Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(36) by Jennifer Estep
I drew in a breath and flipped the photo over. Sure enough, Fletcher had taped a note to the back of the picture, along with one of the red rose-and-thorn pins the girl had worn in her hair that day. I ran my fingers over the sharp edges of the pin before focusing on the note.
Gin—Remember the cabin in the woods. And that even an enemy can sometimes need our help. Fletcher.
This wasn’t the first message the old man had left me from beyond the grave, but it was one of the most surprising. So many questions crowded into my mind, but he wasn’t around to answer them. So I flipped the photo back over, studying the girl’s features. Even though it had been taken more than fifteen years ago, I still recognized her.
The sad, haunted, battered face of Lorelei Parker stared back at me.
I sat in the dark and waited, just as I had so many times before.
After reviewing Lorelei Parker’s file several times, I’d gone back to bed. But my sleep had been fitful, so I’d gotten up, dressed, and come to the one place where I might get some answers: Jo-Jo’s beauty salon. Now I was politely waiting for the Deveraux sisters to wake up.
Jo-Jo and Sophia must have been dead asleep, because they hadn’t heard me open the front door an hour ago, slip inside, and rustle around in the kitchen before taking my seat in one of the salon chairs. Even Rosco, Jo-Jo’s basset hound, hadn’t roused at my intrusion, and he was still grunting and snoring softly in his basket in the corner. Then again, I was very good at being quiet and invisible. Fletcher hadn’t dubbed me the Spider for nothing.
Oh, I could have gone upstairs and woken up the sisters the second I’d arrived, but that would have been rude. Besides, sitting alone in the dark gave me more time to think and try to wrap my mind around what was happening.
Because of all the things I’d done, suffered, and lived through, what had happened at the cabin had seemed to be finished long ago. But now it had reared its ugly head again, proving once again that the past was never truly past, at least not where my life was concerned.
Upstairs, a bedframe creaked, as someone turned over on her mattress, telling me that she was finally waking up. Sure enough, a few minutes later, soft footsteps padded down the stairs, and a loud, sleepy yawn sounded. The footsteps crept closer, and a familiar figure appeared in the hallway, heading in my direction.
“Sophia?” Jo-Jo’s soft voice floated over to me as she entered the room. “Did you put on the coffee already? I swear that I smell chicory—”
She snapped on the lights. The bright glare revealed me sitting in a cherry-red salon chair, my legs crossed at the ankles, a manila file folder in my lap.
Jo-Jo sucked down a breath, staggered back, and clutched a hand to her heart. “Gin! You scared me!”
It was just after seven on this chilly November morning, and the dwarf was bundled up in a pale pink microfleece robe, although her feet were bare, as usual. Her middle-aged face was free of makeup, but her white-blond hair was done up in pink sponge rollers. She never went to bed without rolling up her hair for the next day.
At the sound of Jo-Jo’s voice, Rosco raised his head, wondering who his mistress was talking to. But the basset hound realized that it was just me, woofed at us for interrupting his sleep, laid his head back down, and started snoring again.
“Gin?” Jo-Jo asked. “What are you doing here?”
I held up the photo that had been in Fletcher’s file. “Lorelei Parker.”
Jo-Jo frowned, making the laugh lines around her mouth deepen. “Lorelei Parker? Why would you want to know about her . . .” Her face cleared, and understanding flashed in her eyes. “The metal elemental. The one who planted that bomb on the riverboat.”
“His last name is Pike, and I watched him kill a man last night using nothing but a spoon and a little bit of his metal magic. And all the while, I kept thinking that I knew him from somewhere. That he was connected to me somehow. I finally found the answer in one of Fletcher’s files, but it wasn’t the one that I expected. Turns out that Pike doesn’t care about me at all. He’s here for her.” I raised the photo of Lorelei again.
Jo-Jo rubbed her forehead. “I was always afraid this might happen. That he might find her and finally make good on his promise.”
“What promise? Who is he, exactly?” I asked. “And what does he want with Lorelei?”
Jo-Jo sighed. “His name is Raymond Pike. He’s Lorelei’s half brother, and he vowed to kill her for murdering their father.”
* * *
The sound of our voices woke Sophia, who came downstairs wearing a black skull robe just like mine. Jo-Jo told her why I was here, and the three of us ended up in the kitchen. The Deveraux sisters sipped the chicory coffee I’d put on earlier, while I whipped up some buttermilk biscuits and peppery gravy. The sizzling sounds and the smoky scent of sausage frying were enough to get Rosco to abandon his warm, comfy basket, trot into the kitchen, and plop down at my feet, hoping that I’d slip him some scraps.
Sophia dug into my breakfast feast, with Rosco now perched at her feet, his stubby tail thumping against her legs as if the steady motion would make a spoonful of gravy magically jump off her plate and into his waiting mouth.
I fixed myself a plate too. Normally, I would have enjoyed the food, but I kept thinking about that day at the cabin and the absolute terror in Lorelei’s eyes when her father had come for her. That was enough to ruin my appetite, but I made myself choke down the food anyway. It was most likely going to be a long day, and I needed to keep up my strength for whatever bad thing might happen next.
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