Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(48) by Jennifer Estep
“Thanks, Gin, honey.” Deirdre winked at me again. “You’re a real peach.”
I turned, stalked back over to the counter, and handed the order ticket to Sophia. The Goth dwarf gave me a mulish look, not liking Deirdre any more than I did, but she fixed their food in silence. I handed the plates off to Catalina to take over to the booth while I wiped down the counter, even though I’d just finished doing the same thing when Bria had first come in.
“Chicken,” Silvio teased, realizing that I was avoiding going back over to the booth.
“I’m not chicken,” I muttered. “Just trying to keep my homicidal rage in check. And the best way to do that is by staying as far away as possible from Mama Dee.”
“If you really want to stay away from Mama Dee, then maybe you should take a break and actually keep your appointment today,” he replied in a chiding tone.
“That meeting you have scheduled with Mallory Parker this afternoon. The one you were supposed to have the day after the bank’s cocktail party. The one I’ve rescheduled three times so far.” He turned his tablet around so I could see it. “See? I have it right here on today’s agenda.”
I opened my mouth to tell him to cancel again, that I was staying put so I could keep an eye on Deirdre, but Silvio beat me to the punch.
“You should really go see Mallory,” he said. “She’s been calling every day, wondering when you’re going to show up, and she said she had something special to give you.”
I frowned, wondering what that could possibly be. But then I remembered the dwarf’s odd words at the party and how she’d told me that I’d better go check on Finn. Jo-Jo and Sophia hadn’t known anything about Deirdre, but Mallory was older than both of them. Oh, I doubted that Mallory knew anything about Fletcher and Deirdre’s relationship, but she might know something about Deirdre herself or maybe even the Shaw family. It was worth a trip to find out.
Deirdre busted out laughing at some joke Finn had made, her hearty chuckles bouncing from one side of the restaurant to the other. The happy sound sliced through my last nerve like cheese on a grater. Bria wasn’t the only one who was sick and tired of Mama Dee. Maybe Silvio was right. Maybe I should leave before I broke my promise to Finn to play nice.
“All right,” I said. “Appointment it is. Thanks for reminding me.”
Silvio blinked. “You’re actually going? Just like that? Without me having to nag you?”
“When do you ever have to nag me about anything?”
“When don’t I have to nag you?” he muttered.
“What was that, oh assistant of mine?”
He plastered a big, fake smile on his face. “Nothing, boss. Nothing at all.”
Silvio promised to call if Deirdre did or said anything interesting. With his vampiric hearing, he could stay put on his stool at the counter and listen to every word she said over in the corner booth.
I left Sophia and Catalina in charge for the rest of the day, hung my apron on a hook, grabbed my car keys, and headed for the front door.
I’d hoped to leave before anyone realized what I was doing, but Deirdre’s eyes were just as sharp as mine.
“Oh, Gin, honey!” she called out, flapping her hand at me again.
I plastered another smile on my face and veered in that direction.
“Where are you off to?” Finn asked.
“Just taking a break and meeting Owen for coffee,” I lied.
“Why, honey, you should just ask him to come over here instead.” Deirdre winked at me. “A good-looking man like that would spiff this place right up.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get to see plenty of Owen tomorrow night at the museum.” I started creeping back toward the door.
Finn and Deirdre watched me walk away. So did Bria, although her expression was far more desperate than theirs. “Don’t leave me!” she mouthed.
For once, I ignored my sister’s suffering, cranked up the wattage on my fake smile, and gave the three of them a cheery wave. “Y’all have a nice lunch, now, ya hear?”
Then I whipped around and scurried out the front door of the Pork Pit as fast as I could.
It took me four blocks to unscrew the smile from my face. Once I’d made sure that no one had left any bombs, rune traps, or other surprises in, on, or around my car, I cranked the engine, left downtown, and drove to Lorelei Parker’s mansion in Northtown.
The sprawling structure was set back by itself in the middle of the woods and would have been quite lovely if not for the boards that covered the broken windows, the chunks of stone missing from the walls, and a large burned patch in the yard. Raymond Pike, Lorelei’s half brother, had laid waste to much of her mansion when he tried to kill her here a few weeks ago.
Three trucks with the words Vaughn Construction painted on the sides were parked next to the garage, with men moving all around the damaged windows and walls, taking measurements, making notes, and shouting to one another.
Lorelei was standing outside watching the men, her hands tucked into the pockets of her royal-blue leather jacket and a matching toboggan pulled down low over her forehead. Her black braid trailed out from underneath the winter hat, and her breath steamed in the chilly November air. She turned at the sound of my shuffling footsteps through the grass.
I stood beside her, and we watched the men work for a minute.
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