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Princess of Hearts

The newcomer was getting hot under the collar.

Slade could see it in the man’s eyes — darting up and down, back and forth, studying his opponent. Lids closing toward each other ever so slightly.

He was beyond suspicious, nearly ready to bark. Slade was impressed — Clemens had held his tongue longer than most.

If they had been in between hands, Slade might have excused himself. Diffused the situation a bit.

But he was on the verge of running the table, and he needed every red cent.

“Call,” he said.

Clemens squinted a little harder, then smiled.

“Full house.”

He lay down three eights and two jacks. That’d be hard to beat.

Slade looked at his cards. Two nines. Two queens. A three of spades.

And then, of course, the two up his sleeve. One was the queen of hearts — she always treated him right.

He flipped his wrist and fluttered his cards onto the table.

“Me too!” He slapped down three ladies and two nines.

Slade swept his arm across the table, scooping up the cards and the cash, but he stopped cold when Clemens stood and popped the hammer of his six-shooter into place.

Steel sliding over steel had a way to make time stand still.

“I know you’re cheating, Slade,” Clemens said.

Slade smirked. “Can you prove that?”

“Well … no. But I know you are. And I want my money back!” He took a step forward and jammed the gun into Slade’s chest.

Ordinarily, someone might have stepped in to help a local, but most of them had been on the wrong side of Slade’s swindles in the past.

There was only one hope.

“Daddy, can we go home now?”

Clemens’ eyes grew wide and he turned to face the little girl’s voice. She sat there in the shadows of the saloon, pulled up to a table next to her mother. The woman’s eyes pleaded with Clemens.

The newcomer holstered his weapon and backed toward the door.

“We ain’t settled, Slade,” he said, then disappeared into the night.

Slade stood from the table and grabbed a handful of coins. He walked over to the table where the woman sat, moved the doll out of the other chair and sat it on the table.

Then he sat and plunked the money down in front of the lady.

“Don’t you think you could have spoken up a little sooner, Millie?” Slade took a swig of the whisky she had waiting for him. “That one was a little close for comfort.”

Millie smiled. “The world’s a rough place, Slade. A girl’s gotta have a little fun when she has the chance.”

She scooped up her money, grabbed the doll, and marched out of the saloon.

Published inFlash Fiction

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