I’m sharing samples from the books in the “good fortune changes lives” box set Luck of the Draw – 13 Lucky Romance and Suspense novellas. This set contains brand new eclectic stories revolving around taking chances and winning!
Luck of the Draw is an Amazon exclusive that contains all new stories and was released May 11.
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2mDLXQS
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2nhRgZG
Amazon CA: http://amzn.to/2mb43xn
Amazon AU: http://amzn.to/2mXFpPM
Today I offer Chapter 1 from Cathy Perkins' s mystery novella, Double Down. Enjoy the read!
Two, six, four, three, seven. Madeline Larsson spun the cards across the green felt of the casino's blackjack table. Even the cards were mocking her.
Twenty six thousand, four hundred thirty seven dollars. She held her hands steady as she flipped a second card to each player. Her mind still reeled like a drunken fan watching Sunday sports in the Tom Tom's bar. The university's finance officer had been matter of fact when he dropped the bombshell—the total cost for full-time student status. Her despair must have leaked through her smile. He'd added she "might" qualify for financial aid
Rolling through the hand on autopilot, she peeked under her lashes at the players arrayed before her, scanning their body language and expressions. Three men, one woman. She suppressed a sigh. They were having a ho-hum night, which probably meant "no tip for Maddie."
For a Thursday night, four at her table was a good showing.
Good was a relative term, of course. The Tri-Cities of Washington state--Richland, Kennewick and Pasco--weren't exactly Las Vegas and the Tom-Tom Casino definitely wasn't the Bellagio. Still, it was a nice looking place. Rows of slot machines bordered the card portion of the casino. Leather upholstered stools snugged up to the semi-circular tables. Overhead, nets of small white lights blanketed the ceiling, mimicking a star-studded sky. Shiny and new looking, the twinkling lights effectively hid the ductwork and industrial part of the place.
She checked bets for a new hand and slipped cards from the shoe, dealing two cards to each person.
Staying positive was tough when even her part-time student tuition bill hung over her head. Too many of her high school friends were drowning in student debt. She’d vowed not to fall into that trap. Instead, she'd taken extra shifts this month, but her parents both worked too. Even they had limits on how often they could take care of Caden. Trusting a sitter with her son for the late hours at the casino wasn't an option.
She wouldn't be twenty-something and pretty forever, so missing a semester of school wasn't an option either. A degree would open doors, offer a more secure job and a future for her son. She brightened her smile and hoped one of the players had a good enough--there was that relative term again--evening that they remembered to tip her.
The guy at the end had a terrible hand, a two and a three. All evening he'd mostly made only the minimum bet, with random long shots that were split about fifty/fifty on paying off. With a quick glance at his cards, he immediately surrendered, retrieving a portion of his ante.
She quickly worked past the next two players. One bust. One sticking at nineteen. As she turned to the last man, she noticed Frank Phalen lurking beyond her table. She didn't know the security chief well. Deeply tanned with dark hair brushing his collar, Frank wore jeans, a fringe-trimmed shirt, and a cowboy hat with an intricate turquoise band. Nothing scary, but everything about him shouted "intense."
She'd been vaguely aware of his presence since her shift began Tension tightened her shoulders but she focused on the player in front of her. He'd been making wild crazy bets since he sat down. This hand was no exception. With a pair of tens, instead of sticking with a conservative, probably winning hand, he'd split and doubled down, apparently hoping for face cards for the draw.
Frank shifted, distracting her. She'd heard the stories about him obsessing over women. One had taken out a restraining order against him. Another rumor had him involved with a woman who'd been murdered last month. A shudder shimmied up her spine. Go away.
She didn't need another overbearing man complicating her life. Asher already had that covered--in spades.
Two cards slid across the table to the crazy player. An eight to give him eighteen for one bet and a six for sixteen on the other.
His fingers hovered above the cards.
Don't do it.
Drawing against a soft sixteen was a sucker move.
He tapped the six. “Hit me.”
She pulled another card for him. Six of clubs. Busted at twenty-two.
With two gamblers still in play, she glanced at her own cards. Players sitting at nineteen meant she--as the casino--needed at least a nineteen to tie. No one "won" on the tie, but the casino didn't lose any money paying on the bet either. Her hole card was a jack with a four showing. A fourteen required her to take another card. A six joined the four. Suppressing a smile, she flipped the downward facing card. "Twenty," she announced and cleared the table.
The crazy guy slammed back against his seat. Red splotches lit his neck.
Maddie hoped a new hand would move him past the loss. "Place your--"
Frank moved in beside the angry man. Maddie bit off the rest of her words. Another security pair stepped up to the guy seated on the end. The words were soft but Maddie caught them. "Do not make a scene. Gather your belongings. Card counting is not allowed and you know it."
She tightened her jaw before her mouth could sag open. That was why Frank had been hovering. He hadn't been watching her. He'd been watching the players, cheaters in the casino's eyes.
Wow, card counters. She should've picked up on the betting pattern. After dealing for countless hours, she instinctively knew what cards were still in the shoe. She gave herself a mental shake. Quit worrying about school and how to pay for it. Get your head in the game.
The red-faced man opened his mouth, a protest sputtering out in a spray of spit. The guy at the end shrank, as if he could sink into the floor and disappear. In unison, the security team clamped hands on the men’s' upper arms.
Action stopped at the surrounding tables. The gamblers watched, open mouthed, while the dealers tried to reclaim their attention.
"Let's go." Frank's voice was as steely as any police officer's.
The group shuffled away and Maddie glanced at the remaining players. Fascinated shock splayed across the woman's features. The last guy rose, winked and slid a chip toward her. His behavior flashed across her mind as he moved in the opposite direction from security. Purposeful but discrete. He walked with the same under-the-radar style he'd displayed at the gaming table. Now that she thought about it, he'd been counting cards as well, but using the more obvious, inexperienced guys for cover. She turned to signal security, glanced back, but the guy was already gone.
"Well. That was different." The woman gathered her chips and also slid one forward for Maddie. "I think I'll call it a night."
Maddie smiled her thanks while scanning the casino for possible players. Having the entire table empty wasn't the way to attract people. It screamed both "problem" and "cold table."
The gamblers at surrounding tables turned back to their cards, as if the scene were part of the evening entertainment. The dealers kept their focus on their own tables. She wasn't sure if it was deliberately distancing themselves from a train wreck or making sure their own charges weren't cheating.
An empty table.
Keeping a warm smile pasted on her lips, she let her eyes drift over the crowd, looking for the pit boss. It was almost time for her break. She could use the rotation of dealers as a way to attract a new group of gamblers afterward. Just as she located the pit boss, a man dropped into one of the chairs.
"Daniel." The warmth in her voice was real. The old man came into the casino often and always sat at her table.
He dropped some cash on the table.
Maddie tucked the currency into the drop box and pulled chips from the rack. As Daniel Kaufman place his first bet, she automatically slid two cards across the table and dealt her own.
A two and a ten for Daniel. She had a five showing. Her hole card was probably a face card. Not that she was counting or anything.
Daniel's lucky charm appeared--a World Poker Tour championship chip. A nick marred the bold blue border surrounding the tour's logo. A chip in the chip. Her smile broadened. An image of Daniel clenching the disc in his teeth, testing it like gold, immediately surfaced. One day she'd ask him how he'd damaged it.
He rolled the chip across his knuckles like a coin, then tapped the uppermost card. "Hit me."
A five joined the twelve he had showing. With a laugh, he waved her off. "What do you have?"
She flipped over a queen to pair with her five, and then threw a seven to bust. She slid chips to Daniel and cleared the table. "You okay? What did you do to your eye?" A yellowing bruise marred the left side of his face.
Daniel sighed and looked away. His sigh ended in a deep cough, a rattling, rasping sound that would've made Maddie haul Caden into the pediatrician's office. With Daniel's cough, she would've called it a smoker's cough--they still had too many smokers in the casino--except she knew Daniel didn't smoke.
"It's time for my break. I could use a soda. Come on. Join me." Maddie signaled the pit boss and seconds later another dealer stepped up to the table.
Maddie led the way to the snack bar and within seconds, they were seated at a small table tucked into the far corner of the lounge. "What happened?"
"Why can't that kid be more like his older brother? Or like you? Look at you. Working. Going to school and taking care of your son."
"This isn't about me. If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine."
He stared into his drink and swirled the scotch over the ice cubes.
She sipped her soda and waited, quietly studying the older man. Beyond the black eye, his color looked bad. Now that he was still, without the usual animation lighting his face, she noticed the fatigue and sheen of perspiration. "Is your insomnia kicking in?" teetered at the edge of her tongue.
"My youngest, Owen, hit me up for money again." The words were abrupt. He still wasn't looking at her.
She joined his wince at the word choice.
"I'd had it with him. Had a Come to Jesus session about working and responsibility." Daniel's fingers gingerly poked his face. "He didn't take it well."
"I'm sorry. Is that why you haven't been in this week?" Stress, she decided. It did bad things to your body.
Daniel nodded. "I had some decisions to make. About me. About the kids. The older three are fine. Ryan works hard. He's got a nice job, a nice place for his family. My daughter's able to work part time while her kids are in school. Her husband's got a steady job. Same for Jeremy. So how in the hell did Owen end up such a slacker?"
Maddie shook her head. "Asher was the same way. Always an excuse why something--a job, a class, you name it--wasn't working for him. I made the mistake of pointing out the operative word was 'work.'" Asher had hauled off and hit her too. She should've throw him out then. Part of their divorce decree had been a retraining order that mandated he couldn't see her--or Caden--unless he participated in AA. He'd been pretty consistent until last week when he'd fallen off the wagon. She rubbed the bruise on her forearm. It was still sore from where he'd grabbed her when he showed up drunk last week.
"Yeah. It's like the kid expects me to support his lazy ass instead of getting out there to earn his own." Daniel took a long swallow of his drink then carefully positioned the glass in the center of the napkin. "Look, I wouldn't have said anything except...well...I made the mistake of using you as an example since he's tired of hearing about 'Saint Ryan.' Owen made some...wild accusations."
"You and me. Mostly you. I don't think he'd do anything, but I wanted to warn you."
"He threatened me? My job? My family? My child?" Her voice rose as outrage warred confusion.
"No, no, no." Daniel made patting gestures with his hands. "Nothing like that. He.... He claimed you were 'after' me. That you were after my money."
Heat flooded her cheeks. "I never--"
"I know you didn't--you wouldn't--but in case Owen shows up here looking for me. Says something.” He lifted one shoulder. “Causes a scene. I wanted you to be prepared."
"How do you prepare for something like that?"
About the Author
An award-winning author of best-selling financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories. When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.