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"When I took her into the bar, we watched the Buzz Hollywood interview with, what’s her name? The soon-to-be mother of your child? Jackie, Jacey, Jennifer—"
"Right, right. My Grace was very upset. And she was a little bit drunk at the time. She mentioned an NDA—"
Li laughs. "And then she mentioned so much more." He shoots me a smile. "So, since you are an avid game player, let’s play." His jovial nature disappears and a ruthless businessman takes over. His smile drops into a straight line, his face becomes passive, and he builds superiority with a squaring of his shoulders and a raising of his chin. "You do not deserve any woman, let alone her. So if you lose, I steal her away with an offer that will change her life, I call up Buzz Hollywood and repeat everything she told me, and I take your money."
My heart rate increases as I realize what he’s doing. "And if I win?"
"If you win you keep my money, you keep your girl, you keep your secrets, and I will make sure she is safe and accounted for until you arrive to beg her forgiveness for being an ass**le." He glares at me through squinting eyes. "Women are not chips, Asher. Love is not a game. You think money buys everything but you’re wrong. Your money can’t buy love and that girl deserves love."
"Do you know who she is?"
"I know everyone in this room."
I can’t tell if that means he knows her hidden past or if he’s completed the cursory background check that I did before I asked Felicity to dig deeper.
"Is it a bet?"
I clench my jaw as the words come out. "It’s a bet."
Li looks over at the dealer and nods.
"No more bets," the dark-haired woman says as she waves her arm across the table to signal the start of the game.
She deals out the cards, one for the player, which is Li, and one for the bank, where my bet is placed. Li has a ten of clubs, which is zero points in baccarat. The bank gets a nine and a ten, which is a nine, since tens and above are worth zero. Nine is the highest score you can get.
"Bank wins," the dealer says. "Congratulations, Mr. Asher." She smiles at me as she stacks my winnings next to my bet.
I wonder if these employees sign an NDA for the casino. I make a mental note to ask Carl.
"Place your bets," the dealer calls again. "Hand number two, Mr. Asher."
Jesus, she’s keeping track. When I look over at Li, he’s smiling so big all I can think about is putting my fist through his teeth. I let my chips stand, almost three hundred thousand dollars now, and Li replaces his ten chips. This time he bets on the bank, like me.
"No more bets," the dealer says. She waves her hand again and then lays out the cards. This time the player wins. I just lost three hundred thousand dollars.
I look over at him and smile. "You’re bad luck. And we both lost, so is that a tie as far as the job offer goes?"
"You wish," he laughs back. "You lost, that is the only requirement. You should pay better attention to the rules." He pulls out a pad and paper and writes a quick note, then beckons the doorman over. "Pass this to my attendant, thank you." He looks over at me. "Don’t worry, I offered her less than her current salary. This time."
"Place your bets," the dealer calls out. "Mr. Asher, this is hand number three."
I put a hundred grand back on the bank. I’m not a big gambler, but I do know betting the bank is the safest option. Better odds than betting the player and much better odds than betting on a tie.
“I will bet against you and see if your luck theory holds, Asher."
The hand is dealt and I sigh.
"Player has six, bank has four. Player wins!"
The dealer takes my money again, and now I’m out four hundred thousand dollars. I’m starting to sweat, so I loosen my tie and unbutton my shirt.
Li writes another note and hands it to the waiting doorman. He smiles up at me as the man leaves to deliver the message. "Sixty thousand, plus a fully furnished condo with the best view in Hong Kong."
"Bets, please! Hand number four for Vaughn Asher, movie star!"
I squint my eyes at the woman and she shrugs.
"Condo, Li? There was no condo offer in the deal."
"There was no mention of perks at all, Asher."
Fucking cheater. I place another hundred thousand dollars on the table, with the bank. I win that hand, gaining back almost two hundred grand. I let that bet stand, and that goes to the bank again. Now I’m back in business and Grace has not gotten another offer.
"Bet again, Asher!" the dealer cries out. This makes Li laugh. "Hand number six, num… ber… six." She calls it like she’s a barker in a midway side show.
I take back four stacks of chips and let two stacks ride. "On the bank," I say.
I cringe as the cards are presented. "Player wins!" the dealer calls out, taking my winnings with her.
Li writes up his message and tears the piece of paper off the pad with a lavish gesture. "Ninety thousand plus a condo, and her own personal driver."
"Fuck," I mutter under my breath. My heart is starting to beat faster. What if I f**king lose?
Li laughs. "How about another level of risk, hmmm?"
"Why would I do that?" I seethe at him. “I’ve won three of six. I’ve got an even chance. Why the hell would I raise the stakes now?”
"Because higher risk has higher reward, Asher. Let’s forget best of ten, eh? We have four hands left. I match your wager and bet with you for hands one and three. You match my wager and bet with me for the second and fourth hands. Deal?"
"But you still get to make an offer if I lose?"
He grins, and this should make me extremely suspicious, but I’m desperate to get the f**k out of this goddamned room. I check my watch and I’ve already been in here forty-five minutes. I could end up being tied up more than an hour since I have to play all ten hands.
"Since your luck really is running on empty,” Li says, “I will forgive the first three hands if you lose. But if you lose the tenth hand, you have to leave the hotel tonight without her. Not even a goodbye. Not even a phone call. And you may never contact her again. But if you win the last hand, even if you lose the first three or she accepts my offer, then I’ll back off."