Read Gambler's Woman Online

Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

Gambler's Woman (7 page)

They walked past the roped-off baccarat table where elegantly attired
men and women lost their
money to a croupier in a tuxedo, and Jordan smiled.
"One thing you get for your money at baccarat is a classy environment,"
he observed.
"That's about all you get. With the rules so completely established by
the house, I have yet to figure
out a way to better the odds in that game," Alyssa said sadly.
Jordan, shrugged. "I doubt that anyone has. Theoretically, the house
edge is only a little over one percent in baccarat, but there isn't any
room for skill or mathematics, and people lose quite steadily. It holds
no appeal for real gamblers or people like you and me, but that doesn't
seem to stop a lot of folks from wanting to play."
"It's because of the image," Alyssa decided wisely. "What with everyone
having to dress to the hilt to
play and the croupier and the ladderman in tuxes and the whole area
cordoned off, it makes one feel elegantly European and rich. The
illusion is everything in gambling."
Jordan glanced down at her. "So it is. But you and I see past the
illusion, don't we? Our magic is possible because we see the
mathematical structure behind the fagade and we have a feel for it."
"Yes, I suppose so." They were in the elevator now, and Alyssa shivered
at the inevitable approach of passion. They were talking of math and
probabilities and gambling, and all she could think about was what it
would be like in a few minutes when Jordan took her in his arms. It was
a dizzying, reckless sensation that made it difficult to think with
anything remotely resembling her usual logic.
When they stepped out into the corridor that led to the bordello-red
bedroom, Alyssa swayed slightly,
and when Jordan's arm immediately came around her, she leaned
gratefully into his strength. Amazing, she thought contentedly.
"What's amazing?" Jordan asked, opening the door to his room.
Alyssa blinked up at him, unaware she had spoken aloud. "You are," she
explained politely as he led
her inside.
"And why is that?" His smile was one of anticipation and passion and
gentleness as he pulled her close. The golden eyes seemed to go molten,
and Alyssa thought she would melt under the heat of them.
"Because you're so strong, so solid, so real," she heard herself
whisper as she lifted her arms to encircle his neck. "Illusions aren't
supposed to be so very real."
Her lashes had fluttered shut as she raised her mourn for his kiss, and
so she did not see the hardness
that appeared in the depths of his gaze. "Alyssa," Jordan growled
softly as he picked her up and carried her over to the round bed,
bathed in desert moonlight, "don't ever make the mistake of thinking
I'm not quite real. Don't put me in the category of illusion, honey, or
you will find yourself taking what will undoubtedly be the first
genuine gamble of your life. And I guarantee you will lose."
But Alyssa was too wrapped up in this new world of sensation to heed
the warning.
Four
The jet heading back to Los Angeles International had just reached
fifteen thousand feet when Alyssa remembered the dinner party she was
scheduled to give the following Friday evening.
With that memory, reality came flooding back. Instinctively, she turned
in the seat, straining to glance back in the direction of Las Vegas,
but the glittering city in the middle of the desert was already out of
sight Jordan would have caught a cab back to his hotel. In another
couple of hours, he would be
preparing to go to work. The night shift, she decided in wry humor. Her
lover worked the night shift
at his job. And when she was with him, she had done the same
But real life was a respectable position with a sophisticated research
and testing firm. Working the night shift in Vegas was a weekend
illusion, a dangerous fantasy that had somehow become incredibly alive
during the past couple of days. Alyssa turned back in her seat, staring
blindly at the magazine in her lap. She had allowed herself to be
utterly and completely seduced by her fantasy this weekend.
Never in her life had she succumbed so totally to the spell of a man.
Never had she been the type to become involved in weekend flings or
one-night stands. The knowledge that she had done exactly that during
the past couple of days left her feeling dazed and a little out of
control of herself. This wasn't a side of herself that she knew or
understood. She lowered her lashes uneasily as she contemplated the
unsettling facts.
Even though she had gone over some invisible edge this weekend, she had
only herself to blame. Hadn't she been dancing closer and closer to the
precipice each time she'd gone to Las Vegas during the past
few months?
No, damn it, she hadn't been in this kind of danger until this past
weekend, she corrected herself forcefully. There had never been a man
involved in her fantasy. There had been no temptation or seduction of
that sort whatsoever. Not until she had encountered Jordan Kyle.
And Jordan Kyle was unlike any other man she had ever met.
Since that disastrous year of her marriage to Chad Emerson, Alyssa knew
she had found it relatively
easy to keep from becoming entangled in any truly serious emotional
commitment. She'd had enough to do proving herself in the business
world. But humiliation at her own stupidity still surged to the surface
occasionally when she thought about that painful year and a half after
her graduation from college.
Her father had done his best to raise her, she realized. But he'd been
so hoping for a mathematical prodigy to more or less take his place in
the upper reaches of the academic research world that he'd firmly
guided his daughter into math. Alyssa hadn't minded. She loved the
subject and had a flair for it. But having a flair was not the same as
having a true genius for it. Reluctantly, because she longed to please
her father, she'd focused more and more on applied mathematics rather
than pure mathematics.
Applied math was the kind that was needed on a day-to-day basis in the
working world. From her end
of the spectrum came the statisticians, the engineering mathematicians,
the
practical
math people,
without whom ail the work of the geniuses such as her father would have
been wasted. People in applied math were the ones who took the
brilliant discoveries and techniques and turned them to useful purposes
in the areas of accounting, computers, engineering, insurance and a
thousand other fields. The geniuses wound up teaching and conducting
research at the finest universities in the country.
She knew her father had been vastly disappointed when it became evident
that she wasn't going to follow precisely in his footsteps, and it hurt
Aiyssa to know she had failed him. But in her senior year of college,
she thought she had found a way to pacify him. That was when Chad
Emerson had first started paying attention to her.
From a very practical point of view, it was often far easier for a
graduate in applied math to get a paying job right out of college than
for one with a more theoretical background. Chad Emerson, for all his
brilliance, apparently had had a very down to earth grasp of that basic
fact He'd also fully appreciated the unquestioned eminence of the man
who was her father. Joseph Chandler could be a tremendous asset as a
father-in-law. He held an important post at a fine university. Chad had
wanted to assure himself of not only getting Into the right graduate
school but of making the right contacts. Being brilliant was great, but
politics always helped.
Alyssa had gone along willingly with the whirlwind courtship Chad had
instituted. Her father had been enormously pleased after meeting the
young man she proposed to marry. If his daughter wasn't quite smart
enough to take a place in the stellar list of brilliant mathematicians,
she was smart enough to marry someone who eventually would. Knowing she
had pleased her father and flattered by the overwhelming attention of a
fellow student whom she had admired from afar, Alyssa had agreed to
Chad's proposal of marriage.
It occurred to Alyssa on occasion that she'd never really set her own
goals. For years, her father had established them for her, and later,
married to Chad and working to pay his graduate student fees, she
had attempted to gain her satisfaction through helping her husband
attain his lofty goals. And there was some satisfaction along that
route. Being with Chad, entertaining his brilliant friends, gave her a
sense
of participating in the elite world of mathematicians, a world she'd
always been taught to respect
For a time, Chad had seemed content with his admiring wife, whose
practical ability had won her an excellent paying position right out of
college. Joseph Chandler certainly fulfilled his duties as a proud
father-in-law, helping his daughter's husband get into the graduate
school of his choice and making
certain he was brought to the attention of the right people.
But a year and a half after marrying her, Chad was offered a teaching
assistant's post at the university.
He had been recognized by the people who mattered. Along with the new
position came introductions to new people. Perhaps it was inevitable
that Chad would eventually meet a woman who was more suited
to his intellectual level. In any event, he evidently felt he no longer
needed Joseph Chandler's support
or a hardworking wife. He had divorced Alyssa to marry a beautiful and
unquestionably brilliant faculty member who would undoubtedly take over
the furthering of his career.
It had all been for the best, Alyssa had told herself a thousand times
since then. She would never have
felt entirely comfortable in Chad's environment There would always have
been that feeling of inferiority with which to contend, that knowledge
that she could never compete with his brilliant friends. And there was
no doubt that from her very humble, very practical point of view, it
hadn't been pleasant learning
that Chad had basically seen her as a meal ticket and her father as an
added asset.
But all the common sense in the world didn't alleviate the feeling of
rejection that struck her like a hammer when her former friends, the
ones Chad had cultivated, no longer found her particularly interesting.
It was Chad's intelligence and upward mobility in the academic world
that had drawn them. They had nothing in common with his wife.
And all the common sense in the world couldn't dispel. She notion that
she'd somehow disappointed her father for not being able to hold on to
Chad. She'd brought a brilliant mathematician into the family, a man
who could have been a true son to the elder Chandler, only to lose him.
Alyssa's reaction had been abrupt and single-minded. If she wasn't good
enough for the academic world, she'd damn well prove she could hold her
own in other spheres! Namely, a sphere where her brand of math was
appreciated, sought after and paid for. She dedicated herself to the
business world, where she had since proved more than able to rise
steadily to the top.
In the area of statistics and probability theory, she had shown real
flair, and Alyssa was determined to
be as successful at her job as Chad and her father were in their
worlds. She measured her success by
the salary and title she held. They were the only gauges she had. Her
father had been accidentally killed
in an automobile crash just about the time Alyssa was starting to
demonstrate her true abilities. She'd never known for sure whether or
not he had really respected her progress in die corporate world. Not
knowing had seemed to make it ail the more imperative to succeed. She
had driven herself relentlessly
for the past two years.
Then, a couple of months earlier, because of Ray and Julia Burgess, she
had discovered the world of gambling. It had proved a wonderful escape
from the self-inflicted pressures under which she worked. What would
Chad or her father have said if they had ever learned that her one area
of "genius" in the realm of mathematics had proved to be an intuitive
ability to play cards and roll dice? She didn't really have to wonder.
They would have been thoroughly disgusted.
But the fantasy world of gambling offered her exactly what she had been
needing. It freed the cheerful, fun-loving, playful side of her
personality. It was when she was in that world that the mischievous
smile
lit her eyes, and sometimes that smile carried over into her real world
when she returned. She needed the escape. She needed to throw herself
into the exciting fantasy where her one true talent reigned supreme.
She had known from the beginning, of course, that her "escape"
represented a very real threat to her carefully built career. And the
goals of that career and its accompanying life-style were too much a
part
of her to even consider abandoning them. The trick, she told herself,
was to keep the fantasy world separate from her real world, and she'd
been quite successful at managing that feat. Perhaps she even took a
certain pleasure in managing it Even Alyssa wasn't fully aware of the
hidden smile that played in her eyes these days when she took on the
challenge of juggling her two lives.
The excitement of her new, secret world had put a flare of energy into
her life and a subtle recklessness into her way of looking at things.
Until this weekend, however, she had thought she had both under full
control. Jordan Kyle had taught her differently. He had materialized
out of her fantasy and had at once made it far more real and therefore
more dangerous than she would have dreamed possible.
What did he really think of her? The world of gambling was still
largely a man's world. When women played, for example, it was assumed
they played with some man's money. No Las Vegas gentleman would be so
ungallant as to allow a woman companion to risk her own money! The
attitude toward women in places like Las Vegas and Reno was as
traditional and conservative as that of mythical small-town America.
Women fit either into the category of showgirl-hustler or wife-mother.
A woman who manipulated the world of gambling, who dealt with it on its
own terms and won, would have been almost impossible for either the
gambling establishment or most men, in general, to understand. And if
they did understand, they would have invariably seen her as a threat
But Jordan Kyle had been the exception. Was that why she had found
herself so easily seduced by
him? He had admired her ability. Alyssa closed her eyes, trying to sort
out her memories of the weekend. There had been an incredible
enticement in the knowledge that he had known from the first exactly
what she was doing and had fully appreciated her peculiar "talent" When
his own talent had proved to run along exactly the same lines, she had
been fascinated. Together they were like a pair of mathematical
magicians sharing secrets no one else knew.
Added to the intellectual attraction had been a level of passion
utterly new to her. Never had she known the sheer, raging excitement
she had discovered in the arms of her golden-eyed gambler.
And because of that combination of irresistible lures, Alyssa knew she
wanted to return to Las Vegas the following weekend.
The dinner party on Friday night, however, was important in her other
life, her real life. It was important career-wise because she would be
entertaining her boss and his wife among others, and it was important
socially because she would be seeing friends, maintaining a normal
round of activities for herself.
For what she had found in Las Vegas was an alluring illusion that must
not be allowed to interfere with the reality of her weekday world. If
It did, it would destroy that world. And she had worked so long and so
hard . . .
She sighed, leaning back in the seat and resting her hand protectively
on the zipper bag that contained her winnings from the past few days.
She would have to phone Jordan and explain that she would not be on the
Friday-night flight, after all. But there shouldn't be much problem in
booking a Saturday-morning flight, she reassured herself.
Alyssa was exhausted by the time she located her small compact car at
the L.A. airport and drove home to Ventura. The pleasant town on the
California coast between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara had been home to
her now for the past four years, ever since she had accepted the
position with Yeoman Research. She had been lucky enough to find a
beach-front house to rent Her present salary was high enough now to
allow her to afford the luxury.
Someday that salary would be high enough to allow her to buy the red
Porsche, too, she reminded herself wryly as she parked the compact in
the garage and slowly climbed out If she got that promotion, for
example, she might be able to make the down payment But it had proved
more interesting to acquire the Porsche with gambling winnings.
The automatic garage door mechanism hissed the door shut behind her as
she let herself into the small, neat house through the kitchen
entrance. The cottage faced the sea, and on clear days one could see
the Channel Islands just off shore.
She had taken full advantage of the view, orienting the furniture
around it The beach-front atmosphere had been maintained with a color
scheme of white and yellow and natural woods. Luxuriantly green

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