When love is at stake, all bets are off.
Fast and hard. Despite her best intentions, that’s the way Tatiana Belikov rolls, and over the past year she’s tumbled head over heels for her former ex-lover. Hot, indulgent, and ready to cater to her every dirty whim? There’s no way she could resist.
Wyatt Caine is the house, and the house always wins—but love is a precious commodity that rarely crosses his table. His game plan? Drown his woman in pleasure before she realizes he’s hardly a safe bet.
Their happiness burns brighter than the spotlights on the Strip, but when his past rears its ugly head, casting a shadow on their bliss, Wyatt has an important decision to make: time to fold…or go all in.
“I can’t wait to see that dress on my floor.”
A smile curved Tatiana Belikov’s lips, her shoulders relaxing. Presumptuous men were hardly new, and over the course of her thirty-odd years of life, she had mastered the art of teasing them or cutting them down with a single look, depending on her mood.
However, since her dress would be shucked off the instant she entered her home, for comfort if nothing else, this wasn’t a case of baseless male arrogance. It didn’t mean she wanted him to think she was easy. “Your floor? Aren’t you always telling me it’s our place? That would make it our floor.”
Wyatt Caine’s hand slid over her hip. “I will deed my entire penthouse—no, the whole casino—over to you if it would entice you to strip somewhere.”
“If that’s the way you do business, it’s amazing you aren’t bankrupt.”
“To be fair, I’m not usually dying to fuck my business partners.”
She brushed her fingertips gently over his hand. “You’ll have to wait.” Her voice was as low as his, mindful of their surroundings.
Wyatt Caine gave a rough groan. “I know.”
She glanced down at the strapless white silk sheath, satisfied with her choice. Classy, elegant, sexy-conservative. A foil for the deceptively simple gold and emerald necklace she wore. Not only did it ensure she stood out amongst the elite black-clad crowd attending the exhibit, it had the added benefit of driving Wyatt crazy.
Wyatt loved her in white. Loved her in anything he could soil.
“You want me to die of blue balls,” her lover grumbled.
“I’m not sixteen anymore, and I know that can’t actually happen.”
“You didn’t believe it at sixteen either.” His fingers clenched her hip, wrinkling the silk. “But I’m telling you, I’ll be the first documented case.”
“The horror.” She scratched his skin. “Patience. It won’t be long now.”
“It’s already long.”
Tatiana bit back her laugh and gave him a final pat on his hand before she disentangled herself. Wyatt wasn’t the only one wrestling with temptation.
They’d spent the entire last month living in San Francisco, and she had grown accustomed to seeing him in more casual wear. Tonight, he wore black tie, and he wore it well. So well, she wanted to rip it off him. Tatiana shook her head to clear it of the images of what lay beneath his clothes. Broad shoulders, narrow hips, flat stomach, and yes, his long, thick…
She sighed. After a year together, one would think they would be less sex crazed. Weren’t they supposed to be past the honeymoon stage?
She blamed it on his ass. His round, taut, bitable ass.
And of course the fact both of them had sex drives that were…overly healthy?
Not now. “Stop distracting me. I have to work.”
Wyatt slid his hands into his pockets. Damn it. Mentally, she slapped herself to keep from craning her head around to leer at the way the fine fabric stretched over the aforementioned ass.
“I didn’t mean to distract you,” he said.
“Bullshit,” she replied. Wyatt was a breathing distraction, and one she was all too tempted to cling to tonight in an effort to calm the butterflies in her stomach.
But standing around and hiding behind her boyfriend would hardly sell her art. She frowned at him. “Get us something to drink.”
An expression that looked suspiciously like a pout formed on his face. His face was closely shaved, his high cheekbones and chiseled jaw revealed without the scruff he’d sported when they were in California. His hair had been recently cut, and the short, dark strands were begging for her hands to mess them up. “I don’t try to get rid of you when you come to one of my events.”
“Because when we go to those things, I don’t follow you around and whisper dirty things in your ear.”
“Oh, really?” Wyatt raised his voice a couple of octaves higher and adopted a breathy quality. “Wyatt, I thought you should know I’m not wearing any panties under this dress.”
“Shh.” Hopeful no one had overheard, she glanced around. Okay, fine. Maybe she’d whispered a few dirty somethings in his ear a time or two.
She allowed herself a moment to reminisce. That had been the best gala she’d ever attended. She’d scored a wine basket in the silent raffle, and then she’d scored with Wyatt in the janitor’s closet. “Point taken. Now go get us something to drink. Shoo.”
Wyatt sighed, but there was a light in his eyes. She loved that light. She saw it more and more often, a sign of his satisfaction and pleasure.
She was starting to love a lot of things.
She fiddled with the hem of her dress. No. No. Too soon. They’d had problems, deep problems with communication, and a yearlong commuter relationship and a couple months of living together wasn’t long enough of a trial period to be certain of anything. Including love. They needed time to ensure they could make things work before they started throwing that word around.
Yeah, she had this mental speech down pat now.
“Fine. I’ll go get us a drink.”
She shook off her brief second of melancholy and squared her shoulders. “I’m going to mingle. Find me.”
“I always do.”
She allowed him a few steps before she spoke, mischief prompting her. “Hey. Guess what?”
He glanced over his shoulder in time to see her smooth a hand over her hip. No panty lines marred the drape of the white silk. His gaze dropped there, and he bit back a curse, heat flaring in his eyes. “You’re killing me.”
She added an extra twitch to her ass when she strutted away, confidence in knowing he was watching giving her the boost she needed to stroll through the exhibit when all she really wanted to do was go hide in her safe, familiar studio back home.
People ebbed around her. Some looked at her, some barely noticed her, others did a double take or stared. Good. Let them stare.
Staring was good. Staring meant attention, and attention was never a bad thing in her line of work. She preferred the attendees talk about her pieces, but talking about her was acceptable, if it resulted in sales.
She didn’t do showings often, only once or twice a year. The owner of the gallery she had previously arranged all her exhibits through in California had counseled her on the importance of exclusivity. Supply and demand.
A waiter passed in front of her, and she eyed the tray of shrimp before deciding her nerves would punish her if she tried to down anything more than the handful of small appetizers she had already consumed.
She flashed a meaningless, cool smile at an older couple who paused to survey a bracelet. Usually, her work would have been under glass, but since this line contained a functional element, the gallery manager had made the decision to leave the pieces uncovered. She expected a certain degree of curiosity tonight from the people who grasped the concept underlying her new line. They had deliberately kept things subtle, but the clues were there.
Will they like it? Maybe it’s too scandalous. Maybe you should stick to designing pretty things.
Once her inner bitch started, she wouldn’t sit down. Maybe you’ll only be able to find success back home. This is a new state, a new city, a new population who has never heard of you. What are you thinking?
She swallowed the lump in her throat. Perhaps she was making too much of things, but it seemed vitally important that her first showing in Vegas be a wild success. This was Wyatt’s home; he was well known here, though maybe not amongst these circles. More importantly, as of three months ago, it was her home.
“You lucky bitch.”
Instant warmth spread through her, quieting her annoying internal monologue, and she turned to greet the woman who had cursed her. “Akira. You came. I wasn’t certain if you were in town.”
Akira accepted the hug Tatiana gave her like a queen deigning to recognize a peasant’s offering. Yet her arms tightened imperceptibly around Tatiana, a rare display of warmth Akira only bestowed upon her friends.
At first glance, no one would associate Akira Mori with friendliness. Slim and tall, she was all angles from the cut of her cheekbones to her narrow hips to her razor-sharp brain. Since Tatiana owed her success partially to the woman, she knew better.
Eight years ago, the stunning female had stopped in front of her booth at the craft fair where Tatiana had been showing her jewelry, out of place in a vintage Chanel dress. She had touched a necklace and snorted. Girl, you’re better than this place. Dream bigger.
Easy to say. Easier to do when you had a wealthy, internationally notorious patron suddenly wearing your designs.
Akira based her operations in San Francisco, but she could be in any city at any given time checking on her established nightclubs and bars, or breaking ground on a new one. Vegas was a favorite spot of hers. Tatiana had been hoping she would be able to come tonight. Friendly faces were always welcome.
“You know I like to see what you have cooking. Sorry I didn’t RSVP. I had to go to London to launch the new club, wasn’t sure I would be back.” Akira flicked her nails, shoving aside her multimillion-dollar empire with a wave. “But enough about me. Let’s get back to you being a lucky bitch.”
“I am lucky, but I’m hardly a bitch.” Tatiana thought about that. “Most of the time. I’m not a bitch most of the time.”
“Well, I can’t call you a whore, darling. That’s everyone’s pet name for me.” Shiny black hair slid over her shoulders, and she pointed in the general direction of the bar. “Tell me I did not see you making googly eyes at the infamous Wyatt Caine?”
Tatiana cocked her head. “Um, I know we haven’t had a chance to see each other this past year because we’ve been traveling so much, but I could have sworn I told you I was dating him.”
“You said you were seeing your old high school flame. You said he moved in with you. Wyatt Caine does not need to move in with anyone.”
“We moved in with each other. We’re splitting our time between here and my place.”
“That’s sickeningly progressive of both of you.” She scowled. “He’s as rich as me. Maybe even richer than me.”
“Are you mad you’re not the richest person in my life?”
“Damn straight. I should be the richest person in everyone’s life. Does he fuck as good as he looks?”
A cough came from somewhere nearby, and Tatiana gave a wry smile. She had spent her whole adult life trying to be discreet about her hunger for sex, so Akira’s open and uninhibited pleasure-seeking had taken some getting used to. Once she had, Tatiana had quickly learned to admire her lack of shame. She leaned in. “Better.”
“Lucky. Bitch.” A dangerous light entered Akira’s eyes. “I’m having a party next Friday.”
Tatiana raised a brow, excitement stirring. “Oh? Here?”
“No. At my house.”
Akira’s house parties were rare, but they were legendary. Probably because they were little more than exquisitely catered orgies.
Tatiana had attended two over the years when she’d been between boyfriends, but she personally had too many trust issues to fuck complete strangers. The first one, she’d clung to the shadows and watched with wide eyes and a heaving bosom. The second one, she had gotten tipsy and made out with Akira in front of a handful of voyeurs.
That had been exciting. The lurking had been exciting too, and had fueled more than a few restless nights. If she had a steady boyfriend she trusted implicitly with her…
If she had Wyatt with her? Oh my.
No, she had no issue with complete strangers watching her do anything with him.
Reading her thoughts, Akira spoke. “Come. Bring him. I want more contacts in the Vegas market. I also want to see him naked.”
“I wish.” Tatiana shook her head, regretful already. “We need to be here next weekend. Wyatt has an event he can’t miss.”
“Damn it.” Akira arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “I would be happy to host something smaller this week. Locally.”
“Something smaller, huh?” Tatiana pursed her lips, amused and intrigued. “I don’t know…”
“Sorry if I’m overstepping.” Akira traced Tatiana’s necklace with her gaze and then a fingertip. She reached the loop around her neck and gave a gentle tug. Tatiana stiffened and swayed toward the other woman. “I assumed that if Caine inspired your new line, he must be rather creative. Not a vanilla kind of guy.”
“I’m so happy you understood the concept behind the pieces,” Tatiana murmured, catching her breath. The woman’s lack of boundaries was intoxicating, the sexuality she oozed firing Tatiana’s imagination.
Akira flashed a megawatt smile. “Honey, the day I can’t identify sex toys when I see them is the day you can bury me six feet under.”
“To answer your other question, no, Wyatt isn’t…vanilla.” Tatiana whispered the last word, since the gallery manager had circled around, within earshot.
“So. Let’s get together.” Akira bit her lip and leaned in closer, lashes fluttering flirtatiously. “It’ll be fun.”
Akira’s fragrant perfume twined around Tatiana, teasing her with promise. It would be more than fun.
Tatiana glanced Wyatt’s way, but he was hidden from view. The man had been working so hard lately. Managing his business from her home wasn’t a cakewalk, and yet he had done it without complaint. For her. For them.
Sometimes she thought she would burst with the secret of her love for him. She might not be able to tell him yet, but she could do something for him. Something mind-blowing.
Tatiana met Akira’s expectant gaze. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Good girl.” Akira narrowed her eyes, calculation replacing seduction. “In the meantime, I’ll go introduce myself now.”
“I thought you came to see my new line,” Tatiana teased. All of Akira’s hedonism hid an ambition that put Wyatt’s to shame. No surprise networking took precedence over shiny things.
“I saw it. Already bought a bunch. You’ll be busy.”
Tatiana wanted to collapse in relief. Akira didn’t buy crap, even from her friends. The offhand comment was more valuable than any ringing endorsement or review.
Even if no one else buys anything, you did okay.
An artist’s insecurities were a terrible thing. Right up there with relationship insecurities.
Akira took a step away before spinning back. “I won’t steal him away from you,” she blurted out. “Either now or later.”
Tatiana bit the inside of her cheek. She supposed Akira might have to occasionally deal with jealous females, but she was hardly one of them. “Whore, please.”
Last week, Wyatt had visited Tatiana’s studio, a sun-drenched warehouse not far from her small apartment. While she worked, her fidgeting hands became deft and sure, her focus laser sharp. A fascinating thing to watch.
This was a different aspect of her work, and it was no less interesting. His clever, dreamy, occasionally vulgar girlfriend had tugged on her more polished persona to schmooze wealthy patrons and solicit the highest price for her art. Prices even he, despite his deep pockets, raised an eyebrow over.
Wyatt allowed himself a small smile and leaned against the bar, content to take his time getting their drinks. He was in no hurry to rush back to her right this minute. She was speaking with a tall, strikingly pretty Asian woman, and for the first time since they’d walked into this place, she appeared at ease. No need for him to attempt to distract her from her nerves.
He had thought posing as her arm candy would only entail looking on proudly. Like him, she was heavily invested in her work, and he hadn’t believed anything could shake her confidence in her finished product.
He was wrong. Worry had created shadows in her eyes and a line between her brows. Was this how she was during every show? Maybe it was an artist thing.
Glasses clinking on the bar behind him prompted him into turning around. He pulled out cash for the pinot noir and whiskey and thanked the bartender.
“No problem. Sorry for the wait. Always know it’s a good show when people rush the bar later in the evening.”
“It is a good show.” He hoped so. If Tatiana was fretting this much without knowing the sales, he feared she might be despondent if she didn’t do well. That would, of course, make all the attendees blithering idiots. He might be biased, but though everything Tatiana made was stunning, she had outdone herself with the pieces she had crafted over the course of the past year.
You’re my inspiration, she’d murmured against his ear last week. He would have chalked that up to cooing nonsense, had he not been testing a prototype for her at the time, running a string of pearls between her legs.
Such a clever girl.
“Hello there.” The husky female voice came from his right.
He sipped his whiskey and glanced over to find the woman who had been speaking to Tatiana. “Hello.”
She held out a hand. “Akira Mori.”
The name rang a distant bell. Her hand was slender, but there was nothing delicate about her firm grip. “Wyatt Caine.”
“I’m aware.” She tilted her head. “I’m a friend of Tatiana’s.”
Tatiana might have mentioned someone named Akira a time or two, but Wyatt couldn’t quite recall what those conversations had revolved around. “Good. She could use more friends here.” Here, in the room, as well as in Vegas.
He was a fan of anything that made Tatiana feel at home in this city. Persuading her to even consider living with him had been a herculean task. He was a bit of a loner, but she needed friends to be happy.
“I didn’t realize she was dating you. It’s a surprise.”
“I’ve heard of you. You don’t seem like her type,” she said frankly.
He raised an eyebrow. Who did this blunt stranger think she was? “We’ve known each other a long time. I suppose Tatiana would know best what her type is.”
“She looks like she’d be a simple woman, but she has so many layers.” The woman’s black eyes were cold, merciless. “I don’t have many friends. I like to ensure the ones I have are taken care of.”
This was the most bizarre conversation he had ever taken part in. Was this woman warning him? In that case, he should probably tell her that Tatiana’s family had made pointing out his inferiority an art form. He was well aware she was a prize. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Mori, but I really need to…” He trailed off. “Wait. Mori? Are you related to—?”
“Your father is—”
“That makes you—”
“Ah.” He nodded. “Akira Mori. I’ve been to one of your clubs.”
“Good. You have excellent taste.”
No wonder this was weird. He had heard Akira Mori was blunt to the point of being rude, and more than a little eccentric. He scanned his mental databank on the woman, stiffening when he recalled the context in which Tatiana had spoken of her. “You and Tatiana are close?”
Akira picked up the wine he had ordered for Tatiana and took a large gulp. “As close as I am to anyone.”
“I’ve heard about your parties.”
Her lips curled. “Most people have.”
Wyatt worked his jaw. “Tatiana will not be attending any in the near future.”
A delicate sneer crossed her face, freezing when he calmly continued. “Not without me.”
She stilled. “Oh really?”
“Yes.” He knew Tatiana was too passionate to have been celibate during their years apart, but whatever she had done then was her business.
What she did now was his business.
Akira studied him, her fingers tapping the glass. “You’re okay with that, then?”
Tatiana would enjoy herself, little exhibitionist that she was. Lately, his entire life was consumed with pleasing her. Giving her pleasure through sex? Easy. It was whether he was pleasing her in other ways that kept him guessing. Was he making the same mistakes he’d made before? Was she happy? He had tried to mesh their lives together while respecting her world, but he’d had to fly back numerous times during the one month they’d spent in San Francisco. Each time, he’d wondered if she’d still be waiting for him when he returned.
Or would she realize, like everyone else had always known, that she could do so much better? Yes. Sex was easy. It was all these other details that made him feel like he was trying to hold water in his hands. “I want whatever Tatiana wants.”
Akira watched him. “The gossip mill is pretty quiet about you.”
“Except that you’re a cold bastard.”
“That’s deserved.” He was a cold bastard. Except when he was with Tatiana.
He scanned the small space. With his height, he was able to spot her amongst the sea of other attendees. Her honey-blonde hair was gathered on top of her head in a sexy, haphazard manner that looked like it was one pin away from tumbling down her back. Her tight, curvy body was poured into that simple white dress. The dress, under which she wore no panties. His fingers itched with the desire to wreck her.
She was talking to the gallery manager. Her eye roll was so subtle, if he hadn’t been watching her, he would have missed it. His woman was bored. Probably hungry, too, since nerves and fear her dress wouldn’t fit had kept her from eating before the show.
She shifted, and Wyatt glanced at her three-inch heels. Silly fuck-me shoes that provided little arch support. Her feet were paining her.
Tatiana gave a strained smile and nodded. The light glinted on the chain around her neck.
His eyes narrowed. The necklace was new, a delicate gold braid that was looped around her neck once. There was no closure on this necklace, as there were on most. Both emerald-tipped ends were left to dangle, though she had slipped them inside her bodice.
He focused on her chest, but the material of her dress was too thick to see the chain. Best guess? Those emeralds were snug against her nipples right now. Teasing was what they were designed for, after all.
A reckless urge rose within him. He couldn’t do anything about her shoes or her belly, but he could play the good arm candy. Boredom and stress were foes he was always up for vanquishing. It probably wasn’t the sanest idea, but sanity and rational thought generally fled when faced with the chance to play with Tatiana.
“You don’t look cold.” Akira leaned close to him, until he could feel her breath against his cheek. “You don’t look cold at all.”
Over a year ago, he might have been tempted by this strange, uninhibited, beautiful woman. But that was before Tatiana had stormed back into his life.
He glanced at Akira. “Excuse me.” He turned back to the bar, pulled out a pen, and quickly scribbled a note on a napkin. He folded it up and snagged a passing waiter. “Can you ensure that the woman…right there…in white gets this?”
The man nodded and accepted the napkin.
Akira waited for the waiter to walk away before speaking. “Funny. I can’t see Tatiana’s teeth from all the way over here. How do you know something’s stuck between them?”
Wyatt twitched his tie into place before smoothing it. Of course she had read over his shoulder. He’d be annoyed if he didn’t feel like she was some odd kindred spirit. And if he didn’t have to attend to his woman in the most delightful way. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you,” he said formally. “If you don’t mind, I need to find the restroom.”
A flash of amused mischief lit her eyes, replacing the icy speculation. “My, Caine. People have you pegged wrong, don’t they?”
“I try not to get pegged at all.”
“Hmmm.” She shook her head. “You people and your layers. Take my word for it, it’s so much easier to be shallow and one-dimensional, you know?”
“I wouldn’t know.” He eyed her. “And I don’t think you do either.”
She merely smiled. He had only taken three steps when she spoke again. “FYI. The ladies’ room is in the opposite direction.”