I rearranged the best poker hand I’d had all night and stared at the grinning sphinx across the table.
Frank Sinatra’sLuck Be a Ladyhad a tinny sound on the ancient record player behind him.
Jeffe squirmed his muscular lion’s body, his tail whipping up a decent breeze.
I fingered a pair of sixes and fought back a smirk. The sphinx couldn’t bluff to save his life. His tail always gave him away.
And my cocksure attitude had cost me the last two hands. I straightened in my camp chair and fought the urge to fiddle with my nose.
The army-issue lantern flickered above us, casting uneven light.
“Would you like to bet more?” he asked, practically bouncing. He shook out the thick, tawny hair that framed his sharp, humanlike facial features. “I would be most interested in your stash of Junior Mint candies.” He turned to the preening vampire on my left. “And your collection of Justin Bieber albums.”
Marius went red. “I do not—”
Jeffe nodded in approval. “It is glorious music. Very bouncy. Whenever you play it or sing it, all the sphinxes gather.”
The pale, hook-nosed vampire stood, toppling his chair, his eyes blazing red, fangs out. “I do not listen to Justin Bieber!”
The sphinx stared at him. “Okeydokey. Too bad you will not bet. You would not beat me with that hand.”
Marius had left his cards facing up on the table. He sank down, a shock of hair falling stylishly over one eye, his arms crossed over his chest. “I fold,” he snarled.
I glanced at the only other player in the game—Marc, my boyfriend. He winked at me before tossing his cards on the table. “I know when to quit.”
Yeah, right. Maybe at cards.
I focused on Jeffe. “It’s just you and me, cowboy.” I blew out a breath and rearranged a two of spades that was doing me no good.
Marc ducked behind me to take a look. “You’ve already bet all your ice cubes for the next month.”
“Don’t remind me.” Ice was hard to come by where we were stationed. The mess hall issued three a day. Three. To think, I’d been an ice cube whore before I’d been sent to this godforsaken desert.
Marc leaned close. I could feel the heat rolling off him. He was a shape-shifting dragon and they always tended to run a few degrees warmer than most.
His warm breath tickled my ear. “I don’t think the sphinx can lie.”
“He’s got to get a bad hand eventually.” I hadn’t seen anyone pick up the game so fast.
Jeffe tossed his mane over his shoulders. “I was born under a lucky star, and the cracks on the pads of my feet mean good fortune. Would you like me to show you?”
“No,” I grumbled, trying to concentrate.
“Full house!” The sphinx laid his cards out on the table, clearly unable to stand the suspense for a second longer.
I groaned and tossed him my two pair, glad I at least kept my Junior Mints. Jeffe had already won a back rub, half my Tootsie Rolls and myI’m Not Really a Waitressnail polish. Maybe there was something to this lucky star business.
Since we’d taught him how to play Five Card Stud, favors and loot had piled up in Jeffe’s tent like spoils of war. Case in point, right next to him he had a box of hot chocolate packets, three lemons, werewolf hair conditioner, a bicycle, a brand-new pair of loafers. Jeffe didn’t even wear shoes.
Good thing we didn’t have any money to blow. Well, we did, but it was useless. There was nothing to spend it on where we were.
Marc stretched, sliding his hands through his spiky blond hair that was forever in need of a cut. He gave me a quick peck on the head. “I’m going to look in on my bypass patient.”
I glanced after him as he grabbed his cup and headed out the door, glad he hadn’t made a big production of kissing me. I couldn’t say the same for the way he’d laid one on me in the mess hall this morning. Or yesterday morning when he caught me coming back from rounds.
I fingered my cards. Maybe I was just tired. We were, after all, in the middle of an eternal war.
“Want to go one more?” I asked the grinning sphinx, gathering the cards.
Jeffe shifted from foot to foot. “Yes. Yes, I do. But, oh, how do I say this?” His eyes darted toward the door. “I think Dr. Belanger wants you to follow him.”
No he didn’t. I shuffled the cards, just like my dad taught me. “He’s checking on a patient.”
Marius gave me a long look. “Marc might need a second opinion.”
Jeffe nodded vigorously. “You should go after him.”
What? Were they afraid I’d win back Marius’s Polynesian fertility statue? I didn’t want it.
I did a one-handed double cut and sprang the cards back up. They didn’t even notice. “Marc is perfectly capable of handling a bypass on his own.” He was a heart surgeon, for God’s sake.
The door creaked open and Holly poked her head in. Curly tendrils escaped her ponytail clip. “I just saw Marc leave and Petra wasn’t with him.” She straightened. “Oh, there you are,” she said, as if she were surprised to see me.
“You people are starting to creep me out,” I told her, managing a swing cut. Holly saw, but she had a funny look on her face. Then it hit me. The camp rumor mill was working overtime. I gave her the hairy eye. “What?”
“It’s nothing!” she protested.
And my name was Steve. “Marc isn’t doing anything crazy, right?” He tended to be rash at times. It was enough to drive me crazy, especially when it worked for him.
My friends sat in uncomfortable silence. “Come on,” I prodded, my eyes sliding over to Marius, who had taken a sudden interest in his fingernails.
Rumors didn’t merely run through this camp, they galloped. “Okay, fine. I don’t want to know.”
Shake it off.
If I bought into every camp rumor, I’d think the officers’ club was built on an ancient Egyptian burial site, the mess hall hamburgers were made with swamp monster meat, and the mechanics were going to do the full monty on Saturday night.
Besides, nothing in this camp stayed a secret for long.