Miss High Maintenance - Book cover

Miss High Maintenance

S.S. Sahoo

Playing for High Stakes


New York, the city that doesn’t sleep. What a perfect bloody match for me.

I stood at the tall windows of my brand-new loft conversion overlooking the Hudson River and watched the red sun fade into black. One by one, the streetlights came on, casting up an eerie white light from below.

I scratched the dark stubble on my chin with a weary hand. My reflection eyed me sourly from the windowpane.

"You’re a fecking mess, mate," I growled to myself. There was nobody in the empty apartment to answer, which was just as well.

I was crawling out of my own skin already. Exhaustion, stress, nerve-wracking anxiety—who could say?

Self-diagnosis is a psychiatrist’s worst enemy, I reminded myself. But if I couldn’t rest and I was also too tired to work on anything, I might as well go out. See the sights.

The city with the largest sprawl in the world must have something to offer in the way of entertainment. I headed to the shower, hoping the hot water would ease some of the tension in my shoulders.

Fifteen minutes later, I clipped on a pair of silver cufflinks emblazoned with a pair of knives each. I’d decided to head out to Club Marquee, a new nightclub on the East Side.

I wasn’t a fan of loud music and bright lights, never would be. But Club Marquee had one thing that drew me like a hunter home from the hills.

"If you’re looking for speed on the road, forget about it," my friend Joaquin said when he first heard I was taking a job at Columbia University. "You can’t drive in New York. Either the traffic will kill you, or the road rage will.

"But if you want to have a good time, there are backroom poker games all over the city. They don’t ask questions at the door, and there’s no limit on the pot. If gambling’s still your thing, that is."

It shouldn’t be, especially the day before I was starting a new, eminently respectable job as assistant professor of psychology at Columbia.

But in my field of study, kinks are normal, and hyper-obsession is encouraged. So, why not?

An hour later, the bouncer at the door of Club Marquee was asking the same question.

"I don’t have a VIP membership card," I told him, patiently enough. It was the third time I was having the same conversation with a series of door security personnel, each one larger and uglier than the last.

"Why not?" he asked me, just like the two junior gorillas before him. I sighed.

"Because I’m new in town," I replied, keeping my back straight and my gaze steady on his face. Don’t let him sense weakness. Basic psychology 101, module one: How to Assert Dominance.

"Then, how did you hear about the poker room?" he asked, cocking his head to one side. "It’s a private game, buddy. You can’t just walk in."

I extracted a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills from my black leather notecase.

"I can if I pay for the privilege," I said pleasantly. "There’s five thousand here, more than enough to cover a new entry stake."

I paused. "Is that okay with you, buddy?"

The gorilla’s tiny eyes widened, flicking between the door and the money clip in my hand. "Okay," he said, licking his lips. "I just—"

I peeled off one of the notes and tucked it into the breast pocket of his ill-fitting suit. "There you go. Get yourself a nice snack or something later, okay?"

“Okay.” His gaze dropped, and he held open the door for me. Suddenly, he was a man who had just learned his place in the tribe hierarchy. “Thank you, sir.”

I smiled slightly at him and strode in through the doors of the club. Jamaican dancehall music blared in a hideous parody of itself, trap mixed with disco pop nearly drowning out the raw patois of the Caribbean islands. I winced.

A slim figure slid out from the shadows as I scanned the room, searching for a possible door to a private room through the psychedelic strobe lights.

Dammit to hell. I should have asked for a tour guide or something.

And then, the skin on my back prickled.

Eleven years ago, I lay face down on a shabby old mattress in a garage not five miles from the football stadium at Anfield in Liverpool and let a man take a needle to my back.

Was it necessary? Strictly speaking, no.

I might have grown up in a rough neighborhood, but nobody said it had to be permanent.

And at eighteen, I was already on the fast track to a college scholarship and a promising future in academia, a way out of the dank and depressing council housing I had to call home in northern England.

Call it false sentiment. Wherever I was going, I didn't want to forget where I came from.

So the anchor tattooed on my back held me close to home. The sword crossed against it was my weapon to conquer the outside world.

And now, all these years later, in a strange city in a foreign land, the nerve endings under my anchor and sword shrieked aloud with a warning.

Danger. It’s close.

Watch yourself.

I turned around. That slim shadow came closer, gleaming golden as she stepped into a pool of flashing light.


I should have known.

“Ms. Knight.” It wasn’t a question. Everyone who was anyone in New York City knew what the heiress to the Knight’s billions looked like.

She slanted her deceptively innocent blue eyes at me. Even with dramatically exaggerated eyelashes, there was a pure quality to her direct gaze, overlaid with a tinge of ferocity in the long red nails.

Warning. Predator incoming.

She opened her mouth to say something. In perfect unison with her lips, a concealed door behind her slid open.

I spotted a group of men sitting around a small table, complete with the obligatory ice bucket containing a bottle of obscenely expensive champagne.

Ah. The game was already underway.

I nodded to the beautiful woman in front of me, my attention sliding away from her and to the possibility of a few hours of distraction in less dangerous company.

“Excuse me,” I murmured, too low for her to actually hear the words.

She blinked.

Then, I stepped past her and closed the door in her face.

A tough Russian type looked up from the table. “Stake,” he said, pointing to the pot in the center. I threw my money clip into the bucket.

“Welcome, tovarich.” He grinned, his pockmarked face creasing into lines of amusement. “Plenty of beautiful girls in the club, but that’s for later, yes?”

“First, we play.”

We played. It was a fast, tense, and silent game. Focus was key. This wasn’t a casino, after all.

Backrooms like this had seen fortunes disappear overnight. Old money, Mob money, from Wall Street or from the Cayman Islands—nobody here cared.

All that mattered was the game.

The sprinkling of gangster types and celebrity millionaires didn’t faze me. The armed bodyguards and the trophy girlfriends were the normal background aesthetic for men like this.

I was here for the game. That was literally the only thing I was looking for tonight.

What a bloody shame that all I could think about was Amelia.

I threw down my first pair of aces.

Amelia Knight. The siren temptress, luring helpless sailors on the high seas to a cold and watery death.

Was that why I could never look her straight in the eye, even back when she was in my classes at Harvard?

Because it wasn’t just that she was beautiful. It was more than that.

I was only another assistant professor, but she was the kind of student who blazed her way effortlessly through the coursework.

It wouldn’t have mattered if she didn’t wear her indifference to all of it like steel-plated armor. Like none of it mattered.

Which it didn’t. Not for her. She could afford to be careless. Lucky little rich girl, with the kind of dangerous beauty that could easily ruin a man’s life.

Ethan, you fool, I sneered at myself. ~For once in your life, stop obsessing about the things you can’t have.~

So instead, I played the game. Even though being distracted by thoughts of Amelia made me sacrifice two of my queens for no bloody reason.

I cursed the bad luck that brought her across my path again. Perilous waters, these.

My life was difficult enough without the complication of a sentient hurricane like Amelia bleedin’ Knight getting in my way.

“I’m done.” I threw my last hand down. “I’m folding.”

The Russian nodded genially. “It’s luck for the next game,” he stated with laconic ease, but I was already heading out.

“Later, comrade,” I told him with a meaningless smile.

Fuck, I’m tired.

I just want to go home.

But I opened the door to leave, and there she was again.

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