“Uhhh…” Joel draws out the sound, his gaze flickering to mine. I’m shaking my head no, slicing my finger across my neck, anything to get him to fold so he doesn’t get suckered and lose everything. He’s already close enough to losing it all as it is.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Everyone in the room goes silent. Kelli nudges my side with her damn pointy elbow again and I stop gesturing when I realize that Shep Prescott is talking…

To me.

I lift my head to find him glaring at me in that stupid mirror, his dark eyes almost black, his mouth thin. Oh, he looks pissed.

“Are you cheating? Is that why your boyfriend brought you here?” he asks when I don’t say anything.

“Um.” I have lost all coherent thought. I’ve also lost the ability to speak.

This isn’t good.

“Forget this fucking hand.” He throws his cards face down into the middle of the table, right on top of the pile of chips, various dollar bills and even a small mountain of quarters that were part of that round’s pot. Everyone playing had already dropped out, one by one, even Dane, until it was just Joel and Shep left. Some had even abandoned their chairs, moving on to grab more beer or play at another table. Or to leave the party with their tails tucked between their legs and their wallets empty.

Not Joel. He’s holding out to the very bitter end. And now I’m getting him into some major trouble.

“Come here.” Shep turns to look at me, his hard stare pinning me in place. I can practically feel his anger coming at me in big, hot waves. All my snarky comments, all my earlier bravado evaporates. “Sit by me,” he commands, pointing at the empty chair beside him.

I stand on shaky legs and approach the table, ignoring Joel, ignoring the snickers from other people watching the spectacle unfold. Without even looking at Shep I fall heavily into the chair beside him, keeping my spine stiff, desperate to put as much distance between us as possible.

But it’s no use. I can smell him. And he smells…fucking incredible. There are no other words for it. A combination of pine and lemon and dirt…okay I know that doesn’t sound very appealing but oh my God, I’m tempted to lean in close and sniff his neck.

I don’t, of course. Instead I grip the edge of the table and allow myself to look in Joel’s direction. The expression on his boyish face is nothing short of misery. I’m starting to wonder if he had a good hand after all. Possibly better than Shep’s? Did I ruin everything? Oh God, if I did, would Joel ever forgive me?

“Don’t look at him,” Shep murmurs, his voice so close to my ear I gasp and turn my head to find his face directly in mine. I can see everything. Every pore in his skin, every little hair in his thick brows, every inky lash that rims his too dark, all seeing eyes. “I want your eyes on me and me only.”

Swallowing hard, I try my best to ignore the anger slowly building inside of me at his threat. But it’s no use. “Are you kidding me?” Who does this guy think he is? So he’s worth a fortune. So he’s ridiculously good looking. So what?

He offers a lopsided smile as he gathers all the cards and starts shuffling like he’s some sort of pro straight out of Vegas. “Nope. I catch you looking in his direction during this next hand and I’ll kick his ass.”

My jaw hangs open as I absorb his words. “You really are an asshole, aren’t you?” I whisper.

The lopsided smile grows. “You’re looking at a top of the line asshole, baby,” he says.

I roll my eyes at the baby mention. I hate it when guys call me baby. Though…huh. No guy has ever called me that before. Not even Joel. Considering Joel is only my second semi-serious boyfriend and we’ve been going out for about six months, I guess that’s not saying much but still.

The baby bit should offend me. But it doesn’t. Neither does that smile.

What the hell is wrong with me?

“We’ll play another round of five card draw, just you and me.” Shep jabs his index finger in Joel’s direction. “The pot stays as is. But we’ll still raise. Consider this game,” he pauses and I hear the smug amusement enter his voice, “high stakes.”

Someone groans. I think it might’ve been Joel. Not that I’m allowed to look at him or anything.

“Your girlfriend here.” He touches me. Freaking Shep Prescott risks losing a limb by actually sliding his arm around my shoulders, his hand gripping my upper arm firmly. I can hardly move, what with the way he’s holding me. “You two make eye contact for even a second and you automatically lose.”

“Not a problem,” Joel says, his voice shaking the slightest bit. I wish I could look at him. If I could I’d be telling him to grow some balls and man up.

“So we’re ready?” Shep releases his hold on me, his fingers streaking across my back as he moves away and settles back in his seat. I send him my most evil glare but it doesn’t even faze him. He simply resumes shuffling his cards, slouching in his chair as he does so, his legs going wide so his knee bumps against my thigh.

Ignoring the sizzle that shoots up my leg, I scoot away from him as best I can but he stops me in my tracks.

“You leave, he loses,” Shep murmurs, so low I’m sure no one can hear him but me. “Don’t forget that.”

“Considering you won’t let me, I don’t think you need to worry,” I say with a little snort that I immediately regret. Way to impress him.

But you don’t want to impress him. You think he’s an asshole.

Yeah. I need to remember that.

The girl with the sarcastic mouth just made the night infinitely more interesting. I’d been bored out of my skull knowing I was going to win. The pot was small, maybe five hundred bucks. Big fucking deal. The last dude sitting at the table was a nervous little freshman who hadn’t backed down which surprised me. I figured he either had a better hand than me—almost impossible—or he was an excellent bluffer.

Also fairly impossible.

Then the girlfriend had to go and gesture behind me. She saw my hand. The little fucker brought his hot girlfriend to cheat and I hadn’t even noticed. And I always notice that crap. Instead of making sure she was on the up and up while I stared at her in the mirror I put up for the sole purpose of catching cheaters, I caught myself checking her out.

Nice tits. Good skin, if a little on the pale side. Long red hair pulled up into a ponytail and freckles scattered across her cheeks and nose. Freckles pretty much scattered everywhere. Not my normal type but what did me in—besides her tits because they look damn good in that black tank top she’s wearing—was her mouth. Bee stung lips. I can only imagine those lips wrapped tight around my…

“Are you going to deal or spend the entire night staring at me?”

I blink her into focus. She’s a feisty little thing too. What’s she doing with this freshman loser sitting across from me, looking ready to pass out at any given moment? I like her voice, despite all the shitty things she’s been saying about me.

And I’ve heard every single comment since she settled in behind me.

Ignoring her, I deal our hands and check my cards, careful to keep my expression neutral. A pair of queens and three junk cards. I won’t discard until he does first. I’m the dealer so that’s protocol and I don’t want him to know that I only have a pair.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com