Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(9) by Jennifer Estep
Except for the letters.
I put the blanket down and finally pulled the two letters out of the box. I studied the envelopes as carefully as I had everything else, but they were plain except for the single word on each of them. Gin on one and Finn on the other, each written in the old man’s distinctive, spidery scrawl.
Finn’s letter wasn’t mine to open, so I wrapped it back up in the baby blanket and set it aside. I turned the other envelope over and over again in my hands, as though I might suddenly see something different besides my name inked on the front. Then I picked up my knife and sliced open the top, trying to ignore the sudden churning of my stomach.
A single sheet of paper was tucked inside. The faint scent of peonies tickled my nose as I pulled out the letter and unfolded it, reading the old man’s words.
If you are reading this, then I am gone—but Deirdre Shaw is back in Ashland. I don’t know exactly what brought you to her grave. If you found the file hidden in my office, if Deirdre made some move against you, or if something else entirely drove you to look in her casket. But you’ve found the box. The things inside are all that I have left of Deirdre. Small, hollow, fragile things, but I hope that you’ll share them with Finn when the time is right.
I could tell you many stories about Deirdre. How we met. How happy she made me. How much I loved her.
How the bitter bite of her betrayal almost destroyed me.
But none of that really matters. All that matters is that she is back in Ashland, which means that she is a danger to you and especially to Finn. No matter what she says, no matter what she does, no matter what lies she tells, remember this—the only person Deirdre Shaw has ever cared about is herself.
And her rune perfectly matches her own cold, cold heart.
Watch out for Finn. He’ll need you after everything is over and Deirdre has done whatever foul, manipulative thing she’s planning. Give him the second letter once she’s gone. You’ll understand why then.
I love you both so much.
Now and always,
I read the letter a second time, then a third. Fletcher hadn’t given me any specifics, but he didn’t really need to. Deirdre being a ghost for so long told me the most important part of the story: she didn’t care enough about her own son to tell him that she was alive.
Curiosity burned in my heart, and my fingers itched to grab Finn’s letter and slice it open, but I pushed down the urge. Fletcher had wanted me to save it for Finn, and I would honor the old man’s words and wishes.
Even if I still had no idea where Deirdre Shaw was. Or when or even if she might appear in Ashland—and Finn’s life.
* * *
Despite how late it was and how emotionally drained I felt, I couldn’t leave everything on the table for just anyone to traipse in and find, especially not before I’d talked to Finn.
So I slid the two letters from Fletcher in between the pages of a copy of Diamonds Are Forever, the latest book I was reading for the spy literature course I was taking at Ashland Community College. Then I gathered up the photos and mementos and placed them all back inside the casket box. I crossed the den and crawled into the empty fireplace. I stood on my tiptoes, hefted up the box, and shoved it onto a secret ledge high inside the stone column.
Once everything was secreted away, I headed upstairs to take a shower and wash off all the blood and grime. By the time my head finally touched the pillows, it was after two in the morning, but my sleep was fitful, and I spent the rest of the night tossing, turning, and worrying about how Finn was going to react to all of this.
In the morning, I got up and went to the Pork Pit. I might be the head of the underworld now, but like Don the grave robber had said, all the other criminals were still plotting against me, so I did my usual checks to make sure that no one had planted any deadly surprises inside the restaurant.
Once I had determined that everything was clean, I started getting ready for the day. Normally, wiping down the tables and booths would have brought me some kind of peace.
Instead, my stomach churned in time to my quick swipes as I mopped the blue and pink pig tracks that covered the floor and worried about how to break the news to Finn. Regardless of how I did it, Bria was right—he was going to be hurt that I hadn’t told him right away.
Maybe I would feel better when I had talked to Finn, and we could get on with the business of tracking down Deirdre and finding out what she had been doing all these years. Or maybe the answers would make me feel even worse—not to mention what they might do to Finn.
Damned if I did, doubly damned if I didn’t. Yeah. I had a bad feeling that’s how this whole thing would ultimately play out.
The bell over the front door chimed at exactly eleven o’clock, and in walked Silvio Sanchez, my personal assistant. The middle-aged vampire looked quite dapper in a dark gray fedora, overcoat, and matching suit. A small spider rune pin winked in the center of his silver tie.
Silvio nodded in greeting, took off his hat and coat, and arranged his smartphone and tablet on the counter. Soft chimes rang out as he fired up his electronics.
“Are you ready for the morning briefing, Gin?” he asked.
I barely heard him. Instead, I stared at a photo on the wall close to the cash register, one of a young Fletcher standing with his friend Warren T. Fox during a fishing trip. Fletcher seemed plenty happy in the photo, but his smile was dim and faint compared with the big, beaming grins he’d worn in the pictures of him with Deirdre. The way he’d looked at her . . . it was like she had been his whole world. I wondered just how badly she’d broken his heart—and why.
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