Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(19) by Jennifer Estep
But I didn’t drift off along with him. Right now, I wanted to enjoy this precious time together. It would have been easy to take for granted how Owen made me feel, but today had proven I couldn’t do that.
Not now, not ever.
I might be the new queen of the underworld, but I still had plenty of enemies who wanted me dead. So in a little while, I would wake up Owen and see if he wanted another demonstration. I would enjoy this night with him to the fullest and wring every drop of pleasure I could from it.
Then, tomorrow, I would track down my enemies and make them pay for what they’d tried to do to me and my friends.
I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and cooked up a hearty breakfast of country-fried ham, scrambled eggs, and buttermilk pancakes. I was anticipating a long day, and I wanted some stick-to-my-ribs food to fuel whatever new problems might arise. I promised Owen I would call him if I learned anything important, then we kissed, said our good-byes, and went our separate ways to work.
I parked my car four blocks away from the Pork Pit, the barbecue restaurant that I ran in downtown Ashland. I chose an out-of-the-way spot on a little-used side street where I hoped no one would even think to look for my car, much less plant a bomb on it. Then I stuck my hands into the pockets of my black leather jacket and eased into the stream of commuters flowing down the sidewalk.
I scanned my surroundings, in case the bomber or the fake waiter might be lurking near the restaurant, but everyone was busy texting or gabbing on their phones, and no one paid me any mind. So I rounded the corner and stepped onto the street where the Pork Pit was located.
As far as I could tell, no one had noticed me, but I spotted a woman lingering on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, pretending to check her messages, although she kept glancing around. Blond hair, tight red suit jacket, short skirt, oversize sunglasses on her face.
I recognized her: Jade Jamison, a madam who ran hookers out in the suburbs. I’d helped her out a few weeks earlier when a minor mobster had been threatening her and her workers, despite the agreement they had that was supposed to prevent that sort of thing. I wouldn’t have expected the guy to renege on the deal so quickly, especially since I’d put one of my knives up against his throat and told him to honor their arrangement—or else.
I sighed. I already had enough problems with the bomber. I didn’t have time for underworld disputes right now too. Jade spotted me, but instead of hurrying over, she ducked her head and focused on her phone again, as though we were strangers.
I looked left and right, but I didn’t see anyone out of the ordinary lingering on the sidewalks, and no cars idled at the curb in a suspicious manner. But if Jade wanted to pretend we didn’t know each other, I’d play along.
So I pulled my keys out of my jacket pocket, approached the restaurant, and studied the front door, making sure that no runes had been carved into the wooden frame that would spew out elemental Fire, Ice, or some other magic that would kill me on the spot. But the door was clean, and so were the surrounding windows and what I could see of the storefront through the glass.
I was happy that I wouldn’t have to try to disarm a rune trap this early in the morning. But it also made me suspicious. There should have been some sort of trap waiting for me here. Since the bomber had failed to assassinate me yesterday, he should have been trying again, as quickly as possible, before I found out who and especially where he was. But there were no runes, no traps, no bombs of any sort. More of that unease swirled through my stomach, that nagging little feeling that made me think that something else was going on besides someone simply wanting to kill me.
Or perhaps my own constant paranoia was the one trap that I could never truly escape.
Heels snapped on the sidewalk, and Jade strolled in my direction, still pretending to check her phone. She frowned and paused beside me, as though whatever she wasn’t really looking at on her screen troubled her.
“Let me in through the back,” she whispered, then sashayed down the sidewalk, rounded the corner, and disappeared from sight.
Not what I’d expected, but I was curious enough to see what she wanted.
So I stepped inside, locked the front door behind me, and flipped on the lights. Vinyl booths lined the windows, with tables and chairs sitting beyond them and a long counter with padded stools situated along the back wall. Blue and pink pig tracks curled every which way through the space, leading to the men’s and women’s restrooms, the cash register, and even into the back of the restaurant. I breathed in, letting the rich, spicy, smoky scent of all the meals I’d cooked seep deep into my lungs. Phillip might have the prettier view on the Delta Queen, but my gin joint certainly smelled far better than the Aneirin River.
Even though Jade was waiting, I took my sweet time checking the bathrooms, tables, chairs, and counter for runes, traps, and bombs. Satisfied that everything was clean, I pushed through the double doors and went into the back of the restaurant, scanning all the freezers and metal racks filled with foodstuffs, napkins, straws, and silverware. It would be rather embarrassing to be murdered in my own restaurant simply because I’d gotten sloppy and had assumed that no one would come after me here now that I was ostensibly the big boss.
When I was sure that everything was clean, I opened the back door to find Jade Jamison standing in the alley, her red clutch tucked under her right arm, impatiently tap-tap-tapping the toe of her red stiletto against the cracked, dirty asphalt.
“Took you long enough,” she muttered. “What were you doing? Putting the pigs out to pasture?”
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