As the owner of the city’s most exclusive casino, Clayton Madden holds the fortunes of prominent families in the palms of his hands every night. There is one particular family he burns to ruin, however, one that has escaped his grasp . . . until now.
Florence Greene is no one’s fool. She knows Clayton Madden is using her to ruin her prestigious family . . . and she’s using him right back. She plans to learn all she can from the mysterious casino owner—then open a casino of her own just for women.
With revenge on his mind, Clay agrees to mentor Florence. However, she soon proves more adept—and more alluring—than Clay bargained for. When his plans are threatened, Clay must decide if he is willing to gamble his empire on love.
THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY
An Uptown Girls Novel
© 2019 Joanna Shupe
Finally, Florence had gained Mr. Madden’s attention.
She followed Jack, the casino’s manager, deeper into the darkened corridors, anticipation crawling through her veins. She hadn’t come to the Bronze House to win money, though she’d done that quite handily.
No, she’d come here to learn.
Not the games, of course. Those she knew. Nor had she wanted to observe how a casino operated. Rather, she’d wanted to observe how the city’s best casino operated. From one man, the casino’s enigmatic owner, Clayton Madden.
Anyone who’d played a hand of cards or thrown a pair of dice in this town knew his name. Madden owned pool rooms, policy shops, craps games . . . He was the ruler of all gambling activity in town. It was said that everything he touched turned to gold, an empire that neither the police nor Tammany Hall could topple.
The Bronze House, however, had turned Madden into a legend.
Renowned as the most exclusive and the fairest of all the casinos, the Bronze House was where the elites went to drink champagne, eat caviar, and gamble. All the games were aboveboard, the dealers too well compensated to skim. Madden treated his staff and patrons well—unless they double crossed him. Those who dared to work against Madden’s interests were dealt with swiftly, irrevocably. In manners so horrific they were merely whispered about. Florence had heard stories about bones broken, houses burned. One enemy had supposedly been weighted down with cement and chains, and then dropped into the East River.
As a woman, she’d known her presence here would attract attention. Had planned for it. Embraced it. Part of her had expected to be tossed out within moments of arriving. Yet, she’d been allowed to stay. More than once.
And he’d watched her.
Somehow she had sensed him up there, in the dark balcony, staring down at her despite not knowing what he actually looked like. Not many did, apparently, as he never left his club unless absolutely necessary. While the casino operated, he remained in the shadows and Jack handled the problems on the floor.
Now, Madden wished to meet her. Even though this was what she needed, Florence had to admit it terrified her.
Daddy liked to tell all three Greene sisters, “Show no fear. Men are afraid of women they cannot intimidate.” So, she stood a little taller and pressed her shoulders back. She would face him bravely or not at all.
A large wooden door with a single brass plate loomed at the end of the corridor. Embossed on the plate in bold lettering read Do not enter. She suppressed a shiver. No fear.
Jack stopped and turned. The smooth dark skin of his forehead creased slightly as he studied her. “Do you scare easily, Miss Greene?”
“Certainly not.” At least, she was trying to appear that way.
A slow smile spread across Jack’s face. “Yes, indeed. You might be just what we need around here.” Before she could ask what he meant, he threw open the door and swept his arm out in a courtly gesture. “After you.”
Playing along, Florence gave a royal dip of her chin. “Thank you, sir.”
The room was brightly lit, a cheerful fire crackling in the grate. Eastern rugs covered the floors and dark wainscoting surrounded the walls. A large desk sat at one end, two small armchairs opposite. It was a cozy space, one well used.
And it was empty.
She glanced over her shoulder at Jack. “Is he . . . ?”
“He’ll be along shortly, miss. Just wait here.” Jack gave her a brief nod and departed, leaving her alone in Clayton Madden’s office.
So this was where he oversaw his gambling syndicate. She would have thought it more . . . decadent. After all, the man was one of the richest and most powerful men in the city. Yet this was a simple space, not one designed to show off his considerable wealth. What a fascinating contradiction.
Papers were neatly stacked on his desk. She longed to flip through them, discover what matters awaited his attention. Credit he’d extended to patrons come due? Bills from his champagne and caviar suppliers? Reports on dealers and club operation?
Her mind whirled with possibilities, her heart full of giddy envy. Someday. Someday you’ll have an office just like this.
The door behind her opened and she spun toward it. A large man stood in the doorway, his wide shoulders taking up nearly the width of the entry. He was dressed entirely in black with no hint of color anywhere on him. Not a collar stud or silver button in sight. Dark hair framed his face, the strands a bit longer than the current style, and two scars marred his skin: one through his eyebrow and the other along his chin.
He was not conventionally pretty, like the society swells who slept all day and caroused at night. No, this man was handsome, but in a more rough and tumble, unforgiving way. He oozed confidence, as if he never failed, never let anyone tell him what to do. A warrior, scarred from years of battle, someone who’d built a kingdom with his two bare hands.
She wished that didn’t appeal to her, that she didn’t feel a strange pull in the pit of her stomach . . . but she did. Never had she come across a man like this. One so dangerous and shrewd, different from anyone she’d ever known.
She met his gaze and it was clear he was not-so patiently waiting for her to finish her assessment of him. Had she been staring too long? Clasping her hands, she wiped any hint of expression off her face. Don’t react. Give him nothing. After all, she’d perfected a blank look over the years, thanks to hiding her misadventures from her parents. It worked every time.
Madden’s lips quirked as if he instantly saw through her ruse. Impossible. She’d perfected that bland stare at each ball, dinner party, and social gathering since the age of eighteen. No one had ever suspected otherwise.
“Miss Greene.” He stepped forward and closed the door behind him. Trepidation slid along her spine, a cold chill of warning. She was alone with him, a man reportedly no stranger to violence.
He wouldn’t be stupid enough to hurt Duncan Greene’s daughter. Would he?
Florence didn’t care for being afraid. She lived her life boldly, outside the lines of what society considered normal female behavior. Tea parties and sewing circles were not for her. She had more exciting plans in her future. Dice and roulette wheels. Cards and crap games. Fear was some other woman’s problem.
She lifted her chin. “I presume you are Mr. Madden.”
“Have a seat.” Now behind his desk, he indicated one of the armchairs.
“Not until you answer my question.”
He paused and stared at her just long enough to make her uncomfortable. His eyes were dark and unfathomable, no hint to his thoughts whatsoever. “Was there a question, Miss Greene? Because I didn’t hear one.”
“Are you Mr. Madden?”
“I am, which means this is my casino. And you are trespassing.” He lowered himself into his large leather chair without waiting for her to be seated.
“No one has asked me to leave.”
“You are aware that women are forbidden from crossing our threshold. Yet you’ve flouted that rule. Many times. Care to tell me why?”
“I assumed your policies had changed.” A lie. Her first visit she’d entered through the kitchens, sneaking into the main casino. On subsequent visits, she’d flashed a smile and pressed a large bill into the hand of the man at the door. The staff recognized her now, though she knew Madden’s benevolence was the reason for her continued admittance.
“Let’s do away with the pretense. My curiosity is the only reason you’ve gained access to the Bronze House. I’m requesting you satisfy that curiosity now.”
Though he spoke politely, it somehow sounded like a threat. “Or?”
“Most people are smart enough not to refuse my requests.”
“You won’t hurt me.” It came out with more confidence than she felt. Inside, doubt twisted her stomach into knots.
One dark brow shot up. “Won’t I?”
“I don’t intimidate easily, Mr. Madden.”
A flash of something passed over his face, a glimpse of appreciation, perhaps. Had her answer pleased him?
“I’m beginning to see that. After all, someone nearly drugged your sister here and yet you return.”
Florence waived her hand. Mamie hadn’t been fooled. The man’s clumsy attempt at pouring an unknown liquid into her champagne had been as obvious as the heat in Hades. Besides, Florence felt eyes on her every time she visited the Bronze House, a protective presence that wouldn’t dare allow anything terrible to befall her within these walls.
Had it been Madden looking out for her? Watching her?
She wasn’t certain if the idea excited or frightened her.
“I’m perfectly safe inside your casino.”
He didn’t bother to confirm or deny it. Instead, he said, “You show a remarkable skill at the tables. How did an uptown debutante learn such things?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Practice.”
He threw his head back and laughed. The sound was rough and genuine, the mirth transforming his face into something . . . lighter. Younger. She hadn’t realized. He couldn’t be more than thirty or thirty-one years old. Tingles coursed through her, as if she’d been dealt an ace and a king while playing Twenty-One.
Goodness. Was she attracted to him?
She recognized the feeling. There had been various young men in her life over the years. Florence liked kissing and touching and all the things that went with it. She hadn’t ever considered saving herself for marriage, not when a whole wide world awaited her. She was a modern woman in charge of her own destiny—and her future did not include being under the thumb of a husband. She wanted an equal, not a jailer.
But an attraction to Clayton Madden would complicate things.
Madden collected himself, shaking his head as if to clear it. “I can see you’re no novice. You’ve walked out a winner each time you’ve visited. Yet, your presence here is disruptive. My patrons are unaccustomed to seeing a woman in their midst. You are . . . distracting.”
It would seem a compliment if not for his frown. “That is not my fault. Admit more women and they won’t notice me.”
“Impossible. No man would miss you, even in a crowd.”
Her throat dried out. That was most definitely a compliment. However, she didn’t think he was flirting with her, merely being honest. Clayton Madden didn’t seem like a man who flirted. “Your policy is antiquated. You should allow women to gamble.”
“Not a chance. If men are watching the women then they aren’t losing money to me.”
She bit back a smile. His attitude served her plans perfectly. Let him ignore half the population of New York, the women who were bored and looking for entertainment. Florence would soon take their pin money in her female-only casino. Still, she couldn’t resist adding, “So women must suffer for the stupidity of men. Again.”
He blinked, his expression full of both confusion and admiration. “I see you are a woman who speaks her mind. That’s a quality I appreciate. So let’s answer this once and for all. Why do you continue to visit the Bronze House? What are you after?”
It’s now or never, Florence. “I’m here for lessons. I wish for you to teach me how to operate a casino.”