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by Destiny Blaine
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance
Description: Audra Alexander wants the ultimate championship title, the bracelet and the cool ten million dollar cash prize, but when the chips stack up against her, Audra could use a full house--and Max is ready to give her one. Only the one he has in mind doesn't have anything to do with poker. A professional gambler, Max is a player's player. He's also considered quite charming with the ladies, but once he meets Audra Alexander for the first time, he's hooked. After an initial meeting, he follows her career in hopes of one day coming face to face with her again, and he gets his chance when he least expects it. When Max and Audra meet in Sin City, Max isn't surprised at the way he responds to her. She catches him off his game and then does her dead-level best to keep him off of it. Until, of course, he plays his hand with every intention of winning hers. [Erotic Contemporary Suspenseful Romance: Contains graphic sexual content and adult language.]
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./Siren Classic, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: October 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [370 KB]
Reading time: 230-322 min.
"5 KISSES: I was captivated with Max and Audra from page one, not to mention the cover is really hot. I admit, I don't know much about poker but I had no trouble with this story. It really felt like I was there at the table, the descriptions were that vivid. I found myself laughing with the characters at some of the word play that went on. I think it's a great author that can pull you into a story with descriptions that vivid. I really liked that Max was all out there and honest with Audra, it was refreshing to see a man really go after what he wanted. Lying Eyes is a great story, one that I intend on reading again. Destiny Blaine did a superb job, and I highly recommend the story."--Lila, TwoLips Reviews
Tunica, Mississippi 2005
Max Reynolds claimed the Tunica win with ease. He'd been the chip leader in the No-Limit Hold'em Championship since the wee hours of the tournament and the cards just fell his way from there.
Securing first prize and five hundred thousand dollars required little effort, so he collected his cash and then smiled for the cameras, shook hands, signed autographs and glanced at his watch. Waving goodbye to a few players he recognized from the poker circuit, he headed outside. He had a plane to catch.
That's when he saw Audra Alexander.
She was twenty-one--barely. Since the tournament began, her name buzzed throughout the casino and she was pointed out to him on more than one occasion. The woman generated quite a stir and every man there seemed to have her name on his lips.
She was the young gun who claimed the ladies championship and not only did she win, but she also gained a quick nod of approval by those who watched her performance. She impressed some of the best.
Audra was young, too green to play poker at the professional level if Max gave an opinion. To make matters worse, she was by far the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. He didn't have a problem with card playing gorgeous broads but something about this one made him uneasy.
She possessed the body of a full grown woman with curves in all the right places, not to mention spectacular legs that went on for years. Her chestnut hair and big brown eyes were rich in color, which only accentuated her little button nose. When she smiled, he assumed those around her grinned too. It would be downright deplorable if they didn't.
He first approached her carefully because she looked distraught. She tried to buy her way to Memphis, or so it seemed. She held her purse open by one hand with dollar bills crumbled in the other. Big tears threatened to spill from her eyes.
"I have to make that plane. Someone must be headed for the airport." With several pieces of luggage at her side, she certainly looked distressed and all the more vulnerable for it.
After hearing others talk about her, Max knew Audra played poker with venom in her veins. He decided this was the side of the young woman he liked a lot better. She appeared defenseless and he knew how to help.
He stepped closer and then stuck out his hand. "Hi, Audra? I'm Max Reynolds. I'm headed to Memphis right now so if you want to ride with me, you're more than welcome." He made a quick gesture over his shoulder, pointing out the car and driver waiting for him, and he was certainly pleased when she didn't take long to accept.
She only hesitated for a minute before shaking his hand. Since everyone in poker was familiar with his name, it wasn't like she faced immediate danger if she took him up on his offer. "Thank you, Mr. Reynolds. I appreciate it."
And just like that Max Reynolds met Audra Alexander and he had a feeling his life forever changed. He felt it from the moment she gripped his hand. Oh sure, he'd been intrigued by her long before they met face to face. Too many people were far too interested in the newcomer. Now, he understood why. One touch from her and he was a changed man.
They rode in one of the casino limousines from Tunica, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee and he fell in love. Okay, so maybe it bordered more with lust at first sight, but love wasn't out of the question, not with a woman like Audra.
The ride was pleasant enough and their time together clicked away as if the seconds and minutes didn't matter, perhaps never even accumulated, but they didn't pass unnoticed. He clung to each of them and chastised himself later for it.
He told her war stories about poker, taking the time to name drop. He even casually mentioned some of his secrets. Something he wished he hadn't bothered to do later, especially since he shared a fear of losing to Scotty Nguyen at a final table or having Phil Hellmuth beat him at all. Both events happened within months of his Tunica win.
The young woman seemed eager to hear each word of the short stories he provided, and if her expression gave anything away, she relished every piece of advice the thirty-five year old man wanted to give. Until, that is, he tried to warn her away from the professional gaming element altogether.
"So, tell me, Audra, what's a nice young lady like you want with a career in poker?" He tried to remain nonchalant and it was an effort since he wanted to know.
Her glare burned through him that afternoon, almost as if she never heard the question. Then, he witnessed the determination, the need and yes, the lust she already held for the game. Poker ran rampant in her blood. It flowed red-hot after the win she claimed. The sport of it left evidence in her telling eyes. He understood how winning felt and beating some of the best, like she proved she knew how to do, provided a natural high.
"I grew up watching my dad do two things." She stopped altogether as if revealing her past was too painful to share with a stranger, but then she continued forward with stark defiance. "He lost at cards and drank away his misery afterwards. I decided as a child the game could be mastered and I wanted to be the one to do it. Maybe it's just my way of looking for a little retribution."
He tried to store everything about her to memory. He wanted to be sure he remembered all of the small details. The way her hot chocolate eyes filled to the brim when she talked about her father, the way her smile spread wider and wider with each poker tale he told. Max etched everything about her in his mind.
The ride to Memphis took forty-five minutes but he'd spent hours since then following her career. Hoping, and yes, maybe even realizing, one day soon he'd be in the same tournament with her again, or at least the same city. * * * *
Las Vegas, Nevada
The World Series of Poker, 2007
The World Series of Poker is the biggest enchilada of them all. The tournament itself goes on for over a month but the contest earning the most notoriety and media attention is the WSOP Main Event. It's the No-Limit Hold'em game where men are separated from boys and if women decide to ante up, then they better understand the score. A ten thousand dollar entry fee isn't something the players take lightly, and those who enter are there to take home the largest of all poker wins.
Audra Alexander didn't care who kept the tally as long as she made more marks on the invisible card. She came to Las Vegas to claim her bracelet, something she wanted as much as the title and the cash. She understood better than anyone just how high the chips stacked against female players but she didn't think about it. She barely noticed the sex differences when she sat down at a table. She didn't, but most of the men next to her did. It was their problem, not hers.
Only one woman ever pulled up a chair to the final table and a female player never claimed ultimate success at the Main Event. Audra didn't care. She planned to make history and she wanted to do it with trip number one.
It was the third day of the contest and The Rio's Amazon Room buzzed with commotion. In the near distance, slot machines rang out with spins to win determining hand-paid jackpots. Craps tables were packed with new money while onlookers watched old professional gamblers set the dice in hopes of keeping them hot. Gorgeous young women excitedly waited as a little steel ball bounced back and forth between the red and black numbers of a Roulette wheel, but in this particular room, only one game mattered. A lone winner would earn the most coveted title in poker, but first, thousands battled for a final seat.
Max seemed really pleased to see her when she joined his table and exchanged polite hellos. He greeted her with a warm double hand-shake after she placed her chip racks on the table. In fact, she thought he might wrap her in a tight hug because he seemed all too delighted to see her. She felt confident her body language stopped him before his arms reached for her.
Audra immediately felt transparent when she saw him, especially since he'd become the object of her poker obsessions and a few fantasies, too. A spark of nervous energy inspired a few hairs to stand up on the back of her neck. Just feeling his warm palm in hers, even if it was only for a moment, did things to a woman that should've disqualified her from the tournament.
Soon after she took her seat, Audra posted the big blind and waited. She planned on folding her cards once she saw them but no one raised the bet so she stayed in the hand. The dealer dealt the first three community cards and after she saw the flop, Audra knew she owned the hand. She felt it in her gut or at least she thought so, and she'd played enough cards to earn rest assurance, to an extent.
She felt fairly confident until the man seated at the opposite end of the table decided to talk her right out of a comfort zone. Naturally, he would.
"You gonna call me, baby?" Max tossed in his chips with a raise around the same time he let go of the question. The man with the notorious reputation emerged and he didn't waste time doing it.
As luck would have it, Audra became the center of attention. She swallowed hard. She hated to be taunted at the tables but knew how to deal with Reynolds. Even though the man she first met in Tunica didn't remotely resemble the tough-talking poker player staring back at her now, she'd watched him play. She was ready for him because deep down she knew she needed to prepare for moments like these and men like Max.
"If I decide to call you, you'll know it," she fired back while trying to maintain some level of composure. Just hearing him say the word 'baby' shook her a bit but it didn't rattle her enough to avoid a feisty comeback. Maybe it was because she anticipated words exchanged or maybe it was possible to sit there and imagine him in his underwear, an old trick she used back in high school whenever she stood in front of crowds. No, she didn't think stripping him down to boxers worked, absolutely not. If she let her mind move too fast then she'd picture him at bare bones and her hours there would be limited. She tried to focus and just breathe. Most of the time the concept worked, she had nearly twenty-four years to serve as proof.
A player's player, Max wasn't just a dominant force at the poker table, he gained the respect of a true card playing powerhouse. From what Audra had heard, his skills reached far beyond the casino floor too, and one thing seemed certain, he earned quite the reputation with the opposite sex. In fact, his notoriety for being a ladies man proved legendary. A point she found hard to ignore after she began following his career.
Crossing his arms, he leaned back in his chair. "I'm right here waiting for you when you do," he continued to tease her. Midnight blue eyes pierced through her with fierce intensity. Some would say they were as cold as the icy waters he often represented, but Audra saw something else beneath them, too. Thank goodness for Ray-Bans. She made a mental note to remember them on a daily basis now, right along with her iPod. If she covered her eyes and ears, then ignoring Reynolds wouldn't present much of a problem.
"Waiting on a woman," her voice hitched and the words spilled out like a song, "I imagine it's something you'll never tire of, kind sir." She tilted her sunglasses down on the bridge of her tiny nose and tried to find a seductive smile--one just for him. She hoped it worked.
The men around the table appreciated the war of words. Snickers were followed by a couple of sound effects, not to mention outright laughter. The man seated on her immediate left slowly rippled his chips. Already, he irked her. It was a decision she reached in record time right after she sat down. His careful gaze, creepy really, made her very uncomfortable. Soon after she'd joined the table, the young man tried to profile her as she removed her chips from the rack.
Most of the time, profiling wouldn't bother her. Players always tried to sum up the competition, but today wasn't a day like any other, which is why she tilted the rack over. She even took her time to fumble around before gathering the fallen chips. Max chuckled on cue when it happened. He realized it was deliberate. The profiler didn't have the brains to understand. He took her for a novice; a dumb brunette who had the audacity to show up at his table with boobs.
"How much you got there?" Max nodded at her chips after an awkward silence lapsed.
"More than you can handle," she fired back before peering down at her chunk change.
"You tell him, Audra," one of the men commented.
"Put him in his place," another player added. She appreciated the older man's support. In fact, on further observation, she recognized him. She'd put him in his place once or twice. Two years ago in Atlantic City--different town, same game. The world of poker often brought old friends and acquaintances back together for brief reunions.
Steady fingertips brushed over stacks of poker chips before she met his eyes again. "I have enough to make the call, if I decide you're worth it," she openly flirted with him. Whatever works.
She reminded herself who sat at the opposite end and tried to avoid stare tactics, not because she wanted to but because if she didn't, she might cream her pants right there. The man had it in him to push a woman's buttons. Max pressed hers without trying.
If anyone, male or female, spelled out beautiful, Reynolds did it without a problem. In fact, he likely inspired countless synonyms for the word. Sure, the man had a lot of self-confidence, which only upped the ante for women who wanted his attention, but his physical features were out-and-out perfect.
Regrouping again, Audra tried to think back to the way Reynolds played various hands on television. Finding mental clips from the big games at The Bellagio or the Australian tournaments proved simple enough in the past, but she wasn't able to recall them now.
Her straight flush was almost unbeatable. That is, unless he held the mother hand--the royal flush. The way he seemed to mock her with daring eyes while teasing her with a deliberate tongue implied a significant meaning. Audra faced off with a true pro. The game's finest.
Quick wit and dancing eyes undid the best of poker players, because regardless of his opponent, Max's expressions and demeanor never changed once he made up his mind to take a player out. Max possessed those two qualities and nailed them down to a creative art form. She'd been fair warned by several women players who knew of his abilities--on and off the felt.
"Wha'cha holding over there in the hole, baby?" His words drifted across the table again. She felt them slide her way with sleek and arrogant sophistication. She thought about peering back at her hole cards but quickly decided against it after his comment suggested maybe she needed to take another peep.
He's smooth. Dapper Don in the flesh. She couldn't concentrate for his babbling. Her eyes focused on the board. The dealer deserved a standing ovation. The cards came down and formed a beautiful flop and if anyone else, anyone other than Max that is, was in the pot with her now then her confidence of a sure win would've been at an all-time high.
The ten of Hearts quickly led to the Jack and Queen of the same suit. It was without a doubt, absolutely gorgeous. Anyone would think so, especially if they held the suited eight and nine. The only thing better would be the royal flush.
Audra continued to stare at the three cards in the middle. What were the chances of the royal? Pretty slim.
Max pressed on. "I hear you play it pretty tight, little lady. Is it true or are you going to let go of it just for me?" Max's ability to shake her left nothing and everything to the imagination, a skill which showcased some measure of calculated talent. Right now, she thought of it as an annoyance.
His choice of words proved he wanted her weak in the knees. Her legs weren't jelly yet but the chill bumps existed there. He did have one thing right. She played it tight--all the way around.
She watched him only closer now. Oh yeah she did, and he was right there waiting for her when she finally tilted her chin upward in order to defy her better senses.
Glaring back at her, she saw a man with a woman's means. She blinked. Damn it all, she did. Now, she was forced to look away from those broad shoulders and muscular arms because she didn't find one inch of reassurance there.
She meant to give him a longing stare, one to channel some of the initial flirting back to the source but it wasn't going to happen today. His light rose-colored shirt all but flaunted a glorified tan and the man just looked too sexy-hot for pretty in pink.
Now, her throat was dry and she felt a wave of heat, too warm for comfort. Someone must've messed with the thermostat. She focused on the fact until she voiced her sentiments. "Blistering," she whispered quietly but someone heard a softly spoken word or better yet, focused enough on her lips to read them.
"Hot." He snapped his teeth. Letting it slide must have been out of the question.
Max's charming way with the ladies threw many of them off their game so fast their heads, and undoubtedly their bodies, would spin. It only required a few seductive words, a tongue swipe across very kissable lips or a provocative look. He'd have a woman stripped down to her thong in record time, but before the clothes came off, he wanted her chip stacks and he typically took those with a smile.
"Call." Audra preferred to sit there all day and try to figure out what cards he held but the best thing to do was play her hand and move on. She wanted to see if he still had the balls to play. Her hand remained steady as she counted out the precise amount she needed to place the bet.
"It's four hundred fifty thousand to make the call," the dealer informed of the amount needed.
Audra nodded, continued the count and then moved the chips forward to indicate a placed bet.
Max looked over her shoulder and smiled for the cameras. They were playing at the featured table and Audra knew by his notorious theatrics, he thought he most definitely won the hand. He wanted to be sure the crowd believed in him too before they made it to the showdown.
The turn card came down and when it did, everyone could've heard a card fall from the table. King of Hearts.
Max's shoulders shifted. He almost did a little dance movement. He stretched, yawned and then grinned even bigger than before. He certainly knew how to play it if he didn't hold the Ace. "Baby, how much you got left over there?" Another round of conversation didn't take long to start. Max and patience didn't have a close personal relationship and those in the audience loved him for it.
Audra thought about how she wanted to finish out the hand. If he had the Ace of Hearts, which certainly seemed possible now, she'd lose and her tournament dreams would end. If she folded, she would take a substantial hit and start the following day off at a big disadvantage. She would spend the first part of the next day trying to make up for the loss. She didn't like to play from behind or start the day bringing up the rear with the short stack.
The other players at the table shook their heads. They chuckled and waited. Stilly eyes glared at the looming evidence of possible combinations as if the cards themselves revealed the winner. In the crowd, side-bets were most likely placed on who had the winning hand. If so, Max stood as the running favorite. She was a long-shot.
She decided to play his way. She just hoped like hell he would either fold or give away his hand. "I have enough to steal your lead today." She finally answered him with a good comeback and she flashed a smile too, just for the camera crew.
"Ouch!" one of the other men responded. All eyes around the table turned back to Max.
The superstar leaned forward and focused on her chest with a cold stare before he offered a sudden flirtatious wink. He tortured her with his long, leisurely gaze, and then pressed his lips into a slow pucker. Upon smacking them in a makeshift kiss, he informed the dealer, "I think she has about three hundred left down there." He nodded in Audra's direction.
"I'll raise for you baby." He tossed his chips like three hundred big ones meant nothing to him. His words, never mind the tone he used or the quick show of tongue that followed, were thick with implication.
"Fine, but don't expect me to roll over and play dead. I like to feel a little heat when a man decides to rise for the occasion." Right now, she would almost give up the pot to feel it coming off of him but that's only because of the way he continued to watch her--like he wanted to shuffle more than cards with her.
The man was working her, playing the player. Spectators waited and reporters brought out little notepads and voice recorders. She reminded herself of what she knew and what she wouldn't have trouble verifying through online photographs and poker articles if she needed a refresher course on Reynolds. He had his own paparazzi of sorts and they adored him. If she ever needed to win a pot, her time was now. She needed to forget who contributed most to it because it was too late to change her strategy, even though it would prove advantageous.
The other men there began their wise cracks once more and a few of them shifted in their seats. She leaned over the table and sported enough cleavage to inspire foaming at the mouth. Oh yeah, they were thinking about several possibilities and various end results.
Only one card can beat me. Her inner voice took the lead. She liked her odds and believed in her chances.
Audra never talked trash at a table with another player--never. She didn't know what had gotten into her. Maybe Max Reynolds just chapped her ass. Using his notorious Mr. Alpha Male-to-you attitude ribbed her in just the right place and really, that was quite unfortunate. It put her at a great disadvantage but it placed him at one too. Didn't it? She hoped so. In fact, she was betting on it.
"You've played well, Audra," Max commented. "Especially for a woman."
He just had to bring up the female factor. He wasn't the first man to do it and he wouldn't be the last.
"Yes, she has, without a doubt," someone to his left chimed in, which only pissed her off more. He apparently thought Max held the rare royal flush. "There's nothing shameful about the way she's played today. I've watched her before and I have to say, it's always a pleasure." His eyes drifted to her neckline again.
Audra stood and the whole room fell quiet, or so she imagined. Both palms rested easy against the rough grit of the green felt. She swayed forward and back for a few seconds. This event and everything about it was her dream. She craved a seat at the final table. She wanted to be the last one standing. She longed to wear one of the treasured WSOP bracelets and really needed the estimated ten million dollar cash prize.
She looked back at Max. "Damn you." She mouthed the words but they fell from her lips all the same. If he just wasn't so damn-ass cocky, but then again, this is poker. Her inner voice really needed to take a nap.
"Audra, today is not going to be your day of reckoning." His jaw set about the same time his eyes did. The amusement washed away with his words. Finality existed there.
She knew what he meant. She shouldn't have told him about her father or any of her reasons for playing poker. She gave him a glimpse inside her house of truths, three years ago. Now, he couldn't wait to use the knowledge he possessed against her. He pulled out the wrong stop. He's bluffing. She had to believe it.
Sambo Grundle, one of the announcers, addressed the crowd in a low-pitched voice as he whispered his play-by-play assessment. "It appears Audra Alexander is ready to make the call. Now, if she makes this call, it would indicate to us that she may indeed have the flush, but the question is, which one of our players has the higher flush? Does someone hold the coveted straight flush or better still, the royal? We're about to find out." He slowly turned back to the table as he anticipated the final outcome right along with those in the audience.
Audra squinted harder but X-ray vision was instantly ruled out. Her lips tightened and before she second-guessed herself once more, her hands defied her and acted out on a passing thought. She had nothing left to do but state the obvious. "I'm all-in." She would've been all-in ten minutes ago if any other player was there with her and those seated next to her probably assumed as much.
Chips were moved in slightly to indicate she didn't have anything else left to lose. She also had everything to gain. A win would put her in a position of strength early in the tournament.
Max stretched his arms outward and placed both palms on the table. He took his time but he finally stood--an act of theatrics, too. A couple of the others at the table joined him. Everyone looked on with eager speculation and whispers began.
"Turn them up. Let's see 'em." The dealer indicated she wanted both players to show their cards by rotating two index fingers.
Max still wanted his ten minutes of fame. The media realized it and several cameras zoomed in and waited.
"Ladies first, Audra." He licked his upper lip and his tongue caught in the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, I don't know, Max. This seems to be your game. I wouldn't dream of stealing your spotlight." She took a deep breath and held it. She was ticked off. She wanted to play cards, not poker players.
Max bent over the table and with a flip of the wrist, turned them face-up. His grin widened with the show of cards.
Most would consider it a sight to behold.
Two Hearts, pretty as you please. His flush wasn't enough to beat hers. She almost laughed, rejoiced really. He should've won an Oscar nomination for the drama he created.
Audra let out a sigh of relief and flipped her two cards. "Straight flush."
The dealer turned to the announcer to be sure he saw it. "Straight flush. The lady wins."
Audra didn't hide her enthusiasm. Before she stopped to think about it, she jumped up with her legs kicking out to one side and a victorious wave high above her head indicating a triumphant win. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Excitement lit up the room and with her unprecedented victory, a chip lead by the end of the day seemed probable if she continued to play her cards, or even the players, just right.
Max appeared stunned but since he'd started the day as one the frontrunners, he was crippled but far from destroyed. He looked at the proof straight in front of him and then back up at her. "Well played." He shrugged, shook his head and then took a seat. A masculine and very sexy smile never indicated disappointment.
Audra continued to dance around for another thirty seconds. Beaming from ear to ear, she finally sat down again after a few more yelps and squeals.
The men around the table congratulated her. Most seemed somewhat relieved she captured the win. If Max secured her stack, he would've finished the day as the chip leader with a significant advantage. He would've been viewed as very dangerous with a phenomenal lead no one wanted to see Reynolds secure early in the tournament.
After things calmed down and Audra regained some of her composure, two players posted their blinds and the dealer dealt the new hand. Audra folded. Max followed soon after.
"You know, I don't think I've ever been defeated by a poker player where the winner cried out with such orgasmic pleasure. If I hadn't lost, it would've been music to my ears to hear such a joyful cry, and of course, witness such a tender explosion of emotion." Max's eyes met hers in a satisfying lock of appreciation before he nodded his final seal of approval. He sat back in the chair and folded his thick arms over a broad chest.
Audra snickered. "Oh, but Mr. Reynolds, I'm capable of multiples now." She leaned over her money and ran a slender finger down her tallest stack unable to hide the unmistakable enthusiasm after beating one of poker's finest.
"I certainly hope so, 'cause I'm counting on it."
So caught up in the moment, she barely heard his comeback. Before she offered a response, a player next to her asked a question and soon his suggestive reply was all but forgotten. * * * *
A little over nine thousand players entered the 2007 Main Event with roughly five hundred women competitors. The number proved important because by the end of the third day, only one hundred and fifty female players remained. Audra was a little disheartened when she heard the news.
She realized her chances of being ignored after a successful afternoon bordered along slim to non-existent after raking in several big pots. She stood as the chip leader by day's end, and celebrating would've been nice but a little premature.
With the winnings she secured, her position dramatically changed. When the announcer called out the standings, Audra recognized a new vulnerability. She knew what it meant when a woman moved ahead as the chip leader. She became an easy mark and wouldn't be a bit surprised if she discovered a bounty on her head. She felt the target when it was placed on her back because everyone in the casino, especially those who filtered in and out of The Amazon Room, realized what position she held.
The Rio hummed with activity but after ten hours of hard play, Audra barely noticed it when she left the poker room. Many of the players were staying there and most added party plans to their agenda. Audra didn't. She needed to eat, strategize, and rest for the next day. Long days didn't come easy for her but many of the entrants had the stamina for it. Those who didn't search out nearby parties returned to their rooms while others headed poolside for a few drinks. Die-hard poker enthusiasts made a beeline for cash games around town.
After she played about all the poker she could stand, she walked around the casino taking in everything The Rio represented. The festive décor, the noisy table games, the even louder music, along with all the dings, bells, and whistles of the over-crowded gaming environment made her long for a remote private island.
She quickly discovered patrons there now who considered her as part of the atmosphere. Her new status as the WSOP chip leader made her far too recognizable. After one too many strangers said hello and called her by her first name, she needed some down-time. She grabbed a martini from the bar and set her sights on a little rest and relaxation.
"Hold the elevator!" Max's command rang out above the cha-chings of the nearby slot machines.
Audra might have considered an escape route if only she had somewhere to go. She didn't. Much to her dismay, the elevator seemed large enough to hold the two of them.
Max slid inside just in time to join her for the ride. "Going up?" His smile gave everything away. A real smoking gun, it wasn't by sheer accident they were sharing a lift. She saw him sprint toward her right before she turned the corner.
Eyes batted uncontrollably. She hated it when involuntary movements placed her at a disadvantage. Her second nature flirted for her and never so much as allowed her to have a say-so. Max was handsome. Yes, sexy as hell. To add even more spice to sugar, like she needed it, he looked at her with a naughty little come-hither stare. The interesting glare alone sent her nerve endings on an outer body mission.
"Well?" He paused before he pushed the numbered buttons. "Up or down?"
"After today?" She laughed. "I'm not going down."
"You think you're the funny one, do you? Just for the record sweetheart, you wounded me but you didn't kill me." He hit one of the buttons. "I'm going to nine. What floor are you on?"
"Same." Her tone was just matter-of-fact. She was stunned stupid and truly incapacitated by the way he said 'sweetheart.'
"So, how have you been?" He started the small talk.
"Good. How about you?"
"I've had better days. You did really well down there. I was proud of you."
The choice of words shocked her. "Proud? Why?"
His dimples tempted her to find out more. "The way I look at it, no one else here can say they knew you when." He propped up against the back of the elevator with his arms tucked behind him.
"Oh yes, I suppose you do reserve the right. You can tell everyone you knew me when I used to cry over nearly-missed flights." She found plenty of amusement when she thought back to her first Max-meeting. Missing her plane wouldn't have been a catastrophic event but for some reason, after days of poker, she wanted out of the flatlands of Mississippi and a full day of rest before her next tournament. She definitely over-reacted.
"I'm surprised you just didn't hand me a pacifier and bottle that day." It was truly one of her more embarrassing moments.
"I didn't have your diaper bag or I would have offered." He always had a quick comeback. "I take it you don't sweat the small stuff now?"
"I've missed too many flights to worry about it. You know how it is. You sit down at a table for one more game and then before you know it, you can't leave." She laughed with the acknowledgement of the true poker player's law. "Players never leave when they're winning unless there's a fire somewhere."
He grunted. Ah yeah, she caught it. He obviously didn't agree with her. Then again, according to what she'd read, he primarily played tournaments with the exception of a rare showing at The Bellagio.
"I can think of at least one fire I wouldn't run away from, even on a dare."
Now, she couldn't breathe or think of a comeback.
They rode up to the ninth floor and she noticed how his hazy midnight blues never left her unattended. A simple fact she seemed unable to ignore since he also tried to see through her clothing. The contentment of a fixated gape gave it away. He apparently didn't have the first inclination to look elsewhere and seemed quite interested in critical anatomical points.
By the time the doors opened to announce the arrival at their appropriate floor, Audra felt warranted relief and the unease she felt between The Rio's seventh and ninth floors subsided. "I'll see you tomorrow." Her polite way of suggestive dismissal proved short lived.
He smirked. "Yeah, I'll watch for you and I might add, it will always be my pleasure."
Turning to the left, she headed to her suite. He trailed only at a slight distance. Watching her every move, something she seemed quite sure of, he remained right behind her. It didn't surprise her. Poker players liked to sum up their opponents. Men liked to watch her ass. Max Reynolds enjoyed a prime opportunity to do both.
Room 9105. Her haven since she arrived at the tournament a few days before the Main Event. She stopped abruptly in front of the door and stared straight ahead. "Great. Why am I not shocked?" With her key in hand, she looked to the left.
"9107, that's me." His announcement proved unnecessary. He slapped the key in his hand a few times and then hurriedly unlocked the door. The concept alone provided just enough affirmation. He was indeed the registered guest in 9107. His mouth turned up in a well satisfied grin.
A sigh slipped from her lips. Her whole body turned to face off with him. "Let me guess, you requested a move?"
His facial expression suggested more--not only did he ask for one, but the satisfaction he felt when he gained it couldn't be weighed in cash or casino markers. "I believe in keeping my friends close."
He stepped inside his suite and the luggage she spotted made it all too real. Without a doubt, he was in the right place.
Garment bags were nudged with his foot before he looked up to meet her thoughtful gaze. "Yep, it's safe to say we're going to be neighbors for the duration of the tournament."
Forcing a smile, she practically bit out her clever response. "Now whose length of stay are we talking about here, yours or mine? After today, I'm looking forward to an extended visit and I have a feeling you're only passing through." She teased him and counted on his full participation.
Max held his door with the toe of his shoe but moved slightly out of the hotel room. He took his time with a perusal of flesh and the material covering the rest. He examined her closely from head to torso and back again. She couldn't blame him. She deliberately put him in his place. She didn't expect him to stay there. He feels the need for a comeback. She reminded herself of the obvious. He can't help it. It's in him.
"Audra, I didn't get to where I am today chasing the dream of getting lucky. I win because I understand my game and learn everything there is to know about the players playing it. If you're going to play with the big boys now honey, give Lady Luck the week off and learn how to stake your claim with the best of us. Otherwise, your time at the top will be short-lived." His eyes challenged her. He played the man card once again. The one many on the circuit loved to throw when they felt threatened by a woman.
"You're forgetting something." She scoffed to think he might have disrespected her current position but after a few silent seconds, she decided to go for it even if it later jinxed her. "I am at the very top right now."
"Yeah, and that sucks for you, because staying there won't be without significant problems. Sweetheart, when you fall from number one, it hurts like hell." Amusement danced across his face.
"I imagine no one knows how that feels any better than you." She quickly tried to make her escape by sliding the plastic through the opening there to claim it.
He'd gotten to her. Damn him. Now, to beat it all, her key didn't work. She pushed the little plastic card in the indicated slot once more and lined the arrows up but nothing happened.
"Maybe I'm the one who has the wrong room." She tried to make light of the situation and glanced up at the brass room numbers.
"I don't think so. Allow me." He reached for her key and she handed it to him.
It would've been easy enough for him to just take the keycard from her hand, effortless and unobtrusive, but Max didn't like to keep things simple. He lived to complicate things and the more challenging the opportunity, the better he seemed to enjoy it. Audra figured him out from the moment she joined him on the casino floor. The Amazon Room buzzed with vibrant gaming dynamics, but the pulse of the tournament revolved around men like Max. Being alone with him in front of their rooms didn't change things, or did it?
All five fingers touched her hand when he slid the flat cool texture from her palm into his. He scraped it from her grip with a slow caress. The touch of skin triggered a chain reaction throughout her body while imaginary fireworks popped around her head.
She'd spent hours, days even, thinking about him after their initial meeting. She made sure she watched his televised tournaments, every interview, and every new entertainment show focusing on gamblers and poker players. Now, he stood just centimeters from her and damn it all, his tactics left her wanting for more. Ridiculous, it was utterly ridiculous. Never mind unexplainable.
He must've possessed an extraordinary talent for unlocking a hotel room because his focus didn't abandon her and yet the door miraculously opened. "There, see?" He pushed open the weighted panel but continued to hold it back so the hinge didn't give and close again.
"I don't charge for my services." His eyes flickered with a daring and very bold suggestion, one full of meaning or none at all, if she brought it to his attention with some measure of disinterest.
Maybe not but his smile could've earned him some great gratuities. She allowed herself a rare indulgence. Her gaze fell over him with a quick assessment, and she assumed it went unnoticed. Damn. Sure enough, he is fine. Yes, Max Reynolds was hell-hot, but he knew it. She liked confident men but those who were cocky to a fault didn't appeal to her in the least and poker players terrified the hell out of her.
"Well, maybe you should." She finally said and resisting further temptation, her focus changed but instantly fell right back to where she left off the last slippery dare to assess the entire Reynolds packaging. She wanted to get a sense of the real value found there.
He made a funny little noise and choked back all out accusations. "I've got 'em, sweetheart, in case you're looking."
"Like I said, maybe you should." Embarrassed because she was caught in the act, she tried to cover up her illicit gawking by searching for words to replace the ones of self-betrayal. She failed miserably. When a woman's desire-filled eyes stop to admire a man's cock, it's not something the average male chooses to ignore, and Max wasn't average by any stretch of the imagination. She only wanted a quick peek, just to sort of see if the man carried around balls of iron. He could've let it slide.
Then again, so what if she wanted to look from a woman's perspective, pushing aside the poker player within just long enough to lust after a man. It never hurt to imagine real life fantasies as long as they didn't last longer than a roulette spin. Max dished out some spicy verbal foreplay earlier and well, curiosity killed all cats--even those with cards attached to their paws.
"Should what?" Fingers snapped in front of her face and his sudden change of expression bordered with wicked and truly seductive. He interrupted her train of thought and he did it on purpose. He understood what wanton stares implied. He just wanted her to stroke his ego and heaven only knew what else. She didn't want to think about it.
Actually, she did.
Embarrassed, she cleared her throat and arched an eyebrow. "Maybe you should start charging for your services." Her monotone gave nothing away. "From what I hear, your skills behind closed doors trump those you use at the tables. As a matter of fact, from what I understand, you might find a lot of profit in it if you'd just charge for it." A wink followed the suggestive statement but it was all she planned on offering.
"Thanks for unlocking me." She stepped inside and closed the door feeling quite satisfied. She gave him something to think about. Now, she needed a cold shower, maybe even one supplied with buckets of ice.