For a moment, I almost thought I saw a glint of respect in his eyes, but he kept his face as cold, remote, and impassive as mine was.
“First question?” he finally asked.
“Who’s the water elemental who killed Antonio?”
Kincaid eyed the empty glass on the bar like he wished it was still full. “What makes you think I know who it is?”
“Because your second-in-command was murdered right in front of you, and you didn’t bat an eye. Water elementals aren’t uncommon, but the way this one used her magic was especially creative and vicious. But you just looked at Antonio, or what was left of him, and you weren’t surprised in the least. So that makes me think you know exactly who this elemental is and what she’s capable of. Not to mention the fact that you asked me to go after her. Not the elemental, not whoever had done this, but her.”
Kincaid kept his gaze on the glass, so I decided to push him even more.
“And then there’s Eva, who said that she wasn’t leaving you behind again. Which, naturally, implies that she did leave you behind at some point before. Add that to everything else, and it seems that you know a hell of a lot more about what’s going on than I do. I don’t like to be kept in the dark, Philly—or worse: used. Believe me when I tell you that a person only ever does that once to me.”
A muscle twitched in his cheek, but that was his only reaction. I thought Kincaid wouldn’t answer me or that perhaps he was thinking of some lie or some way he could spin what had happened to Antonio. But after a few seconds, he shrugged again and gave me the answer I’d been expecting all along, although he did add a caveat that took me by surprise.
“Her name is Salina Dubois,” he said, lifting his head and looking at me. “And I want you to kill the bitch for me.”
So my suspicions were correct, and Salina Dubois was a water elemental—one who could use her magic to kill as easily as I could with my own Ice and Stone power.
I’d thought as much, given the distinctive feel of the water elemental’s magic—magic that had felt exactly like the power that Salina had subtly given off when I’d shaken her hand at Underwood’s. At the restaurant, I’d thought that perhaps Salina was a weak Ice elemental or gifted in some subset, like water. Now, I knew exactly what kind of magic she had—and that she wasn’t weak at all.
But Kincaid’s confirmation raised even more questions. Did Owen know about Salina’s magic? Did he know what she could do with it? Could my lover be in danger from her? And how did Eva and Kincaid fit into all of this? What tied them all together?
Kincaid watched me closely, waiting to see what effect his bombshell and subsequent request would have on me, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of reacting.
“Didn’t you hear me?” he asked. “I want you to kill her for me. I want you, the Spider, to kill Salina Dubois.”
I laughed. “And what? You think I’m going to do it just because you ask me to? Oh, Philly. You should know better than that.”
“Of course not,” he said in a smooth voice. “I know what a . . . professional you are. You deserve to be richly compensated for your skills and expertise. Believe me when I tell you that money is no object. Name your price, and I’ll double it. Triple it, if necessary.”
I shook my head. “There’s not enough money in the world to get me to work for you.”
“Ah, but money’s not the only thing I can offer you. I think we’d both agree there are things that are far more precious than money, especially to people like us.”
“And what would these precious things be?”
Kincaid grinned. “A little peace and quiet.”
“What do you mean?”
His grin widened. “Consider this a tit-for-tat deal. You kill Salina, and I take care of all the folks who want to take out the Spider. That’s a win-win for everyone, I’d say.”
I looked at the casino boss. “Let me get this straight. In return for my killing Salina, you’ll agree to what—call off every other lowlife in Ashland? I don’t think you have that much pull, Philly.”
“I have quite a bit more than you think, Gin,” he said. “At the very least, I can give you some breathing room. It’s been two months since Mab’s funeral. How many people have you had to kill since then? A dozen? Two?”
I hadn’t been keeping count. It wasn’t like I was getting paid to kill people anymore—I had to do it simply to survive. But the constant barrage of blood and bodies had been enough to make me tired—so tired. That was the reason I’d gone down to Blue Marsh a few weeks ago, just so I could get away from everyone in Ashland who wanted me dead. But of course my vacation had ended up being just as dangerous. Still, I had to give Kincaid credit. His offer was tempting—far more tempting than he knew. It looked like the casino boss was shrewder, smarter, and more devious than I’d realized.
“Go on?” he asked. “And say what?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Like maybe why Salina wants to kill you. I’m the one asking the questions, remember? Now, I’m assuming that you were her ultimate target, since it’s your fancy riverboat we’re on. I’m also guessing that offing Antonio the way she did was just fun for her, and that’s why she didn’t kill you to start with. Or maybe she killed him first to sucker you into going over to his body so she could use what was left of him to wrap that water noose around your neck. Personally, I like to be more straightforward about these things, but Salina seems a little ostentatious when it comes to her magic. Either way, she had no qualms about dropping two bodies here tonight.”
He snorted. “You have no idea what Salina’s idea of fun is.”
“So enlighten me.”
“All right,” Kincaid said. “Since you’ve made it so clear what will happen if I don’t answer your questions.”
I just smiled and kept twirling my knife in my hand.
He drew in a breath. “Salina and I have been enemies for years. No real reason, just a mutual distaste for each other. It’s not as dramatic as your victory over Mab, but I count the day Salina left town as one of the happiest of my life. But over the past few months, I’ve been hearing some rather disturbing rumors that she’d finally decided to come back to Ashland, rumors I was able to confirm a few days ago.”
“And do you know why she’s come back? Why now, after all these years? Why did she even leave town in the first place if this was her home?”
“Apparently, Salina’s determined to start up her father’s business again,” he said.
“Who’s her father?”
I frowned. “Why does that name sound so familiar?”
Kincaid hesitated. “Benedict Dubois ran most of the gambling operations and bookies in Ashland for years. At least, until Mab decided those operations should belong to her. Benedict thought he could take her on and win, but I’m sure you can imagine how that turned out for him.”
He nodded. “Salina . . . left town after his . . . death.”
I looked at him. “But with Mab gone, you now run all the gambling operations in town. So you’re telling me that Salina wants you dead because you’re standing in the way of her re-creating her daddy’s empire?”
He shrugged. “Something like that.”
Kincaid wasn’t telling me everything. Hell, he wasn’t telling me a fraction of what I wanted to know. His answers were much too vague for that. Oh, I could believe Salina desired him dead because they were old enemies and she wanted to take over his business interests. That was par for course in the Ashland underworld. I couldn’t even fault her for it, not really, not considering all the people I’d killed for money.
But that still didn’t explain why Kincaid had asked me to cater the fund-raiser tonight. And the most telling thing, the big red elephant in the room, was Eva. Kincaid hadn’t mentioned her at all, much less explained why Eva seemed to be as familiar with Salina’s water magic as he was, or why he’d taken the time to comfort a girl he shouldn’t have even known in the first place.
Before I could voice my suspicions and demand he tell me everything, one of the phones on his desk rang. Kincaid raised his eyebrows in a silent question, and I gestured for him to go ahead.
He walked over and picked it up. “What?” he growled into the phone.
A voice murmured something indistinct on the other end.
“Tell them I’ll be right there.” Kincaid hung up and looked at me. “Apparently, the police are here and want to talk to me.”
He looked as thrilled by the prospect as I felt. As a semiretired assassin, I didn’t exactly count the members of the po-po among my best friends. But I supposed I didn’t have anything to hide tonight, since I hadn’t actually murdered anyone on the riverboat. Why, I hadn’t so much as gotten my clothes good and bloody. Definitely a slow night for the Spider.
We left Kincaid’s office, walked back up the stairs to the ballroom, and stepped out onto the main deck. While I’d been gone, Sophia, Violet, and Eva had packed up the catering supplies—what was left of them. All the pots, pans, and utensils had been knocked to the deck and trampled during the stampede, along with the tins of food. More than a few had been kicked overboard and had disappeared into the murky depths of the river. But that was the least of my problems right now.
I looked over the railing at the new arrivals on the scene. A couple of cop cars sat in a parking lot next to the boardwalk, their blue and white lights flashing over the students and giants still milling around down there. As I watched, a dark sedan pulled in behind the other vehicles. The doors opened, and two familiar figures got out. One of the cops was a giant roughly seven feet tall with a shaved head, a thick, muscular body, and ebony hair, skin, and eyes. The other cop was a woman about my size, with a shaggy mane of blond hair, rosy skin, and cornflower-blue eyes.
I smiled. Well, at least one thing was going to go right tonight.
The two cops stopped to talk to one of the uniformed officers who was taking witness statements. He pointed at the riverboat, so the two of them walked up the gangplank. One of Kincaid’s giants stopped them at the top, but the female cop showed him her badge and he let them board. She stood by the railing, scanning the deck, the people on it, and the body lying in the middle of everything.
Her gaze landed on Sophia, and she did a double take before her eyes met mine. Her lips quirked up into sort of a rueful smile, but her expression was warm as she walked over to me.
“Gin,” she said. “I didn’t expect to find you here tonight.”
“You know me, baby sister,” I drawled. “Always in the thick of things.”
Detective Bria Coolidge scoffed a little at that; then she turned and called out to her partner. “Xavier, look who we have here.”
The giant was talking to one of Kincaid’s men, and he waved at Bria, letting her know that he’d seen me and Sophia. He also gave me a wink, which I returned. Xavier was more than just Bria’s partner on the force—he was a friend and part of my extended family.
“Was the dead guy gunning for you?” Bria asked in a soft voice, nodding at the body.
I shook my head. “Nope, this is someone else’s handiwork tonight. You know I don’t like to stick around after the fact—or leave behind any bodies for the cops to find.”
A grimace crossed her face before she was able to hide it. Despite the fact that Bria knew I was an assassin, she was still a cop at heart—one of the few good, honest ones in Ashland. She spent most of her days chasing after all the bad folks who called the city home. Having one of them for a sister was hard on her sometimes, especially these days, when most everyone walking in the shady side of Ashland life suspected who I was.
“Tell me what happened.”
I laid it out for her. The only thing I didn’t mention was that Salina appeared to be the murderous elemental in question and that Kincaid wanted to hire me to kill her. I wanted to talk to Owen about Salina—and a lot of other things—before I dropped the dime on that.
While Bria took notes on a small pad, Xavier crouched down next to the body, pulled up the tablecloth, and peered underneath.
The giant let out a low whistle. “That is one nasty mess. Did you say a water elemental did this?”
Something in his voice made me frown. “Yeah. Why?”
Xavier waved his hand at Bria. “Come take a look at this.”
My sister moved over, and Xavier raised up the tablecloth again so she could see Antonio’s body. Bria’s face tightened, and she nodded at the giant.
“It looks exactly the same as our other victim,” she said.
My eyes narrowed. “What other victim?”
“Katarina Arkadi,” Bria replied. “I’m sure you know the name.”
Oh, I knew the name all right. Katarina Arkadi was another one of the underworld movers and shakers, someone who was trying to consolidate her power base of late. If the rumors were to be believed, Arkadi had actually proposed some sort of cease-fire in the city until everything could be divided up between all the folks who had a seat at the table.
I glanced at Kincaid. Another rumor that Finn had told me about linked Arkadi with the casino boss in some hush-hush deal. I’d heard Arkadi had been found dead, but I’d been so preoccupied with Owen and Salina, and now Kincaid, that I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the news stories surrounding her untimely demise.
“Arkadi’s been dead how long now?” I asked, working through the timeline in my mind. “A week?”
“Four days,” Bria corrected me. “Her maid came into her room to clean Sunday morning and found her in bed. Coroner said it looked like she’d died of sudden, extreme dehydration, like all the water had somehow been pulled out of her body. She was a mess, just like this giant is.”
I looked at her. “You don’t believe in coincidences any more than I do.”
She gave me a grim smile. “Not in the least. Not in Ashland.”
Bria nodded at Eva, who was still standing with Violet and Sophia. “You want to tell me what Owen’s sister is doing here? And Violet along with her?”
I shook my head. “I know why Eva says she’s here, but not the real reason why. But believe me when I tell you I’m going to find out.”
“Well, fill me in when you get your answers,” Bria said. “I’ll have enough problems dealing with Kincaid. You wouldn’t want to do me a favor and . . . motivate him to cooperate, would you?”
I grinned at her. “You’re getting rather violent in your old age, baby sister. Last year, you never would have even suggested something like that.”
She grinned back at me. “What is it that Finn says? Violence seems to run in our family? Might as well use what we seem to be so good at to get some results, especially when I’ve got two dead bodies to explain to my boss.”