"Who are you, Mr. Kyle?"
"I've told you. Just another professional. How long are you going to be
here in Vegas?" He sipped his drink, watching her over the rim of the
"I'm only here for the weekend," Alyssa said firmly. "Contrary to what
you keep implying, I am definitely not a professional gambler. I have a
full-time job back in California, and I come to Las Vegas for the same
reason everybody else does. For fun."
"And for the money. How much did you win tonight in all? A couple of
"That's hardly any of your business!" Alyssa leaned back in her chair,
trying to appear totally casual, totally unconcerned. But her pulse was
still racing as she tried to figure out exactly who Jordan Kyle
"I like the way you do it You're not greedy. As long as you're not
greedy and as long as you don't feel
the urge to tell anyone else what you can do with numbers and cards,
you should be fine. Of course, sooner or later, it will probably be
wise to give Vegas a break and do a little traveling. No sense taking
"A little traveling?" she prompted, more than willing to let him do the
"Ummm. Atlantic City, Europe, Monte Carlo, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico.
It's a big world for people like us, Alyssa. Or haven't you discovered
"I'm afraid I haven't done much traveling," she admitted cautiously,
wondering at the twist in the conversation. "Are you suggesting I, uh,
He shook his head, mouth twisting in wry amusement "You really are
nervous about me, aren't you?
For the last time, I am not in the employ of this casino, and I am not
politely suggesting you leave town. But I am going to suggest that now
that your evening's work is done, you spend your time off with me."
"Why?" she challenged bravely, more confused than ever. Was he merely
trying to pick her up, after all? Or was this some elaborate scheme of
the casino's security system? But that didn't make sense, really. If
the casino was suspicious, wouldn't its representative simply tell her
to leave? She wasn't quite sure how things like that worked, but she
doubted that the management would pussyfoot around about it. In Nevada,
the casinos made the rules, and they didn't bother to apologize for
"Because," Jordan answered gently, "I'm a man who happens to be alone
tonight and you're a woman in the same situation. Furthermore, we seem
to have something in common. Can you think of any better reasons?" His
polite, expressionless gaze roved over her face and then fell to the
expanse of throat and shoulder left visible by the black and silver
dress. Alyssa felt the heat of the molten gold and sensed the
unexpected excitement it was generating within her. What was this man
doing to her tonight? She never paired off with anyone when she came to
Las Vegas, preferring to live out her gambling-world fantasy in
private. Most of the men she encountered in the casinos were totally
uninteresting, anyway, caught up as they were in the strange fever that
was true gambling. They weren't playing the way she played, and that
single fact put a tremendous distance between herself and the people
around her. But this man seemed to know that she was able to do
something different at the tables, and the fact that he had guessed
that much intrigued her.
"I only won a couple of hundred dollars," she heard herself point out
carefully. "Anyone can get lucky and win that much in an evening. It's
He regarded her enigmatically and then answered the unspoken question.
"You want me to tell you how
I came to realize you're not relying on luck? I'm not sure I can
explain it completely. I think I noticed
you first because there was an aura of calm certainty about you when
you played. As if the issue was never in doubt When you occasionally
lost, you looked as coolly satisfied as when you won, and I knew
it must have been because the losses were deliberate. I found myself
very curious and very interested. Then I started watching carefully
while you played."
Alyssa shivered, remembering the feel of those golden eyes on her. An
appalling thought made her ask, "Do you think anyone else noticed?"
"No," he reassured her with a smile. "In this whole roomful of people,
there's probably not another soul who would have noticed anything other
than the fact that you were alone. As they say, Alyssa, it takes one to
know one." He saluted her briefly with his glass. "Come and spend some
time with me, lady gambler. A casino can be the loneliest place on
earth for people like us."
"I'm not lonely," she whispered, caught by the fleeting wistfulness
that came and went so quickly in his eyes. This man was lonely?
"I am," he returned simply. "And I would very much like to spend some
time talking shop with someone who
Alyssa swallowed uneasily, knowing the oddest sensation of being
seduced. It was ridiculous. Jordan Kyle was a man she would normally
have ignored completely. He was definitely not a part of her real
world, and the people of her casino fantasy world were never allowed to
step past the invisible boundaries she erected. Yet here he was,
reaching through the illusion and tearing aside the barriers. The real
excitement of the night worid that had always intrigued her had never
been so close.
"I don't know you," she whispered, unable to look away from his gaze.
"You will," he promised quietly. "As soon as you stop worrying about
who I might be, you'll realize who
I really am."
"And who is that?" Alyssa felt strangely breathless as she waited for
his response. The lure he was casting was snagging her, pulling at her.
She didn't begin to understand the spell being woven around her by this
man, but it was as real as anything had ever been in her life.
"Come spend some time with me and discover the answer for yourself," he
Alyssa frowned, common sense asserting itself for a moment. "I'm not
interested in being a bed partner for you or any other man, Jordan.
That's not why I come to Las Vegas."
"I know that's not what brought you here. How much do you plan to take
home with you?" he added matter-of-factly.
For some reason, the question goaded her. "A thousand dollars," she
tossed back, her expression defying him to laugh.
Jordan Kyle didn't laugh. He nodded as if that were the most normal
goal in the world and then asked, "Saving up for something special?"
It was Alyssa's turn to smile. "A down payment on the most beautiful
red Porsche you ever saw in your life!" Her sea-colored eyes lit with
inner laughter. She didn't need the Porsche. No one really needed a
luxury like that. What was necessary was to have some goal for the
money she was winning. Her original goal, the one that had first
brought her to Las Vegas, had been satisfied when she had won enough
money to pay her friend Julia's maternity bills. But by the time that
had been accomplished, Alyssa had discovered that she was intrigued by
this new, unreal world of the night. It was always night in a Las Vegas
casino. The patrons were carefully shielded from such distractions as
light and fresh air and wall clocks. "What about you?" she decided to
He lowered his dark lashes consideringly. "What am I saving my winnings
for? Nothing special. Just making a living." And then the flashing grin
appeared once more for an instant "I already bought my Porsche."
Alyssa found herself smiling in response. The spell Jordan Kyle was
weaving grew more dangerous,
and she was rapidly becoming more and more oblivious to the menace. Las
Vegas was a city of illusion, and for the first time she sensed she
could do more than pretend she was a part of it. With this man, she
could find out what it was like to truly immerse herself in it
"What else have you bought with your winnings, Jordan?"
He shrugged offhandedly. "A house on the Oregon coast, the Porsche, the
clothes I'm wearing, my last meal, plane fares to Reno and Monte Carlo.
You name it. Everything I've owned since I got out of the army. Winning
is how I support myself, Alyssa. Don't you understand? Gambling is my
She blinked, a little taken aback. "That's
you do for a living? Gamble?"
"And win," he reminded her gently. "As a means of financial support, it
doesn't work very well unless
"Your. . . your family doesn't mind what you do for a living?" If her
father had lived to see how she
was entertaining herself these days, he would have been appalled. If
she had actually started to gamble
for a living, he probably would have disowned her entirely. It made her
uneasy to think about it even though he was gone.
"I have no immediate family. My parents were killed when I was very
young, and there is no one else who would particularly care," he
explained neutrally. "Does your family know what you're doing these
days?" he added, mouth crooking.
She shook her head. "No. My parents were divorced years ago. I was
raised by my father after my mother left to marry another man. My
father was killed a couple of years ago, and I rarely see my mother."
But she didn't want to get into a discussion of that nature.
Deliberately, she turned back to
the original topic. "You really don't have any trouble winning?"
"No more than you do."
"You don't—" she broke off, searching for a more polite word and
couldn't find it. "You don't cheat?"
"Cheating in a well-run casino would be infinitely more difficult than
winning our way," he drawled
easily. "And less reliable."
"Not to mention rather dangerous," she murmured. "Some of these pit
bosses and floormen look like
they wouldn't be very understanding about cheating."
Jordan flicked his well-shaped hand dismissively. "They're
professionals in their own way. Here in Nevada, at least, they run the
house in an honest fashion, and they intend to keep the client honest,
"No reason why they shouldn't run things honestly when they can figure
on taking twenty percent of the drop every day of the year!" The "drop"
was the total amount bet by customers in a casino. It was figured on a
daily basis, and the house profits averaged twenty percent of that,
year in, year out. The numbers were staggeringly large and the profit
"How long have you been treating yourself to spare cash in Vegas,
Alyssa?" Jordan asked.
She paused before answering, wary once again at the pointed question.
But what did it matter if she told him the truth? He'd already guessed
most of it. "A few months ago, I decided to take what I know about math
and statistics and see what happened. To tell you the truth, I was
astonished. My knowledge of probability theory gave me a solid
understanding of the math behind gambling, but once I started, I
discovered I seemed to have a certain ... a certain intuition—" She
broke off, shrugging. "As I said, I was amazed. I had no idea it would
be so easy."
"It isn't for most people," he reminded her. "And the only reason
you're getting away with it is because you have the sense not to get
greedy. You don't call attention to yourself as a consistent winner.
You're playing it smart."
"What about you? Have you really been doing the same thing for years?"
Alyssa was a little awed at the notion of supporting oneself completely
by gambling. His ability in mathematics, especially probability theory,
must be as good as her own. And he must have that extra thing she'd
"I've had a head for numbers since I was a kid," he replied
negligently. "Playing cards and rolling dice were natural outlets for
that kind of skill in the neighborhood where I grew up."
"What about school? Have you had much in the way of mathematics?" Her
curiosity was growing.
Alyssa leaned forward, cupping her snifter in both hands to lift it to
her lips while she waited.
"Only what I've picked up on my own. It's easy to get in to audit
university classes, and I do that when
I need specific instruction or guidance." His mouth twisted wryly. "If
we're going to sit here and swap educational backgrounds, I'm afraid I
will definitely come out the loser. You, I take it, have a lot of
She lifted her bare shoulder in a small shrug. "I'm a statistician.
I've got a degree in math."
"Where do you work?"
"In California." This time her answer was clipped. She still wasn't
sure how much she could trust Jordan Kyle. No sense giving him
"California." He nodded, accepting mat "But you're here for the
"Yes." She waited, inwardly surprised by the breathless feeling of
He moved suddenly, leaning across the table to cradle her hands in his
own as she held the snifter. His golden gaze flowed over her, trapping
her. "Will you spend your weekend with me, lady gambler? I want very
much to get to know you better. Do you realize you may be the only
woman in the entire world to whom I can really talk?" This last was
said on a whimsical, captivating note.
Alyssa felt a small tremor go through her and hied to rally her
faltering defenses. "A moment ago, you only wanted to spend the
remainder of the evening with me."
"Okay, I'll settle for that At the end of the evening, we can discuss
the rest of the weekend."
"You're very persistent," she tried to say lightly, fiercely aware of
the strong, sensitive hands cupping hers. In this pose, they must
appear to be lovers to those around them, she realized a little wildly.
"And you frighten me."
"I know. But I think you're a very daring sort of woman," he said with
a smile. "Don't forget, I've been watching you play cards for the past
two hours. I know a great deal about you, Alyssa. Come with me tonight
and I'll show you my world."
"I've already seen your world."
"I think you've only dropped in long enough to play occasionally.
Tonight I'll show you much, much more." Jordan was abruptly on his
feet, removing the snifter from her hands and placing it on the small
But her small protest was overridden. "Hush, partner. It's you and me
against the world. Can't you see that? We're not like anybody else here
in Vegas because we come to play the games on our own terms. But we can
have fun on our own terms, too!" He captured her wrist in a warm grip
that sent a thrill through her and strode out of the cocktail lounge,
towing her in his wake.