I opened up the Pork Pit, the barbecue restaurant that I ran in downtown Ashland, right on schedule. Turned on the appliances, tied a blue work apron on over my clothes, and flipped the sign on the front door over to Open. Then I spent the rest of the morning and on into the afternoon cooking up burgers, baked beans, and the thick, hearty barbecue sandwiches that my gin joint was so famous for. In between filling orders, I chatted with the waitstaff, wiped down tables, and made sure that my customers had everything they needed to enjoy their hot, greasy meals.
All the while, though, I kept waiting for someone to try to kill me.
Not for the first time today, my gaze swept over the storefront, which featured an assortment of tables and chairs, along with blue and pink vinyl booths. Matching, faded, peeling pig tracks on the floor led to the men's and women's bathrooms, respectively. A long counter with padded stools ran along the back wall of the restaurant.
Since it was after six, the dinner rush was on, and almost every seat was taken. The waitstaff bustled back and forth, taking orders, fetching food, and topping off drinks, and the clink-clank of dishes filled the restaurant, along with the steady scrape-scrape-scrape of forks, knives, and spoons on plates and bowls. Murmurs of more than a dozen different conversations added to the pleasant mix of sounds, while the rich, hearty smells of cumin, black pepper, and other spices tickled my nose.
Everything was as it should be, but I still looked at first one diner, then another. A few folks swallowed and quickly glanced away when they realized that I was watching them, not daring to meet my gaze for more than a second. But most were happily focused on their food and their companions and paid me no more attention than they should have. They were just here for the Southern treats the restaurant served up-not to try to murder me and cash in on my reputation as the Spider, Ashland's most notorious assassin.
"Gin?" A deep male voice cut into my latest examination of the storefront and its occupants.
I looked over at the man perched on the stool closest to the cash register. Despite his slightly crooked nose and a scar that cut across his chin, he was ruggedly handsome, with intense violet eyes and black hair shot through with blue highlights. His navy business suit and white shirt highlighted the coiled strength in his chest and shoulders, and I wasn't the only woman who paused to give him an admiring glance.
"Is everything okay?" Owen Grayson, my lover, asked.
My eyes cut left and right one more time before I answered him. "Seems to be. For the moment."
Owen nodded and went back to his meal, while I grabbed a rag and started wiping down the counter.
Actually, so far, the afternoon had passed in a perfectly normal fashion, with the glaring exception that no one had tried to murder me-yet.
Thinking that I might actually get through the workday unscathed for a change, I let myself relax, at least until the bell over the front door chimed. I glanced over at the entrance, expecting to see some new customers ready, willing, and eager to get their barbecue on.
Only this wasn't a customer-it was a short, thin man wearing a delivery uniform of black boots and matching coveralls.
The guy glanced around the storefront for a minute before his eyes locked on me, and he headed in my direction. I tensed, eyeing the long white box in his hand, and dropped my right arm down behind the counter out of sight. A second later, a knife slid into my hand, one of five weapons that I had hidden on me. This wasn't the first time someone had dressed up like a deliveryman to try to get close to me at the restaurant. The last guy was still in the cooler out back, awaiting the skills of Sophia Deveraux, the head cook at the Pork Pit, who also moonlighted as my own personal body disposer.