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Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

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BOOK: Gambler's Woman
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She told him about her brilliant husband and her equally brilliant
father. How she'd never been able to keep up with that brilliance, try
as she would.
"A lot of hard work just doesn't compensate for lack of genius," she
said with a half smile. "Not in their world."
"But it does in the corporate world?" Jordan asked shrewdly.
"It seems to go much farther in the business world, yes," Alyssa
agreed. "Or perhaps what abilities I have are just more appreciated in
that world. Whatever the reason, I will be earning more than my father
did
or Chad ever will one of these days. I may not be a genius, but I will
be successful. Very, very successful." Her voice grew firmer as she
talked. Her successful, profitable future stretched out before her. If
only she could make certain it wasn't destroyed by her reckless action
in going to Vegas.
"And the gambling?" Jordan prodded gently. "Where does your new hobby
fit in to your career-oriented future?"
"It doesn't." She sighed regretfully. "I should never have let myself
be seduced by the fun I had."
"Or me? Do you wish you'd never let yourself be seduced by me, either,
Alyssa?"
She came to a sudden halt in the sand, turning to stare up at him. She
wanted to yell at him, to tell him that was exactly what she wished.
But it was unexpectedly hard to look up into those questioning, golden
eyes and loudly affirm her disgust or her regret. She found herself
vividly, unnervingly aware of the vulnerability in his gaze as he asked
the question, and somehow, in that moment, Alyssa couldn't find
the will power to tell him he had guessed correctly.
"We'd better be getting back to the house, Jordan. I promised the
McGregors we'd bring a salad this afternoon." Very firmly, she started
back along the beach. Obediently, Jordan fell into step beside her.
Eight
David and Mildred McGregor had a magnificent home in an expensive
subdivision that was just off
the ocean. The development had been planned so that every owner had a
private boat slip, and the McGregors, Alyssa knew, had a yacht in their
slip that nicely complemented the home above it
She watched as Jordan leaned over the balcony railing and admired the
beautiful boat below. David McGregor was more than happy to expound on
the virtues of his prized possession, and Jordan, Alyssa had to admit,
was a very complimentary listener. He was well into his role this
afternoon. She felt a wry tug of amusement at the knowledge, and there
was a soft smile in her eyes as she turned to help Mildred McGregor set
some snacks within easy reach for the coming game of bridge.
"I'm so glad you and Jordan could make it this afternoon. I know it was
awfully short notice," Mildred was saying chattily as she set out the
deck of cards and the score pads. "But David had this flash of
inspiration over breakfast, and I said, Why not? Go ahead and give
Alyssa a call. If she and Jordan
don't have anything planned, perhaps they'd like to join us!"
"It was very kind of you," Alyssa murmured, wishing privately that her
boss's flash of "inspiration" had been reserved for another time. She
didn't trust the way he was zeroing in on Jordan over there by the
railing. Ostensibly, they were still discussing the boat, but Alyssa
knew there was a subtle probing behind each casual question.
"Well, I think we're about ready," Mildred called cheerfully to the two
men. "I'm really looking forward
to this, you know. David and I just love bridge. We normally play at
ieast once a week."
"Is that a warning?" Jordan grinned good-naturedly as he took a seat
opposite Aiyssa. "Are Alyssa and
I about to get trounced by a couple of professionals?"
Alyssa closed her eyes in silent prayer. No jokes, Jordan. Please, no
jokes!
"Oh, we're just friendly players, aren't we, David?" Mildred smiled
brightly across the table at her husband and partner.
"That's right, my dear, just friendly," McGregor agreed as he picked up
the deck of cards and began shuffling. "Jordan, here, was telling me
this is his first visit to Ventura, Alyssa." He dealt the required
thirteen cards per player as he spoke.
"Uh, yes. Yes, it is. At least," she added sweetly, "it's his first
visit for the purpose of seeing me."
"I'm anticipating many more in the near future," Jordan drawled, his
eyes gleaming in subtle amusement at her attempt to imply that their
relationship was not overly intimate. "This is a beautiful stretch of
coast along here."
"Will your work allow you to visit frequently?" McGregor inquired
pointedly as he finished dealing the cards.
"I see no problem. It's easy enough to get a flight from Nevada, you
know. And I'm counting on Alyssa wanting to come visit me occasionally,
too, while I'm working there."
Alyssa flashed him a warning glance as everyone picked up his or her
hand of cards. Fortunately, the bidding portion of the game came next,
and no one would be expected to carry on idle chatter.
It was during the bidding that Alyssa first became aware of an
unexpected aspect of the game being played. She and Jordan were turning
out to be natural partners. By the time the thirteen tricks had been
played and the McGregors had fulfilled their contract, Alyssa was sure
of it Between them, she and Jordan had very neatly allowed the opposing
team to score the opening points. As everyone started chatting again
and jotting down the score, she caught Jordan's eye across the table.
He smiled back blandly, but there was a hint of laughter in the golden
eyes. Between the two of them, they could just
as easily have conducted a strong defense, one that would have
prevented the McGregors from taking
the needed tricks. Playing bridge with Jordan was like playing with
someone whose mind she could read and who could read hers. It was a
strange and surprisingly intimate experience.
"How long have you been working for the Nevada firm, Jordan?" David
McGregor inquired as the
cards were collected for the next game.
Alyssa held her breath, waiting for Jordan's response.
"Not long." Jordan smiled, taking a sip from the soft drink he'd
requested from Mrs. McGregor. Alyssa guessed that, out of habit, he
simply didn't care to risk drinking while he was working. And playing a
"friendly" game of bridge must still seem like work to him, especially
since she'd given him strict instructions as to the outcome of the
afternoon's game. "You know how a contract assignment is. One just does
one's job and then goes on to the next assignment. I expect I'll be
there a few more weeks and that will be it"
"I see," McGregor murmured as Alyssa took her turn at dealing the
cards. "Then you move around a great deal in your line of work?"
Alyssa didn't like the direction of the questioning. Was McGregor
fishing to see if Jordan was only a temporary fixture in her life, or
was he trying to estimate the chances of her marrying Jordan and
leaving Ventura to follow him on his various contract assignments? She
had to make things very
clear in that regard.
"Poor Jordan, always having to take off for unknown parts," she chirped
breezily as she rapidly dealt the hand. "Not like me. I'm quite happy
having a stable home life and friends and career. I've just fallen in
love with Ventura since I moved here four years ago. I'll bet you have,
too, haven't you, Mildred?"
Mildred McGregor moved unconsciously to her assistance, rhapsodizing
about her work with the iocal museum and an artists guild. The
enthusiastic monologue carried them through the dangerous moments
between games, and then, mercifully, play commenced once again.
But Jordan had not been delighted with the way Alyssa had interceded to
field McGregor's question.
She caught the admonishing glitter in his gaze just before he
deliberately won the bidding. She knew he'd done it deliberately, and
she was helpless to forestall what happened next. He took the huge
number of tricks he'd contracted for, and they won the game handily.
There was1 no way she could halt him. Since McGregor had doubled the
bid, Alyssa and Jordan scored twice the number of points they would
have otherwise.
The whole thing had been an object lesson for her. If she wanted Jordan
to cooperate in the final
outcome of the rubber, she had damned well better let him do his own
talking. He had made his point.
She sent him a resentful glance, but it was met by narrowed eyes that
only promised more trouble if
she interfered again. If only she could have deliberately sabotaged his
move, but she knew it would have been far too blatant on her part to do
so. The McGregors would have wondered what in the world had gotten into
her. Losing had to be done in a more subtle fashion, and in this case
it took the cooperation
of both partners.
The not-so-subtle probing on David McGregor's part continued as the
game wore on. It was difficult giving her attention to the game and
having to worry about how Jordan would handle the next question
he received from McGregor. It was worse than taking a man home to meet
your father, Alyssa decided disgustedly. Her boss was determined to
ascertain her future plans, and Jordan insisted on making all his
answers ambiguous.
Yes, he certainly traveled a great deal in his job, but no, he didn't
think that was going to stop him from being able to see Alyssa
frequently.
"Nothing could stop me from seeing her frequently," he murmured with a
lover's smile as he glanced at the lady in question.
Alyssa seethed silently, helpless to set the record straight. It was
really getting to be too much, she
decided grimly as Jordan reached for the deck of cards to take his turn
at dealing. First he had taken it upon himself to upset her nicely
structured life by showing up on her doorstep last night, and now he
was doing his best to convince her boss that he had a continuing role
in her future.
The problem, she realized with a flash of insight, was that he was
enjoying himself while creating this fantasy. Just as he had enjoyed
himself last night. Jordan was painting a pleasant, respectable picture
of himself, and he wasn't going to abandon the task willingly. He was
having too much fun.
So he wanted to play at being domesticated, did he?
When the inevitable, direct question finally came, it was from Mildred
McGregor, not her husband, who would probably have tried a little more
subtlety. Mildred, however, was simply curious, with a woman's
curiosity about a romance.
"Tell me, Alyssa, dear. Since it's obvious you and Jordan are very
close, when do you expect to get married? Surely you're going to want a
home with him soon?"
Alyssa was watching Jordan's hands as he picked up the cards and
prepared to shuffle. At the word "married," she could have sworn that
his sure, confident movements faltered a fraction. Mrs. McGregor's
question had shaken her, but it was apparent that it had had an equally
unnerving affect on Jordan.
Well, it was his own fault that they were confronted with the problem,
she told herself furiously. If he hadn't spent the afternoon implying a
comfortable future together Mildred would never have asked the
forthright question.
Very well, if the man wanted to play at being respectable, Alyssa
decided in vast annoyance, she'd
make him look eminently respectable!
"How very perceptive of you, Mrs. McGregor," she drawled politely, her
eyes locked with Jordan's now-unreadable gaze. "Jordan and I were just
discussing marriage this morning, weren't we, dear?
I think Ventura would make a very nice home base for him. After all, I
couldn't possibly follow him around all over the world, and I do have
my work and my friends here. But marriage would give him
a place to call home, too, and I think it might work out rather well."
There was a short, stunned silence from the other side of the table as
Jordan began to shuffle. He
wasn't looking at the cards in his hands, however; he was staring at
Alyssa.
"Marriage?" he finally repeated as if the word were totally alien to
him.
"Why not, darling?" she murmured, taking an enormous amount of
satisfaction out of having forced him to confront the results of his
fantasy playing. "Can you think of any reason why we shouldn't go ahead
and tie the knot?"
There was a hissing, snapping sound as fifty-two cards went slithering
across the table.
Everyone stared automatically at the confusion on the table, but only
Alyssa could begin to guess how deeply shocked Jordan must have been to
have lost his inevitable, perfect control. He, too, was staring,
dumfounded, at the fifty-two scattered cards as if he couldn't believe
his skilled, near-magic hands had
let him down in such a fashion. Alyssa could have swom that the
dark-red stain along the high bones of his cheeks was one of pure
embarrassment.
"Excuse me," he murmured very meekly as he collected the cards. "It's
been a while since I've played."
Like about two days, Alyssa thought vengefully.
McGregor chuckled jovially. "Sure it wasn't the notion of marriage
which jarred you there, Jordan?"
He winked at the younger man as Jordan dealt the hand with great care.
But nothing, not even a discussion of marriage, could put a
professional gambler off his stride for long. Jordan dealt the last of
the cards and grinned at his host in a very man-to-man fashion. "The
jarring part was hearing Alyssa say it might be a good idea," he
declared gently. "Do you realize how hard it is these days to convince
a woman who thinks she's got everything to get married?" He shot a
sudden,
terrifyingly straight look at his partner. "All this time I've been
wondering how to convince her, and here she is proposing to me over a
game of bridge."
Alyssa drew in her breath, abruptly frightened at the results of her
reckless desire to teach him a lesson. Now they were both trapped in
the new fantasy. The only thing to do was play it to the hilt.
"Now that you've convinced her," David McGregor said evenly, picking up
his cards, "are you going to run off with her?"
Alyssa froze. Jordan could ruin everything with his next answer. If he
decided to punish her for having forced the fantasy to such an awkward
conclusion, she could kiss her career good-by. McGregor would not be
interested in promoting a female who was in danger of leaving her job
to follow her husband. He would consider the time spent training her an
expensive waste.
She knew Jordan was aware of the tension in her; he must have seen the
whiteness around her knuckles as she held the thirteen cards in her
hand. Besides, he could almost read her mind, couldn't he? She waited
in an agony of anxiety for him to salvage the situation.
"I would never take Alyssa away from the job she seems to love so
much," Jordan said softly. "And,
as she said, I need a home base, anyway. There's no reason it shouldn't
be here in Ventura."
"Oh, David, isn't this lovely?" Mildred burst out happily. "Just think!
We may have been instrumental
in bringing about a marriage!"
"Oh, I get the feeling it was inevitable, my pet." David smiled
indulgently at his wife. "Wouldn't you
say so, Jordan?"
"Inevitable," Jordan agreed dryly, and firmly began the bidding.
"Just the same," Mildred declared, unwilling to be squelched so
quickly, "I think I'll break out that bottle of champagne I've been
saving. It will go nicely with the steak."
BOOK: Gambler's Woman
9.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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