Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(36) by Jennifer Estep
“I see that you’ve done some remodeling,” she said after she’d completed her inspection. “I was looking in the windows, admiring everything, when Finnegan came up to me on the sidewalk.”
So they’d run into each other outside the restaurant. No doubt waiting outside for Finn had been a deliberate move on her part, since it was another opportunity for Deirdre to ingratiate herself with him just a little bit more.
“Good for you,” she said. “Fletcher wouldn’t have let you upgrade so much as a dish towel if he were still alive. He never was much for change, no matter how beneficial it might have been.”
Her voice was perfectly pleasant, but my jaw clenched a little tighter. She had no right to come in here and comment on anything—not one fucking thing. Not when she’d left Finn, Fletcher, and the restaurant years ago.
But Finn apparently didn’t see anything wrong with her words, because he nodded his agreement. “You’re absolutely right. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to persuade Dad to get new menus printed up a couple of years ago. The pictures were faded, and you could practically wipe the grease off the pages, but he still didn’t want to change them.”
The two of them looked at each other and chuckled, coconspirators in their own little joke at Fletcher’s expense. I mashed my lips together, biting back a sharp retort. Deirdre had already charmed her way into Finn’s good graces, so my snapping at her would only make Finn take up for her that much more. I held my tongue and my temper—for now.
“A grilled cheese and an iced tea, coming right up,” I muttered.
I took Finn’s and Bria’s orders of barbecue chicken sandwiches and onion rings, then handed the tickets off to Catalina. Across the restaurant, Sophia gave Deirdre another hard, flat stare, but she fixed the other woman’s food in silence, along with the rest of the order.
When everyone’s food was ready, I grabbed the hot plates and deposited them on the tabletop. Bria and Finn were sitting on one side of the booth, with Deirdre across from them. Rather than slide in next to the Ice elemental, I drew up a chair to the end of the booth and sat down.
Since it was just after three, the dinner rush hadn’t started yet, and the restaurant was largely deserted. Good. I didn’t want any of the underworld bosses coming in and seeing what might turn into an ugly confrontation. I had enough problems already without giving them any more ammunition.
Finn finally noticed that I wasn’t nearly as delighted to have his mother here as he was. He gave me a stern look, telling me to be nice, but I glared back at him, still pissed at how he’d brushed off Jo-Jo. After a moment, his gaze slid away from mine, and he focused on Deirdre again.
Silence fell over the booth as the three of them picked at their food. Deirdre kept sneaking little glances at Finn, a smile stretching her scarlet lips wider and wider all the while, as if she were just thrilled that she was finally sitting here with her son and just couldn’t contain her enthusiasm any longer. In that moment, she looked exactly the same as she did in all those old photos—soft, sweet, beautiful—and I could see why Fletcher had fallen under her spell all those years ago, just like Finn was doing right now.
Deirdre turned her attention to Bria, her gaze dropping to the primrose rune that hung around my sister’s neck. For a second, just a second, something flared in her eyes, some thought or memory, but she quickly cranked up the wattage on her smile, hiding the emotion. I got the sense that she did that a lot—just smiled and smiled at folks long and hard and bright enough so that they eventually forgot how dangerous she truly was.
“You met Bria last night, remember?” Finn said, noticing his mother’s gaze. “And you’ve heard me talk about her the past few weeks.”
“Yes, of course,” Deirdre said. “I was just admiring what a lovely couple the two of you make. Bria is quite striking. And your rune, honey. That’s a primrose, right? The symbol for beauty? It fits you perfectly.”
“Mmm,” Bria replied, her face thoughtful as she stared at Deirdre’s icicle-heart necklace again.
Deirdre looked at me. “Why, Gin, honey, you don’t have to sit all the way down there. I promise I won’t bite.”
She winked, let out a merry laugh, and patted me on the shoulder the way she might a child she found particularly amusing.
I wanted to palm one of my knives and shish-kebab her hand to the tabletop, but I settled for giving her a grin that was all sharp, pointed teeth. “Oh, no,” I drawled. “I know that you won’t bite—but I just might.”
Deirdre laughed again and shook her finger at me. “Finnegan told me all about you, but he failed to mention what a hoot you are.”
“Oh, I doubt that, honey,” I drawled again. “Finn doesn’t usually go around telling people that I moonlight as an assassin. But I imagine you know all about my sideline business already. After all, you were involved with Fletcher.”
Deirdre’s chuckles died on her lips, and she opened, then closed her mouth, as if debating whether or not to claim that she hadn’t known anything about Fletcher being an assassin. But she squared her shoulders and owned up to it. “Yes, I was well aware of Fletcher’s . . . proclivities. I had hoped that his . . . distasteful activities had ended with him, but I see now that my hopes were in vain.”
Her gaze flicked over me, taking in my blue work apron before lingering on the long sleeves of my black T-shirt. She knew that I had a knife tucked up either sleeve, just like Fletcher always had.
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