Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(73) by Jennifer Estep
She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I did. It took a while—it took a long while—but I got sick and tired of being afraid, and I got angry instead, at how stupid I was being for letting Raymond control my life, even though he wasn’t even around anymore. It was like I was still stuck in that house growing up with him, worrying what I would do or say that would set him or our father off. So I decided that if he was coming for me, then I was damn sure going to be ready for him.”
“But you didn’t have to worry so much. Fletcher was always good at hiding people.” Another thought occurred to me. “You were safe as Lorelei Parker for years. How do you think Raymond finally found you?”
She shrugged. “I have no idea. You heard what he said about doing business with someone who knows me.”
“Any idea who that could be?”
She shrugged again. “I’ve smuggled a lot of stuff for a lot of people, from here to Cypress Mountain to Cloudburst Falls, all the way up to Bigtime. It could be anyone.”
So no leads there. I wanted to know who knew so much about the Ashland underworld—and especially Fletcher’s methods—that they could put two and two together regarding Lorelei’s real identity, but that was a question for another day.
“You were ready for Raymond tonight,” I said. “You wanted him to come to your mansion. You set a trap for him, one that I completely messed up. Something that you have every right to be angry about.”
“Absolutely. I told you that I could handle him. You should have trusted me.” She smirked again. “After all, I have a reputation too, you know.”
To my surprise, a small smile flickered across her face. “You were wrong at the garden party too. I don’t actually hate you.”
I snorted. “Well, you could have fooled me. I suppose that you sent all those men to the Pork Pit to kill me over the summer because you secretly want to be my new best friend?”
She laughed, the sound lighter than I would have expected, given everything that had happened tonight. “Of course not. The people I sent after you were causing certain . . . problems in my organization. Taking bribes, informing on me to my competitors, skimming from my shipments.”
My eyebrows shot up in my face. “So you sicced them on me, knowing that I would kill them instead? That’s cold, sugar.”
“It was the quickest, easiest way to eliminate threats. Don’t get all pissy about it. I didn’t send anyone your way I knew you couldn’t handle.” Lorelei leaned back against the counter. “If it makes you feel any better, I did the same thing with my guards tonight. Those three giants Raymond killed? They were after Mallory’s diamonds. They thought tonight was finally the night that they were going to rob us.” She let out a small, satisfied chuckle. “They were dead wrong.”
“Three birds, one brother,” I murmured. “Impressive. But what about Corbin? He was there too.”
“Jack called, said that he was worried about me and Mallory, and insisted on coming over,” she replied. “I didn’t mean for Raymond to hurt him too. But your sister has called and said he’s going to be fine.”
Suspicion swirled through my mind at her words, but I decided to focus on one thing at a time. “Well, I’m so very glad that I could help out and be your own private pest exterminator all these months.”
I gave her a disgusted look, then chopped up another kiwi.
“You should consider it a compliment, a testament to your skills,” she countered.
“I’m sensing an and in there.”
“And . . . it also had the added effect of making it look as though I wanted you dead as badly as the other bosses do.”
Her brow furrowed, and she stared at me like I’d suddenly started speaking pig Latin. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I snarked. “All the snotty glares and cold looks you grace me with whenever our paths cross.”
Lorelei waved her hand, making her diamond rose-and-thorn ring glimmer and looking for a moment just like Mallory. “Just keeping up appearances. I have zero interest in running the Ashland underworld. All the bosses covet the job, but nobody in their right mind would actually want it. They don’t realize that all they’d be doing is managing other people’s problems instead of their own.”
“You have no idea,” I muttered.
I finished with the last of my kiwis, then moved on to the strawberries. Lorelei watched me slice and dice in silence, but she kept tugging on the end of her black braid, crossing and uncrossing her arms, stepping toward me, then easing back up against the counter. Something else was on her mind, but I ignored her pensive movements and kept right on slicing strawberries.
I had no desire to make things easy for her. Not after what she’d just told me. Not after realizing just how effectively she’d used me to get rid of her problems—and for how long she’d been doing it. Anger and a little shame burned through me at being such an idiot and not realizing what she was really up to. Lorelei had always been a little over-the-top in her dislike of me. I should have picked up on that. I should have realized that there was more going on than her just hating my guts.
Then again, I should have done a lot of things differently over the past few days.
But whacking through things while I was cooking almost always soothed me, and tonight was no different. By the time I had all the fruit in a bowl, I felt much calmer and could almost appreciate Lorelei’s slick moves. Almost.
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