Wasted, p.1Jennifer Estep
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.”
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.
“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.
Wasted by Jennifer Estep / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes