High Stakes Gamble - By Mimi Barbour

Chapter One

Bursting with motherly pride, Aurora Morelli sat in the doctor’s waiting room cuddling her daughter Lily who slept like an angel while other babies fussed and created havoc. Moving the fuzzy pink blanket aside, she snuck a light kiss on the wrinkled forehead.

When her baby opened her big blue shockers, Aurora suffered the same jolt that happened every time she saw those beauties. Lily had her daddy’s eyes. In fact she looked a lot like Kai, bald and pensive—yet charming and sassy.

Since Kai had disappeared into L.A.’s vast perimeters almost a year ago, memories were all Aurora had of him. Memories she’d fought hard to keep away.

Now with Lily being a tiny replica, it had become difficult but not impossible. With determination, she’d learned to block out that which gave her pain. Considering Aurora’s hellish life growing up with a bitch for a mother, Aurora had a backbone that didn’t bend and a prickly personality very few were allowed to get close to.

Relaxing the stiffening in her arms that started Lily squirming, Aurora gazed around the room. The very pregnant, thirty-something woman sitting next to her had smiled when Aurora first entered. But after Aurora gave her the prickly keep-to-yourself look so normal to her these days, her neighbor obviously got the hint not to initiate any conversation.

Glancing around the tranquil doctor’s office, low music in the background, she made note that the two females behind the stone-fronted counter spent more time gabbing than filing, or whatever they did to supposedly earn their wages. If their ample shapes gave the straight goods on their physical activities, both spent far too much time chatting… while sitting.

Her gaze strayed from seat to seat, and as customary, she checked out the other patients. Playing her personal game of who and what, she made up lives for each—who they were and what line of work they did.

Amazingly, she hit the jackpot more times than the law of averages. Guess she had an instinct about people that she honed. Her job as one of Las Vegas’s detectives rendered her more perceptive that the normal person. And she did love her job.

Or she did before her boss and good friend, Lieutenant Cory Ashton, forced her to take a drawn-out maternity leave. True, she hadn’t been at her best in the last months before Lily’s birth. But she justified her rotten mood from being forced to take a desk job.

Hell, that would make any good cop crazy. No way would she admit to missing Lily’s daddy so badly that facing each day as her stomach grew more balloon-like ended up worse than the day before.

Then Lily arrived and her world righted itself. Being with her child was as close to heaven as she was likely to ever get. But man she yearned to be back keeping the streets free from the criminal element.

If someone would have told her she’d miss her chatterbox partner, Lisa Jordan, as much as she did, she’d have laughed and called them crazy. So the fact that she called her every morning surprised the hell outta her.

No way could she stay away for much longer; it didn’t matter what Cory Ashton had to say.

A startling sound from an elevator opening its doors at the far end of the luxurious space caught Aurora’s attention. So did the dark-haired, jean-clad female who stumbled out screaming.

“Help me, please! My baby! He’s taken my baby! In the elevator…” Collapsing in a pathetic heap, the mother’s beseeching arms reached out in panic. The poor dishevelled woman screamed, her shrill fear infecting every person there. “Help me!!”

Aurora turned quickly to her frightened neighbor, menacing her with a glare before she handed Lily over. “I’m a cop. Hold my baby and don’t move.” Her intimidating finger pointed so close to the woman’s nose that she brushed it lightly. And when Aurora did intimidation, no-one messed with her.

The cowering mother-to-be pushed her long red hair toward her back, nodded, and gingerly accepted the sleepy baby.

Aurora bounded over to where a growing, cackling group surrounded the poor victim now prone and sobbing out of control.

“Move aside, please. I’m Detective Morelli with LVMPD, settle down and take your seats.”

Being on maternity leave, she didn’t carry her badge, so instead she flashed her wallet with her identification showing.

She turned to the younger receptionist who had been first to assist the crazed sufferer. “Call this number and request Detective John Hampton. Tell him to get his ass over here. Tell him Aurora Morelli has asked