Six Short Western Romances
Excerpt: Angels High
A woman who makes her living by winning at a man’s game learns to expect trouble, especially when the stakes are high. But when trouble finds her this time, Angelica Durant gets more than she bargained for.
Twisting the end of his luxurious mustache, Albert Derringer looked at the woman who took a newly vacated seat at the table. She’d been sitting nearby, watching the play for the last hour. Setting both hands on the table, he leaned forward and said, “Ma’am, women ain’t allowed to gamble here.”
The woman leaned forward, displaying a hint of décolletage, just enough to pique a man’s interest and distract his thoughts, and said, “Show me where that’s written and I’ll leave.”
Albert couldn’t because the establishment had no such written code of conduct and admittance. The woman’s lips curled in a tiny smile of triumph. She opened her reticule and pulled out the money for her stake in the game. The four other men at the table looked at the gold coins with greedy interest.
“Al, if she’s got the money, let her play,” Harold Everhart said as he rubbed his palms together. “We’ll be happy to win her money.”
“I like the looks of her money and her face,” Chester MacAllister remarked with a curt nod. “Better’n looking at your ugly mugs, boys.”
Good-natured laughter followed his comment.
“Deal the lady in,” Jesse Cordoba said, his voice cool and haughty as befitted the son of a Spanish hidalgo and a Boston society debutante.
The fourth player, expression concealed behind a bushy black beard stained with tobacco and other substances, grunted and nodded, which the others inferred as assent.
With a sigh meant to convey unwilling obedience to the gamblers’ wishes, the dealer picked up a deck of cards.
“If you don’t mind,” the woman said as she withdrew a brand new deck of cards from her handbag, “please use these. I’d hate to soil my new gloves on those filthy cards.”
Not one man there could argue that the cards they had been playing with were dirty. They looked at her pristine white gloves and sighed with resignation.
“How do we know them cards ain’t marked?” Harold inquired with beady-eyed suspicion.
Chester snorted at the idea that a woman, even one who cheated, could match wits and card playing skills with them.
Reaching across the table, she handed Harold the small cardboard box. In a soft southern drawl that hinted at beignets, strong coffee, and sweet spices from far off lands across the sea, she replied, “It hasn’t even been opened, sir. Please, do check it to verify. I have neither the desire nor the inclination to be dishonest with you fine gentlemen.”
Harold looked over the box, noting that the paper wrapper had not been disturbed. With a nod, he handed it to Jesse who examined it and passed it around the table until it returned to the woman who handed it to the dealer. Albert looked it over and, since the other players did not object to using the lady’s deck of cards, found nothing for complaint. He shrugged his shoulders and, with deft efficiency, broke the seal, unwrapped the fresh deck, and shuffled the cards.