“Come on, Mr. Baines. Surely you’ve got something else to throw into the pile,” the man holding the pile of cards asked. “You’re either in or fucking out. Which one is it going to be?”
Matthew watched the older man lick his top lip before looking down into his wallet. The man before him was Clara Baines’s father. The disgust he felt shocked him. Matthew had despised Edward Baines at first sight.
Edward’s losses were legendary and so were the means by which he tried to pay for them. Right now, Matthew watched him look down into his empty wallet. Wherever or however he got the money baffled Matthew. Edward had suffered a big loss at the tables just last week. How he’d managed to get the money to play tonight plagued Matthew.
If he left the table then he was out of the game but with nothing to bet what would the man pull out of his empty wallet. The guy didn’t work. From what Matthew learned the guy spent most of his time in the gambling places. When he did manage to win, he booked into a room with a woman for the night. None of the winnings ever went to his daughter.
Matthew was only present because of a call he’d received. He wanted to meet the father of the woman he wanted to fuck. All he felt at seeing him was pity. He felt pity for Clara for having such a poor role model in her life.
The hands he’d been dealt all night were pretty good. He wouldn’t lose too much but he wouldn’t win big either.
“Well, gentlemen, how about I raise the stakes? We’re all upstanding men.” Edward placed a photograph face side down on the table.
The sickening feeling in his gut intensified at the single image.
“What’s this, Baines? A photograph is not stakes, mate.”
“You can have her. I guarantee you she’ll help me out if necessary,” Edward said.
One of the men in the circle of players picked up the photograph then placed it down for all to see. Matthew saw that all the men recognized the woman. They’d all seen her plenty of times paying off his debt or doing something to help him. Clara Baines stared back at each of them. Matthew had seen her in the flesh. The picture didn’t do her justice. His dick went rock hard at her image alone. Her lips were fuller and redder in real life. Her skin looked pale in the picture almost like a ghost whereas Matthew had seen her blushes whenever he got near her.
No, the image really didn’t do her justice. The intent on her father’s face pissed him off. The bastard intended to use her as leverage in a fucking card game.
“Go on then, Baines. What are you saying?”
“She’s my stake. If I win the hand my daughter remains untouched by you guys. Whoever wins the hand gets her.”
The desire to slam his fist in the guy’s face grew with every passing minute. How dare he use Clara in such a way?
Matthew stared at the deck of cards with new urgency. This wasn’t about money anymore. Clara’s life hung in the balance. Staring around the table at the bastards leering at the photograph, Matthew had far more to fight for than a couple of hundred grand. The money on the table didn’t dent his fortune. Licking his lips he tapped the table.
How could he walk away? If he walked away Clara would be at the mercy of one of these men. The very thought made him sick to his stomach. Even as he stared around at the men waiting to see who would play and who’d walk away, Matthew felt disgusted with himself.
All of his years, he’d never known such hatred for another person than he did for himself. He should have taken Clara the moment the chance arose. Now, he was fighting for her like a dying man.
None of the men left the table. Clara became a worthwhile prize to keep on going. Her green eyes stared up at him. The pleading look he saw in them startled him. Did she always look like that?
Saving her wouldn’t solve his need. After tonight he’d make sure Edward never got a chance to hurt her again.
For the first time since he’d made his fortune, Matthew counted the cards. He liked to gamble for fun. Counting cards took all of the fun out of playing. He needed to concentrate if he held any chance of winning.
Three men growled and threw the cards on the table in annoyance. They all stayed to see who’d claim the main prize.
After twenty minutes of staring and contemplating, three men remained. Matthew, Edward and the casino owner stared at each other. The look of pure lust on the casino owner’s face startled him. He didn’t know why he was surprised. Clara made you feel special in the world. Her innocence called to his protective side.
Her father looked desperate.
Then the casino owner folded.
Matthew stared at the man opposite him.
“Do you love your daughter, Baines?” he asked.