The stranger was, quite simply, stunning. Adelaide noticed him immediately and felt a hard kick of appreciation in her gut for his appearance. With wavy reddish-brown hair and a smile that could melt butter, he sat at the bar and watched, pretending that he wasn’t watching.
Adelaide spotted poker players within a minute—this one should have had gambler written on his forehead in grease pencil. Other than his looks, she didn’t notice any other redeeming qualities. Gamblers had them in short supply.
When Parker and Curtis left for supper, the stranger stood, stretched, then picked up his beer and ambled over to the table. A long-legged gait, easy movements showing he was comfortable in his skin. With a devastating grin, he gestured to the open chair across from her.
Oh, Lord have mercy. The deep timbre of his voice sent skitters down her skin and made her nipples tighten like bowstrings. Adelaide had a brief moment of imagining that voice whispering dark, sexy words in her ear before she squelched that particular fantasy and sent it packing. She’d sworn off handsome, smooth-talking men a long time ago, so this one didn’t stand a chance in hell of getting into her bed, much less her heart.
“Chair’s open if you’re wanting to play, stranger. One dollar ante, five card draw, wild cards are dealer’s choice. You in?” She kept shuffling the deck to maintain focus on what she was doing. His looks were distracting.
“Thank you kindly, pretty lady.”
Well, that dampened her unusual arousal, not completely, but a lot. She hated nonsensical shit like that. What was the point of that compliment? Did he honestly think she’d be so flattered that she’d forget how to deal cards? Just another fool trying the “I’m so handsome, won’t you fall into my arms” routine she’d heard so many times.
“No thanks required, just the money. Five card draw, threes and sixes are wild. Ante up, fellas.”
With four players left, the cards moved more quickly. Adelaide kept her eyes trained on the flirtatious stranger and his charming self. She damn well tried not to look at his long-fingered hands, at the way he held the cards and caressed the edges. She just knew those fingers had an enormous amount of talent for things other than playing cards.
Focus, Adelaide. Don’t let ‘em distract you. Remember, you hold the cards.
Her grandfather’s voice echoed in her ear. He’d taught her everything he knew about cards, and about life. She’d always followed his advice and it never steered her wrong.
Everyone took three cards, except Handsome. He took only one, with a wink, no less. Adelaide cocked an eyebrow and smirked. She received a chuckle in response.
“I can’t help myself. Every time I see a pretty lady, I just lose my head,” he said as he met the raise and flashed those pearly whites again.
“I might lose my supper if you’re not careful.” Adelaide finally looked at her cards when she realized the bet was to her. “See your five, raise you five.”
“What’s your name, darlin’?”
She’d give him his druthers; he didn’t give up easily. “You may call me Miss Adelaide.”
“Mmmm, Red…that fits perfectly. I’m Trevor Malloy.”
“You’re holding up the game, Trevor Malloy. See the bet or fold.” Adelaide refused to give in to the stranger’s charms.
With another chuckle, Trevor saw the bet and called. She wasn’t surprised to find he had three tens in his hand and took the pot. Then took the next two hands with a guileless grin and a shrug. The gambling cowboy definitely knew what he was doing. Too bad he had no idea who he was playing against.
Adelaide hated to lose, no ifs, ands or buts. Especially to someone she didn’t respect like silver-tongued cowboys. She was done playing—it was time to show sweet cheeks what a real gambler could do.
* * * *
“You in or out, Trevor?”
Red’s voice cut through his panic long enough to actually hear what she said. Trevor’s clammy palms barely held onto his cards. This couldn’t be happening to him. It just couldn’t.
Perhaps it was a nightmare instead.
He wasn’t sure what time it was—probably close to three in the morning. The four people left in the saloon all huddled around the table where Trevor sat facing the red-haired demon witch.
“How much is in that pot now?” he asked while wiping his eyes with one hand.
She sifted through the pile. “Looks like six thousand or so in cash and coin, and a gold pocket watch.”
He had no idea what possessed him to play for stakes so high. He’d been winning, dammit to hell, and winning big. Earlier in the evening, his normal luck with the cards appeared, and he’d turned his two hundred dollars into a thousand in a few hours.
Then he lost a hand, but he kept playing. He lost another, and another. Soon it all became a blur, hours went by without him noticing. Thank God he left a couple hundred dollars in his room. That was at least something.
If he lost this hand, he’d owe this woman five thousand dollars, more than he’d ever had in his lifetime. That was her raise on the pot and he had to meet it or fold.
In this one hand, one goddamn frigging hand, he put everything he had in the pot, and now he had a marker sitting in front of him. A marker he’d just written out for five thousand dollars. Something he’d never done before. Just seeing the paper out of the corner of his eye made his stomach clench.
Trevor focused on the cards, looking again at the flush he held. This was a winning hand—he was damn sure of it. A beautiful array of hearts, six, seven, eight, nine and ten. The only way she could beat him was with a royal flush. There was no way in hell she had one. No way.
“I’m in. Call.” He placed the marker on top and immediately wanted to snatch it back. His father would whoop his ass for doing it. But if he won, Lord if he won, he’d be set for cash for at least two years.
He didn’t contemplate what would happen if he lost.
As he laid down his cards, the other two men whistled and murmured between them. Trevor met Adelaide’s gaze.
She looked at him with raised eyebrows. “I hope you’re good for that marker, cowboy.”
Trevor smiled weakly. “Of course I am. But you won’t need to worry about it. What does the dealer have?” His palms itched to grab the pot and rip the marker into tiny pieces. His heart had taken up residence in his throat.
“I’m afraid I have bad news for you, Trevor Malloy.”
Stomach churning, he watched Adelaide lay down a royal flush. Ten of spades, jack of spades, queen of spades, king of spades, and the ace of spades. The card of death.
Holy ever-loving Christ.
“You owe me five thousand dollars.” Adelaide held out her hand and Trevor stared helplessly. What had he done?