Scout bit his lower lip. Stared up at the ceiling fans with their warm, golden globes. Then swore under his breath.
The surplus store owner, Mike Thompson, who’d been the first to fold, slapped Scout on the back and said, “This is what comes from adventures on the high seas. Might hit a winter squall…or land safely. Total crapshoot. You’re obviously caught in the squall.”
Scout shot him a droll look. “There’s still land in sight, my friend.” Though even if, miracles of miracles, Vaux hadn’t drawn a royal flush, all it’d take was for him to throw down another jack—his high cards would be the kicker over Scout’s lows. But Scout wasn’t one to give up the ghost so quickly. And simply said, “Have some faith.”
Mike let out a hearty laugh. “Misguided though your optimism might be in this case, it’s damn good to see the Winchester spunk lives on in the grandsons.”
There was no need for Mike or anyone else to mention Grandpa Win’s actual son, Jeff. This crowd was more about jesting and goading than tearing one down. If you didn’t have something nice to say and all that… An adage that applied to the man who’d provided the sperm for Scout, his older brother Jefferson Tate, III—who went strictly by “JT”—and his younger bro Hamilton. That was pretty much all Scout himself had to say on the particular subject of his deadbeat dad.
To Vaux, he said, “Well, get on with it already. If you plan to clean me out, I’ll need to hit an ATM before they roll up the sidewalks and the whole damn community shuts down for the night.”
“I’d be more than happy to provide a personal loan,” Vaux offered. “I’ll even forego the compounded interest because you’re such a bigshot.”
“I don’t need a loan,” Scout informed him. “Or your charity, thank you very much.” His gaze narrowed. “You really think I’ve blown through all of my endorsement money?”
Scout wasn’t like his father, after all. No, Scout had some sense in his head and plenty of cents in his bank accounts.
“Well, the way you play poker, son,” Vaux contended, “makes me a little worried about your financial stability.”
Gut instinct kicked in. That and the fact that Scout knew Vaux well. He grinned again. The really cocky one. “You’re stalling, old man. You don’t have a pot to piss in with that hand, do you?”
Vaux smirked. “Granted, I did intend to scare you off from the get-go. Then I figured I could beat you with the ace, king-high. Since all these other turkeys ran for the hills like I had a Flintlock Musket in my hand.”
Artie Hopper, the fifth at the table and also the owner of Artie’s Groceries, glowered. “Folding when you’ve only got one ace isn’t unwise, Forsythe. Even when it is king-high.”
Vaux said, “Doesn’t mean I’m not holding another beaut to beat two jacks. But, for the record, you all ought to know by now that if I actually was holding a royal flush, I would’ve had Waylon alert the press.”
That would pretty much consist of Blake “Ace” Cranston hightailing it to the bar with his steno pad and sharpened-to-a-deadly-point No. 2 pencil poised and ready, his 1970’s Nikon single lens reflex camera strapped around his neck. Ace still used a darkroom to develop his own film and every black and white picture that went into the Plymouth Rock Cranston’s Corner weekly newsletter, no Hewlett-Packard printer or scanner involved. Hell, he waxed the back of his articles and photos and laid them out on a light table. Ran the template through a printing press.
He was a true artist.
“So Scout called it accurately,” Max declared. “You’ve got bupkis.”
That wasn’t necessarily true and everyone—most especially Scout—knew it. There was still the chance for Vaux to blow Scout’s ship out of the water with a second face card.
“Come on now, old timer,” Scout prompted. “Keeping me in suspense is just plain bad form. You’ve got squat, right?”
“Of the highest order,” Vaux chortled. And tossed out his last card. It spun midair. Scout’s breath caught.
The card hit the table.
Nine of hearts.
No royal flush.
No flush at all.
Not even a pair.
A sharp stream of air blew through Scout’s parted lips as he stared at the card. “Son of a gun. That was damn, damn close.”
His stomach returned to its proper place. His pulse stopped echoing in his ears.
Vaux gave him a grin full of respect. “You’ve got balls, boy. I like that. You did your gramps proud. I’m not even gonna bust your chops over the loot you’re stealing from under my nose.”
“From under your nose, my ass,” Scout scoffed as he raked the chips his way. “I played that hand with Winchester style and steel resolve.”
“Precisely what I’d expect from this generation of Wins. Now, cash-in and then go collect your real prize. There’s one hell of a looker over at the jukebox who, as far as I can tell, only has eyes for you. Can’t for the life of me figure out why, though…”
Scout’s head popped up from his winnings. And his gaze instantly landed on five-foot-eight-inches of hotness the likes of which he’d never known.
A raven-haired beauty in black leather pants and boots, wearing a tight, slightly shimmery snakeskin-print sweater in sapphire and black, with a silver zipper that ended just below plumped up breasts, and a low neckline trimmed with black fur.
Her tawny irises flashed with excitement and a hint of mischief. Sending all the blood straight to his groin.
Amendment: This actually was hotness he was well-versed in.
A living, breathing fantasy.
Known as Ciara St. James.
5 Stars! “A great steamy romance with a lovely snowy, cozy holiday setting…” By Tiffany Michele (Book And Coffee Addict)
Hockey player Scout Winchester is looking to re-ignite his career—a little sizzle in his love life wouldn’t hurt, either!
Ciara St. James still hasn’t found her place in the world. Until she’s snowed in and snuggled up with hunky Scout Winchester this holiday season!
SNOWED IN AND SNUGGLED UP HOLIDAY ROMANCE COLLECTION—When holiday magic happens, three brothers realize they have a lot to be thankful for…
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