A/N: This story is rated M for language, adult themes, and acts of villainy. Ye be warned. A huge thank you to the three ladies who made this story possible: my angel and beta, xescretxkeeperx, and the genius gkkstitch and the marvelous MariahajilE, my incredibly insightful pre-readers.

Disclaimer: Any Twilight characters that may appear in this story belong to Stephenie Meyer. The remainder is my original work. No reproduction is allowed without my written consent.

~.o.~

The Ace of Spades

Prologue

Poker — it is the volatile permutation of chance and strategy. It's the one thing for which deception isn't a sin, but rather the opportunity to prove both wit and intelligence. However, the best game of poker isn't played using a deck of cards. It's played with women.

It was as if the lights dimmed around us, and there was no one in the room except me and her. Petite, pale, brunette. I liked playing games. I was about to play her. Little did I know, she would be the ultimate player.

~.o.~

Chapter One—The King of Kings

When I was seven years old, my father sat me down at our dining room table and handed me a deck of cards.

"What's the most powerful card in the deck?" he asked.

I shuffled through the cards and held up the first King I found.

"Wrong." He took the deck from my hands, found the card he was looking for, and handed me the Ace of Spades.

"A one?" I asked.

"It's not a one," my father scoffed. "It's an Ace. The Ace of Spades is better than any card in the deck."

I didn't care what my father said; a King was high for me.

"You don't believe me?" he asked at my disbelieving frown. "Would you believe me if I told you that in World War II, soldiers painted 'Spade' onto their helmets because the Ace was the highest card and said to be good luck?" I shook my head.

"Listen, son, you know I'm the King of this house, right?" my father asked. I nodded — he made very well sure we all knew he was King. "Well, there may come a time very soon where you'll need to step up and be the Ace. You'll need to be better than your old man was at taking care of your mom and brother. You understand?" he asked.

I nodded, even though I didn't. King was higher than Ace — I was sure of it.

The next day my father left. We never saw him again. His deck of cards was placed on my bedside table as some sort of sick reminder.

My Mother said it was Daddy-issues, but I became obsessed with that deck of cards. I searched it relentlessly for any hidden messages my father might have left me explaining exactly why he had to go away. I never found any. I dissected what he had told me about the Ace of Spades over and over again, imprinted it on my mind so I would never forget.

When I was thirteen, I joined the school's Card Club. I learned every game of poker known to man. I strove to perfect them, and I won tournaments with my talents.

By sixteen, I was bored. And very good-looking.

At the age of seventeen, I had invented Spade's Triad — the game of human poker. It was a way of making the sport of catching women more exciting. Beginning my senior year of high school and on through college, the game had trickled throughout the population like wildfire, first through schools, and then into nightclubs and bars. Everywhere I went, I could see men with a pocketful of playing cards. Only the spades, though — never the diamonds, hearts, or clubs (which were all useless in my game). Needless to say, I felt like God.

There were two stages to the game: The Gamble and The Opponent. The Gamble was used purely to up the ante of the game and to encourage solidarity amongst men, as the bet could only be placed with another guy. It could be a friend, an acquaintance, the stranger sitting next to you at a bar, or in this case my brother.

"How about a game of Spade's Triad?"

"That game is messed up," my brother said, not even bothering to glance up from the book he was reading. He was ridiculously moral for someone who shared my DNA and had lived with me for over twenty years. He rarely ever agreed to indulge in The Gamble stage of the game and outright refused to participate in The Opponent.

"But that's what makes it so much fun," I said, smirking. "Besides, any heartbreak she may suffer is well worth it for a night with me."

He looked up from his book with a scowl and glanced across the restaurant at the brunette I was eyeing. She was a sweet thing, perhaps a little plain, but I often found that made girls more willing to play. Seeking reassurance or self-esteem or some shit like that.

"You have serious issues. I highly doubt she'd see it that way."

I rolled my eyes. I had given up all hope of my brother being something other than a dickless wimp, but was it too much to ask for just a little pride? The loser would be a virgin into his sixties. "Whatever. Just take the bet. You pay for dinner tonight if I get her number and dinner for the next three nights if I get her into the restaurant bathroom."

It was all a pretext. We both knew he would be paying for dinner regardless of whether I came back empty-handed (which I wouldn't), but winning made me feel like less of a freeloader. I was fairly positive my need to earn my meal was the only reason he ever agreed to play.

He stared at the girl as he drummed his fingers on the cover of his book. A small smile spread across his lips, and I glanced at the girl to see that she was looking right back at me. Her eyes widened, and she immediately looked down to her own table.

I was beginning to have second thoughts on this one — she had a horrible poker face, and I wasn't interested in fucking another deuce.

The best part of Spade's Triad was the second stage, The Opponent. That's where the real game happened. It was all about the wit and repartee of the opponent. The better she played her hand and the greater challenge she posed to the player, the harder he'd make her come when he fucked her.

After he was finished, he'd leave her a card, always spade, indicating at what level she'd played. Deuce was low, Queen was high. We were the kings of this game, so that card remained for only us. Aces were never used because Aces were supposedly better than Kings, and no one was better than me.

Deuces were the worst, girls who were too easy for their own good and would jump on any guy's dick without a moment's thought. They deserved a bad fuck just to snap them out of their own stupidity. Usually my opponents ranged from five to ten, though I had been lucky to land a few Jacks in my time. Still, in the seven years I'd been playing, I'd never given out a Queen. Not one girl had been my match.

"I'll take your bet," my brother answered, sticking his nose back in his book

"Yes!" I hissed, happy for a new game, a new opponent. Even if she did turn out to be a dud, it'd be worth it to show up Mr. Chastity Belt.

I downed the rest of my beer and ignored the disapproving huff from across the table. The dweeb liked to think I was an alcoholic to make himself feel better for being a lightweight.

I had just slipped out of the booth when I heard him say, "But you're going to lose."

I glanced down at him, my brow rising at the certainty of his claim. He was still relentlessly reading that damn book — Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity (I rolled my eyes) — but his nonchalance was disconcerting.

"What are you talking about?" I asked impatiently.

"Your usual tricks aren't going to work on that girl."

I laughed shortly. My brother knew as much about girls as I knew about multivariable calculus or whatever-the-hell he was reading in that book. Which is to say, nothing at all. It had always been that way between us. He got the grades, and I got the girls. It was our own little game.

"She's special, unique."

I peered over at the girl again. "Looks pretty ordinary to me."

"She plays with her food."

"So do a lot of people."

He smiled a little. "Every time her music hits a certain part, she picks up a chip and flicks it along with the beat before dipping it in her queso."

Sure enough, just as he said this, she picked up a chip. I sat back down in our booth and observed her. One of the first rules of poker is that you have to know your opponent. I generally found that most girls were the same, but, if this one was different, I'd need to know what I was up against.

She was here alone, which I guessed was unusual in the family-style restaurant. She had several stacks of paper spread out over her table, and she was intently focused on writing something, only pausing to do her little chip ritual to the music of her iPod.

"She's listening to the same song on repeat, I'd venture," my brother said, interrupting my thoughts. "Or she has impeccable timing. Either way, I'd say that's pretty unique."

I looked back at him with a cocked eyebrow. "It's nothing a trip to the backseat of my car can't cure," I told him before strutting over to the brunette.

The second stage was all about reading facial expressions, emotions, and anything that might help you understand your opponent and win. It wasn't always about how quickly you could get her to fuck you. What fun would that be? Sometimes it was nice to savor the game, break down her barriers slowly.

As I approached, I sized up the girl, taking in the tiny details that would work to my advantage. I could see that the stacks of paper really did overwhelm her entire booth. I was surprised to find that she chose to write on the back of used computer paper instead of the notebook abandoned at the corner of her table.

I cleared my throat to catch her attention, but she didn't respond. I was beyond curious as to what could capture her attention so thoroughly, but, when I peeked over her shoulder, I could only make out an unreadable scrawl. Frowning, I decided a more aggressive tactic was in order, and she practically jumped out of her chair when I placed my palm on her upper back.

"Can I help you?" she asked sharply, popping her earphones out. I liked that she had a bit of fire in her tone.

The best way to test the skill-level of an opponent was to lay it on thick from the outset. I gave her my winning smile, the champion of all the panty-dropping moves I had in store for her this evening, and asked in my most charming voice, "Is this seat taken?"

A deuce would eagerly tell me no and invite me to sit with her. A five would hesitantly offer me a seat but mention she had a friend in the bathroom. An eight would refuse to let me sit with her and pretend she was busy doing other things.

The brunette looked across the booth to the empty seat I was pointing at. She glanced back at me, her eyes narrowing and a scowl crossing her lips, before she picked up a red sweater and dropped it down into the seat opposite her.

"Yes," she said, a smug, satisfied gleam in her eye. "Was that all?"

My smile grew impossibly wider. I'd misjudged this girl — a worthy opponent, indeed.

"You looked lonely. I thought you might like some company."

"I'm not and I don't." Good girl, she was going to play.

"But you're here by yourself. My name is—"

"No offence, but I don't really care what your name is. I come here to be by myself," she said, lifting her earphones to her ears.

"Your eyes are amazing. Do you know that?" I told her, catching her wrist gently in my hand. "You should never shut them, not even at night."

The girl actually cracked a smile, and, for a moment, I thought she was going to fold. I found myself a little disappointed; the game had only just begun.

"First off," she said, "I would never consider it a good sign to start a relationship with a quote from a movie about infidelity. Yes, I know that line is from Unfaithful. And secondly, it's rather pathetic you can't come up with your own one-liners."

She replaced her earphones and turned to her papers. To anyone else, this would seem a clear rejection. But that's what made me master of this game — I knew when to call a bluff. She obviously wanted me; otherwise, I wouldn't have caught her staring. I was a good-looking guy, confident, a real catch — what girl wouldn't want that?

This girl was a true competitor, though. She wasn't fawning over my charm like most, and I liked that. She was already an easy eight, possibly higher. Now it was time to prove why I was the best.

I looked down at her, trying to get a read on her. Her tells were all around her. She was clearly focused on college, or she wouldn't have been writing an essay in the middle of a restaurant. She came here alone, which meant either she didn't have friends or she actually did want to be alone. Her loose jeans, t-shirt, and lack of make-up made her look like the girl next door, and yet her sarcasm indicated she had a bit of bite.

My eyes darted over the table for several moments and finally caught sight of something I could use.

"What?" she snapped the second time I tapped her on the shoulder.

"Your iPod is broken."

That clearly was not what she was expecting. I couldn't help but smirk a little. "How did you know?"

"The white screen of death," I said, indicating the completely blank screen on the iPod sitting beside her. Mine had suffered a similar fate a few months prior. Fortunately, my genius brother had been able to fix it.

"Oh."

"So… I can fix it," I said, thinking of the best way I could smuggle it over to my table.

"It doesn't need to be fixed."

As hard as I tried to maintain my poker face, I couldn't keep my eyebrows from crinkling in confusion. That made no sense at all. "You like having a broken iPod? Doesn't it just play the same song on repeat?"

"Yes," she responded. I waited, but she clearly was not going to elaborate.

"That's it?" I asked in exasperation. This was supposed to be my in, and she wasn't folding. Most girls would have been on their knees by now. "You just listen to that same song all night, every night?"

"It's all I need," she answered shortly, and then pointed to her papers. "Can you go now? I really have to finish this."

"Just one more thing."

"What is it?"

I hesitated. What was my next move? I had never been dismissed so easily before. Hard to get was one thing, but this chick was airtight. I sighed at realizing I would have to lay my cards on the table. Either that or fold, and I never folded. "Is there any chance I'm walking away with your number tonight?"

I felt like a pussy, but to my deep surprise, she actually seemed to be considering my request. Then she said, "Yes."

The smirk reappeared on my face. This was why I was the best, the King of kings, the creator of Spades Triad. "Great, there's a lovely little Italian place on—"

"Who's that boy you were sitting with earlier?" she said, pointing to the booth where my brother sat.

"Edward?" I asked slowly. I wasn't sure what she was getting at, but it was a bit annoying that she kept cutting me off.

"Is that your friend's name? Edward?"

"He's my brother, but yeah his name is Edward."

"Edward," she repeated again, a slow smile lifting her cheeks. "I like that."

"And your point?" I snapped. Who the fuck cared about my brother?

"You can have my phone number if you give it to Edward."

"What?" I said dumbly, sure I had heard correctly but not wanting to believe those words had actually just come from her lips.

She was already tearing off a piece of scratch paper and jotting down her number. "Give this to Edward, please," she said, handing it to me.

"But my name is—"

"I already told you, I don't much care what your name is," she interrupted. "But please do give that to Edward," she emphasized his name. "I'll be watching to make sure you do."

I stood there dumbfounded for several minutes. She had already turned back to her writing and her one-song'd iPod, but I just couldn't move. What the hell had happened? Had I lost? No, I had gotten her number, but... what the hell had happened? I glanced down at the paper in my hand.

Bella Swan
360-555-9132
For Edward

Even on the paper, she had made sure to clarify that the number was not for me. Bitch.

"So, how'd it go?" Edward asked, glancing up from his book as I took my seat.

I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally, as I still wasn't sure exactly how to explain it, and moved to put her number in my pocket. Before I could do so, a flour tortilla came flying across the room and hit me in the side of the head. Edward practically choked on his drink, and I shot a glare at Bella.

I made a show of holding up the number so she could see it as I handed it over to Edward. "This is for you."

He looked bewildered and a little hesitant as he took it from me. "What is it?"

"It's her phone number."

He didn't seem capable of taking his eyes off the small piece of paper, and I tried to push down any feelings of agitation with him. It wasn't his fault that bitch was crazy. "Why did she give it to me?"

"Hell if I know," I answered shortly. I waved down our waitress for another beer and a shot of tequila, and then focused intently on my food; I didn't want to see the fuck-me eyes the two were probably making at each other by now. "And you owe me dinner," I snapped.

"But… Bella gave her number to me," he argued.

"And I was the one who got it, didn't I? That was the bet."

Edward shrugged and took out his wallet. I tried to console myself to the fact that I had at least won the Gamble, but Edward's happy little smile twisted my gut. I had lost. I had fucking lost, and we both knew it.