"Fantastic pasta dish, Alyssa," Ned Grummond commended as he forked up an oversized portion. "Don't let me forget to get the recipe from you before I leave tonight" Ned's portly figure gave ample evidence of his long-standing interest in food. But he apparently had other interests in life, too, Alyssa realized as he turned a beaming smile of welcome on Jordan. "So you're an expert in probability theory, eh?" "J make my living using various aspects of the theory, yes," Jordan returned easily, settling down onto the couch and reaching up to assist Alyssa. The moment the strong fingers closed around her arm, she knew there wasn't any option except to sink down beside him. "Have to confess I've never been much good at math myself." Ned sighed and was joined by several ruefully agreeing voices from those around him. "All I can do to balance my checkbook, I'm afraid. But it's always kind of fascinated me, you know? I've always admired people who have a head for numbers. I know Alyssa here uses her background in the statistics area. How about you? What exactly does an expert in probability theory do?" There was a murmur of interest from some of the others, and several people glanced inquiringly at Jordan. Do something, Alyssa, she screamed silently at herself. This is your future that's on the line. If Jordan answers this question accurately, it's going to shock this whole roomful of people, including your boss. "I believe I mentioned earlier that Jordan isn't really free to discuss his work," she began bravely. "You know how it is with government projects." "That's okay, honey," Jordan interrupted smoothly. "I think I can talk about my subject without giving away any state secrets. Ned has asked a very good question, and you know how I love my field." She cast a desperately appealing glance at him and realized there was nothing she could say or do to halt the inevitable. "Are you sure you wouldn't care for another helping of mushroom tart?" she tried valiantly, mostly for the sake of trying. "I've got plenty, thanks. Actually, Ned, I'm afraid probability theory has its roots in the disreputable world of gambling," he went on conversationally. Ned chuckled, and so did several of the others. "I hadn't thought about it, but I suppose there must be some direct applications." "Precisely." Jordan nodded approvingly. "In fact, legend has it that it was the curiosity of gamblers that first gave rise to the questions, which, in rum, gave rise to the beginnings of the theory." "What kinds of questions?" Lucy Chavez inquired, leaning forward interestedly and managing to display a fair amount of bosom in the process. "Oh, questions such as the ones some gamblers asked Galileo over three centuries ago. They wanted to know why a throw of dice turns up certain sums more often than others. Professional gamblers were still asking similar questions a hundred years later, and a lot of mathematicians such as Pascal tried to answer them. The mathematics which developed to describe the theory of chance have a lot of useful applications, but it's still often easier to understand them if you think in terms of a familiar game of chance." "Like roulette?" Lucy interjected. "Good example," Jordan murmured appreciatively. "Or craps or blackjack or any one of several other games. You'd be amazed at how many people who gamble have no understanding at all of the theory behind the games." Alyssa choked on a small sliver of her French bread. Instantly, Jordan was all concern, slapping her heartily on the back until she managed to gasp that she was all right. The interruption, however, didn't slow him down at all, and his listeners were fascinated. "For example," he went on cheerfully, reaching into his pocket and extracting a coin. "If I toss this quarter ten times and it comes down heads each time, a tot of people will think that because of some 'law of averages' the eleventh toss is far more likely to turn up tails than heads." "Isn't it?" Ned Grummond demanded curiously, his eyes following the coin as Jordan idly flicked it into the air and caught it on the back of his hand "I mean, after having turned up heads so many times in a row, it's bound to eventually turn up tails." "In my profession, that's sometimes affectionately known as the Monte Carlo fallacy." Jordan grinned, displaying the coin, which had indeed landed heads. "Trie truth is, every toss of the coin is independent of every other toss. Assuming the quarter is a correctly made, evenly weighted coin, it's just as likely to turn up heads on the eleventh toss as it was on the first or sixth or eighth toss. A fifty-fifty chance." He flipped the coin again, catching it with a sureness that made Alyssa wince. "If you were betting on the outcome, you'd want to remember that every toss has a fifty-fifty chance regardless of how many tosses have been made or how many times heads has already come up." "Dessert anyone?" Alyssa asked quickly, surging to her feet hopefully. "Sounds great, honey." Jordan smiled before turning back to his audience. "Oh, and while you're getting it, do you think you could rustle up a deck of cards?" "Cards?" She looked at him, horror-struck. "Cards," he repeated firmly. "You must have a deck around. Everyone keeps one. A lot of things are easier to demonstrate with a card deck." When she realized everyone was looking toward her expectantly, Alyssa lost her nerve. "I'll see what I can find" She fled toward the kitchen, an angry red coloring her cheeks. She couldn't believe this was happening. A sense of unreality began to take over, providing a welcome numbness. By the time she had dished up cheesecake and produced the deck of cards, Alyssa was, in fact, becoming quite fatalistic. The evening had to end in disaster. There was no alternative. Given the inevitability of the outcome, why let herself grow tense each time Jordan responded to another question. After all, a catastrophe was a catastrophe. When it came, it would be quite final. She looked on with her new fatalistic calm as Jordan shuffled the cards for his latest demonstration of the theory of probability. Almost idly, she wondered if anyone in the crowd watching him would notice the expertise of the shuffle. Those damned good hands were going to be her downfall, she thought Those strong, beautifully shaped fingers were going to pull down the fragile bricks and mortar of her career just as surely as if they had planted a bomb. "Where did you run into Kyle, Alyssa?" She started a little as Hugh Davis appeared at her shoulder. "He's a, uh, colleague of mine, Hugh. We've known each other on a professional basis for some time." It sounded weak even to her own ears. "Really? I'd say he considers himself a bit more than a professional colleague, wouldn't you? He's been calling you 'honey' since he came through the door." "Jordan's very casual about things like that," she managed a little grimly. Why should Hugh Davis care one way or the other how Jordan addressed her? At that moment, the man in question glanced up from across the room where he was dealing a "demonstration" hand of cards for a group of interested people. The golden eyes snagged hers, and something decidedly menacing flickered in his gaze. In spite of her numbed sense of reality, Alyssa shivered. With the still-functioning feminine intuition that was born into every woman, she read the expression in his eyes very accurately. Jordan Kyle didn't like her proximity to Hugh Davis. As if he had any right to object after what he's done to me tonight, she thought vengefully. Hugh Davis moved perceptibly closer, bending his head in what must appear a too-attentive fashion. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but something tells me you're going to be in for a lecture after everyone else goes home tonight. Your friend Kyle may be casual, but that look he's giving me is definitely not one of easygoing camaraderie!" Alyssa gave herself a small, inner shake and moved away from him. "If you'll excuse me, Hugh, I think Mr. McGregor needs another slice of cheesecake." It was only as she deliberately turned to head for the buffet table that Alyssa realized Jordan wasn't the only one in the crowd eying her proximity to Hugh Davis. Hugh's wife, Cari, was watching the small tableau with a sullen expression that made Alyssa uneasy. Would this horrible evening never end? But it did eventually, and much to Alyssa's stunned surprise, it did so without the disastrous finale she had been expecting from the moment Jordan Kyle had entered her home. To her everlasting astonishment, the wretched buffet party drew to a quiet, happily reluctant close as guests finally began to take their leave shortly after midnight And each and every one of them bid good night to Jordan as if they were delighted to have encountered him. "I hope we'll see you around, Jordan," David McGregor announced enthusiastically, shaking Jordan's hand in farewell. He flicked a paternally amused glance at Alyssa, who was quietly ushering people out the door. "I assume that's a foregone conclusion, though, isn't it?" "I think so," Jordan returned suavely, following McGregor's glance. "I have no intention of letting Alyssa out of my sight for any lengthy stretch of time. You know how women are, sir. A man needs to keep his eye on his property or he runs the risk of its getting lost, strayed or stolen." Alyssa shot him a distinctly unamused glance before turning to say good-by to Lucy Chavez and her date. "Good night, Lucy. I'll see you Monday morning. Thanks for coming." "Oh, you know I always enjoy your parties, Alyssa," the other woman said, laughing. "But I must say that I never dreamed the evening would be so educational!" She smiled at Jordan. "Perhaps if my math instructors had made their lessons as entertaining as you make yours, I would have gotten more out of the classes back in high school!" "Thank you, Lucy," Jordan said with a sincerity that caught Alyssa's attention. He meant it, she thought to herself. He really enjoyed the compliment It was one of many he received as the remainder of the guests made their way out the door. By the time the last one had departed, Alyssa was forced to concede that Jordan Kyle had been the evening's most popular attraction. And every single one of those departing guests seemed convinced they had spent the evening being entertained by a pre-eminent expert in the field of probability theory. Dazed, she acknowledged the fact that not one of them had apparently guessed Jordan's true occupation. Alyssa shut the door behind the last guest with a mixture of wonder and apprehension flooding through her. There was only Jordan left now in the quiet room. Slowly, she turned to confront him, her eyes narrowing as anger began to break through the artificial, fatalistic calm that had overcome her during the latter half of her evening. "I suppose," she began seethingly, "that you think you're rather clever!" He eyed her for a long moment, and she wondered what he was thinking. His expression gave no clue. "I know I'm rather clever," he corrected too mildly as he strolled over to the white couch and threw himself down on it in a lithe sprawl. His eyes gleamed. "I make my living by being rather clever, remember?" "Jordan ..." She felt the danger in him very clearly now. "So this is how you spend your time when you're not amusing yourself in Vegas, hmmm?" He glanced meaningfully around the living room with its litter of glasses and plates. "This is your real world?" "Part of it," she made herself say very bravely. He nodded. "I enjoyed dropping in on your world tonight, Alyssa. I liked passing myself off as a mathematical scholar. I liked having people admire my abilities just as if my skills were quite respectable. It was a complete change of environment for me." He surveyed her taut expression. "And I think I like the idea of returning to your world whenever I feel like it." "Jordan! You can't mean that," she whispered, aware of the mounting tension in the room. "What are you trying to say?" "That I'm going to be right behind you when you shuttle back and forth between your two worlds, Alyssa. You're not going to relegate me to Las Vegas or Reno. I'm not a tame consort who will agree to stay out of sight and out of mind until you happen to work me into your schedule. I'm not going to play the other man on weekends while you maintain a normal, proper sort of life here in Ventura during the week. If you want to come and play in my world, you'll have to let me come and play in yours!" "Jordan, listen to me. I realize you're probably still a little upset about the way I postponed my arrival in Vegas until tomorrow," Alyssa began, some instinct warning her that angry as she was, it might be wiser to placate him tonight. "Upset? Not at all," he drawled, watching her the way a leopard watches its prey. "Haven't I just explained that I had a great time this evening?" She sucked in her breath, summoning up her courage. "I think we ought to talk this all out in the morning." He was up off the couch in one easy movement, gliding toward her with cool menace. "What an excellent idea. We'll save the discussion for the morning. That leaves us the remainder of the evening to clarify another matter." "Jordan, wait!" Eyes widening with sudden anxiety, Alyssa instinctively backed away from him. "I have been waiting," he said simply. "All week. 1 still haven't decided yet whether or not I'm going to beat you, but I sure as hell intend to take you to bed, my reckless lady gambler. I want to make certain you understand that I'm going to play a very real role in your life." Panic overwhelmed her, but it was too late to run. Jordan moved, catching Alyssa up in his arms before she could even think of escape. Then he started down the corridor to her bedroom without any hesitation whatsoever.
It took almost twenty seconds for Alyssa's shock to wear off, and by then it was too late. Jordan was already striding through her bedroom door with his captive securely in his arms when her outrage finally overcame the stunned paralysis. "Put me down," she demanded, her sea-colored eyes more green than gray as they reflected the full force of her rising fury. "I mean it, Jordan. Let me go this instant! You have absolutely no right to treat me this way. I won't tolerate it! Do you hear me?" "I hear you. Do you always sound this shrewish when things aren't going exactly as you planned them?" He seemed more interested than alarmed, and Alyssa felt anger sizzling in her blood stream. Anger and something else. Would there always be an underlying element of passion coursing through her whenever this man touched her? That thought made her even more furious, and she used her gilded coral nails with sharp effect on his shoulders. Since she had slid her finger tips inside the collar of the suede jacket, he had no protection against the savage little attack. "Damn you, Jordan, I won't be treated like this!" He sucked in his breath as she sank her nails into the fabric of his dark shirt, and then he simply opened his arms and let her fall. The unexpected release startled her, and she parted her lips to cry out But the bed came up to meet her before the small sound escaped, and she sprawled awkwardly on the thick, sand-colored quilt. "You," he announced grimly, leaning forward to plant a hand on either side of her, "are going to learn a few facts about me tonight that apparently escaped you last weekend. The most important of which is that as long as I'm in your life, I'm really in your life, every aspect of it. You can't relegate me to the weekends and come back here to Ventura to flirt with that Davis character." "I wasn't flirting with him!" Struggling to sit up and finding it impossible, Alyssa lay trapped within the cage of his arms, her eyes glinting with resentment and, perhaps, a small tinge of fear. She didn't want to acknowledge the fear, however. She refused to acknowledge it. Her determination not to do so led her to add rashly, "But even if I were, you'd have no right to object!" His face hardened, and his eyes resembled more than ever those of a hunting cat. Where was the charmingly polite gambler? The man who had woven a spell of seduction last weekend? The man who had so entranced her guests tonight? Alyssa lay very still and tried to retain her nerve. "He was watching you every time you moved, and I'm not the only one who noticed. His wife was aware of what was going on, too. Are you having an affair with Hugh Davis? An amusing little interlude to occupy you during the week until the weekend rolls around and you can hop a plane for Vegas?" "For the last time, I'm not having an affair with the man!" But she was beginning to understand some of Cari Davis's hostility. Did Hugh's wife really believe her husband was having an affair with Alyssa? There wasn't time to worry about that angle, however. Alyssa had her hands full dealing with her primary accuser. "But for the record, who the hell are you to stand there demanding explanations? How did you spend your week, Jordan?" "I was working!" "And after work? Did you pick up a lady to help you while away your off-duty hours? Or are you going to tell me you didn't keep yourself occupied this past week?" she snapped, remembering all those nights when he hadn't returned her phone calls. Her imagination had worked overtime during those long evenings. "Las Vegas is a city of beautiful women, and they all love winners!" "Jealous?" he asked with savage curiosity. "Why should I be? We have no claims on each other!" she tried to say with lofty dismissal, but inwardly she cringed because he was making no effort to deny her accusation. "You're wrong on that score. I sure as hell am staking a claim on you, and I intend to see to it that you honor that claim. Whatever is going on between you and Davis is over as of tonight. Understood? The only affair you're involved in from now on is the one you're having with me. And it's not just a weekend arrangement!" He moved abruptly, straightening and beginning to peel off the soft suede jacket. His eyes never left Alyssa's wary, tense face as he absently draped the jacket over the back of a nearby chair and began unbuttoning the dark shirt Temporarily free, Alyssa sat up on the quilt, curling her legs under her protectively. She could feel the blood racing through her veins and was unable to shake the heady combination of passion and anger that was swirling through her. "Jordan, I won't let you do this to me. If you think you can casually show up on my doorstep and . . . and force yourself on me, you're out of your mind!" "Not surprising," he agreed laconically, tossing the shirt in the general direction of the jacket and beginning to unclasp the leather belt at his waist. "I think I've been half out of my mind for a good portion of the week. I even lost money on Thursday night. Money I didn't intend to lose." Alyssa blinked, aware of the significance of his admission. "I'm . . . I'm sorry about your concentration," she began tentatively, edging carefully away to the opposite side of the bed. "Don't worry, I intend to restore my peace of mind!" He yanked off the expensive calfskin shoes he was wearing and then stepped out of the dark slacks. Along with the slacks went his one remaining garment, a pair of snug cotton briefs. Alyssa swallowed as his hard, lean body emerged from the clothing. She knew a primitive urge to run and an equally primitive need to touch the blunt, sleek planes of him. He was aroused, and the soft light of her bedside lamp threw dark, dangerous shadows across his smoothly muscled thighs and the contours of his chest "Jordan, please, wait." Her right hand lifted in a pleading gesture. "We need to talk. You know that. There are too many misunderstandings. You're angry, and so am I. This isn't any way to solve our problems." He fit his strong hands to his waist, and a flash of cool amusement lit his gaze. "I suppose we could try dialing a marriage counselor. Except that we're not married." "This isn't a joke!" "Well, given the fact that we can't call in outside arbitration, we'll just have to solve our problems in the old-fashioned way." He leaned forward slightly, one hand going to the buttons of her black bow tie. Alyssa reacted, realizing that there was nothing she could say now that would stop him. With a violent little twist, she leaped for the far edge of the bed and was on her feet across from him in an instant. Her bow tie dangled from his fingers as he straightened to pin her with his gaze. "Are you going to try running?" he asked almost conversationally. "Don't threaten me, Jordan." Her breath was coming more quickly now as she realized the peril of the situation. She couldn't take her eyes off him. Or perhaps she didn't dare to do so, she told herself silently. He was between her and the door, and the odds of getting safely back out of the room were definitely not in her favor, Jordan was far too good a gambler not to realize that fact, too. "I'm not going to threaten you," he said almost gently, surprising her by sinking down onto the quilt with his back to her. He gazed musingly down at the strip of black silk in his fingers as if it fascinated him in some way. "I'm going to make love to you. There's a difference, you know." Alyssa moistened her dry lips. "Not as long as you're going about it in this highhanded fashion!" He glanced back over his shoulder, a wry curve to his mouth. "Come here, Alyssa," His eyes were gleaming, and his voice was exquisitely deep and gentle. She blinked, taken aback by the change in his approach. Quite suddenly, he was the infinitely seductive man she had known in Las Vegas, and the knowledge that he could turn the dangerous charm on at will made her deeply wary. "I don't think so, Jordan. Not until we've talked." "Then talk to me," he invited huskily, threading the black silk through his fingers. Alyssa found herself following the small action, hypnotized. Those hands . . . "Talk to me and tell me you understand how much I want you." "Do you, Jordan?" she heard herself breathe. "Do you really want me?" "So badly that I swallowed my pride to track you down here in Ventura," he said simply. "I thought it might have been your pride which brought you here," she countered, wondering desperately what was happening to her will to resist. Her eyes still followed the way his sensitive fingers toyed sensually with her bow tie. "If I'd listened to my pride," he said carefully, "I'd still be in Vegas. I had to come and find you tonight, Alyssa. I couldn't bear the thought of your being out with some other man." The desire and longing was clearly visible in the depths of his eyes, and they drew Alyssa like a magnet. She might have been able to go on resisting him if he had stuck to the macho approach, but this sensual, captivating honesty tugged at all her senses. If she had gone to Las Vegas tonight on schedule, they would by now have been lying in each other's arms. How could it be any different having him here? This man could weave magic around her, and realizing that didn't seem to make it any easier to fight it "There isn't any other man, Jordan," she stated quietly. "Davis?" he prompted softly. "He and I are after the same promotion at work. We know each other strictly on a business basis. That's all there is to it," she whispered. He continued to gaze at her over his shoulder for a moment longer, and then his head inclined faintly in acceptance of her explanation. "There wasn't any other woman during the week, honey." Her fingers curled into the palm of her hand as she stood very still. "I... I wondered. When you didn't call." "It was my pride that kept me from calling. Not another woman." "Oh, Jordan," she sighed. The hand with the strip of silk laced between the fingers was held out to her. "Now will you come here, Alyssa?" "Are you ..." she broke off and tried again. "Are you still angry with me for not going to Vegas tonight?" "Do I look angry?" he countered softly, his hand still extended across the bed. "Come here, Alyssa, and let me show you how I really feel tonight." The last of her wariness dissolved in the face of his gentle seduction. Slowly, Alyssa knelt down on the bed and put out her hand to touch his. He touched her palm lightly, drawing her toward him with such a gossamer pressure that she was almost unaware of what was happening until she found herself kneeling less than two inches away from him. Then the lure of his broad shoulder overcame her, and she trailed her finger tips down the curve of his arm. "I'm not angry, Alyssa. Not any longer. I need you too much." He turned her palm upward, moving his lips across it in a warm caress. "I've been needing you all week." "Did you really lose last night?" she whispered, loving the touch of his mouth on her vulnerable palm. The thought of being capable of wrecking his concentration sufficiently to cause him to gamble badly was intoxicating. It gave her a heady sense of power and an equally pervasive feeling of tenderness. "I lost. But I won't lose tonight, will I, sweetheart?" He moved his lips to the inside of her wrist, holding her hand with the lightest of touches. The silk bow tie dropped unheeded to the quilt as Jordan shifted his weight in a subtle manner. The next thing she knew, Alyssa felt herself being lowered slowly until she was lying on her back and he was ranged alongside her. The warmth of his naked body was like a fire on a cold night, infinitely inviting and full of promise. She could feel the blatant thrust of his manhood against her leg, and she shivered. "Oh, Jordan, I thought about you all week," she confessed softly, her arms going up around his neck in a gesture of acceptance. Or was it one of surrender? Alyssa didn't want to think about the nuances of the action just then. "And you've been on my mind ever since I had to put you on that damn plane back to California," he muttered. Slowly, he undid the buttons of her pleated tuxedo blouse, working with care and anticipation. He wasn't going to hurry this, she realized. As if he had read her mind, his mouth crooked slightly as he pushed aside one edge of the blouse and bent to kiss the swell of her breast above the neat white bra. "I'm in a mood to make it last the rest of the night I want to compensate myself for all the long, lonely evenings this past week." Alyssa trembled a little beneath the feather-light kiss, and her fingers flexed, catlike, in the darkness of his hair. "You're sure you're not still angry?" she questioned one last time. There had been a real threat in him when he'd arrived on her doorstep this evening and then again when he'd watched her with Hugh. It was hard to believe all that male vengeance had truly disappeared. "I want you too much to be angry tonight." He lifted his head, his fingers slipping along the high waistband of her black trousers. "But this time I'm going to make very, very sure of you, sweetheart," he added huskily. She shifted with a trace of unease. "I don't understand." "You will by morning." His mouth closed over hers in a slow, drugging kiss that seared away the last of her uncertainty. Alyssa sighed into his throat and gave herself up to the embrace. This was what she had been dreaming of all week. This man of math and magic was the lover she had never quite dared to believe existed. How could she resist him tonight? His teasing, gentling, arousing fingers traced erotic patterns across the skin of her stomach before unfastening the black trousers and slipping them down to her feet. Alyssa stirred restlessly as the fires within her began to build. She stroked him again and again, unable to get enough of him. Her hands moved over his shoulders and along his lean hips to the hard, muscled pianes of his buttocks. There her nails sank lovingly, enticingly into him, and his groan of response was as satisfying as the finest wine.