Poker Night

Josef looked around the table at the other four vampires, his smile at once enigmatic and smug, the deck held lightly in his left hand.

"Cards, gentlemen?" he asked.

Logan Griffin frowned at his hand, wishing he were back in his basement playing Halo 3, and made a decision. "Three," he said, snapping his discards face down on the table.

Josef dealt the cards to him, then looked expectantly at Mick. His friend had a better poker face than Logan, and gave away nothing. He put down two cards, and picked up his scotch, sipping slowly.

"Two to St. John," Josef said. "Next?"

Ryder England looked intent, and the others could almost see the numbers clicking in his head. Probabilities, data. Then he shook his head slightly and laid down his cards with a precise motion. "Fold," he said. "My luck's not in tonight."

The last player, Will Spence, suspected he was the patsy in tonight's game. It was the first time he'd been invited to one of Kostan's infamous poker nights, after all, and he had no illusions that Josef was a friend. He also sipped at his drink, a nice fresh B negative. He'd have preferred it straight up from the donor, but supposed that would interfere with the game. And there would be time and opportunity for that later. From the terrace, they could hear faint sounds of the guest freshies enjoying the pool as they waited until the vampires finished playing cards. "I'll stand pat," he said.

Josef raised his eyebrows, still smiling. "And the dealer takes one." The bets went around again. The pile of blood vials they were using for poker chips at the center of the table was substantial, and he regarded it thoughtfully. "Hmm," Josef said, "the plot thickens."

As though on cue, the hallway door opened and one of Josef's exclusives appeared. Josef glanced over sharply, as did all but one of the other players. The tall, slender redhead was looking particularly striking in a long satin gown of brilliant emerald green that somehow both clung to her and flowed like water along her long legs. The color turned her hair to living flame and found a gentler echo in her gray eyes, and made the pale skin of her exposed neck and shoulders almost luminous in the soft light. She smiled at Josef, Mick noted, as though he were the only one in the room, possibly the only one on the planet.

Josef favored her with a look and a smile at once possessive and hungry. His nostrils flared slightly as he inhaled to take in her scent. He held out a hand to her. "Well," he said, "here's my lucky seven. Come sit on my lap, sweetheart."

Lucky seemed to notice the others for the first time as she came forward and slipped shyly into Josef's lap with a faint whisper of satin.

He picked up his cards with his free hand, even as he ran his other smoothly down Lucky's arm from the spaghetti strap of her dress to the crook of her elbow, lingering there to caress the soft inner skin.

"Take a look at these card, darlin', and tell me what you think," Josef said, fanning his hand expertly for her.

Lucky pretended to study the cards, but as she'd been asked to do, she focused past them.

(ital) "Think about something exciting," Josef had said. 'Get that pulse going."

"How can my heart not race, Josef, sitting with you?" Lucky had protested. She'd looked down, embarrassed. "Won't they all know it's just—you know?"

He'd put a hand out to turn her unresisting face back to him. "That's why you need to think of something special."

She'd smiled slowly, then, and he'd had to catch his own breath at the way she blushed so sweetly… (close ital)

Lucky pretended to stare at the cards, but she was thinking back to a certain morning, the way she had floated in the pool, floated in Josef's strong arms. She knew her heart was racing; she could barely keep from quivering at the memory. She turned her head, put her lips next to Josef's ear, and breathed warmly. She was well aware both that her neck was quite enticingly exposed to the other vampires, and also that they would hear any slightest whisper she made.

Josef's smile never changed. He knew this girl down to the bone, he thought, sliding his hand over the satin of her dress at the hip. By now, he thought every fang in the room should be extended, and the other players well distracted. He was feeling that pleasant pressure in his own mouth, salivating enough at the warmth and weight of her against his body that he needed to swallow.

"I believe I'll raise," he said, "the stakes."

Logan took the bait, saw and raised his bet. Mick, who had seen this party trick once or twice before, wasn't fooled, but after studying his hand for a few seconds more, stayed in. Ryder was simply enjoying the show, his interest betrayed by the heat in his eyes. Will was getting down to his last vials, but had enough to stay in and raise once more.

This time around, as Josef raised, Lucky squirmed slightly in his lap, and sent a fresh wave of pheromones flooding through the room. Logan caught a clue, and folded. Mick thought sardonically that she was overplaying it just a little, although he wondered exactly what she was visualizing. He wasn't quite rude enough to take a really good scent of her, knowing he would sense more than he really wanted to know about his friend and the freshie. He shook his head with a smile and laid down his hand. "I'm out," he said.

Lucky hid her face against Josef's neck, putting her lips against his skin. His arm around her tightened, and he crushed a handful of satin folds in his fist. Damn, but Lucky was doing almost too good a job at this, he thought. He found his head tilting involuntarily to her throat, and he licked his lips.

Will shoved the last of his blood vials into the center of the table. "Okay, Kostan," he said, "before you go ahead and bite that freshie, let's see your cards. Unless there's something else you'd rather lay on the table."

Josef looked up and smirked. "Straight flush, Spence" he said, displaying his hand.

Will's smile was mirthless as he threw down his cards, and he was looking at Lucky, not Josef, as he said, "Well played."

She couldn't see that, but she was feeling particularly bold and provocative, and she parted her lips to slide the tip of her tongue across the skin of his neck just above the open collar of his shirt.

This time, she could feel the response of his body against her, the sharp catch of his breath. Josef stood, smoothly moving her to stand in front of him. Certain things, he thought, didn't necessarily need to be shared with the entire room.

"Gentlemen," he said with a gesture towards the terrace, "I suggest we break for—refreshments."