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Tangled Threads

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Tangled Threads

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Author: Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2011
Series: Elemental Assassin: Book 4
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Urban Fantasy
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Synopsis

I'd rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings.

But here I am. Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson's front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn't shy away from my past--or my present. And right now I have a bull's-eye on my forehead. Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers. Which means there's a fifty-fifty chance one of us won't survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur--or die trying--because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too. The only problem is, Bria has no idea I'm her long-lost sibling... or that I'm the murderer she's been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn't know just might get us both dead....


Excerpt

1

"Are you going to kill this guy? Or are we just going to sit here all night?"

"Patience, Finn," I murmured. "We've been in the car for only an hour."

"Longest hour of my life," he muttered.

I arched an eyebrow and looked over at Finnegan Lane, my partner in crime for the night. Most nights, actually. Just after ten o'clock a few days before Christmas, and we sat in the darkened front of Finn's black Cadillac Escalade. An hour ago, Finn had parked the car in a secluded, out-of-the-way alley overlooking the docks that fronted the Aneirin River. We'd been sitting here, and Finn had been grousing ever since.

Finn shifted in his seat, and my gray eyes flicked over him. The wool fabric of his thick coat outlined his broad shoulders, while a black watchman's cap covered his walnut-colored hair. His eyes were a bright green even in the semidarkness, and the shadows did little to hide the square handsomeness of his face.

Most women would be glad to be in such close quarters with Finnegan Lane. With his easy smile and natural charm, Finn would have already had the majority of them in the backseat, pants off, legs up, steam covering the windows as the car rocked back and forth.

Good thing I wasn't most women.

"Come on, Gin," Finn whined again. "Go stick a couple of your knives in that guy and leave your rune for Mab to find so we can get out of here."

I stared out the car window. Across the street, bathed in the golden glow of a streetlight, the guy in question continued to unload wooden crates from the small tugboat that he'd pulled up to the dock forty-five minutes ago. Even from this distance, I could hear the warped, weathered boards creak under his weight as the river rushed on by beneath them.

The man was a dwarf--short, squat, stocky, sturdy--and dressed in black clothes practically identical to the ones that Finn and I were wearing. Jeans, boots, sweater, jacket. The sorts of anonymous clothes you wore to go skulking about late at night, especially in this rough Southtown neighborhood, and most especially when you didn't want anyone else to see what you were up to.

Or when you were planning on killing someone, like I was tonight. Most nights, actually.

I rubbed my thumb over the hilt of the silverstone knife that I held in my lap. The metal glinted dully in the darkness of the car, and the weight of the weapon felt cold and comforting to me. The knife rested lightly on the spider rune scar embedded in my palm.

It would be easy enough to give in to Finn's whining. To slip out of the car, cross the street, creep up behind the dwarf, cut his throat, and shove his body off the dock and into the cold river below. I probably wouldn't even get that much blood on my clothes, if I got the angles just right.

Because that's what assassins did. That's what I did. Me. Gin Blanco. The assassin known as the Spider, one of the best around.

But I didn't get out of the car and get on with things like Finn wanted me to. Instead, I sighed. "He hardly seems worth the trouble. He's a flunkie, just like all the others that I've killed these past two weeks. Mab will hire someone else to take his place before they even dredge his body out of the river."

"Hey, you were the one who decided to declare war on Mab Monroe," Finn pointed out. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that you were rather eager to kill your way up to the top of the food chain until you got to her. You said it would be fun."

"That was six hits ago. Now I'd just like to kill Mab and give everyone in Ashland an early Christmas present, myself included." My turn to grouse.

But Finn was right. A few weeks ago, a series of events had led me to officially declare war on Mab, and now I was dealing with the fallout--and the tedious boredom of it all.

Mab Monroe was the Fire elemental who ran the southern metropolis of Ashland like it was her own personal kingdom. To most folks, Mab was a paragon of virtue who used her magic, business connections, and money to fund worthwhile charity projects throughout the city. But those of us who strolled through the shady side of life knew Mab for what she really was--the head of a moblike empire that included everything from gambling and drugs to prostitution and kidnappings. Murder, extortion, torture, blackmail, beatings. Mab ordered all that and more, practically on a daily basis. But the Fire elemental was so wealthy, so powerful, so strong in her magic that no one dared to stand up to her.

Until me.

I had a special reason to hate Mab--she'd murdered my mother and older sister when I was thirteen. And she'd been planning on doing the same thing to me and my baby sister, Bria. But first, Mab had captured and tortured me that fateful night so long ago. Which is how I'd ended up with a pair of matching scars on my hands.

I put my knife down long enough to rub first one scar, then the other with my fingers. A small circle surrounded by eight thin rays was branded into each of my palms. A spider rune. The symbol for patience. My assassin name.

And one that Mab Monroe was now seeing everywhere she went.

For the past two weeks, I'd been stalking Mab's men, getting a feel for her operation, seeing exactly what kinds of illegal pies she had her sticky fingers in. And along the way, I'd picked off some of her minions when I caught them doing things that they shouldn't, hurting people that they shouldn't. A twist of my knife, a slash of my blade, and Mab had one less soldier in her little army of terror.

Killing her men hadn't been hard, not for me. I'd spent the last seventeen years of my life being an assassin, being the Spider, until I'd retired a few months ago. Certain skills you just never forgot.

Normally, though, when I killed someone I left nothing behind. No fingerprints, no weapon, no DNA. But with Mab's men, I'd purposefully drawn the image of my spider rune at every scene, close to every body I left behind. Taunting her. Letting Mab know exactly who was responsible for messing up her plans and that I was determined to pick her empire apart one body at a time, if I had to.

Which is why Finn and I were now sitting in the dark down by the docks in this dangerous Southtown neighborhood. Finn had gotten a tip from one of his sources that Mab had a shipment of drugs or some other illegal paraphernalia coming into Ashland tonight. As the Spider, I'd decided to come down here and see what I could do to foul up Mab's plans once more, thumb my nose at her, and generally piss her off.

"Come on, Gin," Finn cut into my musings. "Make a move already. The guy's alone. We would have seen his partner by now, if he'd had one."

I looked at the dwarf. He'd finished unloading the boxes from the tugboat and was now busy hauling them over to a van parked at the end of the dock.

"I know," I said. "But something about this just doesn't seem right."

"Yeah," Finn muttered. "The fact that I can't feel my feet anymore and you won't let me turn on the heater."

"Drink your coffee, then. It'll make you feel better. It always does."

For the first time tonight, a grin spread across Finn's face. "Why, I think that's an excellent idea."

Finn reached down and grabbed a large metal thermos from the floorboard in the backseat. He cracked open the top, and the caffeine fumes of his chicory coffee filled the car. The rich smell always reminded me of his father, Fletcher Lane, my mentor, the one who'd taught me everything I knew about being an assassin. The old man had drunk the same foul brew as his son before he'd died earlier this year. I smiled at the memory and the warmth it stirred in me.

While Finn drank his coffee, I stared out at the scene before me once more. Everything seemed still, quiet, cold, dark. But I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. That something was just slightly off about this whole setup. Fletcher had always told me that nobody ever got dead by waiting just a few more minutes. His advice had kept me alive this long, and I had no intention of disregarding it now.

Once again my eyes scanned the area. Deserted street. A few dilapidated buildings hugging the waterfront. The black ribbon of the Aneirin River in the distance. The pale boards of the dock. A lone light flickering over the dwarf's head.

My eyes narrowed, and I focused on the light. The bright, intact light burning like a beacon in the dark night. Then I looked up and down the street, my gaze flicking from one iron post to the next. Every other light on the block was busted out. Not surprising. This was Southtown, after all, the part of Ashland that was home to gangbangers, vampire prostitutes, and junkie elementals strung out on their own magic and hungry for more. People would just as soon kill you as look at you here. Not a place you wanted to linger, even during the daylight hours.

So I wasn't surprised that the streetlights had been broken, probably long ago, by the rocks, beer bottles, and other trash that littered the street. What did surprise me was the fact that there was one still burning--the one right over the van that the dwarf was packing his boxes into.

How... convenient.

"You might as well get comfortable," I said, staring at the lone light. "Because we're going to be here a while longer."

Finn just groaned.

We didn't have long to wait. Ten minutes later, the dwarf finished loading the last of his boxes into the van. Once I started watching him--really watching him--I realized that he'd been taking his sweet time about things. Moving ...

Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Estep


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