Skinwalker: A Jane Yellowrock Novel by Faith Hunter

Skinwalker: A Jane Yellowrock Novel

byFaith Hunter

Mass Market Paperback | July 7, 2009

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First in a brand new series from the author of the rogue mage novels

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind-a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she's been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie's Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who's killing other vamps...

About The Author

A native of Louisiana, Faith Hunter spent her early years on the bayous and rivers, learning survival skills and the womanly arts. She liked horses, dogs, fishing and crabbing much better than girly skills. She still does. In grade school, she fell in love with fantasy and science fiction, reading five books a week and wishing she ...
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Title:Skinwalker: A Jane Yellowrock NovelFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 6.8 × 4.2 × 0.9 inPublished:July 7, 2009Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0451462807

ISBN - 13:9780451462800

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Table of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageDedicationAcknowledgements CHAPTER 1 - I travel lightCHAPTER 2 - Okay, I was paranoidCHAPTER 3 - I’m a tea snobCHAPTER 4 - You scare the pants offa meCHAPTER 5 - It was wicked sharpCHAPTER 6 - Paranoid sometimes pays offCHAPTER 7 - Fly itCHAPTER 8 - A warrior womanCHAPTER 9 - I really love rock and rollCHAPTER 10 - Semper fiCHAPTER 11 - We sa . . . BobcatCHAPTER 12 - Naked vamps. And the food was naked tooCHAPTER 13 - You may call upon meCHAPTER 14 - Beast was bornCHAPTER 15 - I was still buck nakedCHAPTER 16 - Are crosses weapons?CHAPTER 17 - Stick a dollar in your garter?CHAPTER 18 - We still search for absolutionCHAPTER 19 - I’m psychicCHAPTER 20 - Crap. I’m starting to like vampsCHAPTER 21 - The Lord of the ManorCHAPTER 22 - All that I wantedCHAPTER 23 - Mass to mass, stone to stoneCHAPTER 24 - You should have come when I askedCHAPTER 25 - Witchy powerCHAPTER 26 - Untender mercies of the human world EPILOGUE ABOUT THE AUTHORPraise for the Novels of Faith HunterBloodring“A bold interpretation of the what-might-be. . . . With a delicate weaving of magic and Scripture, Faith Hunter left me wondering: What’s a woman to do when she falls in love with a seraph’s child?”—Kim Harrison “Entertaining . . . outstanding supporting characters. . . . The strong cliff-hanger of an ending bodes well for future adventures.” —Publishers Weekly “The cast is incredible. . . . Fans of postapocalypse fantasies will appreciate this superb interpretation of the endless end of days.”—Midwest Book Review “Hunter’s distinctive future vision offers a fresh though dark glimpse into a newly made postapocalyptic world. Bold and imaginative in approach, with appealing characters and a suspense-filled story, this belongs in most fantasy collections.”—Library Journal “It’s a pleasure to read this engaging tale about characters connected by strong bonds of friendship and family. Mixes romance, high fantasy, apocalyptic and postapocalyptic adventure to good effect.”—Kirkus Reviews “Hunter’s very professionally executed, tasty blend of dark fantasy, mystery, and romance should please fans of all three genres.”—Booklist “Entertaining . . . a promising new series. . . . Steady pacing, dashes of humor, and a strong story line coupled with a great ending neatly setting up the next adventure make this take on the apocalypse worth checking out.”—Monsters and Critics “Enjoyable . . . a tale of magic and secrets in a world gone mad.”—Romantic Times Seraphs“The world [Hunter] has created is unique and bleak . . . [an] exciting science fiction thriller.”—Midwest Book Review “Continuing the story begun in Bloodring, Hunter expands on her darkly alluring vision of a future in which the armies of good and evil wage their eternal struggle in the world of flesh and blood. Strong characters and a compelling story.”—Library Journal “This thrilling dark fantasy has elements of danger, adventure, and religious fanaticism, plus sexual overtones. Hunter’s impressive narrative skills vividly describe a changed world, and she artfully weaves in social commentary . . . a well-written, exciting novel.”—Romantic Times Host“Hunter’s world continues to expand in this highly original fantasy with lively characters where nothing can ever be taken for granted.”—Publishers Weekly “Hunter has created a remarkable interpretation of the aftermath of Armageddon in which angels and devils once again walk the earth and humans struggle to find a place. Stylish storytelling and gripping drama make this a good addition to most fantasy collections.”—Library Journal “Readers will admire [Thorn’s] sacrifice [in] placing others before herself. . . . Fans will enjoy reading about the continuing end of days.”—Midwest Book Review “With fast-paced action and the possibility of more romance, this is an enjoyable read with an alluring magical touch.”—Darque ReviewsOTHER NOVELS BY FAITH HUNTERThe Rogue Mage NovelsBloodring Seraphs HostROC Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. First Printing, July 2009  Copyright © Faith Hunter, 2009ISBN: 9781101082218All rights reservedREGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. PUBLISHER’S NOTEThis is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.To my Renaissance Man, who knows the songs to sing and the rivers to runACKNOWLEDGMENTSThe Guy in the Leather Jacket, for telling me Jane needed a softer side.Sarah Spieth for helping out with New Orleans settings.Melanie Otto, for beta reading.Holly McClure, for Cherokee stories, especially for allowing me to cull info from her Cherokee novel, Lightning Creek.Randall Pruette, for gun info and for designing the vamp-killing ammo.Mike Pruette, Web guru at www.FaithHunter.net and fan.Judith Bienvenu, for coming up with the model for Jane’s bike, and for beta reading.Stephen Mullen, of Nightrider.com and TuneYourHarley.com for bike info and for creating a background for Jacob, Zen Harley Master.Melissa Lee and Audrey Wilkinson for reading the first chapter and demanding more.Rod Hunter, for the right word when my tired brain was stymied.Joyce Wright, for reading everything I write, no matter how “weird.”Kim Harrison, Misty Massey, David B. Coe, C. E. Murphy, Tamar Myers, Greg Paxton, Raven Blackwell, Chris tina Stiles, and all my writer friends, for taking the writing journey with me.My Yahoo fan group at www.groups.yahoo.com/group/the-enclave.My cowriters at www.magicalwords.net.Lucienne Diver, for doing what an agent does best, with grace and kindness.And last but not least, my editor at Roc, Jessica Wade, who saw the multisouled Beast in Jane and bought this series.Y’all ROCK! CHAPTER 1I travel lightI wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, the bike’s engine purring. My shotgun, a Benelli M4 Super 90, was slung over my back and loaded for vamp with hand-packed silver fléchette rounds. I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes, secured in loops on my jeans-clad thighs. The saddlebags on my bike were filled with my meager travel belongings—clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other. As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light.I’d need to put the vamp-hunting tools out of sight for my interview. My hostess might be offended. Not a good thing when said hostess held my next paycheck in her hands and possessed a set of fangs of her own.A guy, a good-looking Joe standing in a doorway, turned his head to follow my progress as I motored past. He wore leather boots, a jacket, and jeans, like me, though his dark hair was short and mine was down to my hips when not braided out of the way, tight to my head, for fighting. A Kawasaki motorbike leaned on a stand nearby. I didn’t like his interest, but he didn’t prick my predatory or territorial instincts.I maneuvered the bike down St. Louis and then onto Dauphine, weaving between nervous-looking shop workers heading home for the evening and a few early revelers out for fun. I spotted the address in the fading light. Katie’s Ladies was the oldest continually operating whorehouse in the Quarter, in business since 1845, though at various locations, depending on hurricane, flood, the price of rent, and the agreeable nature of local law and its enforcement officers. I parked, set the kickstand, and unwound my long legs from the hog.I had found two bikes in a junkyard in Charlotte, North Carolina, bodies rusted, rubber rotted. They were in bad shape. But Jacob, a semiretired Harley restoration mechanic/ Zen Harley priest living along the Catawba River, took my money, fixing one up, using the other for parts, ordering what else he needed over the Net. It took six months.During that time I’d hunted for him, keeping his wife and four kids supplied with venison, rabbit, turkey—whatever I could catch, as maimed as I was—restocked supplies from the city with my hoarded money, and rehabbed my damaged body back into shape. It was the best I could do for the months it took me to heal. Even someone with my rapid healing and variable metabolism takes a long while to totally mend from a near beheading.Now that I was a hundred percent, I needed work. My best bet was a job killing off a rogue vampire that was terrorizing the city of New Orleans. It had taken down three tourists and left a squad of cops, drained and smiling, dead where it dropped them. Scuttlebutt said it hadn’t been satisfied with just blood—it had eaten their internal organs. All that suggested the rogue was old, powerful, and deadly—a whacked-out vamp. The nutty ones were always the worst.Just last week, Katherine “Katie” Fonteneau, the proprietress and namesake of Katie’s Ladies, had e-mailed me. According to my Web site, I had successfully taken down an entire blood-family in the mountains near Asheville. And I had. No lies on the Web site or in the media reports, not bald-faced ones anyway. Truth is, I’d nearly died, but I’d done the job, made a rep for myself, and then taken off a few months to invest my legitimately gotten gains. Or to heal, but spin is everything. A lengthy vacation sounded better than the complete truth.I took off my helmet and the clip that held my hair, pulling my braids out of my jacket collar and letting them fall around me, beads clicking. I palmed a few tools of the trade—one stake, ash wood and silver tipped; a tiny gun; and a cross—and tucked them into the braids, rearranging them to hang smoothly with no lumps or bulges. I also breathed deeply, seeking to relax, to assure my safety through the upcoming interview. I was nervous, and being nervous around a vamp was just plain dumb.The sun was setting, casting a red glow on the horizon, limning the ancient buildings, shuttered windows, and wrought-iron balconies in fuchsia. It was pretty in a purely human way. I opened my senses and let my Beast taste the world. She liked the smells and wanted to prowl. Later, I promised her. Predators usually growl when irritated. Soon—she sent mental claws into my soul, kneading. It was uncomfortable, but the claw pricks kept me alert, which I’d need for the interview. I had never met a civilized vamp, certainly never done business with one. So far as I knew, vamps and skinwalkers had never met. I was about to change that. This could get interesting.I clipped my sunglasses onto my collar, lenses hanging out. I glanced at the witchy-locks on my saddlebags and, satisfied, I walked to the narrow red door and pushed the buzzer. The bald-headed man who answered was definitely human, but big enough to be something else: professional wrestler, steroid-augmented bodybuilder, or troll. All of the above, maybe. The thought made me smile. He blocked the door, standing with arms loose and ready. “Something funny?” he asked, voice like a horse-hoof rasp on stone.“Not really. Tell Katie that Jane Yellowrock is here.” Tough always works best on first acquaintance. That my knees were knocking wasn’t a consideration.“Card?” Troll asked. A man of few words. I liked him already. My new best pal. With two gloved fingers, I unzipped my leather jacket, fished a business card from an inside pocket, and extended it to him. It read JANE YELLOWROCK, HAVE STAKES WILL TRAVEL. Vamp killing is a bloody business. I had discovered that a little humor went a long way to making it all bearable.Troll took the card and closed the door in my face. I might have to teach my new pal a few manners. But that was nearly axiomatic for all the men of my acquaintance.I heard a bike two blocks away. It wasn’t a Harley. Maybe a Kawasaki, like the bright red crotch rocket I had seen earlier. I wasn’t surprised when it came into view and it was the Joe from Decatur Street. He pulled his bike up beside mine, powered down, and sat there, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. He had a toothpick in his mouth and it twitched once as he pulled his helmet and glasses off.The Joe was a looker. A little taller than my six feet even, he had olive skin, black hair, black brows. Black jacket and jeans. Black boots. Bit of overkill with all the black, but he made it work, with muscular legs wrapped around the red bike.No silver in sight. No shotgun, but a suspicious bulge beneath his right arm. Made him a leftie. Something glinted in the back of his collar. A knife hilt, secured in a spine sheath. Maybe more than one blade. There were scuffs on his boots (Western, like mine, not Harley butt-stompers) but his were Fryes and mine were ostrich-skin Luccheses. I pulled in scents, my nostrils widening. His boots smelled of horse manure, fresh. Local boy, then, or one who had been in town long enough to find a mount. I smelled horse sweat and hay, a clean blend of scents. And cigar. It was the cigar that made me like him. The taint of steel, gun oil, and silver made me fall in love. Well, sorta. My Beast thought he was kinda cute, and maybe tough enough to be worthy of us. Yet there was a faint scent on the man, hidden beneath the surface smells, that made me wary.The silence had lasted longer than expected. Since he had been the one to pull up, I just stared, and clearly our silence bothered the Joe, but it didn’t bother me. I let a half grin curl my lip. He smiled back and eased off his bike. Behind me, inside Katie’s, I heard footsteps. I maneuvered so that the Joe and the doorway were both visible. No way could I do it and be unobtrusive, but I raised a shoulder to show I had no hard feelings. Just playing it smart. Even for a pretty boy.Troll opened the door and jerked his head to the side. I took it as the invitation it was and stepped inside. “You got interesting taste in friends,” Troll said, as the door closed on the Joe.“Never met him. Where you want the weapons?” Always better to offer than to have them removed. Power plays work all kinds of ways.Troll opened an armoire. I unbuckled the shotgun holster and set it inside, pulling silver crosses from my belt and thighs and from beneath the coat until there was a nice pile. Thirteen crosses—excessive, but they distracted people from my backup weapons. Next came the wooden stakes and silver stakes. Thirteen of each. And the silver vial of holy water. One vial. If I carried thirteen, I’d slosh.I hung the leather jacket on the hanger in the armoire and tucked the glasses in the inside pocket with the cell phone. I closed the armoire door and assumed the position so Troll could search me. He grunted as if surprised, but pleased, and did a thorough job. To give him credit, he didn’t seem to enjoy it overmuch—used only the backs of his hands, no fingers, didn’t linger or stroke where he shouldn’t. Breathing didn’t speed up, heart rate stayed regular; things I can sense if it’s quiet enough. After a thorough feel inside the tops of my boots, he said, “This way.”I followed him down a narrow hallway that made two crooked turns toward the back of the house. We walked over old Persian carpets, past oils and watercolors done by famous and not-so-famous artists. The hallway was lit with stained-glass Lalique sconces, which looked real, not like reproductions, but maybe you can fake old; I didn’t know. The walls were painted a soft butter color that worked with the sconces to illuminate the paintings. Classy joint for a whorehouse. The Christian children’s home schoolgirl in me was both appalled and intrigued.When Troll paused outside the red door at the end of the hallway, I stumbled, catching my foot on a rug. He caught me with one hand and I pushed off him with little body contact. I managed to look embarrassed; he shook his head. He knocked. I braced myself and palmed the cross he had missed. And the tiny two-shot derringer. Both hidden against my skull on the crown of my head, and covered by my braids, which men never, ever searched, as opposed to my boots, which men always had to stick their fingers in. He opened the door and stood aside. I stepped in.The room was spartan but expensive, and each piece of furniture looked Spanish. Old Spanish. Like Queen-Isabella- and-Christopher-Columbus old. The woman, wearing a teal dress and soft slippers, standing beside the desk, could have passed for twenty until you looked in her eyes. Then she might have passed for said queen’s older sister. Old, old, old eyes. Peaceful as she stepped toward me. Until she caught my scent.In a single instant her eyes bled red, pupils went wide and black, and her fangs snapped down. She leaped. I dodged under her jump as I pulled the cross and derringer, quickly moving to the far wall, where I held out the weapons. The cross was for the vamp, the gun for the Troll. She hissed at me, fangs fully extended. Her claws were bone white and two inches long. Troll had pulled a gun. A big gun. Men and their pissing contests. Crap. Why couldn’t they ever just let me be the only one with a gun?“Predator,” she hissed. “In my territory.” Vamp anger pheromones filled the air, bitter as wormwood.“I’m not human,” I said, my voice steady. “That’s what you smell.” I couldn’t do anything about the tripping heart rate, which I knew would drive her further over the edge; I’m an animal. Biological factors always kick in. So much for trying not to be nervous. The cross in my hand glowed with a cold white light, and Katie, if that was her original name, tucked her head, shielding her eyes. Not attacking, which meant that she was thinking. Good.“Katie?” Troll asked.“I’m not human,” I repeated. “I’ll really hate shooting your Troll here, to bleed all over your rugs, but I will.”“Troll?” Katie asked. Her body froze with that inhuman stillness vamps possess when thinking, resting, or whatever else it is they do when they aren’t hunting, eating, or killing. Her shoulders dropped and her fangs clicked back into the roof of her mouth with a sudden spurt of humor. Vampires can’t laugh and go vampy at the same time. They’re two distinct parts of them, one part still human, one part rabid hunter. Well, that’s likely insulting, but then this was the first so-called civilized vamp I’d ever met. All the others I’d had personal contact with were sick, twisted killers. And then dead. Really dead.Troll’s eyes narrowed behind the .45 aimed my way. I figured he didn’t like being compared to the bad guy in a children’s fairy tale. I was better at fighting, but negotiation seemed wise. “Tell him to back off. Let me talk.” I nudged it a bit. “Or I’ll take you down and he’ll never get a shot off.” Unless he noticed that I had set the safety on his gun when I tripped. Then I’d have to shoot him. I wasn’t betting on my .22 stopping him unless I got an eye shot. Chest hits wouldn’t even slow him down. In fact they’d likely just make him mad.When neither attacked, I said, “I’m not here to stake you. I’m Jane Yellowrock, here to interview for a job, to take out a rogue vamp that your own council declared an outlaw. But I don’t smell human, so I take precautions. One cross, one stake, one two-shot derringer.” The word “stake” didn’t elude her. Or him. He’d missed three weapons. No Christmas bonus for Troll.“What are you?” she asked.“You tell me where you sleep during the day and I’ll tell you what I am. Otherwise, we can agree to do business. Or I can leave.”Telling the location of a lair—where a vamp sleeps—is information for lovers, dearest friends, or family. Katie chuckled. It was one of the silky laughs that her kind can give, low and erotic, like vocal sex. My Beast purred. She liked the sound.“Are you offering to be my toy for a while, intriguing nonhuman female?” When I didn’t answer, she slid closer, despite the glowing cross, and said, “You are interesting. Tall, slender, young.” She leaned in and breathed in my scent. “Or not so young. What are you?” she pressed, her voice heavy with fascination. Her eyes had gone back to their natural color, a sort of grayish hazel, but blood blush still marred her cheeks so I knew she was still primed for violence. That violence being my death.“Secretive,” she murmured, her voice taking on that tone they use to enthrall, a deep vibration that seems to stroke every gland. “Enticing scent. Likely tasty. Perhaps your blood would be worth the trade. Would you come to my bed if I offered?”“No,” I said. No inflection in my voice. No interest, no revulsion, no irritation, nothing. Nothing to tick off the vamp or her servant.“Pity. Put down the gun, Tom. Get our guest something to drink.”I didn’t wait for Tommy Troll to lower his weapon; I dropped mine. Beast wasn’t happy, but she understood. I was the intruder in Katie’s territory. While I couldn’t show submission, I could show manners. Tom lowered his gun and his attitude at the same time and holstered the weapon as he moved into the room toward a well-stocked bar.“Tom?” I said. “Uncheck your safety.” He stopped mid-stride. “I set it when I fell against you in the hallway.”“Couldn’t happen,” he said.“I’m fast. It’s why your employer invited me for a job interview.”He inspected his .45 and nodded at his boss. Why anyone would want to go around with a holstered .45 with the safety off is beyond me. It smacks of either stupidity or quiet desperation, and Katie had lived too long to be stupid. I was guessing the rogue had made her truly apprehensive. I tucked the cross inside a little lead-foil-lined pocket in the leather belt holding up my Levi’s, and eased the small gun in beside it, strapping it down. There was a safety, but on such a small gun, it was easy to knock the safety off with an accidental brush of my arm.“Is that where you hid the weapons?” Katie asked. When I just looked at her, she shrugged as if my answer were unimportant and said, “Impressive. You are impressive.”Katie was one of those dark ash blondes with long straight hair so thick it whispered when she moved, falling across the teal silk that fit her like a second skin. She stood five feet and a smidge, but height was no measure of power in her kind. She could move as fast as I could and kill in an eyeblink. She had buffed nails that were short when she wasn’t in killing mode, pale skin, and she wore exotic, Egyptian-style makeup around the eyes. Black liner overlaid with some kind of glitter. Not the kind of look I’d ever had the guts to try. I’d rather face down a grizzly than try to achieve “a look.”“What’ll it be, Miz Yellowrock?” Tom asked.“Cola’s fine. No diet.”He popped the top on a Coke and poured it over ice that crackled and split when the liquid hit, placed a wedge of lime on the rim, and handed it to me. His employer got a tall fluted glass of something milky that smelled sharp and alcoholic. Well, at least it wasn’t blood on ice. Ick.“Thank you for coming such a distance,” Katie said, taking one of two chairs and indicating the other for me. Both chairs were situated with backs to the door, which I didn’t like, but I sat as she continued. “We never made proper introductions, and the In-ter-net,” she said, separating the syllables as if the term was strange, “is no substitute for formal, proper introductions. I am Katherine Fonteneau.” She offered the tips of her fingers, and I took them for a moment in my own before dropping them.“Jane Yellowrock,” I said, feeling as though it was all a little redundant. She sipped; I sipped. I figured that was enough etiquette. “Do I get the job?” I asked.Katie waved away my impertinence. “I like to know the people with whom I do business. Tell me about yourself.”Cripes. The sun was down. I needed to be tooling around town, getting the smell and the feel of the place. I had errands to run, an apartment to rent, rocks to find, meat to buy. “You’ve been to my Web site, no doubt read my bio. It’s all there in black and white.” Well, in full color graphics, but still.Katie’s brows rose politely. “Your bio is dull and uninformative. For instance, there is no mention that you appeared out of the forest at age twelve, a feral child raised by wolves, without even the rudiments of human behavior. That you were placed in a children’s home, where you spent the next six years. And that you again vanished until you reappeared two years ago and started killing my kind.”My hackles started to rise, but I forced them down. I’d been baited by a roomful of teenaged girls before I even learned to speak English. After that, nothing was too painful. I grinned and threw a leg over the chair arm. Which took Katie, of the elegant attack, aback. “I wasn’t raised by wolves. At least I don’t think so. I don’t feel an urge to howl at the moon, anyway. I have no memories of my first twelve years of life, so I can’t answer you about them, but I think I’m probably Cherokee.” I touched my black hair, then my face with its golden brown skin and sharp American Indian nose in explanation. “After that, I was raised in a Christian children’s home in the mountains of South Carolina. I left when I was eighteen, traveled around a while, and took up an apprenticeship with a security firm for two years. Then I hung out my shingle, and eventually drifted into the vamp-hunting business.“What about you? You going to share all your own deep dark secrets, Katie of Katie’s Ladies? Who is known to the world as Katherine Fonteneau, aka Katherine Louisa Dupre, Katherine Pearl Duplantis, and Katherine Vuillemont, among others I uncovered. Who renewed her liquor license in February, is a registered Republican, votes religiously, pardon the term, sits on the local full vampiric council, has numerous offshore accounts in various names, a half interest in two local hotels, at least three restaurants, and several bars, and has enough money to buy and sell this entire city if she wanted to.”“We have both done our research, I see.”I had a feeling Katie found me amusing. Must be hard to live a few centuries and find yourself in a modern world where everyone knows what you are and is either infatuated with you or scared silly by you. I was neither, which she liked, if the small smile was any indication. “So. Do I have the job?” I asked again.Katie considered me for a moment, as if weighing my responses and attitude. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve arranged a small house for you, per the requirements on your In-ter-net web place.”My brows went up despite myself. She must have been pretty sure she was gonna hire me, then.“It backs up to this property.” She waved vaguely at the back of the room. “The small L-shaped garden at the side and back is walled in brick, and I had the stones you require delivered two days ago.”Okay. Now I was impressed. My Web site says I require close proximity to boulders or a rock garden, and that I won’t take a job if such a place can’t be found. And the woman—the vamp—had made sure that nothing would keep me from accepting the job. I wondered what she would have done if I’d said no.At her glance, Tr—Tom took up the narrative. “The gardener had a conniption, but he figured out a way to get boulders into the garden with a crane, and then blended them into his landscaping. Grumbled about it, but it’s done.”“Would you tell me why you need piles of stone?” Katie asked.“Meditation.” When she looked blank I said, “I use stone for meditation. It helps prepare me for a hunt.” I knew she had no idea what I was talking about. It sounded pretty lame even to me, and I had made up the lie. I’d have to work on that one.Katie stood and so did I, setting aside my Coke. Katie had drained her foul-smelling libation. On her breath it smelled vaguely like licorice. “Tom will give you the contract and a packet of information, the compiled evidence gathered about the rogue by the police and our own investigators. Tonight you may rest or indulge in whatever pursuits appeal to you.“Tomorrow, once you deliver the signed contract, you are invited to join my girls for dinner before business commences. They will be attending a private party, and dinner will be served at seven of the evening. I will not be present, that they may speak freely. Through them you may learn something of import.” It was a strange way to say seven p.m., and an even stranger request for me to interrogate her employees right off the bat, but I didn’t react. Maybe one of them knew something about the rogue. And maybe Katie knew it. “After dinner, you may initiate your inquiries.“The council’s offer of a bonus stands. An extra twenty percent if you dispatch the rogue inside of ten days, without the media taking a stronger note of us.” The last word had an inflection that let me know the “us” wasn’t Katie and me. She meant the vamps. “Human media attention has been . . . difficult. And the rogue’s feeding has strained relations in the vampiric council. It is important,” she said.I nodded. Sure. Whatever. I want to get paid, so I aim to please. But I didn’t say it.Katie extended a folder to me and I tucked it under my arm. “The police photos of the crime scenes you requested. Three samples of bloodied cloth from the necks of the most recent victims, carefully wiped to gather saliva,” she said.Vamp saliva, I thought. Full of vamp scent. Good for tracking.“On a card is my contact at the NOPD. She is expecting a call from you. Let Tom know if you need anything else.” Katie settled cold eyes on me in obvious dismissal. She had already turned her mind to other things. Like dinner? Yep. Her cheeks had paled again and she suddenly looked drawn with hunger. Her eyes slipped to my neck. Time to leave.CHAPTER 2Okay, I was paranoid“Where’dju hide the weapons?” Troll asked, his voice conversational.I smiled as I slid into my jacket, not ignoring the barrel of the .45 pressed into my neck, but not reacting to it either. “You’re human. Sure you want to risk standing so close to me?”I felt him hesitate and whirled. Set my head to the side of the gun. Knocked his right arm across his body with my raised right fist. Twisting my hand, I took his wrist and lifted. And slammed against his left shoulder with my left hand, forcing him to the floor. It took maybe a half second. Deep in my bones, I felt my Beast spit. This was fun.“Not bad,” he said, his inflection still composed. I knew I’d been baited. Had known he would want to know if he could have taken me. “What discipline?”He was asking what form of martial arts I studied. I thought a minute. “Dirty,” I said. He chuckled. I pressed down just a bit on his shoulder joint. “Put the weapon down.”He placed the .45, a well-kept Smith & Wesson, on the floor and pushed it away. He could still get to it, but not before I hurt him bad. I took my weight off his shoulder and released his wrist, stepping back and setting my feet, balanced for his next move. But he didn’t make one. He stood and tucked his thumbs into his waistband, a surer sign of peace than palms out. Thumbs in meant he couldn’t strike out fast, while the universal gesture of peace was an easy way to mentally disarm an opponent and then kill him when he let down his guard.“There’s a hapkido black belt, second dan, practices after hours in the back of a jewelry store on St. Louis. I’ll call in an intro if you want.”“That’d be nice.” I waited, easing down a smidgen. Just enough for him to see it, but not enough to get sucker punched.“Anything else I can do you for?” he asked companion-ably.“Sure. Where can a girl buy a good steak for grilling?” Meaning where can I get good raw meat, but phrased in a socially acceptable way.“Place I stocked your fridge from is the best. Thirty pounds of sirloin.”This time I controlled my reaction. My love of animal protein wasn’t on my Web site. Not anywhere.“I left directions to the butcher and a fresh market on your kitchen counter. Butcher delivers,” he said, “seafood, beef, any kinda bird, alligator”—my Beast perked up at that—“mudbug, veggies, you name it.”“Mudbug?” I let a small smile cross my face, sure I was being baited again.“Crawfish. Best steamed in beer, in my opinion. I left directions to eateries, too.”“Much appreciated.”He sighed and dropped his weight to one hip. I smothered my grin. “You’re not going to tell me where you hid the weapons, are you?” he asked.“Nope. But I promise not to break your knee if you’ll reposition your weight back on both feet.”He laughed, the happy laugh of a contented man, and adjusted his weight back evenly. Still dangerous, but not sneaky dangerous. “Not bad, Jane Yellowrock.”“Right back at you, Tom.”“You can call me Troll. I kinda like it.”I nodded. “Sounds dangerous. Mean.”“Not me. I’m a pussycat.”I glanced at the armoire and back at him with a question in my eyes.“Sorry,” he said and took three steps back.Without taking my eyes off him, I reached into the armoire and gathered my weapons in small batches, inserting them into the proper straps and sheaths, all but one stake, which I leaned into the darkest corner. I carried the shotgun. I had to work to get its harness strapped on and I wasn’t taking chances with Tommy Troll. I grinned at the thought and he thought the smile was for him. Which it was, sorta. “Thanks for an interesting evening,” I said.“Welcome to New Orleans. See you tomorrow night.” He lifted a large mailing envelope off a table at his side and handed it to me. I felt several things inside: what I took to be a stack of cash, trifolded papers (most likely the contract), flat pages, and a couple of keys. “Thanks,” I said. I nodded and opened the narrow door, stepping into the night.I stood with my back to Katie’s, remembering to breathe, forcing down the fear I had controlled, subjugated, strangled till now. I grinned. I’d done it. I had faced down a civilized vamp, had lived to tell the tale, and had successfully taken away both cash and a job. Beast found my relief amusing. When I could walk without my knees shaking, I stuffed Katie’s folder into the envelope and went to my bike.The night wasn’t dark, not in Jazz City. The glare of streetlights and neon beer signs fell in odd patterns and cast warped shadows across the cityscape, the effect of moisture in the air from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. The bodies of water bracketed New Orleans, giving the city its famous stink and air so wet that rain sometimes fell from a blue sky. So I smelled the Joe before I saw him. But I knew where he was. Upwind, relaxed. The smell of gun oil and ammo no stronger than before.He was sitting on a low brick wall one storefront over, a balcony above him, the old building at his back. He had one leg up, the other dangling, and the shadows hid the left side of his body. He could have a weapon hidden there. Okay, I was paranoid. But I had just bested a vamp on her home territory and then made nice-nice with her bodyguard. My glands still pumped adrenaline and my heart was suddenly pounding.

Editorial Reviews

"A new, strongly unique voice in the dark fantasy genre."
-Kim Harrison

"Hunter's very professionally executed, tasty blend of dark fantasy, mystery, and romance should please fans of all three genres."
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