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The Gamble (The Players Book 3) by Emma Nichols (1)



“Take a seat.” The therapist motioned to the chair on the other side of the desk.

I pretty much loathed all the therapy sessions…group and individual. “Sure.” I sank into the chair and crossed my legs, propping my ankle on my knee while trying to appear at ease. My ninety-day stint at rehab was nearly up. If all went as planned, I should be leaving in the next few days. I’d be free by the weekend.

“Would it be an accurate assessment to suggest you’re simply playing the game here, Mr. Morgan?” Her brow arched and her annoyance was nearly palpable. After all, she had to be pushing retirement and the patients here must’ve put her through the ringer. I know I was.

I licked my lips and leaned forward on my knees. “I don’t think that’s really a fair question, Jackie. Do you?” Then I stared across the desk at her, waiting for a response. When she crossed her hands on the desk and returned my look with her own, I grew flustered. “This wasn’t my idea. It’s not like I woke up one day, decided I had a problem, and sought help.”

“Right. You woke up one night, decided you hated being in a hospital, and broke out.” She tilted her head and waited for me to continue the story.

“Have you ever stayed in a hospital?” I grimaced. “The food is lousy. The beds are incredibly uncomfortable. The television, which is practically from the dark ages, has all of three channels. Why would I stay?”

“Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. We don’t always have choices. Didn’t anyone ever tell you this?” Jackie frowned, which only accentuated her wrinkled face.

I shrugged. “My nanny tried that once. I told her to shut the fuck up. When she didn’t, I told my parents and she was fired.”

Her eyes closed for a moment. I knew frustration when I saw it. Given my past experience, I felt reasonably confident I could wear her down. Then I’d be free to do what I wanted all over again. I leaned back in my seat and struggled to hide my smile.

“I know you’ve been spoiled your whole life, but it needs to stop. Here. Now.” She sighed deeply. “You need one person in your life who isn’t going to kowtow to you, isn’t going to placate you, and might just stand up to you.”

I scratched at my chin. There was no hiding my Cheshire cat grin. “Yeah, I don’t see that happening. Know what I do see happening?”

“Your ninety days being up. You getting released. You continuing on with your worthless life.” She pursed her lips.

“I think someone’s a little used to having her way, Jackie.” I laughed. “You can’t win them all. And good news! You don’t have to treat me. We’re about done here, right?”

“You haven’t changed at all.” She leaned closer on the desk. “Here’s the thing. When you leave in a few days, I’m not even going to say goodbye.”

“You hate me that much?” I interjected, my hand laid on my chest in mock horror.

She shook her head. “Not at all. I feel sorry for you. As much as you claim to hate this place, you seem pretty determined to keep coming back.”

“I haven’t come back.” I rolled my eyes. “This is my first time.”

“True. This is your first time here.” Jackie stared at me pointedly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I scowled, but inside, I could feel my heart racing.

“Do you think I didn’t know? Did it never occur to you we’d have all your past medical history?” She laced her gnarled fingers and waited for my response.

I stared down at the carpet a moment. It was this boring brown commercial stuff. “I don’t have a problem,” I mumbled.

“Are you sure about that?” She eyed me curiously. “For someone who doesn’t have a problem, you’ve spent an awful lot of time in rehabs.” She frowned. “And yet your parents never came to visit you, did they?”

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “My father works long hours.”

“And your mother?”

“She has a lot of responsibilities.” I shrugged. “I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself.”

“If that was true, you wouldn’t be here.” Jackie sighed. “You seem determined not to change.”

“Well, I don’t believe in fixing what works.” I joked.

“Newsflash, Mr. Morgan: this isn’t working.” She pointed at my forearms.

Suddenly, I wished I was wearing long sleeves, even in the desert, in the summer. “Accidents happen,” I mumbled.

“You accidentally broke into your friend’s house? You nearly required a transfusion, plus you had countless stitches.” Jackie sighed and ran a hand through her mousy brown pixie cut. “Come on. Stop lying to me and to yourself. I know we’re no Promises Scottsdale or Passages Malibu…”

“You’re barely a Motel 6,” I grumbled. “Hell, you don’t even talk like a therapist. Are you sure you’re licensed?”

She jerked her thumb at the framed diploma on the wall behind her. “Positive.”

“I’ve heard you can get those online.” I rolled my eyes.

“If it were that easy, you’d have one.”

“Maybe I don’t want one.” I huffed.

“What do you want, Mr. Morgan? So far, you seem determined to die young, lost and alone, which deeply saddens me.” Jackie sighed.

I rubbed my hands together and stared out the window. “I don’t want to be here. I know that much.”

“If you mean that, then you need to change, otherwise this visit won’t be your last.” She wanted me to say something, give her a sign she’d managed to break through, offer the satisfaction of having done her job well.

I wasn’t in the mood. I’d been playing the game for eighty-eight days. I was done playing nicely. I was done hiding behind this façade, which she apparently saw through anyway. More than anything, I wanted my life back.

The office door opened enough for one of the orderlies to peek in. “Would you like me to show him in?”

I frowned. “What? We doing some joint counseling thing today?”

“Something like that,” she murmured. Then she glanced at the orderly. “Please show him in.”

For a moment, I sat up straighter in my chair. Could my father be here? Then the door opened wide and Harry stood there looking guilty. “Hope you’re happy. Thanks to you, I’ve lost almost three months of my life.”

Harry’s cheeks turned red. He glanced at Jackie who nodded. Then he grumbled, “And thanks to you, I nearly lost my house.”

“Nearly? You’re upset with me over ‘nearly’? Please. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” I sank down in my seat. “Who the hell are you anyway? I want my friend back.” I glared at him.

With a shrug, Harry sat down in the chair beside mine. “I want my friend back too. At least I think I do.” He blew out a breath and stared down at the floor for a moment. “See, you’ve been manipulating me and playing on my guilt for so long, I don’t always like you, Drew.”

“Wow. That’s some bullshit. You turn me into an alcoholic and ruin my life, then you tell me you don’t like me? Why don’t you go back to L.A. then?” My heart pounded and I could feel my life crumbling around me.

“About that, Drew… I’m working out here. I’m building a life in Vegas.” He sighed and shook his head. “As for accepting the blame for your alcoholism, all three of us dipped into my father’s liquor cabinet that day. You’re the only one, however, who took to it like a fish to water.” He frowned and studied me a moment.

I had nothing to say because I couldn’t figure out where he was going with this. All I knew was I needed Harry. He was my DD. He was my home away from my own lonely homes. I swallowed hard and tried to imagine what my life would look like now.

“I don’t remember the last time you were sober. I don’t remember the last time we had fun.” Harry stared at me with pleading eyes.

“What are you talking about? We had fun every time we were together!” I slammed my hand on the desk.

“Did we?” His brows rose and he shook his head. “I stopped having fun a long time ago. Instead, going out with you meant I couldn’t drink because I had to take care of you, and make sure you made it home safely.” Harry leaned toward me. “Getting together meant work. And I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I had a break from it all.”

“So, you’re glad I’m in here? You’re such a miserable bastard.” I glared at him.

“Maybe I was miserable, but if so, it was because of you.” Harry reached inside of his pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Now, I’m happy because of me. I’d like you to be happy for me too.” He passed it to me. “Open it.”

I glanced at Jackie. She had remained shockingly silent for a change. “Am I allowed to have this?” There had been so many rules. At first, I broke a ton of them. Eventually, I settled into the game.

“Why don’t you open it?” Jackie nodded.

My eyes narrowed. “Maybe I don’t want to. Maybe I’ll wait. Maybe I’ll open it when I go home.” I reclined casually in the seat and tossed the envelope on the desk. “Great seeing you. I’ll get my own ride for a change. Thanks.” Then I looked away.

“Okay, well, I wasn’t going to be able to pick you up anyway. That was part of the conversation I wanted to have with you.” Harry stood and raked a hand through his hair.

“You weren’t going to offer to pick me up?” I sneered. “So, what was all this about then?” I threw my hands in the air.

Harry shrugged. “I’m getting married on Saturday. Your invitation is in the envelope.” Then he turned toward the door, but hesitated long enough to murmur, “I hope to see you there.” Then he exited the office.

I sat there frozen, staring at the envelope.

Jackie leaned back in her chair. After some silence she finally asked, “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I’ll go for a swim.” I struggled to stand because I felt shaky and weak. Picking up the envelope, I frowned.

“Nothing to say?” she wondered.

I blinked a few times. “Good talk.” Then I rushed from the room.



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