Hardwired

Author: P Hana

Page 7

   

“Okay, we’ll figure it out, I guess. I have a few old machines around here I can put together in a pinch. Let’s just hope the college network doesn’t go down.”

“Work your magic.”

I only understood about twenty percent of what Sid actually said, but I had no doubt he was a genius in his own right, so I trusted he would figure it out. He couldn’t wake up before noon, ever, but the man could build a computer out of ram chips and motherboards in a few hours. Plus, Clozpin had become his baby too, and like me, he worked on little else these days. I was thankful for his dedication, even if it meant working around his quirks.

“How’s the job hunt?” I asked, hoping he was as uninspired as I was to enter the real world.

“Uneventful. I haven’t been devoting much time to it.”

Silently relieved, I left it at that and got up to start cleaning.

“Erica, you don’t have to do that. I’ll clean today, I promise.”

“Don’t worry about it. Make sure we don’t go offline in the next forty-eight hours, and we’ll call it even.”

“Deal.”

* * *

As soon as we entered the Wynn, I knew Alli was right. It was barely past ten o’clock on a Friday night, and the casino was crawling with sexy women wearing the tiniest dresses I had ever seen. I looked like a nun by comparison, so Alli dolled me up back at the room before we headed out to explore the hotel. I settled on a tight black panel dress with nude pumps, and I let my hair go a little wild and curly.

“Girls here probably go to church in this dress, Alli.”

“No kidding. Hike it up a bit.” She coaxed some cleavage out of her tiny neon dress.

Mine easily busted out of the scoop neck of my dress. Stress hadn’t made my tits any smaller apparently. “No, thanks. I’d like to leave a few things to the imagination. You should too.”

“Whatever. It’s not like we know anyone here.” She shrugged.

I couldn’t disagree. This might be a chance to let loose a bit, but that could be dangerous too. Thanks to Blake, my skin was already crawling with an almost painful craving to be touched, everywhere. My vibrator wasn’t staving off the need he’d inspired and I was dangerously close to taking home the first Blake look-alike I could get my hands on.

Every time I recalled the pitch meeting, my thoughts drifted to different ways the morning could have played out, all ending with me flat on my back on the conference table screaming his name. Jesus Christ. I forced him from my thoughts. He was on my shit list, not my to-do list.

Alli distracted me, primping and fussing over my accessories. No one loved fashion more than Alli. At first I couldn’t understand how she could spend so much energy on her appearance, but eventually I came to realize that fashion had a lot more to do with feeling good on the inside than impressing anyone else on the outside, though it certainly helped.

It was past midnight when we stepped onto the casino floor as a throughway to our destination, a bar on the other side. The place was mobbed, and Alli grabbed my hand to navigate us through the crowd of loud and boisterous people.

“Erica!”

I slowed, certain I’d heard my name over the noise. I couldn’t be the only Erica here, but when I heard it again, I turned toward the sound and recognized a familiar face. Blake was standing at a nearby roulette table staring directly at me.

“Oh, shit. Let’s get out of here.” I looked away and took the lead with Alli trailing behind me.

“Wait, who is that?” Alli stopped me, causing a small traffic jam behind us.

“That is Blake Landon.”

“Whoa, what is he doing here?”

“I don’t care. I just want to be as far away from that man as possible.”

“He’s looking right at you, Erica. Let’s just go say hi.”

Alli waved at him and dragged me toward the table where he was playing. By some miracle, he’d become more handsome than I remembered. In a black collared shirt and all black suit, he was flawless. Intimidating. Sexy as hell. I took a deep breath and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear nervously, praying he couldn’t sense the sexual tension that was palpable at this point.

We would make this quick and be on our way.

“Erica.” He greeted me with those penetrating eyes. “What a surprise.”

I did my best to appear unaffected but found myself holding my breath as his gaze traveled the length of me. I crossed my arms, immediately regretting my wardrobe choice, but the effort to conceal my cleavage only enhanced it.

His lips parted slightly when his stare fixed there a second too long. I straightened and broke away from his stare, noticing the almost equally gorgeous man next to him. He looked like Blake’s slightly shorter twin, his hair a few shades lighter and his eyes a darker hazel, almost brown. He gave us a little wave.

“Erica, I’m Heath, Blake’s brother.”

He shot Alli a heart-stopping smile. She squeezed my hand slightly.

“Nice to meet you, Heath. This is Alli Malloy, one of my co-founders,” I said, silently hoping the introduction went absolutely nowhere.

Alli tore her gaze away from Heath to greet Blake. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Landon.” She smiled at him, and then me, raising her eyebrow a hair.

Now that she’d seen him in the flesh, she knew what I was up against, but her expression held no hint of sympathy. I could tell she was already crushing on his brother, and any chance I had of her going to bat for me had just gone out the window.

“Place your bets!” The croupier released the ball onto the wheel.

“Do you play roulette?” Blake asked.

“I do, but I’m not gambling tonight.” Gambling was off limits on this trip. Not to mention the minimum bet at this table was $1,000.

“Well, I am. What numbers do you play?”

The ball slowed down on the wheel, and I felt an unnatural sense of urgency for him to bet while he still could. “Um, nine and one.” I blurted out my birthday, numbers that had served me well in the past.

Blake placed $10,000 chips on both numbers and a few others, seconds before the ball dropped into the number nine slot. Alli and I screamed in unison. My heart beat wildly as I tried to do the math.

“Number nine!” The croupier handed Blake five colorful chips.

Blake gave one back to the man as his tip and tossed the rest into his pocket. He caught my hand and the contact shot through me. Between his touch and the recent win, my body was buzzing with pent-up energy. I pulled back defensively, startled by how much I craved his touch.

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