A Shot at Forever

Chapter Two

"Well now, is this a boys only club or can any gal get in on the shots?" With just the right amount of sass, Sheridan threw her question out to the men standing around the pool table.

Her boot heels clicked across the worn wooden floor as she approached the cowboys she’d been casing for almost an hour. When they turned to face her, she stopped a few feet in front of them and rested her hands on her hips in an arrogant stance.

Five sets of eyes roamed up and down her body as she waited for a response. She held her ground and didn’t move a muscle, even though she wanted to itch right out of her skin.

You didn’t mind when Ethan looked at you like that last night. Sheridan slammed the door on that thought and forced herself to look at her marks, not the dance floor where she’d gotten the most intense kiss of her entire life.

A cocky young buck stepped forward and smirked. "Do you know how to play with the big boys there, sweet thing, or are you just wantin' to hold a long piece of wood? Either way, I can accommodate you." Loud guffaws filled the air, drowning out the country music coming from the dance floor behind her.

Pushing her lucky cowboy hat back farther on her head, she nodded to the cue in his hand. "The way I figure it, all you gotta do is know how to use that piece of wood. I know how to handle it. Question is- do you?"

The ensuing hoots and laughs were her ticket in, and she knew it.

       The young cowboy’s eyes hardened. "All right darlin', you can play, but we play for stakes, so you got to be ready to cover what we're playing for. Unless you can offer up something just as good that we might be wanting to sample."

A mischievous smile painted her face, covering the trickle of unease she felt under his stare. “Don’t you worry about the money. I’ve got you covered like dew on the ground.”

Shoulders back and chin up, she strode right through the middle of the group to pick out a cue hanging on the wall behind them. They parted slowly to let her by. All except for the young mouthy cowboy, who stepped directly in her path.

Sheridan stopped in front of him. They stood eye to eye and she took in his face, which could have been slightly handsome if not for the beady eyes and permanent sneer. “Are we playing or what?”

“Oh, we’re playing all right. Don’t you think for a minute we’re not.”

She put a hand on her hip and nodded to the wall behind him. “Then I guess I’ll be needing a cue.”

His sneer widened as he stepped to the side and let her pass.

She strode by him and hung up her battered straw hat on a pair of antlers hanging on the wall. Then she turned to the rack of cue sticks and slid her fingers across the smooth rounded wood of each one as she perused what was left to choose from. A house cue would have to do for tonight. She figured she could handle this crowd with the crappy hunk of wood she was chalking up.

"So tell me darlin', are you ready for a whoopin' of that tight little ass of yours?"

Sheridan turned and eyed the same cowboy as he crowded her. "We'll see whose ass gets whooped.” She sidestepped the hothead and called out to the rest of the men, “What are the stakes your friend here mentioned?"

A man built like a garbage truck strode forward. His enormous gut hung over a huge belt buckle, and she wondered briefly if the metal and leather would hold up against all that weight. "Five bucks a ball to start."

"And y'all are playing eight ball?"

"Sure are. What's your name, girlie?"

"Sheridan." She leaned back against the pool table and planted the end of the cue on the floor between her feet.

"And, you've got the grub stake to cover five bucks a ball?" The behemoth took another step closer, effectively trapping her between him and the table with his impressive bulk. The smell of tobacco, beer and sweat filled her personal space right along with him, threatening to carry her back to her past.

Sheridan fought down the old memories. Her mind knew this was part of the game. She expected it every hustle, but it never got any easier when she felt trapped by a man.

You didn’t feel that way when you were dancing so close with Ethan, a little voice whispered in the back of her mind. She pushed the annoying thought away.

While she gripped her cue with one hand, her other ran up the front leg of her jeans and over the hard outline of the brass knuckles she kept in her pocket. They were part of her insurance policy that guaranteed she had a fighting chance. She hid her volatile thoughts behind the smile she sent the huge cowboy's way and let her hand continue to her back pocket where she kept her front money. Pulling out the stack of folded-over bills, she peeled a hundred off the top.

She slapped it down onto the rail next to her. "I think that ought to about cover it." She tilted her head up at a cocky angle and met him eyeball for eyeball.

He chuckled as he stepped back and called over his shoulder, "We've got a real live wire here tonight, boys. I can't wait to take this one on." Turning back to Sheridan, he slid her a look she’d never in a million years misunderstand the meaning of.

The thought of what his face would look like once she had all his money in her pocket made her smile. "What are the rules?"

The first cowboy closed in on her and rattled off, "One foot on the floor during a shot, ball in hand anywhere on the table after a scratch or foul, and you call your shot for the eight at the end."

Sheridan didn’t openly acknowledge the menace she felt coming from him. She knew she’d be able to use it to her advantage. Too much of any emotion made for a sloppy player. "Do you have to call your shots during the game?"

A handsome man with dark hair and eyes stepped forward to answer, placing half his body between Sheridan and the young cowboy. "I don’t think we need to do that. Not at first, at least."

He looked to Sheridan for a yea or nay. She nodded. Then he looked around at the others and after a few seconds they all agreed. He turned back and gave her a friendly smile.

"I'm Ray, Sheridan. Glad you're going to join us this evening.”

He offered his hand to shake, and she took it as she smiled back at him.

“This is my cousin, Chris." He tilted his head toward the cowboy he’d stepped in front of, then looked over his shoulder. “And that’s my brother Earl.”  The garbage truck nodded at her. “Steve and Jack,” he gestured to the two remaining men, “are two other cousins of mine.”

Sheridan’s eyebrow lifted. “Just one big happy family.”

Ray’s friendly smile slid away before he answered. “Yeah, something like that. Do you have family around here, Sheridan?”

She shook her head and threw back her standard answer. “No, I’m just passing through.”

Like quicksilver, Chris eased around Ray to stand beside him. “Yeah? How long you staying?”

Unease pricked up her neck. “About a week.”

It could have been his eagerness or the bad attitude he gave off in waves that made her lie, but during a hustle, she always followed her instincts. Things ran a lot smoother when she did. She snuck a peek at the dance floor and hoped more than believed dancing with Ethan last night somehow fell into that category.

“Are we gonna yap all night, or shoot some pool?” Earl’s sharp question brought her thoughts back to where they should in an instant.

"I say we shoot pool. Whose game is it?" Sheridan looked around at the group of five cowboys in front of her with just a hint of challenge in her eyes.

Time to earn some money.

copyright 2013 Ava Quinn

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