Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(11) by Jennifer Estep
Luiz didn’t have either the stupidity or the balls to come at me head-on. But Dimitri . . . Dimitri was going to be a problem.
I cleared my throat, and Silvio looked at me.
I tilted my head in Dimitri’s direction. “Our Russian friend looks positively smug today. Which means that he’s probably decided to strike back at me. Care to nose around and see what you can find out?”
“Of course,” Silvio murmured, a bit of sarcasm creeping into his tone. “I live to serve . . . when you actually let me do anything. I’ve been meaning to diagram his organization anyway.”
“Diagram it? What do you mean?”
Silvio turned his tablet around so that I could see it and swiped through several screens of pie charts, bar graphs, and more. “Diagram it. You know, break down his operations into manpower, money earned, front businesses, and so on and so forth. Just in case you ever needed to, shall we say, dismantle it in a hurry.”
I arched my eyebrows. “Pie charts are going to help me dismantle a criminal organization?”
The vamp straightened up and smoothed down his tie, affronted that I would mock his precious pie charts. “Absolutely. As an assassin, you should know that information is often the key to cutting off certain problems before they get started.”
“Of course, you’re right,” I drawled. “Silly me for thinking that I had been cutting off certain problems with my knives for years now.”
Silvio sniffed and gave me a chiding look, not at all amused by my black humor. Sometimes my assistant was a little too prim and proper for his own good. I resisted the urge to lean across the counter, muss his hair, take away his tablet, and give him a time-out.
Luiz slid out of the booth, threw enough bills down onto the table to pay for ten meals, and skedaddled out of the restaurant. But Dimitri took his sweet time, making a big show of giving me one more soda salute and a smug smirk before peeling some bills off a fat roll, tossing them onto the table, and ambling out through the front door.
Oh, yes. The mobster was definitely going to be trouble. But trouble was another one of those things that I specialized in, along with cutting off problems. I’d handle Dimitri the same way I had the rest of the lowlifes who’d come after me: permanently.
The lunch rush wrapped up, and the day wore on. I was sliding a batch of chocolate chip cookies into one of the ovens when the bell over the front door chimed.
“I hear we’re going on a double date,” a low, familiar voice murmured behind me.
I almost dropped the tray of cookies, but I tightened my grip at the last second, shoved the tray into the oven, and shut the door. To give myself a few more moments to prepare, I set the timer on the counter. Then I plastered a smile on my face and turned around.
Finnegan Lane, my foster brother, was perched on a stool next to Silvio. The vamp might look dapper in his suit, but Finn was positively resplendent in his. The navy Fiona Fine jacket stretched across his shoulders, the matching shirt underneath clinging to his sculpted muscles. Add the sharp suit and hard body to his bright green eyes, walnut-brown hair, and dazzling smile, and you had a devilishly handsome package, as Finn would proudly tell you himself. He knew exactly how gorgeous he was and used it to his advantage whenever he could.
I wondered if that was a trait he’d inherited from Fletcher—or his mother.
Finn kept grinning at me, and I forced myself to act casual and step forward, so that I was standing on the opposite side of the counter from him, just as I’d done a thousand times before.
“Yep. Owen and I are crashing your swanky shindig, and then I’m taking you and Bria out to dinner at Underwood’s. My treat.”
“Your treat?” Finn asked, a teasing note creeping into his voice. “Is something wrong?”
My hands curled around the edge of the counter, but I managed to crank up the wattage on my smile. “Why would you think that?”
He waggled his eyebrows. “Because you hardly ever offer to pay, especially at Underwood’s.”
I snorted. “That’s because whenever I do, you always insist on ordering the most expensive things on the menu, regardless of whether you actually like them.”
Another, wider grin stretched across his face. “What can I say? I have expensive tastes, baby.”
I snorted again, but Finn cackled with glee before ordering a barbecue chicken sandwich, sweet-potato fries, and a triple chocolate milkshake. I laughed and joked and smiled as I fixed his food and slid it across the counter to him. But every time I glanced at Finn, every time I heard his suave voice, every time the rich timbre of his laughter washed over me, a single image filled my mind: that photo of Fletcher holding Finn while Deirdre stared down at her newborn son with a flat, distant expression.
Finn chattered on about tonight’s party, some new client he wanted me to meet, and how everyone was going to be so jealous of how gorgeous Bria was. I chimed in when appropriate, but every forced grin and fake chuckle made my heart sink and my stomach knot up. Tonight was supposed to be fun for Finn, and I was going to ruin it by telling him about Deirdre.
Finn’s lunch seemed to drag on forever, even though he strolled out through the front door less than forty-five minutes later with a grin, a wink, and a playful warning for me to bring my credit card to Underwood’s. I snarked back that I might have to take out a bank loan just to pay for his dinner. Finn laughed a final time, then left the Pork Pit.
The second he was gone, the smile dropped from my face faster than a body hitting the floor. My jaw ached from grinding my teeth and holding on to the fake expression for so long. I reached up and massaged my temples, trying to ease the pounding there.
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