no lady dealer afore," one voice grumped.
"I have. Hell, once I played with Poker Alice herself."
"Poker Alice weren't no lady."
Delilah returned her attention to the cards in her hands, performing all sorts of dexterous movements designed to show her skill and attract attention. "Step up, gentlemen," she flashed her smile again, making every man there feel as though Lady Luck herself had smiled just for him. "Step up and put your money down. Everybody wins when Lady Luck is in town."
A couple of cowboys near the rear of the saloon rose and took their places at the table. Delilah looked to the one on her left. He was probably about thirty, but he looked older. His skin looked like old leather, brown and lined by the elements he faced. His eyes were grey blue and his cheeks covered with stubble.
"Good evening, sir."
"You can call me Tex, ma'am."
"Tex it is. And what's your game, Mr. Tex?"
"Five card draw, ma'am. An' it ain't mister . Just Tex."
Delilah looked to his companion. "Draw poker sound all right to you, sir?"
The cowboy tipped a battered Stetson and slid some money onto the table. "Yes, ma'am. Stud poker is my usual game, but draw is fine an' dandy too. An' I ain't never been sir to nobody. The name's Lance."
Delilah increased the brilliance of her smile as she counted out chips and began to deal. "I'm pleased to meet you Mr. Lance. I'm Mrs. Sterne."
Tex won the first hand. On the next hand, the cowhands were joined by a couple of old miners, and one man Delilah couldn't categorize. He was well-dressed, but didn't have the look of a lawyer or doctor. The mayor perhaps?
As the evening progressed, the knot in her stomach eased. It looked like the few days she'd spent away from the game had turned her luck around. She'd lost only the one hand.
And then, she felt a powerful presence, and looked up to see Sheriff Chambers' gaze boring into her from his leaning position against the bar. Their eyes met and, for an instant, Delilah froze in mid deal. Then, without a flicker of expression, the sheriff mockingly lifted his shot glass as though in toast to her and downed the whiskey he held.
The gesture doubled as a warning and a dare, and they both knew it. He was daring her to cheat—which she wouldn't do, anyway, of course—but she hadn't realized how difficult it would be to play beneath Matt Chambers' watchful gaze. She made an error, throwing away a card she should have kept, and lost the hand.
Blast it all! She couldn't afford stupid mistakes like that. Not now.
Determination tightened her jaw. Somehow, she was either going to have to learn to ignore the sheriff's potent gaze, or she was going to have to get rid of the man.
At the moment, the latter option had some definite appeal.
Maybe she could stage a robbery and send him off chasing bad guys for the few weeks that she'd be here. Foolish thought. If she couldn't play an honest card game beneath his too-observant gaze, how in blazes would she plan and execute a robbery?
No, there had to be another way, an easier way, of keeping the good sheriff out of her hair. She just had to find it.
~~~* * *~~~
The mountain morning dawned crisp and clear as Delilah made her way down the boardwalk toward the livery. It felt good to have an excuse to don split skirts and her black lady-sized Stetson again. Her father's Winchester, buried so long at the bottom of her trunk, felt familiar and reassuring in her hand. She had decided to risk the tarnish on her "helpless lady" image that carrying the Winchester might create, for the small derringer she carried in her reticule would be all but useless in the wild. Thanks to the absence of her escort from the Devil's Fork, she had little choice but to venture out on her own.
Lifting her head slightly, she took a deep breath of the fresh morning air and smiled. She was looking forward to escaping civilization for a time. It had been so long since she'd ridden a