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Sarah Cartwright ran into the posh gold-and-porcelain appointments of Teddy Wolfe's bathroom and puked.
She knelt in front of the commode, clutching her stomach and grinding her knuckles against her mouth until the worst of the humiliation had passed.
What an idiot. What an idiot! "Sarah?" The millionaire owner of the Riverboat Casino rapped on the door. "Will you be all right?"
Only if the tile floor opened up and swallowed her whole.
Her mouth opened to form words, but she couldn't speak. What was there to say after what she'd just learned? After what she'd just done? Was there anything she could say that could make this whole evening go away?
She could hear Teddy outside the door, getting dressed. Fine leather creakeda belt? His Italian oxfords? The holster and Beretta she'd seen lying on his desk?
She'd known he wasn't the average sort of sweet and dependable guy she usually dated. That air of danger about him, that unpredictability, had been what had made him seem so exciting in the first place. She should have known she was out of her league. Out of her depth. Out of her mind when she'd started trading phone calls and had accepted this date with him.
"Well," he continued in that suave British accent that she'd foolishly fallen for. "Take as long as you need. Make use of any of the facilities in my suite. Order room service from the restaurant or a bottle of champagne from the bar. But you'll have to enjoy the bubbly by yourself. I have some business to attend to. My people will take care of you."
She heard the whisper of silk sliding against silk outside the door as he continued to dress. Or maybe that was the smooth sound of careless, heartlessmeaninglessseduction that she'd succumbed to like the naive, again and she leaned forward.
After growing up the daughter of Austin Cartwright, she'd always fancied herself so smart about the world. But how could she not have seen this coming? Had she really felt so lonesome? So bored with her life? So left behind in the relationship world, after marrying off friend after friendand even her own motherthat she'd refused to see the obvious?
She couldn't call it rape. She'd been a willing participant. It had been fun and daring, and she'd had no desire to say no.
She'd been exactly the exciting new woman she wanted to be. It was the adventurous relationship she'd wanted to have.
But she hadn't known. If only she had known. "Sarah?" Teddy sounded impatient now, irritated with her silence. His evening hadn't turned out the way he'd planned, either. He probably expected her to thank him.
"I'm fine," she squeaked out on a whisper. She cleared her throat and reached for one of the crystal glasses on the counter. She pulled herself to her feet, filled the glass with cold water and took a swallow before repeating in a louder, stronger voice. "I'm fine."
It was a lie, but it didn't matter. That was all Teddy wanted to hear. Teddy with the smooth line and smoother kisses. Teddy with the money. Teddy with the gun. Teddy with the awful, awful words.
"You can tell your father we're square."
"What?" Not exactly the romantic pillow talk she'd expected after their first time together. Sarah pushed herself up on her elbows and pulled the straps of her sundress back onto her shoulders while Teddy disposed of their protection, stood and zipped his pants.
"I'll consider his debt paid in full. For now. Until the next time he loses more than he can afford to."
Whatever sense of adventure had driven her to risk her heart so quickly faded in a haze of confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"The two-hundred-and-sixty grand Austin owes me. Owed me. There's no need to worry about your father now. I'll make sure nothing happens to him." Teddy was speaking so matter-of-factly, like they'd just conducted a business transaction instead of an impulsive makeout session on the leather couch in his private suite above the casino. He picked up his shirt and leaned over to kiss her. "That was just what I needed. Thank you for the lovely evening."
Oh, no. No. "Was my father in danger?" What had Austin gotten himself into this time? Her stomach twisted into knots. "And I
? This was just
Sarah couldn't even bring herself to say the horrible thing she'd just done. Her own father had put a price on her head.
She grabbed her shoes and her purse and dashed into the bathroom, locking the door, locking out the nightmarish mistake she'd just made.
"Yes, well, it's been fun, hasn't it?" Teddy was moving outside the door, ready to leave. "We'll have to do this again sometime."
Sarah gripped the edge of the sink. I don't think so. Never.
Teddy's voice grew louder as he leaned against the bathroom door. "Austin raised a gem in spite of himself. Good night."
After the outside door to the suite closed, Sarah splashed some of the cold water on her face and neck. She stared at her reflection in the light-studded mirror. She didn't look any differentstraight blond hair, slightly askew around her face. Big green eyes framed by the tiny lines of worry she'd earned in her twentyseven years. She was as frustratingly petite and tomboyishly slim as she'd always been.
But there was something different about her. Something hollow in her expression. A weariness of the world that came from a lesson learned too late. "I need to get out of here."
Before something so useless as tears could take hold, Sarah scrubbed her face clean, zipped up the back of her dress and fastened her strappy sandals around her ankles. She fished her keys from her purse, put her ear to the door to make sure she was alone and pushed it open.
"Go home," she advised herself. "Go home, regroup, pretend this never happened. No, call Dad and tell him he and I are done." She crossed the Persian rug with a more purposeful stride. "There's not a damn thing he can say to make this one right."
Austin Cartwright was a sick man. His gambling addiction had cost the family plenty over the years. College funds, the dissolution of her parents' marriage, a deep rift between father and brother. Trust.
Still she'd persevered. Austin Cartwright was her daddy. The man who'd carried her on his shoulders as a little girl. The man who'd taught her how to fish, how to hammer a nail, how to keep a box score at a baseball game. He'd taught her how to have fun. Sarah remembered having fun when she was little. She'd had fun without second-guessing the motive behind an activity, without doubting the sincerity behind the companionship.
Long after her mother had left Austin to protect her son and daughter from his illness and the resulting moods and dangers, long after she'd learned that gambling was an addictionnot unlike drug or alcohol abuseand that it diminished her father's reliability and tainted his love, she'd tried to help him. Sarah had tried to keep him in Gamblers Anonymous, tried to steer him away from the casino he'd practically rebuilt with his own hands. She'd tried to be patient, tried to listen, tried to be tough with her affection. She'd continued to be there for a man who was difficult to love.
But this was too much.
This was the ultimate betrayal.
This one she couldn't forgive.
And she'd been too blinded by her need to crash out and take a break from the heavy responsibilities of her devotion to even see it coming.
Her father had sold her to repay a gambling debt. Sarah Cartwright knew exactly what she was worth to her father now. Two-hundred-and-sixty-thousand dollars and a clean slate to start betting the odds all over again.
"Yeah, Dad, we're done. I can't forgive you this" She jumped as someone pounded on the outside door.
The woman's shrill voice stopped Sarah in her tracks. Damn. Her escape was cut off. No way could she handle a confrontation right now. No way did she even want to be seen anywhere near Teddy's suite.
"I know you have another woman in there. It's that slut
But Sarah was already running in the opposite direction. A suite of rooms had to have another exit, didn't it? A back door? A service elevator? A dumbwaiter? Hell, she'd open a window and dive into the Missouri River at the base of the floating casino if that were the only way to get out of this humiliating predicament without being seen.
Sarah opened a door with shuttered panels. Walk-in closet. She closed it and moved on. She found a connecting door with a dead bolt and turned the lock. A matching door greeted her on the other side. The angry, unhappy woman's voice faded into a terse, hushed conversation with someone else outside in the hall. Sarah didn't try to make out any words or identify the speakers; she was focused on her escape.
Once the second bolt slid aside, she pushed open the door and discovered a second suite, mirroring the office and living quarters of Teddy's rooms. There was a second bathroom, a second closet, a second office. That meant there'd be a matching exit. Sarah ran to it.
"Don't throw yourself at him." A man's voice, deeper than Teddy's but tinged with the same articulate accent, spoke in soothing tones outside the door. "There's a difference between passion and possession."
Damn! How crowded could this supposedly private wing be at three in the morning?
Sarah backpedaled, looking for another option. Any option.
The man was talking to a woman out in the hall. The same woman who had shouted at the other door. Her anger spent, the woman sniffed back tears. "But I love him. You know, the money doesn't really matter. I just want him
I want us to be a family."
"Don't make it so easy for him to have you. Teddy likes the thrill of the chase."
A key scraped inside the door lock. Sarah froze. They were coming inside!
Sarah's heart hammered in her chest. She swept her gaze back and forth. Sofa. Door. Desk. Toilet. Her feet itched to go one direction but her brain argued another route would be safer.
Think. "But Mr. McDonough," the woman pleaded, apparently stopping the man's hand on the doorknob. "I told him the truth. He said he loved me. But tonight I saw him with
Step by silent step, Sarah retreated. She did not want to be caught here. Did not want to have to explain to anyone why she was in Teddy's suite. Being an invited guest sounded like a lousy excuse right about now. And being the bartered payoff for her father's debt
? Could these people take one look at her and guess how she'd been duped? Would they laugh at her? Spread rumors? Blame her? How could she possibly defend herself? The woman outside was talking about love. And she'd
The lock snapped open. Oh, hell. Sarah swung open the closet door and ducked inside. She closed the door behind her and hunkered down behind a row of tobacco-scented suits, clinging to the back wall of the closet, merging with the shadows, holding her breath in the darkness as the outside door opened and the couple came into the suite.
Their voices became clear, their actions easier to judge by the sounds they made. The woman was clearly upset. The man handed her a tissue or handkerchief and offered to pour her a drink. The woman sat on the leather couch. "Just water, thanks."
The man crossed to the connecting doors between the suites and paused, as though wondering why they'd been left open. Sarah heard a click and a grate as he closed and locked the connecting doors. Her stomach tumbled. She curled her arms around her bent knees and forced herself to breathe evenly, silently, through her open mouth. She was trapped.
"There." The man crossed back into the room. "I told you Teddy was gone. There's no other woman here for you to fret about."
Sarah's cheeks heated with embarrassment, then grew cold as she listened to more of the sad repercussions of her uncharacteristically impulsive actions.
"I'm not making this up, you know," the woman went on. "I really am pregnant."
The sofa creaked again. He was sitting beside her. Comforting her? "So you're carrying the heir to the Wolfe International fortune?"
"I don't think of it like that. To me, it's just Teddy's baby."
Teddy had fathered a baby? And he'd put the moves on Sarah? "That was just what I needed."
Creep. Bastard. Sarah seethed in silence. "Dawn, you understand that Teddy's father is very traditional in a number of ways, despite his innovative business ideas. Family means as much to him as his reputation does. He'd expect Teddy to marry you. He'd want you and Teddy to move back to London."
"But that's what I want." The woman named Dawn sniffed, sounding hopeful. "I mean, I could live in London or anywhere he wants. I know he doesn't want to be tied down, and he has so many responsibilities here at the casino"
"The casino can run just fine without him. Better, in fact."
"Better? What do you mean?"
Mr. McDonough of the deep accent and solicitous voice scoffed. It was a derisive sound, full of contempt. But was it meant for Dawn? Or for Teddy? "Fathering a grandchild for Mr. Wolfe would be the one thing Teddy could do to get back in his father's good graces."
Dawn sniffed. "What are you talking about?"
"Here. Rest your head. Go on, lie down." The man named McDonough soothed away the concerns his hushed aside had brought on. "I'll have a talk with Teddy. He's thirty years old. He needs to grow up one day. I'm sure he has feelings for you." He was consoling her, holding her perhaps, tucking her in to sleep off her distress. If only Teddy had such a heart. If only her father could remember what real caring meant. "I'll take care of everything," he promised. "You just leave it all up to me."
The sofa creaked. "What are you doing? What is?"
Sarah lurched inside her sandals. She pressed her hand tightly over her mouth to keep from crying out.
She knew that sound.
Gunshots. Muffled by a suppressor, but no less distinct. Her mother was a cop. Commissioner of KCPD. Her brother was a cop. Used to be, at any rate. Her brother's best friend and half the people she knew were cops. She'd been around guns all her adult life.
Someone had been shot.