Then the light went out of her eyes, her hand fluttered to the Ice, and she was still, as cold and dead and still as the shattered, frozen mermaid that loomed over us.
I crouched there and watched Salina bleed out. Finn and Kincaid let go of Owen, who rushed over to the dying elemental. He hunkered down on the other side of her, staring at her open, sightless eyes and the deep, ugly gash I’d sliced in her slender throat.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But it had to be done. I think you know that, deep down inside.”
Owen looked at me, old memories and grief and pain swirling in his eyes—so much pain. Over Salina, over what she’d done to the people he’d cared about—and what I’d just done to her, the woman he’d once loved.
Owen didn’t say a word as he watched Salina die. But when her blood slowed and finally stopped, he got to his feet, turned, and walked away from me—and he didn’t look back.
All I could do was just watch him go, my heart shattering into smaller and smaller pieces with every step he took.
I stayed in that one spot, feeling as cold inside as the landscape was around me. A minute passed, maybe two, and the world kept on turning just like it always did.
I sighed, and got to my feet. Then I fished my knives from where they had been buried in the Ice, grabbed the staff as well, and sat down on the edge of the fountain, right next to the almost decapitated mermaid with her missing tail. The figure seemed to fix her eyes on me, accusing me of murdering the woman whose rune she’d represented.
“What are you staring at?” I muttered.
The mermaid kept grinning at me with her crazy smile. There was nothing else she could do. Just like Salina. Just like me too. I grimaced and turned away.
Bria and Xavier must have called for reinforcements, because more and more cops started showing up on the scene. Portable lights were rigged up so the po-po could see what they were doing. Crime scene tape was strung up here and there. Evidence was gathered. At least, what could be pried out of the elemental Ice that still covered most of the lawn.
I sat there on the rim of the fountain in the middle of it all. A few of the cops gave me sideways glances, but no one dared approach me—except Finn, who once again skated over to me.
“I’m sure you’ve realized by now that it won’t be too much longer before the media arrive,” he said. “So I suggest we make our exit now—unless you want your face all over the morning news.”
“Good,” he said. “I made the same suggestion to Owen and Eva. They’re already waiting for us in the Escalade. Kincaid is taking his own wheels home.”
I blinked. “How the hell did you manage that? Seeing as how you were holding a gun on Owen not twenty minutes ago?”
Finn flashed me a grin. “I pointed out that Owen needs to get Jo-Jo to look at those bumps on his head and his cracked ribs. I also suggested that, unless he wanted Eva to be on camera, we should skedaddle as quickly as possible. For once, he was sensible about things.”
I shook my head. “You mean you wheedled and probably browbeat him into it until he gave in.”
“Would I do something like that?”
Finn grinned a little wider.
I followed him over to the Escalade, which was a mess. The front had been smushed in like a tin can where he’d rammed the car through the gate and then into the koi fountain, and the windshield had splintered as a result. More scratches and scrapes could be seen on the passenger’s side where the vehicle had slammed up against the side of the fountain. It was like a group of giants had pounded on the car with their fists. Just about everything on it was either smashed, cracked, or broken.
“By the way,” he said, opening the driver’s side door. “You will be paying for every bit of the damage.”
Despite the situation, his words brought a ghost of a smile to my face. It was somehow comforting to know that Finnegan Lane was still looking out for number one—himself.
I slid into the front passenger’s seat, Owen and Eva already in the back. Eva nodded, but Owen just stared at me, a blank look on his face. As though we were strangers.
Nobody spoke on the ride over to Jo-Jo’s. Finn parked in the driveway, and we all got out of the car. Owen headed toward the house without a word, without even looking at me or giving me a hint of a smile, letting me know that everything between us was going to be okay.
“Just give him some time,” Eva whispered. “He’ll come around eventually, Gin. I know he will.”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak, not trusting myself to give voice to all my fears that by killing Salina, I’d also killed the love between me and Owen.
She squeezed my hand, hurried after him, and slipped inside the house. Finn stepped up on the porch. He started to go inside when he realized that I hadn’t moved.
“Gin?” he asked. “Are you coming?”
I shook my head. “Not right now. Let Jo-Jo see to Owen first. He got the worst of it tonight. Tell her that I’ll be along later.”
Finn nodded and stepped inside, letting the screen door bang shut behind him.
When I was sure that he wasn’t going to double back and check on me, I walked around to the other side of the SUV, putting the vehicle in between me and the house. I kept going until I was at the edge of the yard just before it started sloping down to the street. It was full dark now, and only the fireflies glimmered in the quiet night, weaving in and out through the trees where the crickets and cicadas sang their midnight song, punctuated here and there by the bellow of a bullfrog and the low hoot of an owl.
But I didn’t really hear the noises of the night. Only one thing echoed in my head again and again.
Daddy! No! Daddy! Daddy—
I breathed in, letting the soft, humid scent of the night air roll across my tongue. I scrubbed my hands over my face, as if I could wash away the memories of tonight, especially the image of Owen turning his back on me.
But I couldn’t—and I didn’t know if I ever would.
I stayed outside for a long time—long enough for Jo-Jo to heal Owen and for him and Eva to go on their way.
The porch light snapped on, and my lover stepped outside, followed by Eva and Sophia. The Goth dwarf rounded the house, and I heard her convertible start up a minute later. She must have been taking them home.
Sure enough, Sophia drove her convertible around to the front of the house. Eva opened one of the passenger doors and slid into the backseat. Owen grabbed hold of the front passenger door. He started to open it and get inside but paused, his eyes scanning the yard. He couldn’t see me in the shadows, and my heart rose in hopes that he might come looking for me.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he got into the car and shut the door. Sophia steered the vehicle down the driveway, and her red taillights—shaped like little skulls—disappeared into the darkness.
When I was sure they were gone, I walked over, trudged up the porch steps, and shuffled inside. I plodded back to the salon, where Jo-Jo and Finn were talking in low voices. The two of them looked at me. I knew they could see the raw emotion in my face, but for once I was too tired to hide my feelings.
Everything about tonight had simply hurt.
I settled myself in one of the cherry red salon chairs. Finn gave me a sympathetic glance, murmured something about calling to check in with Bria, and left.
“Finn told me what happened,” Jo-Jo said, reaching for her Air magic. “What you did to Salina.”
“I killed her, Jo-Jo. She was down for the count, but I went ahead and killed her anyway—even though Owen asked me not to.”
In a flat, dull voice, I told the dwarf everything, starting with Owen leaving me to go confront Salina to Finn figuring out her plan to my putting a stop to it and her—for good. All the while, the dwarf worked her magic on me. The feel of the tiny needles pricking at all my cuts, lumps, scratches, and bruises and making them whole again didn’t bother me tonight.
It was nothing compared to the ache in my heart.
Finally, the dwarf finished healing me and dropped her hand. The magic faded from her eyes, and she looked at me once more.
“It was an awful choice you had to make, darling. But Owen wouldn’t have wanted Eva to be a killer. Not like that.”
“No, he wouldn’t have, and I was trying to protect Eva from that.” I let out a breath. “But part of me killed Salina because I wanted to, Jo-Jo. Because she was a threat to me and Owen, and not just physically. I didn’t want to lose him to her, but it looks like that’s what’s happening anyway.”
She nodded. “Maybe that’s what it feels like now, but we both know Fletcher trained you better than that, Gin. He might have raised you to be an assassin, but he taught you to respect his code, your code. You don’t kill for the pleasure of it—you do what you have to in order to survive. Nothing more, nothing less. Like it or not, sometimes people just get broken, and nothing and nobody will make them whole again. Some of them even enjoy what they become. If you hadn’t killed Salina tonight, how long do you think it would have been before she made another run at you? Or Eva? Or even Owen?”
Jo-Jo was right, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t heal this rift between me and Owen.
“She would have killed one of you sooner or later,” Jo-Jo continued. “And then how would Owen feel? He’s already full of guilt that he didn’t realize what she was doing to Eva and that he believed her lies about Phillip. If you’d let Salina live, and she’d hurt any one of you, Owen would have felt even guiltier that he didn’t kill her when he had the chance. It would have eaten him up inside until there was nothing left.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know there was anything left of me and Owen.
Jo-Jo’s eyes clouded over, as though she was peering into the future. “Don’t worry, darling. It may take some time, but it everything will work out all right in the end. You’ll see.”
She patted my hand and started moving around the salon, straightening up. I sat in the chair and thought about her words.
But try as I might, I couldn’t convince myself that things would ever be the same again.
I spent the night at Jo-Jo’s. The next morning, I was sitting in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch, brooding into the sunlight, when Bria’s car pulled into the driveway. Xavier was with her, and he waved at me from the passenger’s seat. I waved back.
Bria got out of the car, walked to the porch, and sat down in the rocking chair next to me. For a long time, the only sound was the faint creak-creak-creaks of the wood. Finally, my sister spoke.
“I thought you’d want to know that there are fifteen folks dead, including Salina and the giants you killed, and almost two dozen with injuries,” she said.
I nodded. I’d expected the damage to be something like that, given how much water had soaked the area and how much glee Salina had taken in using her magic.
“Still, it could have been worse, a whole lot worse, all things considered,” Bria said. “She would have killed everyone with her magic if you hadn’t stepped in. The folks who survived owe you their lives, Gin.”
I tried to smile at her, but it didn’t come off very well. “Yeah, well, maybe the mayor will finally break down and give me that medal I’ve always wanted.”
My sister reached over and squeezed my hand, which was cold despite the growing warmth of the day. “Maybe. But I want you to know that I’m proud of you. I know it would have been better for you if Salina had killed everyone, especially Jonah McAllister. I know it wasn’t easy for you to save all the people who’ve been trying to murder you these past few months.”
I shrugged. “Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, wanting to protect my enemies instead of executing them like I should have. Like they would have done to me.”
Bria’s eyes met mine. “Not too soft. You killed Salina in the end.”
I let out a breath. “No, not too soft.”
“What does Owen think about that?”
“I saw what happened, what you did for Eva. You killed Salina so she wouldn’t have to, so Owen wouldn’t have to. He’ll come to see that in time.” She echoed what Jo-Jo had said to me last night.
I shrugged. I wished I shared her confidence, but I didn’t—I just didn’t. I’d seen the way Owen had looked at me after I’d slit Salina’s throat. How angry and hurt he’d been by my actions. I didn’t know if he could recover from that. I didn’t know if I could either.
“Bria!” Xavier called out, waving his hand at my sister through his open car window. “We have to go!”
Bria waved back, telling him that she’d be there in a minute. “Duty calls,” she said, and got to her feet.
“I made quite the mess for you to clean up, didn’t I? You’ll be dealing with the aftermath of this for weeks.”
She shrugged. “What are sisters for? Besides, you just helped me close two other homicides—Katarina and Antonio. Plus, the families of the men Salina married and murdered can finally get some closure, too. All in all, not a bad night’s work for the Spider.”
“You know, I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said my assassin name in a happy tone,” I said.
Bria looked at me, her face somber. “Do you remember what you said to me the night you saved Elliot Slater from beating me to death in my own house?”
“Something like there were worse things in the world than me.”
She nodded. “I think we saw one of those things last night. There are worse things than assassins in the world, Gin. A hell of a lot worse things. Some of them are even disguised as love.”
She leaned down and hugged me, then headed back over to her car, where Xavier was waiting. A minute later, they were gone, off to deal with the rest of the fallout.
The attempted massacre of Ashland’s underworld leaders dominated the news for the next few days. Story after story filled the newspapers and airwaves about Salina Dubois and her twisted plan to get revenge for her father’s murder.
When those stories became old news, the survivors told their harrowing tales for the local media, Jonah McAllister chief among them. Even though he’d been working with Salina, had helped her arrange her deadly dinner, he still painted himself as just another victim. The smarmy lawyer gave an interview to anyone who came calling until you couldn’t turn on the TV or open the newspaper without seeing his smooth face. Smug bastard. He was worse than a cockroach, always finding a way to survive no matter whose boot heel he was being crushed under.
But slowly, life got back to normal—except for the fact that I didn’t hear a word from Owen.
He didn’t call or come by to see me, and I didn’t try to contact him. I knew he needed some time, some space, and I was determined to give it to him, no matter how much I just wanted to hold him in my arms and pretend like the last few days had never happened. Like I’d never heard of Salina Dubois or discovered just how much she’d meant to my lover.