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"Craps!" the man dressed in too-tight black pants and a colorful vest with a bright red bowtie said. His expression remained dour, the way it had been for the last three hours since she'd been here.
Jade Vincent shifted. Her feet hurt. Whatever possessed her to wear slacks and pumps to a casino?
The man with the long black stick and the blank gray eyes leaned into the table, retrieving the dice—the ones that had just cost her another fifty dollars—and with a quick glance he handed them to her again.
Taking them out of his hand she looked down at the pile of chips that once represented all the free cash she had to spend—the entire three hundred and forty-two dollars.
What was she doing here?
The pale man waited for her to either roll the dice or walk away from the table.
Men, she thought with a heavy sigh. That was the simple answer to her latest dilemma. How a woman who graduated tops in her class from Harvard always managed to pick the worst men was an enigma to her. Her stomach twisted, her temples throbbing as chiming slot machines and hostesses with sing-song voices chanting "Coffee? Soda?" for the billionth time, echoed in her head. She didn't want to be here, didn't want to be in this desperate situation, but she'd never gotten what she wanted.
So with great reluctance and a silent prayer to the gods to shine favorably on her just this one time, she shook the dice in her hand then let them fall onto the green felt, watching eagerly as they tumbled and landed.
Her entire future rested on the roll of two red squares. Well, not her future. Noelle's future. Noelle Vincent, two years younger than Jade, average intelligence, a pretty face and a magnet for trouble. It was just three days ago that Noelle had come barging into Happy Hands, Jade's day spa, whining about some fiasco at the casino. Noelle, in her bubbly, never-worry-about-a-thing-because-my-big-sister-will-bail-me-out attitude, had sat in the steam bath and informed her older sister that she had ten days to come up with five thousand dollars or the owner of the Gramercy casino was going to have her thrown in jail. Jade hadn't had a moment's peace since then.
All Jade had ever wanted was to run her business and to lead a nice, quiet life.
Fate obviously had a different agenda. Since her grandmother's death a year and a half ago Jade's life had been full of drama and stress. With Noelle usually being the cause of them both. Still, it would be unfair to blame all her recent misfortune on Noelle. A good portion could be attributed to Charles Benson. He was the man she'd thought she loved. The man she was going to marry.
Jade had planned every tiny detail of the wedding even through the grief of losing her grandmother, knowing how much the thought of her being married to a good man would have made Grammy happy. She missed Grammy terribly but would be forever thankful for the inheritance she'd left her. With that money Jade had planned to open her day spa.
Jade was going to make something of herself. Something her mother couldn't do. She was determined to be successful. Lillian Vincent died from years and years of alcohol abuse when Jade was sixteen. That's when Jade and Noelle had moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, to live with Grammy. Grammy spent many a day drilling into her head the importance of being independent and not relying on anyone but herself. In turn, Jade was spending her days drilling the same thing into Noelle's thick skull. Jade had been smart enough to get into Harvard and even smarter to know that she'd only be happy running her own business. And with Grammy's inheritance she'd planned to do just that.
Grammy used to laugh and say, "All that money I put into your college education and you come back wanting to give people massages."
But it was so much more than that. Massage therapy provided an escape, a healing for the stressors of the world, and Jade knew all about stress. Her ultimate goal was to provide a haven for people to seek when things became too difficult to bear alone.
Too bad Charles had had other plans for the inheritance. He'd suggested they get a joint account for the wedding expenses. She'd taken that one step further and added his name to all her accounts. Grammy's college education really was wasted on her because that was a colossal mistake.
Charles broke off the engagement two days before the wedding via e-mail. Two weeks after that when she was ready to get on with her life, Jade waltzed into the bank with the intention of leaving with a cashier's check for the down payment on the little building she'd found just south of the Strip, only to be told that the account had been emptied.
Jade was used to the bad luck streak that seemed to follow her around like a bad odor but felt this time she'd hit an all-time low. Luckily, the incident with Charles thickened her skin. Her full-time job as manager of a boutique supported her goal until finally nine months ago she'd opened Happy Hands Day Spa. But she hadn't turned a profit yet. Her financial advisor continued to advise that she was on the right track and that most businesses weren't completely in the black until a year or so afterwards. She was content with that assessment.
At least she was until Noelle's latest dilemma.
He was rich.
He was successful.
He was bored out of his mind.
Lincoln Donovan groaned, walked to his desk and dropped into his chair. He needed some-thing...a woman perhaps? For almost six months he'd slept alone. He hadn't dated, hadn't kissed, hadn't so much as brushed up against a feminine body. But that was all by choice.
Work was great. After only five years the Gramercy was now a top contender with MGM Grand and the Bellagio. Who would have thought a then twenty-five-year-old novice could pull off such a feat?
He'd known all along it would be a success. He wouldn't have had it any other way. That was his ambition speaking. It wasn't for the money because he had enough of that by birthright. The oldest son of Henry and Beverly Donovan, the next in line to inherit millions through a long line of old family money, he didn't need anything. And it wasn't for the exposure, because he could do without his name routinely appearing in the local papers. It was about being a part of something, a vision, a plan that he'd come up with. It was about having a purpose. And all his life he'd seemed to have a purpose. At least until now.
Linc wasn't one to complain. For instance, when the Gramercy opened he'd been labeled Vegas'sYoungest Prince. By his second year he'd risen to the Hottest Bachelor. And just last year, with the help of his two younger brothers, he'd been dubbed the head of the Triple Threat Brothers.
Because they were rich, good-looking and single, the town had nothing better to do than stick a stupid label like that on him. Now every woman he so much as looked twice at believed she had his number and either ran quickly in the opposite direction to avoid the inevitable heartbreak or let the dollar signs rule over romantic thoughts and attempted to bleed him dry with mediocre sex and dull conversation.
No, he hadn't complained, he'd simply accepted it as fate and rolled with the punches. Now he felt as if he'd taken it long enough. There had to be something else to life, something else to work toward. The fact that he was sitting in his plush office, staring at a bunch of security monitors with a grim look on his face and an aching in his groin wasn't really making a stand in that regard.
As quickly as that thought entered his mind her face appeared on the screen. Monitor No. 7, the craps table. There was a small crowd gathered but he saw only her. A smooth, honey-toned complexion, dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and high cheekbones. He sat up in his chair and touched a button that allowed him to zoom in on the image.
She looked distracted, her eyes—a light shade—brown or probably hazel—moved from Reed, the dealer, back to the dice. There was no pile of chips in front of her so he assumed this was her last roll. Her fingers gripped the side of the table and her chest heaved with each breath she took. She had great breasts.
Really great breasts, high and firm just the way he liked them. That ache in his groin increased and he clenched his teeth. He'd become a Peeping Tom, getting his jollies off a customer in his casino! With a moan he turned away from the screen taking deep breaths and thinking about baseball—which, incidentally, wasn't working.
He stood, crossed the floor to his private bathroom, then leaned over the sink and splashed cool water onto his face. He needed to get it together. Getting laid was easy enough, finding a woman who did more than arouse his libido seemed to be the problem. He wondered again at the sudden turn his thoughts had taken. Ever since that little confrontation with his mother he'd been thinking about what he really wanted out of life. An incessant twitching between his legs interrupted and he realized that what he really needed to do was to flip through his Palm Pilot and start dialing until he found a woman who could come and relieve him of all this tension.
A chirping sound came from his laptop and he clicked the mouse to bring the message up. With a sigh he realized it was from his mother, reminding him of his parents' fortieth wedding celebration this week. More accurately, she was reminding him that she would have a host of women lined up for him if he dared show up alone.
Everywhere he turned his thoughts were bound to return to women. Of their own accord his eyes found Monitor No. 7 again. The woman was still there, the one with the great breasts. He licked his lips just as the phone on his desk rang.
Saved by the bell.