“From a little spark, may burst a roaring flame.”
— Dante Alighieri
Amanda felt comfortable as she glanced at the familiar faces gathered around the table. She had played them all before, and knew each ones tells, and their skill level. After two years of steady playing and advancing through the ranks, she had finally reached the pentacle table. There was only one empty seat and she wondered which of the high-seat players was not yet here.
She allowed her imagination to wander as she tried to alleviate the panic she was feeling about this all-important game. She turned her head to respond to a tap on her shoulder, with a smile she addressed the smartly attired server, gave her usual drink order and turned to face the empty chair once more…
Only now, it was not empty! She literally lost her breath at the sight of the man who now sat across the table from her! In past conversations, she had overheard his name, and had heard, that he was handsome; but whoever coined that word had never laid eyes on Antonio Dominguez.
Trying to appear casually unaffected by his presence, she used the servers taking his order to look him over. His profile was strong, his neck stretched up from broad shoulders, and she suddenly understood why the Ancients celebrated the neck in Biblical text; the strength of a pillar, what an apt term! His beautiful neck supported a head covered in dark, shiny curls that would have made any woman green with envy. His rich golden-amber skin stretched over a bone structure that spoke of excellent genetic gifts. Hmmm? Maybe he was an Argentine; they had that luscious thick hair and complexion.
Oops! He almost caught her staring but she shifted her gaze over his left shoulder, and waved at…well actually nobody, but it made him turn and look behind him! That one brief glance at his serious face, head on was enough for her to see the strength that resided there. His was that inner strength that came from within. He had laugh lines around his mouth, and his olive-black eyes. The small wire-framed glasses he wore did not distract at all from the beauty of his face, and neither did the abrasion and bruise she saw on his forehead. His eyes were a curiosity she would like to explore on a closer level. Perhaps she could lean over and remove them slowly….
Amanda abruptly sat back in her chair, finally aware of the fact that she was leaning over the edge of the table daydreaming about what was obviously a younger man, and her breast were almost spilling out onto the felt top!
Amanda let out a quick breath and worked up a calming mantra inside her head. Yes, she had needed a distraction to relieve her nervousness about the coming game; and the double meaning of that thought made her smile, but almost stripping a younger man with your eyes, and thinking of removing his glasses with your teeth was going too far. What was the matter with her; she was letting female hormones and girlish daydreams interfere with her assignment. Taking a deep breath, she coolly rearranged her thoughts.
With a cooler head, she carefully went over what she had learned about the hottie…Antonio Dominguez. He had a reputation for winning against even the deftest players; that meant he was cool under pressure. He impressed people with his knowledge of ancient peoples and their cultures; educated and committed to his chosen field. What was his chosen field? What required knowledge of ancient civilizations? Archaeology or Anthropology, both were careers dedicated to ancient civilization studies.
While the sun burnished his skin, he did not have the look of a man who spent years in the outdoors searching for artifacts, so that left Anthropology. Why would they be interested in an anthropologist? Unless he studies ancient Hebrews, there had been rumors circulating recently of an increase in activity in that sector. Something about a search for…immediately she knew why she had this assignment.
Amanda's quick mind had made the connection! What was going on here? Her role as passive observer had suddenly taken on a completely new meaning. She chided herself for her earlier lapse injudgment, and vowed to remain steady on the target. What was wrong with her today and now what was the matter with him? Antonio was suddenly glaring at everyone as if someone had accused him of cheating, and the game had not yet even begun.
It took every control mechanism Antonio had ever learned not to reach out and touch the woman, the real woman who had just sat there, in that chair. When he walked into the room, his first look had brought back that piece of his soul. Her hair had caught his attention and made him pause just inside the shadows cast by the entryway.
Flowing down in a thousand waves, the deep coppery-red hue mimicked every image he had ever seen of Botticelli's, The Birth of Venus! Being neither blonde nor brunette was just another way she stood outside the ordinary. All that glorious hair framed a face that was piquant, totally provocative and appealing. He had never seen anyone so beautiful, the face of an angel, and the body, dear God that body!
He had looked for an empty chair that would allow him to observe her unnoticed. The only open chair was directly across from her, and he had approached it quickly while her head was turned, hoping no one noticed his state of arousal. Sitting down, he arranged his face into his usual mask of indifference.
What he really wanted was to suddenly transport back in time. To stand, kick back his chair at the Round Table, draw forth his sword from its sheath, stride boldly to her side, kneel and profess his never dying love to her, his Guinevere! However, who would he be, Sir Lancelot or King Arthur? Lancelot was often equated with the love triangle, but no, he would choose Arthur, and not that pansy Arthur from the early movies, but the proud, strong Arthur from the Once and Future King!
Once he professed his love, he would gather her in his arms and carry her lithe, athletic body to the closest bed or horse stall, and wrap those Yoga strengthened legs around his waist, and then bury his face in the softness of her unbridled breast. That thought halted his dream for a moment. Just how long had it been since he had touched breast that were not stiff as a board or moved unnaturally? Squinting slightly, he tried to catch a casual glimpse of said breast, and then rewarded when she took a deep breath that forced them up into the opening of her low-cut blouse.
Relaxing, her low-cut blouse unveiled a natural, soft cleavage. They were supple, not pumped, pulled, or stuffed into a contraption that would cut-off her circulation, and leave an eight-hour indention. Oh God, that meant if he touched her breasts, she would feel every sensation. It must have been eons since he had experienced real sharing of pleasure with a woman who was not siliconed!
He turned away to answer the waiter and asked for water in a croaking voice. When he turned back, he caught her staring at him, and he was glad he was sitting down. Her eyes, a kaleidoscope of colors shone in their depths with tantalizing sparkles of cobalt, jade, sapphire, and topaz. Her eyes enchanted him. They were weapons. Clearly, she could cast damn spells on anyone... His head spun. Once more he was back inside the mountain, falling, only this time there was no hard packed bottom to catch him.
Coming back to reality was easy; all it took was the sudden movement of the woman across from him. She had jerked back in her chair as if she had received a shock. Her face was flushed and her glorious chest was heaving, Lord, please don't let that button pop, Antonio prayed. He would have to kill every man present if it did! Looking around fiercely, he made sure no other was staring at his Amanda while she was distressed.
The sudden announcement of a delay in the games start, allowed Antonio to relax his vigilance as the players left the table for a short time. Amanda joined the exodus, and made her way over to stand alone at one of the windows over-looking the Strip. Watching her walk away, Antonio was reminded of his dream, and he observed her as she moved gracefully across the floor with just a slight sway to her perfect backside.
Gathering his nerve he moved to stand beside her. She smiled at his approach, and somehow managed to smile even when she was not smiling at all.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Antonio Domínguez.”
“Amanda Messenger. It is nice to meet you, Antonio.”
He still tingled from her first smile.
She spoke with an educated articulation. Her tone and diction suggested she must be fun, animated, and perhaps a bit dramatic at times. Communication was no alien concept to her. He would be free to speak with her, without editing his words.
Wanting to keep her talking, he asked a few mundane questions. She was bold, and by no means timid.
“Normally, I am not inclined to intrude upon something so personal, but you have a nasty, lacerated contusion on your forehead. I hope it wasn’t too serious.” She spoke with concern.
“No, I’m fine. I fell into a cavern.” He wanted to tell the damn woman, Let’s just cut to the chase. You were there, haunting my brain. You know how it happened.
“A cavern, that is interesting. I hate to come across as bold, but I have something I can bring you later. Just apply it to the area tonight, and in the morning it will be much better,” she promised.
He smiled slightly. “Is that right? Well I would appreciate that gesture.” Wow, she would have to bring it to me. That meant another chance to see her face-to-face. The witchy woman would give him a potion. Which magic spell would it hold?
They separated as he sauntered back to his designated seat. He noticed the server bought a drink to her placeholder, something hot. Is it coffee? He tried to decipher what she drank. As the server came near, he failed to curtail his curiosity and asked about her drink.
The server politely stated, “She always requests two things; water without chlorine, and Café Mocha, as organic as possible.” Antonio laughed, the server joined.
She insisted on organic and chlorine-free, very interesting. A natural air surrounded her. The beauty she possessed was garden-fresh with an elegant glow. Underneath, he could see that she was fun, daring, and even wild. This was her private side, a side he was longing to experience.
Antonio noticed early that her game was off. Sympathizing, he was also having a bad game. Knowing his own problem, he wondered what triggered her results.
She was the problem. The temptress had him on his knees. His only thoughts were of ravishing her. Hell, she’s clueless...or is she?
Amanda looked at her cards, pleased to see another great first hand. A full house is the best way to start any high-stakes game. Get ahead of the competition early, then, seal their fate. Her pulse quickened.
Suddenly, ideas of Antonio attacked her thoughts. She could not remain near him, his piercing eyes would see through her. She no longer found a comfort zone. Completely neutralized, it was her turn and she had no option.
Damn! She folded. Her cards hit the table and she hopped out of her chair. Whoa. She smiled at him as she walked past his seat. Distressed, he wanted to yell. Wait, Sohu, I’ll come comfort you! Now, he wanted out of the game, he didn’t care who won. Where would she be going? What would she do with the rest of her day?
Wanting to leave, he couldn’t wait any longer. The cards in his hand looked great. All he needed to do was hold. His three Kings would easily beat the leader, who was showing a pair of threes, as the other players consecutively dropped out. His lips froze, his hands dropped.
“I’m out.” A gentle kick put his chair back into place under the table.
Max had to know what she did, and where she did it...Yeah. Wait, didn’t Max predict she would knock him on his ass? Deciding not to care, Antonio chose to confide in loud-mouthed Max if necessary, and there he stood right around the corner.
“Antonio, what the Hell are you doin’ out here?”
“Max, I need your help.”
“Sure, I’ll try man.”
“Amanda Messenger, where does she go? Even better, where is she right now? What does she do? I need to find her.”
Max erupted, laughing. Antonio rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, Max, you were right, but don’t hang me out to dry on this.”
“I wouldn’t do that, Antonio. There’s an organic restaurant, and a coffee shop she likes. She’s been writing for something, and stays in her room with a notebook and a set of pencils. Oh - Tommy always drives her, he knows her the best.”
Antonio sighed. Now he had to find and confess to Tommy, too. Great, in a single day she would shred a Vegas reputation that he really enjoyed creating over the past several years.
He sought out Tommy, a driver employed by the hotel.
“What's this organic woman doing in Vegas?” He couldn’t fathom where an organic restaurant could survive in this city; much less an organic spiritualist - playing poker in Vegas. The woman looked as if she qualified as one of God’s own angels. Alone in Sin City, she remained intent on staying organic...Amazing.
Right now, he was the idiot running after the crazy idea. Until today, Antonio never chased a woman, not once in his life. He imagined the vision of himself chasing after some woman, and at such a late age. It made no sense, but it was funny.
Tommy stood, talking with some of the other drivers. Seeing Antonio approach, he stopped to greet him. He knew Antonio was an excellent tipper.
“Tommy, I need to talk to you a minute.” He felt like an idiot high-schooler with a crush.
“Sure, man. What's up?”
Antonio motioned for Tommy to join him away from the group. “Tommy, I need your help. It’s a sensitive matter, if you know what I mean.”
“Sure, Antonio, I won’t tell anybody.”
“Tell me about Amanda Messenger.” Tommy stared back at him blankly.
“What do you know, Tommy?” Antonio demanded the information.
`“Antonio…I’d drive her anywhere. I’ve never met anybody as nice and kind as her. I drive her places that nobody else ever goes. She’s different, in a good way. You know - she brings me books and stuff. She’s always kind to me. She needs a guy that’s gonna treat her nice, she’s a real lady.”
“I’m nice, Tommy, I’ve never hurt a lady.”
“I’m telling you Antonio, she’s different, respectable, not like Vegas women. She’s special, my favorite.”
“I noticed it too, Tommy, but face it, you’re way too young for her,”
“Antonio, shame on you, I gotta wife.” He scolded.
“Really, help me Tommy. It’s making me crazy.”
“What do you want man?”
“I don’t know how, but I want to be wherever she is. Just tell me you'll help me?” He was desperate.
Tommy liked Antonio, and he had driven him enough to know that while Antonio like the ladies and the good life Vegas offered, he never strayed far away from the good side. He treated Tommy and the other working stiffs with respect; he tipped well, and never asked for hard stuff, as some of the other high rollers did. Making up his mind, he decided Antonio and Miss. Amanda just might make a good pair.
`Tommy motioned for Antonio to follow him to the sales counter. Picking up the hotel phone, `Tommy dialed a room number.
“Miss Amanda, this is Tommy… I’m fine. Miss Amanda, now I’m asking because a weird thing has happened… Antonio Dominguez is here. He wants to go to an organic restaurant and I told him I was drivin’ you to one in fifteen minutes… You see, he wouldn’t mind havin me take you both, you know, at the same time. He said he would be willin' to share the ride, so long as you don’t mind… Okay, Miss Amanda, I’ll see ya' soon.” He hung the phone back on the receiver.
“She’ll be right down.”
“Tommy, I would kiss you if people weren’t looking’'.”
“Don’t. You just better be nice to her.”
“Tommy, I promise - as long as her eyes don’t kill me first.”
“I can’t believe a woman's got you like this, Antonio. You like her a lot, but I don’t know what she’ll think about you.”
“Tommy my man, you just made my day! Now, just pretend you've taken me somewhere organic before.” Antonio suddenly felt self-conscious.
“Yeah, okay.” The Giant cordially agreed.