Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(25) by Jennifer Estep
Finn was leaning back in a salon chair, his suit jacket off, his shirt unbuttoned at the neck, a glass of Scotch in his hand. It wasn’t his first drink, judging from the half-empty bottle sitting on the table at his elbow.
Jolene “Jo-Jo” Deveraux was perched on the edge of a chair next to him. The dwarf must have gotten out of bed, since she wore a long pink housecoat. Her middle-aged face was free of its usual soft makeup, and her white-blond hair was done up in pink sponge rollers for the night. Rosco, her basset hound, was sprawled across her bare feet, as though he was trying to keep her toes warm with his tubby body.
Bria was sitting on a couch off to one side of the room, along with Sophia Deveraux, Jo-Jo’s younger sister. The Goth dwarf was wearing a black microfleece robe decorated with silver skulls that had red sequined hearts for eyes. The sight made me think of Deirdre’s icicle-heart rune, and more cold worry balled up in my stomach.
Jo-Jo was healing Finn, and a milky-white glow coated her palm and glimmered in her eyes. Her Air magic gusted through the salon, the pins-and-needles sensation brushing up against my skin and making me grind my teeth. Jo-Jo’s Air power was the opposite of my Stone magic, so I never liked the feel of it, which was as harsh and grating as sandpaper rubbing against my skin. Ironically, for as badly as Deirdre’s Ice magic had chilled my hand, it was similar to my own Ice power, so it hadn’t made me want to snarl, not like Jo-Jo’s power did.
Jo-Jo moved her palm back and forth over the gash in Finn’s forehead, using the oxygen and all the other molecules in the air to stitch his skin back together, fade out the bruising, and smooth out the bump he’d gotten from his hard fall.
A minute later, she dropped her hand and gave him a tentative smile. “There you go, darling. Good as new.”
“Thank you, Jo-Jo,” Finn said in a stiff voice.
He threw back the rest of his Scotch, then poured himself another. Everyone remained quiet, except Rosco, who whined, sensing the tension in the room. Finn downed the second Scotch, then poured himself a third one, before he finally deigned to look at me.
He stabbed his finger at me. “Start talking, Gin. Right fucking now.”
His voice was as sharp, clipped, and cold as I’d ever heard it. Anger rolled off him in almost palpable waves, and a storm of emotions flashed in his green eyes. For the most part, Finn was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy. But the angrier he got, the more that cheer crystallized into something else—something dark, dangerous, and deadly. I hadn’t seen this level of cold, contained rage from Finn in a long, long time.
His rage increased my own worry, but I stepped up so that I was standing directly in front of him, drew in a breath, and told him everything. He stared at me the whole time, analyzing and cataloging every single word I said. He didn’t interrupt, he didn’t ask questions, and he didn’t offer any comments of his own. All he did was sit there and stare at me, his face solidified into a chillingly empty mask.
I kept my own face and voice neutral, reciting the facts, just the way Fletcher had laid out the information on Deirdre in his file. I also told Finn and the others about the mementos and the letter that Fletcher had left me in the casket box, including what the old man had said about how dangerous Deirdre was and how she didn’t care about anyone but herself.
Bria gave me a sharp look, obviously wondering why I hadn’t told her about the letter when we’d first gone through the casket box. I gave her a guilty, sheepish shrug in return. But I still didn’t mention the second letter that Fletcher had written to Finn. I’d already mangled things enough. I’d tell Finn about the letter later, in private, so he could decide whether he wanted to share it with everyone.
After I finished, no one moved or spoke, and the salon was so quiet that I could hear the steady tick-tock-tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the hallway. Finally, Finn downed his Scotch, leaned forward, and poured himself yet another.
“So you’ve known that my mother is alive for days now, and you kept it to yourself this whole time,” he said. “That’s why you were so eager to pay for dinner at Underwood’s tonight. When exactly were you going to break the news to me? After we got the bread basket? Or were you going to wait until the dessert course? Oh, hey, Finn. By the way, your mother, the one you thought was dead, is actually alive. Pass the fucking cheesecake.”
I winced. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, how I was going to tell you. But I was going to tell you.”
He snorted and gulped down some more Scotch.
“Believe me, it was just as much of a shock to me as it is to you. I don’t remember Fletcher talking about your mother all that much. Finding that file, realizing that she might still be alive, and then seeing her in the flesh tonight, sitting with you at the bar like she was just another client . . . it threw me too.”
“But not as much as it did me.” He took another hit of Scotch.
“No,” I replied in an even voice. “Not as much as it did you.”
A thought occurred to Finn, and he snapped his head around and glared at Jo-Jo. “And you,” he snarled. “You had to know that Dee-Dee was alive too.”
Jo-Jo stayed calm in the face of his anger, shaking her head. The motion made her pink sponge curlers sway back and forth. “Darling, I promise you that I didn’t know anything about your mama until tonight when you came in here ranting and raving about her.”
“How could you not?” he snarled again. “You and Sophia were Dad’s best friends. You knew all his secrets.”
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