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The One-Night Wife
By Sandra Marton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHE CAME INTO THE CASINO just before midnight, when the action was getting heavier.
Savannah had been watching for him, keeping her eyes on the arched entry that led from the white marble foyer to the high-stakes gaming room. She'd been afraid she might miss him.
What a foolish thought.
O'Connell was impossible to miss. He was, to put it bluntly, gorgeous.
"How will I recognize him?" she'd asked Alain.
He told her that O'Connell was tall, dark-haired and good-looking.
"There's an aura of money to him," he'd added. "You know what I mean, chérie. Sophistication." Smiling, he'd patted her cheek. "Trust me, Savannah. You'll know him right away."
But when she'd arrived an hour ago and stepped through the massive doors that led into the casino, she'd felt her heart sink.
Alain's description was meaningless. It fit half the men in the room.
The casino was situated on an island of pink sand and private estates in the Bahamas. Its membership was restricted to the wealthiest players in Europe, Asia and the Americas. All the men who frequented its tables were rich and urbane, and lots of them were handsome.
Savannah lifted her champagne flute to her lips and drank. Handsome didn't come close to describing Sean O'Connell.
How many men could raise the temperature just by standing still? This one could. She could almost feel the air begin to sizzle.
His arrival caused a stir. Covert glances directed at him from the men. Assessing ones from the women. Maybe not everybody would pick up signals that subtle, but catching nuances was Savannah's stock in trade.
Her success at card tables depended on it.
Tonight, so did the course of her life.
No. She didn't want to think about that. Years ago, when she was still fleecing tourists in New Orleans, she'd learned that the only way to win was to think of nothing but the cards. Empty her mind of everything but the spiel, the sucker and the speed of her hands.
Concentrate on the knowledge that she was the best.
The philosophy still worked. She'd gone from dealing three-card monte on street corners to playing baccarat and poker in elegant surroundings, but her approach to winning had not changed.
Concentrate. That was the key. Stay calm and be focused.
Tonight, that state of mind was taking longer to achieve.
Her hand trembled as she lifted her champagne flute to her mouth. The movement was nothing but a tic, a tremor of her little finger, but even that was too much. She wouldn't drink once she sat down at the poker table but if that tic should appear when she picked up her cards, O'Connell would notice. Like her, he'd have trained himself to read an opponent's body language.
His skills were legendary.
If you were a gambler, he was the man to beat.
If you were a woman, he was the man to bed.
Every woman in the room knew it. Too bad, Savannah thought, and a little smile curved her mouth. Too bad, because on this hot Caribbean night, Sean O'Connell would belong only to her.
Again, she raised her glass. Her hand was steady this time. She took a little swallow of the chilled Cristal, just enough to cool her lips and throat, and went on watching him. There was little danger he'd see her: she'd chosen her spot carefully. From this alcove, she could observe without being observed.
She wanted the chance to look him over before she made her move.
Evidently, he was doing the same thing before choosing a table. He hadn't stirred; he was still standing in the arch between the foyer and the main room. It was, she thought with grudging admiration, a clever entrance. He'd stirred interest without doing a thing.
All those assessing glances from men stupidly eager to be his next victim. All those feline smiles from women eager for the same thing, though in a very different way.
Savannah the Gambler understood the men. When a player had a reputation like O'Connell's, you wanted to sit across the table from him and test yourself. Even if you lost, you could always drop word of the time you'd played him into casual conversation. Oh, you could say, did I ever tell you about the time Sean O'Connell beat me with a pair of deuces even though I had jacks and sevens?
That would get you attention.
But Savannah the Woman didn't understand those feminine smiles at all. She'd heard about O'Connell's reputation. How he went from one conquest to another. How he lost interest and walked away, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him. Why set yourself up for that? Emotions were dangerous. They were impractical. Still, she had to admit that Sean O'Connell was eye candy.
He was six foot one, maybe two. He wore a black dinner jacket open over a black silk T-shirt and black trousers that emphasized his lean, muscular body. Dark-haired, as Alain had said. The color of midnight was more accurate.
Alain hadn't mentioned his eyes.
What color were they? Blue, she thought. She was too far away to be sure and, for an instant that passed as swiftly as a heartbeat, she let herself wonder what would happen if she crossed the marble floor, stopped right in front of him, looked into those eyes to see if they were the light blue of a tropical sea or the deeper blue of the mid-Pacific.
Savannah frowned and permitted herself another tiny sip of champagne.
She had a task to accomplish. The color of O'Connell's eyes didn't matter. What counted was what she knew of him, and how she would use that knowledge tonight.
He was considered one of the best gamblers in the world. Cool, unemotional, intelligent. He was also a man who couldn't resist a challenge, whether it was a card game or a beautiful woman.
That was why she was here tonight. Alain had sent her to lure O'Connell into a trap.
She'd never deliberately used her looks to entice a man into wanting to win her more than he wanted to win the game, to so bedazzle him that he'd forget the permutations and combinations, the immutable odds of the hand he held so that he'd lose.
It wasn't cheating. Not really. It was just a variation of the skill she'd developed back when she'd dealt three-card monte. Keep the sucker so fascinated by your patter and your fast- moving hands that he never noticed you'd palmed the queen and slipped in another king.
Tonight was different.
Tonight, she wanted the mark watching her, not her hands or the cards. If the cards came the right way, she would win. If they didn't and she had to resort to showing a little more cleavage, so be it.
She'd do what she had to do.
The goal was to win. Win, completely. To defeat Sean O'Connell. Humiliate him with people watching. After she did that, she'd be free.
Free, Savannah thought, and felt her heart lift.
She could do it. She had to do it.
Excerpted from The One-Night Wife by Sandra Marton Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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