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Betting on Love by Alexis Abbott (1)

Dominick

A globe-shaped chandelier hangs from a black ceiling that looks like a more starry night sky than Las Vegas has ever seen. It casts dim light over pristine green carpet with red and pink flower print.

A speckle of blood stains it as I throw a man to the ground after parrying his drunken fist.

“Fuckin’...son of a bitch! I’ll sue this fuckin’-”

I reach down and seize the man by the back of his collar and hoist him up, cutting him off mid-sentence. I wrench his arms behind his back and hold him while I stand him on his feet. He tries to struggle, but I have an iron grip on him, even if he does have about 50lbs on me. I move him away from the bar and toward the back rooms so fast and so subtly that the other guests barely have time to notice that I’m dragging him away.

That’s my job.

I’m working security for this casino, and I make problems go away.

Two of my enforcers are waiting for me once I get the staggering drunk asshole off the casino floor, and they receive him with the grace I trained them to have, holding him up and steady while his head sways back and forth. After that little burst of aggression and getting tossed to the ground, his head is probably swimming. He’ll be lucky if he remembers anything from tonight.

And if he keeps putting up a fight, he’ll be unlucky.

“Got trashed off his ass, started harassing some of the female guests, took a swing at my bartender when he tried to cut him off,” I explained in my usual curt, no-nonsense tone. “I don’t care if he’s not on strike three yet. Get him out of here. If he tries to apologize, throw him in a cab and send him to his hotel. If he doesn’t, he can sleep it off out back.”

“Yes, sir,” one of the enforcers says, and they both give me a brief nod before dragging him off into the shadows. I take a breath, then turn around and stride back out onto the casino floor, eyes combing the place for any other fires tonight.

I’m imposing on my own. I usually don’t have to raise a fist to be intimidating. People stiffen up when I patrol by, and when my gaze falls on them, they get anxious. I use that to my advantage. When I’m on the floor, as far as I’m concerned, this is my casino.

And I run a tight ship.

It’s a Friday, and the sun went down about half an hour ago on this autumn evening that was getting cooler outside by the hour. That means the gamblers are starting to come out in droves, and that means it’s time for security to get out in force. The sooner my forces are out keeping an eye on things, the sooner we’ll know what kind of night it’s going to be. I never let things get out of hand here.

This is a mob casino, and I don’t let anyone fuck with us.

Most people are fine. They’re just tourists, even the ones who are high rollers. This isn’t the kind of place you come in with just a cool $50 to try to blow or invest and make off with a little extra pocket change. People come in ready for the ten-grand minimum, and they’re usually the kind of people who consider that chump change.

I watch the steady stream of them coming in through the glass doors. Most of them are older men with younger women hanging on their arms. The men are a mixed bag. Some of them wear suits that could rival my own from some of the best tailors in the world. Others are more relaxed, and I even see a polo or two strolling around. We’re not supposed to let that kind of casual outfit through the doors, which tells me those are the kinds of guests who are too important to stop.

These are the kinds of people who see Vegas as just another stopover between their summer home in Monaco and family manor in California. I’ve even spotted a couple of A-list celebrities making their way through, complete with the big sunglasses and hats that keep them from being recognized too easily. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does... I couldn’t care less.

I’m here to make sure things go smoothly, and I go home with a fatter paycheck than I could ever need. Fast money, fast women, fast luxury—that’s what drew me in, and that’s what keeps me working smart and climbing the ladder.

And I’m pretty fucking good at it.

The people who make their way in usually fit a profile. I’ve gotten good at reading them over the years. Most are couples or groups, heading in for more of a social affair than anything else. Small groups are easy to deal with, because people are usually too interested in each other to get too sloppy drunk. Large groups are a nightmare, easily the most likely to act out. Bachelor parties are a sign that I need to start calling in extra help.

Lone guests are another story.

Some are professional gamblers. They usually slink in and make a beeline for the tables without getting a drink. Those are the ones I need to keep an eye on, because if there’s one rule to this place that always holds true, it’s that the house always wins. If it looks like that’s not going to hold true, I need to encourage it to.

But the kinds of people who know how to handle themselves in a casino are careful. The few who fly under my radar are careful not to walk off with too much or draw too much attention. But most telling of all is that they have a certain look in their eyes, something subtle that hints at intelligence, cunning, and simple luck.

Those are the eyes I see when she walks in.

Nearly six feet of pure red walks through the doors with the grace of an angel and the emerald eyes of the devil himself. Long red hair spills down her pale, bare shoulders and melds with her crimson, form-fitting dress that hugs her curves and ends just above the cherry-red heels that are giving her those extra few inches, but I can tell she’s tall on her own. Her sheer dress gives me a view of those long legs that walk with such purpose, each step knowing exactly where it’s headed.

Those diamonds hanging around her neck don’t come cheap, either. The starry lighting in the casino makes them glitter the way they were meant to, and she knows it. She has confidence, poise, and taste—even if she’s someone’s arm decoration, no crusty old fart knows how to dress someone like that.

She sparks my interest.

My first thought is that she’s a high-class escort. Women in her profile don’t tend to be here alone, they’re usually heading to meet someone—some asshole who was either too lazy or too nervous to pick her up from a hotel room. But she doesn’t have that searching look on her when she first walks in. She surveys the room as if drinking it all in. I can almost see her mind taking notes.

I’m ex-military. I don’t get distracted easily unless I damn well want to get distracted. And even though my cock is stirring between my legs at the sight of this girl, my mind is clear when I decide to follow her at a distance and see where she goes. This is one lead I want to follow through with personally.

Something changes about her as she makes her way through the casino. It’s so subtle that I wouldn’t have noticed unless I’d spotted her the second she walked in, but it’s there. Her hips sway with an almost hypnotic rhythm, and she loses some of the purpose in her step. No, she doesn’t lose it—she drops it. She casts a glance around at some of the men in the casino, and I see a bat of her eyelashes that lasts only long enough to make them turn their heads as she walks by.

Everything about her body is enticing people around her to look at it. But I’m no lovesick teenager, and I’ve seen so many beautiful people walk through this casino that I’m numb to it all by now. There is something different about her, something...measured. She knows what she’s doing, I realize.

I crack a smile as I see her head over to the poker tables.

She sidles up along with the rest of the spectators, and they make room for her. Her presence commands attention, even from some of the players. And that’s especially impressive, because I know that table to be full of some of the more experienced regulars. I wonder if she did her homework beforehand, if her man is at the table, or if she just has a nose for the real skill in the house. All three options are intriguing.

I follow at a safe distance, pretending to be keeping an eye on the floor around the poker tables while actually keeping my eye on her.

Her body language confirms what I suspected when she walked in. She only tucks a lock of stray hair or adjusts her legs when one of the players is glancing away from the table, and when they do, it’s usually at her. I notice her smile at one of them when they make eye contact. Her every move is measured, calculated.

I respect that.

First chance she gets, I watch her buy in, and she takes a seat with the high-rollers, right next to the guy who just won the last hand. She smiles at him, and suddenly, she’s a little more animated than before—but not too much so. She can’t seem too interested. I feel like I’m getting into this woman’s head, and I have to admit, I can see why she looks like she’s having fun.

The player she’s sitting next to takes to it warmly, but he’s not a total sucker. Once the game gets started, things get serious and reserved again, but I see how often the other players glance over at her. How could they not? They’re as interested as I was when I first saw her. She encourages them in subtle ways, usually with brief eye contact, just enough to keep them thirsty for more. They’re utterly taken by her.

So taken that she wins her first hand.

I see the smiles on the faces of some of the older men. I can practically hear the words “beginner’s luck” on the tips of their tongues. They think it’s cute that she trounced them the first time around. It even interests them a little. Men like them like girls who can impress them, but not threaten them.

That amusement starts to fade a little when she wins a second time.

By the third hand, the smiles have started to fade from the men’s faces, but they’re getting challenged. Some of them look like they’re ready to get serious, while others look like they’re about ready to get up and leave. All the while, the crimson lady hasn’t changed. She has a mildly amused, surprised look on her face. I’m pretty sure I saw the actual words “beginner’s luck” on those ruby-red lips at one point.

She says what the men are thinking, and that puts them at ease and keeps them going a little while longer. She’s clever. Very clever.

But just before she pushes the men too far, I see her cash out, and she gives them all a flirty, ditzy wave before leaving them behind and heading to the bar. The men she left in the dust look at each other with mild surprise, but not anger. She didn’t totally wipe them out, but she left the table with far more than any of them could have expected, leaving them with just enough to keep playing instead of complaining to me and trying to chase her down.

They played right into her hand.

I never saw her cheating. The dealer didn’t catch on either, if she was. We have subtle signals we can give each other when we see someone cheating at the tables, and as stunning as this girl is, I wouldn’t hesitate to do my job if she’d been trying something dirty. But if she was, she was better at keeping it hidden than I was at spotting it.

That is rare.

She didn’t fail to pick up some attention on her way out. Some of the guests murmur to each other and nod in her direction, and some of them let their eyes linger on her longer than that. Usually, someone winning that big and drawing that much attention was a big red flag. She managed to skirt around that suspicion, just barely. I have no reason to step in and intervene yet.

But I want to.

I’d be a liar if I tried to pretend I haven’t been sizing her up the whole time. Even without the act she’s putting on, there’s no question that she’s a knockout. She’s making all the things she was blessed with work overtime for her. And that stride, that confidence, that cunning...it’s enticing.

I’m not the kind of man to flatter myself, but I’ve never had any trouble getting any woman I’m interested. I don’t usually do that kind of thing on the job, but I have a little more cause to follow this lead through. There’s something just under that sexy surface, and I’m interested in knowing what it is.

She’s calculating, but so am I.

Almost as soon as she makes it to the bar Tony is working, I follow her, striding up with every bit of confidence and poise that she does.

Time for me to meet the lady in red.

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