Making a ridiculously over-the-top point of demonstrating his exasperation, he drops it and rises from his squatting position. ‘Fine, but I won’t be held accountable if some prick looks at you funny.’
I stare at him a little perplexed as he stands in front of me, looking all fresh and yummy in his heavy board shorts and white Ralph Lauren polo t-shirt, collar turned up, Jesse style. ‘I have to deal with the funny looks that you get daily.’
He grins. ‘Yes, and you trample all over them.’
I laugh and make my way from the room. ‘My trampling ritual is a little milder than yours.’
* * *
Paradise just gets better. Whilst letting Jesse have his way by keeping me locked up at the villa was really very tempting, I wanted to explore with him, walk along holding hands, have lunch and be together in another way. It’s not happened very often since we’ve found each other and though he had a little sulk about it, I know he’s taken pleasure from me in another way today. His arm around my shoulder has kept me snuggly tucked into him and when we ate at a beach bar, he made me sit closely next to him so he could keep his contact.
It’s dusk by the time we’re bumping down the pot holed road, back to the villa. The familiar fragrance hits my nose as we slip through the wooden gates and drive down the cobbled road beneath the canopy of green and white.
‘Have you had a nice day?’ he asks, shutting the engine off and looking at me almost hopefully.
‘I have, thank you. Have you?’
‘I’ve had the best day, baby. But now I get to pick what we do for the rest of the evening.’ He unclips my belt and leans across to open the door for me. ‘Out.’
I follow through on his order, ejecting myself from the soft leather. ‘What are we doing?’
‘We’re going to play a game.’ He’s on my side of the car now, looking down at me with a crafty, raised brow.
‘What sort of game?’ I’m too curious, and it’s obvious.
‘You’ll see.’ My hand is grasped, and I’m led to the villa. ‘Meet me on the rug in the lounge.’ he instructs, dropping a kiss on my bewildered face and leaving me like a loose part by the front door.
Where’s he going? My frowning face watches his back disappear out of the room towards the bedroom, and with little else to do, except follow through on his instruction, I drop my bag and make my way over to the designated rug, sitting myself down in the soft, thick, pile. My curious mind is racing, but not for long. He reappears shuffling a pack of cards.
‘We’re playing cards?’ I ask, trying not to sound disappointed.
‘Yes,’ His short, simple reply is an indication that we will, indeed, be playing cards, no matter how much I protest. Cards?
‘Wouldn’t you rather binge on me?’ I try temptress tactics, with little confidence. I know when I’m going to win, and now isn’t going to be one of those times.
He eyes me warily as he lowers his arse to the rug, leaning up against the back of the couch with his long legs spread at full length in front of him. ‘We’ll play strip poker.’
I’m promptly fidgeting in my seated position. ‘I don’t know how to play poker.’ I’ll lose, but is that such a bad thing? ‘It won’t be a fair game if I don’t know how to play.’ I decide that it will be a bad thing. He’s smug, and I want to wipe that cocky look clean from his face. My competitive side has just raced to the surface.
‘Okay,’ he says slowly, shuffling carefully to match his thoughtful word. ‘How about pontoon?’ He must catch my confused face because he smiles a little. ‘Twenty one? Stick, twist, burn?’
I look at him blankly. ‘Nope, sorry. I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ I stretch my legs out and lean back on my hands. ‘Snap?’
He laughs, that head thrown back, fanning temples laugh—the one I adore. ‘Snap?’
‘Yes, I’m really fast.’
‘Ava, let’s save snap for when the babies arrive.’ He chuckles to himself and deals us two cards each. ‘Okay, I’m the banker and you need to take a look at your cards.’
I shrug and pick them up, noting a ten and a six. ‘Okay.’
‘What do you have?’
‘I’m not telling you!’
He rolls his eyes. ‘We’ll call this a trial run. Tell me what you have.’
I hold my cards to my chest. ‘A ten and a six.’ I say suspiciously.
‘You add them together?’
He’s going to regret this. He might be already. ‘Yes, you add them together.’
‘Right. In that case, I have sixteen.’ I flash him my cards.
He nods his acknowledgment. ‘So the winner is the one who is the closest to twenty one when all players have made their move.’
‘What moves?’ I restrain my grin when he flops his head back, looking up at the ceiling in exasperation.
‘The moves I’m about to explain, Ava.’
‘Oh, okay. Explain away.’
His head comes back down and he blows out a tired breath. He’s definitely regretting this. I bet he’s wishing he’d have opted for bingeing. ‘Right. You have sixteen and you need to get as close to twenty one as possible, without going bust. Bust means over twenty one. Got it?’
‘Good. With a total of sixteen, you should twist, which means I deal you another card. Got it?’
He pushes another card towards me, and I pick it up stealthily, like he doesn’t already know what I’m holding in my hand. ‘What have you got?’ he asks.
‘A king.’ I’m not a card genius, but I know that makes me bust. I throw my cards on the floor. ‘I didn’t want to twist.’
‘You can’t stick on sixteen, Ava.’
‘But at least I wouldn’t be bust!’
‘No, but it’s likely I’ll beat sixteen, so you may as well risk it.’ He turns his own cards over, revealing a jack and a queen.’
‘Twenty,’ I confirm quickly.
‘Correct. And I’ll stick, so I win.’ He gathers the cards back up and starts shuffling them again. ‘Get it?’
‘Oh, I’m gonna whoop your arse, Ward.’ I rub my hands together and make myself comfortable.
He smiles at my competiveness, probably thinking that I’m deluded. After all, Jesse Ward is amazing at everything. ‘We need to talk about stakes, baby.’
‘I’m not hungry, thank you. You’ve fed me enough today.’
His head falls back again as he laughs really hard. I’m trying to keep a serious face, but I so love him when he laughs. ‘I mean what we’re playing for.’ His green eyes land on me. ‘God, I fucking love you.’
‘I know. What are we playing for?’ I’m liking this game more and more.
‘How many items of clothing do you have on?’ His eyes run the full length of my body, as if he’s mentally working it out.
Playing cards doesn’t seem so bad now. ‘Three. Dress, bra and knickers. Oh, and shoes, so five.’ I point to my flip-flops.
‘Take the flip-flops off.’ he commands. ‘I have two.’ He pulls at his t-shirt and his shorts.’
‘What about your boxers?’
‘They were too much of an obstruction.’ he flips casually, dealing us two cards each. I absolutely know where this is going. No obstructions. ‘The first one naked loses,’ he grins at me. ‘The winner takes the power.’
I gasp at his amused expression. ‘What happened to wherever, whenever?’
‘I’m being reasonable.’ He shrugs, nodding at my cards. ‘Don’t push it. I could always withdraw my offer of potential power.’
I snatch my cards up carefully and hold them close to my face. He’s as confident as ever, giving me an extra item of clothing. ‘There is nothing reasonable about bargaining for the power in our relationship.’ I glance down at my cards, seeing two sevens. ‘I’ll twist.’
He slides a card over to me, maintaining his grin. ‘It’s all part of our normal, lady. There you go.’
‘Thank you.’ I reply politely, pulling my card from the floor and placing it with my others. It’s an eight. I dramatically huff and toss them between us. ‘Bust.’ I grumble.
He smiles and turns his own cards over, revealing a Jack and a nine. ‘I think I’ll stick.’ he muses. ‘You lose.’ I shake my head as I watch him put the cards down and slowly crawl towards me, his eyes burning into mine with rapt intention. My heartbeat is quickening at the sight of his prowling frame nearing, and when he’s up close, he slowly raises his hands to the back of my neck. ‘Let’s lose the dress.’ he whispers, pulling the straps free of the knot. ‘Up you get.’
I force myself to stand when all I want to do is collapse onto my back and let him take me right now. He can keep the power. I don’t want it. Ever. I watch with lust filled eyes as he grasps the hem of my dress and lifts it up over my head, standing as he rises and chucking it onto the couch when it’s separated from my body.
Leaning into my ear, he bites my lobe. ‘Lace.’ he murmurs, blowing a soft stream of hot air onto my skin. I tense, despite my best efforts not to, and just like that, he leaves me standing like a built up bag of desire and resumes position on his arse. ‘Sit.’
I close my eyes and collect my senses. I need to be strong because this really is a game to him. I sit back down in my lace and like the complete temptress that I am, I spread my legs wide and lean back on my hands. If he’s going to play games, then so am I. ‘Deal again, Lord.’
The knowing smile that creeps across his handsome face indicates his awareness. His temptress is living up to her reputation. He deals the cards, I cautiously look, and then immediately declare my intention to stick. He nods thoughtfully and turns his own cards over. He has a nine and a Queen. ‘Stick.’ He looks at me, and I grin, chucking my two Kings down cockily before making my way over on my hands and knees.
I straddle his thighs and take the hem of his t-shirt. ‘Lose the t-shirt.’ I whisper, pulling it up. He lifts his arms willingly, and I throw it behind him, sighing and leaning in to kiss his chest. ‘Hmmm, hard.’ I grind myself into his lap wickedly, instigating a sharp intake of breath from him, but then I remove myself from his lap and resume my position across the rug. ‘Deal.’
It’s quite obvious he’s fighting the urge to tackle me to the rug. I can tell from the discreet adjusting of his groin area and the vicious biting of his lip. He’s really concentrating, and I’m really loving it. The view is improving with each hand I win, too. Just one more, and he’s mine, power and all.
He deals again, and I sweep my cards up, quickly calculating a total of fourteen. ‘Twist, please.’ I gesture for him to pass a card. A two. Total: sixteen. Crap, I really don’t know what to do now. ‘Stick. No twist!’ He goes to pass me another card on a smile. ‘No! No, I’ll stick.’ I wave away the card, and his smile turns into a grin.
‘Indecisive?’ he asks, taking his leaning body back upright, putting way too much emphasis on that chest.
I blink back my peeping eyes, determined not to lose my concentration. I’m not being distracted, but it’s hellish resisting the urge to steal a look. Or even just gawp at it. ‘No, I’m sticking.’ I affirm snootily.
‘Okay,’ He’s desperately fighting a smile as he turns his cards over. ‘Hmmm, sixteen.’ he muses. ‘What to do?’
I shrug. ‘Your call.’ I don’t reinforce his words from our trial run. I’m dying to, but I don’t. I want to see how Mr Amazing at everything plays this one.