Tied to the Tycoon

By: Chloe Cox

Jackson Reed.

The man she’d been trying not to think about all night.

Of course, the first memories that came crashing through all of Ava’s heavily fortified defenses were the ones she’d tried hardest to forget: one incredible night together, after a long, simmering friendship, the first time she’d felt as though she didn’t have to be this carefully constructed new persona, when she’d felt as though she could just be herself without danger of being swallowed up or crushed, abused or forgotten, one night when she’d confessed her fantasies to Jackson and watched him react with horror and shame, and the way he hadn’t wanted to look at her…

That Jackson Reed, apparently now a member of Club Volare, was sitting in front of her, telling her she’d bet herself. Wanting a chance to win her for a week. Wanting a chance to do anything he wanted with her. Her brain almost couldn’t process it. And it was only because her brain couldn’t make sense of it that she said what she did. Obviously it wasn’t her brain doing the talking.

“I accept,” she said, and reached for the cards.

They definitely weren’t poker cards.

“Do you know how to play baccarat?” he asked, moving his chair to the side so she could finally see his face. He did look different. More confident, assured. He was still strikingly good looking, still chiseled from granite or whatever it was they said about men like him, still with that Greek god athleticism that had won him a football scholarship, but he no longer tried to hide it beneath scruffy hair and a slouched posture, like he had in college. He no longer tried to be anything. He simply was.

Wait. Baccarat?

“No.” She tried hard not to sound foolish as she said it.

“You thought it was poker, didn’t you?”

“Shut up.”

He flashed her that grin that she’d always loved. Truthfully, she still loved it, even now.

“Then you’re just going to have to trust me, aren’t you?”

She swallowed. It was hard to look at him. It made her feel too many things all at once. She wasn’t used to feeling so much; she’d worked hard to avoid having to do so. Jackson Reed—of all people—should see that.

“I guess so.”

“Flip over your cards.”

She did. She saw that he did, too. She had no idea what any of it meant.

“Now what?” she asked.

“Now,” he said, that light drawl coming back into his voice, “now you’re mine.”

She felt her eyelids flutter. She had to look at him now. “That’s it?”

“That’s it. My cards total eight. You lost. You’re mine.”

Ava shook her head slowly. This was all so fast, an insane confluence of events, of feelings, of memories. It was almost more likely that it was a hallucination than that it was actually happening.

He reached across the table, this time letting his savage, handsome face fall fully into the lantern light, and grabbed her hand again. His thumb caressed her skin, his fingers dug into her flesh.

“I intend to collect, Ava,” he said, his grey eyes seeming to glow from within. “Starting now.”

For a second, Ava felt herself melting toward him, into the desire she felt flowing around her, into the burning touch on her hand. She might have lost herself completely, simply fallen into an uncharted abyss, except that that moment of falling, of suspension, terrified her so much that it jolted her back to reality. She snatched her hand back and fled the room.

chapter 2

Jackson watched Ava run through the glittering ballroom of Club Volare like a scared rabbit and was filled not with panic or worry, but with a sense of the inevitable. Of course she’d run. Just like she had years ago, when he’d woken up to find her gone. Not just gone from his bed, but gone. She’d moved out of her dorm room for the final weeks before graduation, hadn’t answered her phone by the time he got the courage to call, hadn’t even walked in the ceremony. Maybe he’d waited too long to reach out to her, but she’d made it impossible when he finally did.

And now she was running from him again. No, he thought, rising from his seat with slow deliberation, not again. He would not let her run away again.

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