"Gin Blanco may be retired, but that doesn't mean she's stopped killing."
Reviewed by Rosie Bindra
Posted September 16, 2010
Retired assassin Gin Blanco just wants to be left alone to
run her restaurant, the Pork Pit, but trouble still seems to
find its way to her doorstep. First an attempted robbery at
her restaurant has her taking down two punks who were just
looking for some kicks. Then the front windows of the
restaurant are shot at. Surprisingly enough, though, Gin
isn't the intended victim of this shooting. With her
curiosity getting the best of her yet again, Gin hunts down
Victoria Fox, the girl who she thinks was the shooter's
intended victim, to find out why someone was taking shots at
her. In the process, Gin finds herself coming out of
retirement to do a pro-bono job helping Victoria and her
Victoria's grandfather has been fighting off a coal mining
mogul who is hell bent on acquiring their land; land that's
been in Victoria's family for generations. When they turn
the pressure up by sending a dwarf to teach Victoria a
lesson, Gin steps in to save the girl and finds herself
offering to help the family with their problem.
Surprisingly, Gin finds Detective Donovan Caine there, as
well. With a little help from Caine, with a lot of his
disapproval thrown in, Gin sets out to take down a fellow
stone elemental and his empire.
Who would have thought a blood covered assassin could be
so addictive? I can't get enough of this series. Gin Blanco
and her murdering ways are highly addictive. WEB OF LIES is
the second book in Jennifer Estep's Elemental series and,
while we still have all the death and mayhem we can handle,
we also get a little more emotional and learn more about Gin
and her past. I loved delving into Gin's background and
discovering what events shaped her. I thought the
flashbacks with Fletcher Lane were great because we get to
see what kind of relationship he and Gin had before he died.
Though this series is definitely urban fantasy, I
can't wait for the next book so we can dig a little deeper
into the little bit of romance that there is. With Donovan
Caine still on the fence about what to do about his
attraction to Gin, a new guy is making his move and I am
liking it very much. Look for Venom, the third book
series, to come out next month. I, for one, will be
devouring it as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Curiosity is definitely going to get me dead one of these
days. Probably real soon.
You might know me as the Spider, the most
feared assassin in the South. Iâ€™m retired now, but trouble
still has a way of finding me. Like the other day when two
punks tried to rob my popular barbecue joint, the Pork Pit.
Then there was the barrage of gunfire on the restaurant.
Only, for once, those kill shots werenâ€™t aimed at me. They
were meant for Violet Fox. Ever since I agreed to help
Violet and her grandfather protect their property from an
evil coalmining tycoon, Iâ€™m beginning to wonder if Iâ€™m
really retired. So is Detective Donovan Caine. The only
honest cop in Ashland is having a real hard time reconciling
his attraction to me with his Boy Scout mentality. And I can
barely keep my hands off his sexy body. What can I say? Iâ€™m
a Stone elemental with a little Ice magic thrown in, but my
heart isnâ€™t made of solid rock. Luckily, Gin Blanco always
gets her man . . . dead or alive.
Excerptâ€śFreeze! Nobody move! This is a
Wow. Three clichĂ©s in a row. SomeÂbody was seriÂously
lackÂing in the imagÂiÂnaÂtion department.
But the shouted threats scared someÂone, who squeaked out
a small scream. I sighed. Screams were always bad for
busiÂness. Which meant I couldnâ€™t ignore the trouÂble that
had just walked into my restaurantâ€”or deal with it the
quick, vioÂlent way I would have preÂferred. A silÂverÂstone
knife through the heart is enough to stop most trouÂble in
its tracks. Permanently.
So I pulled my gray gaze up from the paperÂback copy of
â€śThe Odysseyâ€ť that Iâ€™d been readÂing to see what all the
fuss was about.
Two twenty-something men stood in the midÂdle of the Pork
Pit, lookÂing out of place among the restaurantâ€™s blue and
pink vinyl booths. The dynamic duo sported black trench
coats that covÂered their thin T-shirts and flapped against
their ripped, rock star jeans. NeiÂther one wore a hat or
gloves, and the fall chill had painted their ears and
finÂgers a bright, cherry red. I wonÂdered how long theyâ€™d
stood outÂside, gathÂerÂing up the courage to come in and
yell out their trite demands.
Water dripped off their boots and spread across the faded
blue and pink pig tracks that covÂered the restauÂrant
floor. I eyed the menâ€™s footwear. ExpenÂsive black leather
thick enough to keep out the NovemÂber cold. No holes, no
cracks, no missÂing bootÂlaces. These two werenâ€™t your
typÂiÂcal, desÂperÂate junkies lookÂing for a quick cash
score. No, they had their own moneyâ€”lots of it, from the
looks of their pricey shoes, vinÂtage T-shirts, and designer
jeans. These two rich punks were robÂbing my barÂbeÂcue
restauÂrant just for the thrill of it.
Worst fuckÂing deciÂsion theyâ€™d ever made.
â€śFreeze!â€ť the first guy
repeated, as if we all hadnâ€™t heard him before.
He was a beefy man with spiky blond hair held up by some
sort of shiny, hair-care prodÂuct. ProbÂaÂbly a litÂtle
giant blood in his famÂily tree someÂwhere, judgÂing from
his six-foot-six frame and large hands. Despite his
twenty-something years, baby fat still puffed out his face
like a warm, oozÂing marshÂmalÂlow. The guyâ€™s brown eyes
flicked around the restauÂrant, takÂing in everyÂthing from
the baked beans bubÂbling on the stove behind me to the
hissÂing French fryer to the batÂtered, bloody copy of
â€śWhere the Red Fern Growsâ€ť mounted on the wall beside the
Then, BeefÂcake turned his attenÂtion to the peoÂple
inside the Pork Pit to make sure we were all folÂlowÂing his
demands. Not many folks to look at. MonÂday was usuÂally a
slow day, made even more so by the cold blusÂter of wind and
rain outÂside. The only other peoÂple in the restauÂrant
besides me and the would-be robÂbers were my dwarÂven cook,
Sophia DevÂerÂaux, and a couÂple of customersâ€”two
college-age women wearÂing skinny jeans and tight T-shirts
not unlike those the robÂbers sported.
The women sat shocked and frozen, eyes wide, barÂbeÂcue
beef sandÂwiches halfway to their lips. Sophia stood next to
the stove, her black eyes flat and disÂinÂterÂested as she
watched the beans bubÂble. She grunted once and gave them a
stir with a metal spoon. NothÂing much ever bothÂered
The first guy raised his hand. A small knife glinted in
his red, chapped finÂgers. A hard, thin smiled curved my
lips. I liked knives.
â€śChill out, Jake,â€ť the secÂond
guy mutÂtered. â€śThereâ€™s no need to scream.â€ť
I looked at him. Where his buddy was blond and beefy,
robÂber numÂber two was short and bone-thin. His wispy hair
stuck up due to unconÂtrolÂlable cowlicks, instead of an
overÂabunÂdance of prodÂuct. The locks were a bright red
that had probÂaÂbly earned him the nickÂname CarÂrot at some
point. CarÂrot shoved his hands into his holey pockÂets,
shifted on his feet, and stared at the floor, clearly
wantÂing to be someÂwhere other than here. A relucÂtant
sideÂkick at best. ProbÂaÂbly tried to talk his buddy out of
this nonÂsense. He should have tried harder.
â€śNo names, Lance.
RememÂber?â€ť Jake snarled and glared at his friend.
Lanceâ€™s bony body jerked at the sound of his own name,
like someÂone had zapped him with a catÂtle prod. His mouth
dropped open, but he didnâ€™t say anything.
I used one of the dayâ€™s credit card receipts to mark my
place in â€śThe Odyssey.â€ť Then, I closed my book,
straightÂened, slid off my stool, and stepped around the
long counter that ran along the back wall of the Pork Pit.
Time to take out the trash.
The first guy, Jake, saw me move out of the corÂner of
his eye. But instead of chargÂing at me like Iâ€™d expected,
the half-giant moved to his left and jerked one of the girls
up and out of her boothâ€”a HisÂpanic girl with a pixie
hairÂcut. She let out another squeaky scream. Her thick,
beef sandÂwich flew from her hand and spatÂtered against one
of the storeÂfront winÂdows. The barÂbeÂcue sauce looked
like blood runÂning down the smooth, shiny glass.
â€śLeave her alone, you
basÂtard!â€ť the other woman shouted.
She jumped to her feet and charged at Jake, who
backÂhanded her. He might only have been a half-giant, but
there was still enough strength in his blow to lift the
woman off her feet and sent her careenÂing into a table. She
flipped over the top and hit the floorâ€”hard. A low groan
By this point, Sophia DevÂerÂaux had become a litÂtle
more interÂested in things. The dwarf moved to stand beside
me. The silÂver skulls hangÂing from the black leather
colÂlar around her neck tinÂkled together like wind chimes.
The skulls matched the ones on her black T-shirt.
â€śYou take right,â€ť I murÂmured.
â€śIâ€™ve got left.â€ť
Sophia grunted and moved to the other end of the counter,
where the secÂond woman had been thrown.
â€śLance!â€ť Jake jerked his head
at the injured woman and Sophia. â€śWatch those bitches!â€ť
Lance wet his lips. Pure, uncomÂfortÂable misÂery filled
his pale face, but he stepped around his friend and trotÂted
over to the injured woman, who had pushed herÂself up to her
hands and knees. She shoved her wild tanÂgle of blue-black
hair out of her face. Her pale blue eyes burned with
immeÂdiÂate hate. A fighter, that one.
But Lance didnâ€™t see her venÂomous look. He was too busy
starÂing at Sophia. Most peoÂple did. The dwarf had been
Goth before Goth was coolâ€”a hunÂdred years ago or so. In
addiÂtion to her skull colÂlar and matchÂing T-shirt, Sophia
DevÂerÂaux sported black jeans and boots. Pink lipÂstick
covÂered her lips, conÂtrastÂing with the black glitÂter
shadow on her eyeÂlids and the natÂural palÂlor of her face.
Today, the color motif extended up to her hair. Pale pink
streaks shimÂmered among her cropped black locks.
But Jake wasnâ€™t so dumbÂstruck. He pulled the first woman
even closer, turned her around, held her in front of him,
and raised the knife to her throat. Now, he had a human
But that wasnâ€™t the worst part. A bit of red sparked in
the depths of his brown eyes, like a match flarÂing to life.
Magic surged like a hot, sumÂmer wind through the
restauÂrant, prickÂing my skin with power and makÂing the
scars on my palms itch. Flames spewed out from between
Jakeâ€™s clenched finÂgers, travÂelÂing up and setÂtling on
the knife. The blade glowed red-orange from the sudÂden
burst of heat.
Well, well, well, Jake the robÂber was just full of
surÂprises. Because in addiÂtion to being a petty thief,
Jake the half-giant was also an elementalâ€”someone who could
conÂtrol one of the four eleÂments. Fire, in his case.
My smile grew a litÂtle harder, a litÂtle tighter. Jake
wasnâ€™t the only one here who was an elementalâ€”or very, very
danÂgerÂous. I cocked my head, reachÂing out with my Stone
magic. All around me, the batÂtered brick of the Pork Pit
murÂmured with unease, sensÂing the emoÂtional upheaval that
had already taken place inside and my dark
â€śI said nobody fuckÂing
Jakeâ€™s earÂlier scream dropped to a hoarse whisÂper. His
eyes were comÂpletely red now, as though someÂone had set
two flickÂerÂing rubies into his baby-fat face. A rivulet of
sweat dripped down his temÂple, and his head bobbed in time
to some music only he could hear. Jake was high on
somethingâ€”alcohol, drugs, blood, his own magic, maybe all of
the above. Didnâ€™t much matÂter. He was going to be dead in
another minute. Two, tops.
The red glow in Jakeâ€™s eyes brightÂened as he reached for
his magic again. The flame flashÂing on the silÂver blade
flared hotÂter and higher, until it licked at the girlâ€™s
neck, threatÂenÂing to burn her. Tears streamed down her
heart-shaped face, and her breath came in short, choked
sobs, but she didnâ€™t move. Smart girl.
My eyes narÂrowed. It was one thing to try to rob the
Pork Pit, my barÂbeÂcue restauÂrant, my gin joint.
Down-on-their-luck eleÂmenÂtals, vamÂpire hookÂers, and
other bums strung out on their own magic and jonesing for
more could be excused that stuÂpidÂity. But
nobodyâ€”nobodyâ€”threatÂened my payÂing cusÂtomers. I
was going to enjoy takÂing care of this lowlife. As soon as
I got him away from the girl.
So I held up my hands in a plaÂcatÂing gesÂture and kept
the cold, calm vioÂlence out of my gray eyes as best I
could. â€śIâ€™m the owner. Gin Blanco. I donâ€™t want any
trouÂble. Let the girl go, and Iâ€™ll open the cash regÂisÂter
for you. I wonâ€™t even call the police after you leave.â€ť
Mainly because it wouldnâ€™t do me any good. The cops in
the southÂern metropÂoÂlis of AshÂland were as crooked as
forks of lightÂning. The esteemed memÂbers of the po-po
barely bothÂered to respond to robÂberies, espeÂcially in
this borÂderÂline SouthÂtown neighÂborÂhood, much less do
someÂthing useÂful, like catch the perps after
Jake snorted. â€śGo ahead. The police canâ€™t touch me,
bitch. Do you know who my father is?â€ť
In addiÂtion to being a Fire eleÂmenÂtal, Jake was also a
name-dropping prima donna. A wonÂder heâ€™d surÂvived
â€śDonâ€™t tell them
that!â€ť Lance hissed.
Jake snorted and turned his red eyes to his buddy. â€śIâ€™ll
tell them whatÂever I want. So shut your
â€śJust let the girl go, and Iâ€™ll
open the cash regÂisÂter,â€ť I repeated in a firm voice,
hopÂing my words would penÂeÂtrate Jakeâ€™s magic high and
sink into his thick skull.
His red eyes narÂrowed to slits. â€śYouâ€™ll open the cash
regÂisÂter, or the girl diesâ€”and you along with her.â€ť
He jerked the girl back against him, and the flames
coatÂing the knife burned even brighter, takÂing on an
orange-yellow hue. The silÂverÂstone scars on my palmsâ€”the
ones shaped like spiÂder runesâ€”itched at the influx of
magic. I tensed, afraid he was going to do the girl right
here, right now. I could kill himâ€”easilyâ€”but probÂaÂbly not
before he hurt the girl with his magic. I didnâ€™t want that
to hapÂpen. It wasnâ€™t going to hapÂpen. Not in my
restauÂrant. Not now, not again.
â€śJake, calm down,â€ť Lance
pleaded with his friend. â€śNo oneâ€™s makÂing any trouÂble.
Itâ€™s going just like you said it would. Quick and easy.
Letâ€™s just get the money and go.â€ť
Jake stared at me, the flames dancÂing in his red eyes
matchÂing the moveÂment of the ones on the knife blade.
Pure, maliÂcious glee filled his crimÂson gaze. Even if I
hadnâ€™t been good at readÂing peoÂple, that emoÂtion alone
would have told me that Jake enjoyed using his magic, loved
the power it gave him, the feelÂing of being invinÂciÂble.
And that he wasnâ€™t going to be satÂisÂfied just stealÂing my
money. No, Jake was going to use his Fire power to kill
everyÂone in the restauÂrant just because he could, because
he wanted to show off his magic and prove he was a real
bad-ass. Unless I did someÂthing to stop him.
â€śJake? The money?â€ť Lance
After a moment, the fire dimmed in Jakeâ€™s eyes. He
lowÂered the glowÂing blade a few inches, givÂing the girl
some much-needed air. â€śMoney. Now.â€ť
I opened the regÂisÂter, grabbed all the wrinÂkled bills
inside, and held them out. All Jake had to do was let go of
the girl long enough to step forÂward and grab the cash, and
Iâ€™d have him. Come on, you basÂtard. Come and
play with Gin.
But some sense of self-preservation must have kicked in,
because the beefy half-giant jerked his head. Lance left his
post by the injured woman, tipÂtoed forÂward, snatched the
money out of my hand, and stepped back. I didnâ€™t bother
grabÂbing him and using him as a hostage. Guys like Jake
werenâ€™t above leavÂing their friends twistÂing in the
windâ€”or stuck on the edge of my blade.
Jake licked his thick, chapped lips. â€śHow much? How much
Lance rifled through the green bills. â€śA litÂtle over two
â€śThatâ€™s it? Youâ€™re holdÂing out
on me, bitch,â€ť Jake snarled.
I shrugged. â€śMondayâ€™s a slow day. And not many peoÂple
like to get out in this kind of cold weather, not even for
The Fire eleÂmenÂtal glared at me, debatÂing my words and
what he could do about them. I smiled back. He didnâ€™t know
what heâ€™d gotÂten himÂself intoâ€”or who he was
â€śLetâ€™s just go, Jake,â€ť Lance
pleaded. â€śSome cops could come along any second.â€ť
Jake tightÂened his grip on his flamÂing knife. â€śNo. Not
until this bitch tells me what she did with the rest of the
money. This is the most popÂuÂlar restauÂrant in the
neighÂborÂhood. There had to be more than two hunÂdred
dolÂlars in that cash regÂisÂter. So where did you hide it,
bitch? You wearÂing a money belt underÂneath that greasy
I shrugged. â€śWhy donâ€™t you come and find out, you
His eyes grew darker, redÂder, angrier, until I thought
the sparkÂing flames flickÂerÂing inside might actuÂally
shoot out of his magic-tinted irises. Jake let out a
furiÂous growl. He shoved the girl away and charged at me,
the knife held straight out.
My smile widened. Finally. Time to play.
I waited until he got in range, then stepped forÂward and
turned my body into his. I slammed my elbow into his solar
plexus and swept his feet out from under him. Jake coughed,
stumÂbled, and did a header onto the floor. His temÂple
clipped the side of one of the tables as he went down, and a
resultÂing bit of blood spatÂtered onto my jeans. The sharp
blow was enough to make Jake lose his grip on his Fire
magic. The prickÂling power washÂing off him vanÂished, and
the flames snuffed out on the knife in his hand. The hot
metal hissed and smoked as it came into conÂtact with the
I looked to my right. The woman Jake had thrown across
the room scramÂbled to her feet and preÂpared to launch
herÂself at Lance. But Sophia grabbed the girlâ€™s waist and
pulled her back. The woman started to strugÂgle, but the
Goth dwarf shook her head and stepped forÂward, putting
herÂself in front of the cusÂtomer. Lance swalÂlowed once
and backed up, ready to turn and run. But Sophia was
quicker. The dwarf punched him once in the stomÂach. Lance
went down like an anvil had been dropped on him. He
crumÂpled to the floor and didnâ€™t move.
One down, one to go.
I turned my attenÂtion back to Jake, whoâ€™d rolled over
onto his side. Blood dripped down the side of his head where
heâ€™d cut himÂself on the corÂner of the table. The
half-giant saw me standÂing over him, curled halfway up, and
slashed at me with his coolÂing knife. Idiot. He didnâ€™t even
come close to nickÂing me. After Jake made another flailÂing
pass with the blade, I crouched down and grabbed his wrist,
bendÂing it back so he couldnâ€™t move it. I eyed the weapon
in his locked hand.
â€śFuck,â€ť I said. â€śGet a real
knife. You couldnâ€™t even peel potaÂtoes with
Then, I plucked the blade from his chapped finÂgers and
snapped his thick wrist.
Jake howled in pain, but the noise didnâ€™t bother me.
Hadnâ€™t in years. I shoved him down onto his back, then
stradÂdled him, a knee on either side of his beefy chest,
squeezÂing in and putting presÂsure on his ribs. Giants,
even half-giants like Jake, hated it when they had trouÂble
breathÂing. Most peoÂple did.
I adjusted and tightÂened my grip on the knife, ready to
drive it into his heart. A flimsy weapon, but it would do
the job. Just about anyÂthing would, if you had enough
strength and deterÂmiÂnaÂtion to put behind it. I had plenty
A small, choked sob sounded, drawÂing my attenÂtion away
from Jake and his high-pitched, keenÂing howls. My gray eyes
flicked up. The girl hudÂdled underÂneath a table a few feet
away, her knees pulled up to her chest, her eyes as big as
quarÂters in her face, tears slidÂing down her flushed
A posiÂtion Iâ€™d been in, once upon a time.
A couÂple of months ago, the girl and her tears wouldnâ€™t
have bothÂered me. I would have killed Jake and his friend,
washed the blood off my hands, and asked Sophia to get rid
of the bodÂies before I closed up the Pork Pit for
Thatâ€™s what assasÂsins did.
And I was the SpiÂder, one of the very best.
But Iâ€™d had an epiphany of sorts two months ago when my
menÂtor had been bruÂtally torÂtured and murÂdered inside
the Pork Pitâ€”in the very spot Jake and I were in right now.
The old man, Fletcher Lane, had wanted me to retire, to take
a difÂferÂent path in life, to live in the dayÂlight a
litÂtle, as he was so fond of sayÂing. Iâ€™d folÂlowed
Fletcherâ€™s advice and quit the assasÂsin busiÂness after Iâ€™d
killed Alexis James, the Air eleÂmenÂtal whoâ€™d
Behind me, Sophia grunted. I looked over my shoulÂder at
the dwarf, who still had hold of the other woman. The girl
was unsucÂcessÂfully tryÂing to pry the dwarfâ€™s stubby
finÂgers off her waist. Good luck with that. Sophia had a
grip like death. Once she had you, she didnâ€™t let goâ€”ever.
My gray eyes locked with Sophiaâ€™s black ones. Regret flashed
in her dark gaze, and the dwarf shook her head just the
tiniÂest bit. No, she was sayÂing. Not in front of
Sophia was right. WitÂnesses were bad. I couldnâ€™t gut
Jake with the two girls watchÂing and get rid of the body
afterÂwards. Not in my own restauÂrant. Not withÂout
blowÂing my cover as Gin Blanco and leavÂing everyÂthing
behind. And I wasnâ€™t going to do that. Not for a piece of
trash like the Fire eleÂmenÂtal. But that didnâ€™t mean I
couldnâ€™t let Jake know exactly who he was
I waited until there was a lull in Jakeâ€™s howls, then
tipped his head up with the knife point and gazed into his
eyes. Theyâ€™d lost all hint of their red, fiery magic. Now,
his brown irises were wide and glossy with panic,
â€śYou ever come to my
restauÂrant and fuck with me or my cusÂtomers again, and
Iâ€™ll carve you up like a ThanksÂgivÂing turkey.â€ť
I slashed down with the knife, breakÂing the skin on his
beefy neck. Jake yelped at the sting and clawed at the
slight wound with his sausage-thick finÂgers. I slapped his
hand away and nicked him again. The smell of warm, copÂpery
blood filled my nose. SomeÂthing else that hadnâ€™t bothÂered
me in a long, long time.
â€śEvery time you move, Iâ€™m going
to cut you again. Deeper and deeper. Nod your head if you
Hatred flared in his gaze, takÂing the edge off the pain
and panic, but he nodded.
I clipped his temÂple with the knife hilt. Jakeâ€™s head
snapped to one side and fell onto the floor. UnconÂscious.
Just like his friend Lance.
I stood up, wiped my finÂgerÂprints off the knife, and
dropped the weapon on the floor. The half-giant didnâ€™t stir.
Then, I got to my feet and headed for the girl, still
crouched underÂneath the table.
She shrank back against the legs of a chair at my
approach, like she wanted to melt into the metal. Her pulse
flutÂtered like a mad butÂterÂfly in her temÂple. I put my
friendÂliest, most trustÂworÂthy, charmÂing, SouthÂern smile
on my face and crouched down until I was eye-level
â€śCome on, sweetÂheart,â€ť I said,
holdÂing out my hand. â€śItâ€™s over. Those men arenâ€™t going to
hurt you now.â€ť
Her chocoÂlate eyes darted to Jake lying on the floor.
Her gaze flicked back to me, and she chewed her lip, her
teeth white against her tofÂfee skin.
â€śIâ€™m not going to hurt you
either,â€ť I said in a soft voice. â€śCome on, now. Iâ€™m sure
your friend wants to see how you are.â€ť
â€śCasÂsidy!â€ť the other woman
called out since Sophia still wasnâ€™t letÂting her go. â€śAre
you all right?â€ť
Her friendâ€™s voice penÂeÂtrated Cassidyâ€™s fearÂful daze.
She sighed and nodÂded her head. The girl reached out, and I
grabbed her tremÂbling hand. Cassidyâ€™s finÂgers felt like
thin, fragÂile iciÂcles against the thick scar embedÂded in
my palm. I tugged the girl to her feet. She eyed me with
underÂstandÂable cauÂtion, so I kept my moveÂments slow and
small, not wantÂing to starÂtle her.
â€śIâ€™m fine, Eva,â€ť CasÂsidy said
in a low voice. â€śJust a litÂtle shook up is all.â€ť
Sophia let go of the other woman, and I stepped back. Eva
rushed forÂward and caught her friend in a tight hug.
CasÂsidy wrapped her arms around the other women, and the
two of them rocked back and forth in the midÂdle of the
I walked over to Sophia, who was watchÂing the two women
with a flat expresÂsion on her pale face.
â€śFriendÂship. Ainâ€™t it a
beauÂtiÂful thing?â€ť I quipped.
â€śHmph.â€ť Sophia grunted again.
But the corÂner of the Goth dwarfâ€™s lips turned up into a
The two girls hugged a minute longer before Eva pulled a
cell phone out of her jeans.
â€śYou call the cops,â€ť Eva told
her friend. â€śI need to let Owen know Iâ€™m okay. You know how
he is. Heâ€™ll freak when he finds out about this.â€ť
CasÂsidy nodÂded her head in symÂpaÂthetic agreeÂment and
pulled her own phone out of her jeans. The two women started
dialÂing numÂbers, instead of askÂing me, the restauÂrant
owner, to do it for them. Not surÂprisÂing. If you wanted
the cops, you called them yourÂself. You cerÂtainly didnâ€™t
depend on the kindÂness of strangers to do it. Not in
I frowned. Cops. Just what I needed. Some of Ashlandâ€™s
finest getÂting an eyeÂful of me, the forÂmer assasÂsin, a
Goth dwarf who liked to disÂpose of dead bodÂies in her
spare time, and the two guys weâ€™d so easÂily disÂpatched.
Not the kind of attenÂtion I wanted to draw to myself, even
if I was retired now. NothÂing I could do about it now,
Sophia went back to the stove to check on her baked
beans. Eva spoke in a low voice to someÂone on her phone.
CasÂsidy finÂished her 911 call and sank into the
The girl stared at Jake on the floor, then her brown eyes
flicked to the bloody knife. Her lower lip quivÂered, her
eyes grew glossy, and her hands tremÂbled. TryÂing to hold
back the tears. SomeÂthing else Iâ€™d had to do, once upon
I walked over to the counter and picked up a glass cake
plate filled with the black forÂest cookÂies Iâ€™d baked this
â€śHere.â€ť I took the top off and
held the plate out to her. â€śHave a cookie. Theyâ€™ve got
plenty of sugar and butÂter and chocoÂlate in them. Theyâ€™ll
help with the shakes.â€ť
CasÂsidy gave me a wan smile, took one of the chocoÂlate
treats, and bit into the conÂcocÂtion. The bitÂterÂsweet
chocoÂlate melted in her mouth, and her eyes brightÂened
with pleaÂsure instead of worry.
Eva finÂished her call and sat down next to her friend.
Her hands didnâ€™t tremÂble as she snapped her phone shut, and
she looked at Jake with a thoughtÂful expresÂsion. The only
sign anyÂthing had hapÂpened to Eva was a red welt on her
cheek, where her face had smacked into the floor. The girl
had a level head on her shoulÂders and a firm grip on her
emoÂtions. But that didnâ€™t mean she wouldnâ€™t
I held the plate out to her. â€śYou too.â€ť
Eva took a cookie, broke it in two, and stuffed half of
it into her mouth. Not shy, either.
I also plucked one of the chocoÂlate treats off the
stack. Not because I had shaky nerves, but because they were
damn good cookÂies. After a month of tryÂing, Iâ€™d finally
perÂfected the recipe.
I looked at the two unconÂscious men on the floor. Lance
lay spread-eagle next to one of the booths where Sophia had
dropped him. Blood conÂtinÂued to drip from the cuts on
Jakeâ€™s throat and temÂple, stainÂing the floor a
I grabbed another cookie off the plate and watched
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