The Player (The Game Maker #3)(9)

By: Kresley Cole

“I’ll hang on the periphery and work the environment.” Keeping the atmosphere conducive to romance.

I’d seen him do everything from bribing DJs to wild-dog removal.

“Vice, these people might be gulls, but they’re still brilliant. Listen to your grift sense.”

Grift sense was like the Force for a con artist. Maybe there was some mystical basis; maybe a grifter’s subconscious picked up on behavioral clues and channeled them into intuition.

One thing I knew for certain: to trust mine. I cracked my knuckles. “I’ve got this. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, right?”

He gave a long-suffering sigh, and we turned toward the stairs. On the way down, he said, “Quiet in there.”

The DJ had stopped playing. “They’ve probably already started the toasts.”

Pete and I entered the living room together. No toasts. Every eye was focused . . . on me. No one spoke.

On a stretch sectional couch, Maksim sat with Lucía, Aleks with Natalie. Jessica too. All five stared wordlessly, and the other party-goers seemed to follow their lead.

Standing nearby, Dmitri proudly announced, “Meet Victoria Valentine. She is my date.”


Pete murmured, “All yours, primary.” Then he abandoned me. Fucker.

Lucía popped up from the couch so fast she nearly tripped. The brunette wore a bronze slipdress that matched her widened eyes. She hurried over to me and put out a hand, her diamond-studded watch catching my notice. “Encantada, Victoria. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to meet you,” she said with a marked accent. “Really, really wonderful.”

What was up with the over-the-top welcome? You’d think Dmitri had never introduced a date before. “Pleasure’s mine.” I shook her hand.

Natalie, a curvaceous redhead in a slate-blue wrap dress, followed right behind her. “I’m Natalie. Welcome to the party! Why don’t you have a drink? You need a drink. Lemme get you something.” Her green gaze bounced around the room for a server.

“Um . . .” Most of the party-goers were still watching this awkward scene.

Black-haired, ballsy Jessica traipsed over, rocking a garnet catsuit, clearly designer couture. The girl shoved a champagne flute into my hand. “I’m Jess. Now that we’ve met, the course of your life just altered. Smoking bod, by the way. I’m an admirer. Are those colored contacts?”

My face heated. “Uh, no.”

To Lucía, Jessica said, “My hot mamí, I’m going to have to throw you over for this stone-cold fox.”

Fox? How fitting. And the henhouse door was opening before me.

Lucía chuckled. “I will try to soldier on, Jessabel.”

A nervous laugh escaped me, and I darted a glance in Dmitri’s direction.

His brothers had waylaid him, speaking in low Russian. But they didn’t look unhappy—just the opposite.

And Dmitri? His shoulders were squared, his eyes smoldering as he openly stared at me.

I inhaled, then asked bluntly, “What’s going on?”

Natalie recovered first. “Right. You don’t know anything about us, so this would be overwhelming and weird, huh?”

“A scoch.”

Jessica explained, “Over the last year, I have thrown myself and every other available woman at that man. But he turned this”—she waved at her spectacular figure—“down. Repeatedly. Pickiest guy ever. Yet now he can’t take his eyes off his new ‘date’. You’ve beaten out millions. Tell me, was it as simple as swallowing?”

I snapped my gaze to her. “I met him fifteen minutes ago.”

Jessica nodded. “In those fifteen minutes, did you happen to swallow?”

She had to be kidding. Ribald humor, right?

“Don’t mind Jess,” Natalie said. “I’d blame it on the alcohol, but she’s always like this.”

As Dmitri strode over with his brothers, Lucía murmured to me, “Ay, they make quite a picture, no?” She sighed. “Tan guapo.” So very handsome.

“Sí que lo son,” I replied. That they are. All three were closing in on six and a half feet with cut bodies, though Dmitri was a touch leaner—and the most handsome.

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