Tension bound the room, and few words had been said, everyone’s attention rapt on the duel going down.
Jarek tried to keep his expression neutral, the pompous prick with his slicked back black hair and his careless confidence that had been given to him through his name rather than earned.
Like he was confident I would let him reach out and take what was mine.
Not ever again.
Even with the pungent arrogance, I saw the tick of his jaw, the flinch of his eyes, the sheen of sweat that hinted at the edges of his brow and glimmered beneath the dull lights from the chandelier that hung from above.
He glanced at his dwindling chips.
“Your father-in-law would be proud. If only he could see you now.” I couldn’t help but taunt it as I rocked back in my chair. I did my best to ignore the presence that hovered over him from behind.
A presence that fanned out and teased me like a sinful, decadent dream. A dream that had once been so beautiful it’d coerced me into believing there just might be something better in this life than depravity and greed.
I glanced up in time to catch the worry that riddled those fire-agate eyes. The golden green with flecks of red that were begging for something she didn’t deserve to be given.
I tore my attention from the lure of hers and watched as redness clawed at Jarek’s throat before he started to push in the chips to meet the bet.
Aster gripped him by the shoulder. “Jarek, don’t do this.”
I had to wonder exactly what he had riding on the line. Why he was there. Why I could feel the chinks in his armor coming apart.
Flinging off her hand, he cut her a hard glare.
“Don’t,” he warned.
The word was coated with his humiliation. With desperation.
There was the chink.
Weakness wept through the powerful persona.
Reluctantly, Aster withdrew her hand, and her delicate throat trembled as she swallowed. She lifted that stoic chin that I’d caressed more times than I could count.
That was a goddamn lie because I remembered every fucking touch. Every glance. Every broken promise she had made.
Jarek met my stare as he pushed nearly the rest of his chips into the pot, raising me by a thousand.
I raised him another ten.
How far are you going to go, asshole? Whatever you have, it’s mine.
A soft sound of pain wheezed from Aster’s chest. A heave of distressed air.
My gaze followed to where the black dress she wore dipped low between her tits. My heart fisted when I saw what she wore around her neck. It was a star-shaped necklace, dangling down to kiss her cleavage.
I nearly cracked. Lost the control I was holding onto.
It had to be a joke.
A fucking cruel, sick twisted one, the girl coming down here and parading it like a slap to my face.
It made my teeth clench and the fury I was barely constraining flashfire through my veins.
I tore my attention from her when Jarek spat, “Fuck,” under his breath.
He still clutched his cards, refusing to give up the fight.
Haille laughed, the sadistic fucker enjoying this far too much. He looked at Jarek. How the hell he knew him, I didn’t have a clue, but I didn’t believe in a coincidence quite this big. He pulled his cigar from his mouth and jabbed it Jarek’s direction. “It seems you’re in a small predicament, Mr. Urso. Are you already going to walk? And here I thought you were going to bring something interesting to the table.”
Jarek all but growled, and Aster’s gaze darted between the three of us. Nerves flew from her soft, caramel flesh. That face carved of perfect lines and smooth skin tightened in dread.
He’d brought something interesting to the table, all right.
“Just cut your losses, Jarek.” She begged it quietly, but I heard the strength behind it.
Jarek roughed his hand down his pompous face, and he turned to look at the necklace around Aster’s neck as if it could be a solution to his issues.
Aster gasped, and her hand came up to protect it. Tears sprang to her eyes. She took a small step back. “No,” she wheezed, like it would physically pain her to remove it.
I wanted to jump to my feet.
Take hold of her and demand answers.
Demand to know why.
Why had she done it if she could stand there and look like there was a piece of her that was broken.
Anger and confusion had me in a stranglehold.
Old grief I’d buried deep that was clawing to the surface.
“Give it to me,” Jarek grated.
“No.” My voice cut through the dense air.
A roll of thunder.
The tolling of a challenge.
Aster froze. Her stare landed on me.
It was pain.
It only made the sickness thrum harder.
I looked to Jarek.
The stake came out without thought to repercussions.
I wanted what never should have been his.
A gasp rocked from her, and she stumbled back farther.
Jarek’s eyes sharpened to blades, and there was no question he wanted to reach over the table and choke the life from me.
My fingers itched.
I hoped he tried.
I gave nothing. No smile. No sneer. Just the quiet hatred that emanated from within. The fact I intended to take everything from him.
I’d known one day I would. I just hadn’t anticipated the opportunity would present itself so soon.
He blinked then jutted his chin at the dealer for the exotic chip.
The one that signified he would hazard my proposition.
It wasn’t rare. A bid made for a beach home. A family heirloom. Something that couldn’t be replaced. Here, fortunes were won and lost.
“What are you doing? I am not for sale.” Aster’s voice was aghast. Horrified and filled with disgust.
“He’s bluffing, Aster.” Jarek tossed in the chip.
It was the first time I let myself fully look at her. To sit back and take her in like she was mine to take. Sickened terror ridged her gorgeous face because I was pretty sure she knew this wasn’t close to a bluff.
I couldn’t do anything but crack a grin. “It seems you are tonight.”
Then I laid down my cards.
A straight flush.
Paperbacks, Hardbacks, & Release Box: https://geni.us/ALJacksonShop
Add to Goodreads: https://geni.us/NLBGoodreadsB
Head over to @aljacksonauthor’s profile for more details!
“My heart in my throat for most of the book and she just did NOT disappoint! At all!”
— The Masque Reader
Pre-order a Never Look Back Release Box – includes a signed paperback, premium merchandise, and goodies! This box is packed with the cutest merch and I CAN’T WAIT for you to see what’s inside!!! It is all SO PERFECT!
Quantities are limited and boxes sell out fast, so reserve yours now!
Signed Falling Stars Alternate Cover Set & Huge Goodies!
A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.
Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, BLEEDING STARS, FIGHT FOR ME, CONFESSIONS OF THE HEART, FALLING STARS, and REDEMPTION HILLS novels. Watch out for her upcoming stand-alone, NEVER LOOK BACK, releasing August 29th!
If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.
Be sure not to miss new releases and sales from A.L. Jackson – Sign up to receive her newsletter https://geni.us/ALJacksonBookClubB or text “aljackson” to 33222 to receive short but sweet updates on all the important news.
Connect with A.L.
Reader Group: https://geni.us/AmysAngelsB