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Fair Game

By:Monica Murphy

imson. Busted. But she doesn't say a word in her defense, which I find admirable.

I turn my focus on her boyfriend. "Hey. Asshole." He lifts his gaze, pale blue eyes staring into mine. He looks petrified. He should be. "What's your name?"

"J-Joel." He clears his throat, his gaze falling to his cards once again. He shifts them around, moving two from one side to the other. Then he plucks one from the five and tosses it out face down. "I need one more please."

Hell. What kind of hand does he have? I'm pretty sure I'm fucked. "You gonna raise the pot or what?"

He meets my gaze once more, trying to school his expression but I see the flash of triumph. He has a good hand. Fucker thinks he's gonna win. "Uh, I'll raise you fifty." He tosses in the last of his chips.

"Fifty?" I cock a brow and toss in a matching fifty then deal him a single card. "That's all you got?" I rapidly exchange out my cards, discarding the three junk ones and taking three new ones. I don't turn them over. Not yet. The anticipation is half the fun especially when I'm fairly sure I'll lose this round.

Damn it.

"Clearly." The kid waves a hand in front of him, where zero chips remain.

"Hmm." I lift my cards, cupping them in my hand so Bitch Face won't see them. She's as still as a stone sitting next to me but I can hear her breathing, can feel the tension radiating off her in heavy waves. She doesn't like this. She's nervous for her boyfriend especially because she can't look at him. Her body is angled toward mine and I chance a glance at her before I study what I have.

Holy hell. I dealt myself two more queens. Four of a kind.

Beat that fuck stick.

"Let's make this interesting," I say, staring at Joel once more. His expression lights up. Everyone who'd heard of, or who'd come to our little gambling venture in the past know that's the game changer statement. It's the cue that the round is about to take a wild turn.

More like it's one of us-my friend Gabe, my cousin Tristan-bored out of our minds and ready for an adventure. We like to win big. But by winning big, you need to lose big too. That fifty-fifty chance is what always gives me a thrill. I've lost more than I've won but that doesn't really bother me.

"What do you have in mind?" Joel asks, impressing me. He's played this game before. That's the pat question we want them to ask. I don't recognize him but I'm guessing he might've played a night I wasn't here, or at someone else's table.

It doesn't matter. He understands what's about to happen and that's all that matters.

"Let's see." I set my cards down and drum my fingers on the green felted table. We run a semi-professional operation here. Gabe owns the house. Well, his family owns the house. We converted it a little less than two years ago, turning the living and dining room into a mini casino a few miles off campus. Blackjack tables, poker tables, hell we even have a roulette table though I hate playing it. Roulette is a game of total chance. The odds are shit.

At least with poker and my preferred game of choice, blackjack, we use some sort of skill.

"Don't do it Joel." I lift my head at first sound of her voice. She's not looking at Joel though. She's staring straight at me, her mouth hard, her eyes flat. "Show your cards and end the game. Don't let this asshole get you in any deeper than you already are."

"Ouch. So mean with the name calling." I rub my chest, pretending she hurt me. I've been called worse. "You going to let her tell you what to do, Joel?" I say it because I know the question will piss her off. And it does. She's practically got steam coming out of her ears but she says nothing to me. I can't help but be faintly disappointed.

"Shut up, Jade," Joel mutters, shocking the both of us. "Let me do this."

I turn to her. "Joel just grew some balls, Jade. Or should I still call you Bitch Face?"

She grimaces. "I'd rather you call me nothing at all."

"Jade," Joel says, his voice firmer. I can tell he really wants her to shut up. I'm taking this as a sign that he also wants to carry forth on the bet. Meaning his hand is fucking stellar.

Well, guess what? So is mine.

"What kind of name is that anyway? Jade?" I make a face, trying to hold back the laughter that wants to escape because I know for a fact that I'm irritating the shit out of her.

"Like you have any room to talk. What the hell is a Shep?"

"I'll have you know it's an old family name." I try my best to remain dignified but I'm failing. This chick amuses me like no other. Her smart mouth is kind of hot. "My mother is a Shepard. I come from a long line of Shepards."

"Well goody for her. My mom happens to like the color green." She flashes me a smile and tosses her head, her ponytail swishing, tempting me to grab it, yank her close and wipe that shitty little smile off her face.

With my lips.

"You two done flirting so we can do this, or what?" Joel asks, sounding furious. And he looks furious too. Interesting. I'm enjoying this more and more.

"We were not flirting," Jade says as she starts to turn her head in Joel's direction.

"Ah, ah, ah. Better watch it," I warn and she returns her attention back to me, earning a fierce frown from her for my efforts. "I don't want to have to kick Joel's ass, you know."

"He could probably take you," she mutters halfheartedly.

"Ha. I'd demolish him and you know it."

"I'm sitting right here, you know," Joel pipes up.

"Okay." I look away from Bitch Face Jade and study Joel, who appears much more confident than he did a few minutes ago. This would normally make me nervous. And I normally don't mind feeling nervous during these situations because it amps up the adrenaline and makes everything that much more intense. Life is what you make it, right? I'm all for crazy bets and tense moments. At least I'm actually feeling something while it's unfolding. "Let's bet on Jade. If I lose, I'll pay you some ungodly amount of money."

"What sort of ungodly amount?" Joel asks, never missing a beat.

I ignore his question. "And if I win … I get your girl."

"Joel, if you agree to this asshole's stupid bet, I will kick you in the nuts so hard, you will never have children. And that's a promise," Jade threatens, her voice like ice.

Hell, even my nuts shriveled up a little at her words.

"It's a sure thing," he says, never once looking at her. "Don't worry about it. What sort of ungodly amount are you talking about, Shep?"

The kid wants money. No problem. I can more than deliver. "Fifty."

He rolls his eyes. "Big fucking deal."

"Thousand," I add, and those rolling eyes are now bugging out of his head.

Low murmurs erupt from the observers watching the game, startling me. I forgot they were there. Glancing up, I see Gabe standing near the doorway, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of him and an amused expression on his face. He loves this shit as much as I do, maybe even more so. He gives me one of those shit-eating grins of his and I nod once before I resume my focus on Joel.

"What do you say?" I ask nonchalantly, clutching the cards in my hand. I could win this. Not much else can beat four queens, unless the schmuck has four kings or four aces. What are the odds though? Really?

They're in my favor. They have to be.

"I'm not up for barter, you assholes," Jade spits out, her voice laced with venom. "I don't know who the hell either of you think you are, but you just can't bet on me. I'm a freaking human being." She pauses. I'm guessing she's realizing her words are having little effect on either of us. "What would you do with me anyway if you won?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" I slide my gaze over her, imagining