A Rogue by Any Other Name Page 0,1
door to the private room open and close quietly.
He stood in the darkness, silhouetted by the painted window overlooking the main room of London’s most exclusive gaming hell. From the club floor, the window appeared as nothing but a stunning work of art—a massive piece of stained glass depicting the fall of Lucifer. In brilliant hues, the enormous angel—six times the size of the average man—tumbled toward the pit floor, cast into London’s dark corners by Heaven’s Army.
The Fallen Angel.
A reminder, not simply of the name of the club, but of the risk that those who entered took as they set their marks to the plush baize, as they lifted the ivory dice, as they watched the roulette wheel turn in a blur of color and temptation.
And when The Angel won, as it always did, the glass reminded those who lost of how far they had fallen.
Bourne’s gaze flickered to a piquet table at the far end of the pit. “Croix wants his line increased.”
The pit manager did not move from his place just inside the door to the owners’ suite. “Yes.”
“He owes more than he will ever be able to repay.”
Bourne turned his head, meeting the shadowed gaze of his most trusted employee. “What is he willing to place against an extended line?”
“Two hundred acres in Wales.”
Bourne watched the lord in question, who was sweating and twitching nervously as he waited for judgment to be passed.
“Extend the line. When he loses, see him out. His membership is revoked.”
His decisions were rarely questioned, and never by the staff of The Angel. The other man headed for the door as quietly as he had entered. Before he could leave, Bourne said, “Justin.”
“The land first.”
The soft click of door meeting jamb was the only indication that the pit manager had been there at all.
Moments later, he came into view on the floor below and Bourne watched the signal travel from boss to dealer. He watched as the hand was dealt, as the earl lost. Again.
And once more.
There were those who did not understand.
Those who had not gambled—who had not felt the thrill of winning—who had not negotiated with themselves for one more round, one more hand, one more shot—just until he hit one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand . . .
Those who had not known the luscious, euphoric, unparalleled feeling of knowing that a table was hot, that a night was theirs, that with a single card, everything could change.
They would never understand what kept the Earl of Croix in his chair, betting over and over and over again, fast as lightning, until he’d lost everything. Again. As though nothing he had wagered had ever been his to begin with.
Justin approached Croix and spoke discreetly into the ruined man’s ear. The peer shot to his unsteady feet, outrage furrowing his brow as anger and embarrassment propelled him toward the manager.
Bourne could not hear what was said. He did not need to. He’d heard it hundreds of times before—watched as a long list of men had lost first their money, then their temper with The Angel. With him.
He watched Justin step forward, hands raised in the universal sign of caution. Watched as the manager’s lips moved, attempting—and failing—to settle and calm. Watched as other players took note of the commotion and as Temple, Bourne’s massive partner, headed into the fray, eager for a fight.
Bourne moved then, reaching toward the wall and pulling a switch, activating a complex combination of pulleys and levers, triggering a small bell beneath the piquet table and drawing the attention of the dealer.
Notifying him that Temple would not have his fight that evening.
Bourne would have it instead.
The dealer stayed Temple’s impossible strength with a word and a nod toward the wall where Bourne and Lucifer watched, each willing to face whatever came next.
Temple’s black gaze fell on the glass, and he nodded once before leading Croix through the throngs of people below.
Bourne descended from the owners’ suite to meet them in a small antechamber set apart from the main floor of the club. Croix was cursing like a dockside sailor when Bourne opened the door and stepped inside. He rounded on Bourne, gaze narrowed with hatred.
“You bastard. You can’t do this to me. Can’t take what is mine.”
Bourne leaned back against the thick oak door, crossing his arms. “You dug your grave, Croix. Go home. Be thankful I don’t take more than my due.”
Croix lunged across the small room before he had a chance to reconsider,