Web of Death - (Elemental Assassin, #1.5)

Jennifer Estep

So far, my retirement was turning out to be a fucking bore.

I supposed that I should have expected it to go this way. Mainly because my day job, well, my night job, had been a little more interesting that most folks' had. No pushing papers around a desk for me. Instead, I'd moonlighted as the assassin the Spider for the last seventeen years.

That's right. An assassin. Someone who killed other people for money. And I'd been damn good at my job too-some would even say the best.

Which is probably why making the adjustment to just being myself, Gin Blanco, owner of the Pork Pit barbecue restaurant, had been a little more difficult than I'd thought it would be.

And a lot more fucking boring.

So boring, so mundane in fact, that I now found myself standing outside on a chilly October evening, peering into the trunk of my Mercedes Benz, regarding the cardboard boxes inside that held all of my worldly possessions. Books mostly, along with some high-end cookware and knives-lots of knives. Some of which were used for slicing and dicing more than just vegetables.

As the Spider, I'd never gone anywhere without my silverstone knives. One trait that I saw no reason to change just because I was Gin Blanco now, a supposedly respectable citizen. Even tonight, alone in the twilight, I still had five knives on me-one tucked up either sleeve, one in the small of my back, and two more hidden in my boots.

Knowing that I had my knives comforted me the way that it always did. But still, I sighed. Because even moving was boring.

My mentor, Fletcher Lane, had died a few weeks ago-had been horribly tortured and murdered in the Pork Pit, the restaurant that he'd founded in downtown Ashland. I'd killed the Air elemental bitch who was responsible for his death, of course. But that didn't keep me from missing the old man who'd taken me in off the streets when I was just thirteen. Which is one of the reasons that I'd decided to move into Fletcher's house-the one that he'd left me in his will, along with the Pork Pit. I supposed it was my way of staying close to the old man, even though he was cold and alone in his grave now.

The three-story clapboard structure stood behind me, looking like some sort of hulking ghost in the approaching darkness. The building had been standing since before the Civil War, and lots of improvements and sections had been added on to it over the years, all in a variety of different, clashing styles, including gray stone, red clay, and brown brick. The various materials made the house look like some sort of patchwork quilt, stitched together with a tin roof, black shutters, and blue eaves. Still, it had been Fletcher's home, and now, it was mine.

I sighed again, this time with longing. I wished that the old man was here, that I'd gotten to him in time that night. That I'd been able to save him the way that he'd saved me all those years ago-

The scream surprised me.

I turned toward the sound, a silverstone knife already sliding into my right hand. Another scream ripped through the air, a little closer than before. A woman, from the high pitch of her voice. I peered around the open trunk, my gray eyes scanning the woods that flanked the house on three sides, wondering who the hell was out there in the trees and why she was making enough noise to wake the dead.

A wayward hiker perhaps? Someone who'd stumbled across a black bear deep in the woods? The creatures were common in the area, especially since Ashland was situated in the corner of the Appalachian Mountains where Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina met. High ridges and dense stands of woods covered the region like so much gray and green carpet, especially here at Fletcher's house, which was situated on top of a particularly remote, rocky mountainside.

Bears didn't frighten me, though. Not much did. Because in addition to being the assassin the Spider, I was also an elemental, someone who could create, control, and manipulate one of the four elements. Well, actually two in my case-Stone and Ice. My Ice magic was fairly weak, and all I could really do with it was make small shapes, like cubes and crystals and whatnot. But my Stone magic was strong, so strong that it would let me harden my skin into an impenetrable shell-one that even