The Betting Billionaire Cowboy
Gambling billionaire Brody Hart bets Kate Mattese she can’t live on his ranch for two months – with him! – without falling in love.
He’s willing to put it all on the line to prove to Kate she’s worth waiting for.
Every woman falls for him. Every. Single. One.
The bet is a sure thing and Brody congratulates himself before she even moves in.
But Brody doesn’t know Kate needs the money more than her heart needs to lose. Kate’s loyalty to her family is bigger than her loyalty to herself.
When the bet goes awry and Brody really might lose everything, he’s got to decide between the ease of billions or the sweet joy of love.
Glancing over her shoulder to the fifth-wheel, Kate hoisted her bag up higher on her shoulder. The bottles and toothbrush clinked inside. Her mom slept through Kate stumbling from the trailer, but would she sleep through the effort associated with trying to get the car started?
The starter had been giving them issues since Kate came back from school. Every mechanic they’d taken it to had listed a number of other problems which just hiked the estimate for repair even higher. A new starter was the most pressing.
No, no money was the most pressing. Barely enough money for food. Hardly enough money for their trailer space. Thank goodness, they hadn’t needed medications or anything else to continue living.
Kate sighed just thinking about the trials they’d been through. If only her dad could come back. That would fix everything.
Shrugging off the pitiful thoughts, Kate narrowed her eyes. No big deal. The gravel crunched under the soles of her shoes as she crossed the parking lot of the rest area. She needed to clean up and the rest area was the only consistent running water they had access to, even if it wasn’t warm.
Opening the heavy metal door, Kate stood there and listened. If someone else were inside, it could be anyone. Rest area bathrooms scared her but she’d had to suck it up and get over it for years. She could do it again and again. She didn’t have any other choice.
At least, she and her mom had been able to move up from living in the car. Dad had sent some money from his North Dakota oil field work and they’d been able to pay off some debt and get a trailer for about eight-hundred dollars. But that wasn’t enough. They needed more. After what everyone said about so much money to be made in North Dakota, the longer he was there, the less and less money came to Kate and her mother. Kate hoped the economy wasn’t dipping again. What would happen to their small family then? Was there such a thing as not enough money for a family to stay together? Was that what would happen? Would they be torn apart more than they were already? They needed more money before Kate found that out.
More. That was the four letter word of her life. More. It was always more and never enough.
Inside the silent, empty bathroom, Kate stared at herself in the polished metal sheet that passed as a blurry mirror. Hopefully she could get herself presentable enough to go for the job application at the reservation. She needed the dealer job, like nothing else. She was willing to work her tail off, she just needed a chance. Just one!
Splashing water on her face after scrubbing her hair in the sink with cold water, Kate gasped. The water was frigid.
Teeth chattering, she used a threadbare towel and roughed up her skin until it was pink and tingling. She’d have to apply mascara and eyeliner in the car’s rearview mirror where she could see clearer. Finished, she went back to the car, dragging her feet.
She wanted to get inside the casino before the rush of other applicants. But she didn’t want to deal with the car. Kate needed this job. She needed to make something more of herself. She’d given up finishing her degree and seeking out happiness on her own terms to help her family.
This job would help her family as well as herself to get things back on track. No, going for the job interview wasn’t what she was so sluggish about, it was the car. Another bleak reminder that they didn’t have enough.
All of the camp sites were quiet, as if they too suspected a battle with the car was coming. Glancing toward the fifth-wheeler, Kate opened the front door and tossed her bag into the passenger seat. Climbing into the driver’s seat, she leaned her head back and took a deep breath. Here it goes. She turned the key in the ignition and the engine turned over immediately. Immediately!
Kate’s jaw dropped and her worry pulled off her shoulders. Today was going to be a very lucky day indeed.
The engine still ran rough, but Kate didn’t care. If she could get the job, she’d get transmission fluid and top it off. That would help with some of the shuddering. The drive to the casino wouldn’t take very long and she could do her makeup there.
Glancing up at the window on the trailer, she smiled at the sight of her mom waving and thumbs upping to Kate. Mom knew how great it was that the car ran.
Kate could feel it. Things were going to change. She only had a short twenty-minute drive to the reservation. She could get there with even more time at this rate. She couldn’t contain her grin as she pulled from the trailer.
At the casino, Kate checked her makeup one more time in the rearview mirror and hesitated before turning the key off. She didn’t want to lose the luck of the started engine. She’d kept it running while she’d applied her makeup. The odds weren’t in her favor that it would start again so easily when she came back out.
That would be okay. She would hopefully have a job and it wouldn’t ruin her mood. She’d bank on that. She had to. She had nothing else to bank on.
Tugging on the hem of her dark blue button-up shirt, Kate grabbed her pocketbook and strode inside.
Lights on the outside glowed, competing with the early morning sun. Dark red carpet and brass window frames dimmed down the daylight shining through the front glass. By the time she’d made it past the front doors and the double-layer of windows and foyer, daylight was almost completely obsolete. It could have been any time of day and the people inside looked like they had no concept of time.
Ignoring the gaming machines and the gambling tables on the far end, Kate stuck to the periphery of the wall and made her way to the Human Resources department tucked in the back by the restrooms.
Kate knocked on the door and peeked through the glass panel, hesitant to just barge into someone’s office. A raven-haired woman motioned her inside, a pleasant smile on her lips. “How can I help you?”
Swallowing, Kate didn’t want to admit to the nerves she had at actually being there. She twisted her hands at her waist. “I wanted to apply for the position that’s open?” She tried smiling but her nerves kept her lips tight.
The woman nodded, but then tilted her head to the side. “The position that was advertised in the paper has been filled internally. I do know we have more openings coming up. If you want to fill out an application, we can contact you as soon as one becomes available that you fit.” She slid a packet of white paper across the counter to Kate. “Pens are right there, if you want to fill it out here.”
Kate nodded, finally able to crack a smile. She tried to smother her disappointment. “Thank you. When are the jobs supposed to be available?” Please, say next week. We can’t go much longer than that.
“The end of the month. A couple of people are retiring and we have a woman leaving for maternity leave in the hotel side of the casino.” The phone rang and the woman tapped the counter. “Excuse me.”
Kate nodded as the woman turned away. She reached out with a shaky hand and grabbed the application. Almost a complete month.
They didn’t have enough money for food, to pay for the spot their trailer was in, or much anything else. Gas. They didn’t have enough for gas to get anywhere. They were basically living on saltine crackers and ketchup and the water from the rest area. As if agreeing with her thoughts, Kate’s stomach growled. She inhaled long and deep.
What was she supposed to tell her mom? They had to wait for more money from Dad? He wasn’t sending much and Kate had a feeling it was because he was gambling it away in North Dakota as well. She didn’t want to think that way about her dad, but from what she understood, there wasn’t much to do over there. He had to entertain himself somehow and gambling was anything but boring.
She left the office with the papers in her hand, but she left the pen on the counter. She wasn’t going to turn in her application. They might not get to stay in the area. She wasn’t sure how they were going to be able to move the trailer without a truck, but if they were evicted from the site, they’d have to do something. Maybe they should go back to living in the car. It wouldn’t be the first time. They could sell the trailer and go from there.
Unwilling to face reality just yet, Kate wandered the insides of the gambling hall, blinking back continual tears and trying to ignore the desperation that swirled around her like smoke in the air. If she walked by the buffet restaurant one more time, maybe some calories would soak into her through the air.
“Do you have any mimosas?” A tall, blond man reached out and snagged Kate’s shirt sleeve. He handed her a glass with just ice in it and pointed toward his table. “I need one. Also, ask the cook to send out some French toast and bacon. I’m not going to last losing all my money, if I can’t eat something.” He winked impossibly blue eyes at Kate and she just stood there. He looked past her and arched an eyebrow. “You new or something? Still sleeping?” He grinned and motioned toward himself. “In awe of my magnetism?”
Kate snorted. “Hardly. I don’t work here.” Bitterly, she reached out and handed the man his glass back. She turned to the side, ducking her head.
Where had the crowd come from? Only a few more feet and she was surrounded by about ten people, staring in wonder at the table the man had pointed at.
She turned back and joined them, curious about what was so interesting. The blond man claimed the center seat and rolled his shoulders. He said something and lifted his empty glass and the dealer motioned toward a woman with a dark blue top and a black skirt, similar to the clothing Kate wore. Kate had looked like she worked there. That made sense.
The waitress whisked away the man’s glass and he rubbed his hands together, readjusting himself in the seat. He glanced up, catching Kate’s gaze. For a second they held the connection until he grinned and winked.
As if challenged, Kate lifted her chin and crossed her arms. The man was ballsy and something about him grated on her awareness. Not what she wanted to feel when she was already feeling down and out. Rubbing her lack of a love-life in her face wasn’t what she had considered when she’d felt lucky driving that morning.
In front of Kate, a man leaned over to the lady next to him and nodded toward the blond player. “He’s been here all night. Last I heard he’s won a hundred-thousand and lost fifty. I’m not sure if he’s still up or not.” The man shook his head, straightening up and watching the table. The woman murmured something, but Kate wasn’t listening.
She stared at the man in the gambling seat. A tuxedo clung to the lines of his body with an almost irreverent tenacity. Obviously, it was tailored for him.
The blond man didn’t flinch or seem to care about the group of people watching him. He grabbed up the dice the dealer pushed toward him and shook them in his hand. He stared at the table and then glanced up at Kate again. He paused, holding his hand aloft. “I need luck. Care to blow on these for me?” A smile slid across his masculine lips, taunting her, as if he didn’t think she would.
Clenching her jaw, Kate held her breath as she tried to ignore all of the people turning to study her. She inclined her head and moved to his side. She blew on the dice and stepped back, embarrassed that she’d actually done it and berating herself not to do it again. Morbid curiosity held her in place when she wanted to turn and run. The juxtaposition stark between her black slacks and blue shirt and the man’s disheveled tuxedo with his black untied bow tie draping from both sides of his open collar, revealing his strong neck and the hollow between his collar bones.
His hands were well-cared for and his slicked back blond hair had lost control of a few stray locks falling forward onto his strong brow. Was it legal for a man who looked like he did to also smell so good? Kate caught a whiff of an expensive cologne that mixed money with nature. She shifted on her feet, crossing her arms.
He rolled the dice and the crowd gasped. Turning over his shoulder, he smirked. “You’re my good luck charm. Here. I’ll pay you fifty bucks each time you blow on my dice and I win.” He handed her a blue poker chip with a bold 50 on the front.
Fifty dollars just to blow on some coins? Was he joking? Did Kate care? She half-shrugged even as she reached out to snatch the chip. “Sounds good.”
“I’ve used up all the luck in this place, but I’m not ready to quit yet.” He grabbed up the dice again and held them out for her.
She leaned in close, inhaling the rich scent of his cologne and skin before blowing on the dice. If she could get a few of them, she’d be able to get ahead for a few weeks. Just a little bit of a reprieve.
That’s all she needed. Just a break. She’d blow on all the dice he handed her.
Down a hundred-thousand dollars at craps and Brody couldn’t get his luck to change. Add to that the texts his mother kept sending and he was past irritated. He tucked his cell away again after just another of her annoying messages.
“Who cares that Trevor is getting married?” Brody grumbled, startled at the bitterness in his voice.
“I’m sorry?” The woman next to him studied him, arrogance rich in the arch to her eyebrows and the elegance in her features. She intrigued Brody and he hated when that happened. He wasn’t on the market for anyone. He just wanted to win the next game, win the next bet. Nothing else seemed to matter.
He held out the dice for the woman to blow on. “Nothing. I’m just muttering to myself.” She leaned forward and Brody was entranced at how she could make blowing on dice look so sensual while harboring an innocence in her eyes. The longer she stood beside him, the more he wanted to know her.
He tossed the dice, more interested in the woman beside him than the game in front of him. “So, what’s your name?” He held up his hand. “Actually, hold that thought. I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want to lose for a while.” He grinned at her over his shoulder and watched as his dice danced into line.
Another ten-thousand-dollar win. Nice. He could definitely get used to that kind of luck.
He held out another fifty-dollar chip to the girl. He opened his mouth to ask another question but his phone buzzed again in his pocket. This time the buzz was insistent and repetitive. He held up his hand to the dealer. “Just a moment, don’t give my seat away. I need to take this.” He smiled charmingly at the dealer and the crowd around his table.
Stepping to the side, by the bank of slot machines, Brody swiped the screen over the image of his brother’s face. “Trevor. I’m busy. What do you need?” Trevor was the golden child and Brody was sick of being known as the mess up, the drunk. Ignore the fact that he hadn’t left the casino since yesterday and he’d been subsisting on alcoholic beverages and casino food.
“I need you to come home and help me with the wedding plans. Also, the takeover with the Stabler branch… I don’t think I’m going to sign off on it. It’s too risky. It feels like one of your gambling games. I’m not interested in high risk.” Trevor wasn’t rushed, but he was firm.
Brody sighed, running his fingers through his hair. Of course, Trevor wouldn’t be on board with it. The whole plan was Brody’s design. Everything about it was his. Trevor couldn’t stand it. “What’s the big deal about all this?” He needed Trevor to sign off on the paperwork, so Brody could do something with himself. He hated that he needed Trevor’s permission to do anything. Hart Industries was his, too.
“About what?” Trevor sighed, like Brody and his questions were one more thing to confuse him with their unclarity.
“About your wedding. I don’t get it. Walk down the aisle and give her a ring. Come on, man. It’s just a wedding.” Brody had been to multiple receptions before. He hadn’t been impressed.
“I’m in love. That’s the big deal.” Trevor’s confusion rolled into irritation.
“It’s not hard to fall in love, man. It’s not like you’re doing something special. Getting someone to love you isn’t difficult either. Well, it might be for you, but it isn’t for me.” Brody glanced back at the people waiting, the woman studied the chips in her hand with intriguing intensity.
“Really, hotshot? I bet you couldn’t bring someone to my wedding in two months – in love with you. Just you. Not your money.” Trevor’s voice dipped and then came back strong. “If you do that, I’ll approve the Stabler deal. Dang, I’ll even give you full control.”
A bet. Brody stilled, holding his breath. It wasn’t for something as trivial as money, either. It was a chance to show what he could do with a business deal. He was never given that chance. He cleared his throat. There had to be a catch. “What if I lose?”
Trevor paused. “You give me your half of Hart Industries.”
His half? Their mother had handed them divided control over the family company while she still had “consulting” privileges, meaning they did what she wanted until she felt they were doing well without her.
The stakes were high, exactly how Brody liked them. His palms itched, growing damp at the prospect. “Who? Can I choose Candy?” Half-teasing, Brody reached up and scratched the back of his neck. He had to iron out the deal with Trevor before his brother tried to back out of it. Candy was a woman who ran in their posh circle of billionaires and trouble. She had money herself, but she was more of a friend then a love interest. She’d always been after Stryder and she shifted her interest easily as she followed the money.
“I’m assuming you’re at some casino, is that right?” Trevor continued like it was a foregone conclusion. “The next woman who rolls her eyes at you is the one you have to get to love you, completely. Have security send me a video so I can confirm visually.”
Brody laughed. “Okay, that never happens.” Girls bent over backwards to make him happy because of his money. He’d never find someone like that.
“You’ll find one. Hey, I gotta go. Looks like Mom wants us to take Jesse shopping in Milan. Wish me luck. We also have the board meeting in California and then some traveling to some of the project sites Stryder wants to add. I’m not sure when we’ll be back. Mother, too. Keep an eye on the place when you get here.” Trevor disconnected, leaving Brody to stare bemusedly at his feet.
Okay. A bet. He could do a bet.
First girl that rolled her eyes at him. He tucked his phone in his pocket and returned to the table. Sliding the chair out, he grinned at the dealer. “Okay, let’s see how much of my money you’ll get this time.”
His lucky woman folded her arms, four of the blue fifty-dollar chips in her hand. She had her jaw set to the side and her eyes narrowed like she expected him to try to take the money back.
He held up the dice, challenging her to walk away with his gaze. The money was nothing to him, but maybe it was something to her. He had no idea.
Her finely sculpted profile leaned forward and she blew on the dice. Something tugged in Brody’s chest. “Thanks.” He threw the dice and blinked in frustration when the dice rolled wrong.
“Dang. That’s a lot of cash to lose.” The woman smiled sympathetically at him. “Sorry, I’m not lucky anymore. Better luck next time.” But her smile drooped at the edges. She must have needed the money more than he’d thought.
“Don’t leave. I need another one. Just one loss isn’t enough to count as lost luck, you know?” Brody reached out and grabbed her arm.
She rolled her eyes at him! “I don’t believe in luck.” She held up the chips and smiled. “But thank you. I really needed this.”
Brody could have been pounded in the chest, his surprise was so complete. How lucky was that? She was exactly what he needed. Everything that had happened since she’d walked into his life had funneled down to that moment. Trevor had suggested the eye-rolling and that woman had done it! She was the one!
Before over-thinking the situation or the amount of alcohol he’d consumed, Brody blurted out, “I need you.”
The woman laughed out loud, shaking her head. “No, you don’t. You’re doing fine.”
She’d rolled her eyes at him and he couldn’t help but want to jump for joy. She was attractive and spunky. He needed that to keep from being bored over the next two months. He needed to make her fall in love with him. No big deal. She obviously needed the money, judging by her grip on the chips.
Brody had to keep his part of Hart Industries. He had to win the bet. Brody needed the woman to do that.
She rolled her eyes – again – and pulled from his grasp. “No, you’ve already won. You don’t need me.”
Brody jerked his head back and narrowed his eyes. She was seriously going to turn him down. She hadn’t even heard him out. He needed to appeal to her needs. “You’re right. I’m so lucky. I’ll probably keep winning. It had nothing to do with you. You should probably give me my money back.” He held out his hand as if seriously asking for the chips back.
Worry darkened her eyes. “What? It’s not you. I brought you luck. I’m lucky.” She poked her chest with a long elegant finger.
Brody shook his head, rubbing his hands together to warm them. They’d started turning on the air-conditioner earlier than usual. “You don’t even believe in luck. You can’t be lucky.”
“I am. I’m lucky.” She folded her arms as if to further protect her chips.
“How lucky are you?” Brody glanced at the dealer who was changing out with another dealer. He tossed a five-hundred chip at the previous dealer and looked back at the woman. “No, seriously. Just how lucky are you?”
Honestly, Kate didn’t believe in luck, but she needed the two-hundred dollars she’d earned so far. She curled her fingers around the stack of chips in her hand. “What do you mean, am I lucky?” He wasn’t getting her money. No matter what. She’d earned it. He’d made her blow on those stupid dice. She’d embarrassed herself, debased herself for those chips. He’d have to pry them from her cold fingers.
“I mean, are you lucky enough to make a wager?” His blue eyes sparkled like he enjoyed the concept of betting more than he liked the outcome, like just the word did things to his insides.
He must want the money back. Why else would he want to wager? Kate blinked rapidly and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m really confused. You’re not getting this money back.” She stepped back like she expected him to reach out and wrestle the chips away from her. “I’m not going to risk losing them in a wager.”
He chuckled and leaned his elbow on the table. “No. I don’t want the chips back. I was just teasing you. No, my bet is a little… more sophisticated than some chips. I’ll bet you that you can’t live on my ranch for the next two months – with me – and not fall in love with me.” He winked, reaching for his newly arrived drink. “And to sweeten the pot, you get to choose how much you would win, if you don’t fall in love with me.”
The grin on his face suggested he had no doubt he’d win. Kate’s pride reared its head and she jerked back. “You’re pretty confident in yourself, huh? If I win, I get whatever dollar amount I name?” She didn’t understand why anyone would play the game that way, but she also didn’t understand the draw of gambling at all. “Like five-hundred dollars?” She wasn’t sure what the parameters were for the bet at all. She honestly didn’t understand what he was saying. He wanted to pay her to live with him for two months so he could prove he could make her fall in love with him?
He must be bored. She studied him in silence, taking in his broad shoulders and stubble shadowing a strong jaw and square chin. Thankfully, he was a tuxedo-wearing type of man – not her type at all. It didn’t matter how much money the bet was for, she wouldn’t lose. True, he was good looking but he had more pretention than anything else.
“Well, I was thinking more than five-hundred dollars. You can go higher.” He folded his arms and glanced at the dealer who waited for him. The betting man held up his hand and softly shook his head. “In a minute.” He looked back at Kate and waited.
“Five-thousand?” A fine layer of perspiration broke out on her forehead. She didn’t have five-thousand to gamble away. Just the thought of trying to get into a situation where she might lose any money was enough to make her want to throw up.
“Okay, I can see us sitting here all day. Let’s make it five-hundred-thousand and keep it interesting.” He sipped his drink, oozing charm and expectation.
His assuredness raised her hackles and Kate swallowed. The number was more than she’d ever see in her life. How could he think she’d have that much to gamble when she clung to the chips with an almost starved desperation? She lowered her tone, embarrassed to have to declare the obvious. “I don’t have that much to lose. I barely have this.” She held up her clenched fingers, unwilling to chance losing the chips from her grip.
Alarmed, the man replaced his drink on the counter and held out his hands. “No, wow, no, sorry I wasn’t more clear. If you lose, well, you’ll be in love with me and we won’t be together. I think that’s more than enough to lose.” He shook his head, his lips down turned. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard heart break is unimaginable, and I honestly don’t wish it on anyone, but I think that’s enough to sacrifice.” He winced.
His over-confidence was alarming but also comforting. He was so sure she would fall for him that he really wasn’t asking her to risk anything but her heart. She’d been desperate for relief from poverty for so long, she didn’t have any doubt her motivations would protect her heart.
Kate set her hand on her hip. “Let me get this straight – if I move to your place for two months and I don’t fall for you, I get five-hundred-thousand? If I do fall in love with you, I’m out a broken heart and that’s it? What do you get out of me falling in love with you?” Her incredulity raised her voice and she glanced around, quieting immediately.
All of that was too easy. What was he hiding? He had to get something out of the bet, but she couldn’t read him. She didn’t know him at all – reading him was impossible.
She studied him again. No, he wasn’t her type. She liked dirty jeans, cowboy hat, and the smell of masculine sweat – not dirty sweat. He reeked of alcohol, expensive cologne, wore a tuxedo, and had slickly styled hair. True, he was good looking as sin, but her mama had taught her to stay away from sinful men. She twisted her lips to the side. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”
The man laughed. “Trust me, sweetheart. It’s not.” He held out an empty hand with well-maintained nails. “I’m Brody Hart.”
Kate took his hand in hers and nodded. “I’m Kate Mattese. If it’s not fair, then why do you want to do it?” She cocked her head to the side.
“Well, Kate, if you don’t mind me being so bold, women fall for me or my money in a lot less time than two months. I feel bad saying it’s a guaranteed win, but the odds don’t look good on your side.” He winked.
A little spark inside her suggested she might be interested in the prospect, if for no other reason than to help him eat crow. Everyone needed a little help now and again.