Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(7) by Jennifer Estep
By the time I was finished, she’d gone through all the information. She studied a recent photo of Deirdre in the file, then leaned down, staring at the rune Fletcher had inked onto the folder tab, that heart made of jagged icicles.
Bria frowned and tapped her finger against the symbol. “This might sound crazy, and it’s certainly not going to make you feel any better, but I’ve seen that rune somewhere before.”
“Yeah, it was on that letter you found in Pike’s penthouse. The one you gave to Lorelei Parker, along with the rest of her half brother’s stuff. Lorelei gave me a copy of it. There was no name on the letter, just that rune. I recognized the symbol and started digging through Fletcher’s files. That’s how I found the information on Deirdre.”
Bria shook her head. “No, I’ve seen that rune somewhere else. I thought it looked familiar when I first saw Pike’s letter. So I did a search in the police rune databases, trying to figure out where I knew it from. But there was no mention of anything like it in the databases, so I wasn’t able to track it down. Still, I know it from somewhere.”
I chewed my lip, trying to think of where Bria might have possibly come across Deirdre’s rune before, but of course, I didn’t have an answer. She was right. Her having seen the rune before made me even more uneasy.
“So what’s in the box?” Bria asked. “And why did Fletcher leave it in Deirdre’s grave?”
“Time to find out.”
I dragged the box to the edge of the table. No locks or latches adorned the silverstone, but it was still securely sealed. So I palmed a knife and worked the tip of the blade into the seam that ran between the lid and the rest of the box. I ran my knife around the entire seam, wiggling the tip back and forth. It didn’t want to open any more than Deirdre’s casket had, but I finally managed to split the seam. A loud pop sounded, like when you cracked open a pickle jar, as though the box had been vacuum-sealed. Maybe it had been.
I put my knife down, grabbed the lid, and lifted it off the box before setting it off to one side. Beside me, Bria leaned forward, as curious to see what was inside as I was.
Dozens of photos, all of them old, slightly yellow, and faded, with smooth, worn edges, as though someone—Fletcher—had rubbed his fingers over them time and time again in thought.
And Deirdre Shaw was in every single one of them.
In the photos, she was young, twenty or so, and quite beautiful, with pale blue eyes and long golden hair. The first photo showed her in a grassy field, wearing a blue sundress, with a crown of blue peonies perched on her head, as though she were a fairy-tale princess. She looked at the camera out of the corner of her eye, as if she were too shy to enjoy having her picture taken, although her lips were turned up into a small, satisfied smile.
The next few photos were of Deirdre and Fletcher together, holding hands, walking through the woods, even sharing a chocolate milkshake at the Pork Pit. It was obvious that this was in the beginning of their relationship, because they were staring dreamily into each other’s eyes. They made a lovely couple, Deirdre slim, blond, and beautiful, Fletcher tall, strong, and handsome, with his dark brown hair and green eyes.
But as I looked through more of the photos, they slowly started to change.
Fletcher remained as happy as ever, but Deidre smiled less and less in the pictures, especially as her stomach grew larger and rounder, and it became apparent that she was pregnant. One shot showed Deirdre deep into her pregnancy. Fletcher had his arm slung around her shoulder and was smiling at the camera, but Deirdre’s expression seemed more like a grimace than a grin, as though she had screwed on a smile just to have her picture taken.
And finally, I saw the first and only photo of Finn.
It must have been taken a few days after he was born, because he was just a tiny, blanket-wrapped bundle, cradled in Fletcher’s arms, his sleeping face turned toward the camera. Fletcher was positively beaming, his face stretched into an enormous grin. Deirdre was standing next to him, looking at Finn, but her eyes were empty, and her face was strangely blank, as though she were staring at someone else’s baby instead of her own son.
That last photo made even more cold worry pool in my chest, as though my heart were made of the same jagged icicles as Deirdre’s rune.
“It’s like a chronicle of their relationship,” Bria murmured, studying the photos as I handed them to her one by one. “Only without saying how or when they finally broke up.”
“I’m guessing that part didn’t make for such a pretty picture.”
Bria set the photos aside, and I fished out the other objects in the box. An engagement ring with a hole where the diamond should be. An empty, cracked, heart-shaped perfume bottle that still smelled faintly of peonies. A blue cameo of a mother holding a child, split down the middle into two pieces.
“Mementos Fletcher saved from happier times?” Bria suggested.
“Maybe,” I said. “Or maybe they’re a message.”
She held up the cameo pieces. “What kind of message does a broken pendant send?”
“Not a good one.”
A soft blue baby blanket was also tucked into the box, with Finn’s name stitched across the bottom in white letters. I lifted up the blanket, expecting it to be the final thing in the box, but two items were buried underneath it, two letters in sealed envelopes, one addressed to me and the other to Finn.
I gasped, but Bria was looking through the photos again, so she didn’t notice my surprise. I dropped the blanket back down where it had been, hiding the letters. I loved my sister, but I wanted to read Fletcher’s words in private, wanted to have some time to myself to think about them and digest them. Not to mention Finn’s letter. I didn’t even know what to do with that right now.
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