"I have discovered," he said very quietiy and too distinctly, "that I do not care for drinking alone." Alyssa held her breath. Was he awfully drunk? How much time had passed since he'd slung himself down into that chair and started pouring cognac? How much time had she lain there coming to the shattering conclusion that she was in love? He came gliding silently across the carpet toward the bed and halted to stand beside it, gazing down at her still form. "I have also discovered that I do not care for sleeping alone when the woman who belongs to me is only a few steps away." Alyssa found her voice, although it proved only a breathless whisper. "Are you very sure that I belong to you, Jordan?" Why did so much seem to ride on his answer? He watched her broodingly, his golden eyes the only visible features of his face. Even they were shadowed and unreadable in the pale light "Do you doubt it?" he countered softly. "Oh, Jordan, no. Not tonight" Alyssa put out a hand, and an instant later her fingers were seized in the warm manacle of his sure, enthralling grip. "I didn't think you could, Alyssa. I knew you were tense after what happened during the bridge game, but I didn't think you could go on denying me all night long." The words were a husky groan of desire and satisfaction. He came down beside her and gathered her into his arms, his hands possessive and seeking on her body, and Alyssa gave herself up to the magic with a soft sigh. This was the man who could read her mind. Hadn't she learned that much during the bridge game? He seemed to know her body and her mind the way he knew numbers and cards and dice. It was dangerous for a woman to give herself to a man who knew her so intimately. But it was also irresistible. On Monday morning, when she returned to work and her gambler returned to Las Vegas, Alyssa promised herself, she would sort out the reckless tangle she had created by trying to weave reality and fantasy together.
Monday brought with it no great improvement in the clarity of her thinking, however. Alyssa felt as though she wandered through the day in a haze, performing her duties, dealing with coworkers and clients and generally acting with some semblance of normality. But she didn't feel normal. She hadn't fe!t anything approaching that condition since Saturday night when she had acknowledged the truth of her feelings about Jordan. Thinking back to those unnerving moments as she sat at her desk, Alyssa automatically reached for the sheet of paper that she had found on Sunday after Jordan had kissed her good-by and started out for the airport When she had discovered the paper, half hidden under the white chair where he had sat drinking cognac, Alyssa had realized how he had been occupying his thoughts that night after the bridge game. He had been drawing Pascal's triangle. The rows of numbers in the shape of a triangle were a simple, classic aid to calculating probabilities. Each number in the table was the sum of the two numbers above it Had Jordan sprawled in the chair that night trying to sort out his own thoughts by concentrating on the clear, utterly logical progression of numbers? A tiny smile edged her lips as Alyssa considered the image that presented. Jordan had spent a long time drinking cognac and playing with math in an attempt to keep from coming to her bed, and in the end he had failed. Carefully, she refolded the sheet of paper. Some women took out pictures of their lovers and gazed at them fondly. She had only a sample of his math to look at until next weekend when she boarded the plane for Las Vegas. He had made her promise to return to the gambling city just before he had climbed into the rented Camaro. "I have work to do," he'd said, smiling wryly as he stood beside the car and framed her face with rough palms. "It may not be particularly respectable work, but it pays well, and I have to get back to it. You'll be on the Friday-night flight this time? No unexpected prior commitments?" "I'll be on the flight," she'd promised, looking up at him with eyes that glittered with a suspicious dampness. She loved the man and didn't know quite how to tell him. She wasn't even sure he'd want such a confession from her. All Jordan had demanded and received was the admission that she belonged to him. Sooner or later, Alyssa thought as she pushed the paper with Pascal's triangle on it into her purse, they would have to arrive at some reasonable way of handling the passion that existed between them. How long would it be safe to conduct an affair? How long before the truth came out and shattered her carefully structured world? What would she do when the inevitable moment arrived? Time enough to worry about it when it happened, Alyssa told herself, picking up a desk-top calculator and going back to work. She would deal with the situation when it occurred. Sn the meantime, there was no reason not to have the best of both worlds, was there? And there was another possibility. . . . She thought again of the mathematical work on the sheet of paper. Jordan was good. He not only had natural ability; he'd taken enough formal classes from time to time to learn about things like Pascal's triangle. On Sunday afternoon, she'd discovered him pouring over one of her textbooks on probability, and when she'd said something about one of the theorems in it, she'd been surprised to discover that he knew all about it. His math might be heavily slanted toward gambling applications, but he had ability and some general knowledge. What if she got him a job? A real job? What if she made him truly respectable. Would he consider marriage? That tantalizing thought was interrupted as Hugh Davis sauntered into her office. Warily, Alyssa put away her dreams and focused her whole attention on her arch rival. Since the night of the party, she had trusted him even less than she had in the past. "Have a pleasant weekend, Alyssa?" he drawled smoothly, sitting down without waiting to be asked. "Yes, thank you. And yourself?" She leaned back in her swivel chair, tapping the end of a pencil on the polished desk top in a small, almost concealed gesture of impatience. "An interesting weekend. Very interesting." He laced his ringers together and smiled at her the way a predator smiles at a victim. "My wife cried a lot after your party." More uneasy than ever, Alyssa frowned. "I'd say that was your own fault. You shouldn't have made it look as if you were flirting with me." "Ah, yes. Well, you see it wasn't just what she thought she saw at the party," he murmured. "She had a lot of other evidence to go on, too." Alyssa stared at him. "What the devil are you talking about?" she gasped. "I'm talking about the way I've been letting her think I'm having an affair with you," Hugh said indifferently. "My God! Hugh, why would you do such a thing?" "To protect the woman with whom I actually am having an affair, naturally." He shrugged as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "I deliberately established a few false trails. You were very helpful, by the way, being gone almost every weekend for a couple of months. Very often you would casually mention you were going to be 'out of town' whenever I asked you what you had planned for the weekends, remember?" Appalled, she stared at him. She had usually mentioned leaving town because she didn't want him thinking of an excuse to drop by. She'd been trying to protect herself, and all the while he'd been using her! "Don't look so stunned, Alyssa. You would have been relatively safe if my wife hadn't gone to unexpected lengths to find out what the two of us were up to on the weekends. You see, I've been gone a lot, also." "Hugh, so help me, if you don't explain what the hell you think you're trying to do . . . !" "My wife is a very possessive woman, but she has an interesting characteristic. She tends to blame the 'other woman' whenever I have an affair. Some nonsense about how I was lured away from hearth and home. Some psychological twist, I expect. By not blaming me. she hasn't had to deal with me, if you see what I mean. She only has to deal with the other woman. Naturally, I didn't want her dealing with the real woman, so I made use of your frequent absences to cover my own. It's been extremely convenient for protecting my, er, friend." "I can imagine," she said furiously. "So every weekend I've been gone, your poor wife has assumed you were with me, is that it?" "That's it. You don't have to worry. I've told her it's all over between us." Alyssa remembered the phone calls during the previous week, the ones when there had only been silence on the other end of the line after she'd answered. Cari Davis checking up on her? Probably. "Why are you telling me all this now, Hugh?" she demanded stonily. "Because my wife went above and beyond her usual efforts this time, as I discovered the night of your party. You, my dear, were such a threat to her that she actually employed a private detective to follow you on a couple of recent weekends. The private eye informed her that you were definitely not with me. In the course of his report, he mentioned where you had been spending your time. You apparently have developed a fatal compulsion of late, Alyssa, haven't you?" She didn't move, every nerve and fiber of her being rock still as the full impact of what was happening came home to her. Alyssa waited. "When I found out Friday night exactly what my wife had discovered in the course of her latest 'research,' I made her tell me the name of the investigator she had employed, and yesterday morning I tracked him down and told him he was now working for me." "And your wife?" Alyssa could hardly breathe. "Up until Friday night," he mocked, "she refused to believe she'd gotten her money's worth from the investigator. She was still convinced I must be having an affair with you. The only thing that saved you from one of her screaming confrontations with the 'other woman' was Kyle's presence. She couldn't quite figure out where he fit in and was confused enough to avoid accusing you outright at your own party. She often does things like that after she's had a few drinks. But that's really not our problem at the moment Cari eventually will believe whatever I tell her because she doesn't want to lose me. No, you and I have no need to concern ourselves with her rather muddled thinking processes. If she'd been thinking straight, after all, she would have had the detective follow me these past couple of weekends," he said with a chuckle. "But she didn't," Alyssa whispered. "No, she didn't And when I had interviewed the investigator, I knew I had learned some very rewarding information for which I must thank my dear wife someday. He just phoned an hour ago to tell me he'd tracked your Jordan Kyle to one of the biggest casino hotels in Vegas and had seen him check in. Kyle didn't report to any research firm in the middle of the desert, did he, Alyssa? He spent Sunday night in a casino and slept late this morning. Furthermore, he showed no signs of preparing to go back to a real job. Not the kind of job he said he'd be returning to when he spoke of it Saturday night. Kyle's just some gambler you picked up on your last trip to Vegas, isn't he, Alyssa?" "You're out of your mind!" she hissed. "How many weekends have you spent there during the past few months? How much money have you lost? No one wins in Vegas, not in the long run. What's the matter, Alyssa, can't you stop? 1 hear it's like that A compulsion that grows on you." "You. haven't got the faintest idea of what you're talking about!" "No? I think David McGregor might appreciate my ideas." "I see," she said tightly, understanding now exactly what was coming. "However, I'm willing to keep the information I've uncovered to myself under certain circumstances," Hugh went on blandly. "And what exactly would those circumstances be?" she inquired almost curiously. "That you tell McGregor you no longer wish to be considered for the managerial slot he's got open." Hugh was abruptly on his feet, smiling evilly as he headed for the door. "I know, I know. It's blackmail. But we all do what we have to in this world. I'll stop by your house later this evening for your answer. This time my wife really will have cause to believe it's you I'm visiting, won't she?" Numb with shock and a mounting horror, Alyssa watched him walk out her door. The end of her short-lived attempt to conduct both a fantasy life and a normal one had come with totally unexpected suddenness. Everything she had been working for had just collapsed around her. And all because she hadn't made herself resist the fun and excitement of her make-believe world. Jordan's words came back to her: "Folks in your world play rough, don't they?" Somehow his world seemed much more honest and reliable than her own. With an unnatural calm, Alyssa drove home a little early from the office. What did it matter if she broke the rules today? She was still feeling abnormally calm when she let herself in the front door of her beach-front home and dropped her purse on the nearest chair. Then she went to pour herself a stiff drink. If ever a woman needed one, it was she tonight. Very carefully, moving as if she were walking on eggs, she crossed the living room to sink down on the chair beside the phone. For a long time, she simply stared at the instrument. What were the odds of finding Jordan in his room at this hour? Possibly rather high, she told herself coolly. He might be dressing for dinner. But what would she say to him? How did you tell your lover you were being blackmailed? No, that wasn't the hard part. The hard part would be trying to describe the fact that she wasn't at all sure she cared. Alyssa licked her lips and took a delicate swallow of the drink she had fixed. She wasn't sure she cared. In some ways, it was almost a relief. The inevitable ending had arrived. She was free. Free! Good lord! What was she saying? Her world was collapsing around her. How could she think of herself as being freed? She shook her head uncomprehendingly, knowing she needed to talk to someone, and that someone had to be Jordan. He was the one she now turned to instinctively. In his magic hands, she would be safe. Her nerveless fingers dialed the telephone with careful precision. She was fully prepared to have the instrument ring endlessly in an empty hotel room, so when Jordan's voice came on the other end of the line, she was startled. "Jordan?" she whispered. "Alyssa? What's wrong? Honey, what's happening?" The dark, rich voice was heavy with immediate concern, and Aiyssa found herself responding to it unthinkingly. "I had an interesting visit from Hugh Davis this afternoon, Jordan," she began quietly. "Did I ever tell you the man's a bastard?" "I figured it out for myself the first time I met him," Jordan replied impatiently. "What the hell is going on?" So she told him, slowly and distinctly, exactly what had transpired that day in her office, but he interrupted her before she got to the final part, the part about not really caring that everything was over and that she was free. Alyssa never got the chance to tell him that because he was already giving her instructions. "It's only four-thirty," He rasped into the phone when he'd heard her tale. "I'd catch the late-afternoon flight back to LA. It will take me about an hour and a half to drive to Ventura. If Davis gets there before I do, I want you to stall him, do you understand? Keep him talking until I arrive. Don't worry, Alyssa, I'll undo the damage I've done." He hung up the phone before she could tell him she wasn't at all sure she wanted the damage undone and that, in any case, it wasn't his fault. He had just gotten entangled in her fantasy. In the end, the two men arrived almost simultaneously. Hugh Davis had just knocked on Alyssa's door shortly before eight-thirty that night when there was the sound of another car crunching in the drive. "He's not going to be any help, Alyssa," Hugh informed her, glancing back over his shoulder. "He's nothing but a professional gambler."