Three kinds of gamblers spend big at my roulette table.
There’s the guy who’s all up in his head. He’s quiet, body language closed. He sits with hunched shoulders and barely meets my eye. He plays odds, usually has a system he sticks to religiously. Like he always plays red and doubles his bet when he loses.
Then there’s the reckless gambler. He’s riding emotion, drugs or alcohol. He’s the opposite of the first kind. No system, totally haphazard. He might ask the woman beside him for her favorite number and bet it.
Then, there’s the gut gambler, my personal favorite. He carries an electricity with him that often carries the entire table away. It’s the guy who’s found the magic. Lady Luck, mojo, their stars aligning—who knows what it is, but they have an energy they’re following. They stay in the flow, following their intuition and bet right every time.
Often they appear similar to reckless gamblers: they’re outgoing, social. They engage with the people around them, including me, their croupier.
The whale—that’s Vegas for big spender—at my table tonight is neither reckless, nor a gut gambler, although he has the personality and style of both. He’s gorgeous with a finely tailored suit and European flair, like he stepped off the pages of an Italian men’s magazine. He flirts shamelessly with me and chats up the people around him.
I scoop and stack the chips and award the winnings with practiced finesse, doing a one-handed split and stack and moving with lightning speed.
“There she goes, beauty and talent.”
It’s cheesy, but I flash him a smile. I like having him at my table, love his charm and flair, the big tips, yet my spidey sense keeps sounding. There’s something off about him.
He’s down two thousand at the moment. He slides his chips out onto the table at the last minute, right as I wave my hand and call no more bets. He sets them up sloppily, too. I can’t tell if he wants them in the box for Third Twelve or Odd.
“Which one, sir?” I lean forward to get his attention as the wheel spins.
He’s been drinking quite a bit, but he doesn’t appear intoxicated. His eyes flick to my cleavage—which I still manage to work despite the masculine uniform—then back to my face before he gives me a slow, good-natured grin. “Odds, please. Sorry for that.”
“No slop,” I warn, and scoot the chips over as the ball settles.
He wins. He slides two hundred-dollar chips across the table to me as a tip. When I pull his chips in, I see he’s embedded a ten dollar chip in the middle instead of a hundred. I flick my gaze up and see he’s watching me. He winks.
I subtly signal for Security to come over.
It’s not the first time I’ve been propositioned to cheat for a customer. It happens often enough. It sort of boggles my mind that he’d spend two hundred bucks paying me off to make ninety. But I suppose it was a test. Once he found out if I’d give him anything, he would’ve tried it again and again.
Vincent, the security manager on the floor tonight ambles over and stands close to me, dipping his head to listen.
“This guy’s playing slop and trying to slip low chips in his stack.”
Later, I would realize Vincent seemed a little too pleased with me, but it doesn’t register. I’m just ignoring the flutters in my belly as he walks around to escort the dude out. I’m not sorry. I did the right thing, for sure. I’m only disappointed because the guy was attractive and sort of fascinating to me, and I’d fantasized for just a moment about him asking me out.
But whatever. I’m not going to risk this job, not even for a sexy man in a sharp suit. Working at the Bellissimo is like a job, education and socialization all rolled into one glamorous package. It’s owned by the notorious Nico Tacone, of the Tacone Chicago crime family, who rules the place with an iron fist. I wouldn’t fuck with him. Even if he is in love with my cousin.
I finish my shift and head toward the employee locker rooms. When I pass the hallway toward the security offices, I stop short.
Vincent is standing in a relaxed posture, shooting the shit with none other than the sexy suit from my table.
“Corey,” he grins and beckons me closer. “Come here, I want to introduce you to someone.”
Oh Jesus. He was a secret shopper. Or whatever you call a security test. I don’t know why it pisses me off, but it does. My stomach tightens up into a knot as I stride over.
“Corey, meet Stefano Tacone, our new Head of Security.”
I lift my hand to slap Stefano’s face. I don’t know why I do it. Yes, I have a redhead’s temper and I grew up in a violent family. Still, I should know better.
He catches my wrist and uses it to pull me right up against him. “I wouldn’t.” His warning is less a growl than a low, smoky rumble. Like he’s dirty-talking me right here in the hallway.
My body responds immediately, my core turning molten. Of course, my damn cheeks heat, too. And believe me, on a redhead, there’s no mistaking a blush.
“No one strikes a Tacone without regretting it.” It’s a threat, yet it’s still spoken good-naturedly, with the same heart-stopping charm he used out on the floor, trying to get me to cheat for him.
Shit. Did I actually just lift a hand to a mob boss? A chill slithers down my back.
I’m so going to lose my job.
Except Stefano doesn’t look angry. He looks like he wants to eat me for lunch.
I figure my best bet is to own my mistake. “Forgive me.”
* * *
The beauty in my arms—well, not quite in my arms, more at my mercy—meets my gaze with courage.
I see neither fear nor defiance in the bright blue eyes, merely bald curiosity, almost a hint of fascination.
I picked her table for a reason, and it wasn’t because anyone suspected her of cheating. Quite the opposite. The floor manager says she always attracts a crowd of gentlemen, earns big tips. She’s fast and showy, exuding just the right balance of cool professional and warm invitation in any game she deals. I tested her because we need a dealer for private games upstairs.
Now, though, I want to play all kinds of private games with her and none of them involve a deck of cards or a roulette wheel.
“I don’t like being humiliated,” she says. For a moment, I think she’s speaking to my thoughts, and then I realize it’s her justification for trying to slap me. She turns her wrist in my hand, attempting to get free.
I don’t allow it, pulling her small hand up to my mouth to brush my lips across her knuckles. “I’ll remember that,” I murmur.
She goes still, throat working on a swallow. She’s so close I sense the heat of her lanky body, notice the slight tremble in her fingers, despite the evenness of her gaze.
There goes the blush again, giving her away. I want to keep holding her tight against my body, watching those electric blue eyes dilate every time I speak, but if I do, I’ll end up shoving her against the wall and having my way with the tits she wields like weapons.
No other female croupier looks like this one. The new uniform is a white oxford, crimson vest, and a bow tie, for God’s sake.
Corey manages to make the outfit sinful, though. The short black skirt hugs every curve of her ass, hips and waist, setting off a pair of long slender legs. She has the blouse unbuttoned and open to the vest, the bow tie worn on the inside like a lover’s collar. How I’d love to put a collar and leash on this beautiful creature and bring her to heel; she’d take some training, too. The coupe de grace of the outfit is her vest. She chose one two sizes too small, making it appear more like a bustier or corset, cinching below her breasts and pushing them in and up until they’re begging to spill from her blouse. I can’t tell with the vest if her nipples are hard, but judging from her parted lips and short breath, I’d guess they are.
I know I sprouted a chub just from getting rough with her. Which would probably be a good reason to let her go. I force a little self-control and release her.
“Come into my office, let’s have a little chat.” I wave my arm to indicate my new office.
Again, she holds her head high, tossing her long thick waves over her shoulder as she precedes me to the closed door.
She waits for me to open it, presumably because it’s my office, but I take distinct satisfaction in reaching past her to hold it open, like we’re on some kind of classy date instead of interview.
“Have a seat, Corey.”
She shoots me a wary glance as she takes a seat opposite me at my desk. “Did Nico sic you on me?”
I arch a brow. “You’re on a first-name basis with my brother?”
“Mr. Tacone,” she amends with a slight flush. I love her blushes because they are so at odds with her natural confidence. “No, sorry, not at all. He’s dating my cousin, so I just—”
“Ah, yes. The woman. The reason Nico called me back from Sicily.”
Corey appears taken aback. “What do you mean?”
I wink. “I’m here because he was in danger of losing her—working too many hours. I haven’t met her yet, this cousin of yours.” I let my gaze travel across Corey’s face, down to her enticing cleavage and back. “I can see why he might be enchanted.”
No blush this time. In fact, I think she suppressed an eye roll. I really do like this girl. Taming her would be so fun.
“What’s her name?”
She crosses her long legs, ease creeping into her posture. “Sondra. And you probably won’t meet her. She’s gone.”
I knew this already. It’s a good thing I arrived when I did because Nico’s been completely off the rails since his woman walked out on him. I have yet to see the guy, but I know he’s flown home to Chicago to figure out his arranged marriage and other shit with our father.
She tries to take back the lead in the conversation, “So why target me? I’m a good dealer. I keep my nose clean.”
My lips twitch. I love her spirit. She’s going to be perfect for upstairs. I’ll just have to make sure no one touches her because I’m already starting to feel a bit proprietary over the looker. “Your supervisors like you, yes. The ones who aren’t jealous.” I noticed the female supervisor gave her much lower marks than the males.
The corner of Corey’s lips tug up. I like the easy recognition she gives to my statement. She already has correctly interpreted my words and isn’t bothered by them. I’ve already made up my mind—she’s smart. Confident. Easy on the eyes. She’s perfect.
“We’re switching you to higher stakes games. Private ones.” I’m not asking; I’m telling. This is the way Tacones do business.
Now I caught her off-guard. Her crimson lips part, and for a moment, no sound comes out. “That sounds dangerous.” Her voice strangles slightly on the last word.
I raise a brow, both curious and impressed by her conclusion. “It’s not. I’ll be there for every game. I won’t let anything happen to you.” When she remains still, I say, “Or is it me you’re worried about?”
Slight blush tells me she’s definitely interested, but she shakes her head. “No. Yes. I guess I mean it sounds… illegal.”
There it is. I so appreciate people who can be direct.
I spread my hands. “This is Las Vegas. We have a gambling license. It’s the reason my brother moved here.”
“Right. Of course.” She nods, averting her eyes. I fucking love those little signs of submission on an otherwise alpha female. Like when she apologized for trying to slap me. She knows when to hold her own and when to roll over. It makes me want to flex my dominance in all kinds of filthy ways—put her on her knees and choke her with my cock. Tie her to my bed and keep her screaming all night long. Win her obedience with a whip and a carrot.
She doesn’t believe me, which again, shows she’s smart. Gambling may not be illegal, but there are all sorts of sordid, underground things that happen around the fringe. Like the sometimes forcible collection of unusual bets placed by desperate men.
This is the game my brother Nico learned from La Famiglia. He was a genius to bring it to Vegas, where much of it is legal. Yeah, it means he pays taxes, but believe me, not as much as he should.
“It won’t be all the time. Three or four nights a week. We’ll double your base pay and the tips should increase, too.”
“You’re not giving me a choice.” It’s a statement, not a question.
I wink. “You noticed that, did you? I need you in the upstairs games, Corey. End of story.”
Anger flickers in her expression but she quickly hides it. “Why me?”
I lift my shoulders in a casual shrug. “You’re professional. Cool and reserved. Trustworthy. Beautiful. In short, you’re exactly what I’m looking for.”
The wariness in her gaze becomes more apparent. Her dislike of my offer shows on her face, but she says, “Well. I guess I don’t have a say in the matter.”
I’m slightly surprised. I knew she wasn’t a bimbo who’d fall all over herself, flattered, but I don’t think I’m giving her a bad deal. And if her cousin’s already in bed with Nico—literally—I can’t think she has major hang-ups about our family.
But maybe she does.
“Oh there’s always a choice, Ms. Simonson. You can walk out that door.”
Eh, I may be the young charming one, but can be as much of a stronzo as any of my brothers. Maybe more.
Her dark painted lips compress. “I’m not doing that, Mr. Tacone.” Her blue eyes blaze when she meets the challenge in my gaze.
“Good.” I stand up and hold out my hand. “Welcome to the big time.”
She stands and I note her brief hesitation before taking my hand, but I give her a warm smile as we shake.
“Tomorrow night. Be here by eight.”
“Yes, sir. Here—your office?”
I nod, even though it’s a terrible idea. I should foist her onto Sal or Leo, tell her somewhere else to meet, but I can’t turn down the idea of having her here, in my space. My personal croupier. “Wear a dress—something sexy.”
She pauses at the door and turns around, the wariness fully in place again.
“I won’t let anyone touch you.” I hold up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
Her eyes narrow, lips twist into a smirk. “You were never a Scout.” There’s a derisive note of knowing in her voice that makes something slide in my belly. The urge to fuck that scorn right off her face combines with the need to punch something.
She’s right. I’m no Boy Scout. Never have been. My big brothers were delivering beat-downs on Nico and I before we lost our first baby teeth. We learned the art of violence at the same time we learned our alphabet. Nico perfected the fine art of strategy—how to manipulate and win against the odds—by the time he hit puberty. He showed me the ropes, protected me. My life’s been easier than his and I’m not bitter, but I’m also not going to apologize, especially not to this mouthy piece of ass. These are the cards I was dealt, the family I was born into.
But I don’t allow any of this to show. Instead, I toss another wink and my lady-killer smile. “You found me out.”
I reach past her to open the door again. “Do as you’re told—wear the dress. I’ll see that you’re rewarded.” To put a finer point on it, I pull a five-hundred-dollar chip from my pocket and flip it into the air. She catches it, then holds my gaze as she slowly tucks it into her cleavage.
It’s all I can do not to slam the door and push her against it, give her a thorough strip-search to see what else she’s hiding between or around those perky breasts.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” Her voice comes out a little breathy, telling me she’s not immune to the heat of my gaze.
I clear my throat. “Tomorrow.” I want to slap her ass as she sashays through the door, but I manage to find some self-restraint in time.
Tomorrow, though, she may not be so lucky.
I can’t fucking wait to see her in a dress. I already know the sight of her is going to make my night.
* * *
I dial my cousin Sondra on my way out but she doesn’t answer. She’s with Nico in Chicago after a blowout fight that we all thought had ended things forever. But Tacone has a hard time taking no for an answer. I have to say—Nico Tacone may be a scary motherfucker, but he is totally in deep with Sondra.
When she left him four days ago, he flipped out. He cornered me, tried to make me tell him where she’d gone, put a guy outside my house, presumably to watch for her. Sondra thought he’d been cheating on her. But I talked to everyone close to him after Sondra left, and they all had the same story. He had a family-arranged marriage contract that he was trying to get out of and Sondra is the only woman Nico’s ever been serious about.
So when I got her text yesterday with a picture of a diamond ring on her left hand, I knew they’d worked it out.
I really don’t know what to think about Sondra marrying a known mobster. She’s always had terrible taste in men—not that my last choice was any better.
But Nico Tacone is the real deal. He’s dangerous and powerful. He made my ex disappear. Not that I’m not crying over it. Dean tried to rape my cousin.
But still. Ordinary guys don’t have that kind of power.
I’m not judgy about the crime thing. As the daughter of a crooked fed, I have a very jaded sense of crime and law.
But that’s why I didn’t want to get involved in anything that puts me close to the seedy underbelly of the organization. And the high-stakes private games will definitely do that.
I haven’t seen my dad in over ten years. When he left my mom for some skanky chick in Detroit, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Does Stefano know my dad’s with the FBI? Somehow I doubt it, and if he finds out, things could get hairy fast.
I really don’t know how much illegal activity goes on around here, but I’m guessing it’s more peripheral. Why would they need to break laws when their casino rakes in millions a year? Still, I don’t want to see any of it. I don’t ever want to be in a position where they have to rely on or question my loyalty.
Should I have told Stefano?
And why in the hell am I thinking of him as Stefano and not Mr. Tacone? He reprimanded me for calling his brother by his first name.
Oh, maybe it’s all the eye-fucking he did. Or the way he kissed my fingers after catching my wrist. A shiver runs through me remembering how quickly he caught and held my wrist without any trace of exertion or anger. Rather, he seemed bemused. As if he enjoyed the opportunity to show me his superior strength and hold me captive.
It’s not because I want to be on a first name basis with him.
I definitely don’t.
Why would I even think that? Especially after all my concerns for Sondra?
But something about that man has me squeezing my knees together every time he winks. Which is far too often.
I drive home to my small apartment. For the first time since Sondra moved into the casino and Tacone made Dean disappear, it feels too small. Even lonely.
But I’m not looking for company. I don’t need to jump into another relationship.
Of course no one’s chasing me for one, either. Stefano appears to be the polar opposite of my cousin’s possessive and single-minded lover, Nico. He’s definitely a player.
Which means sex—just once to get him out of my system—might be on the table.