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       Wasted, p.1

           Jennifer Estep
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  The woman was one of the most beau­ti­ful crea­tures that I’d ever seen.

  Five feet four inches of soft, curvy per­fec­tion poured into a tight suit jacket and a short skirt that let me see just how exquis­ite her breasts and legs were. Then again, every­thing about her was exquis­ite and whis­pered of money, from the art­ful tou­sle of her red curls to the dia­mond brooch set into her jacket to the shine of her French pedicure.

  This was a woman who took care of her­self, prob­a­bly with a strict reg­i­men of diet, exer­cise, and Air ele­men­tal facials. Hell, she might have even been one of Jo-Jo Deveraux’s clients over at the dwarf’s pop­u­lar beauty salon. I made a men­tal note to ask Jo-Jo the next time that I saw her—and see if the dwarf had any more gor­geous gals that she was keep­ing to her­self and out of my greedy clutches.

  The woman stood in the lobby of my bank, First Trust of Ash­land, look­ing exactly like all the other obscenely wealthy clients that came in through the glass dou­ble doors on a daily basis. With its heavy, antique wooden fur­ni­ture, gold leaf accents, and white mar­ble floor, the bank had been designed to reflect the largesse of its cus­tomers. Every­thing was expen­sive and under­stated, just the way that our clients wanted it to be.

  Her eyes scanned the long counter than ran down the left wall before mov­ing to the door at the end—the one that led down to the offices and the bank’s vault deep underground.

  I was stand­ing on the oppo­site side of the bank, sit­ting on the edge of a desk and talk­ing to Pete, our stock ana­lyst, about the shop­ping trip that he’d recently taken to Big­time, New York with his lover and all the divine Fiona Fine menswear that they’d come back to Ash­land with.

  “Duty calls,” I said, get­ting to my feet.

  Pete fol­lowed my gaze and snorted. “It always does every time a pretty woman walks through the door, Finn.”

  “You’re just jeal­ous that she’s not a dude.”

  “Hardly. Dave and I are very happy.”

  I grinned at him. “But it never hurts to look, does it?”

  Pete just laughed and con­cen­trated on his com­puter mon­i­tor once more.

  I smoothed down my green tie, the one that I knew brought out the match­ing color of my eyes, and headed over to her. My wingtips clacked on the floor, draw­ing her atten­tion. She looked up at my approach, and I hit her with a small smile, which of course she returned. I was Finnegan Lane, after all. Charm­ing, hand­some, rich. A hard com­bi­na­tion for any woman to resist.

  I stopped a few feet away, just look­ing at her. Up close, she was even more stun­ning, with sun-kissed skin, hazel eyes, and lush lips that just begged to be kissed. I also noticed a small set of gleam­ing white fangs in her mouth. She was a vam­pire then, not that it mat­tered to me in the slight­est. Giant, dwarf, vam­pire, ele­men­tal, a reg­u­lar old human like me. I admired women no mat­ter what kind of strength, magic, or lack thereof that they had.

  “Are you the man­ager?” she asked in a light, sweet voice.

  I breathed in. Her per­fume smelled of hon­ey­suckle, sub­tle and expen­sive. Nice—very nice. “Nope, I’m not the man­ager, but I’m sure that I can help you. The name’s Lane, Finnegan Lane. My friends call me Finn.”

  And then, I gave her my most charm­ing smile, the one that had even­tu­ally led to more than one woman falling into bed with me. I liked women, you see. Liked every­thing about them. The way they walked, talked, smelled, laughed, smiled, and most espe­cially, the way they felt in my arms—smooth, soft, supple.

  But instead of return­ing my smile, the woman’s mouth flat­tened out. “Oh. Well, where is he?”

  “I’m sure that I can help you,” I said, giv­ing her another hit of my pearly whites. “I’m one of the senior asso­ciates here.”

  If any­thing, my polite insis­tence that I could help repulsed her even more.

  “No,” she said, clutch­ing her purse to her exquis­ite chest and shak­ing her head. “I need to see the man­ager. Nobody else.”

  I frowned. “But—”

  “What seems to be the prob­lem here, Lane?” a man’s voice cut in.

  Andrew Stevens, the bank man­ager, stepped up to us. Stevens was a tall, trim fel­low with a slick shark’s smile that was just as daz­zling as mine was. His only flaw was a grow­ing bald spot that he unsuc­cess­fully tried to hide with a com­bover. Despite the fact that I’d worked with the man for three years now, that com­bover still made me shud­der every time that I laid eyes on it. I ran my hand through my own thick, walnut-colored hair in reassurance.

  “Are you the man­ager?” the woman asked, star­ing at him.

  Stevens nod­ded. “I am. How can I help you today …”

  “Clarissa,” she replied in a soft voice, hold­ing out her hand. “Clarissa Divine.”

  Stevens could be just as smooth as I could, and he brought her hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss to it. “Well, Ms. Divine, it’s a plea­sure to meet you. How can I assist you?”

  Clarissa waved her purse. “I have some … fam­ily jew­els that need to be put in a safe loca­tion. Some items that my soon-to-be ex-husband doesn’t need to know any­thing about. I was told that you could help me with that sort of thing.”

  Stevens nod­ded and held out his arm. “Of course. If you’ll just come with me, Ms. Divine, I’m sure that we can find a solu­tion to your problem.”

  She took his arm and smiled at him then, a bright, daz­zling smile that was a plea­sure to behold in and of itself. But the real bonus was the warm, invit­ing look in her eyes—the one that whis­pered of so many deli­cious things to come.

  I frowned, won­der­ing why the hell Stevens was get­ting that smile, that look, instead of me. I’d seen her first, after all. And when Finnegan Lane put his mind to seduc­ing a woman, as I had with Clarissa the sec­ond that I’d seen her, I was usu­ally suc­cess­ful, no mat­ter what obsta­cles got in my way—overbearing friends, jeal­ous boyfriends, pistol-packing husbands.

  Stevens gave me a tri­umphant smile and escorted her across the floor and through the door at the far end of the counter, no doubt tak­ing her down to his office. Of course, he could have asked one of the tellers here in the lobby to hook her up with a safety deposit box, but I knew that Stevens wanted to give Clarissa his own per­sonal attention.

  I would have done the same, if I’d been in the lucky bastard’s wingtips.


  Clarissa Divine came into the bank sev­eral times after that. The sec­ond time, Stevens walked up to the lobby to meet her. The third time, she came in just at clos­ing, and the two of them left together. The fourth time, the very next day, she walked over to the door by the counter, and Stevens buzzed her down. After that, she came and went as she pleased, so often that the giant guard sta­tioned in the lobby auto­mat­i­cally went over to open the door for her.

  Stevens wasn’t as much of a prick about the sit­u­a­tion as I would have been. If I’d been with a crea­ture as beau­ti­ful as Clarissa, I would have bragged about it to every­one, from the folks at the bank to my friend, Jo-Jo, and her sis­ter, Sophia Dev­er­aux, to my fos­ter sis­ter, Gin Blanco. Stevens con­tented him­self with a mild, know­ing smirk in my direc­tion every now and then.

  It still made me want to shoot the bas­tard, though.

  One day, about six weeks after Clarissa’s ini­tial visit, I was in my office try­ing to find another tax shel­ter for one of my Ice ele­men­tal clients to put some more of her con­sid­er­able fam­ily for­tune into when the inter­com on my desk buzzed.


  “You have a vis­i­tor, Finn,” the voice of Celia, one of the tellers, filled my ear. “A giant. Says his name is Xavier.”

ng him on down.”

  “Roger that.”

  I wasn’t sure exactly why Xavier wanted to see me, since to my knowl­edge the giant didn’t have any money that needed hid­ing from the IRS, but maybe he’d sur­prise me. I’d be happy to help him move some cash around—for a small fee, of course.

  Five min­utes later, Celia knocked on my open door and ges­tured for Xavier to step inside. He maneu­vered around her and came over to my desk.

  “Thank you, dar­ling,” I drawled at Celia, then gave her a saucy wink. “That will be all.”

  Despite the fact that she was a dwarf who’d just cel­e­brated her three hun­dredth birth­day a few weeks back, Celia blushed, her cheeks going scar­let under­neath her smart coif of sil­ver hair. She returned my wink, let out a small gig­gle, and closed the door behind her.

  Xavier shook his shaved head. His ebony skin gleamed dully under­neath the lights. “You and the ladies. You never cease to amaze me, Finn.”

  I grinned. “I never cease to amaze myself either.”

  Like most giants, Xavier topped out at around seven feet tall, with a thick, mus­cu­lar body that was incred­i­bly strong. We shook hands, and I could tell that he was tak­ing care to keep his grip light, some­thing my more frag­ile human bones appre­ci­ated. A navy suit paired with a white shirt cov­ered his solid frame. Nice cut, qual­ity fab­ric, per­fectly draped. It looked good on him. I always appre­ci­ated a well-made suit, even if it was on another man.

  I sat back down in my chair and ges­tured for Xavier to take the seat oppo­site mine.

  The giant set­tled him­self in the chair, looked around the office, and let out a low whis­tle. “Damn. I should have been a banker like you, Finn.”

  I’d been at the bank almost ten years now, ever since I’d got­ten out of finance school, and as a result, my office was one of the biggest ones on this floor, the third one under­neath the lobby. Stevens’ office was located here too at the end of the hall, while the bank’s vault was one more floor down.

  I’d dec­o­rated the office myself in a style that was unapolo­getic, in-your-face, osten­ta­tious com­fort. I had the best of every­thing in here, from the thick Per­sian rugs that cov­ered the mar­ble floor to the first edi­tion vol­umes on the book­shelves to the Brighton’s Best whiskey that gleamed in its bot­tle inside the antique liquor cab­i­net. An L-shaped sofa made out of sup­ple suede took up the bet­ter part of one wall. Both sec­tions of the sofa pulled out to make beds, which it made it con­ve­nient to enter­tain my more amorous clients here in my office instead of hav­ing to leave the bank and drive all the way over to my apartment.

  My desk was a mas­sive affair that was eight feet wide and had almost as many secret com­part­ments in it as the vault did safety deposit boxes. All those lit­tle hidey holes and false bot­toms where were I kept cer­tain sup­plies. Pass­ports, a small bag of dia­monds, a few bricks of cash, my guns and the ammu­ni­tion for them. When you swam with the sharks like I did, you never knew when you might need to get out of town in a hurry or take care of a par­tic­u­larly demand­ing cus­tomer. My father, Fletcher Lane, had pre­pared me for those even­tu­al­i­ties and many, many more.

  My only real con­ces­sion to mod­ern func­tion­al­ity was the TV that was mounted on a stand off to my right. Cur­rently, it was tuned to a closed cir­cuit feed of the bank lobby and showed peo­ple com­ing and going, tellers cash­ing checks, and more. In addi­tion to work­ing with clients, I also had a hand in secu­rity around here, thanks to the var­i­ous favors that the bank’s higher-ups had owed to my dad. Besides, I liked to keep a vig­i­lant eye on things money-related.

  “Invest­ment banker,” I said, cor­rect­ing Xavier’s ear­lier state­ment. “And yes, it pays very, very well. Espe­cially in a place like Ash­land, where so much of the pop­u­la­tion has so much money to hide—and so many bod­ies too.”

  Xavier nod­ded, but he didn’t smile at my dark humor. Nor­mally, crack­ing a joke about what a cor­rupt, vio­lent city Ash­land was would get a small chuckle from the most jaded res­i­dent. No, the giant was all busi­ness today. Pity.

  “So what I can do for you, Xavier?” I asked. “Because as much as I like you, I know that you just didn’t come down here to shoot the shit with me today.”

  The giant hes­i­tated, star­ing down at his shoes. Then, he raised his black eyes to mine. “I have a problem.”

  Well, that cer­tainly hadn’t been what I’d expected him to say. With his size and strength, there weren’t too many prob­lems that Xavier couldn’t take care of him­self, espe­cially given the fact that he moon­lighted as a cop for the Ash­land Police Department.

  “Oh? What kind of prob­lem? What do you need my help with?”

  “It’s not that I need your help, Finn,” Xavier said in a care­ful voice. “What I really need is Gin’s help.”

  I raised my eye­brows. The Gin he was refer­ring to was Gin Blanco, my fos­ter sister—and the assas­sin known as the Spi­der. Gin wasn’t just any assas­sin though—as the Spi­der, she was one of the best in the busi­ness. At least, she had been. She’d retired a few months’ back after my father and her men­tor, Fletcher Lane, had been mur­dered. Now, Gin spent her time run­ning Dad’s bar­be­cue restau­rant, the Pork Pit. But she hadn’t for­got­ten one sec­ond of her training—and would whip out her sil­ver­stone knives with­out hes­i­ta­tion if she thought that there was a need for them.

  “And what do you think that you need Gin’s help with?” I asked, my voice calm, my face giv­ing noth­ing away.

  I wanted to see exactly what Xavier knew about what Gin did—and how much of a threat that the giant might be to us.

  I leaned back in my seat, putting my feet up on my desk like I didn’t have a care in the world. The move­ment let me sur­rep­ti­tiously hit a but­ton on the desk. A panel slid open, reveal­ing a small revolver. The gun was within easy reach, and depend­ing on what Xavier said or did, I might have to use it before our meet­ing was over. His wouldn’t be the first blood to stain my rugs. If any­thing, it would give me an excuse to redec­o­rate. I was get­ting rather tired of my cur­rent red-and-black motif.

  I stud­ied his posi­tion in the chair, men­tally lin­ing up the shot just in case. I’d have to shoot him through the eye, of course, since giants had noto­ri­ously thick skulls, but it wouldn’t be that dif­fi­cult. Not for me. Gin might be the assas­sin in the fam­ily, but Dad had taught us both how to kill. Despite Gin’s skill with knives and her Ice and Stone ele­men­tal magic, even she admit­ted that I was bet­ter with a gun than she was.

  “Well, first, I guess you should know that Roslyn and I are sort of … involved now,” Xavier said.

  My eye­brows climbed a lit­tle higher in my face. This just kept get­ting more and more inter­est­ing. Roslyn was Roslyn Phillips, the vam­pire madam who ran North­ern Aggres­sion, Ashland’s most deca­dent night­club. Xavier hap­pened to be the head bouncer at the night­club, the guy respon­si­ble for mak­ing sure that every­one stayed more or less in line. That’s where I knew him from, since North­ern Aggres­sion was my favorite place to go trolling for female com­pan­ion­ship after a long day at the bank. Xavier always let me in past the vel­vet rope. Of course, I always slipped him a Ben­jamin or three for his trou­ble, but still, I liked to think that we were friends too.

  “Involved?” I asked. “So you and Roslyn are together now?”

  “Sort of. I mean … man, it’s just … com­pli­cated.” He winced a lit­tle. “I hope you don’t mind me talk­ing to you about this. I know that you and Roslyn used to be … friends.”

  We’d been a lit­tle more than that. Roslyn and I had been known to hook up on occa­sion for a night of sex, wine, and pleas­ant con­ver­sa­tion, fol­lowed by some more sex. In fact, I’d called her just last week to sug­gest that very thing, since I was in between para­mours at the moment, but she’d politely declined.

  First Clarissa
and now Roslyn. I wasn’t sure how much more bruis­ing my ego could take.

  “Sure,” I said in an easy tone. “Roslyn and I are friends. But if you’ve hooked her, then con­grats to you. Because she’s beau­ti­ful, man—inside and out.”

  For a moment, Xavier smiled. And it wasn’t just any smile. No, he prac­ti­cally beamed. It was the look of a man deeply in love. I sighed. Well, fuck. I might be a cold-hearted bas­tard, but I had a soft spot for Roslyn. I’d really hate to kill some­one who cared that much about her. But I’d do it just the same—just like Gin would.

  Xavier cleared his throat. “Any­way, there’s been a … prob­lem at the club lately. And from some things that Roslyn has said, I thought that Gin might be able to help.”

  Ah, hell. His tone of voice told me exactly what he’d picked up from Roslyn—that Gin was the assas­sin the Spi­der. Roslyn knew all about what Gin did, since Gin had killed the vampire’s abu­sive brother-in-law not too far back. Roslyn had first come to me about find­ing some­one to kill her brother-in-law. I had denied all knowl­edge of such things, of course, but not too long after that, the brother-in-law had meet with a messy, untimely demise. Roslyn was a smart lady, and she’d put it all together. Me, Gin, Dad, and what we did. In fact, Roslyn had told one of the hook­ers who worked for her about it all, which had even­tu­ally led to my dad’s death.

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