By Paige Wyatt
Forty wouldn’t exactly call herself lucky. As she took a sip from her cocktail at the casino bar, she thought about how hard she’d worked to get here. It had taken her a year to save for this vacation with her girls. She’d volunteered for extra shifts at the diner, and she even took up a second job bartending on the weekends. She was determined to enjoy every second of this trip.
Las Vegas was an entirely different world for Forty. She had been to Florida once as a kid, but other than that, vacations weren’t a common occurrence. Vegas was one hell of a baptism by fire–a far cry from the college town of Bloomington, Indiana that she called home. She had seen her fair share of drunken debauchery from the college kids, but Vegas was on a whole other level.
Kelly, her best friend, caught her eye and waved. She was gorgeous with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and the brightest smile money could buy. Kelly was lucky to be born into a family with money. Her father had paid for her portion of the vacation, reserving the luxury suite at their hotel for his one and only daughter.
Forty loved Kelly like a sister, but she couldn’t help but be envious as she watched a man buy her friend a drink and whisper something in her ear to make her laugh. Kelly waved Forty over, and reluctantly, she hoisted herself off of the barstool and crossed the room to join Kelly and the mysterious stranger.
“Oh! I’m so glad you’re here. There’s someone you have to meet,” Kelly shouted despite Forty’s close proximity. “Nate, this is my friend Forty. Forty, this is Nate Mestra.” The man turned to face Forty, his smile blindingly beautiful and his jaw so square that the edges could cut something. He was the most handsome man Forty had ever seen. He was tall, muscular, dressed in a perfectly tailored shirt and slacks with a Rolex on his wrist.
“Nice to meet you, Forty,” he said. He took her hand and in one smooth motion, bent down to kiss it like he was a prince from medieval times. Her stomach fluttered despite her skepticism. Frat boys tried to flirt with her to get free food or drinks, and all of them eventually turned mean when they realized she wasn’t falling for it. She was not a glamorous party girl like Kelly or the sorority girls in Bloomington. She had no illusions about her unconventional looks, and most of the time she enjoyed blending into the background unseen. But tonight, warmth rose in her stomach at the attention of a handsome stranger.
“Nice to meet you, too,” she said when she’d gotten a grip on herself. “What are you two doing over here?”
Nate took Forty’s arm and laced it into his. “We’re about to hit the Blackjack table, and I’d love for you to join.” He looked directly into her eyes. “I think you’re my good luck charm.”
The warmth from her stomach spread to her face as she blushed. She agreed and followed him to the table. As they took their spot, a waitress appeared and Nate handed her a glass of champagne from the tray. “Perks of being a regular in this place,” he said. “Stick with me, Forty, and you’ll have the night of your life.” His eyes sparkled as he toasted with her glass, and they knocked back the bubbly. The tickle of the drink in her stomach made her giggle.
Kelly appeared at her elbow. “I’m going to find Tina and Andrea and play some slots. Is that OK?”
Forty agreed and kept a hand on Nate’s arm. Kelly bounded off into the wild of the casino, disappearing in the crowds of slot machines and poker tables. “Alright, you ready, Forty?” Nate asked as he laid his chips on the table. “We’re gonna start slow and then build up. What do you say?”
“I say go for it,” she said, smiling.
The dealer laid down some cards. Forty had seen blackjack played on TV, but she’d never tried it herself. She knew the objective was to get cards as close to 21 without going over, but that was the extent of her knowledge. Judging by the professional, quick way that Nate placed bets and moved his hands without even speaking to the dealer, he was a pro.
He won the first three hands, and each time he cheered and hugged Forty. But then, the losing streak began. He lost five hands in a row, each one more pitiful than the last. She could tell he was getting desperate by the way his neck sweat was seeping onto his shirt. “Come on!” he yelled at the dealer, hitting the table with his fists.
Forty tried to comfort him with a pat on the shoulder, but he ignored her. Maybe he needed another drink. She took two glasses of whisky from a waitress’s tray and handed one of them to Nate. He took it and downed it in a single swing. He turned to Forty, his face inches from hers. “I know I can win it all back, alright? I swear I can. I just need some money to put down to get me back in the game. Care to throw in with me?”
She watched his face, which had smoothed into its carefree, swoon-worthy smile once more. “I only have $500.” She held her chips out to him.
He kissed her cheek. “That’s enough. Thanks, sweetheart.” He took the chips and turned back to the dealer. “I’m in for another.”
Forty was starting to get a sense of the game’s rhythms and movements. A swipe across the hand meant “no more cards.” A tap meant “deal.” There were other things she noticed players doing, too, like splitting their hands when they got doubles into two separate bets. Since her money was on the table, she wanted to control the outcome of this game.
The dealer placed two cards in front of her. One was a ten of clubs, and the other was an ace of hearts. “Blackjack!” Nate shouted triumphantly. He scooped Forty in his arms and twirled her around. “I knew you were my good luck charm!” He took the payout and placed it all on the table again. “Another!”
“Wait,” Forty said as she placed a protective hand over the chips. “We just won $1250. I think we should stop, don’t you?”
“Why? We’re on a roll!” Nate knocked back another shot. “We could win so much more!”
She shifted uneasily on her feet, but Nate took her hand and kissed it again. “Alright. Just one more.”
Nate pushed all of her chips further onto the table. “Alright, for all the money,” he said. “Last hand.”
But Forty bumped him out of the way with her generous hips. “Actually, this is my money, so I’m going to play this hand.” His mouth dropped open in shock. “Why don’t you run along and find someone else to swindle?”
His face reddened at her accusation. “You think I was cheating you? Seriously?”
She shrugged. “For someone who comes here so much, you sure aren’t very good at this game. You’re also not very good at hiding your true intentions. I’ve met too many men like you.”
Baffled and angry, he puffed up his chest and stepped so he was almost directly in her face. “This is insulting. I don’t have to listen to this from someone like you!” He shouted the last part loud enough that it got the attention of a nearby security guard who was at least twice his size.
“Excuse me, ma’am, is this person bothering you?” the guard asked Forty.
She flashed her sweetest grin. “I’m trying to play blackjack and he won’t leave me alone. Could you please escort him away?”
“Of course,” the guard said. “Sir, you’ll need to come with me.”
“But–” Nate sputtered as the guard led him away by the arm, still staring at Forty in disbelief.
The satisfaction curled in her chest and radiated outward as she turned her attention back to the dealer. She tapped the table twice. “I’m in,” she said with a smile. After all, her parents didn’t name her Fortuna for nothing.
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