The only thing on James Goings's mind was getting away from the antics of his brother's overpaid football player friends and their constant need for high-stakes gambling and hounding every woman in a short skirt. For the last three hours, he'd been sitting in a private room in Harrah's casino in Las Vegas, losing his money to half of the Carolina Panthers' offensive line. And where had Maurice, his brother, been? In a corner, talking to his wife on the phone.
That fool should've just brought Kenya with him.
Crossing the casino floor and ignoring the dings and bells of the slot machines, James decided that he'd had enough of Sin City and that he was going to go back to his hotel room, pack, and head back to North Carolina, where he'd have some peace and more money in his pocket.
When he passed the gold and glass baccarat room, a blur of black and silky hair slammed into him. The woman's purse hit the floor and seemed to explode. He reached down to help her pick up the contents of the purse: lipstick, a few coins and ... Was that a
Glancing at her as she stuffed her things in the overly full silver purse, he noticed how beautiful she was with her shiny black hair, sparkling brown eyes, and butter-rum skin. “I think this is yours,” James said as he extended his hand to her.
“Oh my God,” she said as she took the condom from him. A slight blush colored her cheeks as she attempted to close her hopelessly overstuffed purse.
James hid his amusement, but he had to wonder why she was bold enough to carry her own protection but embarrassed that he'd handed it to her.
She's definitely not a Vegas call girl if taking a condom from my hand makes her blush like that.
Jade Christian had journeyed to Vegas with her girlfriends to have a wild weekend, Ã la Britney Spears, before returning to the shambles of her own life in Atlanta, Georgia. The condom was a stupid joke perpetuated by her good friend Serena Jacobs, who used sex as a weapon in her own life. She'd told Jade that the best way to get back at her boyfriend for cheating was to have an affair of her own. And what better place to do it than in Sin City?
Jade wasn't an angel, but she didn't subscribe to the notion that two wrongs made a right. At this moment, though, she could've stabbed Serena in the chest for slipping that condom in her purse. She could see how he was looking at her, and she didn't like it one bit.
“It's not what you think,” she said.
“I'm not thinking a thing.”
Jade rose to her feet, adjusted her purse on her shoulder, and smiled. “You're a terrible liar.”
“I'd like to think that's one of my most redeeming qualities,” he joked, then extended his hand to her again. “I'm James.”
For a moment, Jade started to give him the pseudonym she'd been using all weekend when some lusty man approached her. But there was something about James. “Jade,” she replied, with a smile.
“Beautiful name and it fits, because you're a beautiful woman.”
The blush was back again, and for the first time, she regretted listening to Kandace and wearing a tight black lace dress that barely covered her thighs. He probably thought she was a Vegas call girl. She'd planned on wearing a nice pantsuit to the casino that night. But her girls had told her that part of her problem was that she'd allowed Stephen's rules of fashion to take over her life. What had that gotten her? The pleasure of seeing him with another woman, who had more plastic parts than a Barbie doll.
Stephen Carter, the owner of one of Atlanta's most upscale restaurants, had been her boyfriend, and she'd thought they would marry. They'd met when she applied for a job as his bookkeeper four years ago. She'd gotten the job and his heart, or so she'd thought.
Once they'd begun their relationship, he'd tried his best to change her. He'd had her dress as if she were a conservative forty-year-old woman instead of a vibrant twenty-nine-year-old with a lot of fun left in her.
He had hated her friends and had tried to introduce her to a set of women that he thought were more suitable for her to hang out with. Needless to say, she hadn't agreed with his assessment of her friends, and she'd refused to let him ruin those relationships. Especially after she'd discovered that before they'd met, he'd tried to sleep with Alicia Michaels, her best friend and party planner to the elite. But Alicia had shot him down, and he'd never gotten over it. Part of Jade had wondered, after the breakup, of course, if he'd dated her hoping to get closer to her friend.
Luckily, she had the kinds of friends that didn't sneak behind your back and try to steal your man. Alicia didn't want anything to do with Stephen, and she had been against Jade's relationship with him from the start. “I tried to warn you,” she'd told Jade as they flew to Vegas.
“Are you enjoying yourself in Vegas?” James asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“Honestly, no. It certainly isn't what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” His eyebrows rose, and a smirk spread across his lips.
“Not that, despite the dress and the contents of my purse. I was just looking for a chance to unwind and have some fun.”
“And how were you going to do that?”
Jade was beginning to think that she'd been wrong about him as well, because she could've sworn that he was trying to proposition her. “Well, it certainly doesn't include doing anything I'd regret in the morning with some stranger. So if you think that a woman who carries condoms ...”
“Slow down, sweetheart. I was asking because I want to go somewhere else myself and get away from my brother's cheating friends.”
“Cheating men. What a surprise.”
“They cheat at poker. The lone married man of the group is sitting on the phone, talking to his wife because he misses her so much.”
Jade narrowed her eyes and then smiled. “Poker cheaters, huh? How much money did you lose?”
“More than I care to talk about. I know I'm not that lousy of a card player. There was some cheating going on.”
“Want to win it back?” Jade rubbed her hands together. “I've been itching to release some tension and play a game of poker or something. My friends are in the baccarat room, because they're doing their thing.”
James's face asked, “What's that?”
Jade laughed. “They like to stroke egos and win money. Not that they don't have plenty of their own, but when they come to Vegas, they like for someone else to take on the debt, if you know what I mean.”
“I think I do. A bunch of beautiful women who charm old men into letting them play on their dime. No offense, but that sounds like a gang of gold diggers to me.”
Jade rolled her eyes. “Typical. But what about these men who think all they need to do is flash some cash and a woman is all theirs? So my girls like to flip the script on them. There are worse things we could be doing.”
“They are my friends, and we're here together. And since it seems that you men lump us all together ...”
“Whoa. Now, you're obviously angry at someone, and I'm going to assume that since I just met you, it isn't me,” James said. “But on behalf of the asshole who pissed you off, I'm sorry.”
Jade laughed heartily, realizing that she was projecting her anger on James and that he didn't deserve it. “No, let me apologize. About that money that you lost. Do you want it back?”
“Listen, as much as I do, those guys are some real cardsharps, and taking you up there would be like leading a bleeding baby seal into a tank full of hungry great whites.”
She placed her hand on James's shoulder. “Never judge a book by its cover. Do you want your money back or not?”