She pats the tabletop to rouse me from my thoughts and I blink, carrying my beer to the table. Sitting across from her, our eyes lock, and neither of us breaks the tension by looking away. We’ve danced around each other for so long and I swear my skin is on fire, my brain thrumming as I wonder how this night will unfold.

“Ante up,” she whispers, reaching beneath her hair to remove her earrings. She drops them in the center of the table and looks up at me expectantly.

I glance down at what I’ve got on. A watch. Jeans, a shirt, belt, glasses. I’m not even wearing shoes or socks. “This seems a little uneven.”

She has no idea that I consider myself the lucky one. To have earned her trust. To have earned her affection. To witness her take-charge attitude. I smile at her, wanting to just say it again right here: I love you.

Instead, I unfasten my watch and drop it on the table as she begins to deal out five cards each.

We look at our cards, shifting them into our preferred order, and holy fuck, I have two fucking pair: two jacks, two threes, and a seven.

“Your actual poker face is so bad,” she says, giggling. “This is the shock of a lifetime.”

“I may get you naked with this one hand,” I say, waving my cards at her, and feeling everything inside me pull to the middle in a warm tightness when I see she catches my double meaning. “I’m going to open.” I reach for my belt, slowly pulling it free and coiling it before dropping it in the center of the table. “See or fold, Castle.”

“Do you know if we’d stayed married I would be Lorelei Lore?”

I nod. “Thought about it once or twice, though I always assumed you’d keep your name.”

“I’m traditional in weird ways,” she says, putting her cards facedown. Just when I think she’s folded, she reaches for the hem of her sweater and pulls it up and over her head.

“Raise or call,” she tells me and I realize I’m staring.

Looking down at my cards, I know I really could get most of her clothes off right now, but I need to savor this as much as I can. “Call.”

I lay the seven facedown and she hands me a fresh card. I peek at it: the three of hearts. And now I’ve got a full house.

She gives herself three new cards—the maximum—and grimaces. “Oof.”

Lola looks up at me, saying, “You can raise, if you want.”

My shirt is off, dropped in the middle of the table. “You can fold, if you want.”

Her bra comes off, landing on top of my shirt, and I stutter out a few sounds before reaching for my beer with a shaking hand. I can barely process the sight of her bare breasts. They’re so full, so firm. My mouth waters, and I rest my lips against my beer but don’t manage to tilt it fully to get a sip.

“I can’t help it; you just took off your bra.”

I blink hard, squeezing my eyes closed, and then look down at my hand again before laying it on the table. She groans, showing me a pair of fours and then a trio of mis-suited jack, ace, and six. Dropping her head onto her arms, she shakes with laughter, looking back up only when she hears me sweeping the pile of clothes over closer to me. I put my shirt, belt, and watch back on. I put her bra on my head, her sweater around my shoulders, and her earrings stay on the table near my beer.

When she sits up, her long dark hair slides over her shoulders, covering her breasts. It’s the contrast of the black against her milky skin, the way the ends of her hair just cover her nipples. Now I know why this view of a woman has been drawn a million-million times.

Her voice cuts into my trance. “Staring again.”

“I lied,” she says, rubbing her finger absently across her lower lip.

The way she says it tells me it’s a game, at least a little. “When?”

“That.” She drops her eyes to where her finger traces circles on the tabletop. “And every time I saw you.”

My arteries can’t dilate fast enough for how much blood rushes into my system, and I feel lightheaded. “Come here.”

She shakes her head, pushing the stack of cards to me before standing to get us each another beer. “Your deal.”

After another round loaded with innuendo and tension, Lola loses, but this time is smart enough to only ante up her shoes before she folds. The next hand, she wins back her earrings and my watch, but after that, she loses both of these things as well as her socks.

“You’ve only got two more items, if my calculations are correct,” I tell her while I watch her shuffle the deck. “Pants and whatever you’ve got beneath.”

She laughs. “I don’t mind the jeans but I can’t lose my underwear.”

“Then you’ve got nowhere to go. It’s my turn to open after the deal.”

She ponders this, eyes warm with the effects of two beers consumed relatively quickly. “Text Harlow. Have her tell us what the consequence is for losing. Don’t let her know who’s losing, though.”

I nod, reaching for my phone and sending the question to Harlow. We need a consequence for losing at poker. One of us is out of clothing.