Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(49) by Jennifer Estep
“Thanks for recommending Vaughn Construction,” she said. “They’ve done an excellent job so far.”
“You’re welcome. Although it helps when you personally know the owner.”
Lorelei nodded, then jerked her head to the right. “Grandma is waiting for you.”
I fell in step beside her, and we walked the length of the house before rounding the corner and stepping onto a stone patio that overlooked a large garden. All the trees had already shed their leaves, while most of the rosebushes were just bare, brown clumps. But blue, white, and purple pansies poked their heads up, standing tall despite the cold, along with pink mums and other hardy fall flowers. Bird feeders had been set up here and there, tempting cardinals, finches, and sparrows to sail over and snag a beak full of seeds before flitting back into the woods.
Mallory Parker was sitting in a white wicker chair at the edge of the patio, a blue fleece blanket draped over her lap and a couple of space heaters going strong at her feet, driving back the chill. She was once again decked out in a dazzling array of diamonds, the gemstones glittering like rings of ice around her neck, wrists, and fingers. Her elbow was propped up on a glass-topped table, which held a large jug and three mason jars, along with a thick, black leather-bound book. Not exactly the afternoon tea I’d been expecting.
“Finally!” Mallory exclaimed. “I thought you were never going to get here.”
The dwarf grabbed the jug and poured a couple of inches of clear liquid into each of the mason jars. Caustic fumes rose from the liquid, bringing tears to my eyes. Mallory didn’t even wait for Lorelei and me to sit down before she grabbed her jar, chugged down the contents, and smacked her lips in satisfaction.
I arched my eyebrows. “I thought we were having tea, not moonshine.”
“You can have whatever you like,” Mallory chirped, pouring herself another drink. “But I am definitely having more moonshine. There’s nothing like a little home brew to warm you up and loosen your bones on a cold day.”
Lorelei pointed to the left. Through the trees, the sun winked off a small silver still. “One of Grandma’s more interesting hobbies.” She clinked her glass against mine. “Cheers.”
I downed the moonshine and immediately wished that I hadn’t. I’d inhaled elemental Fire more than once during various battles. This wasn’t much different from that. In some ways, it was worse, since the moonshine scorched my mouth and burned all the way down my throat, before smoldering in the pit of my stomach like I’d swallowed a burning ember.
“Smooth,” I rasped, my voice sounding worse than Sophia’s broken one.
Mallory beamed at me. “Isn’t it?”
She grabbed the jug like she was going to pour me another, but I shook my head and held my hand out over the top of my jar.
“Can’t handle your liquor, Gin?” Lorelei quipped.
“I can handle liquor just fine,” I wheezed. “But that is not liquor. That is liquid torture.”
Lorelei laughed. “Amateur.”
I glared at her through the tears in my eyes, but she just laughed again and took another sip.
While I tried to catch my breath, Mallory and Lorelei chatted about the mansion renovations, the cocktail party at the bank, and the subsequent robbery. I chimed in when appropriate, all the while trying to think how I could steer the conversation around to what I really wanted to talk about: Deirdre.
But Mallory did it for me. After she had poured herself a third serving of moonshine, she sat back in her chair and gave me a sly look over the top of her mason jar. “So tell me, Gin, how are you liking Deirdre Shaw invading the Pork Pit every day?”
I blinked, and this time it wasn’t because my eyes were still watering. “How do you know about that?”
Mallory grinned, then took another hit of shine. “I have my sources, just like you do. So how is Deirdre? Still the same spoiled, selfish brat I remember?”
A jolt zinged through me. “You actually knew her?” I’d hoped as much, but after so many frustrating dead ends, it was a pleasant shock to hear it confirmed.
“Oh, yes,” Mallory said. “I knew several generations of Shaws. Stuck-up snobs for the most part, who thought that their family fortune made them better than everyone else, especially folks like me who had to do more . . . unsavory things to make a living.”
“So that’s why you were telling me that I should go talk to Finn during the cocktail party. You saw him with Deirdre.” Another thought occurred to me. “And you’ve heard Finn talk about her these past few weeks, haven’t you? You’ve known who she really is all along. Why didn’t you tell me about her? Why didn’t you tell Finn?”
Mallory shrugged. “For one thing, I was a bit preoccupied when Raymond came back to Ashland. For another, it wasn’t my place to spill that sort of secret. Besides, I figured that Deirdre would tell him herself sooner or later, probably in some grand, overly dramatic fashion. Am I right?”
I winced, thinking back to that first lunch at the Pork Pit. “Oh, it was certainly dramatic.”
“So we heard,” Lorelei chimed in. “You probably shouldn’t threaten to kill long-lost relatives in your own restaurant. Could make the customers think twice about what you might be putting in their food.”
I winced again. So news of our initial confrontation had made the rounds through the underworld just like I’d feared. Terrific. But I couldn’t do anything about that now, and this was too good an opportunity to pass up.
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