Dear Reader,

Greetings and salutations! I’m thrilled to be able to share Venom, the third book in my Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, with you. Venom is a fast-paced rollicking read full of magic, action, adventure, danger, and even a little romance, just like Spider’s Biteand Web of Lies, the first two book in the series.

Venom is set in the southern metropolis of Ashland, a dark, gritty, corrupt city that’s home to vampires, giants, dwarves, and elementals, or people who can control one of the four elements — Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone.

The heroine is Gin Blanco, who runs the Pork Pit barbecue restaurant. Gin also used to be the assassin known as the Spider before she retired. When a serial killer starts stalking one of Gin’s friends, Gin decides to take care of the stalker — permanently — with the help of her silverstone knives. But things quickly get complicated — so complicated that Gin just might end up being the killer’s next victim. Here’s a little more about Gin in her own words:

It’s hard to be a badass assassin when a giant is beating the crap out of you. Luckily, I never let pride get in the way of my work. My current mission is personal: annihilate Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who murdered my family. Which means protecting my identity, even if I have to conceal my powerful Stone and Ice magic when I need it most.

To the public, I’m Gin Blanco, owner of Ashland’s best barbecue joint. To my friends, I’m the Spider, retired assassin. I still do favors on the side. Like ridding a vampire friend of her oversized stalker—Mab’s right-hand goon who almost got me dead with his massive fists.

At least irresistible Owen Grayson is on my side. The man knows too much about me, but I’ll take my chances. Then there’s Detective Bria Coolidge, one of Ashland’s finest. Until recently, I thought my baby sister was dead. She probably thinks the same about me. Little does she know, I’m a cold-blooded killer … who is about to save her life.

A strong, sassy heroine, cool magic/world building, fights to the death, and steamy sex scenes — the Elemental Assassin books have all that and more.

Here’s what some folks are saying about the books in the Elemental Assassin series:

"Estep has really hit her stride with the gritty and compelling Elemental Assassin series. She surrounds her fascinating and complex heroine with a cadre of supporting players, each of whom are intriguing in their own right. Brisk pacing and knife-edged danger make this an exciting page-turner. Kudos to Estep, who is rapidly heading toward the top of the urban fantasy genre!"
— Romantic Times, a Top Pick and 4 1/2 stars for Venom

“Spider’s Bite is a raw, gritty and compelling walk on the wild side, one that had me hooked from the first page. Jennifer Estep has created a fascinating heroine in the morally ambiguous Gin Blanco — I can’t wait to read the next chapter of Gin’s story.”
— Nalini Singh, New York Times best-selling author of the Psy-Changeling series

“Bodies litter the pages of this first entry in Estep’s engrossing Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series …urban fantasy fans will love it.”
Publishers Weekly

If you enjoy Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, and Venom, you won’t have long to wait to read more about Gin and her adventures. Tangled Threads, the fourth book in the series, will debut in May 2011, while the fifth book will be out in the fall of 2011.

To read the first chapters of each of the books, as well as several free Elemental Assassin short stories, visit the Excerpts page of my website at http://www.jenniferestep.com/excerpts-short-stories/. You can also check out my blog on the site and sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter, which is full of my latest news, reading recommendations, recipes, and more.

Also, be sure to follow me on these social media sites:
Facebook: http://profile.to/jenniferestep/
Facebook fan page: http://artist.to/jenniferestepfanpage/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/580315.Jennifer_Estep
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jennifer_Estep

Happy reading! ;-)

Jennifer Estep



Excerpt from Venom

©Jennifer Estep


“You don’t remember me, do you, Gin?” Owen asked.

I raised my eyebrows at the sudden change in conversation. “Should I?”

He shrugged. “Maybe I’m a sentimental fool, but when a girl saves your life, you hope she remembers you after the fact.”

I’d saved Owen Grayson’s life? When had that happened? And why had I done it in the first place? I wasn’t in the habit of saving anyone but myself. My eyes narrowed. “Sorry. Not ringing any bells.”

The corner of his lips lifted into a half smile. “I thought not. Given all the other...excitement you’ve confessed to just tonight, I suppose I shouldn’t be disappointed.”

I just stared at him, searching my memory for anything that would tell me what he was talking about, but I came up blank. As far as I could remember, the first time I’d ever set eyes on Owen Grayson was the night he’d come to the Pork Pit to pick up Eva after Jake McAllister had tried to rob the restaurant. Oh sure, I’d seen his picture in the newspaper and his face on the evening news, since he was one of the movers and shakers in Ashland. But that night in the restaurant was the first time I’d ever been up close and personal with him.

Owen sighed, walked around the desk, and sat down on the far edge. He gestured for me to do the same, so I perched on the opposite corner.

“I don’t know how much you know about me, Gin, but my parents died in a fire when I was a teenager. There wasn’t any money or insurance or other relatives we could stay with, so Eva and I were out on the streets. She was little more than a baby then.”

I knew what it was like to live on the mean streets of Ashland. Cold, hard, depressing, constantly cowering in dark corners so the bigger and stronger wouldn’t decide to take an interest in you. It had been hard enough by myself at thirteen. I couldn’t imagine being responsible for someone else as well back then.

“Anyway,” Owen said. “We didn’t have any money for food, so I begged mostly or stole what I could. One night, I found myself in the alley behind this barbecue restaurant near Southtown. It was winter and cold, and Eva and I hadn’t eaten in days.”

A tiny flicker of memory sparked to life in the back of my mind. A fuzzy image that I’d all but forgotten. I remembered that snowy winter—and the scrawny teenager I’d seen behind the Pork Pit one night, digging through the cold trash for something to eat.

“The back door of the restaurant opened, and this girl stepped out, carrying a black trash bag. She was a few years younger than me,” Owen said in a low voice. “She saw me digging through the trash and stopped. Then she spotted Eva huddled across the alley in this little crack in the wall that I’d set her down in. The girl stared at Eva, then at me for the longest time.”

The image sharpened in my mind. A boy wearing tattered clothes, his hands raw, red, and chapped from the cold. And a little girl, bundled up tight in layers of rags, staring at me with her big, blue eyes that reminded me so much of Bria’s curious gaze. The surprise of seeing her in my old hiding spot, in the little crack between buildings where I’d slept so many nights in the frosty air.

My stomach twisted now, here in Owen’s office, just as it had done that night.

“The girl went back inside. I thought she was going to get the owner of the restaurant. That he’d tell us to move on—or worse call the cops and report us. Instead, she came back with this cardboard box. The top of it had been cut off, and the girl had stuffed the whole thing with food. More food than I’d seen in weeks.” Owen’s eyes never left mine as he spoke. “More food than Eva and I had eaten in weeks.”

I remembered the warmth of the Pork Pit that night. How I’d grabbed the box from one of the rooms in the back and raced into the storefront, packing up all the sandwiches and beans and fries and cookies that hadn’t been eaten that day. How I’d been filled with some terrible emotion I couldn’t explain, that the only thing I could do to get rid of it was to try and help that little lost girl in the alley. Fletcher Lane had been sitting behind the cash register, reading one of his many books. He’d watched me box up the food in silence, his bright green eyes filled with thoughts I couldn’t begin to comprehend.

“And how did you come to the conclusion that it was me? That I was the one who gave you some food that night? That was years ago.” My low tone didn’t completely disguise the emotion that thickened my voice.

“Because after I took the box from the girl, she handed me a jacket,” Owen continued. “A black leather jacket nicer than anything I’d ever owned, even when my parents had been alive.”

Finn’s jacket. I’d grabbed it from the coat rack on my way back out to the alley. He’d just bought the coat a few days ago, and he’d been pissed when he’d realized that I’d given it away. To the point where he’d started around the counter after me. One of the many times Fletcher had to separate us, in the beginning.

“After she gave me the jacket, the girl turned to go back inside, but I reached out and grabbed her hand,” Owen said, his own voice raspy now. “She let me hold her hand maybe three seconds before she jerked away from me and went back inside. But that was long enough for me to feel the metal in her hand—the silverstone embedded in her flesh.”

I remembered that cold, faint, desperate touch. It had burned me in a way nothing else ever had, not even when Mab Monroe had melted the spider rune into my palms in the first place. I’d gone back inside the restaurant, not quite crying. Fletcher hadn’t said a word. The old man had just sat there reading his book, waiting for me to compose myself once more. After I’d told him what I’d done, Fletcher had just nodded his head and gone back to his book. We never spoke of it again.

Owen reached over, picked up my cold hand, and turned it over, so my palm was face up, the spider rune scar visible for all to see.

“Just like the silverstone you have in your palms, Gin,” he said. “I’ve known it was you from the moment I shook your hand that first night at the Pork Pit. And I’ve been watching you and trying to think of some way to repay you ever since.”

“Why?” I asked. “So I felt sorry for you one night and gave you some food. So what?”

Owen shook his head. “It wasn’t just that. I came back the next day, hoping to thank you. But instead of you, an older guy was there, drinking coffee and waiting in the alley. He said he knew about my situation and that he also knew someone who needed a good, strong apprentice. A dwarven blacksmith who lived up in the mountains. He drove Eva and me up there that day. The dwarf took a liking to me, and I worked hard for him. And now, well, we have all this.” Owen gestured at the office with its fine furnishings.

Fletcher. He was talking about Fletcher Lane. The old man had helped Owen just the way he’d aided me so long ago. I wondered why. It was one thing to take a single stray in off the street after she’d saved your life, like I’d once done for Fletcher. But helping others? Every time I thought I had a handle on who and what Fletcher Lane had been, I found out something else unexpected or met someone like Owen who told me another story of the old man’s kindness.

“Well, you’re right,” I said. “That was me. I gave you the food. But you don’t owe me anything for it. Hell, I didn’t even do it for you. I did it for me. Because I’d once been in that alley digging for garbage to eat.”

Owen nodded. “I thought it might be something like that.”

His thumb stroked soft and slow over the scar on my palm. A pleasant warmth spread through my stomach, then moved lower, as I thought about other places where Owen could touch me. But I didn’t want him like this. Didn’t want him to feel that he needed to pay me back—for anything. I wanted him to want me, Gin Blanco, as I was now. Cold heart, bloody hands, iron will. Not because of some soft sentiment he felt for a girl who didn’t even exist anymore.

“So that’s what this is all about?” I asked. “You asking me out, you wanting to get to know me better. You actually think you owe me something for some random act of kindness years ago?”

“I owe you everything, Gin.”

I shook my head. “No, you don’t. Sure, I gave you the food and the jacket. But the job with the blacksmith? That was all the old man. Fletcher Lane. He owned the Pork Pit before me.”
Owen frowned. “Lane? As in Finnegan Lane?”

I nodded. “Finn’s father. He was the one who got you that job, Owen. Not me. I didn’t have anything to do with it. Fletcher never said a word to me about it.”
“I see.”

“So you don’t owe me anything. Not one damn thing,” I said, letting him off the hook and ignoring the bitterness that filled my mouth—and heart. “Because I would have done the same thing for anyone who’d been in that alley looking the way you and Eva did that night. So whatever debt you think you’ve accrued with me over the years, cancel it. I certainly have. Just keep your mouth shut about Elliot Slater and what I told you tonight, and we’ll be more than square.”

I started to pull my hand out of his, but Owen tightened his grip, the strength of his fingers pressing against mine. His eyes burned with violet fire.

“You think that I just want you now because of something that happened back then? That I’m coming on to you to pimp myself out to pay off some debt?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Not a big leap to make, given our conversation tonight.”

Owen shook his head. “You’re wrong, Gin. Dead wrong.”

“Really? Would you still be holding my hand if I were old, toothless, and had a face like a piece of leather?”

He had the good grace to wince.

“That’s what I thought,” I said. “Besides, I’ve been down this road before. In case you haven’t been listening, let me recap. I’m an assassin, Owen. A very, very good one. I’ve spent my entire adult life killing people for money, a lot of money, and after I leave here tonight, I’m going to go plot how I can slit Elliot Slater’s throat and get away with it. Do you really want to be with a woman who sleeps with a silverstone knife under her pillow? And would use it on you at any time if she thought you were a threat to her? Because that’s me, in a nutshell.”

Instead of answering my question, Owen regarded me with another thoughtful stare. “Donovan Caine really did a number on your self-confidence, didn’t he?”

He had, but I’d be damned if I was going to let Owen know how badly the detective had wounded me when he’d left. So I shrugged.

“The detective and I came from two different worlds. The twain met, and one of them decided that he couldn’t handle it. I don’t want to waste my time going over the same old ground with someone new. Assassins aren’t known for their exceptionally long life spans. Even retired ones like me.”

Owen stared at me another moment, then pointed toward the wall of weapons. “Do you see that axe to the left?”

“Yes,” I replied, not sure where he was going with the sudden change in conversation.

“I chopped off a man’s fingers with that,” Owen said in a calm voice. “Because he was Eva’s first-grade teacher, and he touched her the wrong way. And then, when he was screaming at me to stop, I took his head off with it. I used that mace over there to smash a guy’s kneecaps to splinters because he wanted me to pay him protection money when I started my own blacksmith shop. I have other stories I could tell you. The point is that I haven’t gotten to where I am today by being kind and gentle. I did what I had to in order to survive and protect my sister. I imagine you’ve done the same.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I don’t judge you for what you’ve done, Gin. Why are you judging me for another man’s mistakes? Because Donovan Caine did make a mistake,” Owen said in a soft voice. “Letting someone like you go.”

“Someone like me?”

Owen got to his feet and moved until he was standing in front of me. “Someone strong and tough and smart and sassy and sexy as hell. That’s why I’m interested, Gin. Because you’re all of those things and more. Not because of a small kindness that you showed to me in the part of my past I’d like to forget.”

Owen’s words made my heart ache. Because these—these were the words that I’d longed to hear from Donovan Caine. I’d wanted the detective to understand me, to accept my actions and be able to look past them toward the future we could have together.

But Donovan was gone, and he wasn’t ever coming back. Instead, Owen Grayson stood before me, a silent but clear offer burning in his violet eyes. Once more, my gaze drifted over his broad shoulders, his solid frame, his strong, capable hands. And I made up my mind. I’d take what I could have tonight and damn the consequences and feelings I might wake up with tomorrow.

I scooted off the desk and stood so that I was directly in front of Owen. We stared at each other, gray eyes on violet ones. The seconds ticked by. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty-five—Owen opened his mouth to say something. What, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.

Instead of listening to him, I grabbed his jacket, pulled him to me, and crushed my mouth to his.



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Contest!


Jennifer is hosting a special contest for ASR Readers!

Three winners will each receive an autographed copy of Venom and One of these lucky winners will also receive a $20 gift card from Amazon!

To enter, visit Jennifer's website and find the answer to this question-

How many free short stories has Jennifer written to tie in with the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series?

Then email us at staff@authorsoundrelations.com with your answer by midnight on October 3rd, 2010. Be sure to include your full name and mailing address and please mark the subject heading as 'Venom'.

Good luck!

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