Ante Up

It was only a matter of time…
… before their affair was exposed.

When a shocking truth catches Darla and Anton by surprise, her worst fears come to life. But not even the risk of losing her company or her brother’s betrayal compare to Anton’s abandonment.

When Anton realizes his mistake, he vows to make amends anyway he can. But after his brutal accusations, can their love and trust be restored?

This novella is part one of three in an ongoing serial. Each installment is available separately, or as a boxed set.

Reading order of the Casino Players Saga:

Book One All In
Book Two Double or Nothing
Book Three Ante Up



“Hey, how are you today? Iced skinny latte, right?” The barista asks.

“That’s right. Thanks.” I reply.

“Two, please.” A voice behind me interjects before tossing a twenty on the counter.

“Oh god,” I murmur after turning around.

It’s Anton.

He looks completely out of character, dressed in casual gray pants, leather sneakers and an open collar short sleeved shirt. But it’s not his clothes that make him seem so different. His explosive, silent charm is absent, so is his palpable confidence..

“Darla, please. Can we talk?” He looks exhausted, distressed

“That’s not a good idea. I can’t take anymore hurt.”

“Just a few minutes. Hear me out. That’s all I ask.”

I don’t have the energy or the heart to fight him.

I nod with a sigh.

After the barista serves us our drinks, I gesture toward my favorite overstuffed couches in the back. It’s quiet and private back here, thank heaven.

As we settle down across from each other, I take a bracing sip of my cold latte, while Anton puts his on the table and ignores it.

“After our conversation, I went to the doctor. You were right.”

“No kidding.”

He blows out a breath. “Please forgive me.”

“You know what hurt the most?  All that rawness, passion, sex…  and you doubted me.” I can’t bear the pain of looking straight at him.

He covers my hand with his across the tabletop, and we sit in silence for a few minutes before he speaks. “When you told me what happened my reaction was disbelief.”

“No. Your reaction was that I must be a liar.”

“I never meant to hurt you.”

“Hurt me?” I repeat. “‘Hurt’ doesn’t cover it.”

“You’re right. I was scared.” he answers.

You were scared?” I pull my hand away from his.

“When it comes down to it, you belong to someone else. I went into denial. About my feelings, our relationship.” He pauses. “Even the realization that I’d fallen in love with you. I love you, Darla.”

  Aside from pure shock, my only response is the tears that roll down my cheeks.

 “You love me?” I repeat. “That’s a strange way to show it.”

“Maybe it’s crazy, considering the way we met and how long we’ve known each other.” His hand caresses my cheek. “Or maybe at this point in my life, after being beat up in the past, I know exactly what the hell I want. And what I want is you.”

We sit in silence as I grab a fistful of paper napkins from the dispenser and wipe the tears from my eyes and face.

“It’s no crazier than how I feel about you. But it’s too late for us. If we’d been able to keep things secret, if I’d gotten to Pax sooner, maybe we’d have had a chance.”

“We still do,” he promises.

In many ways, I’ve been lucky in life,” I wipe another tear away with the back of my hand. “But my good fortune has never extended to love.” I shake my head and look at him. “Our situation is no different.”

“It is different. Our feelings for each other make it different.”

I laugh without bitterness or cynicism. Only resignation. “For you? Maybe. Not for me. Until you, my family came first. Always. I’ve been successful because they needed me to do well. I’ve believed that my business was a tool to help those closest to me. Now that tool will be taken away, along with the family I tried so hard to nurture. I don’t know who I’ll be anymore.”

“It doesn’t need to be like that. You don’t have to do this alone. Let me help you,” he pleads.

“It always worried me that you’d want more than I could give. There’s no way to avoid what’s coming. And when it’s over, I won’t be the same person you love anymore.”