Author: Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Jennifer Estep
Release Date: May 9, 2023
Series: Elemental Assassin novella #19.5
Genre: Urban fantasy
Even though we were all stuffed, we still ordered dessert. Mallory and Mosley split a piece of chocolate cheesecake drizzled with a warm cherry sauce, while I inhaled a vanilla-bean pudding topped with a mixed-berry compote and dusted with crumbled shortbread cookies.
I was relaxing and enjoying my post-dessert sugar rush when Mallory perked up in her seat.
“Well, well, well,” she purred. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
My gaze flicked from one face to another. Businesspeople, society folks, a few crime bosses. I recognized many of the other diners, but I didn’t see anyone who would make Mallory sit up and take notice like that—
Hugh Tucker strolled over to the bar.
My entire body tensed, and another one of those damned heart stings shot through my chest like an arrow pinning me to my chair. Why, out of all the men in Ashland, did I have to be attracted to him?
On the surface, there was quite a lot to be attracted to. Hugh Tucker was around six feet tall, and his tailored dark gray suit perfectly outlined his impressive shoulders, along with the rest of his lean, muscled body. Tucker was in his fifties, but his tan skin had the smooth, ageless look that was common among vampires, and his black hair, which had just a bit of a wave to it, gleamed under the restaurant’s soft, muted lights. He had high, sharp cheekbones, along with a straight nose, and a neat black goatee adorned his chin, drawing attention to his strong jaw. But even more attractive than his physical appearance was this…buzz around him, as though the air was filled with invisible admirers constantly whispering about how dangerous and intriguing he was.
A couple of women at the bar must have also heard those same buzzing whispers, because they swiveled around on their stools, like bats sensing possible prey with their echolocation. Tucker seemed oblivious to the women’s admiring looks, and the vampire’s white fangs flashed in his mouth as he smiled at the bartender, who handed him a glass of lemonade.
Tucker took a sip of his lemonade, then planted one elbow on the bar and looked in my direction. His black gaze trailed down my body, and I resisted the urge to fidget in my chair. I was wearing a dark blue pantsuit, along with black kitten heels, and my black hair was pulled back into its usual French braid, but his intense stare made me feel as though I was sporting something special, rather than just boring business attire. His gaze lingered on the ring on my right hand, a diamond rose wrapped in matching thorns. The rune was a tribute to my mother, as well as a symbol for how dangerous beauty could be. And me too.
My left fingers curled into the white napkin in my lap, but I stared right back at Tucker, letting my gaze slide over his shoulders and then down his chest. Heat flooded my cheeks, and I thought about how his body had felt against mine that night at the Mitchell mansion, when he’d shoved me out of the way of some falling rubble. How deliciously warm, firm, and solid he had been—and how kind, gentle, and considerate too, even with all the chaos happening at the time.
Hugh Tucker had always been a perfect gentleman with me, calm, polite, and controlled, even during the weeks he’d spent cooped up in a metal container in my shipping yard along the Aneirin River. Mason had severely injured the vampire during a battle in the Circle family cemetery, and Gin had asked me to watch over Tucker while he healed, a job that had been equal parts frustrating and fascinating.
Sometimes, when we’d been alone together, I had wondered what Tucker would be like when he wasn’t a perfect gentleman. Part of me still wanted to find out, despite how foolish it would be. Mason Mitchell might be dead, but Tucker had been his right-hand man in the Circle for years, and the vampire was still one of the most duplicitous and dangerous people in Ashland.
Tucker abandoned his lemonade, pushed away from the bar, and strolled over to our table. My fingers curled even deeper into the napkin still in my lap, but I kept my features blank. I could also be calm and controlled when need be.
Tucker tipped his head to my grandmother first, then to Mosley. “Mallory, Stuart, you’re both looking well. Married life seems to be agreeing with you both quite nicely.”
“Something like that,” Mosley snapped, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the other man.
The dwarf didn’t much care for Tucker, since the vampire had been part of a Circle scheme orchestrated by Deirdre Shaw to try to rob First Trust bank several months ago.
Mallory ignored Mosley’s glower and grinned at the vampire. “Why don’t you join us? We’re all friends now, thanks to Gin.”
Tucker’s left eye twitched, but that was his only reaction to the mention of Gin. He had a better poker face than just about anyone I’d ever met, which was one of the things I found so fascinating about him. I knew what it was like to always keep your feelings bottled up, lest someone decide to take them out on you, the way my father had on my mother. The faintest slip of a smile, the tiniest hint of a disapproving tone, and the smallest, most polite suggestion were all it had taken for my father to fly into a rage and beat my mother—and me too.
So as strange as it seemed, in some ways, I found Hugh Tucker to be a kindred spirit. I’d suffered at my father’s and brother’s hands, just as he had suffered at Mason’s hands for years.
“Thank you for the kind invitation, but I’m meeting someone for dinner.” Tucker’s gaze flicked back to mine. “A potential new business associate.”
About the Book:
Heart stings can be the most dangerous wounds of all . . .
Lorelei Parker has had plenty of “heart stings” in her life—moments that are both happy and sad. With her grandmother’s recent marriage, Lorelei has had far more good times than bad lately.
That all changes when a ruthless Ashland underworld boss starts threatening her, but Lorelei is determined to figure out why the other crime boss is so interested in her thriving business. She vows to use her elemental Ice and metal magic to do whatever it takes to defend herself and her family.
Also in the mix is the mercurial Hugh Tucker. Lorelei doesn’t know what the vampire is up to, or if he’s a friend or an enemy. Tucker might even be something else, something more—if Lorelei can stay alive long enough to figure out whose side he’s really on . . .
Note: Heart Stings is a 38,000-word novella from the point of view of Lorelei Parker. It takes place after the events of Last Strand, book 19 in the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. Heart Stings first appeared in the Dirty Deeds 2 anthology in 2022.
HEART STINGS, Elemental Assassin novella #19.5: 📘⚔️🕷️🕸️
HEART STINGS, Elemental Assassin #19.5, print novella: 📘🕷️🕸️⚔️
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About the Author:
Jennifer Estep is a New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea.
Heart Stings, novella #19.5 in her Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, will be released May 9.
Jennifer is also the author of the Galactic Bonds, Section 47, Crown of Shards, Gargoyle Queen, and other fantasy series. She has written more than 40 books, along with numerous novellas and stories.
In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys hanging out with friends and family, doing yoga, and reading fantasy and romance books. She also watches way too much TV and loves all things related to superheroes.
For more information on Jennifer and her books, visit www.jenniferestep.com or follow Jennifer on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon, BookBub, and Twitter. You can also sign up for her newsletter.
Author contact links:
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Jennifer_Estep (@Jennifer_Estep)
Newsletter signup: http://www.jenniferestep.com/contact-jennifer/newsletter/