left him alone to trace the ice sweat off his glass and watch the entrance to the back hall, where the game would be starting soon, with himÂ .Â .Â .
.Â .Â . or without him.
Sofia had claimed a bar stool, surrounded by red velveteenâpapered walls and brass light fixturesâa real throwback to the Old West, as Arden had noted when theyâd first walked in.
Speaking of whomÂ .Â .Â .
Sofia raised an attitudy eyebrow at her friend, who was yucking it up across the room with Hooper and his fancy long mustache near the poker table.
What had she been thinking with this private poker game? Sofia was pretty sure that Molly, who was sitting right next to her, felt the same way about their significant gambling other.
Molly knocked her knee against Sofiaâs. Either she was trying to get her attention or she was in the process of falling drunkenly to the ground.
Turned out, it was the first option. âThisâll be over soon,â she said, before sipping from a plastic cup of water sheâd gotten from the bar, then yawning.
âI know,â Sofia said. âThen we can get on to the Strip when Ardenâs had her fill. But why couldnât she have found a good video poker machine there instead of this? We donât know these people from Adam, and I have no idea why sheâd put her money on a table with strangers in this kind of uncontrolled environment.â
âListen to you, Mother Sofia.â Molly tweaked her arm. âI was thinking of getting into the game, too, you know.â
âYou donât know how to play poker.â
âTrue. I also donât have the money to burn.â Molly shrugged good-naturedly.
This sure wasnât Depressed Molly in the house. Hallelujah for that. But she also seemed very much unlike Regular Molly, and Sofia almost did another double take at the hair pooling around her bare shoulders. Usually, when she got drunk, she didnât loosen up
much. First off, thereâd been the flirting match with that biker in the barÂ .Â .Â .
âActually,â Molly said, swinging one long leg over the other and clasping her knee, âthis Hooper guy seems harmless. This isnât going to be the tourist trap youâre expecting.â Molly nodded toward Arden as she kept mingling with the others, her teacher stance confident, her voice a little drunk-loud. âItâs exciting for her. You know how she is during summer vacations.â Mollyâs gaze went a little dreamy. âWe all get a little crazy sometimes.â
âNo kidding.â Sofia noticed the smile lingering on Mollyâs lips. Sheâd always liked the way they tipped up, whether Molly was smiling or not; it made her look like she had a secret. But wasnât that the truth anyway? Sometimes Sofia wondered if sheâd ever really known Molly as much as sheâd known Arden, who didnât give a flying fig about divulging every detail of her personal life to anyone and everyone except her students.
At the table, a few significant others were kissing their mates farewell and wishing them good luck, and the players themselves finally took their seats, six in all: Arden, then a Midwestern capris-sporting woman named Rhonda who was married to the freckle-armed man named Matthew who sat on her left. Next to him was a guy named Lucas then Jerry, whose wives were just now leaving the room while they chatted about what kind of greasy food they might find at the diner farther down the street. Then there was Hooper, who was unwrapping a new deck of cards heâd fetched from Kat at the bar earlier.
âJust sit back and relax, folks,â the older man said, beginning to shuffle.
Everyone jokingly applauded as he spread the cards over the table, easily smoothing them back into his hand as if he were defying gravity.
When a delighted Arden caught Sofiaâs eye, Sofia fixed her gaze in warning. Just once. Arden offered an