Read Gambler's Woman Online

Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

Gambler's Woman (15 page)

*  *  *
Jordan's first remark a few hours later, as they finally drove home,
was an exclamation of unadorned shock. "Folks in your world play rough,
don't they?"
Alyssa stirred uneasily in her seat. "What do you mean?" She had been
dreading the first minutes alone with him, and now they were upon her.
"I mean the way McGregor and his wife pushed you about your future
plans with me. They got pretty damn personal, didn't they?"
Whatever she had been expecting from him, it wasn't this sort of
remark. "I told you McGregor was
going to vet you this afternoon. He's on the verge of making his
promotion decision. After meeting you last night and listening to you
call me 'honey' all evening, he was bound to wonder how serious we were
about each other. Don't forget that crack you made to him as he was
leaving last night! The one where you referred to the job of keeping an
eye on your property!" The outrage was sharp in her voice.
"That wasn't nearly as bad as suggesting we get married in front of the
McGregors." Jordan grinned unrepentantly, his fine hands steady and
skilled on the wheel of the Camaro he had rented. "Whatever made you
say that, for God's sake?"
He didn't seem unduly upset, merely curious. Alyssa groaned. "I don't
know. A lot of reasons. You were leaving such tantalizing trails for
McGregor, suggesting a long-term future for us. I was getting worried
that he would think we were planning on a long-range affair or
something. Mildred doesn't approve of people living together, you know.
And, frankly, I'm not altogether sure McGregor does, either. They're
both a little on the conservative side. Besides, I figured you deserved
to find yourself in a corner after
the way you'd been blithely enjoying your fantasy of respectability all
afternoon!"
"You decided you'd show me what respectable really means, hmmm? Okay, I
can understand why you did it. But that doesn't make it right for the
McGregors to put you on the spot like that. In my world, no one would
dream of inquiring so pointedly into someone's background. The only
thing that counts is that a person knows a little gambling etiquette
and can cover his or her losses."
"Well, this isn't your world!" He was right, of course, but that was
the way things were.
"No," he agreed quietly. "It's not, is it? But my first observation
still holds. Folks play rough in your world."
She hadn't thought about it quite like that before. If anyone had asked
her, she would have said the
gambling world was far more ruthless. Now she realized she was seeing
matters from a slightly different perspective because of Jordan.
"Perhaps. But I have to play by the rules in my world."
"Do you? When you're in my environment, you make the rules work almost
entirely in your favor."
"I don't have as much control here," she sighed. "It's different.
Jordan, I'm sorry about putting us both
on the spot this afternoon. I guess I was beginning to lose my temper."
He shrugged. "I'm surprised you got so carried away. After all, it
would be far easier to hide the real
truth about me if we were just having an affair than it would be if we
got married. People are prepared
to allow a certain privacy to a couple involved in an affair. If we
were to get married, someone would
be bound to wonder what the hell I really do for a living, and once the
questions started in earnest, it would probably be impossible to stop
them, wouldn't it?"
She heard the hard note in his words and felt a strange pang of
uncertainty. What did he want from her? Surely he wasn't actually
suggesting marriage, even obliquely? Or did his desire to live a
portion of his life in her world extend that far? "Jordan? Are you . .
. are you saying you might want to get married?" She didn't know what
made her ask the question. Alyssa only knew she couldn't seem to
prevent the words from coming out. In the next instant, however, her
doubts were firmly set to rest.
"No," he declared with a harshness she had never heard from him. "I'm
not suggesting marriage. I've never really considered going that far
with a woman, but if I did, I sure as hell would not want a wife
who felt she had to hide my real occupation from all her friends and
coworkers! Let's get something straight, Alyssa. I enjoy occasionally
playing charades in your world, but I wouldn't want to try living them
continuously. It wouldn't work. Sooner or later, as I said, the
questions would get a little too pointed, and everything would fall
apart."
"But you're willing to have an affair with me, is that it?" she asked
tightly, aware of a sharp sense of
pain and loss. Which was ridiculous. How could you lose something you
never really had?
"That seems to be all that's available to me, doesn't it?" he returned
dryly. "I'm sure you're no more
eager to risk marrying me than I am to have a wife who's embarrassed
about my background even
though she sneaks out occasionally to go slumming in my neighborhood."
"That's not fair!" she retorted, stung, "You're the one who's always
been so opposed to marriage!
You've told me that a gambler doesn't make good husband material on
more man one occasion!"
"So I have," he agreed in a suspiciously neutral tone. "So why are we
arguing, hmmm? We're both
agreed that marriage is entirely out of the question for us in spite of
what you said when you got
carried away in front of your boss this afternoon. Shall we change the
subject?"
Alyssa blinked owlishly, wondering at the restlessness she was
experiencing. She wanted to go on arguing about how they couldn't
possibly get married, yet they were in perfect agreement on the matter,
weren't they? Hadn't Jordan just said so? Damn it to hell! Why was she
feeling so unsure of herself and the situation? Everything was under
control. Soon Jordan would be going back to Vegas, and farther
downstream she would be able to tell the McGregors gently that tiie
marriage plans with Jordan just
hadn't worked out She would tell them that, of course, after the
promotion decision had been made.
She wouldn't want to take the risk of having the news make a negative
impact on McGregor's ultimate decision. It would be safer to wait.
Yes, she told herself determinedly, that was the real reason she would
wait to make her announcement.
It would be safer for her career.
"How did I do this afternoon, honey?" Jordan asked, interrupting her
racing thoughts. "Did I do a good enough job of losing to satisfy you?"
She slid him a speculative glance as he parked the Camaro in her drive.
Damn it, if he wanted to change the topic, she'd show him she could do
just as good a job. The discussion of their nonmarriage was definitely
closed. "I thought we lost brilliantly together," she drawled.
"We did, didn't we? Could have won just as brilliantly, too," he
murmured, sliding out of the front seat and slamming the door behind
him. "We play rather well together."
"The McGregors enjoyed winning," she reminded him as he followed her
into the house.
"Anything to please the McGregors."
She narrowed her eyes. "That was the whole point of the afternoon,
Jordan," she reminded him.
"Don't look at me like that. Except for your faux pas concerning the
issue of marriage, everything went perfectly." He swung around on his
heel and headed for her kitchen. "I need a drink. A real drink. Didn't
I see some cognac in one of these cupboards this morning? How about a
glass before we go to bed?"
Bed. Alyssa stood very still in the center of her living-room floor and
listened to the sound of his banging cupboard doors open and shut in
the kitchen. It was late. Time to go to bed.
A frisson of sensual tension laced with feminine resistance spread
through her nerve endings as she stood staring at the empty kitchen
doorway. She needed time to think, Alyssa realized. She was nervous and
uneasy. The afternoon had taken more out of her than she would have
guessed. Standing there now, waiting for him to reappear with the
cognac, she felt the strangest desire to run and hide from him.
Something had to be dealt with in her head before she could risk
letting herself be seduced again by Jordan Kyle. Something vitally
important.
Not understanding fully her own motivation, Alyssa glanced down the
hall toward her bedroom. A part
of her longed for escape behind a locked door tonight She needed a
place and time to be by herself. But in another moment Jordan would
reappear in the kitchen doorway, and as soon as he touched her, she
would be lost.
Without stopping to think, she turned on one heel and started toward
the safety of her room. Alyssa had taken two hurried steps before his
voice caught her in midstride.
"Going somewhere?" The dark, dangerous drawl was heavy with a sardonic
tone.
She halted abruptly, her eyes closing once in quiet despair and
resignation before spinning slowly to face him. Jordan stood in the
kitchen doorway, one hand holding the cognac bottle and two glasses.
His eyes raked coolly over her tense figure before returning to collide
with her own wary, silently pleading gaze.
"Jordan, please. I... I want to sleep alone tonight," she whispered
starkly not knowing any subtle way of asking him to let her go.
He pushed himself away from the doorjamb and moved deliberately to the
white overstuffed chair by the window. Ringing himself down in a
careless sprawl, he poured a snifter of cognac and set the bottle on
the low glass table beside him. Without a word, he lifted the snifter
and took an appreciative sip. During the whole process, his eyes never
left her.
Alyssa didn't know what to do. She felt trapped, unable to retreat or
attack, wholly at his mercy.
"Well? What are you waiting for? Permission to go to bed? You're
excused." He waved her off with one hand and took another swallow of
the cognac.
"But, Jordan..." she began uncertainly. She couldn't even guess what he
was thinking.
"Don't worry about me. I saw where you keep the extra blankets in the
hall closet this morning. I'll sleep on your couch. Good night, Alyssa."
Anger began to simmer in her unexpectedly. How dare he be so damn
casual about the situation? "What are you going to do?"
"Put a large dent in this excellent cognac," he returned readily,
pouring out some more. He leaned his
dark head back against the white cushion behind him and gazed at her
through narrowed lids. "And then I'll go to bed. Don't worry about me,
Alyssa, I've been taking care of myself for a very long time."
Yes, she thought, he had. Whirling, Alyssa fled down the hall to her
room. Safe behind the shelter of
her door, she sagged against it and heaved a deep sigh, which she told
herself was one of relief.
When her knees had stopped trembling in reaction, she made herself
begin the process of getting ready
for bed. But with every move she made, every routine she went through,
she found herself listening for sounds from the living room. What was
Jordan doing? Was he just going to sit there and get quietly drunk? The
thought made her strangely sad. The instinct to comfort surged within
her as she turned
back the covers and crawled into bed.
But there was no need to feel sorry for him, she scolded herself. She
was the one who needed the consolation! She was the one who was facing
potential disaster by allowing him to stay even one more night under
her roof.
Why had he followed her? Why couldn't he have stayed in Vegas where he
belonged? Dejectedly, she punched the pillow, taking out her
frustration on the defenseless object. Everything would have been
just fine if Jordan had kept to his world.
Or would it? How long would she have been able to conduct an affair
like that, slipping back and forth between fantasy and reality? Was
that what she really wanted for herself? An affair was an affair, after
all, and sooner or later it ended.
That thought made her cringe a little beneath the sheet. In a blinding
flash of awareness, Alyssa realized that she didn't want her affair
with Jordan to ever end.
For long moments, she lay staring wide-eyed at the shadowy ceiling. But
all affairs ended, and a situation as precarious as the one she was in
should probably be concluded as quickly as possible. Jordan had
made it clear he was not going to be content to be relegated to her
fantasy life, and in all honesty, Alyssa couldn't quite convince
herself she really wanted him to be. A man like Jordan moved into one's
world and made himself a part of it whether or not either party wanted
it that way. How could she even look at another man during the week
knowing Jordan would be waiting for her on the weekends, even assuming
she could bring herself to separate totally her real world from the
slightly dangerous, disreputable fantasy one?
She had let herself be plunged into a reckless situation from which
there was no escape now that Jordan had infiltrated her life. Having
insisted on sleeping alone tonight, all she could think about was the
man drinking her expensive cognac out there in her living room. She
wanted Jordan in a way she had never wanted any other man. No, it was
so much more than desire.
He was all wrong, a mistake on her part, a dangerous miscalculation,
yet she had fallen in love with her mathematical gambler.
Alyssa lay tensely in the bed, stunned by the full meaning of that
revelation. She was in love. It shouldn't have been possible, but there
was no way to deny it now that the truth had been faced. So much for
the safety of sleeping alone, she thought wryly. There had been no
safety at all in her whirling thoughts.
And what was she supposed to do now?
Before her restless mind could pursue that course of thought, it was
diverted by the soft, sure sound of the bedroom door being opened. The
shiver of fear and sensual tension she had experienced earlier went
through her once more. Alyssa didn't stir. In that moment, she didn't
think she could have moved so much as an inch.
From her half-curled position on the bed, she watched the shaft of
light from the opening door as it widened and spread out on the carpet,
seeking her. Through nearly closed eyes, she waited tautly for whatever
was to happen next
Jordan's lean, dark form filled the doorway. The light was behind him,
and she could not read the expression on his face, but she sensed the
male power in him—an ancient plea and an equally ancient demand

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