Who says Christmas doesn’t come in November? (Certainly retailers seem to think so anymore…) Well in the spirit of giving it away early, we bring you an advance excerpt of Black Widow, the thirteenth book in Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series.
Beloved and much ballyhooed, Gin Blanco is the kick-ass assassin the Spider, and in Black Widow, she’s squaring off against the daughter of her one-time archnemesis, who she killed because, well, Gin kills people. The daughter is cunning, made, and ready for revenge because, well, family feuds are big in the South. (Well, at least in literature and popular imagination.)
So in the spirit of pre-pre-pre Christmas, below is a little excerpt of Black Widow—don’t say we never gave you anything!
(And, okay, if you feel the desire to actually purchase something and love urban fantasy, you should definitely check out Jennifer’s cover artist, Tony Mauro. He’s selling 2015 calendars of his work on the covers of such authors as our own Mz. Estep, Nalini Singh, Yasmine Galenorn, and many more!)
A cast-iron skillet zoomed toward my head.
I ducked, and the skillet slammed into the wall behind me instead of plowing straight into my skull. I whirled up and around, turning to face my attacker. It was a woman, about my size, five-seven or so, with murder in her eyes and bright red hair that was pulled back into a bun.
I looked past her and realized that the front door was partially open. I’d been so worried about Madeline that I’d forgotten to lock it behind me when I came in to work this morning, giving my would-be killer easy access to the restaurant. I cursed my own sloppiness for a moment before focusing on my attacker again.
Her white, button-up shirt, black pants, and black sneakers were as anonymous as her plain features were. My gaze kept going back to her copper-colored hair, her only distinguishing trait. I’d seen that hair, that sleek, tight bun, somewhere before, sometime very recently, although I couldn’t quite remember where. But it didn’t much matter who the woman was, whom she worked for, or why they both wanted me dead. She’d come in here intent on killing me, and she was only going out one way—bloody.
“Die, bitch!” the woman screamed.
“You first!” I hissed back.
She’d been rifling through the cookware while I’d been dumping the garbage because she’d dragged out all of the pots and pans and had lined them up on the counter in a neat row. She grabbed the closest one to her—an old cast-iron skillet of Jo-Jo’s that I baked corn bread in—and came at me again.
It was one thing to be attacked in my own restaurant. I expected that these days. But using my favorite skillet against me? That was just plain rude.
I sidestepped the woman’s second blow, but instead of whirling around for a third one, she kept going all the way over to the end of the counter where a butcher’s block full of knives sat. She grabbed the biggest blade out of the block, then whipped back around and waggled the utensil at me.
“I’m going to carve you up with one of your own knives,” she growled.
I rolled my eyes. Like I hadn’t heard that one a hundred times before. Folks really needed to be more creative with their death threats.
The woman let out a loud battle cry and darted forward, brandishing both the blade and the pan at me this time. No one had ever attacked me with my own cookware before, so it was a bit of a new experience to be dodging knives and skillets, instead of bullets and magic. But I managed it.
With one hand, I blocked her overhead blow with the skillet. With my other hand, I chopped down on the woman’s wrist, making her lose her grip on the knife. For an extra punch, I grabbed hold of my Stone magic at the last second, using it to harden my hand so that it was as heavy as a concrete block slamming into her wrist.
Her bones snapped like carrot sticks. The woman howled with pain and staggered back, giving me the chance to dart forward and kick the dropped knife away, sending it flying up under the counter.
She swung the skillet at me again with her uninjured arm, but this time, I stepped up, turned my hip into her body, and jerked the heavy iron from her hand as she stumbled past me. But I didn’t let her go too far. I darted forward, grabbed her shoulder, and yanked her back toward me, even as I brought the pan forward as hard as I could.
You could do a lot more than just cook with a cast-iron skillet, and that one blow was more than enough to cave in the back of the woman’s skull. All of the movement in her body just stopped, and she dropped to the floor like a brick someone had tossed out a window.
Blood poured out from the deep, ugly wound I’d opened up in her skull, like water spewing out of a freshly cracked coconut. Gravity lolled her head to the side, turning her empty hazel eyes toward the front door, almost as if she were still seeing it and wishing that she’d stayed on the other side, instead of venturing in here and meeting her death so bright and early in the morning.
I let the pan slip to the floor, then put my hands on my knees, trying to get my breath back. The fight hadn’t been all that long, but the cast-iron skillet was heavier than it looked, and it had taken quite a bit of muscle to use it so viciously.
But even as I bent over, my gaze flicked to the windows, and I wondered if anyone had seen my fight to the death with the woman. But the commuters were already at work, and it was still too early for most folks to be thinking about lunch yet. The few people who did pass by on the street had their heads down, more interested in checking their phones than paying attention to their surroundings.
So I straightened up, went over, and shut and locked the front door before closing the blinds on all the windows. Then I turned my attention back to the woman. Blood continued to ooze out of her skull, painting the blue and pink pig tracks on the floor a glossy, garish crimson. More blood had spattered all over the skillet too, along with the woman’s hair, skin, and bits of bone and brain matter.
I sighed. Damn. Why couldn’t she have just jumped me in the alley like usual? Now I’d have to wash all the skillets and knives and mop the floor—again.
Sometimes, it just didn’t pay to come in early.