Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(50) by Jennifer Estep
I looked at Lorelei. “Deirdre’s icicle-heart rune is the one that was stamped on that letter you found in Raymond’s things. She’s his business associate, the one he mentioned in the botanical gardens the night he died. She’s the one who told him about your real identity and that you were here in Ashland. Do you remember smuggling anything for her?”
Lorelei tapped her fingers against her jar. “I noticed her rune necklace at the bank, and I’ve been thinking about that myself. But I never met or even saw Deirdre before the party. If I ever did any business with her, it wasn’t face-to-face, and she used an alias.”
I stared at Mallory. “And you? What do you know about Deirdre?”
The dwarf shrugged again. “Not much, I’m afraid. She and Lily Rose were a year apart in school, but they were involved in the same activities, went to the same parties, that sort of thing. So I saw her the way a parent would see someone else’s child. Deirdre always struck me as being totally self-absorbed, but then again, most teenage girls are.”
Lily Rose had been Lorelei’s mother and Mallory’s beloved granddaughter. I hadn’t realized that she’d gone to school here in Ashland, though, much less that she had known Deirdre back then. Sometimes it truly was a small world.
Mallory opened the black leather-bound book sitting on the table, revealing a stack of old loose photos. I groaned.
“Something wrong?” Lorelei asked, still sipping her moonshine.
I shook my head. “I’ve had just about enough of old photos lately.”
“I think you’ll be interested in these,” Mallory said. “I came across them in an old dresser a few days ago, while we were cleaning it out before putting it in storage during the renovations. I set them aside just for you, Gin.”
Mallory pulled a photo off the top of the stack, her blue eyes misting over with tears. She cleared her throat, then slid the photo across the table to me. The picture featured a row of teenage girls in white dresses, with white lace gloves crawling up their arms and blue ribbons braided through their hair. It looked as though it had been taken at an old-fashioned cotillion. Debutante parties like those were still quite popular in Ashland, especially among the moneyed folks in Northtown. There was a whole season of them, each event designed to introduce rich young women and rich young men who would make suitable couples to further their families’ wealth, power, and prestige.
Mallory tapped her finger next to one of the girls. “That’s Lily Rose.”
A pretty girl with Lorelei’s black hair and blue eyes smiled shyly at the camera.
She tapped her finger next to another girl. “And that’s Deirdre.”
Blond hair, blue eyes, big smile, icicle-heart necklace. I recognized Deirdre immediately. Unlike Lily Rose, who was standing behind two other girls as if she wanted to blend into the background, Deirdre was front and center in the photo, her hands planted on her hips, obviously enjoying having her picture taken.
Mallory tapped her finger next to a third girl, who was standing next to Deirdre. “And I’m sure you know who that is.”
Blond hair, blue eyes, snowflake pendant.
My breath caught in my throat, and I leaned forward, wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me. “That looks like . . . my mama.” More shock zipped through me. My mother had known Deirdre? Or had at least been at the same party with her?
“That is your mama,” Mallory said. “From what I remember, Eira Snow was a lovely girl. Quiet thing, though. I don’t think I ever heard her say more than a few words at a time.”
I frowned, my mind spinning as I studied the photo. The Snows had been another old-money Ashland family, so it made sense that Eira had gone to the cotillion balls. Now that I’d seen the photo, I dimly remembered my mother telling Bria bedtime stories about how lavish and fancy some of the high-society parties had been. Bria had loved those stories and spent hours playing dress-up in our mother’s old gowns and jewelry, pretending that she was a Southern princess.
“Could I borrow this photo? Bria would love to see it.”
Mallory nodded, closed the book, and pushed it over to me. “Take the whole thing. There are more party photos in there, and you might find some more shots of your mama. Feel free to have some copies made, if you like.”
I nodded my thanks, my chest tight with emotion. I didn’t have any photos of my mother—not a single one—and neither did Bria. They’d all been destroyed the night Mab Monroe murdered her and Annabella and burned our mansion to the ground.
This . . . this must have been what Finn had felt like the first day he met with Deirdre at the Pork Pit. The shock, the surprise, the unexpected delight. Although more than a little melancholy was mixed in with my emotions. Because, unlike Deirdre, my mama was dead. I had watched a ball of elemental Fire reduce her beautiful face to ash in an instant. I breathed in, and the fumes from the moonshine took on a smoky, charred scent, the same way my mama’s body had smelled after Mab killed her—
I shook my head to chase away memories that were better left buried. Focus. I needed to focus right now. “Is there anything else you can tell me about Deirdre? Anything at all?”
Mallory fingered one of her diamond bracelets. “Well, there is one other thing you might be interested in. Some lackey of hers came ’round here last week, asking if I would donate some of my jewelry to that charity exhibit she’s putting together.”
“Was it a vampire?” I asked. “A guy named Hugh Tucker?”
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