Sky blue eyes sparkling, Nancy Drew took a big breath and raised her eyes from the playing cards in her hand.
“I’ll see your two and raise you another three,” she said, tossing some poker chips on the growing mound in the middle of the card table.
Jake Collins, her boyfriend, sighed dramatically and spread his cards facedown. “You’re too much for me, Drew. I fold.”
Nancy leaned back in her seat and looked around the Zeta fraternity house lounge at the Kappa women and other Wilder University students gathered around the card tables. They were all there to help the Zetas practice blackjack and poker so they could be dealers at the upcoming Black & White Nights Casino Fund-raising Weekend.
The benefit would start off on Friday night with a five-hundred-dollar-a-ticket black-tie affair for organizing committee members, alumni, faculty, and trustees. Saturday night the casino would be open to anyone, including students, for a fifteen-dollar donation. All the door money and the profits from the gambling tables would go to various on-campus charitable organizations.
Nancy couldn’t believe how perfectly the planning had gone so far. Her best friend Bess Marvin had arranged for the popular campus band the Beat Poets to play. And Bess’s friend Brian Daglian and Nancy’s famous, former-TV-star suitemate, Casey Fontaine, had put together a hilarious “lounge act.” One of Wilder U’s biggest donors, H. Samuel Porter, had not only agreed to be honorary chairperson of the Black & White Nights Alumni Committee but had also put up the money for the casino “bank” — five thousand dollars.
After kicking his cowboy boots up on the card table, Jake grabbed a couple of pretzels from a bowl near his poker chips and tossed them into his mouth.
“Hey! You’re eating my stash!” Bess complained. She peered down at her cards and tugged at a stray lock of blond hair, scrunching up her face in deep thought.
“If you don’t make your bet soon,” Paul Cody, Bess’s boyfriend, warned, “I’m going to eat your whole pretzel stash!”
“Mmmm, someone’s getting a little testy about his rapidly shrinking pile of chips,” quipped Eileen O’Connor, another of Nancy’s suitemates.
Flipping back a stray reddish blond curl, Nancy grinned at Paul. He’d lost most of his chips in the first two rounds.
“What’s so funny?” he asked, catching Nancy grinning at him.
“Just that you’re on the organizing committee for Black and White Nights, in charge of the gambling tables, and you’re such a lousy card player,” Nancy said.
Paul fired back a mock glare. “Do you see all the people in this room? Well, I taught them everything they know.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” wisecracked Holly Thornton, one of Bess’s Kappa sisters, as she strolled by.
“Shh!” Bess said, waving her away. “I’m thinking.”
Nancy drummed her fingers on the table. “It’s only practice, Bess,” she murmured. “What happens when we start betting with real money tomorrow night?”
“Okay, okay, I’m ready,” Bess said, not taking her eyes off her cards. “Okay. I’ll see your bet. What have you got?”
Nancy set her cards down — three twos and a pair of kings. “Full house.”
“Nancy!” Bess moaned. “That’s not fair. You always beat me!”
Bess put down her cards.
“But you only had a pair of queens,” Paul said, pointing. “You’re not even close.”
Bess shrugged. “So I was bluffing.”
Paul leaned in and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Be careful at the blackjack tables tomorrow,” he said.
As Nancy swept her winnings toward her stack, she felt her knee being tickled softly under the table. She looked up to catch Jake winking at her.
“This weekend’s going to be great,” he said quietly. “Everyone’s done a terrific job.”
“I just hope a lot of people show up tomorrow,” Paul said.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Nancy asked.
“Five hundred dollars for one ticket is a ton of money,” Bess answered for him.
“Not for our board of trustees,” Jake replied coolly. “And there are plenty of Wilder alumni who are loaded, too.”
“I’m dying to see Casey and Brian’s lounge act,” Holly said excitedly, changing the subject.
“Speaking of entertainment,” Nancy spoke up. “Bess has become quite the party planner.”
Blushing, Bess playfully slapped at Paul’s hand as it drifted toward the bowl of pretzels. “I just hope I win a little money this weekend,” Bess announced to everyone.
“It’ll be fun to be able to win real money,” Holly said.
“Just as long as no one wins too much,” Paul said. “We want most of it to get to the charities.”
Nancy glanced quickly at Jake. As much as she was enjoying herself, Nancy didn’t exactly want to spend the rest of the evening in a lounge full of other students. The weekend was going to be hectic, without much time for romance, and all she wanted right now was to be alone with the tall, brown-haired junior sitting to her left.
Nancy made a big show of yawning. “I think I’m going to call it a night,” she said, nudging Jake under the table with her knee.
“What? Oh, me, too,” Jake agreed, stretching his arms over his head.
Bess crossed her arms. “Yeah, right.”
Nancy and Jake stood up, and Nancy snatched the last pretzel from Bess’s bowl, leaving only salt and crumbs. “For the road,” Nancy mumbled, taking a bite and giving a little wave.
“What is that?” Stephanie Keats asked as she draped her slinky body over the couch in the lounge of Thayer Hall, Suite 301, and stared down at a group of her suitemates sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Reva Ross, Kara Verbeck, Casey Fontaine, and Liz Bader were playing cards. “It’s called casino,” Casey explained enthusiastically. “Kind of a cross between go fish and bridge.”
“Why don’t you join us?” Reva asked, shifting to straighten her white flannel nightgown.
“Are you kidding?” Stephanie sneered. “It looks spectacularly dull.”
“Suit yourself,” Liz replied, slapping down a card. “It’s good practice for this weekend, though.”
Stephanie waved her away. “Yeah, right.”
“So,” Reva said between hands, “what are you guys wearing Saturday night?”
“I was thinking of my long, blue shimmery dress,” Casey tossed out.
“The one you wore to the TV awards last year?” Kara asked.
“Well, I’m wearing silver and white,” Reva announced. “All sheer and clingy.”
Kara fanned herself. “Whew, sounds sexy. Andy’s going to melt.”
“Speaking of Andy,” Reva said soberly, “the guy who fixes our computers came by today. He asked me out again.”
“Is he good-looking?” Stephanie asked blithely.
“What’s the difference?” Reva challenged.
Stephanie examined her nails. “It makes all the difference in the world.”
“I just want him to get the message once and for all that I’m not interested,” Reva said. “I don’t want to hurt his feelings, though. He’s such a nice guy.”
“Ask Stephanie for some advice,” Casey suggested. “She’s a professional at getting rid of guys.”
“I said I didn’t want to hurt his feelings,” Reva replied.
“Don’t play that card,” Stephanie said to Kara, ignoring Casey and Reva. “Play this one.” Leaning over, she tugged the ten of spades out of Kara’s hand to take the ten of diamonds.
“I thought you didn’t know how to play, Steph,” Liz said.
Stephanie shrugged. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.”
“Well, good going, Kara,” Liza said, adding up the points. “You won.”
“I did?” Kara looked surprised.
As they were picking up, Casey sighed audibly. “Charley’s coming up for a visit in a couple weeks, but it feels like it’s years away still.”
“The question is,” Reva said with mock seriousness, “can you tear yourself away from casino long enough to hang out with him?”
“Hmmm,” Casey said, a slow smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Good point.”
“Maybe Stephanie can amuse him for you,” Liz suggested.
“Any time,” Stephanie said in her sultriest voice.
“In your dreams,” Casey shot back good naturedly. After a second she added, “I know what I’ll do — I’ll teach Charley how to play casino. That way I won’t have to choose between him and the game!”
As the grandfather clock in the hallway of Zeta house chimed eleven, Paul checked out the list of assignments he’d taped up to the wall. Beside each assignment was the name of a Zeta brother.
“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself: “Roulette, blackjack, poker, craps — Okay, all the tables are covered.” He turned to two frat brothers. “Mike, you and Bob are the gatekeepers. Controlling the door is the most important job.”
Paul looked toward the corner where two offensive linemen on the W.U. football team were stretched out on couches.
“So let’s hear it,” Paul said, cupping his ear.
Bob and Mike cleared their throats and repeated Paul’s orders: “People under eighteen can’t get in unless they can prove they’re Wilder students. All people twenty-one and over get a stamp on the back of their hands so they can drink at the bar.”
“Does alcohol leave the bar?” Paul quizzed.
Bob and Mike obediently shook their heads. Eileen, settled deep in an overstuffed couch, cleared her throat. “Last week you said that if the Kappas won more money than the Zetas this weekend, you guys would take us all out to a fancy dinner.”
A bunch of Zetas started laughing. “Dream on!”
Eileen and Bess exchanged smug looks. “If you win more money,” Paul said, grinning mischievously, “and that’s a big if — we’ll consider it.”
Eileen crossed her arms. “Not good enough.”
“Only if you promise to take us out when we win,” one of the Zetas piped up.
Eileen’s eyes flashed. “You’re on.”
Paul glanced at his watch. I almost forgot! he thought. “Speaking of money — and charity,” he said, eyeing Bess and Eileen, “I have to go see Porter to go over money stuff.”
“How much did you say each table is getting?” Eileen asked.
“Five hundred,” Paul replied.
“I sure hope we’ll be able to pay him back his five grand,” Bob remarked from the corner.
“We’ll be able to pay him back,” Paul said, smiling. “And then some. If everything goes according to plan, ticket sales on the first night alone should bring in more than fifty thousand.”
“It’s too bad Max isn’t here to see all of our hard work pay off,” Bess said sadly.
Max Krauser, the student coordinator of Helping Hands, the charity most involved in the Casino weekend, had flown home to California a few weeks before because his mother was dangerously ill.
“When Max gets back, I know he’ll be pleased,” Paul said proudly with a glint in his eye.
Bess crossed her arms, her lips pursed in mock suspicion. “I don’t know, Cody. Can we trust you not to run off with the dough?”
Paul laughed, though part of him was caught off guard by the joke. He’d never stolen so much as a piece of bubble gum in his life, but he had to admit that some small part of him had wondered what it would be like to have a lot of money all at once.
Paul threw Bess a big wink. “You can trust me, don’t worry.”
As Nancy and Jake strolled hand in hand across the quad, Nancy shivered in the crisp evening air. Jake wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her tightly toward him.
Everything’s so perfect, Nancy thought. Her breath puffed out in little gray clouds that mingled with Jake’s. The Milky Way stretched above them like a bright ribbon in the night. The quad was quiet; it was just two of them, alone.
“Happy?” Jake asked, reading her mind.
“Excited — and nervous,” Nancy replied. Her heart was pounding, though she couldn’t tell if it was because of the weekend or Jake. They’d been going out for a few weeks now, and he still made her heart gallop and her palms sweat.
“I just hope everything goes according to plan,” she said.
Out of the corner of her eye, Nancy saw a shooting star streaking across the sky. “Look!” she said, pointing. “Oh. It’s already gone.” The star disappeared before Jake had a chance to see it.
“Sometimes good things don’t last,” Jake mused out loud.
Nancy frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you have to take advantage of every moment,” Jake said softly. He took Nancy’s face in his hands and bent down to kiss her. Nancy wrapped her arms around Jake’s waist and leaned in against his chest. She could hear his heart racing, too. With his breath on her lips and his strong back beneath her fingertips, everything about him felt right. She closed her eyes as his lips met hers in a gentle kiss.
“Hey, I thought you guys were going to sleep,” a voice called to them from out of the night.
Jake let go of Nancy and stepped back. The voice belonged to Bob, one of Paul’s Zeta brothers, jogging by.
“Um, we are,” she replied. “What are you doing out so late?”
“I’m on my way to the Hot Truck to get a few subs for the guys,” Bob said, panting.
“Those Zeta guys never stop eating,” Nancy said, leaning back into Jake. But the magic of the moment had been broken.
As soon as Bob jogged off, Nancy said, “Maybe we’ll have better luck this weekend.”
“You can bet on it,” Jake said good-naturedly as they continued walking to Thayer. “By the way, when is Helping Hands going to assign you a little sister?”
Nancy shrugged. She was excited about getting involved with a little sister. The girl would be a teen from a single-parent home. Wilder students spent time each week with their little sisters or brothers and became friends and role models for the kids. Nancy hadn’t yet been matched up with anyone. “All the girls already have big sisters. They’re waiting until a new girl comes into the program.”
“Well, whoever it is will be one lucky young lady,” Jake said.
Outside Thayer Nancy reached up and softly touched his cheek. “Speaking of lucky young ladies,” she said, “there’s one standing right here. But she’s going to drop from exhaustion any second.”
“Not while I’m around to hold her up,” Jake said. Before Nancy knew what was happening, Jake had lifted her up in his arms, kissed her softly, and carried her off to her dorm.