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"You're cheating." Bella shook her head wryly as Myrtle laid down her second straight flush of their weekly poker night. "I haven't figured out how yet, but I know you're doing it. Bunch of scam artists." She softened the accusation with a teasing smile, but before Myrtle, Edna or Alice could answer, chaos erupted in the hallway just outside the nursing home's community room.
Two firefighters hurried by, followed by paramedics pushing a stretcher, and the room fell silent. That didn't bode well, and Bella's heart twisted for the three sitting at the table. They'd each lived at Roseville Manor about six years, and they were close with all the residents.
Caroline Reeves, her friend and an ER nurse who also volunteered there, stuck her head in the door and gave a thumbs-up. "Everyone's okay. The director said they're testing emergency response times."
Sighs of relief rippled across the room, and everyone began talking at once.
Relieved herself, Bella looked at her favorite senior threesome and grinned. She and Alice sat on one side of the table, and Myrtle and Edna sat on the opposite side. Bella tapped her cards on the table. "Wasting playing time, ladies. Are you in?" She tossed some pennies into the bowl in the center of the table. "The bet is five, and I'm telling you, this is my hand."
She said it, but she knew it wasn't true. She was losing, and she always lost. Maybe because the wild three were in their nineties, and they'd had more time playing poker than she'd been alive. Or maybe they really did cheat. She didn't care. She loved them, and just enjoyed spending time with them.
Myrtle snorted. "Humph. We'll see about that." She tossed her five pennies into the bowl.
"You should know better than that, dear. You're toast." Alice's sweet tone was completely at odds with her words. She dropped her bet in the pot and anted up.
Bella laughed, waiting to see what would come out of Edna's mouth. Their usual banter often had her laughing so hard her stomach hurt. But right now, the woman was quiet, her eyes comically wide as she looked across the table between Bella and Alice.
Bella jerked at the sound of the deep, masculine voice, and nearly dropped her cards. There was a hint of roughness to it, enough to send shivers down her spine. To cover her reaction, she turned and looked up. Her heart skipped a long beat. Standing behind them, in a firefighter uniform and holding paramedic gear, was the sexiest, hottest guy she'd ever laid eyes on. Super hot. Heart-attack hot. Five-alarm-fire hot.
His Italian heritage was stamped on every delectable inch of his six-foot-tall muscular body. His dark hair was wavy and thick, and his eyes were the color of dark chocolate, her favorite indulgence. If he'd been a piece of candy, she'd have gobbled him right up. Instead, she picked up her bottle of water and took a sip, trying to quench her sudden thirst.
"I'm Marcus Aiello. What's the game?" He cast a glance around the table, smiling at each woman as if she were the only one in his sight.
Ninety-three-year-old Myrtle looked him up and down as if she was undressing him in her imagination. "Poker. We play every Wednesday. Want to join us?"
"It depends," Marcus said with a wink and a devilish grin, not at all taken aback by Myrtle's obvious once-over. "Is it strip poker?"