Read Gambler's Woman Online

Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

Gambler's Woman (16 page)

"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.
Nine
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."

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