Scarred by her ex, the last thing on Lucy’s mind is a boyfriend. But when the perfect billionaire makes a play for her, she is forced to reconsider. Gorgeous, kind, and generous, he has it all, on the surface, but Lucy’s burgeoning relationship is threatened when Adam is arrested amidst a web of mystery.
Paula, an ex-detective, looks into matters for her best friend, uncovering a domineering business partner, tormented PA, and a resentful brother. Each has a gripping motive for the worst type of crime and a dark scandal threatens to unravel as this thriller unfurls./p>
Will Lucy follow her heart and allow true love to prevail? And will Paula unravel the mystery surrounding death and deceit before it’s too late?
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‘Nice little freebie,’ he promised me. My mum told me nothing in life is free. Especially—in hindsight—from a man who makes a shedload of money from gambling. Gambling on what, I’d not yet ascertained.
‘Lucy, how does a guy who owns this magnificent place wind up having a massage in your garage conversion?’ Paula, my bestie asks.
‘Because I’m good,’ I say as I survey the room. It’s big, and red, and noisy. Slot machines clatter, warning bells chime, and I feel out of place in this gaudy hangout for the ever-optimistic. My neck fizzes with the tension of being in an alien environment. Music that I can’t quite hear beats in the background, and a light female voice tinkles in and out. My eyes dart around the casino, searching for Adam.
‘He’s there!’ I point to the middle of the gaming floor where Adam is surveying his business. He looks like a different person, professional, his buttoned suit jacket rumpled from the hand in his trouser pocket. My heart makes an unwelcome back-flip. There’s a collective cry from a group of young guys huddled round a slot machine. Sirens go off and they jostle to shake hands, clapping on backs and whooping in self celebration.
My eyes are drawn back to Adam. His mouth opens in a wide smile, perfect white teeth glinting under the false lighting as he senses my gaze boring into him. He waves and heads over. Paula and I do the same, and we meet in the middle ground. I stand on my tiptoes as he hugs me tight, finishing with a peck on my cheek. I ignore the electric shock firing down my neck.
‘I can’t believe you’re here! I’m delighted.’ He holds both my shoulders and steps back to take in my borrowed evening dress. Embarrassment rushes colour up my face, my skirt is a little long and my hips spread wider than I’d care. I cringe as self conscious sweat trickles down to the small of my back. ‘You look amazing.’
‘It’s warm in here,’ I flap my hand in front of my cheeks to break the intensity of his gaze. He frees his grasp.
‘And you must be Paula, I presume. I’ve heard so much about you.’ He shakes her hand, tapping her elbow with his free hand. ‘You also look divine I might add.’
He even talks differently here. When he’s having his massage, he’s not like this. He’s less officious, but I guess when a guy turns up in his gym shorts and trainers regardless of the weather, it’s difficult to appreciate he is a hard-hitting business man until he’s in such a formal environment. His dark hair is unruffled tonight and his midnight shadow, despite the hour, is shaven clean.
‘Did you find us easily enough?’ His dusky eyes glint, pools of seduction I’m best to ignore.
I nod. ‘Yes, we got a cab from the station, easier than the tube. We didn’t want to turn up looking like death.’ I laugh to disguise my awkwardness. Even I’m talking differently, pronouncing each syllable of my words and defying my Yorkshire roots. I flick my blonde hair away from where it rests on my neck. Paula nudges me, throwing me a sharp nod of her head. I’m not sure what she means, but she probably wants me to relax.
‘How long have you had this place, Adam?’ Paula eases the tension which could otherwise creep into the air between us.
‘Oh, long enough…’ he winks. ‘Shall we?’ He takes my elbow and steers me towards the back of the casino. ‘Let’s go to the VIP area, it’s much nicer in there.’
‘Ooh OK,’ Paula and I both laugh in unison and then suppress it sharpish, not wanting to appear like school girls in such a prestigious establishment.
As we pass through generally older, overweight types seated before slot machines, I notice key cards plugged in, in place of cash deposits. Talk about heavy duty. I totter past, unnoticed as they fixate on trying to attribute a pattern to random wheel cycles.
Adam notices me looking. ‘If you’re going to play these, that’s the best machine.’ He points to one hosting a solitary elderly Chinese lady accompanied only by her walking aid.
‘Oh really, why so?’ I ask.
‘That’s the one with the best odds.’
‘Ah, so each machine looks the same but has different payout rates, then?’ Paula checks.
‘Yes, that’s right. Any experienced gambler will check the payout tables that we hide as best we can whilst still obeying the letter of the law.’
‘Hello Mr. Rutherford.’ A girl of around eighteen, tiny, but with well-displayed, perfectly rounded, boobs almost curtsies as she passes with a silver tray laden with drinks.
‘Hello, Abbie.’ She rushes off before Paula and I can nod in her direction. ‘We won’t take those drinks, dreadful stuff. That’s what we provide the high rollers to help them on their way to bad decision making. We’ll grab something better in a second.’
Paula and I are both mute. To be honest, we like our wine, but if this is the stuff the high rollers are drinking, I’m sure it will be good enough for us. Nevertheless, we continue our journey through the casino, passing gaming tables full of chips. The dress code has improved somewhat from the machine area and the atmosphere is tangibly different, a little like passing from the tap rooms in old pubs, to the lounge area. Somehow more civilised, and the air smells different. Less musty. And the clientele has upgraded to suited individuals or the chino and slack brigade. The lighting is still red though.
‘Why does the entire place have a red tinge to it?’ I ask Adam.
‘Ah, not your taste then?’
‘It’s like being in a brothel,’ Paula says. ‘Not that I’ve ever been in a brothel, you understand…’
‘Ha! How can you refer to my exclusive leisure facility in such a manner?’
I feel the need to acknowledge this was funny, so giggle, but it’s not that amusing. I blame nerves.
‘No, seriously,’ Adam continues with a chuckle, ‘I’ll let you into a secret. The red is meant to encourage, harder and faster gambling, just like the music.’
Paula and I nod, tuning into the melody again. It’s quieter here, so we can hear the techno beat more clearly now.
‘Ah, I get it, the beat encourages an increased heart rate or something like that?’ Paula asks.
‘Yes, exactly right Paula. Speeds up the play, allows less time for considering your options, more chance of making mistakes.’
‘Wow, it’s all hugely technical, I hadn’t appreciated…’ I drift off.
There’s a big cheer from the far corner. A croupier scoops up chips and slides the pile across the table at the winning party – a man in his fifties, with a twenty-year-old girl on his expensive suit arm. She’s the one doing the cheering. He’s taking his win in his stride, collecting his chips and organising them into piles of different colours.
‘He’s one of our regulars,’ explains Adam.
‘Who’s the girl?’ Paula asks, her tone taking on that of an interrogation.
‘Ah, just someone he’ll be with for the night.’
‘Oh…?’ My eyes widen. ‘She looks like she knows him.’
‘Knows his bank balance more like,’ Paula scoffs.
Adam glances at her. ‘I like you Paula, you have an exceptionally honest way about you. It’s refreshing when you spend your days being curtsied to by your staff, or bowing to your clients.’
Finally, we’re at the VIP area. It’s not like the movies with an unmarked door guarded by gorillas. No, this is a glitzy black and gold desk in front of a mirrored wall. To each side is a gap with a further wall set back, creating a slalom entry.
‘Hello Mr. Rutherford.’ The blond on the desk says. She’s a little older than the others we’ve seen but still sporting the signature low cut V-neck waistcoat over little else. Adam nods at her, flashing his white teeth as he curls the edges of his mouth upwards. A waft of something sweet, perhaps jasmine, distracts my thoughts.
I waver on the marble flooring. My eight-inch heels were not meant for any kind of walking whatsoever. No-one appears to notice, as the receptionist presses the buzzer to open the sliding doors for our entry. I sneak a glance at Paula. Her slim back is upright, and although she looks surprisingly elegant with her mousy hair clipped in a messy but perfectly styled up-do, she’s clutching her bag so tight her knuckles are white. She catches me looking. Together we both stretch our closed mouths wide, jutting down one corner, wondering whether tonight was a mistake.