All or Nothing

By: Catherine Mann

One

Monte Carlo, Casino de la Méditerranée

It wasn’t every day that a woman bet her five-carat, yellow-diamond engagement ring at a roulette table. But it was the only way Jayne Hughes could think of to get her pigheaded husband to take the rock back.

She’d left Conrad messages, telling him to contact her attorney. Conrad ignored them. Her lawyer had called his, to no avail. Divorce papers had been couriered, hand delivered to Conrad’s personal secretary, who’d been told not to sign for them under any circumstances.

As Jayne angled through the crush of gamblers toward the roulette table, her fist closed around the engagement ring Conrad had given her seven years ago. Since he owned the Casino de la Méditerranée, if she lost the long-shot bet, the ring would be back in his possession. All or nothing, she had to lose to win. She just wanted a clean break and no more heartache.

Jayne plunked down the ring on the velvet square for 12 red. The anniversary of their breakup fell on January 12, next week. They’d spent three years of their seven years married apart. By now Conrad should have been able to accept that so they could move on with their lives.

Familiar sounds echoed up the domed ceiling, chimes and laughter, squeals of excitement mixed with the “ahhhh” of defeat. She’d called these walls full of frescoes home for the four years they’d lived together as man and wife. Even though she moved with ease here now, she’d grown up in a more down-to-earth home in Miami. Her father’s dental practice had kept them very comfortable. Of course, they would have been a lot more comfortable had her father not been hiding away a second family.

Regardless, her parents’ finances were nowhere close to touching the affluence of this social realm.

Her ring had been a Van Cleef & Arpels, one-of-a-kind design that had dazzled her back when she believed in fairy tales.

Cinderella had left the building. Jayne’s glass slipper had been shattered right along with her heart. Prince Charming didn’t exist. She made her own destiny and would take charge of her own life.

Nodding to the croupier in charge of spinning the wheel, she nudged her ring forward, centering it on the number 12 red. The casino employee tugged his tie and frowned, looking just past her shoulders and giving her only a second’s warning before...

Conrad.

She could feel his presence behind her without looking. And how damn unfair was that? Even after three years apart, never once laying eyes on him the entire time, her body still knew him. Wanted him. Her skin tingled under the silky beige gown and her mind filled with memories of spending an entire weekend making love with the Mediterranean breeze blowing in through the balcony doors.

Conrad’s breath caressed her ear an instant ahead of his voice. “Gaming plaques can be obtained to your left, mon amour.”

My love.

Hardly. More like his possession. “And divorce papers can be picked up from my lawyer.”

She was a hospice nurse. Not a freaking princess.

“Now why would I want to split up when you look hot enough to melt a man’s soul?” A subtle shift of his feet brought him closer until his fire seared her back as tangibly as the desire—and anger—pumping through her veins.

She pivoted to face him, bracing for the impact of his good looks.

Simply seeing him sent her stomach into a predictable tumble. She resented the way her body reacted to him. Why, why, why couldn’t her mind and her hormones synch up?

His jet-black hair gleamed under the massive crystal chandeliers and she remembered the thick texture well, surprisingly soft and totally luxurious. She’d spent many nights watching him sleep and stroking her fingers along his hair. With his eyes closed, the power of his espresso-brown gaze couldn’t persuade her to go against her better judgment. He didn’t sleep much, an insomniac, as if he couldn’t surrender control to the world even for sleep. So she’d cherished those rare, unguarded moments to look at him.

Women stared and whispered whenever Conrad Hughes walked past. Even now they didn’t try to hide open stares of appreciation. He was beyond handsome in his tuxedo—or just wearing jeans and a T-shirt—in a bold and brooding way. While one hundred percent an American from New York, he had the exotic look of some Italian or Russian aristocrat from another century.

He was also chock-full of arrogance.

Conrad scooped the five-carat diamond off the velvet, and she only had a second to celebrate her victory before he placed it in her palm, closing her fingers back over the ring. The cool stone warmed with his hand curling hers into a fist.

“Conrad,” she snapped, tugging.