Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(8) by Jennifer Estep
“That’s it?” Bria asked. “Just a baby blanket? That’s all there is?”
“Yeah,” I lied. “Why?”
She shrugged. “All this stuff is interesting, for sure, but there’s nothing here that’s earth-shattering. Overall, it seems a bit . . . disappointing.”
“You’re not the one with a suddenly not-so-dead mother.”
“True,” Bria said. “But Fletcher has left you clues and letters before. Far more detailed ones. This seems like a keepsake box more than anything else. I just thought there would be something more. Records, certificates, maybe even a diary that would tell you about Deirdre, like why she apparently faked her own death and left town and why Fletcher went along with it.”
I shrugged, making sure not to look at the baby blanket and the two letters buried under it. “The old man always left me the information that he thought was the most important. In this case, maybe he thought it was the pictures. Maybe he wanted me to see Deirdre as she was back then.”
“Well, you knew Fletcher best. Maybe things will make more sense after you’ve gone through everything again.”
Bria bit her lip, dropped her gaze to her hands, and started twisting her two rune rings around on her fingers, something she only did when she was thinking hard or worried about something. Her own giveaway, just like quietness was mine.
After a few seconds, her hands stilled, and she looked at me. “So what do we tell Finn?”
I scrubbed my hands over my face, but the motion did nothing to ease the dull ache in my temples. “I don’t know. I was hoping that I’d be able to track her down and do some reconnaissance before I told him anything. But so far, she’s been a complete ghost. No driver’s license, no property or tax records, no trace of a Deirdre Shaw anywhere in Ashland.” I gestured at the box, photos, and other items. “Even with all of this, all I really know about her is that she’s not dead like she’s supposed to be.”
“You have to tell Finn that his mother is alive,” Bria said in a soft voice. “He’s already going to be upset and hurt that you didn’t tell him the second you found out. The longer you wait now, the worse it will be. You know that.”
I did know that, but that didn’t mean I liked it. How do you break something like this to someone? How do you go about rocking the foundation of his world to its very core? Changing everything he thought he knew about his parents? All that would have been bad enough if this was a stranger. But this was Finn. The guy I’d been raised with. The guy I had been through so much with. The man who was my brother in all the ways that truly mattered.
I didn’t know, and now I was in the damned awkward position of having to find out.
“Well,” I said, trying to make a joke of things, the way Finn would have if our positions had been reversed. “I say we ply him with food and booze and then spring the news on him. Have all his favorite things around to help soften the shock.”
Bria nodded. “That’s actually not a bad idea. We’re supposed to go to a cocktail party at his bank tomorrow night. Finn is schmoozing with some new client he wants me to meet. You and Owen could tag along, and we could all go to Underwood’s for dinner afterward. Tell him everything and then figure out what our next move is.”
“What’s wrong?” Her eyes narrowed. “Wait a second. You haven’t told Owen about this either?”
I winced again. “I haven’t told anyone anything, except you. I wanted to actually know what I was talking about before I spilled the beans. But all I have is this.” I waved my hand over the faded photos and cracked mementos. “Not exactly a whole lot of beans to spill.”
“Still,” Bria said, “it all has to mean something. Fletcher wouldn’t have buried all these things in Deirdre’s casket if they weren’t important. If it wasn’t some kind of message.”
I sighed. “You might be right, but I have no idea what he was thinking. Not this time.”
Bria picked up the folder and stared at Deirdre’s icicle-heart rune again. “Well, whatever Fletcher was trying to tell you, I have a bad feeling about this, Gin.”
My gaze dropped to the photo of Fletcher holding Finn, and Deirdre with that cold, blank look on her face. “Yeah. Me too.”
Bria promised to tell Finn that Owen and I would be crashing the party tomorrow night. Then she bundled up, and I walked her to the front door. The snow had stopped while we were talking, leaving three inches of white, fluffy powder coating the ground.
I waited until I heard her car pull out onto the road at the bottom of the ridge before I shut the door and headed back to the den.
I stopped in the doorway and stared at the casket box, where the two letters from Fletcher were hidden under Finn’s baby blanket. But instead of tossing the blanket aside and ripping into my letter, I sat down on the couch and carefully went through all the photos and other items again.
I studied each image in turn—not just the pictures themselves but all the corners, edges, and backs, in case Fletcher had scribbled a note or left some other clue I hadn’t spotted. Nothing.
I did the same thing with the diamond-less engagement ring, the empty perfume bottle, and the broken cameo. Once again, a big fat lot of nothing. No runes, no symbols, not even a maker’s mark stamped on any of them.
I pulled the baby blanket out of the box and ran my fingers over the fabric, but it was just a blanket, the cotton so soft and thin you could practically see through it. Three strikes, and I was out.
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