Gin Blanco, aka the Spider, aka star of Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series, may be a hired killer, but she knows what family and friendship mean. So her enemies in the urban fantasy world of Ashland better know you mess with anybody she loves, and you become a body.

Apparently someone didn’t get the memo, so when one of her closest, most loyal friends (aka the one who helps her dispose of bodies—that is a dear person to an assassin) is targeted, let’s just say that Gin gets a little testy.  

For your perusal, an excerpt of the latest in the Elemental Assassin series, Heart of Venom, out now…


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Despite my unease, the next half hour passed by in a blur of cheery conversation and good food. Jo-Jo opened one of the doors set into the back wall of the salon, and Rosco dutifully heaved himself to his feet and slowly waddled outside to do his doggy business. Bria finally finished her pie and sat down in my spot in the salon chair so Jo-Jo could do her nails while we waited for Roslyn and Sophia to arrive.

I wandered over to the buffet table, piling my plate high and then taking a bite of everything in turn. The fried chicken salad on the mini sourdough rolls. The salty, crunchy, homemade potato chips. And then, of course, the mousse pie, which melted on my tongue bite after sinfully rich, decadent, delicious bite, as though I were eating a light, frothy cloud made of dark, luscious chocolate. I’d gotten up early that morning to put everything together, but it had been worth it. Cooking was a passion of mine, a chance for me to show the people I cared about exactly how much I loved them—and a way for me to deal with whatever was bothering me.

Like Jillian Delancey’s death.

Not for the first time, Jillian’s face flashed before my eyes. Dark brown hair, dark eyes, great smile. All gone because of me, because of the dumb luck that seemed to delight in messing with me and mine time and time again.

“What are you thinking about, Gin?” Bria asked, walking over to me and waving her strawberry-pink nails in the air to help dry them.

I looked away from the patch of wall that I’d been aimlessly staring at and down at my plate of food, which I’d set on the table. “I’m thinking that I should have put some more kosher salt on the potato chips.”

Bria shook her head, causing her blond hair to glimmer like strands of spun gold in the sunlight streaming in through the windows. “No, you’re not. You’re thinking about something else, something important. What happened at Briartop? Or is it Owen?”

I grimaced at the mention of Owen Grayson, my, well, I didn’t know exactly what Owen and I were these days. Not together but not as far apart as we’d been. Owen had brought Jillian to the museum for Mab’s gala. She’d been his friend and business associate and had wanted to be more, although Owen had told me that he didn’t think of her like that. Either way, Jillian had still ended up dead because of me—the second woman associated with Owen to meet that particular fate in a matter of weeks.

Bria laid a hand on my arm. “You know you can talk to me, right? About anything?”

I nodded. I did know that, although it always amazed me. After years of thinking that Bria was dead, she’d reappeared in my life several months ago. It wasn’t easy, her being a cop and my being an assassin, but we were making it work, and we were closer now than ever before.

“I know, and I appreciate it. What can I say? I like to brood over my food.”

Bria laughed, but then her face turned serious, as if she wanted to ask me something. She started toying with the silverstone pendant around her throat. A primrose, the symbol for beauty, her rune.

Watching her fiddle with her necklace made my fingers curl into my palms, touching the scars on my skin there, a small circle on either hand, each mark surrounded by eight thin rays. The same symbol was also stamped into the middle of the silverstone ring that I wore on my right index finger. My rune, a spider rune, the symbol for patience—and so many other things to me.

It too had once been a necklace, until Mab had used her Fire magic to superheat the silverstone and melt the pendant into my hands, her brutal, effective way of torturing me and marking me in more ways than either one of us had known at the time.

“Gin?” Bria asked.

I snapped out of my memories. “I’m sorry. I spaced out there for a minute. Was there something that you wanted to ask me?”

Bria drew in a breath, but before she could tell me whatever was on her mind, the sound of a door banging open at the front of the house cut her off. A moment later, footsteps sounded. I recognized the heavy tread as belonging to Sophia, but the odd thing was that it didn’t sound like she was walking normally. Instead, a series of scrape-scrape-scrapes screeched across the hardwood floor, as if Sophia was dragging one of her feet yet moving fast at the same time. Before I could puzzle out why she would be walking that way, she appeared in the salon doorway.

Jo-Jo might be a sweet Southern lady with her pink dresses, polish, and pearls, but Sophia had a different style altogether: Goth. Today, as usual, she wore black from head to toe—boots, jeans, and a T-shirt with a big pair of puckered crimson lips on it. A crimson leather collar spiked with silverstone ringed her throat, and her lipstick was a flat black that matched her hair.

Normally, I found Sophia’s style to be dark but also cool, quirky, and funky. The problem now was that her black clothes kept me from noticing the blood on her arm and leg for several crucial seconds.

“Sophia?” I asked.

Her black eyes met mine, and I saw something there I’d never seen before: fear.

“Run,” Sophia rasped in her low, broken voice.

Then she collapsed without another word.



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