I’m going to kill my brother.
Roman Steele muttered under his breath as he ended his shift, carefully checking the cards and organizing his table. He’d only been in Vegas for a few short weeks, and already his older brother bossed him around. After convincing him to transfer from Atlantic City, Rick set him up with a woman for the evening. Rome’s temper cranked up a notch. When he got a hold of Rick, he’d kick his ass. He didn’t need help recruiting a female for company, despite his brother’s good intentions.
With methodical precision, he counted out chips and stacked decks while he brooded. The casino swung into overload as night arrived in full blown, Vegas style. The ching of the machines vibrated with noisy celebration and competed with screams of rivalry around the roulette table. The lushness of the casino beckoned both the novice and experienced gambler to play. From the dripping crystal chandeliers to the merlot carpet, opulence flashed from every room and pampered the crowds. Cocktail waitresses rushed by in low cut tops and short skirts, balancing trays filled with vivid neon drinks. The familiar scents of exotic perfume, musk, and money drifted in the air. He held back a groan. He craved a soft bed and a hard drink. Alone. Instead, the call from his brother beckoned him with other possibilities.
The perfect woman.
He snorted at the impossible thought. The popular dating service,1Night Stand, supposedly hooked up clients for the night with an ideal match. His brother actually believed Madame Eve, who ran the company, possessed the magical power to find him his soul mate.
Mid thirties threatened and he still hadn’t found someone to challenge his normally dominant side. Moving to Vegas only made him more depressed as he dated the same women over and over, chasers of money and glory, out for a man to finance their dreams, or to find a cheap thrill for the night. The bars continuously contained a tight knit cluster of friends on a weekend visit for an episode of Girls Gone Wild. If he saw one more drunken wink with the accompanying drawl, Everything in Vegas stays in Vegas, he’d vomit.
Hell, he’d become a grump.
Since Rick began working for Castillo Resorts and Hotels, his brother seemed focused on getting Rome married and settled. Not that Vegas was the best place to put down roots, but Rick had changed since meeting his wife, and wanted to share the bliss. Seems Madame Eve hooked his brother up with Tara. Rick now touted family and commitment, and actually admitted he wanted children. He never spoke of details, but his obsession with Rome using the company’s services convinced him that his brother actually believed his one-night stand had potential for more.
He ignored the deep pang in his gut and buried it with the ease of an expert. Images of a woman by his side for the long term haunted him. His relationships always lacked something crucial. He craved a woman who challenged him on every level—inside and outside the bedroom. Someone who wouldn’t fear his need for dominance and surrender without the strict rules and limits of a Dom/sub relationship. He shook his head at his inner whining. He needed to get the hell over himself and get off. He’d probably feel better.
Grabbing his bag, he changed out of his uniform, and headed toward the bar for a quick drink.
His phone vibrated and he glanced at the text. Bonjour, Roman. Your brother speaks highly of you. Are you ready to begin your adventure?
He hesitated. Hell, what did he have to lose? A night of great sex with no strings attached. Before he could change his mind, his fingers flew across the keys. Good evening, Madame Eve. Since my brother leaves me no choice, I’ll put myself in your capable hands.
The phone shook in his palm as if in excitement. Very good. You will find her seated at the blackjack table, far right, second chair from the left. Short dark hair. Dressed in black. Her name is Sloane Keller. Bon chance.
The screen went blank.
He shook his head as the call dropped. Then with a jump, the Blackberry zinged back to life. His back itched between his shoulder blades. The same damn feeling he always got when something big hovered in sight. Like a cheat at his table counting cards. Or a woman about to play him.
Walking past the bar, he headed toward table six. He needed to loosen up and not take the encounter too seriously. His older brother had bought him an evening with a woman—hopefully one he was compatible with. No reason to bitch and look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.
He stopped dead and stared at the woman in black at table six.
Her name suddenly rang through his head in a symphony of clanging bells. Sloane Keller. Champion of the World Series of Poker. The Queen of Cards.
His mouth snapped shut. Was this a joke? A revised version of Candid Camera? He’d been half in love with her since she’d stumbled on the card scene with a cold confidence that pissed everyone off. She’d come from behind and won her first poker championship with the big boys. An unknown, unnamed long shot everyone expected to laugh out of the game. With icy deliberation, she knocked every other player off the table and never batted an eyelash with victory.
Shit. She’s gorgeous.
His gaze swept over her with a greediness he’d never experienced. The woman practically exuded I dare you to any guy within distance. Her hair shimmered under the lights, an exotic black cherry, falling pin straight to brush the top of her shoulders. Longish bangs hid most of her features until she turned her head, and he caught a whirling impression of strength. A stubborn chin. High cheekbones. Arched dark brows. Thick eyelashes. Her lips were ruby red and not overly puffy like the normal Botox look. No, they were perfectly sculpted with just a hint of plumpness in the lower one. Her outfit added to the impression of lean power—a sleeveless black silk blouse, dark trousers, low-heeled sandals. She perched on the chair as she stared at her cards, her blood red toenails tapping on the bottom rung. Her fingers were lightning quick, the nails matching the color of her toes.
Suddenly, she paused. Her shoulders tightened and she swung her head around with a hint of annoyance. Her gaze slammed into his with a fierceness and challenge that singed his nerve endings and his cock. Eyes a bottomless violet sucked him in as deep as he imagined her wet pussy would welcome him. But it wouldn’t be easy. Everything about the woman screamed the need for an alpha to take her under him. Figuratively and literally.
He met her stare dead on and refused to back down. A few beats passed. Then she turned away with a dismissive shake of her head, obviously irritated she’d lost the skirmish. Satisfaction thrummed in his veins. Finally. A woman he could sink his teeth into without worrying. I bet this woman would bite back.
Why the hell had she signed up for a 1Night Stand? She had her own groupies—men who’d line up to take her to bed. Vegas looked upon her as a literal rock star.
He took stock of the situation. There must be a damn good reason she used a dating service to get laid. Her dismissal told him she cared less if he’d been bought and paid for. She refused to stroll off with any man, even if Madame Eve arranged it. The deliberate action told him he’d need to earn his time with Sloane Keller.
A smile played about his lips.
He closed the distance between them.
She watched the man approach her table with her peripheral vision and pretended to be engaged in her hand. Is this him? Hell and damnation, the man is hot. Of course, she’d met many hot men in her travels. Most of them crumbled under the personality test, but something told her he’d hold his own. In fact, maybe he’d even surpass her.
Madame Evangeline might have scored a home run.
He was a mixture of George Clooney and Richard Gere, with short gray hair cut close to his scalp. A sexy, scruffy beard hugged a perfectly sculpted jaw and set off the sensual curve to his bottom lip. His eyes glimmered with a controlled strength and he moved with a predatory grace as he crossed the room. Was he former military? A shiver tingled down her spine. The thin white shirt and black pants did nothing to mask his rock hard body. She tried to control the dip in her tummy when he stood beside her. When was the last time a man excited her at first glance? His body heat and the delicious scent of lemon and spice rose to her nostrils. She kept her head down, gaze on the cards, and waited for his first move.
She tapped her finger on the table for a hit. Jack of spades smiled up at her. The dealer nodded and slid the chips toward her as she met the goal of twenty-one. Then she looked up.
He didn’t speak, but his gaze drilled into hers. The odd combination of blue and gray reminded her of rainy skies and stormy seas. He waited by her side as if enjoying the game of blackjack for pleasure. She knew from the 1Night Stand report that he worked as a dealer at the Castillo Resort. Would he have the balls to play a round with her?
She raised her hand to her dealer, Wayne, for a short pause then swiveled in her stool to face the man beside her.
“Were you ever going to introduce yourself?”
His bold appraisal stripped her naked and pumped her with pleasure. An amused smile touched his carved lips. “Didn’t want to break your concentration. Besides, it seems we have all night, Sloane Keller.”
She raised her brow. “Perhaps. And you are?”
He seemed even more pleased at her obstinacy. “Roman Steele. You can call me Rome.”
He looks like a Rome. She imagined him dressed in armor and chains, leading an army of men with no thought to being disobeyed. Imagined him standing over the bed of a naked woman, ready to enjoy his spoils.
As the only player at the table, Wayne waited patiently for her to decide whether or not she wanted to continue. She upped the stakes. “Do you play?”
“What’s your pleasure?” She dropped her voice to a husky drawl.
He bumped a hip against her chair. “Poker, of course.”
She wondered how he’d handle her. Most men she met either fawned like a groupie or treated her like shit. Since he was bought and paid for, she figured she’d test him before she made her final decision. If she didn’t like him, she’d demand her money back before they even hit the elevators. “Funny, me too. But I like a good game of blackjack to relax.”
“Are you good?”
She smiled slowly. “I’m the best.”
“Confident.” She leaned forward. Her lips stopped inches from his. The sizzling tension between them stretched in exquisite agony. “Not that I mind a little−cockiness.” Her gaze lingered on his lips then dropped slowly to the evident bulge in his pants. “As long as someone can back it up.”
Smoke gray eyes heated and sharpened like lightning. “Oh, I can back it up.”
“Care to play a hand with me?”
“Thought you’d never ask.” He slid onto the stool next to her and motioned to Wayne to deal him in. “So, you in Vegas for business or pleasure?”
She watched the cards fly and leaned back in her stool, automatically searching for clues in his face to find what type of player he was. “Pleasure tonight. Business tomorrow.”
“Big tournament, huh?”
She nodded. His casual reference held no adoration or resentment. In fact, he wasn’t the least bit intimidated. A thrill shot down her spine and right between her legs, leaving her hot and wet. As the Queen of the Cards, she hit the high stakes signature poker room at the Castillo regularly. At a minimum of $20,000 to grab a seat, she believed the play integral to honing her skill in the competition of the World Series of Poker.