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"One-fifty." Fin slid a stack of chips across black felt, the silver discs totaling $150,000. Shiny ebony coils, tamed at her nape by an elastic band, threatened to escape their confines. In the frigid air of the hotel suite, tendrils curved against a slash of cheekbone, the slope of a high, intelligent forehead. Absently, she brushed at the nuisance, her attention on the play of the hand.
Between her and the last two men at the table lay a queen of spades, a two of diamonds, and a nine of diamonds. And table stakes of fifteen million dollars. She'd already winnowed down the competition and collected most of the other players' money. Just two more to go. With a sleek smile, she nudged, "Bet's to you, Massimo."
"Grazie." The gorgeous Italian pushed in his chips, and the chandelier's light caught the platinum band on his wrist. A custom-made watch worth a small island. "I call."
"Calling, Massimo?" Don Harkleroad, an American oil magnate, chuckled. "Since you don't seem to have the stones for it, why don't I sweeten the pot for supper? Here's your one-fifty and another one-fifty to keep it interesting."
"Where exactly do you plan to eat?" Fin teased as she gave over more of the glittery silver. At her elbow, mounds of silver, bronze, and gold chips had been growing for several hours, but she cared only for those left to be earned. "Call."
With a broad wink, Don leered amiably. "Depends on where you let me take you after I clean the lint out of your purse, sugar."
"She already has dinner plans," Massimo corrected, his slick baritone a contrast to Don's Southern twang. "When I win this game, Fin has agreed tojoin me for a midnight supper aboard the Tesoro." He met the required bet and inclined his head toward the dealer. "Call."
"We'll have to see about that," Don challenged as he called and signaled for the turn card.
The dealer snapped the fourth card onto the table. "Seven of diamonds."
Fin glanced at the dealer's addition but kept her attention focused on her opponents. Massimo Duarte was absurdly rich, outrageously handsome, and undeniably sexy. It was at his invitation that she'd been allowed to sit at the Regents table in Cannes, to play in a game that had a waiting list of the world's wealthiest men. Women were rarely granted an audience, and then typically as dulcet cheerleaders draped artfully around the room as scenery.
She'd wheedled an invitation by flirting shamefully with Massimo, wearing him down across two continents. He'd finally given in and handed her a seat, which had provided her with one new fact about Massimo.
He was a lousy poker player.
His winnings had nearly evaporated, and he remained in the game based more on luck than skill. When the seven fell next to the flop, his winged ebony brows arched over dark eyes that danced with glee. Despite his drawn mouth and the somber expression he'd pasted on at the turn, the expressive eyes signaled satisfaction.
Fin figured Massimo was four cards into a possible diamond flush.
For his part, Don Harkleroad, a Mississippi mogul whose wealth came from a family diamond mine and a shrewd eye for mineral rights, played a more aggressive game. He had no obvious tells, no apparent weaknesses. And, if she wasn't mistaken, he held a pair he was trying to turn into trips.
Both studied her, doing as she had, trying to read the unreadable in the twitch of a mouth or the clench of a jaw. But they'd learn nothing from her she didn't intend to teach.
To string them out, Fin made a modest bet to follow. "Twenty-five." With reluctance, she pushed her chips into the pot.
"Cute." Snickering, Massimo shifted a hefty portion of his remaining chips to join her bet. "I raise two hundred."
"I've gotten bigger bites from a mosquito," derided Don. "Lady wants to play with the big boys, she'll have to risk some of those pretty coins she's been collecting. I'm raising y'all. Five hundred thousand."
A subtle flinch from Fin met his announcement. She pretended to hem, then gamely added her chips. "I call."
Not to be outdone, Massimo gritted his teeth. His allowance from his father would not be available for another few days. Already, he'd overspent. But he checked the dip of cleavage framed by black silk and thought of the woman known only as Fin sailing with him for a weekend on his yacht. Without silk or anything else. "Five dollars, five hundred thousand. It is only money." He shoved the chips into the center, the stack spilling. "All-in. Seven hundred and twenty-five thousand." Turning to Don, he goaded, "Is this big enough?"
Don shrugged as he met the challenge. "Work with what you've got, brother."
Taking a secret breath, Fin added her chips. "Let's see the river."
The river card landed beside the others. "Ten of hearts."
An Italian oath rose from the table, presaging the disgusted turn of Massimo's hole cards. Indeed, an ace of diamonds stared up impotently beside a queen of clubs. He held a pair, ace high, a poor showing and certain defeat.
Don, on the other hand, eagerly tossed in his pair of nines. "Three German Virgins, Massimo." He chortled, his hands reaching. "Reminds me that it's time to visit Berlin."
"Tut, tut." Fin swatted his hand lightly where it hovered over the pot. "I believe it's my turn." With a practiced flick of her wrist, she revealed an eight of diamonds and a jack of clubs. "Inside straight, Don."
"Well, I'll be double damned." He stared at the woman who'd just won the lion's share of fifteen million. His short stack had maybe another hand to play, but not nearly the chips he'd need to catch her. "You are a cool one, Fin. I'd heard stories, but hell if they weren't all true. Hard as nails, they say. And she'll drive one of 'em through your wallet and another through your heart."Deception. Copyright © by Selena Montgomery. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.