Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(44) by Jennifer Estep
The only thing that kept me more or less calm was the fact that I was plotting just as hard against Deirdre as she was snowing Finn.
Not only did I see Mama Shaw during the day, but I saw her at night too, although these dates were far more one-sided on my part. Silvio had tracked down her car and had also pinpointed the penthouse suite she was renting at the Peach Blossom, a luxe apartment building. The same apartment building and suite that Raymond Pike had stayed in when he came to Ashland to terrorize Lorelei Parker, although Finn waved it away as mere coincidence when I told him about it, the same way he ignored my concerns about how strong Deirdre was in her Ice magic, claiming that she would certainly never hurt him with her power.
The night after that first tense meeting at the Pork Pit, I’d scoped out the Peach Blossom and found a sweet little spot on the roof of the building across the street that let me look directly into Deirdre’s penthouse. Naturally, I took along all the spy gear that Silvio had procured for me. Binoculars, digital surveillance cameras, directional microphones, the whole package. I watched her like a proverbial hawk, studying her even more closely than I had my assassin targets when I worked as the Spider.
But she didn’t do anything.
Deirdre didn’t take meetings with underworld bosses, didn’t engage in cryptic phone calls, didn’t do or say anything that would confirm my rampant suspicions of her. All she did was wine and dine Finn from one end of Ashland to the other, call rich people and ask them to donate to her jewelry exhibit, and go over financial reports for her charity foundation. She liked to order caviar and escargot from room service, got a deep-tissue massage and an Air elemental facial every other day, and took a champagne bubble bath every single night.
Seriously. Champagne bubble baths. Who did that anymore? It was like she was some old-school movie star. Deirdre Shaw was definitely a diva with a capital D.
Hugh Tucker went almost everywhere with her, opening doors, fetching coffee, taking messages—just like Finn had said. Tucker’s bland, bored expression and slow response time made me think he wasn’t particularly happy being Deirdre’s assistant. Couldn’t imagine why. If I had to watch her simper and sashay all day long, I would have cheerfully smothered her in her sleep with a pillow long ago.
One night, after Deirdre had finally dismissed Tucker and gone to bed around midnight, I was heading back to my car with my black duffel bag hanging over my shoulder, when a guy stepped out of the alley and onto the street in front of me. He was big, more than six feet tall, with buzz-cut black hair and a fake diamond stud glinting in one ear.
“Give me the bag, toots,” he snarled, baring his stained yellow fangs at me.
“A mugger?” I said, my mood brightening. “Excellent!”
The vampire frowned at my happy tone. Apparently, he decided that I wasn’t nearly scared enough, because he reached into his pocket and came out with a pitiful little switchblade.
“A mugger with a knife.” I grinned. “This just keeps getting better and better.”
His dark eyes narrowed in suspicion, and he glanced around, peering into the shadows that surrounded us. “Are you a cop? Is this some kind of undercover sting?”
“Me? A cop? Oh, that’s funny, sugar.” I chuckled. “Believe me, I am the very furthest thing from a cop.”
This wasn’t going at all the way he’d expected, but the vamp still thought I was an easy, if crazy, target, so he stepped forward and sliced his switchblade through the air, trying to intimidate me with the weapon.
Please. I had bread knives that were sharper than that thing.
“Give me the bag. Right fucking now. Or I’ll gut you where you stand.”
“Sure. This sucker’s heavy anyway.”
I slid the duffel bag off my shoulder and placed it on the sidewalk. Then I stepped over the bag and grinned at the vamp again.
“You want the bag?” I drawled, crooking my finger at him. “Come and take it from me, sugar.”
“Crazy bitch,” he muttered.
“You have no idea.”
But I must not have seemed crazy enough to make him forget about mugging me, because the vamp snarled and raised his knife, getting ready to gut me, just like he’d promised.
I darted forward and grabbed his wrist, digging my fingers into the tendons there and making him grunt and drop the knife. Then I stepped in even closer and slammed my fists into his stomach in a brutal one-two combo. The vamp’s grunt was replaced by a far more ominous coughing spasm. Music to my ears.
He staggered back, but I followed him and punched him twice in the throat before smashing my fist into his nose. The feel of bones breaking, the sound of him choking, and the faint spatter of blood against my hands made me grin even wider.
As a final touch, I dropped down into a crouch and swept the vamp’s legs out from under him. He fell flat on his back, his head cracking against the sidewalk. He let out a soft, squeaky noise, between a groan and a whimper, before he lost consciousness.
And just like that, the fight was over. Not that it had been much of one to start with.
Still smiling, I got back up onto my feet, cracked my neck, and swung my arms a few times. Nothing like an attempted mugging to get the blood flowing. After watching Deirdre these past several nights, it was nice to tackle a problem head-on for a change. I felt better and more relaxed than I had since she’d first come to town.
I glanced into the shadows, hoping he had a friend or two I could use to let off some more steam, but he was all by his lonesome. Ah, well. A girl couldn’t have everything.
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