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The Trouble With Tomboys

By´╝ÜLinda Kage

Chapter One

B.J. Gilmore clamped a fat cigar between her teeth and studied the hand of cards in front of her as she sat backward on a rusty kitchen chair.

God, she loved playing poker. Didn’t matter if she wagered with cash or matchsticks, five-card draw was one game where you could always count her in.

To her left, a slimy drool of sweat dripped off Ralphie Smardo’s face while he eyed his own cards, then glanced at the pile of cash in the center of the table. B.J. had to admit, she felt a little moist around the edges herself. Not a lot of air circulated to the back corner of her family’s airplane hangar, and a stale July heat hovered over the group, making the grease-scented air stick to every seam and collar.

However, the droplets gushing from Ralphie’s pores led her to believe he wasn’t just hot. He was damn nervous.

Across from her, Buck grumbled as he lifted his hip and pulled a billfold from his back pocket. B.J.

glanced at her oldest brother for any telltale signs, but Buck merely looked annoyed about having to dig up more cash for his bid.

“Hell, I’m out,” Leroy muttered next to him, tossing down his cards and sending a scowl to the other members of the game.

Well, praise the Almighty. B.J. didn’t much care to play against her second brother. Leroy had a penchant for cheating, and as stubborn as she was, she usually called him on it, which led to a lengthy 1

yelling match and meant her beloved poker game would come to an end.

Leroy was as mean as a rattlesnake and, out of her three brothers, B.J. liked him the least...mostly because of the time he’d taunted her with an actual rattler when she was ten and she’d spent the night in the hospital. Damn snakebite had left a scar just under her armpit.

Buck used to be as cruel as Leroy, chasing her around their homestead with all sorts of creepy crawlers, but he’d softened a lot in the last four years since he’d gotten hitched. He’d turned into even more of a pansy when his wife had their first baby two years later.

Out of her three brothers, Rudy—who was

probably still passed out from the night before or nursing a hangover at three in the afternoon—was her favorite. Maybe that was because the Buck-Leroy combo had picked on him as much as they had her. But she’d always been protective of him because, truth be told, the boy was more effeminate than B.J.

Not that she had a feminine bone in her body.

“I’m done in too,” Pete Smardo announced with a tired sigh.

The sigh matched his weathered features. Pete probably wasn’t a day over sixty, but he looked more like he was approaching eighty. His sun-ripened face was full of wrinkles and age spots from sitting outside in front of his junkyard on a rocking chair three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

His son, Ralphie, ran the yard with Pete, and Ralphie’s pale skin revealed how little he sat with his old man. His colorless cheeks also indicated how antsy he was when he glanced over to watch her meet the bid and raise it.

The four men surrounding her sat up in interest as the bill she flung out settled onto the rest of the 2

The Trouble with Tomboys

pocket change. Pausing at the sudden silence, B.J.

frowned and looked as well. She almost pissed her pants when she saw Alexander Hamilton grinning back. But damn, she’d only meant to throw out a single dollar, not ten.

“She’s bluffing,” Leroy said, eyeing her intently.

She lifted her gaze and shot him a challenging look. “That why you cut out so early?”

He glowered, and she dismissed him with a

snort, turning toward Ralphie to catch his next move.

Ralphie was two years her senior and, to her eternal shame, the last man she’d slept with. A few years earlier, they’d gotten tanked one night, snuck into a nearby watering hole and gone skinny-dipping. After the swim, he’d been frisky. B.J. hadn’t been with a guy in almost three years, so she’d given in to his pathetic seduction—and she was only calling it a seduction for lack of a better word.

It ended up being one of the most God-awful

experiences of her life.

Luckily, Ralphie hadn’t been that impressed

either, and they’d somehow remained friends. In fact, she’d pretty much roped in his current girlfriend for him. He and Nan Lundy were probably going to tie the knot one of these days, if the idiot ever got around to proposing. Ralphie continually told her how grateful he was for her matchmaking, and they remained tight.

B.J. took a swig from a Styrofoam cup of cooled coffee and thoughtfully eyed him as he threw down the cash to meet her bid.

Her attention swiveled to Buck. He growled,

“Fold,” and B.J. silently sighed in relief. That left only Ralphie to defeat.

“Okay,” she said, ready to wheel and deal as she turned fully toward the pale, sweaty man. “If I win, I get that set of ten-ply tires you snatched from Rick 3