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Where was Ms. Fortune when he needed her?
Devlin Campbell studied his surroundings, his equilibrium challenged by the garish neon lights and incessant slotmachine noise. This time he couldn't win at the blackjack table, not one hand. He wasn't superstitious, wasn't blaming his losses on his former lucky charm not being at his side. He knew it was, instead, that sly culprit, jet lag.
And so instead of focusing on the cards, he found himself watching the people milling around, even though there was no reason to continually search the casino for her Ms. Fortune. Nicole. After all, he'd met her on the other side of the country, ships passing in the nightor more appropriately in this case, ports in a storm, finding comfort and refuge in each other's arms for reasons neither of them had confided. He hadn't experienced another night like it, before or since, although he'd gone back twice, hoping
Yeah, jet lag. With the three-hour time difference in Philadelphia, he'd already put in a full day. Not to mention the fourteen-hour days he'd been working the past month in preparation for this trip.
Dev watched the dealer dispense the cards, then turn up a king for himself. Dev looked at his handseven and five.
He didn't know why he'd come to the casino in the first place. The refrigerator at the lodge where he was supposed to stay had been stocked by an attractive, efficient young woman named Mary, who'd met him with a key dangling off an ornate keychain. He could've heated up one of the meals from a local restaurant she'd thoughtfully provided, then gone to bed. Instead he hadn't even unpacked, hadn't taken time to tour the spectacular log house.
"Hit or stay, sir?" the dealer asked, awaiting Dev's decision.
He signaled for a hit. A queen landed on his cards. Twentytwo. Loser. It wasn't a word associated with the name Devlin Campbell. Ever.
Dev scooped up his few remaining chips and left the table, in need of food. He'd spotted a sports bar earlier where he could order from the bar. He would eat something quick and simple, then go back to the lodge and sleep for at least twelve hours.
The televisions were tuned to a baseball game between his beloved Phillies and the San Francisco Giants. He ordered a beer and checked out the menu, deciding on a burger and fries. He lifted the frosty glass set before him and scanned the room. A woman walked past the entrance. A woman wearing a Sterling Palace uniform. A woman who reminded him of
Beer sloshed over his hand as he thumped his glass onto the bar, then rushed out. He could see her maybe twenty feet ahead, moving at a quick, steady pace. The same long, shiny, legs that had wrapped around him and held tight.
"Nicole!" he called.
She turned, looked straight at him, hesitated, then picked up speed. What the hell? She was trying to get away? Why? He posed no threat. He hadn't even learned her last name. Not that it mattered, since he hadn't been on a second date or spent a second night with a woman in the past couple of years, no matter how beautiful or sexy.
Except he'd wanted to have a second night with Nicole, who had been one passionate handful, as intense as he, assertive and demanding in a way that had made him forget everything else that night.
Even the letter.
He caught up with her, cupped her elbow. She had no choice but to stop.
"Are you in training for a marathon?" he asked. His gaze slid to her name badge: Nicole, Sacramento, California. He'd had no idea she was an employee of the Palace. She hadn't been wearing a uniform when they met, but jeans, a dark sweater and boots with heels high enough to bring her close to his height. He'd tugged them off her, then her jeans, exposing knock-out legs
"Oh, hi," she said. "Um "
"Devlin," he supplied, surprised. She'd forgotten? "January? Atlantic City?"
She tugged her jacket together, freeing herself of his grip at the same time. She was even more voluptuous than he recalled. His memory hadn't failed him. And he definitely wanted a repeat of their night in Atlantic City.
"I remember," she said, finally smiling a little but, like the first time they'd met, the smile not reaching her eyes.
"You work here," he said, looking again at her name badge.
"I'm an assistant manager for the hotel."
"Were you employed by the Palace in when we met in January?"
"Yes, for the hotel, as head reservations clerk. I wasn't on duty when we that night. I transferred here to Tahoe two months ago."
She gave the information reluctantly and barely made eye contact.
Both intrigued and irritated, he said, "Have dinner with me." "I'm working." She glanced around, as if seeking someone to come to her rescue, a bit of panic in her eyes.
Surely she wasn't afraid of him, not after the night they'd shared. "When do you get off?"
She finally looked him in the eyes, perhaps concluding he wouldn't back down, although nothing in her demeanor indicated she was backing down, either. "At nine."
Less than an hour. His jet lag vanished at the anticipation. "I'll wait for you."
"Please, don't." She took a step back. "Please. I have to go."
Dev let her leave. He returned to the bar just as his food was being set on the counter.
There was something to be said for timing. Food first, then Nicole.
She wouldn't get far.
He knew where to find her.
Nicole didn't know for sure that Devlin hadn't trailed her until she slipped behind the front desk and turned around. Holding her breath, she scanned the crowd. He hadn't followed.
She slipped into an empty office and shut the door, leaning against the wall beside it, one hand pressed to her mouth, one to her stomach. Light-headed, she made her way to a chair and dropped into it.
What was he doing here?
What was she going to do?
Nicole stared into space until the room came into focus. After a minute she typed his name into the computer on the desk, accessing the reservations data base. No Devlin Campbell. So he wasn't a guest. Not yet, anyway. Why was he here? Where was he staying?
For how long?
One of the front-desk clerks, Ann-Marie, came up to the window and made a face. Nicole tried to smile. The clerk opened the door and leaned in.
"Are you okay, Nic?"
I am far from okay. I am worried. And I am scared. "I'm fine, thanks."
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
Devlin Campbell was a vision, all right, but completely earthbound. Tall, dark and handsome. High-society born and old-money richthings she'd learned about him after their night together.
"Did you need something, Ann-Marie?" Nicole saw her recoil. She moved toward the twenty-three-year-old trainee. "I didn't mean to be so abrupt. I guess I don't really feel well, after all."
"Maybe you should just go home."
Nicole was proud that she hadn't missed even an hour of work and had no intention of starting now. Anyway, she couldn't. She was filling in for someone who'd needed to come to work an hour late. She could manage another fortyfive minutes.
Under normal circumstances, she would've been gone by now, would not have run into Devlin. Once again the hands of fate had grabbed hold of her and not let go. It was too soon. She wasn't ready
She smiled at Ann-Marie. "I'll be okay until the end of the shift."
The bubbly blonde smiled back and returned to the desk. Nicole followed. It was Tuesday night. The chances of there being a rush on rooms was slim, although the possibility that Devlin might want one kept her milling around the desk, waiting.
A few minutes before nine, he approached, pointing toward a place where they could talk without being overheard. "If not dinner, then a drink?" he asked.
She shook her head, made herself smile. "I'll be here every night until you say yes."
Every night? Just how long"Are you here on business?" "I'm not sure how to answer that. It's supposed to be pleasure, but it's someone else's definition of pleasure. I'll be here for a month."
A month! She gripped the counter. Everything would be different in a month. Now what? What should she tell him? And when? She needed to figure out what to say.
But not tonight. Not tonight. Tomorrow would be soon enough. Nothing would change in that time.
"Do you need a ride home?" he asked.
"I have my own car, thanks."
"I'll walk you to it." His tone was more order than offer. She'd never responded well to orders. "I have something to do first. I'm sure we'll cross paths another time." Take a hint, Mr. Campbell. You are dismissed. She turned away, took a few steps.
"What are you afraid of, Nicole?" he asked, his voice carrying enough that Ann-Marie looked in their direction.
She stalked back to him. "Why are you pressuring me?" she whispered harshly.
"That was a helluva night we spent together."
So. He was looking for an encore. What had she expected? Love at first sight? "That was then. Good night." She walked away, taking refuge in the office again and watching the lobby through the window. Seconds later she saw him head toward the parking lot exit.
Someone waved a hand up and down in front of the window then stepped into view. She focused abruptly on the man standing on the other side of the door, grinning.
She grinned back. Who could resist? Juan Torres was the sweetest man on the face of the earth. She opened the door.
"Thanks so much for staying the extra hour," Juan said as he pinned his assistant manager badge onto his jacket.
"I owe you."
"I'm sure I'll be calling in the marker." She handed him a sheet listing the problems that had arisen during her shift, then pointed to one in particular. "The guest in 1015 has changed rooms three times since he got here at six o'clock."
"What's his problem?" "Room's too close to the elevators. View's lousy. Noisy neighbors."
"Ah. The usual. Trying to get us to comp him."
She started to answer, then saw Mr. Room 1015 approaching the desk, his stare steely, his stride determined, obviously back for round four. "Saved by the time clock," Nicole murmured with relief. "See you tomorrow, Juan."
Nicole grabbed her purse and called a good-night to the front-desk personnel, glad to be on her way home. She needed to be alone, to think. To come up with the right words to say to Devlin Campbell.
"Wait," Ann-Marie said, hurrying to catch up, then matching her stride. "I want to make sure you get to your car okay."
Nicole couldn't help but smile. Ann-Marie was five years younger, yet she was mothering Nicole. "I'm fine." She set a hand on her belly, emphasizing her point. "We're fine."
"Humor me. I'm headed your way, anyway."
A few seconds later they reached the exit door to the parking lot. Devlin stepped in front of her, startling her, blocking the exit. His green eyes cold and hard, he stared into hers, then dropped his gaze to her belly.
"Um, you go ahead," she said to Ann-Marie, who looked back and forth between Nicole and Devlin.
"Are you sure? I mean"
"It's fine. I'll see you tomorrow." Nicole motioned AnnMarie toward the door, then waited for Devlin to speak, aiming for calm, but failing. Fate. She couldn't seem to escape this man.
He moved closer. "Is it mine?"