Inherited Malice - Alta Hensley



I watched carefully as the man in full ostentatious livery walked into the bar in the tiny Georgia town. I’d beaten him into the bar by a full thirty seconds, and my heart still raced a mile a minute.

I’d hoped for time to be able to order a drink and look more natural, but the bartender was flirting with some chick at the other end of the bar. I’d dressed intentionally inconspicuously. After all, I was trying to blend in.

It wasn’t the bartender’s attention I was after tonight. No, I’d have to play this verrrry carefully if I didn’t want to fuck it up royally. I had one shot.

I’d pray if I was the praying sort. But no, I remembered Tina’s words from the foster home as she taught me the tricks of the trade.

I didn’t have to have luck—or God—on my side.

I didn’t even have to be the smartest person in the room.

I just had to be the wiliest. I had to be the one analyzing every angle, every person. Looking for the marks, for the weak links, for the ins and the levers I could pull to manipulate people to get them to do exactly what I wanted.

I wasn’t as good as Tina.

No one was as good as Tina. She’d taught me everything she knew, used me for one last con and then spit me out when I wasn’t useful to her.

Like I said, she taught me everything I knew.

I pulled out my phone and pretended to be absorbed in the small screen while surreptitiously watching out the corner of my eye as the old dude in the tux with tails presented the beautiful girl in the corner with the calligraphed invitation.

She looked confused, but then recognition dawned in her eyes. Shit. She knew what it meant. I wouldn’t go so far as to pry the invitation out of her cold, dead hands or anything, but I was walking out of here with it, one way or the other. She just didn’t know it yet.

Old Man Tuxedo finally exited out the way he’d come and the woman in the corner ordered another round of drinks from a passing waitress. But then she paused, pulled out her wallet, and sent the waitress on her way without ordering anything after all.

Aha. It was just like I’d heard. The Order really did prey on women who had no other choices. Fucking bastards.

I smiled.

Because what made this woman a perfect mark for the Order also made her perfect for me.

Time to go in for the kill. So to speak.

I grabbed my purse and headed straight for the woman’s table.

“Is this seat taken?” I asked, pointing at the chair across from her where she sat at the small square table.

The woman looked up, confused at my sudden appearance.

I sat down before she could say one way or the other. I called over the waitress who had just passed by. “Drinks are on me. What are you having?”

That perked her up a little. “Vodka and coke.”

I smiled. “Classic. Two vodka and cokes.”

The waitress nodded without much interest and walked off.

“Hi, I’m Vanessa,” I said, holding out a hand across the table. Lie. My name was actually Connie, but I hadn’t used that name since the group home. I’d been running one grift or another since then, and any idiot knew you didn’t use a name that could be traced back.

The invitation lay glittering right there on the tabletop between us, but I held my gaze right on the pretty woman’s face, not once even glancing down.

Hesitantly, she lifted her hand and shook mine. “Uh, hi. Abilene. But I go by Abby.”

I grinned at her. “Hi, Abby. I’m new in town, but I grew up just one county over. You know Burrows Creek?”

She smiled and her posture relaxed a little. “Sure. I think we played y’all in football.”

I laughed at that. “Where’d you go?”

“Simmons High.”

“Oh damn, y’all creamed us every time.”

She laughed. “We almost went to state my senior year. We creamed everybody.”

Restlessly, she fingered the invitation on the table.

This was almost too easy.

The waitress brought our drinks back, and I pretended to sip mine while encouraging Abby to order another—on me, naturally.

She tried to protest but I waved it away. “It’s the end of a long week and it’s nice to meet someone new in town. I’ve been down on my luck, and I’ll take any friendly face at this point.”

Her face grew immediately sympathetic. “Oh my God, I know exactly what you mean! My