Read Gambler's Woman Online

Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

Gambler's Woman

STEPHANIE JAMES
Gambler's Woman
Copyright © 1984 by Jayne Krentz

 

ISBN: 0-671-45991-0
To
my sister-in-law Wendy with love.
Never gamble with a crazed fern (a bit of horticultural advice).
One
The third time the quietly dangerous man with the eyes of antique gold
materialized near a table where she was playing, Alyssa Chandler ruled
out coincidence as an explanation. Statistically speaking, given
the size of the casino in which she was gambling and the number of
people swarming across its huge glittering floor, it just wasn't very
likely that the same man would show up in her vicinity on three
different occasions in a single hour.
The probability of three such events occurring randomly simply wasn't
very high, and Alyssa knew all about probability theory. No, there had
to be another explanation for the man's appearance, and none of the
explanations Alyssa could think of sounded very pleasant. All, in fact,
sounded rather dangerous; just like the man himself. It was time to
move on.
Smiling at the professionally polite blackjack dealer, Alyssa scooped a
hundred dollars' worth of chips
into her soft, sequined evening clutch. Her carefully draped,
off-the-shoulder gown of black jersey
swirled gently around her ankles as she turned to slip into the crowd
of pleasure seekers. A thin, liquid stream of silver edged the
neckline, cuffs and rippling hemline of the dress, subtly reflecting
the glow of the chandeliers as Alyssa made her way through the crowd.
The silver trim of the dress wasn't the only thing on her person that
reflected the light. A rich fire buried in the depths of her thick
auburn hair occasionally caught the elegant glow of the casino
fixtures. Parted simply in the middle, the shoulder-length mass fell in
a gentle curve on each side of her face, lightly brushing the smooth
skin bared by the gown. The auburn hair framed an intelligent, if not
beautiful face that was highlighted by a pair of eyes the color of the
sea at dawn: not quite green, not quite gray. It was the shimmering
awareness in those eyes, together with the charm of a mouth that curved
readily into a smile, that made an onlooker forget that the face, as a
whole, couid not be labeled beautiful.
There was a certain charm to the secret smile that always lurked in her
sea-green eyes, and that charm made people overlook the fact that they
never knew quite why Alyssa was smiling so subtly. There was charm,
too, in the smattering of freckles across her small nose, although
tonight she had made a vain attempt to hide that unsophisticated
feature. Tonight she was in Las Vegas, dressed in the most expensive
gown she could afford, wearing a pair of black leather sandals trimmed
at the heel in silver, and she had decided that freckles did not
particularly go with the persona of elegant lady gambler that she had
adopted.
If one ignored the freckles, however, it could be said that the rest of
her fit rather well into the image she had constructed. Thanks to five
feet, seven inches of height and a lot of swimming, the body, cloaked
so sleekly in the black dress, was slender and graceful. There was a
gentle invitation in the small curves of her high breasts and softly
flaring hips; nothing blatant or voluptuous on the grand Las Vegas
scale but something that would definitely be evident to the eyes of the
discerning. Tonight, Alyssa had dressed to make the most of her figure
in a discreet, sophisticated manner.
Knowing the image she was projecting, she would ordinarily have assumed
that the man with the golden eyes was merely responding to that subtle,
feminine magic. In the minds of the vast majority of the male
population, the illusion of Las Vegas was woven not only with the
promise of gambling but with the promise of easily available women.
But the man who had materialized near her three times during the course
of the evening had not been focusing on the curve of bared shoulder or
narrow waist. He had been watching her play blackjack, and the
shuttered fascination in his eyes was far more dangerous to her than
lust would have been.
Lust could be handled, firmly and coolly denied with the knowledge that
the casino personnel would be only too quick to come to the aid of a
patron in distress. For although she had dressed to suit her own
fantasy this evening, the intelligent, sensible woman hidden in the
black jersey gown had no intention of becoming some man's fantasy. No,
a man who might have decided to try his luck with her instead of the
roulette wheel would have been no danger.
But a man who followed every move she made when she played blackjack
was in another category altogether. Such a man might be very dangerous,
indeed.
Was he on the casino's staff? Behind the dealers roamed a variety of
personnel who kept an eye on operations: floormen, pit bosses, shift
bosses and the casino manager. Most were easily identifiable and
certainly made no effort to conceal themselves. But that didn't mean
there might not be additional personnel who, like the shills, were
supposed to blend in with the patrons.
Slipping through the crowd, Alyssa passed one kind of gambler after
another. The traditional figure of the little old lady in tennis shoes
stood amid a row of slot machines, industriously throwing away her
social security check. A high-rolling, loudmouthed Oklahoma oilman
threw his money away with a great deal more showmanship at the craps
table. In between ranged every type of gambling human under the sun.
The soft glow of the chandeliers fell impartially on all, reflecting
the warmth with which the casino welcomed each customer. That welcome
was extended because the vast majority had one thing in common:
ultimately, they would all be losers.
There was only one sort of client the casino did not welcome, and that
was the very rare individual who won, not just occasionally but
consistently, steadily, inevitably. And that was the sort of gambler
Alyssa Chandler was. She won.
Oh, she was careful about it, never letting greed carry her away to the
extent that the casino management would be alerted. She made it a point
to lose periodically, and when she won, it was always in small amounts.
But by the time she was ready to leave Las Vegas at the end of the
weekend, she planned on being a thousand dollars ahead. There was no
reason to think her plans would not be fulfilled. After all, she had
made the same decision the weekend before and had gone back to
California with precisely a thousand dollars in her purse, all of which
had been won in small, discreet sums at several casinos.
Surely she hadn't won enough tonight or been so conspicuous as to
attract the unwanted attention of the casino management. A small frown
knitted her auburn eyebrows as she moved up the three steps that
separated the huge gaming floor from the cocktail lounges and hotel
facilities that ringed it Still, it paid to be cautious. A suspicious
casino could easily bar her from playing, and that was the last thing
she wanted. Perhaps it was time to get into a cab and head for another
establishment.
Debating her course of action as she walked into the lobby area of the
hotel casino, Alyssa didn't see the golden-eyed man until he stepped
away from the cluster of cheerful gamblers moving into the nearest of
the cocktail lounges. Quite suddenly, he was blocking her path.
Alyssa caught her breath as she met his gaze directly for the first
time. In that moment, she realized the futility of trying to avoid the
confrontation.
"It's all right," he said quietly as if he could read her mind. "I
don't work for the casino." The voice was rich, dark and infinitely
disturbing.
Relief was Alyssa's first emotion, followed almost immediately by a
host of new suspicions and questions. Or was he lying to her about not
working for the management? "I can't see why that should be important
to me one way or the other," she managed sweetly. "Now, if you'll
excuse me, I'm on my way out."
He didn't move. "I'd like to buy you a drink." The tawny gold eyes held
hers with an expressionless promise. Alyssa got the distinct impression
that it would be risky to turn down his offer of a drink.
For a long moment, they stood in a tableau, assessing each other,
playing a waiting game; then, without a word, Alyssa decided to
capitulate and find out what he wanted. There was no point in running
away. If she had been marked by the casino, she had been marked. Better
to find out exactly what this man wanted. Ignorance was never really
bliss; it could often be downright dangerous. With a faint inclination
of her head, she turned and walked into the nearby lounge.
He followed, a dark, silent shadow at her heels, taking her arm just as
she located an empty table and was about to sit down. His touch, warm
through the fabric of her dress, surprised her, drawing her attention
briefly to his hands as he took the seat across from her. Long,
well-shaped fingers gave an impression of strength and exquisite
sensitivity. In the next instant, Alyssa was shocked to find herself
wondering what those fingers would feel like on a woman's naked skin.
She banished the image with the single-minded skill of a professional
statistician who knew how to focus on the big picture.
"Have you finished playing for the evening, or would you like to stick
with the mineral water you've been drinking?" the stranger inquired
very politely.
Alyssa winced. He had even noticed what she had been drinking! "I've
finished for the evening," she told him coolly. "I'll have a Drambuie."
"With the glass warmed?"
"Please." His politeness was beginning to ruffle her nerves. Such
polished civility, such courtesy, such an expression of urbane
attention, had to be suspect in a man, any man.
While he gave their order to the pretty cocktail waitress, Alyssa made
a quick, surreptitious survey of her accoster. A pelt of dark,
Vandyke-brown hair was combed easily back from a broad forehead and
worn long enough to brush the collar of his crisp white shirt. His
eyes, the feature Alyssa had been most aware of for the past hour, were
of a light amber brown that bore more man a passing resemblance to the
color of old gold. Those eyes bothered Alyssa, primarily because she
failed utterly to read any expression in them other than the suspect
politeness.
The remainder of his face had been carved with a blunt chisel. Strong,
harsh planes formed the aggressive nose and the line of an unyielding
jaw. Alyssa decided he must have been in his late thirties, probably
perilously close to forty, judging by the lines of experience that
marked him. She herself had just reached the magic number of thirty. At
least there was no gray yet in her hair, she realized with hidden
amusement, noting the silver at the temples of the stranger's
Vandyke-brown pelt.
The white shirt he wore was clearly of excellent craftsmanship, pleated
in the tuxedo style and buttoned up the front with tiny black studs. A
discreet black bow tie circled the strong lines of his throat under the
collar. The jacket and close-fitting slacks in a sober shade of dark
charcoal were as immaculately tailored as the shirt.
The lines of his body beneath the evening clothes were lean and hard,
reminding Alyssa of a prowling wolf. In her high-heeled sandals, she
stood nearly five feet, nine inches, but there was no denying she'd
felt physically dominated by his body as he'd escorted her into the
lounge. It wasn't that he was so much taller than she—Alyssa guessed
his height at around five feet, ten or eleven inches—but there was a
strength and power in him that made an impact on her senses. Alyssa
wasn't at all sure she liked the feeling. It made her even more wary
than she already was.
"Like you, I never drink while I'm working," the stranger said as he
finished giving the cocktail order and sat back in his seat. The firm
iine of his mouth tilted upward fractionally in a polite smile. "But
since we've both come to the end of a hard night's labor, I think we
deserve something more substantial than mineral water." Alyssa had
heard him order Scotch for himself.
"You'll excuse me, I'm sure," she began evenly, "but I really haven't
the vaguest idea of what you're talking about or why you wish to buy me
a drink." Might as well go on the offensive, she decided grimly.
"I'm sorry"—the man apologized at once, his golden eyes reflecting no
genuine measure of regret—"I haven't introduced myself yet, have I? I'm
Jordan Kyle."
He arched a dark brow in polite inquiry, inviting her to respond to his
introduction by offering her own name. She did so with a saccharine
civility that mocked his own. "Alyssa."
Jordan Kyle waited a moment, and then, when no further name was
forthcoming, he asked gently,
"Just Alyssa?"
"Isn't it enough?"
He sighed. "I meant what I said earlier. You don't have to be afraid of
me. I don't work for the casino."
"Is that supposed to be reassuring? Why should I worry about whether or
not you work here?" Alyssa tried to say flippantly as the drinks
arrived. "I haven't been cheating," she added when the waitress had
disappeared.
"No, but you've been winning. When and where you please."
Alyssa's fingers tightened around the snifter of Drambuie, but she
didn't think she gave any other outward sign of her tension. Opening
her sea-green eyes innocently wide, she smiled. "I've also been losing."
"That, too, seems to happen when and where you please," he drawled.
"Are you accusing me of cheating?" Alyssa demanded, genuine outrage
etching her words.
"Not at all," he denied softly. "I've been watching you all evening,
and the only thing I could accuse you of is turning what is supposed to
be a game of chance into a business. There aren't very many people in
the whole world who can do that, Alyssa. I know."
Her gaze collided with his. "How do you know?"
"Because I do exactly the same thing for a living."
Don't panic, Alyssa instructed herself. Just keep calm. And above all,
don't admit to anything! "I'm sure the casino would be very interested
to hear that, Mr. Kyle, but I really don't see why you should be
telling me."
He hesitated a moment, assessing her mildly confused expression, and
then he grinned. The gleaming flash of masculine laughter lasted only a
moment before it dissolved back into a polite smile, but in that
moment, Alyssa was aware of an inexplicable desire to match his humor
with her own. It was as if a kindred spirit had briefly reached across
the gulf that separates most people and invited her to join in the game
of laughing at the rest of the world. Before she could comprehend
exactly what had happened, Jordan was saying smoothly, "And now I know
why you don't play poker. You undoubtedly have the talent, but your
eyes would broadcast your hand every time."

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