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"You have a one-hour minimum in here, Mr. Asher."
My attention is fixed on Grace, who walks out the goddamned door.
"So let’s make that wager. And if you win, you can have her. If I win, she spends the night with me and you are escorted off the premises." I recoil and he grins a little wider. "Don’t worry, someone will be scooping her up momentarily and taking her to the bar to await the outcome."
The doors close after Grace exits.
"One hand of baccarat. If I win, I get to leave immediately and you back off."
"One?" He tsks his tongue. "Where’s the fun in that? That has no risk, Mr. Asher. You’re wealthy. Whatever you lose or net in here will not affect your bottom line. No, I’m afraid we’ll need to raise the stakes higher. At the very least the best of ten hands. You see, your risk is leaving her alone out there. She’s been drinking, she’s angry, and she’s in Vegas. Ten hands of baccarat, played swiftly, might take ten minutes. But she can make a lot of decisions in ten minutes."
I could stand here and argue with him, but why bother. If I play and win, I could have her back under my control in a matter of minutes. If I play and lose, well, at least she won’t be picked up by a stranger. If I do nothing she’s got a sixty-minute head start on me. I can’t even call Ray and have her followed because I don’t have a phone. She could disappear. Someone might get her and who can tell what might happen. I have no choice. "I accept."
Chapter Six
WHEN Li waves his hand, his people close the doors to the baccarat room and we approach the table. I set my rack of chips down and wait to see how he wants to play this.
"Place your bets," the dealer says.
"How interesting should we make this game, Asher?" Li asks.
"It’s your game, Li. You said best of ten. You bet first and I’ll match. That will be our ante."
He allows a small grin as he walks over to the bar and asks for a snifter of brandy.
I watch him. He’s very confident. But everything about him—the way he dresses, walks, talks—everything says he’s got a reason to be confident. And it’s more than money. Hell, I’ve got money. Lots of money. But I don’t think I’ve ever walked around like that.
Why is he taking such an interest in Grace? She’s beautiful and she’s sweet. But why her?
"One hundred thousand," Li says, bringing my attention back to the game. He pushes ten neatly stacked chips to bet the player.
I grab ten chips from my rack and place them on the banker.
"Do you like to bet against me?"
"Banker always has a higher advantage, Li. I’m sure you know that."
"Ah, it’s making sense now. You hate risk, Asher? And yet”—he cocks his head at me, like he’s thinking through some elaborate theorem—“you find yourself in a world of risk right this very moment.” I make to answer him but he puts up a hand. “Not this, Asher. Miss Kinsella. Do you know where I found her?”
I just stare at him.
“In a hallway, sobbing her eyes out.” He narrows his eyes at me. “Over you.”
Who the f**k does this guy think he is? “Not that it’s any of your business, but that was a misunderstanding. I haven’t had a chance to explain what’s happening yet. But once I do, she’ll see past it.”
“Past it?” He sneers at me. “She’s just a thing to you, isn’t she? She really is a gold watch. You think you own her.”
My jaw clenches and I want to f**k this man’s world up in so many ways. But I’ve spent my whole life dealing with ass**les like him. I’m a professional. “I only own what she’s willing to give, Mr. Li. Regardless of what you read or watch on the tabloids, the decision to stay always belongs to them.”
“Hmmm. She was a fountain of information in the twenty minutes we sat and had drinks before this suite was ready.”
I clench my jaw again. What the f**k did she say?
“She told me,” Li says, “that you threw her away.”
“I didn’t throw her away. I made a decision to keep her safe. I’ve got… a situation brewing. I don’t want her caught up in it. She’s misunderstanding, that’s all.”
“Hmmm. Then you are a poor communicator, Mr. Asher.”
“Probably, yes.”
“I think she deserves better.”
I laugh loudly. Too loudly. “Is that right?” He nods and smiles, but says nothing. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I am determined to have my say tonight. And once I do, she will understand and be right back in my arms.”
“But maybe you don’t deserve that chance.”
“Who the f**k are you, Li? The f**king guardian angel of second chances? Fuck off and let’s play.”
That smile again. That motherfucking overconfident smile. “Let’s liven the game up, Mr. Asher. Let’s see how badly you want that second chance. How much you’re willing to risk for it. Every time you lose I’ll have my associate make Miss Kinsella an offer and if she accepts my offer before our game is over, then she’s mine to keep."
“She’s never going to be yours.”
“You’re probably right. I have a daughter her age, so I’m not really interested. My point is that if I win this game, she will not be yours because my offer will take her to places beyond your reach. I’ll introduce her to a whole new life. Give her a chance to find a nice man who will treat her well and not make her break down in a hotel casino hallway because her lover threw her out like trash.”
"And how do you plan on getting her to accept your offer?" I growl.
"A job offer. In Hong Kong where I do a lot of business. She has a useful profession. Everyone needs someone to coordinate events, right? Even you, maybe."
"She’ll say no," I reply with confidence. "She likes her job, she has friends, she’s rooted in Denver."
"Perhaps. But each time you lose, the offer will increase by thirty thousand dollars. How long will she hold out when the salary offered is in excess of a hundred grand?"
My jaw clenches along with my fists. "Why are you doing this?"
"I thought you liked to play games with your women, Asher?”
I just stare at him.