Chapter Two

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God, I do love casinos – the glitz and the glamour – even the air smells like absolute freedom – and Jack Daniels, in this place actually. Freedom and Jack Daniels.

Don't mind if I do.                            

I just love the spontaneity in the air, everybody so fundamentally hedonistic – even if it's just for the moment. I'm trying to get away from that side of myself, I really am, but it feels like Ryan has just dropped me into my own personal Eden – and it's not the Tree of Knowledge that will be my downfall – as soon as my eyes meet his, I know exactly what will be.

My glass paused mid air – I really didn't have that aloof, hard to get air about me at that moment.

He was tall, and dark – radiating masculinity as he moved with the grace of a predatory animal – all long lines and lean, sculpted muscles that I imagined flexing beneath his impeccably tailored Armani suit – that I imagined flexing against my fingertips as he ploughs his way into my depths. My body clasping around his – raking my nails down his back as I scream his name.

Whatever it was.

His eyes clung to mine – spinning a web between us over the entire distance of the vast, bustling space – they're almost white – the palest shade of blue you could ever imagine. I saw them darken as they passed over my body, as my skin tingled where his gaze touched me, and my toes curled beneath his intense scrutiny.

I couldn't look away – it felt as though I'd been stripped bare for his eyes – as though he'd bewitched me, and if I broke the spell, I'd be left there, in the middle of this casino, gasping for my last breaths – panting and naked.

I took a long sip of my Mojito – hoping to calm my raging pulse – not to mention my hormones, but I couldn't look away. He had me captivated.

Ryan's arm around my shoulders was enough to pull me away from his attentions, as I almost spilt the pale, sticky cocktail all over my beautiful dress.

"So, what do you think? Shall we go to the tables?"

Was this where it started? Would we lose everything? The mortgage – the car? Would we be out on the streets in less than a week with nothing but a pair of sequin Loboutins to our names?

The fear that coursed through me must have been as clear on my face as a neon sign, because I was suddenly choked in his muscular arms, his head turned into my hair – ruffling the style no doubt.

"Babe, enjoy this," he was muttering, "It's going to be different this time. I just want you to have a good night."

Whether it's right or wrong to do so, I trust him when he makes me promises like that. He's my best friend. He's all I really have, to be honest, so I don't really have a choice.

"I'm sorry," I said quietly, feeling kind of sheepish as I looked up to meet his eyes, "I guess I'm just having a little trouble letting loose again. I'm so scared I'm going to regress or something."

His warm green eyes softened as he stroked my cheek with his thumb, laying his lips on my forehead gently in a soft, protective kiss.

"You've come so far, Jodie, stop doubting yourself. You can do this, I know you can."

I hope he's right, I really do, but as I look back towards the bar on the other side of the room, I see Mr. Serpent staring back at me – his ice white gaze mesmerising and hostile – I notice his jaw clench as he fixates on Ryan's hands, and I feel ashamed of myself, for letting my best friend touch me in this way.

I shake him away – and I don't reach for the apple – I reach for my Mojito, and signal Ryan to lead the way – mentally counting my pennies in my head, and wonder if the cashiers will take American Express.

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