As the executive casino hostess for the Onyx in Las Vegas, Valerie Downing was used to watching high rollers excite a crowd, especially when Lady Luck was on their side and each roll of the dice paid off for everyone playing at their table.
In this instance, the game of choice was craps, and the person generating all the excitement was one of the hottest, sexiest men she’d ever laid eyes on. That was saying a lot, considering all the good-looking guys who’d come through the casino in the time she’d worked there.
Besides being blessed with a stunningly gorgeous face and a hard body made for all kinds of sin, he most captured her attention with the abundance of confidence and easygoing charm he exuded. The seductive, inviting curve to his lips when he smiled didn’t hurt, either. And judging by all the women surrounding him, each one blatantly vying for his attention, she wasn’t the only female currently admiring all that charisma and masculine sex appeal.
Standing just outside the gaming area, Valerie continued to keep an eye on the increasing action at the craps table, fairly certain that she’d be summoned to extend the hotel and casino’s VIP services to entice the man to stay. A gambler didn’t win a huge chunk of change at one of these tables only to leave and squander the cash elsewhere. Her job was to make sure the big winners stayed at the Onyx, and any further gambling was invested right back into their casino.
“Looks like you have a live one at the craps table.”
Valerie glanced at the petite blonde who’d come up beside her, amused by the note of interest in the other woman’s voice, and knew her friend was lusting over Gorgeous Guy. Skye Lambert, her roommate, worked as a cocktail waitress in the casino, had a bigger-than-life personality and a centerfold body that easily rocked her black miniskirt and lace-up corset uniform. She also had a huge appreciation for the opposite sex, though there was only one man in particular she wanted. Unfortunately, he treated Skye more like a little sister than like a woman who desired only him.
Another round of boisterous cheers drew Valerie’s attention back to the craps table and Gorgeous Guy. Apparently, he’d just rolled a great hand. “He’s definitely riding a lucky streak, and he’s making a ton of money for a lot of people, himself included.”
Skye sighed dreamily. “Doesn’t hurt that he’s a smoking-hot hunk with a face and body to die for. He’s not one of our regulars, is he?”
“No.” Valerie was familiar with the established high rollers, and she’d never seen this guy before today. She would have remembered him. “I’m just waiting for him to finish playing so I can offer my services and make sure he becomes a regular.”
“Yeah, I’d love to offer him my services,” Skye murmured wickedly.
Valerie laughed at her friend’s outrageous comment as Skye continued on her way to the bar to pick up a drink order.
Gorgeous Guy reached for the dice, but before he could toss them onto the table again, a curvy redhead who’d been by his side the entire afternoon grabbed his hand, brought his palm up to her pursed lips, and blew seductively on the dice for extra luck. Obviously enjoying the woman’s seductive tactics, he grinned like a rogue, then with a flick of his wrist he sent the dice tumbling across the green felt-covered table.
The croupier called out a triple, which meant another generous payout for everyone. The gamblers riding on Gorgeous Guy’s luck were loud in expressing their elation, and the same redhead who’d just blown on his dice now wrapped her arms around his neck and planted a zealous kiss of gratitude on his lips. When she finally let him breathe again, he was laughing and enjoying the spotlight. Then he started racking up his chips to cash out while the woman he was with continued to fawn all over him.
Valerie’s BlackBerry vibrated against her hip, and she pulled the device from its case and checked the message from the pit boss who’d been supervising the action.
75K leaving the craps table. Male. Blond. Blue collared shirt.
Gorgeous Guy. She replied with a standard I’m on it to let the pit boss know she had the target in sight as he headed toward the cashier—without the woman who’d been all but glued to his side at the table.
While the man transferred his casino tokens into paper bills, Valerie made her way to the cashier area and waited patiently for him to finish his transaction.
A few minutes ticked by, giving her way too much idle time to check out what a fine example of male flesh he was. He was tall, with broad shoulders and lean hips, and the way he filled out a pair of Levi’s drew her gaze to his perfect ass. From where she stood, she had a great view of his profile, which showcased his chiseled features and the shape of his sensual lips. Dark blond hair, the color of rich butterscotch, fell in a tousled but appealing mess around his head and only enhanced his roguish good looks.
When he was finally done with the cashier, Valerie straightened her shoulders and approached him in a professional manner, their gazes meeting as she closed the distance between them. He did a slow, thorough sweep down the length of her body, then up again, a confident, bad boy gleam sparking to life in his bright green eyes.
By the time she reached him, she’d easily pegged his type. He was obviously a player, and she didn’t mean that in the gambling sense. Dealing with all sorts of people as a Vegas casino hostess, she’d become a pretty good judge of character, even without the benefit of touching the person. Considering he’d just left his girlfriend at the craps table, all signs pointed to him being the kind of guy who had one girl on his arm but still liked to keep his options open. And he was looking at her as if he wouldn’t mind her being his next conquest.
Reminding herself she had a job to do, Valerie extended her hand toward him. “Hi. I’m Valerie Downing, the executive casino hostess here at the Onyx.”
The corner of his mouth curved in an irresistible grin designed to make a woman weak in the knees. And damned if that smile didn’t work on her, too.
“Chase Pierson,” he replied, and clasped her hand in his.
The instant skin slid against skin, a current of rippling heat zinged up her arm and flooded her entire body with a surge of electricity. Touching him was the equivalent of coming into direct contact with a live circuit, and had the same effect of jolting her feminine senses to life.
Her nipples peaked hard and tight against her silk blouse—which his unabashed gaze noticed—and carnal vibrations shimmered through her, much like the beginnings of an orgasm. She gasped in shock at her body’s brazen response, and in a purely knee-jerk reaction, she yanked her hand back out of his grasp.
Oh, wow. She stared at him, breathless and shaken, her heart racing in her chest as she tried to process what the hell had just happened, and if she’d been the only one affected.
His face registered surprise, telling her that he’d felt something, too, and wasn’t sure what to make of what had just transpired between them, either.
A residual tingling sensation made her hyperaware of how close he stood to her and the sexual energy pouring off him. A normal person would have chalked up that blast of heat to attraction and chemistry, but she wasn’t your average female.
As a clairvoyant, she was used to feeling emotions on a higher level, sometimes even seeing visions and images when she touched someone and opened herself up to the experience. She’d certainly felt a man’s attraction and interest during many casual handshakes, but this was different, he was different, and her response to him was more powerful than anything she’d ever encountered.
Absently rubbing her itchy palm down the side of her black slacks, she exhaled a deep breath and tried to act as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened—not an easy feat when just looking into his deep, rich, moss green eyes made her pulse trip all over itself again.
Good grief, what the heck was wrong with her? And why did this man have such a profound physical effect on her body and senses?
Since the answer to her own questions eluded her, she cleared her throat and focused on business. “I wanted to congratulate you on your win at the craps table and offer to comp you a room here at the Onyx for the weekend,” she managed in an even tone.
“I appreciate the offer,” he replied in a smooth, sensual drawl that matched his laid-back demeanor. “But I already have a room here at the hotel.”
“Great,” she said, pleased that he was currently a guest, which meant any further gambling would most likely be spent in their casino, and not a rival’s. “Then I’d be happy to cover the charges. If you’d just give me your room number, I’ll take care of everything for you.”
“No need.” That lazy smile came again. “My room has already been comped.”
She hadn’t expected that reply, and wondered if one of the other junior hosts, possibly a newbie, had already compensated him. They all reported directly to her for her approval on giveaways, and she hadn’t signed off on any rooms yet today. She’d have to check into who’d given him the special treatment, and why.
“How about dinner for two at our five-star restaurant, or tickets to a show on the Strip?” she suggested instead.
“Dinner for two?” he repeated, tipping his head as he considered the offer, and her, with undeniable interest. “Are you planning on joining me?”
The man was absolutely shameless. “I don’t think the woman you’re with would appreciate you two-timing her,” she said with humor, reminding him of the lady he’d left behind at the craps table.
A believable amount of confusion etched his expression. “Uh, what woman?”
She caught herself before she would have rolled her eyes at his oh-so-innocent act. “The one who kissed you after your big payout?”
Understanding dawned in his eyes. “Oh, her.” He lifted his broad shoulders in an unapologetically boyish shrug. “She was just an overzealous winner, and I’m not one to deny a woman a kiss, so I went with the flow. But I’m not with her—or anyone else, for that matter—which means I’d love for you to join me.”
Temptation beckoned, and she shook her head firmly. “Sorry, but those perks don’t extend to employees.”
It was a standard line she used with the many men who’d tried the same tactic, a way to let them down gently without offending their egos. And despite being intrigued by that sizzling handshake they’d just shared, Valerie saw that Chase Pierson had heartbreaker written all over him, and she’d had enough of that to last her a lifetime.
“The offer for dinner and show tickets still stands, if you’re interested,” she said.
He looked disappointed that she’d shot him down. “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’m not one to dine alone, and I’m not much of a show guy, either.”
“I’m sure you could find someone to join you for the evening if you really wanted,” she said with an indulgent smile. Like the woman at the craps table, she thought as she withdrew a business card from the pouch clipped to the waistband of her slacks and handed it to him. “If you change your mind, or there’s anything I can do for you during your stay here, just give me a call.”
He glanced at the card, then flicked the tip of it between his long, masculine fingers as he raised his gaze back to hers, a flirtatious grin on his lips. “Can I call you for a date, without the use of hotel perks? I think I can afford to take you to a really nice dinner somewhere on the Strip after what I just won at the craps table.”
Valerie had to give him props for being persistent, and incredibly persuasive. The teasing note to his voice, the warmth in his piercing green eyes, and the promise of pleasure still lingering between them drew her in and played havoc with her normally good sense and solid intuition.
His burning hot touch had evoked such a strong stirring of lust and desire, and while she had to admit she was curious to see where that physical awareness might lead, she was smart enough not to get caught up in the attraction.
Instead, she took a purposeful step back from him. “I’m sorry, Mr. Pierson, but I don’t fraternize with the guests outside of the casino,” she said, injecting a pleasant tone to her voice. “Enjoy your stay at the Onyx.”
Before he could try to sway her further, she turned around and walked away—and she didn’t need psychic abilities to know he was staring at her ass. She could feel his gaze on her, intense and intimate, all the way until she entered the lobby of the adjoining hotel and disappeared from his view. Only then did she release a deep breath in an attempt to relax her tense, sexually charged body.
Geez, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so hot and bothered, so aroused and stimulated—and never just from a man’s mere touch. Stranger or not.
On a regular day-to-day basis, she’d learned to control her psychic abilities through grounding and meditation techniques so they didn’t interfere with her job as a hostess. But there were times when her connection to a person’s aura or energy field was overwhelmingly strong and penetrated those barriers and triggered an episode.
Usually, when that happened, visions or premonitions flashed in her mind, but this thing with Chase was purely physical. There had been no mental images. No intuitive visions. Just a palpable, inexplicable desire that was still coursing through her bloodstream, and was as distracting as hell.
Curious to know more about the enigmatic Chase Pierson, she headed to one of the computers at the check-in desk that was currently unoccupied. Using her employee access code, she typed in his name and up came his room reservation. She was shocked to discover not only that Chase was staying in the penthouse suite normally reserved for celebrities and other affluent VIPs, but also that the owner of the casino, Steven Wilkes, was the one who’d approved the paid-for room.
“Wow,” she breathed, both impressed and intrigued by his status. And while she was tempted to search the Internet to see what Chase’s name might reveal about him and who he was, she had other, more pressing things to get done. But later tonight when she was at home, she intended to do just that.
She spent the next few hours in her private office working on a marketing campaign geared toward enticing the Onyx’s Platinum Club members to book a return visit to the casino with free offers and upgrades. She had champagne and a fruit basket delivered to an arriving high roller’s room, and she put a call in to valet to arrange a Ferrari rental for another guest who wanted to surprise her husband with the flashy ride for their tenth-anniversary outing that evening.
At 4:45 in the afternoon, the alarm on her cell phone beeped, reminding her that she had a scheduled meeting with her boss, Caleb Roux, in fifteen minutes. She cleaned off her desk, shut down her computer, and headed to the security wing, where Caleb’s office was located. She didn’t know the exact details of why he’d summoned her, but usually a meeting with Caleb meant being assigned a case with the Reliance Group.
Excitement and anticipation filled her with each step she took. While she loved her job as a hostess, being a part of TRG—a private investigative agency Caleb had organized with the specific purpose of taking on specialized cases other agencies weren’t interested in handling—was a nice change of pace. And she also enjoyed being linked to such a close-knit group, which felt like family to her.
She never knew what to expect from Caleb. Sometimes he asked for her help on the more complicated cases, and other times he used her to glean information from someone, details that he wouldn’t be able to learn on his own. With a deft touch and mental concentration, she was usually able to give him insight on a person’s thoughts or intentions to help solve a case.
For most of Valerie’s life, being able to read other people’s minds or seeing visions of past, present, or future events had been more of a curse than a blessing—but Caleb had given her, and her gift, a sense of purpose when her future had seemed so bleak. Doing something positive and constructive with her psychic abilities was her way of making up for the stupid decisions she’d made in the past, and helped assuage painful memories that would forever remind her of how she’d failed the two people who’d mattered most to her—her parents.
Caleb was not only her boss, but also a friend—and one of the very few men she trusted implicitly. She knew without a single ounce of doubt that he’d never hurt her, or exploit her gift as others had, including a man she’d thought she loved. Caleb was always up front and honest with her—honorable, ethical qualities that had been lacking in her previous relationships and now set a strong precedence for the few friends she’d let into her life on a regular basis.
But until those people earned her trust, her first line of defense was to be cautious and guarded. She’d like to think that she was much smarter and wiser now when it came to protecting her heart and emotions.
Reaching his office, she stepped inside … and came to an abrupt stop when she saw who was sitting in one of the chairs in front of Caleb’s desk.
Her “Gorgeous Guy.”
His deep green bedroom eyes meet hers, and Valerie’s heart immediately skipped a crazy beat before resuming at a galloping pace. Even though a good six feet of space separated them, an undeniable wave of awareness wrapped around her like a tangible caress and tugged at her core.
What was he doing here? she wondered as she forced herself to approach the desk, and him. As she closed the gap, that strange shimmering heat between them intensified and drew her like a magnetic charge.
“Here she is,” Caleb said in that direct tone of his as both men stood to greet her. “There’s someone I want you to meet, Valerie. This is Chase Pierson, a close personal acquaintance of Steven Wilkes.”
She’d already come to that conclusion after discovering the owner was the one to approve Pierson’s stay in the luxurious penthouse suite. She had no idea what all this had to do with her, but she was sure she’d find out soon. And then she was going to put as much distance between herself and Chase as possible because the man wreaked havoc with every one of her five senses.
“Caleb was just telling me all kinds of good stuff about you,” he said with a playful wink as he stretched a hand toward her, an I dare you to touch me again glint in his eyes. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Nervous about what might happen if she came into skin-to-skin contact with him again, she couldn’t bring herself to touch him. “Chase and I already met down in the casino earlier,” she said in an attempt to disregard the need for a formal handshake. “He was quite lucky at the craps table.”
Chase wasn’t about to let her off so easy, and kept his hand extended. “How about we consider this our official first meet?” he suggested, a devilish smile curving his lips.
God, he was so damned determined, and he did it with such unabashed charm that if she ignored or refused his gesture, she’d come across as downright rude in front of Caleb—and he knew it, too. Praying that her earlier response to touching him was nothing more than a fluke, she took extra precautions and created a mental and physical block against the masculine energy emanating off him, then slipped her hand into his.
Snap. Crackle. Pop. She heard the sound in her head, felt the electrical shock of his touch vibrate through her body. She’d tried, but there was no defending herself against the uncontrollable flash of heat that surged inside her or the way the air between them practically crackled with sexual tension. Illicit sensations sparked like wildfire in her veins, prickling her skin with goose bumps, while lust and desire merged and intensified, setting off a chain reaction of arousing quivers low and deep in her stomach.
She sucked in a sharp breath before she could stop the sound from escaping and quickly pulled her hand from his grasp, which did little to break the bizarre spell this man seemed to have over her. He barged right past the defenses she’d erected, and that had never happened to her before. Her reaction to him was extremely unnerving, given that she was a psychic. However, the woman in her couldn’t help but find it all incredibly erotic and exciting.
Knowing her gasp and the abruptness with which she’d ended the handshake hadn’t escaped Caleb’s shrewd gaze, Valerie went with the first thing that popped into her head. “Damn static electricity,” she muttered, rubbing her still-tingling palm against the fabric of her pants.
Chase laughed, clearly amused with her excuse, and obviously not believing it for a second. “Yeah, there seems to be a lot of that going on today.”
Caleb gave her an odd look, as if he was trying to figure out why she was behaving so strangely, then finally waved a hand at the chair beside her. “Have a seat, Valerie, and I’ll brief you on why you’re here.”
Yes, she was definitely curious about that, especially since it appeared Chase was involved somehow, as well. They all sat down, and while Valerie kept her gaze focused on her boss, her awareness of the man reclining in his chair so casually next to her was as strong as ever.
Thankfully, Caleb jumped right into business. “Chase is a treasure hunter, and Steven Wilkes has retained his services to recover a valuable historical item belonging to Al Capone.”
Knowing that TRG and its members had no expertise in treasure hunting, she frowned in confusion. “Why is the Reliance Group involved?”
“Actually, it’s not so much TRG’s services that are needed, but rather the gift you possess,” Caleb explained easily. “Steven has requested that you, specifically, assist Chase in acquiring this piece.”
Valerie’s stomach fluttered at the thought of doing anything with this man. Just his mere presence next to her was throwing her off-kilter, and she couldn’t imagine what would happen if she were forced into close proximity with him. Well, yeah, she could imagine, and every single scenario that flitted through her mind was like an X-rated fantasy with him in the starring role.
Her cheeks heated, and her entire body felt warm and flushed, even though the air-conditioning was on in the office. “What does my psychic gift have to do with finding an old antique?”
“Steven is hoping that your talent, combined with Chase’s, will ultimately lead to the item that’s been elusive to Chase so far.”
She finally glanced at Chase, met his too-seductive gaze, and raised a curious brow. “Your talent?” She had no doubt the man was an expert at many things, and she was dying to find out what this so-called skill of his was all about.
His broad shoulders lifted in a casual shrug, while a slight gotcha smile made an appearance. “I have psychometric abilities.”
Surprise rendered her momentarily speechless.
Okay, she hadn’t seen that one coming. While she, as a clairvoyant, could touch a living being and see and feel things related to that person, Chase had the rare ability to hold an inanimate object in his hand and be able to read its history. They each possessed two separate, different psychic abilities, and depending on what they were searching for, their talents could complement each other.
If it were anyone other than Chase, she would have jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something so fun and mysterious. Going on a hunt for treasure would be a nice change from the other cases she normally took on for TRG, which were darker, more emotionally draining, and usually dealt with shadier elements.
But knowing just what kind of effect Chase had on her, she was reluctant to say yes. She took great care to keep people from getting too close because of her gift and a painful past that left her guarded, and yet he’d so easily ambushed her defenses and shaken her control.
Yet there was no turning Caleb or his request down, because she didn’t think he’d appreciate or accept her explanation. I’m sorry, Caleb, but every time Chase touches me, I want to rip his clothes off and do wicked things with him.
Oh, yeah, that would go over real well.
So, instead, she sucked up her own personal issues with Chase and put on a professional façade. “So, what does this job entail, and what, exactly, is this object we’ll be searching for?” Despite everything, she was intrigued.
Before Caleb could reply, the BlackBerry sitting on the desk in front of him vibrated. He checked the message that came through, then cursed beneath his breath and abruptly stood. “I’m going to have to cut this meeting short. I’ve got a security problem down in the casino I need to take care of. I’ll let Chase fill you in on all the details, since this is essentially his deal, anyway. In fact, since it’s getting close to six, why don’t the two of you discuss everything over dinner?”
“Great idea,” Chase said quickly and enthusiastically, not giving Valerie any say in the matter.
Once Caleb was gone and she and Chase were alone, he glanced back at her, emitting too much male charm and confidence. “It looks like the two of us will be having that dinner after all, not to mention working together. Should make for an interesting few weeks, don’t you think?”
Interesting was putting it mildly.
With that knowing, sexy twinkle in his eyes, the man was nothing short of a rogue. While he seemed to look forward to their future interaction, she was wondering if she’d survive the sizzling attraction between them. Now that she’d learned of his psychometric abilities, she wondered if her fiery response to him was due to their combined psychic gifts, if the strong energy surrounding them was the reason why she was so super-sensitive to his touch.
It was the only thing that made sense.
Feeling restless and mentally unbalanced, she stood and took a few steps away from him. “Honestly, I know little to nothing about antiques, so I’m not sure that I’ll be of much help to you.”
He straightened from his chair, his expression suddenly serious. “I wouldn’t have agreed to take on a partner if I didn’t believe you’d be of some service, even before I knew who you were,” he said meaningfully, and in reference to their earlier run-in downstairs.
He sounded so certain, and at this point she had to trust that both Caleb and Steven believed she’d make a difference to Chase’s quest for this unattainable antique. Which meant sharing a meal with Chase to get to know him, and the case, better.
She checked her watch. “I guess I’ll go ahead and call the maître d’ at the hotel restaurant and reserve us a table for dinner.”
He shook his head, drawing her gaze to the golden streaks in his tousled hair, the kind of natural highlights from time spent in the sun. “I’d rather we discuss everything in a private setting so there aren’t other people around to overhear our conversation. How about you come up to my suite say, about six thirty, and we’ll have dinner there and talk.”
Where they’d be completely alone. She’d prefer an open, public area where she felt more in control of him and the situation, but he wasn’t offering her a choice, and that assertive attitude of his gave her a glimpse of yet another facet of his personality. The man was used to taking charge and probably didn’t hear the word no very often. Especially when it came to women.
She tipped her head to the side and regarded him with a slight smile. “Do you always get what you want?”
He looked initially surprised by her question, then laughed in a combination of amusement and sexy arrogance, the low, deep sound stroking across her skin like a silky caress. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Dear Lord, that’s exactly what she was afraid of, because the heated look in his eyes clearly stated that he wanted her.
Copyright © 2012 by Janelle Denison