"With lovable characters, steamy scenes, and sexy banter to spare, FAIR GAME is already one of my top reads this year!”
~ Elle Kennedy, NYT Bestselling Author
May 12, 2015
Series: The Rules
Bad enough Jade Frost’s boyfriend drags her to a boring poker game. Even worse that he actually threw her into the betting pot during an intense round…and lost. Talk about the perfect excuse for Jade to make him her ex-boyfriend.
Now she supposedly belongs to the ultra rich, extremely gorgeous Shep Prescott. He could have anything he wants yet he seems to be in hot pursuit of her. No matter how rude, how snarky, how impossible she acts, it doesn’t stop him. More like her horrible behavior seems to make him want her more.
When she finds herself starting to fall for him, Jade’s confused. There’s more to Shep than the carefree rich charmer he portrays. No way could he want a serious relationship with her…or could he?
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“I hate Shepard Prescott.”
“Of course you do. Heaven forbid you’re normal and think he’s hot like the rest of the female population on campus.” Kelli rolls her eyes, flicking her long, perfectly wavy brown hair over her shoulder. I dodge out of the way before all that glossy perfect hair smacks me in the face.
“Do you really think he’s hot?”
The pointed look Kelli sends my way is answer enough.
It doesn’t matter if I think or Kelli thinks he’s good looking because he just is. There’s no denying that fact. But his arrogant attitude and smug personality cancels out the sexiness.
“Seriously. He’s an asshole.” I stare at the back of the asshole’s head. His hair is this streaked golden brown that almost looks like he paid for those highlights, which I really hope he didn’t because, oh my God, that would make him even more pretentious. Though I’m sure he received those naturally glorious blond streaks by sailing on his family’s yacht or whatever. Or perhaps sunning himself on the beach during one of the many tropical vacations he no doubt takes.
To say we run in different crowds is putting it mildly. He’s older than me by two years. He’s in a frat and I’m not in a sorority. He’s rich as hell and I am most assuredly not. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for him to know I exist and I’m fine with that.
“Even his name makes him sounds like an asshole. And his nickname is stupid too. Shep.” I grimace. All rich dudes have stupid nicknames I swear. “Sounds like a dog’s name. ‘Here boy. Here Shep. Mommy’s got a treat for you’,” I sing song then roll my eyes. “Ridiculous.”
“I just bet Mommy’s got a treat for him,” Kelli says, her droll voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Pfft. Please. He wishes.” I wave my hand, sending a cautious glance in Shep’s direction. I may be mocking his ass but the last thing I want is for him to actually hear me.
“You’re on a roll tonight aren’t you?” Kelli sounds bored. That’s because we are bored. Holed up in a crappy little underground poker palace run by the supposedly legendary gambler Shepard Prescott and all of his rich, asshole friends. Our boyfriends brought us here so they could play against Shep and his gambling posse because they have a reputation. As in, they bet big so they tend to win big. But more often than not, they lose. Really big…
Our boyfriends are counting on the losing really big part.
“I can tolerate maybe two more rounds of this and then I’m walking,” I mutter before I finish off the rest of the warm beer in my requisite red Solo cup. Grimacing, I set the cup on the table behind me and heave a big sigh, earning a quick glance from my boyfriend. Pretty sad he recognizes my irritated sighs but we really haven’t been getting along lately so it’s no surprise. He flashes me a tense smile before returning his gaze to the cards in his hand.
“He looks stressed.” Kelli nudges my side with her pointy elbow, making me yelp. Does she sharpen those things or what? “Joel. Look at him.”
I’m looking at him. And she’s right. Joel does look stressed. What else is new? “He’s been wearing that look a lot lately.” Lack of funds will do that to a person. Instead of saving the money his parents gave him at the beginning of the semester to bail him out since he lost his part time job, he went and blew it on stupid stuff. Like that pair of designer sunglasses he promptly lost when he was at one of those lake parties, got drunk and went swimming with them on. In February.
My boyfriend doesn’t always make the best choices.
“He doesn’t have very many chips left either,” Kelli mentions, leaning in close to me so she can see past Shep. But who can really see past that guy? He has shoulders as broad as a mountain. And all that wild does-he-pay-for-highlights-or-not hair that sort of springs up as if it has a mind of its own.
“Good. Maybe that means we can leave soon.” I grab my cup from the table and bring it to my lips only to realize it’s empty and I frown. Not that I want more warm beer but…
“Get her another.” Shep raises his hand above his head and snaps his fingers, his finger pointed backward.
Right at me.
“How the hell did he do that?” I ask no one under my breath, glancing up at the barely dressed girl who’s suddenly standing in front of me, fresh Solo cup in hand outstretched toward me. I take the drink from her with a mumbled thank you and she flashes me a toothy smile before she bounces away.
“Look.” Another nudge from Kelli’s pointy elbow—that should be an illegal weapon—before she’s pointing at the wall across from us. There’s a mirror mounted there.
And Shepard Prescott is looking right at us, a smug grin stretching his lips wide, revealing perfect white teeth.
“He’s watching us?” I ask incredulously.
His gaze snags on mine in the mirror, those dark brown eyes never leaving me. I’m the one who has to look away first.
“What a creeper.” A shiver moves down my spine but I ignore it. I sip my beer, thankful it’s colder. They must’ve cracked open a new keg.
“Ha. If he’s a creeper then I hope he abducts me in his tricked out van.” Kelli bursts out laughing at her own crude joke.
“Ew.” That we’re joking about being abducted is one thousand times wrong. That we’re joking about Shep Prescott abducting us is a million times wrong. “And what do you mean, his tricked out van?”
“So many creepers have those equally creepy vans. You know which ones I’m talking about.” Kelli mock shudders. “So gross.”
Our conversation has taken a weird turn and I blame boredom. We need to get out of here. But Joel’s not paying attention to me. He’s too busy gnawing on his lower lip and sweating bullets. Kelli’s boyfriend Dane is hunched over his cards, as if he’s afraid someone might catch a peek at his hand. And Shep Prescott is sprawled in his chair, legs spread wide, one arm slung over the back of an empty chair, his other arm resting on the table, cards fanned wide so anyone can see them. He looks just as bored as we are.
It’s a good look for him.
“I’m done.” Dane throws his cards down in disgust and gets up from his chair, moving so he’s sitting on the bench behind Joel. He claps a hand on Joel’s shoulder in a good luck gesture and plucks the beer out of some random chick’s hand, downing it before he grins at her.
I feel Kelli tense up and I can’t blame her.
Sitting up straight, I peek over Shep’s broad-as-a-mountain shoulder to see exactly what he’s holding. And oh my God, he’s holding something amazing. When I was little, my grandpa taught me everything I know about poker and blackjack. My gambling knowledge always impressed Joel even when I tricked him with that irritating game of fifty-two pickup one time. He fell for it completely.
Shep Prescott’s hand is about as good as it gets. As in, he’s holding a full house with tens and jacks. Talk about luck. I can only guess by the way Joel is still sweating and muttering unintelligible words under his breath that he’s got nothing. Or he’s the best bluffer ever.
I’m guessing the first option.
“You in?” Shep asks, his deep voice rumbling from his chest, low and intimidating. Joel looks up, his teeth still sunk in his lower lip and I notice all at once how incredibly young and foolish he appears. He’s wearing a faux vintage Mountain Dew T-shirt he got at Target a few days ago with the gift card his mom sent him and his dark hair is buzzed short. Like he’s ready to join the armed services or something. His face is clean-shaven and a little pale though there’s a faint ruddiness to his cheeks. He looks like a baby compared to Mr. Suave Calm and Cool with the broad shoulders and sexy hair. I’m afraid he’s about to get his ass kicked.
“Uhhh…” Joel draws out the sound, his gaze flickering to mine. I’m shaking my head no, slicing my finger across my neck, anything to get him to fold so he doesn’t get suckered and lose everything. He’s already close enough to losing it all as it is.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Everyone in the room goes silent. Kelli nudges my side with her damn pointy elbow again and I stop gesturing when I realize that Shep Prescott is talking…
I lift my head to find him glaring at me in that stupid mirror, his dark eyes almost black, his mouth thin. Oh, he looks pissed.
“Are you cheating? Is that why your boyfriend brought you here?” he asks when I don’t say anything.
“Um.” I have lost all coherent thought. I’ve also lost the ability to speak.
This isn’t good.
“Forget this fucking hand.” He throws his cards face down into the middle of the table, right on top of the pile of chips, various dollar bills and even a small mountain of quarters that were part of that round’s pot. Everyone playing had already dropped out, one by one, even Dane, until it was just Joel and Shep left. Some had even abandoned their chairs, moving on to grab more beer or play at another table. Or to leave the party with their tails tucked between their legs and their wallets empty.
Not Joel. He’s holding out to the very bitter end. And now I’m getting him into some major trouble.
“Come here.” Shep turns to look at me, his hard stare pinning me in place. I can practically feel his anger coming at me in big, hot waves. All my snarky comments, all my earlier bravado evaporates. “Sit by me,” he commands, pointing at the empty chair beside him.
I stand on shaky legs and approach the table, ignoring Joel, ignoring the snickers from other people watching the spectacle unfold. Without even looking at Shep I fall heavily into the chair beside him, keeping my spine stiff, desperate to put as much distance between us as possible.
But it’s no use. I can smell him. And he smells…fucking incredible. There are no other words for it. A combination of pine and lemon and dirt…okay I know that doesn’t sound very appealing but oh my God, I’m tempted to lean in close and sniff his neck.
I don’t, of course. Instead I grip the edge of the table and allow myself to look in Joel’s direction. The expression on his boyish face is nothing short of misery. I’m starting to wonder if he had a good hand after all. Possibly better than Shep’s? Did I ruin everything? Oh God, if I did, would Joel ever forgive me?
“Don’t look at him,” Shep murmurs, his voice so close to my ear I gasp and turn my head to find his face directly in mine. I can see everything. Every pore in his skin, every little hair in his thick brows, every inky lash that rims his too dark, all seeing eyes. “I want your eyes on me and me only.”
Swallowing hard, I try my best to ignore the anger slowly building inside of me at his threat. But it’s no use. “Are you kidding me?” Who does this guy think he is? So he’s worth a fortune. So he’s ridiculously good looking. So what?
He offers a lopsided smile as he gathers all the cards and starts shuffling like he’s some sort of pro straight out of Vegas. “Nope. I catch you looking in his direction during this next hand and I’ll kick his ass.”
My jaw hangs open as I absorb his words. “You really are an asshole, aren’t you?” I whisper.
The lopsided smile grows. “You’re looking at a top of the line asshole, baby,” he says.
I roll my eyes at the baby mention. I hate it when guys call me baby. Though…huh. No guy has ever called me that before. Not even Joel. Considering Joel is only my second semi-serious boyfriend and we’ve been going out for about six months, I guess that’s not saying much but still.
The baby bit should offend me. But it doesn’t. Neither does that smile.
What the hell is wrong with me?
“We’ll play another round of five card draw, just you and me.” Shep jabs his index finger in Joel’s direction. “The pot stays as is. But we’ll still raise. Consider this game,” he pauses and I hear the smug amusement enter his voice, “high stakes.”
Someone groans. I think it might’ve been Joel. Not that I’m allowed to look at him or anything.
“Your girlfriend here.” He touches me. Freaking Shep Prescott risks losing a limb by actually sliding his arm around my shoulders, his hand gripping my upper arm firmly. I can hardly move, what with the way he’s holding me. “You two make eye contact for even a second and you automatically lose.”
“Not a problem,” Joel says, his voice shaking the slightest bit. I wish I could look at him. If I could I’d be telling him to grow some balls and man up.
“So we’re ready?” Shep releases his hold on me, his fingers streaking across my back as he moves away and settles back in his seat. I send him my most evil glare but it doesn’t even faze him. He simply resumes shuffling his cards, slouching in his chair as he does so, his legs going wide so his knee bumps against my thigh.
Ignoring the sizzle that shoots up my leg, I scoot away from him as best I can but he stops me in my tracks.
“You leave, he loses,” Shep murmurs, so low I’m sure no one can hear him but me. “Don’t forget that.”
“Considering you won’t let me, I don’t think you need to worry,” I say with a little snort that I immediately regret. Way to impress him.
But you don’t want to impress him. You think he’s an asshole.
Yeah. I need to remember that.
The girl with the sarcastic mouth just made the night infinitely more interesting. I’d been bored out of my skull knowing I was going to win. The pot was small, maybe five hundred bucks. Big fucking deal. The last dude sitting at the table was a nervous little freshman who hadn’t backed down which surprised me. I figured he either had a better hand than me—almost impossible—or he was an excellent bluffer.
Also fairly impossible.
Then the girlfriend had to go and gesture behind me. She saw my hand. The little fucker brought his hot girlfriend to cheat and I hadn’t even noticed. And I always notice that crap. Instead of making sure she was on the up and up while I stared at her in the mirror I put up for the sole purpose of catching cheaters, I caught myself checking her out.
Nice tits. Good skin, if a little on the pale side. Long red hair pulled up into a ponytail and freckles scattered across her cheeks and nose. Freckles pretty much scattered everywhere. Not my normal type but what did me in—besides her tits because they look damn good in that black tank top she’s wearing—was her mouth. Bee stung lips. I can only imagine those lips wrapped tight around my…
“Are you going to deal or spend the entire night staring at me?”
I blink her into focus. She’s a feisty little thing too. What’s she doing with this freshman loser sitting across from me, looking ready to pass out at any given moment? I like her voice, despite all the shitty things she’s been saying about me.
And I’ve heard every single comment since she settled in behind me.
Ignoring her, I deal our hands and check my cards, careful to keep my expression neutral. A pair of queens and three junk cards. I won’t discard until he does first. I’m the dealer so that’s protocol and I don’t want him to know that I only have a pair.
“What’s your name?” I ask the girl.
She crosses her arms in front of her, plumping up her chest. I catch a glimpse of lime green lacy bra peeking above the neckline of her tank. Interesting. “Bitch Face,” she answers serenely.
I laugh. This chick is something else. “Fitting. I’m Shep. Though you already know.” I lower my voice. “Since Mommy has a treat for me and all that.”
Her cheeks go crimson. Busted. But she doesn’t say a word in her defense, which I find admirable.
I turn my focus on her boyfriend. “Hey. Asshole.” He lifts his gaze, pale blue eyes staring into mine. He looks petrified. He should be. “What’s your name?”
“J-Joel.” He clears his throat, his gaze falling to his cards once again. He shifts them around, moving two from one side to the other. Then he plucks one from the five and tosses it out face down. “I need one more please.”
Hell. What kind of hand does he have? I’m pretty sure I’m fucked. “You gonna raise the pot or what?”
He meets my gaze once more, trying to school his expression but I see the flash of triumph. He has a good hand. Fucker thinks he’s gonna win. “Uh, I’ll raise you fifty.” He tosses in the last of his chips.
“Fifty?” I cock a brow and toss in a matching fifty then deal him a single card. “That’s all you got?” I rapidly exchange out my cards, discarding the three junk ones and taking three new ones. I don’t turn them over. Not yet. The anticipation is half the fun especially when I’m fairly sure I’ll lose this round.
“Clearly.” The kid waves a hand in front of him, where zero chips remain.
“Hmm.” I lift my cards, cupping them in my hand so Bitch Face won’t see them. She’s as still as a stone sitting next to me but I can hear her breathing, can feel the tension radiating off her in heavy waves. She doesn’t like this. She’s nervous for her boyfriend especially because she can’t look at him. Her body is angled toward mine and I chance a glance at her before I study what I have.
Holy hell. I dealt myself two more queens. Four of a kind.
Beat that fuck stick.
“Let’s make this interesting,” I say, staring at Joel once more. His expression lights up. Everyone who’d heard of, or who’d come to our little gambling venture in the past know that’s the game changer statement. It’s the cue that the round is about to take a wild turn.
More like it’s one of us—my friend Gabe, my cousin Tristan—bored out of our minds and ready for an adventure. We like to win big. But by winning big, you need to lose big too. That fifty-fifty chance is what always gives me a thrill. I’ve lost more than I’ve won but that doesn’t really bother me.
“What do you have in mind?” Joel asks, impressing me. He’s played this game before. That’s the pat question we want them to ask. I don’t recognize him but I’m guessing he might’ve played a night I wasn’t here, or at someone else’s table.
It doesn’t matter. He understands what’s about to happen and that’s all that matters.
“Let’s see.” I set my cards down and drum my fingers on the green felted table. We run a semi-professional operation here. Gabe owns the house. Well, his family owns the house. We converted it a little less than two years ago, turning the living and dining room into a mini casino a few miles off campus. Blackjack tables, poker tables, hell we even have a roulette table though I hate playing it. Roulette is a game of total chance. The odds are shit.
At least with poker and my preferred game of choice, blackjack, we use some sort of skill.
“Don’t do it Joel.” I lift my head at first sound of her voice. She’s not looking at Joel though. She’s staring straight at me, her mouth hard, her eyes flat. “Show your cards and end the game. Don’t let this asshole get you in any deeper than you already are.”
“Ouch. So mean with the name calling.” I rub my chest, pretending she hurt me. I’ve been called worse. “You going to let her tell you what to do, Joel?” I say it because I know the question will piss her off. And it does. She’s practically got steam coming out of her ears but she says nothing to me. I can’t help but be faintly disappointed.
“Shut up, Jade,” Joel mutters, shocking the both of us. “Let me do this.”
I turn to her. “Joel just grew some balls, Jade. Or should I still call you Bitch Face?”
She grimaces. “I’d rather you call me nothing at all.”
“Jade,” Joel says, his voice firmer. I can tell he really wants her to shut up. I’m taking this as a sign that he also wants to carry forth on the bet. Meaning his hand is fucking stellar.
Well, guess what? So is mine.
“What kind of name is that anyway? Jade?” I make a face, trying to hold back the laughter that wants to escape because I know for a fact that I’m irritating the shit out of her.
“Like you have any room to talk. What the hell is a Shep?”
“I’ll have you know it’s an old family name.” I try my best to remain dignified but I’m failing. This chick amuses me like no other. Her smart mouth is kind of hot. “My mother is a Shepard. I come from a long line of Shepards.”
“Well goody for her. My mom happens to like the color green.” She flashes me a smile and tosses her head, her ponytail swishing, tempting me to grab it, yank her close and wipe that shitty little smile off her face.
With my lips.
“You two done flirting so we can do this, or what?” Joel asks, sounding furious. And he looks furious too. Interesting. I’m enjoying this more and more.
“We were not flirting,” Jade says as she starts to turn her head in Joel’s direction.
“Ah, ah, ah. Better watch it,” I warn and she returns her attention back to me, earning a fierce frown from her for my efforts. “I don’t want to have to kick Joel’s ass, you know.”
“He could probably take you,” she mutters halfheartedly.
“Ha. I’d demolish him and you know it.”
“I’m sitting right here, you know,” Joel pipes up.
“Okay.” I look away from Bitch Face Jade and study Joel, who appears much more confident than he did a few minutes ago. This would normally make me nervous. And I normally don’t mind feeling nervous during these situations because it amps up the adrenaline and makes everything that much more intense. Life is what you make it, right? I’m all for crazy bets and tense moments. At least I’m actually feeling something while it’s unfolding. “Let’s bet on Jade. If I lose, I’ll pay you some ungodly amount of money.”
“What sort of ungodly amount?” Joel asks, never missing a beat.
I ignore his question. “And if I win…I get your girl.”
“Joel, if you agree to this asshole’s stupid bet, I will kick you in the nuts so hard, you will never have children. And that’s a promise,” Jade threatens, her voice like ice.
Hell, even my nuts shriveled up a little at her words.
“It’s a sure thing,” he says, never once looking at her. “Don’t worry about it. What sort of ungodly amount are you talking about, Shep?”
The kid wants money. No problem. I can more than deliver. “Fifty.”
He rolls his eyes. “Big fucking deal.”
“Thousand,” I add, and those rolling eyes are now bugging out of his head.
Low murmurs erupt from the observers watching the game, startling me. I forgot they were there. Glancing up, I see Gabe standing near the doorway, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of him and an amused expression on his face. He loves this shit as much as I do, maybe even more so. He gives me one of those shit-eating grins of his and I nod once before I resume my focus on Joel.
“What do you say?” I ask nonchalantly, clutching the cards in my hand. I could win this. Not much else can beat four queens, unless the schmuck has four kings or four aces. What are the odds though? Really?
They’re in my favor. They have to be.
“I’m not up for barter, you assholes,” Jade spits out, her voice laced with venom. “I don’t know who the hell either of you think you are, but you just can’t bet on me. I’m a freaking human being.” She pauses. I’m guessing she’s realizing her words are having little effect on either of us. “What would you do with me anyway if you won?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I slide my gaze over her, imagining the many ways I could have her if she was mine. Though it would be brief. I don’t keep girls, never have. Girlfriends want too much. Have high expectations that I can never, ever deliver. I don’t even want to deliver, because women? They are demanding as fuck.
And this one I know would give me nothing but endless shit.
“I hate you,” she whispers, shooting daggers at me with her…hmm. Hazel eyes? Yeah, they’re a mix of colors, green and gray and a hint of brown, so I’m calling her eyes hazel. “Don’t think I won’t stomp on your balls if you go through with this, because I so will.”
“Maybe I like that sort of kink,” I say, sitting up straight. “So what’ll it be, Joel? You in?”
“I’m fucking definitely in!” He shouts, then high fives the jackass who’s sitting behind him.
“All right then. An extra fifty-k if you win, Jade Bitch Face if I win.” I throw a hundred dollar chip into the center of the table, adding it to the pot as a goodwill gesture. “Call.”
“Here you go.” The smugness in Joel’s voice is unmistakable. “Read ‘em and weep.” He spreads his cards out in front of him. Three aces and two kings.
A fucking nice hand for sure.
“A full house,” I murmur, keeping my voice even while deep inside, I’m ready to offer up my own triumphant shout. Hot damn, I’ve got this fucker. “Aces and kings high.”
“Fuck yeah, dude.” Joel starts to reach for the pile of chips, coins and dollar bills, looking like a greedy kid who just busted the piñata and has no plans on sharing any of the candy that fell from it.
“Hold it.” Joel pauses in his gathering. “I haven’t showed my hand yet. There’s a protocol to this procedure you know.”
“Right, right, dude. Go for it.” He releases his hold on the pile of winnings, though his greedy gaze never strays from it. He’s not even looking at his girl, who just happens to be staring at me. She hates my guts. I can feel the waves of anger coming at me, heavier and heavier as each minute passes.
She’s really going to hate me when I share my cards.
“Ready?” I cock a brow, drawing out the suspense. I’m relishing this moment because it’s going to be a good one. There’s a vibration beneath my skin, a buzzing that grows and grows until it’s a dull roar in my ears and I blow out a long exhale, crinkle the cards between my fingers before I slowly drop them onto the table, one by one.
Six of hearts—the trash card.
Queen of spades.
Queen of hearts.
Queen of diamonds.
And—dramatic pause—the queen of clubs.
The entire room erupts into cheers, choruses of ‘no way’ and the occasional ‘he fucking beat you man!’. Gabe rushes me, shaking my shoulders from behind and offering up his congratulations. Others follow suit and clap me on the back, some chick drapes herself over me and kisses my cheek. A defeated Joel pushes away from the table so fast his chair falls backward with a clatter. He leaves the room in a huff, never once saying a word to anyone, not even his freaking girlfriend.
What a jackass.
And speaking of his girlfriend…
“You don’t really think you’ve won me or anything, right?” She rests her hand on my thigh—Jesus that feels good—and digs her fingernails in so hard, I can feel them even through the thick denim of my jeans.
That doesn’t feel so good. At all.
“A bet is a bet,” I remind her, wrapping my fingers around her wrist and disengaging her from my flesh. I drop her hand back into her lap, ignoring the tingle I feel in my fingertips from touching her.
“It was all for show,” she says, sounding the slightest bit worried. While all hell breaks loose around us, we’re having this conversation. Funny how I’m able to tune everyone else out and only focus on her. “You didn’t lose your fifty thousand, so everything’s good right? You get all that as your prize.” She waves her hand toward the pile of chips that Joel so recently abandoned.
“I hate to break it to you, Jade. But you’re my prize. And I plan on collecting.” I lean in close to her, so close I can feel her warm breath waft across my face, see the way her eyes widen the slightest bit. Her lips part, her tongue appears, touching the very center of her upper lip and my skin tightens. “How about a victory kiss for starters?”
“Fuck you,” she spits out.
Just before she slaps my face and storms off without another word.