Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(52) by Jennifer Estep
I attracted some glances too, mostly because of my dress. The blood-red velvet that was always my color hugged my body like a second skin, but what made the dress really stand out was the spiderweb pattern done in black crystals stretching across the bodice. Smaller webs, also done in black crystals, flowed down the skirt before trimming the entire bottom of the garment, making me look like a black widow spider come to life.
More than one person did a double take at the dress’s obvious association with my assassin alter ego, and whispers sprang up all around me. I ignored them. Let people think what they wanted to about me. I had much more important things to worry about tonight.
“Why, Blanco, fancy seeing you here,” a snide voice murmured.
I looked to my right to find Dimitri Barkov standing a few feet away, a blonde with sky-high hair and overinflated breasts clinging to his arm like wet tissue paper. The Russian gangster was wearing a tux, and he’d even gone to the trouble of styling his shaggy black toupee into an elaborate pompadour. All the grease in the fake hair made it look like an oil slick spreading across his scalp.
Dimitri’s cold brown eyes flicked over my dress. He opened his mouth to deliver some insult, but his date thrust her breasts up against his side and stuck her lower lip out in an exaggerated pout.
“Come on, Dimi,” she crooned in a baby-doll voice. “I want to go inside and see the jewels like you promised.”
He looked at her, his face flat. “And I told you never to interrupt me when I’m talking business.”
The blonde heard the threat in his words loud and clear. Despite her heavy makeup, her face paled, and she dropped her head in apology. Her body started trembling so hard that her breasts threatened to jiggle right out of the top of her dress.
Dimitri turned back to me. “See you around, Blanco,” he said, sneering.
He gave me another cold glare, then headed for the entrance and disappeared inside the museum, since he and his date had already been cleared. I didn’t like his smug smirk, not one little bit. Dimitri was definitely up to something, but this wasn’t the time or place to confront him.
“What was that about?” Owen asked.
“Just a minor mobster trying to be threatening. Forget about it. I could kill him with my eyes closed.”
Finally, Owen and I reached the front of the line, where a familiar face was checking invitations.
Xavier looked us both up and down, then let out a low whistle. “Nice duds, Grayson. You too, Gin.”
“Well, you know me. I saw the pattern and couldn’t resist the irony.” I nodded at the giant. “You look pretty spiffy yourself.”
Like all the other cops, Xavier was wearing black wing tips, dark blue dress pants, and a dark blue jacket with a double row of silver buttons marching down the front. A matching blue hat was perched on top of his shaved head, while a black leather utility belt was cinched around his waist. His gold badge gleamed on the belt, right next to his holstered gun. A metal baton dangled from another slot on the belt, along with a flashlight.
“Chief’s orders,” he rumbled. “Everyone in dress blues for the fancy shindig.”
Owen grinned. “Taking names and kicking ass like usual?”
“Well, someone’s got to do some work around here, since my partner decided to take the night off.” Xavier jerked his head. “Bria and Finn are already inside, along with Mama Dee.”
I groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re calling her by that ridiculous nickname too.”
“She’s got everyone here calling her that.” Xavier stamped our invitations, then handed them back to Owen. “Enjoy the show.”
“Fat chance of that,” I muttered.
Xavier chuckled and waved for the next couple in line to step forward.
Owen and I entered the museum, walked down a hallway, and stepped into the exhibit area, an enormous rotunda topped by a high, domed ceiling. I’d expected the setup to be the same as the last time I was here—glass cases filled with baubles, subdued white lights wrapping around the columns, soft classical music trilling in the background.
But Mama Dee didn’t do anything halfway, and the rotunda had been converted into an old-fashioned Prohibition speakeasy. A large bar had been set up along one of the walls, complete with a champagne tower at either end, and all the waitstaff were dressed in either old-timey white suits or white flapper dresses. Clusters of white feathers, black beads, and red crystals decorated everything and wound all the way around the second-floor balcony. Upbeat big-band music pulsed through the air, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the waiters stopped serving drinks and broke out into an elaborate song-and-dance routine at any second.
Still, the bright, elegant atmosphere didn’t even come close to outshining all the jewels on display.
Diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and more winked from behind three-inch-thick glass cases throughout the rotunda. The jewels themselves were impressive enough, but the settings were even more extravagant: gold, silver, and platinum that had been hammered into all sorts of shapes, from classic princess-cut diamond solitaire rings to an owl pin with quarter-sized emeralds for eyes to a clutch purse covered with rubies that had been fitted together in the shapes of roses. It was like standing in the middle of the world’s most impressive and expensive rainbow. There was easily more than a hundred million dollars’ worth of stones in this room, each one vainly chirping about its own sparkling beauty. The gemstones’ boasting voices perfectly punctuated the fast-paced music.
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