Author's Note: To keep everything legal, and to keep everything consistent with the Twilight years, Bella and all her friends are all in college in their junior year. In fact, this is where Bella initially met everyone. She never went to Forks High, and thus never met Edward. But of course, just because she never met Edward in Forks doesn't mean she wouldn't meet him elsewhere. ;)

There's a little bit of poker terminology in this chapter. I tried my best to explain it for people who don't understand poker, but keep it believable for people who do. If you're still unclear what a term means, or for general rules on how to play Texas Hold 'Em, refer to the links in my profile.

Finally, a thank you to all of my awesome betas who helped me with my first chapter. There are too many to list this time around, but you all were a big help!

Please read and review this story. I am new at this so I appreciate all the feedback I can get :)

Raising the Stakes

Chapter 1

"It's not going as well as I hoped," Bella muttered reluctantly into the receiver of her fancy hotel phone. It was the only way she could think of to downplay her disastrous trip to Vegas. Her mother, Renée, would fly off the handle if she knew the complete truth.

"Really?" replied Renée, concerned. "I thought you would have bankrupted several casinos by now."

Oh, how Bella wished. That certainly was the allure of Vegas, wasn't it? Bright lights, fancy shows, and endless opportunities to make money.

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime with her girlfriends, Angela and Jessica. She was going to multiply her winnings by the thousands. But here she was in her hotel room – alone, completely miserable, and horribly in debt with no one to talk to about it.

How had she gotten to this point? How the heck was she going to bail herself out of this mess? And worst of all, why couldn't she stop thinking about the tall, pale guy with the topaz eyes she had met last night?




A few months earlier:




"Your turn for the big blind," Tyler Crowley informed Bella as he dealt two cards to her. Bella knew exactly what to do, thanks in part to the many nights of poker games before this one. She would have to place a full bet on the table before she even got a chance to look at her cards. Thankfully, the required bet was only two quarters. Texas Hold 'Em with the guys was always pretty cheap.

Bella hoped for something good as she picked up her cards and spread them between her fingers. She tried to hide her disappointment when the numbers finally registered. She held a two of hearts and a seven of clubs in her hand. She had watched enough poker championships on ESPN to know that this was considered the worst hand one could be dealt. It was very hard to get a winning hand from something like this.

Under normal circumstances, Bella would have folded immediately and saved herself the trouble. However, since she was forced to bet for the first round, it made sense just to stay in for now. Maybe luck would be on her side tonight. Bella turned her attention away from her cards, her eyes darting toward the other players at the table to see if she could gauge their reactions.

Eric Yorkie's face scrunched up as he took a look at the cards in front of him. It was obvious to Bella that he didn't have too great of a hand, either. Eric was never able to hide his reaction – good or bad – to his cards.

"I'll call," Eric said, tossing two of his quarters into the pot. "And would you pass the bowl of chips down this way? I'm getting pretty hungry, here."

"Do you ever stop eating?" Tyler joked as he slid the bowl to Eric. "I'm surprised you're not as huge as a whale by now."

Eric scooped up a fistful of chips and shoved them into his mouth.

"It's definitely the cardio," Eric said, his voice muffled from the chips not yet swallowed. He turned to Bella, his mouth still full of food. "You want any?"

"No, thanks," Bella said in disgust. She was sure Eric was oblivious to her disapproval, even though the rest of the guys at the table were chuckling to themselves.

"Smooth, Eric," Tyler said with a laugh. "Okay, Newton. Your turn."

Mike Newton had spent the past two minutes in contemplative silence. Bella noticed that his eyes would dart back and forth between her and his hand. Whenever their eyes met accidentally, he would immediately jerk them back down to his cards. Bella didn't want to say anything, but she did find it slightly uncomfortable.

"Hold on," Mike pleaded, now very focused on the two cards in his hand. He paused between his words as he announced his decision. "I think...I'm going to... call."

Mike threw two quarters into the pot as he glanced up at Bella, flashing her a smile. She pretended not to notice as she grabbed a chip from her plate and ate it very slowly.

"Don't eat that too fast now, Bella," Tyler joked.

"Just throw in your bet, Tyler," Eric called to him. "What's your next move?"

"I'll call," Tyler said as he threw a quarter into the pot. He appeared to be very confident about the cards he was holding, but it could have been a trick. You could never be too sure in the game of poker.

"Not gonna raise, tough guy?" Eric asked, leaning in toward the table with a smile.

Bella was secretly hoping Tyler wouldn't raise the bet this early in the game, but she tried not to show her desperation. He looked up at her as he fumbled with a quarter, not sure what to do with it.

"Not this round," Tyler decided, leaving the quarter in his pile.

"You wimp," Eric called after him.

"Bella?" Tyler asked, turning toward her and ignoring Eric's comments. "Any more money to add to the pile before I deal the first three cards on the table?"

"I'm good," Bella replied, still worried about how she was going to win with her awful hand.

"Alright, baby," Eric announced, rubbing his hands together. "Let's see the flop!"

"Here it is," Tyler declared as he picked up the deck and dealt three cards onto the table: a five of hearts, a six of clubs, and a Jack of hearts.

"What the heck kind of flop is that?" Eric asked, now clearly outraged.

"Hey man," Tyler said, throwing his hand out in front. "I just deal the cards. I can't be held responsible."

"Excuses, excuses," Eric muttered, shaking his head.

"Hey, guys," Mike asked politely, "can we just play the game? By the way, it's your turn to bet, Tyler."

"I know, I know," Tyler said as he fumbled with his stack of quarters. "I'm not going to put anything in right now. Just gonna check. Your turn, Bella."

Bella was still feeling uneasy about her cards. The two and the seven were still pretty worthless, but with the new cards on the table, there was the distant possibility for either a straight or a flush. It was extremely unlikely, but enough to give Bella a little bit of hope.

She evaluated her strategy. If she didn't bet more money, her hand would be obvious.

"I'll bet," Bella said, trying her best to sound confident as she tossed in two quarters. If any of the guys knew that she was staying in the game with this kind of hand, they would laugh. Hopefully, if and when they found out, it wouldn't be too embarrassing. She was not in the mood to be criticized.

Bella turned her attention to Eric to see what he would do. He looked a bit nervous as he glanced over his cards again.

"I've gotta fold," Eric said, putting his two cards face down on the table.

"Now who's the wimp?" Tyler mocked.

"Hey pal," Eric retorted, pointing a finger at Tyler. "You gave me absolutely nothing to work with. Besides, I have a hunch that Bella's got something good."

Bella couldn't help but smile at that comment. Maybe her strategy was working, even though she didn't feel that strongly about her decision.

"I don't know," Mike said in an unsure voice. "You're pretty hard to read sometimes, Bella."

Bella noticed Eric and Tyler exchange mocking glances after Mike's comment. Once again, she wasn't sure how to react, and she instead just avoided eye contact with Mike.

"Would you say," Eric asked, "that you can't read her – can't read her – no, you can't read her poker face?"

"What the heck was that?" Tyler asked with a laugh. "Do you have some kind of stuttering problem we don't know about?"

"Haven't you ever heard of Lady Gaga?" Eric snapped back. "International pop superstar?"

"Uh..." Tyler and Mike both stared at Eric blankly.

"Never mind," Eric said as he shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Clearly no one here listens to the radio anymore."

"Dude," Tyler chuckled, "the only time I listen to the radio is to catch up on the Seahawks."

"Anyway," Mike announced loudly in an attempt to bring the focus back to the poker game, "I think I'll fold as well. My gut is telling me that Bella's got something up her sleeve."

It took all of Bella's strength not to laugh at Mike's ridiculous comment. All she had up her sleeve was two of the worst possible cards. Somehow, she'd convinced not one, but two players to fold early in the game. She wasn't quite sure what it was about her strategy that made them give up so easily. Whatever she was doing, she would try to continue. It was starting to become a real possibility that she might actually win.

"I can't believe you both folded already!" Tyler called out. "You two are the biggest wimps at Seattle University."

"You keep calling us wimps," Eric defended, "but we don't see you making any big moves."

"All right then," Tyler said as he rose from his chair with a huge grin on his face. He put his hands on the table and pushed his entire coin collection toward the pot. "I'm all in, losers. Two dollars and twenty-five cents – that's all my money. I'm not scared of you, Bella. Let's see what you've got."

Bella knew that the hand was almost over. All she had to do was match his bet to stay in the game and that wasn't too tough. She clearly had the biggest winnings pile for the night; rare were the poker nights when this wasn't the case. She still was not very confident about her hand, but with all the money that she won that night, it was worth the risk. Besides, if she folded now and her hand did end up being worthwhile, she knew it would bug her for the rest of the night.

Eric and Mike had huge grins on their faces as Bella tossed in two dollars to match Tyler's bet.

"All right guys," Eric said in anticipation. "Let's see your cards."

Bella knew the protocol. When someone went all in, there was no more betting. All the players turned their cards over and then the remaining cards would be dealt on the table. The tension was high and the boys became very intrigued about how the game would turn out.

Tyler flipped over his cards first: an ace and a king of hearts.

"Nice hand!" Mike complimented.

"You can't do much better than that," Eric agreed.

Not only was it a great hand, but it basically negated the chance of Bella winning with a flush. Her only hope now was a pair of something or a straight. Both possibilities were highly unlikely.

"Hey," Tyler said with a smug look, "you don't go all in unless you've got something good. So Bella, whatcha got? Got some more face cards to keep my royalty happy?"

Bella felt even worse about what she was working with. How the heck was she going to beat one of the best poker hands with one of the worst? If she pulled this off, the guys would worship the ground she walked on. If she didn't, they would never let her live it down. Either way, this was shaping up to be an interesting game.

"It's not that great," Bella began, quickly trying to think of a way she could just forfeit the game and save herself the embarrassment of revealing her cards.

"Less talking, more flopping," Tyler urged, anxious to see what she had.

Bella closed her eyes and put her two cards face-up on the table slowly. She couldn't bear to watch the guys' reactions when the cards finally came into view.

"What!?" Eric laughed. As Bella opened her eyes again, she watched as he almost fell out of his chair. "You stayed in the game with that!?"

"Well, I was the big blind, and it all happened so fast..." Bella trailed off, horribly mortified and looking for the nearest hole to crawl into. This has been such a bad idea. How stupid could she be? Didn't she know any poker strategy at all?

"I think it's safe to say I got this in the bag," Tyler said confidently.

"Hey," Mike reminded him, "the game isn't over yet. Let's deal the rest of the cards before we start declaring the winner."

"Do we even need to?" Tyler asked with a chuckle.

"Just deal the cards, Crowley."

Bella was still extremely embarrassed, but curious to see what the next two cards would be. She was hoping silently that this game would work out in her favor. Hey, at least she didn't have to pretend that she had such a good hand anymore. Now everyone knew the truth. She just had to worry about saving face.

"Here's the turn," Tyler announced, placing the fourth card face-up on the table: a three of hearts.

"Nice!" Eric called out. "You're one away from a flush, Tyler!"

Bella tried to hide her disappointment, but she was sure the guys knew. The fourth card was supposed to help her, not make her look bad by giving Tyler an even bigger advantage.

"It's looking pretty good," Tyler said, clearly not even considering the possibility he might lose.

"There's still one more card left," Mike reminded him, smiling at Bella. Now that he didn't have his cards to keep his eyes occupied, he was staring at her even more.

"Oh really?" Tyler said in a sarcastic tone. "I thought this was a special game of poker in which we only deal four cards instead of five. Thanks for clearing that up."

"Enough already!" Eric called out. "Deal the last card. The suspense is killing me."

Bella couldn't agree more, but she was definitely not sharing Eric's excitement. She wished she didn't take poker so seriously, but she wanted to do her best to play the game correctly. Why had she bet and tried to bluff her way through this mess? Who would have known that Tyler would get cocky and bet all of his money? Why had she taken the chance? She had to remind herself that it was only a few dollars – no big deal. But if that was the case, why was her stomach in knots?

"And here's the river," Tyler said, putting the last card face-up. Bella didn't even bother to look. She knew she had lost the game and didn't feel like looking at all their sympathetic faces.

"I can't believe it!" Eric cried out. Bella had her eyes closed and was sure the last card was just another in Tyler's favor.

"I knew you'd win in the end, Bella," Mike said sweetly. Wait – what was this? Tyler hadn't won? Bella was forced to open her eyes now, if only to see what the fuss was about.

As the last card came into view, Bella felt a rush of joy. The last card was a two of clubs; Bella had a pair of twos.

"Dude," Eric said, completely in shock, "I can't believe she beat your awesomely suited King-Queen with a pair of twos. The worst starting hand in the book beat one of the best."

"You don't have to rub it in," Tyler moaned as his face fell. He glanced at the empty spot that had once been his betting money. "I guess I'm out for the night."

Bella couldn't believe how the round had turned out. How had she managed to pull off a win with cards like that?

As she reflected on her amazing luck, she glanced at the clock and noticed the time. It was already well past midnight. She was definitely having fun, but she had quite a bit of studying to do back at the house. Plus, after a win like that, it would be the perfect time for a grand exit.

"I should probably get going," Bella said as she pooled her large amount of winnings and pushed it all into her purse.

"Let me walk you out," Mike piped up, practically jumping out of his seat. Bella felt perfectly comfortable walking the two feet to her car in the dark, but Mike always insisted on being the gentleman.

"Okay," Bella agreed reluctantly. "Bye, guys. Thanks for the chips."

"You should try eating them next time," Eric joked.

"Bye, Bella!" Tyler said with a wave as he glanced back and forth between Mike and her with an anticipatory look.

Bella was almost out the door when she heard Tyler whisper softly to Eric, "Dude – when is Mike going to stop drooling and finally hit that, you-know-what-I'm-saying?"

Bella wasn't sure if she was supposed to hear, but she felt extremely embarrassed. Men could be such pigs sometimes. It was hard to forget how much the guys toned down their sex talk when she was around. They certainly didn't waste any time the moment they thought she had left. Thankfully, Mike didn't notice, as he was completely focused on Bella.

"You did pretty well tonight," Mike remarked once they were outside by her car.

"Yeah, I guess," Bella said nervously. "I think it was just luck."

"I think you've got more than just luck – you've got talent! Have you been to Vegas yet?" Mike seemed very enthusiastic about the idea.

"I haven't been 21 that long," Bella reminded him. "And besides, I won a few dollars playing with the guys. I don't think that means I'm cut out for Vegas."

"I'm serious, Bella. You should really consider it. You never know – it could change your life."

"I'll think about it," Bella lied. Honestly, she thought it was a ridiculous idea. Having a few lucky hands at poker didn't necessarily mean she was cut out for the casino. She thought about how much the guys had mocked her for playing her awful hand tonight. If she tried that in Vegas, they would certainly tear her apart.

"Good," Mike said, placing a hand on her shoulder. His voice started to waver and his eyes had trouble making contact with Bella's. "And, uh... if you ever want someone to practice poker strategy with, I'm free."

"I'll consider it," Bella said abruptly, wriggling her shoulders as she tried to free herself of Mike's grasp. "I really do need to get going, Mike."

"Okay," he said, obviously disappointed with the way Bella was responding to his advances. "We'll have to do this again sometime."

"Definitely," Bella said as she hopped into her car and pulled out of the driveway. She watched Mike get smaller as she pulled away, but he never went back inside. He wanted to make sure she made it home safely, of course. Maybe he was also secretly hoping she would turn around and take him up on his poker offer.

Mike faded into the darkness eventually. Now, alone in her car, Bella finally had a chance to put the night into perspective. It was always fun playing poker with the guys. They were always entertaining and didn't expect Bella to say much. Sure, Mike was a little creepy sometimes, but she knew he meant well. And it certainly didn't hurt to walk away most nights with more money in her pocket than she had started with.

She did have to laugh at Mike's crazy Vegas idea, though. That was the sort of dangerous thinking that got people in trouble. Bella briefly pictured herself behind a Vegas poker table and she chuckled. Maybe it would be fun for a little bit, but wasn't there enough danger to get into here at college in Seattle?

As ridiculous as it was, the thought of Vegas stayed with Bella as she drove the rest of the way home, blasting her music.

Thank you for reading my story. If you liked the first chapter, please post a review of it. I plan to post more chapters, soon.