Deadly sting, p.12
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       Deadly Sting, p.12

         Part #8 of Elemental Assassin series by Belle Aurora
Page 12

  After a moment, Finn's shoulders sagged, his face relaxed, and his jaw unclenched. He knew that it wasn't me lying there - that it was Jillian instead. I waited for my foster brother to turn and whisper the news to the others, but he didn't.

  "See something you like?" Dixon called out, noticing Finn's interest in Jillian. "You one of those freaks who likes to get down and dirty with bodies?"

  Finn slowly straightened up and looked at the giant. "Hardly," he drawled. "Although it's interesting that was the first thing you thought about me doing. Maybe that says something about your sexual preferences. Why, I bet that you're the one who likes to get his freak on with corpses. Who knows what you did with her before you so gallantly carried her in here?"

  Dixon charged forward, his hand already dropping to the gun holstered on his belt. At the last second, Clementine held out her hand, stopping him. He looked at her, a clear plea in his eyes, but she slowly shook her head. It took him a moment, but Dixon swallowed his anger. She might be his aunt, but he didn't want to cross her.

  Clementine gestured for one of her men to come over to her and whispered something in his ear. Dixon glared at Finn and slowly drew his finger across his throat in threat.

  Finn, being Finn, puckered his lips and blew the giant a big, fat, sloppy kiss.

  More anger stained Dixon's cheeks, breaking through his orange fake bake, but he didn't draw his gun. Instead, he just stared at Finn with murder in his eyes. After a few seconds, Clementine finished her conversation with the other giant and crooked her finger at her nephew. Dixon stepped closer to her. I let out a breath. If Finn didn't play nice, he was going to get himself shot before I could rescue him and the others.

  Too bad I had no idea how I was going to do that.

  I couldn't just leap over the balcony and start taking on giants. Not with only two knives. There were too many of them and too much of a chance of people getting hurt in the confusion and crossfire. Plus, I had no doubt that Clementine would have no qualms about killing as many of the hostages as it took in order to take me out.

  I was mildly surprised that she hadn't let Dixon go ahead and shoot Finn for mouthing off, but at this point, she probably wanted to keep everyone calm for as long as possible. As long as folks thought they had a chance of going free, they'd behave like good little boys and girls and play by her rules.

  Oh, I could see some of the underworld figures staring at the giants, trying to figure out how to overpower them. Beauregard Benson coldly eyed a giant's throat like he wanted to rip it open with his bare hands. But nobody wanted to be the first - or only - person to make a move against the guards. Even though they all knew that everyone here was most likely marked for death.

  If this had just been a simple sting, Clementine and her crew would have all been wearing masks, not walking around with their faces exposed for everyone to see. There were a lot of heavy hitters at the gala, a lot of folks with a lot of money and power who wouldn't take too kindly to being robbed. The sort of folks who would expend a lot of time, energy, effort, and resources tracking down every single one of the robbers and horrifically executing them.

  Clementine was smart and sly, which meant that she knew the score as well as I did. But she'd boldly announced herself and her intentions to all of the hostages. There were only a couple of reasons I could think of for her to do that.

  The first, and most obvious, was that she wasn't planning on leaving any survivors around to identify her after the fact. A bloody option but effective in the end.

  The second was that she really thought that she and her squad of giants could handle any repercussions or reprisals from tonight. That she could take control of the underworld. That her little uprising would actually take. A pie-in-the-sky hope, at best.

  And the third was that she'd already made arrangements to leave Ashland far, far behind and that, despite her talk of running the town, she'd already set herself up somewhere she thought no one would ever find her. But that was still a big risk to take. Nobody could hold a grudge like the folks in Ashland - nobody. The Hatfields and McCoys had nothing on us.

  Still, it didn't much matter what Clementine Barker had planned - because I was going to make sure that she didn't live through the night.

  "Now," Clementine said, after everyone had taken a good, long look at my supposed corpse and the whispers had died down once more, "I suggest that everyone sit down and start taking off their valuables. The sooner we rob you, the sooner we can leave. "

  She let out another loud howl of laughter, one that had all the hostages hurrying to plant themselves on the marble floor just as quickly as they could.

  I stayed in my position on the balcony and watched as the three giants with the trash bags moved through the crowd, collecting everyone's rings, watches, necklaces, and cell phones. Once everything was gathered up, the giants handed the bags off to Opal, then rejoined the other guards ringing the hostages. Clementine stepped forward once more, a bright smile on her face.

  "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" she said in that same deceptively friendly voice. "And don't worry. We'll keep the jewels, but y'all can have your cell phones back after we're done. We wouldn't want to put y'all out any more than we already have by making you get new phones. "

  Clementine chuckled, turned, and murmured something to Opal. The younger giant put the trash bags down on the floor and started sorting through all of the items inside. Opal carefully set all of the jewelry and watches off to one side while tossing the cell phones into a haphazard pile. Meanwhile, several other giants started moving through the rotunda, some roughly plucking the paintings off the walls while the others carefully took them out of their frames, rolled them up, and slipped them into long, slender tubes. More than a dozen additional giants holstered their guns and trooped out of the rotunda, probably to start looting the other rooms. Plenty of guards remained behind to watch the hostages.

  "And now I'm afraid that I have to leave y'all for a little while," Clementine said. "Things to do and all that. But don't you worry. My girl, Opal, and the rest of my boys will take good care of y'all while I'm gone. "

  She laughed yet again, and the dark sound made more than a few folks shiver.

  "Actually, I need one of you to come with me," Clementine continued. "And help me with a very special art project. "

  I frowned. Special project? What was she talking about? As far as I knew, all of Mab's art was in here, making it the most valuable room in the whole museum. Sure, there were plenty of other pricey paintings and sculptures throughout Briartop, but most of them were just wired to the walls or housed under glass. Nothing a giant's strength and a few well-placed punches couldn't take care of. Since I hadn't heard any alarms blaring, Clementine and her crew must have already taken care of the real guards and the security system; they wouldn't be worried about clipping wires or smashing through any glass case they wanted. So what else could they be after? What could they possibly need help with?

  The partygoers looked around, wondering what she was talking about. Suspicion filled their faces as they eyed one another. They were thinking the same thing I was - that someone here was working with Clementine and her crew.

  "You see, there's a particular bit of metal that I need help dealing with," Clementine said. "And there's someone here with just the right kind of magic to help me and my boys handle it. "

  As soon as she said the word metal, my heart clenched in my chest. I knew exactly what kind of magic she was talking about - and exactly who had it.

  "Owen Grayson," Clementine called out in a booming voice. "Come on down. "

  Chapter 9

  For a moment, I closed my eyes again. The night just kept getting better and better. First, Jillian had been murdered, then Clementine and her crew had taken everyone hostage, and now this.

  Murmurs rippled through the crowd, and folks turned to stare at Owe
n, who was just as shocked by the giant's announcement as everyone else. But Owen's surprise quickly turned to wariness. He glanced at Phillip and Finn, but the other two men shrugged, their own faces tight with concern. They didn't know what Clementine wanted with him any more than I did, but we all knew it couldn't be anything good.

  "Ah, come on, now, Mr. Grayson," Clementine said. "I see you over there. Don't be shy. Get to your feet and step up on here. "

  She grinned and pointed her gun at the woman sitting closest to her. "Or I'll shoot this pretty lady in the face. "

  The woman gasped and ducked her head, as if that would somehow help her magically melt into the floor and get away from the giant and her gun.

  "Right now, if you please, Mr. Grayson," Clementine continued. "Or a lot of people are going to get covered in a whole lot of blood. Blowback is a bitch, especially at close range like this. Not to mention the damage the bullets themselves will do. Why, this lady's head will probably explode like a ripe watermelon dropped on a rock - splat. And who knows where the bullets will go from there? Why, they could clip two or three more folks before they finally stop. "

  There was nothing Owen could do, no way he could possibly stop the giant from pulling the trigger except by obeying her. Like Clementine had said before, she and her boys had already taken out the Spider. So what was to stop them from murdering everyone else?

  Owen climbed to his feet and slowly shuffled toward the front of the room, picking his way through the seated hostages. The faint tap-tap-tap of his wing tips on the floor sounded like nails being driving into a coffin. Clementine might want him alive right now, but she'd kill him the second she didn't need him anymore.

  Owen finally stopped in front of Clementine, his violet eyes practically glowing with anger.

  "I don't know what you're planning or what you think I can help you with, but I'm not going to do it. " He spat out the words. "You can kill me if you want, but I'm not going to help you. Not after what you've done. "

  His gaze dropped to Jillian's body, and his mouth twisted with anger, regret, and sorrow. I wondered if it was for me - or her.

  Clementine smiled. "Sure you will. Because if you don't, I'll have my boys shoot people until you change your mind. And just to speed things along, they'll start with that pretty little sister of yours. "

  She jerked her head, and Dixon waded into the crowd, grabbed Eva's arm, and hauled her upright. Phillip, Roslyn, and Finn surged to their feet as well, but Phillip was the quickest. He yanked Eva out of the giant's grasp and put himself in front of her before stepping forward and slamming his fist into Dixon's face. I heard the sharp, satisfying snap of the blow all the way up on the balcony. Dixon staggered back, blood pouring out of his broken nose and leaving garish streaks on his orange skin.

  "You bastard!" Dixon screamed, blood spewing out of his mouth too. "I'll kill you for that!"

  Phillip growled and lunged forward, his fingers curved into claws like he wanted to rip out the giant's throat with his bare hands. That made two of us. But another giant came in on Phillip's blind side and pistol-whipped him across the face before he could get his hands on Dixon. But Phillip was strong, thanks to his mysterious giant and dwarven parentage, and the blow only rocked him back instead of knocking him into next week. He shook it off and started forward again -


  The distinctive sound made Phillip draw up short of tackling the giant who'd hit him. He whirled around and realized the same thing I did, that Clementine now had her gun leveled at Owen's head.

  "Stop," she commanded. "Or I might just decide that I don't need Mr. Grayson after all. "

  A hard knot of fear clogged my throat, choking me, but I immediately reached for my Ice magic, ready to blast Clementine with it. The giant was about fifty feet away from me, with Owen standing in front of her, but I wasn't about to let her shoot him. I'd find some way to stop her with my magic or my knives or something, anything - anything - to save Owen.

  But I didn't have to. Phillip cursed, but he slowly lowered his hands to his sides and stepped away from the giant.

  "Good boy," Clementine said, and dropped her gun from Owen's face.

  But one person wasn't satisfied that Phillip had quit fighting. Dixon spat out a mouthful of blood. His aim was spot-on, and the mess splattered onto Phillip's shoe and pants leg. Phillip stiffened, but he didn't move. Dixon studied him a moment, then pulled his gun out of the holster on his belt and shot him.

  Phillip grunted and crumpled to the ground.

  "Philly!" Eva screamed and dropped to her knees beside him.

  Finn and Roslyn rushed forward too. I couldn't tell exactly where he had been shot, what side the wound was on, or how close to his heart and lungs it was, but I could see the bright splash of blood on his white shirt - a whole lot of blood. Finn ripped off his tuxedo jacket and immediately pressed it to the wound, trying to stanch the blood flow.

  For a moment, Dixon's features twisted with satisfaction. Then he glanced over his shoulder at Clementine, who gave him a sharp, murderous glare. Dixon swallowed. Looked like he wasn't supposed to shoot any more hostages, at least not yet.

  Still, Clementine didn't let the rest of the crowd see the slight dissension in the ranks. Instead, she tilted her head to the side and studied Finn and Roslyn as they tried to help Phillip. For a moment, the rotunda was completely silent except for Phillip's hoarse rasps of pain.

  "Well, now, that looks like a nasty wound," she said. "Painful but not fatal. Not immediately, anyway. "

  I let out the breath I'd been holding.

  "Why, if you come with me right now, Mr. Grayson, you might return in time to get your friend to an Air elemental and get him all healed up," Clementine drawled. "It's your choice, but I suggest you be quick about it. "
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