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Queen of Hearts

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Abigail swirled her wine glass as she observed yet another suited-to-booted man leave the poker table. He was the latest player to leave a table that had housed ten poker players and now there were only two left with this latest departure. The man was absolutely fuming; he had just lost his last chips to the woman smiling behind his back.

"Who is that?" Raelle asked, taking in the lean and toned body that fit in the snug yellow silk dress.

Abigail turned away from the poker table and touched her ear piece, asking the hidden voice for information.

Once she got what she wanted she shared, "Apparently that is one Miss Tally Craven, out-of-towner, has never come to the Fort Salem before. At least not under that name. She's staying in a standard room."

"You think she is a con artist?" Raelle asked, eyeing the plentiful pile of chips that Tally was rearranging in front of her

"Come on she is holding her own with the boss at the table and don't tell me it's beginner's luck. Tally Craven clearly knows how to play poker."

Raelle nodded apathetically, the brunette looked innocent enough and the nervous joy at each winning hand showed that the money meant something. It had a purpose other than to be fritted away. The girl was playing for something, not just fun.

Raelle took a sip of her Jack Daniels and coke, "She is doing well but there is no second place in poker."

"You don't think she stands a chance against the boss?" Abigail asked, sneaking a glance at their employer who was as still as a statue, calculating her next move dressed in a stylish silk black pantsuit that accentuated her greatest features, her sharp jaw line and piercing blue eyes.

"Does anyone?" Raelle grumbled back, knowing she'd learnt the hard way not to stand in Sarah Alder's way.

"We'll see, won't we?" said Abigail as she watched Alder peek at her cards.


The words "All in," cut through the air, silencing the mindless chattering and clinking of glasses in the room as everyone's attention fixated on the poker table, and the two competitors sitting across from one another.

Alder flexed her fingers on the table beside her cards, "Excuse me?"

"All in," Tally repeated, giving Alder a shy smile as she pushed all her remaining chips into the pot.

Alder's eyes scrutinised Tally's face, searching for her tell but only finding her endearing dimples, at first anyway.

Tally's tongue darted out and rested between her lips for a second. Alder almost grinned. That was her tell. She had done that exact movement a few times when folding. She was bluffing.

What a shame, Alder thought. Another punter that would go home with nothing but her clothes on her back. At least she'd still have the beautiful smile. That was priceless.

"All in."

There was a collective gasp in the room as Alder tossed all her chips into the middle, matching Tally's earlier brash move. The pot now totalled two million pounds.

"Shall we?" Alder asked gesturing to the dealer but looking at Tally.

Tally gave a firm nod, not trusting her voice at this tense moment.

The dealer started to flip the last two cards. A ten of spades and a seven of diamonds joined the seven of hearts, the Queen of clubs, and the four of hearts.

"Boss?" the dealer asked.

Alder revealed her cards. A ten of diamonds and a seven of clubs. Three of a kind and a pair.

Abigail shook her head; it was a strong hand.

"You should know by now; Alder doesn't lose," Raelle whispered bitterly, downing the rest of her drink.

"Mmm," Abigail murmured sipping her wine before refocusing on the poker table.

Tally pushed her two cards towards the middle of the table before slowly turning them over. The Queen of Hearts and the Queen of Spades. Three of a kind.

Abigail's eyes went wide and the wine in her mouth nearly spluttered out. Three queens beat three sevens. Sarah Alder had lost in her favourite game, in her own casino; and she had lost everything. Abigail couldn't believe what she was seeing and neither could the entire room that had remained silent, waiting for the reaction from the so-called 'General of Las Vegas'.

Alder's eyes moved from the cards to the woman who had just beat her. She had faked her tell. It seemed that there was more to this woman than first meets the eyes. Alder had underestimated her. A mistake she wasn't going to do again.

Alder licked her lips, "Well played, Mrs?"

"Craven. Tally Craven. And it's just Miss."

"Enjoy your winnings and the rest of the time you spend here at Fort Salem, Miss Craven."

Tally inclined her head as her defeated opponent rose from the table, "Thank you. I'm sure I will. You have a pleasant evening as well Miss … sorry I didn't catch your name?"

She never got an answer as Alder strode through the room past all the onlookers and out of sight.


Only the full moon and a few stars broke up the pitch-black canvas of the evenings sky. Tally stood next to a high circular table and leaned on the golden railings of the balcony. Behind her was the indoor area of the casino's exclusive bar for high rollers. She was the only one willing to brace the cold night's air for the beautiful sight of stary moonlight illuminated sky. In truth that was the main reason she had come outside. A winner was always popular with people wanting to ride on their coat tails and suckle on their generosity. But Tally was a firm believer in generosity being earnt, not handed out, and none of the vultures inside deserved or needed help of the financial nature. No, she had come to this casino and won to help those back home. To help her community. Her farm.

She heard the door behind her swing and she was about to send the latest cocky punter back inside with their tale between their legs when she turned to stand face to face with the woman, she had taken two million dollars off but an hour ago.

She had two whiskey tumblers in her hand and offered one as well as a name, "Sarah Alder."

Tally straightened from the railings and accepted the drink, "Lovely to meet you."

Tally took a deep sip, letting the oaky tones and burning sensation that accompanied the amber liquid down her throat warm her up. She closed her eyes and tried to stifle a cough. Whiskey had never been her drink of choice but she had been brought up to not refuse gifts.

"You play poker better than you drink whiskey. That was quite the performance you put on," Alder finally said after admiring the moon for a moment, "You fooled me."

"That doesn't happen to you a great deal, does it?"

"It never happens."

"I feel honoured to be the first to have achieved such a feat then," Tally said playfully, while shivering from the cold night air.

In the next moment Tally found Alder's light jacket surrounding her bare shoulders and back.

Alder gave an amused huff at Tally's surprise at her action, "I am many things, Miss Craven, but a sore loser isn't one of them."

"Thank you," Tally responded digging out her light-brown hair from under the jacket's collar so it once again fell down her back.

"What are you going to spend my money on?"

Tally returned her smirking gaze to the moon; she had already thought long and hard on where her winnings would go.

"I come from a farming community. Our harvests have been poor lately and the banks have come calling."

Whatever answer Alder had been anticipating it hadn't been that. She hesitated and she never hesitated. Tally continued to fill the silence.

"Two million I think will be enough for my community to keep the bankers at bay and set us up for a few more harvests."

"You aren't going to keep the money for yourself?" Tally shook her head and Alder's eyebrows rose ever so slightly, "How noble of you."

"I know it must seem silly to a person like you."

"A person like me?"

"Um …" Tally's cheeks reddened at Alder's pointed tone, "I heard the dealer call you 'Boss' you own this hotel?"

"Yes, I own Fort Salem."

"Well, it must seem odd to you then that I wouldn't keep my winnings for myself when the entire concept of this place is winning money off other people."

Alder murmured in contemplation. It was odd. To find a sheep amongst the wolves and one that came back unscathed. Alder's mind was working fast to rectify that scenario and restore a little bit of her pride.

"True. I am," Alder paused to find the right word but also to not so subtly look Tally up and down, "intrigued."

Tally blushed into her drink, "I'm an open book really. You just don't know me very well."

"A mistake I want to remedy as soon as possible."

"You seem to be a woman that gets everything she wants."

"I want my money back."

"Almost everything," Tally's eyes shone as she leaned over the railings with the whiskey tumbler clasped between both hands. She was getting more confident in Alder's presence or the whiskey was making her bolder; either way she was having the time of her life.

Alder placed her empty tumbler down a bit too forcefully on the circular table and came up behind Tally moving her head so it was next to Tally's.

"Don't stare at the moon for too long; I'm not a patient person and as you pointed out, I'm used to getting what I want," she whispered into Tally's ear as a plastic white card was slid onto the circular table.

Tally flicked her eyes to the card; it was a room key card with the words Penthouse Suit engraved onto it in black ink.

What do I do, what do I say?! Tally panicked internally but she couldn't deny feeling the allure of the implication, quite literally put on the table, was having on her.

She watched over her shoulder as Alder returned to the indoor bar area without so much as a second glance back at her.

Tally rolled her body so her back was now resting on the golden railings of the balcony and sipped at the last inch of amber liquid at the bottom of her glass. She supressed the urge to make funny faces as the harsh alcohol seared through her. Her mind was racing. She didn't belong in a casino, with the glamor and deceit. She belonged on her farm, driving a tractor or feeding the chickens. The problem was she was good at the former, to her surprise, no matter how much she loved the latter and only one was paying the bills currently.

With that thought whirling around her mind she followed suit. The risky play it was. She picked up the card key and walked away from the balcony, leaving the moon and the stars to dance in the sky without anyone to watch them.