Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(42) by Jennifer Estep
Mallory stabbed her finger at her granddaughter. “Well, you can forget about it, sweetheart. I’m not going anywhere. Not until that bastard is dead. And you are absolutely not taking him on by yourself.”
Lorelei sighed. “Now, Grandma . . .”
“Don’t you Grandma me,” Mallory snapped. “I already lost one granddaughter to a Pike. I’m not going to lose another one.”
She sucked in a deep breath, then let loose with a string of salty curses that let us know exactly what she thought of the not-so-dearly-departed Renaldo Pike and his son, Raymond. Mallory’s voice wasn’t all that loud, but her hillbilly tone was sharp and vicious enough to attract the attention of the society sharks, who were always hungry for more drama and gossip. The other ladies stared and whispered behind their white-gloved hands, but Mallory ignored them and kept right on cursing.
I grinned, making mental note of her words. I’d have to remember them for later.
Finally, Mallory wound down, although she kept muttering to herself and tapping her fingers on the table. Suddenly, she stopped and focused on me again.
“Why are you here, Ms. Blanco? What’s your interest in all this? I would think that such matters would be beneath your notice, given your new position as the head of the underworld.”
I arched an eyebrow. “And I would think that someone like you wouldn’t know anything at all about the Ashland underworld.”
“Bah.” She waved her hand, making her many rings sparkle. “Where do you think I got all these diamonds from? I earned them, with every shipment of booze and guns and money that I smuggled into Ashland. I didn’t marry or sleep my way into them, like so many of these simpering fools here did.”
She glared at the ladies who’d been staring at us, and they quickly returned to their previous conversations, although they kept sneaking glances at us.
I looked at her with new appreciation. So Mallory Parker had been a smuggler, and she’d no doubt taught her great-granddaughter all the tricks of the trade. Maybe she’d even passed her business on to Lorelei, just as Fletcher had done to me. Another way Lorelei and I were more alike than I’d ever thought possible.
When it seemed everyone was minding her own business again, Mallory turned her steely blue gaze back to me. “I will repeat my question. Why do you care about Raymond Pike and what he’s up to in Ashland?”
“Normally, I wouldn’t care who was trying to kill your granddaughter. In fact, I would cheer them on, given all the men she’s sent to try to murder me over the past several months.”
Mallory looked at Lorelei, who shrugged.
“It’s just business, Grandma. Eliminating threats. You’re the one who taught me how to do that, remember?”
Lorelei’s calm, nonchalant tone caught my attention, as did her specific words. Eliminating threats. What did she mean by that? Because she hadn’t eliminated me. That’s what I had done to every person she’d sicced on me. Or was there more to her attempts to take me out than I’d realized? And if so, what, exactly?
The dwarf’s lips puckered at Lorelei’s words, but warm pride flashed in her eyes, making them sparkle even brighter than her diamonds. The same sort of pride that had always lit up Fletcher’s face whenever I’d mastered or used one of his lessons. I wondered what Mallory had taught her granddaughter about eliminating threats.
The old woman waved her hand, telling me to continue.
“As I said, I wouldn’t normally care about Lorelei and her enemies.”
“But?” Mallory asked.
“But Raymond Pike planted his bomb on the Delta Queen, which happens to belong to Phillip Kincaid, a friend of mine. I take attacks on my friends very personally.”
“I’ve heard that about you,” Mallory scoffed. “Idiot. I hope you know that such sentimental foolishness isn’t a luxury someone like you can afford to indulge in. Especially in your current position. Not if you want to survive. You’re hanging on to control of the underworld by a thread, and it is a thin, tenuous thread at best.”
I shifted in my chair, uncomfortable at just how right she was. “And you’re an expert on survival?” I sniped back.
Mallory’s thin chest puffed up. “I am in Ashland, sweetheart. I was here in the beginning, back when this town was founded, and I’ll be here for many more years to come.”
I couldn’t argue with that, since she was at least two hundred fifty years older than I was—and smarter and far more sly than her garden dress and her soft Southern demeanor implied.
Mallory gave me a syrupy smile, the kind that was almost always accompanied by a knife in the back. Lorelei winced, apparently having seen that smile before. And I suspected that, old lady or not, Mallory Parker was as hard-core as they came and could outthink and outplot almost anyone, including me.
“Tell me one thing,” she purred. “Since we’re all just businesswomen sitting here shooting the breeze.”
“What?” I didn’t bother to keep the wariness out of my voice.
Her smile widened, and I realized that I’d stepped right into her sticky web, whatever it was. “How much is your going rate, Ms. Blanco? Or do you prefer to be called the Spider when actually negotiating?”
My danger radar immediately pinged up into the red-alert level. “Why do you want to know?”
“Because I want to hire you.”
“For what?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
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