Roxy O'Malley stared critically at the body in the mirror.
For the first time in her life she was embarrassed by how
she looked. She skimmed her gaze and her hands down the
tight Spandex running bra that ended just below her 36DD
breasts. That part wasn't bad.
Always when she got this far, she wanted to stop. She
wanted to pretend that the last three months had never
happened. Pretend that when she glanced lower all she'd
see was the smooth skin of her midriff and stomach.
Pretend that her life and what she knew about herself were
She closed her eyes for a brief second, her hand going to
her stomach. The ridges of the scars weren't rough against
her fingers, but she thought they should be. The texture
was different â€” foreign â€” and Roxy O'Malley, who'd once
been called the most gorgeous bod on the Vegas strip,
glanced down at the three scars. Three of them. One would
have been bad enough, but three?
"Hey, sexy lady! Admiring the view?"
Roxy glanced over her shoulder at her boss and friend
Hayden MacKenzie. She forced a cheerful note into her
voice. "Hi, Hay! What's up?"
Hayden was a tall, good-looking man with dark hair and
piercing blue eyes that always made Roxy feel like he
could see straight to the heart of her vulnerabilities.
Quickly she dropped her hand and picked up the T-shirt
she'd left draped on the back of the weight machine. She
couldn't look him in the eye until she covered up. She
would have turned away from him for privacy, but her back
was worse than her stomach. Alan Technety had made sure of
that. Because she'd broken up with him, he'd decided to
make sure no other man would want her.
He'd also ensured she'd never dance again by cutting her
so deeply on her left leg that he'd damaged the muscles
and tendons. She couldn't even walk without a limp, which
was worse than having the scars. Her body, which she'd
always counted on, the one thing in her life that she'd
always been able to control, was now out of her control.
Alan had done better than he could have expected. He'd
made it so she didn't even want herself anymore. And her
face had never been her vanity â€” Alan had known that and
had focused instead on the lean dancer's body that she'd
kept honed and in top form through careful diet and
"I need a favor, but only if you feel up to it," Hayden
"Okay, what do you need?" She walked to the small
refrigerator in the employees' gym that held bottles of
sports drink and water. It was only five o'clock in the
morning. Normally Roxy was completely alone in the gym.
She was surprised to see Hayden down here so early. The
newlywed was besotted with his new bride and everyone in
the casino knew Hayden and Shelby had a ritual breakfast
"Well, I want you to stop dealing," he said. She froze.
For the last month, since she'd been off on medical leave,
Hayden had assigned her to work at the blackjack tables.
Dealing wasn't really her thing, but she could do it â€” and
she couldn't go back to headlining the European-style
revue in the main theatre of the Chimera Resort and
Casino. Being a dealer was a bit of a struggle, because
she was on her feet all day and thanks to her leg injury,
standing was a pain. Literally. But there was nothing else
for her to do at the casino and living off charity â€” even
Hayden's disguised charity â€” by taking an extended leave
of absence was something she couldn't tolerate.
"I can't dance. You know I can't have another surgery for
Hayden put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around to
face him. "I'm not asking for that, Rox. I want you to be
one of my VIP hostesses. Entertain the high rollers, keep
them happy and in the hotel."
She glanced up at him, feeling like a fool. She never
reacted the right way. It was just like old Ms. Wiggins
had said back at the group home. Blood always tells. And
Roxy O'Malley's blood, much as her name implied, didn't
include a pedigree worth mentioning.
She stepped away from Hayden, walking carefully so that
the limp wouldn't be obvious. He was always treating her
like she was his kid sister, and there was a part of her
that wanted to be his kid sister.
"When would I start?" she asked, grabbing a towel from the
floor and draping it over her neck.
"Who will I be accompanying?"
"Max Williams. He's a good friend of mine and I think
you'll enjoy his company."
"That doesn't really matter, Hay. I'm going to be working
with him, right?"
Hayden shrugged. "Please tell me you're not setting me up
"I'm not. This is a legit job. But if you like him..."
"Hayden MacKenzie, matchmaker. There's something very
wrong with this picture," she said. But deep inside, she
was touched. "I think I'll stick to the job."
"Okay. I'll have Kathy send you his information. I'll need
to see you in my office at three. We'll meet Max in the
lobby when he arrives."
She nodded and Hayden started for the door. "Does he know
Hayden paused. "What do you mean?"
She wanted to chose her next words carefully but the only
ones in her head were blunt and honest. "That I was a
topless dancer who was attacked by a crazy man."
She knew her words came from old criticisms that she'd
thought she was past. But her new scarred body had left
her vulnerable in a way she hadn't realized she could be.
Hayden came back to her, put his hand on her shoulder
again and didn't speak until she looked up and met his
clear steady gaze. "Roxy, you were the headliner in a
highly regarded show. I don't gossip about my employees."
She saw something more than the truth in his eyes and it
warmed her in a way that she couldn't explain. But no man
had ever really offered help to her and she didn't trust
it. "I know. But I also know Max is your friend."
"Even to my friends."
She nodded and he left. She slowly made her way out of the
gym and into the employee locker room. She couldn't shower
here. Couldn't take the chance that another woman would
come in and see her scars. She always went back to her
condo on the other side of town to clean up. When she'd
been the star of the revue, she'd had a private dressing
room with her own shower. But not anymore.
She thought about what Hayden was offering her. It was a
good job. One that would require her to be charming,
funny, entertaining â€” all the things she used to be, but
wasn't sure she was anymore.
Max Williams was tired and frustrated with the businessmen
he was dealing with. Each time he negotiated with them and
came close to sealing the deal, they came up with another
item that had to be settled before they would sell to him.
The latest hiccup appeared to be the fact that he was a
bachelor and married to his job.
Duke, his right-hand man, had suggested that Max take a
break, leave Vancouver and go to Vegas for a few days and
let him handle this latest setback.
Max had agreed, even though Vegas didn't hold the same
charm for him that it always had. With two of his closest
friends recently married, Vegas was no longer the bachelor
playground that it used to be. At least not for him, the
only single guy in a group of besotted fools.
Every time he turned around lately it seemed that marriage
surrounded him. It was the reason Harron was stalling on
closing the merger deal, and it was the reason his friends
were no longer available for allnighters.
His father, the five-times-married Harrison Williams, IV,
had said marriage was the ultimate match in the man-versus-
woman game. And only the player with the most cunning
survived. Max wasn't interested in negotiating as hard in
his relationships as he did in his work, so he'd always
steered clear of those types of entanglements.
The limo pulled to a stop in front of the elegant facade
of the Chimera's hotel. Max made no move to leave the
vehicle. He scowled and cursed under his breath, then
forced the social mask he always wore into place, that mix
between interest and confidence that his mother said every
successful person should always portray in their smile. He
forced that look onto his face just as the chauffeur
opened the door. Max stepped out and walked confidently
past all the tourists, gamblers and celebrities milling
A rock guitarist stood in the middle of a group of fans,
minor celebrities and photographers.
As soon as Max entered the air-conditioned comfort of the
lobby, Hayden MacKenzie strode over to him. They shook
hands and then hugged each other quickly. Max let his
smile drop and a bit of his frustration show on his face.
"Glad you're here. Shelby is, too. You're invited for
"Thanks. I think I have an appointment in the high-stakes
gaming room, so I'll have to pass."
"When are you going to have time for anything besides
business and gambling?"
Max rubbed the back of his neck. "Not any time soon."
Hayden put his hand on Max's shoulder and Max let the bond
of their long friendship ease some of his tension. "So
"I've got someone new for you this time. She's really
great and I think you'll like her."
"Does she have a nice personality? Am I supposed to bring
a rose so she'll recognize me?"
"She's your hostess."
"Then why does it sound like you're setting me up?"