Hustled To The Altar

By: Dani Collins

“And I don’t have time,” she added, pointing at her watch.

Wicked woman, it wasn’t her watch she wanted him to see. He caught her hand and stared at the diamond on her third finger.

“It looks real.” It made his chest feel tight.

“Of course it’s real.” She tugged her hand out of his grasp and adjusted the ring on her finger as she considered it.

The way she extended her arm made him think of the way the Ring of Reversal card was played in his best-selling game Orion’s Rings. It had the power to ward off all sorts of trouble and Renny appeared to be wielding hers against him. Interesting, since he was pretty sure she had searched him out so they could get back together.

He’d been counting on her coming to him. That way, he could take her back without losing ground. Sure enough, the day before she would have to go through with this marriage she was supposedly planning, here she was. He wasn’t going to gloat, though. He didn’t need to make someone else feel like a loser to enjoy the invincible feeling of winning. He wouldn’t force her to concede. He’d let her play out her hand, intrigued as always by her strategy.

“Is he Italian?” He recalled Gran had first mentioned the engagement when she had called from Italy.

“We met in Venice, but he’s American,” Renny said.

“So you’ve only known him a few weeks?”

“Doesn’t matter. He wants marriage, a house in suburbia, and two-point-three kids, just like me. You might think marriage is the equivalent of going directly to jail without collecting two hundred dollars, but I value it.” She gave him a hard stare for a moment then lowered her gaze. “Sorry. I promised myself I wouldn’t get into this with you. There’s no winner or loser, right? We chose different leagues, that’s all.” She shrugged.

There were moments in any game when the play shifted, when an opponent’s move took you off guard and forced you to re-think from square one. Con had that feeling now.

“If we’re okay over your gran, I’ll get going. I really do have a lot to do. Bye, Con.” Her voice went weak and so did his knees.

“I call bullshit,” he said.

She paused three steps into her exit. “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re bluffing.” Please, God.

“Bluffing what?”

“All of it. The engagement. Gran and the con artist. Walking out. You’re hoping I’ll ante up with a diamond ring as big as that one. You want me to marry you.”

“I’ve always admired your optimism, Con.”

And he had always admired her ability to make him laugh while she tugged the rug from under his feet. She wasn’t really getting married, was she?

“Other women have done crazier things, hoping I’d marry them.”

“They don’t know you as well as I do.”

Yeah, she was a laugh riot. Or would have been, if he knew she was joking. He was starting to think this was serious, though. He hated serious.

“Is he rich?”

“No. He’s not particularly poor, either. He’s quite average in all respects.” Her voice thinned; she was insulted.

So was he. Losing never felt as good as winning, but it was easier to take when the competition was worthy.

“You’re getting married—the dullest, most predictable rut anyone can fall into—and you pick a man best described as ‘average?’”

“Yes, Con. Congratulations on escaping my evil trap. I was hoping you’d be happy for me.”

Happy for her? That was the hand she was dealing him? It was as good as a fold, but maybe that’s how he should play this. He was the Prince of Play. He had long ago passed on the game of white picket fences. Apparently, though, it turned Renny’s crank, and he shouldn’t expect her to stay in a relationship where it wasn’t an option. But he hadn’t believed she was serious. About any of it.

Something else occurred to him.

“Are you telling me Gran really got rooked?”

The corners of her mouth dropped like the value of stock in Performance Games after his departure.

“Are you going to yell at me now?”

“Hell, no. I’m going to enlist you. Gran needs that money, Ren. Let’s get it back.” He caught her wrist and started for the door.

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