A ruthless casino owner bent on revenge finds his plans upended by a beautiful woman who proves to be more determined than he is–and too irresistible to deny.
Powerful casino owner.
Destroyer of men.
He lives in the shadows . . .
As the owner of the city’s most exclusive casino, Clayton Madden holds the fortunes of prominent families in the palms of his hands every night. There is one particular family he burns to ruin, however, one that has escaped his grasp . . . until now.
She is society’s darling . . .
Florence Greene is no one’s fool. She knows Clayton Madden is using her to ruin her prestigious family . . . and she’s using him right back. She plans to learn all she can from the mysterious casino owner—then open a casino of her own just for women.
With revenge on his mind, Clay agrees to mentor Florence. However, she soon proves more adept—and more alluring—than Clay bargained for. When his plans are threatened, Clay must decide if he is willing to gamble his empire on love.
Coming December 30, 2019.
The Bronze House
Broadway and Thirty-Third Street, NYC
There was a special place in Hell for men who attempted to cheat at cards.
Clayton Madden stood in a back room inside his casino, scowling at the man kneeling on the carpet. Tears and snot leaked all over the man’s face, his pleas for mercy echoing off the bare plaster walls. The words meant nothing to Clay. Cornered rats always begged for their lives when trapped. He’d seen it time and time again.
Clay had a reputation as unfeeling, a cold monster. And it was absolutely true. He’d long turned hard in the face of this world’s cruelty, growing up poor in a city that worshipped money and prestige over kindness and faith. Where graft, bribery, and violence ruled. He’d learned…and thrived. Climbed up through the ranks of the criminal underworld until he’d accumulated enough power to wield it on his own behalf. Darkness had settled in his soul years before he’d opened the city’s poshest casino.
He loved the Bronze House. It was his pride and joy, the culmination of all his scraping and scrapping. The city’s richest and most privileged men came here nightly. Eager to wager large sums of money, which Clay was only too happy to pocket. Some men, however, thought they were smarter than Clay. That they could steal money from him and get away with it.
Clay hated those men worst of all.
They were dealt with swiftly, harshly. He let them live, of course—but just barely. Dead men could not spread tales to warn other potential cheaters that Madden’s casinos were off-limits. Not to mention killing men brought about questions Clay would rather not answer.
“P-Please, Mr. Madden.” The man was trembling, his voice cracking. “Please don’t hurt me. I won’t ever come back, I swear.”
Same song, different rat. Did he really believe Clay was stupid enough to let him walk out, unharmed?
Clay shook his head. “You’re right. You won’t ever come back, not when I’m through with you.”
Sweat coated the man’s brow, his eyes growing impossibly wide. “No, please. I have a family—”
“What would you like to do?”
Clay turned to the source of the question. His assistant and long-time friend, Bald Jack, waited in the shadows. Jack was a former pugilist and a crack shot. He was also loyal, intelligent, and good with people where Clay faltered. Clay trusted him with his life. “How much?” In Clay’s mind, everything was measured in terms of dollars and cents.
“One twenty before we stopped him.”
Not an exorbitant amount, but it was the point of the matter. “The usual, then.”
“You got it. Want to talk to him first?” The edge of Jack’s mouth kicked up as if he anticipated Clay’s answer.
“Yes, I do.” No cheater walked out of the Bronze House without a “talk” from Clay.
“Then, before you get blood on your suit, I should also tell you that she’s back.”
Clay’s spine straightened. Now Jack was telling him? Jesus. “How long?”
“Strolled in as we were bringing this piece of filth back here.”
Goddamn it. Why had she returned? He dragged a hand down his jaw. “Take care of this here,” he said and gestured to the man sobbing on his floor. “And don’t ruin my carpets.”
Jack jerked his chin toward the two staff members hovering nearby. “Take him to the meat shed,” he instructed the men. “I’ll deal with him in a moment.”
Clay left the room and hurried to the balcony, focused on her, already forgetting the past few minutes. All that mattered was getting to his gloomy perch. He had to see her for himself.
She shouldn’t be here. Her family was one of great wealth and privilege. Old money and small minds. The kind of people Clay exploited for his own gain. Her father was legendary, a bombastic blowhard who rolled over anyone who dared to get in his way—including less fortunate families trying to eke out a living downtown.
What would her father think about his middle daughter’s late-night visits to the Bronze House? Clay almost wished he could tell him merely to witness the reaction.
Hard to say why Clay allowed her entry. After all, the Bronze House had strict rules for gaining entrance. Men of a certain class congregated here, men with deep pockets and little sense. Women were forbidden, per his explicit order. He didn’t even permit prostitutes here, as many casinos did.
Yet she flouted his rules. On more than one occasion. Not only that, she walked out a winner. Every time.
He admired that about her. And so, he tolerated her presence.
It was irresponsible of him—and Clay was nothing if not responsible. He prided himself on the solid judgment that had saved his lifetime and time again in a city full of danger and retribution. Those sharp instincts had helped him rise to the top of New York’s underbelly, the places catering to the voracious appetite for vice. And his current instinct screamed for him to kick her out.
He took the stairs to the balcony two at a time, his shoes slapping on the old wood. She was becoming a problem, one he needed to solve. Her attendance was disruptive. Not in a loud, destructive way, but nearly every man in her vicinity would leer at her or angle somehow for her favor. It was disgusting. Worse, if the men were leering and angling then they weren’t gambling. Another reason why women had no business inside these walls.
He reached the balcony and paused to take in the sprawling casino floor. Ah, glorious. His kingdom. The place was flooded with men in dark suits, oiled hair gleaming in the gaslight while they spent money on frivolous games they had no hope of winning. The sight never ceased to please him.
Except, this evening, it didn’t. Because she was here.
He spotted her right away. The light glinted off her blond hair and creamy skin. Full red lips revealed white teeth when she smiled or laughed, which was often. She was a lone beautiful flower in a field of dirt and sticks. Why in hell was she here, at his casino? What was her end game?
A nearby door closed and the soft thud of footsteps approached. Clay didn’t bother turning. Only one person dared to come up here.
“She’s alone again tonight,” Jack said. “Want me to show her out?”
“No,” he answered quickly. Too quickly.
Jack chuckled. “I see.”
Clay shot a menacing look over his shoulder. “Shouldn’t you be dealing with our other problem?”
“The boys’ll handle him, don’t worry. I thought you might need help with her.”
“I don’t need help. I need her to stop distracting my patrons. They’re ogling her instead of losing money.”
Jack eased toward the railing and peered down. “Can’t blame them. She’s a pretty one.”
Pretty? No. “Pretty” was too tame a word to describe her. Too superficial. Birds were pretty. A shiny gold piece, the sky at dusk. A royal flush. Those things were pretty.
She was radiant. A feast for the eyes. With a gaze that sparkled with mischief. A sly smile with hidden secrets. She was sunshine in a stormy sky. Warmth and light in the midst of the very worst element. Namely, him.
“I can blame them,” Clay growled. “It’s as if they haven’t seen a woman before. She’s nothing special.”
Jack remained quiet, the word liar hanging between them in the shadows. Lucky for him, Jack didn’t bother to say it aloud. Instead, his friend said, “Do you plan to stand up here and loom over her all night like a specter? Or, should I bring her to your office?”
“And why would I meet with her?”
“To find out why she keeps comin’ back.”
“I assume it’s because she continues to win. Have we spoken to the staff? I want her to lose money, not gain it.”
“What happened to ‘the house has no need to cheat because the house always wins in the end’?”
“The house is clearly failing when it comes to her.”
Jack paused. “I’ll speak to them.”
“I suppose that means you’ll continue to admit her.”
“I haven’t decided.” It was untrue and they both knew it. She had intrigued him . . . and he was not a man easily intrigued.
You’re acting like a fool. Just tell her not to come back.
Not yet. He needed insight into her actions. This was her third night visiting the Bronze House in ten days, and the house’s take on those three evenings had dipped significantly. How long could this go on before her presence ruined his business?
Jack was right. It was past time to find out what she was up to. “Fine, bring her to my office.”
“Finally,” Jack said. “Now maybe you’ll stop making everyone miserable around here.”
“I’m the owner,” he snarled. “Anyone who is unhappy with me may find employment elsewhere—and that goes for my second in command as well.”
Not bothering to smother his laugh, Jack walked away. The sound grated over Clay’s nerves but, instead of lashing out, he kept his gaze trained on the woman below. He’d noticed she liked roulette and mostly bet on red. Funny color, red. Brought to mind hearts and flowers, flesh and blood. He preferred black, like mud and coal. Rot and ruin. Like the stain on his soul.
Had she any idea of his history with her father?
He doubted it. If she had, she’d stay very far from the likes of Clayton Madden.
The crowd soon parted to make way for Jack’s hulking form. She looked up from her chips, a flash of annoyance on her face before she masked it with politeness. Jack said a few words and, without missing a beat, her head swung toward the balcony, eyes locking with Clay’s. He sucked in a breath, the impact of her greenish-brown irises like a blow. A ridiculous reaction, he chided himself. She couldn’t see him, not from this position in the shadows.
Even still, he took a step back then turned on his heel.
He gave himself a mental shake. He would not be cowed by her. No one, man or woman, had ever gained the upper hand with Clay. A beautiful uptown debutante certainly wouldn’t be the first to succeed.
It was past time to put Florence Greene in her place.