Claimed for the Master's Pleasure(5)

By: Jan Bowles

He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers together under his chin, probably contemplating his next move. Like a predator observing its prey, he stared back at her, his emotions unreadable. Short, black hair feathered around his masculine face. Dark stubble stained his strong jaw. His eyes held hers. They were the palest blue she’d ever seen, the color of rare blue ice. Bright, hard, and ice cold, they seemed to cut right through her. At that moment she felt his strength of character. He seemed glacial and calculating—soulless. In fact, he had the perfect temperament for a man who owned a casino. She’d already witnessed his controlling personality at close quarters. The way he’d dealt with his employees left much to be desired. Not that the Neanderthals who’d kidnapped her didn’t deserve his anger. They did. It was just the way he’d spoken to them, like they were shit on his shoe.

He pointed to the chair opposite his desk once more. “Please sit down, Ms. Constantine.”

Not wanting to stay, but feeling compelled by his presence, she closed the door, walked across to his desk, and sat down. Lia defiantly raised her chin, trying to appear more confident than she felt. She took a silent deep breath so her words wouldn’t sound shaky and frightened. “Please make this quick, Mr. Benetti. I’ve already been kidnapped at your request this morning.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

“May I get you a coffee?”

“No, thank you. This isn’t a social visit. I don’t believe for a moment that a man like you could possibly know my father. He would never have stepped foot inside a place like this.” She looked dismissively around his office, taking in the framed photographs that covered the walls. They all featured him and a variety of smiling, happy customers, who had just experienced a big win at the tables or slots. It all looked so staged and superficial. Only good manners stopped her from snorting with derision.

“Your father and I met when I opened my first casino. That was eleven years ago. He’s been a regular ever since. I got to know Fred pretty well. I liked the guy.”

“It’s a lie. You’re lying.”

“I’ve seen him at least once a week for the past eleven years.” Jake Benetti pulled out a drawer from his impressive mahogany desk. He took out an ornate, silver-framed photograph and handed it to her. “This was taken three years ago, when your father won big playing blackjack. He took Arabian Nights Casino for over two hundred thousand bucks that day.”

With trembling fingers, Lia studied the picture. Jake Benetti stood tall. He was immaculately dressed in a sharp designer suit. Next to him stood her father. His face beamed with happiness. In fact, they both had big smiles on their faces. The casino owner’s arm was around her father’s shoulder. She knew her father well enough to know that his happiness looked genuine.

Lia felt her forehead frown in bewilderment. It just didn’t fit in with what she knew of her father. Fred Constantine had been an upstanding member of the community. He’d run a grocery store until he’d retired two years ago. People who’d met her father respected him. Surely she would have known if he were a gambler?

“This doesn’t make sense,” she murmured, voicing her misgivings out loud. “Are you saying my father came here regularly, and gambled in your seedy casino?”

Jake Benetti waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t you think you’re being rather naïve? Why else would your father come to a casino?”

Lia knew then that her mother’s hatred of gambling must have come from her father’s compulsive habit. Her mother had kept it a secret until the day she died. Mary Constantine had been a devout Christian woman. She’d obviously found it difficult to deal with. It made her realize that she’d never really known her parents. Not really.

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