The VIP Doubles Down
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The three men stood, their height dwarfing the Irishwoman physically but not in spirit. Gavin admired Frankie for thumbing her nose at all the exclusive clubs that had rejected her and her new money. She’d founded the Bellwether Club, a place of stratospheric exclusivity that had nothing to do with your birth, only your success. Of course, now membership in Frankie’s club had become highly sought after.
“You’re looking lovely this evening,” Gavin said, ignoring the shriek of his shoulders as he held a chair for her.
He was surprised when a slight blush added to the glow in her face. “Fresh air and exercise,” she said, her voice holding both the rasp of whiskey and the lilt of Ireland. “They cure whatever ails you.” Her gaze fell on the paper and pen, and she lifted an eyebrow at them. “Am I to be witness to another wager, gentlemen?”
“An amendment to the original wager,” Gavin said. “You hold the sealed envelopes with the stakes that are of personal significance to us. However, we also had an extra side bet that wasn’t recorded, a purely financial donation to charity. I’m sweetening the pot by doubling the amount I’m betting.”
He picked up the pen and wrote twice the amount Luke had originally proposed before signing his name with a flourish.
Frankie gave a low, musical whistle. “That’s a hell of a lot of money, even for one of my members.”
Before Gavin could hand the paper to her, Luke grabbed it and ripped it in half.
Nathan nodded his approval, saying, “An amendment requires the agreement of all parties to the contract. Archer and I do not accept Miller’s addition.”
“I see.” Frankie crossed her arms and turned to Gavin. “We seem to have a difference of opinion.”
He should have been furious, but the sense that even here he had failed swamped any anger. He shrugged. “No one can stop me from making the donation in the event that I lose the bet.”
Luke reached over to grip Gavin’s shoulder with one of his big, powerful hands, making Gavin wince. “You’re not going to lose.”
Gavin glared at the blinking cursor on his empty computer screen before he shoved himself to his feet. His back spasmed, and he kicked the chair so it banged against the desk. “What the hell good is an ergonomic chair if my back still hurts?”
He didn’t even have the excuse of a hangover from drinking with Luke and Nathan the night before. The other two men had refused to join him in a self-pitying binge.
Stalking over to the standing desk once used by Charles Dickens—the antique he’d bought with his first royalty check from the first Julian Best movie—he picked up a pen and clicked it open and shut several times.
His gaze rested on the blank legal pad lying on the desk for several moments. He grimaced and wrote: A CEO, a quarterback, and a writer walked into a bar.
The desk stood solid under the weight of his focused gaze.
They made an insane wager. The kind you make only when you’re both drunk and choking on despair. The kind that you can’t begin to imagine winning.
Yet two of them won, their lives transformed by their good fortune.
“Mr. Gavin, Mrs. Jane is here to see you.” Ludmilla, his housekeeper, spoke in her strong Polish accent.
With a combination of dread and relief, he tossed the pen onto the desk and turned away from the accusingly empty expanse of paper.
“Gavin, how are you doing?” His literary agent, Jane Dreyer, had followed Ludmilla into the home office on the second floor of his New York City mansion.
Leaning down, he kissed the tiny blonde woman on her perfectly made-up cheek. She threw a quick glance at the desk where he’d been standing. “No,” he said. “I’m not writing the next Julian Best novel.”
She sighed and sat down on the gray leather sofa, crossing her legs so he could see the red soles of her high-heeled designer pumps. Today, her dress was brilliant blue embellished with gold necklaces of varying lengths. Her gaze held concern. “To hell with the deadline and the movie. I want you to be writing for your own mental health.”
Gavin lowered himself into the wing chair in front of the flickering fireplace, stretching out his long legs and giving her a half smile. “I know your motives are pure, because we could both live in high style on my royalties for the rest of our lives.”
His bestselling books paid well, but it was the movie deals Jane had negotiated that made him eligible for a place like the Bellwether Club. He owed her.
She locked her blue eyes on him. “I’m worried about you, sweetie, so I have a serious proposal to make.”
“No ghostwriters.” He would rather kill off his fictional super spy than entrust him to another writer.
“Of course not.” She waved her hand in dismissal. “I want you to buy out your contract with the publisher.”
“What?” Shock vibrated through him. “I’ve missed a few deadlines, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel.” His book might be eight months overdue, but before this he’d never overshot a deadline, not through fourteen novels and three novellas. He had seven chapters drafted, but he hadn’t written a word since . . . since all the events he had shoved to the back of his mind.
“It would take the pressure off, give you some room to breathe.”
Gavin hurtled out of the chair, adrenaline overwhelming the protest of his muscles, and laid his arm along the marble mantelpiece. When he caught a glimpse of himself in the silver-framed mirror, he was shocked by how sunken his eyes looked. No wonder Jane thought he needed a rest. “We both know the publisher is the least of my worries. It’s the movie producers. I don’t know why the hell I let them change the movie’s ending to a cliff-hanger.”
“Because they were very persuasive, and it was a creative challenge for you to weave that cliff-hanger into your next novel.”
He shook his head. “If the movie had ended like the book, no one would care whether I had writer’s block. They could have made a movie from one of Julian’s earlier novels.” He huffed out a breath. “It was pure arrogance on my part.”