Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(58) by Jennifer Estep
She’d just slapped down her trump card, and we both knew it. She waited, expecting some sort of emotion to flicker across my face. Guilt, most likely. Yeah, more than a little of that churned in my stomach, but I kept my features cold and hard and stared her down.
Mallory realized that I wasn’t going to back down or give in, and she just . . . deflated. Her head dropped, her shoulders slumped, and her entire body seemed to draw in on itself. Even the white, fluffy cloud of her hair deflated. Suddenly, she looked every one of her three-hundred-and-some years. Still, she tried once more to convince me.
“There’s nothing I can do or say to change your mind?” she asked in a soft, almost trembling voice.
“I’m sorry, but no.”
For a moment, tears gleamed in her eyes, but she blinked them back. “Then I’m sorry too.”
Mallory reached into her purse, plucked out some bills, and threw them onto the table. She slid out of the booth, got to her feet, and left the restaurant. I thought she might slam the door behind her, but she opened and closed it so quietly that the bell barely made a whisper at her passing.
I watched her plod down the sidewalk, her face pale and haggard, her body seeming more stooped and frail than ever before. Maybe it was cynical, but I wondered if the whole wounded-old-lady routine was just an act to sucker me in. But Mallory’s pace and posture didn’t change as she rounded the corner and disappeared.
I sighed. I’d done the right thing by telling her no. I knew I had.
So why did I feel so guilty about it?
I waited until Mallory had vanished, then got out of the booth, grabbed her dirty dishes, and went back over to where Owen, Finn, and Silvio were sitting at the counter.
“That didn’t look like it went well,” Owen said.
I dumped the half-eaten apple pie into a trash can behind the counter, along with the milk. “She still wants me to protect Lorelei. I told her no.”
Owen nodded, but his violet gaze never left my face. I held on to my blank mask, not wanting him or anyone else to see my inner turmoil. Because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help but feel like I was abandoning Lorelei to her own death at Pike’s hands. Running away, just like I had that day in the woods, only this time with no plans to double back to try to save her.
Fletcher would have been so disappointed in me.
“Uh-oh,” Finn said. “I know that look.”
“The look that says you’re feeling guilty about turning down Mallory, even though you had every right to.” Finn’s green eyes narrowed. “Why do you feel so responsible for Lorelei Parker all of a sudden?”
“I don’t. Not anymore.”
He frowned. “Not anymore? What does that mean?”
I shook my head. Fletcher and I had never told Finn what had happened that weekend he’d been gone, and I wasn’t about to clue him in now. Not when I was still trying to figure out how I felt about things.
“Forget it,” I muttered. “It doesn’t matter. Lorelei doesn’t want my help, and I have too many other things to worry about it. Besides, let someone else face down the psychotic elemental for a change. I’m out, and that’s that.”
Owen, Finn, and Silvio looked back and forth at one other.
“If that’s how you feel, then of course we will support you,” Silvio said. “It’s a wise decision. There’s no need to put yourself at further risk. Especially not now.”
“What do you mean?”
Silvio held up his phone. “Dimitri and Luiz apparently didn’t enjoy their lunch all that much. They are spreading some rather nasty rumors about how you tried to kill them on the riverboat. Add that to what happened at the botanical gardens yesterday, and, well, some of the bosses are questioning your intentions again.”
I massaged my temples. There wasn’t enough aspirin in the world for all the headaches the Ashland underworld caused me. I’d never thought of myself as a masochist before, but I must be, deep down inside. That was the only reason I could think of for things to just keep getting worse and worse, no matter how hard I tried to make them better.
“What do you suggest?” I asked.
Silvio shrugged. “You’ll have to set up another meeting with Dimitri and Luiz and decide who gets the coin laundries. Schmooze them, allay their fears, the whole shebang. That’s the only way to quiet the rumblings. For now.”
I sighed, knowing that I was beaten. “All right. Call their people, and set it up.”
“Are you sure, Gin?” Owen asked. “You want to focus on that instead of Lorelei?”
I shook my head again, more emphatically this time, despite the fact that it increased the shooting pains in my temples. “Lorelei’s a big girl. She can take care of herself. I have enough headaches right now.”
* * *
Owen and Finn left to go back to their respective offices, while Silvio moved over to a booth to start making calls. The rest of the day passed quietly. No one tried to kill me, and no more mobsters came into the Pork Pit to eat and glower at me. I was grateful that it was a relatively slow day.
Bria and Xavier stopped by at around five to eat dinner, but they didn’t have anything new to report on the garden party bombing. The waitress who’d given Mallory the jewelry box had had no idea there was a bomb inside. Pike had approached her outside the Rose Garden and said that he had a special delivery for Mallory, which was all the waitress knew.
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