Love Me Like No Other
by AC Arthur
Book 1 in the Donovans Series
Two Can Play at This Game!
Lincoln can’t believe it—that beautiful babe who owes his casino $5,000 is Jade. He’s never stopped thinking about her since that one hot night years ago. Now she’s in his debt! Of course, he doesn’t want her money….
At first, Jade’s outraged—pose as his fiancée for one week or he’ll call the police! But then…how about some sweet revenge? So while he’s playing Mr. Seducer, she’ll be Miss Tease. Before the week is up, she’ll have him on his knees—just before she walks away! That is, if she can convince her heart she’s not still in love….
Love Me Like No Other
Book 1 in the Donovans Series
Love Me Like No Other
“You need a wife.”
Clenching his jaw. Lincoln tried his best to remember this was his mother he was speaking to. “I don’t need anybody or anything.”
“What good is all this success, if you have nobody to share it with?” Beverly Donovan was unwavering when it came to the well-being of her children. She’d watched her oldest grow into a handsome man, an intelligent man, an entirely too serious and business-oriented man. And she didn’t like it one bit.
“I have my family, unless you’re planning on disowning me because I refuse to get married.” He gave her a half smile; the one he always gave her when he was trying to win her over. Normally it worked. Today, however…
“Don’t be fresh, Lincoln.”
…her tone cut that short.
Beverly stood, brushed imaginary lint from her pink Chanel-style suit and looked down at her son. “Your father and I are celebrating forty years together, son. Forty long, beautiful years of loving and supporting each other. These have been the best forty years of my life.” She moved to him then caressed his clean-shaven cheek. “I only want that same happiness for you.”
Beverly Donovan had a way with words. His parents were happy. Happier than most married folk he knew. It was only natural that she’d want the same for her children. He loved that she cared about his happiness and he loved that she’d never been too busy with her own life to see to his. He simply did not agree with her plans for his future. “I am happy, Mom.”
“That’s what you think.”
“Craps!” the man dressed in too-tight black pants and a colorful vest with a bright red bowtie said. His expression remained dour, the way it had been for the last three hours since she’d been here.
Jade Vincent shifted. Her feet hurt. Whatever possessed her to wear slacks and pumps to a casino?
The man with the long black stick and the blank gray eyes leaned into the table, retrieving the dice—the ones that had just cost her another fifty dollars—and with a quick glance he handed them to her again.
Taking them out of his hand she looked down at the pile of chips that once represented all the free cash she had to spend—the entire three hundred and forty-two dollars.
What was she doing here?
The pale man waited for her to either roll the dice or walk away from the table.
Men, she thought with a heavy sigh. That was the simple answer to her latest dilemma. How a woman who graduated tops in her class from Harvard always managed to pick the worst men was an enigma to her. Her stomach twisted, her temples throbbing as chiming slot machines and hostesses with sing-song voices chanting “Coffee? Soda?” for the billionth time, echoed in her head. She didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be in this desperate situation, but she’d never gotten what she wanted.
So with great reluctance and a silent prayer to the gods to shine favorably on her just this one time, she shook the dice in her hand then let them fall onto the green felt, watching eagerly as they tumbled and landed.
Her entire future rested on the roll of two red squares. Well, not her future. Noelle’s future. Noelle Vincent, two years younger than Jade, average intelligence, a pretty face and a magnet for trouble. It was just three days ago that Noelle had come barging into Happy Hands, Jade’s day spa, whining about some fiasco at the casino. Noelle in her bubbly, never worry-about-a-thing-because-my-big-sister-will-bail-me-out attitude, had sat in the steam bath and informed her older sister that she had ten days to come up with five thousand dollars or the owner of the Gramercy casino was going to have her thrown in jail. Jade hadn’t had a moment’s peace since then.
All Jade had ever wanted was to run her business and to lead a nice, quiet life.
Fate obviously had a different agenda.
Since her grandmother’s death a year and a half ago Jade’s life had been full of drama and stress. With Noelle usually being the cause of them both. Still, it would be unfair to blame all her recent misfortune on Noelle. A good portion could be attributed to Charles Benson. He was the man she’d thought she loved. The man she was going to marry.
Jade had planned every tiny detail of the wedding even through the grief of losing her grandmother, knowing how much the thought of her being married to a good man would have made Grammy happy. She missed Grammy terribly but would be forever thankful for the inheritance she’d left her. With that money Jade had planned to open her day spa.
Jade was going to make something of herself. Something her mother couldn’t do. She was determined to be successful. Lillian Vincent died from years and years of alcohol abuse when Jade was sixteen. That’s when Jade and Noelle had moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, to live with Grammy. Grammy spent many a day drilling into her head the importance of being independent and not relying on anyone but herself. In turn, Jade was spending her days drilling the same thing into Noelle’s thick skull. Jade had been smart enough to get into Harvard and even smarter to know that she’d only be happy running her own business. And with Grammy’s inheritance she’d planned to do just that.
Grammy used to laugh and say, “All that money I put into your college education and you come back wanting to give people massages.”
But it was so much more than that. Massage therapy provided an escape, a healing for the stressors of the world, and Jade knew all about stress. Her ultimate goal was to provide a haven for people to seek when things became too difficult to bear alone.
Too bad Charles had had other plans for the inheritance. He’d suggested they get a joint account for the wedding expenses. She’d taken that one step further and added his name to all of her accounts. Grammy’s college education really was wasted on her because that was a colossal mistake.
Charles broke off the engagement two days before the wedding via e-mail. Two weeks after that when she was ready to get on with her life, Jade waltzed into the bank with the intention of leaving with a cashier’s check for the down payment on the little building she’d found just south of the Strip, only to be told that the account had been emptied.
Jade was used to the bad luck streak that seemed to follow her around like a bad odor but felt this time she’d hit an all-time low. Luckily, the incident with Charles thickened her skin. Her full-time job as manager of a boutique supported her goal until finally nine months ago she’d opened Happy Hands Day Spa. But she hadn’t turned a profit yet. Her financial advisor continued to advise that she was on the right tact and that most businesses weren’t completely in the black until a year or so afterwards. She was content with that assessment.
At least she was until Noelle’s latest dilemma.
He was rich.
He was successful.
He was bored out of his mind.
Lincoln Donovan groaned, walked to his desk and dropped into his chair. He needed something…a woman perhaps? For almost six months he’d slept alone. He hadn’t dated, hadn’t kissed, hadn’t so much as brushed up against a feminine body. But that was all by choice.
Work was great. After only five years the Gramercy was now a top contender with MGM Grand and the Bellagio. Who would have thought a then twenty-five-year-old novice could pull off such a feat?
He’d known all along it would be a success. He wouldn’t have had it any other way. That was his ambition speaking. It wasn’t for the money because he had enough of that by birthright. The oldest son of Henry and Beverly Donovan, the next in line to inherit millions through a long line of old family money, he didn’t’ need anything. And it wasn’t for the exposure, because he could do without his name routinely appearing in the local papers. It was about being a part of something, a vision, a plan that he’d come up with. It was about having a purpose. And all his life he’d seemed to have a purpose. At least until now.
Linc wasn’t one to complain. For instance, when the Gramercy opened he’d been labeled Vegas’s Youngest Prince. By his second year he’d risen to the Hottest Bachelor. And just last year, with the help of his two younger brothers, he’d been dubbed the head of the Triple Threat Brothers.
Because they were rich, good-looking and single, the town had nothing better to do than stick a stupid label like that on him. Now every woman he so much as looked twice at believed she had his number and either ran quickly in the opposite direction to avoid the inevitable heartbreak or let the dollar signs rule over romantic thoughts and attempted to bleed him dry with mediocre sex and dull conversation.
No, he hadn’t complained, he’d simply accepted it as fate and rolled with the punches. Now he felt as if he’d taken it long enough. There had to be something else to life, something else to work toward. The fact that he was sitting in his plush office, staring at a bunch of security monitors with a grim look on his face and an aching in his groin wasn’t really making a stand in that regard.
As quickly as that thought entered his mind her face appeared on the screen. Monitor No. 7, the craps table. There was a small crowd gathered but he saw only her. A smooth, honey-toned complexion, dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and high cheekbones. He sat up in his chair and touched a button that allowed him to zoom in on the image.
She looked distracted, her eyes—a light shade—brown or probably hazel—moved from Reed, the dealer, back to the dice. There was no pile of chips in front of her so he assumed this was her last roll. Her fingers gripped the side of the table and her chest heaved with each breath she took. She had great breasts.
Really great breasts, high and firm just the way he liked them. That ache in his groin increased and he clenched his teeth. He’d become a Peeping Tom, getting his jollies off a customer in his casino! With a moan he turned away from the screen taking deep breaths and thinking about baseball—which, incidentally, wasn’t working.
He stood, crossed the floor to his private bathroom, then leaned over the sink and splashed cool water onto his face. He needed to get it together. Getting laid was easy enough, finding a woman who did more than arouse his libido seemed to be the problem. He wondered again at the sudden turn his thoughts had taken. Ever since that little confrontation with his mother he’d been thinking about what he really wanted out of life. An incessant twitching between his legs interrupted and he realized that what he really needed to do was to flip through his Palm Pilot and start dialing until he found a woman who could come and relieve him of all this tension.
A chirping sound came from his laptop and he clicked the mouse to bring the message up. With a sigh he realized it was from his mother, reminding him of his parents’ fortieth wedding celebration this week. More accurately, she was reminding him that she would have a host of women lined up for him if he dared show up alone.
Everywhere he turned, his thoughts were bound to return to women. Of their own accord his eyes found Monitor No. 7 again. The woman was still there, the one with the great breasts. He licked his lips just as the phone on his desk rang.
Saved by the bell.
The Pit Boss had summoned two other men. They actually looked like professional wrestlers dressed in too-small tuxedos but Jade refrained from pointing that out, most likely because at that precise moment the two oversize suits were escorting her out of the casino.
She’d crapped out…again. Her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment while her heart threatened to shatter with defeat. She’d known that gambling wasn’t the answer but had promised Noelle she’d give it a try before going ahead with her original plan. The plan which had her at the mercy of a casino owner prepared to beg on her sister’s behalf. For the billionth time today she swore if Noelle came to her with another problem in this lifetime she’d strangle her.
Jade loved her sister. She was the only family she had left. But she was sick and tired of bailing her out. Grammy used to say it was a shame Noelle got their father’s brain—Jade was beginning to believe her—and his uncanny knack for finding trouble.
If only she still had her inheritance, she’d have money in the bank and she could have simply paid Noelle’s debt. Although Grammy’s voice echoed in her mind that if she never let Noelle fall how would her sister ever learn to pick herself up. Still, if she had the money…Her bottom lip trembled. But she refused to cry. She would not shed one measly tear. Charles had taken her money but she’d allowed that to happen. Her luck with men had always been horrible. Why she thought this time would be any different was beyond her. He’d done what all men do—use women then drop them. That’s what her father had done the moment he found out her mother was pregnant with Noelle.
That should have been enough to warn Jade against all men, but as Grammy always said, “A hard head makes for a soft behind.”
Now that hard head had her boarding an elevator on her way to meet with a stranger. To ask him for some time to come up with the five thousand dollars. According to Noelle that was a foolish thing to do but Jade figured she’d talk to him like one business owner to another. Besides, was five thousand dollars really worth filing charges and throwing a woman into jail?
The two ogres stepped off the elevator, one looking over his shoulder to make sure she followed him. She did, with her head held high. She’d asked to see the manager the moment those dice stopped rolling and she’d counted the seven dots. She planned to walk right in and ask him…for what? Three weeks? Three months? When would she have the money? He’d probably laugh in her face. Or worse, he might make her wash five thousand dollars’ worth of dishes.
Maybe she’d have to wear one of those skimpy costumes and walk around offering watered-down soda and stale coffee to the guests. She could do that, but she’d catch a horrible cold from being half-naked in the very air-conditioned casino.
Beavis and Butthead, which she’d now named her escorts, stood to the side, dark oak double doors between the two of them. “What now?” she asked as she stared up at them expectantly. She wasn’t a mind reader and was fairly sure that though they were huge and appeared not-too-bright, they could speak the English language.
“He’s waiting for you,” Beavis, the one on the right with the clean-shaven head volunteered.
Defiantly she folded her arms over her chest. “Who is?”
The men exchanged a glance then Beavis gave a crooked grin. “The Boss.”
His words sounded ominous but she would not be intimidated. It hadn’t escaped her that nobody bothered to tell her the man’s name. It could be a woman for all she knew, not that the gender mattered. “So shall I just go in or do you want to announce me?”
Butthead, with an expression that said he was growing tired of her already, leaned over, twisted the knob and pushed the door open.
Squaring her shoulders and taking a deep breath, Jade walked into the office noticing first, the very masculine scent and second, the plush carpet that her high heels practically sank into. The door closed behind her and she turned to see if her guards had accompanied her inside. Of course they hadn’t, and she was a little disappointed. As it stood now there were no witnesses. She was in the office alone with the Boss…except—her eyes scanned the lavishly decorated office—the Boss was nowhere to be found.
Shrugging she walked around the room. It was dark, but ornate. Rich mahogany molding, hunter-green papered walls, leather furniture and marble desktops boasted a masculine touch. There were two desks in an L shape directly in front of the huge window that from the outside was tinted gold. On the long side were a dozen monitors showing different views of the casino floor. Somebody liked to keep an eye on his money, she mused.
Crossing to the other side of the rooms she saw trophies and commendations presented to the casino by the State of Nevada, the gaming Commission, the governor. Whoever the Boss was, he was pretty darn popular.
Absently sliding her hand over the smooth leather arm of the couch Jade wondered what it must be like to live in such splendor. She came from a middle-class family. They didn’t starve but they didn’t have a lot of luxuries, either. Now that she owned her own business that would change, hopefully. Too bad Grammy wouldn’t be here to share it with her. She heard a clicking sound behind her and turned quickly…a little too quickly, because her heel caught in the deep carpet and she felt herself falling backward, arms flailing wildly.
Moments before her head would have hit the edge of the marbled coffee table strong arms slipped around her waist pulling her back into an upright position. At the contact, slow and steady waves of heat slid through her body until warmth overtook her. He held her close, the front of her pressed securely against the hard strength of him. His masculine scent—she’d smelled it instantly upon entering the room—engulfed her, rendering her defenseless against its torture. Then she managed enough coherency to look at his face. She saw the eyes, remembered and immediately stiffened.
Linc had been admiring the view from behind. She wore black pants, tight around her hips and backside then stretching the length of what he imagined to be long, gorgeous legs. Her hair swayed seductively down her back as she moved. Then she’d reached out, touched the couch and let her fingers glide along the fabric. He imagined that hand moving over him in the same manner. Touching him lightly, gripping him… He took a deep breath then steadied himself before speaking.
She owed him money. This was no longer about his immediate attraction to her, but more about business. And Linc never let anything get in the way of business.
Then she’d tripped and he’d rushed over to keep her from falling. Without thinking twice he’d grabbed her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, keeping her there. Those luscious breasts rubbed against his lower chest and he wanted to moan. One hand was dangerously close to the small of her back, where the roundness of her bottom began. Every inch of his body stood at attention including the one he’d been battling with since the moment he’d first glimpsed her over the monitor. He was sure she was aware of his aroused state and wondered what thoughts were going through her mind.
He looked down into her face. Noted the high cheekbones, the hazel eyes, the succulent lips…then back to the eyes again…
She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. It couldn’t be. Please, please, please, don’t let her luck be that bad.
It had been years. Eight years to be exact. She’d thought of him occasionally—okay, frequently—in that time. But she never, ever thought she’d see him again. She didn’t want to see him again.
But here he was, as tall, dark and breathtakingly handsome as he’d been that night. He’d developed. Instinctively her fingers tightened over his biceps. She gasped and pulled her hands away as if she’d been burned. He still held her close. Too close. She wriggled trying to break free.
“Sweetheart, that’s not such a good idea right now,” he said through clenched teeth.
She halted as the knowledge of what he meant poked her stomach. He had grown. She swallowed then summoned the courage she seemed to have left at the door and tried again to speak. “Then why don’t you be kind enough to let me go?”
“I’m not real sure I want to do that.”
His smoldering gaze held her still, reducing her insides to mush that shifted and swirled in a fiery ball at her center. Her knees were shaking. She hated herself for this pure feminine weakness. He no longer had this type of control over her, no man did. Planting her palms firmly on his chest and trying like hell to ignore the blessed rigidness beneath her palms she pushed against him. “I don’t care what you want.”
He frowned, then loosened his grip until his hands were no longer on her. But not before letting them glide down her hips, just brushing past her bottom. Her body quaked one last time as she took a shaky step backward.
“Fine. We’ll get right to business then.” He spoke as he turned away and moved around his desk.
She watched him walk—correction, Lincoln Donovan had never walked, he swaggered. That self-assured glide that said he was the man and you’d better not dispute it. His dress pants were expertly tailored and hung over his hips and taut buttocks just right. Her mouth watered. He wore all black. His pants, his shirt, his tie, everything was black and domineering. And Jade had never loved the color more. His arms were even thicker when she looked at them from a distance, his chest broader, his shoulders squared. He was built like a quarterback, his skin the color of aged rum, dark and satisfying. Damn, he was still fine.
And he was still the man who’d taken her virginity then left her high and dry the next morning.
“Business? What are you doing here?” she asked when she’d found her voice again and stopped ogling him like some schoolgirl with a crush.
“I should ask you the same thing.” He took his seat then with a nod motioned for her to do the same.
She didn’t want to sit. She wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible. But that would prove she was afraid. And she’d be damned if she gave him that satisfaction. She sat in the chair across from his desk. “Casinos are open to the public.”
He sat back in the chair eyeing her carefully. “That they are. But they don’t give away money. At least my casino doesn’t. And according to my Pit Boss you wanted to speak to me about a five-thousand-dollar marker owed. How do you plan to pay? Cash or credit?”
Oh, God, this was his casino. Lincoln Donovan owned the Gramercy. She truly did have bad luck! Still, she refused to break down. There was a solution, she just had to find it. “I don’t have that much cash on hand. I can sign a promissory note and…”
He was already shaking his head negatively. “I don’t take promissory notes.”
She cocked her head to the side. “But you don’t have a problem taking innocent girls?” She hadn’t meant to say that. Yes, as a matter of fact she had. She hadn’t ever planned on seeing him again, so all the anger she’d had that morning when she’d awakened to an empty bed in a male dormitory came rushing back with a vengeance. Over the years she’d thought of a million ways she wanted to curse him out for what he’d done to her.
He frowned. “I’d rather we talked about business.”
“That’s fine. But our first order of business is the past. You know, the night you seduced me and the morning you left?”
“Jade—” he began.
“How could you be so careless? So evil?”
He stood, slamming his hand down on the desk. “That’s enough!” he roared. “I am not going to rehash the past with you. It happened. Get over it.”
“Get over it?” She stood, too, glaring at him with a look so vicious that it probably matched his. “Who the hell do you think you are? You can’t just do what you want and think you don’t have to ever answer for it.”
He came around the desk towering over her until she had to crane her neck to keep eye contact. “I can do what I want. And I don’t have to answer to you. On the other hand, if you don’t come up with my five thousand dollars I can call the LVPD and they can engage you in a question-and-answer session.”
At that moment she hated him more than she’d ever hated another human in her life. She wanted to slap him, to scream at his callousness, his arrogance. But she’d been raised better than that. So with a deep breath and a step back she decided to forego the fact that Lincoln Donovan would forever be on her most-hated listed and handle her business. “I told you I don’t have the cash. So what do you want?”
That was a loaded question if Linc had ever heard one.
She was beautiful. Too beautiful for words. But then he’d known that years ago. What he didn’t know, or perhaps hadn’t had the chance to experience, was how sinfully sexy she became when she was fired up. He’d wanted nothing more than to grab her, to toss her over his desk and have his way with her. Luckily, like Jade, he remembered their past. In the instant he’d touched her the memories of their one night together came barreling back. He’d noticed her weeks before they’d actually met and had watched her the entire time she was at the party. He’d known then that he wanted her in his bed. It wasn’t until after he’d achieved that feat that the trouble began.
Jade Vincent was incredible to look at. Who would have guessed that he’d wanted more? He had no idea that spending one evening with her would incite feelings of permanency that would scare him witless.
But that was then.
And this was now. Did she have any idea how much her words had turned him on? No, she was clearly too angry to see that.
This was a totally different Jade than he remembered. She didn’t’ have that naïve look about her anymore. Her body had filled out more, her stance had become more self-assured and assertive. No, this was definitely not the college girl he’d slept with.
And yet, he desired her just the same.
“I want you,” he said slowly and watched as her eyes grew bigger. “For an entire week. Seven days and six nights.” The thought came to him as simply as his next breath.
“What?” she whispered.
“I’ll clear your debt if you spend the week with me.”
She was already shaking her head negatively backing further away from him. It wasn’t her debt, but he didn’t need to know that. He didn’t need to know anything about her. “You are out of your everlasting mind.”
She moved and he moved with her until her back was to the wall, her front dangerously close to his. “I’m making you an offer. Spend the week with me or I’ll call the police.” To his own ears the ultimatum sounded stupid and offensive and he waited with baited breath for her to answer.
He should have stopped, should have kept a reasonable distance from her but simply couldn’t. The tips of her breasts brushed against his chest and tension fairly crackled between them. “Six nights, in my bed.” He lowered his head until his lips were scant inches from her ear. “Seven days at my beck and call.” His tongue scraped her earlobe.
Jade melted. Heaven help her she was still attracted to this monster. And now she owed him money. Simply put, she was at his mercy.
Even so what he was suggesting was ridiculous. She wasn’t for sale…her body wasn’t for sale. “No,” she stated in a shaky voice.
He traced a scorching path down her neck with his tongue. “And you don’t strike me as a woman who would renege on her debts.”