The All-Star Antes Up (Wager of Hearts #2)(5)

by Nancy Herkness

Luke knew exactly what he was going to wager. When you needed the win, you left everything you had on the field.

Trainor sprawled in his chair, frowning as he tapped his fingers on the arm. After a few moments, his expression changed. The CEO had made up his mind.

“That’s a downright unpleasant smile, Trainor.” The writer had also sunk deep into his chair. Luke was ready to catch the glass dangling from Miller’s lax grasp.

“I’ve decided on my wager,” Trainor said, his smile broadening.

“Are you sure it’s something that would draw a high bid?” Miller asked.

“I guarantee it.”

The writer switched his focus to Luke. “Have you made your decision?”

“Made it five minutes ago.” He decided to up the ante to see if Miller would stay in the contest. Pulling a pen out of his pocket, he lifted his glass off its napkin and wrote a large number on it. Spinning the napkin around so his fellow bettors could read it, he said, “Just to sweeten the pot, we should add a significant monetary donation to the charity.”

Trainor raised his eyebrows but said, “Done.”

Luke gave the CEO credit for committing without hesitation. He’d picked a number that could make even a billionaire think about it.

Miller read the number and nodded his agreement.

Luke sat back. He’d made sure they all had their heads in the game.

The big paneled door swung open for a third time, and Frankie Hogan strode into the bar. Her silver hair caught a gleam from the brass chandeliers, and her dark blue blazer and white blouse reminded Luke painfully of the Patriots’ uniform colors. As she approached their table, all three men rose to their feet, dwarfing the tiny Irishwoman. Luke’s knee popped. He winced and hoped no one else had heard the sound.

“Gentlemen, I understand there’s illicit gambling going on in my establishment.” Her rasp of a voice reminded him of a referee at the end of the fourth quarter, except for the Irish accent. “I want a piece of it.”

Miller chuckled. “Frankie, we’re wagering on matters of the heart, and you haven’t got one.”

The Bellwether Club’s founder gave a snort of laughter at the insult. “Clearly, I can feel pity, because I let you join my club.”

Frankie Hogan was Luke’s kind of person. She didn’t take crap from anyone. When she’d made her massive fortune, she’d applied to some fancy clubs and been turned down, probably because she was new money, Irish, and a woman. In his eyes, that made her achievements more impressive, not less, but the old-money snobs didn’t think so. So she’d turned the tables on them by starting her own club and shutting out the people whose only accomplishment was having rich parents.

She settled into the chair Trainor held for her. “You’re famous for your honesty and your ability to keep a secret,” Trainor said as they all sat, and Donal brought over paper, envelopes, and Montblanc pens.

“Along with ruthlessness, cunning, and sheer cussedness,” Miller interjected.

Luke added his glare to Trainor’s, and the writer shut up. Trainor continued. “So we’re entrusting you with the personal stakes in our wager, sealed in separate envelopes. Each one of us can win or lose individually, but it takes the agreement of all three to declare someone a winner.”

Frankie considered his terms before saying, “I’ll want to read them to make sure they’re legit.”

When Trainor looked at him, Luke nodded. Miller did the same.

“What’s the time frame?” Frankie asked.

“One year,” Luke said. He had to get through the rest of football season before he could focus on the wager. “Anyone who hasn’t claimed their stakes back by then is declared a loser.”

“A long-term game,” Frankie said, her voice carrying a hint of surprise.

Trainor nodded. “One year. Miller?”

Miller didn’t miss a beat. “Agreed,” he said. Was the man simply too drunk to know what he was consenting to? The writer met Luke’s gaze steadily and with a gleam of amused intelligence in his eyes. He knew what he was doing.

“I’ll lock them in my private safe,” Frankie said. “Who’s going first?”

Miller threw Luke a challenging smile as he grabbed one of the shiny black Montblanc pens and wrote his name on an envelope. He slid a sheet of heavy paper to his side of the table. “I’ll trust my fellow bettors not to read over my shoulder,” he said as he wrote down several words before holding it out to Frankie.

The club’s owner accepted the sheet and glanced down at it. As she folded it and slipped it into the envelope, she leveled an assessing gaze on the writer.

Luke didn’t bother with the ceremonial pen. He used his own to record his stakes in bold capital letters. Frankie read his wager and gave a low whistle. He allowed himself a tight smile. He wasn’t going to lose.

It was Trainor’s turn. When Frankie read the paper he handed her, she frowned. “Are you sure?” she asked the CEO, concern in her Irish lilt.

His answer was bald and definitive. “Yes.”

Frankie sealed his bet into the envelope. “You’ll inform me anytime someone is approved as a winner, or else we will meet in my office in one year’s time.” She tapped the envelopes into a neat stack on the table. “I certainly hope whatever you win is worth what you all might lose.”

“It will be life changing,” Trainor said.

Luke hoped he was right.

“That explains the stakes,” Frankie said, picking up the envelopes before rising. “Good night, gentlemen.”

All three men came to their feet as she made her exit. Miller scooped up his glass, lifting it high. “To our wager of hearts. May we be guests at each other’s weddings.”

If Miller had to be on the guest list, Luke just might elope.

Chapter 1

At 8:45 a.m., Miranda Tate’s desk phone buzzed.

“I need you in my office now.” Her boss’s voice held an undertone of glee, which meant he believed he’d caught her in a mistake.

She should have known something was up when Orin came in half an hour earlier than his normal day shift. The head concierge at the luxury condominium never worked an extra minute if he could avoid it.

“I’ll be right there,” she said, keeping her tone neutral.

She slipped her feet into the black high-heeled pumps she’d kicked off under her desk and stood. Smoothing her slim, charcoal wool skirt down so it touched the tops of her knees, she moved to the mirror hanging on the back of her door. There she checked that her long, dark hair was still neatly tucked into its low ponytail.