Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(2) by Jennifer Estep
I crouched down and brushed away the dirt that had fallen on top of the box when I opened the casket lid. No magic emanated from the silverstone box, although a rune had been carved into the top of it, the same small circle and eight thin rays that were branded into each of my palms.
My spider rune.
“Fletcher,” I whispered, my breath frosting in the air.
The old man had left the box here for me to find. No doubt about it. He was the only one who seemed to know that Deirdre wasn’t actually dead. More important, Fletcher had known me. He had realized that if Deirdre ever made an appearance back in Ashland, back in Finn’s life, I would find his file on her and come to her grave to determine whether she was dead and buried.
Once again, the old man had left me with clues to find from beyond his own grave, which was located a hundred feet away. For whatever reason, he and Deirdre hadn’t been buried side by side. Something I hadn’t really thought too much about until tonight. I wondered why Fletcher hadn’t buried the supposedly dead mother of his son next to his own cemetery plot. Something must have happened between him and Deirdre.
I opened up the bottom half of the casket and ran my fingers all around the silk, just in case something else had been left behind, but there was nothing. So I hooked my hands under the box and lifted it out of the casket. It was surprisingly heavy, as though Fletcher had packed it full of information. The weight made me even more curious about what might be inside—
“Did you hear something, Don?”
I froze, hoping that I’d only imagined the high feminine voice.
“Yes, I did, Ethel,” a deeper masculine voice answered back.
No such luck.
Still holding the box, I stood on my tiptoes and peered over the lip of the grave. A man and a woman stood about forty feet away, both of them dwarves, given their five-foot heights and stocky, muscular frames. I hadn’t heard a car roll into the cemetery, so the two of them must have parked somewhere nearby and walked in like I had.
They were both bundled up in black clothes and weren’t carrying flashlights, which meant that they didn’t want to be seen. Shovels were propped up on their shoulders, the metal scoops shimmering like liquid silver under the glow of the streetlamps. There was only one reason for the two of them to be skulking around the cemetery with shovels.
My mouth twisted with disgust. Grave robbers. One of the lowest forms of scum, even among the plethora of criminals who called Ashland home.
They must have sensed my stare, or perhaps they’d noticed the massive pile of dirt that I’d dug up, because they both turned and looked right at me.
“Hey!” the woman, Ethel, called out. “Someone else is here!”
The two dwarves started running toward me. I cursed, put the box on the ground next to the tombstone, dug my fingers into the grass, and scrambled up and out of the grave. I’d just staggered to my feet when the dwarves stopped in front of me, their shovels now held out in front of them like lances.
Ethel’s blue eyes narrowed to slits. “What do you think you’re doing? This here is our cemetery. Nobody else’s.”
“Aw, now, don’t be like that, Ethel,” her companion said. “Look on the bright side. She did the hard work of digging up this grave for us already. Looks like she found something good too.”
He stabbed his shovel at the silverstone box. My fingers clenched into fists. No way were they getting their grubby hands on that. Not when it might hold clues about Deirdre Shaw—where she might be and why everyone thought she was dead, including Finn, her own son.
Don grinned; his bright red nose and bushy white beard made him look like Santa Claus. With her rosy cheeks and short, curly white hair, Ethel was the perfect counterpart. If Santa and Mrs. Claus were low-down, no-good grave robbers.
“Why, we should thank her,” Don said. “Before we kill her, of course.”
Ethel nodded. “You’re right, hon. You always are.”
The two dwarves tightened their grips on their shovels and stepped toward me, but I held my ground, my gray eyes as cold and hard as the snow-dusted tombstones.
“Before the two of you do something you won’t live to regret, you should know that that box is mine,” I said. “Walk away now, don’t come back, and I’ll forget that I ever saw you here.”
“And who do you think you are, giving us orders?” Ethel snapped.
“Gin Blanco. That’s who.”
I didn’t say my name to brag. Not really. But I was the head of the Ashland underworld now, which meant that they should know exactly who I was—and especially what I was capable of doing to them.
Ethel rolled her eyes. “You must really be desperate to claim to be her. Then again, dead women will say anything to keep on breathing, won’t they, Don?”
The other dwarf nodded. “Yep.”
I ground my teeth. Low-life criminals had no trouble tracking me down at the Pork Pit, my barbecue restaurant in downtown Ashland, and no qualms whatsoever about trying to kill me there. But whenever I was away from the restaurant, got into a bad situation, and tried to warn people about who I really was, nobody believed me. Irony’s way of screwing me over time and time again, laughing at me all the while.
“Besides,” Don continued, “even if you really were Gin Blanco, it wouldn’t matter. Everyone knows that she’s the big boss in name only. It won’t be long until someone kills her and takes her place.”
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