was that a part of her had been happy for him. A part of her had taken
pleasure in his pleasure, had wanted him to be happy. In spite of her
anger and wariness, she realized she had found a curious satisfaction
in having given him a measure of enjoyment by providing him with a new
role to play.
What a fool she was! This man had her tied in knots of silk!
"So am I going to get an apology at least?" she demanded brashly,
anxious to put a stop to her current
line of thought
The lines bracketing the sides of his hard mouth tightened. "For
kicking your friend Ray out the door when all he was attempting to do
was pay off his loan? I'd say you got your own back when I let you
get away with slapping me the way you did!"
"You're too generous," she snapped.
"I know," he agreed placidly. "I'm a gentleman, you see. A
and a gentleman. Thanks to
you." He paused, peering at her as though debating something with
himself. "Okay," he finally said magnanimously, "I'm sorry I didn't let
you and Burgess explain everything at the door. Let's do everyone
concerned a favor, though, and not make a practice of having strange
men arriving bright and early on your doorstep with thousand-dollar
checks in their hands. If you need money," he added a little gruffly,
"I'll give it to you."
That infuriated her. "I don't need money! Yours or anyone else's! I'm
perfectly capable of paying my own way in life. I've got an excellent
job and . . . and a way of making a little extra for the luxuries I
"It occurred to me you might be thinking of giving up gambling now that
it's gotten you into such an uncomfortable situation," he returned
blandly. "Is there anything else to go with this grapefruit?"
"This isn't a hotel, and I'm not room service!"
"Good lord. You really are in a hell of a mood this morning, aren't
you?" he noted interestedly as he got to his feet and began searching
through her cabinets. "Ah, here we go," he added as he discovered a box
She watched him morosely as he puttered around her kitchen, finding a
bowl and spoon and milk.
"What am I going to do about Ray and Julia?" Alyssa finally blurted
out, not knowing anyone else with whom she could discuss the problem.
"I can't let them pay me back. That money I gave them was free. All it
cost me was the price of a plane trip to Vegas."
He shrugged, returning to the table and pouring himself a generous
portion of cereal. "That's one of the problems with making money the
way we make it in Vegas. It can be a little awkward to explain.
Especially since you're so anxious to keep the source secret. Maybe you
could convince them it's a gift
to your new little namesake?"
"I don't know. Ray and Julia are very proud. It was hard for them to
ask for help in the first place. If I refuse to let them pay back the
"Then tell them the truth," Jordan suggested, plunging into the cereal
with a large spoon.
"I haven't told
truth about those Vegas trips! I'm afraid that once the word gets out,
wrong people might eventually find out and draw the wrong conclusions."
"Wrong people like your boss McGregor?"
"Yes!" she snapped in annoyance.
"Double lives can get very complicated," Jordan opined, golden eyes
glinting. "Interesting, but complicated."
"This isn't a joke, damn it. . . !" But the remainder of her admonition
was cut off by the ringing of the telephone. With an impatient
movement, she got to her feet and stalked across the kitchen to where a
yellow phone hung on the wall.
"Alyssa? Is that you?" came David McGregor's voice in response to her
rather crisp greeting. "Glad I caught you before you went out for the
"Oh, yes, sir! Good morning, Mr. McGregor. I wasn't expecting to hear
from you," Alyssa got out a little lamely, cursing herself for the
too-abrupt way she had answered the phone. Automatically, she slid a
glance across the room and found Jordan watching her.
"Well, Mildred and I were just sitting here saying what a pleasant
evening we had last night, and we were wondering if your friend Kyle
was still in town?" McGregor's friendly, ingratiating tones didn't fool
Alyssa for a moment. She had worked for this man long enough to know
that he rare'y did anything without a good reason. This
Saturday-morning phone call was totally out of the ordinary for him.
Instantly alert to the hidden nuances of the question, Alyssa tamed
back to frown sternly at the wall in front of her, thinking.
"Why, yes, as a matter of fact, he is still in Ventura," she admitted
cautiously. "Please tell Mildred that I'm glad she enjoyed herself,"
she added quickly in what was undoubtedly a futile effort to get her
boss off the subject of Jordan Kyle. It was. He ignored the red herring
"Excellent!" McGregor murmured genially. "Then if the two of you aren't
doing anything in particular
this afternoon, Mildred and I would like to invite you over for a
rubber of bridge. Around two o'clock, say? Afterward, we can barbecue
some steaks. How does that sound? You and Jordan do play bridge, don't
you?" he inquired belatedly.
"Uh, yes," she said blankly, desperately trying to figure out what was
going on. This was a command performance, and she knew it McGregor did
not routinely invite members of his office staff for bridge and a
barbecue on the weekends. And he wanted Jordan there. Suddenly,
everything clicked in her
head. Jordan was to be vetted. That was the only explanation that made
any sense. "Yes, we do play,
Mr. McGregor. That sounds delightful. Please tell Mildred I'll bring a
His mission accomplished, David McGregor hung up the phone with a
polite, satisfied-sounding farewell. Alyssa slowly replaced the
receiver and remained staring at the wall, her hand still resting on
the yellow instrument beside her.
"Something wrong?" Jordan inquired politely, still munching cereal.
"Do you play bridge?" she asked stonily.
"Not if I can avoid it."
"Well, you can't avoid it. Not today. And it's all your own fault" She
swung around to confront him, her hands on her hips as she glared
across the room. "That was my boss, and we have been invited to spend
the afternoon with him and his wife, playing bridge and having a
barbecue. Do you understand what that means?"
Jordan polished off the last of the cereal and sat back in his chair,
reaching for the coffeepot on the counter behind him. "It means we've
been invited for bridge and a barbecue. I didn't hear you trying to get
out of it."
"Because I can't get out of it!" she stormed, striding back to the
table and flinging herself down onto her chair. "McGregor wants us
there, and as long as I'm trying to get that promotion, I am well
do as McGregor wants. You're the main reason for this sudden
"I am?" He poured coffee for her and replaced the pot without glancing
behind him. Such good hands. Perfect coordination in those supple
fingers. Alyssa wondered if anything could disturb the sureness in
"Yes, damn it, you are. You're to be vetted this afternoon, Jordan.
McGregor is curious about you. He wants to check you out." Alyssa's own
fingers drummed in nervous impatience on the glass-topped table as she
eyed her unwelcome guest
"You mean he suspects I'm not who I said I was?" Jordan didn't appear
overly concerned by that possibility, merely curious.
"I doubt that's the problem," she retorted. "You did an excellent job
of passing for a respectable scholar last nighti"
"Thanks. I thought I handled it rather well myself." He smiled at her
over the rim of his cup.
Alyssa leaned forward, her brows coming close together in a ferocious
frown. "I suspect he wants to know exactly what your plans are in
relation to me," she told him very precisely, enunciating each word
"Ah!" Jordan's smile was in his eyes now, and Alyssa could have shaken
him if she'd had the power to
do so. "He wants to know if I'm going to lure you away from Ventura?"
"Probably. If he thought f was on the verge of getting married and
leaving town, for example, it would certainly affect his decision of
whom to promote, wouldn't it?" Alyssa shot back with saccharine
"Most likely," Jordan agreed judiciously, sipping his coffee. His eyes
never left her face.
"So we must make it very clear to him that you are not a threat," she
"You know what I mean. He must understand that I'm committed to Ventura
for the foreseeable future. Which is only the truth. Jordan, if you
don't behave yourself this afternoon and help me out of this mess, I
swear I will nail your gambler's hide to my garage door!"
"Yes, ma'am," he murmured meekly enough. But his eyes were gleaming,
and Alyssa didn't trust the
look in them at all.
"I mean it, Jordan. I'll never forgive you if you ruin my chances of
getting that job!"
"I understand," he said placatingly.
She sat back in her chair, eying him suspiciously. The man was actually
looking forward to the afternoon, she realized dismally. He probably
saw it as another chance to play at being the respected mathematician.
"About the bridge game," she went on ruthlessly.
"We will be partners, of course, playing against the McGregors. And we
will lose, Jordan. Is that very clear?"
"If that's the way you want it."
"We will not lose badly. We will make it a close game; give them a run
for their money ..."
"We'll be playing for money?" Jordan asked brightly.
"That was a figure of speech. There will not be any money involved. The
point is that I want to play a good, respectable game, but in the end I
want the McGregors to win."
"Whatever you say," he agreed laconically. "Want some more coffee? No?
Then come on, shrew, let's
go for a walk on the beach. Maybe the sea breeze will blow you into a
He was on his feet before she could protest, reaching down to catch her
wrist and haul her up beside him. Maybe he was right, Alyssa thought
morosely as he led her firmly out the door and down onto the sand,
where they removed their shoes. Maybe a nice long walk on the beach
would clear her head and enable her to think. She was certainly going
to need all her wits about her this afternoon as she handled the
McGregors. Her career might very well depend on how adroitly she
fielded her boss's subtle questions today.
"Feels good to be on a beach again," Jordan said, inhaling
appreciatively. It was early yet, and they had most of the long,
luxurious sweep of sand and sea to themselves.
"Your home is on the coast, isn't it?" Alyssa muttered, remembering the
Oregon address on his driver's license.
"Ummm. It is, but I don't spend a lot of time there. It's just an
address for me. A place to go when Fm not working." He led her along
the packed sand near the water's edge at a brisk pace, his fingers
wrapped securely around her wrist.
In spite of her own problems, Alyssa felt her curiosity rise. "It's not
a home for you? A real home?"
"Just a place to go between casinos." He shrugged, glancing down at
her. "Not like this place is for you. How long have you lived in
"Nearly four years now."
"Four years," he repeated thoughtfully. "When were you divorced?"
"When I was twenty-four," she responded shortly.
"Haven't you ever wanted to remarry?" he probed.
"Not particularly. I've been busy."
"Ah, yes. Building this famous career of yours."
"Is there anything wrong with that?" she charged tightly, her eyes on
die sea's horizon. "After all, you've devoted your life to your career,
too! You said you'd never been married."
"True. I never thought marriage would work very well in my case. It
would take a very special kind of woman to accept a professional
gambler as a husband, don't you think? It would take a woman who really
. A woman who didn't
mind the odd hours, the constant traveling, the endless hotel rooms or
the fact that her husband's job would not be particularly admired or
respected by the vast majority of her friends and family. Most people
consider gambling something to be done as an occasional fling.
Something to do for an exciting, slightly naughty weekend once a year.
People who do it more
often are thought to be a trifle seedy, to say the least. Or sick with
a compulsion," he added thoughtfully.
"In most cases that's a fairly accurate assessment," Alyssa pointed
out. "Compulsive gamblers are sick. But you're hardly a compulsive
gambler. You don't fit the stereotype, and you know it You've chosen
to make your living by your wits and your natural talent." She didn't
know why she was defending him. After all, everything he had said about
gambling was perfectly true. It was that very image of gambling that
she feared so much, because all the stereotypes would be applied to her
if it were to be discovered that she gambled as frequently as she did.
"Well, whatever the reality of my particular situation, you have to
admit I don't have the kind of job
that would make me good husband material," Jordan observed dryly. "I
guess you could say I've never married because of my career. Just as
you haven't remarried because of your career."
She slanted a quick, uncertain glance up at him, wondering what was
coming next. "I suppose you could say that," she agreed slowly.
"Why, Alyssa? Don't get me wrong, I was never more relieved in my life
than I was last weekend when
I woke up and found out you weren't married. But I can't help being
curious. Why have you let your career keep you from having a husband
and a home?"
"Jordan ... I... It's difficult to explain," she mumbled awkwardly.
There was a new, seductive tone in his voice now, not unrelated to the
gentle come-hither quality his words held when he was physically
seducing her, and Alyssa found it just as unsettling. She found
herself wanting to respond, wanting to accept the invitation to
confide, just as, in other circumstances,
she found herself wanting to respond physically. What magic did this
man have over her? she asked herself once again. But she heard herself
struggling to explain nevertheless.
by Audrey Couloumbis