One look at Jericho Forge and I knew the rumors were true. He was a predator, and he had set his sights on me.
I knew better than to bet more than I could afford to lose that night. I knew better than to bet myself. But desperation leads to bad decisions, and I thought there was no way I could lose.
I was wrong.
Now I have no choice but to make a deal with the devil.
Deal with the Devil is the first book of the Forge Trilogy, which will continue in Luck of the Devil and conclude in Heart of the Devil.
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When a billionaire walks into a room, you feel it. Especially if you’re the billionaire.
I didn’t intend to be here tonight, but heads turn as I stride across the casino floor and try to block out the scent of tropical-perfumed air Jean Phillippe pumps into his jewel, La Reina de Ibiza.
They know my name. Know my profile. They think they know everything about me, but they don’t.
No one does.
They don’t know I’d rather be on the deck of one of my ships, at the mercy of the open ocean, instead of surrounded by flashing lights and grating chimes indicating someone just won or lost a fortune.
They’re here to gamble, and I’m here . . . I don’t know why the fuck I’m here. Call it curiosity. Call it a sixth sense. It doesn’t matter. All I know is that I don’t like it when someone tries to hide something from me.
Like this high-stakes game tonight.
Regardless of whether I’m in residence on my island, less than a mile away from Ibiza, Jean Phillippe sends me an invite to the private games. Always. He never misses an opportunity to bring more money into the casino’s bank. So why, of all the games played at these tables, would my old acquaintance neglect to invite me to this particular one?
Because somebody doesn’t want me here.
It won’t be the first time I’ve shown up where I wasn’t wanted. Luckily, I don’t give a fuck what people want.
Jean Phillippe isn’t stupid, and he knows he’s risking more than my money at his casino if he’s deliberately hiding something from me. My displeasure has made more than one man wish he were dead.
Ahead of me, the door to the private poker room closes an inch at a time. Once it’s closed, no more players can join the game.
I pick up my pace and the crowd parts, making way for me. I walk without seeing any of them. They’re merely a blur of dark suit jackets and snowy-white shirts, interspersed with splashes of color from the women and more daring men.
The slice of light spilling from the doorway narrows, and I clock the exact moment Jean Phillippe sees me. His grip tightens on the knob as his dark eyebrows shoot up toward his silvering hairline.
In a moment, he recovers his composure, pulling his shoulders back and stepping around the door. It continues inching closed behind him as he pastes a smile on his face like he’s happy to see the biggest whale ever to step foot in this casino.
The smile’s a lie, and we both know it.
“My friend! I didn’t think you were in town tonight. I would’ve—”
“Bullshit. You don’t want me here, and that tells me I need to be here. Don’t even think about closing that door.”
Jean Phillippe’s movements still, but he can’t control the emotions playing out across his features. His brown eyes widen as he drops the French accent he intensifies around new marks. “It’s not like that, Forge. You know I wouldn’t—”
“I’m playing tonight whether you want me here or not.”
Jean Phillippe inhales sharply, and then exhales like a terminal patient accepting his fate. “This game isn’t one you—”
“Move, or I’ll move you myself.”
His chin drops toward his chest. “It wasn’t personal, mon ami,” he says as he steps away from the opening.
I walk through the doorway and stop dead.
What the fuck is he doing here?
Bastien de Vere. The entitled trust-fund prick who got away with murder. Literally.
The hot burn of rage blazes from the pit of my gut until I shut it down. Stone cold. That’s the only way I can keep myself from killing him with my bare hands.
Death by a thousand cuts. That’s how I’ve made him suffer for fifteen years, and I’ll do it until the day I finally end him. That day is coming, I promise myself. The de Veres’ money and influence won’t last forever. I’m draining it away one penny at a time.
When de Vere catches sight of me at the door, his shoulders brace and his mouth flattens into a hard line. “Invitation-only game, Forge. And you weren’t invited.”
The blonde next to him stiffens as de Vere says my name. Even with her head down and no glimpse of her face, she’s stunning. Honey-gold curls lay over her bare, tanned shoulders, leading a man right to her generous tits.
She can’t be one of de Vere’s regulars, or I would have already stolen her from him. Unless . . . no, he couldn’t have managed to hide a piece that fine. He’d be showing her off right and left. That means she has to be a new conquest. Maybe someone he’s trying to impress at the table . . .
Which gives me one more reason to stay and take every penny of his trust fund he’s willing to wager tonight.
“I don’t need an invitation.” I look to Jean Phillippe. “Do I?”
“No. No, sir. Of course not. You’re always welcome at La Reina’s tables.”
“That’s what I thought.”
De Vere glares at me, and I look away from him to scan the rest of the players standing in the room, giving them each a nod. What I see tells me my gut instinct was 100 percent right.
Something big is going down here.
Sheikh Ahmed Al Jabal, the oil billionaire whose superyacht I’ve docked next to in Monte Carlo before, nods back at me. He’s a decent enough player, but one with more money than skill, which makes him my favorite kind.
“Mr. Forge, I hope you brought the money of mine you took in Monaco.”
“All that and more, sir.”
I shift my attention to the next man—Alejandro Cruz, the American tech billionaire who fancies himself a poker player of the highest order, but mostly just bluffs because he knows more about coding than he does about cards.
Cruz sits straighter in his chair. “It’s been a while, Forge. Thought you’d decided never to come back to land.”
“The company is better out to sea.”
Cruz guffaws. “I wouldn’t doubt that. Good to see you, and it’ll be even better to win some of your money.”
“Jericho Forge. My old . . . what to call you? Not a friend,” says Dmitri Belevich, a Russian whose ties to the Bratva keep the police from asking too many questions about his luxe playboy lifestyle on Ibiza.
“Always a pleasure, Belevich.”
The net worth of these men would add up to more than the GDP of a few small countries combined, which means that my failure to get an invitation to this game is entirely by design. De Vere’s design.
I’m happy to ruin his plans for the night.
“I trust there are no objections to me joining the game, gentlemen.” It’s a statement, not a question.
“I have no problem taking your money, Forge.” This comes from Belevich.
Cruz and the sheikh both shake their heads, which brings my attention back to de Vere and the woman. He moves in front of her as if trying to shield her from me.
And he should. Because when it comes to Bastien de Vere, I have no qualms about taking everything he cares about. But who the hell is she? If she were just arm candy, she wouldn’t be allowed a seat at the table, and the stack of chips in front of her says she’s here to play.
She could be a party favor he planned to use to distract the other men to give himself an advantage. He wouldn’t be the first to employ such a basic tactic.
“I ob—” de Vere tries to speak, but I cut him off.
“No one gives a shit what you want, de Vere, especially me.” I step around him to get a better look at the woman.
I stop beside Cruz, who stands behind the seat next to her. Finally, she looks up, and her vivid purple-blue eyes deliver a punch to my gut—along with a tidal wave of recognition.
India Baptiste. The former darling of the poker circuit, and the woman who is almost as famous for her royal flush over full house win as she is for telling Bastien de Vere to go fuck himself in front of a roomful of poker royalty.
When I heard the story, I was amused and intrigued, but not enough to care beyond the entertainment value of de Vere being humiliated. After seeing her in the flesh? Intrigued is only the beginning.
I nod at the chair in front of Cruz. “You don’t mind sitting on the other side of the table, do you?”
The dark-haired man smirks. “You want to sit next to Queen Midas? Go right ahead. I’ll probably play better if I don’t.”
Queen Midas. An apt nickname for a woman who turns her seemingly shitty poker hands to gold with almost legendary regularity.
A ruthless smile tugs at my lips, but I quash it in favor of studying her the way I would anything else I plan to acquire—like it’s already mine.
Her gold dress wraps around curves that make a man want to revert to the days when pirates pillaged enemy ships and took what and who they wanted. Because I would definitely fucking take her. Lock her in my cabin. Eradicate every single thought of Bastien de Vere from her brain. She’ll be another trophy I will take from him. Just like I’ve taken everything else that matters to him, one piece at a time.
“Unless you have an objection, Ms. Baptiste, I’m joining the game.”
Her indigo eyes flash with heat at my dare, and the fire behind her sharp stare intensifies.
As a rule, women don’t challenge me. Ever. My billion-dollar portfolio wipes away all pretense of playing hard to get. India Baptiste’s refusal to look away while she considers how to respond will be her downfall.
Tonight just got a hell of a lot more interesting, and I know exactly how it’s going to end. With the woman Bastien de Vere wants in my bed.
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