Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(37) by Jennifer Estep
Similar memories must have haunted Jo-Jo, because she only picked at her food before pushing her plate away. Rosco whined, and she absently plucked a small piece of sausage off her plate and tossed it down to him. The basset hound downed it in one gulp.
Jo-Jo cradled her coffee cup in her hands, the tiny clouds painted on her pale pink nails matching the larger ones on the blue mug, all of them symbols of her Air magic. She studied the wisps of steam curling up out of the dark chicory brew for the better part of a minute. Then she drew in a breath, let it out, and finally raised her eyes to mine.
“Her name was Lily Rose,” Jo-Jo began. “She was a sweet little girl who used to spend summers in Ashland with Mallory, her grandmother, who was and still is a client of mine. Mallory is a dwarf like me, so there were actually several generations in between her and Lily Rose, and Mallory was the girl’s great-grandmother several times over. But she adored Lily Rose and would bring the girl here whenever she got her hair and nails done.”
I nodded. Dwarves had long life spans, and most of them just went with grandmother and grandfather, instead of trying to keep track of all the generations in between them and their kinfolk.
“Mallory would be the grandmother you and Fletcher sent Lorelei to live with after her mother was murdered,” I said.
“Mallory Parker. You might know her. She’s one of—”
“Finn’s clients at his bank,” I finished. “I’ve seen him talking to her at various events.”
Jo-Jo nodded. “Anyway, the years passed, and Lily Rose grew up. Mallory mentioned that she had moved away, married a man named Renaldo Pike, and had a daughter, but I didn’t see Lily Rose again for a long time.”
“Until one day, someone started pounding on my door, about an hour before the salon was supposed to open,” Jo-Jo said. “It’s not unusual. Sometimes my clients come early if they have a special event they need to get dolled up for. So I opened the door, not thinking anything of it.”
“And Lily Rose was there,” I guessed.
She nodded again. “At first, I didn’t think that anything was wrong, and I took her back to the salon. Then I noticed how much makeup she was wearing. She was trying to cover up a black eye. And she was all bundled up, in these thick, long clothes, even though it wasn’t all that cold. She was hiding other marks too. Deep scratches and puncture wounds, all over her arms, legs, and chest.”
“Nails,” Sophia rasped in her eerie, broken voice. “From where he’d tortured her.”
Like all other forms of magic, metal could be used in various ways, to build or destroy, to help or injure, to heal or hurt. I thought of how easily Renaldo Pike had ripped all those nails out of the cabin walls. Even I shuddered a little at that.
“But the worst part was that Lily Rose wasn’t alone,” Jo-Jo said, her voice so soft that I had to lean forward to hear her. “She had her daughter with her—and she’d been tortured too.”
Jo-Jo and Sophia both nodded, their faces dark with memories of the awful sight.
“Lily Rose started crying, telling me that her husband had been abusing her. That he’d slowly changed from the man she’d loved and married into someone else, someone cruel, someone she didn’t even recognize anymore. That she’d tried to leave him several times, but he always found her and dragged her back. She’d told him that she was coming to the salon to get her hair fixed for a business dinner they were supposed to go to that night. That was the only reason he’d let her and Lorelei out of the mansion they were staying in while they were in Ashland. But even then, he’d sent a giant driver with her, to stay outside the salon and make sure she didn’t try to run away again.”
I frowned. “But why come to the salon? Why did she think that you would be able to help her?”
Jo-Jo and Sophia glanced at each other.
“Lily Rose remembered Fletcher from the salon, from when she was a little girl,” Jo-Jo said. “She’d heard the rumors that there was an assassin in Ashland who could help her, and she begged me to put her in touch with him.”
“But why didn’t she ask her great-grandmother for help? From what I know of Mallory Parker, she has lots of money and connections.”
Jo-Jo shook her head, making her pink sponge curlers sway back and forth. “As the years passed and the abuse got worse, Renaldo slowly made Lily Rose cut off all contact with her friends and family. It was only her and her mama, Laura, anyway, and Laura had died the year before.”
“How did her mother die?”
Jo-Jo’s lips pinched together. “Hit-and-run. Someone plowed into Laura while she was crossing the street. The cops never found the driver, but . . .”
“But Lily Rose thought that Renaldo did it, that he killed her mother.”
The dwarf nodded. “She told me that he was insanely jealous of anyone she cared about, even if they were just casual friends. Even on the rare occasions when she would talk to someone, Renaldo watched her constantly, monitoring her phone calls, mail, everything. She was basically his prisoner, and she was always afraid of being too friendly with other people, lest Renaldo get jealous and go after them. So Lily Rose couldn’t get in touch with Mallory too often without fear of Renaldo tracking down Mallory and killing her the way he had killed Laura.”
Rosco whined, and Sophia reached out and started petting him with her foot.
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