Helena sat at the table, staring intently at her cards. She was getting the hang of this. She was sure she had a winning hand. There were 3 face cards and 2 aces. That had to be good. She kept her face bland, not giving away the excitement she felt at her impending victory. She slowly lifted her eyes from her cards to the other players. They were all staring back at her. What she didn’t realize was that her face was flushed with her excitement. She could never bluff because of this particular tell. She was like a book when she was excited, either in anger or in happiness. There just hadn’t been much cause for her to be happy in forever. She was enjoying herself now. All week each player of the Friday Night Game had volunteered to teach her the game of poker. They seemed concerned that she grasp the game competently. She was amused by their attempts to put their arms around her, etc. Well, Helena was not a fool, but it was fun to play the wide-eyed innocent with them. It was her own private joke. These people didn’t know her; they didn’t know her background or what she had been through. She was not a trusting soul like they seemed to believe. No, she would never trust anyone again. Never.
She threw in her money to bet and tried not to glare at them when Litton winked at her and Collins pushed a beer in front of her..
Chase stepped into the mess hall, which wasn’t overly crowded for this time of night. Most people had already had their dinner and had moved on to whatever activities they had planned for the rest of the night. She spotted Evan sitting and waiting for her. He had already gotten her a salad with Italian dressing and extra croutons. He himself sat with a large bowl of soup in front of him. Sometimes he could be so thoughtful, Chase thought. He actually remembered how she liked her salad. It had always seemed to her that he only remembered things that had to do with archeology. She held up her hand in greeting, smiling as she immediately remembered why she had chosen him over Jude. It was no contest. To her shock, Evan jumped up and pulled out her chair. She smiled, but looked at him a little suspiciously. He put a napkin on her lap and slid back into his seat. He took a big bite of his soup.
“Who are you, and what have you done with Evan?” Chase asked. This caused Evan to choke on his soup as he laughed. Some soup dribbled down his chin, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was smiling and looking at her. Wow, his eyes were blue. She couldn’t seem to pull her gaze away. She was mesmerized by what she saw in his expression.
“Get a room, you two.” An unwelcome voice barked at them, effectively ending the romantic moment. Jordan pulled up a chair and straddled it, the back in front of him. He leaned on the chair and looked back and forth at them. Evan hurriedly wiped the soup from his chin, and Chase stiffened irritation. Jordan just smiled. He shouldn’t wreck their moment. Did they think he didn’t know about their little romance? Neither one of them could hide it. He didn’t mind a lover’s tryst between the two of them, as long as they could still be professional when on the job. He leaned forward a grabbed a couple of the croutons off of Chase’s salad.
“So, what’s going on?” He asked as he popped the croutons into his mouth casually.
“Ah, Jordan, we just saw you like a half hour ago. Not much has transpired.” Evan told him calmly. Why was Jordan here? He usually went off in search of other entertainments when returning from a mission. Then it clicked. Chase suppressed a grin. He was here to check on Helena. The suspicion was confirmed when he nonchalantly looked around the mess. He was looking for her. It had to be. Chase stabbed her fork into her salad. Well, if he wanted to know how she was, he was going to have to ask. He didn’t say anything, just continued to eat the croutons off of Chase’s salad. Evan looked at Chase and rolled his eyes. He had been planning a nice cozy evening with Chase. He felt the mood slipping away. He was extremely annoyed.
“There is food over there.” He gestured toward the serving line.
“No thanks, I’m not hungry.” Jordan responded, crunching noisily on the croutons. Evan sighed. His captain showed no signs of leaving any time soon. He finally turned back toward Chase, putting his back toward Jordan in an attempt to pretend he wasn’t there.
“So Chase, how is Helena?” He asked. Chase smiled widely as she felt Jordan’s rapt attention on her even as he tried to seem casual and disinterested.
“She wasn’t in her room. I don’t know where she is.” Chase shrugged to emphasize the point. Jordan’s hand had stopped on the way to his mouth.
“Well, didn’t you try to find her? She doesn’t know her way around. God knows what she could be up to.” His voice was slightly rising in his irritation.
“Jordan, she’s a grown woman. She’s been here a while and has had time to learn her way around. Besides, didn’t you just recently point out that she’s not our responsibility?” Chase teased. Jordan bristled. Then his attention was drawn to the three men just entering the mess hall. Evan followed Jordan’s eye-line. It was the engineers from the afternoon shift. Jordan shifted in his chair, gripping the back. He had already heard the rumors that Helena had spent a great deal of time with Brance, the chief engineer. He stood up and blocked the path of the laughing men. He put his hand on Brance’s shoulder.
“Hello, Jordan. How was the flight? I heard you found a good place for the refugees.” He spoke casually, instinctively knowing that something was wrong. Jordan never spoke to him. He never even said hello or nodded in greeting. Hell, he probably didn’t even know his name. Still, he sensed what had caused the sudden attention.
His guess was quickly confirmed.
“Where’s Helena?” He asked, coming right to the point. No small talk for Jordan. Brance took a defensive step back.
“I didn’t do anything. I mean, well, I did show her around some, but that’s it. She’s made her own new friends.” He ended his excuse with a tone of disgust.
“And just what friends are you referring to?” Jordan asked, getting a bad feeling about what the answer might be.
“Well, she’s been learning to play poker.” Brance began. He didn’t really need to say more. Everyone knew what an unsavory bunch met every Friday night for a marathon poker game. Since it was Friday, there was a chance that they had manipulated Helena into joining them. Brance never once thought that he was betraying Helena’s privacy. He was simply acting out of self preservation, if the look on Jordan’s face was any indication.
“Where do they play?” Jordan asked through clenched teeth.
“Jordan, what are you doing?” Chase asked, coming to stand near his right shoulder. She herself was beginning to grow concerned for the other man’s welfare. It was like someone had replaced the calm Jordan with this threatening man.
“Where?” He demanded, ignoring Chase and taking a step closer to Brance. The man involuntarily took a step back. He was only about an inch shorter than Jordan, however there was no doubt in his mind that he could be pummeled quite effectively at this moment. He saw the impatience beginning to grow.
“I don’t really know. Lounge Three, maybe? The one on Deck 4? Maybe.” Please don’t let him be wrong, he thought to himself. Having gotten the information, Jordan did an about-face and left the mess hall.
“We should probably go ahead and prepare for battle stations.” Evan muttered as he stood to join Chase and Brance and the other men who were staring at the now-empty doorway.