Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(14) by Jennifer Estep
More murmurs sounded, and I focused on the folks around me again. A couple of weeks ago, I would have ignored all the stares, glares, and sly whispers. But these were my people now, so to speak, so I made eye contact with every mobster I knew, nodding at the head honchos and their crew members and paying them the proper amount of respect. Many of the bosses nodded back, but a few eyed me with open hostility, including Dimitri Barkov, who alternated between glaring and smirking at me. Lucky me, getting to see him and his bad toupee twice in one day.
I made note of his sour expression and all the others to pass along to Silvio later. Perhaps my trusty assistant could diagram the best way for me to take out the more troublesome bosses all at once. If nothing else, Silvio would relish the challenge.
But there were two familiar—and friendly—faces in the crowd. Mallory Parker and her granddaughter, Lorelei. They were sitting at a table in the middle of the lobby. I pointed them out, and Owen steered us in that direction.
Mallory was a wizened dwarf who was well into her three hundreds and still going strong, as evidenced by the half-empty bottle of bourbon and the large glass on the table in front of her. Despite the liquor, her blue eyes were sharp, and her hair had been teased into a fluffy white cloud around her head, making her seem far more angelic than she really was.
More than a few folks stared at her, their envious gazes focused on the inch-wide diamond choker that ringed her neck, the matching bracelet on her wrist, and the solitaire rings that sparkled on her gnarled fingers. Mallory wholeheartedly believed that diamonds were a girl’s best friend. I’d never seen her without an array of gems, and I was willing to bet that she slept with at least some of them on.
In contrast, Lorelei Parker seemed plain and subdued, her only jewelry the rose-and-thorn rune ring that flashed on her hand, though it too featured a generous helping of diamonds. Still, Lorelei received her own share of admiring and envious glances, given her pale blue eyes, pretty features, and black hair pulled back into an elegant French braid.
Lorelei was texting on her phone, and Mallory was talking to the man sitting next to her, a stocky dwarf with wavy silver hair who was wearing a black suit that cost more than most cars. His styled hair and clothes were at odds with his hard hazel eyes, lined face, and hooked nose, which looked like it had been broken more than once. I’d only seen him a few times during my visits here, but I knew exactly who he was: Stuart Mosley, the founder of First Trust.
Several people hovered around Mosley, everyone from tellers and investment bankers trying to get a moment of face time with the head honcho to clients trying to impress upon him how important they were. But Mosley ignored them all in favor of sipping his bourbon, staring at Mallory, and nodding at whatever she was saying. Mosley wasn’t a social butterfly by any stretch of the imagination—he didn’t have to be—but he seemed downright friendly with Mallory. Interesting. I hadn’t realized that they knew each other so well.
Mallory saw us approaching and waved us over. The hoverers grumbled, but they fell back to make room for us.
“Mallory, you’re looking positively brilliant this evening,” I said, then turned my attention to her granddaughter. “Lorelei.”
Lorelei nodded at me. “Gin.”
All around us, the other mobsters tiptoed forward, trying to overhear our conversation. Lorelei was one of the major power players in the Ashland underworld, a notorious smuggler known for her ability to get anything for anyone at any time. Us talking to each other in public was sure to set the other bosses to buzzing, since she was the only one of them I’d deigned to speak to. No doubt, the others were already worrying about what sort of alliances we might have made. Truth be told, Lorelei and I hadn’t gotten that far yet, but she was the closest thing to a friend I had among the city’s criminals besides Phillip Kincaid. And I was going to need all the friends I could get if I wanted to survive.
Mallory gestured at Mosley. “Gin, this is my good friend Stuart Mosley. Stuart, Gin Blanco. I’m sure you two have heard all about each other.”
“Indeed.” Mosley got to his feet and extended his hand to me. “A pleasure, Ms. Blanco.”
We shook hands, and then he did the same with Bria and Owen. The three of them started chatting, along with Lorelei, but Mallory crooked her finger at me. I bent down, and she jerked her head in Finn’s direction.
“Finn seems quite wrapped up in his client,” Mallory drawled in her twangy hillbilly voice. “He barely said hello to me before skedaddling over to the bar to meet her.” Her words were innocent enough, but a hard tone tinged her voice. Mallory gave me a long, pointed look, as if she was trying to tell me something.
I shrugged. “You know Finn. He would try to sell water to a fish if he thought he could make a quick buck.”
“Mmm.” Mallory’s noncommittal response had me raising my eyebrows, but the dwarf waved her hand again, making her multitude of diamonds sparkle and flash. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. Your man Silvio called me earlier to set it up. We’ll have tea out by the garden. It will make for a lovely afternoon. Won’t it, Lorelei?”
This time, her granddaughter was the one who made the noncommittal sound. Lorelei might be the closest thing to a friend that I had in the underworld, but we were still trying to figure out our relationship, despite the fact that we’d worked together to take down Raymond Pike, her half brother.
“Anyway,” Mallory said, “you should go see to Finn now.”
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