Rumor had it that McAllister was at loose ends these days, looking for a new crime lord or lady to serve, but he was also gunning for me. A few weeks ago, he’d sicced a sadistic vampire named Randall Dekes on me, but I’d managed to put the vamp in the ground instead.
Needless to say, Jonah was at the top of my to-kill list now. All that was left was for me to decide when and where to take him out—and just how much I wanted to make it hurt. My only regret was that it wasn’t going to be tonight. But I wasn’t ruining my evening with Owen, especially not for the likes of Jonah McAllister.
The maître d’ led him to a table about fifteen feet away from ours. Despite my hatred of him, I had to admit that the lawyer cut a trim, confident, impressive figure in his impeccable black suit. Plus, his thick, perfectly styled coif of silver hair gleamed luxuriously underneath the restaurant’s muted lights. Nobody in Ashland—male or female—had better hair.
McAllister sat down and glanced around, checking out who else was there. He tipped his head at Donaldson and Parker, who both politely nodded back at him, even though their smiles were nothing more than mocking sneers. Not too long ago, McAllister had tried to have me and the two of them killed at Mab’s funeral. At least, I was convinced he was the one behind that sneak attack, even if nothing had ever been proven. I was mildly surprised that neither boss had retaliated against McAllister yet. Perhaps they didn’t realize that he was probably behind it. Or perhaps they simply thought he was beneath their notice these days. Either way, the lawyer was still breathing when he shouldn’t have been.
Finally, he spotted Owen and me. He stiffened in his chair, and his mouth puckered downward the faintest bit in displeasure, but the rest of his features didn’t move with his lips. Despite the fact that he was in his sixties, McAllister’s face was smoother than mine was at thirty, given his regimen of Air elemental facials. Vanity, thy name was Jonah McAllister.
“Well, well, well,” I murmured. “Look who’s here. I’m glad we had dinner already, or I would have lost my appetite.”
“Ignore him,” Owen said. “Just pretend he’s not sitting there. I don’t want him to ruin our night. I don’t want to give him that satisfaction, and I know you don’t either.”
“Of course not. We both know he’s not worth it.”
So we focused on our menus and ordered dessert—a classic New York cheesecake with strawberry topping for Owen and a decadent black cherry and chocolate parfait for me. I ate my parfait slowly, letting the light, airy layers of cherries and chocolate melt on my tongue and savoring every sweet bite. All the while, though, I wondered if I could possibly lure McAllister into one of the restaurant bathrooms and stab him to death with the knife in my evening bag. A pleasant daydream on my part, since he would never go anywhere willingly with me, but the lawyer’s days were numbered—even if he didn’t realize it yet.
All through dessert, I kept an eye on McAllister, but he seemed determined to ignore me. Judging by the way he kept checking his expensive watch, the slick lawyer was waiting for someone—and whoever it was looked like they were late. Aw, I just hated that for him.
I’d just put my spoon down and pushed away my empty parfait glass when a series of hushed whispers rippled through the restaurant, as though everyone was trying very hard not to talk about someone and failing miserably. I looked out across the room, wondering who or what the fuss was about.
And that’s when I saw her.
There were plenty of beautiful women in the restaurant, the belles of the underworld, the society pages, and all the social circles in between, all of them decked out in the finest evening gowns and jewels they or their husbands’ money could buy. But this woman was in a class by herself. She was simply that stunning—the kind of woman who looks almost too beautiful to be real.
She was tall and willowy, with sun-kissed skin and golden hair that rippled halfway down in her back in soft, silky waves. A slinky, sequined, sky-blue gown clung to her curves in all the right places, the slits in the top and the bottom showing off the generous swell of her breasts and the long, lean lines of her legs. A silverstone cuff bracelet flashed on her right wrist, some sort of design etched into the metal.
Every head in the room turned to watch her, and a small, satisfied smile played across her rosy lips. Whoever she was, she knew exactly how stunning she was and enjoyed the attention.
The woman stopped at McAllister’s table, which surprised me, since she definitely looked out of his league. The lawyer jumped to his feet, and she coolly offered him her hand, which he shook with all the enthusiasm of a shyster sidling up to his next victim. The two of them exchanged what seemed to be a polite greeting, although I couldn’t hear the exact words over the clatter of the dishes and the continued whispers of the other diners.
Even though she was talking to McAllister, the woman was well aware of the stir she’d created. In fact, she encouraged it, slyly glancing at one diner, then the next to judge how eagerly they were ogling her. She even went so far as to subtly pose this way and turn that way to show off all her ample assets. A hip curve here, a flash of leg there, a faint pout of her lips. It was quite a show, better than a movie star preening for the cameras.
Finally, her eyes met mine. When she saw that I was merely curious and not completely enraptured by her, the woman’s gaze went past me. But that same small, satisfied smile curved her lips again. Instead of taking the chair McAllister had pulled out for her, she headed in my direction.
I grabbed my purse from where I’d put it on the table. It only took a second for me to flip open the top and palm the silverstone blade nestled inside the black satin fabric, just in case. She was here with McAllister, after all. That didn’t necessarily make her my enemy, but it certainly didn’t make her my friend either.
Owen was engrossed in eating the last bite of his cheesecake, so he didn’t see her approach us and stop on the opposite side of the table from where we were sitting. I’d thought the woman would say something to me, perhaps even make some snide, clichéd comment about my being the Spider, but I was surprised once again when she ignored me and fixed her gaze on my lover instead.
Owen pushed his plate away and sighed with contentment. “I know we’re here on Finn’s dime, but that cheesecake was worth every penny—”
For the first time, he realized someone was staring at him. Owen looked up at the stranger, and his face went white with shock—as pale and stunned and bloodless as I’d ever seen it. His eyes widened, his mouth fell open, and the napkin he’d been about to put on the table slipped from his suddenly slack fingers and fluttered to the floor.
All the while, the mystery woman just stared at him, that small, satisfied smile still on her lips, stretching a bit wider and looking far more smug now.
“Hello, Owen, darling,” she said.
Owen just sort of—sagged. His hands thudded down on the table, and his whole body pitched forward, as if the mere sight of her had turned his bones to jelly. He continued to sit there, a stunned expression on his face, as though he couldn’t quite believe there was a woman standing in front of him—that this particular woman was standing in front of him. Whoever she was, he obviously knew her and was floored by her appearance—as floored as I’d been when I’d seen Donovan Caine, an old lover of mine, a few weeks ago. Hmm.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” she asked. “Or perhaps a hug for an old friend?”
Her voice was soft, sweet, and utterly feminine, with the kind of faint dulcet chiming that made me think of water rushing down a mountainside. A hypnotizing voice—one that could persuade a man to do all sorts of things. Up close, I could see that her eyes were somewhere between blue and green—aquamarine, some folks might say. Their color seemed to constantly shift from one to the other and back again, churning like the sea.
“Owen?” she asked again.
“Of course,” he said in a faint voice. He pushed his chair back and got to his feet.
Owen hesitated, then held out his hand, but the woman ignored his gesture and stepped into his arms, molding herself to his body and pressing her breasts against his chest. He hesitated again, then awkwardly patted her on the back before stepping out of her embrace as fast as he could. Amused by his attempts to disentangle himself from her, she did everything she could to slow his getaway.
Her antics did not amuse me—not one little bit. Especially since the woman was staring at my lover like she’d very much like to have him for dessert. Like it was almost a forgone conclusion that she would, despite my presence at the table.
Finally, she tore her gaze away from Owen long enough to glance at me. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
“Of course,” he echoed again. “Salina Dubois, this is Gin Blanco. Gin, Salina.”
I discreetly tucked my knife back into my purse, closed the top, and put it down on the table. Then I got to my feet. Salina held out her hand to me, the same remote expression on her face that she’d shown McAllister—the one that told me just how very far beneath her and unimportant she thought I was.
Still, I took her hand. Even assassins could be polite on occasion. Her grip was firm, and her fingers felt cool against my own. I felt the tiniest trace of magic emanating from her, so faint I wondered if it was just my imagination.
Some elementals constantly gave off invisible waves of magic even when they weren’t actively using their power, like embers throwing off heat. I concentrated, and once again I felt a faint flicker of magic. So Salina was an elemental, then. For a moment I thought that perhaps she had Ice magic, but her power didn’t seem quite cold enough for that. No, her magic felt . . . softer and more fluid, like a raindrop sluicing across my skin. Perhaps she was just a weak Ice elemental, or maybe she was gifted in an offshoot power, like water.
We shook, but I didn’t immediately let go of her hand afterward. Instead, I held on and turned it to the side, staring at the silverstone bracelet on her right wrist. The cuff was more than two inches wide and had a vaguely Egyptian design to it, like something an ancient queen might have worn. Delicate loops and whorls had been etched into the center of the cuff, along with a rune—a mermaid with long, flowing hair, a curled-up tail, and a serene smile.
Elementals, dwarves, giants, vampires—practically all of the magically inclined in Ashland and beyond used runes to identify themselves, their power, their families, and their businesses. So it didn’t surprise me that Salina had her own personal rune. In fact, it seemed especially suited for her, since a mermaid was the symbol for deadly beauty. I could easily imagine Salina perched on a rock somewhere, wearing nothing but a seashell bra and a smile, luring sailors to their watery deaths with a mere crook of her finger.
What bothered me was that it seemed like she’d done the same thing to Owen once upon a time, judging from the way he couldn’t stop staring at her.
But more than that, something about Salina’s mermaid rune seemed familiar to me, like I’d seen the shape somewhere before—and her too. I could almost feel a memory wiggling around, trying to break through to the surface of my mind. Strange, because I should have remembered meeting someone like Salina. She was the sort of person who was hard to forget, if the reaction of all the men, and some of the women, in the room was any indication.
“What a beautiful bracelet,” I murmured.
I traced my left index finger over the mermaid rune and realized that I was getting the same sensation from the bracelet I was off Salina’s hand—one of cool, constant motion. So she used the cuff to store her magic then, like so many elementals did their silverstone rings, watches, and necklaces.
Salina pulled her hand out of mine and made a pointed show of rubbing my fingerprints off the cuff’s glossy surface. “A family heirloom.”
We smiled at each other, being painstakingly polite the way Southern women so often were, even though our eyes were flat and emotionless. Instant dislike on both sides.
Salina stared at me, taking in my simple black evening gown with its long, swooping, poet sleeves and full tulle skirt, which hid the two knives I had strapped to my thighs. Her gaze lingered on my own silverstone jewelry, the ring on my right index finger, which had my spider rune stamped into the middle of it and contained my Ice magic. But apparently, my ring wasn’t as impressive as her bracelet, because she didn’t comment on it. Instead, she focused her attention on Owen again.
“I’m so glad I ran into you tonight,” Salina purred. “Especially since you never returned the message I left at your office last week about my finally coming back to Ashland.”
I looked at Owen, who winced. He’d never told me about any message he’d gotten from her.
“Anyway, now I can give you my good news in person,” Salina continued in her soft, sweet voice. “Before, I said I was only coming for a visit, but I’ve decided to move back to Ashland permanently. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Wonderful,” Owen echoed, his voice even fainter than before.
Salina smiled and moved even closer to my lover. She reached out and smoothed first one side, then the other of his jacket, before bringing her fingers up and toying with his lapels. “The two of us will have lots of time to catch up now. I’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Over at his table, McAllister pointedly cleared his throat, saving Owen from answering that loaded question. Salina turned to send the lawyer a cold, withering look and held up a finger, indicating that she’d be there in a minute. Then, she focused her attention on Owen again, all smiles and sunshine once more.
“Call me, darling. You have my number. Any time, day . . . or night.”
Wow. Subtle she was not. I don’t think her meaning could have been any clearer than if she’d hiked up her dress and asked Owen to do her right there on the table.
Salina winked at him, then sashayed back over to McAllister’s table, where the lawyer was still standing, his hands now clenched around the back of the chair he’d pulled out for her. He didn’t like being ignored any more than I did. The two of them sat down, and McAllister started talking, although Salina was only half listening to the lawyer, her gaze repeatedly drifting over to Owen.
My lover sighed and looked at me. “About Salina—”
I reached over and straightened his tie, giving him the same killer smile Salina just had. “Not while we have an audience, darling. There’ll be plenty of time to chat in private on the drive home.”