Spider's Trap

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“I really want to stab someone right now.”

Silvio Sanchez, my personal assistant, glanced at me. “I would advise against that,” he murmured. “It might send the wrong message.”

“Yeah,” Phillip Kincaid chimed in. “Namely that you’ve reverted back to your deadly assassin ways and are going to start killing people again instead of hearing them out like you’re supposed to.”

“I never really left those ways behind,” I replied. “Considering that I could kill everyone here and sleep like a baby tonight.”

Phillip snickered, while Silvio rolled his eyes.

The three of us were sitting at a conference table that had been dragged out onto the deck of the Delta Queen, the luxe riverboat casino that Phillip owned. Normally, slot machines, poker tables, and roulette wheels would have been set up on the deck in preparation for the night’s gambling, but today the riverboat was serving as a meeting spot for some of Ashland’s many underworld bosses.

Supposedly, this meeting was to be a peaceful mediation of a dispute between Dimitri Barkov and Luiz Ramos, two of the city’s crime lords, who were disagreeing about who had the right to buy a series of coin laundries to, well, launder the money that they made from their gambling operations. Not that there was anything peaceful about the way Dimitri and Luiz had been standing nose-to-nose and screaming at each other for the last five minutes. Their respective guards stood behind them, fists clenched tightly and shooting dirty looks at each other, as though they would all love nothing more than to start brawling in the middle of the deck.

Now, that would be entertaining. I grinned. Maybe I should let them have at each other, gladiator-style. Winner take all. That would be one way to settle things.

Silvio nudged me with his elbow, as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. “Pay attention. You’re supposed to be listening to the facts so you can be fair and impartial, remember?”

“I could be fair and impartial in stabbing them both.”

He gave me a chiding look.

I sighed. “You always ruin my fun.”

“That’s my job,” the vampire replied.

I palmed the silverstone knife hidden up my sleeve—the only weapon I’d brought on board—and flashed it at my friends under the table, out of sight of the bosses and their men.

“C’mon,” I whispered. “Just let me stab one of them. Surely that will shut the other one up too.”

Phillip snickered again, while Silvio let out a small, sad sigh. He wasn’t crazy about my managerial style. Couldn’t imagine why.

“I thought we agreed that you wouldn’t bring any knives on board,” Silvio murmured again. “So as not to send the wrong message.”

“I left the other four in the car. So I’m only a fifth as deadly today. That’s progress, right?” I waggled my eyebrows.

Silvio narrowed his gray eyes and held out his hand below the table. I reluctantly passed over the weapon, and he tucked it up his sleeve. I pouted a little, but he ignored me. He was getting good at that.

My friends turned their attention back to Dimitri and Luiz, who were still yelling and pointing their fingers at each other, each man trying to shout the other one down. But instead of listening to them, I glanced at the third boss who had shown up: Lorelei Parker.

Unlike Dimitri and Luiz, who were both dressed in business suits, Lorelei was sporting black stiletto boots, dark jeans, and a long-sleeved T-shirt, just like I was. The only real difference between us was that her leather jacket was a bright royal blue, and mine was a subdued midnight black. Her black hair was pulled back into a French braid, and her blue eyes were focused on her phone, since she was busy texting. The quick motions of her fingers made a silverstone rune ring glitter on her right hand—a rose wrapped in thorns dripping blood, all of it outlined in impressive diamonds.

Of the three bosses, Lorelei was the most intriguing, since she was a smuggler known far and wide for her ability to get anything for anyone at any time. Cash, guns, precious jewels, pricey antiques, and exotic animals were just a few of the things she was rumored to dabble in.

Only a single guard stood off to her side. Jack Corbin, her right-hand man. He too was dressed in boots, jeans, and a black leather jacket, but his blue eyes continuously scanned the deck and everyone and everything on it.

Corbin realized that I was watching him and tipped his head at me, before smoothing back his dark brown hair. Then he sidled a little closer to his boss, ready to protect her from everyone on deck, including me. I nodded back at him. My deceased mentor, Fletcher Lane, had a thick file on Corbin in his office, so I knew that he was far more dangerous than he appeared to be.

Then again, so was I.

Lorelei was here because she owned the coin laundries in question and was more than willing to sell them—to the highest bidder, of course. I didn’t know if she’d approached Dimitri and Luiz about buying the front businesses or if they’d come to her, and I hadn’t had the chance to ask any questions, since the gangsters had been screaming at each other the entire six minutes I’d been on the riverboat. Either way, the men just couldn’t agree on who was getting what, and things had escalated to the point where Dimitri and Luiz were about to declare war on each other. That would mean shootings, stabbings, kneecappings, and lots of other messy crimes.

Don’t get me wrong. As the Spider, I’d made plenty of bloody messes in my time. It was sort of my specialty.

But a few weeks ago, I’d taken down Madeline Magda Monroe, an acid elemental who’d declared herself the new queen of the Ashland underworld, following in the footsteps of her mother, Mab.