The Billionaire's Seduction(3)

By: Kristi Avalon

At the woman’s stark, colorless expression, Sophia sat upright. Her chair smacked her in the back of the head like a rude slap. “What?”

“The Gestapo is headed this way.” Maribeth rushed back to her own desk, not far from Sophia’s. She announced in her smoky foghorn voice, “Everyone look busy. Get off PinUp, SnapFuck, FaceChat, whatever. Pretend you work for a living.”

Immediately, Sophia jiggled her mouse and clicked on the spreadsheet she’d minimized twenty minutes earlier. Several invoices, rounding out at $3,000,000 apiece, popped up on her screen.

The Gestapo—Maribeth’s synonym for The Muscle at the casino—included a band of shark-eyed, gym-rat guys who looked like they’d failed out of MMA championships, and now served as Mr. Atlas’s in-house police.

Every time The Muscle came around, people cowered behind their desks. Their intimidation techniques could make a priest question God. That piss-your-pants reaction was a natural response to the possibility of getting hauled off into the Panic Room. A lovely term for where Alex Atlas stowed thieves and card counters, assholes and fighters, addicts and idiots.

Basically, all those who didn’t act appropriately in his casino were ushered to the Panic Room. Where, rumor had it, they were supposedly put in their place, without reliance on outside authorities. Mr. Atlas avoided the cops whenever possible, and apparently whatever tactics took place in the detested room were effective. That was the one place you never wanted to go, because you wouldn’t come back out the same.

Forcing herself to relax, assuring herself the brute force would pass right by the insignificant accounting department, she faked tapping on her keyboard while covertly peering through the windows facing the interior walkway. Mr. Atlas had formed the behind-the-scenes offices like a galleria, all major departments centered on a main oval corridor, with glass balconies visible to the floors above and below.

All watched with palpable apprehension as the men approached, then passed by one corporate office after another.

Even from a distance, she could see the hard determination in their faces. Their looks were accusatory and damning. Someone had wronged the Big Guy. The Master. And they were out for blood.

They stalked the halls, intent on locating their prey. They were the hunters. Everyone else, the hunted.

If Alex Atlas did nothing else, he created an impression.

In all ways.

The “impression” part distractedly reminded her of Todd. Her boyfriend lived life no holds barred, like there was no past. Only tomorrow. They’d stayed up until all hours of the night when he came to stay with her, discussing their big dreams and plans, respectively. He wanted so much from the future…as much as she wanted from hers. He’d made everything colorful, hopeful again. Because he’d said he was staying, to create a tech start-up with family money.

Staying meant a lot to her.

In downtown Las Vegas, few people stayed. Most with decent, semi-permanent jobs created families out in the suburbs, like most of her friends—until her last, dearest friend moved with her husband to Portland, Oregon, to be near his relatives.

The exceptions included the con artists, prostitutes and gigolos, and a haphazard collection of magicians and musicians. Maybe a handful of billionaire casino owners, like Mr. Atlas. The stage-struck crowd of stunning dancers spent two to five years perfecting their craft, I their prime, only to take their skills elsewhere. There were also the Joan Rivers-type drag queen comedy acts, but even they went on tour.

No real, datable young professionals stayed. Except maybe Maribeth. Or Stan. And they weren’t within her criteria of datable or young professionals.

Todd was the first man who’d shown true promise. In a long time.

Despite The Muscle bearing down, she glanced at a framed poem on her desk, one Todd had written himself—her perfect Renaissance man—and her heart softened. He’d promised her everything she’d almost given up hoping for. He came from a prestigious family, and as soon as he took care of his dying mother’s last wishes, he’d come back to Vegas to be with her, like he’d promised. Then, they’d live out all the exciting visions they’d shared while lying in bed after making love, wrapped in the comforting embrace of pure acceptance.

Compassion cinched her chest. She knew better than anyone, about being there for a dying mother.

Staring dreamily at the poem, she admitted the thought too good to be true had crossed her mind, when it came to Todd. But she wasn’t stupid, or desperate, or easily charmed, or swept up in fantasies. She liked her life neat and orderly, and Todd had taken his place as one of the rare men who met all her criteria.