Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(45) by Jennifer Estep
“Is that why you hate me so much?” I asked. “Because I didn’t remember you?”
Lorelei let out a bitter laugh. “Of course not. I’m not that petty.”
“You really don’t know?”
I shook my head.
She leaned forward, anger glittering in her blue eyes. “I hate you because you’re Gin Blanco, the great assassin, the Spider. I hate you because you’re the head of the underworld now, a job that you are extremely ill suited for and obviously don’t want but lucked into anyway, just like you seemingly luck into everything else in life. Killing Mab Monroe, snagging Owen Grayson, becoming some sort of fucking folk hero to the downtrodden. Some of us have to work our asses off for every single thing we have in this life, but not you, not Gin Blanco. You are the luckiest damn person I’ve ever met. But most of all, I hate you because it should have been me that day.”
She stabbed her finger into her chest, right where her heart was. The diamonds in her rose-and-thorn rune ring winked accusingly at me. “It should have been me, not you. But you took that away from me without even trying.”
I frowned. “What do you mean? What did I take away from you?”
She huffed and gave me a sneering look like I was the dumbest person alive. “Forget it. The great Gin Blanco wouldn’t understand anyway.”
As much as I wanted to snap right back and tell her to cut out the cryptic shit, already, I tried to get my temper under control, struggling to find some common ground with her. Because Lorelei was hurting and had been for years, and I’d forgotten all about her.
“But why didn’t you at least tell me that the bomb on the Delta Queen was meant for you and not me? I am allegedly the head of the underworld. Those sorts of things are rather pertinent to me now.”
She snorted. “Please. You’re the big boss in name only. None of the heavyweights is going to come to you with anything important. Besides, I have my own plans for Raymond—and they don’t involve you.”
I stared her down. “My friends could have been killed on the riverboat. So I’m involved now, whether you like it or not.”
“Forget it,” she said, sneering. “And forget what my grandmother offered you. I don’t need your so-called protection, and I certainly don’t want your damn help. I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
“Is that why you keep touching that gun in your purse?”
Startled, Lorelei wrapped her hand around the black satin clutch on the table in front of her. It was just the right size to hold a phone, a compact, a lipstick, and a small pistol. The top of the bag was open, and I could see something glinting inside, although it seemed pale, even opaque, instead of the gunmetal-gray I would expect. But what was even stranger was the chill that radiated off the bag, as though it were full of ice cubes. Curious.
Lorelei had been touching the bag off and on ever since Mallory had left, as though she were thinking about pulling out whatever weapon was inside and going to town on me with it. But she must have realized how badly that would end for her, because she moved her hand away from the bag.
“Just stay away from Mallory and me.” Lorelei shoved her chair back, surged to her feet, and whirled around to storm away.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you—and your mother,” I said in a soft voice. “I know . . . how hard it is to lose someone you love. I know what’s it like to have them ripped away so brutally, so viciously. I know how helpless that can make you feel, how vulnerable, how victimized.”
Her back stiffened. She paused, as if debating whether or not to respond, then stared at me over her shoulder, her pretty features hard and determined. “I’m nobody’s victim.” She spat out the words. “Not anymore. Never again.”
Lorelei whipped back around and hurried off without another word, making her way over to Mallory, Delilah, and the other society gals. She plastered a fake smile on her face, as though she didn’t have a care in the world, then grabbed another mint julep from a waitress and downed it in one gulp. I kept staring at her, comparing her with the girl I’d met so long ago.
She was right. The Lorelei Parker I knew was no victim. She was a criminal who made people shake in their shoes, and she ran her smuggling operations with brutal, ruthless efficiency, often taking care of her problems herself and making an example out of anyone who didn’t meet her expectations. According to Fletcher’s file, she’d dropped almost as many bodies in and around Ashland as I had. We were two sides of the same coin.
Lorelei didn’t need my protection. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and she had Jack Corbin and a whole host of giant guards to help her do it. And it wasn’t like I needed or even wanted the fat payday Mallory had offered me.
Still, the longer I looked at Lorelei, the more acidic guilt bubbled up inside my chest, eating into the blackened shards of my heart.
Because, like it or not, everything that was happening to her now was partially my fault.
I needed some time to think, so I got to my feet and headed toward the large trellis that arched over the garden’s entrance and exit. Jo-Jo and Roslyn watched me go, their faces filled with concern, but I waved to them, letting them know that I was okay.
I left the Rose Garden and meandered along one of the white flagstone paths, admiring the contrast of the red, orange, and yellow leaves against the tropical vibrancy of the flowers below. The botanical gardens featured everything from an elaborate hedge maze to a rock garden, and I could have headed into the other themed areas, but I made a slow circuit around the perimeter of the Rose Garden instead.
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