The game, p.1
The Game, p.1AJ Carella
Copyright © 2013
Table of Contents
Prologue - 1999
To Kill For – sneak preview!
Prologue - 1999
"Will you stop that racket!" For God’s sake, it was always about her, wasn’t it? Never mind that she wasn’t the one in trouble. She wasn’t the one that owed thousands of dollars to the wrong kind of people. No, all she was worried about was how it would affect her, standing there crying. Me, me, me!
Opening the wardrobe door, she grabbed a handful of clothes and stuffed them into the small suitcase. To be honest, she would be glad to see her go, although she had had her uses. Without her, it was certainly going to be much harder to find the money to gamble with, but she’d think of something. Besides, she’d didn’t have much choice. If she didn’t settle the debt, she’d be lucky if she came out alive.
"Pull yourself together. They’ll be here in a minute, and if you look like that when they get here, they may change their minds. You are not messing this up for me, you hear me?"
The knock on the front door made them both jump. "That’s them. Come on." Grabbing the suitcase, Dawn marched out of the bedroom and to the front door. When she opened it, the frame seemed to be completely filled by the man standing there.
“Hello, Dawn.” Swallowing the massive lump that suddenly appeared in her throat, she handed him the bag. “She’s coming. This means we’re even, right?”
The man looked at her in disgust. “Yes. We’re all even.”
Looking past her into the shabby apartment, his eyes gleamed as he saw what he had come for. The girl stood with her head bowed, her shoulders shaking.
“Look at me,” he ordered. The girl looked up, and despite the fact that she had been crying, he was still startled by her beauty. The almond-shaped eyes were an emerald green that he had never seen before and, coupled with her high cheekbones and perfectly shaped mouth, she was stunning. Her raven black hair hung long and straight down to her waist. Dawn took her by the arm, propelling her toward the man.
“Mom, no!” The strangled cry came out a sob, but it made no difference. Dawn had felt nothing for this child when she had given birth to her nearly thirteen years ago, and she still didn’t. She’d only kept her around this long because it suited her. Very early on, she’d realized how useful she could be.
The first time she’d used her to settle a debt, she’d been eight years old. All the man had asked for was an hour alone with the girl in her bedroom, and the slate would be wiped clean. She’d have to learn the way of the world sooner or later, and that’s exactly what she’d told her when, an hour later, she’d come crying to her.
Since then, she’d been a useful source of income, but despite the number of men who came through the door, she’d still been unable to keep up with her gambling habit. She’d gotten further and further into debt, and now she’d been given a choice: take what was coming to her or pay up.
Tara was the only thing of any value she had. After Sergei had come to look her over, he’d agreed to take her in full settlement, on the understanding that she was never to gamble with them again and never try to make contact with her daughter. That was fine with her. There were plenty of other places that would take her money, and the only thing she would miss about Tara was the money she brought in. Handing the suitcase to Sergei, Dawn closed the front door, without a word to her only child.
She let herself in to her apartment in London’s West End with a sigh. It was always nice to come home after a long trip and she loved her apartment. The rooms were bright and airy, with the high ceilings common in older buildings. Completely and beautifully renovated, it had a traditional, yet modern, feel. Though it did not belong to her, she had had a big say in how it was decorated and furnished. A “perk” of the job, she thought wryly as she wheeled her suitcase into her bedroom. Placing it on the bed, she immediately started to unpack. Most of her clothes were very high end and expensive. They would not tolerate being left crumpled up in a suitcase.
The trip back this time had been a long one, all the way from Dubai, but traveling first class had made it more bearable. Opening the mirrored doors on her wardrobe, she meticulously started putting her clothes away. She didn’t have much to call her own, but these few things were hers, and hers alone, and they meant a lot to her. When she’d put the last pair of shoes in their place, she went into the adjoining bathroom and ran herself a bath. Peeling off her dirty clothes and putting them in the hamper, she slid into the hot, steaming water. Sinking into the bubbles, she closed her eyes and rested her head. Feeling the tension start to leave her shoulders, she let out the breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding.
Her thoughts inevitably wandered to the events of the last few weeks. The winner hadn’t been too bad this time, a millionaire British expat. One of the nicer winners, in fact. He hadn’t expected her to do anything too weird, and had been quite respectful, in his own way. The older ones usually were. She’d been wined and dined and treated very well, and the night before she left, he had even given her a beautiful pair of diamond earrings. It had been a nice change. Even so, she’d been glad when the month ran out and she’d been able to board the flight home.
She’d lasted until she was nineteen with Sergei. She’d been too old for him by the time she’d been sixteen, really, but he seemed to have a bit of a soft spot for her and had kept her to himself long after he’d lost interest. Sergei didn’t go in for sentimentality much, though, and by the time she turned nineteen, he had realized that he was losing good money by keeping her talents to himself and had put her to work.
Sergei owned and operated one of the biggest underground gambling networks in the world. Since she had been with him he had, through a combination of business sense and old-fashioned thievery, gone from fairly small time to now only catering to the very wealthy. Along with some legitimate casinos, he ran an underground network where the prizes were more exclusive. There were about a dozen of these special prizes, and she was one of them.
He had set her up in this apartment and paid all her expenses, but she had no income of her own. He kept all the money the players paid to join the tournaments, but any gifts she received, like the di
Realizing she was in danger of falling asleep, Tara got out of the bath and slipped into her robe. Padding to the kitchen, she made herself a light snack and curled up on the sofa. She was looking forward to a quiet evening with nothing to do and no one to entertain.
His boss was a prick, pure and simple. He’d spent the morning taking another hooker to the emergency room and throwing enough money at her to make sure she wouldn’t go to the police. There had been a time when he wouldn’t have dreamed of working for someone like Luccio, would, in fact, have done everything in his power to make sure that he got what was coming to him, but that time had long since passed.
These days, he felt little, if anything at all. It was as if the part of him that had once made him feel everything passionately had been switched off. He still knew the difference between right and wrong; he simply didn’t care anymore. All he cared about these days was his paycheck. The guy may be a prick, but he paid well.
Happy that he’d done his job and the situation with the girl was handled, he headed back to the house. At this time of day, it took him nearly an hour to get across town and up into the hills outside Los Angeles.
His boss ran a very successful clothing import and export business, but it wasn’t the clothing that had made him wealthy. It was the undeclared goods that came and went with them.
As Kyle drove through the electronic gates and up the sweeping drive to the front of the house, he couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to have so much money. It had never been that important to him before, back when he was happy, but that was then.
Looking up at the massive house in front of him, he paused, taking in the pillared front entrance and the floor-to-ceiling windows on either side. It struck him how much Lori would have loved this place. They had always talked about having a house like this if they won the lottery. Reining in thoughts of Lori, he mentally shook it off and strode purposefully through the front door. There was no point in dwelling on the past.
He found Luccio having lunch by the freeform pool at the back of the house. Kyle pulled up a chair, sitting down across from him.
“All done?” his boss asked, not lifting his head.
“Yeah. She won’t say a word.”
Luccio grunted his approval as he dug into his lunch.
“She’ll be fine, by the way.” Maybe it was the fact that he had shown no interest in the girl’s welfare that prompted him, but the words had slipped out of his mouth before he had the chance to stop them.
His boss stilled momentarily, and then wiped his mouth with a napkin before raising his eyes to look at Kyle.
“Is that right? You got a soft spot for that whore, have you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then remember this. If I want your fucking opinion, I’ll ask for it. I paid that bitch and she took my money. In my book, that means I do what I fucking want with her. Understand me?”
“Good, and don’t ever fucking forget it. Now, get out of my sight. You’re spoiling my lunch.”
Kyle got up from the table and headed back to his own quarters. It wasn’t until he reached for the door to the guest house that he realized that his fists were clenched. Needing to let off some steam, he walked through to his bedroom and got changed into his gym shorts and a t-shirt. He had fitted out the guest bedroom with his punching bag and weights and now, after slipping on his boxing gloves, he started to warm up with some gentle punches.
As he warmed up, his punches landed harder and faster, and he started to work up a sweat. He needed to remind himself why he needed this job. After Lori died, he had lost everything. His friends on the LAPD, where he’d been a narcotics detective, had tried to help him get through it, but as time had passed and the LAPD had been no closer to finding her killer, he had started spinning out of control and drinking heavily. It was following a heavy drinking session that he had marched into the homicide division and put the detective investigating her case through a plate glass window. After that, there was no going back, and he had had to hand in his badge and his gun.
If he had stopped there, he may have been okay, but he had sold his house and plowed all the money into private detectives in the hope that they would do what the LAPD hadn’t been able to. In the end, he’d been left with no job, no house, no money and he was still no closer to finding Lori’s killer. And his heart was still broken.
This is how he had come to work for Luccio Marciano. Their paths had crossed professionally, and when he’d heard what had happened to him, he’d offered him the job here as head of security. He wasn’t in a position to say no. The pay was much more than he would get doing anything else, and it came with a guest house on the grounds of the main house.
Kyle stopped, taking off the boxing gloves. He bent over and rested his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. He felt better. Calmer. Wiping the sweat from his face with a towel, he stripped off his clothes and showered. Looking at himself in the mirror as he dried off, he was quite pleased. Not bad for a 36-year-old, he thought. His 6’1” frame was solid, with not an ounce of spare flesh. His shoulders were wide, well-muscled and tapered into a trim waist and a flat stomach, boasting an impressive six pack. He had his Italian ancestors to thank for the olive skin, which emphasized his electric blue eyes. Women found him attractive, he knew. There had been no shortage of sex since Lori died, but afterward, he always saw her in his mind. The guilt he felt always meant that, for days afterward, he felt nothing but shame.
He was just buttoning a clean shirt when his phone rang, and Luccio instructed him to come to his office. Tucking the shirt into his pants, he headed over to the main house. Luccio’s office was on the ground floor, toward the back of the house, and while the theme everywhere else was minimalistic, a style he disliked, the office was very much English gentleman.
The walls were covered floor-to-ceiling in bookshelves, crammed with books Kyle doubted very much his boss had ever read. There was heavy, dark green carpeting on the floor and the walls were painted in a deep red. The desk, behind which Luccio now sat, was a large, polished oak one with a green leather inlaid top. On it was a gold envelope, the contents of which Luccio appeared to be reading. Pointing to the chair on the other side of the desk, Luccio invited him to sit.
“Look at this,” he said, handing the sheet of paper over.
Taking it, Kyle read out loud. “You are invited to participate in The Game, which this month will be held in Los Angeles, USA.” He looked up at Luccio curiously.
“Never heard of it.’”
Luccio was smiling broadly, an uncommon and slightly creepy sight.
“That’s because it’s all very secretive. It’s not advertised anywhere, and attendance is by invitation only.”
“What is it then?”
“It’s a poker game.”
Kyle felt slightly disappointed. A poker game? They weren’t exactly unheard of.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. What’s so special about a poker game?”
“There’s nothing at all special about a poker game. It’s the prize that’s unusual.”
Kyle was getting slightly exasperated now, and wished he would just get to the point. Knowing that Luccio was enjoying this, he played along.
“Okay, so what’s so unusual about the prize?”
“It’s a woman. The winner gets to have the use of one of the Group‘s top prostitutes for a month.” This was delivered with a flourish.
Kyle was shocked. Okay, dealing with prostitutes that were picked up on the street was one thing, but this? He’d never heard of anything quite like it.
“And I’m going to win,” Luccio said, his smile not making it all the way to his eyes. Kyle couldn’t help but hope that he didn’t, for the poor girl’s sake.
“But, boss, you can get
“These aren’t your average hookers, Kyle. These girls are some of the most beautiful girls in the world, and they are only allowed to entertain the winners of The Game. No one else.”
“So if you win, you get to keep the pot and the girl? What do they get out of it?” Kyle was confused. It didn’t sound like a great business strategy to him.
Luccio shook his head.
“No, these people aren’t stupid. Every player has to put up 100k just to get in the game. The winner gets his stake back plus the girl, but everything else goes to the group.”
Kyle’s head was reeling. Was his boss really willing to risk 100k just for a chance to win one of these girls? He’d clearly taken leave of his senses, but when it came to his boss, he had long since given up trying to understand him.
“So, what are you going to do?” he asked.
“Play the Game, of course.” Of course.
The phone rang, waking her, and for a brief moment she couldn’t remember where she was. Then she remembered that she was back home in her apartment in London. Smiling to herself, she lay there a while longer and planned her day of shopping in the West End. She was looking forward to a nice bit of retail therapy followed by an expensive lunch somewhere nice. Though how she earned her money wouldn’t have been many people’s choice, Sergei was not stingy with the expense account. This meant that she was able to buy herself a few luxuries and the gorgeous clothes she needed for work. She couldn’t be in her line of work wearing cheap clothes, could she? Although she had put aside quite a substantial sum over the years, she never dipped into her nest egg. She didn’t plan on doing this forever, and she needed an exit strategy for when the time came. And the means to fund it.
She rarely thought about that first year after she had been given to the Group by her mother. That was the old Tara, the one who let her feelings show, the one who still believed in right and wrong and that everything had a happy ending. She had learned very quickly that she was wrong. Happy endings were for other people. She’d had a choice: accept it, or fight it and inevitably lose, so she’d built a wall around her feelings. These days, she was rarely bothered by them.
The Game by AJ Carella / Actions & Adventure / Romance & Love have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on37 votes