After two hands of play, our teams seemed to be fairly even. Gray had won the first pot, which was thankfully not that big. All of us had constrained our betting while we sized one another up. On the second hand, all my questions about Winter’s poker abilities had been answered. She had won the pot, slightly larger than the first, after some canny betting. Ogre was so confounded that she beat him he had actually grown animated for a second, demanding to see her cards. He had studied everything for a good five minutes before finally conceding that her flush was valid and that it did, in fact, beat his straight.
Now we were on our third hand. The room was deathly silent as Ian, Gray, and Lenny stared at one another, trying to discern who was for real and who was bluffing. They were the only three left in this hand. Even though it pained me to do so—considering we were only playing these games to save my ass—I had folded early on a seriously crappy hand, wanting to hold on to as many of my chips as possible. I had to be smart in this game, not prideful.
“I think you’re bluffing,” Gray said finally, watching Ian, who didn’t even blink. “It’s totally speculative, of course, but I think you’re bluffing. So I see your bet and I raise you double.”
He tossed his chips into the pot where they clinked against the others. I quickly calculated the amount in the center of the table and saw dollar signs. Winning this hand would definitely help me. It would give our team a little breathing room, which we sorely needed.
Ian leaned forward and tossed his chips in, seeing Gray’s bet without a word. I saw Gray’s Adam’s apple bob up and down. He wasn’t expecting Ian to do that so casually.
Everyone looked at Lenny. After betting the farm in the first two hands, he was almost bereft of chips. He narrowed his eyes, bending his two pliable hole cards back and forth between his hands. Clearly he was nervous. It was like he had forgotten how to bluff.
“Screw it. I’m in,” he said. And he shoved at least half his chips into the center of the table.
Gray sighed, irritated. I was practically salivating. If Lenny lost this hand they were going to be seriously down.
“Okay. Dealing the river,” Rick said.
He flipped the card over and no one moved.
“I’m in,” Gray said finally, tossing in a few more chips.
Ian followed suit, keeping his mouth shut. Lenny smirked and pushed the rest of his chips into the pot. Unbelievable. Lenny was going all in. If he lost, he would be out of the game. Then it would be two against three in favor of us. Didn’t he apprehend how tonight’s game was working?
“All right. Let’s see what everyone’s got,” Rick said.
“Four of a kind, baby!” Lenny cried, standing up and slapping his cards down with a triumphant grin. There they were, all four tens—two in the hole, two on the table.
Gray looked relieved. “That beats me,” he said, slapping hands with Lenny as he stood as well. “What about you, O’Connor?”
I glanced warily at Winter, who looked extremely pale under the dim light of the chandelier. Ian kept his expression stolid as he turned over his hole cards. I glanced quickly from them to the center of the table and my heart caught.
“Holy crap. He’s got a straight flush,” I said.
“Yes!” Winter cheered, jumping out of her seat and flinging her arms around Ian’s neck.
Gray and Lenny’s faces fell. “No way! No freakin’ way!” Lenny shouted. He lunged at Ian, shouting aspersions, and Ian jumped out of his chair, backing himself and Winter up and out of harm’s way. My heart hit my throat. Ogre shot out of his seat, grabbing Lenny’s arm as Gray tried to control him as well. I got up and put myself between the guys and Ian, my pulse pounding through my veins. If anyone was going to be assailed here, it should be me.
“Dude! Calm down!” Gray said, his muscles flexing.
“He cheated! He freakin’ cheated! I know he did. Check his pockets! Check the cards!” Lenny shouted, repudiating his loss. He strained against his friends, and I clenched my fists, ready for a fight. He didn’t look like he was going to remain tractable for very long.
“He didn’t cheat,” Ogre said quietly. “He just beat you.”
Lenny’s eyes widened, and for a second I thought he was going to buffet his friend, but gradually the fight started to go out of him.
“Dude, just go upstairs and calm down,” Gray said, releasing his grip on Lenny’s shirt. “You’re out of the game.”
Lenny yanked himself away from his friends and pushed his hands over his greasy hair. For a second I thought he was going to freak out again, but instead he cursed under his breath and stormed out of the room. No one moved. A minute later we heard a far-door slam.
Gray looked at Ian. “Take your chips, man,” he said tersely.
Ian did, and then we all got back to the game.