Authors: Dixie Lee Brown
All or Nothing
DIXIE LEE BROWN
Friday, 8:23 pm
against the mezzanine railing and studied the tall blonde entering the casino on the floor below. Cara Sinclair, casually dressed in black slacks, sandals, and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, wasn’t exactly the femme fatale he expected. Even so, she turned a few heads when she walked through the door. No wonder Charlie fell for her.
Joe rode the escalator to the lower level and mingled with the crowd as he slowly closed the distance between the woman and him. Her smile radiated warmth as she interacted with the people she passed, in direct contradiction to what he knew she was—a cold, callous bitch. Clearly, she was good at her game.
He followed her as she walked through the uproar of noisy machines and excited people. She arrived with her half brother and his wife, but they split off toward the gaming tables as soon as they walked through the door, leaving Cara to fend for herself. She strolled down the rows of brightly lit slot machines, stopping here and there to study a game then move on. Obviously, she wasn’t a die-hard gambler or she’d have chosen her poison by now.
Every few seconds, he glanced toward the entrance, then the escalator and the crowded floor, never losing track of the woman’s brother. Red-hot rage shot through him. Brian Sinclair, drink in hand, seated himself beside his wife, Kathy, at a blackjack table. The bastard acted like he didn’t have a care in the world. What Joe wouldn’t give to simply choke the life out of him and save the trouble of putting him behind bars. This wasn’t the first time he’d grappled with that particular urge and it probably wouldn’t be the last, but he wasn’t going to risk the investigation or negate Charlie’s sacrifice for two minutes of revenge.
His job would be easier if Brian didn’t learn he was here, but that wasn’t the only reason for his vigilance. If the game Brian played was going down tonight, and Joe had every reason to suspect it was, there were still a few key players missing.
His gaze settled on Cara again as she stopped in front of an unoccupied slot machine, her hand resting lightly on the back of the chair as though deciding whether to slide onto the seat or pass on by. She was striking, her sensuous lips set in a mysterious half smile, and he knew from the picture in her dossier that her light blue eyes held a touch of sadness. Slender, almost too thin, she moved with willowy grace. Her long hair framed a heart-shaped face and fell about her shoulders in windblown waves.
He pressed against a wall and tensed as a stocky, middle-aged man stopped and spoke to her. Even from here it was obvious he was trying to pick her up. Didn’t the poor sap know she was out of his league? This black widow would eat him alive. She laughed at something he said and touched his arm, her lips moving in reply, and the man walked away, a contented smile on his face.
“The spider isn’t hungry tonight.” Joe frowned. That wasn’t the reaction he expected from her and, for some reason, it bothered him. Had Charlie been right about her?
she an innocent victim?
He shrugged off the doubts that battered his resolve. His plan was already set in motion—he couldn’t afford to go soft now.
His glance swept the entrance again then back to the gaming tables. It seemed Cara’s brother wanted his wife to accompany him, and he pulled her away from the game they’d been playing. Kathy glanced over her shoulder to where they’d left Cara as Brian whispered something in her ear. She laughed, took his hand, and followed him to the escalator without a backward glance.
Cara was alone.
Apparently deciding to give the game a try, she finally seated herself second from the end in a row of four slot machines. One empty seat remained. Joe pushed away from the wall and walked toward her. He’d do whatever was necessary—charm, bully, or even abduct the woman if that’s what it took to keep his promise. No way in hell would he let Charlie down again.
Six years had passed, but Joe remembered well the bite of the leather strips that cut into his wrists and the cruel blows of his captors as they forced him to kneel in the sandy shale with a rag tied over his eyes. A few hours earlier, he’d led a team of five men into the Hindu Kush Mountains in northern Pakistan, pushing through to the Khyber Pass. Their mission—to locate a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative and bring him back alive—was ill-fated from the start. When everything went to hell, he made sure his team got out, but he hadn’t been so lucky.
He’d never forget the smell of gunpowder in the air, or the excited revelry of the half-dozen insurgents as they prepared to execute him, but what stuck with him most was the coldness of the Makarov semiautomatic pistol pressed against the back of his head.
He would have died that night if Charlie Dugan hadn’t defied orders and come back for him. Three weeks ago, when it was Joe’s turn to be there for Charlie, he was too late. Anger ground through his gut.
So he’d come to Lincoln City, on the Oregon coast, with one purpose—save Cara Sinclair’s life. Not because he gave a rip, but because Charlie begged him to while dying in Joe’s arms. His friend would never have approved of his plan to use her to take her half brother down, but the way he figured it, she was at least partially responsible for Charlie’s death. She could begin her penance by helping convict his murderer. If she chose to cooperate, that would be ideal, but he’d be damned if her reluctance would stand in his way.
Friday, 8:38 pm
OU MUST BE
my lucky charm.” The man at the next penny slot machine grinned as the game he played paid off for the second time in less than five minutes.
Cara smiled politely and her gaze shifted to the game next to hers. The machine she played swallowed her money as fast as she put it in, but she didn’t care about winning. She was only killing time, pretending to enjoy herself for a few minutes until she could slip away to her motel room without her brother noticing.
“Would you like to get some coffee?” the man asked.
“No thanks.” She shook her head without looking at him, her brows knitting in a frown. Her second invitation tonight. Was it written on her forehead or something?
I need a man
I’m easy. Let’s hook up?
Her hand was halfway to the
button when his fingers brushed against hers. Jerking away as energy pulsed between them, she stared at him in surprise.
He flashed a self-mocking grin as he lifted an eyebrow and studied her. “Sorry. Can I show you something?”
Pointedly, she swept a glance over him then looked him in the eyes. “I don’t think you have anything I need to see.”
Surprise flashed in his eyes for a second before they darkened. Great! She’d been here all of fifteen minutes before she’d pissed off some guy who was now going to cause a scene and ruin her weekend. Abruptly, she tore her gaze from his and reached to spin again, but his hand came down on top of hers as it rested on her machine.
He leaned toward her, a smile playing on his lips, and gripped her hand tighter when she tried to jerk away. “I’m sure there are a lot of guys who probably deserve that slap in the face, but I only wanted to show you that if you play all the lines with the maximum bet, you’ll have a better chance.” He removed his hand from hers, pushed the two buttons he’d indicated, and waited.
His golden-brown eyes sparkled with humor in the dimness of the casino as he leaned back on the seat next to hers. He was thirty-something and tall, with wide shoulders and a powerful build. Well-defined thigh muscles strained against the confines of his jeans, his leg only inches from hers as he turned sideways, and the room seemed suddenly smaller. His features were rough and masculine, his dark brown hair a little long on the sides. He reminded her of an actor in the prison break movie she’d watched last weekend on TV. Cara swallowed the dismissive remark she intended to use—in case the resemblance wasn’t just by chance.
“Worth a shot, I guess.” With a shrug, she spun and lost. But now she wasn’t losing just a penny… she lost four dollars. Fine—she’d play out the rest of her credits and go find a new machine, away from this guy who couldn’t mind his own business.
She scanned the smoke-filled room. Where had Brian and Kathy disappeared to? It’d be nice to have an interruption from her big brother about now. He’d talked her into this trip, convincing her she spent entirely too much time alone, yet disappeared within minutes of their arrival. He was right, of course. She preferred being alone and had no desire to go out among people—not after… everything.
She hit the
button, which automatically duplicated the previous bet. Her machine lit up and a cacophony of sirens and clanging bells joined a loud, continuous
reminiscent of the old-fashioned slots dispensing coins into a metal tray. Everyone within shouting distance stopped what they were doing and stared.
“There you go,” the man next to her said. “You won three hundred dollars.”
“What?” Cara stared at the machine, hoping the clamor would end soon. Winning was more embarrassing than losing.