take no prisoners - Book No. 2 - "Black Ops Inc. "
Abbie spotted the posterboy the minute she came back from break. It
was hard not to. The guy was incredible looking. While
she felt a little kernel of unease that he’d turned up again – where
she worked this time – she wasn’t going to let it throw
her off her stride.
The Vegas strip wasn’t all that big. Not really. There
were only so many places for people to eat, sleep and gamble. When
he drifted off twenty minutes or so later without so much as looking
her way, she chalked it up to coincidence. Just as she found
it coincidental that the tall man with the dark eyes and short
dark hair who’d been playing the slot beside the golden boy
ambled over to the black jack tables.
Big guy. The western cut white shirt and slim, crisp Wrangler
jeans told her he was a real cowboy. The kind who made their
living in the saddle, not the kind who just dressed the part. He
was confident but quiet with it, she decided as she dealt all around
to her full table then cut another glance the big guy’s way.
He stood a few feet back from the tables, arms crossed over a
broad chest, long legs planted about a shoulder width apart, eyes
intent on the action on the blackjack table next to hers. On
any given night there were a lot of lookers in a casino so it wasn’t
unusual that he stood back from the crowd and just watched. What
was unusual was that between deals, her gaze kept gravitating back
What was even more curious was that when one of her players scooped
up his chips and wandered off, leaving the third base chair empty,
Abbie found herself wishing the tall cowboy would take his place.
What was up with that? And what was up with the
little stutter step of her heart when he ambled over, nodded hello
and eased his lean hips onto the chair.
“Howdy,” she said with what she told herself was a
standard, welcoming smile.
He answered with a polite nod as he reached into his hip pocket
and dug out his wallet. When she’d paid and collected
bets all around, he tossed a hundred dollar bill onto the table.
Abbie scooped it up, counted out one hundred in chips from the
chip tray, then spread them on the green felt table top for him
to see. After he’d gathered them in and stacked them
in front of him, she tucked the hundred into the slot in front
“Place your bets,” she said to the table of seven,
then dealt the first round face-up from the shoe. When all
players had two cards face up, she announced her own total. “Dealer
Her first base player asked for a hit, which busted him. When
she got to cute quiet cowboy, he waved his hand over his cards,
standing pat with eighteen.
You could tell a lot about a person from their hands. Abbie
saw a lot of hands – polished and manicured, dirty and rough,
thin and arthritic. The cowboy’s hands were big, like
he was. His fingers were tan and long with blunt, clean nails,
not buffed. Buffed, in her book, said pretentious. His
were not. They were capable hands. A working man’s
hands, with the occasional scar to show he was more than a gentleman
rancher. Plenty of calluses. He dug in.
She liked him for that. Was happy for him when she drew
a king, which busted her. “Luck’s running your
way,” she said with a smile as she paid him.
He looked up at her then and for the first time she was hit with
the full force of his smile. Shy and sweet, yet she got the
distinct impression there was something dark and dangerous about
Whoa. Where had that come from? And what the heck
was going on with her?
Hundreds – hell, thousands – of players sat at her
table in any given month. Some were serious, some were fun
and funny, some sad. And yeah, some of them deserved a second
look. None of them, however, flipped her switches or tripped
her triggers like this man was flipping and tripping them right
now. It was unsettling as all get out.
“Place your bets,” she announced again then dealt
around the table when all players had slid chips into their betting
Where the blond poster boy had been bad boy gorgeous, there wasn’t
one thing about this man that suggested boy. Abbie pegged
him for mid-thirties – maybe closer to forty, but it wasn’t
anything physical that gave her that impression. He was rock
solid and sort of rough and tumble looking. Dark brown hair,
close cut, dark, dark brown eyes, all seeing. Nice
face. Hard face. All edgy angles and bold lines.
Maybe that’s where the dangerous part came. He had
a look about him that was both disconcerting and compelling. A
presence suggesting experience and intelligence and a core solid
confidence that needed no outward display or action to reinforce
He was the quintessential quiet hero type. Matthew McConaughey
without the long hair and boyish charm – and with a
shirt on, something McConaughey was generally filmed without. Although,
the cowboy did have his own brand of charisma going on
because he was sure as the world throwing her for a loop.
“Cards?” she asked him now.
Smart player, she thought and split his pair of eights. She
grinned again when he eventually beat the table and her on both
“I think maybe you’re my luck.” He
tossed a toke in the form of a red chip her way.
“Tip,” she said loud enough for her pit boss to hear,
showed him the five-dollar chip before she pocketed it. “Thanks,” she
said smiling at him.
He spoke so softly that the only reason she understood what he
said was because she was looking right at him. The din of
the casino drowned out his words to anyone else at the table as
the rest of the players talked and joked or commiserated with each
The next words out of his mouth – “What time do you
get off?” – threw her for a complete loop.
She averted her gaze. “Place your bets,” she
told the table at large thinking, Hokay. Quiet doesn’t
necessarily equate to shy.
The man moved fast. Which both surprised and pleased her
because it meant that all this ‘awareness’, for lack
of a better word, wasn’t one-sided. It also made her
a little nervous. Her first instinct was to give him her
standard, Sorry. No fraternizing with the customers.
But then she got an image of a devil sitting on her shoulder – a
red haired pixie devil with a remarkable resemblance to Crystal. “Don’t
you dare brush him off. Look at him. Look! At! Him!”
She chanced meeting his eyes again – his expression was
expectant but not pressuring – and found herself mouthing, “Midnight.”
A hint of a smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. “Where?”
She didn’t hesitate nearly long enough. “Here.” God,
what was she doing?
“Cards?” she asked the table.
He gave her the “Hit me” signal when she came around
He broke twenty-one, shrugged.
“Sorry,” she said, liking the easy way he took the
loss. “Better luck next time.”
“Counting on it.” He stood. “Later,” he
said for her ears only then he strolled away from the table.
“Dealer pays sixteen,” she said absently as she paid
all winners and surreptitiously watched what was arguably one of
the finest Wrangler butts she’d ever seen get lost in a sea
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