Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(4) by Jennifer Estep
I looked at the dwarves’ bodies, then down at the open casket.
Don was right. I’d gone to all the trouble to unearth Deirdre Shaw’s grave. She wasn’t in her casket, so somebody might as well get some use out of it.
And it might as well be me.
I rolled the dwarves’ bodies into the casket, shut the lids, and filled in all the dirt back on top of it. Then I arranged the blocks of sod that I’d first cut out of the ground back into place on the top of the grave, so that it had a layer of winter grass that matched the surrounding ground.
While I worked, the snow intensified, morphing into a steady shower cascading down. Good. The thickening layer of flakes on the ground would help hide the uneven spots and loose bits of dirt and rocks around the grave. Not that I expected anyone else to come looking for Deirdre Shaw, but if there was one thing Fletcher had taught me, it was that you couldn’t be too careful when dealing with a new and largely unknown enemy.
By the time I’d finished making the grave look as untouched as possible, it was almost midnight. I grabbed the box that had been hidden in Deirdre’s casket and left the cemetery.
I walked to my car, which I’d parked half a mile from the cemetery entrance. When I first arrived, I’d stuffed a white plastic bag into the driver’s-side window as if I’d had car trouble, so no one would wonder why the vehicle was sitting by the side of the road. But my car wasn’t the only one here now. An old, battered white van was parked a few hundred feet away, also with a white plastic bag hanging out of the window. Most likely Don and Ethel’s ride, to haul away any loot they might unearth during their grave robbing.
I ignored the van. In a day or two, someone would get curious—or greedy—enough to approach it. That person would either call the cops to report an abandoned vehicle or smash in a window, hot-wire the van, and drive it away to sell for scrap. I’d bet on the second option, though. This was Ashland, after all. Land of criminal conspiracies and malicious opportunity.
I unlocked my car, took the bag out of the window, and slid inside. Then I placed the casket box in the passenger’s seat, cranked up the heat, and drove home.
The roads around the cemetery were dark, curvy, and covered with snow, forcing me to drive slowly. Every time I reached a relatively straight patch of pavement, I glanced over at the box, wondering what secrets it held. The spider runes in my palms itched with anticipation, but I wrapped my hands around the steering wheel and forced my gaze back to the road. Fletcher had taught me to be patient, and I could wait until I got home to open it. Besides, I wanted to go through the box slowly, calmly, and carefully, despite my burning desire to pull over, crack it open right this very second, and dig through all the contents like a kid tearing through Christmas presents.
Twenty minutes later, I turned off the road and steered my car up a rough, steep driveway. The wheels churned through the snow and down into the gravel beneath, but I kept gunning the engine, and the car slowly crept up the ridge.
I crested the top of the slope, and Fletcher’s house, my house now, loomed into view. Snow could hide a multitude of sins, and the falling white flakes masked much of the mismatched brick, tin, and other materials that made up different sections of the ramshackle structure. For once, the house had a cohesive look, adding to the overall snow-globe atmosphere.
Normally, this late at night, the house, the surrounding lawn, and the woods that lined the top of the ridge should have been dark and deserted.
But they weren’t.
A navy sedan was parked in the driveway, and the front porch light was on, a bright beacon in the still, snowy night.
Bria was here.
Surprised, I took my foot off the accelerator. But the car stalled in the snow, so I gave it some more gas, steered over, and parked next to her sedan. I cut the engine, then looked over at the house. She must be waiting up for me. I wondered why.
My sister seemed fine when she’d come to the Pork Pit for lunch. But any number of things—good and bad—could have happened since then. Everything from Bria finally having a lead on where Emery Slater, a giant enemy of mine, was hiding out to wanting help with one of her cases. But of course, my paranoid mind immediately seized on worst-case scenarios, like one of our friends being injured, held hostage, or dead.
Worry and dread chewed up my stomach like acid, but I forced myself to stay calm, pull my phone out of my jacket pocket, and turn it on. I hadn’t wanted Silvio Sanchez, my personal assistant, to track my phone and realize where I was going, so I’d shut off the device before my trip to the cemetery.
I didn’t have any missed calls, texts, or messages. No one had tried to reach me, which meant that my friends should be okay. Instead of easing my worry, the knowledge only cranked it up another notch. What had been so important that Bria had come here tonight?
And that wasn’t my only concern.
I looked at the silverstone box on the passenger seat. The porch light’s golden glow made the spider rune carved into the top glimmer like an all-knowing eye staring back at me. Part of me wanted to leave the box out here so Bria wouldn’t see it and start asking awkward questions.
But this wasn’t a secret that I could keep for much longer. At some point, I was going to have to tell Finn about his mother being alive, and Bria and Finn loved each other. Maybe my sister could help me figure out the best way to break the news to him. At the very least, she would be a sounding board to help me decide how to handle this.
So I got out of the car, grabbed the box, and headed for the porch. I scanned the house, the lawn, and the woods, searching for intruders and using my Stone magic to listen to the rocks buried in the snow. But they only whispered about the cold, wind, and steady shower of flakes—no notes of alarm, fear, or malice rippled through them. Bria was the only one here.
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