Las Vegas showgirl Carly Jacobsen keeps learning the hard way that her idea of fun differs radically from that of her neighbor Wolfgang Jones. Sure, he looks incredible, and he seems to have a thing for her legs, but the man's a robot. So what's with their chemistry?
Wolf has a plan for his life, and it doesn't include finding himself tempted by the freewheeling Carly mile-high legs or not. Yet in a moment of weakness, the two discover at least one area where they do both have fun. But outside the bedroom the stakes are getting higher, and love might come down to a roll of the dice
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"I don't know what to do about him," Carly Jacobsen complained to her friend Michelle as they paused to accommodate a group of Japanese tourists wanting their pictures taken with real live Las Vegas showgirls. "He's stubborn, opinionated and just won't listen."
"A typical male, in other words."
She muffled a snort. "Yeah." Her feet were killing her, but she smiled prettily for the camera and tried not to feel like an Amazon as she towered above the tourists. Thank God she and Michelle were wearing the silky brunette twenties-era flapper-style wigs from the final act instead of the towering headpieces from an earlier number. That made them only a foot taller than everyone.
"Look at it this way," Michelle murmured over the shut-terbugs' heads. "At least you can be grateful he's got four legs instead of two like the guy I live with."
"There is that," she agreed. "Rufus has been one tough pup to train, but at least I have some eventual hope he is trainable."
"Which is more than you can say for most men."
"Right." Carly had never had any interest in living with a man. And yet "On the other hand, you get regular sex. I only have the dimmest memory of what that was like."
They struck a couple more poses before easing away from the tourists, who bowed, smiled and murmured their thanks. Carly flashed them a genuine smile in return. She really liked the Japanese. They were polite, and that was very much appreciated, because she didn't see lovely manners every day in her business. Especially among the male half of the population.
"You wanna stop for a drink?" Michelle asked as they crossed the casino a moment later.
"No, I'd better get home. I've got hungry pets to feed."
Leaving Michelle at the little lounge they often frequented, she headed toward the dressing room to change into her street clothes before going home. She'd been dancing in la Stravaganza, the big production show at the Italian-themed Avventurato Resort Hotel and Casino, for so long now that she rarely heard the sounds of the casino around her any longer. But she was particularly tired tonight after spending the early morning hours wrestling with the dilemma of Rufus. He was the newest of her babies, as she called her rescued pets, and fretting over how she was going to get him past his recalcitrant behavior had made it all but impossible to fall asleep. He simply refused to be trained. And thanks to her new neighbor, she was very much afraid that the clock was ticking on the mutt's fate.
So now every clang and clatter of the electronic slots, every rattle of the balls in the roulette wheels and triumphant yell or commiserating groan of the gamblers crowding the casino floor kept time with the headache beginning to throb behind her left eye. Which perhaps explained why, when a petite white-haired lady clutching a bucketful of silver dollars slammed into her with an oversize handbag, Carly, who was generally sure-footed as a mountain goat, staggered backward.
A little clumsiness would have been the end of it, except she'd just climbed the two stairs that divided the highstakes slot machines from their humbler brethren. Her stumble back sent the heel of her right T-strap stepping off into space, and, unbalanced, she grabbed for the railing while automatically tightening her core muscles to lift her shoulders back into alignment with her hips.
Her fingers brushed the railing but it slid through her grip. And although she straightened enough to keep from back-flopping, she landed in a graceless heap on the floor, her right leg twisting beneath her.
An obscenity hissed through her teeth as pain exploded in her ankle.
There were exclamations all around and a vague sense of people crowding close. Someone bent over her. "Are you all right, miss?"
She looked up at a man with light brown hair, backlit by the garish lights of the hundred-dollar slots at the top of the stairs. When his face swam into view, she noticed in a hazy sort of way that he was extremely handsome.
He could have been a troll for all she cared, since she could barely see through the pain clouding her vision. Besides, what she did manage to focus on was enough to tell her he lacked the edginess that usually attracted herthat certain something that turned men into what her friend Treena referred to as Got Testosterone? guys.
His face was also merely one of many. Pulling her gaze away from him, she saw that several people were gathered around gawking at her. But not, she noted, the little old lady who had knocked her on her ass.
Damn fanatic gamblers.
Studying her with concerned eyes, the man who'd inquired about her well-being crouched down next to her. "Is anything broken?"
She gingerly untangled her legs until she'd freed her trapped ankle, her breath catching as the shifting weight sent a fresh shard of pain zinging around her foot. "No. At least, I don't think so. I twisted my ankle, though." And it hurt so damn bad it was all she could do not to whimper. She was never at her finest when injured.
A guy young enough to think multiple piercings and black eyeliner and lipstick were actually a fortunate fashion statement pulled his gaze away from the generous stretch of her legs long enough to nod. "Yeah. It's swelling up."
"Needs ice," someone else agreed.
"So," murmured a portly man in a pair of Sansabelt pants that were hitched well above his natural waistline, "could I get my picture taken with you?"
"What is going on here?"
Carly's blood pressure immediately spiked. Shit. She knew that last voice. It was deep and accented, and God knew she'd heard its disapproving timbre directed at her on more than one occasion these past few weeks. It belonged to Wolfgang Jones, second in command of the Avventu-rato's Security and Surveillance department.
And her recently moved-in, pain-in-the-ass, next-door neighbor.
Carly peered at the approaching man through the forest of legs surrounding her and conceded that, if she had to be absolutely honest, Jones didn't have an actual accent. Still, there was something about the precision with which he formed his words that made you just know his thoughts probably didn't wind through his brain in English.
She would have snorted if she wasn't already concentrating on not mewling like a soaked-to-the-skin kitten. But, please. Like the name Wolfgang hadn't already given the game away?
He muscled his way through the crowd, tall and lanky, blond and built, managing to irritate her beyond measure simply by breathing the same air she did. This was the man who had her worried sick over Rufus. All too aware, however, of the public behavior the Avventurato expected from its employees whenever they were on the premises, she pressed her lips together to keep the snarl she felt forming in the back of her throat from slipping out.
But sometimes representing the hotel and casino really bit.
From the expression that flashed across Jones's deep-set eyes, she was pretty sure he wasn't any happier to see her than she was to see him. Still, he waded through the crowd, then turned in front of her to face the people gathered around.
"Go about your evening, folks," he said with his habitual stern, I-am-God-therefore-you-will-obey-me haughtiness. "I will take care of this situation." Then, turning back, he squatted down in front of her in his faultlessly tailored black suit, charcoal Egyptian-cotton shirt and pearl-gray silk tie, without an apparent doubt in the world that the tourists would do exactly as he'd bid them.
Which they did, dammit. God, he was vexing.
He had a reputation around the casino for being a guy who got things done, though. Considering their recent history, she hated to admit that Jones had any redeeming qualities at all, but she had to concede that if he gave even half the attention to his work that he was currently focusing on easing off her shoe, his rep was probably well deserved.
All the same, she knew him for the dog-hating jerk he was and she didn't trust him an inch further than she could throw him. For all she knew, his gentle handling was nothing more than a ploy to make her relax her guard. Pushing up on her elbows, she monitored him closely through narrowed eyes to make sure he didn't pull anything tricky that would cause her ankle to hurt even worse than it already did.
As the young man with the Goth makeup and facial piercings had pointed out, the area surrounding the joint in question was swollen. It was also beginning to grow warm. Her injured flesh felt downright frigid, however, compared to Wolfgang's sizable hands as he slid one over her heel and up to her calf to brace her leg while he probed the puffy flesh around her ankle with the other. The hot-skinned touch shocked her. Who ever would have suspected such a grim, cold guy could radiate so much heat?
Cupping his palm over her instep, he gently rotated her foot. His gaze flashed up in time to catch her wince. "That hurt?"
"Yes, it hurts," she said testily. Then fairness forced her to add, "But I'm pretty sure it's just twisted." She'd had enough injuries to be a pretty good judge. But all she could think was that she had two days to get the swelling down and the joint back into dancing form, because she didn't want to have to call Vernetta-Grace, la Stravaganza's general manager, to tell her she'd injured herself. Again.
Carly looked down at the scimitar-shaped red scar on the knuckle above her right index finger that had cost her two days' work less than a month ago.
"How did this happen?"
She looked up at Wolfgang, at his lightly tanned face beneath pale, spiky hair. "I was ambushed by a little old lady with a monster purse." Wanting his hands off her, she thrust one of her own out at him. "Help me up."
"I don't think it is broken or even badly sprained," he agreed, and slid his fingers away from her leg with an enthusiasm that seemed to match her own. He rose to his feet in a single, easy movement, then reached down and grasped her outstretched hand, hauling her upright.
She came up faster than she expected and instinctively put her injured foot down to keep from slamming into him. The flash of pain spearing her ankle made her crumple, and only Wolfgang's quick hands wrapping around her upper arms kept her from sagging against his chest. The lilac-and-gold-beaded fringe of her costume swung out, sparkling bits of confetti that slapped up against his dark shirt and slacks.
Damn, damn, damn. Of all the men in this casino, why did he have to be the one who'd come to her aid? And what the hell was one of Security and Surveillance's higher-ups doing playing nursemaid to a dancer, anyway?
Probably grabbing yet another opportunity to rub her nose in how responsible he was. As if being anal was a good thing.
He helped her to a nearby chair in front of a bank of poker machines, swiveled her seat to allow her leg to extend into the aisle and turned a plastic coin bucket on end for her to prop her heel on. Then he flagged down a waitress.
"Bring some ice and a towel, please," he said. It was clear it wasn't really a request, and the woman promptly turned away to do as he'd commanded.
"I'm guessing you don't have a lot of friends," Carly said dryly.
Crouched in front of her to check her foot once again, he slowly raised his head and looked at her with expressionless eyes. "I have no need of friends," he said with apparent unconcern.
"You're kidding me!" She was genuinely taken aback. This was the most civil exchange the two of them had ever managed, since their usual interaction consisted of heated confrontations, which had started the day Jones moved into the condo complex.
Well, heated on her part, anyway. He'd pretty much been a Popsicle. Still, even though she had little use for a man so patently lacking in appreciation for animals, she'd at least assumed he was marginally human.
Apparently not. No need of friends? That was just plain barbaric. There were a lot of things she didn't need in this worldbeginning with this guy as a next-door neighbor. But her friends certainly were at the top of her Must Have list. She simply couldn't imagine what she'd do without Treena and Jax or Ellen and Mack. Dog-hating, grim-faced security guys, however, were on a different list entirely.
"I do not kid," he said stiffly.
She snapped her mouth shut and looked at him, at his chilly green eyes beneath straight, thick brows, at those sharp cheekbones and that hard, unsmiling mouth. Then she blew out a breath and gave him a clipped nod. "Gotcha. No sense of humor. I've noticed that about you."
His eyebrows gathered over the prominent thrust of his nose. But before he could respond, the cocktail waitress returned with a bag of ice and a towel and Wolfgang pulled his gaze from Carly's face to accept the items with the barest acknowledgment.
"Thanks, Olivia," Carly said to make up for his brusque-ness. "I appreciate you going out of your way." After the waitress squeezed her shoulder, wished her a speedy recovery and walked away, Carly turned her attention back to Jones, who was draping the towel over her foot. "I take it you have no need to get to know your fellow workers or show the least bit of civility, either?"
He slapped the ice onto her ankle.
She hissed a breath in through her teeth. When stars quit dancing in front of her eyes, she narrowed the latter on the man in front of her. "You're a real prince, Jones." Flapping the hand she hadn't used to anchor herself against the fresh onslaught of pain that threatened to shoot her straight out of her seat, she shooed him away. "You can go now." Begrudgingly she added, "Thanks for your help."
He stood and looked at her down the length of his strong, slightly hooked nose. "You'll be able to drive?"
Probably not. "I'll be fine."
"Isn't your car a standard transmission?"
"Yes," she agreed. "A cute little five-speed. But I'm sure you have better things to do than stand around talking about my car. So, please. Don't let me keep you."
He didn't budge. "How do you intend to get home? Will you call your redheaded friend, the other dancer?"
Nope. This was Treena's day off and she and Jax had left for San Francisco after last night's show. They didn't plan to be back until late tomorrow night. She gave Jones an earnest nod anyway. "Sure. That's exactly what I'll do.