Ramsay(10)By: Mia Sheridan
I shook my head, biting my lip, the same strange feeling swirling in my belly. "No," I said, looking back to where he stood. "He has a date. Anyway, I think he's leaving." The brunette at his side had just leaned in and whispered something in his ear, and he'd nodded and started shaking hands with those around him. Daisy and I watched as he strode off, the woman at his side. There was something in the man's walk, too. A familiar movement. I frowned, confused again. Shaking my head slightly, I took a big drink of champagne, dismissing the strange feeling. It just couldn't be.
Just as the couple were about to exit through the gate that led to the steps at the edge of the garden, the man looked back and up, and I swore our eyes met. I jolted slightly, frowning again, a shiver moving down my spine.
Later, after having both successfully drunk too much champagne and avoided my stepmother and any more run-ins with old high school friends, I said a quick goodbye to the hosts and made my getaway with Daisy in her chauffeured car. We hung out at her house, laughing and talking for a few hours until her husband arrived home and I'd sobered up. Daisy's driver took me to my car, and I made the trip back to my apartment in New York.
As I approached the door to my building, I got the strangest feeling I was being watched. Shivering in the warm early-summer air, I paused and turned around, looking up and down the tree-lined street but not noticing anything unusual. After a moment, I dismissed it as nothing more than the sun and champagne-drenched mind of someone who'd had a long day. Shaking my head and laughing softly at myself, I opened the door and went inside.
The underground, high-stakes poker room was the height of lavish opulence, decorated in shades of black, gold, and red, the materials rich and sumptuous, ornate crystal chandeliers causing light to bounce off the mirrors surrounding the upper portions of the walls. Quiet, classical music drifted through speakers mounted somewhere in the ceiling.
This moment had been a long time coming. I was going to savor it.
The man across from me pulled at his collar as he turned over the card he'd just been dealt. I could smell the tang of his sweat even from the other side of the table. Even if I hadn't been counting the cards, I'd know he believed he had a good hand by the slight widening of his eyes, the way he glanced around quickly to see if anyone else had noticed his reaction. His knee bounced. He had a good hand, but he wasn't entirely sure it was enough. And it wasn't. The king of diamonds I needed to make four of a kind was at the top of the pile. I placed two cards on the table and signaled the dealer, who dealt me two more. Ten of hearts, king of diamonds. I kept my face expressionless, bringing my glass to my lips. I tipped the bartender here exorbitantly well to make sure every other drink I ordered was free of alcohol. This particular round was the real deal. I took a sip, letting the brandy slide over my tongue. At first fiery and sharp, smoothing into soft toasted marshmallow, vanilla custard, a dash of pepper, and then transforming into a nutty oak flavor as it slid down my throat.
The man across from me had long ago passed savor and had moved on to slurp. He signaled the waiter for another. Of course, he was too foolish to know that drinking and gambling didn't mix. Or too weak to resist any and all vices offered to him and then to mix them haphazardly, just as he was doing now. And he was about to go down. Hard. A boot to the face. Metaphorically, of course. I resisted the wolfish grin that wanted to spread across my face.
He suddenly looked up at me, meeting my eyes through my glasses, narrowing his. "Have we met before?" he asked. I casually signaled the dealer for a cigarette and leaned forward as he lit it, letting the smoke waft in front of my face, tamping down my senses violently, working not to become overwhelmed, not to grimace. I hated the smell of cigarette smoke, detested it. The man across from me watched the smoke rise, as if in a trance, immediately distracted by the swirling vapors.
"I don't believe so," I said, slurring my words slightly, making sure there was no hint of an accent. I'd worked long and hard to do away with it. He looked back at his cards, pulling at the collar of his tux again.
The other player at the table—a tall, blond man—folded. I caught his eye so briefly; it was only a bare flicker of the lids. An acknowledgment only he would see, much less understand. A sign only two people who had spent years on the streets together, surviving, cheating, looking out for each other, becoming brothers in the truest sense of the word, would recognize. Fionn. He turned and walked out of the room. He had done his job—he'd driven up the stakes.
The security detail wandered by, his hands clasped behind his back, eyeing our table. This establishment knew enough to watch me, knew enough to suspect me of something they'd never prove. I wouldn't let them. Counting cards was no effort on my part anyway. I did it without even thinking, without even concentrating. So it was unlikely I'd ever be suspected if I handled myself appropriately and discreetly. And I rarely played now anyway—I certainly didn't need the funds, and my vices were few, gambling not being one of them. I hadn't played in years. That is, until he started playing here. And now it was only the two of us sitting at this table in this high stakes room.