Back in her husband's bed

By: Andrea Laurence

One

 “Mr. Reed, our facial recognition software has detected a match for the Barracuda in pit three near the dollar slots.”

 Nate smiled. Like a moth to a flame, Annie had walked right into his trap. He knew she couldn’t pass up the chance to play at his poker tournament, even if it meant returning to the scene of the crime. As the owner and manager of the Desert Sapphire Hotel and Casino, it was easy to have Annie red-flagged by his security team. The moment she strolled back in to his casino he knew it.

 “We have visual confirmation. She’s on her way to the high-roller area.” Gabriel Hansen, his chief of security, lifted his hand to his earpiece and listened intently for a moment before nodding in confirmation. “She’s joined the Texas Hold’em game with Mr. Nakimori and Mr. Kline.”

 “Of course she has.” Nate set aside his paperwork and made his way to the elevator. There was no time to waste. The Japanese businessman and the oil tycoon had credit lines in the millions, and they’d need every penny if he didn’t get down there. They didn’t call her the Barracuda for nothing.

 “Do you need assistance with this, Mr. Reed?” Gabe was also his best friend, despite the formalities they used at work. Gabe knew what Annie’s arrival meant. His offer to accompany him was less about work and more about helping his friend.

 Nate sighed and straightened his navy silk tie. He suspected Gabe would relish handcuffing Annie and parading her through the casino so everyone would see. To be honest, he wouldn’t mind that himself, but she’d never agree to his plan if he did. “No, I’ve got this handled.”

 A quick swipe of his identification card sent the elevator plummeting down the twenty-five floors from his suite to the main casino lobby. A soft chime announced his arrival, and the doors opened to the office corridors where casino operations took place.

 The walk through the casino to the high-roller area wasn’t long, but each step weighed more heavily on him than the last. Annie was here. In his casino. After three long years. He should be excited to finally confront her. To have his chance to exact his revenge and make her miserable. Or if not excited, perhaps smug. His plan was working just as he’d hoped it would. And yet he was none of those things.

 His mouth was dry, his pulse racing in his throat. If he didn’t know better, he might think he was nervous. Imagine that: Nathan Reed, millionaire casino owner, former most eligible bachelor in Las Vegas, nervous. It was a ridiculous idea. And yet Annie had always been his weakness.

 Nate rounded the corner and spied the entrance to the high-roller lounge. Even across the casino floor, he could spot her. Her back was to him as she leaned over her cards, her legs crossed beneath the table. Her long raven hair spilled over the olive skin of her bare shoulders. Beside her Mr. Nakimori leaned back into his seat, throwing his cards down in disgust.

 Nate stopped just behind Annie and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder. She didn’t flinch. She’d been expecting him. Game on.

 “Gentlemen,” he said, flashing a confident smile at the other players at the table and extending a hand to each of them. “It’s good to have you both back here at the Sapphire. Is everything going well for you this afternoon?”

 Jackson Kline grinned wide and leaned back into his chair. “It was until this pretty little thing showed up. She’s taken more of my money than my ex-wife.”

 Nate smiled and nodded. “Then I’m sure you gentlemen won’t mind if I deprive you of her company.”

 “We’re in the middle of a hand.”

 They were the first words she’d spoken to him since she disappeared. She didn’t say “hello.” Not even “I’m sorry” or “You’re looking well.” Just a complaint that he was interrupting her poker hand.

 He leaned down and pressed his lips against the soft outer shell of her ear. The smell of her jasmine shampoo filled his lungs as he hovered near. The familiar scent was alluring and reminded him of the tangled sheets she left behind, but he wasn’t going to fall prey to her this time. “We need to talk. Fold.” The demand was simple and quiet, but powerful.

 “Well, gentlemen—” Annie sighed “—I guess I’m done.” She slid the cards across the table and reached up to gently extract Nate’s hand from her shoulder. He complied, stepping back far enough to allow her to rise from her seat.

 “Good afternoon,” the men responded in their respective Southern and Japanese accents, although they both seemed visibly relieved to see her go.

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