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Playing the Player
A Sydney Smoke Rugby Novel
By Amy Andrews, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Amy Andrews
All rights reserved.
Lincoln Quinn stared at the three aces and two queens he was holding in his hand. Fuck, he loved poker.
It fell a close third to rugby and women.
The fact that he was astoundingly good at all three was worn as a badge of honour. Practise did, after all, make perfect.
His brow crinkled in a fake display of holy-shit-this-hand-is-crap. It still worked occasionally. "You know what this poker game needs?" he mused out loud to his fellow players, keen to distract the other guys as they assessed their cards. Anyone would think they were playing for bloody sheep stations instead of fake casino chips.
"Chicks," came five simultaneous replies.
Linc laughed. His teammates from the Sydney Smoke were well used to his regular refrain. Tanner Stone, the captain, had declared the game a chick-free zone a few years back, when they'd all started playing, and Linc had been bitching about it ever since.
According to Ryder Davis, country down to his bootstraps, a couple of blokes called Brooks and Dunn had sung some song about how much better life was with a girl in it, and Linc couldn't agree more. He sure as hell hoped they'd won some kind of an award for such genius.
"You know you're all thinking the same thing," Linc goaded good-naturedly.
"I'm thinking I fold," Tanner said, throwing his cards onto the table.
Ryder, pulling his Akubra low on his forehead with one hand, tossed his cards on top of the others. "Me, too."
"Me, three," Dexter Blake said, grimacing at his hand before slapping it down.
Donovan Bane, half Maori man-mountain who couldn't play poker for shit, followed suit. "Me, four."
Bodie Webb stared Linc down over the top of his cards, taking his time. "I'm thinking ..." he murmured eventually. "You're bluffin'."
"Oh yeah?" Linc cocked an eyebrow, staring right back.
To be fair, he couldn't blame Bodie for being skeptical. He often bluffed on these poker nights — it was half the fun. Because one thing Linc understood well was the theatre of things. Of card games. And rugby. And women.
And he loved to play.
"Why don't you put your money where your mouth is?" he challenged.
"Don't do it, Spidey," Dex warned. "He may look dumb, but Linc Quinn is a fucking shark and you know it."
Linc shrugged, unconcerned by Dex's insult. He wasn't a book smart kinda guy. A broken home, an itinerate childhood, and a mild case of dyslexia hadn't been conducive to learning. If it hadn't been for rugby, he'd probably be digging ditches somewhere.
But the school of hard knocks had taught him about life. And poker.
"I bet a hundred," Bodie said, flipping a chip into the centre of the table.
Linc didn't bother to look at his cards, keeping his gaze trained on Bodie. "I'll match it and raise you five."
He threw a five-hundred-dollar chip after his one-hundred-dollar one. They clinked into the silence around the table.
Bodie tossed in a five and added another five to the pile. "Raise ya."
Ryder whistled long and low then took a suck of his beer. Tanner shook his head and said, "I hope you're wearing your spandex Spiderman suit under those clothes."
"I bet he's crapping it if he is," Donovan added.
Dex laughed, and Linc suppressed a grin as he matched and raised with two five-hundred-dollar chips. Bodie fidgeted in his chair. Cleared his throat.
No superhero was going to get him out of this fix.
Linc waited patiently as Bodie fidgeted some more, stroking his fingers back and forth over the glossy surface of the cards, shaking his head as he glared at them then at Linc then back at the cards.
Ryder drummed his fingers on the table.
"Must you do that?" Bodie snapped.
"Well, are you playing or are you trying to rub the titties off the queen?" Ryder griped.
The wait didn't bother Linc. He could wait all night. Patience was a big part of strategy. It was an even bigger part of bluffing.
Not that he needed to bluff with this hand.
"Goddamn it," Bodie bitched as he glared at Linc. "You know what your problem is? You just can't resist a bet, can you?"
Linc did grin this time. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
There were general snorts of disbelief around the table. Tanner laughed outright. "You bet on who was going to be the first to leave One Direction!"
"And your phone has four different betting apps," Donovan pointed out.
"You bet on Harper," Dex griped, "over me when we played Battlefront last Wednesday night."
"Dude, she kicked your ass," Linc said. "She always kicks your ass."
"What about that time you bet on that old flea-bitten nag who hadn't won a race for two years?" Ryder demanded.
Linc shrugged. "It won that race, didn't it?" And earned him a cool eight hundred bucks. Not bad for an afternoon's work.
Bodie threw a thousand on the pile. "All right then, you prick, I'll see you. What have you got?"
Linc lay his hand down. "Full house. Aces and ladies."
Bodie stared at it in disbelief, throwing his hand down in disgust as the table erupted in cheers and wolf whistles.
"Man." Bodie shook his head as he sucked on his beer, and Linc grabbed the chips from the centre of the table. "You ever get injured playing rugby, you should head to Vegas. You could make a shitload with that great, big, hairy pair you've got."
Linc just grinned, taking a much-deserved pull of his own beer. The cold, bitter flavour went down a treat. "Your deal, dude."
The next hand was shuffled and dealt.
"Jesus, Spidey." Donovan shook his head at his cards. "Just as well you can play rugby. You can't deal for shit."
Bodie, his cards clearly better this time if his returning humour was any indication, smiled. "I could have dealt you a royal flush and you'd fuck it up somehow."
"Man's got a point, Dono," Ryder agreed.
Donovan shrugged good-naturedly. "Only game that counts is on the pitch."
"Amen," Tanner murmured.
Midway through the season the Smoke were in the top eight, which would put them through to the semis if they managed to maintain it. If they moved higher up the leaderboard, they'd have a commanding foothold. They'd played the previous three grand finals in a row and won two of them.
Linc spared his hand a cursory glance. A pair of jacks and a pair of nines. Oh yeah, baby, come to dada. "So." He cocked an eyebrow at Dex, who usually gave him a good run for his money on poker night but right now was in a race with Donovan to the bottom.
It didn't take any kind of book smarts to know why. "You nervous about Sunday?"
Dex shook his head emphatically. "Nope."
"You don't think you kind of rushed into it?"
"You've known her for four months, dude."
"Yep." Dex grinned, big and wolfish. Like he'd won the night, the premiership, and the famed John Davis rugby medal all at once.
Linc was happy for Dex and Harper, but he personally didn't get why any guy with the celebrity status afforded to sports stars would settle with one woman when there was so much lovin' to spread around.
"You didn't want to wait 'til the end of the season to get hitched like Tanner and Matilda?" As long as Linc lived, he'd never understand that whole urge to tie yourself down to one woman, but Matilda's insistence on a Christmas wedding at least seemed considered. "Have one of those big celebrity do's?"
"Harper didn't want to wait." Dex shrugged, his grin taking up half his face. "What can I say? She wants me."
She must. They would be playing their toughest game of the season the night before, and there was no plan for a honeymoon, either, with Griffin King, their hard-as-nails coach, owning their asses for the season. Hell, there'd hardly be time for a wedding night, with training bright and early Monday morning.
Harper was going to be a rugby widow for the next couple of months, especially if they made it through to the finals.
"What happens if that pretty face gets all mashed up during the game Saturday night and you look like Frankenstein for the pictures?" Ryder asked, his face hidden by the brim of his hat as he considered his cards.
"Or you break your leg," Bodie added helpfully.
"Or worse," Linc chimed in, huge smile on his face, "you strain your groin. You're probably going to need that thing to perform your husbandly duties on Sunday night."
Dex chuckled. "I'm touched that you're worried about my duties, but there ain't nothing that can keep this groin down."
There was much hilarity as the guys all drummed on the table.
"Just sayin' ..." Linc shrugged as the hubbub settled. "I'd be more than happy to step in if you're not up to the job."
Dex snorted. "Over my cold, dead body."
They all laughed again, but Linc shook his head as he raised his beer bottle for a toast. "To Dexter Blake. Another good man bites the dust."
"He's getting married, Linc," Tanner said amidst the laughter and bottle clinking. "Not facing a firing squad."
Linc shuddered. He might as well be. "Yeah, but why settle for one when there's so many gorgeous chicks out there?"
"The man makes a very good point," Ryder agreed.
"Especially," Linc continued, "when all they want is a little bit of time with a hot rugby dude."
"Perfect for a complete man whore such as yourself," Dex said derisively.
Linc blasted away the slight hint of sarcasm with a deliberately goofy grin. "I know, right?"
"That was an insult, dufus," Donovan said, shaking his head.
Linc grinned, unperturbed by the besmirching of his character. "I take man whore as a compliment."
Who knew how long he'd play rugby at an elite level? He could injure himself and it could be all over tomorrow. He was going to take advantage of whatever came his way as a result whenever it came his way.
Including any women who were willing to get to know him carnally.
Dex glanced at Tanner. "Are you going to tell him or am I?"
Tanner grinned then turned his attention to Linc. "Listen to me carefully, grasshopper. Finding the one? Being with the one? Best thing ever. You should try it."
Linc blinked at the conviction in his skipper's voice and at the goofy looks on both Dex's and Tanner's faces. As a rule, none of the guys got mushy about shit — unless it had to do with rugby. They talked about sex. Not love. About chicks and clubs and booty calls. Not the one.
Linc hadn't had a role model worth a damn. His mother had walked out on them when he was he a kid, and his long-haul father had a string of broken marriages and a woman in every truck stop.
He'd learned early that sex was about feeling good. A happiness transaction. And rugby had given him the means to feel very happy, very often.
He'd be crazy to give that up.
"No thanks." He shuddered at the thought. "Too many women, not enough time. Now"— he picked up his cards —"are we playing poker, or do you two want to sit and make daisy chains?"
"God." Dex shook his head sympathetically, turning his attention back to his cards as well. "Em is right. You're going to catch some antibiotic-resistant cock pox and die a slow and horrible death."
The guys cracked up as Linc frowned. Em Newman. Harper's bestie. Cute, with bouncy butterscotch curls and legs that wore the hell out of a pair of jeans. Linc had always been a leg man. Thankfully, hers made up for her caustic tongue and armour-plated panties.
"Firstly, I can assure you I go to great lengths to ensure that my cock is pox-free." Multiple groans of "too much information" slid off his shoulders. "Secondly ... I'm flattered that Harper's cute" — man-hating, total pain-in-the-ass — "friend is talking about my junk."
Any woman talking about his junk was cause for celebration. Maybe she wasn't as immune to him as she'd made out?
"I wouldn't be," Dex dismissed. "I've heard the way those two talk when they get together. I don't think anyone's junk is off limits."
A couple of the guys clearly paled at the idea. Not Linc. Those no-holds-barred girly conversations women indulged in didn't faze him, particularly if he was at the centre of it.
In fact, the thought of anything to do with Little Ms. Cute-and-Curly didn't faze him at all. Sure, he'd crashed and burned with her a few times, but Linc was eternally optimistic when it came to women.
"So was she just speculating about its state of poxiness, or was she making more general enquiries about its" — he grinned "— size and legendary prowess?"
Dex cocked an eyebrow. "Not surprisingly, I didn't really ask her interest in your cock. Although" — he lifted a shoulder, amusement colouring his voice — "I could if you'd like me to? Maybe you could write her a note and I can pass it to her? Being a teacher and all, she might appreciate that."
"Ooh, I like that idea." Bodie grinned. "How about this, Linc? 'Would you like to see Lincoln Quinn's legendary cock?' Then you could draw two little boxes underneath the question. One for yes. One for no."
"You could even put little hearts instead of dots over the i's," Donovan suggested.
"And a glitter pen," Ryder added, getting in on the smack talk. "Girls love that kind of shit."
Linc flipped the bird in their general direction. "Bite me."
"It's okay." Dex clapped Linc on the shoulder. "You can ask her in person. On Sunday. At the wedding."
Linc snorted derisively. He was all for being brash, but he was pretty damn sure Harper's friend would cut him off at the knees if he opened with that particular line.
Some women liked dirty right from the get-go. He didn't need a high school certificate to tell him she was not one of them.
According to Dex, she'd been dumped by some jerk-off a while back and, from what Linc could see, she was determined to make all men suffer. She might be cute and have legs that had featured heavily in his dreams, but life was too short for women that required convincing.
Even if he was a leg man.
"You're right," Dex commiserated. "You're not exactly her favourite person. I don't know what the hell you did, but she really doesn't like you."
"I didn't do anything," Linc protested. He'd flirted with her, sure, but that was just his natural state of being around a woman he found attractive.
Most women appreciated it.
"She's just annoyed because she's sworn off men, but deep down, she really, really wants to jump me. Abstinence ..." Linc shook his head, giving the word the amount of contempt it deserved. "It's just not good for a person, I tell ya."
"I don't believe it." Bodie shook his head and clutched his chest in faux horror. "A woman who doesn't want Lincoln Quinn. Not possible."
Linc hadn't believed it, either. The night they'd first met, Em had been Harper's plus-one at a charity function. He'd asked her to dance. She'd told him she'd rather drink poison.
Man, he'd been so damn hot for her that night.
Linc shrugged nonchalantly. One day she'd be ready to break her self-imposed celibacy, and he'd be there. "Oh, she wants me, all right."
And that wasn't false bravado. He'd seen her probably half a dozen times in the last few months and every time their eyes met, he'd felt this weird electric charge between them.
She'd felt it, too.
He could tell by the slight widening of her eyes and the sudden frizz of static in her mop of tight curls.
Bodie narrowed his eyes. "Is that so?" Speculation gleamed in his clear gaze, and Linc got an itch up his spine. "Fancy a little wager?"
Linc was just about to open his mouth to reject any suggestion of betting on him scoring with Harper's bestie when Ryder, who'd been rocking on his chair, thunked it down on all fours. He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, tipped back his hat, and said, "I'm in."
"Me, too," Tanner said, sitting up straighter.
Donovan nodded. "And me."
"What's the bet?" Dex asked.
"Hold up, guys." It was good for Linc's ego that none of them doubted he could do it, but it didn't feel right to be betting on something like this.
"How soon Linc can convince abstinent-chick to do the wild thing," Bodie said, ignoring Linc.
"I've seen Linc talk a Sunday school teacher into his bed in under two hours," Ryder said, slapping a crisp green hundred-dollar note on the table. "I say he'll get the job done the night of the wedding."
Excerpted from Playing the Player by Amy Andrews, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2016 Amy Andrews. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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