Authors: Tracy Wolff
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction
Play Me #5: Play Me Right
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2014 by Tracy Deebs-Elkenaney
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 97808
Cover design: Georgia Morrissey
Cover photograph: MarishaSha
Aria left me. Or I drove her away. I don’t know which one is the most accurate descriptor, but either way the result is the same. It’s been three days since Aria walked out of my suite, three days since she’s answered the phone or a text or even shown up to work. She called in sick yesterday and the day before, which gives me something else to worry about. Something else to feel guilty about. The fact that she’s skipping shifts when she so obviously needs the money…that says everything that can be said about how she feels about seeing me right now.
Part of me wants to text her not to worry, that I won’t bother her when she comes to work. But it’s a lie and I think we’re both smart enough to know it. The second she walks through the casino door, I’m going to be right there waiting. Right there demanding that she talk to me.
I hurt her. I fucking hurt her and I don’t even know how it happened. How I got so out of control. I think back on those moments, on the whole interlude, and all I can remember is how much I wanted her. How I wanted her to want me the same way. And how out of control I felt because of that want. That need.
So I took it out on her. I pushed her and pushed her and pushed her, not to punish her as she believes, but because I couldn’t be alone in all that want. All that need. I had to know that she felt the same way about me. That her mind and body and soul cried out for mine the same way mine do for her.
Instead, I took it too far. Pushed her too hard. Hurt her when that was the last thing I ever wanted to do. And I don’t have a clue how I’m supposed to fix it. Especially when she won’t even step foot in my damn casino.
I even went to her apartment last night like some kind of stalker. She wasn’t there. Or, if she was, she wouldn’t open the door to me. Either way, I’m totally screwed. I can’t see her, can’t talk to her, can’t apologize.
Then again, even if I could…what then? Do I tell her how out of control I felt? How vulnerable? Just the thought makes me queasy. I’m okay with admitting I was wrong, with apologizing for hurting her—but explaining? Telling her what motivated the things I did? I don’t know if I’m ready for that—or even if I’m capable of it.
I just know that I’d like the chance to try.
But until she comes back to work—if she comes back to work—I won’t be able to do anything. The lack of control grates on me.
Rubbing a hand over my face, I try to clear my mind. To concentrate on the two million and one things I need to do today. Things that include setting into motion the plans Ethan and I made to solve the problems of his brother, Brandon, and Nico Valducci in one fell swoop. It won’t be easy and it’s going to take time to get everything lined up the way we want it, but if we do everything exactly right, Brandon and Valducci will be in prison, awaiting trial, before the end of the year.
The work is slow going—espe
cially when I get an email from a board member of the charity I used to work for, asking when I’m going to be back. For long seconds, I just stare at the computer screen, trying to decide how I want to answer him.
Technically, I’m on a leave of absence. When I got the phone call about my father and decided that I needed to come back here, to help out with the Atlantis and all his other business dealings, I hadn’t been prepared to resign yet. Not when I didn’t know what was going to be waiting for me here, or how I was going to react to it. And not when I had less than forty-eight hours to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to have to return to Vegas after I’d sworn never to set foot in this city again.
I’ve been here two weeks now. Two measly weeks. And while there’s a huge part of me that misses the work I used to do—work that mattered, work that let me make a real difference to underprivi
leged children all over the world—I’m smart enough to know that I’m never going back. Not when the Atlantis and a number of my father’s other holdings are in such a precarious financial state. I can’t walk away from that.
And I can’t walk away from Aria.
The thought comes out of nowhere, steals my breath and tightens my gut. Because it isn’t supposed to be like that. It isn’t supposed to be so serious, so all-consuming, that I’m willing to stay in a city I despise just to be close to her.
Not when I’ve only known her a week.
Not when I messed up so fucking badly.
And not when I don’t have a clue how to fix it—or even if I’ll be able to fix it.
Fuck. The not knowing is killing me. The inability to control how this is going to turn out.
I don’t even know why I care so much. I mean, yeah, Aria’s amazing and I care about her. And I enjoy fucking her more than I’ve ever enjoyed anything in my life. But still, I’ve enjoyed fucking a lot of women and never have I been this…obsessed. Or this worried about getting them back if we had a fight. For most of my adult life, my philosophy has pretty much been treat them well, enjoy them while you’ve got them, move on before things get sticky.
So why, when things are stickier than they’ve ever been, when I have so many things on my plate that need my attention, am I throwing that philosophy away? Why am I obsessing over Aria instead of just waiting to see how things play out? Or just moving on, like I usually do.
Because she matters.
The thought sends a skitter of panic down my spine. Because I know it’s true. And worse, because I wouldn’t change it if I could.
I shove back from my desk, walk over to the picture window where I first fucked Aria and stare out at the city far below. It’s morning now—and early to boot—so the lights aren’t as bright, the glitter not so apparent. Even from all the way up here, you can see the sex pamphlets on the sidewalks, the leftover remnants of another debauched night, the grime just below the glamour.
Most people don’t like Vegas in that first hour after dawn, when the Strip is as quiet as it ever gets and everything looks just a little too fake, a little too garish, a little too dissolute. But it’s always been my favorite time of the day here.
Partly because my best memories of Dylan all took place in the early morning hours, when he was coming down from whatever drunk or high he’d been on and he was just the guy I used to know. The friend who punched a rich kid in the nose for me when we were seven because he stole my Batman action figure and broke it just to be mean. The guy who listened and philosophized and talked the weirdest, most interesting shit just because his brain worked that way.
And partly because I’ve always thought it was beautiful. The way the sun rises over the desert. The way the lights burn through the early morning dusk. The way the decadent turns so easily to the debauched. It’s a weird thing to love, but I’ve always found beauty in the unmasking. In the complete and utter honesty.
Suddenly, I can’t stand the idea of being cooped up in this goddamn office one more minute. One more second. Though it’s only a little after five a.m., I’ve been working most of the night and I’m beginning to feel like the walls are closing in on me. Like this goddamn job is closing in on me.
Fuck it. Grabbing my wallet and my keys from the top drawer of my desk, I head out. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do when I get there, but I know I can’t stay here. Not for one more minute, not for one more second. At least not if I don’t want to go stark raving mad.
But I don’t even make it to the front doors before someone calls my name. For a second, I think about ignoring it. About just walking out the doors and saying to hell with my responsibi
lities. To hell with everything.
But in the end I turn around—of course I do. And stare for long seconds at my father’s nurse—and my father. Nancy has him in a wheelchair and is pushing him toward the same doors I’m aiming for.
“Do you need help?” I ask, closing the distance between us at a quick jog.
“No, we’re good. He just wanted to say hello before we go out for our morning walk.”
I place a hand on my father’s, say “Good morning, Dad,” before turning back to Nancy. “I didn’t realize you took him for a walk every morning.”
“Oh, yes, as long as he’s feeling up to it. He loves the Strip in the early morning. Tells me it’s his favorite time of day to be out there.”
Her words hit me like a fist to the gut. I look down at my father, who for the first time in my memory actually looks every one of his seventy-one years. He’s thinner than I’ve ever seen him, more frail, and he looks tired. Bone-deep, soul-crushingly tired.
It’s so hard to reconcile this man with the dictator of my childhood. With the man whose decisions shaped not only who I am and but who I refuse to be.
As I stare at him, the rest of her words sink in. “Wait. He’s speaking again?”
“A word here or there,” she tells me, looking pleased. “The occupational therapists are greatly encouraged. But no, I meant he writes things down for me. It’s his right side that’s so badly affected, but he’s left-handed so while his mobility on that side isn’t perfect, he can hold and use a pen pretty well.”
What goes unspoken but is still perfectly clear are the words, “which you’d know if you spent more than five minutes with him during your obligatory daily visit.”
The guilt starts to press down on me, but I try to ignore it. After all, he’s just reaping what he has sown. I don’t want to spend time with my father because he’s an unbending bastard with ambiguous morals who, when he let Dylan die, turned us both into murderers. Though, to be fair, he might have been one long before that fateful night.
Still, even knowing that my coldness to my father is well deserved, I can’t help feeling bad for him. Can’t help wanting to do something, anything, to make him feel better about the awful way things have ended up for him.
“Here,” I find myself saying before I even know the words are going to leave my mouth. “Let me take him for a walk today.”
Nancy looks startled, and pleased. “Oh. Do you really want to?”
Not even a little bit. For a moment, the knowledge that I can still back out runs through my head. After all, she is giving me an out. I can just say that I’m too busy or that I was running out to my car for something I forgot or…anything and everything but the truth. That I’m still too angry about what went down ten years ago to want to have anything to do with my father.
But in the end, I just nod and say, “Yeah. I’m sure.” I glance down at my father. “That okay with you, Dad?”
He looks at me with dazed green eyes the same color as my own. One more thing I’ve always hated—that the eyes staring out at me from the mirror every morning look so much like the ones I’ve despised for so many years. But then he nods, slowly, painstakingly. The closest thing to a yes that he can manage.
I nod in return, then move to take over the handles of the wheelchair. “When should I have him back?”
“We leave for physical therapy at eight, so maybe an hour? Then he can have his breakfast, get dressed and all that.”
An hour. Yeah. I can do anything for an hour. Even this.
“Okay. We’ll see you then.”
She nods, and with an encouraging smile, turns back toward the elevators. And I’m alone with my father for the first time in more years than I can count.
I don’t know how I feel about that. But it’s not like I’ve exactly got time to psychoanalyze myself right now. So I steer him toward the automatic doors in the center of the exit bank, and we walk out into the early morning coolness.