Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(32) by Jennifer Estep
It was like hitting a brick wall. Pain jolted up my arm, but I gritted my teeth and followed up that first elbow strike with another, harder one. Santos let out a loud oof of air and let go of my wrist, and I whipped around, raised my fists, and went at him again.
Santos lurched to his left, grabbed the photos off the mantel, and chucked them at me. I ducked again and again, the sounds of the frames crashing to the floor and the glass splintering making me growl with rage. The bastard was destroying my rune drawings.
He was going to pay for that.
Santos ran out of pictures. I expected him to pull out another gun, but the photo bombs had just been a distraction. He sprinted forward, leaped up onto the coffee table, grabbed the ceiling fan with one hand, and swung himself right past me.
It was truly an impressive move, worthy of a world-class gymnast, especially given his seven-foot frame. But Santos was faster and far more limber and flexible than most giants. Even more impressive, he landed on his feet as nimbly as a cat and sprinted down the hallway.
I growled again, whirled around, and charged after him, but I stepped on a couple of broken bits of my own elemental Ice rolling around on the floor. My bare feet slipped, and I had to windmill my arms back and forth to keep from falling on my ass.
It only took me a few seconds to regain my balance, but it cost me dearly. I staggered out into the hallway to see the front door slamming shut. A few seconds later, a car engine roared to life in the driveway. I cursed again and picked up my speed, even though I knew I was already too late.
I yanked open the front door and raced out onto the porch. A dark, anonymous sedan was already zooming down the driveway, fishtailing wildly through snow, ice, and gravel. I hadn’t even made it to the porch steps when the taillights disappeared. I cursed, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hop into my own car and catch up with him.
Gone. Santos was gone.
* * *
I stood on the porch for the better part of a minute, fuming at myself for letting Santos get away twice in one night. But there was nothing I could do to bring him back, so I moved on to what I could do: learn more about the bastard.
I went inside, wrapped a blanket from the couch around my shoulders, and shoved my cold, bare feet into a pair of snow boots. Then I snapped on the porch light, stepped back outside, and peered at the front door, trying to figure out how Santos had gotten into the house.
Silverstone bars covered all the windows and side doors, so he had to have come in through the front door, a solid slab of black granite shot through with thick veins of silverstone. It wasn’t the sort of door that a giant could pound through or that an elemental could blast through with magic. Not without a lot of effort and a whole lot of noise—much more noise than Santos had made.
There was no damage to the door, so I bent down, examining the lock. A few scratches gleamed in the metal, so small that I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t been looking. Santos had picked open the door instead of trying to punch his way through it. Smart and not something I would expect from a giant, since most of them relied on their great strength to solve whatever problems came their way.
I frowned. Santos was seeming less like a common robber and more like a highly trained thief, especially given his acrobatics with the ceiling fan. You didn’t develop slick, nimble moves like that by knocking over convenience stores. At the bank, I’d thought he was a professional, but he was a far higher class of thief than I’d given him credit for. I wondered what other skills he had—and how deadly they might be.
I went back inside, locked the front door behind me, and wedged a heavy chair under the knob for good measure. Then I turned on more lights, going through the rooms one by one to see if anything was missing.
But the rest of the house was undisturbed, and the only mess was the one we’d made fighting in the den. It seemed as though Santos had come in through the front door, gone straight down the hallway, and headed into the den to wait for me. No doubt, he would have stayed in there all night, then casually stepped up to the doorjamb and shot me as I went into the kitchen for breakfast. It was a good plan, and it would have worked, if my nightmare hadn’t already startled me awake enough to hear his faint creeping through the house.
I frowned again as another, more troubling thought occurred to me. Fletcher’s house was a labyrinth, given all the rooms and additions that had been tacked onto the original structure over the years. So how had Santos known exactly where to go? How had he realized that the den was the closest room to the kitchen and the best place for him to wait to kill me? Santos had never been in here before.
But Deirdre had.
She’d certainly spent many hours with Fletcher here, both before and after Finn was born. Even if her memories were fuzzy, which I doubted, it would have been easy enough for her to draw a crude map for Santos and suggest where he might lie in wait to murder me.
Deirdre could have done this. But had she?
Santos hadn’t looked to her for help when the bank robbery went sideways, and he hadn’t hesitated to shoot her. Not exactly the actions of a minion. Sure, he’d never been inside the house before, but he could have easily walked the perimeter and peered in through the windows, scouting out the best place to lie in wait for me. Maybe my bias against Deirdre was clouding my judgment and making me think that she was at the center of some grand conspiracy when she wasn’t.
Because I was biased against her. Even if Fletcher hadn’t left me that warning letter, I still would have questioned any person who just showed up out of the blue after thirty-some years. People didn’t do things for no reason. Especially not in Ashland, where practically everyone had at least one ulterior motive, along with two angles they were working from at any given time. Deirdre had to want something. I just had to figure out what it was.
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