They walked into the anteroom.

A door on one far wall opened into a nice-sized dining area. Inside was a large glass and chrome table that matched the modern décor in the prince’s of ce area. A wet bar was tucked into an alcove while a wall of windows on the opposite side again provided splendid views of the city and the Atlantic. The table had been set for eight, making Kathleen wonder who else would be joining them besides Ivanov’s sister. As if on cue, Ivanov’s assistant, Tabitha, came to the door and announced the arrival of the prince’s guests. Ivanov smiled in greeting. The action transformed his face. Gone were the taciturn and stern features as two couples entered, one young and one middle-aged. He walked over and greeted them and then turned to face her and Jim. “This is Jim Reynolds, my head of security and Ms. Kathleen Martinez, a new hire for our security staff. You’ll see Jim showing her around so she can get a feel for the place,” he said, and then continued. “Kathleen, we have a tradition here of honoring exceptional service from our Russian Nights staff every Friday night. Mary is in housekeeping, and this is her ancé Robert. Edgar is one of our croupiers. Melinda is his wife.” Kathleen shook hands with each of them, while Ivanov stepped back for a moment and shot an anxious glance at his watch. She supposed his mood had to do with his yet-to-arrive sister, but it was just seven. No need for worry, unless there was something he had yet to share with her. As she nished introducing herself, Ivanov swept his hand in the direction of the wet bar where someone from the wait staff had discreetly stepped in. “Please let Bill know what you would like to drink. We’ll have some appetizers while we wait for the rest of our guests to arrive.” A perfectly gracious host, but Kathleen detected the traces of

concern in his tone and wondered if it was somehow connected to the investigation, his sister, or both. As his staff served them drinks, he chatted with his guests, but continued to glance occasionally at his watch. With each second that passed, his expression grew more worried, until from out in the hall came the muted sound of hurried footsteps. A young woman ew through the door just a moment later. Her hair was slightly mussed, the wavy ebony strands ying loose around a very feminine face which bore an undeniable resemblance to the prince’s. The same determined chin and sharp slash of a nose. Crystalline blue eyes a shade lighter than her brother’s, but with the identical intriguing shape. “My sister, Princess Tatiana.” Ivanov sauntered over to his sister and plucked her knapsack off her shoulder with obvious disdain. He handed it off to another staff member who had trailed the princess into the room. “So nice of you to dress for dinner,” he added as he skimmed his gaze over his sister’s jeans, polo shirt, and zip-up hoodie. He raised his hand and straightened a few yaway hair strands into some semblance of order, but the gesture leaned toward indulgence rather than annoyance, Kathleen noted. “We can’t all have our majordomo dress us in a designer suit each morning,” she replied, but with a hint of teasing which, to Kathleen’s surprise, dragged a chuckle and a broad smile from her brother. The earlier unease she had sensed in the prince had diminished, but he still had some lingering worries. He slipped his arm around his sister’s shoulders and with a playful shake, he said, “We’re glad you’re here so we can nally be seated for dinner.” The others in the room quickly took spots at the table, leaving the head and foot for the prince and princess, and providing Kathleen with no other choice but to sit to the immediate right of Ivanov.

He held out her chair, ever the perfect gentleman. Being so close to him, it was impossible not to smell his scent. A decidedly masculine and woodsy aroma teased her nostrils before he slipped into his own seat. As soon as he was in his place, his staff went to work, executing an obviously well-orchestrated plan as they served the meal. Every dish was brought out and whisked away with impeccable timing and an aplomb to which Kathleen was unaccustomed. Her idea of meals ran to quick bites at a local diner or a frozen dinner tossed into the microwave. During the entire meal, Ivanov was the epitome of elegance and class as he conversed with those at the table. It made her wonder if the man had any aws—or if he ever relaxed. Perfection had to be tiring. Determined to get a better understanding of Ivanov and his much younger sister, Kathleen sat back, watched, and listened. While the prince was all polish and guarded reserve, his sister was the exact opposite. Her smile came readily, as did her laughter, creating a much more jovial atmosphere at her end of the table and a lightness about her, as if a fresh breeze had wafted through the room. Ivanov was nearly thirty, Kathleen knew, so there was close to a dozen years difference in age between them. Could that explain the disparity between his very reserved personality and his sister’s effervescent charm? Ivanov leaned toward Kathleen. “Is everything to your liking?” His tone was low so only she could hear. Almost intimate. Which brought unbidden warmth as she imagined such a whisper as he lay next to her. A dangerous thought that had to be thoroughly quashed. “It’s all been wonderful,” she replied. Totally true. Not one aspect of the meal had been lacking, much like everything she had seen so far about Russian Nights. It seemed that everything this

man did was as perfect as he appeared to be. But no one was truly perfect. She knew that rst hand. Images of the women held captive in his warehouse returned to remind her why she could not let herself be fooled by him. “I’m glad you approve,” he said, then glanced toward the young housekeeper. “How many times have you been employee of the month now, Mary?” “Six,” the young woman replied with some pride. “It may be time to retire you from winning the award for best member of the housekeeping staff.” His comment prompted a nervous reaction from his employee. “I don’t understand, Prince Alexander. Does that mean I can’t come to dinner anymore?” She laid a trembling hand on the table and her ancé took hold of it with a reassuring squeeze. “Not as a member of the housekeeping staff. I’d like to transfer you to my personal detail. You would be responsible for the penthouse rooms. With the free time you’ll have, I’d like you to attend some management training classes. That is, if you’re interested in making that move.” Tears came to the young woman’s eyes and she covered her mouth with her hands, ghting back emotion. Her ancé hugged her hard as she murmured, “I would like that very much, Prince Alexander.” “Excellent. I believe we should celebrate.” As if on cue, his wait staff brought out plates with slices of cake that looked too sinful to be called just cake. Thick, luscious, and chocolate, with an immense dollop of whipped cream to one side. The bartender came around and handed a glass of champagne to each guest. Ivanov snared his with long, elegant ngers. It was too easy to imagine those ngers doing more than just holding the glass he lifted in a toast… “To Mary. Much success in your new position. And to Edgar on his excellent work at the tables. To Kathleen, welcome to the staff

of Russian Nights.” Everyone joined in, but Kathleen only took a small sip of the champagne, much as she had been drinking soda throughout the entire meal rather than wine. While the day might be over for the others, she intended to hit the casino oor after dinner. From what little information she had been able to review so far, much of the chip cashing activity had occurred during the wee hours. That was also when the missing hostess usually worked her shift in the restaurant, so it was a perfect time to question the personnel. After dessert, Ivanov bade good-bye to his four special guests. While the wait staff cleaned and tidied the room, he said to those remaining, “Would you all mind joining me in my of ce for a moment?” His sister raised an eyebrow, but followed him, Jim, and Kathleen as they paraded back to his of ce. Inside, the prince leaned a hip on his desk and crossed his arms over his chest and addressed Kathleen. “I just want you to know that my sister is aware of what might be happening.” “I don’t want to believe Vanessa is involved,” Tatiana stated, her earlier carefree spirit now totally serious. “Why do you say that?” Was there something Tatiana knew that she wasn’t sharing? “Vanessa has been here for dinner a few times also. We hit it off since we’re close in age. She was working hard to nish college. To better herself.” Tatiana glanced from her brother to Jim, uneasy before she blurted out, “She’d been in trouble as a teen. I don’t know what, but it really upset her.” Jim spoke before Kathleen could. “If Vanessa had a juvie record that was sealed, we wouldn’t have come across it in our background check.” But it should have been in the records from the FBI search. She was going to have her people double check, but in the meantime… “Is there anything else, Princess Tatiana? Anything you’re

not saying?” she pressed, but Tatiana remained silent, nervously glancing at her brother. At her hesitation, he dragged a hand through his hair, mumbled something in Russian that decidedly had the tone of a curse, then braced his hands on his desk. “You know what’s at stake here, Tatiana. A woman’s life. Nothing is more important than that, so is there anything else you have to say?” She shook her head with such force it sent the long, midnight waves shifting from side to side. “Nothing, Alexander. I just don’t want to think she’s involved if something bad is going on.” Kathleen believed her. There was no guile in the young woman as far as she could see. But she would have to keep a close eye on her, much as she intended to do with her brother, although his vehemence just now had shocked her. If she didn’t know better, she could actually believe that he truly cared about the hostess. “I appreciate you offering us that information, Princess.” “Tatiana, please. I’m not as formally uptight as my brother,” she said with a roll of her pretty eyes and a return of some of her earlier playfulness. Kathleen controlled the chuckle which threatened to erupt. “I appreciate that, Tatiana. If you can think of anything else, please let me know.” She handed her card to the princess. “I guess it’s time to call it a night,” Ivanov said. “I guess so,” she replied. But as she left the room, Jim, Tatiana, and Ivanov remained behind. He obviously was not nished with his sister. She was certain the prince would be reading her the riot act, and Kathleen pitied the young woman. With a grimace, she boarded the elevator and punched the button for the main gaming oor. Ivanov struck her as the kind of man you didn’t want to piss off, but in some perverse way, she actually looked forward to doing just that. Maybe because it kept away her other, more unwelcome

thoughts about the prince… And the unbidden images that kept popping up in her mind at the most inappropriate times. Making her body react in a most inappropriate way.

The Prince’s Gamble

Caridad Piñeiro

This book is a work of ction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used ctitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Copyright © 2012 by Caridad Piñeiro Scordato. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher. Entangled Publishing, LLC 2614 South Timberline Road Suite 109 Fort Collins, CO 80525 Visit our website at Dead Sexy is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC Visit our website at Edited by Nina Bruhns Cover design by Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn ISBN 978-1-62266-800-7

Manufactured in the United States of America First Edition November 2012 The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of ction: Bentley, Escalade, Abercrombie & Fitch, Philippe Patek, Phillies Phanatic, Rolls Royce.