plants cascaded from ceiling hangers and filled every available corner. Blinds with elegantly thin slats could be rolled down to protect the interior from summer-afternoon heat Tired and knowing she had a busy day ahead of her in the morning, Alyssa automatically checked locks and lights and then made her way into the bedroom. Tomorrow she would take her money down to the bank, and tomorrow evening she would call the hotel in Las Vegas and explain to Jordan why she would be a day late arriving. Her own ready acceptance of the affair into which she had plunged so heedlessly still left her feeling strangely out of tune with herself. But as she crawled into bed that night, Alyssa knew she had every intention of being on the Saturday-morning plane to Vegas. The lure of Jordan Kyle was more than she could withstand. Sleep that night brought visions of a golden-eyed man with wonderfully sensitive hands, and Alyssa gave herself up to the dream as she had given herself up to the man.
* * *
The world she chose to think of as "real" resumed with an unappealing rush the next day as Alyssa walked into her office and found Hugh Davis using her personal hotpot to heat water for his morning coffee. It wasn't that Alyssa was at all selfish with the hotpot. She wasn't. She just didn't particularly care for Hugh Davis. That he was the only other contender for the promotion she was seeking made her feel guilty for not liking him, however, and she silently gritted her teeth and smiled. "Good morning, Hugh. Is the office pot broken again?" She nonchalantly stuffed the purse containing the thousand dollars into the lowest drawer of her desk, hoping she wasn't drawing undue attention to it, and slipped into her seat The neat summer-weight suit in honey beige that she wore accented not only her slendemess but also her professional image. Her auburn hair was smoothed away from her face and held with two tortoise-shell clips behind her ears. She looked crisp and businesslike, the mysterious side of her that she took to Las Vegas well hidden. Hugh Davis swung around slowly, pouring hot water into his cup as he turned to favor her with one of his sexiest smiles. At least, Alyssa thought, he obviously considered it sexy. For her part, she found it weak and superficial, just as she found the man. His pretty blonde wife, Cari, was welcome to him. Unfortunately for her sake, Alyssa wasn't too sure how much of him Cari actually got Hugh Davis, according to the latest office gossip, was having an affair. No one knew with whom. With his tawny California handsomeness, Hugh no doubt found it relatively easy to attract women. He could be charming, had style and was definitely upwardly mobile. The combination was a natural winner in California. "Morning, Alyssa. Nope, the office pot's not broken, but you know it never really boils the water properly, just gets it hot I like it boiling for tea. I knew you wouldn't mind if I borrowed yours. How was your weekend?" Alyssa hoped her involuntary flinch didn't show. She was going to have to get used to the automatic Monday morning question. Everyone inquired politely after everyone else's weekend "Just fine," she returned brightly. "How about yours?" "Oh, fine, fine. Went sailing," Hugh replied absently, setting down the pot Alyssa had begun to distrust the speculative look in his eye that seemed to appear there more and more frequently when he happened to glance in her direction. She hoped he wasn't considering the prospect of making a pass at her. "McGregor's going to want the final results of that statistical analysis we did for the new generation of transistors we tested last week. The client is expecting the results tomorrow," Alyssa reminded him in an effort to keep the conversation on a business footing. "The data's ready to go into the computer. We should have it run by this afternoon." Hugh shrugged. "What time do you want to go over the results with me?" Alyssa stifled a sigh and tapped her pencil impatiently on her desk. There was nothing she could do to avoid the consultation, of course. They had worked on the project together, and they would have to package the final report together. "How about three o'clock?" "Sure. Unless you'd rather do it this evening after work?" he offered with an ingratiating smile that thoroughly annoyed her. "I prefer to get my work done during working hours," she returned sweetly. "Ah, but budding managerial talent should make it dear to the boss that overtime is accepted, even welcomed. Managing isn't supposed to be a nine-to-five job, remember," he taunted lightly. "I'll leave it to you to pursue that theory. I happen to believe that one of the signs of good management is getting the work done on time without having to put in extensive overtime!" "Well, we'll just have to see which of us is taking the right tack for impressing McGregor, won't we?" Hugh drawled, sauntering toward the door. "Don't worry, Alyssa, when I get the promotion, I'll remember your attitude toward working outside regular hours," he promised kindly as he let himself out of her office. Alyssa frowned thoughtfully at the closed door. As usual, she couldn't be sure if Hugh was only teasing or really up to something. The man might be shallow and superficial in some ways, but there was no doubt in her mind that he was quite devious. She wished she hadn't felt obliged to invite him for Friday night But if she had not invited Hugh and his wife, the rest of her office friends would wonder if she was deliberately excluding them because of the competition for the promotion. Ah, the complications of running her real life, she thought with a half-humorous sigh. Deliberately, she pulled the computer printout on her desk toward her. Here was the true joy of her job, she thought with satisfaction. She could lose herself in the beauty of the math that awaited her. She didn't emerge from the intricacy of the mathematical model she was studying until noon, when, with secret satisfaction, she clutched her purse tightly all the way to the bank and deposited the thousand dollars. She saved the phone call to Las Vegas until that evening, after she had eaten a light meal of quiche and salad accompanied by a glass of chilled Chabiis. The thought of hearing Jordan's voice so soon brought a smile to her lips as she dialed the hotel number. The smile was gone a moment later as the front desk informed her that Mr. Kyle was not in his room. "May I take a message?" the polite voice on the other end inquired. "No, that's all right I'll call back later." He was probably at dinner, Alyssa decided, glancing at her watch. And after that he would hit the tables. Actually, he probably didn't spend much time in his room at all. If she didn't reach him when she tried later, she would have to leave a message and let him call her. Another attempt at nine o'clock also proved fruitless. She would try once more before she went to bed, Alyssa decided. She'd rather not leave a message if she could catch him in the room instead But the call before bedtime proved fruitless, too. Jordan must be out working. Well, she'd try again tomorrow evening. Two hours later, when her phone did ring, it brought her out of a sound sleep, but her head was already clearing as she picked up the receiver. Perhaps Jordan had decided to phone her? Coming wide awake at the thought, she answered eagerly. "Hello?" There was only a dead silence on the other end of the line. Disgustedly, Alyssa hung up and unplugged the phone. The last thing she wanted to be bothered with tonight was pranksters or obscene phone callers! With the phone out of commission, the rest of the night passed in blissful silence. The next evening, she dialed the hotel and automatically asked for Jordan's room by number. "I'm sorry, our records show that Mr. Kyle has checked out of that room, madam" was the polite response. "Checked out!" Surely he hadn't left Las Vegas? A chill of genuine fear went through her at the thought The idea of seeing Jordan Kyle again next weekend had become the focal point of her days and nights. Thoughts of the exciting fantasy waiting for her on the weekend made everything around her brighter and more enjoyable. It even made it possible to tolerate Hugh Davis! Now the promise of the waiting illusion was being sliced to shreds, and the sickening reaction Alyssa experienced in the pit of her stomach told her how important that illusion had become. Then a thought struck her just as the clerk was trying to say good-by. "No, wait! Please, could you check your guest list for Mr. Kyle's name? I realize he's checked out of that particular room, but there's a possibility he might have asked for another." "Very well, madam. One moment please." Alyssa chewed her lip anxiously during the long moment that ensued, praying her hunch was correct. Jordan couldn't have left. He just could not have left! He had to be there, waiting for her return. The realization of how damp her palms were and how fast her heart was beating was frightening. Until that moment, she hadn't fully acknowledged to herself how important her affair with Jordan Kyle was. What had happened to her? Not only had she become embroiled last weekend in what she would normally have characterized as the most tawdry of weekend arrangements, she was sitting there a nervous wreck over the possibility that she would not be able to repeat the arrangement next weekend! "Hello? Yes, we do show Mr. Kyle as having moved to another room. If you'll hold on, I'll connect you." Alyssa swallowed, feeling dizzy from relief. "Thank you." The words came out in a particularly heartfelt manner. Again, however, there was no answer, and this time Alyssa decided to try leaving a message. It would probably be easier for Jordan to get in touch with her, anyway. Their current working hours were making it too difficult to connect "Would you please leave a message for Mr. Kyle saying that Alyssa called and that she has remembered a previous engagement on Friday night. She'll arrive Saturday morning instead. He can call me at this number." Hurriedly, she rattled off her Ventura phone number and hung up. That should do the trick, she decided. Jordan would get her message and call to find out what had happened. She would explain about Friday night and tefl him how much she was looking forward to seeing him on Saturday. With a nod of satisfaction, Alyssa headed for bed with a biography of women mathematicians she had been reading. When the phone rang an hour and a half later, she was still reading, immersed in the story of Hypatia, a mathematical scholar in ancient Greece. Instantly, the excitement began to flare in her veins as Alyssa reached for the receiver. It died down to utter disgust as she once again was treated to a silent line. She was certain someone was listening on the other end, but not about to give whoever it was any encouragement, she unplugged the phone for the second night in a row. If this continued, she'd call the phone company. Determinedly, she went back to the biography of the brilliant Hypatia, who had turned down numerous offers of marriage by claiming she was already wedded to the truth. Being "wedded to the truth," however, apparently had not stopped her from engaging in several love affairs. Alyssa smiled to herself, reading between the lines as she looked back across the centuries. Hypatia had probably never married for the simple reason that she had never found a man who understood and appreciated her both mentally and physically and to whom she was equally attracted. Her scholarly work was renowned even during her own time, and Alyssa was enraged to discover that the poor woman had somehow become a political pawn between two rival factions and had been set upon and murdered by a street mob. Just before she slipped off to sleep that night, Alyssa wondered what Hypatia would have done if she'd been fortunate enough to encounter a true soul mate during her adventurous lifetime. No doubt she would have plunged headlong into an affair and, perhaps, even marriage. No, perhaps she wouldn't have gone quite as far as marriage. The higher levels of mathematics were undoubtedly demanding enough to preclude the need for a mate. Even at the modest level at which she worked, Alyssa could see how the study of mathematics could consume and involve the truly brilliant As good as she was at her own work and as intrigued as she could become by math in general, Alyssa knew she lacked that kind of ability and dedication. If the right soul mate came along for her, she might be willing to consider marriage again. Assuming, of course, she reminded herself dryly, that the soul mate was equally interested in the institution. Who was she kidding? Jordan Kyle had told her quite bluntly that men in his profession did not acquire wives and families. He ought to know by now. After all, he was nearly forty and had never married. And there was no question that marriage to a professional gambler would ruin her present career. On that unhappy note, Alyssa fell asleep. Jordan did not call back Wednesday evening. Alyssa waited until well after ten o'clock, and then she could stand the suspense no longer. Once more she dialed the Las Vegas hotel. She could only hope the desk clerk wouldn't recognize her voice or that she would be blessed with a different clerk. There was nothing more embarrassing than to have someone think you were chasing a man! "Yes, Miss Chandler. Mr. Kyle did pick up your message. We gave it to him late last night. Will there be anything else?" It was the same clerk, damn it! "No, no, that will be all." Feeling very wretched, Alyssa hung up the phone and sank back into the cushions of her white couch. Jordan had picked up her message the night before. He hadn't been able to reach her then because her phone was unplugged but why hadn't he called this evening? She was consumed with fresh fears and a host of new doubts. She knew so little about the man. What if he were involved with someone else tonight? Why should she think that a man who had lived so long in that night world wouldn't play by its rules and customs? Why should Jordan spend his evenings alone, waiting for her return? Las Vegas was a city of beautiful women. They flocked there to become showgirls, dancers, cocktail waitresses and hustlers. They came to attach themselves to the high rollers who could give them exotic presents and a sense of excitement Jordan Kyle would be a prize in that world. And he must be aware of that fact Winners were the ultimate heroes in Las Vegas, By Thursday evening, Alyssa had convinced herself Jordan had found someone else. She alternated between rage and despair. Why didn't he call? Her pride would not let her dial the number of the hotel one more time. On Friday morning, she told herself there was no way her pride would let her take that Saturday flight to Las Vegas, either. What a fool she had been! The dinner party that evening was to be a buffet Her boss and most of her coworkers had been invited. With her usual efficiency, Alyssa had done much of the preparation on Thursday evening, throwing herself into the project in an effort to erase her unhappiness over the ruined weekend. Friday afternoon, she teft work a little early to take care of the finishing touches.