Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(84) by Jennifer Estep
Still, the more time passed and the more things got back to normal, the more worried I became. I didn’t particularly care if someone had gotten to the Ice elemental before me. I just wanted to know with absolute certainty that Deirdre was dead and rotting, not lurking in some dark corner of Ashland waiting to strike back at me—or, worse, Finn.
“You’re . . . cranky,” Silvio said as I slammed some dirty dishes into one of the sinks. “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen you cranky before.”
I gave the vampire a dark glare, but he merely quirked his eyebrows in a chiding response and went back to his tablet.
It was Tuesday, three days after the bank robbery, and just after seven at the Pork Pit. It was a slow night, given the cold and increasing flakes of snow outside, and I was getting ready to close up. I’d told Silvio that he could go home an hour ago, but he’d insisted on staying, just in case someone called in with a tip about Deirdre. But no one had, and no one was going to. Deirdre was a ghost, until she either decided to lash out at us again or someone uncovered her body in a shallow grave. I was hoping for the latter, although I didn’t know anyone who wanted her dead as much as I did.
Still, my worry over Deirdre was nothing compared with my worry over Finn.
Despite everything he was dealing with at the bank, Finn had still come to the Pork Pit every day for lunch, just like he had with Deirdre. He seemed to have aged a decade over the last few days. Everything about him was dull, flat, and lifeless, and he had lost the vibrancy and cheer that made him, well, Finn. It was as though Deirdre had reached inside him and scooped out his essence, his heart, leaving nothing behind but a brittle, hollow shell.
Making him a Tin Man, just like Fletcher had been.
Finn didn’t laugh or smile or joke, and he barely picked at his food, even though I made all his favorites, including triple chocolate milkshakes. More than once, I looked at Finn to find him with his fork in his hand, staring over at the corner booth where he and Deirdre had sat so many times, a blank look on his face. Mama Dee had really done a number on him, and I had no idea how to help him.
My troubled thoughts made me slam some more dishes into the sink, and I glared at the bowls and plates for making so much noise.
“You know,” Silvio said, “I think that maybe I’ll go on home for the evening.”
I sighed. “Sorry I’m being such a bear right now.”
He shrugged. “It happens, even to the best of us. You shouldn’t worry so much. Ms. Shaw will turn up sooner or later, and you’ll deal with her when she does.”
“Thank you, Silvio.”
He nodded at me. I smiled and nodded back.
Silvio packed up his gear and left. I shut and locked the front door behind him, then turned the sign over to Closed. The rest of the waitstaff had already left, and I thought about heading home for the night. But I had some leftover food from a take-out order that hadn’t gotten picked up—hot dogs with all the fixings, another one of Finn’s favorites—so I pulled out my phone and texted him.
Want to come over to the Pit, have some food, and talk?
I waited, but there was no response. No surprise. He was probably stuck in another crisis-containment meeting with Mosley and the rest of the bank staff. I decided to give him some time to get back to me, so I mopped the floor and did several other chores, getting the restaurant ready to open up again in the morning. Then I sat down on my stool behind the cash register, pulled out all five of my knives, and set them out on some dish towels on the counter. The knives could use a good cleaning, and I might as well be productive while I waited to see if Finn would text me back or show up here.
I was about to get started when I realized that Catalina had forgotten to take out the last of the trash before she’d left. I didn’t want it to stink up the restaurant overnight, so I grabbed the bag and pushed through the double doors. I cracked open the back door, looking and listening, just in case someone was lying in wait to try to kill me, but the alley was empty. Still, I was cautious as I stepped outside and heaved the trash into the closest Dumpster. I looked around the alley again, but it was as deserted as before, except for the snow, which was picking up speed.
I locked the back door behind me. My phone chimed, so I pulled it out, thinking that Finn had texted me back, but it was Bria.
Found something BIG on Deirdre’s rune. Call me when you get home. Need to come over and show you in person.
I frowned, wondering why Bria couldn’t just call and tell me right now. I hit reply, then pushed through the double doors and stepped into the storefront. I was so preoccupied with my phone that I didn’t hear the warning rumbles of the bricks around me until it was too late.
Three giants were waiting for me inside.
They must have picked the front-door lock, because I hadn’t heard them slip in, and they were clustered around the double doors, not giving me any room to maneuver. Since I’d foolishly left my knives lying on the counter, I raised my hands to blast them with my Ice magic, but they were quicker than I was.
A fist cracked into the side of my face, and the world went black.
* * *
Paul and his two vampire friends were going to rape me.
Out of all the bad things that had happened to me living on the streets, that was one horror that I’d managed to avoid. But now it was going to happen, ironically enough, at Fletcher’s house, the one place where I had always felt safe.
I opened my mouth to scream, but Paul fell on top of me, covering my mouth with his hot, sweaty hand. His breath washed over my face, bringing the stench of pepperoni along with it. Smelled like he’d grabbed a slice from the pizzas that some of the kids had brought over before he’d decided to rob the house.
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