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In the game of love all bets are off
When professional poker player Matthew Shaughnessy wins the pot of a lifetime, he didn’t expect to land himself a fiancée.
Cassandra Gardener is left with little choice but to play the part of a Texan’s fiancée for a week if she wants to clear her father’s gambling debt.
Can two people with so much to lose win the biggest bet of all- love?
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Cassandra barely waited until they had left Matt’s family behind for the cool, terracotta comfort of the house before she turned on him.
“I am not sleeping with you,” she hissed, all but stamping her foot. Lapis-lazuli eyes snapped like fireflies and her fists clenched at her sides like she wanted to whap him one. Was it wrong that he was turned on?
“Relax, princess.” Matt grinned. “What do you take me for? I’m not that kind of guy.”
She snorted. “You’re all that type of guy.” Her purse strap had slipped off her shoulder, her cute summer dress was rumpled, and the carefully styled hair she’d started the day with looked as though it had come through a wind storm.
He liked it. It made her seem more approachable.
Until she spoke.
“What is that?” she squealed, ducking behind him and peeking around his shoulder.
Matt looked to where she was pointing and laughed outright. “That’s my dog, Chewy.” He bent in time to catch the hairless Chihuahua limp-racing across the tiles, nails click-clicking to a chorus of yapping.
Consuela, dressed in a colorful swirly skirt and white peasant blouse with bangles jingling on her outstretched arm hurried around the corner. “Oh, Master Matt, I’m so sorry. He was eating one minute and then he was gone.”
Matt tried to control the excited pooch working its way up his chest, tongue hanging weirdly out the side of its mouth and little bug eyes glittering with joy. “It’s okay, Consuela, I was wondering where he was.”
“It’s good to have you back, your abuela misses you.”
Matt ran a gentle hand over his pet’s bony spine, flattening the narrow black strip of coarse fur that had a mind of its own. “And I missed all of you, but I’m home now, and…” He twisted his torso until Cass came into view, “I brought a fiancée.”
Cass gave him an ugly glare, then switched on a warm smile for the housekeeper. “This is my first trip to Texas. You have a beautiful home here, Consuela.”
She nodded and stepped forward to take Chewy from his arms. “Thank you, miss. The Shaughnessys are like family.” She patted Matt’s cheek. “This one, he is special.”
Warmth for this woman, who had helped his grandma raise a troubled boy, flooded his chest. “If I am, it’s because of you. I can’t thank you enough for taking care of all of us over the years. And now…”
“Shh, don’t talk of it, child. We don’t want to invite bad spirits.”
Matt smiled through the ache. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d been warned about the spirits. “Yes, ma’am. I’m going to show Cassandra to her room. It’s been a long day.” He hugged Consuela and whispered in her ear. “It’s good to be home.”
He stepped back and smiled into her tear-filled eyes. “None of that now. This is meant to be a celebration.”
Consuela swiped at her wet cheeks and nodded. “We will make it special. You get married here, on the ranch? Your grandmother, she’s been talking non-stop about it since you called. Wait until you see her plans. It’s been good for her. For all of us.”
Matt winced. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten himself into this mess. What started out as a simple way to please his grannie before she passed on had turned into a three ring circus. He glanced at the fuming woman beside him and wondered how long it would be before she blew the lid off this charade.
Time to find some privacy and remind her of her obligation.
“We’ll discuss the wedding tomorrow.” He tugged Cass under his arm. “My bride-to-be is swaying on her feet.” He got them moving, heading down the hall toward his childhood bedroom. “C’mon, honey. Let’s get you tucked in so you can get your beauty sleep.”
She poked him in the ribs and he grunted. Damn, she had bony elbows. As soon as Consuela was out of sight, Cass escaped his hold. Her heaving breasts were a distraction until he realized he was staring, and jerked his gaze to her face.
“This has gone too far,” she snapped.
Matt opened the door to his room and ushered her through, determined to keep this private. He secretly agreed with her, but they’d already entered into this bargain, he didn’t plan on letting her renege.
He closed the door and leaned back to watch Cassandra pace his boyhood room. She avoided the king-sized sleigh bed he’d exchanged for the twin he had until early teens, to check out his trophy collection from swimming and baseball. Then she moved on to the few framed pictures lining his dresser, mainly him and his friends mixed with a couple of him and Gran, out riding horses or herding cattle. She’d always taken an active role in the running of the ranch. Right up until the doctor told her she couldn’t do it anymore three months ago. Funny how life fell into two categories like that. The before filled with days taken for granted, and then the after diagnosis where every moment becomes something to be cherished.
“Is this you?” Cassandra asked, holding up a picture of him in a black and white tux, his then girlfriend, Candy, perched on his arm in a bright yellow ball gown.
“Prom,” he answered, amazed he’d ever looked that young.
She ran a finger down the glass and his body responded as though she’d physically touched him. He cursed under his breath. The last damn thing he needed was to be attracted to a woman who detested the ground he walked on. Never mind the fact she was engaged to be married—and it wasn’t to him.
He shoved away from the wall and stalked across the spacious room to his desk where his overnight bag had been left by one of the staff. He unzipped the side compartment and pulled out the distinctive blue box.
“Put this on.” He tossed the container at her and had to admit he was impressed with her swift catch.
She eyed it warily, then slowly slid the lid off to reveal the midnight blue velvet box within. “Is this what I think it is?”
There she went with that finger again, rubbing the box like it was a gene’s lamp. Matt stared. Goosebumps chased up his spine and whispered in his ear that he was in a boatload of trouble. Yeah, he had that part figured out.
“You need a ring,” he said, shifting to ease the sudden pressure behind his zipper. “Grannie will expect you to have one. You can keep it when we part ways—consider it a bonus.” God, he could be such a dick sometimes.
She sent him a glance that cut to the bone, then carefully pulled the box out of its wrappings and opened the lid as though she thought it might explode in her hand. The flash of surprise she quickly hid tugged at his heart. She liked it.
“Where’s my ring?” she asked, sliding the pretty solitaire onto her finger.
He was happy to see it fit. “You mean my ring, don’t you?”
She snapped the jewelry box closed and he winced.
“It’s in a safe place. You live up to your end of the bargain, princess, and I’ll live up to mine.”
Cass waved her hand in the air, and the new ring glinted under the lights. “I’m here, aren’t I? Let’s just try to get through this week without killing each other.” She flopped onto the side of his bed and bounced a couple of times. “Where are you going to sleep?”
Matt hid a grin. If this weren’t so serious, and she wasn’t holding all the cards, he’d be hard-pressed not to like this girl.
“Well, darlin’, that’s where it gets interesting.”