The bastards never even would have gotten close to me if I hadn't had the flu.
Coughing, sneezing, aching, wheezing. That was me. Gin Blanco. Restaurant owner. Stone and Ice elemental. Former assassin. And all-around badass. Laid low by a microbe.
It had started as a small, ominous tickle in my throat three days ago. And now, well, it wasn't pretty. Watery eyes. Pale face. And a nose so red and bright even Rudolph would have been jealous. Ugh.
The only reason I'd even crawled out of bed this evening was to come down to Ashland Community College and take the final for the classic literature class I was auditing. I'd finished my essay on symbolism in The Odyssey ten minutes ago. Now I plodded across one of the grassy campus quads and feverishly dreamed of sinking back into my bed and not getting out of it for a week.
Just after seven on a cold, clear December night. This was the last day of finals for the semester, and the campus was largely deserted. Only a few lights burned in the windows of the kudzu-covered brick buildings that rose above my head. The stones whispered of formulas, theories, and knowledge. An old, sonorous, slightly pretentious sound that was decidedly at odds with the sinister shadows that blackened most of the quad. No one else was within sight. Which is probably why they decided to jump me here. Well, that and the fact that kidnapping me would be such a bother.
One second I had my face buried in a tissue blowing my sore, drippy nose for the hundredth time today. The next, I looked up to find myself surrounded by three giants.
I stopped, and they immediately closed ranks, forming a loose triangle of trouble around me. The giants were all around seven feet tall, with oversize, buglike eyes and fists almost as big as my head. One of them grinned at me and cracked his knuckles. Someone was anxious to get down to the business of beating me.
My gray eyes flicked to the leader of the group, who had taken up a position in front of me-Elliot Slater. Slater was the tallest of the three giants, his enormous figure making even his flunkies seem small in comparison. He was almost as wide as he was tall, with a solid, muscled frame. Granite would be easier to break than his ribs. Slater's complexion was pale, bordering on albino, and almost seemed to glow in the faint light. His hazel eyes provided a bit of color in his chalky skin, although his thin, tousled thatch of blond hair did little to cover his large skull. A diamond in his pinkie ring sparkled like a star in the dark night.
Up until my retirement a few months ago, I'd moonlighted as an assassin known as the Spider. Over the years, I'd had plenty of dealings in the shady side of life, so I knew Slater by sight and reputation. On paper, Elliot Slater was a highly respected security consultant with his own platoon of giant bodyguards. In reality, Slater was the number-one enforcer for Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who ran the Southern metropolis of Ashland like it was her own personal fiefdom. Slater stepped in and either cut off, took care of, or permanently disposed of any pesky problems Mab didn't feel like dealing with herself.
And tonight it looked like that problem was me.
Not surprising. A couple of weeks ago, I'd stiffed someone during a party at Mab Monroe's mansion. Needless to say, the Fire elemental hadn't been too thrilled about one of her guests being murdered in her own home when she'd been entertaining a few hundred of her closest business associates. I'd gotten away with it so far, but I knew Mab was doing everything in her power to find the killer. To find me.
I sniffled into my tissue. I wondered if Mab had figured out who I really was. If that was why Slater was here tonight-
Elliot Slater looked over his broad shoulder. "Is this her?"