Everything in Jennifer Estep’s newest urban fantasy novel becomes Unraveled

unwanted-coverJennifer Estep is a New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea.

Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. The books focus on Gin Blanco, an assassin codenamed the Spider who can control the elements of Ice and Stone. When she’s not busy killing people and righting wrongs, Gin runs a barbecue restaurant called the Pork Pit in the fictional Southern metropolis of Ashland. The city is also home to giants, dwarves, vampires, and elementals – Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone.

Jennifer also writes the Black Blade young adult urban fantasy series. The series focuses on Lila Merriweather, a 17-year-old thief who lives in Cloudburst Falls, West Virginia, a town dubbed “the most magical place in America.” Tourists come from around the world to tour all the magic-themed shops and attractions, as well as see monsters like tree trolls, copper crushers, and more in their natural habitats.

Jennifer also writes the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series. The books focus on Gwen Frost, a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. After a serious freak-out with her magic, Gwen is shipped off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Spartans, Valkyries, Amazons, and more.

Jennifer is also the author of the Bigtime paranormal romance series. The Bigtime books feature sexy superheroes, evil ubervillains, and smart, sassy gals looking for love.

Book #15 in the Elemental Assassin, Unraveled, came out in August. Snared, #16, comes out in January.  Elemental Assassin #14.5, Unwanted, came out in July. Elemental Assassin #15.5, Nice Guys Bite, comes out in December. The 3rd book in the Black Blade series came out in April. The Mythos Academy series is finished. The Bigtime series is on hold.

“Elemental Assassin” #15: Unraveled

unraveledcoverAfter the shocking revelations of the previous book, Bitter Bite, the world of Ashland’s become even more sinister, and Gin Blanco (aka Ashland’s most fearsome assassin, the Spider) no longer knows who — or what — she can count on. Only one thing is for certain: danger and new enemies await Gin in Unraveled, Book 15 in the New York Times bestselling Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series that RT Book Reviews calls “unbeatable entertainment!”

What could go wrong when you’re trying to unravel a decades-old conspiracy?

As the current queen of the Ashland underworld, you would think that I, Gin Blanco, would know all about some secret society controlling things from behind the scenes. I might be the Spider, the city’s most fearsome assassin, but all my Ice and Stone elemental magic hasn’t done me a lick of good in learning more about “the Circle”. Despite my continued investigations, the trail’s gone as cold as the coming winter.

So when Finnegan Lane, my foster brother, gets word of a surprising inheritance, we figure why not skip town for someplace less dangerous for a few days? That place: Bullet Pointe, a fancy hotel resort complex plus Old West theme park that Finn now owns lock, stock, and barrel. At first, all the struttin’ cowboys and sassy saloon girls are just hokey fun. But add in some shady coincidences and Circle assassins lurking all around, and vacationing becomes wilder — and deadlier — than any of us expected.

Good thing this assassin brought plenty of knives to the gunfight.

Excerpt from Unraveled

It was the perfect night to kill someone.

Too bad my mission was recon only.

Thin white curtains covered the doors, and every few seconds, the murky shape of a man would appear, moving back and forth, as though he were continuously pacing from one side of his office to the other.

I just bet he was pacing. From all the reports I’d heard, he’d been holed up in his mansion for months now, preparing for his murder trial, which was set to begin after the first of the year. That would be enough to drive anyone stir-crazy.

The icy drizzle picked up as well, turning into more of a steady rain, each drop tinking against the van windshield. It truly was a night fit for neither man nor beast, but these were my favorite kinds of environments as an assassin. The cold, the rain, and the darkness always made it that much easier to get close to your target and then get away after you’d put him down. If I’d wanted someone dead, I would have waited for a night just like this one to strike.

And I was willing to bet that someone might have the same idea about the man in the mansion.

Two weeks ago, I’d been kidnapped and held hostage by Hugh Tucker, a vampire who claimed that he was part of a secret group that supposedly pulled the strings on the underworld and everything else in Ashland. That had certainly come as news to me, since I was supposedly the head of the underworld these days. But Tucker had claimed that the Circle was an organization of criminals so high-and-mighty that no one could touch them, especially not a lowly assassin like me. The vamp had also said that the Circle monitored everything from behind the scenes — and that they could kill me and my friends anytime they wanted to.

But the most shocking thing he’d revealed was that my mother, Eira Snow, had supposedly been one of them.

My mother had been murdered when I was thirteen, a deep loss that I still felt to this day. But I’d viewed her like any other kid. She was my mom — nothing more, nothing less. I’d never really thought about who she was, much less what kind of person. The good things she did, the bad ones, how she felt about all of them. I didn’t know any of that. But Tucker had turned my world upside down with his accusations, and I wanted to know if they were true: I had to know if my mother had been the good person I’d always assumed she was, or just as rotten, heartless, and depraved as the rest of this shadowy Circle.

A pair of headlights popped up in the van’s rearview mirror.

A black SUV cruised down the street, passing our van. The vehicle stopped at the end of the block and made a right, disappearing from sight.

Headlights popped up in the van’s rearview mirror again, and that same SUV cruised by our position. This time the vehicle turned left at the end of the block.

A minute later, that same SUV cruised by again. Only this time, the vehicle didn’t have its headlights on, or even its parking lights. It whipped a U-turn in the middle of the street, pulled over to the curb, and stopped — right in front of the mansion I was watching.

The doors opened, and two people got out of the front of the SUV.  They were giants, each one roughly seven feet tall with thick shoulders and broad chests; most likely they were the muscle and bodyguards for whoever was in the back of the vehicle.

Sure enough, one of the giants opened a rear door, and a shorter, thinner figure emerged, sporting a black trench coat, along with a black fedora and a matching scarf wrapped around their neck. I peered through my binoculars, but the person’s back was to me, so I couldn’t see their face, although from the size and gait, I did get the impression that it was a woman.

One of the giants squatted down. At first, I wondered what he was doing, but then the woman in the fedora and scarf ran over to the giant, who hoisted her high up into the air. Ms. Fedora grabbed hold of the top of the iron gate and swung her legs up and over it with all the grace of an Olympic gymnast. Landing deftly on her feet in the driveway on the other side, she straightened up and started striding toward the mansion with deadly purpose.

I cursed, realizing that I was about to lose my one and only lead on the Circle. I’d considered the possibility that someone might come here to silence him, but part of me hadn’t thought that it would actually happen since everything else I’d tried to track down the members of the Circle had been a dead end.

Since Fedora was already past the gate, I didn’t have time to ease out of the van, sneak through the shadows, and stab the giants in the back the way I normally would have. So I dropped my binoculars, kicked my door open, barreled out of the vehicle, and ran down the street toward the SUV.

The giants whirled around and spotted me racing toward them. They cursed, pulled guns from inside their trench coats, and snapped up the weapons.

Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!

I zigzagged, and the first round of bullets went wide. But when the giants paused to take more careful aim, I reached for my Stone magic and hardened my skin into an impenetrable shell.

Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!

The second round of bullets also went wide. The giants had come prepared, and the silencers on the ends of their weapons muffled the sounds of the shots. No lights snapped on inside the neighboring mansions. They wanted to keep this quiet? Well, so did I.

Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!

Two of the shots went wide again, but the third punched into my right shoulder, spinning me around. Still, thanks to my magic, it didn’t blast through me the way it otherwise would have. I skidded on the ice coating the street, but I managed to regain my balance and charge forward again.

Instead of heading toward the giants, I ran straight at the SUV. When I was in range, I leaped up onto the bumper, then the hood, then scrambled up onto the roof. Before the giants realized what I was doing, I raced forward and leaped off the vehicle’s roof, pushing off hard and trying to get as high in the air as possible. Lucky for me, they’d parked close to the curb and the narrow sidewalk. A second later, my hands hit the top of the wall that fronted the mansion, and I dug my boots into the slick stones so that I could pull myself up onto the ledge. Fedora wasn’t the only one who could do gymnastics.

I rolled off the top of the wall and dropped ten feet down to the other side, landing in a crouch. I palmed one of the silverstone knives tucked up my sleeves, surged to my feet, and darted forward across the lawn. The ice-crusted grass crunched like brittle bones under my boots.

The light spilling out from the office perfectly illuminated Fedora, who was fifty feet ahead of me and moving fast, her breath streaming out behind her in a trail of frosty vapor. She must have heard the disturbance out on the street because she picked up her pace, pulled a gun out of her trench coat, and shot through the lock on the patio doors with one smooth motion. A second later, she was inside the mansion.

I focused all my energy on sprinting across the lawn, trying to get to the mansion, even though it was already too late.

Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!

Sure enough, gunfire flashed inside the office, as bright as the holiday lights had been earlier. Someone had just been shot.

A second later, Fedora stepped through the doors and out onto the stone patio. I squinted, but the office lights were behind her, and all I could see in the darkness was the pale glitter of her eyes above the black scarf wrapped around her face. She gave me a mocking salute with her gun before ducking back inside the mansion. Now that her mission was accomplished, no doubt she’d leave through one of the back doors and disappear into the woods. All without my even getting a good look at her face.

I cursed. Even though I wanted to rush inside the mansion, I forced myself to slow down and approach the patio doors with caution, just in case she might be lying in wait to try to kill me too. I also grabbed hold of even more of my Stone power, hardening my skin as much as possible, on the off chance that she decided to blast me with bullets and elemental magic. As a final precaution, I reached out with my power, listening to all the emotional vibrations that had sunk into the stone walls of the mansion.

Harsh, shocked mutters echoed back to me, from the shots the woman had just fired. Alongside that was a high, whiny chorus of worry, fear, and paranoia. But there were no sly whispers or dark murmurs of evil intent that would have signaled that she was hiding in the office, ready to put a bullet in my head the second I stepped inside. Whoever the woman was, she was long gone.

Still, I was careful as I eased into the office, my knife still in my hand, my other hand up and lightly glowing with my Ice magic, ready to blast whoever might attack me.

But only one person was in the office: the man I’d been watching.

Jonah McAllister, my old nemesis, lay sprawled across the floor.

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Carl Slaughter

Carl has written and interviewed for Tangent Online, Diabolical Plots, SF Signal and File 770.

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