They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but derringers in small purses don’t need friends to get the job done, especially for Lainie Conrad.
It’s 1883 in Denver, Colorado, and Lainie isn’t just another pretty face at the poker table. She’s there to avenge her husband’s murder. But what’s a southern belle to do when the murderer is a gambler as slick with the cards as he is with his lies? The only thing she can do…show him how The Lady of the Cards wins.
“Gentlemen, do any of you know the time?”
Marshal Nick Foster stopped in mid-step, one foot on the bottom stair, and stared straight ahead. The languid cadence of her cotton-soft southern drawl wafted in the air, embracing him with bittersweet memories of their last night together and the ring he hadn’t put on her finger. The siren call in her voice tugged at his heart. Damn, he’d missed her, and now that he’d found her, his willpower to separate love from duty was quickly deteriorating into a one-sided, losing battle.
Someone reported the time. Chair legs scraped and boots shuffled on the hardwood floor.
“Gentlemen, this has been a lovely evening, but I must take my leave. I cannot go without my beauty rest.”
Nick shifted his position. The two cowboys stood with hats in hand, uttering their thanks for the game, but the third man remained seated. Nick got a good look at him. His face wasn’t familiar, but his type was. Cardsharp. The sort who came to the table with genteel larceny in mind, ready to fleece unsuspecting lambs foolish enough to play the master in his own game. The jeweled stickpin in his lapel and ostentatious diamond ring on a little finger smacked of extravagance and excess.
The man’s manner was as controlled and cool as his black suit was expensive and tailored. His long, slender hands and nimble fingers bore the trademark of a professional gambler, and the cards fairly sang as he shuffled them. On sheer principle, Nick didn’t like him. His kind were users and takers.
“It’s still early, Lainie. Let me buy you a drink. Or coffee.” “Mrs. Conrad to you. You know full well after a game I take coffee or tea in my room alone, and I rarely drink alcohol except on very special occasions. Stranded in this quaint little cow town does not qualify as a commemorative event.”
He continued deftly manipulating the cards. “You’re right. I do know that about you, Mrs. Conrad.” Then the corners of his lips turned up in a sly smile. “I assume you’ll be in Denver this weekend. We should make plans to celebrate after I win the tournament.”
The fiery spark in Lainie’s eyes was the only outward indication the man had ruffled her impassive composure.
“Yes, I will be a player in that game, and it will be my pleasure to finally take all of your money. Perhaps I’ll feel generous after I win to front you a little something so you can leave town.” Lainie nodded to the cowboys. “Again. Gentlemen, goodnight.”
With the fluid movement of a striking snake, the cardsharp snatched hold of Lainie’s hand and halted her exit. She neither struggled nor spoke a word. To anyone who didn’t know her, she might have seemed indifferent, but Nick recognized the unreserved loathing in the steady, steely gaze she fixed upon the gambler’s face. There was a history between them that Nick wanted to know more about.
“Stay awhile, Mrs. Conrad. We’ve known each other long enough to put aside formal pretenses. Let’s dispense with this ongoing façade. It’s tiresome. There’s no reason for either of us to spend the rest of this night, or any night in the future, alone.”
The gambler raked his gaze over Lainie’s body, his lips curled in a leer that said he was a man accustomed to getting what he wanted.
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Until next time,
Writing through history one romance upon a time
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