In this snippet from my western romance, Lily and the Gambler, Lily and King converse on a train.
His head jerked and he suddenly awoke, blinking his eyes. When he saw her looking at him, he grinned sheepishly. “Guess I’m not very good company today.”
“Did you get any sleep last night?”
“No, but I never sleep on boats.”
“What did you do all night?”
The look he gave her was faintly defiant. “I sat in on a poker game.”
Once again she fought disappointment. “Do you gamble often?”
“No, not often.”
Relief flooded through her. Nigel had been at the tables almost every evening. “Did you win?” she asked, keeping her tone light.
“No,” he said with a scowl, as if it were her fault.
She smiled. Serves him right. “I suppose every gambler has a losing streak now and again.”
He straightened in his seat. “I lost because I couldn’t keep my mind on the game. Poker is a game of skill, not luck.”
“I thought all gamblers believed in luck.”
“Oh, I believe in Lady Luck. She saved my life once.” He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a deck of cards with a jagged hole in the middle.
He handed her the cards. “That’s my lucky deck. It stopped a Rebel bullet during the war.”
The cards were tattered, obviously well used. Lily thought about Nigel. He hadn’t had a lucky deck the day of his duel. She passed the deck back to him. “You are a fortunate man.”
He grinned, his green-gold eyes crinkling at the corners, and pocketed the cards. “Lady Luck has been good to me, but like all ladies, she can be fickle. So I don’t like to depend on her. When I sit down at the poker table, I decide on the size of my stake. If I lose it, I fold.”
Lily studied him intently. For a man who gambled, he seemed to possess an unusual amount of common sense. If only Nigel had used as much sense. “It’s too bad everyone doesn’t think the way you do.”
He looked pleased by her words. “The way I figure it, a fool and his money are soon parted.”
Lily ground her teeth together. If only it were so. “No, Mr. Callaway, a fool and his family’s money are soon parted.” She thought of the three engagement rings, not to mention other valuables she’d taken to the pawnshops when Nigel was on a losing streak, most of them never seen again.
Callaway cocked an eyebrow. “What happened to your husband, Mrs. Albright?”
Lily bit her lip. She had revealed too much, but she hadn’t confided in anyone since leaving England, and her memories were eating away at her. It might help to talk about it, and she had a feeling King would understand.
“Nigel was on a winning streak. Another gentleman accused him of cheating. He was offended, of course. When the other man refused to apologize, Nigel challenged him to a duel. He was mortally wounded and died in my arms.” She swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked back the tears welling in her eyes. She refused to cry for him anymore.
“How awful for you.” His voice sounded gruffer than usual. “No wonder you feel the way you do about gambling.”
She fumbled in her bag for her handkerchief, but he was faster. She took the linen handkerchief he offered and dabbed at her eyes. It smelled of starch and tobacco and man. Comforting scents. How many times had she snuffled into Nigel’s handkerchief?
When Callaway placed an arm around her shoulders, Lily was tempted—oh, how she was tempted—to lay her head on his shoulder and give vent to a good cry. Then she remembered it wasn’t proper to weep on a man’s shoulder in public, so she wiped her eyes, straightened her back and stared out the window.
You’re a respectable widow now. Behave like one. And no more breaking into tears in public, though she knew her vow was easier said than done. Sadness had a way of sneaking up on her at inconvenient times like this. But holding in her emotions was becoming a strain. She wanted the freedom to sob, to laugh out loud, to sing and dance again.
Maybe even to give her heart to another man.
The realization almost made her gasp. Her emotions must be thawing out in the California sunshine. What else could have brought that on? Or was it the presence of the man sitting next to her?
No. She was promised to another, and she would not succumb to Callaway just because he was charming and attentive. Had she learned nothing in the last five years?
She looked at his handsome face and felt an unwelcome thrill go through her. Apparently not.
A mail order bride sets out for a new life only to be tempted by a charming gambler. Can he convince her to pass up a sober businessman for a foot-loose card sharp?
After the death of her lover, Lily Penhallow has learned the cost of flaunting convention. Reinventing herself as a widow, she travels to California as the mail order bride of a prosperous mine owner. But on the riverboat from San Francisco, she meets an irresistible gambler. Against her better judgment, she finds herself drawn to the handsome charmer.
King Callaway believes that since life is a gamble, there’s no point in planning for the future. After meeting Lily, he knows he has found his Queen of Hearts. But she’s engaged to his uncle, a man King respects.
Lily finds herself torn between two men and two ways of life. Will she choose respectability or love?
Lily and the Gambler is a Second Chance at Love western historical romance.
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