Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(35) by Jennifer Estep
Jo-Jo arrived next, wearing a white cashmere cardigan over a pale pink dress patterned with tiny pink roses. Her usual strand of pearls hung around her throat, and she had white kitten heels on her feet, making her look every inch the Southern lady she was. Jo-Jo always looked elegant, but she had taken a little extra care with her appearance today, her white-blond hair curled just so, her makeup flawless, her nails gleaming with a fresh coat of pale pink polish.
Jo-Jo slid onto the stool closest to the cash register. She murmured hello to Silvio, who returned her greeting, although he kept his eyes locked on his phone as he texted. Jo-Jo leaned forward and waved at Sophia, who was sliding a tray of sourdough buns into one of the ovens. Sophia turned, and I caught sight of her black T-shirt, which featured a white heart that had been broken in two and was dripping blood off both sharp, jagged ends. I grimaced. The image reminded me of Deirdre’s icicle-heart rune.
I looked at Jo-Jo. “How’s Finn?”
She shrugged. “After you left last night, Bria, Sophia, and I all tried to talk to him, but he just took a shower and went to bed. He stayed shut up in one of the spare bedrooms until late this morning, then crept out after I was busy in the salon. He didn’t say good-bye, and he didn’t even drink any of the chicory coffee I made for him.”
Finn had left without guzzling down his usual pot of coffee? Not good. I hadn’t texted or called him this morning, figuring that he might need more time to cool off after the whopper of a secret I’d kept from him. But it sounded like he was angrier than I’d thought.
Bria arrived about five minutes later, telling the same story as Jo-Jo. She’d tried to talk to Finn last night and again this morning, but he hadn’t responded to any of her messages.
There was nothing I could do until he showed up, so I kept on cooking, cleaning, and cashing out customers.
Finally, right at three o’clock, the bell over the front door chimed, and Finn strolled into the restaurant . . . arm in arm with Deirdre.
Not good. Not good at all.
Jo-Jo wasn’t the only one who’d taken a little extra care with her appearance. Finn was sporting his snazziest charcoal-gray suit, his walnut-brown hair carefully styled, while Deirdre was decked out in another tight-fitted dress, this one an electric blue that was almost too bright to look at. Her blond hair was once again done up in pin curls and held back from her face with several long diamond pins, while her icicle-heart rune glimmered around her neck.
Deirdre was laughing at some joke Finn had made, her voice as light and happy as wind chimes tinkling out a merry tune. Her carefree chuckles made me grind my teeth.
Finn didn’t deign to glance at me or anyone else as he led Deirdre over to the booth in the front right corner of the restaurant and helped her sit down. Then he turned and snapped his fingers at me, as if he didn’t already have my full attention.
Annoyance spurted through me. I wasn’t his servant, and I thought about ignoring him, just out of spite, but I was too curious and worried about Deirdre. So I plastered a smile on my face and went over to the booth.
Bria was already sliding into the side across from Deirdre, with Finn sitting down next to her. Once again, my sister stared at the Ice elemental’s rune necklace, still trying to remember where she had seen it before.
“Why, hello, Gin,” Deirdre chirped in a cheery voice. “So lovely to see you again.”
Before I could unclench my jaw and force out some semi-polite response, Jo-Jo walked up to stand beside me.
“Hello, Deirdre,” the dwarf said.
“Why, hello, Jolene. I thought that was you sitting at the counter. And I see that Sophia still works here.” Deirdre’s blue eyes flicked over to the Goth dwarf, who had her arms crossed over her chest and a cold expression on her face as she eyed Deirdre right back. “Both of you look exactly the same as I remember.”
Jo-Jo nodded. “The years have been kind to you too.”
The two of them engaged in some meaningless chitchat, with Deirdre asking about the salon and Jo-Jo inquiring about the other woman’s charity work, but they quickly exhausted those topics. Jo-Jo looked at Finn, obviously hoping that he would invite her to sit down and join them, but he tapped his fingers against the tabletop, as if he wanted her to just go away already.
Jo-Jo’s head dropped, her shoulders sagged, and even her curls seemed to deflate a bit. Anger sizzled in my chest. The dwarf was the one who’d helped Fletcher raise Finn, she was the closest thing to a mother he’d ever had, and he was ignoring her in favor of some stranger. Ungrateful brat.
I opened my mouth to tell Finn exactly what a thoughtless jackass he was being, but Jo-Jo cut me off.
“Well, y’all enjoy your lunch,” she said, trying to inject some false cheer into her soft, sad voice.
“You do the same,” Deirdre chirped back.
Jo-Jo nodded at her again, then turned toward the door as if she were going to leave. But Owen got up, took her arm, and led her over to his booth. I flashed him a grateful smile, and he winked back at me. At least someone around here knew how to treat his friends right.
I turned back to the booth and pulled a notepad and a pen out of the back pocket of my jeans. “Well, now that you’re here, you might as well eat. What can I get you?”
“I’ll have a grilled cheese and a sweet iced tea with lemon.”
Deirdre didn’t bother glancing at the plastic menu on the table, as if she already knew every single item on it. She probably did. The menu hadn’t changed much over the years. Instead, she looked out over the restaurant, her gaze taking in everything from the other booths and tables to the blue and pink pig tracks curling across the floor, walls, and ceiling. I expected her scarlet lips to curl up into a sneer and derision to fill her pretty face, but Deirdre’s features remained calm and serene.
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