn't so gorgeous. And I wasn't so angry.
The first time had been in the elevator on the ride up. It was right after I wondered how crazy I was to be alone with this handsome stranger who had essentially just won me in a poker game, and right before two young guys got on and acted like they were in the presence of greatness. What the fuck was that all about, anyway? They knew his name and even asked him to sign the back of a receipt they had on them. Said they were big fans. Of what, exactly?
Chase's hotel room is bigger than my apartment back home, and clearly the decorating budget greatly eclipsed the $500 that my roommate and I had scraped together.
The room Harry and I were staying in had a bed and a desk that were fighting for space next to a small window. This room doesn't even have a bed or a desk. Those items must be in one of the other rooms which branch off from here. The only things in this room are couches, carpets and paintings which face a big flat screen television on one wall and curtains lining the edge of another.
Chase is tapping on a touchscreen pad on an end table, and suddenly the curtains begin to pull themselves back to reveal a breathtaking view.
"Wow," I breathe. I can't help but be impressed with the sight and take a few steps toward it. The windows are floor to ceiling and we're looking out over the brightly lit Las Vegas strip. The MGM Grand and Monte Carlo hotels are closest, but I can also see the sprawling City Center down below.
"I never get tired of seeing this."
I jump at the sound of his voice which is close enough to my ear that I can feel the hotness of his breath as he stands behind me. He's closer than he should be. Closer than he needs to be. I'm surprised that I don't have an overwhelming urge to step away. I should. Harrison and I haven't even been split for half an hour.
Truth is, things haven't been working for a while. This trip was against my better judgment, but he argued that it would be good for us to get away. That it would bring us closer together. It was obviously just an excuse for him to go and feed his addiction. Things had been headed in this direction for a while. I don't even remember the last time he and I had sex. Even longer since we've made love.
"Would you like a drink..." he hangs the sentence in midair, as if waiting for me to fill something in.
I turn to look at him, his blue eyes probing into me immediately as he waits. I suddenly feel my cheeks redden as I realize what he's waiting for.
"Lila," I finally say. Shit. I haven't even told this guy my name. Where is my head tonight?
"Beautiful," he smiles. His teeth are straight and white, a traditional Colgate smile. Is there nothing about this guy that isn't perfect? Blond, blue eyed, perfect teeth, apparently rich and possibly famous. What the hell was he thinking trying to buy me in a card game? Or win me.
Is there a difference?
"Uh, I'm not sure if that's a good idea. I was just thinking maybe I should go." I wasn't thinking anything of the sort, but that's what I should be thinking. He's still closer than he needs to be. Close enough that I can feel the heat from his body caress mine.
He raises an eyebrow. "Where?"
Is it that obvious that I have nowhere to go?
"You're from out of town, right?" He shrugs as I nod. "Tourists are obvious sometimes. But I assume you've been staying with... your boyfriend, right?"
I nod again. He has a casual arrogance, like he knows everything already. Problem is, he's dead on so far. He seems to know a lot more about me than I know about him. Although now that I've been staring at his face it is starting to seem vaguely familiar. Certainly not Hollywood A list familiar, but I've seen him somewhere.
"You aren't going to go back to him, are you? After all, he did gamble you away in a poker game."
"I recall you being part of that wager," I snap back. I'm not defending Harrison, but I feel sensitive about it. Embarrassed, really. I take a step back, putting some distance between us. I decide to push my anger back at him. "Do you often make bets to win girls?"
Chase purses his lips as his eyes flit across the newly created gap between our bodies. "I make a living taking advantage of situations where I know I have an edge. To do that you have to know the value of things, and only take risks with something you can afford, or are willing to lose - generally with the knowledge that what you have to gain is far greater than what you've put at risk.
"Your boyfriend had lost more money than he could afford. And then he risked something that he shouldn't have been willing to lose to simply get back what he shouldn't have lost in the first place. I was in no such position. I could afford to lose the money, and my potential reward was far greater."
His blue eyes are burning into me. "I'm not your reward."
Chase shakes his head. "That's not what I mean. The bet was more a test of the man than anything. Like I said, I could tell he was in over his head and I had no wish to take further advantage of the situation. The game, those stakes... I play at that level occasionally for fun, not to fleece the tourists."
"So what was your potential reward that you were willing to risk all that money for, then?"
Chase shrugged. "Another gamble." He takes a step forward, closing the gap between us again. "I understand that money was a lot to you and your boyfriend, but it wasn't a lot to me. So I took a chance with it. I gambled that, although you might think I was a jerk for trying to win you, you might still end up willing to spend some time with me if I did. That seemed worth the price to me. But to answer your earlier question, no. I don't make it a habit to bet on girls during poker games. This was the only time."
Chase seems like the kind of man who is used to winning, getting what he wants, but the only reason I'm here is because I had looked around for the easiest and quickest way to hurt Harrison, and leaving with his opponent seemed like the best option.
Actually fucking him had never been a consideration. Not that being with a man I'd just met is entirely foreign to me, it just hadn't been part of my thought process at the time. But the way he's looking at me now... his mouth only inches away, so close that I can feel the hotness of his breath with each word... I know my eyes are focusing on his lips as he speaks and I'm thinking more about how they taste than the words they're forming.
"You were the most gorgeous thing in that room." His voice is lower now, but he's close enough that every word is clear. "Can you blame me for wanting to hang out with you, get to know you? But I want to be clear, I had no expectations of you coming up here, or anything else. I'm a gambler, and I took a chance that my read on your boyfriend was right. He didn't value you, and I thought you should see that. Part of that gamble was that maybe you'd spend some time with me as well, sure. But you don't have to. You're free to go."
My back is to the window as he shifts forward just enough that our bodies touch, so lightly that it would be almost imperceptible if it wasn't the only thing I'm focusing on at the moment. Chase is so much the opposite of Harrison.
"If I stay, I'm not sleeping with you," I repeat again, like it's a personal mantra. This time the words are quiet, almost as if I'm not sure I want him to hear them, and even I can hear the lack of conviction behind them.
"Who said anything about sleep?" I watch his lips move one last time to form that sentence before they come forward.
Desire. That's what his lips taste like. Delicious desire.