One Night Gamble by Katherine Garbera
Series Jokers Wild Book One
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Entangled Brazen
Publication Date January 14, 2018
Talia Spencer’s life is the epitome of boring and predictable. But then she meets him…
The first time she meets Casey Waltham, she’s buying condoms…for her grandmother. And of course drops them accidentally at his feet. Face plant.
The second time she sees him, she’s this close to landing her dream job and is celebrating at a club. Two chance encounters in the same day--that’s got to be a sign, right?
He’s charming and flirty and just what Talia needs for the night.
But it was just supposed to be a hook-up. At least, that’s what she thought...until he turns out to be her new boss...
Talia Spencer glanced down at her leg and then cursed again. The run in her pantyhose had spread all the way up her leg. She’d considered going without them, but she hadn’t had time to shave her legs this morning and she was all Chewbacca down there. She glanced at her watch as she drove down the highway. The interview was in thirty-five minutes.
She couldn’t be late. The Jokers Wild Casino was the newest on the Vegas Strip, and she desperately wanted a job there. She’d been intrigued the moment she’d first heard about it. The casino was co-owned by three Las Vegas mavericks—a gambler, an illusionist, and a daredevil stunt performer. Even now, her stomach churned when she thought of some of the stuff the third partner had done.
As much as she hated Las Vegas and resented the casinos that had been such a dominant part of her childhood, she needed a good paying job that she could use to springboard herself out of Nevada.
Sami Shroft, her best friend, had heard about the job through the office grapevine and put Talia’s resume in for her. Sami liked to push and Talia was the first to admit that she needed a shove every now and then. She’d been raised by her grandmother—and her father, when he was flush with money.
He had been a charmer when Lady Luck was on his side, and he would splash out money like a high roller, even though he had only been a small-time gambler compared to the whales that frequented casinos. That had led to her dad getting in deep with several loan sharks. It had only been after his death from lung cancer, just days before her eighteenth birthday, that they’d learned how much he’d gambled.
The Jokers Wild Casino was probably one of the few on the Vegas Strip where she could enter without her last name being recognized. Most of them had repeatedly kicked her father out after he’d lost too much and become belligerent.
She signaled to change lanes, cutting off a sports car whose driver honked at her, but she just waved and muttered thanks under her breath, then turned just as the light switched to yellow.
Of course, there were no spaces near the front of the grocery store she’d promised her grandmother she’d stop at before her meeting, and she really didn’t have time to drive up and down looking for a good spot, so she pulled into the first empty one she saw and then grabbed her purse as she got out. This was insane.
Her phone was blowing up with messages from a group chat she was in with the Sexy Silvers. It seemed her Gran had a hot lunch date with Glen View retirement village’s version of Zac Efron. He was charming, good-looking and had managed to use those two things to work his way through many of the women in the senior community. Gran was susceptible to his charm—she’d mentioned more than once that she thought he was hot. Talia shook her head and grudgingly smiled. Yeah, her Gran wasn’t the sit home and knit type. She kept her hair dyed jet black and styled, and wore cooler clothes than even Talia did. But as hip as Gran thought she was, Talia knew she was also a bit old-fashioned when it came to men. Gran’s date was at six. The charmer didn’t eat during the early-bird menu hours, so that meant that Talia would have time to make it home before her grandmother left, if she hurried.
She picked up another pair of stockings so she could change before her interview, then walked toward the area of the store where she knew they sold condoms. Gran didn’t need a STD.
She paused in front of the selection. There were a lot of choices.
She grabbed her phone and texted her best friend Sami.
Talia: Which condoms are the best?
Sami: Hot damn, girl! Do you have a date?
Talia: Gran does. I’m late for my interview. Wine and whine tonight?
Sami: Yes. I don’t know on the condoms. Most guys have a preference. I guess you can’t get Gran to ask. <laughing eyes emoji>
Talia: No. TTYL
She grabbed the first box her fingers touched as she turned on her heel and bumped into someone solid. The impact jarred her entire body and she felt the box slip from her fingers as she glanced up into eyes that were blue. The kind of blue that dominated the sky on a clear spring day. He had thick lashes and his eyebrows were dark brown and neatly groomed, she noted, as one of them arched.
She backed away and shook her head.
“I’m sorry. In a bit of a hurry,” she said, bending to pick up the condoms. Then she realized he might think she was rushing to have sex. “It’s not what you think.”
He winked at her. “None of my business.”
She just shook her head and moved around him and down the aisle toward the self-checkout. She glanced at her watch.
Five minutes later, she was opening the door to her ten-year-old hatchback that had seen better days. She stood next to the car for a minute, letting the heat escape, then glanced up at the sound of the low growl of an expensive engine. She’d worked the car show one year as a model when she’d been sixteen, so she was pretty sure the vehicle was a Bugatti Veyron. She’d been thrilled when her father had gotten her the gig…until she’d found out that she’d been working to pay off one of his debts.
The car pulled to a stop next to her and the passenger window slid down slowly. “Need a lift?”
“Uh, no. Thanks. Just letting my car cool down before I get in,” she said. “Nice ride.”
“I won it in a card game last weekend,” he said.
A wave of disappointment went through her and she shook her head. Of course he was charming and hot, but none of that mattered now.
“You’re a gambler,” she said. Gran said not everyone who placed a bet was like her dad, but she wasn’t going to take the chance.
“Wow. I’ve never heard so much loathing in one word before,” he said.
He was driving a Veyron and was no doubt flush most of the time. Not like her father, who hadn’t ever really had money unless he’d been to visit one of his loan sharks.
“I’m a responsible—”
“Let me stop you there,” she said. “I know that gambling only hurts those with no self-control.” She turned to look inside her car. “I think I’m good to go now. It’s been interesting meeting you.”
“You too, brown eyes,” he said before he drove away. She watched him leave for another minute before she got in her own car and drove away.
Her pre-interview session was due to start in fifteen minutes, so she had to hurry to the Jokers Wild Casino. She ran inside and checked in before asking for the ladies’ room. She changed her hose and then touched up her lipstick.
She needed this job.
Just like her dad had needed the dice to hit seven or eleven every time he threw them. Desperation. She had to shake it off.
She looked at herself in the mirror, meeting her own brown gaze.
“You got this.”
Jokers Wild was the key to her finally getting out of Vegas. And that was something she’d wanted for a long, long time.
Casey Waltham was a poker playing phenomenon and had won his first million days after his eighteenth birthday. In the last ten years, he’d made more money than even he knew what to do with. He had the best toys that money could buy, and had learned that real friends hung around when life got shitty. In his case, those friends were his blood brothers—Darien Mitchell and Nicholas Pine.
They’d purchased one of the older casinos on the strip that had been in desperate need of a revamp. They’d torn it down and then invested in the areas where they all excelled. Casey was in charge of the day-to-day operations and running of the casino. Currently, he was in the process of introducing a new high-stakes poker room, with a game that would be played at the end of the month. But for it to be as successful as he knew it could be, he needed to hire a new social media/community manager.
Darien had overseen the design and construction of the high-stakes stunt stadium. It was state of the art and would be used for Darien’s show during the winter months. He wasn’t ready to give up touring during the summer yet. So, instead, during the hotter months, Darien had booked a few monster truck shows and other motor-based sporting events.
Nicholas’s arena was taking slightly longer because of the intricacies of illusion and magic—stuff that Casey didn’t understand but knew was important to ensure that Nicholas could complete his showstopping illusions every night. Once it was finished in about six months, the Jokers Wild would be officially complete and open for business.
So far, they were getting good press but the publicity manager wanted someone who understood social media in a way that he didn’t. And since none of them knew how to delegate, they had the human resources department vetting applicants before they conducted the final interviews.
“Did you look at the list? I still don’t think I’m going to be able to add anything to the interviews,” Darien said as Casey walked into the executive office suite filled with floor to ceiling glass windows that offered an unobstructed view of the strip.
Darien wore his blond hair longish in a way that Casey’s new assistant said made him look like a rogue and had a tattoo sleeve on one arm that was part memorial to his deceased father and part tribute to the legend that Dare had become. Darien had followed in his father’s footsteps and was a badass motorcycle stuntman who took his show all over the world.
“We’ve already discussed this. Either we are all in or we hire a management company,” Nicholas said from the corner. Tall, with close cropped black hair, Nick tended to dress all in black because he said it made his eyes seem more mercurial since they were an icy gray color. Nick was a master illusionist who was world-renowned for both his street magic and his arena shows. Casey figured that appearing mercurial only added to his mystique.
“Calm down, Houdini, I’m not saying that,” Dare said. “You know I’m not really good with people.”
“What’s that got to do with the interviews?” Nick asked.
Dare rubbed the back of his neck. “Nothing. I just thought I’d throw it out there and see if you two would give me a pass.”
“Nice try. But we’re not going to let you just do the fun stuff,” Casey said. “The files are over here. I think we should review them and have some questions ready for each of the candidates tomorrow.”
They all settled around the large table in his office. It was a poker table, but for now, it was serving as a conference table until he decided what his office should look like. Casey tried to concentrate on the candidates, but he kept remembering the girl from the grocery store—the one buying condoms.
Why he was interested, he didn’t know. She’d pretty much made it clear she didn’t like gamblers, and he’d made his fortune playing poker. Vegas was like that—a mixed bag of those who believed in luck, and those who had been dragged along with them. He rubbed the back of his neck.
“We need to talk before the hiring manager comes in,” Casey said, pulling his thoughts back to the business at hand. It was time to forget about her smile and those long legs that had kept him in a state of fascination as she’d walked away from him.
“We need a list of things we want to communicate about each of our lines of business,” Casey said.
Darien shifted in his chair, stretched out his legs, and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “I’ve got a list I compiled with Rio’s help. He has been good at getting the crowds at our shows this summer to engage.”
Rio was Dare’s younger brother and had been the one who’d pushed Dare into joining him and Nick on the casino. Rio hated living on the road and since they were the only family the other one had, Dare had decided to make their traveling show a permanent one in the Jokers Wild Casino. It would be a stunt bike spectacular.
“He also wants to offer some classes on stunt riding to our guests. It’s something he hopes the new social media manager will set up, as well as create and manage a community,” Dare added.
“I have a list as well,” Nicholas said, producing it with a snap of his fingers.
“Do you have to do that?” Dare asked, annoyed.
“Yes,” Nicholas said. “It’s part of who I am.”
Darien just shook his head. “That’s like saying I should have roared off the elevator on my Harley.”
“You could have, but that’s not the same as what I did,” Nicholas said, an odd look coming over his face. “It’s second nature to me now.”
“I think it’s fun,” Casey said. “Definitely do it when we meet with the candidates. As for me, I need the new hire to focus on the big poker tournament that we are hosting to open the high-stakes room and a few other things.” He paused and looked at his friends. “A lot depends on us making a good hiring choice here. We should have a final list for Friday. Send your stuff to my assistant and I’ll have her forward it to the candidates so they can be prepared.”
“I can’t be here for the final interviews,” Darien said. “Do you care if Rio sits in for me?”
“Why not?” Casey asked.
“I have to meet with the team about the new show, as well as finish talking to our bike supplier.”
“Can’t Rio do that?” he asked.
“Yeah, but he’s better with people. Besides, he’s the one who will have to work with this person,” Dare said.
“It’s fine with me,” Nick said. “But you can’t delegate everything to Rio, you know.”
“Okay,” Casey said, bringing the group’s focus back to business. “The World Poker Championship is going to take a lot of my energy right now. Winning the bid to host it was a huge win for Jokers Wild. I want to make sure that it’s better than anything anyone has ever seen.”
“You will. Are you playing?”
“Hell, yeah. I’m not about to invite the best players in the world to my backyard and not test myself against them.”
After getting some ribbing about his lack of confidence, Casey wrapped up their meeting and walked down the hall to his office. He couldn’t seem to get his mind off the girl at the grocery store. He wished he’d gotten her name and number, just in case. In a city as big as Vegas, the odds of them running into each other again were slim.
She had mentioned baggage, leading him to assume that she’d been involved with someone who’d had a gambling addiction. He understood how easily that could happen. Luckily, he had always known his own limits, but there were dealers in Vegas—and at tables all over the world—who preyed on those who couldn’t resist trying to change their luck. In fact, that was why he’d come home.
His mom had been one of those people. From a very early age, Casey had realized he needed to learn how to bluff and play the odds, just to keep a roof over their heads and her out of jail.
Some of the people who had fed her addiction were on his list of players confirmed for the tournament. And Casey was going to make sure they didn’t ruin the lives of anyone else.
The pre-interview had gone well. And if she didn’t feel like it was bad luck, she’d even admit to herself that it had gone really well. Ms. Adana at the Jokers Wild Hotel and Casino had been really impressed with her resume and had approved her for the next step—a meeting with the owners at ten a.m. tomorrow. She glanced at the poster that hung on the side of the building, which showed the three owners. The first was Casey Waltham, poker player extraordinaire. He’d won his first multimillion-dollar jackpot before he was twenty-one, and had a reputation for being cold as ice at the table and away from it. The poster portrayed his trademark look—Armani shades and a dark hoodie hiding his features.
She assumed there were people who’d met him and never had a clue who he was.
Then there was Nicholas Pine, master illusionist. He had silver-colored eyes and always dressed in all black. For his shows, he favored designer suits, but for his street magic, he usually wore black jeans and a fitted T-shirt. She’d actually seen him a few years ago doing his act outside the Bellagio. He’d made someone’s cell phone disappear, then reappear in the base of one of the streetlamps. She still couldn’t figure out how he’d done it.
The third partner was Darien Mitchell. He looked like a badass, and had a smoldering sexuality about him that, no doubt, had women falling at his feet. But to Talia, he seemed like he’d be a lot of fun for a short time and then a lot of work. He was the son of famed motorcycle stuntman Ken Mitchell, and he had grown up in his father’s shadow. Then three years ago, he’d surpassed his father by pulling off a stunt that was as dangerous as it was legendary.
If everything went according to plan tomorrow, she’d be working for them. Her job would be to make sure that they were putting out the right message on social media and creating a community around the casino that would be entertainment-focused.
She wasn’t going to lie—she was damned excited about the thought of getting this job. But right now, she had an errand to run. Gran had texted that she needed a bottle of Schnapps so she could make her famous Sex on the Beach cocktail for Mr. Edmonds before they went out, so Talia dashed into the liquor store on the corner, texting with Sami as she waited to pay for the bottle.
Sami: Let’s celebrate your new gig by going out tonight. Don’t say you can’t. I already called your Gran and she’s got a hot date with Mr. Edmonds.
Talia: I know. That’s why I had to pick up condoms earlier. But I don’t have the job yet…
Sami: I’m sure it’s a done deal. They’d be stupid not to hire you. So meet me at my place at eight. Let’s go out and let loose before you get overwhelmed by all the work at your new job.
Sami: Can’t you pretend to be happy.
Talia: <a string of emojis and a gif of girls partying> Better?
Sami: It’ll do, donkey.
Talia: Where are we going?
Sami: Let’s check out the Jokers Wild. I have some comps for drinks that they gave out at work.
Talia: But I might be working there.
Sami: You will be working there. All the more reason to go out tonight, before you have to be on your best behavior.
Sami had a point, but then, she usually did. Talia and Sami had been friends since the sixth grade, when Sami’s family had moved to Hendersonville—a Vegas suburb—and Talia had been assigned to show the new girl around. Now, Sami was doing the same for her. Talia would have a better idea of how the casino worked if she’d been there with Sami beforehand.
Talia: Sounds good to me.
Sami sent back a thumbs up, which Talia knew meant that her friend’s boss was back in the office. Sami worked in the cash control vault for one of the other casinos on the strip. She was a payroll clerk and spent all day matching deposit receipts to the cash and credit card slips that were sent in.
Her job sounded incredibly boring to Talia. But her friend, who was of Indian descent and drop dead gorgeous, and always got offers for modeling work whenever they went out, seemed to love it. She liked numbers, and said they could be trusted.
But Talia knew they couldn’t. Not when they were on the lighted screen of a slot machine or on a pair of dice being thrown on a green velvet table.
“Next,” the cashier said.
She pocketed her cell phone and put the bottle on the counter. She’d drop off the Schnapps and the condoms and Gran should be good to go.
Once she’d paid, she went to leave. But as she did, someone held the door open for her.
“No problem. Looks like you’ve got a fun night planned, brown eyes,” he said.
It was the gambler with the sexy smile.
She didn’t believe in luck, having seen it turn false more than once. “I guess you wouldn’t believe me if I told you it wasn’t for me.”
“Not judging,” he said.
But his mouth was. He had a wry smile on his face and she couldn’t help but notice the shape of his lips. They were full and looked incredibly kissable… She shook her head. She’d spent too much time thinking about Gran’s hot date.
“Goodbye,” she said.
“Catch you around, brown eyes,” he said.
She glanced back at him. “I have a name, you know.”
“Let’s see if we meet again. Then we can exchange names.”
“Fate,” he said.
She shook her head. Of course he believed in fate. He probably thought luck existed too…just not the bad kind. Really, she should be glad he didn’t want to know her name. She didn’t need another gambler in her life. She’d just managed to climb out of the hole her father had left her in.
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To celebrate the release of ONE NIGHT GAMBLE by Katherine Garbera, we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 1/18/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Katherine Garbera
USA Today bestselling author KATHERINE GARBERA writes emotionally sexy contemporary romances. An Amazon, BN & iBooks bestseller, she is also a two-time Maggie winner and has more than 7 million copies of her books sold worldwide.