AFTER being carded yet again, the young-looking man entered the casino. Turquoise eyes sparkled with mischief as he searched the mob of people. He brushed his curly blond hair out of the way, looking for a certain type of person this time. Now he just needed inspiration to strike and he had his trusty arrows ready to go. Moving through the crowds, he looked this way and that. So many lonely humans to choose from, so many needed love in their life.
He was known by many names, but he preferred Cupid, the name his mother had given him. Greek mythology, Roman mythology… he shrugged. Little did the humans know just how badly they had messed up the pantheon, not that it mattered. He knew the truth, as did others of his kind.
His eyes searched the casino once more… there. There was what he was looking for. That man. With a grin he moved through the crowd.
WITH a lazy, bored air, Garrett scanned the casino crowd at the Palms in Las Vegas, his eyes not seeing anything around him. He was restless, and even the usual thrill of gambling didn’t interest him. Idly, he bounced the dice in his hand, uninterested in the high-stakes game of craps he was playing. The crowd around him gasped when his luck took a turn for the worse, and he lost more on one roll than what some people made in a year. But even that didn’t snap him out of his current mood. Suddenly his luck changed with the next roll of the dice.
A shiver rolled through his body, and the hair pricked at the back of his neck. Something, a shift in the atmosphere maybe, caught his attention. Once again he scanned the crowd around the craps table, searching for… something. His eyes snapped back and focused on the man across the table from him. Time shifted and slowed, and the annoying noise of the casino floor receded into the background until all he could see was him.
Garrett’s heart shifted into fourth gear, revving wildly, then kicked in and took off at a pulse-pounding pace. His mind conjured up a series of Technicolor scenes that required the man across from him to pose, bend, and stretch into any number of erotic and explicit positions. Garrett’s eyes traveled up to startled molten silver eyes, and another shiver raced through his body.
Those eyes shone with a sweet innocence Garrett rarely saw and doubted existed anymore. His mind crackled with disbelief. No one was that innocent, no one. But a long-buried part of his soul whispered in his ear… what if? What if the guy wasn’t a player and was what he seemed? Surprised by his body’s reaction, he decided to find out. He pinned the man across the table from him with his cold stare. A slight smirk hovered around Garrett’s mouth as he motioned the guy over next to him.
RANDY listened to the crowd cheer a player at the craps table. He strained to see, but being neither exceptionally large nor tall, he was at a distinct disadvantage. Then there was a break in the crowd and Randy wedged himself closer to the table. Dead center of the insanity, the very picture of male perfection stared at him intently.
He was taller than Randy by several inches, and his hair was the color of coffee, with silver streaks around the temples. It was cut above his ears with the back touching his collar. The top was teased a bit to stand up. He had a goatee and a dimple in his cheek, giving him a seductive, chiseled look. His eyes were the most amazing shade of minty green.
Muscular broad shoulders and a nice expanse of chest were wrapped in a desert sage dress shirt from Prada’s line and matched with, oh yes, what was surely a tight ass poured into a pair of Botticelli’s handmade Italian jeans. He had to be in his early forties, a few years older than Randy.
His fingers, long and narrow, idly shifted through a huge mound of chips. Randy’s startled eyes landed on the fortune in front of the man. His eyes widened at the amount of chips, then shot up to the other man’s eyes. Randy trembled as chills ran up and down his spine as they made eye contact. The man across the table lifted his hand and motioned to Randy. Randy glanced around, then pointed at his chest in question. Again the man nodded and motioned Randy to join him.
“Me?” Randy mouthed at him.
“You,” he mouthed back.
Unsure, Randy stood there. Surely he didn’t mean him? The man hiked an eyebrow, and with an impatient gesture of his hand once more motioned for Randy to join him. Randy moved around the table, coming to stand nervously beside him.
“You seemed to have changed my luck when you walked up,” he said. His eyes traveled from Randy’s short, sun-streaked brown hair down to the tips of his shoes, then back up again, drinking in every detail. “Shall we see if I’m right?”
“Ah, sure,” Randy said, fighting to control the shiver that threatened to seize his body. He had never been so thoroughly checked out in his life. “But I don’t really believe I’m what you’d call a lucky charm, just so you know.”
Mr. Slick’s, Randy’s nickname for the guy, dimple deepened as he looked Randy over again, and his gaze lingered on Randy’s groin. Redness painted Randy’s cheeks as his mind questioned what he saw. Even if the stars were perfectly aligned and the galaxy tilted sideways, Randy couldn’t believe such a sexy man would find a regular guy like him interesting. The chances that Mr. Slick was gay were one in a billion, and really, who would take odds like that, even in Vegas?
“We’ll decide later what to call you. For right now let’s see if my luck holds now that you’re here.”
Randy stood quietly, unable to come back with anything witty. He hated situations like these. His mind went blank and he couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t make him sound like a blathering idiot. He was so far out of his league with a guy like this. Mr. Slick was smooth and confident, polished and refined. And Randy… well, he worked an average job, owned an average house, and drove an average car.
That was him in a nutshell, just an average guy.
For the next hour Mr. Slick played and doubled the amount he had in front of him. Randy’s mouth hung open, his shock clear, at the bets that were placed. They didn’t talk much; the noise from the crowd was too intense. But he would nonchalantly caress Randy with a look, a brush of a hip, or a teasing touch of fingers. The heat in his gaze promised sensual delights that had Randy trembling deep inside. A self-satisfied grin hovered around his lips at Randy’s blatant reactions to his touch.
Then disaster struck. Randy’s stomach grumbled, a demanding growl for food that was loud enough Mr. Slick and several people next to Randy heard it. His surprised look focused on Randy’s stomach, then traveled up to Randy’s heated face. Mortified, Randy blushed, the tips of his ears turning pink as he wished for the floor to open up and swallow him.
Mr. Slick struggled to turn a laugh into a snort at Randy’s reaction. Randy, a little sick, dropped his eyes to the floor. He should have known this handsome man would make fun of him. Randy stepped back, determined to leave with as much dignity as he could.
“Hey,” he said softly as he grabbed Randy’s arm. “I wasn’t laughing at you, I swear. Frankly, I’m shocked you stood there for so long and never said anything. Trust me, that’s not the behavior I’m used to.”
Randy looked at him and shrugged. “It just hit me.”
“Then we need to fix the problem. By the way, you’re cute when you blush.”
Randy rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t say that if you blushed this easily.”
Mr. Slick searched Randy’s eyes, looking for something, and apparently found it. He shook his head and turned to the dealer.
“I’m bored; cash me out,” he said, as he turned back to Randy and smiled.
Randy’s knees shook. He was either weak-kneed from the pounding hunger pains or the deadly force of that smile. The blood drained out of his head, leaving him lightheaded. There should be some sort of warning before that kind of killer smile was let loose.
Mr. Slick was struck-by-lightning gorgeous before, but that smile, a smile that held no hint of a smirk, made him look younger, carefree, and less cold. That was exactly what Randy saw in his face: a starkly handsome but powerful man who was used to getting his way at all costs.
He picked a chip off the monstrous pile in front of him and handed it to Randy. Randy shook his head, eyes peeled wide, as Mr. Slick pressed the chip into his hand. He stared at it, unable to believe what he was seeing. The color was orange, and unless he was wrong, it was worth a thousand dollars. What was this for?
“Look, I can’t accept this,” Randy said as he tried to give the chip back.
Mr. Slick thrust his hands in his pockets. “Why not?” Disappointment flittered across his face.
“Well, it’s an orange chip. That’s a thousand-dollar chip, right? Why in the world would you give this kind of chip away? Besides, I can’t take that kind of money.”
“Okay then, my name is Garrett. I want you to have the chip; you deserve it as payment for services rendered.”
Randy stood in the middle of the casino floor with the lights flashing from slot machines and bells whistling around him. A thousand dollars for standing around for an hour was beyond anything he could comprehend. Garrett gave away money like it grew on trees.
Randy was the complete opposite. To say he was tight with his money was being generous. He debated about purchases endlessly, often walking away from big ticket items only to return and stare at whatever he wanted while trying to find one good reason to justify spending a couple of hundred dollars on something.
“Usually when someone tells you their name, the other person responds in kind,” Garrett said as Randy aimed desperate looks at him, “instead of looking like a deer caught in headlights.”
Randy snapped his mouth closed and resisted the urge to cover his eyes with his hands. This guy had him stumbling along like an untried kid.
“My name is Randal,” he said, still trying to figure out how to give Garrett back the chip, “but I go by Randy.”
“Ah, so are you?”
“Am I what?”
Randy focused on the chip, not responding to the sexual innuendo. A voice whispered in his head that Garrett was trouble, deep, serious trouble, and he was way out of his league. That same voice also warned him Garrett would chew him up and spit him out before he could figure out what damn day of the week it was.
“Never mind.” Garrett smiled, and Randy trembled from the searing look that flashed in Garrett’s eyes. “Why don’t you let me buy you dinner at N9NE; they have excellent steak. And stop trying to figure out how to give that chip back to me. Many would say I didn’t pay you enough for being in my company for an hour.”
Now what was that supposed to mean? Dinner he could deal with, but what was he going to do with this stupid chip?
“Well okay, I guess. Dinner does sound good. Do you think we can get in?”
“We’ll get in, trust me.”
Damn if they didn’t walk right in. But the surprises didn’t end there; half the A-list from Hollywood was having dinner. Some of his favorite movie stars were in-house and waved to Garrett. Randy’s head bobbed back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match.
“Come on”—he grinned at Randy’s look of awe—“who do you want to meet first?”
“Are you serious? Just being in the same room is a treat.”
Garrett laughed and pulled him to the nearest table. Twenty minutes later, giddy with excitement, Randy clutched several autographs from some of the highest paid actors and the hottest bands. Garrett appeared to enjoy Randy’s childlike enthusiasm, and stood close the whole while, touching him lightly on the small of his back as introductions were made.
After the introductions were over, Garrett grabbed Randy’s hand and led him to a table. Once they sat down Garrett reluctantly let go. Randy was amazed by Garrett’s lack of concern at how others might react. The man didn’t seem to care one way or another. Garrett treated him like they were on a… Randy frowned. The thought pounded in Randy’s head, and he knew he wouldn’t relax until he dealt with it.
“Is this a date?” he blurted out, almost afraid of the answer. Then the urge to kick himself hit. Why had he asked that? Couldn’t he leave well enough alone?
“Took you long enough.” Garrett laughed softly at the look of dismay on Randy’s face.
“Why?” Randy asked even as he seriously considered the benefits of tying his own tongue in knots.
“Why?” Garrett’s surprised look confirmed what Randy thought; few managed to surprise Garrett. “Why what?”
“Why are we…? I’m a stranger, so why would you want—”
“Ah, I think I understand what you’re asking. I want to spend time with you because you’re honest. I don’t know how to explain it, but you’re unguarded in your thoughts and actions. You’re genuine, and I can’t tell you how remarkable I find that.” Garrett gestured with his water glass. “Like this water… refreshing and pure.”
“Wow, that’s… sweet.”
Garrett choked on his water.
“Sweet? Ah, hell.” Garrett wiped his eyes. “I can promise you sweet isn’t the usual name I’m called, Randy. Bastard comes to mind, as does asshole, but sweet? Sweet doesn’t make the list. But that just proves my point.”
“What point is that?”
They placed their dinner orders as Randy restlessly curled his napkin around his fingers. He replayed Garrett’s words. He didn’t want to be interesting. That was a word people used when they couldn’t nicely describe something odd or weird. He didn’t want that; he wanted to be sexy, enticing and fascinating. He wanted, and he couldn’t believe he was thinking this, wanted Garrett to pound him into oblivion. His own thoughts stunned him. He wasn’t a one-night stand kind of guy.
There were too many risks these days, and, for him, the sex was better if there was an emotional connection. He didn’t know Garrett’s last name, and he hadn’t asked Randy’s. Randy was only in Vegas for two nights, then flying back home Monday. This was nothing more than a hook-up. But he wanted this, even if he regretted it later. Randy buried the part of himself that was screaming Garrett could break his heart.
The waiter brought their dinner. The conversation flowed easily between them as they discussed different hobbies. Randy found that Garrett liked rock climbing and skydiving, something he had never done and wasn’t sure he wanted to try. Garrett was an adrenaline junky; the bigger the rush the more he got off on it. Randy told him about his passion for pool, football and gardening.
They both liked the Dallas Cowboys football team and some of the same authors. The one subject they avoided was their jobs. Randy knew Garrett was rich. He didn’t know what Garrett did for a living, but it didn’t matter. Dinner was excellent, the conversation easy, and time flew by much too fast.
“So, what do you want to do now?” Garrett asked. “There are some top grade nightclubs here if you’re interested.”
Randy yawned behind his hand. “How about we walk around some? I haven’t seen much of the casino. Is that okay by you?”
“Tell you what. We’ll walk some of that meal off, maybe wake you up some. We’ll save the nightclubs for tomorrow night.”
Randy grinned, absurdly happy. “Is that your way of asking me out for tomorrow night?”
“No,” Garrett said as Randy goggled at him. “I rarely ask for what I want. When I want something I focus all my attention on it and don’t stop until I have it.”
“Well, Christ on a crutch.” The sheer overwhelming arrogance of Garrett’s personality was mind-boggling. “People are not things that you acquire, Garrett. I see why bastard and asshole seem to be popular names for you. Anyone ever tell you ‘no’ and get away with it?”
“Very few, but I have a feeling you won’t have a problem telling me no any time you feel like it.” Garrett shrugged. A brief uncertain look flashed in his eyes. “I’ve learned to take what I want and dare anyone to get in my way. Just how I am.”
“You could give lessons in arrogance, you know that?”
Randy wasn’t shocked. He sensed Garrett was strong-willed, powerful, and had the money to back it up. He was used to getting what he wanted, and Randy knew he was playing with fire.
“They don’t call it the rat race for nothing.” Garrett shrugged and took Randy’s hand as they explored the casino. The never-ending electric atmosphere was intoxicating. Garrett pointed out a blackjack table and tried to get Randy to play.
“Ever played this?” Garrett asked.
“Well, yeah, for fun. Some of the guys from work got together once a week, and we played all kinds of different games. My favorite was blackjack.”
“You want to sit in for a few hands, then?”
“No, playing the slots is cool, but something like this could run into some money.”
“Tell you what, I’ll set you up a credit line and you can play—”
“Ah, I don’t think so.”
“I’ll just get the dealer’s attention and—”
“Are you kidding me?” Randy said again, a little louder. “No way, Garrett.”
“Look, it’s not a problem—”
“Garrett!” Randy hissed and grabbed Garrett’s arm before he got the dealer’s attention. “I said no, and I meant no. Let me make this totally clear to you: if you take so much as one more step toward that table, I will walk away. Right now.”
“Are you serious?”
“You better believe I’m serious. If I wanted to play, I have my own money to use. No way are you gonna set up a credit line for me. Don’t push me on this.”