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Authors: Liz Maverick

Card Sharks

BOOK: Card Sharks
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Card Sharks


New American Library
Book / published by arrangement with the author


All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
Elizabeth Edelstein

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.


The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is





New American Library
Books first published by The New American Library Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

and the “
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Electronic edition: November, 2005


Special thanks to Annelise and Kara, the ultimate dynamic duo. You're the best. And a tip of the hat to Richard Sparks, author of
Diary of a Mad Poker Player
. He did his best to help me get the poker bits right. As always, any errors are entirely mine unless you have a particularly good ability to suspend disbelief, in which case it's merely artistic license. With that said, shuffle up and deal!

chapter one

arianne wasn't like those other girls. She had a job and a guy. She was fine. Absolutely fine. Her problem was one of . . . “va-voom.” In short, she couldn't always count on the job to make her want to get up early, nor on the guy to make her want to stay up late. Yet somehow, they were both good enough to make her show up at all.

There were no personal traumas to jolt her out of her current patterns, no wacky grandmothers to set off a chain reaction of events leading to 1) chaos, and then 2) a blissfully happy ending, and no sudden epiphanies to throw her a curveball in life. And hence, no curveball. Everything just progressed in a perfectly straight line, as precise and clear-cut as the thin lines on the yellow legal pad sitting in front of her on the desk.

She wasn't trapped. It wasn't that. And she wasn't failing. It certainly wasn't that. It was more that she'd sort of slipped into the grooves on a track back during freshman year in college and hadn't slipped back off, neither by circumstances beyond her control nor by those completely within her ability to
change. It was as simple as that. And though her ideas, her tastes, and her inclinations had morphed over the years, her career goals had not. Which was how Marianne Hollingsworth found herself in the somewhat unlikely position of tax manager on track for a coveted slot in the partnership ranks of a large accounting and consulting firm.

This matter of fact had two major results. The first was that Marianne sometimes felt a disconnect between the person that she thought she might want to become versus the career goals and lifestyle she was successfully pursuing, and the other was that she had a really killer view from the window of her office.

There'd been one of those periodic mass exoduses among the ranks of weathered tax managers who'd been passed up three years running since their year of eligibility and finally had to accept that they were not destined to receive an invitation to join the partnership team. She'd ended up with one of those coveted window offices. And from what she was seeing as she sat back in her large, typical black leather office chair, it was a beautiful day. Absolutely crystal clear. Sun shining, blue sky, just the quintessential California day.

The cars looked shiny and bright, like pretty little toys on a holiday morning. There was a kind of “up” vibe going on, and as Marianne looked outside she could see that the people of Los Angeles looked happy walking down the streets window-shopping and chatting.

Marianne thought of her family back on the “Right Coast” for a moment. They hated the no-seasons thing and were stuck on the idea that nothing ever changed in California. Every day was like the next. The sun always shone, the people were always tan, and the water was always blue. More and more she was beginning to think they were right.

Nothing ever changed in sunny California. Well, not nothing. But when it did, it was only a matter of a few degrees.

Whipping the pencil back and forth between her fingers so that it made a nice, satisfying
sound against the pad, Marianne glanced at the clock (9:56
. Four minutes and counting. Four . . . ) and wondered for the umpteenth time if she should get back together with her ex-boyfriend, Donny, and if not, if she should stop sleeping with him.

(Three . . . two . . . one.)

The phone double-rang, signaling an outside caller. “Anderson and Young . . . this is Marianne.”

“So what are you wearing right now?” Donny asked.

Marianne laughed. “Sensible shoes, a skirt, and a cashmere twinset.”

Donny sighed. “Just once couldn't you pretend it was something more like red lace underwear under a trench coat or something? You'd rather be wearing that anyway.”

“It's ten o' clock in the morning.” He called several times a week at ten o'clock in the morning, which gave him just enough time before lunch to reorganize his schedule on the off chance that he'd score a quickie. She stuck the phone in the crook of her neck and grabbed a blue pencil, ticking off boxes down the column on the tax form as she checked her numbers. “Oh, I'm sorry . . . wait a minute . . . is this a booty call?”

This time he huffed. “You know, Marianne, when you spell it out like that, it just really kills the excitement.”

She rolled her eyes. “You're becoming annoying again.”

“So are you. I miss you, though. Don't you miss me?”

“Of course I miss you. You're adorable. But also annoying.”

He sighed again. “Maybe we should just go to Vegas and get hitched.”

“You make it sound like we're living in an episode of
Talk about unsexy.”

“There was no Vegas on

“ ‘Hitched'?”

He laughed. “Better luck next time, eh?”

“Indeed. Talk to you later.”

“Ciao, bella.”

He hung up and Marianne hung up, not thinking one more second about him as her full attention settled back over her work.

Better luck, indeed.

Donny had once even been her “forty guy.” If they hit forty, wanted to start a family, and were both single, they'd get married and have kids, that sort of thing. But in this day and age, that seemed kind of pathetic. Women didn't have to have “forty guys” anymore, because no one had to settle when there were all kinds of ways to have a child, if one wanted one, without actually having to put up with an annoying male figure constantly using up toilet paper and insisting on steak instead of fish for dinner. Why settle and have to put up with that crap for the rest of your life? If one was going to bother having a man around the house, one needed to pick one who was a true value-added proposition. The trouble was, Donny simply wasn't a value-added proposition. He'd become a stopgap measure for her, just as she was for him.

Sometimes he'd float back over to boyfriend status and they'd drop the “ex” for a while, but then somehow they'd find themselves apart all over again. He was the sort of guy whom she didn't mind not hearing from for weeks, only to get a phone call suggesting pizza and DVDs, which was code for “I'm still not seeing anyone seriously enough to sleep with them. If you're still not seeing anyone seriously enough to sleep with them, how about coming over and we'll eat something and then have sex.”

She pulled forward the enormous tax folder for her one-o'clock appointment and tried to concentrate. Damn sunshiny California summer day!

Her admin knocked on the door to the office and peeked in. “Pinkie's here.”

“Send her in.”

And so it went. If nothing else, the location of her office in celebrity central meant that the vast majority of her clients were celebrities with exciting lives. She didn't have enough fingers on her hands to count all of the times the phrase “and there was just so much drama” had been uttered during the retelling of a casual anecdote in between business conversations.

As usual, Marianne did most of the talking while Pinkie paced the office, picking up office tchotchkes and putting them back down, flipping her glossy blond-streaked brunette hair extensions, and readjusting the position and trajectory of her requisite overly large L.A. breasts. Pinkie Watson played Starr, a former stripper turned real estate magnate, on one of the daytime soaps. She was a tabloid regular both in her native U.K. and in stateside grocery stores. Her wild adventures with a variety of men in a multiplicity of places across the globe were becoming the stuff of legends. But when it came to a new tax shelter for her burgeoning wealth, her seemingly idiotic bimbo persona faded a bit to reveal a rather shrewd businesswoman.

“You are not even close to being as stupid as you look,” Marianne wanted to say as a compliment, secretly wondering if pretending you were someone else—especially a lesser someone else—wasn't totally exhausting. But maybe telling someone their brand image was slipping wasn't really a compliment. So instead Marianne just amused herself by imagining Pinkie walking in the front door of her Hollywood Hills mansion, looking around to make sure there hadn't been a breach in security by paparazzi, and then finally relaxing enough to put on a pair of dented spectacles and curl up with
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Maybe that was why Pinkie Watson and several other celebrities on Marianne's roster seemed to visit the office to talk about taxes and ask questions about Marianne's comparatively dull personal life more than would seem necessary for an average person. Everyone, it seemed, was living vicariously through someone else, because everyone, it seemed, had stumbled into a kind of life or a type of persona that was easier to stumble into than it was to stumble out of. You might know exactly what you were getting, but it didn't mean you would like it.

“So, frankly, Pinkie, I think that the potential risk of having your left foot cut off by island bandits far outweighs the benefit of an extra one percent in interest over the long term . . . wah-wah-wah . . .” Marianne had given this very same type of advice to various clients what seemed like a million times, and had plenty of brain cells left to cycle on other thoughts in the background, rather like the human equivalent of tax software. A condition that, in fact, did make her feel somewhat like a robot. And the kind of thought that would bubble and churn in the background of her mind as she explained why laundering one's money through the Caymans was not always the best course of action was this:
I live the most boring of lives for the benefit of those with the most exciting ones.

It was a thought that was less of a complaint and more of a fact, but it had been bothering her more and more. Since the excitement of working with actual, live, honest-to-God famous people had worn off, really, that one thought was what was left in its wake.
While they live their dream, I sit in my office and figure out how to write it off.
Of course, if Marianne had ever been asked about her dream, she would have been caught quite tongue-tied and back around to square one she'd go: There was nothing wrong with her life, and she was accomplishing everything she'd set out to accomplish. Perhaps where she'd gone “wrong” was in calibrating those very first goals. If
you were the sort of person who insisted on seeing things through and achieving your goals, you'd better make sure your goals were the right ones.

“You are so smart, Marianne,” Pinkie said, standing. “Go ahead and set that other tax shelter right up. That's just what I need. Screw the Caymans.”

Marianne stood up and held out her hand, giving the soap star an opportunity for a very conservative handshake. Pinkie shook and turned to go, and Marianne suddenly couldn't help herself. “Pinkie, before you go, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Marianne.”

“What's your typical Friday night look like?”

Pinkie looked a little surprised. With the square white tip of her French-manicured index finger, she scooped a bit of hair out of the muck of her lip gloss. “Well, tonight I've got to go home and change, and then it's dinner with a couple of aging yet still cool rock stars, dancing and drinking with some famous actors who were once considered washed-up but then came back last year and won Academy Awards, and finally some late-night hijinks with professional Italian soccer players who have always been at the top of their game and still show absolutely no signs of weakness.”

Marianne smiled. “That sounds great. You have a fun night . . . and a great weekend. And call me if you think of any questions you forgot to ask. Oh, and good luck with that film deal.”

“Thanks.” Pinkie smiled back and then teetered off to the elevator bank. Marianne closed her office door and sat down behind her desk. She picked up the phone and dialed her best friend, Bijoux Sterling.

Bijoux was a year older than Marianne. She'd been Marianne's big sister at the Chi Omega sorority at UCLA. Apparently she'd chosen Marianne as her little sister based on their
nearly identical height, weight, and shoe size, but the similarities ended there—and Marianne had a lot more to gain from borrowing clothes from Bijoux than Bijoux did from borrowing clothes from her.

With Bijoux's family connections and access to all of the cool Hollywood events, it had actually been a great college experience. She'd had the time of her life. And then they'd graduated and had lost touch for a little while before bumping into each other again at a Beverly Hills farmer's market. Bijoux didn't seem to be buying anything, but she was shopping, all right. Apparently, she'd read something in the
L.A. Times
about how profitable organic produce had become, and was looking for a wealthy farmer-type to date.

The two girls clicked, and since neither one of them had a serious boyfriend taking up all of their free time, they started hanging out again on a regular basis. Fast forward, they were nearing the cusp of thirty-something-dom and they still didn't have serious boyfriends taking up much free time.


“Bijoux, it's me.”

“Hey, Mare.”

“What are you doing?”

“I'm lolling. And then I have a thing tonight. Do you remember Peter Graham? The nephew of those neighbors of mine?”

BOOK: Card Sharks
11.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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