Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(31) by Jennifer Estep
But someone had stepped into my parlor tonight, and it was going to be the last fucking thing he ever did.
I sidled down the hallway and stopped at the top of the stairs, listening all the while. The creaks had definitely come from the first floor, but I didn’t hear any more as I tiptoed down the stairs, hugging the wall so as not to make the floorboards moan under my bare feet. I’d been creeping around this house long enough to know just where to step.
But the intruder also knew where to step, because I didn’t hear any more creaks, cracks, or pop-pops of wood that would tell me what room he was in. Maybe he’d found a comfortable spot to hide. Maybe his plan was to break in while I was asleep, lie in wait the rest of the night, and then take me out when I woke up and came downstairs in the morning. Not a bad idea and certainly more creative than most of the other folks who’d been foolish enough to come here over the past few months.
I reached the bottom of the stairs and looked left and right, searching for the telltale glow of a flashlight, but I didn’t see one. If my intruder was smart, he would be wearing night-vision goggles so that he wouldn’t need a flashlight.
I could have started searching the house, winding my way through the labyrinth of rooms and hallways until I came across my would-be killer. But eventually, I would make some sort of noise doing that, so I stood at the bottom of the steps, my back against the wall, and waited—just waited. My intruder might be quiet, but he wasn’t a ghost, and he had to make a sound sooner or later. I had the patience to wait him out all night if that’s what it took.
A minute ticked by, then two, then three. All around me, the stones kept muttering, whispering about the intruder and his ill intentions, but their dark murmurs didn’t increase in volume, which meant the intruder wasn’t nearby and getting ready to strike. So I held my position and waited. Another minute, then two, then three. Finally, my patience was rewarded with another faint creak.
He was in the den.
I headed in that direction, still hugging the wall and being as silent as possible. I reached the den entrance and carefully eased up so I could peer inside. Moonlight streamed in through the white lace curtains, painting the room a shadowy silver, which was more than enough light for me to spot the giant standing in the corner.
He was dressed all in black, a gun clutched in his right hand. A pair of night-vision goggles were clamped over his face, hiding his features, but his shirtsleeves were pushed up, revealing a tattoo on his left forearm: a snake biting into a dollar sign.
The bank robber was here to kill me. I wondered why. Because I’d ruined his plans earlier tonight? Was this just about payback for costing him a sweet score? Or was it something else, something more?
Either way, I was going to carve the answers out of Santos.
The giant thought I was asleep, and he had settled in to wait, leaning against the corner of the fireplace and looking at the framed drawings lined up on the mantel. I grinned. If he was so curious about the drawings, then I should turn on the light so he could see them in all their glory. Those night-vision goggles only gave him an advantage while it was dark. Any sudden influx of light would temporarily blind him.
So I crept forward another step, then reached my arm around the doorjamb, feeling the light switch under my fingers—
My shoulder cracked at the motions.
Santos snapped around in my direction. I hit the switch, but he realized what I was up to and yanked off his goggles. Light flooded the den, and we both squinted against the harsh glare.
Black hair slicked back into a ponytail, cold brown eyes, a puckered white scar that zigzagged like a lightning bolt down his left cheek, marring his bronze skin. I cataloged Santos’s features even as I darted forward, slashing my knife down toward his gun hand.
But he was quicker, and he whirled out of the way, spinning around in a tight circle and snapping up his gun so he could shoot me in the face. I reached for my Stone magic, hardening my skin, especially my head, neck, and shoulders—
Crack! Crack! Crack!
Two bullets slammed into my throat, while a third clipped my right cheekbone, before they all rattled off my body and ping-ping-pinged through the den. All of them would have been kill shots if I hadn’t been protecting myself with my Stone power. But the close range and the force of the bullets still threw me back against the wall, hard enough to rattle the framed photos of Finn, Fletcher, and me hanging there.
Santos cursed and raised his gun again, but I flung out my left hand and sent a spray of Ice daggers shooting across the room at him. He cursed again, turned to the side, and hunkered down, protecting his head with his arms. He might be lean and lanky, but he was still a giant, with more than enough tough musculature to survive my magic strike.
Too late, I realized he was wearing a protective vest, probably lined with silverstone, since my Ice splattered against the garment and fell to the floor in harmless chunks. Still, Santos grunted as one long needle of Ice punched through his right shoulder, outside the vest. Even better, the needle must have clipped a nerve, because his fingers spasmed, and his gun slipped from his hand and thumped to the floor.
I rushed forward, trying to drive my knife into his other shoulder to make both of his arms useless so I could question him and then finish him off. But Santos raised his forearm and blocked my blow. I lashed out with my left hand, trying to sucker-punch him in the throat, but he blocked that blow too and responded with a head-butt that made stars explode in front of my eyes.
This time, Santos surged forward, grabbed my wrist, and bent it back, forcing me to drop my knife or risk getting my wrist broken. I let go of the weapon and twisted into his hold, ramming my elbow into his stomach.
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