I looked up from the tomato I was slicing and stared across the counter at Finnegan Lane, my foster brother and partner in so many murderous schemes over the years.
"Vacation? I hardly ever take vacations," I said. "I have a barbecue restaurant to run, in case you've forgotten."
I gestured with the knife at the rest of the Pork Pit. Most people wouldn't consider the restaurant much to look at with its blue and pink vinyl booths and matching, peeling pig tracks on the floor that led to the men's and women's restrooms. The long counter that ran along the back wall was older than I was, as were most of the cups, dishes, plates, silverware, and stainless-steel appliances. But everything was neat, clean, and polished to a high gloss, from the tables and chairs to the framed, slightly bloody copy of Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls that hung on the wall close to the battered, old-fashioned cash register. The Pork Pit might not be some fancy, highfalutin place, but it was my gin joint, my home, and I was damned proud of it. Always had been, always would be.
"A vacation," Finn repeated, as if I hadn't said a word. He was rather persistent that way. "Somewhere warm, somewhere sandy, somewhere where nobody knows your name, either as Gin Blanco or most especially as the Spider."
Finn's voice wasn't that loud, but when he said the Spider, the words echoed like gunshots through the storefront. The folks sitting at the tables behind Finn immediately froze, their thick, juicy barbecue beef and pork sandwiches halfway between their plates and lips. Conversation dried up like a shallow puddle in the desert, and everyone's eyes cut to me, wondering how I would react to the sound of that particular name.
My assassin name. The one I'd gone by for the last seventeen years, when I was out late at night killing people for money and eventually other, nobler reasons.
My hand tightened around the long, serrated tomato knife. Not for the first time, I wished I could use it to cut out Finn's tongue-or at least get him to think before he opened his mouth.
An elderly woman sitting two stools down from Finn noticed my death grip on the blade. Her face paled, and her hand clutched at the collar of her white silk blouse like she was about three seconds away from having a heart attack.
Sighing, I made myself relax and put the blade down on the counter. Fuck. I hated being notorious.
After a lifetime of being invisible, I was suddenly the most well-known person in Ashland. Several weeks ago, I'd done the unthinkable-I'd killed Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who'd been the head of the city's underworld for years. Mab had murdered my mother and older sister when I was thirteen, and her death had been a long time coming, as far as I was concerned. I didn't know anyone who'd shed any real tears over the Fire elemental's messy demise.
But now, everyone wanted their pound of flesh-from me.
Mab's death had left a vacuum among Ashland's legit and not-so-legit power players, and they were all scrambling to stake their various claims, solidify their shady operations, and position themselves as the city's next top dog.
Some of them thought the best way to accomplish that last feat was by killing me.
Idiot after idiot had come to the Pork Pit in the last few weeks, either singly or in small groups, all with one thing on their minds-taking out the Spider. Most of the elementals came at me straight on, challenging me to duels and wanting to test their magic against my own Ice and Stone power. Everyone else, well, they were content to try to get the drop on me when I was either opening up or closing down the restaurant.
Whatever their method, it always ended the same way-with the challengers dead and me asking Sophia Deveraux to dispose of their bodies. I'd killed more people in the last month than I had in a year as the Spider. Even I was getting a little sick of the constant, not-so-surprise attacks and blood spatters on my hands, clothes, and shoes, but the stream of suicidal lowlifes showed no signs of slowing down anytime soon.