“Fine. I’m all in, too.” She pushed her chips into the center and turned to her friend Lindsey. “I need to borrow five dollars.”

“Done,” Lindsey said.

“Umm, guys, why don’t we agree we’ve reached our limit at fifteen and everyone show their cards?” Raven suggested.

The quietest woman in the group—the librarian, for goodness’ sake—practically stood up to make her announcement. “I raise by fifty dollars!”

And then it became a bloodbath.

The rush of adrenaline combined with key lime martinis turned them feral. Victoria grabbed more money from her purse, buying more chips, and friends borrowed from friends. Morgan shoved her hundred-dollar bill at Raven with the mad expression of a gambler on track to win a big pot. Voices raised in a fury, and when Raven finally halted the madness, there was five hundred dollars in the pot and almost all the chips were gone from her stash.

She’d have to buy more chips. She had seriously underestimated her students.

Tension settled over the group. Cards were gripped with deathly tightness, drinks drained, and everyone stared at the colorful pile of chips in the center of the happy red table.

Raven cleared her throat. “Susan, you go first, since you were the last to raise. Show your cards.”

“Three of a kind. Jacks.”

“Nice hand. Next.”

They went around. There were two people who showed two pairs, one with three deuces, and two bluffers, including the librarian, who’d just gotten caught up in the excitement of the moment. Victoria bounced up and down in her chair when it was her turn and flipped over a straight with eight high.

“Sorry, Susan, straight beats three of a kind.”


Raven pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh. Damn, she liked this group. “Morgan, show your cards. This is it.”

Morgan’s French-manicured hands flashed as she flipped them over. Raven figured she’d lost, since there wasn’t a shred of emotion in her face. Five hearts stared up at her.

“Flush. I win.”

Raven’s mouth dropped open. Sydney screamed, the ladies cursed and congratulated in varying degrees, and Morgan finally broke out in a big, satisfied smile.

That woman had balls.

Everyone began taking out more money to play another round, but Raven held up her hand. “Sorry, ladies, we’re done. It’s almost ten and I have to work tomorrow.”

Sydney gasped and shot up. “Oh, my God, my poor sitter! How did it get to be this late?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t keep my eye on the time,” Morgan said, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Things got a bit crazy.”

Raven grabbed the wad of cash, quickly wrapping it in a rubber band and putting it in an envelope. “There’s your winnings,” she said. “I can’t wait to see you hustle Cal. You’re really good.”

A frown creased her brow. “Yeah, but I get the feeling he was humoring me about poker. Almost patting my head, like I was some lamebrained blonde who couldn’t play a man’s game. Isn’t that a bit archaic?”

Susan came over. “I agree! My husband laughed and said, ‘Enjoy your cute poker game.’ Cute? Screw him.”

Lindsey agreed. “My boyfriend said you wouldn’t be able to teach me right, Raven. Told me he’d teach me the right way.”

Raven tilted her head, considering. “Got it. Well, it’ll take a few more game nights to increase your skills, but I’ll show you some simple ways to make sure you beat them when we finally combine male and female poker night.”

“How?” Sydney asked.

Raven smiled slowly. “I’m going to teach you to cheat.”

Sydney sighed. “I really love you.”

Raven laughed, made sure each of them blew into the Breathalyzer, then watched them disappear one by one until the bar was finally silent.

Damn, that was fun.

She began cleaning up, wondering when Dalton would show. Maybe she’d text him to cancel. Or maybe he’d texted her already—she needed to check her phone. It was already late, and though she ached to see him, her emotions were still complicated. Another day to clear her head might not be a bad idea.

She was headed to the sink with the glasses, figuring she’d load them in the dishwasher for tomorrow, when the door swung open. Damn, she’d forgotten to lock it. Maybe one of the women had forgotten something, or Dalton was here.

Raven exited the kitchen and froze.

A strange man stood before her. Even though it was a hot night, he had a gray hoodie pulled over his head, with baggy jeans and dirty sneakers. A scruffy beard hid the lower half of his face. He was short—only about five foot six maximum, and his brown eyes were small and overbright, as if he was on something. He swayed back and forth, glancing wildly around the bar.

He held a gun in his right hand.

In that instant, her mind stopped. She stared at him with a touch of confusion, then began realizing she was in big trouble and had better get her shit together. Her palms sweat, and her heart pounded so hard, there was a roaring in her ears. For an instant, her vision blurred with panic and choking terror. She had no alarm system—the cost had been astronomical and she’d figured she’d revisit it later. Her gun was in a locked drawer in the kitchen, and right now it was completely useless. No time to run back there and get it; it would take too long to fumble with the key. Why hadn’t she locked the door? She always locked the door—it was a habit completely ingrained. What was she going to do?

Be calm. Wait for your opportunity.

Years of boxing and karate and self-defense training suddenly burst inside her brain in trickling snippets of advice. She swallowed back the crippling fear and remained still.

“You alone?” His voice was slightly cracked, as if he was on the edge.

“No, there’s people in the kitchen who are calling the police. I think you should leave.”

The gun rose, wobbled. “Fucking liar. No one’s in there, I watched everyone leave. There’s only one car left. I need money, bitch. Get it.”

She glanced at the cash register behind the bar, trying to plot, trying to be calm. Her phone lay right in front of her, close to the register. But the gun was a game changer.

Act weak.

“P-please don’t hurt me,” she whimpered. “I’ll get you the money. Anything you want.”

The gun lowered. “That’s right, I need the money now.” Sweat and body odor stank from his skin. “Get it!” he yelled.

She jumped and headed behind the bar, arms raised in surrender. He walked further into the room, still looking around, his hands shaking. There wasn’t much in the register—she kept the rest locked up in the back in a safe, and made regular deposits. Cash in a bar was necessary but dangerous. What the hell was she going to do?


She grabbed all the cash from the register and deliberately knocked over a glass. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she blabbered. “You can have it all, here, let me get it for you.” She bent down as if to clear the glass, palmed her phone, and stuck it in the back of her shorts. There was no time to swipe it open and call 911 yet.

“Stop playing games with me!” he roared. “Get out from there!”

The tears that leaked from her eyes were genuine now, and didn’t have to be forced. Gaze trained on the gun, she lowered her head in sheer meekness, hands outstretched with the cash grasped in her fingers, and slowly walked out from behind the bar.

“I know you have a safe, and I want that, too. Hurry up, bitch! Give me that money now. You hear me?”

If she went into the kitchen to the safe with him, she might not come out. In the open main area, she had more options, but the doors were already locked up in the back. Could she get past him and run out the front?


“Yes, anything, please just don’t hurt me. Here, here’s the money.”

The gun was now trained on her, and she eased forward, her hands shaking. He went to grab the cash, and she dropped a few of the bills onto the floor. He cursed viciously. “Pick it up!” he screamed.

She bent her knees, scooped up the bills, and stuck her shaking hand out again, offering the money.