Read Gambler's Woman Online

Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

Gambler's Woman (12 page)

As the low-voiced threat reverberated among the three people standing
in Alyssa's doorway, she and Ray Burgess both swung to face the man who
had issued it. There was a moment of appalled silence while Alyssa
groped for an explanation, but it was Ray who plunged in, anxious to
"Hey, it's okay," he murmured with an attempt at an engaging smile. He
held up his hands in a gesture
of innocence. "She's not my lady, if that's what's worrying you,
mister. I'm a happily married man. With a kid, no iin
"Those qualifications haven't stopped a lot of men from writing out
checks for other women in the past," Jordan growled softly. He slanted
a disdainful glance at the younger man. "But this other woman is now
private property. She won't be taking your money now or in the future."
"Jordan, stop it!" Alyssa finally gasped as she found her tongue. "You
have no notion of what's going on here. This is between Ray and me. It
does not involve you!"
He flicked her a disgusted look, as if she weren't very bright.
"Everything you do now involves me. Remember?"
"We can run through that argument at a more convenient time," she said
angrily, her fingers curling into fists as she glared up at him. "For
the moment, I would appreciate it if you would kindly step out of a
situation lhat does not concern you!"
"Alyssa, let me explain it to him," Ray began. He turned back to face
Jordan. "I'm Ray Burgess, and I..."
"I don't give a damn who you are," Jordan swore before Ray could get
any further. "I want you out of Alyssa's home and out of her life. And
take the check with you!"
"Stop giving orders in my house, Jordan!" Aiyssa stepped between the
two men, infuriated. On top of everything else, this scene was the last
straw. "Ray is a friend of mine, and I will not allow you to stand
there and yell at him!"
"I'm not yelling at him," Jordan pointed out very, very softly. "But I
will definitely do some damage to him if he does not remove himself
immediately. Is that very clear to both of you?" His attention was
fully on Ray.
"Look, Jordan, or whatever your name is, if you'll just calm down, I
swear I can explain everything."
"I'm not in a mood to hear explanations. That check you're trying to
give Alyssa explains everything.
Now get out."
Disgustedly, Alyssa turned away from the implacable Jordan. "You'd
better go, Ray. I'll call you later,
and we'll settle everything."
"You won't be calling him later," Jordan interrupted smoothly.
She flashed him a seething glance. "Please, Ray. It's all right. Just
"But, Alyssa, I can't leave you here to face him. He's irrational." Ray
stared at her worriedly.
"I'm aware of that," she muttered. "But don't worry about me. I'll be
all right."
"Are you sure?" He flicked an uneasy glance at Jordan.
"She'll be fine. Take her advice and leave," Jordan snapped.
"If you lay a hand on her, I swear I'll. . ." Ray began heatedly.
"I've already had my hands on every inch of her. And from now on no
other man is going to have that privilege. Understood?"
"Jordan!" Alyssa felt the red rush into her cheeks. At that moment, she
could cheerfully have throttled him if there had been any conceivable
way of doing it "How dare you say things like that?" she breathed,
"How dare you?'
"That does it," Ray announced firmly. "I'm not leaving until we get
this settled."
"Ray, please. Just go," Alyssa begged, sending him an appealing look.
"I'll take care of myself. Don't worry about me."
Her friend shifted uneasily. "Are you sure, Alyssa? You can come with
me if you think you're in any danger here. We can wait until he cools
down, and then ..."
"You may stop discussing me as if I weren't present," Jordan drawled.
"I assure you I'm very definitely here. Something Alyssa is having a
'little trouble understanding apparently. Get out of here, Burgess.
And remember that Alyssa is now off limits to you or anyone else."
Nails digging into her palms as she tried to control her temper, Alyssa
nodded at Ray. "Go on, Ray."
"You're sure?" He frowned.
"I'm sure."
"Well, at least let me leave the check . . ."
"No!" Jordan's voice cracked like a whip.
"No, Ray, please take the check. I don't need it. You don't have to
give it to me, really!" Anxious now
to get her friend out of harm's way, Alyssa began pushing him toward
the step.
Reluctantly, Ray allowed himself to be pushed. Slowly, he walked out to
his car, casting several suspicious glances back at the two in the
doorway. Alyssa didn't close the door until he drove off. Then she
slammed it and whirled to face Jordan. Scathingly, she raked his lean,
solid form. He had put on the dark slacks and shirt he'd worn the night
before, and it was easy to see why Ray had been reluctant to leave her
alone with the man. He looked more than a little menacing, and his
golden eyes glittered with cold promise.
"You're determined to barge into my life and tear it to shreds, aren't
you?" She flung at him.
"Alyssa," he began grimly, only to have her slash across his words with
the sharp edge of her tongue.
"You've just made a fool out of yourself and out of me! I hope to hell
you're satisfied! Never have I
been so humiliated! And you wouldn't even listen to a reasonable
explanation, would you? Oh no! You had to blunder in like some sort of
wild beast, wreaking havoc. You had no idea what was going on, and yet
you took it upon yourself to interfere. Not only that, but you
succeeded in thoroughly embarrassing me in the process!"
"Alyssa," he tried again, a strong warning tone underlining the word.
"It was damn obvious what was going on. Who the hell was he to think he
could buy you for a thousand bucks a month? How many others have you
got on the string? What's the matter with you? Do you need money so
badly that you
not only hold down a full-time job but you gamble in Vegas and set up a
stable of men to keep you in proper style?"
This time she silenced him with a sudden, vicious slap that left the
imprint of her fingers against his
cheek. The sound of the blow seemed to fill the living room, it was
followed by a moment of terrible silence.
Then Jordan moved. One strong, skilled hand went out with the swiftness
of a striking snake, capturing her wrist. He yanked her toward him
until she was crushed against his chest
"Who the hell is Ray Burgess? What's he doing in your life?" The words
came out clipped and icy.
From somewhere, Alyssa found the courage to reply. In that single
moment, she was more frightened of Jordan Kyle than she had ever been
of anyone or anything in her whole life, but a remnant of common sense
told her the only route to safety lay in explaining the situation as
quickly as possible. Why on earth had she succumbed to the temptation
to slap him?
"He and his wife are the reason I discovered Las Vegas."
Whatever the answer he had been expecting, that wasn't it. "What is
that supposed to mean?"
"If you'll let go of me, I'll explain everything," she managed bravely.
He glanced down at the hold he had on the small, fragile bones of her
wrist Slowly, he unpeeled his fingers one by one until she was free.
There was a red brand on her skin where he had been holding her.
Carefully, Alyssa disengaged herself, her hand going to the sore wrist.
His eyes followed the small action, and she had the impression that he
was a little shocked at the violence of the grip. "Ray's wife is a
close friend of mine. We had an apartment together for a couple of
years in Los Angeles. She's three years younger than I am. She met Ray
almost a year ago when she came to Ventura to visit me. They're both
struggling artists, and they fell in love almost as soon as they were
introduced. Julia married him seven months ago when she discovered she
was pregnant."
"Go on," Jordan ordered.
Alyssa's mouth crooked wryly. "Well, as I said, they're both a couple
of struggling artists. No extra cash and no medical insurance. Do you
know what it costs to have a baby in a good hospital with a first-class
doctor these days? It can easily run to three thousand dollars or more.
And Ray wouldn't have any less than the best possible care for his
"Oh, my God," Jordan muttered, eyes narrowing. "They came to you for a
"They didn't know where else to turn. Ray refused to go to his
relatives because they've been so disapproving of his life-style. Julia
simply doesn't have any relatives who could afford to help." Alyssa
edged toward the kitchen as she spoke, and Jordan followed like a
hunting panther.
"So they came to you for help?"
"Unfortunately, I didn't have that much ready cash on hand. My money
was mostly tied up in the stock market, and the market's been such a
disaster area lately that I hated to sell shares at such a loss if it
wasn't absolutely necessary. The three of us spent an evening playing
cards one night, discussing various possibilities, and I was winning
game after game, as usual. It was only a friendly little game, no money
involved. But I got to thinking later that I knew a lot about cards and
dice and probabilities. I had studied them as object lessons for years.
In addition, I seemed to have an intuition about numbers. I'm not sure
it really has all that much to do with mathematics, this intuition.
After all, there are a lot of mathematicians who can't gamble
successfully." Her ex-husband had been one, she remembered.
For the first time since he had confronted Ray in her doorway, Jordan's
expression softened slightly. "I know. And you don't have to explain
about that feeling of knowing what the cards will do next. I make my
living on that kind of intuition, remember?"
"You don't have to remind me," she snapped, annoyed. "I'm well aware of
the fact" She reached for the two plates of grapefruit and set them
down on the kitchen table. Through the window, the surf could be seen
crashing on the sand. It was a charming scene on most mornings. But not
this morning. Nothing
was charming about this morning.
"Go on with the story," Jordan instructed crisply, sitting down at the
round, glass-topped table.
"There's not much left to tell. Once I had started thinking in that
direction, I couldn't wait to see if I could make it work. I didn't
tell a soul where I was going or what I was planning to do. I just
caught a flight to Vegas and plunged in with a stake of about two
hundred dollars. By the end of the weekend, I had the three thousand.
No one could have been more astonished than I was. I think, deep down,
I hadn't really expected the theories and the intuition to work. When I
got home that Monday, I phoned Ray and told him I'd had a small
windfall in the market and that I would be happy to let him have the
profits for Julia's medical care. The baby was born last week." Alyssa
looked down at her own grapefruit as she took the remaining seat "It
was a little girl. They named her after me."
Even in the midst of her battle with Jordan, that thought made her
smile. She had been delighted and unaccountably touched when Ray and
Julia had given her the news.
There was a long silence from the other side of the table, and then the
magic fingers swept out to cover her hand. "That must be nice," Jordan
said very gently. "Having a kid named after you. No one's ever named a
kid after me."
She glanced up to find him studying her with a new understanding in his
eyes. For a few seconds, a strange communion flowed between them.
Jordan, Alyssa realized abruptly, wasn't the only one who
had denied himself a family because of his life-style. Hadn't she done
the same for different reasons?
She had been so intent on proving that she could be successful in her
world of applied mathematics that nothing else had seemed to matter.
A good salary, a good job title, a house on the beach. Those comprised
the elements of success at her
end of the mathematical spectrum. For her father and her ex-husband, it
had been prestige and
recognition at the highest academic levels. But success in any world
required certain sacrifices. Suddenly, she wondered if the ones she had
made were worth the success they had brought her.
Jordon, too, must have made decisions along the line that had precluded
his having a family. Professional gamblers didn't need that kind of
excess baggage. Did he sometimes regret those decisions?
"Well, that's the story," she made herself say rather tartly as she dug
into her grapefruit. The warm fingers, which had been idly caressing
her hand, were withdrawn. It left her feeling a little bereft. Which
was absolutely ridiculous, she told herself firmly.
"Not quite," he amended. "You got the money you needed for the
emergency in which you were involved. But that wasn't the end of it,
was it, Alyssa? After all, you went back to Vegas."
"That depends. Why did you go back, Alyssa?"
"You know why!" She didn't like being pressed this way. He wanted her
to admit something that she didn't wish to go into that morning.
"I know why. I just want to hear you say it," he goaded.
"I went back because I had fun, damn you! I went back because it was
like having another world to escape to whenever I felt the need!"
"A fantasy world."
"Is there anything wrong with that?" she challenged.
He appeared to take his time considering the question. She felt like
using her grapefruit knife on his throat "Nothing
, precisely," he finally
allowed judiciously. "But a little reckless. Dangerous, perhaps."
"You don't have to tell me that," she grumbled. "I've already found out
just how dangerous it can be!"
He shrugged that off. "But you had fun in my world, didn't you, Alyssa?"
"Yes," she bit out
"Just as I had fun in yours last night."
She blinked uncertainly. That knowledge bothered her for some strange
reason. Jordan had enjoyed himself last night She had seen the pleasure
in his eyes from rime to time as he answered a question
from one of the other guests or told a story that elicited tfieir
laughter. He had been playing the role of respectable mathematician,
and it had obviously appealed to him.
It didn't bother her particularly that he had enjoyed himself. What
annoyed, worried and intrigued her

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