“Let’s play a game, Ace. After all, you’re good at games, aren’t you.” It’s not a question. “I mean, that is what got you here in the first place, isn’t it?”
Our gazes are still locked together as I search for a proper response. Part of me wonders what would happen if I refused, but the other part is dying from curiosity.
He must see the moment I decide I’m willing to play, because his wicked mouth tugs into a knowing grin. The mysterious man in front of me has piqued my curiosity. He’s like a puzzle I’m dying to put together, and his smile is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Perfect,” he mutters under his breath before saying more loudly, “You seem as curious about me as I am about you, so let’s make it interesting. You can ask me anything, and I promise to answer. The trick is, I’m allowed to lie if I choose to do so.”
With a question on the tip of my tongue, my brows pinch together, and he calls me out on it. “What’s your question, Ace?”
I don’t like how easily he can read me, but I ask it anyway. “What’s the point in playing a game where you don’t need to tell the truth?”
The sound of his masculine laugh has a weird way of making my heart pick up a notch and I push away the butterflies that swarm my insides when I realize I might like the sound.
Focus, Ace! I yell at myself.
Inching closer, he answers, “What’s the point of poker without a solid bluff? And you didn’t let me finish. The object of the game is to see how well you can read me. If you call me out for lying, then I have another chance to tell you the truth. But,” —he lifts his finger— “if you accuse me of lying when I’m telling the truth, then you aren’t allowed to ask me any more questions. Understand?”
“Perfect. We each get to take turns asking each other questions until we both lose, or I decide I’m done playing.”
Sensing my agitation, he gently lifts my chin with his forefinger, making me look up at him. “My game. My rules, sweetheart.”
My teeth dig into my lower lip as I watch him get distracted by the throbbing bruise on my cheekbone. Clenching his jaw, he softly drags his fingers down my sensitive skin making my eyelids flutter for a split second. “Does it hurt?”
“Is that your question?” I bite out.
With a smoldering look, he volleys, “I suppose it is.”
His mesmerizing green eyes flare with amusement before shifting back to my swollen cheek. “Lie,” he murmurs. “Give me the truth.”
“Why would you ask a question when you already know the answer? Of course it hurts. I just got backhanded by a damn gorilla. What’s your name?”
Searching his face, I mutter, “Truth.” Calling it like it is.
He nods his approval before taking his turn. “How long have you been counting cards?”
“And recreationally,” he clarifies.
I grit my teeth. “As soon as I could afford a fake I.D.”
“Six years. Why did you bring me down here? This isn’t exactly normal behavior for a casino.” I leave out even for one run by the mob.
He drops his hand from my face to his side but doesn’t step back. “Maybe this is normal casino behavior for The Charlette.”
“Lie.” My voice is absolute, brooking no argument.
Kingston grins before adding, “I’ve been looking for someone to help me with something, and you fit the bill.”
“And what bill is that?”
Tapping his tongue against the roof of his mouth, he tsks me. “Uh-uh, sweetheart. My turn. How often do you count at other casinos?”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Depends on how badly I need money.”
He tilts his head as he inspects me, making me feel like I’m beneath a microscope with its intensity. “Half-lie. You like counting. You might play more often when you’re needing a little extra cash, but there’s more to it than that. You like taking the power from the casino who swindles innocent gamblers on a daily basis, am I right?”
“Not your turn, sweetheart,” I mimic his condescending tone from moments before.
With a laugh, he lifts his hand to silently offer me the floor. “My apologies.”
I circle back to my question from a second ago. “What makes me a good candidate for whatever you’re needing?”
Scrutinizing me, he answers, “You’re a pretty little advantage player, did you know that?”
What the hell? First, he used the term advantage player, which refers to a person who uses legal methods to gain an advantage while gambling, such as counting cards, but it can also be attributed to poker. No one knows I play poker. No one.
And second, he called me pretty. The word does weird things to my insides, making them turn to Jell-O in the blink of an eye. Subtly, I shake my head once in an attempt to focus and zero in on his face. His mouth. His eyes. His chiseled jaw. I’m looking for a twitch. An itch. A flicker of something that tells me he’s lying.
“That’s a non-answer,” I accuse.
He furrows his brows. “Excuse me?”
“It isn’t exactly a lie, but it isn’t really the answer to my question. You’re not playing by the rules, Kingston.”
Throwing his head back, he laughs. Hard. Apparently, Kingston must find me pretty amusing because for a guy so cold, he does that a lot around me. “I like playing this game with you. Fine. I’m needing someone to be a set of eyes and ears for me. Someone who can go where I can’t. Someone who can fly under the radar.” He motions to me with his hand. “You fit the bill. Why do you like sticking it to the casinos so much?”
An image of my mom flashes before my eyes. “I won’t answer that. Pick another question.”