Annie Kincaid has never held the right cards, not when it comes to love. Twice married, twice divorced, she's given up on finding her soul mate--though not on having a family. So Annie's decided to have a baby. On her own.
But her brother, Cole, thinks that's a huge gamble, and she can't disagree. At the very least, he tells her, she should go for a known quantity and ask his old friend and best poker buddy, Blake, to be the dad. Blake's certainly a known quantity, all right.
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October 09, 2007
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Excerpt from The Baby Gamble by Tara Taylor Quinn
The cowboy pushed his hat down low.
Everyone knew that thirty-four-year-old Luke Chisum, of the renowned Circle C Ranch, shifted his hat every time he had a good hand.
Lifting the corners of his two cards just enough to see the pair of aces, Blake dropped his thirty-three-year-old silver dollar on top of them and threw in two one-dollar chips--the mandatory flop bet. His buddy Cole Lawry, seated to his left, gave him a long look.
Cole studied the ten and queen of spades and two of diamonds faceup on the table, took one more look at Blake and folded.
Brady Carrick, ex-Cowboy football player, didn't look at anyone. His face impassive as always, he pushed his cards toward the middle of the table. Brady'd had a hard time of it after an injury had caused him to take early retirement, and he'd headed off to LasVegas, only returning to River Bluff fifteen months before--a year after Blake had made it home.
The younger man had come home blaming himself for the suicide death of a rodeo cowboy in Vegas--something to do with a wager. Having just met him, Blake had stayed out of most of the conversation revolving around the incident, except to say that Brady shouldn't take the guilt of someone else's mistakes on his own shoulders.
Verne Chandler, a sometimes player with the Wild Bunch, lived in the decrepit, now closed Wild Card Saloon. The older man had moved in to stay after his sister died, leaving the place to her young son. It was there, in the back apartment, that the five-member Wild Bunch--a group of unmarried guys, most of whom had been friends on and off since high school--held their weekly Texas Hold'em games. Hunched over now in the wheel-chair he'd taken to a few months before, Verne wasn't looking so good. Though he was only in his early sixties, the wrinkles on his face seemed to be the result of about ninety years of hard living.
River Bluff's male version of the town gossip, Harry Knutson, also tossed in his pair of cards.As did Hap Jones, Luke's foreman and guest for the evening.
Ron Hayward called Blake's bet, just as Blake had known he would. Ron was more of an ass than a poker player, a nice enough guy who didn't know his own weaknesses. Put Ron on a construction site, and he was gifted. Cole, who worked for Ron, could testify to that. But let the owner of Hayward Construction join them at the poker table, and he stood out in a less impressive way. If there was a bet on the table, Ron played--whether he had a worthy hand or not. It made him a waste.
Luke, the dealer of the hand, dropped his army dog tag on top of his cards, added his two dollars to the pot and raised them two. Blake and Ron followed suit. Luke dealt the turn. An ace of spades.
Blake threw in two more chips. And then, when Luke's raise came back to him, threw in another four.
Ron had spent twenty dollars before he folded. "It's just you and me, buddy," Luke said with a grin, making a show out of dealing the river, the third in the series of deals per hand.
A two of clubs.
Blake tossed in eight bucks. Luke raised him another four. He pushed out another eight. Luke called his eight and raised him four again.
The pot was over a hundred dollars. Back when Verne's sister had been alive, this run-down and lifeless place had been pristine. Both out front, where saloon customers came in droves, and back here in the apartment, where Jake Chandler, Verne's nephew and the absentee member of the Wild Bunch, had grown up far too quickly.
"You wanna just strip off your shorts and get this over with?" Luke smiled as he raised the bidding one more time.
Blake didn't strip for anyone. Besides, he was sitting on a full house ace-deuce. The only way Luke was going to beat that was with a miracle. A jack and king of spades facedown in front of him.
Luke was no fool. But the chances of Blake sitting on double aces were slim. Glancing up, Blake looked past his opponent to the bare window behind him. In the daylight they'd be able to see the river. Tonight there was nothing but darkness.
Someone was out there. Luke bounced his dog tag on the table and grinned as it landed on his closest stack of chips. He'd perfected that move eons ago, before most of the guys had left for college. Blake, having come to the Wild Bunch late, invited by his then-brother-inlaw, Cole, when he'd married Cole's sister, Annie, had been hearing about this particular talent for years.
Blake tipped the corners of his cards again. Glanced beyond the archway leading to a thread-bare living room, and saw a woman slip quietly around the corner from the hall.