ABOUT THE BOOK
From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a scorching hot stand-alone romance about overwhelming passion, dangerous bets, and family loyalty.
Kara needs fast cash to pay her ailing father’s gambling debts. Dealing blackjack at the Billionaire Club is her lucky break. Until a scorching hot one-night-stand with bad boy oil tycoon Cash Westbrook turns into a million-dollar bet. Cash agrees to pay her father’s debts…if Kara pretends to be his fiancée.
Kara agrees to Cash’s terms, but she doesn’t expect to find herself falling for him. And when it comes to love, all bets are off.
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CASH – EXCERPT
After four days of on-the-job training with a dealer who is known to everyone at the Billionaire Club solely as Dragon, it’s Saturday and it’s time for me to fly solo. Dragon winks one of his slanted eyes at me as I walk across the casino floor toward my table. I nod at him, making sure to keep our interactions serious in front of the customers. But I have to admit that this is difficult when I’m walking through a roomful of billionaires.
There are only four slot machines in this casino: two require a $100 bet per spin, one requires $1,000, and the other has a minimum bet of $10,000. The entire club is shaped like an eight—or maybe more like an infinity symbol—with two separate rooms.
The Blue Pill is the room where you’ll find the four slot machines, a smoking lounge area, two pool tables and dartboards, a lavish bar, a restaurant, a stage for performers where a Marilyn Monroe lookalike is titillating a crowd of wide-eyed men, and about a dozen tables with a minimum bet of $25. In The Blue Pill, the max bet you’ll find at a blackjack table is a $500 purple chip.
The Red Pill is the room where the really high-stakes gambling takes place. And that’s exactly where I’m headed.
All eyes are on me as I make my way through The Blue Pill. Even a couple of men with women by their side sneak a glance in my direction. I’m only the second female dealer to be work in The Red Pill, and Mick has told me that Jessie and I will not work the same shifts. Apparently, Jessie is very competitive and refuses to work with other women. I don’t mind. One less woman in The Red Pill probably means more tips for me.
I follow the curved outer wall until I reach the corridor adjoining the two rooms. The walls of the thirty-foot-wide arched corridor is made to look like a rabbit hole. The rough hewn walls are lined with mirrors and swirling lights, so it actually feels as if I’m falling through the corridor. A laughing couple surpasses me on their way to The Red Pill. The man is wearing a fedora that reminds me of the hat my dad used to wear when he first started getting sick. The hair loss hit his ego pretty hard, until he recently became too sick to care.
My dad was once as handsome as Frank Sinatra, and he was a notorious ladies man. I remember my mom and dad getting into blowout fights at three in the morning, my mom demanding to know where he’d been and who he was with. He’d always calm her down and win her over somehow. My parents’ dysfunctional marriage is probably why none of my romantic relationships have lasted more than six months.
I enter The Red Pill and I can almost feel the breath being siphoned from my lungs. As if people this rich only exist in a vacuum. The sound of Marilyn Monroe’s singing in The Blue Pill fades away, replaced by a trance-like electronic beat. The steady rhythm of the music is broken up intermittently by sparkling chimes. Each table is lit with a soft reddish spotlight. The spaces between the tables are more dimly lit like a nightclub. In the center of the room, water falls out of the ceiling in a sheet of shimmering liquid that disappears into the floor without a drop of splash. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was champagne falling straight from heaven.
My heart races as I realize I’ve entered a whole other plane of existence. A world of opulence and excess, power and pleasure. A society of hard-nosed businessmen, chic celebrities, and shrewd politicos. And it’s my world for the next six hours.
Colorful lights shimmer inside the waterfall, dazzling me as I walk toward the second-to-last blackjack table at the far end of the room. A movement in the corner of my eye gets my attention. I turn toward it and find a guy in a perfectly cut gray suit watching me. His eyebrow is cocked curiously as his gaze follows me across the room. He looks so familiar. He must be a celebrity.
Suddenly, an image of the cover of a tabloid magazine flashes in my mind. I can’t remember the headline, but I know it had something to do with a girl overdosing in his presence. It’s Cash Westbrook, son of oil tycoon Jacob Westbrook, whose notoriety began when his very famous girlfriend died of a drug overdose on a California beach.
My first instinct is that I have to stay away from him. Then I think about my dad. Union Oil is a subsidiary of Westbrook Oil. Maybe if I’m friendly with Cash, I can expedite my dad’s health insurance claim. That would wipe out at least thirty percent of his medical bills. Is tens of thousands of dollars worth my self-respect?
I shake my head at these crazy thoughts. Even if I could somehow get Cash interested in me—probably by fucking him—I have no doubt I’d fuck it up by getting too emotional the moment I brought up my dad’s insurance claim.
I cast warm smiles at a few more lookie-loos before I arrive at my table. Victor, the pit boss, is waiting with Wyatt, a floor man, and Bert, the outgoing dealer. Bert is ready to hand over the game, which currently consists of two men in polos and navy-blue blazers. This isn’t a yacht club, I almost say aloud as Bert places the shoe—the device that holds the decks of cards—in the center of the table, then claps his hands together and holds them up to clear them with Victor and Wyatt.
I nod at all five men as I take my place behind the table and clap off to clear my hands. Wyatt nods and I pull the shoe back to the edge of the table, where it’s closer to me. The first thing I do is burn a card by taking the top card off the deck and placing it in the discard tray. This isn’t really meant to disrupt the count. Burning the top card is an easy way to get rid of a card that may or may not have been seen by one of the players when Bert cut the deck.
When I questioned Mick about why the club doesn’t use the continuous shuffle machines, opting instead for the old-fashioned shoes, he explained that billionaires don’t like to feel like they can’t be trusted. He also claims the Billionaire Club employs some of the sharpest, most experienced floormen in the country. I guess I’ll find out if that’s true soon enough. It won’t take long for one of these entitled rich boys to try to count cards at the new girl’s table.
Once again, I nod at Victor and Wyatt and they nod as they take a few steps back, giving me some space. But they make no move to leave. Today’s my first official day on the job, so I’m pretty certain they’ll stay close to me all night. Who am I kidding? They’ll probably stay close to me all week or month because of my dad’s reputation. They need to make sure they can trust me before they set me free.
“You’re a pretty one,” says the older player at the table with the salt-and-pepper hair and beige polo. “Are you new here?”
I flash him a friendly smile. “Yes, today is my first day.”
“A virgin?” he replies, his eyes widening with enthusiasm.
The younger guy next to him cringes. “Settle down, Dad. I’m sure”—He narrows his blue eyes at me—“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
I try not to roll my eyes and say “It’s on my name tag, asshole.” Instead, I grin even wider, my smile now teetering on the edge between friendly and insane. “My name is Kara,” I reply, dealing the cards after they place their bets.
“Kara,” the guy says, stretching out the first syllable. “I’m Dustin and this is my father—”
“Reginald,” the older man says, cutting his son off as he reaches his hand out to me for a shake.
I immediately take a step back and hold my hands up at shoulder-height as Victor and Wyatt step forward.
“Please don’t reach across the table, sir.” Victor issues the warning politely, but the look in his eyes says he won’t be so polite if this guy protests or tries that shit again.
Reginald pulls his arm back and holds up both of his hands. “No harm meant, boss.”
Victor nods at me and my heart races as I step forward again to resume play. Somehow, I have a feeling this night is going to be a series of tests.
Thankfully, after losing eighty-seven grand, Dustin and Reginald decide they have better things to do than continually trying to hit on me. At least they have the decency to leave behind a $100 tip for taking my Billionaire Club virginity. I heave a deep sigh as the tension in my muscles uncoils and my bones settle inside me. I glance back at Victor and Wyatt and they both flash me the tiniest of smiles.
Wyatt, who looks more like a professional bodybuilder than a floor man, nods at me. “Not bad.”
“Thanks. Discussing my virginity with an old man isn’t exactly how I wanted this night to begin, but I think that went well, right?”
Victor raises his eyebrows at this comment.
“Sorry,” I say, shaking my head. “Probably not the first conversation you want to have with me either.”
Victor’s face goes taut as he nods to the side. I guess he’s not a huge talker.
I chuckle. “Are you saying I should discuss my virginity with Wyatt instead?”
Wyatt presses his lips tightly, trying not to laugh as Victor sighs. “Kara, turn around,” Wyatt says.
I whip my head around and my heart drops when I see Cash Westbrook sitting there with a highball glass in one hand and a cocky grin on his face. “Oh, my God. Please tell me you didn’t hear that.”
“You mean the part about losing your virginity to an old man? Nah, didn’t hear a word.”
His easy smile is disarming. The way he leans forward slightly, resting the weight of those broad shoulders on the table, makes me feel as if he’s in my personal space, even though he’s clearly not. It’s just his powerful presence rubbing up against me, exuding sex appeal from every pore.
Everything about him screams old money. I can imagine him in college, his tanned skin hot and sweaty as he rowed crew and played lacrosse. I instantly find myself wanting to forgive his bad joke just to get on his good side. Then I remember how one of the employees at his company—whoever it was that fired my dad—is responsible for so much of our medical debt.
Of course, he’s still a paying customer at the Billionaire Club, which means I have to be nice to him whether I want to or not.
“Good evening, Mr. Westbrook,” I say with a cordial smile, which I hope doesn’t look forced.
His smile fades. He expected me to play along with his joke about losing my virginity to an old man, if only because it’s my job to entertain the guests. What he doesn’t know is that even though it’s my job to keep him playing, Mick made it abundantly clear that I am not to fraternize with the customers, a rule I’m quite thankful for right now.
He places his bet and I deal the first hand. “You’re new here,” he says, signaling for a hit. “That means you know my name from the media.”
I flash him a tight smile. I will absolutely not tell him how I know him. If he finds out I’m the daughter of one of the Union Oil employees who were left out in the cold last year, he’ll probably try to offer a hollow apology right before he skitters away to another table. Or worse, he’ll try to defend the layoffs.
He chuckles at my lack of response. “Well, just so you know, I’m not the person they make me out to be.”
I nod. “Who believes anything the media says these days? I sure don’t.”
He shifts uncomfortably in his stool, clearly not convinced. He plays a few more hands before he looks up again, his jaw set as his gaze meets mine. “I don’t know why I feel the need to tell you this, but it wasn’t my fault.”
My heart thumps painfully against my chest as I wonder what Victor and Wyatt think of this exchange between Cash and me. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Holy, shit. Does he know who I am? Is he saying it wasn’t his fault my father was let go?
“What happened to her…” he continues. “To Vanessa. It wasn’t my fault.”
His words fall heavily in the space between us. He stares at the table in front of him. He just busted with a twenty-three, but I make no move to collect his bet or his cards. All I can think of is how awful it must feel to be judged guilty of something you didn’t do by millions of strangers.
I remember the the tabloids and the magazines went nuts for the story of Vanessa Allen’s death. People thought Cash’s father had paid off the police to not file any charges against him. At the time, my father was still working for Union Oil and getting paid well. He was gambling a little less, and I credited Union Oil for possibly putting my father on the road to recovery. I fully believed that Cash was innocent. Of course, my resolve in this belief wavered after my father got diagnosed with lung cancer and laid off in the same month.
Cash looks up at me and the trance is broken. I reach for the stack of chips in front of him and his hand lands on top of mine. I’m frozen. I don’t even see Wyatt and Victor coming until Victor’s hand is on top of mine.
He shakes his head at Cash. “No touching the dealer or reaching across the table, please.”
Cash nods and Victor removes his hand. I pull mine back as well, taking the chips and the cards with me. Victor nods for me to take a step back away from the table with him.
He leans in close so Cash can’t hear him. “Looks like the customers can’t resist the urge to touch a pretty dealer. You’re going to have to do a better job of balancing your emotions, sweetheart. Don’t let them think they have a chance at getting in your panties, okay?”
I nod and he steps back into his previous position with Wyatt, who has been joined by another floor man. When I turn back to Cash, he’s flirting with a blonde cocktail waitress who’s taking his order as she retrieves his empty highball glass. I guess it’s not against the rules for cocktail waitresses to make the customers think they’re getting laid. I clear my throat just as Cash’s hand lands on the small of her back.
He turns to me and smiles. “Sorry, Kara. Just a minute.” He turns back to the waitress and slips a large bill onto her tray. “Tell Lauren I said hi and I’ll try to drop by next week.”
I try not to roll my eyes as the waitress walks away with a huge smile on her face. “Are you a regular?” I ask as he places his bet.
He signals for a hit. “Used to be. I was sort of…decommissioned this morning.”
I wince inwardly when he gets blackjack and I bust. “Decommissioned how?”
He shakes his head and raises his bet this time, to $100,000. “Not important. What’s important is that this may be the last time you see me in here. That’s gotta be some sort of sign, don’t you think? You starting work on my last night here?”
My hand trembles slightly as I deal him another card when he taps the table. “What kind of sign is that?” I wait for him to hit or stay, but his hand doesn’t move. When I look up at his face, our eyes meet and anxiety flutters inside my belly.
“A sign that we should keep talking,” he replies, holding my gaze a while longer before he looks down at his cards and signals to stay. “How did you get to be a dealer?”
This is a question I was asked a lot when I worked at Smith’s Gambling Hall. I already have my lie prepared.
“A friend of mine told me that blackjack dealers make a lot of money, so we signed up for a four-week class and I got hired at a casino downtown within a week after getting my license. It was too easy to pass up.”
He chuckles. “How many people believe that story?”
My smile disappears. “I’m sorry. What story? It’s not a story. It’s the truth.”
He rolls his eyes as he motions to stay on a soft eighteen. “Yeah, I’m sure it probably took you all of two minutes to come up with it. What’s the real story? We’re you a runaway who learned to play blackjack on the streets? Did your pimp make you hustle blackjack players and you ended up getting good enough to quit turning tricks? What’s the deal?”
“Are you calling me a whore?”
He throws back his head in a healthy guffaw. “No, I’m just trying to get you worked up so you can tell me the truth. So what is it?”
My heart races as I bust against his soft eighteen and Cash wins $100,000. Is he casually keeping track of the count while chatting me up?
I draw in a deep breath, keenly aware of Wyatt and Victor’s watchful eyes. “It was my dad. He was a card shark, and he taught me how to play from a very young age.”
“Did he teach you how to deal?” he asks, lowering his bet to $10,000 on this hand.
He knows if he keeps betting $100,000 or higher when the deck is hot, he’ll get backed off fast. He’s smart to lower the bet.
He’s a patient card counter, like my dad.
The strategy he’s using isn’t immediately obvious to the floormen or the eyes in the sky, but I can spot it a mile away. That $100,000 bet probably got flagged, but the minute he lowered it back to $10,000, it was like throwing a little water on the flames. But my dad taught me this method, which he used to call anchoring. Purposely lowering the bet when the deck is hot makes you look like you’re going on gut instinct. Of course, you can never be sure that you’ll win, so lowering your bet when the deck is hot is perfectly acceptable strategy for prudent card counters after a big win.
I can’t make $87,000 on one set of customers then lose $90,000 on another. This won’t look good for me. I could alert Victor, but I’m not certain Cash is actually counting. I guess I’ll just have to wait for Victor to step in, if necessary.
He loses the next hand in an odd deviation from basic strategy, then he looks up at me as I take his chip. “Did your dad teach you how to deal?”
I smile as I think about the days my dad would let me stay up late practicing. “He used to make me cut cheques for hours when he was first teaching me how to deal,” I reply as he sets down another $10,000 bet and I deal the next hand.
“Cut cheques?” he asks. “I don’t get it.”
“I thought you were a big gambler?”
“Not really,” he replies, motioning for a hit.
I deal him a card and he gets twenty-one, making back the ten-grand he lost on the last hand, so he’s still up ninety. “Cutting cheques is the act of cutting and stacking the chips,” I reply. “It’s a means of counting chips quickly to keep track of the money when settling deals.”
He stares at me for a while, a soft smile turning the corners of his lips. “I was only kidding. I know what it means, I just wanted to hear you explain it. You look cute when you’re teaching.”
I roll my eyes. “Jerk.” I clap my hand over my mouth and he bursts out laughing. “I’m so sorry, it just slipped out. I guess I’m getting a little too comfortable. I apologize.”
He holds up his hand to stop me. “Please don’t apologize. This is the most interesting conversation I’ve had all night.”
He laughs again. “Don’t look so surprised. It’s not like having money makes a person more interesting, right?”
I shrug as I wait for him to make another bet. “I guess I never really thought about it. I just assumed rich people lead really exciting lives.”
He shakes his head. “I know enough boring rich people to keep me fully stocked with yawns for the rest of my life.”
I hear someone cough behind me and I have a strong feeling it was Victor signaling me to keep the conversation to a minimum.
I smile at Cash and the smile he returns me is warm with a hint of sadness. “Mr. Westbrook, are you going to place a bet?”
He lowers his gaze to the table and lets out a soft chuckle. “Actually, I think I’m going to call it a night.” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a business card, and lays it on the table. “If you should ever need a refresher course on spotting card sharks, I offer my services to you free of charge.” He gets up to leave, sending me into a panic.
“Wait! Your chips!”
He glances over his shoulder at the $90,000 worth of chips on the table. Turning around slowly, he takes a stack of eight $10,000 chips and leaves one behind.
He winks at me as he places the $10,000 chip on top of the business card. “That’s my jerk tax,” he says with a smile, then he turns around and walks away.
My eyes follow him until he disappears behind the waterfall in the center of the room. I turn to face Wyatt and Victor, and the other floor man who joined them earlier. Victor does not look concerned at all that I just gave up $90,000 of the casino’s money.
“Was I supposed to alert you to the questionable plays?” I ask him.
He shakes his head. “Eye in the sky alerted me, but I let it slide. Westbrook’s dropped millions here. $90,000 won’t make a dent in that.”
Millions? Now I’m even more confused. I really thought he was counting. Especially with the comment about spotting card sharks. I shake my head as my face gets hot with embarrassment.
Did I just get played?
I spend much of the rest of the night trying to forget about Cash Westbrook. And by the time I’ve finished my shift and changed out of my uniform into a tank top and jeans, I’ve managed to cram my head with the usual thoughts of bills and bookies. When I walk out to my car on the third level of the employee parking garage, my adrenaline is still on a slight surge. I draw in a long breath of hot Vegas air, which I almost choke on when I see Cash Westbrook leaning against my Ford Escape.
***end of excerpt***
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