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One Good Hand cover art

  Excerpt: One Good Hand

  Rowan McBride

  Available now at Loose Id

  ISBN 13: 978-1-59632-603-3


One Good Hand © 2007 by Rowan McBride. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without author's permission.

– One –

 

It was a game.

A game that held almost a million dollars at stake, sure, but still a game.

"Say what?"

"I see your fifty thousand, and raise you him."

I glanced at the man indicated. Tall, around six feet. His long, unkempt brown hair curled at the ends as it fell around his shoulders. He wore a tight black t-shirt with the sleeves torn off, and a pair of equally tight leather pants. He was lean, but ripped like no one I'd ever seen. His biceps were sculpted in sharp relief as he held his arms over his chest, and the leather molded over his thighs left nothing to the imagination.

He didn't seem surprised by this turn of events.

But I sure as hell was. "You can't bet a person."

"He's not a person, he's property."

I looked at the man again. His face was still smooth, expressionless. It had to be a trick. A cheap attempt to shake my composure. "If you don't have the money, then call and stick. Why raise?"

Dallas Cochran, a balding, grease trap of a man, smiled. "I have the money, just not here. Your own rules say we can only bet what we bring. Well, I brought him."

There's a reason you should never play pool or cards with someone named after a city. It's usually the city of their first big victory, the first city they've conquered.

No city could compare to my name, though. I was born to play this game. I felt myself cool, settle. I'd known his rep long before this game was arranged, but he wasn't proving much of a challenge. The other three players were already busted, but Dallas had brought more than the 150 grand buy-in, which was the only reason he was still in the game. "Property, huh? How does that work, Dallas?"

"If you win, you'll find out. Of course, you ain't gonna win."

A high-class whore, maybe? If so, that sucked for him, but I certainly didn't want him. "I don't go for blue eyes."

"My eyes aren't blue."

The words cascaded over my skin, summoning goose-bumps. They slipped through fissures in a wall I'd worked years to make perfect, and threatened to dismantle it brick by brick. I fought against the pull of that erotic voice. I couldn't let a stranger seduce me into making stupid decisions, worthless bets. I was damned if I was going to let word spread that Dallas Cochran took me down. "They are. I just saw . . ." My words trailed as I looked at him a third time.

He was right. His eyes weren't blue. They were green. The deepest, clearest, purest green I'd ever seen in my life.

How could I have missed that?

"Well?" said Dallas, blowing a cloud of cigar smoke over the table. "You in or what?"

In all my years of playing poker, I'd never met such a flawless cliche. I could fold and walk away, just to burn those snake-skin cowboy boots of his. The 350 grand in the pot might be worth the look on his face and, with the money I'd already won, I'd still be number one.

Then I remembered what it was like to have no control over your life. This guy looked like he could take care of himself, but what if he really couldn't leave? "How much is he worth?"

"Five hundred thou."

I burst into laughter. "He just happens to be worth all the money I've got left to bet? Bullshit."

"Trust me, you've never had anything like him."

Anything. Suddenly, I wanted to do more than burn his boots. I wanted to tear him down in front of all his little cronies in this dirty, dingy basement room. I wanted to make him think twice about ever daring to challenge me again.

So I swept all my chips to the center of the table. "Call."

He spread his cards over the green felt. "Told ya it wasn't your night."

Full house. Kings high. I wasn't surprised. He had conquered a city, after all. But this was New York, my home, and the greatest in the world.

Without a word, I dropped my cards to let him see what I had.

The one king he didn't have, and a few of its closest friends, right there in a row.

The cigar fell out of his mouth, hitting his thigh. He shot to his feet, frantically slapping at his slacks while the watchers murmured.

"Holy shit."

"A Straight Flush."

"But the odds of that are–"

Dallas stomped on his cigar. "One more hand!"

My head fell back. "You've got nothing left to bet. Face it, you're done." I snapped my fingers and a neutral party brought me a backpack full of money. "Get outta my hair."

Everyone was quiet as I stared up at the ceiling. Finally I heard feet shuffle out of the room.

"I want a rematch!"

They all wanted a rematch. "Just be sure to smoke a better quality cigar next time. I'll have to burn these clothes because of you."

There was some grumbling, but soon there was nothing. I took several minutes for myself, to come down from my win. In the old days, I would have taken at least ten thousand out of the bag by my feet and spent the night painting the town every shade of red imaginable. Not now. I liked the quiet now.

The stress of the game bled away. I reached down and slung the backpack over my shoulder as I rose to my feet. I actually jumped when I saw I wasn't alone.

It was that guy, and his eyes were definitely green.

"What are you doing here?" I blurted.

He tilted his head to the side as he looked me over. We'd never seen each other before, but somehow his gaze was way too intimate. I felt...invaded. "I belong to you."

Oh, shit. So I guess Dallas had been serious about that. "Look, I don't care about whatever kink deal you two had." I walked around him and started to leave the room. "Go home."

"I don't have a home."

I paused, looked over my shoulder. "No?"

A faint crease appeared between his eyebrows. "Don't you want me?"

Unwillingly, my gaze traveled down his body. His pecs pushed against that black shirt of his, and his package did the same to those obscenely tight pants. Tempting. Very tempting. "Where are you from?"

"Farther away than you could possibly imagine."

I doubted that. "Got friends? Family?"

"No."

Great. Dallas had just cut him loose. I dropped my bag onto the table and unzipped it. "I'll give you a hundred thousand dollars. That should be enough to get you started and to hold you until you figure things out."

His frown deepened. "You want to give me a gift?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"If you had the misfortune of being a slave to a sonovabitch like Dallas Cochran, then you deserve it."

He chuckled. The sound was—god almighty—it made my stomach clench and my prick leap. I braced a hand on the card table for support.

"I've been passed around a great many times over the years. Dallas was not the most abrasive of my owners."

Owners? I took a calming breath and reached into the bag. "Well, you're free to do what you want now."

He was fast, and his speed was so fluid that it wasn't a surprise when his hand rested on my forearm; his body pressed close to my back.

"I can't be set free." He lowered his head, spoke into my ear. "I can only be given away." His lips curved against my skin. "Or won."

The heat emanating from him was hard to take. It roared like wildfire over my skin and burned its way deep inside of me.

He lifted his hand, caressed the curve of my neck. "You're trembling. That's so strange."

My breath hitched as I tried to take in cooler air. "Wh-Why?"

"During the game, you had the best poker face I'd ever seen. Yet now..." He chuckled against me. "Now you're an open book. You want me, so why won't you take me home with you?"

I struggled to answer. I struggled to think. "You said you can only be given away. So can't I give you to...you?"

His head jerked back and he stumbled away from me. "That's not how it works."

Although I knew a little something about living in an underground society, this guy baffled me. But at least I could breathe now. I turned around, saw him standing stiff with his fists clenched. "Just take the money. Start over."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"You wouldn't understand. You might after a while, but not now."

I raked my fingers through my auburn hair. "I'm a professional gambler. I have no other marketable skills. That means next week I could be living out of my car."

Slowly, his fingers uncurled. "But tonight you have a bed, right?"

His change in attitude worried me. "Right."

The corner of his lips tilted upward. "Then tonight we have a place to sleep."

We. What the hell was going on?

Too tired to argue with him any more, I decided he could take the guestroom. "Alright." I zipped up my bag. "But this is a temporary arrangement."

"It always is."


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