A High Stakes Game
A Tale of the Kavanaugh Foundation
A High Stakes Game
Copyright © 2011 by Crista McHugh
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author or publisher except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.
A faint buzz rose above the din of the crowded casino floor of the Monte Carlo. Espe grinned and reached for the cell phone strapped to her hip. Her pulse raced when she saw Greg’s name. The game continues.
She opened the picture he sent her. An eerie blue glow filled the screen, dotted by blurred shadows. For the last three months, Greg had been playing a high tech version of hide and seek with her. He’d send her a picture of his location, and when she found him, she got her reward—toe-curling sex.
Her skin grew warm as she remembered their last liaison. When she’d pounced on Greg in the mock rainforest inside the Mirage, he’d immediately pulled her into the bushes. Now every time she smelled orchids, she thought of their frenzied fuck. So primal. So dangerous. So naughty, she was already getting wet in anticipation for tonight.
“Espe, what are you doing?” Demarcus barked from the row of slots behind her.
She snapped the phone back into its holster before he noticed the source of her distraction. And she thought Lana had been a tough mentor. Demarcus had zero tolerance for anything other than vampire hunting.
Which, of course, made her meetings with Greg that much more fun.
“I think I’m going to take a bathroom break,” she replied. At least he wouldn’t tail her there.
Demarcus’s nostrils flared like he smelled her lie. “Be back in five minutes.”
Crap! “Five minutes? I can’t even make it across the floor in that time.”
“Fine. Ten minutes.”
She balled her hand into a fist. “When are you going to let me hunt on my own?”
“When you prove to me you’re ready.” He closed the space between them and flicked his fingers across the two small scars on her neck. “Or have you forgotten how close you came to not being a hunter?”
Shame tried to engulf her, but she shook it off. “But I ended up killing him. Not Lana. Not Byron. Me.” She spun around on her heel started toward the train station.
“Espe, don’t go looking for trouble, because you’re gonna find it,” he called after her, but she ignored him and continued to weave through the crowd.
Besides, she wasn’t looking for trouble. She was just looking to have a bit fun, and she knew exactly where Greg was hiding.
The aquarium at Mandalay Bay.
Greg paced between the tanks, ignoring the sharks that swam on the other side of the glass. They didn’t frighten someone like him. Well, at least not when the moon was full. They were all hunters at heart.
He stopped and cleaned his glasses again. Relax. This is no different than any other time you’ve hooked up with Espe.
But it was. He’d been tempted to send her a picture of rose-petal strewn bed he’d prepared for them back at the Venetian, but he feared her reaction. From the beginning, she made it very clear she was in it just for sex. And at the time, he was fine with that. After all, someone like him had no right to expect love or even a serious relationship. The full moon had one hell of an effect on things like that.
I’m crazy to even think about things like this. If his best friend hadn’t found his true mate, none of this would have even crossed his mind. Espe wasn’t his true mate—he knew that. But she was fun and sexy and didn’t seem to mind that he was a werewolf. And she seemed to share his fetish of having sex in public places, which turned him on more than anything else.
Lately, though, he found himself wanting more than just a fuck-buddy.
The familiar scent of vanilla and orchids tainted by a hint musk hit his nose, and his cock immediately stiffened. Espe was coming. The scent her arousal almost overwhelmed him. He shoved his glasses back on and hid between the tanks before his desire got the better of him.
“Greg,” she hissed.
Each echo of her voice heightened the ache in his groin. He dug his teeth into his bottom lip.
“Greg, I know you’re here. Don’t make me have to hunt you down.”
He choked on a laugh. She’d have to catch me first. He may be small, but he was the fastest in his pack. He turned and ran for the tunnel.
The click of high heels followed him. He slowed to glance over his shoulder and drew to a halt. Her skirt hiked higher up her thighs with every step, coming dangerously close to revealing the flimsy piece of lace he knew she wore, just like those he’d ripped away in a fit of passion more times than he could remember.
“Gotcha!” She pounced on him, pushing him against the wall of the tunnel. Her lips crushed against his with the force of her hunger, and all resistance faded from his mind. It was like this every time he got around her. From the second he touched her, his thoughts were controlled by the head in his pants.
Espe broke away, her breasts straining against the low neckline of her dress as she struggled to catch her breath. Her hands began fumbling with his fly. “We have to be quick. Demarcus is trying to keep me on a tight leash.”
He opened his mouth to suggest they go to the room he’d prepared for them, but the second his cock sprung free of his pants, the words died in a groan.
“Good. You’re just as horny as me.”
She switched places with him. His pants puddled around his ankles, making him trip from the simple maneuver. He brushed against the hot wetness of her sex. Dozens of shockwaves raced over his skin. “Where’s your underwear?”
She giggled. “I’m not wearing any.”
“Dear God, Espe, you never cease to amaze me.”
“Stop talking and get inside me now before I go crazy.” She hopped into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist.
It was so easy to slide into her as he pressed her against the cold, damp wall of the tunnel. Overhead, the sharks and other fish swam silently through the water, oblivious to the couple steaming up the glass below.
“More, more,” she murmured and accentuated her pleas by squeezing her walls around him.
He silenced her with a kiss, tasting the sweetness of her lips, wanting to draw this moment out as long as possible. Each stroke of pleasure drew him closer to his climax. Sweat beaded along his forehead, but he didn’t care about the fatigue building in his muscles. All he noticed was the way her eyes widened every time he slammed into her, the way her nails dug into his shoulders, the way she gasped his name when he finally ended the kiss.
Her body stiffened. A shudder started from deep within her and quickly infected him, starting from the tightening in his balls and spreading to his fingertips. The tension coiled tighter and tighter until he reached the breaking point. Stars danced in front of his eyes when he finally surrendered and came inside her.
The only sounds in the tunnel were their harried breaths. When he looked at Espe, something inside his chest tightened to the point where he could barely draw in air. She wasn’t watching him like a woman caught in pure rapture any more. There was a softness to her smile, a tenderness to her fingers as they ran through his hair. Could she really feel something more for me?
“Thank you, Greg.” She brushed her lips against his once more before unwrapping her legs and pulling her skirt down. “I always enjoy hooking up with you, but this was especially…” She searched for the right word while she picked her purse off the floor, “pleasurable.”
“Wait.”He caught her arm, tripping over his pants again.
She caught him before he ended up splayed across the floor. His cheeks burned, and his tongue flopped around in his mouth like a dead fish, so different from those gliding gracefully through the water above. He yanked his pants up.
“Shit,” was the first thing he managed to say, but it shoved his momentary embarrassment aside and cleared his mind. “Sorry, but tonight didn’t go the way I wanted it to.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, not the way you wanted?”
He reached for his glasses, but her sharp scrutiny halted him. “Dammit, Espe, don’t take this the wrong way, but as much as I love our little get-togethers, the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am stuff gets old after a while.”
“So what are you saying?”
He took a deep breath. Before his courage faltered, he said in a rush, “I want something more.”
Espe froze, unsure how to respond to Greg. She’s rather take on a dozen starved vampires than have this conversation. And she knew it was coming. Greg was too nice a guy to be happy with the no-strings attached policy.
She ran her fingers through her hair to unsnarl the tangles. A smooth, no-nonsense mask slid into place, hiding any doubts she may have about the well-practiced speech she was preparing to give. “Greg, you know I can’t be involved with anyone. Sex is fine. Something more is not allowed.”
“Why?” He closed the space between them so his breath brushed against her forehead, warming the chill in her heart and slowly tearing away at her defenses. “Don’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.”
The thought of slow, leisurely love-making had crossed her mind more times than she cared to admit. A real bed. Closed doors so they could enjoy each other without the fear of someone catching them. Falling asleep wrapped in his arms afterwards.
She backed away, scared her body would betray her by leaning in to kiss him and follow him along in his folly. “They’re not my rules—they’re the Foundation’s. They’re meant to protect you. Ask Lana.”
“But I’m not a normal man, and you know it. I can defend myself from vampires.”
“I can’t have this conversation now, Greg.” She pushed past him, eager to get away before the lump forming in her throat choked her. “I have to get back before Demarcus gets suspicious.”
She was almost to the end of the tunnel when something made her freeze. The tingle that raced down her spine. The feeling of dread that made her breath hitch. The way her hand automatically reached for the stake in her purse. All warning signs that a vampire was nearby.
She spun around to search for the bloodsucker and noticed Greg’s nostrils flaring as he caught the scent. His muscles tensed, and she watched in wonder as he went from her goofy lover to a trained hunter within seconds. He caught her eye and gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, a signal that she was to stay put until he knew which way to go.
A splash broke the silence, and Espe fought hard to keep the yelp buried inside her chest. A body floated down to the floor of the tank, hitting the roof of the tunnel on his way down. Two thin threads of red coiled from the puncture wounds on his throat.
Above, a shadow sped off toward the entrance of the aquarium.
Greg raced past her in pursuit, already reaching for his gun that contained his special wooden-tipped bullets.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” she muttered and chased after him. She was the vampire hunter here. This was her kill, not his.
But Greg was faster than her, an annoying gift from his werewolf bite. He disappeared around the corner. The slamming of a metal door was all that greeted her when she hit the end of the hallway. She flung it open and ran down the dark staircase after the fading sound of footsteps without giving a second thought to what waited below.
The underbelly of a casino was a place most tourists didn’t even want to think existed. Dim fluorescent lights hummed above, flickering in an irregular rhythm as she jogged down the long corridor. The musty air preserved the scent of stale cigarette smoke wafting down from the gaming floors above. It was the perfect place a vampire to hide, and on more than one occasion, she’d dusted a bloodsucker in the deserted halls.
She’d lost sight of Greg and the vampire, but the increasing intensity of the prickling along her spine told her she was closing in on them. She slowed her pace, checking each turn for a clue of where they’d gone. Her heart pounded, and her fingers tightened around the stake. Death didn’t frighten her. She only prayed she wouldn’t be too late to the party.
Gunshots rang out ahead. Espe sprinted toward the source. A sharp metallic taste filled her mouth the way it always did when she closed in on her prey. Demarcus thought her bite marks to be a badge of her impulsiveness –something to be ashamed of—but her hunting senses had only sharpened after being bitten.
When she rounded the corner, she stopped short. Greg stood chest to chest with the vampire, his glasses gone from his face. A lone gun waved above their heads as each of them tried to wrestle it from the other. A blood stain bloomed along the side of Greg’s shirt, and her throat tightened. From the way it grew, she knew it was his blood.
They both halted their struggle to stare at her. An evil grin formed on the vampire’s lips, revealing his fangs. “Ah, dessert.”
“Espe, get out of—” Greg’s words ended in a wheeze as the vampires elbow connected with his gut, followed by a fist in the center of the blood stain. Greg’s grip on the gun faltered. He crumpled to the floor, his face tight with pain.
The vampire aimed the gun at Greg’s heart. The click of the hammer caused something to land with a deep thud in the center of Espe’s chest as if she’d already been hit with a bullet.
Shit! I really do care about him.
She sprung at the vampire, her stake raised and ready to send him to the hell reserved for bloodsucking scum like him.
The vampire pivoted. The barrel of the gun now faced her, but she was already in motion. It was too late to stop or change directions. She inwardly winced as his finger squeezed the trigger.
A blur of motion came between the gun and her. The shot exploded in the room like a clap of thunder. Hot air fanned her cheek right before she collided with the mass of bodies. Greg rolled out from between her and vampire before they all hit the floor, and like a missile with a built-in honing device, the stake found its target the center of the vampire’s chest.
Dust filled her nose, and Espe sneezed to clear the remnants of the vampire from it. The last thing she wanted was to take that with her. She cleaned off her stake and turned to Greg. “You ok?”
“He grazed me with a silver bullet, but I’ll live.” He sat up with a grunt. His hand flew to his side, and he sucked in a breath through his teeth. “I just wish I knew he had them before he hit me.”
“Seems like they haven’t forgotten what happened a few months ago.” She retrieved his glasses and handed them to him.
“Neither have I. That last wound took three whole days to heal, even with your witch friend casting her voodoo needle work on me.” He took her hand and stood, pain tempering his movements even as he waved her away. “It hurts like a bitch now, but I should be fine in a day or so.”
“Whatever. Come on, let’s get you home. Is your car here?”
He nodded. “I’m staying at the Venetian tonight, though.”
“Let me text Demarcus so he knows where I am.” When she finished her message, she turned her phone off. The last thing she needed tonight was a lecture from her mentor on breaking his rules.
Greg remained unusually quiet as she drove him to the casino up the Strip, which suited her just fine. It gave her time to regain control of her emotions and keep them from clouding her judgment. Yes, I’ll acknowledge that I care enough about to not want to see him killed. But something deeper than that—no way. I want to be a hunter, and hunters aren’t allowed to fall in love.
Fall in love. The words echoed in her mind and made it hard to swallow.
“Can you help me up to my room?” The husky note in his voice revived the yearning that had plagued her body since the moment he first suggested they hook-up. Thankfully, though, his wounds would keep him from acting on it… and keep her from giving into temptation.
The silence continued into the elevator until he started, “Espe, I—” His voice broke, and he shook his head. “Maybe it’s best if I just show you.”
The doors slid open. He led her down the hall and held the door to his room open for her.
Espe’s heart hammered as she peeked into the room. She gasped. The sweet smell of roses almost made her as dizzy as her lack of oxygen. “Greg, did you plan this?”
He nodded. “I wanted to make tonight different, special. You know, to show you that perhaps we could be more than fuck-buddies,” he added with a shrug.
Her mouth went dry. She stepped into the room and soaked in all the romantic details, from the trail of petals that led to the bed to the lit candle next to a bottle of champagne chilling in a silver ice bucket. It was so tempting forget her life and indulge in this fantasy he’d created. “Greg, you shouldn’t have done this.”
“I know.” He brushed past her, pulling his shirt off as he crossed the room and tossing it into a pile in the corner. “I should’ve known you’re already married to your job.”
“Don’t say it that way.”
The rest of her lecture died in her throat. An angry red gash snaked across his ribs. She reached forward and traced it, mesmerized by how his skin was already knitting together. What I wouldn’t give to have that ability.
Her fingers strayed past the wound to the deep lines cut into his abs and further down to the trial of hair that disappeared into his pants. The temptation to undo the button holding them up made her breath quicken. Why am I acting this way? I already came tonight with him. Why do I still crave him?
He caught her hand and threaded his fingers through hers. “Please, Espe, I’m not asking for forever. I’m just asking for one night. One chance to see where this goes.”
She looked up into his earnest blue eyes, and her resistance vanished. A different type of warmth flowed through her veins. It was smooth and subtle, more like the warmth she felt while sipping on cognac rather than the shot-of-whiskey heat she identified as lust. I could become way too comfortable with feeling like this. Dangerously so.
Espe leaned into him and closed her eyes while his lips brushed against hers in a gentle kiss. “One night,” she whispered and followed him to the bed.