It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness of the underground gambling room. The few overhead lights were dim. I’d done that on purpose so that the politicians and “upstanding citizens” could better keep hidden. I was used to the celebrities and politicians that came through, gambling away taxpayers’ money because it was now an addiction. I couldn’t judge; I didn’t even pay taxes.
Once my eyes adjusted, I could see every table was filled, which meant a good night for me. I crossed the room, slapping the hands of some of the regulars. I made it to the bar and ordered a water. I choose to stay away from alcohol. I didn’t have anything against it. Alcohol just made me sleepy, and I still had work to do before I could call it a night. I thanked the bartender as Tommy took a seat beside me.
“What’s good?” I asked Tommy, reaching my hand out for him to slap.
“Nothing much, trying to see if someone shows up.”
That caught my interest. “Someone owe you money or something?”
It might turn out to be an exciting night after all.
Tommy shook his head. “Nah, nothing like that.”
He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t push. It was probably business with his crew. Tommy was notorious for avoiding problems. He probably didn’t want any extra people involved in whatever it was. He signaled for the bartender, and I turned around to face the room. The gambling ring was underneath a row of shops on the strip. Essentially, it was the connecting basement of the stores. It was a big enough space for six tables. There were only a couple spots open at the blackjack table. Harris was going to have to start turning people away at the door soon.
“Gio tell you about the new Irish boss?” Tommy asked.
“Nah, what’s up?” This must be fairly recent if I hadn’t heard yet. I knew everything about what happened in this city.
“Gio got a new boss in place. Niall’s own son, he took out his dad. Apparently, the guy helped us out. A win-win kind of situation.”
Well, fuck, that was convenient. “Because of that chick?” I asked. Everyone had been a little hush-hush about Giovanni’s new girlfriend. I just wanted confirmation.
Tommy chuckled. “Fuck yeah. He almost blew my head off because I was talking to her at Lucas’s restaurant one day.”
He took a sip of his drink. “I can’t answer that. I like all my limbs attached to my body.”
I smiled. Well, damn. Giovanni finally settled down.
“I did catch her with Wes, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
I almost choked on my water. “You got to be shitting me. Wes is a dead man if he was sticking his dick in the boss’s girl.”
“She said they all had an understanding.”
“That’s some freaky shit.”
My head turned toward the door as it closed. Not much surprised me these day, but a woman walking into my gambling ring made me freeze. Long red hair fell to her waist. She wore heels that made her look tall, but without them, she probably barely reached my chest. The dress she wore showed off every single curve of her body. She walked with her shoulders back, confident, despite the fact that she was the only female in the room. When I looked back out to the floor, I realized she hadn’t just caught my attention, but also the attention of every other man in the room.
“Damn,” Tommy mumbled next to me. Her heels clicked against the cement floor as she walked to the blackjack table and took a seat. She acted as if she’d been here before, but I was one-hundred-percent certain I’d remember if she’d walked in here before. The men in the room went back to focusing on their cards, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
“You’re drooling,” Tommy said.
“Shut the fuck up.” I turned away from the woman and grabbed my water to take a drink.
“You know her?” Tommy pushed.
I shook my head. “No, but I’m going to get to know her.”
The door shut again. It must have been who Tommy was looking for because he pushed away from the bar and went to greet the man. They both walked back outside together.
I turned and watched the woman, fascinated with her. That long hair would be too easy to pull on. Her hair was so bright, I doubted it was natural. I spend enough time around women to know fake from real. What reason did this woman have to be so confident in a room filled with men with severe gambling problems? My attraction to her mixed with a hint of suspicion. She’d chosen to sit at the open blackjack table. She must know something about cards if she took that seat. I watched from my place at the bar as she pulled out a wad of cash from her purse, counted out the amount she needed to buy in, and slid it to Larry, one of my dealers. They didn’t use chips or coins to play here. Cash only, although we did occasional take money in the form of houses or cars. That’s how I knew someone’s gambling issue had gotten out of hand. When a man would bet the house his family was living in, it was time for him to get treatment. Larry dealt the cards out. It was obvious this wasn’t the woman’s first time. She peeked at the cards quickly, already memorizing them. They went around the table, each person telling Larry to give them another card or skip them. Afterwards, they flipped the cards over to reveal their hand. The women lost, but she didn’t show signs of disappointment or surprise. She accepted it as if it was just part of the game. She either didn’t have a gambling problem or had a lot of money to bet. One of the men got up to leave, and I crossed the room to take his spot, right next to Red.
“You in, Boss?” Larry asked.
I nodded, and he went on dealing everyone a new hand of cards. He didn’t need to ask for my money. We’d have a problem if he did.
Up close, the woman was even more beautiful. While she was seated, the dress she wore lifted slightly, revealing her creamy legs, which led up to a flat stomach. Her breasts weren’t huge, but they were perfect for her body shape. Her thick ruby red lips matched the color of her dress. Her face was perfectly heart-shaped, which gave her a youthful look.
“Can I help you?” she snapped, having caught me staring. Everyone at the table froze, but she didn’t seem to realize or care about the mistake she made. I ran the underground, so no one was allowed to talk to me like that.
I smiled at her. “Just admiring your beauty,” I said, throwing her one of my typical lines. It wasn’t hard for me to win over women. Once they got a look at me and realized who I was, it wasn’t long before I took them home.
Her lips twisted into a snare, and she turned away from me to look at her cards. Well, damn.I looked over my cards, bored with the game already. Gambling wasn’t my thing. I preferred to make money, not lose it. Larry dealt to those who wanted another card. Red and I both lost the first hand.
“What’s a pretty woman like you doing in a place like this?” I asked her. She didn’t even bother to turn my way as I spoke.
“Just trying to play the game.”
“Most women stay far away from this place. Most don’t even know about it.” I was digging. She might be beautiful, but this wasn’t a spot you just stumbled upon. I had this place well-hidden for a good reason.
She whipped around to look at me. “Is there something you are trying to ask me?” Her voice sliced through the air like a whip. I could feel the tension coming off the men around us, like they were holding their breath. Her sharp attitude only excited me. I liked that I was getting her riled up. Her skin was turning a soft red color that matched the rest of her. A couple men got up from the table, probably uncomfortable with the conversation.
“Maybe we should start over,” I suggested.
“Maybe we shouldn’t, and you should just let me play my hand.”
It took everything in me not to smile. I rested an elbow on the table and leaned my head on my hand. I’d forgotten about Larry and the rest of the men sitting around the table. “I would, but I own this place, Red, and if I ask someone why they’re here…I want an answer.”
She swallowed as a lump formed in her throat, and I smiled. She should be afraid of me. The Bronx’s underground was a dangerous place I’d created years ago. I was the most dangerous part of it all. She looked away, breaking eye contact. I sensed there was something she was afraid to tell me.
Did she have a gambling problem? She didn’t look like the typical addict. I reached a hand out and grabbed her chin in between two fingers. She jumped. I steered her head around to look at me. Her blue eyes were glossy with unshed tears. My eyebrows drew together as I tried to figure out what was going on. What had made this woman so desperate to put herself in danger to come here?
I opened my mouth to ask when Harris appeared by my side.
“We got a problem, Boss.”
I stared at the women for a moment longer before letting go of her chin and leaving the seat. I walked with Harris until we were out of ear shot.
“Charles and Leon are getting into it again next door,” Harris said.