Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(37) by Jennifer Estep
After a moment, she shook her head. “How very sad. That Fletcher dragged an innocent young girl like you into his sordid world.”
“Fletcher didn’t drag me into anything,” I snapped. “He saved me, he taught me everything he knew, and I will always be grateful to him for that—always.” Below the table, out of sight, my hands curled into tight fists in my lap, my fingers digging into the spider rune scars in my palms. I hadn’t meant to let her rile me so easily, but she’d hit the big red button of my emotions with her first jab.
Deirdre cleared her throat. “Yes, well, Fletcher always did have a soft spot for strays.”
Her voice was kind, without a hint of malice, but my fingers dug even deeper into my scars. Shish-kebabing would be too good for her. Now I wanted to slice that indulgent smile right off her pretty face.
Bria shot me a warning look.
Finn, however, seemed oblivious to the rising tension and mama drama, and he pushed his plate aside. “So,” he said. “You said that we should . . . talk.”
Deirdre focused on him again. “Yes. I know that you have a lot of questions, so I brought along a few things that might help give you some answers.”
She reached into the enormous electric-blue purse that she’d set down in the booth beside her. I tensed, ready to palm one of my knives, but she only came up with a thick manila folder. She put the folder down on top of the table, then slowly opened it.
Photos lay inside—the exact same photos that had been in the casket box.
Deirdre, Fletcher, newborn Finn. I recognized the pictures immediately, but the sight shocked me all the same. I’d never even considered that Deirdre might have copies of the photos, much less show them off in my gin joint.
Unease rippled through me, along with more than a little disappointment. I’d thought that Fletcher had left the photos in the casket box for me—and me alone—to find. That he’d entrusted me with them. That they’d been some sort of message or warning about Deirdre, even if I hadn’t been able to figure out exactly what he’d been trying to tell me.
But what if they were just, well, photos? Just keepsakes, like Bria had suggested when we first opened the box. What if there was no message or warning or hidden meaning in the pictures? And if I’d been wrong about that, then what else was I wrong about?
Maybe even Deirdre herself?
Maybe she was different from the person Fletcher had known. Maybe her intentions were genuine. Maybe she really did want to reconnect with Finn. The only thing I knew for sure right now was that all the maybes were driving me plumb crazy.
Bria drew in a ragged breath. She recognized the photos too. I shrugged at her. The cat was out of the bag now, and there was no putting it back in.
“These are all the photos that I have of us,” Deirdre said in a soft, hesitant voice. “Fletcher always got two sets of photos made, one for him and one for me. I thought that you might like to see them too.”
One by one, she laid out the pictures on the table in front of Finn, who leaned over and studied them with wide eyes. The casket box was still tucked away in the chimney at Fletcher’s house. I’d been planning to take Finn home and show him the photos, mementos, and Fletcher’s letter to him after this meeting, so he could decide for himself whether he wanted to read it. But once again, Deirdre had beaten me to the punch and wrapped another silken thread around Finn’s heart, snaring him that much more tightly in her web.
He wouldn’t care about me showing him the photos and broken mementos, and he wouldn’t take whatever information or warning that was in Fletcher’s letter seriously. Not now. Maybe that’s why Fletcher had asked me to wait to show Finn the letter. Maybe the old man had known that Finn would be too swept up in Deirdre’s charms to listen as long as she was in Ashland.
Finn scooped up the pictures one by one, looking at them with eagerness, curiosity, and questions filling his eyes. I’d never seen him seem so excited before, not even when we were kids, it was his birthday, and he was tearing into a pile of presents. But I kept my mouth shut while he examined the photos. Anything I said right now would just sound like sour grapes.
“I met your father when I was nineteen,” Deirdre said, steepling her hands together. “Another boy brought me here on a date, but once I saw your father, I only had eyes for Fletcher, and he for me. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, we were engaged. It was one of the happiest times of my life.”
Well, that explained the engagement ring in the casket box. Although I still wondered about its missing diamond.
Finn looked up from the photos, and Deirdre favored him with another smile, which he returned with an even wider one of his own. I don’t know how long they would have kept smiling at each other if Bria hadn’t cleared her throat.
“So what happened?” Bria asked. “If you were so happy, then why did you leave Ashland?”
Everyone could hear the sharper, unasked question in her words. Why did you leave Finn?
Deirdre winced, her shoulders slumping. “Fletcher and I were planning our wedding when I found out I was pregnant. My parents were very traditional, very old-fashioned, and more concerned with their magic, money, and social status than anything else. They didn’t approve of Fletcher, said that he was beneath my station. But they especially didn’t like the idea of my having his baby. They were both very strong Ice elementals, you see, and I inherited their magic. They wanted me to marry someone who also had Ice magic, to keep our family legacy intact. Not someone like Fletcher, who didn’t have any elemental power at all. Of course, I didn’t care about any of that, but when I told my parents I was pregnant, they threw me out and cut me off financially. They wouldn’t even speak to me.”
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