Hi. This is Lissy….I started to work on this story. I don't know if it's good enough to continue.

Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply.

The Wager

"Gin! I win again!" Serenity exclaimed, drawing the mountainous pile of red, blue, yellow, white and black chips towards her. Thousands of dollars had been accumulated in a few short hours. No one doubted Serenity Paris was the best card player for miles. She'd not lost a single game since her ninth birthday. Men from all of Europe came just to challenge her. Serenity seemingly had it all. She was beautiful, graceful, educated (which was rare for women of the 1800's) rich, and held a high position in the royal court.

"One would think your father made his money off of your skill with cards, Lady," one of the men Serenity had just beaten murmured.

"One might not be too far off, sir," Serenity replied, with an impish grin. She expertly shuffled her favorite playing cards, until a man sat down.

"I'll try my hand." was all he said. Serenity looked up, and set the cards in front of him.

"Cut?" she asked. He did, and she dropped the bottom pile onto the top, and gathered the cards up into her dainty hands once more.

"What game strikes your fancy, sir?" she asked.

"Vignt-et-un*." the man said. Serenity shrugged, and dealt out cards. The stranger threw a wad of money onto the table. Without even looking at his cards, he spoke. "I bet a thousand." The surrounding crowd gasped. Serenity, never one to back down from a challenge, threw in the appropriate chips.

"I'll see your bet, of course," she said. She looked at her cards, and flipped over the top one. The man never looked at his.

"Another card." the man said, clear and firm. Serenity was unnerved by his sure, confident, almost arrogant manner. She tossed him another card. He didn't pick it up.

"Another." he said. Obligingly, she tossed him another. "I'll stay." Confidently, Serenity turned over her cards.

"Twenty." she said, smiling. The man never touched his cards.

"Twenty one." the man replied. A cocky grin touched the edges of his mouth. Serenity shook her head.

"Impossible. You never even looked at your cards!" Serenity said. He shrugged.

"Look at them yourself, if you wish. I've won." he replied. Serenity had the sinking suspicion he was right. Hesitantly, she turned over his cards. Nine of clubs, five of diamonds, six of spades, and the ace of hearts. Twenty-one. He hadn't even looked at his cards. Her eyes narrowed.

"How did you do it?" she asked.

"Do what?" the man asked innocently, scraping his winnings into a small pile.

"Change the cards. How did you do it?" She asked.

"I didn't. See for yourself. They're yours." he replied, busying himself with removing his black cape. Serenity examined the cards. He was right, they were her cards, the very same ones she'd had specially made in Paris, her namesake city. They were one of a kind, painted by hand, with her name across the back, intricate patterns as well. It had taken a year for them to be made. They could not have been duplicated. She could not accuse the man of cheating. He had never touched the cards, and she, herself, had dealt them. Serenity, the best card player in all Europe, had been beaten. She was in shock. The man's cocky grin wasn't helping.

"Care to play again?" he asked. Serenity stared at him.

"I haven't lost since I was nine. I've had a perfect record for eleven years." Serenity said.

"Everybody loses sometime." the man replied carelessly, leaning back in his chair.

"I don't." Serenity responded. "I don't lose. Ever."

The man looked up, and grinned at her.

"Well, you do now. I don't lose, either." he said.

"Only one of us can be the best." Serenity said. "So we'll just have to see who is right….and who is broke."

He tossed the cards to her, and she caught them gracefully.

"Shuffle away, my lady." he said, laughter in his midnight blue eyes.

They played far into the night, Serenity growing more and more determined as the man showed his skill at cards, winning all the money Serenity had won hours before.

"Enough!" Serenity cried, tossing in her cards. "I concede to you, sir. You are the better player."

"One more game is all I ask." The man replied, shuffling the cards.

"I have no more money. You've won it all." Serenity said, standing up.

"You need no money." The man replied casually, the sound of ruffling cards being the only sound in the room.

"What do you mean, sir? Speak plainly." Serenity said suspiciously, taking a seat at the table once more.

"My family wishes me to wed. I could think of no better lady than one with a title, who is very beautiful, has no need of my money, and has a brain." he said.

"You wish me….to bet myself?" Serenity asked, beginning to get angry.

"In a sense, yes. If you lose, you'd still win." the man said.

"How would I win? I don't know you. For goodness sake, I don't even know your name!" Serenity cried.

"You'd gain wealth, social status, and a handsome, desirable husband. You could do worse. And my name is Endymion." he said. "It's a simple game, really. We each draw a card. Whoever draws the highest card wins." Endymion said. He stopped shuffling, and set the cards in the middle of the table. Serenity stared at the cards, unsure of what to do.

"I don't play games of chance." Serenity said. "Only games of skill."

"You don't want to take the chance that you'll lose. You're afraid. I understand." Endymion said, moving like he was going to stand. He was baiting her, and Serenity knew it. But if she allowed him to say she was a coward, she would never live it down.

"I'm not afraid. I'll take your bet. And I'll win." Serenity said. Endymion smiled, and sat back down.

"Ladies first," he said, "Draw."

Ever so slowly, Serenity cut the cards, and drew a card from the middle. Then she held the deck out to Endymion, fanning it out so he could pick, but would be unable to see the card values. She found herself holding her breath. Setting the rest of the cards down, she looked at her card, and breathed a sigh of relief. The king of spades. It would be nearly impossible for Endymion to beat her. She looked up at him, and was unnerved to see his smiling face. He tossed the card to her. She didn't even have to look at the card to know she'd lost. Glancing down, she saw the dreaded card. The ace of hearts. In the dim fire light, the bright red of the card seemed to waver. Serenity snatched up the hateful card, and tore it into tiny pieces, food for the fire. How could she ever explain this mess to her father?

That's all for today. Please R&R, and tell me if I should continue this one.

Author's Notes:

1) Vignt-et-un: A card game, meaning simply Twenty one. Similar to black-jack. (At least, that's how my mother has described it.)