Thirty-Four - Ira

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FOURTEEN MONTHS LATER

The man sitting directly across the table from me toyed with his stacks of chips, his forehead shining under the warm lights in the poker room. Dressed in a fancy velvet hoodie that was only zipped up to his stomach, the thirty-something-year-old man let out a sigh and flicked the final chips onto the table in front of him, raising the bet.

He really shouldn't have, but his beer gave him confidence.

There were five of us left in the game – the oldest guy had folded in the third round. I'd watched his wrinkled face throughout the night and wondered why he was even here. His actions screamed better safe than sorry, and he never raised the pot. He reminded me of Stuart Neville when we played poker in Mexico. I was surprised that the man was still watching and hadn't gone to bed.

The player diagonally across from me, an overdressed woman with glittering earrings, put her chips on the table without thinking. She didn't catch me making my pupils bigger to see through her cards at the start of the game. These cards had dense black patterns on the back, and the amount of light I had to let in to see everyone's hand hurt my head. Glitter caught me blinking and rubbing the sting out of my eyes and gave me a smile, her teeth stained a little with her dark lipstick. She knew she had a good chance in the showdown with two tens that could get her three of a kind, and she'd been calculating her odds all evening. Glitter was intelligent, I could see. I was just luckier.

I'd become a bit of a regular here; some of the dealers already knew me by my alias. Even though I saw through everyone's cards every time, I won some and lost some. Not every hand was great, and if I was having a lucky day, I made sure to change up the game a little. If Dell Island had taught me anything, it was to be more aware and more calculating. I couldn't risk being blacklisted and being known for all the wrong reasons again.

I tossed the chips on the table. Called. Velvet Hoodie showed his hand. Then the others, all cards I saw from the beginning. A small smile crossed my lips as I flipped my two cards. A king-high flush.

Glitter glared at me. She ran a manicured hand through her short black hair to hide her disappointment. I ignored her and raised my chrome watch to see that it was coming up to four in the morning. Home time.

Not bad, Eva Jason, I thought to myself as the chips were swept to me. Not bad.

♟♙♟♙

I grinned at the case full of cash sitting in the trunk of my car. "Welcome home," I said, before lifting it out and striding to the foyer of the apartment building. My black coat flapped in the wind that gushed through the Manhattan streets. As much as I preferred a walk upstairs, I took the lift just to be safe. I got home, flicked on the small ceiling light, and locked up my new income at 4:20 am. Ironically, I was more awake than ever.

Walking to the balcony, I stared at the city through the thick glass doors. The light in the living room gave me a faint reflection, and I examined myself with the urban lights as a backdrop. Since Dell Island, since Mexico, I'd grown my hair down to my elbows. I was finally able to dress the way I wanted to with the life I'd built for myself – clean, business-like, but generally unremarkable in case Doctor A would have eyes looking out for me on the other side of the sea.

When we were in Mexico, Linkin was quite confident that whoever ran Dell Island wouldn't come after us, but the possibility never left my mind. Although I was free from them now, I could never be truly free. When I got enough money, I would get to the bottom of everything. Make them pay for the lives they took, the nightmares that followed me.

Then, I would be free.

"Eva?" The groggy voice made me wipe the hardened expression from my face. Nate Silveira, my flatmate for four months, squinted at me from the middle of the living room in his green pajamas. I had this place to myself for a while and I was going out of my mind. I'd picked him to share the apartment with me out of all my potential flatmates because his positivity reminded me of Jaysen. Nothing else matched – his brown hair was a few shades darker, his face was innocently oval, and he didn't have one piercing on him. "You just got back?"

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