Back in her husband's bed(9)

By: Andrea Laurence

 Annie groaned softly, her eyes fluttering a moment before opening. She looked around the room in confusion before her sapphire gaze met his. “What happened?”

 “You fainted. Apparently the mere thought of people knowing you were married to me was too much for you to take.” He didn’t bother to mask the irritation in his voice.

 “What am I...?” She looked around again, the crease between her eyebrows deepening in thought. “Why am I lying in your bedroom?”

 Nate smiled down at her. “Our bedroom, sweetheart. Like a gentleman, I carried you in here when you fainted. Anyway, I’m surprised you recognize the place. I’d have thought you blocked it from your memory with the rest of our marriage.”

 Annie frowned and pushed herself up onto her elbows. “Nate, the problems in our relationship had nothing to do with this room. The bedroom was the only place it worked.”

 She sat up and slowly inched off the foot of the bed. Pulling herself together, she quickly tugged down her fitted black skirt and smoothed her red top. Her expression hardened, her emotions unreadable. Within seconds, the Annie of the past was gone and the Barracuda had returned. He was glad. The cool, calm poker player was far easier for Nate to resist.

 Annie left the room and returned with her two bags. “Where can I put my things?”

 The large, red Louis Vuitton roller and toiletry bag were just the right size for a woman on the move all the time. After she left, Nate had hired a private detective to find out more about his elusive bride. He’d told Nate that although Annie had a sparsely decorated condo in Miami, she was almost never there. She roamed from one tournament to the next, living in hotels out of these red bags.

 As someone who had practically grown up in the same building he stood in right now, he couldn’t understand her wanderlust. He’d known she traveled to the various tournaments to compete, but somehow he’d thought that marrying him would give her a reason to settle in one place. That her love of the game would give her an interest in helping him build up the Sapphire, working side by side as partners. He had been wrong.

 Nate opened the door to the walk-in closet and moved some clothes to the opposite side. “You can hang up your things here. If you need any more space, just slide my stuff over.”

 Annie nodded stiffly and pushed past him to the closet. He took a few steps back to linger in the doorway and watch as she slowly unpacked. She was methodical as she unzipped the bag and carefully removed each piece. It was like a ritual she’d repeated a thousand times. How had he ever thought he could get her to unpack for good?

 “If you have what you need, I’m going downstairs. I’ll see you for dinner at Carolina’s at eight-thirty. Be prepared for our first public outing as husband and wife.”

 At that, he turned on his heel and marched down the hallway to the elevator. He didn’t wait for her response. He needed to get away from her for a while. To take a deep breath that wasn’t warm with her scent. To clear his mind and replan his strategy. His stomach couldn’t take the never-ending swing of the emotional pendulum being around her brought on. Wanting her and then despising her. Remembering every inch of her body and then realizing he didn’t know a damn thing about her.

 Once downstairs, he marched through the casino for his standing meeting with Gabe and Jerry Moore, his casino floor manager. They met in the Pit Three lounge, where they would catch him up on the hotel activities. Tonight, he would also get a drink. He normally wouldn’t drink while working, but all bets were off the moment Annie walked into his casino. He needed something to dull his thoughts, to fend off the building arousal. Not to get drunk—he couldn’t trust himself not to do something stupid—just enough to numb.

 By the time he reached the lounge, Gabe and Jerry were already seated in the back corner booth. They went on easily with their normal routines from there. Gabe reported on any incidents worth mentioning, provided the latest security codes and gave him the access card for Annie. Jerry rattled on for a while about a couple high rollers and preparation for the tournament.

 The tournament was not an easy event to arrange. Nate was happy to sip on his vodka tonic and give his mind over to the intricacies. A portion of the casino floor had already been roped off and tables rearranged. The kickoff cocktail party was under control. Patricia in the public relations office had been in contact with the event sponsors and working with ESPN for the past few weeks. Everything seemed to be going well.

 His years of hard work really had paid off. Nate had fought hard to bring the hotel back after his father’s negligent management. Now it was clear that his dedication and work ethic had rubbed off on his staff. The people he hired were inspired to make the Desert Sapphire the most successful hotel-casino in Las Vegas. His grandfather would be proud of what Nate had made of his life’s work.

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