Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(38) by Jennifer Estep
She paused and pinched the bridge of her nose, as if she were fighting back tears. After a few seconds, she dropped her hand, cleared her throat, and continued.
“But I loved Fletcher, and I was determined to be with him, despite my parents. And we were happy, especially after you were born. See?”
She tapped her long red nail on the photo of Fletcher holding newborn Finn, with her standing off to the side. I thought that Finn might say something about how unhappy Deirdre looked in the photo, but he didn’t seem to notice her flat expression. Or maybe it was just my bias against her that made me see her that way.
“So what happened?” Bria asked again, a snide note creeping into her voice. “If y’all were one big happy family?”
I raised my eyebrows at my sister, who was rarely that snarky. Bria didn’t seem to like Deirdre any more than I did. She shrugged back at me, completely unapologetic. Well, if she wanted to be the bad guy for a change, I wasn’t going to stop her. More power to her.
Deirdre drew in a breath, as though the next part was particularly painful for her to recall. “Fletcher worked a lot of late nights, but running a restaurant means long hours, and I knew how devoted he was to the Pork Pit. But one night, he came home covered in blood. And that wasn’t the worst part. Some men stormed into the house after him.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “And I finally learned what Fletcher was really doing all those late nights. That he was an assassin.”
She shuddered, as if the memory still horrified her. “He killed the men right in front of me. Laid their throats open with his knives like it was nothing. But not before one of them attacked me.”
Deirdre fell silent for several seconds, her gasps of breath coming quicker and quicker, until she was almost panting for air, as though she was still traumatized by what had happened. Even I might have believed that she was genuinely upset, if not for Fletcher’s letter warning that every word out of her mouth was a lie.
But Finn? He swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, leaning over and squeezing her hand. Deirdre threaded her fingers through his, as if drawing comfort from his touch. Once her breathing had returned to normal, she continued her story.
“After that, it was . . . hard for me to be with Fletcher. Of course, he claimed that he would never hurt me, but I just couldn’t believe him. Not after what I’d seen him do to those men. Even though I had been trained to use my Ice magic to defend myself, I was afraid to even leave the house, for fear that one of his enemies would be waiting to try to hurt me—or you, Finn. That was my greatest worry.”
Finn nodded, his face as somber as a preacher’s on Sunday, as if her words made perfect sense. I thought her story had more holes than a sack full of doughnuts.
“Fletcher and I started fighting about him being an assassin,” Deirdre continued. “I begged him to stop, to give up being the Tin Man, but he said the work he was doing and the people he was helping were too important. I asked him if they were more important than his own family. That started the fighting all over again.”
She shook her head. “Finally, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told Fletcher that he had to choose—his family or being an assassin. And he chose being an assassin.” She tightened her grip on Finn’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Finnegan. Truly, I am. I wished that things had worked out between us. I really did love your father at one time.”
“But why did Dad tell everyone you were dead?” Finn finally asked the big, obvious, glaring question.
Deirdre sighed, let go of his hand, and leaned back, as if what she was about to say was breaking her heart all over again. “I told him I was leaving him and that I was taking you with me. Fletcher . . . he . . . hit me.” Her hand crept up to her cheek as if she could still feel the sting of that phantom blow. “He said that I wasn’t taking his son anywhere. He told me to pack up my things, leave his house, and never come back. He told me that if I ever returned to Ashland or tried to contact you, he would kill me. I believed him. He was an assassin, after all, and he had already shown me exactly what he was capable of.”
Deirdre hung her head but not before a couple of tears streaked down her cheeks. One of them plopped onto the photo of her, Finn, and Fletcher, oozing across the paper.
“I’m sorry, Finnegan. So sorry. And so ashamed. I should have been stronger. I should have found some way to contact you years ago.” A few more tears rolled down her cheeks, dripped off her chin, and splattered onto the photos. “But Fletcher always kept such a close watch over you, and me too. Although I did try a few times to reach out to you.”
“What happened?” Finn asked in a low, strained voice. “What did Dad do?”
Deirdre let out a tense breath. “I got a packet of photos in the mail, of myself, from where Fletcher had been spying on me, along with a note warning me about what would happen if I ever came back to Ashland. That he would make good on his promise to kill me.”
She shuddered, wiped the tears off her cheeks, and raised her head, staring at Finn again.
“When I heard that Fletcher had died, I knew that I finally had a chance to reconnect with you. But I was still a coward, so instead of immediately coming to town, I thought about the best way to approach you. The best way I could have some sort of relationship with you. I knew that you were a banker, and I needed some help with my charity investments, so that seemed like the most logical place to start. I was working up to telling you who I really was. Last night, during the bank robbery, I realized that I needed to just go ahead, take a chance, and make the most of the time I’d been given with you.”
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