Desire Me Excerpt
Max picked up his hand and glanced at the cards. A lousy combination that on its own would win nothing. It was why he loved this American game, the bluffing. Even with a mediocre hand of cards, he could win.
His table mates were a motley crew, and he had very little difficulty in deciphering when they held good hands or when they knew they would lose. Two of the older gentlemen had made excuses and left the table when the betting had increased. Now only four remained. A grizzled man with a full shock of white hair and a voice deep and cracked. A young man, perhaps one could even consider him still a boy as not even a hint of whiskers appeared on his chin. And the Earl of Chilton sat across from Max, a fine opponent when he wasn’t drinking. Tonight though the man had had one too many sips.
The fourth player was, by far, the most interesting. A woman, dressed in a cream-colored confection with a plunging neckline that left very little to his well-developed imagination. She was the kind of woman one expected to see across a candle-lit ballroom surrounded by suitors, not a smoke-filled gaming hell surrounded by drunken fools. With her lustrous, sable-colored hair and her warm caramel eyes, she was nothing short of stunning. Though her darker complexion led him to believe she wasn’t originally from England, she had no accent to give him a hint of her homeland.
Though he’d never seen her before, she certainly looked like a well-refined lady, but he wasn’t completely convinced. While she had the mannerisms down and the look just right, something was different about her. And he knew he had never seen her before as she was not the sort of woman a man forgot.
Initially Max had found her distracting, but after losing to her two hands in a row, he’d straightened his seat and kept his eyes off her tempting cleavage.
Though she had won more hands than most of the men at the table that night, she was not an accomplished player. However, she proved, at times, difficult to read. Almost as if she were an actress slipping into a role, and while in character, she became charming, flirtatious and daring. But every now and then a veil would slip over her eyes, and Max would catch a glimpse of insecurity. He had yet to decide whether that was from the cards she held or something else.
“I raise,” she said, her voice a warm, fluid honey. She arched a perfect eyebrow in his direction. “My lord,” she said.
Max glanced around the table. He knew from Chilton’s smug expression that the man had a good hand. The old man had already laid down his hand, as had the young one. But what cards did the pretty miss hold?
“Such a temptress,” Max said, never taking his eyes off of her as he dropped his coins into the betting pool. “I’ll call your wager.”
Chilton’s brow furrowed, and he grumbled something incoherent, then backed out of the game. Evidently his hand, as good as it may have been, did not give the inebriated man enough confidence.
They had another quick round of betting before the dealer called for their hands, and Max flipped over his cards. Two pairs to a three of a kind.
“The lady wins,” the man said.
With delicate gloved fingers, she scooped the coins in her direction, then stacked them neatly.
Chilton stood. “Enough of this foolish game for me.” He eyed the lady at the table, then looked at Max. “You’ve got a lovely playmate tonight, Lindberg. I believe I’ll retire for the evening,” he said as he slipped away. Though Max spotted him finding a new chair at a different game four tables over.
Max collected his new hand and eyed the cards. As if they had been dealt by a deity, Max looked down on four Kings.
Again the other two gentlemen folded, leaving the hand down to Max and the lady, the mysterious and lovely woman with the caramel-colored eyes. This time though he could not lose. He had a brilliant hand.
She picked up a few coins, then paused over the center pot, glancing at her cards before slowly raised her gaze to his. “A different wager, perhaps.”
Intrigued, Max nodded. “What did you have in mind?” Immediately his mind conjured images of all the sinful acts he could do to her body upon this very table. It would take hours for him to explore every delectable curve. He’d start at that sweet spot directly below her ear along the column of her neck. Then he’d work his way down.
“Your map, Maxwell Barrett. I only want the map,” her words came out slow and deliberate.
Ah, she knew who he was, and she knew about his map.
It was no great secret that he hid away. Still he’d never broadcast it across Society. What would have been the point? It was popular to go in hunt of treasure or artifacts, but there was no scientific proof of the existence of Atlantis.
He’d once thought the map would be the ultimate proof, but no one except the men of Solomon’s had paid much attention to his discovery. So now the relic simply hung on his wall. Why the interest now? And how had she known?
Women talked, he knew that. And he’d had more than his fair share of women. And on occasion, he’d had one of them bent over his desk. Though he wouldn’t have guessed many would give much thought to an old map. It would be quite the knock to his pride that one of those women might have noticed any element of his decor when he’d assumed they were more pleasantly engaged.
The idea nearly made him chuckle.
It was on his tongue to inquire as to how she’d heard of his map, but more important was why she wanted it. “What does a beautiful woman such as yourself want with a dusty old map?” he asked.
She smiled, and it transformed her face from merely lovely into something much more. Her sheer beauty was like a kick in the gut.
She tugged on one of her satin gloves. “Perhaps I’m a scholar. Like yourself,” she said with a delicately arched eyebrow.
“I’m an adventurer, not a scholar.” If she legitimately knew anything about him, she’d know that. “And you don’t look any more like a scholar than I do.”
Her shoulders shifted so subtly, one could hardly consider the movement a shrug. “Then perhaps I’m merely curious. Do you accept the wager or not?” she asked.
Max looked back at his cards, then slowly slid his gaze up to her. “Tell me your name.”
She nodded. “Sabine Tobias,” she said.
Somehow in the midst of their exchange, a crowd had developed around their table. Low whispers flitted around as well as the occasional jab directed at Max. If Max wasn’t mistaken, a side wager had been established on who was going to win their hand. That was the one thing you could be certain of in Rand’s Gaming, people were always looking for a wager.
“Well, Miss Tobias,” Max leaned forward and leveled his gaze on her tawny eyes. “What do I get if I win?”
“The pleasure of winning,” she said with a faint smile.
Max shook his head. “I’m not certain that’s enough. How about a kiss?”
The crowd around them cheered. Shock broke through her careful facade, and her eyes widened, but she quickly recovered. “I don’t believe I was offering any kisses,” she said. “How about if you simply get to keep your dusty old map,” she tossed his words back at him.
Perhaps she knew more about him than she’d let on, or perhaps she knew more about the map than the average collector. He’d held onto that map for years despite several high-priced offers from other parties and one attempted theft. The map hadn’t been the conclusive proof he’d once believed it would be. His quest for Atlantis stretched across his adulthood and still he had not found it. But he was getting close. He could feel it.
Miss Tobias sat quietly, but her pulse ticked impatiently in that sweet spot beneath her ear.
“I believe you have a bet,” he said. “You win this hand, and I will give you my map.”
She paused a moment, trying to gauge his meaning. “You know to which map I’m referring,” she said.
“I believe I do.”
“Then we have a deal.”
“But if you lose,” he said slowly. “I get that kiss.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but after a breath, she said nothing and merely nodded.
“The wager has been set, now let us see your hands,” the dealer said.
Silence surrounded them, and it was as if they were playing alone in his parlor. Miss Tobias flipped her cards, one-by-one, revealing three sevens and two Queens.
“A full house,” the dealer said.
A slow, satisfied smile spread across the lady’s face, a cat with her bowl of cream.
The pleasure of her smile was so enticing, so seductive, he was almost sorry he was going to win. Almost.
Copyright © 2010. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.