Home > Poker Face - An Italian Billionaire Romance

Poker Face - An Italian Billionaire Romance
Author: Holly Rayner

When Aimee Delacroix learned of her father’s bankruptcy—via text message, no less—she nearly fainted with fear and dread. Her entire life was about to flip upside down, and she didn’t even get the decency of learning of it in person?


The 24-year-old glared at the screen of her aging cellphone as her father’s hotel hummed around her. For a moment, her vision went white; she lost her footing and fell forward, leaning heavily against the reception desk. Bankruptcy. How could this happen?


“Excuse me? I’m trying to check out?” A man, a 60-something gambler, pestered her as she passed through the stages of shock and grief.


Aimee shook her head, whipping her blond hair behind her ears, and began to type furiously. She was a professional—often deemed the best receptionist her father’s Monte Carlo hotel had ever seen. “The star example,” she was often called. But in that moment, she could hardly feel her fingers, and customer service was low down on the list of her priorities.


“So sorry, monsieur. We’ll get you checked out as soon as possible. Did you enjoy your stay at Hotel Delacroix?”


The man’s face broke into a wide, teeth-whitened smile. His wrinkles were lined with angry, sun-drenched red. “As you know, Miss Delacroix, I always have a perfect time here. Your father really knows how to run a hotel.”


“You don’t know the half of it, monsieur,” Aimee laughed, feeling her heart dip deep into the acid of her stomach.


The guest didn’t pick up on her sarcasm, and Aimee maintained her plastic grin until he retreated into the sun outside, leaving her alone at the reception. Alone with the impending future, which would ruin everything she’d built. Everything she’d worked for.


Of course, Aimee’s father, Max Delacroix, had never been responsible with his funds. Despite owning a grand hotel in Monaco, and drawing some of the biggest high-rollers across the world, he had a gambling problem, which had ultimately driven Aimee’s mother, Sarah, back to the United States several years before.


Aimee often thought that Monte Carlo and Seattle, her mother’s hometown, couldn’t be any more different. Monte Carlo, with its grandeur, turquoise sea, and bright, aching sunlight, compared to Seattle—with its grunge music and its grey skies. Since her early teens, Monte Carlo had been the only home she’d known. She’d decided to stay there when her mother had returned to the States, maintaining her unglamorous position as hotel receptionist, beneath the terribly bright, blue sky.


Finally, she found herself texting her father back, demanding answers. She pictured him with hungover, yellow eyes, gazing out over his balcony. He’d probably lose that apartment, as well.


How long have you known?


The response came almost instantly, as if her father was hovering, awaiting her anger.


Two weeks. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. The bank is foreclosing the hotel, unless I can find a way to pay back the debts.


Aimee sighed, holding her head heavily in her hands. The clock on the wall ticked toward 11 p.m., which meant a shift change. The minute Christopher, her co-receptionist, slipped into position at the desk, Aimee darted toward a casino, Le Joueur, with the strong desire for a drink. Or maybe five. Christopher seemed perturbed at her lack of affection—or even a hello—but was soon thrust into a conversation with an angry guest, freeing Aimee from the woes of hospitality for a few more hours.


Franc, the head bartender of Le Joueur, recognized her, waving five fingers in the air and mouthing: “The usual?”


But Aimee shook her head, her eyelids fluttering. “I need something stronger. Whiskey. Straight.”


Franc smirked, eyeing her coolly. He whipped the whiskey bottle upside down, pouring two shots into a glass. The liquor gleamed beneath the candlelight as he slipped it toward her, rapping his knuckles against the counter. “Cheer up, kiddo. In this industry, you can’t let people get you down.”


“If only you knew,” Aimee said, rolling her eyes slightly. The whiskey burned as it slipped down her throat. Her normal vodka tonic wouldn’t have done the trick. Not that night.


She slipped her hand over her lips, closing her eyes, coming to terms with the fact that her life in Monaco was probably over. Around her, the most beautiful women in the world sauntered between tables, their hair gleaming. Men tossed hundred-bills at the bartenders, assured that their world would keep spinning, the money would continue its constant stream. Their lives, whiled away on yachts, eating luxurious food, each day slipping easily into the next, had nothing in common with hers. Despite having been surrounded by this level of grandeur since the age of 14, Aimee’s father paid her nothing more than a receptionist’s wage—which meant she didn’t have any money in savings. She hadn’t needed it before. She’d lived day-to-day in a tiny apartment near the hotel, content with her simple life.


Without savings or a job in Monte Carlo, she’d have to move somewhere else. In the back of her mind, she tried to enhance the allure of Seattle—to tell the story of the rainy, bleak city to herself in a way that would excite her. She hardly knew her mother anymore—only saw her for the occasional Christmas—and yet, she knew she would accept her with open arms, would encourage her to find comfort and love in that gloomy town.


Aimee sighed, her head spinning. Images of her life in Monte Carlo slipped through her mind, reminding her that this was the only world she’d built for herself. Her closest friends were here. Her long days at the beach, or hiking along the coast, or sipping wine with her father—whom she truly loved—would be over, if she left. She couldn’t give all of that up.


She had to be creative. She had to find a new job, outside the boundaries of her father’s failing business. She had years of hotel experience, and Monte Carlo was just that: hotel after hotel after hotel, burning and bustling beneath the sun. She’d speak with one of her friends, pull in some favors. Surely, someone would offer assistance; she’d find a way to keep her head above water in the world of extreme money and luxury. Perhaps, in a year, this would all be no more than a blip.

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