Read Gambler's Woman Online

Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

Gambler's Woman (9 page)

"It's not as if the great love affair of the century has come to an
end," she scolded herself forcefully as
she prepared the papaya, avocado and artichoke salad. "You only had one
weekend with the man. For heaven's sake, you should be thanking your
lucky stars that it didn't go beyond a single weekend!"
But there was no point thanking one's lucky stars when one didn't
really believe in luck. Alyssa set the plates and silver on the serving
table, arranging the Sonoma County Chardonnay and the Napa Valley
Merlot wine bottles attractively behind the glassware.
Jordan believed in luck. Gritting her teeth, Alyssa remembered the way
he had told her to drop the
quarter in the slot machine that first night. He'd said something about
believing in luck when one had
been in his world as long as he had. He must have been feeling lucky to
have picked up a woman so easily for the weekend. No doubt his luck had
been just as good Sunday night after she'd left!
The chafing dish was ready for the pasta and smoked salmon dish, and
the mushroom tart looked delicious, Alyssa surveyed the final
preparations and was unable to summon up the satisfaction she
ought to have been feeling. All she could think about was the anger
that grew steadily inside her.
Visions of Jordan with another woman, one who had made him decide to
ignore his original plans
for this weekend, flitted through her mind.
Damn it, she ought to be grateful!
Grateful!
Think how much worse she would have felt if she'd spent another weekend
with him and then realized how faithless he was! This way at least
she'd been warned
in time to cancel her return flight. What would she have done if she'd
arrived at the airport in Las Vegas this evening and found no one
waiting for her? Alyssa winced and went into the kitchen to heat the
crusty French bread.
Half an hour before her guests began arriving, Alyssa dressed, not
really thinking about what she chose from her closet. The blouse was
beautifully pleated down the front and along the full, full sleeves. It
was of white silk with a neat black collar and wide black cuffs.
Automatically, she slipped on black velvet trousers with a high waist
that defined her slenderness and a pair of small, black patent-leather
slippers. With her hair brushed into two shining auburn curves that
framed her face, she turned once to glance in the mirror. Her thoughts
were so full of the pain and outrage she felt that she missed entirely
the effect she made in the mirror. For with the dashing black and white
outfit, she had managed to create unconsciously a charming parody of a
casino dealer's uniform, right down to the neat black bow tie.
The guests began arriving early. Alyssa was glad
to see the
first of her coworkers
arrive because it gave her an excuse to throw herself into being the
perfect hostess.
"I told Alice I wanted to
get here
early so we could see the sunset." Dirk Banning grinned as he escorted
his attractive, middle-aged wife out onto the front porch.
"This house is made for summer-evening entertaining!" Alice exclaimed,
charmed by the sight of beach
and sky. Alyssa graciously put a drink in the woman's hand and made a
polite remark.
The house was perfect for entertaining, she thought a few minutes later
as the others arrived and immediately gravitated toward the porch with
its spectacular ocean view. People loved the open vista,
and the restless sea seemed to inspire conversation and a convivial
atmosphere. With the assistance of
the setting and a determined effort on her part, no one would guess the
rage that seethed inside her.
Her boss, David McGregor, handsome still at sixty-three, arrived
accompanied by the gracious, silver-haired woman who was his wife.
Alyssa was in the process of greeting them both in the open doorway
when she glanced up and saw the last couple arriving. The gleam of
feminine hatred in Cari Davis's eyes as she came up the steps beside
her husband, Hugh, caught Alyssa totally off guard
She had only a few seconds in which to be sure of the expression in the
other woman's face, and then
it was gone, hidden behind a beautiful mask. No one else even noticed.
Almost immediately, David McGregor was turning to greet his other
employee, his jovial attitude giving no indication of whether he
favored Aiyssa or Hugh for the promotion that was in the offing. Years
of experience in the world of corporate management had given McGregor a
polish that completely belied the ruthless ability
underneath. At this stage of the game, no one would be able to hazard a
guess as to which of the two
he would ultimately recommend for the open managerial slot
Under cover of the flurry of polite greetings, Cari Davis turned to
smile at her hostess. Only Alyssa seemed to realize that the smile
never reached the other woman's eyes. "Covering all the angles,
are you?"
"I beg your pardon?" Alyssa glanced at her blankly, not understanding
the waves of cold dislike
emanating from the other woman.
"Oh, I was just referring to the fact that you're making sure your
future career is well protected
regardless of whether it's Hugh or yourself who gets the promotion,"
Cari retorted lightly, turning
back to smile brilliantly up at McGregor.
Alyssa remembered to close her mouth just as Mildred McGregor said
something about the view.
"You're just in time for the sunset," Alyssa told the other woman
quickly. "Let me get you a drink
before you go out onto the porch. What will you have?" My God, she
thought as she poured the requested drink, Cari Davis must be very
anxious for her husband to gain that promotion. So anxious
that she suddenly hated Alyssa? They had never been close friends, but
there had always been conventional politeness between them on the
various occasions when they came into contact with each other. Never
had she been aware of such outright dislike on the part of the other
woman.
Clearly, she was going to have to tread warily, Alyssa decided as she
shepherded the last of her guests
out onto the porch and passed around a plate of cream cheese and
chutney canapes. She had no wish
to become embroiled in an embarrassing skirmish with Hugh Davis's wife!
She was deeply involved in a discussion with Mildred McGregor on the
care and feeding of ferns when the doorbell chimed one last time.
"Excuse me." She smiled politely, stepping back into the living room
and heading for the door, a tiny frown drawing her auburn brows
together. Everyone she had invited had already arrived. Surely a
neighbor wasn't complaining about the noise already?
"I'm sorry if we're disturbing—" Alyssa began brightly as she flung
open the door. But the remainder
of the automatic apology died on her lips as she stared up at the
apparition on her doorstep.
"Jordan!" she exclaimed, stunned.
"Good evening, Alyssa," he murmured in a dangerously polite voice.
"Don't stand there looking as if you've just seen a ghost, sweetheart.
Didn't I warn you once not to make the mistake of thinking I
was an illusion?"
He was, she realized belatedly, quite furious.
Five
"Didn't you . . ." Alyssa delicately moistened her dry lips with the
tip of her tongue and tried again. "Didn't you get my message?"
She didn't seem to be able to move, her hand clutching the edge of the
door for support. He stood in
front of her, all dark, masculine intimidation in a black suede jacket,
dark slacks and black shirt The brown hair seemed almost black, too, in
the fading light, and the golden eyes gleamed like those of a hunting
cat at night. Alyssa's first instinct was to run, just as she would
have run from a real night prowler.
"Of course 1 got your message," Jordan growled gently, stepping over
the threshold and forcing her
back a couple of paces. "That's why I'm here instead of waiting for you
at the Las Vegas airport."
"Jordan, I don't understand." Alyssa's head moved in unconscious denial
of his very real presence.
"You never phoned back. I expected you to call after you got my
message." Eyes wide and anxious,
she stared up at him, seeking some sort of explanation.
Jordan put out a hand, and his strong, aware fingers stroked the line
of her throat once. "I didn't call,"
he explained with cool precision, "because what I really wanted to do
was beat you senseless after I got that message. The telephone simply
wasn't adequate for a full expression of the way I was feeling."
"Jordan!"
"I waited until I had overcome the urge to strangle you before I
decided what to do next I told myself
that I should just forget about you, that a woman who casually
remembered 'previous engagements'
after making a date with a man wasn't worth beating, let alone
pursuing."
"But I wasn't trying to change my mind about the weekend!"
"When I cooled down a little and had a chance to think things over, I
began to realize what was really going on in your head," he continued
in a dark, quiet, utterly relentless tone. "And that's why I'm here
tonight."
"I don't understand," she wailed, feeling threatened and intimidated
and generally abused when by all rights she should have been the one
demanding explanations. "If you think you're going to get away
with beating me—"
"That part might or might not come later," he advised laconically, his
eyes flickering over her speculatively. "Depending on how I feel after
I've taken you to bed!"
"Jordan, this is ridiculous. I can't stand here listening to you make
threats! I'm entertaining my boss and my coworkers this evening!"
Alyssa gasped. Take her to bed? "You're supposed to be in Las Vegas,"
she wound up uncomprehendingly. And that was where he was supposed to
make love to her. Las
Vegas. Not here in her home in Ventura! Not here in her other Me.
"Ah, yes, the 'previous engagement,' I presume?" he drawled, glancing
out through the open windows at the crowd of people hovering cheerfully
on her porch.
"It wasn't a lie," she defended herself hotly. "I'd had this buffet
planned for two weeks. I simply forgot about it when I was getting
ready to leave Las Vegas last weekend. I phoned you as soon as I could
to explain, but you were very difficult to get hold of!"
"I was busy," he retorted simply.
"I'll bet!"
"Exactly what I was doing. Betting. It's my profession, remember? But
you were busy remembering that you have another life and other
commitments that come before an affair with a man you met one weekend
in Las Vegas, weren't you?"
"Jordan, it was the truth! I didn't just dream up this buffet party on
Monday morning as an excuse not to go back to Vegas tonight!"
"No, I believe you," he gritted, and then went on perceptively. "I'm
sure this party was planned long in advance and it really did just slip
your mind for a while. But you remembered as soon as you got back here
because this is where the most important part of your life takes place,
isn't it, Alyssa? This is your real world. You just come to Vegas to
play once in a while, but you always hurry back home to your job and
your friends and your 'previous commitments' when you've finished
playing. Only this time you made a mistake, sweetheart This time you
left behind a man who doesn't want to be a weekend playmate for you.
I'm not going to let you casually adjust your time with me so that it
doesn't conflict with your 'previous engagements.'"
"Will you stop saying that!"
"Previous engagements? They're your words, remember? They were on the
note you had the hotel clerk give me."
"Can't we talk about this later?" Alyssa pleaded helplessly, feeling at
a total loss. She had been priding herself on how well she could juggle
her two separate worlds, but now they had collided, and she didn't know
what to do.
"Sure," he shot back with caustic indifference. "We can talk about it
after dinner." He glanced toward
the buffet "What is for dinner, by the way? I'm starving."
"Jordan," she squeaked. "You can't stay here for dinner! I've got my
boss and everyone I work with out there on that porch!"
"Not anymore." He smiled blandly, glancing past her shoulder toward
open sliding-glass doors. "One of them has just come inside. Good
evening," he went on politely to someone standing behind her. "I'm
Jordan Kyle. I appear to be the late arrival."
"You're in luck," David McGregor proclaimed jovially as he came forward
to shake the newcomer's
hand. "We've barely begun to make inroads on Alyssa's terrific food.
David McGregor. I'm Alyssa's
boss at Yeoman Research."
For an instant of endless vertigo, Alyssa watched in horror as Jordan
and her boss shook hands. It had happened. Her fantasy life and her
real life had met. My God, she thought dazedly. What have I done?
Visions of her career going down in flames left her momentarily
paralyzed. If McGregor realized he was greeting a professional gambler
and that Alyssa had spent a weekend with him in Las Vegas . . . that
she had spent several weekends in Vegas . . .
Desperately, she pushed aside the image of mounting disaster. Nothing
short of sheer inspiration would save her now. To her unending
astonishment, it came.
"I'm so glad you could make it, after all, Jordan," she managed with a
brilliant smile that would have
done credit to a professional actress. "I know Mr. McGregor and the
others will enjoy meeting you."
She turned away from the wicked light in Jordan's golden eyes to say
very brightly to her boss, "Jordan's a very busy man, and I was afraid
he wouldn't be able to get here. An expert in probability theory, you
know. One of the best in his field. I'm sure you'll enjoy talking to
him. He's been recently engaged in a hush-hush research project over in
Nevada."
"Oh, so you're in the same field as Alyssa, are you?" David McGregor
nodded wisely at the younger man.
"Why, yes, as a matter of fact," Jordan returned smoothly, his gleaming
gaze still on Alyssa's desperately composed features. "We have several
parallel interests."
Oh, God. Was that a promise of vengeance she saw in that threatening
gaze? "Wouldn't you like a drink, Jordan?" Anything to distract him,
even temporarily. "Come on into the kitchen and I'll fix you something."
"That sounds delightful. It's been a rather long and extremely
frustrating week." Jordan murmured.
"I know the kind," David said with a chuckle. "I'll see you out on the
porch after Alyssa gets your drink for you, Jordan. Hurry. You don't
want to miss the sunset.  She's got a fabulous view from here."
"I'll be right there," Jordan promised, glancing with polite invitation
toward his reluctant hostess.
"Perhaps a Scotch and soda?" he prompted a little too gently.
Wordlessly, Alyssa swung around and made for the kitchen bar she had
set up for the evening. When
she reached for the bottle of Scotch, however, her fingers trembled,
and Jordan reached across the low counter to take it firmly from her
hand.
"An excellent brand," he approved, pouring a generous drink for
himself. "And since I'm not working
this evening, there's no reason I shouldn't enjoy myself along with the
rest of your guests." He glanced
up challengingly. "Is there? Being, as I am, one of the most respected
men in my field." He lifted the
glass in salute and downed a healthy swallow.
Alyssa licked her lips once, trying to think. "Jordan, you must see
that this is going to be awfully
awkward for both of us."
"Not at all. I'm beginning to look forward to the remainder of the
evening. Now, if you'll excuse me,
I think I will go out and join your other guests. Wouldn't want to miss
that sunset."
"Jordan . . . !" she called after him anxiously, but it was too late.
With a soft, gliding stride, he was already halfway across the living
room, heading for the porch. Helplessly, Alyssa stared after him and
then reluctantly followed. What else could she do? She didn't know
Jordan Kyle well enough to even make a guess at what he would do out
there on her porch. It was rather like turning a wolf loose among
a bunch of conservative sheep.
By the time she reached the porch herself, Jordan was already back into
conversation with David McGregor and his wife. In addition, David was
cheerfully introducing him to others. Alyssa cringed inwardly as she
heard the words "probability theory expert," and then her attention was
being captured
by Cari Davis.
"Not putting all your eggs in one basket, I see," Cari murmured with a
smile that would have frozen hydrogen. "Very wise. But, then, being a
professional
woman, I'm sure you've
had plenty of experience
at this sort of thing."
"I beg your pardon?" Blankly, her mind still on Jordan, Alyssa stared
at her guest.
"I'm talking about your charming Mr. Kyle, of course. Always wise to
keep a couple of men on the line
at the same time, I imagine." Before Alyssa could ask her what she was
talking about, Cari had moved
off to join another group of guests.
Reality was turning into a crazy nightmare.
Unable to think of anything else to do, Alyssa grabbed a platter of
canapes' and headed grimly for the nearest cluster of people. For the
next several minutes, she made herself act the part of the perfect
hostess, trying desperately to keep her anxious gaze from veering
toward the knot of people around Jordan Kyle.
"Oh, Alyssa." Mildred McGregor smiled, coming up behind her and
reaching politely for a canape.
"There you are. I've been looking for you. I've just met your charming
Jordan. Fascinating man. Who would have thought a professional
mathematician could be so interesting? I must say, when I was in
school, I avoided the subject like the plague. Strictly the liberal
arts type. But your Jordan is very intriguing. And so amusing!"
"Amusing?" Alyssa repeated weakly. Almost simultaneously, there came a
burst of delighted laughter from the group near Jordan, and she swung
around nervously to stare at the far end of the porch.
"Yes, indeed. He's recently finished an overseas assignment,
apparently, and he has some wonderful stories to relate. Excuse me, I
must be getting back. Love these tidbits," she added, holding aloft the
canape she had just taken from Alyssa's tray.
What in the world did Jordan think he was doing? Alyssa stood, tray in
hand, and stared at his dark
head, bent attentively toward Lucy Chavez from the personnel
department. Several other people stood around, too, and they ail
laughed again as Jordan responded to something the attractive young
brunette said. Good grief! He was rapidly becoming the life of the
party!
For the next hour, Alyssa felt as if she were walking a tightrope. The
strain of waiting for imminent disaster was almost worse than the
catastrophe itself would be when it finally arrived, she told herself.
Trie suspense continued as she circulated among her guests,
replenishing drinks and joining in the light conversation that
characterized such events. Always she was conscious of Jordan's
presence, waiting
for the truth to come out and appall everyone. In her growing anxiety,
she found herself reaching for a third glass of wine before she
remembered to announce dinner.
"Please help yourselves," she instructed with false cheerfulness as the
happy group began to troop
toward the buffet table. Jordan was among those choosing plates and a
napkinful of silverware, she realized grimly. He was playing his new
role to the hilt!
The last to go through the buffet line, Alyssa found it extremely
difficult to work up any enthusiasm for the pasta and salmon dish or
the mushroom tart. She took a little salad on her plate and was
reluctantly adding a chunk of crusty French bread when Jordan's smooth,
dark drawl made her whirl around.
"Let me get you a glass of wine to go with that, Alyssa," he murmured,
holding his full plate in one
hand and deftly pouring out some chilled Sonoma County Chardonnay with
the other. She found
herself watching with mesmerized fascination. Such skilled, knowing
hands. The memories returned in full force. "Something wrong,
sweetheart?" Jordan inquired blandiy, handing her the glass. "You're
blushing."
"No, no, nothing. Jordan, please," she hissed, "what do you think
you're doing?"
"Having a good time." He paused as if considering his own words. "Make
that a very good time. I can't remember ever having attended a party
quite like this one."
"Like this one? That doesn't make any sense! This is a perfectly
normal, perfectly routine sort of buffet dinner party!"
"For you. Not for me." He smiled to himself, glancing around the room.
"All these people have respectable, well-paying careers with fringe
benefits and retirement plans and medical insurance. And
they think I'm one of them, thanks to you. In fact, thanks to you, they
think I'm a leader in my fteid."
"What in the world are you talking about? Jordan, I don't understand
you. How much longer are you going to go on like this?" She pleaded
with her eyes, desperate for some clue as to when he would say
the words that would ruin the evening and her career.
"I'm enjoying myself, honey. Don't you like to have your guests enjoy
themselves? Now why don't
you come on over to the couch and we'll have our dinner together." He
sniffed appreciatively. "Smells delicious. Your talents seem to be
quite endless."
There was nothing else to do but follow him over to the white couch and
join several other guests who had settled in the vicinity.

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