Ally wonders why she is still in Las Vegas. It is time to leave. She vows to leave right after the Global Poker Challenge. She will make this the last tournament she will ever deal in Las Vegas. But then, she never counted on seeing Ben again, let alone Ben making the final table of the poker tournament. Ben Taylor - handsome, charming and one of the best players on the strip, and Ally's ex-lover. Ally hasn't seen Ben for several years, until now, when she is set to leave. Damn him, why now. Throughout the week, as the tournament unfolds, Ben plays his way back into Ally's life. Ben wants nothing more than to rekindle the flames of their last love. Ally wants nothing more than to leave the Las Vegas strip - and Ben - behind. Too much has happened to go back to all that. Will ally finally leave Las Vegas for good, or will Ben win the big prize after all - Ally.
Publisher's Note: This book contains graphic scenes sexual in nature.
‘You look amazing.’
Ben was standing in front of Ally, his eyes taking all of her in. Ally didn’t know what to wear to a wake, debating her outfit for days. She knew that black was appropriate, eventually settling on a little black cocktail, no nylons (way too hot for that) and black Jimmy Choo pumps. Her blond shoulder length hair glistened against the blackness of the dress, the paleness of her skin made even paler in contrast. Ben was equally handsome in his black suit and crisp white shirt, his mop of hair a managed mess as always. He continued to stand, beaming in front of her, not able to take his eyes off of her.
‘Aren’t you supposed to be sad,’ she asked. Ben definitely did not look sad, smiling at her like he was.
‘How can I be sad in your presence?’ Ben stepped into her, pulling her closer. ‘And in that dress, with that face, who could be sad looking at you?’
‘But this is your uncle’s wake.’
‘Yes,’ said Ben, ‘a wake. A celebration of life. The time for mourning has passed, now we celebrate.’
Ben slipped his hand around Ally’s tiny waist and steered her forward into the room. As he did so, he leaned in, and Ally felt Ben’s warm breath on her neck, causing her to shiver.
‘Are you cold?’ asked Ben.
‘No,’ whispered Ally, ‘just in love.’
Ben’s lips gently brushed Ally’s cheek. He had a way of doing this that drove Ally crazy. It wasn’t a kiss as much as it was a caress with his lips. Ally closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation. She wanted to turn and kiss Ben, but thought better of it, knowing where it would lead.
‘Do you remember these?’ Ben pulled out two identical woven bracelets. He kept one for himself, while reaching the other one towards Ally. Ally moved out of the chair to sit beside Ben on the couch. She took the bracelet he was offering her.
‘That was a long drive to Caliente,’ he remembered.
‘Hot,’ she said, giggling at the pun they used to share about the drive that day.
‘You made me buy you something for dragging you so far in that heat.’
‘I wanted jewelry.’
‘I got you jewelry. Isn’t this a bracelet after all?’ Ally made the face she made on that day as well, sarcastic and amused.
‘May I?’ Ben was offering to tie the bracelet around her wrist. Ally stretched out her arm, and Ben looped the bracelet around her wrist. In doing so, his fingers ever so gently tickled Ally’s arm. She shivered as it caused a chill to run up her.
‘There,’ Ben said, finishing off the knot. Ally thrust her arm in front of herself, looking at the bracelet as if she were appraising fine jewelry.
‘As beautiful today as the day you gave it to me,’ she said.
‘I was thinking the same thing,’ said Ben. ‘You are as beautiful today as you were then.’ He was looking at Ally and not the bracelet.
Ally dropped her arm back down by her side. She didn’t know what to say. More to the point, she felt the same way about Ben at this moment. He was just attractive to her now as he was then.
‘Ben,’ was all that she could voice.
‘Ally,’ Ben slid closer to her on the couch. ‘Ever since I saw you a few days ago, you’re all that I can think about. I go to sleep at night thinking about you. I dream about you. I wake up in the morning thinking about you. All I do is think about you…and regret the day I lost you.’
Ally put her hand on Ben’s knee. His knee was warm, it felt good. Her hand felt like it belonged there. ‘Ben,’ she hesitated. ‘Ben, I have missed you so much.’ There it was. Ally sank her head into Ben’s chest, finally admitting to Ben what she would not admit to herself. Ben’s absence left a bigger hole in her life than she cared to admit. She stayed on in Las Vegas in hope of seeing him again, now he was back. Could she live a life with him again?
Ben raised his hand, running his fingers through her hair. She sank deeper into him, the warmth of his firm chest, and his gentle touch on her head. All this brought back so many memories, so many emotions. Ben placed his hand under her chin, bringing her face up to his.
He kissed her. She kissed him.
‘Ally,’ Ben said.
He reached up his other hand, gently cradling her face in both his hands. He placed his forehead against hers, holding it there. His eyes were shut, and Ally could swear a tear - a tear of joy? - trickled down Ben’s left cheek. Ally’s eyes were open, and she looked at Ben’s face, so close to hers, the face of love. In that moment, she realized how deeply Ben loved her. Did she, could she love him just as deeply? Maybe, she thought, maybe. She tried to surrender to his level of love, but she could not. She feared that Ben’s love for her ran so much deeper than her love for him.
Another thought crept into her mind, the image of Ben wrapped in another deep emotion, the image of Ben shivering as she held him. Ally returned to the night that she broke Ben’s heart, telling him she was leaving. She couldn’t do this again, she couldn’t let him love her again only to risk hurting him like she did once before. She couldn’t do it, she wouldn’t do it.
‘Ben.’ Ally sat back, sliding her face out from between his hands. ‘Ben, I can’t.’ Ally couldn’t look at him as she said these words. She looked down at her hands in her lap, sliding backwards and sideways on the couch. Ben lowered his hands to his side, sliding towards her, trying to close the distance she had opened up between them.
‘Ally,’ he was reaching for her. She was retreating.
‘I can’t,’ she said, rising from the couch and moving back to the chair. Ben slid down the length of the couch as far as he could go, trying to stay physically close to her.
‘You can’t what?’ he asked, beseechingly.
‘I can’t do this.” Ally stood up, looking one way then the other, confused as to where she should go. Finally she moved back towards the window, staring out at nothing, just staring out. Ben came up behind her, and she saw his reflection in the window over her shoulder. Ben reached for her, placing his hands on both of her shoulders. Ally shrugged them off, and he dropped his hands back to his side. He remained standing behind her.
‘Yes, you can,’ Ben said. ‘Yes, we can.’
Ally turned around, looking into his face. The smile was gone from his eyes, from his lips. His whole body had withered and he looked so small, hurt and vulnerable.
‘Ben let’s be realistic. We probably could do this, for a little while. I could love you again…damn, I think I already do, but then what happens? What happens the next time you go away for a week, a month at a time because you’re in a tournament, or you’re chasing a lucky streak? How many nights do I sit at home along, loving you, waiting for you?’
‘No,’ Ben interjected. ‘No, it won’t be that way.’
‘Yes, yes it will be that way. You’re a poker player now, deep into it. Look around you, a suite at the Wynn, a shiny red sports car, the clothes, the toys…
‘No.’ it was a weak plea from Ben.
Ben and Ally stood silently looking at each other. Ally turned her back to him, looking out the window again. She noticed that the fountain at the Bellagio was erupting in synch with the music playing on the Strip.
‘Tell me that you’re not a poker player?’ Ally challenged.
Ben ignored the question. ‘Ally, I need you with me. I love you. I’ve just found you again. I’m lost without you. This isn’t happening, how can you come back one day and then be gone the next? You can’t tell me that you didn’t feel something a moment ago, when we kissed.”
Ally looked silently at Ben. She was afraid to answer, afraid she wouldn’t be able to lie, to tell Ben that she didn’t feel anything when really, she did.
‘I’m not going to let this happen’, Ben continued. ‘I’m not going to go away again that easily. You just can’t decide what is and is not. I have a say in this too.’ Ben paused to catch his breath. ‘Nothing makes sense without you.’
‘This doesn’t make sense either.’ Ally turned around and walked over to the coffee table, picking up her purse. ‘Or maybe it does. I just don’t know anymore.’
‘What do you mean,’ asked Ben, confused.
‘You know how the saying goes. Unlucky in love, lucky in cards. You’re winning the tournament, now go out there and finish it off.’
Ally looped her purse over her shoulder and moved to the door. ‘Besides,’ she says, ‘I’m leaving Vegas at the end of the week anyway. It’s too late.’
Ben stepped towards her but stopped half-way. ‘I don’t buy that.’ He seemed to have rallied, to have found a resolve that wasn’t there moments ago. ‘You can have it both ways…love and luck. You make your own luck.’
‘Goodbye Ben.’ Ally withered slightly in the face of Ben’s new resolve, but she reminded herself that she didn’t want to hurt him anymore, so she carried on. ‘Thanks for the jewelry,’ she flashed the bracelet. ‘Good luck tomorrow.’
Ally let herself out, the heavy hotel door slamming behind her. She stood in the hallway for a long while, although why she did this she did not know. Did she want Ben to come after her? That made no sense, not after the drama her departure certainly caused. None the less, she stood there.
Ben watched as Ally left. He stood with his back to the window, momentarily stunned. What had just happened? One moment he’s on the couch, strolling down memory lane with Ally, her face in his hands and his kiss on her lips. The next moment he’s standing in the middle of his living room, emotionally naked and alone. He remained standing there a short while before moving over to the front door of the suite.
Ben looked out the peep hole to see Ally still standing in the hallway, her back to the door. What should he do? Why was she still standing there? Should he open the door and pull her back in, grab her in his arm and kiss her again, convince her to stay?
Just as Ben decided to open the door, Ally took a quick look over her shoulder and then moved down the hallway towards the elevator. From inside his suite, Ben watched her move out of sight before stepping away from the door and moving towards his liquor cabinet.