Authors: Aleah Barley
Tags: #road trip, #small-town romance, #intimate strangers, #wrong side of the tracks, #opposites attract, #series romance
Leaving Las Vegas
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
2013 by Aleah Barley
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Manufactured in the United States of America
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Caesars Palace, Miller Lite, Glenfiddich, Aston Martin Vanquish, James Bond, Barbie, “Seventy-Six Trombones,” Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,”
Driving Miss Daisy
Lucia de Lammermoor
, “Hot Blooded,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Jefferson Airplane, The Doobie Brothers, Peeps, Indiana Jones, Band-Aid, Toyota Corolla, Four Seasons,
, Rolex, Banana Republic, Starbucks, “American Pie,” Ford Mustang. Armani, Hellboy, MoonPie, Kevlar,
Thelma & Louise
, Darth Vader, Museum of World Treasures,
, Conan the Barbarian, Rolodex, Harley-Davidson, Michael Corleone, Dumpster.
To anyone who’s ever made me smile, made me laugh, or bought me ice cream.
Seriously, you know who you are.
Somewhere off the strip in Las Vegas, Nevada
Glory Allen was keenly aware of the long pause that followed that statement. Ice collided with glass, creating a tinkling noise, the only sound in the cheap Las Vegas motel room. The neon lights from the Strip a half mile away streamed through the window, making the stacks of neatly piled hundred-dollar bills gleam blue and red. Not the neat ceramic chips used at the fancy casinos on the Strip, but real money. Cash. And surrounding the table sat serious poker players. Big men with square jaws and bulges under their arms.
Normally, Glory wouldn’t give a rat’s rump what anyone thought about her.
Normally, she wasn’t playing poker for high stakes in a private game well off the Strip.
In Beaux, West Virginia, cheating at poker could get a girl’s behind beat black and blue. Here in Las Vegas, she figured they’d just shoot her. Two to the head and a quick burial in the nearest patch of desert.
Under the table, she curled her free hand into a fist, fingernails digging into her palms. The pain helped her to concentrate, kept her expression still. She forced herself to keep looking straight ahead, staring into the eyes of the man who’d accused her.
Luke. That was his name. The man with the green eyes who’d almost made her forget what she was doing when he’d undone the top few buttons of his shirt halfway through the night, displaying a chest that was lean but still muscular. He wasn’t her type. A little too clean-cut. But confident, with backbone to spare.
Confidence was drop-dead sexy in a man.
And yet it didn’t matter how sexy Mr. Fancy Pants was, not when so much money sat on the table. Five-card draw. Jokers wild. Real, old-fashioned poker. And over two hundred thousand dollars, stacked at her elbow. But she needed more. She had to keep playing.
had to keep playing. Had to keep upping the ante until she’d won enough to get out and go home.
“You got proof?” she challenged him. When he shook his head, she said, “Losing is no excuse for bad manners.”
He clenched his jaw tight. The face of his watch knocked against the table. His emerald eyes flashed, changing his expression from one of contempt to something a little more testy. Not good.
She felt about as safe as a red wriggler dangling in front of a hungry trout.
The other players leaned forward. The man on her left drummed his fingers against the table. Mr. Grant, a Los Angeles film producer who liked to adjust his tie when he thought he was about to win. His hand was at his throat now, undoing his crisp Windsor knot. His lips turned up in a thin, dangerous smile. “Let’s keep the game rolling. If you’re still in.”
Luke’s gaze swept around the table, confirming that the others wanted to continue the play. “I’m in.” His gaze stopped on Glory. “What about you?” His green eyes narrowed. Thin lines radiated out from the corner of his eyes, the small imperfections making him somehow more real. Human.
“I’m not going to fold,” she said. She couldn’t leave now, not when she had a game to win. A bus to catch. A town to save.
A few hours before, Glory had shown up at the door with nothing but a secondhand password and fifty thousand dollars in her pocket. No one had blinked an eye. There’d been almost half a million dollars on the table, but it was still the sort of game that would accept a small-time player who’d finally lucked her way into some real money. She’d surprised them by proving a decent strategist, winning more than enough to keep her in the game.
And now Luke stared at her, most likely trying to figure out how she’d been cheating. Good luck. She’d just been using all of the techniques she’d perfected over the years to gain the advantage.
That wasn’t cheating.
It was just playing smart.
And when it came to cards, she was the smartest player in Beaux. Which was why the townsfolk had pooled their money for her buy-in. Everyone had placed their trust in her to get the money to save their town. Even the mayor, Ashley. Her sister. The smart one—well, except for when it came to playing poker.
With the three Allen sisters, Ashley had the brains, Halleluiah had the sex appeal, and Glory had the…uh, she was good at poker. That was about it.
Glory didn’t depend on luck to win at poker. She didn’t think much of those who did. Instead, she would watch patiently, observing the other players’ tics and using them to her advantage.
Mr. Grant and his tie had been an easy tell to figure out. Bone—the oversized gangster wannabe—had been eating walnuts all night long, using a nutcracker when he was doing well and crushing nuts with his ham-sized fists when he had a bad hand. When Chester Grimes—a man with a shiny suit and hair thinning in back—lost big, he’d switched from hard lemonade to throwaway martinis. Earlier, the one other woman in the game, Tiffanette—the blond bimbo who acted more interested in her makeup than her cards—had spilled her drink down the front of her tight little tank top, displaying a pair of breasts that were not at all as God had made them.
Breast enlargement was tacky, but seeing how the men in the room responded to the bags of saline bouncing around untethered by fabric constraints, Glory was almost jealous.
Not jealous enough to get invasive surgery, but jealous enough to invest in a better bra.
And smart enough to know Tiffanette held a bad hand and was using her boobs to distract the rest of the table from her utter inability to bluff.
Who needed to cheat when the other players were that obvious?
A nod from Chester, and one of the cocktail waitresses brought a fresh round of drinks to the table. Ice clinked against the side of Luke’s glass, watering down the two-decades-old Glenfiddich he’d brought with him. A tragic waste of good booze as far as Glory was concerned. She liked her whiskey the way she liked everything else in life. Unadulterated.
Not tonight. This was too important to mess up by getting smashed.
Glory was drinking beer straight from the bottle. Miller Lite. Just enough alcohol to make her bold without making her stupid.
It wasn’t cheating, just playing smart.
Damn Luke and his damned accusation.
She took a long pull on her beer before picking up the cards she’d dealt herself a minute earlier. They were warm in her hands. Their faces crisp and familiar.
“I’ve been playing poker since I was six years old. Sitting on my grandmother’s front porch.” The old lady had taught all three sisters how to play poker, but Glory was the only one with the knack. The only one who understood that it was less about playing the cards she’d been dealt and more about playing the people sitting across from her. “This isn’t luck, and it isn’t cheating. What you’re looking at here is pure skill.”
The betting went around the table, the pot increasing faster than it had before. No one blinked an eye as it grew. And grew. And grew some more. The way things were going, this might be the last hand she needed to play before getting the amount of money that she’d come for.
Eight hundred and sixty thousand dollars to save her way of life.
The amount of money she shoved toward the center of the table made her heart flutter, even with the joker resting easily at the bottom of the deck.
Chester folded first. Then Tiffanette. Only four players left.
Mr. Grant raised $200,000 in one swoop, bringing the amount on the table to just over $500,000. Almost enough.
Luke wasn’t looking at his hand. He was looking at her, his gaze boring into her skin like an old-fashioned electric drill. Instead of saying “all in,” he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a heavy brass key chain. “My car.”
No. He couldn’t screw up her carefully laid plans. She needed
. “There’s no way some car is going to make up the difference.”
“It’s not just
.” Luke crossed his arms in front of his chest. Confident. The movement bringing attention to his pecs. And biceps. And triceps. “It’s a first generation Aston Martin Vanquish, all the bells and whistles. It’ll cover the difference.”
“The James Bond car.” Bone nodded his approval. “Too rich for my blood.”
Glory considered her options. If she folded now, they’d send her packing, with or without her money. Even if they did let her take her winnings, the pot wouldn’t be enough.
She needed $860,000. And all of that plus some change sat on the table. She found the cards that sat in the middle of the table. Fingered the joker she’d kept hidden at the bottom of the deck.
She had to stay in the game.
she would cheat.
Luke had known the woman was trouble the moment he’d walked through the door. He’d come into the game eager to take off the facade of Las Vegas casino magnate and be
, the poker player, instead of
, the Las Vegas billionaire developer. Instead, the gorgeous girl with the hillbilly accent and the too-tight T-shirt had ruined his night.
What kind of person stacked the deck at a poker game that included gangsters, magnates, and more than one gun?
His head throbbed. The woman’s lips tipped up in a crooked smile, and then other parts of him were throbbing, too. He didn’t want to like this girl. He hated most cheaters on sight, but he’d never seen anyone like Glory. She made it hard to hate.
He was used to Vegas girls. Showgirls who thought that they could trade their good looks and plastic surgery for a diamond ring. Women who would show up at a private game like this more interested in snaring a man than the pot. His mother had been a showgirl. He knew the type, all just hoping to get lucky. Even Tiffanette, a woman who claimed to make her own luck.
Years ago, when a headliner pulled her hamstring just before a show, Tiffanette had seized the opportunity and stepped into the starring role. Tiffanette was good at seizing opportunities. A few months earlier she’d tried to “seize” Luke at a charity dinner and convince him to promote her from showgirl to lounge act. The blonde had been more than a little upset when he turned her down.
Not his problem.
Glory was something else entirely.
Long black curls that had never seen a bottle of dye, golden skin that came from walking in the sun instead of from a spray bottle, the thin T-shirt that fit her slender body—skimming her muscular stomach and straining against two perfect perky all-American
breasts. Every part of her was genuine, from her scuffed canvas tennis shoes to the crooked teeth that could have been corrected by any decent orthodontist. She talked like a woman without two nickels to rub together, so where had she gotten the game’s fifty thousand dollar buy-in?
It didn’t matter. None of it mattered, not even the way his body reacted to hers. Damned fingers, itching to reach out and touch her. Damned imagination, wanting to rip off her T-shirt and devour every inch of her. He’d been so busy trying to control his physical reaction, he hadn’t noticed when she’d started winning. Over and over again.
No one won that many hands without cheating.
He hated cheaters, and now one had invaded his poker game.
His poker game was important to him. It was the one night a week when he allowed himself to relax. The one night a week when he wasn’t being followed by thousands of cameras and a million watching eyes. His latest development project—Cleopatra’s Asp, a vintage lounge and casino he’d spent the last two years restoring—had given him a perpetual headache. The poker game was one place he could be himself without work or anything else taking over.
Except on the nights when his stepfather showed up. Chester wasn’t a bad man, but he was a lush, a coward, and a bit of a bummer. Luke had bid against him to buy Cleopatra’s Asp, and Chester hadn’t exactly lost with dignity. Total whiner.
Bone let out a deliberate cough, stretched, and turned, letting the flap of his jacket fall open. Making it clear to Glory that he carried a gun.
Bone didn’t like cheaters, either.
Watching Glory closely, Luke saw a new expression break through her practiced poker face. Desperation.
. She didn’t want to stay in the game. She
to stay in the game. She needed to win.
Damn. He clenched his jaw tight so he wouldn’t swear out loud. There was no harm in taking a few dollars off some tourist foolish enough to wander into the wrong game, but this was plain stupid. And yet her desperation gnawed at him.
“You can still fold,” he reminded her gently. “Take the rest of your money and walk out the door. Go home.”
“All in.” She ignored him, pushing the last of her money into the pot.
“You can’t win,” Luke said in a last-ditch effort to save her hide. Tiffanette, Chester, and Bone wouldn’t be a threat, even though Bone carried a gun. Luke couldn’t speak for Grant. He’d heard the man could get
She ignored him.
Grant put two cards down on the table, then pushed them toward the discard pile. “I’ll take two.” He rummaged around in his pocket for a moment, seemingly befuddled.
Luke shot a look at Glory. The woman hadn’t noticed Grant’s move…or Luke’s warning. She needed to pay better attention.
. Grant’s hand moved with lightning speed to leave a knife jammed in the hardwood table, the handle still quivering. The blade was small, less than four inches, but it got the point across.
Luke flashed his glance back to Glory. Her face had gone white. Tension was clear in every aspect of her posture. The cool card player with the practiced poker face was gone, replaced by a frightened young woman.
But she kept playing. Brave or stupid? At this point, he couldn’t tell. When she dealt, it was from the top of the deck, every move slow and exaggerated. Giving the audience a show now that they were paying attention. Then she turned to Luke. “What do you want?”
Luke forced himself to look down at his hand. The queen of hearts smiled up at him. His lucky card, the card he liked to keep in his hand no matter what. He also had the nine, ten, jack, and queen of spades. Instinct told him to keep the pair of queens, playing it safe and retaining his lucky card. Or he could go for the straight flush. Gamble big. He stared at the cards for a long moment, then at the woman who’d gotten him into this mess.