Tessie King has just inherited the biggest casino in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada: the Royal Lakeside. What she didn't bargain for are the problems she inherited with it.
Having left Tahoe years ago, the underbelly of the casino trade is a far cry from the art world Tessie is used to. High-stakes cons, inside jobs, wise guys... Tessie quickly realizes she's in way over her head. And things go from bad to worse when questions start to arise about the nature of her father's death. Enter FBI agent Devin Ryder, member of the Nevada Organized Crime Task Force. He's had his eye on the King family for months, and with the suspicious death of its leader, Ryder now his Tessie squarely in his sights. If Tessie doesn't want to be running her casino from behind bars, she needs to find out how her father really died, who's behind it, why, and how to get them into Agent Ryder's hot little hands before he gets his hands on her. All the while catching a con-man, beating the competition, and running a multi-million dollar business.
Tough job? Fo'get about it. All in a day's work for this lady luck.
When I was ten, my dad taught me how to play blackjack. I'd proudly shown him my fourth grade report card bearing the A I'd earned in math, and he'd said, "Nice work, Tessie. Now let's put those skills to good use." He'd taken me upstairs to the VIP blackjack tables in the back of his casino, set me up with one of his dealers in a crisp, white shirt, and taught me the art of counting to twenty-one. I heard him bragging later to his director of operations what a quick study I was. In two hours, I'd cleaned him out of $600 in chips.READ MORE
That was almost twenty years ago, but it was still one of my most vivid memories of him. Though, to be honest, I didn't have a whole lot of memories of my father to choose from. Mom and he split when I was just two, and she'd promptly moved me south to Berkeley and away from the high-rolling life my father had carved out for himself here. I'd grown up only seeing him every other Christmas and during summer breaks. Our relationship wasn't what you'd call close, but it wasn't strained either. I guess I'd always looked at Richard King more like one would a fun uncle than a father figure.
Which is why I was surprised at how hard it was to keep tears from running down my face as they lowered his casket into the ground. I sniffed, my nose starting to run as much from the cold as the grief, as I tried to look anywhere but at the polished mahogany surface in front of me.
Across the grass, still spotted with melting snow, stood my father’s widow, Britton. Britton was blonde, thanks to her stylist, busty, thanks to her plastic surgeon, and at least twenty years my dad’s junior. She was dressed in all black, a skin-tight Donna Karen dress underneath a faux fur that engulfed her petite frame like a giant gorilla suit. While I enjoyed my designer shoes as much as the next girl, Britton took the notion of fashion to a whole new level. One that was bedazzled, bling-ed, and bleached within an inch of its life.
Beside Britton stood Alfonso Malone, or Alfie, my father’s Director of Operations and head of security. Tall, grim, and not someone I’d want to meet in a dark alley. A scar ran across his cheek, his nose lay at a crooked angle, and his voice held a deep gravel that spoke of a hard life before donning the expensive suits he wore to be my dad's right-hand man. He had a comforting arm around Britton, but his eyes were firmly fixed on the casket, almost as if he was examining it for proof my dad was really in there.
Surrounding them was a slew of people dressed in black who I didn’t know. Not surprising, considering it had been some time since I'd seen my father. A year? Two? I couldn't remember now. To be honest, the allure of the blackjack tables had long ago faded for me.
I shifted, my feet going numb from the cold in my black pumps as the priest said his final words over the casket. Mourners began to disperse, nodding sympathetically in my direction, patting Britton on the shoulder, awkwardly shuffling back to their cars in their overcoats and boots, trying not to slip on the icy mud.
In the winter, Tahoe was a magical wonderland, the pristine snow on the evergreens and jagged mountains brilliant enough to take your breath away. In the spring, the snow melted to reveal enough mud puddles to make a kindergartener squeal with delight. This was March, and the town was just starting to lose its magical sheen.
“Hey, Tessie,” I heard a deep voice say behind me.
Even before I spun around to face him, I knew who it belonged to. Rafe Lorenzo. Pro snowboarder, sponsored by my father’s casino, minor local celebrity, and my first crush.
“Rafe,” I said, turning away from the casket to face him.
“I’m so sorry, Tess,” he said, emotion etched on his face.
I nodded. “Thank you,” I responded, trying to adjust my eyes to the adult version of the first boy I’d ever doodled my name in hearts with.
When I was a teenager, Rafe had been in his early twenties, just coming into his own on the mountain, and charming enough that my father had threatened to take out his knees if he ever so much as held my hand. Not that the threat had kept me from fantasizing about just that. The same daredevil charm and charisma that had made him such a lucrative ambassador for my father’s resort also made for a dangerous temptation to a girl whose adolescent hormones were running amuck.
While Rafe still wore his dark hair a little too long, letting it curl at the ends around his neck, his face was leaner and more angular now than it had been. A few faint laugh lines tickled the corners of his eyes, but his skin was the same warm, year-round tan I’d remembered. And his eyes, staring at me now with genuine concern, were the same brilliant green rimmed in long, black lashes that I’d gotten lost in as a teenage romantic.
I strongly reminded myself what good practice I’d had at keeping my hormones in check since then.
“You look great, Tess,” Rafe observed. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
My cheeks heated despite the biting wind. “Thanks,” I mumbled. “You too.”
“Bullshit. I totally look ten years older,” he replied, though the corners of his mouth turned up, deepening those laugh lines at his eyes.
I felt a small grin pulling my lips in response. It felt good. I realized it might have been the first time in days that I’d smiled. “Has it really been ten years?”COLLAPSE