BY RIGHTS CARA should have felt like she was on top of the world.
And she had been yesterday when her agent had informed her that she had won the lucrative Demarche cosmetic contract that would take her modelling career in a more serious direction.
On some level Cara still couldn’t believe her agent had pulled it off and she probably wouldn’t relax until the big announcement was made at a glitzy event in London the following Sunday evening. Eight days from now.
It was going to be such a big deal that despite all her experience in the public eye, Cara knew that she would be nervous on the night. Especially when things had a tendency to go wrong for her at peak moments in her life and she had no idea why.
Not that she would let anything get in the way this time. Her agent had worked really hard to paint Cara in the best light possible. To explain that she had changed, that she was no longer the Chatsfield wild child and all-round party girl but a young woman who was revered by others around the world.
Cara secretly thought that had been pushing it a bit but Harriet Harland genuinely believed in her and Cara would not let her down. Especially after so many people had tried to distance themselves from her after that hideous rock video she had mistakenly agreed to appear in last year. Before the censorship board had pulled it, it had come with an R rating, but naturally, it had gone viral before then.
Cara had thought that she would never get a decent job again after that. Certainly that’s what her father had implied.
Which brought her right back to why she couldn’t yet bask in the glow of her big win.
She was late.
Not entirely her fault because, really, who could have predicted that she’d get stuck on the tarmac at LAX for five hours due to an unexpected electrical storm that had hung over the city like a bad smell.
And by the look of the teeming rain outside she supposed she was lucky the plane had even landed in Vegas and not been rerouted to, say…Uzbekistan!
That would be more in keeping with the day she was having.
Probably she shouldn’t have even detoured from London to LA but when she’d been told that she had to go to Vegas, she’d wanted to stop off and take her agent to lunch. Somehow lunch had turned into a private celebratory party and…well, she wouldn’t waste time regretting it. No one other than her siblings had ever shown her any support in her life and Harriet had said it was important.
‘More important than tonight,’ she grumbled, wanting to kiss the aisle as the line of passengers started to shuffle towards the exit doors.
Poker was hardly noteworthy even if the game she was supposed to hostess later that night at one of her father’s flagship hotels had the largest buy-in of any casino in the western world. It was only a game.
Glancing at the time on her phone she shoved it back into her shoulder bag and strode down the aerobridge.
One hour that apparently included a thirty-minute taxi ride from McCarran International to the glittering diamond on the Las Vegas strip—the Chatsfield International.
It had once had the reputation as the best casino in Las Vegas. Her father’s recent appointment of the new CEO—the gorgeous but arrogant Christos Giatrakos—was an attempt to re-establish that. In fact, Christos had been given the task of revamping all the Chatsfield Hotels and thereby restore the family name to its former glory.
Former before her mother had walked out on them all years ago and her father had found the bottle and his next mistress. Now he’d met yet another woman and―surprise, surprise―he had found a new lease on life.
Christos, who took his job far too seriously in Cara’s mind, had deemed that all her siblings had to be involved. Something all of them had resented as much as she did!
Rightly, or wrongly, the family business interested her about as much as moving into a nuclear-waste facility.
And she wasn’t above admitting, at least to herself, that it had hurt when Christos had emailed to ‘inform’ her that he was sending her to Vegas to hostess some important high-rollers’ poker game—supposedly the hottest ticket on the Chatsfield’s gambling calendar—because deep down she knew that he was just trying to get her out of the way so that her siblings could get on with the more serious tasks.
Cara would have liked to have told him to go to hell when he had suggested it but beneath the implicit threat that she’d be cut off from her inheritance, just like her siblings, something had stopped her. There had been a tone to his words that implied that she couldn’t do it. That the ‘wild child’ wasn’t as good as her older siblings. It had raised her hackles and made her want to show him. And her father. Not that her father would say anything if she did a good job. He probably wouldn’t even notice.
No doubt cutting her hair into a cute pageboy bob and dying it pink hadn’t been the smartest thing to do though, and she wondered if her sister, Lucilla, wasn’t right that she’d done it to get back at Christos and his derogatory ‘It’s time you did something worthwhile for the family name, Cara. After all, it paid for your fancy education when you were growing up and provided you with everything your heart desired.’
Cara had really hated him in that moment and had wanted to inform him that actually it hadn’t given her everything her heart had desired. It hadn’t given her two parents who loved her.
But Cara would show him tonight. And next week when the announcement was made about her new modelling contract her father would have to finally acknowledge that not only did she exist, but that she was a force to be reckoned with, as well!
Feeling more empowered she strode into McCarran International with purpose, the bright lights and the sounds of the poker machines in action greeting her, along with the smell of air freshener and polish.
Welcome to Vegas, she thought somewhat grudgingly. Her normal world was far behind her and she felt a bit like Dorothy in Oz, who would give anything to return to her normal existence. She almost glanced around her seeking out the wicked witch but she knew the evil warlords in her life were back in London, miles away. Thank heavens.
She wheeled her Vuitton overnight case behind her and strode through the throng of commuters, ignoring curious eyes that happened to fall her way. Thanks to her name, her modelling career and her tendency to cause a scandal even when she didn’t mean to, her face was well-known.
She sighed. Yes, her life was a goldfish bowl; it always had been, so why was that bothering her lately when before she hadn’t given a toss?
Taking a deep breath to ease the sudden constriction in her throat she told herself that everything would be fine. She was here. And an hour—okay, fifty minutes—was time enough to get to the hotel, shower, dress and brief herself on who would be seated at her father’s esteemed poker table. Something she would already know if the casino hadn’t sent her a corrupted file she’d been unable to open on the plane.
She was good at thinking on her feet. She just had to get her feet and the rest of herself to the hotel. And fast. Tonight was just one of those nights that had to be endured.
No, she corrected herself, not endured so much as conquered.
She gave a faint smile as she took in her skinny arms and legs, her delicate high-heeled gladiator sandals. She wasn’t exactly ‘conqueror’ material. She never had been.
But still, she wouldn’t muck up tonight. Her pride demanded that she didn’t.
Hearing her phone ring, and glad for the divergence, Cara sidestepped a group of tourists and didn’t break stride as she reached into her bag to retrieve it.
Fumbling she glanced down and only just got the impression of a tall, well-dressed man in a hurry, his long legs eating up the space between them, a dark scowl on his square jaw as she sidestepped again and he ran right into her.
He didn’t make a sound but Cara gasped at the impact, her foot twisting alarmingly beneath her. She would have toppled right into him but his reflexes were lightning fast and he gripped her upper arms and held her upright. His hold was hard and firm and she felt the jolt of his touch almost as if she’d had an electric current pass right through her.
Shocked, she stared up at him and for a moment she forgot to breathe. Rich blue eyes stared—no, glared—back at her in a beautifully boned face that could only be described as hard. Angular.
In the blink of an eye she took in his short, dirty-blond hair, straight nose and a firm surly-looking mouth ringed by what looked like a day’s beard growth. It was a beautiful, masculine face that brought to mind a warrior battling it out on the Scottish highlands with nothing but a shield and a powerful sword.
A powerful sword?
Slightly flustered by her startling reaction to a stranger, Cara frowned. ‘Can you please watch where you’re going next time?’
‘Can I…?’ Aidan Kelly narrowed his eyes between thick lashes and stared at the woman in front of him. He’d just been in transit for thirty-three ungodly hours from Australia to get here and he was tired, hungry, aggravated and in a hurry, and this pink-haired waif had the audacity to accuse him of being in the wrong. ‘Lady, I was watching where I was going. You were the one with your head stuck in your bag.’
‘I stepped out of your way and—oh, no!’ She glanced down between them. ‘I think you broke my shoe.’