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Reborn (Altered #3)
Jennifer Rush



I NEVER TOOK TO FIGHTING LIKE THE others. I could do it well enough. Maybe I was even good at it. But I didn’t like it. Or maybe it was that I liked it too much.

Sam fought only when it meant something. Like escaping. Surviving. Protecting. Cas treated fighting like a dance—he always wanted to show off the best moves. Mostly because he’s a jackass.

When I fought, I had a hard time pulling back.

I slammed a shot of whiskey, the cheap shit, and felt the muscles in my stomach tense. Pull from the core, that’s what Sam always said. Or maybe it was something he used to say, back before we lost our memories to the Branch—the shadowy organization that had turned us into supersoldiers, and then tried to kill us when we didn’t obey like dogs.

I have a hard time telling the difference between an old memory and a recent one.

“Did you hear me?” the man next to me said.

“I did.” I felt the gloom of the bar settle over me. There’d always been something about dark, smoky bars. Something familiar.

“Well, what do you have to say, then?” the man said.

He was taller than me by a handful of inches. Bigger, too. Fatter, though, which meant he was slower. Speed always wins over brawn, if you ask me. Not that anyone ever does.

I turned to the man and wavered to give him the idea I was drunk, which I wasn’t. Or at least, not entirely. I peered at him from beneath heavy lids, and then looked over his shoulder at his girlfriend or wife or sister or maybe it was his mom. “Your mom is pretty. I’m sorry I hit on her.”

The woman frowned. The man scowled.

“That ain’t what I’m talking about. My friend says he saw you steal my wallet back near the john. Did you?”

Yes. “No.”

“Well, he said you did.”

If I’d really been trying, there wouldn’t have been witnesses to the lift. So I guess I’d been sloppy on purpose.

Maybe I did like fighting after all. There, I admitted it.

Anna’s voice came back to me, from this morning. Be honest with yourself. And if you can’t, at least be honest with me.

“Give it to me.” The man took a step closer. My fingers itched to curl into fists.

Stop exploding so often, Anna said. You’ll be happier.

The problem with Anna was that she saw things in me that weren’t there. I was a lost cause.

“Hand it over and we’ll forget this ever happened,” the man went on. His girlfriend laid a hand on his shoulder and gave him a tug.

“Raymond, he’s just a kid. I don’t even know how he got in here.” She scowled at the bartender, as if this was somehow his fault.

I was actually somewhere north of twenty, so I was most likely legal. I just looked younger. Genetic alterations will do that to you. And since none of us—me, Sam, Anna, and Cas—had any real, legal papers, we’d secured fake IDs through some guy Sam had used in the past.

Two of the man’s friends stepped closer. The bartender set his towel down. “Come on, guys. You’re not doing this in here. Take it outside.”

Raymond set a hand on the bar and leaned in. His breath smelled like cigars and vodka. His eyes were bloodshot. He’d been here when I came in, so he’d probably been drinking longer than I had.

“Give me my goddamn wallet, son. Or you’ll regret it.”

I doubted that. Regret wasn’t something I was familiar with.

“For God’s sake, Raymond,” his girlfriend said.

The friend on his left opened the fold of his down-filled vest to show off the handgun he had holstered to his belt. Like that was supposed to scare me. “Hand it over,” he said. “We all saw you take it.”

I blinked lazily. “I don’t have whatever you’re looking for.”

Raymond took in a deep breath, and his chest puffed out. The veins in his neck fattened like a blow snake. He was ready to swing. He was the kind of man who had a tell so obvious, it was practically written across his forehead. That’s no way to win a fight.

You keep your face straight. Your body loose. Your steps light. And if you do it right, they’ll never know it’s coming.

Raymond’s face turned from ruddy to crimson right before he reached over and grabbed my wrist. He pulled my arm toward him, as if he meant to twist it behind my back.

I had already slid off the stool three seconds earlier, ready for this five seconds before that.

I kicked with my right foot, catching his knee. He howled and let go of my wrist, so I threw a backhanded fist, catching him across the temple. His friend, the one carrying the pistol, came at me.

I grabbed my empty shot glass and chucked it at him. It collided with his forehead with a resounding crack. His flesh split open, spewing blood down the bridge of his nose.

The third friend caught me off guard with a jab to my side, then a quick punch to the face. There wasn’t much power behind it, though, and ignoring the pain was easy. I hit him across the jaw. He staggered back and rocked the table behind him, spilling drinks all over the place.

Someone shouted to call the cops.

Raymond recovered and barreled toward me, catching me in the wide span of his arms. He slammed me into the wall with his weight, and all the air left my lungs.

He punched with meaty knuckles, cracking my nose. Blood ran down the back of my throat with a hot, coppery tang.

I slid down the wall fast, hitting the floor in a second. Raymond brought his booted foot up when I grabbed the leg of the nearest chair, hauling it over me, using the seat as a shield.

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